Dracula (1931)


Look into my eyes…

(1931) Horror (Universal) Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles Gerrard, Moon Carroll, Josephine Velez, Michael Visaroff, Cornelia Thaw, Geraldine Dvorak, Dorothy Tree, Barbara Bozoky, Anna Bakacs, Tod Browning (voice), John George, Wyndham Standing, Bunny Beatty. Directed by Tod Browning

As the silent era drew to a close and talkies became the “in” thing, Dracula – based on a stage play and not directly on Bram Stoker’s novel, although the play certainly used it as a starting point – became for Universal, the beginning of the studio’s long tenure as the monster studio. Together with Frankenstein which appeared later the same year, it became part of the one-two punch that would land legendary movie monsters like the Mummy, the Invisible Man and the Wolf Man at the studio and terrify generations of moviegoers and kids watching creature feature TV shows.

Real estate agent Renfield (Frye) goes to Transylvania to meet up with a client to close a leasing of property in London. The superstitious villagers warn him not to go to the Castle Dracula in the Carpathian Mountains, but he fails to heed their warnings and takes an unusual coach trip – a coach with no driver. Once at the castle, he meets Count Dracula (Lugosi) who turns out to be a man with a supernaturally intense gaze and a dislike of wine, which he never drinks. But the Count turns out to be more than a man – he is a vampire, the undead, as Renfield discovers too late – being driven mad and becoming the Count’s servant.

When the ship Renfield booked passage on returns to London, the horrible discovery is that the crew is all dead, there are a number of coffins aboard and only one survivor – Renfield, who is locked away in the asylum of Dr. Seward (Bunston). Seward’s daughter Mina (Chandler) is engaged to the handsome John Harker (Manners) and is close friends with Lucy Weston (Dade), a neighbor of the property the Count has leased. But the Count recognizes Lucy as a potential meal, and transforms her into a fellow vampire.

Fortunately, professional vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Van Sloan) arrives, in hot pursuit of the Count. He knows Dracula for what he is, and knows how to kill him. But can he and Harker possibly defeat a nearly immortal creature that has 500 years of experience in defeating foolish mortals like themselves?

This is a movie that is a classic in every sense of the word. The brooding, gothic sets; the wonderfully atmospheric cinematographer of Karl Freund, a German cinematographer who worked with F.W. Murnau on Metropolis and The Last Laugh and whom some credit with co-directing the movie, so important were his contributions. Browning chose to release the film without a score; music has since been added, but if you’ve ever seen a version without music, you’ve seen it as the director intended.

But what makes the movie is Lugosi. A Hungarian émigré, his English is heavily accented which would dog Lugosi throughout his career; however, the Eastern European lilt is perfect for the role as are Lugosi’s expressive eyes. Lugosi came from a theatrical background and often uses grand gestures in his performance here, a product of that background. That kind of thing was less noticeable back in the early sound era, when many stage actors were recruited for the talkies as silent actors often had voices that didn’t reproduce well (as with John Gilbert) or who gave stiff readings of their dialogue. The intensity of Lugosi’s performance here, though, is unquestioned and for nearly a century since the movie was released, is the performance most associated with the role, Christopher Lee and Frank Langella notwithstanding.

There are strong elements of melodrama in the screenplay, and Browning’s direction is often stiff and stagey, and for those reasons there are some who feel that the movie doesn’t hold up weel, but I disagree. Freund’s tracking shot as Renfield enters the castle is a breathtaking introduction to the Count, and the terrifying coach ride through the Carpathians is creepy even today. Not only is this a true Halloween classic and perhaps the ultimate Universal monster movie (credited with keeping the studio afloat through near-bankruptcy during the Depression), it is one of the most perfect adaptations of the Dracula legend ever. For all lovers of scary cinema, this is truly a must-see.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderfully atmospheric. A legendary performance by Lugosi. Classic in every sense of the word. Still spooky even by modern standards. Certain scenes still give me the heebie-jeebies.
REASONS TO AVOID: Might feel a bit quaint and dated for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is implied violence and sexuality, and some mild terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie began life as a Broadway play; Lugosi had originated the title role on the Great White Way and along with Van Sloan and Bunston, are the only actors to transition from the stage version to the screen.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Peacock, Redbox, Spectrum, TCM, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; ;Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nosferatu
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Crutch

Monster Hunter


Just a couple of video game characters come to life.

(2020) Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Diego Boneta, Meagan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki, Jannik Schümann, Nanda Costa, Nic Rasenti, Clyde Berning, Paul Hampshire, Schelaine Bennett, Bart Fouche, Pope Jerrod, Aaron Beelner, Onur Besen, Adrian Muñoz. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Video games are video games and movies are movies, and these are two worlds that have a very hard time co-existing. Video games based on movies tend to be awful, and movies based on video games tend to be the same. That’s because movies demand attention, patience and passivity, whereas video games demand participation, interaction and hand-eye co-ordination. The are meant for completely different audiences and require completely different disciplines to appreciate. Successful crossovers are rare indeed.

