THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) – Fourth Thor Movie A Misfire From Start to Finish

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So, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) opens and in the first scene we see a thin bald humanoid on a barren desert landscape, and for a split-second my mind flashes back some thirty some odd years to the opening of STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) which opened in a similar way. I chuckle and quickly dismiss the memory, but then a funny thing happened over the course of the next two hours.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, the latest Marvel superhero movie and the fourth Thor movie, goes full throttle with the humor, most of it silly, and sadly, most of it misfiring, which once more reminded me of that STAR TREK movie of old, STAR TREK V, which is generally considered to be the weakest in the original STAR TREK movie series. STAR TREK V followed the immensely popular and successful STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) which had a superior script and at times was laugh out loud funny. STAR TREK V tried to recapture this formula, but with a far lesser script, its humor didn’t really work, and the film suffered from a bad case of the sillies which sadly didn’t translate into laughter.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER also suffers from a bad case of the sillies.

The bald humanoid in the opening scene is Gorr (Christian Bale) who, after watching his young daughter die, gets to meet their god, only to be disappointed when he learns from this god that his and his daughter’s life means nothing to the gods. When Gorr denounces the god, the deity tries to kill him, but an all-powerful dark sword reaches out to Gorr, and he uses it to slay the god. Not only this, but Gorr decides to make it his life’s goal to kill all the gods in the universe.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy, busily saving different planets and civilizations from disaster, but when he receives a distress call from Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who’s running the new Asgard on Earth, he leaves his guardian friends and returns to Earth with his rock buddy Korg (Taika Waititi). There they learn that Gorr is in town, and he’s taking no prisoners.

Thor also learns that the love of his life, the woman who he has not been able to forget, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has changed her look a bit: she’s now wielding his old hammer and dressed in fighting garb, and she calls herself The Mighty Thor. While he’s impressed, he’s also confused, but it turns out that Jane has cancer, and she doesn’t have much time left, and so when she felt the hammer reaching out to her, she accepted it, hoping that perhaps it could restore her to health. And while it does give her great strength and the ability to fly, it’s not doing anything to rid her of the cancer.

Gorr wants Thor’s new hammer, Stormbreaker, to use it to access unlimited power in the universe to destroy all the gods, and when he manages to steal it away from Thor, it’s up to our heroes, Thor, Jane, and Valkyrie to chase Gorr to the ends of the universe to get it back and save the gods.

I’ve said this before, but I’m just not a big fan of fantasy plots in superhero movies, and the Marvel films have increasingly gone this route, being more about witches, evil spells, gods, and a whole host of other things that are so far outside any sense of reality. So, the plot here in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER did nothing for me. In fact, I was quite bored. I did like the theme of the uselessness of gods, of how they really don’t help humanity all that much, and much of what Gorr has to say in this movie makes a lot of sense, but the film downplays this theme.

The rule of the day in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is silly humor, and unfortunately, it just isn’t all that sharp. I saw this is in a fairly crowded theater, and it was a fairly quiet theater. No loud laughter, cheers, groans, just silence. Even after the two post-credit scenes, the audience departed quietly. No chatter, no buzz, no excitement.

It’s no surprise that humor is a huge part of this movie, since it was written and directed by Taika Waititi, a very funny guy who wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from 2019, JOJO RABBIT (2019). Waititi also directed the previous Thor movie, THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), a film I enjoyed more than THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, mostly because the humor in that movie worked better.

Here, it’s one misfire after another, from Jane’s constant search for a catch phrase, which was more sad than funny, to Thor’s banter with the Guardians of the Galaxy, which for the most part fell flat. Speaking of whom, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and friends are completely wasted in a glorified group cameo that has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. Unlike the appearance of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in THOR: RAGNAROK, who was integral to the plot of that movie, the Guardians of the Galaxy here in this movie have no importance whatsoever other than to exchange some quips with Thor before they disappear for the rest of the proceedings.

Then there’s the screaming goats— yes, you heard that right. Screaming goats—, two animals which Thor receives as gifts early in the film. For some reason, they can’t stop screaming, this horrendous high-pitched wail. They do this nonstop throughout the movie whenever they show up. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s not.

The humor reaches its lowest point when Russell Crowe shows up as Zeus, in one of the most unfunny tries-too-hard-to-be-funny scenes in the history of the MCU.

So, the humor is a complete disaster. The screenplay which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin-Robinson struggles to get laughs, and also doesn’t really have much of a story to tell. The whole thing just felt muddled from beginning to end.

The other theme that is prevalent in the movie is love, as the love story between Thor and Jane makes up a huge chunk of the film, and for the most part, I like these two characters and their story is interesting, but sadly, it’s not much of a love story. We have barely seen them on screen together, and when he have, it’s not like they were steaming up the theater. And the overall theme, that love is the reason for everything, as Thor tells Gorr at the end of the movie, and that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, largely falls flat. It all just seemed superficial.

Chris Hemsworth has never looked better as Thor. He’s in super shape, and he looks like he’s as powerful as the character he is playing. But the forced humor in the script doesn’t do him any favors, and gone are the days when his awkwardness with humanity would be funny, simply because he’s no longer awkward and that source of humor no longer exists.

Natalie Portman largely hams it up as The Mighty Thor, and while she may have been having a good time in the movie, it doesn’t translate all that well to her character. Her best scenes are when she is Jane, dealing with her cancer.

Tessa Thompson fares better as Valkyrie. She has a more natural story arc throughout the movie, and Thompson makes her formidable, and she’s very comfortable playing this exceedingly strong female superhero.

But the most intriguing performance and perhaps the best in the movie belongs to Christian Bale as Gorr. Yes, the Dark Knight is now a dark villain! Bale is now the second movie Batman to play a villain in a Marvel movie, as Michael Keaton played the villainous Adrian Toomes in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017). Playing Batman must be good practice because both these actors, Keaton and Bale, have been some of the best Marvel villains yet!

In Bale’s case, he doesn’t fare quite as well as Keaton did in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING for the simple reason that unfortunately his Gorr isn’t in the movie very much. But when he is, Bale is very, very good. He looks as if his character from THE FIGHTER (2010), boxer Dicky Eklund, donned some silver make-up and gained some superpowers! Gorr’s story is certainly the most intriguing in the movie, how he felt slighted by the gods, how they didn’t save his daughter, and so he has decided to take them all down, in the interest of making the universe a better place to live. There are times when it’s difficult to argue with that logic.

