BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022) – Fitting Memorial to Chadwick Boseman and Tribute to Black Panther Character

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The best part about BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022), Marvel’s latest superhero movie and sequel to one of its all-time best, BLACK PANTHER (2018), is that it captures the right tone of mourning and respect for late actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020. It also successfully handles the transition to the future of the Black Panther character.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER opens with the offscreen death of Wakanda’s young King T’Challa, aka The Black Panther, and so at the outset we follow main characters in mourning, most notably T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and close friend Okoye (Danai Gurira). Their feelings regarding T’Challa’s untimely death mirror the audience’s feelings of mourning for actor Chadwick Boseman, and so these early scenes have great resonance.

Wakanda is chastised by the United Nations for not sharing its precious natural resource, vibranium, an element which gives the nation all of its special powers. Ramonda pushes back saying Wakanda doesn’t trust other nations with this power, and also warns nations to think twice about becoming aggressive with Wakanda in light of The Black Panther’s death, as she says the country is still strong and quite capable of defending itself.

However, the United States launches a plan to seek out vibranium on its own, and locates some under the ocean, but their salvage mission is thwarted by a mysterious force of underwater fighters. The U.S. suspects Wakanda, but soon the Wakandans are invaded by these same underwater people, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who, along with his people, possess superior power and threaten Wakanda with invasion unless they kidnap the young scientist who invented the device which helped the Americans find vibranium, which they also possess.

The Wakandans are not used to people being able to get through their defenses, and also do not take kindly to being threatened, and so eventually these two powerful races become involved in an all-out war, with the future of Wakanda and perhaps the world at stake.

Director Ryan Coogler, who directed the first BLACK PANTHER movie, once again presses all the right buttons here. The film’s somber tone is perfect, and it was also refreshing in light of the recent inferior Marvel movies which have all tended to strike comedic silly tones, which sadly haven’t worked all that well, movies like THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) and DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022).

The film plays out like an homage to both actor Chadwick Boseman and to the Black Panther character. It all works beautifully.

Coogler co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, and the story told in this one is a good one. Both these guys co-wrote the screenplay to the first film as well.

First off, the story is rock solid, and the villain Namor, is as formidable as the come. Tension runs high many times during this movie, which was most welcome after the recent spat of silly Marvel movies in the past couple of years. I also enjoyed the way the film transitioned the Black Panther character into the future. The character who takes over is fitting, and it makes perfect sense for things to play out this way.

The main character in WAKANDA FOREVER is T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, who was already a dynamic character even when she was playing just a supporting role in the earlier BLACK PANTHER movie. Letita Wright had already made her mark playing the character in BLACK PANTHER, and in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). WAKANDA FOREVER simply gives her a bigger canvas on which to paint, and she doesn’t disappoint. Shuri is driven by vengeance and bitterness over her brother’s death, and she uses these feelings to her advantage, but it’s a complicated journey because in her heart she knows she can’t be confined by revenge or consumed by grief. There’s more to being a leader. It’s a great story arc for Shuri, and Letita Wright does a phenomenal job with it.

Much of the same cast from the first BLACK PANTHER movie return to reprise their roles and they all do admirable jobs. Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, who plays a particularly important role in this movie, and Winston Duke as M’Baku all return, and they all make their mark.

Martin Freeman returns as well as CIA agent Everett Ross, but it’s kind of a throwaway role in this movie, as his character only appears fleetingly. And then there’s poor Julia Louis-Dreyfuss who’s stuck in a terribly written role as Ross’ no nonsense superior, who also happens to be his ex-wife. It’s a pretty sad role, and Louis-Dreyfuss deserves better.

But it’s Tenoch Huerta who stands out the most in this sequel as the villain, Namor, who seems as all-powerful as Thanos at times, and like some of the best movie villains, his back story emits sympathy, and so the audience relates to where he is coming from, even as he causes ample death and destruction.

Speaking of death and destruction, the battle scenes in BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER are expertly handled and some are very suspenseful, especially the fight to the death between Namor and Shuri.

I really enjoyed BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER. It’s a step above the recent silly Marvel misfires, and also a step in the right direction towards getting the Marvel movies back on track.