Which makes Anderson something of a national treasure because he has shown with the Resident Evil franchise that he can make entertaining movies out of a beloved game franchise. Capcom, the makers of the Resident Evil game, can be excused for turning to him to bring their second-most popular franchise to the big screen.

Lt. Natalie Artemis (Jovovich) leads the elite Alpha Team of U.S. Army Rangers into the desert to search for the slightly-less elite Bravo Team which has mysteriously disappeared. Quicker than you can say “plot device,” a mysterious portal (accompanied by an impressive CGI lightning storm) somehow transports the team into a parallel world, one inhabited by strange, vicious – and hungry – monsters. As they are attacked by the horned and deadly Black Diablos, they quickly realize that their arsenal isn’t nearly enough to take down the giant creatures and as they run for the comparative safety of the rocks, they discover to their horror that the safety is an illusion as the rocks are inhabited by giant spider-like things. The team is decimated, leaving only Artemis alive and that only because she is rescued by the Hunter (Jaa), whom we first met in the pre-credits sequence that is perhaps the most impressive moment in the film.

The two form an uneasy alliance, trying to survive in a world for which the word “hostile” doesn’t even begin to describe. They are eventually picked up by a sand galleon, a kind of floating pirate ship captained by the Admiral (Perlman) who delivers a fair amount of exposition, and explains that both their worlds are in danger and they must head to the Dark Tower in Mordor…no, that’s not quite right. But it’s a dark tower nevertheless.

This is the kind of role that is right in the wheelhouse for Jovovich and she dutifully knocks it out of the park. Her chemistry with Jaa is surprisingly strong, considering that the two characters speak different languages. I would have wished that Jaa got more opportunities to show off his martial arts skills, which are considerable, but he makes the most of the opportunities he does get.

Perlman is always a welcome sight in any film, even if he is wearing a giggle-inducing wig that they probably had to pay him a bundle to wear with a straight face. Fortunately, it is the monsters that are the stars here. Fans of the game will recognize them and we get a good idea of their scale here throughout. We get a few more in the third act of the film, including the Meowscular Chef (who is, as advertised, absolutely ripped) but the filmmakers have the luxury of several hundred to choose from through the seven (and counting) main games and the plethora of spin-offs.

Do you need to know something about the franchise to enjoy the movie? That is always the question in video game adaptations. Like most adaptations, fans will find it easier to understand than non-fans, and in this case, I think it’s almost imperative you have at least a general knowledge of the game to follow the plot.  Fans, though, might find it a bit too simplistic for their tastes; it is, after all, like starting at the beginning of the first game for the first time. That may not be of interest to gamers in general.

Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy the ride here. The monsters are as I said incredible, Jovovich and Jaa make a great team and if you can get past the mid-movie exposition dump that helps catch you up (if you know nothing about the game) but unfortunately causes the movie to come to a screeching halt, you should be pretty much okay. This isn’t horror that is essential, nor is it one of the better cinematic adaptations of a video game out there, but it is nonetheless a decent enough one and worth a look if you’re looking for a bit of fun, visceral and essentially mindless entertainment.

REASONS TO SEE: The monsters are mega-impressive.
REASONS TO AVOID: A muddled plot that isn’t easy to follow without some knowledge of the game.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, creature-induced terror and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the seventh movie based on a video game that Jovovich has appeared in, six of them with her husband Paul W.S. Anderson involved as writer and/or director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews; Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pitch Black
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness Concludes with a Classic!

A Quiet Place Part II


There is no hiding when you can’t make a sound.

(2020) Sci-Fi Horror (Paramount) Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, Djimon Hounsou, Okieriete Onaodowan, Scoot McNairy, Zachary Golinger, Blake DeLong, Stefanie Warwick, Alycia Ripley, Cristalis Bonilla, Domonic Taggart, Silas Pereira-Olson, Alice Malyukova, Ashley Dyke, Dean Woodward, Barbara Singer, Michaela Juliann Pace. Directed by John Krasinski

 

After theaters began to reopen this past spring, one of the first blockbusters to return was this sequel to the surprise hit by former Office star Krasinski. It was kind of an appropriate choice; social distancing was still very much in force, and the forced isolation of the survivors in the film mirrored that which all of us went through – and are still going through, in some cases.

The movie begins with a flashback to the first day of the alien invasion. Krasinski as Lee Abbott appears here as he copes with the first appearance of the aliens, trying to protect his son Marcus (Jupe) as he tries to find his wife Evelyn (Blunt) who is with their deaf daughter Regan (Simmonds). It’s a harrowing scene full of noise and terror.

