FEAR STREET: PART 2 – 1978 (2021) – Not Much Better Than The Films It Pays Homage To

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FEAR STREET: PART 2 – 1978 (2021) is, as its title plainly states, the second installment in the FEAR STREET movie trilogy now available on Netflix.

Word of mouth had it that parts two and three were better than part one, but I actually enjoyed the first part well enough which told the story of a group of teens in 1994 fending off a murderous witch who was hell bent on killing them. And that’s because their town, Shadyside, has been cursed since the 1600s by this witch, and the place has been a haven for serial killers throughout the centuries.

I somewhat enjoyed Part One because it paid homage to the 1990s slasher horror movies, in particular Wes Craven’s SCREAM (1996). Part Two takes place in 1978 and pays homage to the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, a series which decades removed from its heyday still has a huge following. Many well-respected horror folks love these movies. I’ve always hated them. I thought they were stupid back then, and each time I watch one in the here and now my opinion hasn’t changed. So, that might be the reason why I wasn’t so keen on FEAR STREET: PART 2 – 1978.

The film opens right after the events from the end of the first movie, with Deena (Kiana Madiera) and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores, Jr.) saving their friend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) from the witch. Sort of. Sam isn’t completely saved, as she now seems to be possessed. So, Deena and Josh seek out the one person who survived the witch’s curse, C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) who was a teenager at a summer camp with her sister in 1978 when a demented killer slaughtered a bunch of campers, the result of the witch’s curse.

Berman doesn’t want to help them at first, but eventually she yields to the teens’ persistence and tells them the story of what happened at Camp Nightwing during that fateful summer of 1978. And this becomes the plot of the movie, as we go back in time to 1978 and follow the two sisters, Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink) and her older less rebellious sibling Cindy (Emily Rudd) as they deal at first with typical bullying and teen mischief at camp, before having to fight for their lives when the insane killer shows up.

And then the film turns into a FRIDAY THE 13TH clone, complete with over the top gory murder scenes and killers wearing masks and wielding sharp weapons. Sure, the acting is better, as are the production values, but at the end of the day, I didn’t like this one much better than any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. However, if you’re a fan of the series, you most likely will really enjoy this movie.

I did like the cast. Both Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd turn in solid performances as the two Berman sisters. Sadie Sink, who has been so good on the TV series STRANGER THINGS (2017 -2022) as Max Mayfield is just as good here as rebellious teen Ziggy Berman. She’s as tough as nails and gives it right back to the more popular girls who constantly try to bully her.

Emily Rudd is equally as effective as the older and more responsible sister Cindy, who wants to take the high road and do all the right things to assure herself a future where she can eventually get out of Shadyside, and so she takes offense at her younger sister’s actions at camp. If Ziggy gets thrown out, Cindy will as well, and Cindy sees this as a knock against her chances of building a reputation that will enable her to leave her hometown successfully. Of course, Ziggy thinks this is all bullsh*t, and she believes her older sister is being a hypocrite by shunning their roots and pretending she’s someone she’s not.

I also enjoyed Ryan Simpkin’s performance as Emily’s friend Alice, an offbeat character that Simpkin really brings to life. McCabe Slye plays Tommy Slater, Emily’s boyfriend, who’s a decent enough guy until he falls victim to the witch’s curse which turns him into the demented slasher killer. Slye is more interesting as Tommy before he becomes an axe-wielding murderer. Once the transition occurs, he becomes a one-note character.

Ted Sutherland is very good as Nick Goode, a camp counselor who has feelings for Ziggy, and the two begin a relationship with each other. What’s most interesting about Sutherland’s performance as Nick Goode is that Nick is a younger version of a character we saw in Part 1, Sheriff Nick Goode, who was kind of an oddball character. The back story provided here really fleshes out the character and explains a lot of Nick’s weird behavior in Part 1. As such, I really enjoyed Sutherland’s performance.

Leigh Janiak directed all three parts of the FEAR STREET trilogy, and I have no problem with how these films look or how they play out. In fact, here in PART 2, a film I wasn’t overly keen on, Janiak’s direction is probably the best part. She nails the Friday the 13th vibe throughout, and for fans, the elaborate ultra violent murders will not disappoint.

But the script by Zak Olkewicz and director Janiak, based on a story by Phil Graziadei, I was not crazy about. I mean, it pushes all the right buttons and does what it needs to do to pay homage to the 1970s slasher flicks, but for me it simply didn’t add anything new to the mix. It was just another variation of the films it was giving a nod to. And the wrap around story holding the entire trilogy together about the witch and her curse on Shadyside, does little for me, which certainly doesn’t help my enjoyment of this series. I don’t find it all that credible, and it’s certainly not engaging. In fact, it’s my least favorite part of the trilogy so far. Separately, with their own individual stories, FEAR STREET Parts one and two are pretty darn good, but throw in that silly wraparound story of the witch, and everything drops down several notches.