But like I said, as good as Bale was as Gorr, he’s not in the movie much. Instead, there’s plenty of Thor and Jane/aka The Mighty Thor, and gods, and silliness, and more silliness, and a pair of screaming goats.

I saw THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER in IMAX, and I can’t say that it added a whole lot to the movie experience. It was a bit louder, yes, the screen a bit larger, but the film did not have any element in its story which IMAX enhanced, unlike another Christian Bale movie from a few years back, FORD V FERRARI (2019), in which he co-starred with Matt Damon (who has a cameo here too by the way playing an actor who plays Loki on stage) in which IMAX made the racing car scenes even more authentic, and I really felt as if I were in those cars with the actors.

Marvel is officially in a slump. Since AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), they have really struggled to reclaim their mojo, and other than SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) haven’t made a film that I’ve truly enjoyed since.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER means well but is a misfire from start to finish. Whatever seriousness its story wants to project is lost in humor that doesn’t work and in a plot that suffers from a very bad case of the sillies.

It simply tries too hard to be funny, so much so, that for the most part, the audience forgot to laugh.

—END–

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) – Third Tom Holland Spider-Man Movie Playful with the Multiverse

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I finally caught up with SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021), Marvel’s super successful Spider-Man movie, the third with Tom Holland in the lead, which hit the big screen this past December and is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

Like the previous two Tom Holland Spider-Man films, NO WAY HOME is exceedingly playful, and definitely belongs with the lighter Marvel superhero fare. Of course, one of the main reasons it performed so well at the box office was its exciting and creative decision to play with the multiverse and bring back characters from previous unrelated Spider-Man movies, including the two previous movie Spideys, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, as well as their villains.

This happens because in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, which begins right where the previous film SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) ends, dying villain Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) true identity as Peter Parker, and the moment is captured on video and broadcast to the world by Spider-Man nemesis J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), who also frames Mysterio as a hero and Spider-man as his murderer.

The result not only is massive hating on Spider-Man but on his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). So, Peter Parker pays a visit to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks if he could use some time travel magic like he had wielded to save the world in AVENGERS: END GAME (2019) in order to help him out, to which the good doctor scolds him for suggesting such a thing, adding that even if he wanted to he no longer possessed the time stone. However, Strange suggests he could cast a spell which would make everyone forget Peter was Spider-Man, to which Peter agrees before he realizes he still wants MJ to remember him. And then there’s Ben, and Aunt May… Peter basically interrupts Doctor Strange’s spell and inadvertently causes him to screw up, and as a result, portals open from different universes, letting in villains like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), and Electro (Jamie Foxx), to name a few.

Spider-Man and Doctor Strange then work together to capture these villains in order to send them back to their proper universes, until Spider-Man realizes that back in their prospective universes they all will die, and so he decides to find a way to “cure” them in the here and now in order to send them back with the chance of surviving, an idea that Doctor Strange disagrees with, but Spider-Man is undeterred, until the Green Goblin makes it known he has no intention of being “cured.”

Eventually, two other visitors arrive through the portal, Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and…. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire). and they decide to work with the Spider-Man in this universe in order to send everyone back home to their proper places.

So, pretty much the plot in SPIDER MAN: NO WAY HOME is nothing more than cleaning up all the messes made by Peter Parker and Doctor Strange because they decided to play around with the multiverse. No villains trying to take over the world or the universe. Nope. Just fixing what Parker and Strange messed up, and since this is a Marvel movie, you can rest assured that at the end of the day, all will be well. Did I mention that this was a playful movie?

I have been a huge Marvel movie fan since their amazing run started with IRON MAN (2008), the film which introduced Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark to movie audiences, and while others have been bemoaning the frequency of their movies and complaining that the formula for success has gone stale, I haven’t been one of them. However, since AVENGERS: END GAME wrapped up nearly every storyline their movies had been telling for over ten years, Marvel has struggled to keep it going. I was tepid on both BLACK WIDOW (2021) and SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021), as neither film worked for me. I didn’t even see THE ETERNALS (2021).

Now, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME worked better for me than the two movies mentioned above and went a long way towards recapturing the magic of the Marvel superhero movie. In short, I had fun watching it and enjoyed it a lot. However, the main reason I enjoyed it was watching the two previous actors who played Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, on screen with current Spidey Tom Holland. When all three are on screen together, the movie rocks.

Likewise, I enjoyed watching the return of all the villains, most notably Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, who remains with apologies to Thanos, as one of Marvel’s best movie villains ever. Dafoe is excellent once again, and for my money, delivers the best performance in the film. He has such an evil presence as Green Goblin. I wish there were more superhero movie villains with this kind of edge. Dafoe is a master at it, and it’s sad to think that this is only the second time he’s been able to strut his stuff as the character. He did have cameos in the second and third Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, but that barely counts.

So, while nostalgia rules the day in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, it doesn’t exactly look forward, unless there are plans to keep these resurrected characters in the mix. It does of course set up the next DOCTOR STRANGE movie, which hits theaters this week, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022), as it looks like Doctor Strange is still working on cleaning up the multiverse mess he started in this movie!

My favorite of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies remains the first one, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), as that one not only featured Holland’s high-octane Spider-Man for the first time in his own movie, but also Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Michael Keaton as a nifty menacing villain. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is my second favorite of the Holland Spider-Man movies. All three were directed by Jon Watts, and he imbues all of them with an energetic and high-spirited style.

One of the reasons the Marvel superhero movies have been so successful is they have for the most part sported some amazing casts, and SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is no exception.

Tom Holland has been a bright spot as Peter Parker/Spider-Man since he first played the role in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2017), and he’s amiable once again here. Likewise, Zendaya is perfect as MJ, and she and Holland really generate chemistry in their scenes together. Jacob Batalon is back as well as their best buddy Ned, and as they have been doing since SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, they generally entertain when sharing the screen.

Then you have Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx as Electro, Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan— a role he’s been playing since IRON MAN, in addition to directing that Marvel trend setter! —and of course Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Charlie Cox even shows up as lawyer Matt Murdoch from the Netflix’ Marvel show DAREDEVIL (2015-2018).

