THE SAME DAY OVER AND OVER: HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019) & RUSSIAN DOLL (2019)

Movie Reviews by LL Soares

I admit it, sometimes I make bad decisions.

Like going to see HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2019).

Because this was coming out last Friday, I figured I’d repost my review of the first movie here last week. And that particular review wasn’t exactly glowing, and ended with the fact that, while I really liked actress Jessica Rothe in the lead role, and I wanted to see her again, I didn’t want to see her in another HAPPY DEATH DAY movie.

Then I went and plunked down my money, and got a ticket to HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U.

Bad move.

The first movie, HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) was about a college girl named Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) who keeps waking up in the same bed over and over in the dorm room of cute guy Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). It’s her birthday, and at the end of the day she keeps getting murdered by some psycho in a baby mask. Strangely, the baby face is also the mascot of the college basketball team. Each time she dies, she wakes up in the same bed, and the day starts all over again. As she realizes that the day is going to hit “reset” every time, she starts doing more and more outrageous things, knowing there won’t be repercussions (like walking around the campus naked). She also tries to figure out who’s killing her.  When she solves that mystery, the loop she’s trapped in is also broken, and she goes back to living her normal life. And that’s the first movie in a nutshell.

Of course, it’s pretty much the same plot as GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), that classic starring Bill Murray as a guy who keeps waking up and reliving the same day, except DEATH DAY includes a slasher element.

HAPPY DEATH DAY was repetitive (obviously), derivative, and not really all that clever (although it seemed to think it was). The only reason to see it at all was for Jessica Rothe’s performance as Tree. She’s very likeable, and made for a great lead actor. But the script by Scott Lobdell wasn’t all that great. And the plot left a lot to be desired. The slasher (big baby face!) wasn’t all that riveting, and the big reveal, where we find out who the killer is, was mediocre at best.

It’s the perfect example of a completely forgettable film, memorable only because its star made such a big impression, despite lackluster material to work with.

Which brings us to the inevitable sequel. This was another successful Blumhouse series, which means it cost very little money, and, since the first one was kind of a hit, it went on to make a nice profit. So of course they’d go back to the same well. Again and again and again…

By the way, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U was written and directed by Christopher Landon, who directed—but didn’t write—the first film. In the first movie, the repetition resulted in a slowly growing sense of boredom. The new movie, which some people might consider ambitious, is just a different kind of boring.

See, this time, they actually try to figure out why poor Tree was living the same day over and over again, and it almost stops being a slasher film (although the killer does pop up when it’s convenient to the story, and the reveal of who it is this time is even lamer than the first movie’s resolution), and instead becomes a sci-fi flick. The thing is, boring is still boring, no matter what genre it is.

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U begins from a different perspective. This time our hero appears to be Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), the roommate of Carter Davis, both from the first film. Ryan spends the night sleeping in his car because his roommate is with a girl (our girl Tree). Turns out he’s working on some kind of weird machine with two other kids in the physics lab, Samar Ghosh (Suraj Sharma) and Andrea Morgan (Sarah Yarkin), that opens doorways into other dimensions, or something like that. If that’s not what it’s meant to do, then it doesn’t matter much, because that’s what it ends up doing, creating the time loops our characters get caught in.

Of course, as Ryan goes about his morning (including having the Dean, played by Steve Zissis, barge in and threaten to shut down their project), he eventually ends up in a dark lab and gets stabbed to death by our old friend in the baby mask (something that is never explained later, and I guess doesn’t matter, except to further the plot). Ryan dies and wakes up in his car again, where he was sleeping all night because his roommate Carter has a girl in their room, and the loop begins again. But this isn’t Ryan’s story, because once we find Tree again, and she realizes that Ryan is reliving the same day and that his loop has now glommed onto her, making her relive the day again, too, she is incredibly eager to stop it all before it turns into a loop without end.

Ryan’s in luck, since this means that a) he has help in trying to resolve the whole time loop thing and 2) the story transfers from him reliving the same day over and over to Tree being the star of the show and the one with the most to lose. In fact, the script seems to forget eventually that Ryan is reliving the same day, too, and it just focuses on Tree. I guess director/writer Landon got tired of Ryan.

At first, Tree keeps dying because of Baby Face. Then because she’s killing herself to start the same day over again (a humorous montage of outrageous suicides that mirrors a similar high point in the first film), and then it becomes the story of how she remembers everything when the day restarts, but no one else does (eventually, as I mentioned, not even Ryan) and she has to explain everything to them all over again day after day, and, as they try to come up with the equation that will fix their crazy machine and put time back where it belongs, they forget it all the next day, so Tree has to memorize extremely long algorithms, so they know what they’ve tried, and what failed. Which doesn’t sound very plausible at all.

And what started out as an interesting twist (moving from the slasher constantly killing Tree to Tree and her friends trying to get out of the time loop), turns into yet another repetitious snoozefest. The differences here being that, in this dimension (or time pocket, or whatever), Carter isn’t in love with Tree, he’s in love with her frenemy Danielle (Rachel Matthews), the mean girl who runs their sorority (of course, as time goes on, Carter sees that Tree is the one he belongs with), and Tree’s dead mother is actually alive in this dimension (she meets her visiting parents for lunch each (same) day at a restaurant– in the first movie it was just her widowed dad), and she has to decide whether it’s better to live in a world with her newly regained mom, but she isn’t together with Carter, or go back to the “real” world where she is with Carter, but her mom is dead. This sounds like a dramatic dilemma, but the truth is, we’ve seen all this before, and it seems more tired than profound. And the fact that we have to see it played out multiple times (without anything interesting getting added to the mix) just becomes irritating.

So there’s more in play here than just getting killed over and over and trying to solve the mystery. There’s dead people returned to life and crazy atom-smasher machines and angry deans and nerds who have to be reminded over and over what they did to fix the machine, and what they still haven’t tried, and frankly, as the movie goes on (and it’s only an hour and 40 minutes, but it seems longer), I just lost more and more interest in it, and when everything finally gets resolved, it felt predictable and kind of a big letdown (except I didn’t invest enough in it for it to be too disappointing).

Once again, the best thing in the movie is Jessica Rothe as Tree, except this time she has to give away some of her screen time to the other characters, who get fleshed out a little bit more than they did in the first movie, but not enough to really care about. And the sci-fi tropes that at first seem fresh become just as tiresome as the slasher tropes of the first film. And frankly, I just wanted to break the loop I was watching and just get up and leave. But I stayed till the end, because even though seeing this movie was a bad decision, I had to see it through, so I could warn you, the reader, not to get caught in the same loop I did.

