IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MIST (2007)

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My two favorite works by Stephen King are his novel Salem’s Lot (1975), which I read when it first came out when I was eleven years old, and it scared the crap out of me, and his novella The Mist (1980).

So, when the movie version THE MIST (2007) came out, I knew it would be hard-pressed to meet my expectations because I enjoyed the novella so much, and while I generally liked the movie, I didn’t love it.

Part of this is because of my love of the novella itself, but another more important part is the movie version simply isn’t as intense as King’s original story, even with its infamous changed and much darker ending. Having re-watched the film for the purposes of this column, my opinion remains unchanged.

In THE MIST, a mysterious mist covers a small Maine town after a ferocious thunderstorm, and a group of townspeople including David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son find themselves trapped inside a supermarket with giant carnivorous insects and other unseen nasties hovering outside in the fog, creatures that are not only waiting to eat people who venture outside, but also that are actively trying to break through the glass of the market and get inside.

It’s a great premise for a story.

THE MIST was written and directed by Frank Darabont, who also successfully adapted a couple of other Stephen King stories for the big screen, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) and THE GREEN MILE (1999). Darabont is also the man who developed and created the TV show THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2022). THE MIST shares a common theme with THE WALKING DEAD, as both stories follow a group of survivors as they try not only to deal with the supernatural threat in their world, but also the threat from other humans who lose their sh*t when the world as they know it comes to an end. They even share some of the same cast members, as Laurie Holden (Andrea), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), and Melissa McBride (Carol) all have roles in THE MIST.

But THE MIST is not as intense as THE WALKING DEAD, nor is it as intense as the novella on which it is based, which has always been my problem with this movie. It’s generally enjoyable and scary, but it never really gets under your skin or goes for the throat, with the exception of its chilling conclusion. But so much before that, like the all-important sequences in the grocery store, is talky and drawn out.

The most frightening part of the movie version of THE MIST is not its monsters, but human character Mrs. Carmody, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who delivers one of the best performances in the movie. Mrs. Carmody believes the mist and its monsters have happened because her Old Testament vengeful God is angry with humanity and is exacting revenge. To appease her God, she begins to seek followers inside the supermarket, and there’s talk of offering a sacrifice to God to show him that they are faithful. This character remains frightening today as in recent years both religious and political extremism has grown more aggressive and violent.

Also memorable is character actor Toby Jones as Ollie Weeks, the supermarket employee and character audiences probably most identify with, as he is just an everyday loyal worker who finds himself stepping up and taking on a leadership role. I always enjoy Jones’ work, and his credits are too numerous to list here, but his performance is one of my favorite parts of THE MIST.

WALKING DEAD veterans Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden are also really good here in their roles, which almost seem like warm-ups for their roles on the blockbuster TV series.

Andre Braugher is fine as the annoying Brent Norton, and in the lead, Thomas Jane is okay as David Drayton, but I’ve always found his performance, with the exception of the ending, to be, like the rest of the movie, lacking in the necessary intensity. Supposedly, Frank Darabont wanted Jane to star as Rick Grimes in THE WALKING DEAD. Based on his performance here in THE MIST, I’m glad the lead role of that zombie series went to Andrew Lincoln instead.

Of course, you can’t talk about THE MIST without talking about the ending. The ending to the novella simply had the characters exiting into the mist, and their fate was left for the reader to decide, which was something that worked for me. Darabont famously changed the ending, which gives the film an incredibly dark finish, which for many fans, made this movie something extra special. Indeed, even Stephen King is on record as saying he loved the ending to the movie and wishes he had thought of it. As endings go, it is incredibly grim, and again, since I loved the entire novella so much, I prefer its original ending to the one in the movie. Let’s put it this way. It’s the ending which prevents me from wanting to watch this one over and over, as it’s such a complete downer.

But there is one positive that I took from this depressing ending as I watched the movie again here in 2022, a time when extremism is running rampant throughout the world. On the one end in THE MIST, we have the extremism of Mrs. Carmody, which is easy to see, and on the other end, at the film’s conclusion, we witness an extreme decision made by David Drayton, which at the time, seemed like the best decision, in spite of how excruciatingly painful it would be, to make. But moments after pulling the trigger— eh hem— on this decision, Drayton sees that it was so very wrong, and he falls to his knees and screams in agonized horror. So, the ending, in spite of the fact that I don’t really like it, does speak, like the rest of the film does, to the importance of avoiding extremism, whether that be extreme beliefs or actions. If Drayton and those in the car with him, had only expressed a bit more faith in humanity, their fates would have been different.

