WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020) – Disappointing Sequel One of DC’s Worst


WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020), the highly anticipated sequel to WONDER WOMAN (2017), was finally released this week after many delays due to the COVID 19 pandemic both to theaters…. which really aren’t safe yet to attend, sorry to say…. and to the streaming service HBO MAX. Like many of you, I subscribed to HBO MAX just to see WONDER WOMAN 1984, and in my case, the subscription was a gift from my youngest son, Jonny. Thanks, Jonny!

Now, I absolutely loved the first WONDER WOMAN movie, which for me, was by far the best of the recent superhero movies put out by DC, which sadly, isn’t saying much, because most of their recent superhero films have been pretty bad, and have paled in comparison to their Marvel counterparts.

And I’m sorry to say… and I say this almost in disbelief… that not only is WONDER WOMAN 1984 nowhere near as good as WONDER WOMAN, but it also joins the ranks of DC’s worst movies, films like BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) for instance.

In simplest terms, WONDER WOMAN 1984 is downright awful.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that it lost me before the opening credits even rolled, and then it never recovered! There’s a pre-credit sequence featuring a child Diana Prince competing with adult warriors in a long and excruciatingly boring competition in which young Diana ultimately cheats and then learns a lesson about not cheating, and how it’s always important to tell the truth, because at the end of the day, truth is the only thing that matters.

Nothing wrong with this message, and it does tie in later to the plot, as an adult Diana also attempts a cheat in this story, but the sequence I thought was long and simply not very engaging. Sadly, the rest of the film isn’t much of an improvement.

The story takes place in 1984, which is another draw about this movie, that it would take place in a decade that seems to be getting lots of attention of late and viewed in recent movies with plenty of nostalgia. And the decade definitely fits in with the theme of the movie, which is even if you have a lot, why not ask for more? You deserve to have it all! A movie from that decade, Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET (1987) did a much better job with that theme, and it was current at the time, with Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko’s catchphrase, “Greed is good,” a character that was loosely based on Donald Trump, of all people!

And other than an early montage filled with 80s clothes, hairstyles, behaviors, and settings, like the ubiquitous shopping mall, there really isn’t a lot in WONDER WOMAN 1984 that captures the feel of the decade. Director Patty Jenkins, who directed the first WONDER WOMAN, drops the ball here in that regard. There’s not even a lot of cool 80s songs on the soundtrack! She dropped the ball on the whole production, sadly.

The plot, if you want to call it that, finds Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in the 1980s working for the Smithsonian in Washington D. C. She is investigating an ancient artifact with the bookish and unconfident Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). The artifact, it seems, possesses the ability to grant wishes to anyone who touches it. Come again? Yup. You heard me right. It grants wishes. This is the level of fantasy we’re talking about here.

So, Wonder Woman wishes for the return of her lost lover from the first movie, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and suddenly Steve is there with her in the 1980s! How about that? She didn’t even have to say it three times! It’s just about the lamest way to resurrect a dead character and put him back into a movie. Talk about lazy writing!

Barbara wishes to be more like Wonder Woman, and she gradually gains power which leads her to become the rather villainous The Cheetah!

And the main villain here, Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a con artist who’s on TV every day touting his ponzi oil scheme, telling people if they can dream it, they can have it. Eventually, Lord gets his hands on the artifact and he’s soon on his way to using it to become the most powerful man in the world, unless Wonder Woman can stop him. Blah, blah, blah.

I am a big fan of the original LOST IN SPACE (1965-68) TV show, and the ridiculous plot of this movie reminded me of something we would have seen on that show, where Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) discovers a wish machine (there is an episode like that, by the way) and his poor decisions wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Robinson family. The plot was ludicrous then (the writing wasn’t LOST IN SPACE’s strong suit) and it’s just as ludicrous now.

Everything I liked about WONDER WOMAN is gone in the sequel.

I loved Gal Gadot’s performance in that first movie. Sadly, she is completely forgettable here. Sure, a lot of it is the script, by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and Dave Callaham… it took three people to write this mess?…. but some of it is Gadot didn’t seem nearly as inspired here.

Chris Pine is okay as Steve Trevor, but he’s playing a “wish” character here… the only reason he exists is because of a wish… so it’s hard to pay him much attention.

Kristen Wiig is enjoyable early on, but once she converts to The Cheetah, she’s as dull as the rest of the movie.

And Pedro Pascal, who I have really enjoyed on the TV show NARCOS (2015-17) and in such movies as TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019) and THE GREAT WALL (2016) completely hams it up here as Maxwell Lord, so much so that he was as far removed from a real character as one can possibly get. Pascal currently stars as the Mandalorian on the series THE MANDALORIAN (2019-22).

