DOLITTLE (2020) Does Little


When DOLITTLE (2020) opened back in January of last year to negative reviews, I stayed away.

I really had no interest in seeing it anyway, other than having really enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr. over the previous decade, mostly with his recurring role as Tony Stark/Ironman in the various Marvel superhero movies, but also in other films like the rebooted SHERLOCK HOLMES movies. So, I was curious to see Downey as Dr. Dolittle, but not curious enough to run out and see this one.

However, this past weekend, I was in the mood for something light and upbeat, and so finally I decided to check this one out, nearly a year after its initial release.

I could have waited two years.

Yup, DOLITTLE was as bad as folks said.

Now, I realize this is a kids movie aimed mostly at younger kids, and it’s supposed to be a family friendly comical adventure. The problem is, while it may be family friendly, in terms of being appropriate for the younger kiddos, it kinda forgot about the older folks in the room, the adults. There’s not much here that is all that relevant or fun for anyone over the age of 10.

Let’s start with the script by director Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand, based on the character created by Hugh Lofting. And that character is Dr. John Dolittle, a man who possesses the magical ability to talk to the animals. Yep, he understands what they say, and they undertand what he says. Dolittle has been portrayed by Rex Harrison in the musical DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967) and by Eddie Murphy in a pair of DR. DOLITTLE comedies in the late 90s early 2000s.

Here, Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) is grieving over the death of his wife, an adventurer who was lost at sea, and so he has withdrawn from society and has become a hermit, interacting only with his animals on his enormous estate. But when young Queen Victoria falls deathly ill, she calls on Dolittle to help her. And with the assistance of a boy named Tommy (Harry Collett) Dolittle and his animals take to the high seas to find both his wife’s lost journal and a healing tree to save the Queen, all while being pursued by the sniveling and villainous Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen).


Now, this didn’t have to be a yawnfest, but it is. The jokes just aren’t very funny, but worse, the characters are pretty much all caricatures and don’t come off as real people at all. But this is a kids’ movie, you say, a fantasy. But it is just so far removed from reality it is nearly impossible to watch. Plus, the dialogue, rather than being snappy and lively, is dreadfully dull.

The actors don’t help.

As I said, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr., especially over the past decade, but his performance here as Dolittle is a head-scratcher. He comes off as a muttering grumpy grandpa who you half expect to shout, “Get off my lawn!” at any moment. Any kind of magic is missing from the character here. A big part of it is the story. I mean, he’s grieving the death of his wife, so it makes sense that he’s dark and dreary. It’s just a weird characterization that simply doesn’t work.

Michael Sheen plays things way over the top as the villain, Dr. Mudfly. It’s embarrassingly in-your-face. Antonio Banderas does the same as Dolittle’s embittered father-in-law King Rassouli. Jim Broadbent plays things with a bit more realism as another villain, Lord Thomas Badgley, but he alone is not able to make much of an impact here.

There are a bunch of notable actors doing voicework here for the animals, folks like Emma Thompson, John Cena, Rami Malek, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, and Selena Gomez. But I can’t say that any one of them stood out for me.

As I said, Stephen Gaghan directed, and the one thing going for DOLITTLE is it looks good. The photography is bright, lively, and colorful. If only the same could be said for the rest of the movie.

The CGI effects are okay. They’re passable. They are what you would expect to find in a film geared mostly for kids.

Overall, I thought DOLITTLE was a snooze. It only runs for one hour and forty one minutes. I was ready for it to be over after the first fifteen.

There simply isn’t much to like about this one.

Yup, DOLITTLE does little.


ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021) – Fictional Account of Four 1960s Icons Phenomenal and Flawless


It’s all about the screenplay.

So often, the one element which hurts a movie the most is its screenplay. Generally speaking, bad screenplay, bad movie. Likewise, if your movie has a good screenplay, chances are, you have a winner on your hands.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021), now available on Prime Video, not only has a good screenplay, it has a phenomenal one! Written by Kemp Powers, based on his stage play of the same name, ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI tells the fictional account of four icons, Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) getting together in a hotel room in Miami to celebrate Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Title earlier that night, and the ensuing conversations between them as they navigate through Malcolm X’s views on race relations, and their own roles in the movement make for superior storytelling from start to finish.

When he defeated Liston that night for the Heavyweight Title, Ali was still known as Cassius Clay, but under the guidance of his friend and mentor Malcolm X, Clay had been considering converting to Islam. In fact, this get-together from Malcolm X’s perspective, was largely to finalize that conversion, and to tell their two other friends, Cooke and Brown, about it.

On this night, Malcolm X is on edge. He knows people are following him, that there are threats against his life, and he is having conflicts within the ranks of the Nation of Islam, but more so, he feels the struggle for the black man is imminent, and there is no time to slack off and accept the status quo. And so, in addition to his invitation to Clay, he also leans heavily into Sam Cooke, a singer Malcolm X accuses of cozying up too much to white society. Cooke does not take kindly to this criticism, and most of the night the two friends engage in heated exchanges.

