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!

The Possession of Hannah Grace


The morgue is NOT the ideal place to hide from a demon.

(2018) Horror (Screen GemsShay Mitchell, Grey Damon, Kirby Johnson, Nick Thune, Louis Herthum, Stana Katic, Max McNamara, Jacob Ming-Trent, James A. Watson Jr., Marianne Bayard, Adrian Mompoint, Matt Mings, Gijs Scholten van Aschat, Guy Clemens, Sean Burns, Andrea Lyman, George Vezina, Melissa McMeekin. Directed by Diederick van Rooijen

 

There is nothing fun or desirable about a trip to the morgue. So when a movie has that as a central premise, you have to hope that they do enough to make it interesting.

The movie starts with an exorcism (where many other horror movies end) that is performed on the luckless Hannah Grace (Johnson). When the ceremony turns into carnage, the girl’s loving father (Herthum) smothers her to death. But, as I said, the movie is only beginning.

Megan (Mitchell), an ex-cop battling alcoholism and inner demons, gets to battle an outer demon now as well. She’s starting a new job as an intake clerk at a hospital morgue which looks like it was designed by the same guys who do urban boutique hotels. Lots of concrete, lots of glass, and incongruously, cross-shaped lights inside the morgue itself. A little obvious, don’t-cha think?

In any case, it isn’t long before Hannah Grace’s corpse is deposited and we begin our “not-quite-dead-yet” shenanigans, although she is most decidedly dead, dead enough to inspire a Munchkin song. That’s bad news for the few workers who are present on the (appropriately) graveyard shift, including Megan’s pal Lisa (Katic) and AA sponsor who figures out too late that she’s not imagining things. Hannah’s got a hankering to rejoin the living and she’ll need some freshly dead folks to do that. Demons; can’t die with them, can’t die without ’em.

Essentially this is a standard haunted house flick set in a morgue and despite the title, there really isn’t much in the way of Satanic ritual other than in the opening minutes, so the truth in advertising thing is out the window. There isn’t a lot to the film that’s highly original, other than having the exorcism at the beginning. Van Rooijen doesn’t do a whole lot to work the tone, inserting a lot of jump scares and utilizing a whole lot of icky images of dead, rotting flesh. The mostly young, not-well-known cast (Mitchell is best known from Pretty Little Liars) does about how you’d expect given the limitations of the script.

It’s not surprising that the movie opened in the no-man’s land of the week after Thanksgiving. Not much was expected of it and it basically delivers on the “not much” department. It’s decent looking and the walking corpse effects are pretty good, although nothing particularly new, so this is a tepid recommendation at best. If you’re in the mood to be scared, there are so many better options to choose from.

REASONS TO SEE: The corpse effects are pretty good.
REASONS TO AVOID: A fairly standard haunted house-type film with many lapses in logic and lost scare opportunities.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of terror and some gruesome images throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The exterior of the hospital is actually Boston City Hall.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Sling TV, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 19% positive reviews, Metacritic: 37/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Autopsy of Jane Doe
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Bias

Searching


Somewhere you never want to see your daughter’s photo.

(2018) Thriller (Screen Gems) John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Sara Sohn, Joseph Lee, Dominic Hoffman, Briana McLean, Roy Abramsohn, Kristin Herold, Ric Sarabia, Gage Biltoft, Lasaundra Gibson, Connor McRaith, Dominic Hoffman, Erica Jenkins, Johnno Wilson, Rasha Goel, Erin Henriques, Steven Michael Eich, John Macey, Betsy Foldes, Katie Rowe. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty

Every parent’s nightmare is for their child to go missing. In a world filled with predators who lurk disguised as would-be friends on social media sites, it is all too easy for a naïve youngster to get in over their heads in a situation that could prove to be dangerous.

David Kim (Cho) is a widower who hasn’t quite come to grips with the death of his wife and has become, in many ways, a helicopter parent, hovering over his daughter Margot (La) – the only family he has left other than his brother Peter (Lee) – to prevent the possibility of him losing her too. But when she doesn’t return home after an all-night study session and after some inquiries he discovers to his horror that she left the study session early, he calls the cops. Helpful detective Vick (Messing) gets his case and suggests he search through her laptop, which she had left at home (another ominous sign), to find out who she is close to and start contacting them.

