Thursday, February 15, 2018

Happy Death Day


Now, you all know I love me some horror flicks with the slasher subgenre being my favorite.  The films of yore, showing masked maniacs terrorizing teenagers and being defeated at the end by the survivor of the film (yet never truly dying) only to come back in a sequel is very nostalgic to me and something we haven’t seen lately in theatric horror movie releases. 
 
Don’t misunderstand me, there are quite a lot of horror films in the past ten or fifteen years that have been captivating and entertaining.  But I’ve just missed that age of cinema where we’d get a slasher flick here and there that was just pure fun and terrifyingly engrossing.  Nowadays, we’re just treated to so many haunted tales, like The Conjuring, Insidious, and Annabelle, leaving “Chucky” and “The Creeper” to scare audiences only in direct-to-disc releases.
 
There’s just something about a masked-killer-movie that gets the blood pumping and gives the audience that point of mystery—especially if the killer is never revealed, only to be resurrected in a follow-up film.
 
And that’s what I had expected when I first caught a trailer for the 2017 film, Happy Death Day.  Seeing the killer stalking around with a butcher knife and wearing a baby-faced mask seemed all too perfect.  Add to that, the story seemed to take on a Groundhog Day vibe, where the focal point of the film must relive her demise over and over again…the film seemed to be the faultless amalgamation in making a slasher for the 21st century.  I was interested—yet, not that interested to go out and see it in the theater—and when it was available on Netflix, I gave it a looksee.
 
But before I get into my view of the film, here’s the synopsis of Happy Death day
 
After a night of hard partying and heavy drinking, self-centered college student, Tree (Jessica Rothe), wakes up on the morning of her birthday with a serious hangover in the dorm of a guy—Carter (Israel Broussard)—whom his name she can’t remember.  Within the course of the day, Tree is murdered by some unknown masked assailant and wakes up to start the day all over again.  Tree then realizes she’s re-experiencing the day of her murder—always restarting with her waking up in the same dorm with the same situations—and will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
 
 
What I liked about the film, without a doubt, was the look of the masked killer.  I guess you can put any type of mask on someone and if they don’t speak and just leer at their victim, they’ll seem just as disturbing.  Although my opinion of having the film reveal who was wearing the mask the whole time was that they should’ve chosen not to do so, but the twist that was worked into the end more than made up for it.
 
What I didn’t like about the film was the matchup of Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard as Tree and Carter.  It worked at first only because Rothe’s character was a despicable person who was easy to hate and when she treats Broussard’s character like crap, it was easy to take in.  However, once she took a liking to him and saw that he cared about her, there didn’t seem to be enough chemistry between them.  The scenes they shared at that point were awkward and unnatural.  Luckily, those scenes were very few so it didn’t take you out of the film as much.  Another aspect of the film I thought was wrong to include was Tree’s relationship with her father and how she makes amends with him during the second act.  It felt out of place and seemed to be taken out of a Hallmark or Lifetime channel movie.  The actors tried to convey their strained-relationship-turned-loving interaction, but just like the rapport between Tree and Carter, it seemed artificial. 
 
Alone, though, Jessica Rothe seems to really take hold of this part and plays it very naturally, especially the spoiled and bitter college sorority girl.  In fact, she plays the part so well, it makes it hard to believe that she could change her ways near the end of this film.  At first, she looked familiar, yet I really don’t recognize her from anything else.  Looking at her IMDb list of productions, however, she has a list of about 33 acting parts—but nothing I’d ever seen.
 
The same goes for Israel Broussard, I kept thinking he looked familiar and all through the movie I kept racking my brain as to where I’d seen him before.  Glancing through his résumé on IMDb didn’t help much because there was nothing there I’d seen…and it finally hit me—he just reminded me of Hayden Christensen.  Perfectly cast as this good kid who decided not to take advantage of the hot girl who he let stay in his dorm room, there was no believable kismet about them when it comes to this flick.
 
Happy Death Day was directed by Christopher Landon and although he hasn’t directed a slough of films, he’s actually helmed a couple of flicks that had surprised me.  In 2014, he directed the Paranormal Activity spinoff, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and the following year had him overseeing the very entertaining Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.  I can’t say that Landon did anything special with this film, nor can I say he was able to bring out the best in these actors, but the shots were set up nicely and I really couldn’t complain about anything regarding the direction of the film.  Writing credit goes to Scott Lobdell and his claim to fame is being the writer of a number of X-Men comic book titles in the 90s.  Besides writing the comedic film Man of the House back in 2005, this is probably his biggest theatrical film that he has a credit for writing.  Together, these guys really didn’t knock it out of the park, but it was a solid effort.
 
Even though the plot is similar to Groundhog Day--so you really can’t give the story the recognition for being original—there is one supplement to the plot that I thought was a unique twist to the whole living-out-your-day-over-and-over idea, and that is the little subplot on how the repeated murdering of Tree is taking a toll on her physically.  At one point, she passes out and ends up in the ER where the doctor tells her the x-rays show scar tissue and damage from the trauma her body had withstood from the murders she had suffered through.  I thought that was a nice touch…though it went nowhere from there after that.
 