Then we return to the place where the first film ended, 473 days afterwards, with the survivors of the Abbott family leaving their flooded and burned out homestead. With a newborn baby to carry – newborns aren’t noted for their silence – it is a journey fraught with danger as the family try to apply their hard-won knowledge, including the means of killing the creature, something that they didn’t have earlier. They run into a trap set by one of their former neighbors, Emmett (Murphy) who has been through a hell of his own, but he at least has a sanctuary – a soundproof furnace in an industrial plant. The problem with it is that if you wait too long inside it, you run the risk of suffocating. By this time Marcus has been badly injured, an Evelyn needs to go into town and find medicine which he desperately needs. Regan has struck out on her own and Emmett agrees to go after her, but the two end up running into the sort of humans that would survive an alien apocalypse and find their way to an island which is cut off from the mainland – and the aliens. They need to go back and get Evelyn, Marcus and the baby…and the aliens have also unfortunately discovered away to do some hunting on the island…

Fans of the first film will notice the diminished role that Krasinski plays here, and the movie is less because of it. On the plus side, though, Simmonds blossoms here, making this a showcase role for her. Blunt remains steadfast, but as with the first movie she is not utilized as well as she might be. Murphy is one of those actors who does a good job every time out but doesn’t get enough credit for it, and he is definitely a high point here.

The best thing about the movie is the aliens themselves. Their design is absolutely marvelous, a picture of logic and aggressive behavior. They make perfect movie monsters. Hardcore horror fans will notice that the gore is pretty minimal here, which may irritate some. Of more concern are some of the plot holes that make no sense. The Abbotts, for example seem to have an unlimited supply of batteries. Where are they getting them?

Nonetheless, this is one of those horror films that keeps the tension high throughout. Thanks to outstanding performances by Murphy, Blunt and in particular Simmonds, it is easy to invest emotionally in the main characters. It was a fitting return of movies to the theaters and it’s getting a re-release in some markets even as we speak. Definitely worth seeking out, whether on VOD, streaming on Paramount Plus or in theaters.

REASONS TO SEE: Simmonds does a crackerjack job. Superb creature design.
REASONS TO AVOID: Suffers from Krasinski’s absence. A few general plot holes.
FAMILY VALUES:There is violence a’plenty, some bloody and/or disgusting images, and scenes of terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made it’s New York premiere date but the COVID outbreak caused its general release to be postponed almost a year.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Alamo On Demand, Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Paramount Plus, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch As of 10/29/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews; Metacritic: 71/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Signs
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The penultimate entry in this year’s Six Days of Darkness!

The Invisible Man (2020)


Don’t look now…

(2020) Thriller (Universal) Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Benedict Hardie, Renee Lim, Brian Meegan, Nick Kici, Vivienne Greer, Nicholas Hope, Cleave Williams, Cardwell Lynch, Sam Smith, Zara Michales, Serag Mohammed, Nash Edgerton, Anthony Brandon Wong, Xavier Fernandez, Amali Golden. Directed by Leigh Whannell

 

One of the unexpected side effects of #MeToo is that women are beginning to take back horror. Until recently, they were cast mostly as victims waiting to be slaughtered by a monster or a human monster. Yes, the final girl thing was a bit of a sop, but it was clearly understood that putting women in jeopardy had a sexual element to it. Horror films were often an allegory for how women were perceived in our culture; virtuous and plucky (final girls were almost never sexual) or sexy and not too bright, or at least prone to panicking when the chips were down, playing right into the killer’s hands – often literally.

That’s changing, as yesterday’s horror review illustrated, and it’s even more true of this film, inspired VERY loosely by the 1897 novel of H.G. Wells. Cecilia Kass (Moss) is trapped in an abusive relationship by a controlling billionaire who keeps her under 24/7 surveillance. Pushed to her absolute limit, she plots her escape, aided by her sister Emily (Dyer) who picks her up when she flees from the high-tech home she shares with her domestic partner Adrian Griffin (Jackson-Cohen), just barely getting away. Emily drives her into San Francisco where she bunks with her good friend James (Hodge), who happens to be a cop, and his teenage daughter Sydney (Reid).

Then word reaches her that her ex has committed suicide, and his creepy brother Tom (Dorman) gives her the news that he left her a sizable inheritance, enough to help Sydney with her college plans and to give her some financial relief. Too good to be true, right?

Right. Soon strange things begin to happen, merely annoying at first and growing exponentially more disturbing. Cecilia gets the feeling she’s being watched, and her paranoia only increases. Soon she seems to be coming unhinged, unglued, or at the very least, having a complete breakdown. But WE know that there is something else going on. After all, we saw that knife floating around by itself. We saw the footprints in the carpet. Is it Adrian’s ghost, or something more tangible – and ultimately more terrifying?

As horror films go, this one is long on tension but short on scares. In fact, I think it would be justifiably be considered more of a thriller than an out-and-out horror film, although there are definitely some horrific elements – they are just few and far between.

Whannell seems more intent on making a point than creating a legitimately scary movie. Fortunately, he has one of the best in the world at playing emotionally fragile characters in Elisabeth Moss (who will always be Zoey Bartlet to me) and she gets to exercise that particular skill to near-perfection here. She is certain that something sinister is going on and tells her circle of friends so, but nobody believes her. It’s no accident that her last name is Kass…could be short for “Cassandra.”

