FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 (2021) – First Film in Netflix’ Horror Trilogy Nothing to Scream About


FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 (2021), the first film in a three part trilogy based on the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine and now playing on Netflix, feels like a TV show, but to its credit, actually plays like a theatrical release.

The television show feeling is there because all three films were released in quick succession, and all three are presently available on Netflix. This is not your classic movie trilogy where you have to wait three years, or even just one year, for the next part. You can binge watch all three in one sitting.

I was impressed by director Leigh Janiak’s handling of this movie, as she successfully captures the look and feel of a 1990s slasher flick. In fact, the opening scene is a direct homage to the opening scene in Wes Craven’s SCREAM (1996). It’s very well done, so much so that it just might be the best sequence in the entire movie. The film also earns its R rating, as it contains its share of bloody slasher murders, the most gruesome of all coming towards the film’s end, involving a bread slicer in a supermarket.

Yet, while I enjoyed the work of Leigh Janiak, I was far less impressed with the screenplay by Janiak and Phil Graziadei. I had no problem with the dialogue which serves its purpose well, but the overall story I found to be a snooze, and the characters not all that engaging. Truth be told, I really didn’t like any of the characters in this movie all that much.

And at one hour and forty seven minutes, the film runs a bit long. Ninety minutes would have been just fine.

Anyway, the story told in FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 involves two neighboring towns, Shadyside and Sunnyvale, Ohio. As you can guess by their names, Sunnyvale is nearly perfect, while Shadyside is known as a sh*thole, a place that attracts evil, where slasher and serial killer murders happen on a regular basis. The general population of Shadyside is people of color, while wealthy white people live in Sunnyvale. I liked this symbolism and hoped that this movie would move in a direction that delved into the plight of the haves and have nots, especially concerning race, but it really doesn’t. It’s not that kind of movie. I mean, to its credit, there are hints here and there, but the film downplays them and doesn’t go out of its way to make racial disparities a central theme.

Shadyside is the way it is because it’s been cursed by a witch since the 1600s! Oh my! And a group of teenagers run afoul of this witch when after a car accident, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) inadvertently disturbs the witch’s grave. This major plot point is actually a rather ludicrous scene. The grave is barely beneath the soil, and this is a witch that has been buried for four hundred years?

So, the witch decides that Sam must die, and she sends a group of slasher killers from Shadyside’s past to hunt down and kill the girl. Standing in their way are the girl’s friends, including her on again off again girlfriend and main character, Deena (Kiana Madeira), Deena’s younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores, Jr.), and their friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger).

As plots go, the one in FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 is pretty lame. It’s also farfetched, and little or no effort is made to make it seem at all believable. The reason to watch this flick is the work of director Leigh Janiak. She nails the 1990s slasher flick trope throughout. Similarly to the way I love the 1980s references in the Netflix show STRANGER THINGS (2016-present), I enjoyed the 90s references here in this movie.

The cast is okay. While I didn’t really like either character, I did enjoy the performances of Kiana Madeira as Deena and Olivia Scott Welch as Sam. They are both very good. I also enjoyed Julia Rehwald as Kate and Fred Hechinger as Simon.

Ashley Zukerman plays Sheriff Nick Goode, a rather weird character who seems like he walked off the set of TWIN PEAKS (1990-1991). He is supposed to be the caring, concerned law enforcement officer, but throughout the whole movie he seems to be walking in a dream. Zukerman starred in the underrated horror movie THE WIND (2018) where he played a supporting role as the main character’s husband, and he made much more of an impact in that movie.

For me, the best performance in FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 belongs to Maya Hawke who sadly gets killed off in the film’s opening moments, similar to the way Drew Barrymore’s character was slain in the opening sequence of SCREAM. Hawke was equally as memorable on the TV show STRANGER THINGS, and I just hope she lands some major starring roles soon. She’s very, very good. And she’s also one of the main reasons the opening sequence to this movie works so well. You don’t even know her character. Yet she evokes so much sympathy and horror when her character is slain. I think it’s the way she so desperately fights for her life.

Strangely, “Fear Street” is never mentioned in this movie. Shadyside is a cursed place, and the teens there all lament that they live there, but there’s no reference to the actual street they live on. I guess that’s something we’ll have to wait for in the next film in the series.

FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 has its moments. Its strength is it nails the 1990s slasher movie feel with ease, and director Leigh Janiak deserves a lot of credit for this accomplishment. But its story is meh, its characters unlikable, and in spite of some gruesome bloody scenes, really isn’t all that scary.

But it’s certainly worth a look, and it was good enough for me to want to check out the second film in the trilogy.

FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 is basically a good looking movie in need of a stronger story. Had it had one, it would have been something to scream about.