Meanwhile, Jim Brown, the NFL’s biggest star, does not agree with Malcolm X’s militant stance on race, and yet he knows huge problems exist in the country. He just doesn’t agree with Malcolm’s solutions. And Cassius Clay, while originally enthustiastic about becoming a Muslim, has ever increasing doubts as the heated arguments continue throughout the evening.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is chock full of memorable lines and conversations. It’s pratically a treatise on race relations, and even though the story takes place in 1964 and is seen through the eyes of four icons of the that period, the conversations remain relevant in the here and now. And it’s done on a canvas of a marvelous play. The dialogue, the relationships, the characters, they all come to life, and thanks to director Regina King, who invites the audience right into the room with these guys, you feel like you’re right there sitting next to them.

One of the more memorable lines comes as Jim Brown is shaking his head at Malcolm X and telling him it always amazes him that Malcom so freely mixes being religious with being militant, to which Malcolm replies, “what’s the difference?”

Nearly every conversation is a memorable exchange. From Malcolm X pointing out that Bob Dylan, a white man, has written songs more pointed towards their cause than anything Cooke has written, to Cooke’s lambasting Malcolm over his comments following JFK’s assassination, telling Malcolm “my mother cried when JFK died. So did I. I liked JFK.”

Eli Goree delivers the most fun performance in the movie as Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. He captures Clay’s exhuberance and over-the-top personality, and enjoys many scene stealing moments, like when he’s bragging he doesn’t have a scratch on his face and looks in the mirror, stopping abruptly and going silent as if concerned. When his three friends rush to his aid, he says, “How is it that I’m so handsome!” It’s one of the better performances of Clay/Ali that I’ve ever seen.

Kingsley Ben–Adir makes for an intense, introspective, driven, and visibly frightened Malcolm X. His scenes of harsh criticism of his friends are juxtaposed with his late night phone calls to his wife and daughters, revealing him as a loving, caring family man. And while his friends push back, he desperately tries to tell them that he’s not criticizing them, but trying to motivate them to help their cause.

Aldis Hodge plays Jim Brown as the most level headed of the group, in that he’s the least interested in Malcolm’s cause and simply believes that the way to achieve equality is through economic means, and each of them by their own successes are already doing that. Malcolm disagrees and says that is not enough. For Brown, he knows things are bad, he’s experienced things first-hand, but he just doesn’t see the answer as coming through militant means. Hodge is very good in the role, as he’s been in a bunch of other movies, including THE INVISIBLE MAN (2019), BRIAN BANKS (2018), and HIDDEN FIGURES (2019).

Leslie Odom, Jr. plays Sam Cooke and partakes in the film’s most fiery scenes, as Cooke is constantly at odds with Malcolm X. And the reason Cooke takes Malcolm’s criticisms so seriously is because he believes he has been doing these things, he has been making strides for race relations, and so he is irked by Malcolm’s statements to the contrary. He recounts the story of how a song he wrote and another black artist recorded reached #49 on the charts, and when a British band called the Rolling Stones asked for permission to do a cover version of the song, he said yes. He says Malcolm would have said no because they were white, but Cooke said yes, and the Rolling Stones version went to #1 on the pops chart. And since Cooke owned the royalties, both he and the black singer collected huge checks, and with that kind of money, that is how Cooke says he is a making a difference.

It’s an excellent performance by Odom, known mostly these days for his performance as Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton, as well as in the movie version, HAMILTON (2020).

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is actress’ Regina King’s directorial debut, and it’s a powerful one. She captures the look and feel of the period with ease. Everything about this movie looks authentic. And she is able to weave in and out of the various conversations and arguments without ever losing any momentum. In spite of the fact that this one is driven by dialogue, it is cinematic in scope and does not feel like a simple stage play.

It’s captivating from start to finish, and there isn’t a dull moment in any of its two hour running time.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is pretty much flawless. Add this one to your queue immediately. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.




NIGHT CREATURES (1962) (also known as CAPTAIN CLEGG) is one of my all time favorite Peter Cushing movies.

Technically not a horror movie, NIGHT CREATURES is instead an energetic and atmospheric pirate adventure, filled with mystery and intrigue, and since it was made by Hammer Films, the horror elements are certainly highlighted, including the eerie Marsh Phantoms.

In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, the local reverend in the small village of Dymchurch, but all is not as it seems, as Blyss is secretly the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, who years after escaping his own execution (Hmm, sounds like something Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein once did…) settles into Dymchurch and decides to turn over a new leaf, to do good for a change. Up to a point. See, Blyss is also the leader of a secret smuggling operation which smuggles illegal goods in and out of Dymchurch and uses the mysterious Marsh Phantoms as cover.

When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) arrives with a troop of a soldiers, he sets out to expose and thwart the covert smuggling operation. Collier is also the man who spent his life chasing down Captain Clegg. Hmm. Interesting.

And this one is much more than interesting. This rousing adventure set in 18th century England is so full of atmosphere you’ll feel like you’re riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney! It’s also a helluva entertaining story.

The cast is first-rate.