THE MIST is a well-made, frightening horror movie. For some, it’s an exceptional horror movie. For me, it remains just very good, because its source material, Stephen King’s novella of the same name, is far superior.

Either way, THE MIST is worth a look, and its ending is one you definitely need to experience at least once, and then as you walk away from the end credits, you can ask yourself, would I have done the same?

—END—

NOPE (2022) – Jordan Peele’s Latest Labors as It Tries Too Hard to be Clever

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Sometimes movies try too hard to be clever.

NOPE (2022), the latest genre movie by Jordan Peele, the man who brought us GET OUT (2017) and US (2019), goes out of its way to be puzzling and thought-provoking, but this creative zeal often gets in the way of its storytelling, to the point where its narrative never really flows, instead laboring from start to finish as it works through an otherwise interesting story.

In NOPE, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) operate a ranch in California where they train horses to appear in movies and television, so right off the bat you have an interesting premise just with the main characters’ occupation, as this isn’t something we see in movies all that often. OJ hasn’t been right since the tragic death of his father Otis (Keith David), who was killed in a bizarre accident when he was struck by random debris which fell from a passing plane. But OJ was there that day, and he never saw a passing plane in the sky, although there was thick cloud cover and some strange noises overhead.

Soon OJ is hearing and seeing strange things through the clouds which seem to always permeate the sky above their farmhouse. When computer geek Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) arrives to help them set up surveillance cameras, he joins them on their quest to find out what is going on in the sky above their home. And when OJ gets a closer look at the phenomenon, he tells his sister that it didn’t move like a ship, implying that while it seems to be a UFO, it might be something different…

And that’s the premise of NOPE, as the main characters try to unravel the mystery in the skies above their home.

As stories go, I liked the one told in NOPE, but as I said, the way Jordan Peele tells it comes across as more labored than polished. Peele obviously chose to tell the story in this way to be more creative and innovative. Scenes often end in the middle, effectively teasing the audience, not letting them know answers and information needed to figure things out. The movie also opens bizarrely, with a scene from a cancelled sitcom after a tragedy struck.

We find out later that former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) who runs a western show not far from OJ’s ranch, was on the set of that sitcom when the tragedy ensued, something that scarred him greatly. Ricky’s story ties in directly with the main one in the movie because he too has seen the strange phenomenon in the sky, but his take on it is different from OJ’s, and a lot of his interpretation is based on his childhood trauma. So, it all connects. Eventually.

As does the plot point about OJ’s relationship with his horses. Everything that happens in this story is there for a reason. I don’t have a problem with that. But the convoluted way Peele goes about telling his story gets in the way of effective storytelling, and as a result, I had a difficult time warming up to this one.

It also gets in the way of the characterizations. No one in this movie really comes to life, in spite of some nifty acting performances.

Daniel Kaluuya, who won the Oscar last year for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021), and who was also nominated for Best Actor for his work in GET OUT, is a terrific actor, and his talents are on full display here in NOPE. He plays OJ as a brooding, grieving son who is not yet over the death of his father. He’s also the strong, silent type, and barely says much of anything throughout the movie. OJ’s personality reflects the feel of the entire movie: quiet, brooding, and not that exciting.

Keke Palmer as OJ’s sister Emerald is the opposite of her brother, as she is lively, outspoken, and anything but introspective.

I also enjoyed Steven Yeun’s performance as Ricky, the former child actor now running a family friendly western show in the middle of California nowhere. Yeun is very good in a role that at first seems tangent to everything else that is going on in the movie, but when the big reveal is made near the end, it makes sense at that moment how his story ties into the main one. Yeun, who played Glenn on THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2020) was also nominated for an Oscar last year for Best Actor in MINARI (2020).

It was fun to see Keith David for a couple of seconds (should have been more!) as OJ’s dad Otis. David has enjoyed a long career going all the way back to his performance as Childs in John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

Brandon Perea as geek Angel Torres primarily provides the comic relief throughout the movie, and Michael Wincott plays a dedicated cameraman who agrees to help them film what’s going on in the skies above their home to give them proof, in a role that should have been much more interesting than it ultimately was. While Wincott is fine, the writing is not.

Jordan Peele wrote the screenplay, and with the exception of OJ, the characters in this one do not come to life. Michael Wincott’s cameraman character, specifically, is left dangling in the wind. He comes in and does his thing, yet we know nothing about him. The other characters are shallow as well.

While the story is clever and creative, and the reveal is satisfying, the execution here is not. Peele seems to have decided that he wanted to make this movie feel like a puzzle, something for audiences to think on and figure out, and for the most part, that’s what NOPE is. But it gets in the way of the narrative, and it reminded me of a work in progress, where another draft of the screenplay was needed, one where things would be polished, to hammer points home and make sure the story works, because ultimately, it doesn’t work completely. Why not? The number one reason is there’s little or no emotional connection with the characters.