JOLT (2021) – Kate Beckinsale Action Flick An Exhilarating Thrill Ride


Kate Beckinsale kicking ass in a high voltage action movie. What’s not to like?

Actually, there could be a lot not to like. I am not a fan of Beckinsale’s UNDERWORLD vampire action series, as I find those movies poorly written and terribly boring. That being said, today’s movie, JOLT (2021), a new action flick now available on Prime Video, is actually a lot of fun.

In JOLT, Lindy (Kate Beckinsale) suffers from an unusual condition in which she cannot control her anger and as a result kicks the living sh*t out of anyone who makes her angry. If this were a Marvel superhero movie she’d be turning green and shouting “Smash!” In fact, she and the Hulk would be perfect for each other. JOLT is also marketed as a comedy, and while you won’t be laughing throughout, there are some laugh out loud moments here and there, but more importantly, the humor serves as a reminder that this film certainly does not take itself too seriously. So, Lindy’s condition is treated lightly. This is not a movie about angst.

Lindy finally finds some relief when her psychiatrist Dr. Munchin (Stanley Tucci) provides her with an experimental exoskeleton of electrodes that zap her with jolts of electricity which help manage her temper. Dr. Munchin also advises that she get out more and go on some dates. She takes his advice and meets Justin (Jai Courtney) who immediately sweeps her off her feet. She feels so good that she declares to Dr. Munchin that she’s now cured! But her joy is short-lived when Justin is murdered the next night. Her new hopes shattered, Lindy makes it her mission to find out who killed Justin and when she does to make them pay. She needs to stay one step ahead of the two investigating police detectives, Detective Vicars (Bobby Cannavale) and Detective Nevin (Laverne Cox), and her quest for justice doesn’t get any easier when she learns that Justin was involved with some very powerful and very dangerous people. Of course.

The worst thing that can be said about JOLT is its plot is threadbare. Lindy and all her talents are stuck in a plot in which she’s investigating the murder of a guy she dated twice. That’s as intricate as it gets, folks. And the plot twist at the end I saw coming a mile away.

But the rest of the screenplay by Scott Wascha is very good. The dialogue is fun and witty, and the characters fleshed out pretty darn well for a fast paced action movie. Of course it helps that JOLT is blessed with an impressive cast.

Leading the way is Kate Beckinsale. She makes for a believable action hero even in a film where believability isn’t always key. Just as the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, there’s a lot of playfulness in Beckinsale’s performance even as she is taking out the deadly bad guys in some pretty violent scenes. She’s in most of the movie, and she easily carries this one.

Stanley Tucci, who is always a joy to watch, is really good in his scenes as Dr. Munchin, and he and Beckinsale share a fun chemistry. Every time she bursts into his office, he pulls a handgun from his desk drawer to protect himself. And when she fights to control her anger over things he’s saying, she imagines herself killing him, and when she returns to the here and now, Munchin calmly asks her how she killed him this time. Asphyxiation? And she tells him no, punctured artery. And he nods and the session continues.

Bobby Cannavale is excellent as Detective Vicars. He is instantly attracted to Lindy, and he goes out of his way to help her. Cannavale and Beckinsale also share a strong chemistry. The characters and their relationships really come to life in this movie, which for an action flick, surprised me.

I also enjoyed Laverne Cox as Detective Nevin. Unlike her partner, Nevin doesn’t trust Lindy at all and makes it her mission to single-handedly capture the woman, and their spirited confrontations make for some of the livelier comedic scenes in the film.

Jai Courtney is charming as Justin, the boyfriend who meets an untimely death, and the film boasts a couple of notable villains as well. Ori Pfeffer plays Delacroix, a cool henchman and enforcer who Lindy tangles with on more than one occasion, and their final confrontation is a good one. And David Bradley makes for an icy cold deadly recluse Gareth Fizel, the villain who is pulling all the strings.

Even Susan Sarandon shows up as a mysterious woman with no name.

But the best part of JOLT, even better than the stellar cast, is the direction by director Tanya Wexler. JOLT is full of impressive and exciting action scenes, and even more so, thrilling chase scenes. JOLT features some of the more exhilarating chase scenes I’ve seen in a long time. The camerawork in these scenes is amazing. While the hand to hand fight scenes aren’t quite as impressive as similar scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) or EXTRACTION (2020), they come close.

The chase scene in which Detective Nevin pursues Lindy through a hospital is phenomenal, and the car chase sequence where Lindy steals Nevin’s car and is pursued by Nevin and Vicars is even more exciting.

Wexler also directed BUFFALOED (2019), a dark quirky film I really enjoyed, but I think I liked JOLT even more. There’s just so much spirited energy in JOLT. Other than its ho hum standard plot, JOLT as a comedic action flick really soars.