I enjoyed FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 slightly less than PART ONE, mostly because I enjoy 90s slasher flicks more than the FRIDAY THE 13TH series.

It’s not a bad horror movie, but like most movies with “Part Two” in its title, there’s not a whole lot there that makes it proudly stand on its own.

—END—

ENOLA HOLMES (2020) – Story of Sherlock Holmes’ Younger Sister Charming But Dull

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ENOLA HOLMES (2020), the new Netflix movie about Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister, features a wonderfully spirited performance by Millie Bobby Brown in the title role.

Brown brings so much energy and charm to the character that she single-handedly carries this movie, and she has to, because sadly, the rest of this feature, from the directing, writing, and acting, is all rather dull. Painfully so.

Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), whose name spelled backwards is “Alone,” has been raised by her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). But one day, shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Enola awakes to discover her mother has disappeared. When her two brothers, Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill), who is now known as the world’s greatest detective, arrive, Enola hopes they will help her find her mother, but when they appear less than interested in doing so, Enola decides to take the case on her own.

Complicating matters is Mycroft wants Enola enrolled in a proper women’s school, and when she she leaves in search of her mother, he uses his resources to find her and bring her back. Meanwhile, Enola meets the dashing young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who’s embroiled in a mystery of his own, and when it becomes clear that his life is in danger, Enola sets out to help him as well. The game is afoot!

Too bad it wasn’t a more interesting game.

As I said, Millie Bobby Brown is absolutely wonderful in the lead role. She exudes charm and charisma as Enola, and her spirited performance is infectious. Combined with her lively voice-over narration and her frequent addresses to the audience as she looks directly into the camera, make her performance here a clear winner. By far, Brown is the best part of this movie.

While I still prefer Brown’s work as the character Eleven on the Netflix’ series STRANGER THINGS (2016-2021), that doesn’t take away from her outstanding performance in ENOLA HOLMES.

Sadly, she just doesn’t get much support from anyone else in the cast, which is surprising, considering the talent inolved here. But a lot of this falls on screenwriter Jack Thorne, whose screenplay is based on the novel by Nancy Springer, because he simply didn’t give these folks much to do or much of interest to say.

Henry Cavill, who’s been playing Superman in the recent DC films, is okay as Sherlock Holmes. He definitely has a presence, but the character is largely in the background, and as such, it’s one of the more subdued and least effective characterizations of the famous literary detective as you’re ever going to find.

Sam Claflin, another talented actor, has a bit more to do as the cantankeous Mycroft Holmes, but at the end of the day, he doesn’t do much either. Claflin was much more memorable in the underrated Hammer Film THE QUIET ONES (2014) and the World War II comedy-drama THEIR FINEST (2016).

Louis Partridge as Lord Tewkesbury shares some nice chemistry with Brown’s Enola, and I really enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter as Enola’s mother Eudoria, but she’s not in the movie much since the character disappears early on.

As I said, Jack Thorne’s screenplay was somewhat of a disappointment. He goes all in with Enola’s character, and she is the one character in the story that works. The dialogue for everyone else is ho hum, and the plot I thought was a snooze. The story I was most interested in— what happened to Enola’s mother— often took a back seat to the political intrigue surrounding Tewkesbury’s predicament and Mycroft’s efforts to force Enola to attend the women’s school.

Director Harry Bradbeer keeps everything light and lively until the final thirty minutes when things get a bit darker, which incidentally, was my favorite part of the movie. The film looks great but sadly lacks that innovative touch which might have made it really memorable.

I thought eveything about ENOLA HOLMES was pretty standard and not very exciting, with the one big exception being Millie Bobby Brown’s performance.

She’s the reason to see this one and the reason why it is even worth a look. The rest, especially if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, is sadly lacking.

It’s all rather dull and….elementary.

—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.

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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

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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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS (2020) – Horror Movie Flawed But Still Works

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Amy Forsyth, Alexandra Daddario, and Maddie Hasson in WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS (2020).

If you like horror movies and 1980s heavy metal rock music, chances are you’ll enjoy WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS (2020), a new horror movie now available on Netflix about three young women on their way to a heavy metal rock concert in 1988 Indiana, in an area where young people have been brutally murdered by members of a satanic cult.

Gulp!

That’s right. As the three women travel to the concert, the body count has reached eighteen. But that doesn’t deter these three friends, Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson), and Beverly (Amy Forsyth) from going, as they are not about to let a little thing like satanic cult murders get in their way of some fun. They know how to take care of themselves.

In the parking lot outside the concert, they meet three young musicians, Mark (Keean Johnson), Kovacs (Logan Miller), and Ivan (Austin Swift), and since they hit it off and get along so well, after the concert Alexis invites them all back to her dad’s secluded home, since he’s away for the weekend.