But I can guarantee that I won’t get tricked a third time, and if there is a HAPPY DEATH DAY 3: IT’S THE SAME DAY AGAIN! (and, as we all know, trilogies are inevitable), I won’t be in the audience, no matter how they try to make it seem fresh. So next time, you’re on your own.

I give HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U a rating of one knife. Only because I like Jessica Rothe. But I don’t care about her character Tree anymore, or these movies, and I really just want her to move on already. Please! Get out of the loop of this damn series and show us what else you can do!!

*****

Which is all in direct contrast with a new 10-part series that just debuted on Netflix called RUSSIAN DOLL, starring the great character actress Natasha Lyonne as a New Yorker named Nadia Vulvokov, who keeps dying and waking up in the same bathroom at her own birthday party, and it sounds like almost the same plot of HAPPY DEATH DAY, and yet it’s very different, and not boring at all.

I’ve been a big fan of Lyonne since movies like SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS (1998) and BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER (1999) in the tail end of the 90s. But most of you will probably know her best from ORANGE IN THE NEW BLACK (2013 – 2018), where she plays Nicky Nichols, and more recent movies like ANTIBIRTH (2016). But the thing is, there’s just something incredibly cool about her and her persona, and RUSSIAN DOLL revels in that persona, it dives head first into that persona, and that’s a very good thing indeed.

Lyonne’s Nadia begins in the bathroom at the home of her friends Maxine (Greta Lee) and Lizzy (Rebecca Henderson). It’s a big bathroom, and it has a weird door with a glowing chasm in it, some artwork of Lizzy’s that’s really spooky looking. This sounds like a simple thing, but it’s a strong image. Also, Harry Nilsson’s song “Gotta Get Up” begins each time Nadia finds herself in that bathroom, and it’s a catchy tune (as most of Nilsson’s work is). Nadia leaves the bathroom and goes out to the living room, where her birthday party is in full swing. The first time she leaves with sleazy professor Mike Kershaw (Jeremy Bobb), but things change up pretty quickly. By the second time Nadia’s ex, John Reyes (Yul Vazquez) is showing up at her party, leading to different situations. The cool thing about RUSSIAN DOLL right from the start is that the character are interesting, and you care about Nadia right away, and you want to know more about the people in her life. These also include Elizabeth Ashley as a psychiatrist named Ruth Brenner, who pretty much raised Nadia when she was a kid, due to the negligence of her real mother, who was suffering with mental problems, and Farran (Ritesh Rajan), Nadia’s friend who also runs a neighborhood market she frequents. There’s also a homeless man who lives in a park across from Maxine’s building named Horse (Brendan Sexton III), who is also suffering from mental issues and who eventually plays a part in the storyline as well.

Unlike HAPPY DEATH DAY, RUSSIAN DOLL changes things up fairly quickly, as Nadia realizes what’s going on, and first thinks she is losing her mind (well, insanity runs in her family), but when she realizes she’s sane, she goes about doing whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this loop thing. Things get even more interesting when she finds out that she’s not the only one, and that a guy named Alan Zaveri (Charlie Barnett) is also experiencing the same phenomenon, and she first has to earn his trust, and then the two of them go about trying to solve the mystery and get out of the time loop together. RUSSIAN DOLL benefits from a smarter script, better actors, more developed characters, and more interesting twists than HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U. It also doesn’t hurt that RUSSIAN DOLL has more time to explore what’s going on and what’s causing it, and showing us how the characters change and develop, since it’s a 10-chapter series (each episode is 30 minutes long, so it’s an easy show to binge-watch). But the big question is, could I sit through five hours of HAPPY DEATH DAY and the answer is a strong No. Meanwhile, I loved RUSSIAN DOLL and look forward to more, if it gets renewed for Season 2.

RUSSIAN DOLL was created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler, with Headland and Jamie Babbit directing the episodes (and Lyonne directs one episode). The show has a strong creative team and everything works, from the acting to the scripts to the soundtrack. In these kinds of complex plots, there are bound to be flaws, and I’m sure there are a few lapses of logic in RUSSIAN DOLL, but frankly it’s so good that I didn’t notice. I was too busy enjoying it.

The bottom line is that HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U revels in its gimmick, and eventually wears out its welcome. RUSSIAN DOLL transcends its gimmick, giving us a more satisfying experience that leaves us wanting more. I give RUSSIAN DOLL a score of four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U ~~ one knife

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LL Soares gives RUSSIAN DOLL ~~ 4 knives.

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HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

Review by LL Soares

NOTE: This column first appeared on the Cinema Knife Fight website in 2017. I’m posting it this week because the sequel, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U comes out this Friday.

The first time you’re exposed to a gimmick, it can be a lot of fun. I know that I really enjoyed the Bill Murray movie GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) when it first came out, with Murray as Phil, a weatherman who lives the same day over and over again. When other movies used the same gimmick, it wasn’t always a bad thing. I thought EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014), was one of Tom Cruise’s more entertaining recent movies, where he lived the same day over and over, to learn how to defeat aliens who had invaded Earth.

But gimmicks can get tired pretty quickly.

The new movie HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) takes the gimmick and puts a slasher spin on it, as sorority girl Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) finds herself waking up to the same day over and over. Except, at the end of the day, she is killed by someone in a baby mask, and she wakes up and it starts all over again, with her knowing she’s going to die, and her doing her damndest to change the course of history.

When Tree wakes up, she’s in the dorm room of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), who seems like a nice enough guy. Tree, however, is kind of a creep and treats him badly from the get go. She drank so much the night before, she doesn’t even remember how she got in his bed. She quickly gets dressed, runs back to her sorority house, and goes about her day, mostly engaging in bad behavior. Oh yeah, and it’s her birthday.

When a guy in that baby mask (it’s supposed to be the school mascot, but I never saw the actual name of their football team, was it the Big Babies?) gets her alone at night and stabs her to death, you figure that’s it. She’s dead. But no, she wakes up all in Carter’s dorm room. And it all begins again.

Tree catches on pretty quick and figures out what’s happening to her. She starts to treat it almost as a game, as she keeps changing her behavior throughout the day, trying to get a different outcome. But no matter what she tries, that masked killer somehow tracks her down.