With Kate Beckinsale leading the way, JOLT is an enjoyable thrill ride that will give you quite the charge.



Adrienne Barbeau in THE FOG (1980)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Adrienne Barbeau, an actress whose long career continues through to this day as she is still actively making movies, but in her heyday, during the 1980s, she was on screen quite often in horror movies, especially those directed by John Carpenter. She and Carpenter were married from 1979 – 1984.

Here’s a partial look at her very impressive 152 screen credits:

MAUDE (1972- 1978) – Carol Trayner – The TV show on which Adrienne Barbeau became a household name, playing the adult daughter of main character Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) in this Norman Lear spin-off from ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971-79). Maude is Edith Bunker’s cousin. Her liberal independent character was the complete opposite of bigot Archie Bunker. So, by the time Barbeau branched into movies, she was already well known to American audiences.

THE GREAT HOUDINI (1976) – Daisy White – Barbeau’s first movie screen credit was in this 1976 TV movie starring Paul Michael Glaser as Harry Houdini. I saw this one when it first aired, not just because I was a fan of STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) the 70s cop show in which Glaser starred, but because in the cast I noticed was one Peter Cushing playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! It was Cushing’s first ever American TV movie, and he shot his scenes right after finishing work on STAR WARS (1977). THE GREAT HOUDINI is a really good movie, by the way, and features a very impressive cast. Besides Paul Michael Glaser, Adrienne Barbeau, and Peter Cushing, the film also starred Sally Struthers, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Vance, Bill Bixby, Nina Foch, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Geoffrey Lewis, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Clive Revill. Barbeau is excellent in a supporting role.

RED ALERT (1977) – Judy Wyche – TV movie thriller starring William Devane about a malfunction at a nuclear power plant. Pre-dates the more well-known THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) by three years.

CRASH (1978) – Veronica Daniels – TV movie about the crash of Flight 401 into the Florida Everglades. Also starring William Shatner, Eddie Albert, Lorraine Gary, and Ron Glass, among others. Follows the formula of the AIRPORT movies, except this one is based on a true story.

SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME (1978) – Sophie – Another TV movie, this one written and directed by John Carpenter. In fact, it was on the set of this film that Carpenter and Barbeau first met. Long known as the “lost John Carpenter film,” as back in the day it never was released in the U.S. on VHS, and didn’t appear on DVD until 2007, this thriller centers on a woman played by Lauren Hutton being stalked and terrorized by an unknown male assailant. Barbeau plays the main character’s best friend.

THE DARKER SIDE OF TERROR (1979) – Margaret Corwin – Made for TV horror movie centering on clones. Also stars Robert Forster and Ray Milland.

THE FOG (1980) – Stevie Wayne – Barbeau’s first theatrical starring role is in this John Carpenter horror movie, which sadly, since it followed upon the heels of Carpenter’s breakthrough megahit HALLOWEEN (1978) was not well-received or treated kindly by critics at the time. I’ve always loved THE FOG, as it’s unique in that there aren’t too many other horror movies where fog and what arrives in it are the main menaces in the film. It’s an eerie ghost story, and the fog special effects are superior and when combined with Carpenter’s music, pretty much unforgettable. Curiously, one thing I’ve never liked about this movie, and it’s an unusual dislike for a John Carpenter film, is that in spite of a very impressive cast which includes Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, and John Houseman, there’s not a single character I like in this one. None of the characters come to life for me, nor are any of the performances memorable, with the possible exception of Charles Cyphers’ Dan the weatherman character, who also gets one of the the best scenes in the movie when he answers the door to his weather station in the fog. But it’s a small role. This is unusual, since in most John Carpenter films, you do have memorable characters and performances, whether it’s Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN, or Kurt Russell in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982) to name just a couple.

Adrienne Barbeau and Harry Dean Stanton in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Maggie -This is one of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances, in another genre film by John Carpenter. This futuristic science fiction actioner starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a hardened criminal sent into Manhattan which is now a maximum security prison in the “future” year of 1997 (!!!) by tough guy warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to rescue the President (Donald Pleasence) from terrorists. Another John Carpenter classic. There’s a lot to love about this one even if believability is low throughout… Donald Pleasence as a U.S. President?… Great action scenes, another fantastic music score by Carpenter, and unlike in THE FOG, there are lots of memorable characters and fine performances, including Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, the tough as nails unflappable girlfriend of super intelligent and resourceful Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), who both help Pliskin rescue the President from the villainous The Duke (Isaac Hayes).

SWAMP THING (1982) – Alice Cable – another theatrical horror/science fiction release, but this time not directed by John Carpenter, but by another classic horror movie director, Wes Craven. Not terribly well-received at the time, but I’ve always found this one mildly entertaining.

Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau in CREEPSHOW (1982)

CREEPSHOW (1982) – Wilma Northrup “The Crate” – this is another of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances. In fact, this one just might be my favorite, pure and simple. In this superior horror anthology movie, directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King, Barbeau appears in one my favorite segments, “The Crate” which is about a hideous man-eating creature living inside a crate. She plays the relentlessly harsh and belittling wife to Hal Holbrook’s meek Henry Northrup, so when his visibly shaken friend Dexter (Fritz Weaver) shows up at his door one night with a horrifying tale of a man-eating monster back at the college campus where they teach, it gives Henry one wild idea to help solve a nagging problem before he decides to help Dexter take care of his monster dilemma.

THE THING (1982) – Computer voice (uncredited) – back with husband John Carpenter again, this time providing the voice of a computer. Arguably Carpenter’s best movie, this classic remake which was also initially panned by critics is today on so many horror movie fans’ lists as the best horror movie ever made. Period.

THE NEXT ONE (1984) – Andrea – Intriguing science fiction film about a stranger from the future played by Keir Dullea who meets the widowed wife of an astronaut played by Barbeau and her son.

TERROR AT LONDON BRIDGE (1985) – Lynn Chandler – TV movie starring David Hasselhoff about Jack the Ripper committing murders in 1985 by the newly restored London Bridge in Arizona. Written by William F. Nolan, who also wrote the screenplays for such genre films as THE NORLISS TAPES (1973) and BURNT OFFERINGS (1976). Nolan just passed away days ago, on July 15, 2021.

OPEN HOUSE (1987)- Lisa Grant – horror movie about a serial killer targeting real estate agents!

TWO EVIL EYES (1990) – Jessica Valdemar – Horror anthology movie based on Edgar Allan Poe tales directed by George A. Romero and Dario Argento.

DEMOLITION MAN (1993)- Computer voice, uncredited – Barbeau once again provides her voice for a computer in this science fiction actioner starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock.

JUDGE DREDD (1995) – Central voice – another Sylvester Stallone science fiction action film, another opportunity for Barbeau to lend only her voice to a film.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992-1995) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle/Martha Wayne – Barbeau provides voicework for this animated Batman TV show. Her voice work as Catwoman is arguably what she is most remembered for today.

THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES (1997-1998) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle- more voiceover work as Catwoman.

THE CONVENT (2000) – Adult Christine – Horror movie about demonic possession and a cursed convent.

GOTHAM GIRLS (2000-2002) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle – provides her voice yet again as the Catwoman in this animated TV series about female superheroes and female supervillains in Gotham City.

UNHOLY (2007) – Martha – Horror movie involving conspiracies, witches, Nazis, the occult, and secret government experiments. Should have been called UNBELIEVABLE.

WAR WOLVES (2009) – Gail Cash – Made for TV horror movie about werewolves, soldiers, and werewolf soldiers! Also starring John Saxon.

UNEARTH (2020) – Kathryn Dolan – Barbeau’s most recent theatrical film credit is in this horror movie about fracking.

Adrienne Barbeau in 2020.

While I jumped from 2009 to 2020, Barbeau was actively working during this decade, appearing in movies and on television nonstop during these years. And she has several projects in pre-production at present.

For me, Adrienne Barbeau will best be remembered as a leading lady from the 1980s in which she appeared in some of the decades biggest horror movies and contributed greatly to these films with her noteworthy performances. So there you have it. A brief partial look at the career of Adrienne Barbeau.

Hope you enjoyed the column and join me again next time when we look at the career of another leading lady.

As always, thanks for reading!





THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) was the last of the serious Universal INVISIBLE MAN series. There would be one more, but that one would include Abbott and Costello in the cast, in the appropriately named ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951).

Previous films in the series include THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (1940), which was also played for laughs, and INVISIBLE AGENT (1942). The best film in the series remains, by far, the first one, THE INVISIBLE MAN, which was directed by James Whale and starred Claude Rains as the invisible one.

THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is considered to be the weakest of the series, and while I can’t disagree, I do still enjoy this one. It has its moments. Its biggest flaw is its story just isn’t very good.

It also has no connection to the previous films. And while the main character’s name is Robert Griffin— Griffin being the surname of the original Invisible Man and his various relatives in later movies— in this film, the character in spite of his name is no relation to the Invisible Man Clan.

In THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, shady character Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) recently recovers from amnesia and remembers that his “friends” owe him half their fortune. When he returns to their mansion, both Lady Herrick (Gale Sondergaard) and Sir Jasper Herrick (Lester Matthews) are shocked to see their former friend, who they believed was dead. They are even more shocked when he not only demands half their fortune but also their daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers), even though she’s engaged to a reporter Mark Foster (Alan Curtis). Rather than call their attorneys, they drug Griffin and toss him out of their home.