It’s also a successful send-off to the original Black Panther character and a fitting memorial for Chadwick Boseman.

I give it three and a half stars.

Wakanda forever!

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022) – Final Film in HALLOWEEN Franchise Much Better Than Expected

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HALLOWEEN ENDS… we can only hope!

Actually, I’m a big fan of the HALLOWEEN series and have been since seeing John Carpenter’s classic HALLOWEEN (1978) at the movies when it first came out, a long, long time ago. That first movie remains my favorite, and truth be told, most of the sequels and re-imaginings have been pretty bad, but I’ve enjoyed most of them, as guilty pleasures, I guess. I’ve had this conversation with friends, but one of the reasons I’ve always liked the HALLOWEEN movies even when they’re not that great is because of John Carpenter’s iconic HALLOWEEN music score. As soon as it starts playing on the soundtrack, I’m in!

And the music was about the only thing I liked about the reimagined sequel HALLOWEEN (2018) which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to the series and told her character’s story about how she had been dealing with the fallout from Michael Myers for forty years, a film which pretty much ignored all the sequels and tried to be a sole sequel to the 1978 film. It was a worthy idea, but the script was pretty bad, and the film a disappointment.

I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed the sequel to that movie, HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021) more than the 2018 film.

Now comes the “final” installment in this new HALLOWEEN trilogy, HALLOWEEN ENDS— who is coming up with the titles to these movies?— and all three movies were directed by David Gordon Green.

HALLOWEEN ENDS is not getting good reviews, but I’ll cut right to the chase: I actually liked this one better than HALLOWEEN KILLS, which makes it my favorite of this new HALLOWEEN trilogy.

One of the biggest reasons I liked this one? It tries a lot that is new, and so if you are expecting two hours of Michael Myers vs. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, that’s not what you’re going to get. I’m sure some fans will be put off by this. I wasn’t, mostly because what was in its place were story elements that were all rather intriguing.

HALLOWEEN ENDS opens in the here and now in Haddonfield, Illinois, the small town which seems to have been forever cursed by Michael Myers, with a different take on the babysitting trope, as this time the babysitter is a young man, Corey (Rohan Campbell). Corey is babysitting a bratty little kid who tells Corey he’s not afraid because Michael Myers doesn’t kill kids; he kills babysitters! Ouch! Before the night is over, the boy locks Corey inside an attic room. When Corey kicks the door open, tragedy results, and the little tyke is killed in front of his parents’ eyes who have just returned home.

Cue opening credits.

Usually, introducing new story elements and characters isn’t the best idea in a third film in a series, as you want to know what’s going on with the characters from the first two installments, but it somehow works here in HALLOWEEN ENDS, and Corey becomes an intriguing character. Even with all the Michael Myers history, Corey is now considered the town psycho after he is not convicted of murder. He’s the recipient of massive hating and bullying, and he has a mother who would be right at home being best friends with Norman Bates’ mother.

One thing HALLOWEEN ENDS gets right is it paints a portrait of hatred and vindictiveness in our modern-day culture, and I think it nails this throughout the movie. It reminded me a little bit of what Sandra Bullock’s character went through in the excellent Netflix movie THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), where Bullock played an ex-con where pretty much everyone in society decided her crime was unforgivable and treated her like dirt.

When we finally catch up with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), she’s living with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and the two are trying to live their lives in Haddonfield after the events from the last movie where Allyson’s mom and Laurie’s daughter was murdered by Michael Myers. Laurie is writing her memoirs, and we learn that Michael Myers has disappeared.

When bullies actually push Corey off a bridge, he finds himself left for dead on the banks of the river. He makes his way into an underground tunnel and there discovers— you got it! Michael Myers has taken up residence underneath Haddonfield! When Myers attacks Corey, their eyes lock, and a strange thing happens. Is it a meeting of the minds? Does Myers see a fellow psycho? Or is the evil that inhabits Myers now transferred to Corey? Whatever the answer, Corey finds a newfound power, and an ally, and together they go on a vengeance killing spree.

