Wednesday, July 27, 2016

It Follows

In the months prior to the movie’s release, It Follows had started to gain quite a following (pardon the pun) and a lot of attention after it debuted at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.  I’ve got to admit, just the marketing alone had me wanting to see this flick.  One of the posters (which I’ve featured at the top of this review) that had been released reminded me so much of an early 80s slasher movie poster that I was going to see this movie, trailer-unseen.  Let me tell you, I’m still waiting for the 80s-style horror movie resurgence, where we can get a few horror movies a year and have droves of people waiting in line to see who, or what, is the new icon of fright.  I mean, why aren’t we getting another Friday the 13th?  Or Halloween?  I hear there’s another sequel to Jeepers Creepers that Victor Salva is trying to get released…what gives?

Well, until then, I’ll still try to find a gem within these new horror movies, but it’s a very tough job to do so, to waste my time with a bunch of crap that is marketed to teens rather than to horror fans.  Movies like Unfriended or #Horror…yes, we get it, filmmakers, you’re trying to get the Facebook and Twitter millennials to relate to your movies—it’s not working.

I don’t know how many times I try out a new horror movie only to turn it off soon after starting it.  Usually, it’s because the film will start off with a group of teens in high school, using slang and phrases that exclude me as an audience member because I just can’t relate to the teenagers of this day and age.  Sometimes I wonder, Am I just getting old?  Am I turning into one of those old fogies who is stuck in their own time?  I don’t think so.  Because there are plenty of good horror movies out—although you have to look high and low for them—that I’ve enjoyed and have decided to even purchase to own on Blu-Ray.

Anyway, unfortunately, I hadn’t found time to see this flick when it was released to theaters a couple of years ago, choosing to wait until it was available on home media and having it sent to me from Netflix.  So without further ado, here’s the breakdown of the film.

A young woman, Jay (Maika Monroe), is given a curse by a boy she’d been going out with, Hugh (Jake Weary), after having sex with him.  The curse is having an unknown supernatural force follow her until it will reach her and kill her.  She has to keep moving to stay away from the unstoppable force—which can change its appearance and can look like anyone—but it’s unrelenting and, sooner or later, will eventually catch up to her.

Before getting into the main meat of the story, the opening of It Follows gave me a lot of hope that this movie would be awesome as we’re immersed into what happens to someone who is pursued by the supernatural force.  We’re introduced to a young woman named Annie (Bailey Spry) as she’s running out of her house early in the morning, appearing to be chased by something or someone, though we don’t see anyone.  She’s visibly frightened as she takes her parents’ car and drives off.  The movie sort of fooled me here because I’d thought this was the main character of the film, but she ends up at the beach of a lake and just kneels there, crying and apologizing to her parents.  I say it fooled me since the film soon cuts forward and we see that Annie’s now dead, broken into awful shapes as she’s mutilated, dead.

So that’s our introduction to the subject of the film, still a little mysterious, but we get some explanation in the next scene which is the introduction to our main character, Jay.  It starts nicely enough, seeing her on a movie date night with her boyfriend, Hugh, and they seem to be having a good time.  They start to play a game as to guess who the other has pointed out mentally in the theater.  When Hugh picks out a girl whom Jay says she doesn’t see, his face goes from happy to concerned and they end up leaving the movie.  Ending up parked somewhere, they engage in sex and afterwards, things get weird.  Jay finds herself gagged and tied up in some hollowed out building where Hugh explains that she has just been given a curse that he has passed on to her, saying that “it” will come after her and pursue her until “it” kills her.  The only way to avoid it is to have sex with someone else which will pass on the curse to them.  But if that person dies, the curse will come back to her.  If she dies, back to him.

Hugh drops Jay off in front of her house, date-rape-style, and takes off.  Folks, this is where our main story begins.

Now, I stop there, because…well…it really does stop—well…slows down quite a bit—there.  At this point in the movie, we’re introduced to Jay’s sister, Kelly (Lili Sepe), and her friends, Paul and Yara (Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Luccardi, respectively).  They all live some sort of hum-drum life and we’re shown that fully, seeing them just sit around and discussing menial topics.

I do like the choice of music in It Follows, how they went with the synthesizer score, giving the movie more of an 80s vibe than it already had.  But…it seemed to only have depressing sounds and never went into a light note anywhere in the film.  It didn’t necessarily make this film bad, but I do like some horror films to contain some funny scenes or areas of the film where life is good for the characters.  The movie just had a depressing tone throughout and that kind of put me off, especially when I ask myself the question I usually ask when watching a movie that may or may not be good: Would I buy this on Blu-Ray for my personal collection?  With this film…no.  However, I’ve thought about this movie quite a bit since I’ve seen it and have had thoughts about seeing it again, so I’d say that’s a good sign pointing to this movie being pretty good.

Though there are some lulls within the film, when “it” shows up to hunt Jay, it’s pretty terrifying and intense at times.  The aspect of this hook makes you feel Jay’s despair and helplessness, just knowing that there’s nothing she can do, that the force will never stop until it catches up to her.  So the film continues on this way—some breaks where we see Jay floating around in an outdoor pool or moping around with Paul and Yara—until she decides to track down Hugh, the boy who had passed on the curse to her.

Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, the man only has a few productions under his belt with one coming out next year, but it really showed that he knew what he wanted here in It Follows.  Mitchell definitely gave the film an 80s look and feel, adding a lot of John Carpenter Halloween flair with the slow, yet constant pursuit, by the evil in this film.  You even get a taste of George Romero’s film-styling since the force that comes after its victims looks and acts like an unrelenting zombie.  To add to all this, it appears Mitchell didn’t want the film to have an era easily established in the story; you, as the audience, really can’t tell when this story takes place.  Cars that are present look to be from different time periods, older televisions play into some of the plot, and there isn’t much technology—I like that.  Nothing ages a movie more quickly than including tech of its time—after a few years, that tech looks ancient.

Well, I think I’ve discussed this film as much as I can…my final “bit” on It Follows?

It’s a very interesting and original film, though the plot may seem a bit juvenile when explained—a curse that’s passed around when you have sex with someone.  However, that’s soon placed on the backburner once you get into this film.  The cinematography is interesting, more of an arthouse type of production with inventive ways of shooting certain scenes, and it will capture your attention.  The opening is great, the final climax is awesome, it’s just the middle that you’ll have to be patient and understand that it’s a slow-burn character build-up.  The ending leaves it open-ended and can easily have a sequel, which the director expressed interest in doing so, but I haven’t heard any movement in that respect.  I highly recommend It Follows, especially if you’re a horror fan stuck in the 80s and looking for a shining gem to bring back that nostalgia for you.

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Monday, July 25, 2016


By now, most people know that I give a lot of movies favorable odds when making the choice to take in a viewing—sometimes finding a diamond in the rough that I’ll love, but most of the time spending hours of my life watching duds.  I try to go by, and trust, the rating system of Netflix, but it leaves me astray at times.  See, they go by a rating system—given by the average of members who give their evaluation out of a possible five stars and it can be a little off-putting if it doesn’t land on a full star.  For instance, maybe there’s a title that shows an average rating of 2.6 stars; it’s almost three, but not quite.  You can take a chance and it just might be a winner…but it can easily be a washout.  Let’s face it…the rating system is basically run by the members and it’s a simple numbers game that can be manipulated easily.  Hell, I’ve given one-star ratings on a movie simply because I didn’t like the genre, so other members probably do the same.  So…as it stands, I’m strictly going by a rule that any movie I put on my Netflix queue that I’ve never seen has to be a full three stars or better, none of this 2.6 or 2.7 stuff…so when I saw this title, Standoff, and how it had an average of 3.8 stars, I placed it in my queue.

A somewhat inventive feature Netflix came about presenting some time ago was giving its members the ability to stream movies.  It came about at a time when not too many resources were offering that service, being that it had been something you could only do on your computer, before smart TVs or tablets or cell phones had the ability…hell, smart TVs weren’t even invented yet.  It was amusing, looking back at it, because when I first started using this feature, you needed a disc to be inserted into your computer or Playstation console in order to stream the movies or television series.  Within time, however, Netflix has perfected the service and it’s a prominent one that more and more online subscription networks—such as Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, etc.—are offering, leaving Blu-Ray and DVD as a thing of the past.

The reason for that little side note was that when the disc for Standoff showed up in my mailbox, I’d noticed that the movie had just become available on Netflix Streaming.  I was sitting, going through the menu of new movies, knowing full well that I had the disc sitting on my shelf but opted to see what was streaming because I wasn’t really feeling the desire to put the disc in my PS4.  One good thing about trundling through the titles is that they give better plot descriptions and it shuffles through a few screenshots from the movie itself…and that’s what prompted me to watch the film…even though I had the disc sitting there and didn’t feel like watching it in the first place.  Aaaaah…Netflix psychology…

Okay, with all that personal narrative aside, I’ve always liked Thomas Jane as an actor.  Not that he’s a world renowned thespian, but I feel he does a terrific job as a commanding presence when he’s on the screen.  I love The Mist and I even like the widely panned The Punisher (see my review from way back on July 29th of 2014), so when I’d spotted his name on this title being discussed today, I decided to click on it and watch.

Here’s the synopsis…

A troubled war veteran, Carter (Thomas Jane), gets a chance at redemption by protecting a 12-year-old girl, Bird (Ella Ballentine), from an assassin named Sade (Laurence Fishburne) after she witnesses a murder committed by him.  Holding a shotgun with a single shell, Carter engages in physical and psychological warfare with Sade in a desperate fight for the girl’s life.

Okay, before going into this film, I’ve got to address the elephant in the room…well…a movie credit I’d seen at the beginning.  Hayden Christensen as executive producer…double-you tee eff?  I guess that Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith money is really paying off for him.

All kidding aside…

I’d gushed over Thomas Jane and his performances in a few films, but this film also stars another actor I’ve admired as well—Laurence Fishburne.  He’s been in a ton of movies that I’ve enjoyed over the years and he’s quite a chameleon, never seeming like he’s been typecast in his career.  Fishburne has been in such acclaimed films like Apocalypse NowThe Color PurpleKing of New YorkBoyz n the Hood, and what he’s probably most known for…The Matrix.  Of course, recently, he’s had smaller parts—but notable ones—in Predators and Man of Steel, and I’d really liked his part in the latter.  Although I really hadn’t heard too much of a backlash that you’ll normally hear when a well-known Caucasian fictional character is played by an African-American, but his take on Perry White was nice and brought a better and modern take on the chief newspaper editor.  Though he isn’t too recognized for playing the bad guy in films, here in Standoff, he does it so well it’s scary.

Now, I like this type of movie, and it’s appropriately titled with the subgenre description, so I guess they didn’t find the need to name it something elaborate or silly. 