For my money, the two best parts of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME are Willem Dafoe’s scene stealing performance as the Green Goblin, and watching Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield share the screen together. Their scenes are the best in the movie, and they really capture their individual Spider-Man personas and work seamlessly together in this movie. They really do seem to be three Spider-Man brothers here.

Last week I finally saw THE BATMAN (2022), Matt Reeves’ ambitious reimagining of Batman, a film I enjoyed for two of its three hours before it ran out of gas and stalled. It’s interesting to compare these two movies. THE BATMAN was by far the more ambitious and innovative of the two, and had more to say, but it went on far too long and ultimately lost me during its final hour. SPIDERMAN: NO WAY HOME was a much lighter and less ambitious flick that while also running fairly long at two hours and twenty-eight minutes, did not lose me. This film, with a screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, kept things simple and grounded in its characters, specifically its three Spider-Man characters. As such, the end result was much more satisfying.

The Marvel superhero movie universe still hasn’t found its full footing since ending its major storylines with AVENGERS: ENDGAME, but SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME provides a nice diversion as well as a friendly homecoming for some prior Spider-Men.

It’s a highly entertaining movie that shows that the Marvel movies are not quite finished yet. There are more stories to be told. Even if some of them, as was the case here, are older ones that are dusted off, revisited, and re-imagined.

—END—

THE BATMAN (2022) – Film Noir Batman Goes On Way Too Long

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A funny thing happened while I was watching THE BATMAN (2022).

The latest Batman movie, which is yet another reimagining of the masked vigilante of Gotham city by one of my favorite movie directors working today, Matt Reeves, and which introduces Robert Pattinson to the role of the Caped Crusader, has been receiving heaps of praise from critics and fans alike since its theatrical premiere on March 4… it’s currently streaming on HBO Max… with some even calling it the best Batman movie yet!

For me, I was really enjoying it, and like many others was blown away by its dark film noir take on the subject, and at the end of two hours, I was leaning towards agreeing with those who were calling this the best Batman ever. But then that funny thing happened. The movie kept going. And going. And going. So… at the end of three hours, I didn’t hold that same opinion.

See, THE BATMAN is long. Like, super long! As in two hours and fifty-six minutes long. And yes, these days this is a pet peeve of mine. Movies in general are trending towards the time management equivalent of Major League Baseball games. If you’re going to make a movie that is three hours long, you darn well better have a good reason for it, and for my money, most films I see that run well over two hours, don’t. Someone needs to edit these would-be sagas down.

So, while I liked THE BATMAN, what I liked least about it was that it was so gosh darn long. And this is from someone who was really into this film and was enjoying the ride all the way up to that two-hour mark.

It also didn’t help that the plot as laid out in the screenplay by director Matt Reeves and Peter Craig isn’t anything to write home about. The story is all about corruption. The Riddler (Paul Dano) is targeting the corrupt public officials of Gotham City because he’s sick and tired of the lies and cheats of those running the city, and hence the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and others are all being murdered in the most horrific of ways, complete with personalized letters and riddles meant for Batman (Robert Pattinson) who decides he will find out who is killing the corrupt leaders of Gotham and why. He teams with Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) to do this, as Kyle is interested because her best friend was involved and was subsequently killed because of her involvement. Their investigation leads them to the dark underbelly of Gotham City, filled with organized crime and corruption, and folks like Oz aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell) and gangster Carmine Falcone (John Turturo).

At the end of the day, you know who wins.

You don’t need three hours to figure it out. Did I say THE BATMAN was long?

The screenplay is not a strength of this movie. It does a decent job with some of the characters. I liked the take on Batman where he’s viewed more as a detective and vigilante, who is quite shadowy and frightening, and I also liked how most of the comic book aspects of the villains took a back seat to more realistic interpretations, but sadly we’ve seen all this before.

Craig was one of the screenwriters who wrote THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), the very dark Sandra Bullock drama where she played an ex-con out of prison dealing with people who continued to see her as a worthless monster who didn’t deserve to be alive. The feeling of hopelessness from that movie is often on display here in THE BATMAN, and that works well. Likewise, the dark tone is on par with Matt Reeves’ WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017) which Reeves wrote and directed. I have no problem this. In fact, I really liked the grim outlook which THE BATMAN presented.

The problem though is a question I asked myself before I sat down to watch this one, which was: do we really need yet another reimagining of Batman? I mean, it used to be years would pass before filmmakers would return to remaking great stories which had already been told. I mean, we just saw Ben Affleck in the role a mere five years ago in JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017).

So, while I liked a lot of what Matt Reeves did with this movie, most of it is just stuff I’ve seen before. And if I’m going to sit through a three hour movie, I’d prefer it not be on stuff I’ve seen before. Have I mentioned yet that this film is long???

As I said, Matt Reeves is one of my favorite movie directors. He directed CLOVERFIELD (2008), LET ME IN (2010) Hammer Films’ vampire remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz that I actually prefer over the original, as well as the very entertaining DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). For the most part, I enjoyed Reeves’ work here on THE BATMAN. I loved how he depicted Batman’s movements, with slow heavy footsteps that made him more monstrous and ominous than any previous interpretation. He instilled fear before he threw any punches. The film noir feel of the movie was awesome. With its constant rain pelting Gotham City, the film had a definite BLADE RUNNER (1982) feel to it.

The action sequences were okay. I’ve seen better. But the overall drama, conflict, and story simply doesn’t hold up for all three hours of this very long movie.

I’m a fan of Robert Pattinson. Not because of TWILIGHT, a series which I hated then and still hate now, but because of what he’s done since. He’s been terrific in such movies as THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016), GOOD TIME (2017), and most recently as a slimy reverend in THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020). As Batman, Pattinson is excellent! He is certainly not the problem with this movie. In fact, I enjoyed Pattinson as Batman so much I would be more than happy to watch him play the role again. I liked his tortured take on the character… again, nothing new… but Pattinson did it well.

