OVERLORD (2018)

Review by LL Soares

When I first heard about the movie OVERLORD, it was over a year ago, and it was about to go into production. At that time I knew just a few things about it. First, it was produced by JJ Abrams; second, the script was about Nazi zombies; and third, it would be part of the loosely-connected CLOVERFIELD series of films that Abrams have overseen, which so far consists of the movies CLOVERFIELD (2008), 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016), and THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018). Well, the first two things I’d heard were right, but Abrams eventually decided not to have OVERLORD be a continuation of the CLOVERFIELD mythos after all, probably due to the failure of CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, which went straight to Netflix earlier this year and was pretty much universally panned by critics (including this one). Not making OVERLORD part of the CLOVERFIELD story was probably a good idea. Right now, PARADOX still has a lingering stink on it, and OVERLORD didn’t need the extra baggage.

A mix of a WWII mission movie and a horror film, OVERLORD is a fun little flick that tells a story that isn’t all that original, but which does a good job getting where it wants to go.

It starts in a plane over occupied France, one of many planes, but this one carries our heroes. It’s not long before the other planes around them start erupting in flames, and their own gets riddled with ammunition, forcing them to parachute out a little sooner than planned. This early scene takes us right into the middle of battle, and does a good job. OVERLORD isn’t SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), but this strong beginning is a little reminiscent of its “war as chaos” motif, if a low-budget version of it.

Our crew includes Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), an African-American soldier who is teased for his kindness (he even had a hard time hurting a mouse), and who is trying to prove himself in battle; wise-cracking Tibbet (John Magaro), who seems like the New York-bred wise-cracking private who we always see in these kinds of movies, a motor-mouth with a heart of gold under all that bluster; Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite), a young Jewish kid who is terrified to be in Nazi territory; and Chase (Iain De Caestecker), a journalist/photographer who is embedded in their group to take pictures. There’s also the mysterious Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) who has been added to this group of greenhorns because he’s a demolitions expert, and their mission needs him.

That mission is to take out a church steeple that doubles as a radio control tower. Take out the tower, and you seriously screw up the Nazis’ communications system, giving the Allies a chance to get in.

Our heroes find themselves in the little town surrounding the church, hiding in the attic of a German girl named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who lives there with her extremely ill aunt (Eva Magyar), and her young brother, Paul (Gianny Taufer). When a Nazi officer named Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) drops by for a “visit,” with every intention of raping Chloe, things get tense, and then violent. Leading to a plan to get inside the church and destroy the radio tower forever.

But there’s a lab in the church, a creepy German doctor (Erich Redman), and syringes full of red fluid very reminiscent of the (much prettier) glowing green goo that Herbert West injected into cadavers in RE-ANIMATOR (1985), with similar results.

There’s a scene toward the end where a zombified Wafner takes on the Americans, that goes on for a while, and yet works quite well. It’s a grueling sequence, and if Asbaek was effective as Wafner alive, he’s even more effective as the half-faced monster version.

The film is directed by Julius Avery, who previously directed some shorts and one other feature film, SON OF A GUN (2014), starring Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander, and he does a good job here. The  script by Billy Ray (who also wrote THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012, and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, 2013) and Mark L. Smith (who wrote VACANCY, 2007, THE REVENANT, 2015, and the 2015 American version of the French horror film MARTYRS), does some interesting things with a overly familiar story.

Jovan Adepo (also the son in FENCES, 2016, as well as having roles in MOTHER!, 2017, and the HBO series THE LEFTOVERS, 2015 – 2017) is good here as the kind-hearted Boyce, who nonetheless has something to prove as a soldier. He brings heart to his role. Wyatt Russell, who plays Ford, was previously in Richard Linklater’s EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016) and the Joe R. Lansdale adaptation, COLD IN JULY (2014), but is currently playing Sean “Dud” Dudley, a goofy surfer dude, in the FX series LODGE 49. His Corporal Ford is kind of a badass, and the complete opposite of dim-witted Dud, which I found kind of fascinating. I always love it when actors play against type and make it work. I also enjoyed the performance by Mathilde Ollivier as Chloe, who starts out as a desperate woman who is just trying to survive, but who, in later scenes, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, even picking up a flame-thrower when the opportunity presents itself. And, as I mentioned, Pilou Asbaek is very good as the main villain, Wafner.