But she does learn with the repetition. She begins to realize how much of a jerk she’s been and starts trying to make better decisions, and be a nicer person. She realizes how good a guy Carter is, and confides in him about what’s going on (of course, the next time she wakes up, he’s forgotten everything and she has to start all over again).

She does eventually figure out who her killer is, and starts devising a way to change her fate, so she does learn from her mistakes. But, once the mysteries begin to get solved, we still have no clue why she’s reliving the same day. It’s not like her murder is some huge supernatural event that deserves all this repetition. In fact, the answers are pretty mundane. And yet, she relives it all anyway.

To be honest, I thought the plot of HAPPY DEATH DAY was kind of lame, and even though there is some humor about it all (including a conversation about Bill Murray’s GROUNDHOG DAY at one point), I found the concept getting tired by the halfway point.

The only thing that saves this movie from being a complete waste of time is the lead performance by Jessica Rothe, who previously had supporting roles in movies like WOLVES and LA LA LAND (both 2016). Rothe is more than capable of carrying the film and keeping us watching, no matter how tedious the storyline gets.  It’s the kind of performance that can lead to bigger things, but frankly, I’d be more interested in seeing her future work than seeing this movie again. With its “same day over and over” plot, I already feel like I’ve sat through it multiple times.

The rest of the cast is okay, including Broussard (previously in the movie THE BLING RING, 2013, and also on the show FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, 2016) as sweet guy Carter; Rachel Matthews (making her film debut here) as mean girl Danielle Bouseman, who is the head of Tree’s sorority house (and quite good in her scenes); Billy Slaughter (previously in TRUMBO, 2015, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and BAD MOMS, both 2016) as Dr Winter, a married professor Tree’s sleeping with;, and Ruby Modine (on the Showtime series SHAMELESS) as Lori Spengler, Tree’s roommate.

It’s directed by Christopher Landon, who also gave us PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES (2014), probably the weakest installment of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise, and SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (2015). He does a decent enough job here. Scott Lobdell, who wrote the script, previously wrote mostly for comics (including the X-MEN titles). The script has its moments, but overall is kind of so-so. Actress Jessica Rothe transcends the material, however, and is very watchable.

As I mentioned, I really think this role will get her noticed and lead to better things.

But I’m kind of hoping this movie doesn’t do too well, because if it gets a sequel, I’ll have to sit through this plot again! And again. And again. It’s like cinematic OCD.

And once was enough.

I give HAPPY DEATH DAY two knives, mostly for Jessica Rothe’s performance. I’m looking to seeing her in other things, as long as they’re not HAPPY DEATH DAY 2, HAPPY DEATH DAY 3, and so on and so on.

© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares

 

Two Film Debuts: SCHLOCK (1973) and DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988)

Reviews by LL Soares

I recently checked out two new Blu-rays featuring the film debuts of directors John Landis and Jim Van Bebber. Landis is best known for directing such bonafide movie classics as ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), and while he worked on other directors’ films previously, including as an assistant director, SCHLOCK (1973) was his first feature as a director.  Van Bebber, probably best known for the controversial feature THE MANSON FAMILY (1997), made his feature debut with the low-budget gang drama DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988). Both SCHLOCK and DEADBEAT are available now on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video in Collector’s Special Editions.

SCHLOCK is a horror comedy about a missing link who pops up out of a cave one day and goes on a killing spree. The movie is very silly for most of its run time, calling to mind such films as Landis’ THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977) and John De Bello’s ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978), which was obviously influenced by it. There’s a conceited reporter, inept cops (led by Detective Sgt. Wino, played by Saul Kahan), and even a blind girl who thinks apeman Schlock is a dog and pets him and throws a stick for him to fetch (a very funny scene). There’s lots of limbs torn off bodies, but very little blood. Most of the humor is way over the top and broad, but there are some subtler scenes that work better, including one where Schlock accompanies a blind singer on the piano, that ends in a way you don’t expect. The plot is almost non-existent, and a lot of the humor is so corny that is elicits more groans than laughs, but it is what it is, the first movie by a very talented guy who would go on to make much better films. And, along with the groaners, there are a few big (and genuine) laughs to be had.

The most important thing about the film, aside from Landis’ debut, is that it’s also the film debut of makeup maestro Rick Baker, who gives us an apeman who looks pretty authentic. Back then, if you saw a gorilla in a movie, it was most obviously a guy in a clumsy suit, and it was really hard to suspend disbelief. The makeup in SCHLOCK is very impressive in comparison, and it was no surprise that Baker would go on to greatness (including doing the transformation scenes for Landis’ horror classic, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON eight years later). The man inside the SCHLOCK suit is none other than Landis himself, by the way, and the character of SCHLOCK is the whole reason to see this one.

SCHLOCK was another one of those movies that I remember seeing stills of in the magazine FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND as a kid, but I never saw the movie. Thank you to Arrow Video for reissuing this film in a great new special Blu-ray edition!

***

Jim Van Bebber’s DEADBEAT AT DAWN (1988) is one of those movies I’d always heard about, but didn’t have a chance to see. It’s also been released in a new Special Edition from Arrow Video, and is a street gang movie, probably inspired by THE WARRIORS (1979), but made on a miniscule budget. One of the good things about the videotape boom in the 80s was that distributors always needed new content, so it gave more indie filmmakers a chance to make movies. DEADBEAT is raw, but has some things to recommend it.

It’s the story of two gangs in Dayton, Ohio, the Ravens and Spiders, who hate each other and get in street rumbles a lot, with members trying to kill each other. Goose (director Jim Van Bebber himself) is the leader of the Ravens and the closest thing this movie has to a hero. He’s not afraid of violence, but has a moral code, and loves his girlfriend Christie (Megan Murphy) a lot. Christie is a mystical hippie chick who keeps trying to get him to quit the gang, but he doesn’t listen. Eventually, she threatens to leave him if he doesn’t give up his violent ways, and he decides to choose her over the Ravens.

The Spiders are led by Danny (Paul Harper) a mean-ass thug who wants to be the king of the streets.

The Ravens are pretty much the top gang until Goose just walks away from it all. He cuts his ties with them and tries to make one last drug deal to have money so he and Christie can start a new life. While he’s gone, Danny sends two of his thugs to Goose’s apartment to eliminate him. Instead, they find Christie alone, and violent thug Bonecrusher (Marc Pitman) kills her. Goose gets back home and finds Christie dead. He is mortified and disposes of her body in a trash compactor (!).