How convenient.

What follows is not quite what you expect. Yes, it involves the satanic cult, but there’s a twist here, which is both good and bad. It’s good because it pivots the plot and gives this one a completely different feel. But it also gets in the way of it being as horrific and as frightening as it could have been. The longer it goes on, the more far-fetched it becomes.

But overall I enjoyed WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS very much. It just wasn’t as chilling as I expected it to be.

I really liked the screenplay by Alan Trezza.  The dialogue is excellent, realistic and humorous in lots of places. The girls’ conversation in the opening sequence while they’re driving to the concert is flat out hilarious.

The first half of this movie which sets up the horror elements is very good, and then once the story pivots, with its twist, it does run into a little trouble. At first, the twist is refreshing and innovative, but then things become more outlandish almost to the point of campiness, when early on it looked like this one was going to be a gritty hard-hitting thriller. And that’s largely because the cult isn’t anywhere near as disturbing as initially advertised.

As a result, as enjoyable as WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is, it’s really not very scary.

Director Marc Meyers does an excellent job with the set-up, and he does capture the essence of the 1980s somewhat. The music is there, the hair styles, but not a whole lot else. And while there are violent scenes during the movie’s second half, they’re just not very intense. Again, the film goes for camp rather than shock.

The cast is good. All six of the main actors make impressions.  While I enjoyed both Alexandra Daddario and Maddie Hasson in their roles, I thought Amy Forsyth gave the best performance in the movie, as her character Beverly had a bit more depth than the others. She’s a runaway, new to this group of friends, and so throughout the ordeal she has more issues she’s dealing with.

Likewise, both Logan Miller and Austin Swift were enjoyable in their roles, and I thought Keean Johnson stood out most as Mark. He had the dark, brooding, persona going for him, and later when things get crazy, he’s the guy who steps up the most.

Johnny Knoxville plays John Henry Butler, a preacher who is constantly on the airwaves speaking against the evils of rock music and the satanic cult.

As silly as this movie eventually becomes, its subtext which speaks to the dangers of politicized religion and how often the most vocal of religious leaders are themselves worse than the threats of which they speak was not lost on me. In this day and age so much hate and misinformation is spewed in the name of religion.

Could WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS have been better? Sure. It could have been brutally frightening, a la GREEN ROOM (2015), or it could have gone full blown STRANGER THINGS (2016-present) and really nailed the 1980s. Or it could have been a high camp gore fest in an homage to THE EVIL DEAD ( 1981). It does none of these things.

But it is well-acted, well-written, and well-directed, and it makes for an enjoyable 90 minutes of diverting horror fun. It does get convoluted towards the end, and it’s never as in-your-face-disturbing as it needs to be, but overall it’s a polished piece of horror cinema, and it even has something to say about the overreach of religion.

It’s flawed, but WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS still works.

So go ahead. Summon the darkness!

—END—

 

 

THE TURNING (2020) – Atmospheric Ghost Story Ruined By Quick Ending

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Finn Wolfhard, Brooklyn Prince, and Mackenzie Davis in THE TURNING (2020)

What a shame.

For most of its 94 minute running time, THE TURNING (2020) is an atmospheric and somewhat compelling horror movie, forever on the cusp of breaking into a full-fledged ghost story, but this doesn’t happen, because the movie is done in by a terribly abrupt ending that occurs so quickly if you look down to grab that last kernel of popcorn you’ll miss it. And when you look back up you’ll be watching the end credits.

THE TURNING is based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw and it tells a modernized version of the story. Sort of. The events in the movie take place in 1994, though I’m not sure why. The movie doesn’t explain the significance of the film taking place in the 1990s, other than it removes cell phones from the equation which would have allowed the main character to feel less isolated, perhaps.

Anyway, the story in THE TURNING follows young school teacher Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) who accepts a position as a nanny/governess/tutor for a young girl Flora (Brooklyn Prince) who recently lost her parents. Flora lives in a huge mansion in Maine along with her older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) and their lifelong family servant Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten).

While Flora warms up to Kate immediately, the same can’t be said for Mrs. Grose or Miles. Mrs. Grose constantly reminds Kate that the children have been born into privilege, and she continually scuttles Kate’s attempts to make the children more responsible. Miles has been expelled from his boarding school for physically attacking another student, and so Kate eyes him with suspicion, which only grows when he makes weird, aggressive and threatening remarks to her, and when she finds him in her bedroom watching her sleep.

As things grow more uncomfortable, and Kate finds herself feeling more threatened and less in control, the element of the supernatural comes in when she begins to receive messages from what she perceives to be the ghost of the previous nanny. Furthermore, there is another more belligerent spirit on the premises, one that is actively interested in doing her harm.