Even the aciton scenes to this one were a letdown. There wasn’t one action sequence I enjoyed. The film runs for two and a half hours, and I was bored the entire time.

There are other goofs as well. For instance, in the crazy finale, when the world is on the verge of nuclear war, the U.S. defenses are alerted that Russian missiles are airborne. Now, having lived through the 1980s, at a time when the Soviet Union still existed, I’m pretty sure those would have been Soviet missiles that were launched. Small potatoes? Perhaps, but it’s all part of a sloppy poorly written production that is a major disappointment.

WONDER WOMAN deserved a much better sequel than this.

Whereas WONDER WOMAN ranks as one of DC’s best superhero movies, WONDER WOMAN 1984 sadly is one of their worst.


Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.


Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover
Print cover
For the Love of Horror cover (3)
Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

FATMAN (2020) – Dark, Violent Tale About Santa Claus Unusually Enjoyable


If the Coen brothers made a movie about Santa Claus, the result might resemble today’s movie FATMAN (2020), a dark comedy/thriller about a downtrodden reality-bitten Santa forced to outsource his elves and workshop to the U.S. military to make ends meet, while becoming the target of a relentless hitman hired to kill him by a disgruntled child.

Yup, FATMAN is one weird movie. But you know what? I liked it all the same!

While not a Coen brothers movie, FATMAN was actually written and directed by another pair of brothers, Eshom and Ian Nelms.

Times are tough for Santa (Mel Gibson), mostly because the world’s children are becoming more naughty than nice, which is slimming down his business, and as such, he’s having trouble paying his bills. As a result, when the U. S. military comes knocking on his door with a lucrative contract to build control consoles for their fighter jets, he is unable to say no.

Meanwhile, a spoiled rich child Billy (Chance Hurstfield) is outraged that once again Santa has given him a lump of coal for Christmas. Of course, in Billy’s case it’s well deserved, as he recently had threatened a classmate and forced her into saying she cheated on her science fair project, so she would be disqualified and he would instead be declared the winner.

Billy hires a hitman known only as the Skinny Man (Walton Goggins) to kill Santa, a job the assassin is only too happy to accept, as he has his own Santa issues, having felt abandoned by the gift-giver as a child. As a result, the Skinny Man collects toys which were given to other children by Santa.

The Skinny Man makes his way to northern Canada— the true secret hiding spot for Santa and his elves—to kill Santa once and for all, and he’s such a cool customer that he’s not even deterred by the presence of the U.S. military at the compound, which sets up a violent and bloody conclusion that is the last thing you would expect in a movie about Santa Claus.

The best part about FATMAN is that its tone is consistent, and that tone is dark. There is a sense of gloom throughout this one. Santa is basically depressed and disillusioned by the behavior of people, and he sees himself as a failure. The Skinny Man is one deadly dude, and he remains that way throughout. By far, he’s my favorite character in the movie, mostly because of the performance by Walton Goggins, who is a terrific actor.

There’s also a lot of humor here, most of it towards the beginning of the movie. There’s a chuckle-filled scene when the soldiers share lunch with the elves, and Captain Jacobs (Robert Bockstael) gets into a debate with the elf foreman Elf 7 (Eric Woolfe) about the need for a healthy diet. Jacobs admonishes the elf for feasting on sweets and carbs when he should be eating protein and fruits and vegetables. The elf disagrees and cites their longetivity for knowing more about health than the captain!

The scenes with spoiled Billy are pretty much all played for laughs, although these scenes are probably the least comical in the movie.

The film sheds its humor in its third act and goes all in with violence and bloodshed, and I actually enjoyed this less, as I was having fun with the film’s earlier quirky moments. But overall I enjoyed the script by the Nelms brothers. The story is as fresh as it is weird, and I liked this. They score just as highly behind the camera. The film carries a dreary look throughout, and the icy cold snowy Canadian countryside looked absolutely desolate. The setting proved a nice metaphor for the way Santa viewed people of late.

Mel Gibson makes for a down to earth and depressed Santa. He’s trying his best not to lose faith in humanity, but it’s a losing battle. And when he has to resort to his inner strength to defend himself against the Skinny Man, Gibson is even better. When he bellows out in his throaty voice in answer to the Skinny Man’s declarations of harm, with “You think you’re the first?” you know the Skinny Man has his hands full. It’s a really good performance by Gibson, certainly one of the more unusual and earthy takes on Santa I’ve ever seen.

But the best performance in my book here is Walton Goggins as the Skinny Man. He makes for a determined assassin who while he is at times unhinged never loses control. It’s the type of role that Bruce Dern would have played years ago. Goggins himself is no stranger to this type of role, having played unhinged types in such films as DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015). He also played the villain in the Marvel superhero film ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018).