She gets some good support from Hodge (who will always be Alec Hardison to me) as the kindly but skeptical cop and Reid (who will always be Meg Murry to me) as the savvy teen. Dorman (who will always be John Tavner to me) lends sufficient creepiness as the late tech billionaire’s brother.

Part of the problem is that we don’t get much of a sense of who Adrian is. He’s essentially brilliant, vindictive and cruel, but we never really get to know much more than that. I tend to like a little more depth to my villains, even if they are ostensibly dead for most of the movie. Plus, there are few scares and that is a bit of a letdown, considering Whannell’s pedigree (he has been involved with two major horror franchises) and the fact that this is using the title of a classic horror movie. The audience can’t help but expect a horror movie when they sit down to watch.

Jilted expectations aside, the movie does a fair job of making its points about how women are portrayed, and although at times Moss can get a bit shrill she still makes a decent enough heroine, particularly in the mega-satisfying denouement. However, I can’t honestly say that the movie made a connection with me and thus I can’t in good conscience give it anything more than a very slight recommendation which is being damned by faint praise indeed.

REASONS TO SEE: Nobody is better than Moss than getting women on the edge of hysteria.
REASONS TO AVOID: The villain was not really developed properly.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some pretty intense violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was originally intended to be part of the Dark Universe, Universal’s classic monster-oriented shared cinematic universe, but after the box office failure of The Mummy, the concept collapsed and Universal opted to go with individual stories rather than having a shared background.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Cinemax Go, DirecTV, Google Play, HBO Max, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/28/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hollow Man
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Continuing Adventures of Six Days of Darkness!

New Releases for the Week of October 29, 2021


THE FRENCH DISPATCH

(Searchlight) Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray. Directed by Wes Anderson

The latest from the director of The Grand Budapest Hotel is described as a love letter to journalists, who are in this case stationed in a fictional town in France for an American newspaper during the 20th century. There, the stories published in the newspaper under the title “The French Dispatch” are brought to life.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, Enzian, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language)

13 Minutes

(Quiver) Thora Birch, Amy Smart, Anne Heche, Peter Facinelli. On an ordinary spring day in a small town in America’s heartland, residents are given just 13 minutes warning to find shelter when the largest tornado on record hits the town head-on. Four families will experience the terror of trying to find loved ones in the chaos and fighting for their lives in the wake of complete and utter devastation.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs
Rating: PG-13 (for peril, bloody images, thematic elements and some strong language)

A Mouthful of Air

(Stage 6) Amanda Seyfried, Finn Wittrock, Britt Robertson, Paul Giamatti. A woman who writes children’s books about unlocking your fears has managed to get through life without facing her own. That all will change when her daughter is born and the trauma of her past is brought into focus.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Amstar Lake Mary, CMX Merritt Square, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for some language)

Antlers

(Searchlight) Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene. In a small Oregon town, a middle school teacher and her sheriff brother become embroiled with one of her students who has a dark connection to a terrifying ancient creature.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for violence including gruesome images, and for language)

Daisy’s Dream

(Vertical) Starring the voices of Angourie Rice, Sam Neill, Sharnee Tones, Grant Denyer. An abundantly adorable quokka dreams of being named the World’s Scariest Animal. With not much hope of that happening on its own, she enlists the help of a former champion, a grouchy saltwater crocodile.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Heart of Champions

(Vertical) Michael Shannon, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Alex MacNicoll. A college rowing team descends into petty infighting and bickering after finishing last in the national championship tournament. A new coach, an Army veteran, uses his experience to get the young men to move past their rivalries and work together as a unit.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: Premiere Fashion Square
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, suggestive material, partial nudity, and brief strong language)

Last Night in Soho

(Focus) Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp. A mousy aspiring fashion designer discovers she has the ability to project herself into the 1960s where she encounters a glamorous singer. But there is something far darker going on, and by the time she discovers what it is, it may already be too late to save herself.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for bloody violence, sexual content, language, brief drug content and brief graphic nudity)

My Hero Academia: World Heroes Mission

(FUNimation) Starring the voices of Tetsu Inada, Yûki Kaji, Kenta Miyake, Daiki Yamashita. Japan’s greatest superheroes track down the perpetrator of a dastardly chemical attack.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animé
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for violent material, bloody images and some language)

Romantic

(Puri) Ramya Krishnan, Akash Puri, Ketika Sharma, Satya Aditya Bonepalli. Two young people fall deeply in love and begin to explore their sensual sides.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Varudu Kaavalenu

(Sithara) Ritu Varma, Murli Sharma, Naga Shaurya, Viashnavi Chaitanya. Plot details not released.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Army of Thieves
Horror Noire
(Thursday)
Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin
Snakehead
Son of Monarchs
(Tuesday)
The Spine of Night

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Antlers
Army of Thieves
The French Dispatch
Last Night in Soho
Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin
Son of Monarchs

 

 

Black Christmas (2019)


Snow angels aren’t necessarily a good thing when there’s a killer on the loose.