So…what’s my final “bit” on Happy Death Day?
 
Aside from borrowing the framework of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, the film works with that aspect of the main character living the same day over and over again, especially bringing in the mystery of this killer always getting to her no matter what course she takes in the day.  But, then again, that’s the downfall of the story because it gives a sense of the supernatural that no matter what happens or what the main character does, this killer always kills her.  Though this aspect kept me rooted in my seat and having me wait for the reasoning behind this, when we find out, it really doesn’t make sense.  If you can suspend disbelief in that facet of the film, it’s still enjoyable throughout the first half.  However, interjecting the strained relationship with the father brings the story to a full halt and really changes the style of the film to a lighthearted drama—something that really shouldn’t be in a horror movie.  All in all, the film is entertaining enough, but don’t expect it to be remembered for years to come.
 
Thanks for reading!
 
Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.
 

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Open House

Netflix has had a string of hits within their series of original films, from their television series like “House of Cards” and “Stranger Things” to the movies like “Gerald’s Game” and “War Machine.”  With so many films to choose from and so many series to get into, you can literally spend days to months binging on these presentations and becoming a closed-in recluse as you do so.
 
Of course, I tend to gravitate to anything horror—especially if it’s a Stephen King adaptation—so when I saw this new Netflix Original called The Open House, I immediately sat down to watch it.
 
It actually caught my attention in an online article that listed the “horror movies that’ll blow you away in 2018” and had this flick near the top.  It even showcased its trailer, which I indulged myself in, and I was very impressed with it, so my curiosity was piqued.  However, as an oddity to all this, with my decision to watch this film, I also checked the IMDb page to look into the production a bit more and noticed right away that the film had an average user rating of 3.3 out of 10.  I say that’s an rarity because I usually won’t even start watching a film unless I see it has a 5 or more in IMDb.  But I was enticed and wanted to see for myself how this movie would pan out.
 
So, before getting into it, here’s the synopsis of The Open House
 
Teenager, Logan Wallace (Dylan Minnette), and his mother, Naomi (Piercey Dalton), find themselves on their own after Logan’s father (Aaron Abrams) is ran down and killed by a car speeding through the parking lot of a convenience store.  With Logan and his mother left destitute, they decide to take the offer of Naomi’s sister, Allison (Katie Walder), to stay in her house temporarily while it’s in the market to be sold.  As the house is open for potential buyers during the day, Logan and his mother are besieged by a threatening force during the dark hours of night.  Is it a supernatural being?  Is it a malevolent individual hiding in the house?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to want them there.
 
Now, this movie starts off pretty well and I think the writing and directing team of Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote had some good intentions going into this.  The backstory on the two central characters are described well enough to give you an understanding on their life and how their situation comes to be, moving it to the psychological thriller portion of the film.  It definitely strings you along as we see Logan and his mom experience some very weird incidents in the house—banging in the basement, the water heater being shut off, doors slamming closed behind a character…all your typical horror movie tropes are thrown in there for good measure and are used well.  Even at that point, we get some good scares and setup, evolving the story into some paranormal insinuation, so I can’t fault the two directors on their ability on putting together a film that sucks you in.
 
The problem with this film is how completely unsatisfying it is when it ends, where so many plot points are unresolved and the answer to the main question—Who is this person responsible for everything?—never materializes.  Seems like they wrote themselves into a corner with all the little indications of other characters that appeared enigmatic, but couldn’t come up with a resultant ending to them all.
 
As I’d mentioned, Matt Angel and Suzanne Cootes were the writing and directing team behind this.  Angel has had a nice career in acting, playing bit parts here and there (he actually plays the younger cop in this film), but his directing résumé consists of two films—a film called Ha/lf and The Open House.  Suzanne Cootes, however, has had even less experience.  She’s credited as a writer for two films, a director for two films, and a producer for two films—Welcome Home, Lee and The Open House.  Now, I’m all for giving someone a chance to climb that ladder in the movie business because everyone has to start somewhere, but you’ve got to knock it out of the park or give a little something more than this.  Who knows?  Maybe it was Netflix studio interference or a lack of money for filming…it could be anything out of their power.  But the sum of it all falls here in what we see on screen…and it ain’t much.
 
I’ve got to admit, the film kept me watching, I was never bored or felt like turning off the show, waiting it out until the end.  But it left a bad taste in my mouth to wait an hour and a half to get no answer to the questions raised throughout the story.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there have been a lot of films throughout the years that use the formula of a masked killer that is never revealed, but that formula usually doesn’t include other cryptic individuals that are hinted as maybe being possible culprits.  If they were going for a vibe like The Strangers, then they shouldn’t have written these other characters in as suspects, they should’ve started with how Logan and his mom were thrown into this situation and became targeted by someone who just wanted to randomly target them, much like the movie Hush, which is a very good thriller.
 