The confrontation between Santa and the Skinny Man is well worth the wait.

There are also some fine supporting acting performances here as well. Marianne Jean-Baptiste makes for a relaxed and supportive Mrs. Claus, again playing as unconventional a take on the role as you will ever see. Yet, her performance works.

Robert Bockstael plays Captain Jacobs with a sense of sincerity not often seen in a portrayal of a military officer. And Eric Woolfe is memorable as Elf 7, Santa’s top elf and one of his most loyal supporters.

FATMAN isn’t for everyone, and it is certainly not a “family” Christmas movie, but it is a well-written and well-directed tale that takes the most unconventional path regarding Santa Claus as you will ever see, and for that reason alone, it’s pretty impressive! I mean, a violent movie featuring Santa Claus as a main character that’s not entirely played for laughs? Can that even be pulled off? Well, these guys just did it!

And it helps to have veteran actors Mel Gibson and Walton Goggins in the two main roles, Santa and the hit man.

No coal for this one. FATMAN makes for quite the stocking stuffer! Unusually enjoyable, it’s that surprise gift you didn’t see coming but enjoyed all the same!


Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.


Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover
Print cover
For the Love of Horror cover (3)
Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL (2020) – Comedic Misfire From Start To Finish


Sometimes I find myself asking why I watched a certain movie in the first place.

In the case of SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL (2020), a Netflix original movie which premiered earlier this year, it’s based on the series of Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker, or at least the characters are anyway, and it also stars Mark Wahlberg in the lead as Spenser. Now, Wahblerg has his detractors, mostly based on things he’s done in his personal life, but as an actor, he’s kinda been a guilty pleasure for me. The main reason, besides the fact that he can be a very good actor at times, is he simply reminds me of Boston, and having lived there for a large chunk of my life, that’s a good thing. He kind of embodies that whole Boston feel. I watch Wahlberg on screen and I picture myself sitting in the Fenway Park bleachers eating a Fenway Frank and drinking watery beer.

There was also a very good TV show featuring the character back in the 80s, SPENSER: FOR HIRE (1985-1988) which starred Robert Urich and Avery Brooks.

SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL was released back in March, but I kept away from it as word of mouth on it was not very kind. But anyway, for the reasons listed above, I couldn’t keep away forever and finally decided to check it out.

I should have listened to all the naysayers.

When SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL opens, Spenser (Mark Wahlberg), a Boston cop, is going to prison for assaulting his dirty cop police captain. After several years in prison, Spenser is released and moves in with his former boxing coach Henry (Alan Arkin) where he meets his new roommate Hawk (Winston Duke) who is a promising young fighter. On the day Spenser is released, the police captain he assaulted is murdered, and another officer, one who Spenser also knows and believes to be an honest man, is found dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound, with evidence surrounding him implicating him of the police captain’s murder.

Spenser believes this good cop has been framed, and he sets out to solve the case, with his new roommate Hawk helping out when he can.

As plots go, the one for SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL is pretty bad. It’s another of those “all the cops are dirty” storylines, and Spenser sets out to expose them all. Nothing that happens in story is fresh or unexpected.

But the worst part of this one is that SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL tries to be a comedy, and unfortunately, the comedy here just doesn’t work. I found myself hardly laughing at all. The humor is a misfire from start to finish. Early on, for example, in prison, Spenser is surrounded by group of hulking inmates intent on teaching him a lesson. Instead, Spenser turns the tables on them as he goes all Jason Bourne and wipes them all out. It’s a fight scene played for laughs, but it doesn’t really work.

The whole mix of brutal acts by the bad guys and goofy shenanigans of Spenser and company never gels. It’s like watching a dark Martin Scorsese crime film only to have the Three Stooges show up. Actually, this sounds better than anything seen in SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL.

The biggest culprit is the humor just isn’t sharp. It is basically comprised of fight scenes that only go one way, in favor of Spenser and four letter expletives by Spenser as he calls out whatever thing he doesn’t like. The situations really aren’t humorous, and the script isn’t funny either. The screenplay was written by Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland, and Helgeland has a ton of credits, including 42 (2013), MYSTIC RIVER (2003), and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), all fine films, but not comedic ones.

At times, Mark Wahlberg is a really good actor. I’ve enjoyed his performances in such movies as PATRIOTS DAY (2016), THE FIGHTER (2010), and THE DEPARTED (2006). But he’s made a lot of films that I haven’t liked either, films like the TED movies, CONTRABAND (2012), and THE HAPPENING (2008). I can’t say I enjoyed his performance here as Spenser. He’s just sort of playing a variation of his screen persona, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen him do before.