The more David looks into his daughter’s online life, the more he realizes how little he really knew his daughter. With time ticking away and only a precious few clues as to her whereabouts to peruse, David grows more desperate.

The entire film is seen through laptop screens, smartphone screens, surveillance footage and news broadcast – very much a product of the 21st century. This could have been extremely gimmicky and towards the end it starts to feel that way, but first-time feature director Chaganty keeps things pretty fresh; he uses actual websites and apps in an effort to play to the target demographic who live their lives online. The problem with that is it is going to horribly date this movie in a matter of just a few years and it will lose its relevance quickly.

Still, Cho’s performance as a grieving husband and terrified father is universal and he is as good as I’ve ever seen him.  The director’s point of how rather than being connected by the Internet, we have actually grown more isolated and fragmented, is well-taken. Unfortunately, all the good will the film builds up is nearly lost with a preposterous ending that will lead to much face-palming, even with the online crowd.

REASONS TO SEE: Cho delivers the most powerful performance of his career. Really plays up the disconnect of the digital age.
REASONS TO AVOID: Jumps the shark a bit at the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, some sexual references, adult thematic content and some drug references as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The firm where David works, AppEnsure, actually exists. It was founded by Chaganty’s father and both his parents are executives there.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Sling TV, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/11/20: Rotten Tomatoes::92% positive reviews, Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Unfriended
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Mile 22

Slender Man


Stopping by the woods on a misty evening.

(2018) Horror (Screen GemsJoey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso, Alex Fitzalan, Taylor Richardson, Javier Botet, Jessica Bank, Michael Reilly Burke, Kevin Chapman, Miguel Nascimento, Eddie Frateschi, Oscar Robert Wahlberg, Daniel Beaton, Gabrielle Lorthe, Mark Carver, Kris Sidberry, Angela Hope Smith. Directed by Sylvain White

 

One of the more interesting things to come out of the Internet is the creepypasta movement; that is, essentially urban legends created by internet bloggers for the new generation. Perhaps the best known of these is Slender Man, which inspired an actual real-life stabbing, although that isn’t referenced here.

Four bored best buds in a small Massachusetts town read all about the Slender Man online and decide to see if they can conjure up the Slender Man. Of course, they are successful and are soon be stalked by a tall slim apparition in white shirt and black tie. It is said that the Slender Man will either haunt you, drive you mad or take you and when one of the girls disappears, the others begin to suspect that they will be next.

White does a very good job of creating a mood and his atmospheric tone is very conducive to big scares but sadly he doesn’t deliver any. Most of this is rote teen horror with kids doing insanely stupid things especially given that they suspect that they are being stalked by a supernatural being. King as the goth girl carries most of the water here, but the rest of the cast does at least a fair to middling job, all things considered.

I get the sense that given the publicity surrounding the incident in which two adolescent girls stabbed a third in an effort to summon the entirely fictional Slender Man, Screen Gems seemed reluctant to publicize the film much. There was also the studio’s insistence on a PG-13 rating, so the film is fairly bloodless and some of the best scenes, according to director Sylvain White, ended up on the cutting room floor. This is truly a case of a studio killing their own film.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the scenes are genuinely creepy.
REASONS TO AVOID: Generic horror film (dumb kids doing dumb things) with a topical subject.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some atmospheric sequences of terror, plenty of profanity and some crude sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Javier Botet, who plays Slender Man, also makes a cameo appearance as the tall doctor in the hospital at the end of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Starz, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 7% positive reviews: Metacritic: 30/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Midnight Man
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Meg

BrightBurn


With eyes all aglow.

(2019) Superhero Horror (Screen Gems) Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Abraham Clinkscales, Christian Finlayson, Jennifer Holland, Emmie Hunter, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Becky Wahlstrom, Terence Rosemore, Gregory Alan Williams, Elizabeth Becka, Steve Agee, Michael Rooker, Steve Blackehart, Mike Dunston, Annie Humphrey. Directed by David Yarovesky

 

Superman was very much a product of his times, an alien baby adopted by human parents when his spaceship crashed to Earth. Possessed of nearly godlike powers, he uses those powers for good and upholding truth, justice and the American way. Even in the midst of a Depression, that seemed very plausible to most Americans, particularly in the Heartland where the Superman saga was initially set.