Where does Pattison rank with the movie Batmans? Tough to say now, as he has only played the role once. I love Christian Bale’s take on the character, and I’ve always been a fan of Michael Keaton’s work as the Caped Crusader in his two Batman movies. Interestingly enough, the Batman I believed Pattison resembled the most was… Adam West from the campy 60s version! There’s something about Pattison’s jawline beneath the cowl that calls to mind West. For such a dark movie, there are several nods to the Adam West version of Batman here in THE BATMAN, such as the bust of William Shakespeare in Wayne Manor.

The rest of the cast is solid, and all add to the pieces which make up THE BATMAN. Zoe Kravitz is okay as Selina Kyle. We just saw her in the thriller KIMI (2022), and I actually enjoyed her more in KIMI than here as Catwoman.

Jeffrey Wright, fresh off his memorable swan song as CIA agent and James Bond buddy Felix Leiter in NO TIME TO DIE (2021), makes for an effective James Gordon. An unrecognizable Colin Farrell is excellent as Oz aka The Penguin who looks like he would have been right at home operating inside the world of THE SOPRANOS (1999-2007) The same can be said for John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. Besides Pattinson, Farrell and Turturro deliver the best performances in the movie.

Andy Serkis does well as Alfred in limited screen time. Speaking of limited screen time, we barely see Paul Dano as the Riddler, which works against the movie. In his brief screen time, Dano didn’t really impress me as the villain.

THE BATMAN also features an atmospheric and haunting music score by Michael Giacchino, which reminded me a lot of the score he wrote for LET ME IN.

Is THE BATMAN the best Batman movie ever?

No.

Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) remains the gold standard of Batman movies, and for my money is the best Batman movie to date. Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS (2005) is not that far behind. And while they have not aged well, Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989) and BATMAN RETURNS (1992) are both excellent Batman movies. You have Michael Keaton as Batman in both, and Jack Nicholson’s Joker in BATMAN, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman— still the best movie Catwoman yet— in BATMAN RETURNS.

Where does THE BATMAN rank?

Well, for its first two hours, it was right up there with THE DARK KNIGHT. But it goes on far too long and just doesn’t have the legs to go the distance. It lost me in its final hour, and by the time Batman and Catwoman are taking down the Riddler and friends, the only thing I was thinking about was finally being able to stand up again.

Did I mention this movie was very long?

—END—

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THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) – James Gunn’s Sequel Best Superhero Movie of the Year So Far

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The burning question behind THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), the follow-up to SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) is: is it a reboot or is it a sequel?

The promos and folks behind this flick have played coy with this information, my thoughts being that if they committed to calling this one a sequel, it would have had a stigma attached to it before it even played to an audience. It’s also the reason I’m guessing this one wasn’t called SUICIDE SQUAD 2. But I’m here to say without any secrecy that THE SUICIDE SQUAD is definitely a sequel.

And under the guidance of writer/director James Gunn, who was not attached to the first film, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is way way better than the first movie. In fact, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is so good it’s my favorite superhero movie of the year. Which I know isn’t saying a whole heck of a lot because I simply haven’t seen a lot of superhero movies this year, but it’s an exceptional movie, entertaining and fun from start to finish.

The first SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), which hails from the DC Universe, centered around a group of supervillains who were coerced into acting as superheroes, doing the dirtiest of jobs, the type that the authorities wouldn’t even think about approaching the likes of Batman and Superman to carry out. In short, these guys have no respect. They also have no choice, because their “handler”, the icy cold Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) injects implants into these dudes so that if they go off mission, they are killed instantly.

The first film was a mixed bag. Decent characters, pretty lame story, so-so writing, a very good performance by Will Smith, but it was Margot Robbie who stole the movie with her insanely electrifying performance as Harley Quinn.

Robbie returns as Quinn for THE SUICIDE SQUAD, and within the first few minutes of this second movie, the script jumps out at you with superior writing and just like that, you know you’re in for a helluva ride and a far better experience than what you had in the first film.

And that’s because THE SUICIDE SQUAD was written and directed by James Gunn, the man behind Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies. Those films were highly entertaining, the writing comedic, and the exchanges between the characters laugh inducing. It’s the same here in THE SUICIDE SQUAD, only this flick is rated R, so the violence is bloodier, and the body count— including the “good” guys, is much higher.

The film opens as Amanda Waller sends the suicide squad on another deadly mission, this time infiltrating the island of Corto Maltese. There has just been a deadly coup, and the military generals on the island have executed the ruling family and have taken over. Normally, this wouldn’t interest the United States all that much, but the reason the events on Corto Maltese matter is the previous government had access to a super secret weapon with alien origins, and if it falls into the hands of the new ruling generals, could be used to harm countless innocents. So, the suicide squad’s mission is to infiltrate the island, get past the army, break into the secret lab, and destroy the alien weapon.

Easy-peasy, right? Wrong! They’re not called the suicide squad for nothing!

And they’re not the only suicide squad in town. For this mission, Waller also sends in a second team, led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba). This team also includes Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone).

The less said about the plot of THE SUICIDE SQUAD the better. There are lots of twists and turns, and the less you know going in, the more fun you’ll have with this one. I will say that what I just described takes place in the opening moments of the movie. After that, it’s a roller coaster thrill ride that simply doesn’t stop as these misfit superheroes converge on the island and attempt to thwart both an aggressive military regime and a deadly alien technology.

The script by James Gunn is so good and so well-written, that it is levels above the plot description. It takes a standard story and turns it into something really memorable. The dialogue and banter between the characters is off the charts entertaining.

Gunn’s direction is equally as good. The movie is chock full of cool scenes and moments. THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not afraid to take its time when getting a laugh. There are some moments where the characters are allowed to react to things that will have you laughing out loud. And the action scenes don’t disappoint. Even kaiju fans won’t be disappointed.

Margot Robbie is excellent once again as Harley Quinn. Yet, she doesn’t dominate this movie like she did the first one, and that’s because Gunn has written equally compelling characters. So, Robbie is every bit as effective as she was the first time around, except this time, she’s sharing the screen with characters who are every bit as interesting as she is.

Idris Elba as Bloodsport is probably the central character in this sequel. Elba carries this movie. He makes Bloodsport the noble assassin who says he’s loyal to no one, but inside, he’s a leader who takes care of those who work for him.