Around this same time, Allyson meets Corey, thinks he’s cute, and pursues him, and the two characters grow close, finding common ground in their disdain for Haddonfield, and they speak openly of blowing everything up and then leaving for good. This story arc is rather interesting, as it brings together a Michael Myers disciple and Laurie’s granddaughter, now both working together for less than noble purposes.

Of course, Laurie disapproves, especially when she begins to receive Michael Myers’ vibes when she looks at Corey. As she says, she sees Myers’ eyes in Corey’s eyes. There’s a neat scene where Laurie looks out her window and sees Corey standing by some hanging laundry which mirrors a similar scene in the original HALLOWEEN.

Corey eventually wants more power, and battles Michael Myers and steals his mask, in effect becoming a new Michael Myers. But HALLOWEEN ENDS isn’t SON OF MICHAEL MYERS, and good old Michael isn’t interested in retiring just yet.

And Michael is old, as he should be in his 60s right about now, and the film stays true to that notion, and we see a killer who isn’t a young man anymore. That’s not to say he’s not in killing shape. He’s just a demonic killer who’s now in his 60s, which is something else about this movie that I liked.

HALLOWEEN ENDS makes good on its title and goes out of its way to make sure that Michael Myers isn’t coming back ever again—almost to a laughable degree—but never say never. This is the movies, after all, and anything can happen in the movies.

Also, as Laurie says in her voice over narration from the memoir she’s writing, evil never really dies. It just changes shape, an intriguing notion and choice of words, since Michael Myers is often credited as The Shape in the HALLOWEEN movies. Which is a neat way of wrapping up this series, with the idea that Michael was just a temporary shape of evil, housing some demonic entity, which may in fact live on even after its host body has been destroyed.

I thought there was a lot to like about HALLOWEEN ENDS. The screenplay by Paul Brad Logan somehow kept this story fresh throughout. I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy the story about Corey, but it works. I also thought Logan nailed the hate and vindictiveness in our modern-day society. Townpeople call out Laurie and blame her for their woes, because she had the gall to irk Michael Myers, rather than just leaving him alone.

One thing that doesn’t work, however, is the notion that this is a long-standing battle between Laurie and Michael. Sure, he attacked her in the original movie, but if anyone was truly his adversary, it was his doctor, Doctor Loomis, played by the late great Donald Pleasence. The idea that Laurie and Michael are bitter adversaries really was concocted for this trilogy.

Jamie Lee Curtis is fine, playing Laurie for what seems to be the final time. But one of my favorite performances however belongs to Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, who is a much more interesting character, and her flirtations with evil and “burning down” Haddonfield are some of the more interesting parts of the film. Rohan Campbell is also very good as Corey, the misunderstood youth who becomes a Michael Myers disciple.

David Gordon Green’s direction isn’t bad. The film takes its time, which might turn off audiences, but it didn’t bother me because the story was firing on all cylinders. How does it stand up as a horror movie? Not bad. It’s not all that scary, which is not a good thing. How does it rank as a HALLOWEEN movie? It’s the best of this latest trilogy, but it still pales in comparison to John Carpenter’s original.

That being said, it was still way better than I expected, and so I have few complaints about this one. If you’re going to call your movie HALLOWEEN ENDS and plan to end a franchise, this was certainly a fitting way to do it. Then again, maybe it was just that iconic music score working its magic again…

Either way, this series started back in 1978, and although this installment actually included some new ideas, most of the films have not, and so on that note, I think it’s time we put this series to bed. So while I like this one, I’m still hoping HALLOWEEN ENDS lives up to its name.

I give HALLOWEEN ENDS three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

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Let’s talk about HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), the sole movie in the HALLOWEEN franchise not to feature masked killer Michael Myers.

The story goes that John Carpenter was never interested in making a series of movies about Michael Myers. His original plan was to make a series of HALLOWEEN movies with different plots, each having something to do with Halloween. In retrospect, that seems like an idea that was ahead of its time and would be more at home today as a TV series on one of the streaming networks.

Anyway, after the phenomenal success of HALLOWEEN (1978), there was demand for a sequel that did indeed feature Myers. Carpenter wrote the screenplay, but he killed off both Myers and hero Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), paving the way for him to return to his original vision of another Halloween-themed horror movie, and that film was HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, the subject of today’s IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.