At the top is Peter Cushing, channelling the same energy he used to portray Baron Frankenstein here as Dr. Blyss/Captain Clegg, and he’s at it again playing the heroic villain. We should not like Clegg very much, but in Cushing’s hands, we root for him. The script by John Elder provides Cushing with many memorable moments, from his admonishing of the weasel Mr. Rash (Martin Benson)… “Mr. Rash!” to his verbal spars with Captain Collier. At one point, Blyss is doing everything in his power to make sure Collier and his men have nowhere to stay the night in Dymchurch, but Collier declares his men are definitely staying, to which Blyss utters under his breath, “Really? I wonder where?”

Another fine moment comes when Collier believes a man his men shot in the arm is Blyss, and when he grabs Blyss by the wrist, he flinches, but there’s no bullet wound. Collier asks him why he flinched when he grabbed his arm, to which Blyss answers, “It wasn’t my arm, Captain. You trod on my foot!”

Veteran character actor and Hammer favorite Michael Ripper delivers one of his all time best movie performances as Jeremiah Mipps, the coffin maker, Blyss’ loyal right hand man. He too has numerous memorable lines of dialogue and key moments in the film, like one where he is seen sleeping in one of his coffins. One of his better lines comes when an angered Captain Collier at discovering one of his key witnesses has been found dead, demands of Mipps to know why the man was out on the Marshes. Mipps replies, “I couldn’t well ask him, seeing that he’s dead.”

A young Oliver Reed, fresh after his performance as the werewolf in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) makes for a dashing young Harry Cobtree, who is also part of Blyss’ operation and is in love with Blyss’ daughter Imogene (Yvonne Romain).

And Patrick Allen is excellent as Captain Collier, the man who matches wits with Blyss throughout the movie. Allen also starred with both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the science fiction thriller ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (1967), and his voice was also dubbed in for the character Rex Van Ryn in the Christopher Lee Hammer classic THE DEVIL’S BRIDE (1968).

NIGHT CREATURES also features a rousing music score by Don Banks, who also scored Hammer’s third Frankenstein movie, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964).

Director Peter Graham Scott fills this one with lots of memorable scenes. There’s an exciting fight scene between Blyss and the hulking Mulatto who is out for revenge against Captain Clegg, and the climax to this one is also action-packed. The special effects on the Marsh Phantoms are first-rate. All in all, this is one Hammer Film you do not want to miss. It’s topnotch entertainment from beginning to end, without a slow moment in sight.

Incidentally, Hammer had to change the name of Cushing’s character from Dr. Syn to Dr. Blyss, since Disney owned the rights to the character, which is based on Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn stories. Disney made DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963) starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, which was later aired in three parts on TV on THE MAGICAL WORLD OF DISNEY.

If you are looking to bust yourself out of the winter blues this January, look no further than the thrilling pirate adventure NIGHT CREATURES, which features a talented cast touting out their A-game, with Peter Cushing leading the way with yet another of his phenomenal movie performances, this time as the heroic Dr. Blyss, doing his best to move on from his villainous past as the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, but only when it suits him, as he is more than comfortable running his secret smuggling operation. And when the relentless Captain Collier arrives, the stakes are raised, and Blyss’ cover and entire operation are suddenly in jeopardy.

NIGHT CREATURES is an underrated gem, one of Hammer’s best, and a must-see for all Peter Cushing fans. But be on your guard! Captain Collier and the King’s men are on the prowl! But don’t fret. Just look to the scarecrow across the way for his signal, and if his hand moves, then it’s time to run!


OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021) – Netflix Action Movie Mixed Bag


Well, here we are in 2021, the pandemic still with us, movie theaters still unsafe to visit, and for those of us who love movies, we’re reduced to watching them from home. Now, I’m sure some folks have no problem with this. I for one miss the movie theater experience, and I sincerely hope they survive the pandemic and reopen when it is safe. I will definitely be back inside those darkened walls.

In the meantime, I continue to review movies from home, available on streaming services. And as much as I miss the movie theaters, I’m just grateful that new movies continue to be released.

Up today, it’s an action/science fiction flick from Netflix, OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021), starring Anthony Mackie, and I was excited to watch it because it would be the first film released in 2021 that I would be reviewing, and it felt like an unofficial reminder that yes, even in this pandemic, the movies are still coming. The well is not dry.

So, I was excited.

Sadly, that’s about as far as my excitement went. Yup, OUTSIDE THE WIRE isn’t exactly the most exhilarating actioner going. It’s not bad, but it could have been so much better. The biggest culprit? The script, which isn’t all that sharp. The action scenes run hot and cold as well.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE takes place in the near future, in 2036, and of course, the world is still at war. A young hot shot drone operator Harp (Damson Idris) ignores a direct order and sends a missile into a war zone, killing two of his own soldiers in the process. The way Harp rationalized his decision, he may have killed two soldiers, but he saved the rest of the platoon who would have all died had he not fired the missile.

But he ignored a direct order, and so there are consequences. For some reason, rather than being tossed out of the military, Harp is sent into a war zone in Eastern Europe, the thinking being he needs to gain experience in live combat in order to fully understand being a drone pilot. On his very first day, Harp is assigned to a special commander named Leo (Anthony Mackie) who Harp immediately learns isn’t human. He’s an advanced artificial intelligence prototype, and he tells Harp that he handpicked him for this mission, which will take them “outside the wire,” outside the protection of their troops and into hostile territory.