What’s a nanny to do? How about this: get out of the house!!!

Nah. That would make too much sense.

There’s also another part of the story that is terribly underplayed. Kate’s mother seems to be suffering from some sort of mental illness, which is never clearly defined, and there are hints that it’s possible that Kate suffers from the same malady, which would add the element to the plot of whether the supernatural occurrences were all in her head. And the way this movie ends, the implication seems to be that this is what the filmmakers were going for. However, it’s not developed at all, and so this part of the story, while having some potential, doesn’t really come to fruition.

Neither does the movie as a whole.

Director Floria Sigismondi takes full advantage of both the creepy interior of the mansion and the haunting exterior of the surrounding gardens on the estate. In terms of atmosphere, THE TURNING has plenty of it, and for the most part, this is what kept me into the film. It looks good and there’s an unsettling feeling which permeates most of the narrative.

THE TURNING also features effective acting performances by its three leads. I really enjoyed Mackenzie Davis as new nanny Kate Mandell. She’s a strong young woman, but both Miles and the supernatural occurrences get inside her head to the point where she’s slowly tortured and really begins to doubt herself. Davis successfully captures the journey the character takes down the road of darkness. Davis has enjoyed a slew of prominent roles recently, in films like TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (2019), TULLY (2018) and BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). I’ve enjoyed her in all these movies, and here in THE TURNING she’s playing a much more vulnerable character than she’s played previously.

Young Brooklyn Prince who was so memorable in THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017) is equally as good here as Flora.

But the performance of the movie for me belongs to Finn Wolfhard from STRANGER THINGS fame. As Miles, Wolfhard delivers an unsettling performance which gets under the audience’s skin just as he gets under Kate’s. And it’s understated. It’s not full-fledged teen creepy by any means. He goes back and forth between sinister and innocent, between “I’m going to attack you in your sleep” to “I’m really trying to deal with my own personal demons.” Wolfhard was also very good in the two recent IT movies, but I enjoyed him even more here.

So, even though this one is getting deplorable reviews, for me, with the atmosphere and the acting performances, I was enjoying it. It was holding my interest for nearly two thirds of the way in, and even as it built to a climax, it still was better than critics were giving it credit for, but alas, it’s all for naught, because the ending is a disaster.

Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes wrote the screenplay, and these are the same folks who wrote THE CONJURING (2013) one of the better horror movies of the past ten years. Here, they do a good job telling the main story of the dynamic between Kate and the children, but stumble once the supernatural elements enter the tale. And that’s because it’s around this time that I started wondering if this was real or inside Kate’s head? And the film doesn’t address this.

And the ending only adds to the confusion, because it definitely implies a connection between what was happening and Kate’s mother’s condition. But it does it in such a quick abrupt way that it doesn’t work.

It’s so quick it feels as if the filmmakers just ran out of money and forgot to add the last scene. It’s one of the weakest endings I’ve seen to a movie in a long time, which is too bad, because what came before it, wasn’t as bad as some folks are saying.

That being said, taken as a whole, I can’t really recommend THE TURNING. In spite of the promise it holds throughout, it just doesn’t— turn out that well.

—END—

 

 

 

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) – Mixed Bag of A-List Actors and Mediocre Giant Monster Battles

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019), the latest American made Godzilla film and sequel to Warner Bros.’ GODZILLA (2014), is a well-acted action-filled monster movie that somehow in spite of these strengths is sadly underwhelming.

And that’s because this movie contains an odd mix of often ridiculous plot points combined with a tone that simply takes itself way too seriously. Instead, the film should have gone for one or the other. A campier tone would have aligned itself better with the goofy superficial plot points. Likewise, a much more realistic and gritty storyline would have fit in better with the film’s serious feel. As it stands, the movie mixes both, and it just doesn’t work.

Following the 2014 Godzilla attacks which left the world a different place, the secret organization Monarch is in charge of monitoring all the new giant monsters which have been discovered in various places around the globe (silly plot point #1), but the U.S. government and military want to shut down Monarch so they can destroy the monsters and save the Earth. But the Monarch scientists argue that the monsters really aren’t here to destroy the Earth but to save it from its worst enemy: humankind.

Top Monarch scientist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) lost their son in the previous Godzilla attack, and his death caused them to separate, and Emma alone is raising their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). It also caused Emma to have extreme ideas about these monsters, and so she aligns herself with the dubious Jonah Alan (Charles Dance)— cue evil villain music!— and the two plan to release the giant monsters so they can unleash their wrath on the world and “cleanse” it of its human cancer.  Hmm. Where have I heard this before? Is that Thanos I see whispering into Dr. Russell’s ear?