Nowadays, we see things differently. Take the same storyline – with Elizabeth Banks and David Denman taking the roles of Ma and Pa Kent – and even essentially the same location (Kansas) and set in in 2019 and what you have is not an inspiration but sheer terror. This kid is no way going to use his powers for good but instead to tear this country into pieces – small ones.

=It’s a nifty concept although there have been other dark superhero stories before, even horror tinged ones but almost all of them have been on the printed page. There are plenty of nods to the Superman mythos, from the alliteratively named Brandon Breyer (Dunn), the superhero to the red, yellow and blue color scheme that Brandon often wears to the superpowers themselves. At times it gets heavy handed.

The movie was produced by James Gunn who has been a frequent critic of the President and the movie, written by one of his brothers and a cousin, makes some political allusions that are hard to ignore, although some are a bit more tenuous than others. Certainly, those who are sensitive to such things will notice.

Banks actually does a terrific job as a cross between the aforementioned Ma Kent and Laurie Strode. She captures a mother’s undying need to believe in the best of her child even as her husband exclaims “He’s not our child! We found him in the woods!” which is accurate enough but misses the point completely, just like a man as I can hear many women thinking. Most of the rest of the cast is solid.

The ending is anti-climactic which isn’t surprising because the writers pretty much paint themselves into a corner which leads to predictability. I had high hopes for this one because of Gunn’s involvement but this doesn’t live up to the standards of most of his other films. It isn’t a bad movie but it’s disappointing given its pedigree.

REASONS TO SEE: Dunn is sufficiently creepy in this anti-Superman story.
REASONS TO AVOID: Nice concept but a bit too heavy-handed.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some grisly images, profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The school scenes were shot in the same now-closed high school in Georgia where the middle and high school scenes were shot for the hit Netflix series Stranger Things.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews: Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Superman: The Movie
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Underworld: Blood Wars


Never tell Selene that her catsuit makes her look fat.

Never tell Selene that her catsuit makes her look fat.

(2016) Action Horror (Screen Gems) Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Charles Dance, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head, Oliver Stark, Zuzana Stivinova, Brian Caspe, Jan Nemejovsky, Sveta Driga, Dan Bradford, David Bowles, Rostislav Novak, Tomas Fisher, Eva Lavoire. Directed by Anna Foerster

 

Sometimes audiences don’t need a whole lot to be happy. They don’t need a coherent plot or character development. They just want to sit back, relax and shut their brains off for a couple of hours. It’s not much to ask. In other words, sometimes a concept is enough to satisfy an audience. This explains why the Underworld franchise has confounded critics by surviving 13 years and five movies without any letup in popularity.

A lot of the reason behind that is Kate Beckinsale. She plays Selene, a former member of the Death Dealers, an elite squad of vampires who exterminate their mortal enemies the Lycans (a.k.a. werewolves). These days, Selene is a renegade, on the run from both Lycans and vampires alike. She is aided only by David (T. James), son of Thomas (Dance) who at one time was Selene’s enemy but is now her only ally on the Eastern coven council.

The war isn’t going well for the vampires and in their dogged pursuit of Selene has led them to fighting a war on two fronts. Their Death Dealers have been depleted and while they are training new ones, the coven is vulnerable. Council member Semira (Pulver) realizes this and entreats Thomas to convince council leader Cassius (Faulkner) to revoke the exile of Selene and bring her back to train the Death Dealers.

Meanwhile, the Lycans have grown more powerful led by Marius (Menzies), their leader who has united the Lycan clans like nobody else ever has. They want Selene’s daughter Eve whose blood contains both Lycan and vampire elements along with human – she is the key to victory for both sides. Selene however doesn’t know where Eve is which is the way she wants it to protect her daughter. That doesn’t stop the machinations of various parties within both the Lycan and vampire communities who will betray anyone and stop and nothing to find Eve – and to do so they all believe they must control Selene. But can Selene be controlled?

As I said earlier, the plot is convoluted and often senseless but that’s unimportant; what matters is vampires vs. werewolves and there is plenty of that, plenty of carnage (including spines being ripped out and bodies being cleaved in half) and of course plenty of Beckinsale in skintight leather. Say what you want to about the franchise but there is no doubt that Beckinsale has made Selene one of the more formidable female action heroes of the 21st century. Critics however lament that the extremely talented actress who showed her abilities in Love and Friendship last year has been slumming by appearing in these films. Paychecks like the ones she gets from the Underworld series are what allow her to appear in less lucrative but more substantial roles like the one mentioned.