Infuriated, Griffin happens to stumble upon a house in which a scientist Doctor Peter Drury (John Carradine) lives, who just happened to discover the secret to invisibility! How convenient! So, Griffin becomes invisible, and with the help of a comical local sidekick Herbert Higgins (Leon Errol) attempts to coerce the Herricks to give him their fortune and win back Julie. Standing in his way is heroic reporter and fiance Mark Foster, and when he can’t get the job done, it’s up to Dr. Drury’s loyal pet dog (Grey Shadow) to save the day!

It’s never a good sign in a movie plot that the film’s hero turns out to be a dog. Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. A lot. But when this happens, and it’s not a movie about a dog, that’s just not saying much about the film’s human characters.

And overall, the entire story in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is not a very good one. The screenplay by Bertram Millhauser doesn’t give us much of a conflict or characters that are all that interesting.

Robert Griffin isn’t the most sympathetic character, and for most of the movie is a demented villain, which is par for the course for an invisible man in these stories, but there’s just something unlikable about him throughout the movie. Not that a character has to be likable. But some characters you enjoy watching them be evil or dark, but that isn’t quite the case here.

This was Jon Hall’s second time playing an invisible man. He played an entirely different character, also invisible, in INVISIBLE AGENT.

Leon Errol chews up the scenery as the comedic Herbert Higgins who decides to assist Griffin enact his revenge, as long as there is some money in it for him. The dart throwing contest is one of the highlights of the movie, where Higgins challenges the local dart champion and receives help from his invisible friend.

But the best performance in the movie… no surprise… is from John Carradine as Dr. Drury. It’s a small role, but Carradine is on point throughout, and he makes for a really interesting scientist, not your cliche movie mad scientist. It’s a shame he’s not in this movie more.

Evelyn Ankers, who appeared in THE WOLF MAN (1941) and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), among others, has very very little to do here as daughter Julie Herrick. She’s hardly in this one. Another Universal monster movie veteran, Lester Matthews, who starred in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and THE RAVEN (1935) is very good here as Sir Jasper Herrick.

THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE was directed by Ford Beebe, and like most of the Universal classic monster movies, looks terrific. The black and white photography, the huge mansion, the raging thunderstorm outside Dr. Drury’s laboratory, keep this one steeped in creepy atmosphere.

The special effects, while not as impressive as the effects in the original INVISIBLE MAN, are still pretty good, and make for a lot of fun.

Again, the biggest knock against THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is its story just isn’t all that exciting or interesting, and the same can be said for its characters, with the possible exception of Dr. Drury and his pet dog, and Drury just isn’t in the movie all that much.

Yup, when all is said and done, when summing up THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, it’s pretty clear that regarding this movie, there simply isn’t a lot… to see.


THE TOMORROW WAR (2021) – Science Fiction Actioner Starring Chris Pratt An Entertaining Summer Popcorn Movie


If this were a normal year in the days before the Covid-19 pandemic, THE TOMORROW WAR (2021) would be playing in theaters everywhere and being hyped as a true summer blockbuster. It’s that kind of movie.

It features high octane action sequences pitting soldiers and everyday civilians against some very hungry and aggressive alien monsters, time travel, and it stars Chris Pratt. It has all the makings of a true summer hit. And it really is a fun movie. But you’ll need Amazon Prime Video to see it, because that’s where it’s playing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just how things are for movies in the here and now.

In THE TOMORROW WAR, a group of soldiers from the future dramatically interrupt a major soccer match and declare to the world in a very cinematic scene that they have come from the future to recruit soldiers from present day to fight a war against vicious alien creatures that are wiping out the human race. While this is an interesting premise, I couldn’t help but wonder why with this time travelling technology they possess in the future they just couldn’t go back in time before the alien monsters arrive and come up with a way of stopping them before they invade. You know, what they do in the TERMINATOR movies. Then again, those plans always fail, so maybe that’s the reason!

The film does offer a couple of answers to this question, neither of which are overly satisfying. One, the humans in the future have failed to determine when the aliens first arrived, and two, there’s a quick scene of dialogue which explains that the time travel technology is new to the future humans and they are very limited in what they can do with it.

And also, there’s no way I see the world’s nations agreeing to send soldiers into the future. The idea that any nation would reduce its military might for any reason I find ludicrous and unrealistic.

The good news is none of this matters much. When Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is drafted into the future and has to leave his wife and young daughter behind, he is immediately thrust into a world in which the alien monsters attack quickly and relentlessly, setting the stage for a series of very impressive action sequences. If you don’t think about things all that much, THE TOMORROW WAR is a lot of fun.