I liked NOPE better than Peele’s previous outing, US, which I didn’t like at all, but I still strongly prefer GET OUT to this latest outing by Peele.

It has its moments. Like one where OJ is terrified of something he’s seeing, and he turns away shaking his head muttering, “Nope!” which was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment, as well as a light bulb moment for the meaning of the title, and there are flashes of genuine suspense and intrigue, but more often than not, there are long periods of labored exposition and scenes that end before they should to keep audiences guessing, but when you do this too much, audiences lose interest in guessing.

I liked the reveal, but after this, the third act of the film continues to drudge through a long climax which strangely was the least exciting part of the movie, mostly because we were watching superficial characters deal with a somewhat interesting but never horrifying threat.

In its defense, NOPE has a worthwhile theme, and the story it tells is actually a good one, but the way it tells it doesn’t do it any favors. Simply put, it can’t get out of its own way.

I liked NOPE, but I didn’t love it.

It’s thought-provoking science fiction. It’s a fairly creepy horror tale. But is it an engrossing movie that I am going to want to watch over and over again?

In a word:

Nope.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)

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The best stories supersede the genre.

Take THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016), for example. While some may argue that the zombie movie has overstayed its welcome, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS approaches the trope with some fresh ideas and as a result infuses new energy into the subgenre.

The fact that this movie has a deep and clever screenplay comes as no surprise since screenwriter Mike Carey adapted the screenplay from his own very successful novel of the same name.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS takes place in the near future, where a deadly disease has turned people into flesh eating zombies. Yup, it’s another variation of the zombie apocalypse. The difference here is that a group of children hold the key to the cure.

Teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is tasked with educating these children, who are subdued and guarded 24/7 by the military, commanded here by Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), because these special children are pretty much zombies with consciousnesses who still retain their intellect and personalities.

To find the cure for the disease, scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) busily experiments on these kids and treats them like lab rats, cold to the fact that they die from her methods, a notion that does not sit well with Ms. Justineau. One of the children, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) forms a bond with Ms. Justineau, and the two grow to care for each other very much.

When the “hungries” overrun the facility, and all hell breaks loose, a small faction of survivors which include Melanie, Ms. Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, and some of his soldiers, have to find ways to survive and make their way to safety, even while Dr. Caldwell insists she is so close to a cure, and perhaps just one more experiment would do the trick, one more experiment….on Melanie.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS tells a really interesting story that as I said rises above the genre. It’s a fabulous screenplay by Mike Carey. The first half grabs you with its originality, keeping the audience guessing as to what’s going on and then keeping things intriguing. It also generates decent suspense early on. The second half of the movie, once the zombies overrun the facility, becomes much more of a standard horror flick, but it still works well.

I loved the cast. I’m a fan of Gemma Arterton, having enjoyed her work in such films as THEIR FINEST (2016) and the Bond flick QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008). Here she’s a caring teacher who it turns out is also as tough as nails.

Paddy Considine makes for an effective Sgt. Parks, a military man who is all about duty but grows more sympathetic as the story goes along. Considine has enjoyed notable roles in such films as THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017) and on the TV show PEAKY BLINDERS (2016) where he played a very villainous priest, Father John Hughes.

And Glenn Close is deliciously cold as Dr. Caroline Caldwell, the scientist with ice in her veins. It’s a terrific performance.

But it’s Sennia Nanua who really steals the show here as young Melanie, the most intriguing character in the movie. Nanua is fantastic, and Melanie is one of the more watchable horror movie characters I’ve seen in a long while.

Director Colm McCarthy makes sure that this one remains scary even with its more literate screenplay. There are plenty of disturbing scenes, the type you expect to find in a movie about flesh eating zombies. The film also does a nice job mixing zombie horror with human horror, something the TV show THE WALKING DEAD (2010-present) always excelled at. Some of the scenes with Dr. Caldwell are just as chilling and suspenseful as the scenes with the “hungries.”

While I slightly prefer the other zombie movie which came out in 2016, TRAIN TO BUSAN, to THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, it’s only by a hair. I thought TRAIN TO BUSAN, which is a much more traditional zombie film, pushed the envelope with its intense action sequences which were off the charts suspenseful. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, while telling a more intelligent story, never reaches the same emotional level as TRAIN TO BUSAN.

That being said, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is still an excellent movie. So much so, that it’s not only one of my favorite zombie movies of recent years, but one of my favorite horror movies.