(2019) Horror (Blumhouse/Universal) Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Cary Elwes, Simon Mead, Madeleine Adams, Nathalie Morris, Ben Black, Zoë Robins, Ryan McIntyre, Mark Nelson, Jonny McBride, Lucy Currey. Directed by Sophia Takal

 

In the #MeToo era when we are beginning to turn away from tropes and customs that have proven to be historically damaging to women and that have contributed to a culture of rape and toxic masculinity, it is interesting to consider what remakes of classic slasher films would look like through that lens. Now, wonder no longer.

As Hawthorn College approaches the winter break, sorority sister Riley (Poots) – a quiet girl who had been sexually assaulted three years earlier by a member of a frat – prepares to celebrate the holidays with her sisters in the Mu Kappa Epsilon sorority; activist/feminist Kris (Shannon) who politicizes absolutely everything – student/athlete Marty (Donoghue) and sweet-natured Jesse (O’Grady). As their sisters head home for the holidays, there’s a bit of tension as the girls perform a pointed song at a notorious talent show at their brother fraternity DKO that holds their feet to the fire for their antics. This doesn’t sit well, to say the least.

Meanwhile, young Lindsay (Currey) is stalked by a masked figure while walking home in the dark on a well-lit street. Let’s just say Lindsay won’t be opening any presents this year. And as the girls are stalked and murdered one by one, the rush to find out who is behind the disappearances of the girls with no help from the campus police, who are sure the girls have taken off to be with boyfriends, is a life-or-death venture.

Takal, who co-wrote the script with April Wolfe, inspired by the 1974 original (which was also remade in 2006), has given the film a definite feminist slant which may make a certain segment of horror fans a bit uncomfortable. The tone can get strident at time, but it brings up some salient points about the portrayal of women as targets. The problem, though, is that in pointing out the inherent misogyny of slasher films, they utilize the trope of attractive young women being stalked and terrorized before being slaughtered. It seems at best a bit cynical and at worst pandering to the core demographic of horror movies. They seem to be defeating their own purpose.

That said, Takal made sure that the film trimmed enough to receive a PG-13 rating in order to appeal to young women who might not necessarily be horror film fans, but this is something of a tactical mistake. The movie lacks any kind of edge or bite that a little gore might have provided. It is curiously bloodless; a co-ed who’d been stabbed through the chest with an icicle and is then dragged through the snow leaving a kind of macabre snow angel behind her, bleeds not at all. That doesn’t fly. It doesn’t help matters that none of the murders are particularly inventive, contributing to the film’s overall blandness.

The movie is a bit of a hot mess – the introduction of a supernatural element in the denouement is unwelcome and a bit of a cop-out – but there are some fine actresses here, even if their characters aren’t particularly well-fleshed out. The dialogue also sounds a lot like conversations college-aged women might have – ot that I’m privy to any conversations of college-aged women. This is a horror movie whose heart is in the right place, but is ultimately failed by poor execution.

REASONS TO SEE: Points for taking on the patriarchy.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretty much standard slasher fare.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of violence, sexual content, profanity, teen drinking, and a plot element involving a sexual assault.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The address of the sorority house is 1974 Elm Road, a reference to the year the original Black Christmas came out.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, HBO Max, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/27/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews; Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sorority House Massacre
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness in yo’ face!

Halloween Kills


For Michael Myers, Hell is home.

(2021) Horror (Blumhouse) Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Airon Armstrong, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Jim Cummings, Dylan Arnold, Robert Longstreet, Anthony Michael Hall, Charles Cyphers, Scott MacArthur, Michael McDonald, Ross Bacon, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Diva Tyler. Directed by David Gordon Green

 

Of the iconic screen horror slashers, only Leatherface predates Michael Myers, who made his first appearance in the 1978 classic Halloween. Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Chucky and Jigsaw all followed in his bootsteps. But forty years have elapsed since his first appearance and Michael is getting a bit long in the tooth, right?

The movie picks up immediately where 2018’s acclaimed reboot left off. Michael (Courtney) has been left to die in the basement of a burning house. Laurie Strode (Curtis), his sister and the babysitter he went after back in 1978, is being rushed to the hospital with abdominal stab wounds. Officer Hawkins (Patton) is on his way there, bleeding from a stab wound in the neck.

But as firefighters battle the blaze, they discover the one cardinal rule of any horror franchise; the killer isn’t quite dead yet. Michael emerges from the flames and immediately takes out a fire brigade, then exits stage left to commit more mayhem, ostensibly to people both random and convenient. He does have a bit of a plan – to go to his old house, currently occupied by gay couple Big John (MacArthur) and Little John (McDonald) who have tastefully decorated the old homestead which means they are due to be shish kabobbed.