Alan Arkin plays his usual persona as well, and you can see much finer and more comedic Arkin moments on the TV show THE KOMINSKY METHOD (2018-present), in which he co-stars with Michael Douglas.

Winston Duke, who has starred BLACK PANTHER (2018) and US (2019) is amiable as Hawk, but the Hawk in the novels was quite the different character,

Fans of the Robert B. Parker novels will no doubt be disappointed with this movie, since the characters here are quite different and don’t really resemble the ones from the novels.

Even Iliza Shlesinger’s over the top performance as Spenser’s in-your-face Southie girlfriend Cissy doesn’t really work here.

Everything about the humor in this movie is a misfire.

It also suffers from what I call the “Bugs Bunny syndrome.” Everything Spenser does works, and everything the bad guys do fails. Spenser solves the case and saves the day without breaking a sweat. There’s barely any conflict.

Director Peter Berg, who has directed Wahberg in five movies now, doesn’t really capture the Boston flavor with this one. He did a better job capturing the feel of the city in PATRIOTS DAY. I felt like this story could have happened anywhere.

Ultimately, SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL plays like a weak comedy action buddy movie, tailored for the onscreen persona of Mark Wahlberg, and it is simply nowhere near as good as some of Wahlberg’s better movies. It’s also a horrible introduction to the Spenser character. If you want that, read the novels or watch the 1980s TV show.

I won’t be keeping this one in my Netflix queue.




This is a reprint of a column I wrote for the HWA NEWSLETTER back in 2011:

One of the joys lost in today’s age of DVD collections and massive streaming video libraries is the discovery of unseen gems.  There are few things I enjoy more than watching one of my favorite classic actors— say Peter Cushing or Boris Karloff— in a film performance for the first time.  Sure, I’ve seen most of the movies these guys have made, but on purpose, I’ve yet to see them all.


That’s the case with today’s movie THE GHOUL (1933), a classic tale of the walking dead starring Boris Karloff fresh off playing his signature role in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  I had never seen this one before, and watching it for the first time was a pleasure.


Karloff plays Professor Henry Morlant, and as the film opens, Morlant is dying.  He’s sick in bed with just a few hours to live.  Not to fret, Morlant is an Egyptologist who believes in the powers of the Egyptian gods.  A wealthy man, Morlant has spent the bulk of his fortune on a jewel known as the “Eternal Light,” and he believes that with this jewel in his possession, he’ll have eternal life.


Morlant instructs his servant Laing (Ernest Thesiger) to bury the jewel with him, to in fact bandage it to his dead hand.  He warns Laing, however, that if anyone should steal the valuable item, he will rise from the dead to kill those who have taken the jewel so he can reclaim it and enjoy his eternal life in the next world. Hmm, if he can come back from the dead without the jewel, what does he need the jewel for in the first place?  The answer, of course, is that the Eternal Light gives him eternal life in the next life, while without it, he just comes back as a murderous ghoul.  Nice to have options!


Since the Eternal Light jewel is worth a fortune, everyone and his grandmother wants to steal it, including Morlant’s accountant Broughton (Cedricke Hardwicke) and a host of other unsavory characters.  It’s Laing, however, who gets to it first, and true to his word, Morlant does rise from his tomb to pursue those who stole the jewel, but since this tale plays like a mystery, with so many suspects, Morlant doesn’t know who has the jewel, and so he goes on a murder rampage in search of his treasure.


THE GHOUL is a fun 1930s horror movie and a nice change of pace from the Universal classics of the decade.  This one was produced in Britain and was directed by T. Hayes Hunter who imbues it with lots of creepy atmosphere.  It really does play like a mystery and at times the proceedings can get confusing as it’s difficult to tell who’s plotting against whom, and to be honest, I prefer the horrific elements of THE GHOUL over its mysterious parts.  Once Karloff rises from the grave as the murderous ghoul, the film reaches a higher level and is much more fun to watch.


THE GHOUL has a great cast led by Karloff, who’s at his scary best roaming the dark countryside and corridors of shadowy mansions in search of the Eternal Light jewel.  Karloff is even scary in his opening death bed scene, which is pretty amazing considering his character is confined to a bed.  He’s frightening as he threatens Ernest Thesiger that he damned well better be scared of him, because if anyone steals the jewel, he’s coming back to kill!  I think it’s easy to forget just how scary Karloff could be.  He didn’t come to be called the King of Horror for nothing.


He’s also wearing ghoulish make-up by Heinrich Heitfeld, which reminded me a little bit of the make-up Karloff wore in THE RAVEN (1935).