OVERLORD isn’t life-changing, but it is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes in a movie theater, and I thought it worked well, considering the whole “Nazi experiments” horror movie has been done before (and zombies have been done to death). If you want to have a good time watching a movie, you could do worse than this one. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives OVERLORD ~ three knives out of five.

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Have you gotten HARD yet?

The new edition of my third novel, HARD, is available now from Crossroads Press in both an ebook/Kindle version, and a paperback hard copy version. Either way, if you haven’t read it yet, why not pop on over and check it out?

It’s not horror, but it does have porn stars, torturers, a serial killer, peeping toms, murder, and a whole lot more. Kind of a neo-noir novel with lots of sex and violence. 

Check it out on Kindle here!

Check out the paperback edition here!

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SUSPIRIA (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Like the recent reboot/sequel HALLOWEEN (2018), I left the theater with mixed emotions about Luca Gaudagnino’s remake of the Dario Argento horror classic SUSPIRIA (1977), but one thing was clear. Despite its flaws, the new SUSPIRIA is head and shoulders above David Gordon Green’s so-so HALLOWEEN. If nothing else, Gaudagnino is much more ambitious in his intentions.

Coming off of the massive hit of last year’s CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, Guadagnino seems to be an odd choice to remake one of the hallmarks of 1970s Italian horror. Except for both being Italian, there seems to be little in common between Gaudagnino and Argento. But let’s get something straight right from the start – this new film is not a direct remake. The two films share some characters and plot points (and, of course, a title), but the two SUSPIRIAs are very different films.

Gaudagnino’s SUSPIRIA is broken up into six acts and an epilogue. The first scene involves a young dancer, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) going to the office of her psychiatrist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), agitated and afraid. She says that the women who run the Helena Markos Dance Academy, where she lives as a student, are a coven of witches, and mean her harm. Klemperer is so alarmed by her behavior that he cancels his appointments with other patients to talk to her, but she ends up disappearing as quickly as she arrived. While I’m a big fan of Moretz, I found this scene, and her behavior, very annoying. I’m sure Gaudagnino intentionally crafted her behavior and lines, but for me, it immediately made it difficult to get into the story. I was so busy being irritated by Patricia, that I couldn’t let myself be immersed in the world of the film. That didn’t happen until the Patricia storyline was over, and Susie Bannion arrives.

The new film takes place in Berlin in 1977 (the year of Argento’s original film), and it’s a time of chaos, at the height of the Cold War, when Berlin was still a divided city between the democratic West and the Russian-controlled East. On the news is the hijacking of a plane by terrorists who are killing passengers if the police do not meet their demands (the real-life Lufthansa Flight 181 incident). While this intrusion of real history doesn’t explicitly play into the storyline, it creates a sense of unease throughout the film. 

Back to Susie. Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) is an American from a Mennonite family, who has come to Berlin to be a student of the much-vaunted Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), who is something of a legend in the world of modern dance. It seems that the academy has a stringent admittance policy, but Susie dazzles her teachers right from the start with her accomplished moves.

In fact, despite being a brand new student, Susie takes on the lead of the dance movement they are rehearsing, called Volk, when the former lead, Olga (Elena Fokina), leaves in a huff over Patricia’s disappearance. Olga doesn’t get far, though.

I took karate for awhile, and one of the things we did was a sequence of movements called katas, which were made up of a series of offensive and defensive moves. Later, we learned something called goshins, which were basically the mirror image of the katas—if katas were a one-sided fighting sequence, then goshins presented the other side of the fight.