This Halloween, if you want to watch superior horror, a frightening story wrapped around a thought-provoking concept, then you’ll definitely want to watch THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS.

It’s the perfect Halloween gift.

—END—

 

ESCAPE ROOM (2019) – Puzzle Thriller Better Than Expected

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Deborah Ann Woll feels the heat in ESCAPE ROOM (2019).

 

I wasn’t expecting much from ESCAPE ROOM (2019), the new “solve the puzzle or you die” thriller that clearly has eyes on becoming a franchise. Critics haven’t been kind to it, and word of mouth has been mute.

But in spite of a boneheaded opening and very contrived ending, ESCAPE ROOM was easily better than I expected.

ESCAPE ROOM opens with a supposed harrowing sequence of a young man Ben Miller (Logan Miller) desperately seeking clues inside a room that is quickly closing in on him, and he’s in danger of being crushed to death unless he can find whatever it is he’s looking for. Since we know absolutely nothing about this character, this opening sequence is just okay and is hardly an exciting way to open the movie.

The action jumps backwards several days, and we meet a group of characters who all receive a strange cube for various reasons inviting them to take part in an escape room puzzle game that will put them in a room with seemingly no escape. If they can figure their way out, they win $10,000.

There’s main character Zoey Davis (Taylor Russell) an extremely introverted college student whose professor advises her to take more risks in life, and to start by doing something that is out of her comfort zone over the Thanksgiving break. We also meet Ben Miller, a young man who’s sort of a loser and is struggling even to keep his grocery store job. Of course, we met Miller in the opening sequence, giving away any suspense as to his fate since we know he’ll survive long enough to reach the collapsing room, which is why I called the opening sequence boneheaded.

There’s also Jason Walker  (Jay Ellis), a hotshot stockbroker who always plays to win, Amanda Harper (Deborah Ann Woll), an Iraqi war veteran with a traumatic past, Mike Nolan (Tyler Labine) a down to earth truck driver, and Danny Khan (Nik Dodani) a nerdy gamer who’s played these escape room games before.

At first, they’re all pretty excited to play, except for Amanda who seems to sense something is wrong from the outset, and something is wrong, because it doesn’t take these folks long to realize that it isn’t a game but is real. If they don’t escape from each room, they die, and once they start being killed, the intensity ratchets up.

The main reason ESCAPE ROOM works as well as it does is its cast, which creates amiable characters who in spite of their flaws are folks you easily feel comfortable rooting for.

Taylor Russell is excellent in the lead role of Zoey Davis. She’s convincing as an introvert who later on must channel her energies to survive and help her new friends to do the same. Russell was also memorable as Judy Robinson in the Netflix reboot of LOST IN SPACE (2018-2019). She is a young actress to keep your eye on.

Logan Miller is very good as socially challenged Ben Miller, and his performance keeps the audience from ever really disliking a character who could have been very annoying. Miller has also appeared on TV’s THE WALKING DEAD.

Jay Ellis is sufficiently cold and driven as winner-take-all stock broker Jason Walker, and Deborah Ann Woll adds a lot of depth to her Iraq-war veteran character Amanda Harper. I’m a big fan of Woll’s work on the Netflix Marvel shows DAREDEVIL (2015-18), THE PUNISHER (2017-2019) and THE DEFENDERS (2017) where she has the recurring role of Karen Page. In fact, the main reason I wanted to see ESCAPE ROOM was because of Deborah Ann Woll.

Tyler Labine does a nice job as Mike Nolan, while Nik Dodani plays the one character Danny Khan who’s sadly reduced to being a cliché.

Most of the escape rooms in the film are pretty creative, and the sequences where the characters need to escape or die are generally exciting, although they never approach seat-squirming levels. It’s all pretty neat and safe, but it’s not dull, and with these actors in the roles I really did care for them and wanted to see them survive.

The screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik works for the most part. Its strength is it creates likable characters and gives them realistic dialogue. It wisely avoids giving away answers— the biggest question being who is doing this and why?— until the end, and that’s where things dip a bit.

The idea of characters having to escape a series of deadly rooms works best in the abstract. It all makes for thrilling cinema until the moment arrives when it’s time for some answers. Who is doing this? Why? How? And these answers are far more difficult to come up with while keeping the story realistic. I can’t say the writers really succeeded here.

And the set up for a sequel is by far the most contrived part of the movie and the least believable. It’s also the weakest part of the film.

But before this I thought director Adam Robitel did a nice job keeping things suspenseful. I certainly enjoyed ESCAPE ROOM more than I did Robitel’s previous directorial effort, the dreadful INSIDIOUS:THE LAST KEY (2018).