While Dan is in the future, he meets Colonel Muri Forester (Yvonne Strahovski) who happens to be his daughter all grown up. She sent for Dan from the future for a specific reason, and thus the time travel element of the plot begins in earnest.

I really enjoyed THE TOMORROW WAR. The action sequences are fun and frequent, and loud. Director Chris McKay sets up some very satisfying cinematic sequences, and while at times the action becomes intense, as the alien creatures are nasty and formidable, this one never becomes scary or horrific. The emphasis is on action. So, while I was reminded of classic movies like ALIENS (1986) and CLOVERFIELD (2008) when the alien creatures wreaked havoc, the film never ventures down the horror road, which for me, was a detriment.

That being said, the film doesn’t forget its roots and its connections to previous science fiction horror movies. There are nods to both ALIEN (1979) and THE THING (1982), which I appreciated.

THE TOMORROW WAR is also a bit long, clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, and I can’t say that the whole thing was one nonstop thrill ride, although the pace is nonstop. It’s one of those movies that keeps pushing its way forward without taking a breath or giving the audience a chance to get to know the characters. I don’t usually like movies that are paced this way, but THE TOMORROW WAR supersedes this problem with its impressive action scenes, having Chris Pratt in the lead role, and finally deciding to take that much needed breath in the film’s final reel, in which the time travel elements come into full play and some of the characterizations finally come into the forefront.

And so while I knocked some of the time travel elements with this one, and the plot point about nations sending soldiers into the future, all in all I enjoyed the screenplay by Zach Dean. I definitely enjoyed the story, as well as the unusual plot construct of having things slow down a bit towards the end, setting up a very satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the theme which ran through this one of not having second chances, and when some of the characters are finally able to get those second chances at film’s end, it makes for some rewarding moments.

The dialogue runs hot and cold. Sometimes the banter is tired and cliche, and other times there are some really memorable lines. One of my favorites is right near the end when James Forester (J.K. Simmons) asks his son Dan if he just told the creature to die, and when Dan says yes, James quips, “It worked. Why didn’t you tell it sooner?” In another scene, one of the characters is being chased down a staircase by a rampaging alien, and the character is repeatedly crying out, “Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t” all the way down. It had me laughing out loud.

Chris Pratt channels his amiable hero personality which he has used so successfully in both the Marvel GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and AVENGERS movies, and the recent JURASSIC PARK films, to once again anchor an action packed summer blockbuster movie. I like Pratt a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint.

On the other hand, Yvonne Strahovski doesn’t fare as well as Forester’s adult daughter Muri. While she does get ample screen time, her scenes and dialogue are mostly reduced to her character reacting to her dad. The story really is about Pratt’s Dan Forester. He’s the central figure, and the film doesn’t seem to want to allow other characters to cross into that territory. That’s probably the biggest problem I had with THE TOMORROW WAR. It’s not very “today” in utilizing female characters. Yvonne Strahovski’s Muri should have played a much more prominent role and not just played second fiddle to Chris Pratt.

Even worse, Betty Gilpin plays Dan’s wife Emmy and she gets very little screen time, which for me, was a huge missed opportunity. You have Betty Gilpin in your cast and she’s reduced to playing a supportive wife? She should have been in the forefront of the future action sequences kicking alien butt alongside Chris Pratt. For me, this was the biggest disappointment about THE TOMORROW WAR.

Veteran actor J.K. Simmons is excellent as Dan’s estranged dad James, and of all the characters in the movie, he probably enjoys the most satisfying story arc. And both Sam Richardson and Edwin Hodge add fine support in smaller roles.

While it’s not perfect, THE TOMORROW WAR doesn’t have to be. Its riveting action sequences and intriguing time travel story are enough to make this one an enjoyable summer popcorn movie.

So, don’t wait for tomorrow to see THE TOMORROW WAR.

See it today.


NO SUDDEN MOVE (2021) – Stephen Soderbergh’s Latest A Compelling Crime Tale


Who knew the catalytic converter could cause so much trouble?

NO SUDDEN MOVE (2021), the latest movie by director Steven Soderbergh, now playing in theaters and on HBO Max, is a stylish thriller that takes place in 1950s Detroit about a pair of criminals who find themselves in the middle of a robbery gone wrong and suddenly are being chased by so many unsavory characters you’ll need a scorecard to keep track, in a plot which involves the auto industry and the fight over some innovative top secret information!

As plots go, it’s pretty darn interesting!

Recently out of jail, Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) is looking for work, and he’s none too picky about what he takes. He accepts a sketchy job from Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) which involves a team of three, and includes Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin). They invade the home of a man Matt Wertz (David Harbour) and his family. While Curt and Ron remain in the home holding the family hostage, Charley takes Matt to his office and forces Matt to break into his boss’ safe and steal the documents located there. When Matt opens the safe, he discovers the documents are gone, but rather than tell Charley this, he hands the criminal substitute documents.