One aspect of a movie such as Standoff is usually a problem and may cause the whole movie to go down the drain because of this one ingredient—child actors.  Filmmakers may get lucky and have such a great movie, like Child’s Play, you won’t notice the bad child acting from Alex Vincent as Andy.  Or they may hit the lottery and get a performance like the one from Danny Pintauro asTad in the film, Cujo.  More than likely, however, you may get a child actor, like Jake Lloyd as Annikin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace (though, the fact that Jar Jar Binks is even worse in this movie makes many people overlook Lloyd’s performance), or—the worse I’ve ever seen—Courtland Mead as Danny Torrance in the TV movie remake of The Shining (ugh! He is TERRIBLE in that film).  The point I’m taking much too long to get at is how much of a great performance we get from Ella Ballentine as the young girl, Isabelle—nicknamed Bird—who is being hunted by Fishburne’s character.  Most of the story takes place in an isolated farmhouse with Ballentine and Jane spending a lot of time together as he protects her from any harm.  It’s very touching, seeing that Jane’s character recently lost his young son and seems suicidal when we first meet him.  If this film didn’t find a young actress that could put up a top notch performance, this movie wouldn’t have been as good.

Not only are the quiet scenes between Thomas Jane and the young girl absorbing, but the back-and-forth amid him and Fishburne is quite nice.  The action part of their exchanges was exciting, as well as the suspense of what each man is planning (Jane’s upstairs with the girl and Fishburne is downstairs patiently waiting, both with their respective weapons), and I just loved when they were cutting each other down.  Very strong scenes from these guys gave the film the good rating it had on Netflix.

Recently, I’d reviewed Cell, the Stephen King adaptation that left me kind of cold, and in that review I had mentioned the writer was Adam Alleca.  While I hadn’t necessarily bashed him for what I had thought of that movie, I made it clear he was sort of responsible, so I wanted to redeem him here for what he’d put together.  Being somewhat of an original story (let’s face it, there have been flicks—or at least large scenes in films—like this where someone has to stand their ground against an adversary who’s trying to oppose them), Alleca totally compensates for the written work he’s done in the past, which was The Last House on the Left (a remake of an early Wes Craven film) and what he’d worked on soon after this—Cell

My final “bit” on Standoff?

The movie is one of those stories where you chomp at the bit, wondering how it’s going to end.  Though there aren’t too many twists and turns, the film does feature some choices by the characters (namely, Fishburne’s) you may be surprised by and even some that’ll make you angry.  It really has more suspense than I thought it would have and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this film.  The chemistry between the trio of actors here were perfect and everything gelled together to make a great ending that I was very satisfied with.  I highly recommended Standoff.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016


I’ve been reading Stephen King’s books since high school, the novel, “It,” being my first read and that was quite an undertaking.  At the time I had graduated from reading books of 200 pages or less and going into one that consisted of 1,138 with a thickness resembling a phonebook; it had troubled me a bit.  But after reading the first few pages, I couldn’t put it down and that had started my obsession with the author, purchasing every King book in print and enjoying all of them thoroughly.  From that point on, I would pre-order every book release, immersing myself into his fictional world of Maine and beyond.

The same had gone for all the movies that were based on his books, especially the ones filmed in the 1980s.  From the well-made serious adaptations such as De Palma’s Carrie or Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone to the more zanier films like Maximum Overdrive (directed by King himself) or Graveyard Shift, I’ve seen them all and own most of them on DVD or Blu-Ray.

As time went on, I—as well as a lot of King’s readership—have noticed a bit of a wane in his work, especially at the beginning of the new millennium.  Though his books were still excellent, it seemed to lose that magic I’d always felt when reading his stories.  I have quite a few novels on my bookshelf that I haven’t cracked yet—such as “Lisey’s Story” or “Duma Key”—but I plan to read them someday soon.  One of the last magical books I’d read from King was “11/22/63” and it left quite an impression on me, causing me to think about it long after finishing it.  I’d thought that he was returning to form, but then I’d jumped into “Revival” right after and felt a bit let down.  King’s recent three books—called the “Bill Hodges Trilogy”—is an interesting storyline, but it delves more into the crime novel territory and away from the supernatural.

One novel that I had such high hopes for was the story, “Cell,” and the synopsis grabbed me as I had really thought I was going to go for quite a ride, returning to my preceding journeys like when I’d read the epic novel, “The Stand,” back in the late 80s.  However, "Cell" was interesting enough and kept me turning the pages, but I’d never really reflected back on it after I was done reading it.  A couple of years later, I’d heard that the story was going to be adapted to film and I thought it would’ve made a great movie, having potential to really entertain audiences.  Back in late 2007 or early 2008, it was rumored that Eli Roth was to helm the film and that was pretty much all the news I’d heard about for a while.  I’d been teased a little when I had first watched the trailer for The Happening because the actions of the people that go crazy in that film is pretty much what was described in King’s book.  It wasn’t until a year or two ago when I’d caught wind of film production and saw a set photo along with the news that John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson were re-teaming for the adaptation (previously working together in 1408).

Finally, I had thought, we get to see Stephen King’s vision come to life.

Or did we?  Here’s the synopsis of Cell...

When a mysterious cell phone signal causes apocalyptic chaos, an artist, Clay Riddell (John Cusack), is determined to reunite with his young son, Johnny (Ethan Andrew Casto), in New England.

Now, before I go into the movie and how well it was adapted, I’ve got to say I was thrown off by John Cusack’s appearance right away.  As the film opens, it centers around Cusack’s character arriving at an airport and trying to call his son, but his hair was making him appear like a madman for some reason, as if he'd adopted the crazy Nicolas Cage look.  It appeared as if too much product (gel or mousse) was placed in his mane, making it tuft out toward the back and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it.  Thankfully, not long after the turmoil erupts, Cusack dons a beanie and his hair is soon forgotten.