His relationship with Ratcatcher 2, played by Daniela Melchior, is one of the best parts of the film. Melchior is excellent as Ratcatcher 2, a young woman who can control rats. She was one of my favorite characters in this movie, and her relationship with Bloodsport is a big reason why. Especially because she reminds Bloodsport of his daughter, and he vows to protect her, and she gives it right back saying she’ll be the one protecting him. Both prove to be true.

Both John Cena as Peacemaker and David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man have their moments and make for a couple of really interesting characters. And in a bit of inspired casting, Sylvester Stallone is hilarious lending his voice to the slow witted and very hungry King Shark.

Joel Kinnaman is also memorable as Colonel Rick Flag, reprising the role he played in the first movie. He’s far better in this movie, as is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. The characterizations are just that clearer, they have more depth, and as a result the audience understands them better.

And like a lot of superhero movies these days, the villains in THE SUICIDE SQUAD are of less consequence, because so much of the focus is on the flawed heroes themselves. That being said, Peter Capaldi enjoys many scene stealing moments as the nefarious Thinker. He’s the closest thing to a main villain the movie has.

There are so many memorable moments in THE SUICIDE SQUAD, especially little ones, which hammer home themes like governments with secrets and the cost of keeping them. Peacemaker’s mantra is he loves peace but he’ll kill anyone to keep it. There’s symbolism with Ratcatcher 2’s rats, described as the lowest and most hated of all creatures, but even rats have value. And not to be a spoiler (so skip the next line if you don’t want to know anything about the film’s conclusion), but the final line of the alien creature was that it was happy floating in space looking at the stars, the implication being that yet again it was humankind who messed things up.

There are notable large moments as well, most of them unexpected, like the result of the romantic evening between the new dictator and Harley Quinn. He proposes to her, wanting to make her his queen, and since as she says he is so freaking hot, she says yes. But then he says the wrong thing, and that doesn’t sit well with Harley. Her brief diatribe after the fact about having bad taste in men, and the suffering men cause when women break up with these jerks, hits a bulls eye.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD is easily the most entertaining movie I’ve seen in 2021. It’s my favorite superhero of the year so far.

—END—

LEADING LADIES: ADRIENNE BARBEAU

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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!

—Michael

—END—

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

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

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

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

In simplest terms, WONDER WOMAN 1984 is downright awful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WONDER WOMAN deserved a much better sequel than this.

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

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

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

Dark Corners cover (1)

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

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

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

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

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

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) – Strange Hybrid of Superhero/Serial Killer Movie Doesn’t Really Work

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unknown origins

Before I get to the review, a bit of reality: Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite filmmakers working today, released his latest movie this weekend to theaters, TENET (2020). I really want to see it. However, here in the United States, things are still so bad with COVID-19, that to go to a movie theater now would be a very risky endeavor. And so, I passed and will continue to pass until things improve. Sadly, this may be a while yet. Most medical experts agree that things will get worse before they get better, due largely to the poor choices being made regarding masks and social distancing by so many in the country, thanks in large part to the completely incompetent and reckless leadership— lack of leadership really— of the Trump administration. And so, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to review movies accessed at home, rather than at the theater.

And now on to our review:

A couple of weeks back, I reviewed PROJECT POWER (2020), a superhero movie about a pill that gives people superpowers, a different and not overly successful tweak to the superhero genre. Up today it’s UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020), which adds a tweak of its own: a serial killer who bases his murders on superhero origin stories. Yup, a superhero serial killer movie. A strange hybrid indeed.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS, which hails from Spain, and is now available on Netflix, tells the story of police detective David Valentin (Javier Rey) working his first case, and it’s a doozy: a serial killer who displays his victims in elaborate situations which seem to have no connection, that is until retired detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) notices a superhero connection while looking at some of the evidence upon David’s request. And Cosme is familiar with superheroes because his son Jorge (Brays Efe) who runs a comic book store is a complete geek on the subject and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things superheroes.

Norma (Veronica Echegui), the idiosyncratic head of homicide, decides to hire Jorge as a consultant and immediately makes him David’s partner on the case. Jorge’s first contribution is that he informs them that the murders are all based on superhero origin stories. As the murders continue, it’s up to this oddball duo to find and stop the mysterious serial killer.

As I said, UNKNOWN ORIGINS is a weird hybrid of superhero and serial killer. The trailer on Netflix definitely highlighted the comedic aspects of the movie, and so when I sat down to watch this one, I expected it to be a lighthearted farce, perhaps even a spoof, but that’s not how this one plays out at all.

It begins all rather dark, as the serial killer aspects are lurid and disturbing. The opening segments have R-rated serial killer movie written all over them. But then things take a comedic turn once Jorge and David are paired together, a strange juxtaposition after the serious opening. But the film never becomes a full-fledged comedy either. Instead, it gravitates towards the straight superhero tale, and this is where the film falters the most, with an almost ridiculous plot point of David becoming less a cop and more a superhero.

At the end of the day, even though this one is full of potential, the story just didn’t work for me, and as such, I didn’t enjoy the screenplay by director David Galan Galindo and Fernando Navarro as much as I thought I would. The comedy is way too subdued, and the same can be said for the darker serial killer parts. The film starts off creepily enough but then pulls back. For a while, it looked like this one would have a WATCHMEN (2009) or KICK-ASS (2010) feel, but UNKNOWN ORIGINS is never as tight or as consistent as those movies.

And I thought the supehero stuff towards the end didn’t work at all. It’s supposed to be a homage to superheroes, particularly Batman, but it just didn’t work. The number one reason is I didn’t believe any of it, which goes back to the writing. Jorge is a believable character, and his character remains consistent. However, David hates superheroes, and so to believe he undergoes a transformation where he actually agrees to become a supehero, that just didn’t work for me.

And sadly, the poorest written character is the female lead, Norma. She’s the least believable character in the movie, and her romance with David is one of the most forced and least believable screen romances I’ve seen in a while.

Also, the twist here, where we learn the killer’s secret identity, is the same exact one I saw last week in the serial killer film THE SILENCING (2020).

Director David Galan Galindo scores highest when working darkest, but unfortunately, this only occurs in the film’s early moments which are actually quite creepy. The bulk of the movie is about superheroes and their need to exist, and that part to me never won me over.

