New Releases for the Week of August 10, 2018


THE MEG

(Warner Brothers) Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Sophia Cai, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson. Directed by Jon Turteltaub

An oceanographer is terrorized by what he claims is a 70-foot shark. Ridiculed and disbelieved, when it turns out that the creature indeed exists and is a prehistoric Megalodon that has somehow survived in the depths of the ocean, he must put aside his fears in order to rescue a trapped submarine.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, D-BOX, D-BOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG -13(for action/peril, bloody images and some language)

A Prayer Before Dawn

(A24) Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai, Vithaya Pansringarm. A young British boxer is incarcerated in two of Thailand’s most brutal prisons. He is allowed to enter a Muay Thai tournament to fight for his freedom, but every fight could be his last  as no holds whatsoever are barred. Based on a true story, the film has been available for DirecTV subscribers for about a month now and is just now seeing a limited theatrical release.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for strong violence including a brutal rape sequence, drug use and language throughout, some sexual content and nudity)

American Animals

(The Orchard) Evan Peters, Ann Dowd, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner. A group of young men plan an audacious heist to steal priceless books from a University library. No less audacious is the way director Bart Layton tells the story with the actual participants offering peanut gallery comments. This was the opening night film at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Crime
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material)

BlacKKKlansman

(Focus) John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin. Spike Lee’s latest is based on the true story of an African-American cop who manages to get an in with the KKK over the phone. He is forced to recruit a white cop to play him for face-to-face meetings.

See the trailer, interviews and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby
Genre: True Crime
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references)

Dog Days

(LD Entertainment) Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wolfhard, Eva Longoria. The lives of several L.A. dog owners (and would-be dog owners) intersect through the efforts of their dogs in this ensemble piece that looks  at how our four legged best friends enhance our lives.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude and suggestive content, and for language)

Slender Man

(Screen Gems) Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Javier Botet. A group of friends in a small town in Massachusetts discover the Internet creepypasta figure the Slender Man and set out to disprove his existence. When one of them mysteriously disappears however, their own skepticism begins to crumble.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website</a
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Release Formats: Standard, D-BOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and language including crude sexual references)

Vishwaroopam 2

(Reliance) Kamal Haasan, Rahul Bose, Shekhar Kapur, Pooja Kumar. After foiling an Al Qaeda plot in New York in the first movie, anti-terrorism expert Wisam chases his quarry as they plan an even more infernal plot to undermine the world’s most stable democracies – including India.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Artegon Marketplace

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Along Came the Devil
Hope Springs Eternal
On Chesil Beach
Our House
Srinivasa Kalyanam

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Ashke
Cuban Food Stories
Goodachari
McQueen
Puzzle
Satan’s Slaves
Sergio and Sergei
Srinivasa Kalyanam
Summer of ‘84
What Keeps You Alive

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Far From the Tree
Srinivasa Kalyanam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bag of Marbles
Eating Animals
Srinivasa Kalyanam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

American Animals
Blackkklansman
Eating Animals
Far From the Tree
The Meg
Our House
Slenderman
Summer of ‘84

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Devil’s Gate (2017)


Bridget Regan is having a bad hair day.

(2017) Horror (IFC) Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Schull, Shawn Ashmore, Bridget Regan, Jonathan Frakes, Javier Botet, Spencer Drever, Adam Hurtig, Will Woytowich, Scott Johnson, Sarah Constible, Beverly Ndukwu, Jean-François Ferland, Jan Skene. Directed by Clay Staub

 

There’s something about creepy old farms that just seem to lend themselves to horror movies Old time farm implements like pitchforks, scythes and rakes become all the more sinister hanging in a barn when someone is being stalked by a creature or a serial killer. American Gothic has more than one subtext, after all.

A local farmer’s wife, Maria Pritchard (Regan) and her son Jonah (Drever) have disappeared and suspect number one is the husband, abusive but devout Jackson Pritchard (Ventimiglia). They’ve owned their piece of land in Devil’s Gate, North Dakota for generations and while Jackson awaits the arrival of angels to make his barren soil fertile the FBI in the person of Special Agent Daria Francis (Schull) to investigate the disappearance.

One wonders who called her in; it certainly wasn’t good ol’ boy Sheriff Gruenwell (Frakes) who not-so-subtly warns her to stay away from Pritchard; reluctantly, he allows Deputy Colt Salter (Ashmore) to accompany her. The Deputy warns the Special Agent that Jackson, whom he went to high school with, is a little bit twitchy and is known for his explosive temper. Still, nobody is prepared for the police cruiser they arrive on the farm in to be struck by numerous bolts of lightning. I mean, lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, right?