Because fans couldn’t get enough of Michael Myers, they were cool to HALLOWEEN III, and the film did not perform well at the box office. It also didn’t do well because it was largely panned by critics. I still remember watching Siskel and Ebert tear the film apart, and one of their biggest criticisms was that the plot about Halloween masks which would be used to murder children worldwide was far too ugly to warrant a positive review. After the box office failure of HALLOWEEN III, John Carpenter sold the rights of the franchise, and eventually Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis were inexplicably resurrected and brought back to the big screen in HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988). That film was a box office success and was also well-received by critics. The rest is history, as the series continues to this day with numerous remakes and re-imaginings, all featuring the unstoppable and apparently immortal Michael Myers.

But back to HALLOWEEN III.

Over the years, not only has the film aged well, but among many horror fans, HALLOWEEN III is now considered to be the best in the series. I don’t agree with this assessment. The original HALLOWEEN is still the best of the lot. However, HALLOWEEN III has indeed aged well, and since it is the only film in the series not to be about Michael Myers, it’s certainly the most intriguing of the HALLOWEEN movies.

Also, the plot about the deadly Halloween masks is far less ugly today than it first seemed back in 1982.

The story is basically about a doctor, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) who treats a patient at the hospital who is raving about mass murder and doom, sounding an awful lot like he walked off the set of an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS movie, and Challis thinks he’s delusional and simply sedates him. But later that night, the man is murdered under mysterious circumstances, and when Challis meets the man’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) and she wants to investigate her father’s death, he decides to help her.

Their investigation leads them to the Silver Shamrock company, which produces the most popular Halloween masks on the planet, and also keeps running an annoying television commercial that seems to play every time someone turns on the TV. They also meet the owner of the company, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), who in spite of his reputation of being the nicest guy in the world, is really up to no good. Yup, he really does have a plan for mass sacrifice on Halloween night, to be carried out by his masks which will be worn by children all over the world.

Gulp!

Well, this is a horror movie after all.

One of the reasons HALLOWEEN III has aged so well is because, simply put, it’s not about Michael Myers! The countless sequels and re-imaginings have become exhaustingly redundant. HALLOWEEN III does not suffer from any of this.

Tom Atkins has starred in a lot of horror movies, from Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980) to CREEPSHOW (1982), and over the years he became a fan favorite. He’s excellent here in the lead role in HALLOWEEN III, the down to earth doctor who suddenly finds himself trying to stop a supernatural plot to mass murder children. Atkins continues to make movies today.

Stacey Nelkin is an effective heroine, and Dan O’Herlihy makes for a very sinister Conal Cochran.

HALLOWEEN III was written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, and while Wallace is no John Carpenter, there are some chilling and cool scenes in this movie.

There are also some fun nods to the first HALLOWEEN. A scene from that movie featuring Michael Myers is shown on TV at one point. Jamie Lee Curtis provides the voice of a telephone operator, and Nancy Kyes, who played Annie in the original HALLOWEEN, under the name Nancy Loomis, has a small role here.

Is HALLOWEEN III the best of the Halloween movies?

Nope.

But it is one of the more entertaining films in the series, mostly because it stands on its own and as such tells a compelling and disturbing horror story in its own right.

—END—

Best Movies of 2021

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Here’s a look at my TOP 10 LIST of BEST MOVIES from 2021.

As I did last year, I’d like to put an asterisk next to this list due to the pandemic. One of the drawbacks of not seeing movies at the theater, is that we don’t all get to see the same movies, as lots of smaller, obscure releases don’t always make it to the various streaming services. So, as much as I enjoyed watching movies once again this year on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney +, to name a few, I didn’t get to see many of the movies that didn’t make it to these streaming services.

Hence, I know there are a lot of films from 2021 that I did not see, that I would have seen had I been able to go to the movie theaters like I used to before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

So, with that being said, here are my TOP 10 movies… all watched at home on streaming services…. from 2021:

10. THE TOMORROW WAR

One of the things I miss most watching movies at home, is that movie theater feeling. THE TOMORROW WAR, a science fiction action movie from Amazon Prime starring Chris Pratt, was one of the few movies I saw this year that by itself captured that movie theater feeling. This action-packed tale of humans travelling into the future to help battle invading aliens didn’t always make sense, but it was a fun ride, so much so that I could almost smell the buttery popcorn wafting through the air!