With that out of the way, I’d bought his portrayal of Clay Riddell, even when they’d announced him in the lead.  Cusack has a way of playing the everyman so well, that there was really no way he’d screw this part up.  As I’d mentioned the opening scene a little, I really hadn’t got into what happens and how he reacts to everything.  Namely, this opening depicts how a signal comes through everyone’s cell phones, that when each person places the device to their ear, they instantly become turned into some raving lunatic.  Seeing Cusack’s reaction to seeing everyone beginning to kill each other in such vicious ways was very compelling and you can comprehend the range of emotions he’s going through.

Speaking of the experience that metamorphoses everyone, what the book and film names “the pulse,” I was somewhat enthralled by it at first and felt it translated the event quite articulately from the novel.  In fact, it seemed to add a bit more as the people who had been changed by this phenomenon are more than individuals with their brains scrambled, they’d seemed to be turned into a device.  Rather than normal screams and screeches, the changed people—called “phoners” in the book and this film—sound more electronic or automated; I felt that was a nice touch.

I must say, however, that after this first part of Cell—the people becoming “phoners,” the killing and chaos, Clay escaping the airport unscathed, meeting up with Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) and getting to his apartment—we enter a bit of a lull and it just makes the movie grind to a halt.  The filmmakers had seemed to be trying for some character development—and we get a little—but it seemed a bit uneven and forced.  It’s at this point that we get another introduction and addition to Clay’s little survivor’s group (barring the inclusion of the short-lived character who claimed to be DJ So-and-So—I forget his name and it’s just as well), who happens to be his next-door-neighbor, Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman). Following a few other scenes of “phoner” attacks, there’s just more lulls until they end up at some private school to introduce more characters—the dean of the school, Charles Ardai (Stacy Keach), and a student, Jordan (Owen Teague).  From then on, some attacks, more lulls, introduction of more uninteresting characters, and...the end.

Don’t get me too wrong here, there are some curious and intriguing concepts of the story to make it better than the book, but I think the movie had trouble executing it and maybe it was more of a mistake with editing.  Some of the story seems heavy-handed, then sometimes it’s not really understandable...overall just seeming clunky with the whole exposition.  But...I'd really loved the depiction of everyone once they become part of this whole hive of “phoners” as they'd all seemed automated rather than how they are described as in the book...kind of like the zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake back in ’06.  A lot of the visuals were remarkable—Some, not so much—and added to the horror the characters were facing, especially seeing all the “phoners” walk around as one or how they all gathered together at night to upgrade their collective brain.  Though there is quite a bit that I can complain about, the one thing I had been looking forward to was the character of The Raggedy Man (played here by Joshua Mikel).  In the book, he was sort of the leader of all the “phoners” and was the one Clay and the group had to outsmart; here in this film, he was just depicted as Clay’s art come-to-life, not really much more than that—he was clearly someone they had to deal with, but the filmmakers really didn’t convey that well enough.

If there’s any bright spot here in Cell is the decision to go away from the book’s ending and to change it here in the film.  I won’t give either away, but I like how they’d handled it here.  Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) directed the cast well, but the story probably should’ve had a bit more tweaking.  All cast members were great in their respective parts, but they just didn’t have a strong enough production from the outset.  Adam Alleca wrote the screenplay here, and I’ve enjoyed the few other projects he’s worked on, but this—along with the editing—needed to be a bit more tuned up before the studio decided to release this.

Lastly, I’ll say this—back when the book was written and published, I’d thought it was such a great idea that had captured the culture of America perfectly.  At the time, EVERYONE was on their phones—while driving their cars, waiting in line at the bank, getting a haircut, eating at a restaurant—it was a national singularity that was accepted by all.  When talks of a film adaptation came down through the pipeline, I thought it was perfect, that maybe this will put a scare into people to get them to stop talking on their cell phones all the time.  It was getting ridiculous and becoming a nuisance as it became widespread throughout the country, causing accidents and displaying overall stupidity by everyone.  Alas, the movie, though spoken of as a possibility, didn’t happen right then and the culture of speaking on cell phones all the time morphed into people texting or Tweeting or Facebook updating...nobody really spoke on their phones anymore.  Though what it evolved into was worse—people were constantly looking at their phones instead of doing more important tasks like, uh, driving without looking at their phones?—and made the prospect of a film adaptation not so significant.  But Cell is what it is and they, at least, tried to stay true to the book and created something modern enough for the times.
My final “bit” on Cell?

If you’re a Stephen King fan, and one who’s read this novel, you might enjoy this and will find interest in how the writer had changed the ending (it actually might’ve been a collaborative effort by Alleca and King).  The story is easy enough to follow along, but it cuts right along at times to leave you guessing at the characters’ motivations.  But you’ll have time to figure that out when the film hits its lulls, unless you know the book’s story, then these times will really bore you.  I’d hate to say this, especially with the potential this story had, but this film is not worth your time and isn’t very good.  You can hazard a viewing, but I don’t recommend it.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Purge: Election Year

A paltry three years ago, in 2013, a stylish idea came to light leading me to believe it would be a great horror flick (and I’m just taking it in right now that it’s only been three seems like much longer).  The movie was called The Purge and it’s funny because my wife heard about it before I had, calling attention to it one night when the television spot aired between some commercials; I say it’s amusing only for the reason that my wife usually stays clear of a movie that has resemblance of anything scary, gory, or a combination of both.  But speaking of that TV spot, I’d loved the little scene teased where someone was walking through their house unaware of a masked person poking their head in from an open window behind them.  It was a creepy vibe and I thought it’d be a success.  It had resonated the reaction I’d felt when seeing the trailer for The Strangers six years prior, so I’d started itching for it from the word ‘go.’  The Purge had missed the mark in that regard, even though it was an interesting movie entertainingly enough, but it garnered a sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, that had surpassed the original and made me a fan of the franchise instantly.