Well, it does in Devil’s Lake and more to the point on the Pritchard place. Soon it becomes apparent that Jackson may not be as crazy as everyone thinks he is; there are most definitely some things lurking in his basement. There are also beings coming from the sky but they might not be the angels Jackson thinks they are.

The cast is pretty strong with some TV veterans as well as Ashmore who cut his teeth on the X-Men movies. Surprisingly, Ventimiglia chews the scenery more than I’ve ever seen him do before. He was such a compelling figure in Heroes but here he truly embraces the crazy. A fairly high percentage of his dialogue is shrieked rather than stated and when he’s quiet, it’s because he’s giving a menacing mumble. Beyond that, it’s great to see Frakes in a role that isn’t named Will Riker although it is a bit disturbing to realize that 31 years has passed since he originated that role in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the years are definitely taking their toll.

The actors for the most part do their jobs well but they aren’t given a whole lot to work with; the characters really aren’t developed much as writer-director Staub and his co-writer Peter Aperlo don’t give them much in the way of character development to hang their hats on. There are other compensations however; the creature effects are pretty damn good and reminiscent of the work of Guillermo del Toro. There’s also some nifty storm effects although they don’t really break any new ground there.

It’s not an entirely well-filmed movie though. The cinematography ranges from outdoor shots that are so overlit that they look like the sun’s exploding, or indoor shots that look like they were lit by candlelight. Less extremes on both ends would have been sincerely appreciated.

For the most part this is a fairly entertaining sci-fi/horror creature feature, set on a desolate farm in the middle of nowhere a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre loaded with traps a la Saw and some slimy monsters a la Pan’s Labyrinth. This isn’t a rocket science kind of movie but it is a decent enough thrill ride nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the special effects are pretty impressive. It is good to see Jonathan Frakes in a non-Star Trek role.
REASONS TO STAY: Ventimiglia is more than a little bit over-the-top. The cinematography is either virtually washed out or just  about too dark to see.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The town itself is fictional but there is a town in North Dakota called Devil’s Lake.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 36% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Last Exorcism
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
For the Love of George

Insidious: The Last Key


Someone needs a manicure badly.

(2018) Horror (Blumhouse/Universal) Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Bruce Davison, Aleque Reid, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Javier Botet, Marcus Henderson, Amanda Jaros, Judith Drake, Hana Hayes, Thomas Robie, Josh Wingate, Danielle Kennedy, Melanie Gaydos, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins, Rose Byrne. Directed by Adam Robitel

 

Horror franchises can be very lucrative indeed for a studio. Look at the Friday the 13th franchise for Paramount, the Paranormal Activity franchise for the same studio and the Nightmare on Elm Street and the Conjuring universe for New Line. It’s hard to know where Lionsgate would be had it not for the money generated by the Saw franchise years ago.

Insidious has been part of a renaissance of horror franchises that have taken hold of studio imaginations. For the most part these horror franchises are very cheap to produce and can generate tens and even hundreds of millions of box office profits when all is said and done. They may not be prestige projects or win many awards – or even gain much critical respect – but they are vital to a studio’s bottom line. Insidious has for the most part (especially in the second two of the four chapters to date) followed the story of Elise Rainier, a psychic who is able to communicate with the dead and sometimes venture into a dimension she calls The Further in which the living and the dead can sometimes interact – although it is the supernatural who reign there.

Like the previous installment, this is a prequel. Elise Rainier (Shaye) is at home when she gets a call from a potential client in a small New Mexico town. When she hears the address, immediately it becomes obvious that she is terrified as she abruptly declines to take the job and hangs up.

That’s because the address is her own childhood home, now occupied by a lone man named Ted Garza (Acevedo). As a child (Kolker) and as a teen (Hayes) as her abilities were manifesting themselves, she was tortured by the souls of those who had died in the nearby prison where her abusive father (Stewart) works. He not only doesn’t believe in the supernatural, he thinks his daughter is crazy and whenever she confesses that she has witnessed something supernatural, she is beaten with a cane.

Eventually she runs off leaving her brother Christian to survive alone with his dad but not before she unknowingly allows a terrible entity into this world which ends up killing her loving and supportive mother (Ferrer). Troubled not only by the memories of the abuse she suffered but also haunted by the guilt over her mother’s death, she realizes she can’t find peace until she faces her own demons – literally. So with her assistants Specs (Whannell, who directed the last one) and Tucker (Sampson), she goes to Five Keys to do battle with evil.