Almost insane with grief and unable to turn to the Ravens, Goose hits rock bottom, breaking into the apartment of his father, a Vietnam veteran and drug addict who lives in squalor and almost kills Goose when he finds him.

Eventually, Goose goes back to the gang, but things have changed. Now Keith (Ric Walker), Goose’s former second-in-command, is running the Ravens, and has made a truce with the Spiders. Both gangs, now working together, are planning a big score, but Danny and the Spiders have some treachery planned, and a goal to wipe out the Ravens once and for all.

Despite the low budget and rawness of the film, my favorite thing about it is the performance of Van Bebber as Goose. I thought he was charismatic and sympathetic in the role, and easily the best character. I’m really surprised he hasn’t had a bigger career as an actor, and while he made a few movies after this as a director, I wish he’d made more.

If you’re a fan of gang movies and don’t have a problem with low-budgets, you should check this one out.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

Dylan Dog Double Feature: CEMETERY MAN (1994) and DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010)

Review by LL Soares

This time, I wanted to compare two films based on characters created by Tiziano Sclavi. One, CEMETERY MAN (1994, aka DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) stars Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, and is based on an early story about the character who would become known as Dylan Dog, and DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010), starring one-time Superman Brandon Routh in the title role. For a long time, I’d heard that both movies were based on the Italian “Dylan Dog” comic books, about a paranormal detective, but I haven’t read the source material. They are, however, very different films.

I remember seeing CEMETERY MAN (1994) back in the 90s on VHS, and having mixed reactions about it. It was very atmospheric and had a lot going on for it, but it also had the common problem of Italian horror movies, that some of the script didn’t make a lot of sense or was confusing.

I wanted to see it again and give it a second chance. This involved buying it on Amazon used, since the DVD, released from Anchor Bay in 2006, seems to be out of print, and is only available from third party sellers. It was on my “Keep An Eye On It” list for a long time before I was finally able to find a copy that wasn’t overpriced. For anyone reading this who has influence with distributors, this would be a terrific movie to reissue in a special edition, since it’s been neglected for so long. I’m not sure if the problems have been in legal rights, or just overall neglect, but this movie should at least be in print and on Blu-ray.

In the 90s, Rupert Everett seemed to be becoming a big name star. Before CEMETERY MAN, Everett was probably best known for appearing in the TV mini-series THE FAR PAVILIONS (1984) and in movies like THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS (1990, based on the novel by Ian McEwan) and the comedy INSIDE MONKEY ZETTERLAND (1992). After CEMETERY MAN, he was in movies like THE MADNESS OF KING GOERGE (1994), the Julia Roberts rom-com MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING (1997) and the thriller B. MONKEY (1998), starring Asia Argento. I don’t know if he ever really became a star (or, rather, how well known he is) but he has appeared in a lot of things since.

In CEMETERY MAN, he plays the man in charge of upkeep for an old cemetery in Italy, named Francesco Dellamorte—supposedly an alias that Dylan Dog occasionally used in comics, although here he is not a detective.  I’m guessing that this story takes place before he becomes the detective character made famous in the comic books.

Anyway, back to the cemetery. It has a problem—the recently deceased keep coming back to life.

Francesco lives in a little crypt-like building in the middle of the graveyard, with his mentally-challenged assistant, Gnaghi (Francois Jadji-Lazaro), who talks mostly in grunts, living in the basement below. When bodies rise again, Francesco simply kills them a second time with whatever’s handy, usually a gun which he uses to shoot the zombies in the head, or a shovel if it happens to be nearby. It’s all very matter-of-fact, because it happens all the time and Francesco is used to it. He doesn’t see much chance for change, because he has complained to the local government and they don’t believe him. He doesn’t simply quit, because he needs the job, and I guess killing zombies doesn’t seem too difficult.

Two recent corpses change the cemetery man and his assistant in a major way.

First, there is the very striking Italian actress and model Anna Falchi, who’s character is simply called “She” in the credits. Her husband, a rich older man who she greatly loved, has just died. Francesco is attracted to her right away, when he sees her at the funeral, but she shows no interest in his advances. She says her husband was a wonderful lover and no one would be able to compare to him (that’s a pretty graphic thing to tell a stranger, but okay). Francesco is determined to win her over, and eventually does by showing her an ossuary on the grounds (it’s like a crypt full of skeletons and decaying corpses that are just allowed to rot all together in the same room). When he shows it to her, she is immediately aroused. But when they make love later, on top of her husband’s grave, the deceased husband rises from the earth, and has to be put back down. Before that can happen, he bites “She” and she dies soon afterwards. This devastates Francesco. It is even worse when he has to kill her a second time, after her funeral.

Second, there’s the daughter of the mayor, Valentina Scanarotti (Fabiana Formica), a young girl who catches Gnaghi’s eye. In fact, he’s so overwhelmed by her that the first time they meet, he vomits on her (what a way to get someone’s attention!). When she dies in a motorcycle accident and is decapitated, Gnaghi brings her reanimated head to his cellar room to keep him company. They even plan to marry! But, of course, things go sadly wrong.

The zombies here are a mix of flesh-eaters and more sentient types (one guy, Claudio, is buried with his motorcycle and is able to continue riding it after he reanimated). But all have to be put back in the earth where they belong.

One of the aspects that were confusing here includes a sequence where Francesco, who has loved a girl who rose from the dead, decides that he must kill the living after meeting the Grim Reaper one night. He proceeds to murder a group of bikers who have been mocking him. He is not arrested for the crime, and it’s not really clear why he gets this hatred of the living.

Despite its more puzzling aspects, I liked CEMETERY MAN a lot. It holds up well, and I’m glad I watched it again. Rupert Everett is very good in the lead, the cast is good, and Anna Falchi is suitably striking. The direction, by Michele Soavi, who also gave us THE CHURCH (1989), is effective and atmospheric, and the moments of gallows humor interspersed throughout work rather well. Most of the comic relief is thanks to poor Gnaghi. The script is by Gianni Romoli (who also wrote 20 CIGARETTES, 2010), based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi. Definitely worth checking out.

****

In comparison, we have DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT from 2010, which resurrects the Dylan Dog character, this time living in America (Louisiana to be precise). He’s a detective from the get-go here, and one who specializes in supernatural cases. Brandon Routh, who comes off playing Superman in the underrated SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), plays him as a kind of nerdy eccentric. He gets involved in a murder case that involves werewolves, a sect of gangster-like vampires, and zombies. In this story, some people just happen to come back from the dead, and his assistant this time, Marcus (Sam Huntington) finds himself reanimated, but he’s not a flesh-eating creature, he’s the comic relief in this one. In fact, there’s a whole underground network of zombies here that deal in body parts: when one of your limbs or organs rot away, you can buy new ones in an underground market.