The story itself here is secondary to the plight of the characters trying to escape the rooms, and that’s the best part of this enjoyable thriller. For most of the film, you don’t know why this is happening, but you also don’t really care. The characters are fleshed out enough so that you care about them.

And sometimes for a movie to work, that’s all you need.

—END—

 

MILE 22 (2018) – Action Film Mired By Confusing Direction, Weak Script

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Lauren Cohan in MILE 22 (2018).

Maggie! Maggie!

Maggie Greene is the character Lauren Cohan plays on TV’s THE WALKING DEAD, and she’s one of the main reasons that I keep watching the show, even though it’s dipped in quality the past couple of seasons.

So, with apologies to Mark Wahlberg, Cohan is also the reason I trekked out to the theater to see MILE 22 (2018), the latest film from director Peter Berg, which stars Wahlberg as an elite American intelligence agent, sort of a Jason Bourne if he hadn’t gone rogue.

MILE 22 has opened to dreadful reviews.  Is it as bad as all that? Let’s find out.

MILE 22 opens with James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his elite squad closing in on a Russian safe house where they proceed to kill everyone inside while they confiscate top-secret material. Afterwards, they discover the material they were seeking was in fact not there. What were they looking for? A highly explosive chemical weapon that has the potential for leveling a city with just a few specks of powder. Yikes!

The heat falls on agent Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) since it was her contact Li Noor (Iko Uwais) who provided them with false information. It turns out that Noor will give them the whereabouts of this deadly weapon but only if he receives political asylum in the United States. After failing to break the codes on Noor’s phone which would give them this information, Silva and his team agree to extract Noor out of the country and into the United States.

To do this, they have to travel a dangerous trek of 22 miles, hence the film’s title, dangerous because Noor is wanted by the government, as in wanted dead, and so there are brutal assassins waiting for them at every turn.

If this sounds stupid, that’s because it is.

One of the worst things about MILE 22 is the film has no sense of place and does a terrible job establishing its setting.  No mention is made of nations or cities, and so half the time the audience has no idea where the film is taking place. This is either sloppy filmmaking by director Berg or a deliberate attempt to capture the shadowy aspects of the plot by keeping everything nameless. Either way, it weakens the story. Without an established setting, things just don’t play out as real.

The film was shot in both Bogota, Colombia, and Atlanta, Georgia, but no mention of where the action is taking place is made in the film.

The actual gimmick of this movie, that the agents have to transport an informant on a 22 mile stretch to get him to safety, is a good one and has potential, but strangely the film fails to take advantage of this.

Director Peter Berg takes a circuitous route telling this story. The editing is all over the place. The thinking behind this movie seems to have been action first, story later. What should have been a straightforward and rather compelling narrative unfolds in a muddled and choppy way. For example, the film continually returns to a sequence where Wahlberg’s character is talking about the mission after it happened, but this doesn’t help the story at all other than reveal that Wahlberg’s character is going to survive.

The action scenes are actually pretty good, and I enjoyed most of them, so if you’re into action you certainly won’t be bored, and it’s not like the movie doesn’t have a story. It does. It just doesn’t do the best job telling it.

The screenplay by Lea Carpenter has it moments, but most of them are drowned out by Berg’s overbearing direction. I liked the basic premise of the story, and I actually enjoyed the two main characters, Wahlberg’s James Silva and Cohan’s Alice Kerr. I especially enjoyed their interactions. Cohan’s character is a strong female lead, and I thought she was one of the best written characters in the movie, even though she is stuck in a thankless subplot concerning a messy divorce.

But there’s no villain to speak of, and this certainly hurts the movie. Oh, there are bad guys here, but they’re not developed at all. Wahlberg and company might as well be combatting nameless shadows.

I usually enjoy Mark Wahlberg, and so it’s no surprise that he’s pretty darn good in MILE 22, although his James Silva character can be cocky and annoying. Silva is a savant, which is supposed to make his arrogance sympathetic, but the trouble is the flashback scenes which explain this are so laughably bad none of it seems real. In spite of this, Wahlberg manages to make the guy someone I didn’t mind rooting for.

On the other hand, he gets stuck with lots of bad dialogue, especially when he spouts off about real world dangers, the fallacies of diplomacy, and how the world is safe only because of people like him. While any of this could be true, as written, it comes off as ridiculous.

Lauren Cohan delivers the best performance in the movie as Alice Kerr. She’s so good she even makes the silly divorce scenes tolerable.

John Malkovich is on hand as the leader of the tech team housed in a top-secret location with his fellow computer geeks as they monitor everything from their agents’ vitals to controlling traffic lights to ordering jet missile strikes. Again, what could have been intriguing becomes laughable here.