At a Haddonfield bar, Tommy Doyle (Hall) shares his recollections of that fateful night. He was the boy Laurie was babysitting, and the night has left him scarred for life. So he doesn’t react well when the news arrives that Michael is still on the loose. Tommy organizes a lynch mob and leads them into the streets to find Michael, chanting ‘Evil dies tonight,” which makes a mighty fine tagline for a movie poster. It turns out to be the most incompetent mob in history, although I do wonder if there’s any such thing as a “competent mob.”

While Laurie’s daughter Karen (Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Matichak) fret over telling Laurie that the boogeyman still lives, they both grieve for the departed in their own way (Greer has a particularly poignant scene early on in which she washes blood from her hands, scrubbing around her wedding ring). In the meantime, the body count grows and the mob howls for blood (although they occasionally seem to be pointed at the wrong Michael Myers), will a united mob be able to finally put Michael down…or will this Halloween continue unabated?

Well, considering there’s another sequel in the works for next October, I think you can do the math. This is clearly the middle chapter in a trilogy and it has a feel of non-resolution to it. The ending is supposed to be a bit of a shocker (and it is), but what precedes it is a series of kill scenes that really don’t show a ton of originality or flair, with few exceptions (one of the firemen gets eviscerated by his own saw). While Green’s 2018 reboot showed how the 1978 murders affected Strode and her family, the sequel expands to show how it affected all of Haddonfield. That’s admirable, and I think it provides a little social commentary at how deeply stressed out the country has become, but I don’t think that the mob is supposed to be a stand-in for the Capitol insurrection mob. That seems to be a bit of a stretch to me.

The problem with Halloween Kills is a lack of imagination. Forty-odd years on after John Carpenter yelled “action,” slasher movies have run their course and there isn’t a lot of ways to slice and dice a human body. It becomes predictable – and that’s the last thing you want a horror movie to be. Sure, there are plenty of kids who may be new to the genre who might be impressed, but I would be surprised if they hadn’t already seen the classic slasher films by this point and to be fair, this doesn’t compete well with them. It does have its moments, and Jamie Lee Curtis is always a welcome name on a marquee, but she really doesn’t get to do very much, leaving Greer, Patton, Matichak and Hall to do most of the heavy lifting and they do it with varying degrees of success.

So the long and the short of it is that Halloween Kills doesn’t measure up even to the 2018 predecessor. That’s a shame because I can see what the filmmakers were going for; they just didn’t quite get there.

REASONS TO SEE: A respectable attempt to provide some social commentary on the state of things, 2021.
REASONS TO AVOID: A real letdown after the 2018 reboot.
FAMILY VALUES: As you would expect, there’s a ton of violence (much of it gory), some grisly images, a fair amount of profanity and a bit of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: With her appearance here as Laurie Strode (her sixth), Jamie Lee Curtis passes Donald Pleasance for the most appearances in the franchise as the same character – he appeared five times as Dr. Loomis. The Dr. Loomis who appears in the flashback sequences here is played by Tom Jones Jr., with the voice supplied by Colin Mahan. Pleasance passed away in 1995.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Peacock
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews; Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness, the Sequel!

Learning to Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs and Englishmen


Grizzled Leon Russell, veteran rock and roll sage.

(2021) Music Documentary (Abramorama) Rita Coolidge, Leon Russell, Claudia Lennear, Joe Cocker, Doyle Bramhall, Chris Robinson, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Chris Stainton, Matthew Moore, Pamela Pollard, Bobby Jones, Chuck Blackwell, Bobby Torres, Dave Mason, David Fricke, Daniel Moore, Linda Wolf. Directed by Jesse Lauter

In 1970, Joe Cocker was a rising star, his big, blistering bluesy vocals having carved memorable performances at rock festivals around the world, including Woodstock. He had poured everything in him into achieving success and he was flat-out exhausted. There was a U.S. tour looming and he wanted to beg out of it, so he fired his entire band, hoping that would get him out of having to do the tour. The trouble is, the American promoters didn’t want the tour cancelled and put enormous pressure on Cocker to honor his commitments.

Without a band and with the tour dates approaching like a runaway freight train, he enlisted the help of studio whiz Leon Russell, then a member of the loose collective of musicians based in L.A. known as the Wrecking Crew who played on a crazy number of classic hits back in the day (they were the subjects of their own documentary). Russell reached out to all the studio musicians he knew that were available on short notice, while enlisting session vocalist Rita Coolidge to put together a gaggle of backing vocalists. The band had only a week of rehearsals before heading out on a grueling, 48 shows in 52 days tour.

A live album was later released as well as a concert film, both entitled Mad Dogs & Englishmen after the Noel Coward song (which Russell appropriated for his own song, “The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen” which he included on a later album). The tour became legendary largely for the array of talent that was in it and for the raucous sound which was largely unlike anything heard in a rock and roll concert up to that time – although, curiously, the critics were largely unimpressed by the album. In any case, after the tour ended, the band largely went their separate ways with both Russell and Coolidge amassing hits of their own.