The other characters include the woman who hires Dylan for the case, Elizabeth (Anita Briem), who has secrets of her own; Vargas (Taye Diggs), a local vampire who wants to be the kingpin of this town; and Wolfgang (Kurt Angle), who wants to lead the werewolves after his father, Gabriel (Peter Stormare) is eliminated.

DYLAN DOG might have been Brandon Routh’s chance at leading another comic book franchise after the Superman job didn’t work out, but it’s a pretty weak film. It’s full of clichés and stupid jokes, and the storyline, involving everyone trying to get ahold of an ancient artifact, is pretty lame. Routh tries to be both mysterious and funny, but he just comes off as bland. In fact, the whole enterprise is rather bland, and there’s nothing much to recommend this movie. It’s just forgettable. Even more so, when compared to the much more ambitious CEMETERY MAN.

DYLAND DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT was directed by Kevin Munroe, who also directed the Teenage Mutant Ninja movie called TMNT (2007) and the animated film RATCHET & CLANK (2016). It’s written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (they both also wrote the Jason Momoa version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, 2011), based on Tiziano Sclavi’s comic book series (there’s even a vampire in the movie called Sclavi).

So, CEMETERY MAN is worth looking for, and really deserves a deluxe reissue on Blu-ray. And DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT isn’t worth your time, and probably deserves to be forgotten.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

GLASS (2018)

Review by LL Soares

The comeback of M. Night Shyamalan continues…

After the peaks (THE SIXTH SENSE, 1999) and valleys (THE HAPPENING, 2008) of his earlier films, Shyamalan was once again fulfilling his promise with a little found-footage horror movie called THE VISIT (2015). He followed that with the horror film SPLIT (2016), where James McAvoy delivered a tour de force performance as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with 23 distinct personalities, collectively called “the Horde, one of which was a superhuman creature called “The Beast” (not to be confused with Marvel’s Hank McCoy) who’s only desire was to kill (to protect the core personality, Kevin). At the end of that movie, we got a surprise. The ending revealed that SPLIT, aside from being another successfully Shyamalan production, took place in the same world as his 2000 film, UNBREAKEBLE, and was kind of a sequel to that film.

And now we have GLASS (2018), the sequel to SPLIT, which brings it all full circle. And, at this point, it is no longer a comeback. Shyamalan is here.

GLASS takes its name from Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who called himself Mister Glass in UNBREAKABLE, and revealed himself to be a highly intelligent villain, albeit one with a serious condition —his bones were incredibly breakable, making his body as fragile as glass.

But GLASS does not begin with Mister Glass. It begins with the Beast still on the loose and having recently kidnapped four cheerleaders, keeping them captive in an abandoned warehouse. Meanwhile, it turns out that David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the hero of UNBREAKABLE, has been busy since we last saw him, handing out vigilante justice with the help of his now-grown son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) who uses technology to be David’s eyes in the city. David still wears the raincoat we saw him in in UNBREAKABLE, but now the press has dubbed his alter ego “The Overseer,” and he’s a sensation on YouTube (of course).

When Dunn tracks The Beast down, they have their first big showdown, which looks a little clumsy compared to the super-choreographed fight scenes in a Marvel or DC blockbuster, but that’s the point. This story is supposed to take place in the real world. Or at least something a lot closer to reality than a universe where superheroes are overabundant.

Their battle is cut short by armed police, and the two of them are taken into custody.

But they are not brought to matching jail cells. Instead, they are brought to a mental hospital, where one whole wing has been adapted to contain them. Cameras are everywhere, and clearly someone has been watching them closely, because their weaknesses are used to control their behavior. For Dunn, it is pipes that shoot water into his room if he gets out of line (playing upon his weakness from UNBREAKABLE), and, for Mr. Crumb, a hypnotic series of lights is used to flip his personalities like a television remote channel surfing, thus quickly getting him out of a particular hostile personality if it should arise.

When they meet their “jailer,” her name is Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), and her particular psychological field of expertise involves people who think they have superpowers. She plans to prove that these powers are not real, and rid them of their delusions. It’s here that the titular Mister Glass joins the storyline. He’s been an inmate at this same hospital for years now, and has been kept heavily sedated, but because his “delusion” of being a mastermind super villain, he shares a mania with our two other characters, and is moved to Dr. Staple’s new wing, to partake in some intensive group therapy.

At the same time, we get to see more of each character’s primary family member, as they come to the hospital to meet with Dr. Staple. This includes David’s son, Joseph; Mister Glass’s mother, Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard), who clearly does not see her son as some kind of patient or a villain, but as a very special human being; and, since Kevin Wendell Crumb has no family that we know of, we see more of Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), the teenage girl who was previously kidnapped by The Beast (in SPLIT), but who somehow managed to survive the ordeal. She is actually empathetic toward her former captor, seeking to help the tormented Kevin, who she sees as a sympathetic victim of his illness. It’s Casey’s support that I have the hardest time getting my head around, but I go along with it, and with Shyamalan’s story.

And so the stage is set, as Dr. Staple goes about trying to prove her theory. But who is she working for? Surely, if she is just using these people to prove her own hypothesis, she would need access to powerful people in order to acquire a whole wing of a mental hospital for just three patients; a wing which has been elaborately prepared for their particular needs and weaknesses. An entire wing that could have been used by a lot more patients in need of help. This isn’t something a person does on a whim. Also, she has been able to do an awful lot of research on these people, and has clearly been watching them for a while now. Is she right that their powers are simply figments of their imaginations, or are they real?

And what of our three superhumans? Going in, we’re led to believe from the previous movies that their powers are real, and that their being brought together will have to result in some kind of major showdown. If so, how long will such a prison be able to hold them?

A long time ago, before UNBREAKABLE, I had the idea for a story involving a superhero in the real world. What would that be like? Now, it would be more of a cliché, but back when UNBREAKABLE made the concept a reality, it was something fresh, and I’m a big fan of that movie. GLASS takes this to the next level. The reason why these movies are so interesting is that they mash up comic book tropes with a world that is a bit more “real” than the one we usually see in the big-budget, larger than life, comic book movies.