Beckinsale is as always the best reason to see these movies and while she seems a little more restrained here than in previous incarnations of the franchise, she has a presence nonetheless that keeps the focus on her every time she’s on the screen. There are those who grouse that the catsuit she wears is demeaning to women but I hear nobody complain that the ripped shirts (and occasionally shirtless look) that male action stars often wear are demeaning to them. Sex appeal remains a big selling point for action movies.

Like most of the Underworld films the lighting is dim which looks cool enough but makes some of the action sequences hard to follow which becomes a particular problem given the accelerated reflexes of the two warring factions. Again, the vampires are portrayed as indolent Eurotrash while the Lycans come off as kind of grunge chic. Also as usual, other than Selene and maybe David there is little in the way of character development, leading to all the various supporting roles to kind of blend together.

Then again, that scarcely matters. What the audience for these films are looking for are right here in great quantities. First-time feature film director Foerster (who cut her teeth on the Starz Outlander series) clearly demonstrates an understanding of the wants and needs of the audience and if she doesn’t apply much of a stamp of her own to the franchise is more likely due to the producers wanting to keep thematic and tonal continuity between the various films more than anything. I’m actually interested in seeing how Foerster does with other action, adventure and genre films in the future; I suspect she would supply a much-needed female voice to what is largely a male-dominated profession. After all, women like a good brainless action and/or genre film just as much as the next guy.

REASONS TO GO: It’s really more of the same, so if you like the same…
REASONS TO STAY: …and if you don’t…
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a ton of violence, quite a bit of blood and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although this was initially believed to be the final film in the series, producer Len Wiseman has confirmed that a sequel is in the planning stages with Beckinsale returning as Selene.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lost Boys
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Elle

Vacancy


This is not the kind of room service you want in a motel.

This is not the kind of room service you want in a motel.

(2007) Horror (Screen Gems) Kate Beckinsale, Luke Wilson, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry, Scott G. Anderson, Mark Casella, David Doty, Caryn Mower, Meegan E. Godfrey, Kym Stys, Andrew Fiscella, Norm Compton, Ernie Misko, Bryan Ross, Chevron Hicks, Kevin Dunigan, Chuck Lamb, Richie Varga, Cary Wayne Moore, Dale Waddington Horowitz. Directed by Nimrod Atal

 

We take hotels for granted. We check in and go to sleep, completely vulnerable. We don’t know who is at the front desk, or what sort of people they are. They have access to our rooms, could enter while we’re sleeping and do God knows what to us and we wouldn’t know it was happening until it was too late.

David (Wilson) and Amy (Beckinsale) Fox are already having a bad night. Their marriage is already sinking into a morass of self-recrimination, self-medication and naked hostility following the tragic death of their son. On their way to a family function, David decides to take a shortcut off the interstate and is soon hopelessly loss. His navigator Amy is in a Xanax-induced snooze bordering on a coma, awakening to find one more reason to bicker.

A raccoon in the middle of the road causes David to swerve and crash. Nobody is hurt, not even the raccoon, but the car is barely drivable. They limp into a gas station that is anything but all-night. A friendly mechanic (Embry) tries to help them, telling them there might be a mechanic on duty in a town down the road, but their car has other ideas. They only make a few miles before their car expires of plot contrivance.

The bickering couple hoofs it back to the gas station, but the friendly mechanic is gone for the night. However, the fleabag hotel next door is open for business. The smarmy night clerk (Whaley) gives them a room with a view – of the parking lot. Hey, it’s the honeymoon suite. At first, David and Amy are not thrilled about spending a night in the same bed. After seeing the stains on the bed and the bugs in the bathroom, they aren’t thrilled about spending a night in THIS bed. Resigned to a terrible night, David puts on a videotape in the high-tech VCR on the TV which you half-expect to find rabbit ears on.