And the comedy never really takes off either, which is too bad because the two main characters do share some chemistry. David has a Clint Eastwood vibe about him, and there’s a lot of Zach Galifianakis in Brays Efe’s portrayal of Jorge. So, imagine a buddy cop movie starring a young Clint Eastwood and Zach Galifianakis and you get the idea, and for parts of this movie, this chemistry really works, but it never becomes a dominant part of the tale.

I enjoyed both Bray Efe’s and Javier Rey’s performances, Efe in particular. And while I said Rey’s performance reminded me of a young Clint Eastwood, he’s also dressed like Chris Noth used to be on the classic TV show LAW AND ORDER. In fact, there’s a line in the film where Norma chastizes him for dressing like a 90s TV cop.

Speaking of Norma, while Veronica Echegui delivers a spirited performance, the role was my least favorite in the film, mostly because she was the least believable.

And Antonio Resines adds fine support as the not-so-retired cop Cosme.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS also suffers from two other major problems. It doesn’t have a strong hero, nor does it have a strong villain. Technically, David and Jorge are the heroes, but in the framework of the story, the hero is supposed to be the superhero which David becomes, and this doesn’t happen until the end of the movie. And by the way his superhero costume is rather lame. Likewise, the identity of the killer is not revealed until the end either, and so for the majority of the film he operates in the shadows.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, you might enjoy UNKNOWN ORIGINS. Its heart is in the right place, as it gets all the geeky references right and tries really hard to be a love letter to superheroes, but I found the tone and feel of this one to be all over the place and never consistent or believable enough to really win me over.

It tries hard, but at the end of the day, it’s just too superficial to become a major part of superhero movie lore.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

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

Dark Corners cover (1)

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

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

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

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

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

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

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

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

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

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944)

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mummys-ghost-kharis-mummy-lon-chaney-jr

Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis in THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944).

I have a soft spot for the Universal movies featuring Kharis the Mummy.

They’re not widely considered Universal’s best, but I’ve always enjoyed them, and even though Kharis might lose a foot race to Michael Myers, I’ve always found him creepy and frightening, especially when played by Lon Chaney Jr., which he was in three of the four films to feature the character.

All this being said, THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944), the third film in the Kharis series and the second to star Chaney, is probably my least favorite of the series, which is funny, because for a lot of folks it’s their pick for the best of the bunch. But not for me, and the main reason for my lack of love for this one— don’t get me wrong, I still like this movie—is it’s just not as memorable as the other films in the series. It just sort of goes through the motions. THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942) contained one of the best endings in the entire series, and THE MUMMY’S CURSE (1944) took place in the Louisiana swamps which added a unique flavor and made Kharis even creepier as he lurked in and out of the bayou.

But THE MUMMY’S GHOST does have Lon Chaney Jr., and that’s a plus.

THE MUMMY’S GHOST opens with the so-old-he’s-going-to-keel-over-any-second Egyptian high priest Andoheb (George Zucco) giving instructions to yet another high priest Yousef Bey (John Carradine). Bey’s mission is to travel to the U.S., specifically to Massachusetts, and there retrieve the bodies of Kharis the mummy and the mummified princess, whose remains are inside a museum there. Even though we saw Kharis supposedly perish in a fire at the end of THE MUMMY’S TOMB, it’s hinted at in this film that he can’t really die, which is convenient, because the first time we see Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) in this movie, he just sort of emerges from the woods, with no explanation as to how he escaped the fire in the previous movie.

In Massachusetts, the story revolves around two college students, Tom (Robert Lowery) and his girlfriend Amina (Ramsay Ames), who we learn is part Egyptian. Cue dramatic music! Yousef Bey arrives, finds Kharis, brews the all important tana leaves, nine to be exact, to keep his favorite Mummy fit and strong, and together they plan to steal the mummified body of the princess Ananka, which makes Kharis happy since he’s finally going to see his long lost girlfriend again. But alas, when they attempt to remove the body, it crumples to dust, which infuriates Kharis, and he reacts by nearly tearing down the museum!

But not to worry, it’s discovered that the spirit of Ananka is now living inside Amina! And so, Kharis and Yousef Bey change their plans and go after Amina, and all is going well for them too, until once again the high priest messes things up. Yes, Yousef Bey falls in love with Amina and decides he wants her for himself. I can just see Kharis rolling his eyes in disgust: every time a high priest is sent to help him, the result is the same, the priest falls in love with a woman and screws up the mission. It’s true!

THE MUMMY’S GHOST does have one of the better casts in the series, and it’s loaded with veteran character actors, including Frank Reicher, known to horror fans as Captain Englehorn in both KING KONG (1933) and SON OF KONG (1933). Reicher plays a college professor named Norman who is an Egyptian scholar, a role he reprised from the previous film, THE MUMMY’S TOMB. He has a bit more screen time here in GHOST, and gets to enjoy one of the better scenes in the film. It’s just a small bit, where he converses with his wife after a long night of researching, but it’s such a sincere loving moment, it makes his death at the hands of Kharis moments later all the more frightening and sad.

Robert Lowery play the male romantic lead Tom, and he’s decent enough. A few years later Lowery would play Batman in the serial BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949). Ramsay Ames plays Amina, and she’s okay but her performance has never really wowed me.

Likewise the great John Carradine is just meh here as Yousef Bey. It’s still fun to see him though. And George Zucco makes the most of his brief scenes early on as the aged Andoheb.

This is the second time Lon Chaney Jr. played Kharis, and I think it’s his least effective. The make-up simply isn’t as spooky looking as it was in THE MUMMY’S TOMB, and Kharis simply doesn’t have all that many memorable moments here. In fact, in this movie, Kharis seems to be slower than ever, as there are too many scenes where we just see him walking. Walking. And walking. He’s much scarier when he’s murdering. Now, that does happen here in THE MUMMY’S GHOST, but for some reason these scenes don’t resonate as well as similar scenes in the other movies.

Sadly, director Reginald Le Borg just doesn’t really craft many scary scenes here.

Also, when the hero of your movie is a dog, that’s not a good thing. Kharis steals the body of Amina, and Tom and the authorities are clueless, until Tom’s dog barks to him and leads him and the police on a chase to hunt down Kharis!