The two biggest characters that are shown in this film that makes us think they have something to do with the strange occurrences in the house?  Martha (Patricia Bethune) and Chris (Sharif Atkins).
 
Martha—seemingly a neighbor who resides nearby, but is never shown where she lives—is the biggest question mark, showing up at strange times during the film and saying something at one time only to be contradicted later.  She was purposely written to be a candidate for the unknown terrorist of the film, but is simply cast off at the end.
 
Chris—the local store clerk who tries to befriend Logan’s mom—is another character who seems a little off.  He appears at awkward times throughout the film, even showing up at the house to see if he can look through it as he claims to be a potential buyer only to disappear without saying a word.  The character’s inclusion as one of the suspects isn’t as bad since we see his full arc of the film.
 
Of course, there’s even the hint that all the activity in the house may be on the paranormal side, seeing that Logan has visions of his dad in the house and the song that he happened to be listening to at the time of his father’s death is played by the mystery man as a way to taunt Logan.
 
I think I’ve said enough about this movie…my final bit on The Open House?
 
The story, as a whole, seems to be one big setup that does not pay off whatsoever.  We seem to have a whole lot of red herrings in this film that all come to be nothing at all.  All of this is given to us while strange occurrences are happening in the house, but nothing is paid off for us.  The problem is that the suggestion we’re given throughout the film is that one of the red herrings is responsible for the targeting of the main characters…but I guess we’ll never find out…I doubt there’s a sequel being made for this dud.  My suggestion?  Try watching any of the other good titles on Netflix and make sure to check the average rating on IMDb…I should’ve trusted it more.
 
Thanks for reading!
 
Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Justice League


Before all else, I must say that I’ve always been more of a Marvel Comics fan, never really getting into the DC Comics side of the books.  Seeing that Marvel used real world cities in their stories—mainly having New York as the backdrop to most of their heroes—I‘ve always felt it was hard to engage myself in made-up worlds like Gotham or Metropolis.  Don’t get me wrong, I do have my share of Batman comics as well as Superman and others of that side of the house, but Marvel is always where my heart had resided.  When it comes to movies, however, as long as it’s a superhero adaptation it doesn’t matter what comic book publisher it comes from—as long as they’re put upon the big screen, I’ll plop down my money to see it.

 

With that said, I was fairly excited about DC coming out with their own ensemble of characters sharing the screen, much like we’d gotten with Marvel’s The Avengers.  But as time went on—but in a quick way as not to induce anxiety in the fanboys—I had become less and less enchanted with the eventual release of this film. Man of Steel was—in my opinion—a very good film, dare I say very well done.  Henry Cavill was an excellent choice to play Superman and I’d really liked Zack Snyder’s vision in that film.  However, after watching Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, I saw how convoluted a movie can become, with too many threadbare subplots and impossible conclusions that made me a little uneasy about where this DC cinematic universe was going. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the film and thought there were some highlights that exceeded my expectations, but left me wanting more overall.

 

Now…finally…we get Justice League, and I can’t help but think this was coming at us way too fast…but let’s get the plot summary out of the way…

 

Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s (Henry Cavill) selfless act, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), to face an even greater enemy—Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds).  Together, they work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat.  But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes—including Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and The Flash (Ezra Miller)—it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

 

So…the team-up we’ve all been waiting for, right?  Well…in a way…I guess.

 

The film starts off nicely with a burglar (an uncredited Holt McCallany) leaving some apartment with Batman coming in to apprehend him.  It’s a great scene, being a callback to the beginning of 1989’s Batman, but here’s where my confusion starts.  Turns out that Batman is here, not to capture this crook, but to use him to lure a parademon out into the open.  What?  Did I miss something?  I know we get a vision or dream sequence in BvS regarding these creatures, but when did they become a known threat?  Either something was cut out in the beginning of this film or this is just lazy screenwriting.

 

Although their introductions into this superhero universe was totally forced into BvS, the inclusion of Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash are done a bit better here.  Each intro still lacks a little and needs a bit of finesse, but we’re given enough to care for them and realize their importance in this film.

 

My thoughts on Aquaman?  When it was announced that Jason Momoa was cast as the underwater hero, I thought it was a little weird, seeing that I knew the character to be this clean-shaven blonde man who swam with whales and communicated with all the sea creatures in the ocean.  But I’m accepting of casting such as this, trying to spice up the vision to make it cooler and to give the hero a bad boy look.  However, it still seems a bit unusual to include this superhero to engage in battles that take place on land and in the air.  With Batman requiring to give Aquaman a ride on the car or Cyborg needing to catch him in midair to throw him into another fight, he seems more like a hindrance than a hero.

 


The Flash was always a hero that I liked in the DC Comics, probably because the thought of being able to move that fast would be awesome.  Although I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a comic book containing this character, the TV show that ran in the 90s was a favorite of mine.  I do enjoy the new show and wished they would’ve just incorporated it into this film, but Ezra Miller fills in the role just fine here.  He’s definitely the comic relief in this movie as he has some of the best lines spoken throughout. 