Peter Berg previously directed Wahlberg in LONE SURVIVOR (2013), DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016) and PATRIOTS DAY (2016). MILE 22 might be the weakest of the lot. It’s certainly inferior to the far more compelling PATRIOTS DAY.

And it looks like Berg and Wahlberg will be working together again, as the ending to MILE 22 sets things up for an obvious sequel. In fact, rumor has it that Berg and Wahlberg have a trilogy planned. Oh joy.

I tend to like gritty action films, and so I certainly did not hate MILE 22. I’ve seen far worse movies. This one certainly isn’t very good, as it struggles with some confusing editing and a helter-skelter narrative.

But Mark Wahlberg makes for a sufficiently arrogant and annoying lead, not someone you like all that much but because of his good intentions someone you root for, and it would be very difficult for me to dislike a movie starring Lauren Cohan. As expected, she is also excellent here.

So, with Wahlberg and Cohan leading the way, MILE 22, in spite of its directing and story problems, isn’t quite as bad as folks are saying.

Its twenty-two mile trek won’t be the longest ride you’ve ever had to sit through, but it also won’t be the most satisfying.

Perhaps they should have gone with MILE 2.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel 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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 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, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 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.  

 

 

 

 

 

BLACK PANTHER (2018) – Superior Film Much More Than Just A Superhero Movie

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Every once in a while, the superhero film reinvents itself.  It happened twice in 2008, with THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and IRON MAN (2008). It happened again with THE AVENGERS (2012).

And now it has happened once more with BLACK PANTHER (2018).

BLACK PANTHER is the latest superhero movie to come from Marvel, a comic book company that has been churning out top quality superhero films regularly since IRON MAN in 2008.  They show no signs of slowing down.  And while all their movies do follow a similar formula— wise-cracking superheroes who like to bicker and often fight with each other, high production values, A-list actors, superior writing, and a fun sense of humor— they have tweaked things on occasion. THE AVENGERS brought the “family” of superheroes to the forefront, where the conflicts were more about hero vs. hero than hero vs. villain.

Now comes BLACK PANTHER, a deeper, more resonating tale that reaches further into the social, political, and racial issues of our time than any superhero film before it.  As such, it’s that rare film that supersedes its superhero costuming and succeeds on a level usually reserved for thought-provoking Oscar nominated dramas.

BLACK PANTHER tells the story of Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who is destined to become king of the African kingdom of Wakanda after his father, the king, was killed in events chronicled in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016). Wakanda is a special kingdom.  The people there have in their possession an element which gives them incredible technological and healing powers, powers they hide from world so as not to become involved in global conflicts. It’s also what gives the sitting king of Wakanda the power to become Black Panther, the warrior who protects his people.

One of T’Challa’s first challenges as king is to hunt down the villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a man who has a long history of inflicting pain on Wakanda.  This chase reconnects T’Challa with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) who is also after Klaue.  When Klaue escapes, one of T’Challa’s best friends W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) laments that he had hoped that T’Challa would be different from his father, but like his father, T’Challa has failed to reign in an enemy of the nation.

Things grow more complicated for T’Challa when Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) arrives in Wakanda with bombshell revelations and a challenge for the new king, both of which threaten to change everything about Wakanda and its status in the world.

I absolutely loved BLACK PANTHER.  It has all the things that have made the Marvel superhero movies successful and then some.

For starters, once more it boasts a phenomenal cast. Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in GET ON UP (2014), and Thurgood Marshall in MARSHALL (2017), is perfect here as T’Challa/Black Panther.  He strikes the right balance between strength, honor, heroism, and vulnerability.  He makes T’Challa the perfect leader, yet when he is challenged for his crown, the notion that he will win that challenge is anything but a done deal.

Michael B. Jordan knocks it out of the park as Erik Killmonger, the young boy abandoned by the Wakandans to grow up in the slums of Oakland, CA who had to fight every day of his life to get back to his native country.  Killmonger is one of the villains in this movie, to be sure, but so much of what he says makes perfect sense, and his view of the world is much closer to reality than T’Challa’s.  It’s a fascinating role and Jordan, the star of CREED (2015), is more than up to the task.  I haven’t felt this much empathy for a screen villain in a very long time.

Likewise, Lupita Nyong’o [12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)] is very good as Nakia, T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend who he spends most of the movie trying to get back together with.  Nakia is T’Challa’s rock, and she’s with him every step of the way in this adventure.