What happens to Olga reminded me a lot of the concept of goshins. In one room, Susie is performing the dance sequence of Volk, which involves lots of sharp, forceful movements. Meanwhile, in another room, Olga has found herself trapped while trying to leave the school, and as Susie launches into her dance moves, the sharp thrusts and kicks she performs have real effects on Olga, as she is knocked about the room, beaten and twisted, and left in a heap of blood and bone shards on the floor. It looks like she is being pummeled by an invisible man, but it’s all in Susie’s dance.

As Susie becomes more and more the most talented dancer of the troupe, we learn that the women in charge have something sinister planned for her, that involves more than just matriculation. The school’s hierarchy is indeed a supernatural coven, the dance movements a form of magic, and an ancient, dying creature is in need of new flesh.

So let’s see what works and what doesn’t, shall we?

First off, what works. I was very impressed with the performance of Dakota Johnson here. She was the only thing that made those laughably awful FIFTY SHADES OF GREY movies watchable, despite the silly lines she had to spout. Mostly, she transcended those films because she really does have a strong sensual presence. Here, as she performs strenuous, powerful dance moves, she seems even more sensual. I’m heartened to see that she has taken on such an interesting role after the commercial success of those GREY movies, because it reminds me of the fascinating roles Kristen Stewart has been taking since the TWILIGHT series ended. I can really respect actors who use their most commercial/ successful roles as a launching pad for a much more eclectic and daring career. And I’m a fan of Ms. Johnson. She is perfect in the role of Susie Bannion here, a character much different from the one Jessica Harper played in Argento’s original. When she’s onscreen, Johnson is mesmerizing.

Tilda Swinton is also mesmerizing as Madame Blanc. Beautiful, strong, and completely in control, she makes the role work extremely well.

Other standout performances include Mia Goth as Susie’s fellow student and friend (she was also close to Patricia) Sara, who slowly realizes what is going on; Angela Winkler as another sinister teacher named Miss Tanner; and Malgorzata Bela, who is striking as both Susie’s mother, shown mostly on her deathbed in Ohio’s Mennonite community, and as an angel of death. Even Jessica Harper, the star of Argento’s original film, appears in this one, as Klemperer’s long lost wife, Anke.

And I really liked the dancing. Gaudagnino has said that he thinks Argento made a mistake to set his Markos Academy in the world of ballet, which is more stifling. Gaudagnino feels that modern dance is more vibrant and alive, more in tune with the very female magic here, and I have to agree with him. There was dancing in the original film, but I don’t remember much of it. In Gaudagnino’s SUSPIRIA it is unforgettable. The choreography (by Damien Jalet) is really breathtaking at times. And you really believe that this is a dance troupe, preparing for an actual performance.

I enjoyed the soundtrack by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. At times, it sounds a little more like you’d think a horror movie score would, but in key scenes his piano is more melancholy than horrific, helping to create a distinctive mood. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom doesn’t go in the direction of the bright, garish colors that made Argento’s original so distinctive—the colors here are more muted, even grim and gritty when we’re outside the academy—and the look and feel of the film worked well for me.

One complaint people had with Argento’s original—in fact with many of his films—is that not everything makes sense (the original was written by Argento and his frequent collaborator Daria Nicolodi). That the heightened style of Argento’s film came at the expense of clarity. Personally, that never really bothered me. I always saw Argento’s best work as brightly-colored dreamscapes. But the script to the new film is by David Kajganich, and it’s a bit more clear about what’s going on. Although a few details may still have some viewers scratching their heads.

Like the dance sequences, the scenes of violence (and violent abandon) are done quite well here.

On to what I didn’t like about the film.

At two hours and 32 minutes, I thought Gaudagnino’s film was too long. The pacing is a bit slow in parts, but I’ll admit I was never bored. The only scene that really annoyed me was that first one between Patricia and Dr. Klemperer (which is actually problematic, since a movie, like a good book, should grab you right away). There could have been some cutting to make the whole thing flow a bit smoother.