9. FEAR STREET: PART THREE – 1666

My take on this Netflix horror trilogy was completely opposite most folks, who found the third installment to be the weakest. For me, it was the best, mostly because the trilogy’s wraparound story about a witch’s curse I thought was pretty lame until this final installment where we find out its origins, and the writers flipped the story on its head, giving new insight into what really cursed the town. I really liked this revelation. The entire trilogy is uneven at best, but it finishes strong, so much so that it’s the only horror movie from 2021 to make it into my Top 10 List.

8. NO SUDDEN MOVE

Atmospheric crime thriller by director Steven Soderbergh, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, and Brendan Fraser, makes for a compelling flick.

7. MOXIE (2021)

I really enjoyed this comedy drama directed by Amy Poehler about an awkward teen played by Hadley Robinson who draws inspiration from her mom’s activist past to take on sexism at her high school. Very satisfying, strong screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, well-directed by Poehler, who also plays the mom.

6. THE UNFORGIVABLE

Sandra Bullock delivers a transformative performance in this Netflix drama about a woman, played by Bullock, who after serving a twenty-year prison sentence for shooting a sheriff, tries to reunite with her younger sister who has lived with a foster family the past two decades and has no memory of her older sister, while fending off threats from both those who hate her in general because of her crime, and from the adult sons of the man she killed. Dark, depressing stuff, but fiercely acted by Bullock.

5. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE

One of my favorite action movies of the year. I loved this movie! It’s basically nothing more than female assassins kick ass, but the action is all so stylized and expertly choreographed. It contains some of the best action sequences I saw all year. Wonderfully directed by Navot Papushado, who charges this one with energy and pizzazz.

4. THE DIG

Wonderful period piece from Netflix, this one is much better than it sounds. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this tale of the historic archeological dig in the English countryside at Sutton Hoo at the outset of World War II. Awe-inspiring, awesome movie.

And now, drum roll please, for my TOP 3 MOVIES from 2021:

3. THE COURIER

Another period piece, THE COURIER was actually filmed in 2020 but wasn’t released until 2021. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who because of his dealings in the Soviet Union becomes an unlikely spy for Britain just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another topnotch performance by Cumberbatch, who seems to be able to play these dramatic biographical roles in his sleep.

2. THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Hands down, both my favorite action movie and superhero film of the year. Hailing from the DC Universe (sorry, Marvel, they bested you this year!) this “sequel” to 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD is far superior to the first film. While Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, it’s Idris Elba as Bloodsport and John Cena as Peacemaker who steal the show. The real star however is writer/director James Gunn, who works the same magic he wielded with Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, creating an energetic, innovative, and nonstop laugh-out-loud actioner that never quits. This tale of supervillains turned superheroes is a must see for all superhero movie fans, although it is rated R for some pretty intense violence and language. A helluva fun ride.

And now, drum roll please: my Number One movie from 2021:

1. DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay’s sharp satire is so on-point that it is far more disturbing than funny. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as scientists who discover a large meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out all life when it strikes in six months, but the President, played by Meryl Streep, won’t have any of it and plays fast and loose with their science, while the media simply isn’t interested in a negative story. Try as they might, they simply can’t get their message out. Eventually, when the meteor becomes visible to the naked eye, the president’s political party and followers adopt the ideology that those who want people to look up are doing so for political reasons, and their rallying cry becomes, “don’t look up!” A sad commentary on where we are as a nation in 2021 after suffering from four years of a presidential administration that also played fast and loose with the facts during a world crisis.

So, there you have it. My top 10 movies from 2021.

Coming soon, my Worst 10 Movie List from 2021.

Until then, as always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

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

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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!

Curses!

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.

—END—

COMING 2 AMERICA (2021) – Eddie Murphy Sequel Amiable But Not All That Funny

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COMING 2 AMERICA (2021) has “2” things working against it.

It’s a sequel, and it’s a comedy.

I’m telling you, the hardest movies to make these days are comedies. Good ones are really hard to find.