There she’ll meet her now-grown brother (Davison) who hasn’t yet forgiven her for abandoning him, and his daughters Imogen (Gerard) and Melissa (Locke) who are both fetching which attracts the attention of Specs and Tucker but also Elise realizes that one of them may have inherited the gift/curse that she possesses.

Elise is one of the most admirable horror heroines ever created. Generally most horror franchises are about the monster and rarely is there a single hero that runs through the series. Insidious is the reverse of that (as is, to be fair, The Conjuring) but in the case of Elise, she is not a young person; Shaye is a rare hero of a certain age group (let’s call it AARP-friendly) who appeals to young people as well as others. She is grandmotherly at times but she kicks spiritual booty when she needs to. There has never been a heroine quite like her and in this film Shaye is at her absolute best.

In fact it’s safe to say that the acting is pretty solid all around. Sure, the two nieces are pretty much interchangeable and Whannell and Sampson occasionally try a little too hard for comedy relief but Davison is a savvy pro who compliments Shaye nicely and Ferrer does a bang-up job as the ill-fated mom. Acevedo also gets kudos for taking a character who has some depth and translating it into performance.

The Insidious series has never been gore-heavy and also quite frankly not really overloaded with scares as well, which makes it a target for some derision in horror fanboy circles. I’ve always appreciated that the scares in the first three movies are well-earned and if there are occasionally an over-reliance on jump scares (or startle scares as I like to call them) when they do go out to get you they generally succeed.

The one thing that keeps this from a higher score in my book is the ending; the final confrontation is a big letdown and is that unusual situation where it should have  gone on longer, even though because this is a prequel you pretty much know the outcome because…well, certain characters HAVE to survive or else the continuity is completely shot to hell. Of course, one of these days a franchise picture is going to shock the living daylights out of us by killing a character who is shown to have survived in one of the earlier films. Perhaps that will cause a paradox that will bring the whole universe to an end – or perhaps just a portion of it, like all politicians. That would be worth it, I’m sure we can all agree.

REASONS TO GO: This could be the best performance by Shaye in the series. In general, the acting is better than the average horror film.
REASONS TO STAY: This installment is a little bit less scary than other films in the franchise. The final confrontation between Elise and the demon is a bit anti-climactic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some disturbing thematic content and imagery, horror violence, scenes of terror and occasional profanity. There are also a couple of scenes of child abuse.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This film is meant to conclude the prequel series for the franchise, leading to sequels that may or may not continue the character of Elise Rainier.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/7/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 31% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Annabelle
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Downsizing

New Releases for the Week of January 5, 2018


INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY

(Blumhouse/Universal) Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke, Javier Botet, Ty Simpkins.  Directed by Adam Robitel

Paranormal investigator and psychic Elise Rainier has faced down all sorts of entities from the Further, trying to protect those who are being possessed as gateways into our world. However, the latest haunted house that she is fighting to save is the most personal yet – it’s the one her family lives in.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language)

Day of the Dead: Bloodline

(Saban/Lionsgate) Sophie Skelton, Jonathan Schaech, Lillian Blankenship, Shari Watson. A remake of the George Romero classic, the movie is set in the waning days of the zombie apocalypse. A former med student who is trying to survive in a world gone mad is haunted by a dark figure from his past – a half human, half zombie lunatic bent on destroying the world forever.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for bloody violence and gore, language and brief sexuality/nudity)

The Strange Ones

(Vertical) Alex Pettyfer, James Freedson-Jackson, Gene Jones, Marin Ireland.  Two travelers making their way across a desolate American landscape at first glance seem to be just two people on vacation. However the longer we look, the more we see that there are dark secrets ready to bubble their way to the surface. This played the most recent South by Southwest Film Festival.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall

Rating: R (for some disturbing violent images, and brief sexual material)

Youth

(China Lion) Xuan Huang, Miao Miao, Caiyu Yang, Zhong Chuxi. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s, a troupe of dancers connected with the military tour the countryside of China entertaining and educating the population about the grand past of the Chinese communist party. Members of the troupe, some of whom serving in the Sino-Vietnamese war, deal with love, lust, betrayal and despair while coping with the changing face of China.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Chamak

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Chamak
Hostiles
I, Tonya

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

I, Tonya
Okka Kshanam
Stratton
Vimaanam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Brimstone and Glory
Chamak
Lucky

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hostiles
I, Tonya
Insidious The Last Key

The Conjuring 2 (The Enfield Poltergeist)


There's nothing worse than getting caught by a nun.