Their mission, as Leo explains it, is to locate a rogue terrorist who is planning to steal nuclear warheads and use them against the world. Hmm. Where have I heard this plot point before? Try a billion other movies! And so, this is what the rest of the movie is about, with various plot twists and turns, none of them all that interesting.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE is an average action movie, pure and simple. It trends below average for most of the film, but there were certain parts I liked that kept it watchable.

For starters, I enjoyed the two leads a lot. Damson Idris is excellent as Harp, and he channels a lot of a young Denzel Washington in the role. He has an edge, and you feel he has a chip on his shoulder throughout, and with a better script, the role could have been something special, which ultimately, it is not. But Idris is very good.

Anthony Mackie, known mostly these days to Marvel superhero fans as Sam Wilson/The Falcon in the AVENGERS movies and CAPTAIN AMERICA films, plays Leo, the advanced military robot who looks and acts exactly like a human. Mackie enjoys many fine moments and gets the best lines in the movie, but ultimately, the character just isn’t all that interesting, and the big reveals surrounding the character towards the film’s conclusion only made things worse. Where’s Arnold Schwarzenegger when you need him? But Mackie is a fine actor who has also had notable roles in films like THE HURT LOCKER (2008) and DETROIT (2017).

Emily Beecham plays Sofiya, one of Leo’s contacts in the war zone. She’s one of the more interesting characters in the movie.

And Michael Kelly enjoys frequent scene stealing moments as Eckhart, the no-nonsense takes-no-crap military officer. My favorite Kelly role remains his work on the TV show HOUSE OF CARDS (2013-2018) where he played Doug Stamper, the right hand man to the corrupt Francis Underwood.

As an action movie, OUTSIDE THE WIRE should be driven by its action scenes, which here, unfortunately, run hot and cold. The close-up hand to hand combat scenes are sufficiently intense and are the better action scenes in the movie, but the broader battle scenes, the ones involving big guns and missiles and drones and robots just don’t look all that realistic. There’s a very cartoonish look to them, very CGI, and I wasn’t all that impressed. The most memorable action sequence may have been the one to open the movie, where Harp shoots the fateful missile. That’s not a good sign when the best action sequence is the first one.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE was directed by Mikhael Hafstrom who at the very least keeps the pace of this one moving. Like I said, some of the action scenes work, others don’t. Hafstrom also doesn’t take complete advantage of the Eastern European setting either. The film never establishes a clear sense of place.

Hafstrom also directed ESCAPE PLAN (2013), an action film which paired Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a film I liked better than OUTSIDE THE WIRE.

The weakest part of OUTSIDE THE WIRE by far is its script by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe. For starters, for a futuristic action thriller, the plot is a snooze, mostly because it offers little that is new. The race to get to a nuclear bomb before the bad guy? Yawn. For some reason, the whole story felt like an episode of the TV show THE BLACKLIST (2013- present) , and I kept expecting to see James Spader show up as Raymond Reddington, cooly offering a much better plot twist than the one offered in this movie.

It does offer some good banter between Harp and Leo, and one of the better conversations is when Leo explains why the military built their superstar robot to resemble a black man. So, there are moments where the script is better, but for the most part, expecially in terms of its general plot, it’s subpar.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE is a classic “mixed bag” of a movie. You’ve got a couple of strong lead performances, paired with some notable supporting performances, some good action scenes, some not so good ones, and a story that is when you come right down to it, a yawnfest. Not that saving the world from nuclear disaster isn’t a compelling story. It’s just that it’s been told so many times, and this film doesn’t really offer anything new in the storytelling department.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE could definitely have benefitted from some outside the box thinking.


Horror Movies: 2020


Okay, here we go. Here’s my list of the horror movies I saw in 2020, from worst to first.



14 THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN (2020) was by far the worst horror movie I saw this year. A pointless sequel to the superior original THE BABYSITER (2017). In spite of this being a horror comedy, this one is a snooze from start to finish.


Turn this one off. Another clunker, this horror movie based on the Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw,” and starring Mackenzie Davies and Finn Wolfhard, couldn’t turn a stomach, let alone a screw.


Haunted house thriller starring Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried is just standard. Offers no surprises.


Netflix thriller about a refugee couple in a haunted house has its moments, but not enough of them to really make this worth your while.



Dark thriller about an adult sister and brother on a farm caring for their dying father who happens to be possessed is solidly made but suffers from the “you are all victims syndrome” in that none of the folks in this movie ever stand a chance. The dark wins. Easily.


Intriguing tale of a mother and daughter caring for the daughter’s ailing grandmother who also seems to be possessed. Clever allegory about dementia doesn’t entirely work but it has its moments.


Story of a witch living in the woods works because the main character, a teenage boy scarred by his parents’ divorce, feels empathy for his neighbors and decides to help them fend off the witch, but he has a troubled past, which gets in the way of his heroic efforts. Well-written horror flick.