But Dr. Russell isn’t arguing a la Thanos that half the population has to be wiped out by the monsters, only some of it, and that at the end of it all there will be new growth and the planet will be greener for it.  Come again? 

Of course, when this starts happening, the rest of Monarch and the U.S. military go ballistic, and they not only form an uncomfortable alliance to thwart Emma’s efforts, but they also call in Mark Russell to help them. Mark is mostly interested in finding and saving his daughter, and speaking of Madison, once she learns what her mom has planned, she changes her tune about which parent she wants to be spending time with.

Things grow more complicated when one of the monsters, King Ghidorah, is discovered to be from another planet, and he decides that he’s going to control and lead all the monsters in a battle against Godzilla for supremacy of the Earth.

Godzilla? That’s right! This is a Godzilla movie!  Funny how I haven’t mentioned him yet. Real funny. Not. Which is to say more Godzilla in this story and less elaborate saving-the-world-nonsense would have been most welcome.

Anyway, it’s up to Godzilla to take on King Ghidorah and ultimately save the world.

But as you may surmise from this plot summary, it’s a helluva convoluted way to tell a story about everyone’s favorite fire-breathing radioactive giant lizard!

Poor Godzilla. He was supposed to appear in this movie more than he did in the last one, the 2014 film, and while that may have been the case, it sure didn’t feel like it. For a movie that’s called GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS it sure seemed like he took a back seat to the other monsters in this one..

The best thing that GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS has going for it is its cast. It boasts a really strong cast of actors, led by its three principal leads.

Vera Farmiga as Dr. Emma Russell and Millie Bobby Brown as daughter Madison were both excellent. This is Millie Bobby Brown’s film debut. Brown, of course, plays Eleven on the hit TV series STRANGER THINGS (2016-19) so her effective performance in this movie is no surprise.

Vera Farmiga is one of my favorite actresses working today, and while her movie performances have all been superb, it’s her work on the TV series BATES MOTEL (2013-17) based on PSYCHO (1960) where she played Norma Bates that I think is among her best stuff. Her interpretation of Norma Bates was much more nuanced and three-dimensional than the character ever was before in both the Hitchcock movie and Robert Bloch’s original novel.

Kyle Chandler is always enjoyable in nearly every movie he’s in, and he’s been in a lot, from light fare like GAME NIGHT (2018) to more serious stuff like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) to small supporting roles like in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013), Chandler always makes a lasting impression. His work here in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is no exception.

When these three actors are on-screen, the movie is at its best and most watchable, and the good news is they’re on screen a lot, but the problem is they are stuck in a ridiculous storyline and are often uttering some very superficial and god-awful dialogue that really detracts from the seriousness of their performances.

Incidentally, Kyle Chandler also appeared in Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005) which is not part of the current Warner Bros. giant monster universe, and he’s set to appear in the next film, GODZILLA VS. KONG.

The supporting cast is every bit as good as the three leads.

You have Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER [2017]), Ziyi Zhang, and Bradley Whitford as fellow Monarch scientists. Watanabe and Hawkis are reprising their roles from the previous Godzilla movie, and in Watanabe’s case, he’s playing Dr. Serizawa, a name that goes back to the original GODZILLA film from 1954.

Bradley Whitford gets the liveliest lines in the movie, but strangely, his frequent attempts at humor seem to misfire repeatedly. Again, it’s that odd mix, and his campy lines seem out-of-place with the serious tone surrounding him.

David Strathairn plays Admiral William Stenz, another character back from the 2014 film, and Charles Dance does his villainous best at bad guy Jonah Alan, although at the end of the day the character is pretty much all talk and no action. In short, he does very little here.

The true villain is King Ghidorah, which brings us finally, to the monsters. After all, you don’t see a Godzilla film for the actors. You see it for the monsters. So, how do the monsters fare here?

Well, the main monsters here are Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra, and while they are all given modern-day looks, I can’t say I was all that impressed. It sounds strange to say this, but with all our current CGI technology, I find that I prefer the old-fashioned man-in-suit monsters from Toho’s glory days. These monsters all look okay, but nothing about them I find special nor memorable.

In the Toho films, for better or for worse, the monsters, both good and bad, had personality. The monsters here have no personality. They are quite simply generic and not at all cinematic, which is a major knock against this movie, and quite frankly against the other Warner Bros. monster universe films. If the Marvel superheroes lacked similar charisma that series would have never gotten off the ground.

Also, I did not like the look of this movie at all. Most of the action takes place during various weather events and storms, and so it’s always difficult to see what the heck is going on. For example, the film’s climax takes place in Boston, and at Fenway Park specifically, and I have to say it’s one of the poorest and most fake looking interpretations of Boston I’ve ever seen in a movie. What could have been iconic and devastating is instead cartoonish and superficial.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS was directed by Michael Dougherty, and he also wrote the screenplay with some help from Zach Shields. This is the same creative team that gave us the horror movie KRAMPUS (2015), a film I actually liked quite a bit. In fact, I enjoyed KRAMPUS more than I enjoyed GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS.