 

Cyborg is a character I’m not too familiar with but took a liking to right away in this film.  The story—which we can kind of get in bits and pieces here—of how he became this half man-half machine is very interesting and has the potential for a great standalone movie (yet another strike against Warner Bros.).  The design of the character leaves a bit to be desired, but gets a little better by the end of the film (you’ll see what I mean when you see it).  Ray Fisher plays the part fantastically and it’s hard to believe that this guy has barely a résumé in IMDb.com.

 

Gal Gadot continues her role as Wonder Woman, displaying her heroics early on in the film as she stops some terrorists from blowing up a bank filled with innocent people.  She unquestionably shows her leadership throughout this story and definitely doesn’t take the backseat anywhere in this flick.  I still don’t agree with the casting decision of Gal Gadot in this role because her accent is a little off-putting.  It’s just that I have fond memories of watching Lynda Carter in the role back in the 70s and seeing the cartoons over the years with the character never speaking with any accent.  But Gadot is clearly making this role her own and I guess time will tell if I’ll be able to finally accept her as Wonder Woman.

 

Once again, Ben Affleck nails it as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  It’s a shame we’re hearing stories about him not wanting to continue his role as the hero and how Warner Bros. may need to recast someone else as Batman, but what we’ve seen in BvS and here in Justice League, it’s pretty upsetting to hear there may be such a change to come.  As is with Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Affleck’s Batman is quite a leader as he recruits the new members to join as a team to fight the coming threat to the world.   

 

Finally…it’s no secret that Superman makes his return in this film—even if the trailers didn’t give us this info, all you have to do is check IMDb.com to see that Henry Cavill is included in the cast, so I don’t think I’m giving out any spoilers by stating this.  All that as a given, I’d say that Cavill gives us a much better Superman than he had given us in BvS.  He’s a confident figure and leader, with a more lighthearted way about him.  I won’t even get into the much maligned complaint about his CGI’d upper lip—which, for the record, I couldn’t tell where this work was done. 

 

My final “bit” on Justice League?

 


My overall thought when the third act began—and even as I thought about the film shortly after it ended—was that it felt rushed.  The film clocks in at around two hours and with a large ensemble film like this one, you need to give it a little more time.  I’d already mentioned the mysterious introduction of the parademons and how it seemed like Batman and Wonder Woman already knew about the danger, but that was probably the only gleaming issue I had with the film.  So, besides the short run time and unexplained presentation of the planetary threat, I actually liked this movie a lot.  Dare I say, I may have enjoyed this film more than The Last Jedi (I’ll get to that post shortly).  I’d mentioned earlier that there must have been some scenes cut from the movie and it’s most evident especially if you’ve seen the last trailer.  Most notably, there’s a shot where Cyborg saves a police officer from getting crushed by a tank, Barry Allen/The Flash is shown to push his finger through some glass to make it bubble out then explode, and the teaser at the end of the trailer shows someone walking up to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) though we never see this individual’s face.  But none of those scenes were in the film that was released to us…boo!  All in all, Warner Bros. just needs to take their time with this filmic world, put more trust into the filmmakers and cease their constant interference, stop putting all their eggs in one basket (having Zack Snyder directing multiple movies is a mistake), and they can truly have an awesome DC Cinematic Universe that would give Marvel Studios some competition.  All that aside, Justice League is a good time and worth a watch.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok


Short of boring you on the list of movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, I’ll just say that we’re here on film number five of Phase Three (the 17th film altogether) and there are still a lot of films slated to be released for the next three years.  Thor: Ragnarok is more or less a sequel of sorts after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and where Thor—and especially Hulk—went from there.  If you’ve seen Doctor Strange, the post credits scene of that film is lengthened a bit in this film as well and all of that dialogue is explained here in this story.

 

Of course, I’m getting well ahead of myself and making this a bit confusing to the Marvel novices out there, so let me just get into this as easily as I can.  Although, if you’re really new to these films and starting with this particular chapter, you may want to be more acquainted with this series of films and start from the beginning with 2008’s Iron Man.  Believe me, it’s a lot of fun to go through each one, enjoying how they all tie together and seeing the little clues or cliffhangers at the end of each one as you wait for that extra scene (or scenes) in the middle of—or after—the end credits…all paying off with the eventual The Avengers film…as well as the subsequent chapters.

 

But…let’s dive into the summary of Thor: Ragnarok

 

Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his former ally and fellow Avenger.  Thor’s quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

 

Now, the story starts off with what may be perceived as Thor breaking the fourth wall, chronicling how he came to be in the predicament he finds himself and it’s kind of along the lines of Deadpool explaining to the audience the happenings in his film.  But as the camera shows his plight in his confines, we see he’s talking to a skeletal corpse…and this is the beginning of the comedy we’re going to witness in this flick (more on that later).