There’s nothing worse than getting caught by a nun.

(2016) Horror (New Line) Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe, Frances O’Connor, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Franka Potente, Bob Adrian, Robin Atkin Downes (voice), Bonnie Aarons, Javier Botet, Steve Coulter, Abhi Sinha, Chris Royds, Sterling Jerins. Directed by James Wan

 

Horror franchises have a way of decreasing in quality the farther along you go. They also have a tendency to repeat themselves. This sequel to a movie based on the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, has all the makings of a good franchise. Will it fall prey to some of the sins of the sequels?

In a house in the small town of Amityville, New York, Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) and her husband Ed (Wilson) are conducting a séance to investigating the haunting of the Lutz residence. She sees a small boy while in a psychic trance and follows him into a basement. There she encounters a demonic nun and has a vision of Ed’s death.

She is understandably shaken and convinces Ed to take a break from taking on new investigations. In the meantime the Amityville Horror comes out and Ed and Lorraine become famous…or more accurately, infamous as they are accused of perpetrating a hoax. Ed is beginning to get a little bit frustrated that he can’t really defend himself (and his wife) against these charges since so much of what they’ve seen is anecdotal and go against established science.

Across the Atlantic, single mom Peggy Hodgson (O’Connor) is barely making ends meet with her four children who are being bullied in their local school in Enfield, a suburb of London. Her daughter Janet (Wolfe) soon begins hearing and seeing things, mostly revolving around a recliner left behind by the previous tenant, Bill Wilkins (Adrian). Soon, furniture is flying around on its own, witnessed by a pair of incredulous Bobbies, and parapsychologists and the clergy become involved.

The Roman Catholic Church has been contacted to see if an exorcism is in order. They want to send Ed Warren to make that determination. Lorraine is reluctant, particularly after having another vision of the evil nun in her own home, but Ed points out that this is a single mother with four children who have nowhere to turn to. Lorraine knows that her husband is right.

The goings on in the house are increasing in degree and malevolence and the family is essentially sleeping across the street at a neighbor’s home, but when an apparition known as the Crooked Man (Botet) makes an appearance over there, it becomes clear that Janet is the focal point of the hauntings, so Peggy and Janet return to their home to sleep, with the Warrens and their team also hunkering down in the haunted dwelling.

Soon Lorraine begins to realize that it isn’t just Bill Wilkins haunting this house; there’s something else behind it, something far more evil and far more ancient. She also begins to realize that the target of the haunting may not be the Hodgson family after all.

James Wan may be the pre-eminent genre director working today. He has initiated no less than three franchises now, and considering the two Conjuring films have set horror film opening weekend box office records, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more genre work on the way for the director. Here again he sets a nice, creepy tone and uses set design to his advantage; there are always plenty of shadows for gruesome things to leap out of.

The trouble is, that he seems to be relying more and more on what are called jump scares, which are aided by loud noises and tend to be things that, ahem, leap out of the shadows. They are the cheapest of all horror movie scares and the hoariest of tropes; either way they’re well beneath Wan who in the first film came by his scares honestly.

Not so much here. I can applaud Wan for setting up a big bad that might well power through the rest of the franchise, but it seems that the producers want to create  as many spin-offs as they possibly can. There’s already one for Annabelle in the can and one on the way and the nun from this movie has reportedly received the green light for a feature of her own. I’m looking forward to finding out more about her because we don’t get a whole lot of information about the character here.

At the center of this movie is the relationship between Ed and Lorraine and the love that is there. Farmiga and Wilson are so adept at creating an affectionate environment between the two characters that it’s hard to believe they’re not married in real life. There’s a scene in which to lighten things up Ed grabs a guitar and does a credible Elvis impression (and yes, that’s actually Patrick Wilson singing) of the King’s classic “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” While ostensibly to calm down the Hodgson family, it is also a message to his wife – and she receives it loud and clear.

Not quite to the level of the first film which is in my opinion a new horror classic, this is nonetheless a satisfying sequel that won’t disappoint fans of the first film – or fans of the horror genre in general. While I wish Wan would have spent a little time on earning our fright rather than going the route of the cheap jump scares, there is enough here to make your skin crawl in a good way that I can give it an enthusiastic recommendation to all.

REASONS TO GO: The relationship between Ed and Lorraine is at the center of the film.
REASONS TO STAY: An excess of jump scares.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of terror and horror violence, disturbing images and some strong language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director James Wan turned down what he termed a “life-altering” amount of money to direct Fast 8 in order to return to his horror roots.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/5/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Poltergeist
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: A Violent Prosecutor