As good as Nyong’o is here, I enjoyed two of the other female performers even more. Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne on AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD (2012-2018), is mesmerizing here as the warrior Okoye. And Letitia Wright is just as good as T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, who not only gives her king brother a hard time throughout, but is also the keeper of all the technological secrets and advancements of Wakanda.  In short, she gets to play “Q” to T’Challa’s “James Bond.”

Martin Freeman is amiable as CIA agent Everett K. Ross, and Andy Serkis is formidable as the villainous heavy Ulysses Klaue.

The cast also includes Daniel Kaluuya from GET OUT (2017) as W’Kabi and Forest Whitaker as Zuri.  As I said at the outset, BLACK PANTHER, like the Marvel superhero films which preceded it, has an A-list cast.

I found the entire movie to be pretty much mesmerizing.  Director Ryan Coogler, who also directed CREED (2015), drew me in at the outset with a combination of strong storytelling, cinematic scenes, and a Wakandan mythology that is prevalent throughout the movie.

BLACK PANTHER is loaded with memorable scenes, from the exciting to the poignant.  T’Challa’s first encounter with Klau followed by the ensuing car chase is as an exciting sequence as you’ll find.  It’s as good or better as anything done in the James Bond films.  The challenge bout between T’Challa and Killmonger is absolutely thrilling and exceedingly emotional, and the all-out climatic battle at the end of the movie is a rousing way to close out the film.

Scenes between T’Challa and his father, and Killmonger and his father are moving and sad and touch upon philosophies of life and of race.

It’s an outstanding script by director Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. The thoughts on race alone and the plight of the black man in the world are themes that make this one above and beyond a normal superhero tale.  You can almost see the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. inside T’Chala and Malcolm X inside Killmonger as they spar on the right way to save black lives in the world.

The film also doesn’t shy away from the political, addressing current issues as well. T’Challa’s statement to the United Nations  that we must “build bridges, not barriers,” is a clear reference to a certain wall that a certain leader wants to build.

When Killmonger finds himself on the throne, questions arise as to the responsibilities of fellow leaders and the citizenry when faced with an irresponsible king with no experience.

The script goes even farther than current events, examining in general the difficulties of being a world leader, as when T’Challa’s father tells his son, “You’re a good man.  And it’s not easy for a good man to be king.”

BLACK PANTHER is more than just a superhero movie. It’s a tale for our time, a look at the responsibilities of those who possesses great power, of what happens when someone without experience gains that power and uses it for a personal and oftentimes reckless agenda, and it’s an examination of the responsibilities of race relations, of just what it means to rebel against oppressors, to achieve equality in the world without becoming that which you’re trying to overcome.  It’s as deep and as resonating a superhero film as I’ve ever seen.

But it’s also a Marvel superhero film, which means that at the end of the day, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

I loved BLACK PANTHER. It’s not only one of the best superhero movies to come out in a long time, but it’s also a powerful movie in its own right, as it deals astonishingly well with issues of race relations and responsibilities of those in power.

It’s a masterfully told story of our time.

—END—

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

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Night_of_the_Living_Dead posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the George Romero classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), published in the October 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

Today we have THE WALKING DEAD.  But years ago, the zombie phenomenon which swept the nation was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).

George Romero’s cult classic from 1968 is more than just a superior horror film:  it’s a landmark film that inspired a genre.  It’s the film that put zombie movies on the map, or at least the modern zombie movie.  Before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, zombie movies, while still a genre, with classic films like WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) starring Bela Lugosi, and Val Lewton’s I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) were hardly a major player in the horror movie canon. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD changed all that.

In truth, THE WALKING DEAD, the mega hit TV show on AMC, can thank NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for re-defining the parameters of the genre. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the movie that first showed the walking dead eating the bodies of the living in graphic grotesque detail, and it’s one of the first films to deal with the zombie apocalypse.

Best-selling author Craig Shaw Gardner tells a neat story about first seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in the 1960s at the movies at the tail end of a triple feature, following THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  Now that’s a triple feature I wish I had gone to see!  Gardner recounts that when NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD started, he and his buddies almost left the theater because the film was in black and white, and they thought it was going to be a cheapie B-movie, but they stayed, and they were rewarded by one of the scariest movies they had ever seen.

In large part, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD works so well because it is so unlike the other horror films of the decade.  For ten years England’s Hammer Films dominated the horror market with their opulent period piece thrillers and Frankenstein and Dracula sequels starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  At the same time Vincent Price was matching them fright for fright with his appearances in the 1960s Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe movies.

But in 1968, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, along with Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY, bucked the trend and started something new. Gone were the formulaic horror movies of yesterday.  In their place, at least in the case of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, was a low budget newsreel quality flick that was as unpredictable and jarring as it was graphic and violent.