Lively horror movie about three girlfriends who meet up with three guys at a rock concert as a serial killer is on the loose. Major plot twist takes this over-the top horror flick in an entirely different direction midway through. Takes place in the 1980s.


Alison Brie and Dan Stevens star in this effective thriller about two couples away for the weekend at a vacation home, very suspicious of the creepy sketchy owner. I liked this one.


Stylish zombie thriller from South Korea is very entertaining even as it doesn’t really offer anything that is new to the zombie genre.


Fun underwater adventure starring Kristen Stewart . Far from perfect, but fun and suspenseful all the same.


I really liked this ambitious horror movie starring Janelle Monae about slaves on a Civil War era plantation run by sadistic Confederate soldiers. Jumps back and forth between the 1860s and modern times, and contains a VERY controversial plot twist that most fans hated. I didn’t like the twist, but I did like the movie. Powerful music score as well.


Clever re-imagining of THE INVISIBLE MAN concept, stars Elizabeth Moss as a woman tormented by her supposedly deceased abusive husband. She thinks he’s invisible, her friends think she’s crazy. Works best as a psychologicial thriller. Plays its hand a bit too early, but still an above average horror movie.



My favorite horror movie of 2020 is the tale of a Russian cosmonaut who returns to Earth harboring an alien creature inside his body. Oksana Akinshina steals the show as the psychologist brought in to study him. Superior horror film. Worthwhile viewing from start to finish.

And there you have it. The horror films I watched in 2020, from worst to first.

As always, thanks for reading!



– *

HUNTER HUNTER (2020) – Slow-Burn Thriller Done In By Abrupt Brutal Ending


HUNTER HUNTER (2020) is a slow burn thriller that gradually makes its way to an exceedingly dark conclusion, meaning that whether or not you like this one will depend on how you feel about jaw-dropping agonizing endings. If you like that sort of thing, no doubt you’ll have no problem with this movie. However, if you’re like me, and prefer that if a movie goes down that rabbit hole, that there’s something more than just a an all out sense of bleakness, then you may find that this flick is not your cup of tea.

HUNTER HUNTER is the story of a family living off the grid in the woods. Anne (Camille Sullivan), her husband Joseph (Devon Sawa), and their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) need to hunt to survive. They live in a cabin without electricity, prepare their own food, and trade furs at the local store in town for food and supplies. They live this way because Joseph doesn’t like people very much and chose this lifestyle, and Anne chose it as well when she chose him. However, tensions have arisen betwee the couple because their lifestyle is becoming more difficult to sustain, and Anne believes their daughter deserves a normal life in a real house with real friends and the chance to go to a real school.

When a wolf returns to their woods, a wolf they have encountered before, and one that Anne describes as “mean,” Joseph promises to track and kill it. But when he’s out searching for the wolf, he makes another grisly discovery, and then doesn’t return home. Meanwhile, Anne and Renee discover a ring inside some wolf scat, and they bring it to their local sheriff’s department, but the officers there tell her they can’t help her since the woods don’t fall under their jurisdicition.

However, later, the sheriff Barthes (Gabriel Daniels) begins to speculate while looking at posters of missing persons on his wall, that if that ring had been attached to a finger… and so he decides to take a drive out towards those woods.

At night, Anne and Renee hear the cries of someone in pain in the woods, and they discover a man (Nick Stahl) crying for help, and he appears to have been attacked by the wolf. They bring the stranger into their cabin to tend to his wounds.

What follows is one of the grimmest endings I’ve seen in a while.

HUNTER HUNTER is a slow-burn thriller that works well for nearly the entire movie. Written and directed by Shawn Linden, it’s a solid piece of filmmaking. The characters are fleshed out nicely, the story of the wolf works and builds suspense. All is well until the ending.

The film only runs about 90 minutes, and this solid steady pace continues nearly an hour and fifteen minutes into the film, setting the stage for a rather quick and brutal ending that for me just wasn’t satisfying after all that had come before it. It was less about it being a dark ending for me, than it being an abrupt one. I wanted more. Everything unfolds and ends quickly.

Also, the wolf is almost a Hitchcock Macguffin. The animal is not what the film is ultimately about. Its presence is integral to the plot however, as earlier Anne and Joseph wonder why it keeps coming back, and Joseph’s grisly discovery in the woods seems to be the reason why.

The screenplay is very good, the dialogue realistic.

Camille Sullivan is excellent in the lead role as Anne, and both her character and her performance are pushed to their limits in the film’s finale. Devon Sawa makes for a competent survivalist husband, although he’s absent for most of the film once he departs in search of the wolf. Summer H. Howell also turns in a very good performance as daughter Renee.

Nick Stahl is sufficiently sketchy as the stranger Lou who Anne and Renee take into their cabin. Years back, Stahl played an adult John Connor in TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003), one of the lesser effective TERMINATOR movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And both Gabriel Daniels and Lauren Cochrane add fine support as the local law enforcement officers whose banter with each other adds some light relief throughout the story.