The aspect I had loved about the sequel is that it took the story out in the world, giving the audience a glimpse as to what occurs when this event—a national day where any crime, including murder, is legal for 12 hours—takes place.  Where the original movie was more of a home invasion type of flick, the sequel took it further, as well as giving us a vigilante to get behind.

The Purge: Election Year continues the story of that vigilante, rather than making up a whole new story for this sequel, and I’m glad they’d done just that.  But before going into a full discussion of the film, let me first give you the synopsis…

Years after sparing the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) has become head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a Presidential candidate targeted for death on Purge Night due to her vow to eliminate The Purge.

The Purge: Election Year has been on my radar for quite some time now, probably since the release of the first sequel.  I’d known that Frank Grillo was to return and I was interested at what capacity they were going to bring him back.  Seeing as he played a “Punisher” type of character in Anarchy, I thought we were to see more of that, perhaps see him become a hero where he goes out to save innocent people from getting slaughtered.  I had no idea they were going to go in the direction they had, but it was a nice surprise and an intriguing story nonetheless.  Grillo had definitely made a splash and I believe he deserves the recognition he’s receiving.  With his standout performance in The Grey to his recurring character of “Crossbones” in the Captain America films, Grillo certainly has a presence when he’s featured on the screen and I’m always eager to see him.

So, yes, writer and director James DeMonaco made a nice choice to move this series from a simple home invasion tale to opening it up for us to see what’s really out there during this crazy 12-hour period that goes on once a year.  From the first film, that’s really been the highlight in promoting each film, as we see the mysterious and creepy characters who don masks for the annual purge.  In the first film, that was the one aspect that worked so well in selling it and it continued to work through these last two outings too.

Within these films there are certainly some symbolism at play, showing us, in extreme harsh light, what the world has always faced—the divide of the wealthy and the impoverished.  DeMonaco is undoubtedly trying to convey this throughout this series of films and it worked so brilliantly in Anarchy.  Here, it’s pushed a little too in-your-face, but with the addition of the government side of it—especially giving us an up-close look at the “New Founding Fathers of America”—it gives us a fresh take in the series.

As in the film before, we cut back and forth from certain groups of characters and what they’re all about. 

First off, we get a flashback scene of Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) and what had happened to her family during an annual Purge Night long ago, which is what drives her into the career path that she’s chosen.  After witnessing what she had gone through and having the story return to the present (or the year 2025, I believe), we understand why the senator is campaigning for the Presidency of the United States, as one of her stances is to end Purge Night if she’s elected.  Of course, this sets in motion the main crux of the story, leading us to meet the members of the New Founding Fathers of America and to see that they are determined to see that Roan does not win the election by any means necessary.

Frank Grillo returning as Leo Barnes was a breath of fresh air and his character is more cut-and-dry in this film.  In the previous film, we see him as a man set out for revenge, purposely going out into the city as he’s got his mind set on killing the man who had killed his son and had gotten off easy.  Here, Leo is shown as a good guy, standing with the senator as head of her security, making sure she’s safe during her campaign appearances or remaining in her home during Purge Night (at her insistence, not wanting to be holed up in some elaborate fort as she doesn’t want to appear to be better than the people who vote for her).

To even out the scenes of the wealthy, we meet deli store owner, Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson, of Forrest Gump fame), and his employee, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria).  We’re also introduced to a friend of Joe’s, Laney (Betty Gabriel), who is a frequent patron of the store and is hinted at early on that she’s some sort of well-known badass during past Purge Nights.  They all play a close-knit group of friends and end up being a pivotal ensemble throughout the story.  Just to add to their representation of the humble part of the populace, an idea is presented here as Joe gets a call from his insurance company to inform him that his Purge Policy has been raised to an unaffordable price.  This, of course, sets Joe’s subplot into motion as he has to keep watch on his place of business during Purge Night.

One interesting plot thread that we see in this film is that the event is so widespread that it appears to be well known in other countries.  I felt this was a nice touch that DeMonaco added, showing a little subversion to the story to introduce foreigners actually making the trek to America so that they may take part in the annual event.  Not only that, but the characters we see come back later in the film for an interesting and exciting scene.

Now, the horrific scenes in this outing are not so bad and seems as if it were purposefully tamed down a bit.  But don’t get me wrong...the scenes that do feature people making use of Purge Night is pretty cringe-worthy and might make you turn your head at times.  However, it seems as if we get more character development in this sequel rather than focusing on the acts of violence.  Which is a good thing, in my opinion, because at this point, we know what will happen to the characters who make themselves vulnerable out in the city and realize the dangers they face.  It’s better to focus on how the group bands together and figures out how to get themselves out of a mess.

To be fair and to point out some manufactured facets of the story, this brings me to the amount of conveniences, and inconveniences, I’d noticed—which can be very conspicuous to anyone watching this—throughout the film.  During many times in the course of the story, when the main characters find themselves in a safe location where they can wait out the event and get through the night unscathed, there always seems to be a dumb reason—or at least contrived—to get them back out into the open to risk the dangers.  There are also a few times where they find themselves in a no-win situation and a just-in-the-nick-of-time act gets them saved.  Many times it turns out to be Joe who makes these scenes turn out the way they do—whether it’s him wanting to head back to his store or how he happens to know the Crips’ gang whistle that gets them out of a bind.  Other times, it’s the clichéd “cavalry” that shows up to save the day (or night).