 

In Thor: Ragnarok, we get a more lighthearted hero, with a bit of humility and clowning (bordering on buffoonery) that we haven’t seen in the previous two solo outings.  But make no mistake—he’s still the hero and still the Mighty Thor of this story…but he’s forced to be submissive for the sake of returning to his home in the hopes of saving his people from the evil Hela.

 

Speaking of Hela, I wasn’t sure what to expect of this character, if we were going to get someone along the lines of the opponents of the other Marvel heroes or if it was going to be a boring character that Thor would easily defeat.  It turns out that Hela is a very complex character who is very powerful and the story shows how dangerous she is from the moment she’s brought forth on screen.  Cate Blanchett really shines as this evil adversary and is probably the most refreshing antagonist Thor has faced thus far.

 

Going into my favorite portion of this film and being somewhat familiar with the Hulk line of comic books, there has been one aspect not explored and that is the character’s ability to speak.  In the late 70s, Lou Ferrigno famously brought the hero to life but had roars and growls dubbed in when he opened his mouth.  In the 2003 Ang Lee film, there were a couple of scenes (one was a dream sequence) where the Hulk spoke a line or two and the 2008 film had a few words as well.  In The Avengers, Hulk had his “puny god” line he delivered, but not much else…until now.  Giving him many lines—mostly hilarious—makes it easy to build on the bond we see between the two heroes of the film.  The anger, the tantrums…even the silly display of childishness in this film is so comical and uplifting.  The moment he’s introduced in the gladiatorial match against Thor, yelling out his name along with the chants of the crowd, is the moment you’ll grow a grin from ear to ear.

 

So, I mentioned the comedy of this film and it’s one of the little things I can nitpick about it.  I’ll admit, just about every gag and one-liner that’s performed in this movie had me laughing out loud and I enjoyed every minute of it.  But standing back to look at what I’d just watched, especially comparing Hemsworth’s performances in all the other Marvel films in which he’d been featured, makes it very obvious that he’s a different person here.  In the first film there are funny scenes because he’s a fish-out-of-water character on Earth, in the other films there may have been one or two funny moments but he was always the straight man.  Here…he’s funny for the sake of it and it’s very obvious.  However, since it’s entertaining—and not very annoying—it’s easily forgiven, especially knowing that director Taika Waititi has a comedic background and infused it into the character of Thor and the surrounding Marvel characters.

 

Finally, Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster is perfect as he’s given the freedom to just be himself and just run the character as he sees fit.  Being the ruler of the planet Sakaar, he plays the character as a giddy—yet likable—villain, but shows his bad side in ways that are both funny and extreme.  Goldblum fits so well in this film and you’ll love it every time he gets screen time.

 

Overall, the emotion most of us comic book geeks have is the anxiousness we’re feeling for the future films to come: The Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and so many others.  It’s a great time for us fans of Marvel Comics to be alive!

 

My final “bit” on Thor: Ragnarok?

 

There is so much here, much more than I can go over without spoiling the main plot as well as minor subplots within the film.  The film will leave you wanting more and hoping it’ll never end.  The music score is wonderful, with an 80s synth vibe, leaving Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to pop up during the climatic part of the film (I’ve never heard the song sound so good!).  All the players do such a great job in this film, from the returning cast members (Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Idris Elba as Heimdall, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin) to the newcomers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge, and Taika Waititi voicing the fan-favorite Korg), I’m hoping we get more Thor films like this one.  Thor: Ragnarok should not be missed!

 

By the way, make sure to wait for the mid-credits scene that will give you a taste of what’s to come in Avengers: Infinity War.  However, it’s up to you if you want to wait until all of the credits finish up to view the last scene…it’s a bit amusing, but it’s a coin-flip if you want to sit through all that time to see it.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cult of Chucky


Remembering the first time I saw Child’s Play when it was playing in theaters back in 1988, waiting for that scary reveal when Chucky finally comes to life in front of his victim’s eyes and making everybody scream in their seats, that memory always comes back whenever I pop in any of the films from that franchise.  Not only was that 20-year-old version of me freaked out by the film back then, I was also analyzing how the filmmakers were able to make the doll walk and run and stab and kill…I was mesmerized by the logistics of the scenes and how the special effects worked and here I am, still with that wonderment.  Of course, I know a lot of special effects are achieved with CGI or digital removal of wires and cables, but I’m still drawn back to those times in the 80s when I’d head over with some friends to see the latest slasher.


So, after 29 years, Chucky is still at it in his latest adventure in the seventh outing of the Child’s Play franchise.  To me, Seed of Chucky was the least entertaining of all the films, which took the story into a weird Meta direction, but I love this franchise and always visit it every Halloween season.  Now I have another entry to add to my playlist that I’d purchased sight-unseen.

Was the purchase a win?  Let’s synopsize first…

After being accused of murdering her family, Nica (Fiona Dourif) is sentenced to an asylum and begins to believe—after many therapy sessions and shock treatments—that she was guilty of her family’s demise.  But soon, grizzly deaths start to occur and she then realizes that what her psychiatrist, Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault), convinced her was illusion—that Chucky (Brad Dourif) was a living killer doll—may, in fact, be real after all.