Ernest Thesiger [Dr. Pretorius in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)] provides another solid performance as Morlant’s servant Laing.  He gets to spend most of the picture terrified of Karloff’s ghoul.  Sir Cedricke Hardwick [Dr. Frankenstein in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), as well as many other notable film performances] gives a fine portrayal as Broughton.  He looks and acts like a character in a Dickens’ novel.  THE GHOUL also marks the film debut of Ralph Richardson as a shady minister.  Richardson’s another actor who made tons of movies, but I always remember his genre performance as the blind man in FRANKENSTEIN:  THE TRUE STORY (1973).


THE GHOUL also has a powerful music score by Louis Levy.


Rupert Downing and Leonard Hines adapted the screenplay from a play by Frank King.  Two other writers are also listed in the credits, Roland Pertwee and John Hastings Turner.  There’s nothing wrong with the script as it contains snappy dialogue and a decent story that moves right along at a nice clip.


THE GHOUL, with its mysterious goings-on and Egyptian folklore reminded me of two other Karloff movies, James Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), which also co-starred Ernest Thesiger, and THE MUMMY (1932).


This holiday season THE GHOUL would make a fine stocking stuffer, a creepy addition to anyone’s gift bag, especially for the horror film connoisseur.  Just don’t steal the Eternal Light, or Karloff will be out of his tomb, back among the living to kill, kill, kill—.




THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020) – Well-Made Horror Movie Devoid of Resilient Characters


THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020), a new horror movie by writer/director Bryan Bertino, is one of those horror movies that, while watching it, I enjoyed pretty much everything about it, and then it ends, and I’m left scratching my head asking, what was the point?

Did I really just spend 90 minutes watching the total destruction of a family on a farm? Yes. Why?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that movies have to have happy endings, because they don’t, and I like dark endings just as much as the next guy. But sometimes, and this is a gray area with horror movies, there just isn’t enough there. In this case, the characters don’t stand a chance and barely fight back. There’s hardly a struggle. They’re pretty much helpless victims throughout. And that’s just not enough for me to make investing 90 minutes of my time worth it.

In THE DARK AND THE WICKED, Louise (Marin Ireland) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to their family’s rural farm to help their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) care for their ailing father, who’s in a bed in a near comatose state. It doesn’t take them long to see that something is not quite right with their mother, as she seems more disturbed than usual. Michael chalks it up to the way she is dealing with their dad’s condition, while Louise isn’t so sure. But when they discover their mom’s body hanging in their barn, after she had chopped off her own fingers, they realize something is very wrong.

And that something, they learn, is some supernatural force, a demon or perhaps the devil, that has its sights set upon stealing the souls of everyone inside the farmhouse. And it’s something Louise and Michael have a difficult time wrapping their heads around, since they, and their parents, are not religious.

And that’s a major theme of the movie, that you don’t have to believe in the devil to be his victim. As one character in the movie says, you may not believe in wolves, but if one corners you, it doesn’t much matter what you believe.

Louise and Michael are then faced with a threat that neither of them understands, nor do they know how to stop it.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED is a well-made horror movie by writer/director Bryan Bertino. Visually, it is full of creepy scenes throughout, scenes that work, and successfully get under one’s skin. The screenplay is also very good, with realistic dialogue and characters.

So, why didn’t I love this one? It’s as I said, that the film focuses on the two main characters Louise and Michael, and all that slowly happens to them on the farm, and they were just a bit too helpless for my liking. By the time the end credits roll, you realize you’ve just watched a story about folks succumbing to the evil predatory force which had been stalking them. Game over. Souls consumed. Pass the devil a napkin.

That’s just not my thing.

The two main leads are very good. Marin Ireland as Louise is the character who comes closest to fighting back. She at least refuses to give in and tries to understand what is happening to her parents and her family. Ireland delivers a natural, realistic performance.

As does Michael Abbott Jr. as Michael, who is somewhat lesser effective as a character, as he remains pretty clueless throughout. He’s an easy target for the devil.

The rest of the cast is fine in small supporting roles. Xander Berkeley, who’s enjoyed a long career and recently was very memorable as Gregory on THE WALKING DEAD (2016-18), has some eerie moments as a mysterious priest.

While I didn’t love THE DARK AND THE WICKED, I did like it. Bryan Bertino has made a good looking and spooky horror movie that only suffers from a one-sided story. The forces of darkness dominate this one. The people are pretty much reduced to dinner menu items. I enjoyed Bertino’s previous horror movie, THE MONSTER (2016) a bit better. Bertino also wrote and directed the major theatrical release THE STRANGERS (2008), a horror movie that a lot of people liked, but I didn’t.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED is exactly what its title implies. If you’re looking for any signs of light, any hope for humanity, or for characters who rise up and fight back, you won’t find them here.


THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 (2020) – Disappointing Sequel Strictly for Kids


Horror fans think fondly of Kurt Russell.

And with good reason. Russell starred in what many horror fans consider today to be their favorite horror movie of all time, John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING (1982). I don’t know if I would call THE THING my favorite horror movie of all time, but it is a favorite.

Russell also starred the year before in Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). Those back to back performances jettisoned Russell’s film career, and he never looked back with starring roles continuing all the way up to day. Of course, those of us of a certain age remember Russell as a young actor starring in some silly Disney comedies like THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE (1971) and THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD (1975).

Two years ago, Russell made for a surprisingly charming and very funny Santa Claus in the above average Netflix movie THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (2018). It was one of my favorite movies that year, and Russell’s performance was the main reason for that.

Now comes the sequel, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2, and I wish I could say it is a worthy successor to the first film, but it’s not. And not even Kurt Russell’s presence can save this one.

Whereas the first film was a touching and pretty darn funny tale which placed Santa in the here and now and had a very flippant Russell interacting with lots of present day disbelievers, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 largely takes place at the North Pole and for the most part is a Christmas fantasy, filled with CGI special effects giving life to hordes of elves, reindeer, and various other creatures. Its target audience is largely chiildren. There’s not a whole lot here for the adults in the room to enjoy.

Kate (Darby Camp) the young girl in the first movie is a teenager now, and she is upset that she has been forced to spend Christmas on a tropical island with her brother and mother, and her mother’s new boyfriend and his young son Jack (Jahzir Bruno). Kate decides to run away and catch a flight on her own back to Boston.

But she is intercepted by the evil manipulative former elf Belsnickel (Julian Dennison) who whisks her and Jack to the North Pole so Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) can save them and inadvertanly let Belsnickel into the magical city where he can wreak havoc in an effort to get back at Santa and his wife Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn.)

The rest of the movie follows Mrs. Claus’ and Jack’s efforts to save Christmas town, while Santa and Kate pursue Belsnickel to retrieve the magical star he has stolen. If this sounds like fun for you, you might enjoy this movie. It wasn’t fun for me. At all. Mostly because Kurt Russell’s Santa performance was devoid of all the biting humor it possessed in the first movie.

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 was directed by Chris Columbus who years ago directed HOME ALONE (1990) and MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993). He also directed the first two HARRY POTTER movies. More recently he directed the dreadful Adam Sandler vehicle PIXELS (2015). While THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 isn’t as awful as PIXELS, it’s one of Columbus’s weaker movies.

The screenplay by Matt Lieberman, who co-wrote the first movie, and Chris Columbus, offers nothing for adults and remains on a child’s level throughout. If you’ve got young kids, they will probably like this one.

While it’s fun to see Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn on screen togeher again, they don’t actually do a whole lot together and spend most of the film separate from each other. Russell’s performance simply lacks the fun edge fromt the first movie.

The kids, Darby Camp and Jahzir Bruno are fine, but again, their performances are strictly for kids.

Malcolm McDowell does lend some nice voice over work in a brief scene.

The special effects are decent, and the film is bright, colorful, and Christmasy. Again, the little ones won’t be disapponted.

There is a brief neat time travel bit, but even that doesn’t really take this one to any worthwhile place.

So, to wrap thing up, you’re sure to love this one…. if you’re under the age of ten.


MANK (2020) – David Fincher’s Story of CITIZEN KANE Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz with Gary Oldman in the Lead Is More Appreciated Than Enjoyed


Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE (1941) is often cited by critics and film historians as the greatest movie ever made. For me, it’s a movie I’ve always appreciated but just have never really loved. It’s a film that in spite of its innovative attributes simply has never reached out and grabbed me.

I kinda feel the same way about today’s movie MANK (2020), an ambitious film by director David Fincher which stars Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz, the alcoholic screenwriter who penned the ahead-of-its-time screenplay for CITIZEN KANE. I appreciated its attributes, but I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much. In a nutshell, I found most of its 131 minutes rather dull even while I appreciated the fine acting, storytelling, and black and white photography.

MANK, a new Netflix original movie, tells the story of Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) who when the movie opens has just broken his leg in a car accident. He’s been tasked by the young hotshot filmmaker Orson Welles (Tom Burke) to write the screenplay for his next movie, and Welles gives him just two months to do it. Welles sets up Mank in a room with a personal nurse Fraulein Frieda (Monika Gossmann) and a typist Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) who will type the script from Mank’s notes and dictation. And of course, no alcohol.