A little fun fact before I get into my final words of the review—the actor who plays the anarchist-against-the-purge character, Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), is the only actor in this film who has had a role in each of the three films in this series.

So without further ado, here is my final “bit” on The Purge: Election Year...

I had been worried as I’d gone into this movie, thinking that the first sequel had gotten lucky with the success it had gained and that this sequel was going to be as boring as the first one had been.  It probably would have if not for Frank Grillo returning to his character of Leo Barnes.  Additionally, the other characters hold their own and are more developed than the side characters of Anarchy, where they appeared to be one-dimensional caricatures of people in danger.  Elizabeth Mitchell (of “Lost” fame) does a fine job as a Senator/Presidential hopeful and it sort of mirrors how the U.S. currently has a female candidate in the running as we speak, albeit one who isn’t as trustworthy as Senator Roan (let’s face it, if she were in this film, she’d be more on the N.F.F.A. side and probably would not put a stop to Purge Night).  Anyway, here, in Election Year, we get more emotionally attached to the protagonists and care about them a lot more than we’ve done in the first two films.  Though the violence is few and far between, the world is opened up more for us here and shows us that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Overall, it’s a fun movie to go through and there are plenty of tense moments to boot.  See it while it’s still in theaters if you can...and to let you know how I really feel about it, I'll say that I’m definitely going to add this to my Blu-Ray collection once it’s released onto home media. 

Universal Studios really has a winner here and I hope they take good care of it, especially the writer and director of all three films—James DeMonaco.  He doesn’t have much experience in the director’s chair, but what he’s done so far speaks volumes.  I’m not sure if he’ll be attached to the next sequel when/if it happens, but I’d be interested to see where he’ll go next with this series.

As a side note, there is a bit of an implication that we’ll see another sequel and although we’ve had it ingrained into our DNA by now, do not wait through the credits because you won’t see anything there—no after-credits stinger.

Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

In the past, I’ve always steered away from films with long silly titles, thinking they’re named that way to try and be catchy.  I just figure that if I can’t remember the whole title, or if it’s difficult to get all the words in the right order, the movie’s not worth my time and I usually move on to something else.  I really can’t give a definite answer of why I avoid films with the trivial aspect of a title that needs to describe the movie in more than three words.  But then I remember there were other films I had sidestepped from when released in theaters that I’d enjoyed when seeing them on home media.  Scott Pilgrim vs the World comes to mind…so does Tucker and Dale vs Evil (though that one hadn’t received a mass theatrical release)…The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is another film that I’d ended up loving.  So I guess you shouldn’t judge a film by its title, no matter the length.

Now, the film, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, came and went in the theaters and I hadn’t made a fuss about not seeing it, as you can tell by my reasoning up above.  But I’d kept an eye on it, as the TV spots seemed interesting, and even the trailer had me curious as to the what the story may be about.  I’d noticed there was a comedic side to the movie, not really taking the zombie genre too seriously, and that’s a whole other rationale as to why I’d decided to miss this film during its run in theaters—I really dislike when a horror film is made into a parody of itself.

When I’d noticed the movie was available on Netflix recently, I had placed it in my queue and sort of left it in limbo for a while, letting it stay towards the top but in the 20s somewhere.  I had simply forgotten about it and I guess it just made its way to the top spot without me noticing until it showed up in my mailbox the other day.  Even after opening it up and looking at the disc, I still left it aside and opted to watch other movies instead—either ones I own or others that showed up from Netflix.  But I hate to have discs just sit aside gathering dust and usually feel I have to make the decision: watch it or send it back.

So I’d watched it.

But before discussing it, let me synopsize it for you.

Three scouts—Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan), on the eve of their last camp-out, discover the true meaning of friendship when they attempt to save their town from a zombie outbreak.

Not knowing what to expect, and still on the mindset of possibly stopping the disc and sending it back, I’d instantly got into this film right from the hilarious scene featuring Ron the Janitor (Blake Anderson) and his lip-sync performance of "Black Widow" by Iggy Azalea as he mopped the floors of the lab that contains the zombie virus.  Although it's a bit over-the-top with physical comedy that causes the contagion to be released, it's needed here for the type of movie that you'll be watching for the next hour and a half.  If you watch this film, and stop to think about it, had this film been a serious story, I don't think it would've worked...a comedic tone was the right decision.

Now it’s surprising that the director of this film—Christopher Landon—made a zombie genre film work so well as a comedy.  A year before, he’d directed Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, a serious film (and the last good film, if not the best, of that series), and you’d think someone who had helmed a film with such a serious tone would step into a comedy so easily.  Landon even had a hand in writing the screenplay with the help of three other writers (Carrie Lee Wilson, Emi Mochizuki, and Lona Williams).  Landon, et al, have very little experience on their résumé, each one only involved with a few movies or productions, that I’m surprised Paramount Pictures trusted this film with them.  Then again, promotion was scarce and I didn’t see much on TV or any trailers in theaters, so maybe they had some extra money to throw away and gave these unknowns a chance…?  I don’t know.  But they made it work and I hope this film garners a sequel…they can definitely play it out and extend this from a citywide plague to a statewide or countrywide pandemic.