This leads to a violent chain reaction, upon which Curt realizes they have been set up, and he and Ron decide to go after the missing documents themselves and get paid handsomely for them. Which proves to be no easy task, since there are a lot of people who want those documents and who will kill for them. And not only do Curt and Ron need to stay one step ahead of the unsavory characters who are after them, but also they have to contend with detective Joe Finney (Jon Hamm) who is hot on their trail.

The less said about the plot the better, because it really is a compelling story. The screenplay by Ed Solomon is solid. It does get a bit confusing as it goes along, as there are so many characters and twists and turns in the story, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I liked the two main characters, Curt and Ron, a lot, and their back and forth chatter works well. The dialogue throughout is excellent. And I liked the connection to the auto industry, as it’s not every day you see a thriller about the catalytic converter.

Solomon also wrote NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) a snappy thriller which I enjoyed and starred Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson, among others, and way back in the day, he co-wrote BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989), and he also wrote MEN IN BLACK (1997). So, he’s no stranger to writing catchy dialogue.

Don Cheadle delivers the best performance in the film. He gives Curt grit and determination, and he plays the character as a stand up guy, in spite of his criminal past. He’s only after the money to get back what he believes is rightfully his. And he’s not about taking innocent lives with him to do it. It’s some of Cheadle’s best work since HOTEL RWANDA (2004).

Benicio Del Toro is nearly as good as Ronald Russo, the former mob enforcer who is now running from the mob since he slept with his boss’ wife. Not smart, Ronald! Del Toro plays Russo as an often lethargic hit man who is constantly looking for a drink. It’s a terrific understated performance.

David Harbour, looking thinner and trimmer than as of late, is cast against his STRANGER THINGS Sheriff Hopper persona, playing Matt Wertz, a cowardly weasel of a man who is not above risking the lives of his family as he plots with his girlfriend and boss’ secretary to rip off the company, a plan which blows up in his face in far worse ways than he could ever imagine.

Amy Seimetz also delivers a strong performance as Matt’s long suffering wife Mary, who finds ordinary life a struggle and can’t handle going through the motions of what she views as a phony existence, and so she already has issues with life even before the violent plot against her family rears its ugly head. Seimetz has been in a bunch of things, from the remake of PET SEMATARY (2019) to ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) to co-starring with David Harbour in STRANGER THINGS (2016-2017).

While Jon Hamm is effective as Detective Joe Finney, he actually doesn’t get to do a whole heck of a lot. I expected more from the role.

It was fun to see Brendan Fraser back on the “big” screen again. I hadn’t seen him in a movie in a while. And he chews up the scenery as the mysterious mobster who sets everything in motion by hiring these men. Speaking of chewing up the scenery, Ray Liotta does just that in a small role as head mobster Frank Capelli.

And there’s an uncredited performance in the film’s conclusion that adds a lot to the climax of this movie.

I’m not the biggest fan of Steven Soderbergh. His thriller UNSANE (2018) shot entirely with an IPhone 7 was just so-so, and he’s made a bunch of other films I’ve found simply lukewarm, films like SIDE EFFECTS (2013) and CONTAGION (2011). And I’m not a fan of his OCEAN’S movies. But I really liked his quirky crime comedy LOGAN LUCKY (2017), and of course back in the day he made films like THE LIMEY (1999) and SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989).

But I really liked NO SUDDEN MOVE. Soderbergh captures the look and feel of 1950s Detroit with seeming ease. He gets the most out of his actors’ performances, and he keeps this one thrilling throughout. I did think it slowed a bit towards the end, picking up just in time for its satisfying conclusion.

Overall, NO SUDDEN MOVE has a great cast, a superb script, and a creative director who is operating at the top of his game.

And you’ll even learn a little history about the catalytic converter.

Yup, it’s definitely a movie you “auto” watch.


THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021) – Third Film in Series Plays Like It


Back in 2013, director James Wan made THE CONJURING, a horror film I liked a lot, although I liked his previous horror flick INSIDIOUS (2010) even more. THE CONJURING was a huge success and spawned a sequel and then an entire “universe” comprised of films telling the stories of the various demons in these movies, most notably the devil doll Annabelle. Some of these films have been good, and a lot of them have been not so good. None have been as strong as the first CONJURING movie.

Now comes the second direct sequel to the original, THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021), which in spite of its laughable title, isn’t half bad. Which means it isn’t half good either.

THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT tells the further adventures of demon hunters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) as they take on another case of demonic possession and murder. Ed and Lorraine Warren were real people, most famous for their involvement with the infamous Amityville Horror case. And these movies take full advantage of that fact, always ominously declaring “based on a true story.”