Dougherty gives us plenty of monsters and monster battles, but since 1) the monsters didn’t look outstanding, and 2) the settings of these battles were often in storms and difficult to see, as presented here, the monsters’ presence didn’t really lift this one to great heights.

The screenplay is superficial at best. It never gives us real terror— real people are noticeably absent here—- other than the scientists and a few military types, we see no one else reacting to the monsters. The film lacks real world emotion big time.

While it attempts to be an homage to earlier films at times, like the use of the Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon from the 1954 GODZILLA, it does it all in a fleeting manner that never really gets to the heart of the matter.

Dougherty has a cast of seasoned and talented actors that make this movie better than it is,  but he doesn’t really help them out. They are in few cinematic scenes and more often than not are uttering lines of dialogue that are pretty bad.

So, where do I stand on GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS? For the most part, I did enjoy this movie, especially when watching Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, and Kyle Chandler, but whenever Godzilla and his fellow monsters showed up, I would lose interest, and for a Godzilla movie, this is NOT a good thing.

The film is a mixed bag to be sure, and while I enjoyed it more than GODZILLA (2014), I still prefer the Toho films of old, from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.  Now, Toho continued the Godzilla series into the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, even making the critically acclaimed SHIN GODZILLA (2016), and while those films in general are okay—I like the aforementioned older ones more—, they’re about on par with this current Warner Bros. series.

The next film, GODZILLA VS. KONG, slated for release in 2020, is one that while I’m definitely interested in, based upon the Warner Bros. films so far, I can’t say I’m excited about.

So, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is okay, but since the best part about it is NOT Godzilla, I don’t think Godzilla himself would approve, and for me, that’s all you need to know about this one.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: IT FOLLOWS (2014)

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All the rage this year for horror fans has been the Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016), and with good reason:  it’s a phenomenal show.  Among the many things it gets right is its near-perfect homage to the horror films of the 1980s, especially the films of John Carpenter.

But for me, before STRANGER THINGS, a film that also captured the spirit of John Carpenter’s early works was the stylish horror flick IT FOLLOWS (2014).  While not a clear homage to the 1980s— in fact, it’s unclear when this film takes place, and this timelessness seems to have been done on purpose— the film definitely has that 1980s horror vibe.

In fact, there are several specific shots that bring to mind John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978).  The neighborhood where the main characters live looks similar to Laurie Strode’s neighborhood in HALLOWEEN, and there’a scene where main character Jay sits in a classroom listening to her teacher drone on before looking out the window and seeing a threat.  There’s a similar scene in HALLOWEEN.  In that movie, Laurie looks out the window and sees Michael Myers’ car.  In IT FOLLOWS, Jay looks out the window and sees the old woman walking towards her.

IT FOLLOWS is a stylish, sexy horror movie that ranks as one of the best horror films to come out in the past ten years.

The film opens with a teenage girl fleeing from some unseen terror.  The next morning she turns up brutally murdered.

The action switches to 19 year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), a guy she is really interested in.  Gotta do a better job picking your dates, Jay.  After the two have sex, Hugh drugs Jay, and when she awakes, she is tied to a wheelchair.  Hugh explains that he’s not going to hurt her, but that he restrained her so he could tell her the truth:  he is being followed by some unknown entity, and now by having sex with Jay, he has passed on the curse to her, and if she wants to get rid of the curse, she’ll have to have sex with someone else.

Can someone say padded cell?

That’s certainly what Jay is thinking, until a naked woman shows up and starts slowly walking towards her and Hugh.  This entity only has to touch you, and you die, so as long as you outrun it, you’re safe, but it never stops pursuing you.  Ever.

Hugh quickly whisks Jay away from the woman and brings her back home, but he tells her to remember all that he told her.  Jay thinks he’s nuts and a creep, until once again, this time an elderly woman- who no one else seems to see- shows up at her school and follows her, causing Jay to up and run from the building.

Jay confides in her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and with the help of their friends, Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto), they vow to get to the bottom of this mystery and protect Jay’s life in the process.

While this may sound like just another bad teenager horror movie, IT FOLLOWS is anything but bad and recycled.  It’s exceedingly fresh and effective.

Let’s start with the entity, the “monster” that is inflicting harm on the teenagers.  This entity is unlike what we’ve seen in horror movies of late – it’s not a demon or a ghost or an alien, but then again, maybe it is.  The film never quite defines just what “it” is, and this is part of what makes this movie work so well.  It doesn’t need to define its villain.