So, I liked HUNTER HUNTER, but I did not like the ending, which lowered this one several notches. First, it’s all rather abrupt. And then, it is incredibly dark, reducing the story to a simple tale of revenge, and that’s just not what the previous hour plus of this film had been about. The one theme it confirms in the story is Joseph lives in the woods with his family because he doesn’t like or trust people, and that notion is certainly validated by film’s end, and then some! It all makes for a rather cynical piece of storytelling when you come right down to it.

If you enjoy grim horror, visceral violent tales of vengeance, you will enjoy HUNTER HUNTER.

For me, it was simply much too grim to be appreciated. Yes, bad things happen to good people, and when given the chance, these victims might strike back in the most brutal of ways. This is one such story, or at least the ending is, anyway, as the story prior was about survival, family, and doing what was necessary to provide for that family, including seeking out and taking down a threatening wolf in the surrounding woods.

The ending is about none of these things.


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 and at  Print on demand version available at

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 Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to Also available at

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  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to Also available at

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 Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to Also available at  

10 Worst Movies of 2020


And now for the 10 Worst Movies of 2020.

Just like with by Top 10 Best Movies List, this year’s list comes with a giant asterisk, thanks to COVID-19 closing movie theaters across the country. While I have continued to review movies throughout the year, they have been on streaming and OnDemand services, and so without national theater chains to provide the same movies for all of us, a lot of movies I saw this year, you may not have, and vice versa.

Okay, now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the list:

10. EMMA

This one doesn’t really belong on a Worst Movies List, but as I rank all the movies I see throughout the year, it did happen to fall 10th from the worst. This elegant version of Jane Austen’s novel is simply a colossal bore, pure and simple. Looked great, but the script and characterizations put me to sleep. Stars Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role as Emma, and she’s much better in the current and superior Netflix TV show THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020). The film also wastes the usually reliable Bill Nighy. One of the few movies this year I saw on the big screen. Still didn’t help.


Forgettable Netflix buddy comedy starring Ed Helms. So forgettable not even worth mentioning!


I love Blake Lively, but this was a really stupid action movie that not even Lively could save. She plays a woman who learns that the plane crash that killed her family wasn’t an accident, and so she…with no prior experience… decides to learn how to become an international assassin to make the terrorists responsible for her family’s death pay. Yup. That’s believable. Her trainer, played by Jude Law, is so good at what he does that she becomes the female equivalent of Jason Bourne and wipes the floor with these terrorists all rather easily. The film tries for an ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) vibe, but the plot is too dumb for it to pull it off.


Where to start with this one? There are so many ways that this sequel is awful. For starters, it’s everything the original WONDER WOMAN is not. I didn’t even enjoy Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman. But the biggest culprit is the script, and a plot built around a relic that… wait for it…. grants wishes! That’s right, Aladdin, you wish it, and it can happen! Heck, that’s how this story brings back a deceased character from the first movie, played by Chris Pine. No basis in reality. Instantly one of the worst DC superhero movies of all time.


Another Netflix clunker. This time it’s Mark Wahlberg playing Boston private detective Spenser from the Robert B. Parker novels, only the film changes everything about the characters, and tries to turn this into a comedy. So, not only will Spenser purists be disappointed, but so will those of us who like a good comedy, since it’s not funny at all. You know things are bad when not even Alan Arkin can make you laugh!


Forgettable horror movie starring Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard, loosely based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw. Turn this one off.

Betty Gilpin as Crystal in “The Hunt,” directed by Craig Zobel.


A lot of folks liked this one, a dark action thriller about a group of liberals who are hunting human prey, folks they view as right wing low lifes. Stars Betty Gilpin as the one victim who won’t quit, and yes, she is very good and the best part of this movie. But for me, the rest of this film was a misfire from start to finish.


Another unfunny comedy, this one starring Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne as friends sparring with villainess Salma Hayek over a beauty company. Very few laughs here, making it a chore to sit through.


Netflix film about Cuban spies in the United States completely wastes the talents of Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Wagner Moura, and Ana de Armas. Features the most uneven script of the year, with characters appearing and then disappearing for long chunks of time. Fails to build any kind of momentum. Probably the dullest movie I watched all year.


My pick for the worst movie of 2020 is THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN, a testament as to why you shouldn’t make a sequel just for the same of making one. A sequel to the clever and lively horror/comedy THE BABYSTTER, this flick isn’t funny, isn’t scary, and isn’t enjoyable in the least. Terrible script. By far, the movie I enjoyed the least this year.

And there you have it, my list of the 10 Worst Movies I saw in 2020.

Okay, on to 2021!

Thanks for reading!


GHOSTS OF WAR (2020) – World War II Haunted House Movie Not-Half Bad


GHOSTS OF WAR (2020) offers a neat premise for a horror movie: five Allied soldiers in occupied France in 1944 are deployed to a huge mansion once home to the Nazis, and their mission is to watch over it until reinforcements arrive. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast! Because this place is haunted!

The film also gets off to a strong start with a creepy opening sequence featuring the soldiers sleeping in the woods, as one soldier awakes to spy an eerie countenance in the wooded wilderness. Yikes!