The script Mank sets out to write is based on the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and just as CITIZEN KANE tells its story through flashbacks, MANK does the same, and so through these flashbacks we learn of Mank’s relationship with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his young actress lover Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), who Mank develops a close friendship with. The story is a complicated one, covering the cutthroat studio politics of the time, as well as government politics, as studio head Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) backs the Republican candidate for governor in 1934 and even produces a fake “newsreel” movie which blatantly labels the Democatric candidate, Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye) (Um, yes, the Science Guy!) as a socialist, under whose leadership immigrants will invade the state! Where have I heard that before? The more things change….

Once the script is finished, those closest to Mank beg him not to follow through, warning him that he shouldn’t cross William Randolph Hearst, while Marion asks him not to betray a friendship. Of course, Mank doesn’t take their advice, and the rest is history.

MANK is filled with impressive performances, starting at the top with Gary Oldman as Mank. I could watch Oldman act all day, and while his performance here is not as atonishing as his portrayal of Winston Churchill in DARKEST HOUR (2017), it’s still pretty darn good. I’ll do one better, it’s really good! Mank clearly has a drinking problem and when he’s drunk his sharp writer’s mind is even more cutting and he says things which offend and hurt, even while being true. It doesn’t win him many friends, except, ironically, William Randolph Hearst, who seems to enjoy Mank’s insights, so much so that it’s later revealed that Hearst paid Mank’s salary at the studio. Oldman convincingly captures this alcoholic behavior, and he does it while keeping Mank a sympathetic character. In spite of his sharp tongue, he doesn’t come off as a jerk, but as someone who refuses to remain silent when in the company of hypocrisy. The main reason to watch MANK is the performance of Gary Oldman.

Both Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance make the most of their limited screen time, and I wish both these performers had been in the movie more. Seyfried gets to show off her acting talents as the sassy Marion Davies. It’s a much more satisfying role than the last time we saw her, in the disappointing thriller YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020) in which she co-starred with Kevin Bacon. Of course, we’ve seen Seyfried do this before, lose herself in the part and completely become the character, as she did with her performance as Linda Lovelace in the superior movie LOVELACE (2013). I like Seyfried a lot, and I’ve enjoyed nearly every movie she has made.

Charles Dance, who starred in David Fincher’s ill-fated ALIEN 3 (1992) way back when, is authoritative, cool, and powerful as William Randolph Hearst. Dance is one of those actors who I’ve enjoyed more the older he gets! He stood out in a supporting role in THE IMITATION GAME (2014), and his master vampire was the best part of the underwhelming DRACULA UNTOLD (2014).

Also making a notable impression and with more screen time is Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, the woman who types the script and develops a friendship with Mank. Collins gets lots of screen time with Gary Oldman, and they’re very good together.

Other notable performances include Tom Pelphrey as Mank’s brother Joseph, Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer, Tuppence Middleton as Mank’s wife Sara, and Tom Burke as Orson Welles, just to name a few.

David Fincher uses black and white photography and captures the look of 1930s-40s Hollywood movies. He also mirrors the style of CITIZEN KANE, using flashbacks and jumping back and forth in time, something today’s audiences are use to, but 1940s audiences were not, and so for Mank, his screenplay was unusual and ahead of its time.

The screenplay by Jack Fincher, David Fincher’s father, who passed away in 2003, contains both hits and misses. The hits include the sharp tongues of Mank and his fellow Hollywood screenwriters. Their dialogue contains some real zingers, most of which come from Mank. Also, strangely, since this was written back in the 1990s, the script speaks to the political climate of today, touching upon such issues as the demonization of socialism and the notion that one can promote lies as truth simply by repeating the lies over and over, something that Mank balks at.

Where the screenplay misses is with emotion. As much as I appreciated the acting performances and the technical aspects to this one, the story never moved me. It remained flat throughout. And I think part of this is the screenplay focuses so meticulously on Mank’s motives for writing his CITIZEN KANE screenplay it forgets to give the viewer a reason for enjoying this one. In short, it tells more than it shows.

Yet, director David Fincher does fill this one with cinematic images, meant to call to mind similar images from CITIZEN KANE, and there are lots of memorable lines and anecdotes, like the one on the rumor of what the classic line “Rosebud” means. But emotionally MANK still falls flat. The characters, as well acted as they are, somehow never become truly fleshed out, truly like real people.

Perhaps its because the folks in Hollywood in the 1930s-40 weren’t acting like real people. Perhaps they were simply more concerned with the business of making movies to care about anything else. There’s certainly a line in MANK which speaks to this, when Mank begs Marion to go back and tell Louis Mayer not to release his propaganda movie against Upton Sinclair. She tells him she can’t go back…. because she has already made her exit. To which Mank, upon leaving her, bursts out laughing.