Although this is the third film in the CONJURING series, this is the fourth time Wilson and Farmiga have played these roles, as they appeared in the very weak ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019), the third film in that spinoff series!

THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT opens with…you got it!… an exorcism scene! Ed and Lorraine Warren are helping a family exorcise an evil spirit from the body of their young son. However, the demon is none too happy about leaving… are they ever? You’d think some of these demons would learn the art of subtlety. You know, mess around a bit here and there, have some fun, but never call attention to themselves. They could have a long and happy life inside their host bodies. Anyway, that’s not how the demons in these movies roll.

The boyfriend of the boy’s older sister, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), decides to play the hero and calls the demon into his own body, and the demon obliges. Later, when Arne kills a man and is arrested for murder, Ed and Lorraine come to his defense, claiming that he is possessed. However, their “tests” on him reveal that he’s not possessed, which confuses them since they know the demon jumped bodies and entered Arne. So, they realize that they are now dealing with something entirely different from anything they had encountered before. Oooh! Scary!!! They decide to investigate further, promising Arne that they will help him, and as they search for clues, they discover that Arne is the victim of… drum roll please…. a curse!


Now it’s up to Ed and Lorraine to figure out just who has cursed the young man, and what this means for them because the source of the curse is none too happy about being investigated and is more than ready to strike back and inflict some harm on the Warrens!

As horror stories go, the one told in THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT isn’t bad. I liked following Ed and Lorraine on their investigation, and the story builds up some suspense as it goes along, and it was enough to keep me interested. And both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are solid in their roles, as they always are, and so this helps as well.

But the biggest problem I had with this third CONJURING movie, and it’s the same problem I have with all the films in this “universe” other than the first one, is that little or no effort is made to make the story being told believable. Other than the “based on a true story” tagline, there’s nothing resembling truth here. Take the opening exorcism scene, for instance. The gold standard for exorcism scenes remains the climactic exorcism in THE EXORCIST (1973). And while that scene did exhibit Hollywood special effects, it worked, because it was built on a solid story, and by the time you reach that point in the movie, you are just so rattled that believability is not an issue. You’ll believe anything at that point. The filmmakers convinced you of it.

In the opening exorcism scene here, which also riffs on THE EXORCIST as the sequence showing the exorcist arriving at the house is exceedingly derivative of Max von Sydow’s arrival in THE EXORCIST, special effects spew out like a Disney theme ride…. although I have to give credit where credit is due. Supposedly they hired a contortionist to actually do the twisted body movements, so that’s pretty cool…but without any background or back story, we simply don’t care about these people, we have no idea what they’ve been through, or have any understanding of their plight, and so none of this lends to any semblance of believability.

Throughout the movie, the dialogue, as it is throughout this CONJURING/ANNABELLE universe, is phony and unrealistic. When Ed and Lorraine talk about demons so matter-of-factly, it sounds like a dated vampire movie. They make little attempt to convince people that what they are saying is true, and in these movies, they don’t have to since demons are more active than your local political party. When Ed and Lorraine speak, they sound crazy. No effort is made to convince the audience that, yes, this is farfetched, but it really happened. Nope. The message is, this is farfetched, it really happened, and you’ll just have to take our word for it.

Sorry. No can do.

The screenplay, then, by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on a story by James Wan, and on characters by Chad Hayes, constructs a surprisingly riveting story but drops the ball with the dialogue and authenticity. I didn’t believe in what was happening for a second. Johnson-McGoldrick has an impressive resume too. He wrote the screenplay for ORPHAN (2009), a horror film I liked a lot, and for RED RIDING HOOD (2011) a horror film which was widely panned but that I also liked a lot. But he also wrote the scripts for WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012), THE CONJURING 2 (2016), and AQUAMAN (2018), films I wasn’t so keen on.

Michael Chaves took over the directing duties from James Wan this time around and does a commendable job. While I wouldn’t categorize THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT as scary, there are some effective and entertaining horror scenes, a couple in particular involving a reanimated hulking corpse. The film enjoys some fine visual moments.

Unfortunately it suffers from the “been there, done that” syndrome. In spite of the fact that Ed and Lorraine are now investigating a “curse” rather than a demonic possession, there really isn’t anything in this movie we haven’t seen before.

On the plus side, though, Joseph Bishara’s chilling music score adds quite a bit to the movie.

All in all, THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT is a solid yet unremarkable entry in the CONJURING series. It will entertain fans and nonfans alike. It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect for a third film in a series.

Which is to say it doesn’t make any new inroads or impressions. It just rehashes previous themes and characterizations and manages to do so in a respectable fashion.

You don’t need the devil to make you watch this one. It’s halfway decent on its own.