They see what appears to be a cheap horror movie of half-nude women being raped and slashed to pieces by masked killers. Then David notices something familiar about the scene. The bedspread looks an awful lot like the one in the flea-bitten room they are staying in. So do the curtains. Disquieted, David puts another cassette in and discovers it to be much the same thing – a couple being horribly murdered in a room not unlike their own. That’s when Amy makes the startling realization that it is their room. Their every move is being watched through a series of hidden cameras placed throughout the room. The sound of insistent knocking on their door signals the beginning of a night of terror in which the odds are stacked against them as a trio of killers comes after them to make the next episode in their snuff film series. Will David and Amy be able to survive the night, or will some other unfortunate traveler see their tape in that broken-down motel room?

Luke Wilson has been charming in a great number of better movies, but he is a bit flat as a slasher film hero. It’s not for lack of effort, however; he just seems a bit stifled. Beckinsale, from the Underworld movies, is gorgeous and resourceful. She makes the perfect heroine for this kind of movie, although her character’s bitchy moments make it difficult to root for her survival. Whaley is appropriately creepy, and most of the other characters are either meat for the grinder, or the ones doing the grinding.

Director Atal made his English language debut. He made the impressive Kontroll a few years back and his visual style seems tailor made for Hollywood. His seedy hotel is really seedy and claustrophobic. Paul Haslinger’s score is Horror Film Music 101, but at least it isn’t intrusive. Beckinsale is very pleasing to look at, and there are a few genuine scares. There is almost a Jim Thompson quality to the motel and the night clerk working there. The action sequences are pulled off nicely.

The stranded travelers are a hoary old premise for terror flicks going back to the earliest days of the movies and Vacancy doesn’t contribute anything particularly new or exciting to the genre. Wilson isn’t a terribly convincing hero; you keep waiting for a punchline that is never delivered.

As horror movies go, this one is about average. Beckinsale is easy on the eyes and as mentioned above, there are some pretty decent scare sequences. However, I wound up with a feeling I’d seen it all before, and better. If you haven’t seen a lot of horror movies and you want to see this one, you might not mind the clichés that are thrown at you like a water buffalo to the face, but otherwise this is merely a diversion.

WHY RENT THIS: Some pretty good scares can be found here. Beckinsale is a resourceful slasher film heroine.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is pretty mundane. Wilson is a bit lackluster as the slasher film hero.
FAMILY MATTERS: The snuff film sequences are graphic and disturbing. There is also a great deal of violence, and a fair amount of nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was shot on the same soundstage as The Wizard of Oz was.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The DVD edition has an alternate ending; the Blu-Ray contains this and an alternate opening as well as a compilation of all the snuff footage in one feature if you’re of a mind to watch that.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $35.3M on a $19M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray only), iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, Fandango Now, Crackle, YouTube
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Strangers
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Moana

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


Who knew that Jane Austen kicked ass?

Who knew that Jane Austen kicked ass?

(2016) Horror (Screen Gems) Lily James, Sam Reilly, Bella Heathcote, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, Suki Waterhouse, Douglas Booth, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Matt Smith, Emma Greenwell, Eva Bell, Aisling Loftus, Charlie Anson, Tom Lorcan, Robert Fyfe, Dan Cohen, Nicholas Murchie, Kate Doherty, Pippa Haywood, Bessie Cursons, Morfydd Clark. Directed by Burr Steers

Most of us have had our own encounters with Jane Austen’s masterpiece, either through high school or college lit classes, or through the multitudinous cinematic adaptations. Nothing you’ve ever seen before however will prepare you for this.

It is 1813 and the Regency period in Britain is in full flower. So is an invasion of the living dead as zombies have essentially overrun London which has a gigantic 100 foot wall and moat ringing it, with the environs between the moat and wall known as “The In-Between.” The redoubtable British army patrols the area but it is essentially deserted. Of the living, at any rate.

Elizabeth Bennet (James) and her sisters Jane (Heathcote), Lydia (Bamber), Mary (Brady) and Kitty (Waterhouse) have been raised by their father (Dance) as warriors, able defenders of the family home with sword and gun and dagger. Their mother (Phillips) still is stuck in a mindset where there are no zombies, hoping to marry off the girls to wealthy suitors. Jane already has one in the wealthy Mr. Bingley (Booth). However it is Mr. Darcy (Riley) who catches Elizabeth’s eye and not in a good way when he callously insults her at a party, then “saves” her from a zombie that accosts her outside the mansion trying to warn her about something. Elizabeth is far from grateful.