Where is he, boy? Where is Kharis? Take us to him!

Er, no.

But that’s sort of what happens in this one.

The screenplay by Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher, and Brenda Weisberg does contain the interesting element of the princess Ananka’s soul entering Amina’s body, and does set up a somewhat memorable conclusion where Kharis carries Amina into the swamps as her body undergoes a frightening transformation. In fact, this is the part of the movie that most fans cite as being their favorite. For me, it’s too little too late. Hammer Films would borrow heavily from this conclusion for their Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee remake THE MUMMY (1959) only without the frightening transformation.

Sucher and Jay also wrote the screenplay to the previous film in the series, THE MUMMY’S TOMB. and Jay wrote the screenplay to one of my favorite Bela Lugosi movies, THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1943). Both those screenplays are better than the one for THE MUMMY’S GHOST.

And while it’s not explicitly said in the movie, the ghost in the film’s title probably refers to the ghost of Ananka whose spirit takes up residence inside the body of Amina.

At the end of the day, THE MUMMY’S GHOST is still an opportunity to see Kharis the Mummy strut his stuff, and for me, especially during the lazy hazy  days of summer, that’s a good thing.

—END—

 

Movie Lists: The Joker

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The joke’s on you, Joker!

So says Adam West’s Batman to Cesar Romero’s Joker in the 1960s campy TV series BATMAN.

The release of JOKER (2019), a superior standalone film about the origin of the infamous Batman villain the Joker that features an Oscar-worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck aka the Joker, no doubt will re-open the conversation as to who made the best onscreen Joker.

So, with that in mind, welcome back to Movie Lists, that column that looks at lists of odds and ends in the movies. Up today, you got it: the Joker.

 

BATMAN (1966)

The Joker: Cesar Romero

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This movie was based on the ultra successful campy TV series from the 1960s starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. It featured four supervillains: the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, and the Joker. It was originally intended to be released before the TV show aired, but the series was rushed into production and premiered ahead of time. As a result, the movie premiered in theaters the summer after the end of Season 1 of the series.

Like he did in the TV series, Cesar Romero, like his fellow actors in their fellow supervillain roles, played the Joker strictly for laughs. There was no rhyme or reason or any attempt to make the character real or threatening. And since it was in the 1960s, and since Adam West was hysterically funny as Batman, who unlike his counterparts the villains, played it straight, which made it all the more comical, the fact that Batman didn’t realize he was funny, it all worked. Remarkably well. And the humor still holds up today.

For more than twenty years, Cesar Romero, in all his campy hilarity, defined the role.

Until 1989 with the release of Tim Burton’s BATMAN.

 

BATMAN (1989)

The Joker: Jack Nicholson

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The most controversial thing about Tim Burton’s BATMAN was his casting of Michael Keaton, who up until that point was only known for his comedic roles, as Batman. Yet Keaton silenced critics with a very effective performance.

Jack Nicholson did not share this problem. After all, he was Jack Nicholson, one of the most respected actors at the time. For many, the fact that he was playing the Joker was the main reason to see this one.

I’ve always liked Tim Burton’s BATMAN, although truth be told, it hasn’t held up that well to the test of time. When it came out, since the movie world had only known Adam West’s campy Batman, it was considered an extremely dark and serious take on the character. Yet, watched today, it comes off as much campier than it did back in 1989.

The same can be said for Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker. Nicholson blew away any notion that Cesar Romero would remain the definitive Joker. Nicholson’s Joker was a much darker take on the character, although once more, watched today, he seems much more cartoonish and campy.

That being said, I really enjoyed Nicholson as the Joker, and I enjoyed the way director Tim Burton framed the character, adding a lot of references to the Phantom of the Opera, especially the 1925 Lon Chaney silent version. The scenes near the end with the Joker leading Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) up the tower are clearly reminiscent of similar scenes where Lon Chaney’s Phantom led Christine into the depths of his underground lair.

Again, for nearly twenty years, Jack Nicholson was the gold standard for the Joker.

Until Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

 

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

The Joker: Heath Ledger

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The big news with THE DARK KNIGHT was that Heath Ledger died just before the release of the movie, and as a result, because of his amazing performance, he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor posthumously. Ledger’s performance as the Joker truly is phenomenal. THE DARK KNIGHT remains my favorite superhero movie of all time, and Ledger’s performance as the Joker is a major reason why

The film really is about chaos and anarchy, and we see it personified by the Joker who will stop at nothing just to create chaos, and he’s so good at it. The only reason he ultimately fails isn’t because of Batman, but because he misjudges the dark side of human nature. People aren’t as bad as he thought they were.

Hands down, Heath Ledger was and remains the best onscreen Joker. However, here in 2019, he just received his biggest competition.

 

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

The Joker: Jared Leto

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Jared Leto’s performance in the flawed DC movie SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) didn’t really work for me. It’s not entirely Leto’s fault, as SUICIDE SQUAD, a DC tale about villains rather than heroes, isn’t all that good. The reason to see it is Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn. She steals the show. Leto as the Joker does not.

 

JOKER (2019)

The Joker: Joaquin Phoenix

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The best part about JOKER is it’s not really a comic book movie. It plays more like a Martin Scorsese film as it tells its story about Arthur Fleck, a man suffering from mental illness, who regardless of the fact that he only wants to make people laugh, is continually beat upon until he can’t take it anymore. And when he rises up he’s less a supervillain than the face of a movement, and since he’s spent his whole life wanting to be noticed, he finds that he likes this new self.

Joaquin Phoenix is superb as Arthur Fleck here, and he gives the most sympathetic onscreen portrayal of the Joker yet. He will make you understand and believe how someone could become the Joker, and how the Joker could in fact be a real person. We’ve come a long way since the days of Cesar Romero.

By a hair, I still prefer Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT, since that film was insanely riveting, thanks mostly to Ledger. Joaquin Phoenix’s work in JOKER is entirely different from Ledger’s. JOKER is not a superhero movie. It’s a tragic violent drama, and as such works on an entirely different level. One day I may find myself preferring Phoenix over Ledger. That day is not today, but that doesn’t take away from Phoenix’s masterful performance.