In 2015, the Lockn’ Festival in Arlington, Virginia encouraged the acts they booked to bring together their influences, heroes and old bandmates to put together “dream sets.” The Tedeschi Trucks band, fronted by Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi, both formerly of the Allman Brothers, were big fans of Cocker and thought it was high time for a reunion of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen band. Although Cocker by that point had passed away (in December of the previous year), they were able to get eleven members of the original tour to come and celebrate Cocker’s memory.

This film documents both the history of the original band, as well as the reunion of the band members. There is a great deal of concert footage, both from the original tour and the reunion show, both of which illustrate just how incredible the musicians were and are. There are oodles of interview subjects and while most of the recollections are fond and tinged with nostalgia, not everything was rosy – Coolidge recounts being physically assaulted by drummer Jim Gordon, her boyfriend at the time (Gordon was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and has been incarcerated since 1984 for murdering his mother) – but there is a refrain of similar sentiments throughout.

The movie doesn’t really reinvent the rock doc wheel, nor does it need to. Fans of Cocker will no doubt be eager to see this, and those who have a love for the musical style of the early 70s where country boogie, blues and gospel were all permeating rock and roll with a vitality that even then had begun to fade into the morass of stadium rock that punk would rebel against later in the decade. The Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour were a brief shining moment, to be sure, but one that shouldn’t be forgotten and the reunion and resultant film will do a lot to make sure that it isn’t.

REASONS TO SEE: A must-see for fans.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretty much a standard rock doc.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Joe Cocker came to fame in the United States following a legendary performance at Woodstock.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Another State of Mind
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness 2021 begins!

Pure Grit


Sharmaine Weed doing what she loves.

(2021) Documentary (Bankside) Sharmaine Weed, Savannah Martinez, Brandon Weed, Charity Weed, Kashe Weed, Amari Bercier. Directed by Kim Bartley

 

Native Americans in the 21st century face many challenges, not the least of those they have faced since European colonizers came to steal their land from them. They seek to retain their cultural identity while fitting in to a modern world. They do that while living on reservations where economic opportunities are extremely limited, where most live in poverty and where many are plagued by alcohol and drug addiction.

For Sharmaine Weed, a Shoshone living on the massive Wind River reservation in Wyoming – “God’s country” as she puts it early on in the film – escape is through bareback horse racing. This isn’t the type of racing you see at Churchill Downs; it is extremely dangerous, as Sharmaine found out firsthand when her sister Charity rode for the first time, and suffered grievous injuries leaving her disabled. Sharmaine took a year off to help care for her sister, and her sister’s daughter.

She is back riding now, for the first time since her sister’s injury, and sporting a new girlfriend – Sharmaine is one of the few lesbians on the reservation – Savannah. The two are very much in love. But things at home are getting rough; her younger brother Kashe is turning abusive and Savannah wants Sharmaine to move to Denver. So Sharmaine gets a job out there and puts together enough money to buy a horse to run the summer racing season. Sharmaine looks at it as an opportunity for a fresh start – but things don’t run entirely to plan as they generally have a habit of doing.

Bartley spent three years shadowing Sharmaine and her patience pays off in a rich portrait of a family trying to stay afloat in difficult conditions and specifically of a young woman with fire, passion and determination who has her sights set on a goal, but is pragmatic enough to recognize that it isn’t worth sacrificing everything for. She is aware of the traps that reservation life offer – the despair, the alcoholism, the drug addiction – and she manages to avoid them, largely because of her dogged refusal to surrender to them. Her love for horse racing also carries her through, and she’s good enough at it that she can survive and thrive in that world.

Her relationship with Savannah is complicated; Savannah is six years younger and is still just barely old enough to drink legally. Her mind is still on things that Sharmaine has long since moved beyond (if they were ever important to her in the first place), and that puts a strain on their relationship. Savannah wants to enjoy life; Sharmaine wants to build something permanent. It’s not always the love that makes a relationship strong; sometimes it’s a matter of being on the same page in life. There’s nothing wrong with a young woman of 21 wanting to party, dye her hair, and in general be concerned more about less vital things. There is also nothing wrong with a young woman of 27 turning her eyes to the future. We’ve all been in relationships with people who wanted different things with their life. Maybe we loved those people with a passion, but a viable relationship just wasn’t possible.

Bartley does her own cinematography and it is often breathtaking. Horses leaving tracks in the Wyoming snow, drone shots of the endless prairie, the Weed family out hunting and fishing together. We quickly understand that the hunting isn’t done for sport; this is how the family puts food on the table. That they thank the animals they kill for their food for providing them with sustenance is a part of their cultural heritage.

We rarely get such an intimate glimpse at reservation life, and this one is a particularly thorough one. We can see the willingness to fight in Sharmaine’s eyes as she does her damnedest to make a life for herself that is free of drugs and alcohol. The movie could have used a little bit of work on the editing; some of the story progresses in a kind of an uneven manner. The film could have used a smoother flow to it and some of the transitions are a bit abrupt.