As the wealthy Darcy looks down his nose at the less fortunate Bennet family, the zombie problem is getting more acute as the London wall will soon be overrun and the one bridge over the moat will soon be dynamited. The dashing Lt. Wickham (Huston) arrives on the scene, not only to catch Elizabeth’s eye but also to map out a daring plan to make peace with the zombies. Darcy’s aunt, the Lady de Bourgh (Headey) listens to the plan with a saucy eye-patch covering her battle wound, but as Britain’s most acclaimed zombie killer and owner of the most fortified home in the land, she ultimately rejects any attempt at peace as does her nephew.

But the walls are falling and a crisis with Lydia Bennet leads Elizabeth, Darcy and Wickham into the no-man’s land to rescue her (although one has different motives) and bring her back to safety before the bridge is blown up at dawn. Can the plucky Elizabeth rescue her sister and escape the hordes?

This is based on a bestselling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith which is in turn based on the Jane Austen classic. While the title sounds more like a comedy than it really is not played for laughs; rather it is pretty much done straight with the horror elements emphasized. I think that’s the right move, quite frankly; there have been plenty of zombie spoofs and the bar is fairly high for those to begin with. However, it must be said that it also makes for an often discomfiting mash-up of styles.

The cast is solid, although unspectacular. The best-faring is James, who uses her Downton Abbey experience nicely. I’ve seen it said elsewhere but I’ll echo the sentiment; she’d make a fine Elizabeth Bennet in a straight-up production of the Austen novel. She is strong-willed and looks stunning in the dresses of the period. She also handles the physical work of the fighting gracefully.

Riley, one of the more underrated actors today, delivers a performance that is curiously flat. I suppose it might be said that Darcy is a character who doesn’t do emotion well, but even so Riley seems like he’s in a fog most of the time. There is also the odd wardrobe decision of putting the character in a leather greatcoat as if he’s some kind of Regency biker. It’s distracting to hear the leather creaking and crackling every time Riley’s onscreen.

Most of the humor here springs from Matt Smith’s portrayal of the dandified Parson Collins, who is an unwelcome suitor (and cousin to) Elizabeth. The former Doctor Who actor at times seems like he’s in a different movie than the rest of the cast, but his is in many ways more fun. As I mentioned, most of the cast plays this straight. It’s more the situation from where the humor is derived, other than through Collins and let’s face it, he’s also comic relief in the book as well.

The gore here is mainly of the CGI kind, but there is plenty of it – so much so that I was frankly surprised the movie didn’t rate an “R” but the MPAA has never shown a lot of consistency when it comes to rating films. Not all the CGI is of the top of the line variety, so expect to see a few images that will just scream computer generated. That’s never a good thing in any film.

This is solidly entertaining fare, surprisingly so considering the source. I won’t say that this is a new franchise for Screen Gems because it really doesn’t have that feel, unless the producers want to move on to other Austen novels or the Bronte sisters. However, if you don’t mind a little gruesome – okay, a lot of gruesome – in your classic literature, this might make for some interesting viewing for you.

REASONS TO GO: An interesting mash-up. James makes an excellent Elizabeth Bennet.
REASONS TO STAY: Some may be put off by the gore or the period. CGI is a little bit rough around the edges.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and zombie gore. There’s also some brief sexual suggestion.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally Natalie Portman was cast as Elizabeth but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts; she remained on board as a producer however.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Deadpool

The Wedding Ringer


A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

(2014) Comedy (Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Ken Howard, Cloris Leachman, Affion Crockett, Dan Gill, Corey Holcomb, Colin Kane, Jenifer Lewis, Alan Ritchson, Mimi Rogers, Aaron Takahashi, Olivia Thirlby, Whitney Cummings, Ignacio Serricchio, Nicky Whelan, Patrick Carlyle, GloZell Green. Directed by Jeremy Garelick

Weddings are meant to be rituals in which two separate people are formalized as a wedded couple. It is meant to be a celebration and a solemn step – a pledge of troth between two people til death do them part, although that aspect is a little less usual these days. Nonetheless, it is meant to be a major life-changing moment, one worthy of respect. It’s not supposed to be the source of the kind of stress that the modern wedding creates.