Some people have had issues with the movie’s third act, but it worked for me. Not only does it offer a satisfying resolution to the suspense we feel throughout, but it takes the entire storyline and cranks the volume up to 11. By the time the movie ends, a door has been opened, and there is potential for the concept to grow further. Mr. Shyamalan has done his job.

Which is something I’m happy to say. I was a fan of his through his earlier films, and it was fun to see what he would come up with next. When he seemed to lose his mojo, I found it depressing that such a talented director hadn’t lived up to his potential. But he’s back in the saddle now, and I’m excited about his career again.

I liked this movie, and while it’s been getting mixed reviews, I thought it did a good job mixing real-world issues with the kinds of powers that we read about in comic books. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives GLASS ~~ 3 knives

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SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS (1971)

Review by LL Soares
(Warning: Contains Spoilers)

When you’ve seen as many movies as I have over the years (including more than my share of “so bad they’re good” flicks), it’s hard to be surprised anymore. But I had more than a few WTF! moments while watching the 1971 movie SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS. How did I miss this one? What surprised me most were 1) how awful it is, and 2) how hilarious it is.

We begin with Aunt Martha (Abe Zwick) coming out a travel agency. Right away, you’ll notice something. This isn’t a woman. It’s a guy in a bad wig. Nobody in their right mind would be tricked by this “disguise.” She is looking at some cruise tickets in her hand, then she gets a taxi home.

When she gets there, her odd and very nosy neighbor, Mrs. Adams (Yanka Mann) is outside (across the street) with her daughter Vicki (Robin Hughes). Mrs. Adams waves and calls out “Hello,” several times, but Aunt Martha just ignores her. So the woman crosses the street and even climbs the front steps while Martha searches in her purse for her house keys, saying “Hello” over and over. Martha has no choice but to invite her inside.

Martha lives in the house with her “nephew” Stanley (Wayne Crawford, who also used the name Scott Lawrence), a goofy guy who is always playing pranks. Stanley always wears a vest (no shirt) and snakeskin pants. He never wears anything else. He never changes his clothes. And he’s always getting high. Martha complains about Stanley, but mentions that the next day is his birthday. Mrs. Adams insists on making a cake and coming over the next day with Vicki as a surprise. Willing to do anything to get Mrs. Adams to leave, Martha agrees.

Martha takes off her wig, revealing herself to be Paul, a guy who is wanted by the police. He always puts on a wig and women’s clothes when he leaves the house, but now that he’s home, he kicks off his heels and opens a beer. Despite the fact that he’s not Stanley’s real aunt, he acts like the real thing, constantly nagging and chastising Stanley for his silly behavior and his running off with girls all the time.

Unlike a movie like PSYCHO (1960), AUNT MARTHA makes no attempt at building suspense. It’s no secret that Martha is really Paul. And it’s obvious from the start that a murder that Stanley did in Baltimore, that he can’t remember, was really committed by Paul. But Paul loves Stanley, is obsessed with him, and keeps the lie going so that Stanley is dependent on him. They have moved to the suburbs of Miami, and come up with the ruse that they’re aunt and nephew to stay under the radar of any police who might be looking for them.

Meanwhile, Stanley goes around, getting high with friends and going to the beach with girls. When one girl, Alma (Marty Cordova) demands he bring her back home with him, they end up in a bedroom, and two weird things happen. First, Alma takes off her clothes and starts making out with Stanley, but when she tries to take off his pants, Stanley goes crazy, shouting and demanding that she leave. The other weird thing is that Aunt Martha comes rushing in with a knife. Stanley wrestles with his aunt and Alma gets away (after taking an awful long time to put her clothes on downstairs), but Martha soon after tracks her down in the woods and stabs Alma to death.

This is a pattern we’ll see more of, where Stanley seems attracted to girls but can’t have sex with them. And Martha kills any girls who she sees with Stanley.

At one point, an old bum named Hubert (Don Craig) shows up at the local Pizza Place (that’s the actual name of the place) where Stanley supposedly “works” (though we never see him actually work there) asking for Stanley. Stanley remembers him from the Baltimore days and brings him back to the house. Martha/Paul is convinced that he’s a con-man and is up to something, but Stanley is trusting and innocent (i.e., stupid). Martha agrees to let Hubert stay in the guest room, but later creeps down the stairs and tries to kill their new houseguest with a gun. Hubert is expecting her, though, and has a gun of his own. Hubert reveals that he knows all about what’s going on, but only wants a place to stay, since his landlord back in Baltimore threw him out, and he has nowhere to go. Martha reluctantly agrees to let him stay.

In another scene, Stanley goes to a shack in the woods near his home, and finds a guy named Joe (Mike MIngoia) getting high with two girls, Dolores (Maggie Wood) and Mary Lou (Sandra Lurie), and they ask him to join them. When Dolores (who is a waitress at Pizza Place) tries to make out with Stanley and remove his pants, his goes nutso again, even going to far to try to strangle Dolores and then Mary Lou. Joe wrestles with him and knocks him down, and they flee.

(SPOILER ALERT!)

Stanley spends a day hanging out with Vicki, the young nurse who lives across the street from them with her mother, Mrs. Adams. When they come back, Martha sees them and gets jealous, which, as we know, makes Aunt Martha do those dreadful things. Around the same time, Hubert starts ransacking the house, looking for lot, and finds a little treasure box full of jewelry that Martha has stashed (that obviously once belonged to the woman she killed in Baltimore). When he tries to flee, Martha chases him with a gun. Meanwhile, Mrs. Adams comes over with a birthday cake, and Hubert knocks her over. She starts screaming and Stanley brings her to that shack behind his house to calm her down (why not just bring her home? She lives across the street!). Mrs. Adams start screaming about her baby (shortly before, Vicki told Aunt Martha that her mother is pregnant, even though she looks pretty old), and she also has a bad heart.

She dies, but Stanley is terrified that her baby will die with her, so he grabs a kitchen knife (the same one that was used in the murder back in Baltimore!) and removes the baby himself!! From this point on, the movie is actually a little creepy. When Martha finally finds him (after finishing Hubert off), she finds Stanley rocking a bloody baby in his arms! It looks like a doll, and I guess that’s because it’s dead. Stanley leaves the baby on Vicki’s doorstep and rings the bell, (she screams when she finds it).

(END OF SPOILERS)

Paul and Stanley then go on the lam, convinced the police will be coming after them. Their strange relationship reaches its violent climax inside an abandoned movie studio, where they go to hide out, and where the police hunt them down.