It’s interesting to note that Cesar Romero almost wasn’t the first Joker. J. Carrol Naish almost played him in the serial BATMAN from 1943, which  was the first time Batman appeared on the big screen. The villain was originally going to be the Joker, but since it was 1943, he was changed to a Japanese villain, Dr. Daka, and was played by J. Carroll Naish. Some traces of the Joker still remain, as Daka’s hideout is located inside a carnival.

That’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed this list of actors who have played the Joker in the movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

JOKER (2019) – The Most Believable Joker Story Yet

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The best part about JOKER (2019) is it’s more than just a movie about a comic book character.

Much more.

With its origin story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), the man who would go on to become Batman’s arch nemesis The Joker, JOKER is less interested in telling the official Joker origin tale than it is in making his story believable. And that really is the strength of this movie. It painstakingly paints a portrait of a man who by the time everything is said and done, is completely believable.  The audience understands and knows exactly where the character is coming from. It’s by far the most sympathetic portrayal of the Joker on the big screen yet.

The film also has some things to say about society as a whole.

Arthur Fleck lives in Gotham City in a crummy apartment with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy). But don’t expect a cartoonish comic book setting. No, Gotham here in the 1980s resembles the gritty cityscape of a Martin Scorsese movie. Fleck works as a clown, and he wants to be a comedian, and his only goal in life seems to be the desire to make people laugh. Trouble is, he’s not terribly good at it.

He also has mental health issues, sees a case worker regularly, and is on seven different medications. Eventually he learns that due to budget cuts these services will be eliminated. When he asks how he will get his meds, the only answer he receives is silence. Now, there have been grumblings, criticisms, about the sympathetic portrayal of the Joker in this movie, but it’s important to remember that the character as depicted here suffers from mental illness. He’s an unhinged individual who needs help, and without that help, he’s not really responsible for his actions. And the film makes clear that even with that help, the system was failing him. Arthur complains to his social worker that she never listens to him and that she doesn’t really know him or his problems, and this seems to be true.

He gets jumped and beat up on the job, and as he says, people and society seem to be getting uglier and uglier. Eventually, as you would imagine, he snaps, and no, he doesn’t suddenly become a criminal mastermind, but he does become violent, doesn’t feel regret or remorse, and because society around him is also feeling left out from the “haves,” the people with wealth, people like Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who of course is Bruce Wayne’s father, Arthur becomes the face of their movement to rebel against society. It’s not something he wants, but it happens.

When you finish watching JOKER, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll say, “Yup, that’s how a guy would become the Joker.” It’s the most realistic and sympathetic portrayal of a character who in the past has mostly been portrayed as an over-the-top comic book villain. JOKER is saying not so fast. This guy exists in the real world, in the here and now. And it completely makes its case.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a masterful Oscar-worthy performance as the title character. There no doubt will be comparisons to the other famous Joker portrayals, Jack Nicholson in BATMAN (1989) and Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008). Before this movie my personal favorite was easily Ledger. THE DARK KNIGHT remains my pick for the best superhero movie ever made, and Ledger’s performance as the Joker is the main reason why.

I still prefer Ledger as the Joker, but Joaquin Phoenix here in JOKER does something that no one before him has ever done. He makes you believe that such a person is real and not someone who only belongs in a comic book. That’s something pretty special to accomplish.

Phoenix has always been a special actor, playing a wide array of characters and generally being convincing in all of them. Here, he lost nearly fifty pounds for the role, and he looks eerily thin and frightening. And that’s the thing. As sympathetic as he is as Arthur Fleck, he’s no less scary and unnerving. I absolutely loved his performance.

And it’s a good thing, because he’s in nearly every scene in the movie. It sinks or swims with Phoenix. He easily carries this movie and dominates throughout.

The supporting cast is serviceable but barely noticeable because of Phoenix’s mesmerizing performance.  But they’re all very good. Only Robert De Niro seems a bit miscast as late night talk show host Murray Franklin, a character that Arthur is obsessed with. He dreams about appearing on Murray’s show, and later, when this becomes a reality, it’s not quite the way he imagined it.

De Niro’s casting is interesting here, since this subplot hearkens back to the Scorsese movie THE KING OF COMEDY (1982) in which De Niro played a deranged man named Rupert Pupkin obsessed with late night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). But here in JOKER, as much as I like De Niro, he just didn’t seem like the late night talk show host type.

JOKER was directed by Todd Phillips, a director mostly known for his comedies, especially the three HANGOVER movies. There’s nothing funny about JOKER. Phillips does a phenomenal job.

He also co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver, a screenwriter with some solid credits under his belt. Silver co-wrote THE FIGHTER (2010), a superior drama starring Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, and Christian Bale, and he co-wrote THE FINEST HOURS (2016), an underrated period piece rescue mission drama starring Chris Pine and Casey Affleck.

Another fascinating aspect of JOKER is it puts its own stamp on the Batman origin story. Thomas Wayne is not a likable character here, and his death as shown in this movie looks very different from the way its been shown in previous movies, through the emotional eyes of a young Bruce Wayne. Furthermore, the connection between Arthur and the Wayne family adds further layers to what would later become the feud between the Joker and Batman.

Pretty much everything about JOKER works, from the acting, to the writing, to the music score, everything about this one screams authentic.

The world is an ugly place. There are the haves and the have nots, and the haves really don’t give a care about the have nots. And when the have nots have had enough, they rebel.

Arthur Fleck reaches the point where he’s had enough. And when he strikes back, he finds that he enjoys it, and better yet for him, he not only gets away with it, but becomes the face of a movement from fellow have-nots who are feeling the same way.

That’s not to say that the film is preaching rebellion. It’s not. It’s simply telling a story, a story that is perfectly framed by a quote which Arthur writes in his journal: “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”

Arthur Fleck has a mental illness. No one he interacts with acknowledges this. Society’s answer is a disinterested social worker and lots of pills, and eventually, even these are taken away because the haves no longer want to fund them. He’s been pushed around, beaten, fired from his job, suffered abuse as a child, and now he finds himself the face of an underground movement. For the first time in his life he’s being noticed. And it feels good.

It’s a story that could be told in the here and now, in 2019, as society faces the same dilemmas and offers the same useless solutions.

And we wonder why the Arthur Flecks of the world become Jokers.

That’s the true strength of this movie.

—END—