And yet we still spend small fortunes to give our little princesses their moment in the sun. The role of the groom is to shut up, be supportive and not to get frustrated when his bride-to-be is fretting over the smallest, most insignificant detail in order to make the day absolutely perfect, her Dream Wedding, the one she has been planning since she was a little princess getting glitter blown on her at the Bippity-Boppity Boutique at Disney World.

Doug Harris (Gad) is that groom. Basically a good-natured, decent fellow, he has been so hung up on making a career that he scarcely had time to date, much less develop the bonds of friendship with other guys. So when a supermodel-beautiful Gretchen Palmer (Cuoco-Sweeting) agrees to go out with him, he is surprised. When she agrees to marry him, he is shocked – but thrilled.

Now she’s planning the Wedding of the Century, one that would make British royalty green with jealousy. Even the salad dressing must be just right. So wedding planner Edmundo (Serricchio) needs the info on the seven groomsmen including the Best Man for the programs, Doug has been putting him off – mainly because he doesn’t have a best man, much less seven groomsmen.

Getting a tip from Edmundo, Doug visits Jimmy Callahan (Hart). This enterprising young charmer has made a lucrative business off of the issues of men just like Doug – men getting married without the support system that most brides develop over the years. He masquerades as best man for a price, providing groomsmen and whatever the groom needs to look irresistible to his new bride, sealing the deal on the wedding night.

However, seven groomsmen is a tall order, especially with the wedding date just ten days away. “What you’re talking about is what we joke about,” he tells Doug. There’s even a name for it; the Golden Tux. It doesn’t appear on any brochure because it’s never been done. Nonetheless, true love must win out, so Jimmy agrees to help Doug out – for a fee, with the understanding that he’s not buying a friend but renting a best man.

Newly christened Bic Mitchum – mainly so Kevin Hart can say “Bic Bic Bic Bic Bic” during the film – the CEO of Best Man Inc. sets out to find seven groomsmen in a hurry. Because of the time crunch, Jimmy – I mean, Bic – has to take what he can get rather than get the best. His motley crew are as Doug himself best described them; “It’s as if the Goonies grew up and became rapists.”

With Gretchen and her younger sister Alison (Thirlby) getting a little suspicious of the best man and the groomsmen, meeting the family including Gretchen’s imposing dad (Howard) and patrician grandmother (Leachman) is more than a little formidable, particularly when it turns out that Bic is supposed to be a priest – army chaplain to be exact – gets worse when Doug in a moment of panic nearly creates grandma flambé but nonetheless Jimmy seems to be pulling it off, but now the issue is that Jimmy and Doug are actually taking a liking to one another, and Jimmy is taking a liking to Alison too. Still, coordinating all this takes a massive set, and a lot of luck. Will Jimmy get Doug to the altar on time?

Hart has been particularly hot of late and his cinematic winning streak doesn’t look like it’s going to end here. While the movie isn’t the runaway success that Ride Along was, it’s still doing decent enough box office and should make enough to make a tidy profit with a relatively low production cost behind it. If there’s a good reason this movie is successful, it will be Hart who is rapidly moving into the Will Smith role of engaging and likable leading man while also taking the Chris Rock mantle of edgy comedian. That’s a very difficult tightrope act to manage but Hart makes it look easy.

Gad is starting to show up on the radar of big budget Hollywood producers, having made a name for himself as the voice of Olaf in Frozen and appearances in Wish I Was Here and the upcoming Pixels. He is ostensibly the straight man but he has an impeccable comic timing and he gets a few moments of his own, but this is definitely the Kevin Hart show in many ways and Gad wisely lets the comic take center stage and makes quite the second banana.

Some critics have complained about the portrayal of women as conniving Bridezillas but guys, this is about one bride, not all brides. Let’s not let our liberal guilt get in the way of a good time. Frankly there are some pretty good comic moments and I was adequately entertained throughout. which is gold when your movie comes out in January. If you go in expecting to have a game-changing comedy that is going to change the face of the medium, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However if you go in expecting a sweet-natured movie that will be occasionally inappropriate but generally funny throughout, you might actually enjoy this. Sometimes it pays to have low expectations because when you get a movie that is this good, it’s like a grand slam from a career .150 hitter in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Hart and Gad.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit predictable. Occasionally crass and bro-centric.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of foul language, some sexual references as well as crude sexuality, brief drug use and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was originally meant to be starring vehicle for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/7/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hitch
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Black or White

Deliver Us From Evil


Eric Bana is impressed by Edgar Ramirez' iMDB page.