Note: one of the cops is none other than William Kerwin (aka Thomas Wood)—from lots of Herschell Gordon Lewis movies, including his classic, BLOOD FEAST (1963) —in what amounts to a cameo. In the credits it says that Kerwin was also a grip in the movie’s crew (!).

This movie is amazing! The acting is pretty awful throughout but very entertaining, with Abe Zwick and Wayne Crawford, our two leads, playing it especially over-the-top. The script is nonsensical and unintentionally hilarious. Zwick’s Paul has to be the most unconvincing “guy pretending to be a woman” of all time. Mrs. Adams looks way too old to be a mother (and doesn’t look pregnant at all, even though her baby is fully formed). And Vicki and Mrs. Adams are always getting rides or taking long walks to get back to their house, when they live RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET.

AUNT MARTHA is Thomas Casey’s only director credit. I wish he had made other movies. He was also a writer (FLESH FEAST, 1970) and a cinematographer, but his resume is very short. A lot of the cast, including star Abe Zwick, have this movie as their only acting credit (or just have a few). Wayne Crawford (who plays Stanley) had the most successful acting career, going on to act in movies like GOD’S BLOODY ACRE (1975) and VALLEY GIRL (1983) and TV shows like HILL STREET BLUES and CAGNEY & LACEY. Crawford even played the lead in a movie called JAKE SPEED (1986).

This is a one-of-a-kind, weirdo movie, that definitely should be sought out. At times, it reminded me of the early comedies of John Waters, even though it was clearly meant to be serious. Even though it’s billed as a horror movie I think that, with a laugh track, it could easily pass for a sitcom that just happens to have some nudity and murder in it. I loved it.

SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS needs to be seen to be believed. So go see it!

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

 

MY TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018

By LL Soares

 With no further to do, here is my list of my favorite films of 2018, in order:

  1. ANNIHILATION– I was already impressed with Alex Garland after his 2014 film EX MACHINA. ANNIHILATION was even better. Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, and starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson, it’s about a group of women who explore a patch of land that has been altered by a meteorite and has evolved into something more extraterrestrial than earthbound. The look and feel of the movie, combined with the strong story and fine acting, made this one to beat in 2018 when it came out last February. Despite some strong contenders, I didn’t see anything else that was as good. With an ending that reminded me of Kubrick, in a good way. And that’s high praise..
  2. MANDY– Directed by Panos Cosmatos, who also gave us 2010’s BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, how much you’ll enjoy MANDY may depend, in part, on how much you like actor Nicolas Cage. He’s appeared in some pretty awful movies over the years, but 2018 saw something of a renaissance in Cage’s career, with this one, MOM AND DAD and LOOKING GLASS. Cage plays a lumberjack whose wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is kidnapped and killed by a weird-ass cult led by a thoroughly creepy dude named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Cage’s Red Miller suffers greatly before getting his revenge. A completely insane movie that redeems Cage for his cinematic sins.
  3. SUSPIRIA – I’m a big fan of the original 1977 movie by Dario Argento. It’s one of his best – if not the very best. But the first thing to do when seeing Luca Guadagnino’s “remake” is to consider this a completely different film. Except for the title and some plot similarities, the two films are separate entities. Compared to Argento, this film will come up short, but on its own, it’s a thrilling, visually-stunning flick, with the underrated Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, who arrives in  Berlin in 1977 to join the modern dance school where Madame Blanc (the always amazing Tilda Swinton) teaches. I actually didn’t care for the very first scene between a muddled Chloe Grace Moretz and her psychiatrist played by Lutz Ebersdorf (Swinton in disguise as a man, but the trick isn’t as astounding as everyone involved thinks it is), but once that scene is over, it kicks into full gear, and, despite its flaws, turns out to be a thrilling experience. With some gruesome scenes (including a terrific final 30 minutes), some amazing modern dance sequences, and a terrific score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, this was one of the best times I had in a theater in 2018. The fact that it is number 3 on my list, despite my complaints, means what’s good about this movie is very good indeed.
  4. THE FAVOURITE & THE TALE (tie)– Director Yorgos Lanthimos, who previously gave us some surreal (and terrific) films like THE LOBSTER (2015) and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017) , gave us his most accessible film in 2018, a period drama about England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her relationships with Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), two women competing to be the Queen’s advisor and confidante. But Lanthimos, being who he is, doesn’t’ just give us a dry episode of MASTERPIECE THEATER. His film has its bizarre moments, but it also is a lot of fun, with three amazing performances at its heart by Colman, Weisz and Stone. A wonderful film. ///THE TALE – Jennifer Fox’s amazing film (based on real aspects from her childhood) didn’t get a real theatrical release, instead airing on HBO in May 2018. It stars Laura Dern as a woman who looks back on an “affair” she had with an older guy (Jason Ritter) when she was an underage teenager, and her slow realization that it was actually molestation, and has deeply damaged her as an adult. Probably the most disturbing movie I saw in 2018, this one has real power.
  5. FIRST REFORMED and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (tie). Paul Schraeder, who has written some true classics (TAXI DRIVER, 1976, RAGING BULL, 1980), and directed some as well (HARDCORE, 1979, AFFLICTION, 1997, AUTO FOCUS, 2002), has seemed a little adrift the past decade or so, but FIRST REFORMED is a return to greatness. About a Protestant minister who has a crisis of faith while trying to help a trouble vet obsessed with climate change—who undergoes a transformation of his own—with a killer last scene that transcends everything that came before it. With an amazing central performance by Ethan Hawke, possibly his career best, and great supporting work by Amanda Seyfried and the (criminally underrated) Cedric the Entertainer./// YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE gives us Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a man who is hired to liberate kidnapped children who are being used in sex trafficking. He’s a troubled vet who is struggling to keep his sanity and who lives primarily to save other people’s lives, and a veritable violence machine bent on righting wrongs, no matter what the cost, even it’s his own soul. With another mesmerizing performance by Phoenix, and excellent direction by Lynne Ramsay, who also wrote the screenplay, based on the book by Jonathan Ames.
  6. HEREDITARY and SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (tie) – When HEREDITARY came off of some festival showings, the buzz was deafening. This was the horror movie to see in 2018. When I finally saw it, I have to admit, I was a tiny bit disappointed. But this is the kind of movie that grows on you. We’ve seen some of this kind of story before, but here it’s presented in a fresh, vibrant new coat of paint. With a terrific performance by Toni Collette as Annie, a mother dealing with grief as she builds fascinating tableaus featuring miniatures. Collette really deserves more praise for an impressive career. With strong supporting work from Gabriel Byrne as her husband, Steve; Alex Wolff as her troubled son, Peter; and Ann Dowd as a creepy lady named Joan. And a truly chilling performance by Milly Shapiro as Annie’s daughter, Charlie. Even more impressive, this was Ari Aster’s feature movie debut. /// SORRY TO BOTHER YOU offers Lakeith Stanfield (Darius on the FX series ATLANTA) in an effective lead performance as Cassius Green, a down-on-his-luck telemarketer who finds fame (of a sort) and fortune once he learns to tap into his inner “white voice.” With great supporting roles by Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun and Armie Hammer (and some strange horse creatures), this was a rare thoroughly surreal adventure (when’s the last time we had one of those?), directed by another first-timer, rapper Boots Reilly.
  7. BLACK PANTHER – the best superhero movie of the year is brought to us via Marvel and director Ryan Coogler, and features T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a super-powered costumed crimefighter who also happens to be the king of a small (technologically advanced) African nation. This was like no superhero movie before it, with a focus on the traditions and culture of a fictional nation that made it seem completely real, right down to the ritual battles to claim the crown. With terrific supporting work from Danai Gurira (Michonne from The Walking Dead), Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s genius sister, Shuri, and Michael B. Jordon as the bitter (and sympathetic) bad guy, Erik Killmonger. It has its flaws: including completely wasting potential bad guy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who becomes the very cool baddie Klaw in the comics (but not here), and Martin Freeman as the bland (and sometimes annoying) S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Everett K. Ross (who seemed completely unnecessary to the story to me). Despite that, this one offered a really refreshing spin on the superhero genre. And was an awful lot of fun.
  8. UPGRADE – I went into this one with no expectations. It features Logan Marshall-Green (from THE INIVITATION, 2015) as a guy who is paralyzed (and his wife is murdered) in a violent attack, and who is given a second chance when a chip with an Artificial Intelligence called Stem (voiced by Simon Maiden) is implanted in his spine, giving him his mobility back, and a whole new set of skill sets, some specifically made for killing. Not really a totally new idea, but Green sells it and the movie does a good job making it a very entertaining joy ride. The best parts are the conversations between Green and Stem, who wants to take over his body. Kind of an internal buddy movie. The superhero movie VENOM reminded me of this one, with Tom Hardy talking to the alien symbiote that has invaded his body. Except Hardy (and Michelle Williams) were the only good things in the otherwise awful (script-wise) VENOM. In UPGRADE, it all worked, and the story was equally compelling. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who previously directed INSIDIOUS, CHAPTER 3 (where he also played Specs) and wrote the first three SAW movies. I enjoyed this one much more than I should have.
  9. ROMA/THE APOSTLE (tie) – ROMA is currently streaming on Netflix (and having a limited theatrical run) and offers a beautiful black and white look back at director Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood. It’s more interested in characters than plot, and focuses mostly on a servant named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who takes care of a wealthy family in a section of Mexico City called Roma, and is a mother figure to the kids (while their real mother can’t be bothered most of the time). It’s about everyday life and even though it is a bit slow paced, it really works as a remembrance of things past. /// In Gareth Evans’ THE APOSTLE, Dan Stevens (who seems to be having a lot of fun since leaving Downton Abbey) plays a man who goes to a weird island that is home to a pagan cult. He’s there to find his kidnapped sister and bring her home. But nothing goes according to plan, and things get a lot worse (and violent) before they get any better. Stevens is terrific, as is Michael Sheen as the Prophet Malcolm. Written and directed by Gareth Evans, who previously gave us THE RAID movies.
  10. A QUIET PLACE – director/actor John Krasinski and his co-star (and real life wife) Emily Blunt give us a small film about a big event: the destruction of earth by creatures that kill whatever they can hear. Throughout the film, the main characters—a couple and their kids—have to keep it quiet to stay alive, but that doesn’t take anything away from the riveting story. While I also enjoyed the (similarly themed) recent Netflix film BIRD BOX (starring Sandra Bullock and based on the novel by Josh Malerman), A QUIET PLACE is the one that makes my list.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR—Just about every hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except for a few missing faces like Hawkeye and Ant-Man) goes up against the formidable bad guy Thanos, who wants to wipe out half of the universe. And yet, even though the movie juggles an absurd amount of characters, you never once get lost or wonder what’s going on (if you’ve been following the Marvel movies). For this juggling act alone, I thought INFINITY WAR was impressive. But the fact that Thanos is a worthy bad guy (this isn’t always the case in Marvel movies) and the story actually has some decent heft, made it shine so much more than the last Avengers movie, AGE OF ULTRON (2015).