Now, although the synopsis of the film is simplified to get the plot across, it’s a little more intricate with the relationship of the three main characters.  The three friends have known each other since grade school and have been scouts since then.  However, Ben, and especially Carter, have realized that they’ve outgrown the scouts now that they’re in high school and coming into their own, leaving Augie as the only one who’s committed to being a scout for life.  Each friend has their own reasoning for their decisions—Ben simply feels he’s outgrown the scout oath and uniform, Carter wants to be accepted by the older high schoolers and is extremely motivated by girls and the possibility of sexual relationships, and Augie is dedicated in his scouthood because of the dedication to his friends.  But the crux of all this is that Augie doesn’t know how his friends feel until he catches them in betrayal, causing a rift between the boys.  So, there’s a lot for them to overcome before they get together to save their town.

Also in this movie is David Koechner as Scout Leader Rogers, featured in only a few scenes, but funny as always.  I was thrown off by the toupee he wears during the film, but at first I guessed it was added to make him look a bit younger…I don’t know.  But his character is peppered throughout for comedy sake as a running joke…I won’t spoil it for you, but it made me smile every time.

Like Zombieland or the aforementioned Tucker and Dale vs Evil, you’re going to have a lot of fun with this movie.  I consider a comedy—or in this case, a horror-comedy—to be well done if I smile a few times during the story, but I laughed out loud throughout the course of it.  However, make no mistake, this is not a film you can take your kids to see, even if you’re okay with them watching zombie-type films with a bit of gore and violence.  Scouts features a lot of sexual content, a bit of nudity, a few quick parts with some uncomfortable gross-outs…so be warned that you may have to explain these scenes to the little ones.

Besides the main plot of having Ben, Carter, and Augie needing to save most of the kids who are holed up in some warehouse attending a rave, there’s a subplot of how our main protagonist, Ben, has feelings for Carter’s sister, Kendall (Halston Sage).  I felt it was a bit clichéd to feature this in the movie, seeing as how the film avoided many common story tropes throughout, but then the character of Denise (Sarah Dumont) was added, giving the subplot a love triangle feel to it.  I like how the filmmakers went this way, showing that the two girls were very different—Kendall was the nice girl that treated Ben like a brother, while Denise was the hard-ass chick that worked in the local strip joint.  Although the story ended a bit differently than I’d thought (regarding this love triangle), it was quite enjoyable to see this subplot play out.

Another funny stand-out in the movie is Carter’s nosy neighbor, Miss Fielder (Cloris Leachman).  Though she was the stereotypical old lady who snoops on her neighbors and intervenes with anyone who comes within her property, her house and cats play a pivotal—as well as hilarious—part near the end of this movie.  It was silly and not very realistic, but I laughed my ass off.

Now, like I’d mentioned, the friends do find themselves in a falling-out within their relationships, but when they finally resolve their differences and ready themselves to do battle against the zombies that are attacking their fellow high schoolers, I thought it was pretty cool.  As the boys go to the local hardware store to gather supplies, I like the way the filmmakers hint to us what each scout is doing by showing us their merit badges before seeing them gather their materials and putting their armaments together.  Knowing that they’ve each created weapons by their scout skills (I thought Augie’s was the best) and seeing them enter the party to save all the party-goers, you know it’s on!

As my final “bit” on Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, I’ve got to admit I was very surprised by what I’d seen.  The three main characters—Ben, Carter, and Augie—were very likable throughout.  Tye Sheridan, especially, is a standout; I’d mentioned in my X-Men: Apocalypse review that I’d liked him in the indie film Joe with Nicolas Cage, and he really holds his own (as well as something else in a very hilarious scene) here.  Logan Miller as the sex-crazed friend has some very funny scenes and you’ll love all his selfies that are featured during the end credits.  And speaking of the end credits, there’s a short scene midway through that caps off the movie funnily (I didn’t know that was a word until I’d typed it out right now).  Anyway, the movie kept my attention throughout and I’ll definitely see this again…perhaps purchasing it on Blu-Ray.  Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse shouldn’t be missed.

Thanks for reading!

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

For the last decade or so, the name J.J. Abrams seemed to be synonymous with enigmatic productions, starting by way of the television series, "Lost," and taking it to the near-Spielbergian level with 2011's Super 8.  The biggest splash he'd made was with 2008's Cloverfield, the found-footage giant creature feature flick.  Now, it may or may not have its merits, but when I say that Abrams made a big splash with it, I'm referring to the trailer that debuted in the summer of 2007.  What caused a stir was the choice to play snippets of the film, showing the money-shot of the Statue of Liberty's decapitated head rolling down a street with people screaming and running for their lives, and ending with the text of the release date—that's it.  No title, no credits...nothing but the date.  People went out of their minds, wondering what we were seeing.  At the time, the consensus from the internet ramblings-from myself as well-was thinking it had to be a new Godzilla movie.  Everybody wanted to know—had to know—what was the title of the movie and what was it going to be about.  At that point in time, in my opinion, J.J. Abrams solidified himself as a household name.  What's funny about all of it was that Abrams wasn't the director of the film—it was Matt Reeves, who'd done an excellent job with the material.

So, with Cloverfield being such a memorable movie, hearing about an Abrams production called 10 Cloverfield Lane, you can guess what everyone thought...that Abrams finally had gotten a sequel.  Additionally, after seeing the first trailer, your mind tended to think this was a sequel of sorts to the 2008 movie since there had been talk about getting a sequel made, sometimes discussing that it would be during the same timeline, only from a different point of view.  My mind hadn't gone that route, but I thought it was very interesting that the film had the name in the title.