What this force does is effective enough on its own.  It simply walks—never runs— towards its intended victim, and when it touches them, it kills them.  So, if you’re the hunted, like Jay, you have to constantly outrun this thing because it never stops, which reminded me a little bit of the premise from the first TERMINATOR movie way back when.  The fear here is its relentlessness.  Sure, it moves like a turtle, but it never stops, which means, eventually people like Jay are going to grow weary, tired, fall asleep, what have you, and that thing will catch up to them and kill them.

It also looks different to everyone who sees it, and to those it’s not hunting, it’s invisible.   This might not sound like much in the scare department, but you’ll be surprised at how creepy the image of an old woman walking listlessly towards the camera can be.

Which brings me to another thing I loved about IT FOLLOWS:  its simplicity.  Things here work on such an unpretentious level, and the movie generates scares so effortlessly just by having people walking towards their victims, it’s refreshing and for those of us who love horror it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell succeeds in making an extremely stylish and terrifying horror movie.  He also captures the feel of run down Detroit neighborhoods which adds to the mood of this one.

Mitchell’s work here clearly calls to mind horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s, especially the films of John Carpenter, and the look of this movie is helped a lot by its masterful music score by Rich Vreeland, listed in the credits by his nickname “Disasterpeace.”  The music has a major impact on this movie and is reminiscent of the electronic scores of John Carpenter.

The cast here is also excellent.  Maika Monroe is terribly sexy as Jay, and she succeeds in making her both strong and vulnerable at the same time.  Lili Sepe is just as good as Jay’s sister Kelly.

Keir Gilchrist nails his role as Paul, the slightly nerdy friend who has a thing for Jay and vows to protect her.  Likewise, Olivia Luccardi is excellent as Yara, as is Daniel Zovatto as their street smart friend Greg.

In addition to being a creepy horror movie, David Robert Mitchell’s script also works on a symbolic level.  The characters by having sex pass on the “curse” to the person they have sex with, like an STD or the AIDS virus, and like AIDS, while the entity can be controlled, it can never be eradicated.  It keeps following you forever.

There’s also a weird time element going on in the film which might be a distraction for some folks but wasn’t for me.  The film looks like it takes place in the 1970s/80s, and some of the action in this film backs this up:  the characters watch television on old TV sets which use antennas, no one uses cell phones, the teens play board games rather than video games, and the cars aren’t the newest models.  However, in several scenes, Yara is definitely reading from kindle device.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has said he did these things because he wanted this film to be timeless, and I don’t have a problem with this.  It’s been done before.  One of the most famous horror series of all time, the Universal FRANKENSTEIN series, for example, never defined its timeline, and those films have always worked.

IT FOLLOWS is one of the more satisfying horror films I’ve seen in a long while.  To generate horror isn’t easy.  Those of us who write horror know this firsthand.  It’s certainly easier doing it with shock scenes and blood and gore, and so when someone comes along like David Robert Mitchell in this case and makes a film that is as unsettling as this one is with so few visual effects and traditional scares, that’s kinda special.

Definitely check out IT FOLLOWS, but if you look out your window and  see someone slowly walking towards you, someone that nobody else seems to be noticing, take my advice:  run!

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Season One of Netflix’ STRANGER THINGS Perfect Mix of Horror and Nostalgia

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STRANGER THINGS (2016) premiered on Netflix earlier this year to instant acclaim from critics and audiences alike, which is no surprise since it’s one of the best new shows on television.

It’s one of those rarities of rarities in that its eight episode first season was pretty much perfect.  Nearly everything in this show worked and worked well.  And I say first season because it’s already been renewed for a second season.

STRANGER THINGS takes place in the 1980s, which is the first fun thing about this show. It captures the mood and look of the 80s perfectly, from vintage movie posters like from John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982) to the hairstyles, clothing, and sets, from the old style televisions to land line telephones.

The whole thing plays out like a long lost John Carpenter movie.  Even the music score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is reminiscent of Carpenter’s film scores.

There are a ton of other 1980s film references and homages as well. So many in fact I could write an entire column just on its 1980s horror homages alone, from the episode names themselves, like “The Body” a reference to the Stephen King novella, to character names, to other neat touches like having the sheriff’s uniform and his vehicle as well as the deputies’ uniforms being identical to the ones used in JAWS (1975).  Okay, so that one’s a 70s reference.  So, if Sheriff Jim Hopper’s uniform had you thinking of Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody, there’s a reason for that!

STRANGER THINGS takes place in a small town in the 1980s.  It opens with a man running in panic from some unseen threat inside what looks to be some sort of research or government building.  We hear growls, and the man is snatched away by an invisible presence.

The action switches to four middle school friends.  Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) are playing Dungeons and Dragons in Mike’s basement.  After their game, they bike home.

Alone, Will sees what looks like a monster in the road, and he flees as fast as he can back to his home.  When he gets there, no one is home.  The unseen monster pursues Will into his house.