Eric Bana is impressed by Edgar Ramirez’ iMDB page.

(2014) Supernatural Horror (Screen Gems) Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Joel McHale, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Mike Houston, Lulu Wilson, Olivia Horton, Scott Johnsen, Daniel Sauli, Antoinette LaVecchia, Aidan Gemme, Jenna Gavigan, Skylar Toddings, Sebastian LaCause, Steve Hamm, Sean Nelson, Tijuana Nicks, Lolita Foster. Directed by Scott Derrickson

Usually when you hear things that go bump in the night it’s a sign that it’s time to move. In horror movies, most people who hear such things tend to go looking around for what’s causing those noises and that’s never a good idea.

Ralph Sarchie (Bana) is an NYPD detective stationed in the Bronx. His partner Butler (McHale) is an adrenaline junkie who relies on his partner’s “radar” to figure out when real bad stuff is going down. Ralph, a lapsed Catholic,  thinks of himself as having a “hard hand” as a cop and he has the scars to prove it. He’s a family man too, with his wife Jen (Munn) pregnant with their second child – adorable moppet Christina (Wilson) is their first. However, as of late he hasn’t exactly been present at home.

The truth is Ralph is beginning to crack a little. Finding dead babies in dumpsters doesn’t do a lot to maintain your faith in humanity. When he arrives on a scene where a disturbed mother (Horton) throws her infant into the lion pit at the Bronx Zoo, he has an odd confrontation with a painter who turns out to be an Iraq War vet named Santino (Harris) who had a strange and frightening encounter in the Middle East.

Taking an interest in the case is Father Mendoza (Ramirez), an unorthodox Jesuit priest (which is something of an oxymoron) who has seen true evil in his time. He knows that what Ralph is facing isn’t run of the mill evil perpetrated by deranged or amoral men, but something more primordial and far-reaching. Ralph is skeptical of this at first, but when his daughter starts hearing scratching noises under her floorboards and her stuffed animals begin to menace her, the pragmatic cop begins to realize that he might be in way over his head.

Derrickson, who also helmed the horror hit Sinister has got the creepiness factor down. He orchestrates an excruciating terror that begins early on and never lets you out of its grip for the remainder of the movie. A good horror film requires the proper atmosphere to work properly and Derrickson supplies that.

Bana is a very underrated actor, one who has done impressive work in films like Munich but has never really crossed over into superstar territory. He probably won’t with his work here, but it’s very capable which is a standard with Bana. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him turn in a bad performance even in films that are not very good.

There is a real Ralph Sarchie and this is based on some of the cases that he has been involved with. As with most horror movies that use real life events as a springboard, this takes an awful lot of liberties with Sarchie’s story (he wrote a book with Lisa Collier Cool entitled Beware the Night). There are elements of a lot of different cases in this single case and the character of Father Mendoza is an amalgam of a couple of different Catholic clerics. Take the “based on a true story” thing with a grain of salt; true stories are rarely as exciting as they are portrayed to be on the big screen.

This is equal parts police procedural and gross-out supernatural scare film. Some of the scares are legit here, and there’s plenty of squirm-inducing images. Cat lovers, be forewarned – there are some scenes that you will find quite disturbing and there are a couple of gruesome murders shown in detail onscreen. While there’s nothing here that is particularly standard-setting, neither do the make-up and special effects disgrace themselves either.

This movie is a bit of a metaphor for the overall summer season; while it has a lot of elements that could have made it a great film, it goes the safe route in a lot of ways and ends up being just a solid, entertaining film. I will say the climactic exorcism scene is pretty nifty, but it lacks the sheer on the edge of your seat tension that the similar scene in The Exorcist possessed (no pun intended). From my point of view, this is solid but unremarkable horror entertainment for the summer months.

REASONS TO GO: Bana always delivers and Ramirez is an interesting priest. Some legitimate scares and uninterrupted creepy vibe.

REASONS TO STAY: The usual horror movie cliches.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some disturbing images, a good deal of violence that is generally bloody and gory, salty language and yes, terror. It’s a horror film after all.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ralph Sarchie role was originally offered to Mark Wahlberg who declined. Eventually Bana accepted the part.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/20/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 30% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil Inside

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Tammy