That being said, this sequel to COMING TO AMERICA (1988), a John Landis comedy which starred Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, while it struggles to be both funny and tell a worthwhile story, it at least remains playful throughout. I had fun watching COMING 2 AMERICA. I just didn’t laugh all that much.

COMING 2 AMERICA, available now on Prime Video, reunites Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in a movie for the first time in thirty years, as they last starred together in HARLEM NIGHTS (1989). As a big fan of Eddie Murphy, he’s the main reason I wanted to check out COMING 2 AMERICA. I remember liking COMING TO AMERICA back in 1988, although I wouldn’t list it as one of my favorite Murphy movies. And Murphy was outstanding in the recent DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019), a Netflix original which I thought was Murphy’s best work in years. While I didn’t expect the same quality here in this sequel, I was excited to see Murphy in a movie again all the same.

And that’s pretty much how COMING 2 AMERICA played out. As a movie, it’s okay. The fun was watching Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, as well as Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan, John Amos, and James Earl Jones on screen. All of these folks have their moments, although none of these moments are all that uproarious.

The story told in COMING 2 AMERICA is rather simple and not terribly important, other than a nod to equality for women here in 2021 which was nice to see but predictable.

Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) becomes King Akeem of the African kingdom of Zamunda when his father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) passes away. And he rules this kingdom with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and their three daughters, which poses a problem for Akeem. He needs a male heir to take over the throne after him. When he learns he has a bastard son living in America, he decides to return there to find him. So, Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) return to New York and there find Akeem’s son Lavelle (Jermain Fowler) who agrees to return with them to Zamunda, where he learns the ways of becoming a prince. Meanwhile, in the film’s only relevant moments, Lisa attempts to point out to Akeem that he was the one who was supposed to make sweeping changes in the kingdom but instead has become like his father and changed nothing, and she points out that their oldest daughter has been training her whole life to succeed her father in leading the kingdom, but he has bypassed her because she’s a woman. As one would expect in a comedy sequel, these words do make their mark on Akeem and he eventually comes around to 2021 thinking.

Again, COMING 2 AMERICA is likable enough, but it just isn’t all that funny. By far, the funniest parts are the barbershop scenes, where both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio hall reprise their old barbershop characters from the first movie. These scenes are funny, very funny, but there’s only a couple.

Eddie Murphy is enjoyable to watch, but the role hardly gives him anything to do. In fact, he’s almost the straight man throughout to other characters’ antics, and Eddie Murphy as the straight man to others’ comedy is never a good thing. If you want to see Murphy really strutting his stuff, you want to check out DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.

Likewise, Arsenio Hall’s moments are also few and far between. The same can be said for Wesley Snipes as General Izzi, who had never made a movie with Eddie Murphy before DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, and now he’s appeared in two movies with Murphy in two years.

Tracy Morgan probably fares the best as Lavelle’s uncle Reem. Then again, Morgan can just stand there and by his presence alone crack me up. Morgan made me laugh quite a few times in this movie, even though he’s been far funnier in other roles.

Jermaine Fowler gets lots of screen time as Lavelle, and most of the movie involves his character as he struggles to become prince. Fowler is very good, and Lavelle is a likable character, but like the rest of the movie, not all that humorous.

Leslie Jones does enjoy some fine funny moments as Lavelle’s mother Mary, and Shari Headley adds class to the story as Akeem’s wife and queen Lisa. Nomzamo Mbatha, Bella Murphy (Eddie Murphy’s real life daughter), and Akiley Love all do well as Akeem’s daughters.

Kiki Layne delivers one of the best performances in the film as Meeka, the woman who is tasked with helping Lavelle learn how to become a prince, and of course the two characters fall in love.

Screen veterans James Earl Jones and John Amos also each have their moments. You can’t go wrong with the cast in this one. Heck, even Morgan Freeman shows up!

COMING 2 AMERICA was directed by Craig Brewer, who also directed DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, which is a far superior film to this one. Not that it matters much, since this is a comedy, but the CGI effects here aren’t very good, both on the African animals which clearly look fake, and on scenes where Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are made to look younger.

Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield wrote the screenplay, and all I can say is if I wanted to make a funny comedy, I wouldn’t be hiring these guys. Not based on this screenplay, anyway.

COMING 2 AMERICA is an amiable comedy sequel that simply isn’t funny enough to justify a glowing recommendation, even with the likes of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in the cast. At the end of the day, it’s just all rather subpar.

Which, unfortunately, is just….

…2 bad.

—END—

LEADING LADIES: SUZAN FARMER

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

Up today is an actress mostly known to horror fans for one major horror movie. The actress is Suzan Farmer, and the movie is DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), Hammer Films’ second Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee, and the direct sequel to their mega-hit HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

In DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the undead count is resurrected when his servant murders an unsuspecting guest at the castle and uses the man’s blood to rescuscitate his vampire master. Suzan Farmer plays one of the guests, Diana, who’s married to the brother of the slain sacrificial victim. It’s a memorable performance in a movie that has continued to age well over the years, and is held in much higher regard today than it was upon its initial release back in 1966, when it was widely viewed as an inferior sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA.

Here is a partial look at Suzan Farmer’s career:

THE SUPREME SECRET (1958) – Tess – Farmer’s movie debut in 1958 at the age of 15.

THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963) – Constance Beverley – High seas adventure which takes place in 1648 and also stars Lionel Jeffries, Oliver Reed, June Thorburn, and Hammer regulars Michael Ripper and Duncan Lamont.

THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964) – Angela – Hammer pirate adventure written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Don Sharp. Starring Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, Duncan Lamont, and Michael Ripper.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) – Susan Whitley – Farmer plays the daughter of a wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff. She’s stuck in the castle while Karloff conducts bizarre experiments, all the while her boyfriend Stephen (Nick Adams) tries to convince her to leave daddy and get the heck out of there! Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” Also starring Freda Jackson and Patrick Magee.

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Diana- My favorite Suzan Farmer role and performance. A big reason for this is she’s in some of the best scenes in the movie, certainly the best Dracula scenes. The scene where Dracula (Christopher Lee) attacks her from an open window, and later when he slits open his chest and invites her to drink his blood, are two of the more memorable sequences in the film. Farmer also enjoys playful chemistry with Francis Matthews, who plays her husband Charles. Their dialogue together resonates throughout the movie, and they really do seem like a young married couple very much in love. Farmer also dubbed the high-pitched screams for co-star Barbara Shelley.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Vanessa – Shot simultaneously with DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, using many of the same sets and cast, including Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Farmer.

PERSECUTION (1974) – Janie Masters – Farmer’s last movie credit is in this thriller starring Lana Turner as an evil mom tormenting her adult son played by Ralph Bates and his family. Also starring Trevor Howard, Patrick Allen, and Ronald Howard.

LEAP IN THE DARK (1980) – Grace- Farmer’s final screen credit was in an episode of this horror anthology TV series.

Indeed, after 1966, the majority of Farmer’s screen appearances were on the small screen on various TV shows.

Suzan Farmer passed away on September 17, 2017 at the age of 75 from cancer.

I hope you enjoyed this brief partial look at the career of Suzan Farmer. She made a lasting impression with only a few appearances in horror films in the 1960s, especially in the Hammer Film DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Speaking of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, with the recent passing of Barbara Shelley, and six months earlier of Philip Latham who played Dracula’s loyal servant Klove, all the major cast members from that classic Dracula movie are now gone, sadly.

Here’s a toast to them, a wonderful cast in a classic Dracula movie.

Please join me again next time for the next LEADING LADIES column, where we’ll look at the career of another leading actress in the movies, especially horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

10 Worst Movies of 2020

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And now for the 10 Worst Movies of 2020.

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

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

10. EMMA

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

9. COFFEE & KAREEM

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

8. THE RHYTHM SECTION

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

7. WONDER WOMAN 1984

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

6. SPENSER: CONFIDENTIAL

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

5. THE TURNING

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

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

4. THE HUNT

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

3. LIKE A BOSS

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

2. WASP NETWORK

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

THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN
  1. THE BABYSITER: KILLER QUEEN

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

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

Okay, on to 2021!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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.

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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.  

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

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Horror fans think fondly of Kurt Russell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—END—