The movie is an Irish-American co-production, and is making its North American premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival in California today. Unfortunately, that particular film festival doesn’t have a streaming component, so you will likely have to wait until the movie makes an appearance at a festival near you, which it should do in the Fall or Spring. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up on one streaming service or another shortly after that. This is a strong movie about a person you can’t help but admire and I strongly recommend it.

REASONS TO SEE: Beautifully shot. Inspiring and intense.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story doesn’t flow as naturally as it might.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Wind River reservation, where Charmaine and her family live, is the seventh largest in the United States, and is home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Rider
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Learning to Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Becoming Cousteau


The ultimate oceanographer and his mini-sub.

(2021) Documentary (National Geographic) Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Vincent Cassel (narrator), Louis Malle, Phillippe Cousteau, Thomas Taillez, Fredéric Dumas, Simone Cousteau, Yves Omer, Bruno Capello, Claude Wesley, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Albert Falco, Jocelyne de Pas, Yves Pacalet, David Wolper, John Soh, Brad Matson, Susan Schefelbein, Francine Cousteau. Directed by Liz Garbus

Beneath the ocean’s waves is an entirely new world, a largely unexplored one, populated by strange and almost magical creatures. One of the first to explore that undersea world was former French naval officer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Aboard his ship the Calypso, he sailed the world’s oceans and brought the denizens of them onto television screens the world over. He became synonymous with the sea, an unlikely celebrity who didn’t seek the fame he received for his work, but would eventually leverage it to inform millions about the peril the seas were in.

In that sense, Cousteau was a Cassandra before his times. He was one of the first to warn of the man-made catastrophe that was ongoing in the ocean’s reefs and fisheries. He was a tireless advocate for conservation, calling for heads of state to cease using the oceans as a dumping ground, and to adopt reasonable limits for fishing. Not many listened, which is why his warnings are still being repeated, albeit more stridently now as the planet rapidly approaches a tipping point which might mean the end of human life on Earth. Sounds dramatic – but it’s sadly oh so true.

Cousteau originally meant to be a pilot for the French Navy, but a devastating car accident put the end to that dream. When a friend suggested swimming in the Mediterranean as a means to convalesce and another introduced him to skin diving, he was hooked. Soon, he was much happier in the water than out of it. He had also developed a passion for photography and he had a yearning to share what he was witnessing in the sea, and a restless desire to see what lay deeper. He helped design waterproof cameras and the aqua lung, an early predecessor to scuba gear.

His yearnings and desire led him to purchase a vintage mine sweeper which was renamed the Calypso and with funding from the French government, went out exploring. When that funding dried up, he found that oil companies were willing to pay handsomely for oil exploration in the Red Sea and he did that for awhile, which he would later come to regret.

His fascination with the moving image led him to make – with then-unknown director Louis Malle – a documentary called The Silent World which won the 1956 Oscar for Best Documentary. Producer David Wolper thought that it would make a great TV show and thus The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was born.

His wife Simone accompanied him on his voyages. She was essentially the business manager for the Calypso and den mother to the crew. Camera-shy and spotlight-wary, she largely stayed out of the limelight while raising their two sons, Phillippe and Jean-Michel, largely without the help of her husband whose busy schedule took him on lecture tours and speaking engagements around the globe. At the same time, he was carrying on an affair with Francine Triplet, who would become his second wife with whom he would father two other children (Diane and Pierre-Yves) while still married to his first.

As the Sixties became the Seventies, he began to notice disturbing changes in his beloved oceans. Areas that had been teeming with fish were growing nearly barren; coral reefs were beginning to show signs of distress. He saw the pollution that was going into the ocean and killing it long before anyone else, and created the Cousteau Foundation (who partially funded the making of this film) to raise awareness of human impact on the oceans and the need for conservation in the seven seas. It is an ongoing effort that continues even more urgently today.

When one of Cousteau’s children died tragically, he became a changed man. His tone grew darker and ABC cancelled his show because it was “too depressing.” His wife Simone died of cancer, opening the door for him to marry Francine. Even with a new family which he made sure to spend more time with, which was one of the regrets he had with his two sons with Simone,

Garbus utilizes a lot of footage shot by Cousteau and his team, curating it rather than presenting it as a normal documentary. She never gets hagiographic with her subject, talking honestly about his change of heart regarding exploitation of the sea (he once advocated for colonizing the sea floor with permanent human habitats) and how, in many ways, he shut his family out emotionally. He expresses his regrets, and downplays his triumphs. Garbus has a more impartial point of view and keeps a steady hand on the wheel. Unfortunately, there isn’t much here that a cursory Wikipedia search wouldn’t reveal, but that seems to be pretty much true of most biographies these days. In any case, the undersea footage holds all the wonder it held for young children first seeing them in the Seventies, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat.

REASONS TO SEE: Some truly spectacular footage, much of it shot by Cousteau himself.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t really add much more than you could find in a Google search.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, a few disturbing images and some smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cousteau passed away in 1997 at age 87. His funeral was held in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/23/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oceans
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Pure Grit