I have to admit that this film had snuck up on me, only seeing the trailer when the title was firmly in place.  I'd heard that the production started off as The Cellar which, after seeing the movie, would've been an appropriate title.  Probably The Bunker or Fall-Out Shelter would've been even better, but the title is what it is.  To me, it seems as if Abrams and company decided to put "Cloverfield" in the title to gain massive interest and to have potential movie-goers think they were heading in to a Cloverfield sequel.  If that's the case, to me, that's really not fair and kind of a cheat.

But...I have to put my Cinema Bits goggles on and try not to have any extensive reconsideration about what I had seen, so without any further ado, let me break down the synopsis of 10 Cloverfield Lane.

After getting into a car accident, a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is held in a shelter with two men-the owner of the shelter, Howard (John Goodman), and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.)-who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.

Now, I wrote, at length, about J.J. Abrams and a few of his past productions, but 10 Cloverfield Lane is directed by Dan Trachtenberg.  Trachtenberg doesn't really have a huge résumé of films that he's directed—in fact, he only has five on his bio, with a few other miscellaneous productions as a writer, assistant director, editor, etc.  He's directed two short films, a television episode, this film, and an upcoming production.  So, there's not much I can say about his past work, seeing as how I hadn't seen one of them.   But what he's done here is created some great tension, a sense of wonder, and a fabulous back-and-forth on what's true and what's not.  Anyone who can get John Goodman to play this serious of a character with a bit of a schizophrenic side to him, I give them props.

I went into this film dry, with no previous knowledge besides seeing the original trailer and knowing the basic plot of the story on how some girl wakes up in an underground bunker with some man who claims the end of the world has happened.  I saw the tags on the TV spots that said the movie was great, I'd read the headlines of reviews that commended the story, hearing that the movie opened with pretty good numbers, but I didn't read into it any more than that.  I didn't even see this in the theater because I hadn't been interested enough, so when it hit Netflix, I'd placed it in my queue.

With all that said, this film surprised me—especially the climax (I won't spoil it for you in case you haven't seen it).  The majority of the film takes place in the bunker, but don't let that turn you off from it.  I'd mentioned that there was a lot of back-and-forth in this story and most of it is within this underground shelter.  You go from thinking that Howard is just a good guy, trying to help Michelle because of some attack on U.S. soil, to thinking that it's too much of a coincidence that she gets into an accident on that day.  Michelle goes from not believing Howard and trying to escape the shelter to accepting what has happened and deciding to stay.  Yes, there's a lot here in the first two acts and you're constantly going from thinking Goodman's character is a conspiracy theorist wacko to seeing that he may know more than anyone else thinks, then back to believing he's a lunatic.

The film features many tension-filled scenes and it's all due to John Goodman's performance as he goes from a nice guy, to a hothead, to a creep.  Of course, Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings her leers from The Thing remake, but it works here.  John Gallagher Jr. plays the softhearted hick who believes Goodman's character, but decides to help out our heroine of the story.

As always, I can pick out a few things that don't make sense or subplots that go nowhere.  Especially with what Michelle and Emmett find out about Howard, how we're never given an answer to his bit of backstory, but then maybe the purpose of that was to throw off the audience and make them believe everything was made up.  And that's what happens when I think of something from this film that didn't make seems logical if put in perspective of placing it in the story to make the audience take sides with the characters.  One thing for sure, there are a lot of conveniences in this film, like during one scene where Winstead's character is about to escape the bunker, not believing the end-of-the-world explanation, when something just happens to transpire to make her rethink everything.

One of the biggest suspensions of disbelief you'll have to go through is when Michelle and Emmett decide to create a hazmat suit in case they're able to get outside the bunker.  They devise an easy enough plan to be able to obtain the materials needed, but being that the bunker can't be that big of a space, they seem to have ample room and time to go through the risks to put the suit together without Howard catching them, since he's proven to be a bit dangerous by this point in the film.  The bunker's not that big, yet they're able to do the work freely without worrying about being caught.  Maybe they were doing this while Howard was sleeping or showering, but the movie never establishes that and it all seemed a little too convenient for the story.

As a whole, I liked and enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane, it kept me in my seat and there really were never any lulls or boring filler throughout.  Questions arose and were answered by the climax of the film, so nothing will seem unsatisfying when you get to the end...besides leaving the film open for a sequel.  The acting was above average, nothing that would deserve an Oscar, but it kept the story believable and engrossing.

J.J. Abrams had gone on the record, when asked if this film was a sequel to Cloverfield, saying that there was some association with the 2008 film, but that this was not a sequel...and I agree to some extent.  But when you get to the end of this film, you understand what he means by the two films having some sort of association with each other.  There are a few Easter Eggs you may or may not catch, like the "Kelvin" gas station or the "Slusho" brand of slushy drink, but Abrams likes to slip those in within most of his productions.

Well, I've said all I can say without spoiling too much about the film, so let me just some it up with my final "bit"...

The movie will grab you and not let you go until that final scene.  The few actors in the movie are very likable, or at least mesmerizing enough to make you want to keep on watching once you've started.  Overall, it's a story that will make you wait to see how it'll all end.  Does the film have rewatchability?  I can't say that it does...I usually base my enjoyment of a film if I say to myself during the movie that I can't wait to purchase the Blu-Ray for my collection.  I didn't say it here, but I think I'd watch it again if it were to pop up on cable one night.  I say that you shouldn't miss it, if you haven't seen it yet, and that you should go out and rent it.  It's a good Friday night watch!

That's about it for 10 Cloverfield Lane...thanks for reading!

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