Instead of an entirely different storyline for a sequel or—perish the thought—a reboot of the franchise all together, writer and director Don Mancini gives us something fresh and takes the idea of Chucky in another direction, just as thrilling and fun as the original.  Cult of Chucky follows closely after the events in the previous entry and gives us the rest of the story after the events of the previous film. 

The crux of the story takes place in the asylum with Fiona Dourif reprising her role as Nica, which was nice to see her again and to see what was the result of her incarceration was at the end of the last film.  Added to the mix of this story are five main characters: the psychiatrist—Dr. Foley—who is stationed at the institution, Angela (Marina Stephenson Kerr) is an older patient who thinks she’s dead, Claire (Grace Lynn Kung) another patient with anger issues but looks out for the well-being of her friends there in the asylum, Michael (Adam Hurtig) has a multiple personality disorder and takes a liking to Nica, and Madeleine (Elisabeth Rosen) who is clearly disturbed as she’s confined for smothering her baby to death.  Some of these characters are presented as red herrings to the plot at times, but all add to the plot intrinsically.

Besides the key narrative of the story, we also get a subplot involving a familiar face in the earlier films of the franchise.  In the previous entry, Curse of Chucky, there was an after-credits scene for which some of you might’ve waited.  It was a short scene where we see Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent, reprising his role from the first two movies) grown up and living on his own.  He receives a large parcel which turns out to be Chucky paying a visit to his old friend and trying to tie up loose ends.  Andy, of course, gets the upper hand and ends up blasting Chucky away with a shotgun, knowing full well that the package was in the shape of the Good Guys Doll packaging.  Well, fans of the Child’s Play series loved it, so the filmmakers had to have him return in this sequel to be Chucky’s “Dr. Loomis” as the one who knows how to defeat the doll by planning ahead. 

Back as well is Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany (the logistics of her return is a little confusing, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions when you watch this) and hasn’t missed a beat as Chucky’s girlfriend.  She’s in this for a glorified cameo, but adds the evil levity for which she brought to the franchise back in Bride of Chucky.

One can’t say that this movie is scary or spooky in any way (although there are a few stirring moments)…the original achieved that and everyone knows the character already as Chucky had become a household name years ago.  But there is a bit of a mystery here and you really don’t know what’s going to happen or where the story is going until later in the film. 

Before I get to my overall thoughts of this movie, I’ve just got to say how amazing it is that this franchise is still going strong and not losing any steam.  Being that Chucky is one of the Titans of Terror—alongside Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, Leatherface, Michael Myers, et al—he’s the only one who hasn’t had a rebooted or remade movie.  Cult of Chucky is actually a continuation of the story set in motion in 1988—that’s amazing!

My final “bit” on Cult of Chucky?

I had a lot of fun with this film, enjoying the dark humor and thrills, along with the inventiveness of the story.  Rather than ignoring the whole voodoo ritual that started this whole franchise, Mancini embraces it and uses it even further.  Brad Dourif still has what it takes to bring the killer doll to life and it always brings a smile to my face when I hear his quips, curse words, and all around rage on the screen.  Again, it’s upsetting to see this sequel get the straight-to-home-media treatment instead of bringing Chucky back onto the big screen, but it is what it is—Universal Studios’ loss.  Though the ending of the film has a lot to desire, and a bit of a letdown (only because I really didn’t see it going that way), it’s still a lot of fun throughout and shouldn’t be missed if you’re an avid Chucky fan.

Thanks for reading!

Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

1922


So, this is pretty incredible.  In early September, we get the very impressive It, then Gerald’s Game later that month as a Netflix original movie, now here we are with another Netflix film…Stephen King’s 1922.  Along with the couple of television series and The Dark Tower film adaptation (which I’ve yet to see), 2017 continues to be an excellent year for Stephen King. 

Another impressive aspect of this latest film is the starring actor, Thomas Jane, and his history with Stephen King.  In 2003, he starred in the disappointing Dreamcatcher and in 2007 The Mist.  It’s good to see an actor frequenting Stephen King films as Jane now joins the ranks of Kathy Bates and Jeffrey DeMunn as being featured in multiple outings.

The announcement of 1922 took me by surprise and I had to figure out from what book this movie was adapted.  I was pretty sure it was a short story and was right when I finally discovered it in the Stephen King collection, “Full Dark, No Stars,” published in 2010.  I’ve had it sitting on my bookshelf since I’d purchased it after its release and hadn’t read it since, so I pulled it from my shelf and dove into the first story right away.  It was a lengthy short story—more of a novella—clocking in at 131 pages, but I found myself immersed in it and had a hard time putting it down.  One thing to note, I’m a stickler when it comes to Stephen King films and have to read the book before seeing the movie.

So…just a day before October 20th, I’d finished the story, being very impressed with it, and waited patiently for the film to be released on Netflix. 