In GHOSTS OF WAR, five soldiers, Chris (Brenton Thwaites), Eugene (Skylar Astin), Tappert (Kyle Gallner), Kirk (Theo Rossi) and Butchie (Alan Ritchson), weary from battling Nazis in the French countryside, relish the mission of “house-sitting” an empty mansion for a few days. To them, it means sleeping in beds, access to food and beverages, and some much needed shelter from the unknown horrors awaiting them every day and night on their trek through the French back roads. They are rattled and on the verge of becoming unhinged. This mission has arrived at just the right time.

But their euphoria is short-lived, as they begin to see strange apparations and hear frightening sounds in the middle of the night. It doesn’t take them long to realize that the mansion is downright haunted!

As I said, GHOSTS OF WAR gets off to a creepy start with its effective opening scene, and then things continue, as the first half of this one is a solid mix of horrifying war violence combined with sinister spectral threats once the soldiers reach the mansion. It’s a winning combination.

I enjoyed the first half of this movie a lot. Everything works, and there’s not a slow or dull moment to be found. About halfway through, the soldiers finally make the realization that the mansion is haunted, and actually have a refreshing conversation about just what that means: is it being haunted by a group of people who died there, or is the place itself evil, attracting spirits and demons from all over?

At this point, they decide to come up with a plan as to how to proceed, and it’s here where the film slows down a bit, as their investigation into the house’s background simply isn’t as compelling as the relentless horrors thrown at us in the film’s first half.

Then things get worse. Sort of.

See, there’s a plot twist. Ah, the dreaded plot twist! As plot twists goes, this one is pretty damn good. The problem is, its execution is pretty damn bad! The scene which reveals the twist and sets the stage for the big “reveal” of the film, is terribly written and features rushed and pretty bad dialogue. It also features a concept that doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not in the way the film tries to explain it.

But then the film continues with its “reveal” and at long last we see why things happened the way they did. This part I liked, and it does make sense, if you can get past the silly explanation scene in the middle. In other words, the “how” this is all happening still needs work, and I didn’t completely buy it, but the “why” things happened, that part did work for me.

There’s also a strong clue of a plot twist early on in the movie, which at first I thought was an example of some pretty bad film research. One of the characters references seeing old horror movies in his childhood, and mentions some films like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF which wasn’t released until 1957, years after World War II! But it turns out this wasn’t an error. Nuff said about that!

GHOSTS OF WAR was written and directed by Eric Bress, who wrote the first two FINAL DESTINATION movies and also wrote and directed THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (2004), so he’s no stranger to bizarre time shifts in stories. I enjoyed the pace of this one during its first half which I thought was pretty relentless. Bress sets up some eerie ghost scenes as well as some brutal war-related sequences.

The story and the writing is also strong for the most part, until it reaches its ludicrous idea to enable the plot twist. If you can get past that, you won’t mind GHOSTS OF WAR. And once you get past the sloppy transition, the final reveal is actually very good and quite haunting.

The cast is solid. Brenton Thwaites is excellent as lead character Chris, the person the audience will most relate to, as the story is largely seen through his eyes. Thwaites plays Dick Grayson on the TV show TITANS (2018-present).

Skylar Astin is also very good as Eugene, the one character who can read German which becomes useful when the soldiers discover a journal left in the house written in German.

Kyle Gallner fares the best as Tappert, the most unhinged character in the group. Tapper gets carried away when encountering Nazis. He would have felt right at home in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

Theo Rossi, who starred on the TV shows SONS OF ANARCHY (2008–2014) and LUKE CAGE (2016-2018) plays Kirk, and Alan Ritchson plays Butchie, rounding out the cast.

GHOSTS OF WAR is a decent horror movie which gets off to a riveting start before eventually becoming a mixed bag, due mostly to a sloppily conceived plot twist which fails to make a convincing transition to an otherwise chilling conclusion.


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 and at  Print on demand version available at

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 Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to Also available at

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  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to Also available at

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 Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to Also available at  

Top 10 Best Movies From 2020


It’s that time of year again when we look back at the year’s best movies.

This year my list has a giant asterisk attached to it. That’s because, of course, of the COVID 19 pandemic. Normally, I review movies seen at the theaters, nationwide releases that all of us have access to seeing. This year, that experience sadly came to an end in mid-March, when theaters closed as it became unsafe to attend them.

I have continued to review movies throughout the year, but movies on streaming and OnDemand services, meaning, these films haven’t all been major releases, meaning that we moviegoers haven’t seen all the same movies this year. I know as I scan “best of” lists from other critics, a lot of the films on their lists I have not seen.

So, this list you are about to see, is the list of the Top 10 movies that I have seen this year. I am certainly not making the argument that they are the best movies of the year, simply because I know there are a lot of films that I simply didn’t see this year because I did not have the usual access to them which movie theaters normally provide.

That being said, I had fun this year all the same, as I saw many small releases, films I normally would not have seen because I would have been busy watching the major releases at the theaters. So, for me, all was not lost, although I certainly missed the movie theater experience. How long will this go on? Since the medical experts have been clear, that it will not be safe to visit a movie theater until well after a vaccine makes its rounds, it sounds like to me that most of 2021 will be a similar, “no movie theater” experience. Oh well. Most of that is beyond my control, other than I will continue to do my part to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing.