MANK is a movie definitely worth checking out, both for film history purposes and film appreciation, as its strong cast is led by Gary Oldman, who delivers an exceptional performance, and it’s got a veteran and talented director at the helm, David Fincher.

You just might not enjoy it all that much.




A few weeks back, in celebration of monsters in the movies, I looked at the Frankenstein Monster in two of the most famous Frankenstein movie series, Universal and Hammer. The monsters in these two series are also the most well-known.

Today we look at some of the Frankenstein monsters in films that were not produced by Universal or Hammer. And once again I will rate these monsters using my exclusive brain system, with a rating of four brains being the best and 0 brains the worst.

Here we go:

I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – The Monster- Gary Conway – The first non-Universal/Hammer Frankenstein movie on the list scores high on the monster meter. Released several months after Hammer’s megahit THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) this film tried to out gross-out the mosnter make-up in that movie and comes close to succeeding! Pretty hideous looking face. The film isn’t half bad either, with Whit Bissell doing his evil best portraying a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein.

Monster Meter: three brains.

FRANKENSTEIN 1970 (1958)- The Monster – Mike Lane – awful grade Z production stars Boris Karloff as Dr. Frankenstein. Dreadful movie. Dreadful monster.

Monster Meter: 0 brains.

JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER (1966?) – Monster- Cal Bolder- Another grade Z movie, another grade Z monster.

Monster Meter: 0 brains

FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965) – The Monster: Koji Furuhat. Leave it to Toho Studios to make a movie about a giant Frankenstein Monster. This one isn’t half bad and is actually a lot of fun.

Monster Meter: two brains

WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966) -Monsters: Haruo Nakajima, Yu Sekita. Toho’s FRANKENSTEIN sequel features two monsters, or gargantuas as they are called in the American version. Superior to the first movie, filled to the brim with giant monster action.

Monster Meter: three brains.

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971)- The Monster: John Bloom. This Grade Z 70s flick does feature an aging Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carroll Naish (his final role) in the cast, with Naish playing Dr. Frankenstein. Not to mention Forrest Ackerman in a cameo role. But this one is really, really bad. Monster make-up so-so.

Monster Meter: one brain.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973)- the Creature: Michael Sarrazin. Not really the true story as it takes lots of liberties with Mary Shelley’s novel, but this handsome made for TV production is one of my favorite Frankenstein movies and features James Mason in a scene stealing performance as the menacing Dr. Polidori. Interesting take on the Creature by Michael Sarrazin, who starts off handsome and then deteriorates. Average make-up.

Monster Meter: three brains.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)- The Monster- Peter Boyle. Much like ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), this comedy spoof by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder is one of the best Frankenstein movies ever made. It’s not only hilarious comedy, but it stays true to the Frankenstein movie canon. Peter Boyle is fantastic as the Monster, and his is one of the best onscreen performances of the Monster ever, and this is in a comedy!

Monster Meter: four brains.

THE BRIDE (1985) – The Monster/Viktor – Clancy Brown – Arthouse remake of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) starring Sting as Victor Frankenstein and Jennifer Beals as his female creation is a colossal bore. As is the Monster.

Monster Meter: two brains.

FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND (1990)- The Monster: Nick Brimble – Roger Cormans’s Frankenstein tale is ambitious and interesting, and even involves time travel. Ultimately it doesn’t really work but it’s certainly not boring. Same can be said for the Monster.

Monster Meter: two brains

MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (1994) – Creature: Robert De Niro – De Niro is probably the most famous actor to ever play Frankenstein’s creation. I’m still shocked that this movie is as bad as it is. I mean, you’ve got Kenneth Branagh directing and playing Victor Frankenstein, and De Niro as the Creature. Yet none of it works. De Niro was miscast, sadly.

Monster Meter: one brain.

VAN HELSING (2004) -The Monster: Shuler Hensley – Horrible movie, featuring the whiniest Frankenstein monster of all time.

Monster Meter: 0 brains.

I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014) – The Monster/Adam – Aaron Eckhart – the 2000s have not been kind to Frankenstein, mostly because Universal has tried to re-imagine their monster universe and have failed miserably at it. Stupid movie with a halfway decent monster.

Monster Meter: two brains

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015) – The Monster/Prometheus – Spencer Wilding- Another awful Frankenstein movie, in spite of Daniel Radcliffe as Igor and James McAvoy as Victor Frankenstein.

Monster Meter: 0 brains.

So, as you can see, with very few exceptions, most of the FRANKENSTEN movies and their monsters not made by Universal or Hammer have been pretty bad.

Hope you enjoyed today’s column and join me again next time when I look at other Monster Movies.

Thanks for reading!