What did I think of 1922?  First, the synopsis...

In the year 1922, a simple yet proud rancher, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane), conspires to murder his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), for financial gain, convincing his teenage son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to participate.

The misgivings I’d had with the story, and what made me a little nervous about watching the adaptation, was the few animal deaths described in the book.  My first thought, after reading the details of one of the first animals to die, was about how the film would depict this or if it would be shown at all...or maybe happen off-screen (my preference).  Although filmmakers these days wouldn’t actually film an animal death for the purpose of entertainment—though, in the past, some have done just that (i.e., Cannibal Holocaust, Apocalypse Now)—the realistic special effects that movies display are pretty detailed and hard to accept as fakery.  So I was thinking I may take umbrage with the scenes I’d read in the book if I see them brought to the screen.

However, what I’d been looking forward to was how well the filmmakers were going to show the period that this movie takes place—the 1920s.  The descriptions of the vehicles used by the characters—the Model T, for instance, owned by the main character, Wilfred James—was going to be interesting to see it in the film.

Now, when comparing what I was expecting to see and what I actually did see, this film delivered.  What I had pictured in my head as I’d read the novella had vividly come to life on my television screen as it was presented on Netflix.  The James family farm, the vehicles, the buildings in town, the corn fields…the setting was done perfectly.  Although the cast was stellar and gave great performances, especially Thomas Jane (more on him later), I felt the casting could’ve been done a bit better with a few of the characters.  For example, Sheriff Jones was described as an old man, a little overweight and ready to retire, but still had his wits about him for the job he’d held for so long.  In the film, however, he was a bit younger, played by Brian d’Arcy James, and didn’t have that seasoned look about him as described in the book.

As for Thomas Jane, I’ve always liked him as an actor and felt he brings a sense of levity to any scene he’s featured in.  Even the terrible Dreamcatcher—the first Stephen King adaptation Jane has starred in—was a flick to which he added some depth and brought a character you can relate to and cheer for as he goes through whatever plight he faces.  But Thomas Jane is always himself and never really diverts from his own persona.  Here, in 1922, he completely transformed himself in both his speech patterns and his physical appearance. Gone is his tough guy image as he seemed to have slimmed down for this role, looking very lean and much older than he usually appears.  Also, he must’ve really studied the speech and lingo of midwesterners, as he really passes for a seasoned farmer of the early 20th century.  If I hadn’t known he was to star in this film, I might’ve thought he was some other actor—Jane is almost unrecognizable here, yet gives a hell of a performance.

Another familiar actor you’ll see in this film is Neal McDonough as Harlan Cotterie.  It was important to feature him as he’s the father of Shannon (Kaitlyn Bernard), girlfriend of Wilfred’s son, Henry.  McDonough doesn’t do much throughout this film until he emotes a bit towards the climax of the film, with his part in 1922 feeling a bit wasted.  But his scenes were needed in this story and that’s how they were written in the book, so his character was adapted as intended.

Zak Hilditch wrote and directed this film, and though he’s no Frank Darabont, the story seems to be depicted like something he’d film.  Hilditch certainly brought this to screen much like the story is presented in the novella, with the narrator, Wilfred James, starting off the story as a written confession in some hotel room.  He also keeps the story moving and gives each situation the characters face a feeling of dread at every turn.

Overal, the point of this story may not be so transparent once you begin watching this.  But by the time the film is done you’ll see that the one bad action the main character commits, results in bad karma, guilt and a domino effect that leads to a bitter end.  It’s a great message and a well-written plot by the great Stephen King.

My final “bit” on 1922?

I really applaud Netflix for taking a chance on these obscure titles by Stephen king, such as 2014's A Good Marriage and this year's Gerald’s Game.  Most major studios won’t gamble on original stories like 1922, choosing instead to churn out remake after remake.  Yes, It was a remake of a television film that should have never been attempted in the first place (though it does have its merits), but King has so many stories that can be developed—it’s a limitless well that can entertain moviegoers until the end of time.  Taking this little-known story from the “Full Dark, No Stars” collection of short stories was ballsy and paid off in spades.  It keeps you captivated throughout, featuring some awesome performances, and will keep you thinking about it long after you watch it.  And if you're a diehard fan of Stephen King, you're going to want to watch 1922.

Thanks for reading!

Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gerald's Game


2017 has been a good year for Stephen King.  “The Mist” television series had come and went, The Dark Tower was an idea that should’ve been taken care of more sufficiently, ”Mr. Mercedes” has been going strong on AT&T’s Audience Network, the great It is captivating audiences in theaters (with the second chapter set to be released in 2019), there’s a Netflix original coming up based on King’s short story, “1922,” and an interesting TV series has been announced for 2018 called “Castle Rock.”  Along with his adaptations going strong, King has been killing it with his criticisms of Donald Trump on Twitter, even getting himself blocked by the POTUS, which gives King that much approbation in my opinion.