THOROUGHBREDS—Anya Taylor-Joy (THE WITCH, 2015) is Lily, a rich girl who hates her creepy stepfather. Olivia Cooke (ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, 2015, and the TV series BATES MOTEL) is Amanda, a girl she used to be friends with when they were younger—who she reunites with for a tutoring gig. Amanda can’t feel emotions and is prone to violence, and has spent her life pretending to be normal all her life. When Amanda suggests they kill Lily’s asshole stepfather (Paul Sparks, BOARDWALK EMPIRE), things get weird. With Anton Yelchin (GREEN ROOM, 2015) in his last role, as a scuzzy drug dealer named Tim. This was the feature debut of director Cory Finley.

A STAR IS BORN—yet another remake of this classic story of a successful man having a romance with a newcomer who he helps become a star, just as his own star is falling. Star/director Bradley Cooper is really good in this, and makes for a pretty believable rock star. Lady Gaga is equally as good, coming a long way from the stiff acting she did back on AMERICAN HORROR STORY. The music is good, too. Good movie, but not enough to make my top 10 list.

STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT—I’m not really sure why I love these movies. PREY AT NIGHT is a sequel, coming a decade after the original THE STRANGERS (2008). The three masked weirdos from the original film return to terrorize a family in a trailer park and knock them off one by one. I really enjoyed the original, and I enjoyed the bleakness of this one as well. Directed by Johannes Roberts.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2018

I really wanted to like THE HAPPYTOWN MURDERS. It stars Melissa McCarthy as a human detective who investigates a murder among puppets, who now live among us. Featuring puppets that swear constantly and have sex. Sounds like it could be hilarious. But the one thing this movie didn’t have was laughs. I didn’t laugh once. It was just depressing.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

If you liked this and you want to check out another “Best of 2018” List, go here to check out Dan Keohane’s favorite films of 2018.