Like John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) would do ten years later, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD burst unannounced onto the horror scene and single-handedly carved out a brand new genre of horror movie.  In the case of HALLOWEEN, it was the slasher flick, and with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it was the zombie movie.

But unlike HALLOWEEN and other trend-setting horror movies, films like THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975) and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), success for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD didn’t happen overnight.  In fact, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was not a box office smash but instead became a cult hit as it was a drive-in movie favorite and a midnight movie mainstay for years and years.  Romero himself didn’t make a sequel until ten years later, with DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978).

The low budget style works to the film’s advantage, as there is a realistic feel throughout.  It makes you believe that the zombie apocalypse might truly be happening.  Of course, the main reason NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD succeeds in spite of its low budget is the stylish direction by George Romero. It has no-name actors, and it’s shot nearly all in one place, at a farmhouse, but there’s nothing cheap about the way this one is crafted.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Romero’s direction is almost art-house level.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD tells a simple story.  A young woman name Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and her brother are attacked by a zombie in a graveyard.  Her brother is killed, and while she’s still in shock, she escapes to a farmhouse where she meets another man Ben (Duane Jones) who is also fleeing from the reanimated dead.  There are also more people hiding out in this house, and the rest of the film chronicles their efforts to ward off the attacking zombies while trying to learn why all of this is happening.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is as dark a horror movie as you’re going to find, and it still works today.  It’s brutal storyline and shock effects still hold up rather well, even for modern audiences.

Romero does a tremendous job at the helm, keeping this film suspenseful throughout, as it builds up to its horrific graphic conclusion.  The screenplay by Romero and John A. Russo tells a flat out in-your-face terror tale, but it also does something more, as it also serves as a reflection of the turbulent times of the 1960s.

It was released in 1968, one of the more violent years in American history, with the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.  There was also the Vietnam War, and racial tensions were heating up.  With the main character Ben being a black male, pretty much unheard of in 1968, especially in horror movies (Sidney Poitier wasn’t doing the horror film thing) the film really delves into race relations, especially in light of how this movie ends.

Interestingly enough, the character was originally written to be quite different.  Ben was going to be a rough and crude truck driver, but when the studious looking Duane Jones auditioned for the part, the role was re-written for him.  Seriously, I can’t imagine the ending packing the same wallop with a white truck driver Ben.  The film’s ending blows you out of the water because Ben is black.  It lifts all that has come before it to another level entirely, and makes NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD something far more than just a straightforward horror movie.  Very few horror movies can make this claim.

Also of note, the word “zombie” is never used in the film.  The zombies are referred to as either “those things” or ghouls.  TV’s THE WALKING DEAD has also borrowed from the same playbook, as they don’t use the word zombie in their show either.

This Halloween season, while you’re enjoying the latest episodes of THE WALKING DEAD, remember the film that inspired it, the one that created the movie zombie as we know it today: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

They’re coming to get you, Barbra!

—END—

ROCK AND SHOCK Weekend – A Shocking Good Time in Worcester, MA

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Rock and Shock

Rock & Shock Preview

By Michael Arruda

 

This weekend, Friday October 18, 2013 through Sunday, October, 20, 2013 is the Rock & Shock convention in Worcester, Massachusetts.

 

Rock & Shock is a neat convention held every year at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts.  They feature a nice line- up of horror movie and television celebrities, and there’s usually a huge selection of horror merchandise, including T-shirts, collectibles, toys, costumes, posters, movie stills, what have you. 

 

This year’s guests, to name a few,  include Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, THE WALKING DEAD cast members Scott Wilson, Michael Rooker, and Irone Singleton, Robert Patrick from TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991), and many others, including horror author Jack Ketchum.

 

And across the way at the Worcester Palladium which is just down the road from the DCU Center, the con features performances by various rock bands from across the country.

 

While Rock and Shock tends to attract more film enthusiasts than readers, the New England Horror Writers still has a table there every year.  We’ve been going to Rock and Shock for quite a while now, since I first set up communications with Rock and Shock when I co-chaired the New England Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, the precursor to the New England Horror Writers, back in the early 2000s.

 

I will be at Rock and Shock this year on Saturday October 19, and I’ll have copies of my books, In The Spooklight, my collection of 115 “In the Spooklight” horror movie columns, and For The Love of Horror, my horror short story collection.  I’ll be at the New England Horror table sharing space with my fellow NE Horror Writers.

 

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, you might consider heading out to Worcester for a little rock and shock.

 

For more information visit their website at rockandshock.com.

 

Hope to see you there!

 

—Michael