 

Who’d have thought that Stephen King would still be relevant in today’s bevy of horror films?  Although I think King has heaps of stories that can be easily adapted to the screen, it would have seemed audiences today wouldn’t enjoy the types of stories he has churned out over the years, choosing to see these cheap jump-scare, teenie-bopper flicks.  But It has proven audiences are smarter than that and choose to see something more than a scare fest—they truly do want to see something much deeper and meaningful.

 

With all that said, cinema and network television are not the only forms of media to see these worthy films.  The advent of Netflix Originals is what’s taking the world by storm, rolling out a well-rounded cluster of films and on-going series (which have seasons released all at once).  With already a multitude of Marvel Studios superhero series earning high praise, there have also been some strong docu-dramas and full-length movies receiving the same acclaim.  Continuing that strong current of films is the Stephen King adaptation of his 1992 novel of the same name, Gerald’s Game.

 

Let me synopsize…

 

Trying to rekindle their marriage, Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood) take a drive out to their remote lake house, planning to spend a few days by themselves.  Attempting to spice up their sex life, Gerald decides to handcuff Jessie to their bed frame, but she has second thoughts about it when he gets too far into their role-playing.  However, when Gerald dies unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack, Jessie must fight to survive as she’s still handcuffed to the bed.

 

The announcement of this film took me by surprise a bit, for I hadn’t heard anything about it besides the little tidbit of info a few years ago where some movie article mentioned it might be made into a movie.  Knowing the source material, I really didn’t think it’d make a good movie, maybe even being perceived as boring if filmmakers tried to adapt it.

 

Here in this Netflix film, released on September 29th of this year, the story is set up well enough, modernizing it for today’s audiences and making it believable for everyone to suspend disbelief.  For instance, would a couple just leave their front door wide open when going inside to start a bit of intimacy?  Maybe, I guess…if you know there isn’t a soul around for miles and miles.  But there aren’t too many other scenes where you’d sit there and say, “I can’t believe that can happen!”  The story gets going right away, with Gugino’s character stuck in her predicament, her husband dead at the foot of the bed, all with her mind playing tricks as she slowly starts to unravel while trying to find a way to save herself.

 

Without giving away too much, I felt the technique of bringing second images of Jessie and Gerald to life as sort of the two sides of her conscience was a lot better than the idea of just having a voiceover to hear her thoughts, which is mainly what you’d read in King’s novel—that works in a book, but not so much in a movie.  Jessie remembering her childhood in the form of flashbacks helped with her character’s development and I found the story interesting as well.

 

With the flashback scenes diving into Jessie’s past, it gave the story added depth as it had with the novel.  It explained Jessie’s weakness in how she’d gotten herself in the situation she was in as well as helping her overcome it.  Additionally, these scenes takes us away from the boring claustrophobic atmosphere some audiences may think of when the story takes place in a small setting the whole time.

 

Director Mike Flanagan does a fine job of helming this feature, as well as presenting it to us as a true adaptation.  Flanagan co-wrote the script with Jeff Howard and did the right thing by not deviating too far from the source material.  In fact, the only variations I’d noticed in the story is the modernization of certain aspects, such as cell phones and the inclusion of Viagra.  Other than that, everything here is taken straight from the book.

 

Back to the dual roles of each main actor, having them play the two sides to Jessie’s conscience really needed two people with great acting chops.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood fill those roles perfectly, showing us what the imprisoned Jessie is thinking and planning, as well as giving her ideas on how to cope with her situation in both good and bad ways.  They come across as the angel and devil on Jessie’s shoulders, which was pretty ingenious on the filmmakers’ parts.

 

Although the story isn’t really your typical horror narrative, there’s still an aspect of fear that leads the audience to feel that way.  Not only does our main character have the trepidation of her circumstances, but she also has to contend with a hungry stray dog that keeps showing up to feed (remember, the front door was left wide open) and the hallucination (or existence) of a terrifying visitor called The Moonlight Man (Carel Struycken).  All of this adds to the dreadful atmosphere to give Jessie the need to get out of handcuffs.

 

As a side note, those who get squeamish when viewing gory effects may want to turn away from the screen occasionally—especially during the climax at the lake house.  But—Who knows?—the story may be a life lesson to those who may be stuck in this situation where they find themselves handcuffed to bed posts and need to get themselves out.

 

So…what’s my final “bit” on Gerald’s Game?

 

From start to finish, I was engrossed and taken back to the days when I was reading this book.  The acting from both Gugino and Greenwood were great, giving just the right balance needed between the two.  In fact, it was more understandable on how everything went down than what had transpired in the book, particularly the feelings the characters had for one another.  The night scenes that Gugino’s character had to go through were spooky and a bit terrifying, especially when you put yourself in her situation.  The only part of the film that let me down was the conclusion of the story, which seemed out of place and almost felt like it was tacked on as an afterthought.  But, as a whole, I loved this movie and felt it was worthy to be called a true Stephen King adaptation.  If you’ve got the Netflix streaming service, please take a look at this film—you won’t be disappointed.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.