Later, when Will’s mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) and older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) come home, they discover that Will is missing.  Joyce goes to their sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and demands that he find her son.  Hopper advises her to take a deep breath, that nothing sinister ever happens in their town, and that he will look for her son. Hopper actually has deep wounds when it comes to children, since his own daughter recently passed away from cancer.

The news of Willl’s disappearance rattles the town.  Friends Mike, Dustin, and Lucas decide that they have to be the ones to find their missing friend.  One night in the woods while they are searching for him, they find a mysterious girl who’s about their age wandering in the woods.  She says she is running from some bad men, and so they take her back to Mike’s home, where they hide her in his basement.  Her name is Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), and she also seems to know about Will, as she tells them he is still alive.  More than this, she possesses certain powers which Mike and his friends cannot ignore.

Meanwhile, Joyce receives a strange phone call in which she hears weird cackling sounds, but she’s also convinced she heard her son’s voice on the line. She believes he’s still alive.  Her oldest son Jonathan blames himself for Will’s disappearance, because he wasn’t home that night, and he makes it his mission as well to find his little brother.

And while he initially expected this to be a simple case, the more Sheriff Hopper investigates, the more he realizes that something very sinister and deadly is descending upon his town, especially since the clues lead to a top secret government research base located just outside their town run by a shady scientist Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine).

There are so many cool things about STRANGER THINGS it’s difficult to know where to start.  If you’re a 1980s horror fan, you can have a field day with the show based on its references to that decade alone.

But aside from that, the story itself is a strong one, and it’s tight.  It fits perfectly within the eight episode season.  There’s no fat on this monster, and there aren’t any dull episodes either.  (Hear that, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD?)  STRANGER THINGS starts out intense and it stays that way, never letting up.  And the intensity actually increases during the final couple of episodes.

The main story of Will’s disappearance works and is the force which drives this series along.  Who isn’t drawn into a story about a missing child?  And then it builds.  What exactly is going on inside that strange government facility?  What is Dr. Brenner up to?  What exactly is that monster that is on the loose and where did it come from?  Where’s Will?  What is up with Eleven?

And the characters and the actors who play them are phenomenal.

When talking about STRANGER THINGS though, you have to start with the kids.  Finn Wolfhard who plays Mike, Gaten Matarazzo who plays Dustin, and Caleb McLaughlin who plays Lucas, are all excellent.  Wolfhard is also going to be starring in the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s IT.  Noah Schnapp who plays Will is also very good.

But the best performance by a child actor in STRANGER THINGS is Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven. Brown is amazing in this role.  Eleven is the most interesting character in the series, as you don’t know much about her at all at first and the more you learn about her, the more interesting she becomes.  The best part of Brown’s performance is she captures Eleven’s sensitive side.  Her scenes with Mike are tender and innocent.  Of course, she can make an effective bad ass as well when she has to use her powers.

Natalia Dyer is very good as Mike’s older sister Nancy, especially later on as her character becomes more involved in the hunt for the monster.  Likewise, Charlie Heaton is excellent as Will’s older brother Jonathan.    I thought Heaton’s performance was one of the best in the series.  I really enjoyed his scenes later in the season when he teams up with Nancy looking for the monster.

I’ve seen David Harbour in a bunch of movies, from the Daniel Craig Bond flick QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) to this year’s SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), but I’ve never seen him as good as he was here as Sheriff Jim Hopper, with the possible exception of his chilling portrayal of a sadistic kidnapper in the Liam Neeson movie  A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014).  Harbour was excellent in that movie as well.

But this is a terrific role for Harbour.  He’s perfect as the responsible yet haunted small town sheriff, the man who does his job well in spite of the ongoing pain of his young daughter’s death.  One of the reasons I enjoyed Harbour so much here in STRANGER THINGS compared to other things he’s done is simply because a lot of his previous roles he played weasels and jerks. It was fun to see him play a hero for once.

For me, though, the best performance by far in this show belongs to Winona Ryder as Will’s mom Joyce.  Honestly, I’ve never been much of a Winona Ryder fan.  She blew me away in this show, and for me, this is easily the best thing I’ve seen Ryder do.  She’s flawless as the panicked mother who refuses to believer her son is dead.  She’s terrific to watch in this series.

And Matthew Modine makes for an effective cold-hearted scientist as Dr. Martin Brenner.

The monster here is pretty cool looking too.  It reminded me of the CLOVERFIELD monster’s baby cousin.  And it was just as frightening.

STRANGER THINGS was created by Matt and Ross Duffer, who work under the name The Duffer brothers, and they deserve a lot of credit here.  They also wrote and directed most of the episodes.

I loved STRANGER THINGS from start to finish and can’t wait for Season 2.

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