Okay, enough of the COVID 19 distraction. Now onto the list! Here they are, my picks for the 10 Best Movies that I saw in 2020:


One of the weirdest movies I saw all year, but I liked it very much. Mel Gibson plays a disillusioned Santa Claus who is forced to sign a contract with the U.S. military to mass produce consoles for military aircraft in order to make ends meet. Meanwhile, he’s the target of a relentless hitman played by Walton Goggins, hired by a rich brat who is sick and tired of getting coal every Christmas. A black comedy that retains a dark, gloomy tone throughout and is better for it. What you get if the Coen brothers had made a Christmas movie. Definitely for adults only.


It was another good year for horror movies, and ANTEBELLUM was one of the best. Janelle Monae plays a slave trapped on a Civil War era plantation run by a group of very sadistic Confederate soldiers. And that’s just the beginning. Jumps back and forth between the past and the present, leading up to a rather questionable plot twist of a conclusion that in fact turned off many viewers. I didn’t like the twist, but I still liked the movie. Also features a powerfully haunting music score by Roman GianArthur Irvin and Nate “Rocket” Wonder.


Spike Lee’s story of four Vietnam vets returning to Vietnam to reclaim the remains of their fallen squad leader is as stylish and moving a movie on Vietnam in quite a while. Also speaks clearly to the state of race relations in the here and now. Features Chadwick Boseman in one of his last roles.


It’s been a while since one of my Top 10 movies has featured Will Ferrell, but this Netflix musical/comedy/fantasy was a complete surprise. I found myself loving it. Loved its message of the need to produce art, and the enthusiasm of the two main characters, played by Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, who steals the show, is infectious. While silly and over the top, the best part about this one is it never departs from its sincerity. As such, its conclusion is actually quite moving. A pleasant surprise.


Another horror movie, and this one is the best movie I saw at the movie theaters this year. Not so much a remake but a reimagining of the Invisible Man concept. The emphasis here is on a woman played by Elizabeth Moss who’s the victim of an abusive husband, and when he dies, she is overjoyed. But when she starts sensing him around, she becomes convinced that he faked his own death and has found a way to become invisible, an assertion that her friends see as… well, you know. This one is best when it plays as a pyschological thriller… is he invisible, or is she crazy? It plays its hand a bit too early for my tastes, but I still really, really enjoyed this one. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who both wrote and starred in the INSIDIOUS movies.


This Netflix bio pic of U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello features two knockout performances by Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas, who share a strong and powerful chemistry together as real life couple de Mello and Carolina Larriera. Stylish and moving thoughout, SERGIO was the best of the Netflix bio pics I saw this year.


Another horror movie, which makes three horror flicks in my Top 10 List. As I said, 2020 was a good year for horror movies. SPUTNIK tells the story of a Russian cosmonaut who returns to Earth harboring a mysterious and deadly creature inside him. The story focuses on pyschologist Tatyana Klimova, played by Oksana Akinshina, who is called in to assess the cosmonaut’s mental state. Akinshina is phenomenal in the lead role, and she carries this movie, a deliberately paced thriller that had me both intrigued and on the edge of my seat throughout.


The most fascinating movie I saw all year. This Netflix documentary about a man and his relationship with an octopus features both incredible underwater photography and a story— which is true— which will tug at your heartstrings. To see an octopus… a mollusk… develop a bond and a friendship with a gentle human being just might restore your faith in humanity, that loving relationshps on earth are indeed possible.


I loved this movie. Based on a true story, MISBEHAVIOR tells the tale of the group of women who marched on the 1970 Miss World Beauty pageant in London to protest the sexist treatment of women, an event that is widely credited as the birth of the Women’s Rights Movement. Keira Knightley is outstanding in the lead role as Sally Alexander, Greg Kinnear is just as good as legendary entertainer Bob Hope who hosted the pageant that year. Intelligent screenplay by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe, and director Philippa Lowthorpe successfully captures the mood and feel of 1970 London.


My pick for the best film I saw this year may come as a surprise, but it is EXTRACTION, a Netflix action movie starring Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary hired to extract the young son of a drug lord out of Dhaka, Bangladesh, even as the countless and relentless forces of a rival drug lord close in around them. Directed by Sam Hargrave, who worked as a stuntman on many of the Marvel superhero movies, EXTRACTION features hands down the most exciting action sequences put on film all year. And these phenomenal scenes just keep on coming. The movie is relentless. A lot of folks did not like this one, but I absolutely loved it. I loved the story, Chris Hemsworth in the lead role, the amazing action sequences, but most of all, the reason this movie is my pick for my favorite movie of the year, is it was the one movie…. the only one…. that I saw at home that really had me feeling like I was in a movie theater watching it on the big screen. EXTRACTION is big time cinematic. And for that, I loved this movie.

Okay, there you have it. My picks for the Top 10 movies I saw in 2020. Coming soon, my list of the Worst 10 Movies I saw in 2020.

Until then, happy movie watching!