And then there’s Lutz Ebersdorf. A lot was made of this actor before the movie came to theaters. If you didn’t hear the controversy, no one had ever heard of Mr. Ebersdorf before, and there was speculation about his true identity. It turns out the role is played by Tilda Swinton under mostly effective prosthetic makeup. Many people said the makeup effects were so good, they couldn’t even tell it was Ms. Swinton beneath it all. Guadagnino tried to pull one over on us, but it was exposed before the film opened in America.

The thing is, I don’t’ think it’s half as clever as Guadagnino seems to think it is.

Yes, there are a few scenes, like that problematic first one, where Swinton really does look like an old man. The makeup is terrific. But in other scenes, it doesn’t look as impressive—and in certain shades of light, you can see Ms. Swinton’s features quite easily. So the makeup is not consistently believable throughout the entire film. Secondly, there’s the matter of Mr. Ebersdorf’s voice. It doesn’t sound at all like a man’s voice—and, to me, it sounds clearly like Tilda Swinton’s. Maybe if they’d played around with voice effects, deepening it a bit, it would have been more convincing. But as is, I didn’t think it was too difficult to realize we were being hoodwinked. It was also very distracting, taking me out of the movie almost every time Dr. Klemperer was onscreen. Swinton does a good job with the character, and should be commended for her virtuosity. But not once was I convinced this was a real actor. If I didn’t know beforehand that Swinton was playing him, I’m not saying that I would have been able to identify her immediately (except that voice might still have given it away). But I would have still been aware that something was definitely “off” about him, and it still would still have been distracting.

Guadagnino has said that what he was going for was a movie where all of the main characters, even the male one, were portrayed by women. That he wanted the movie to be extremely women-centric, perhaps as the opposite of the more male-centric CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. And I totally understand this aesthetic choice. But it could have been done in a more convincing way.

When we reach the last 30 minutes or so of the film, when all of the real violence is unleashed, I found the film extremely enjoyable. And scenes like the big one toward the end, and the murder of Olga that I mentioned earlier, are very well done. But not once did I really feel that this SUSPIRIA had the scares it needed to really have an impact. Sure, I’m a jaded horror movie fan, but I thought Argento’s original did have some truly effective moments of fear, and I just didn’t feel that with this version. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, just that the aesthetic is different. Argento was a hard-as-nails horror director in his best films. Gaudagnino, for better or worse, is an effective art movie director. They came at their films from different perspectives, and there are going to be differences.

Despite my complaints, I found that SUSPIRIA was one of those rare movies (like last year’s mother! By Darren Aronofsky) that sticks with you long after it ends. And I’ve been thinking about the film since I saw it, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. That doesn’t happen very often.

But the dance scenes, the horror scenes, the overall mood, the performances, the soundtrack, the cinematography, all combines to create a unique movie experience. It has its flaws, but I was impressed with it. I give Guadagnino’s a rating of three and a half knives out of five.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives SUSPIRIA (2018) ~ three and a half knives

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HOLD THE DARK (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Director Jeremy Saulnier kicks ass!

His first feature film, MURDER PARTY (2007), about a guy who answers a flyer for a party where the other guests plan to kill him, was flawed but good. Then his amazing next features, BLUE RUIN (2013) and GREEN ROOM (2015) showed that he was definitely a director to watch. Needless to say, I was very excited to see his newest film, HOLD THE DARK (2018), from the first time I heard about it.

Currently streaming on Netflix, HOLD THE DARK gives us Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright of the HBO shows BOARDWALK EMPIRE and WESTWORLD), a writer who shows up in the Alaskan village of Keelut, in the middle of nowhere, at the request of Medora Slone (Riley Keough), whose son, Bailey (Beckham Crawford, shown in flashbacks) has gone missing. Core is a naturalist and wrote a book about tracking down wolves previously, after they abducted a child. Medora says that the same thing happened to her, and she wants something to show her husband when he gets back from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Core agrees to help her by tracking down the wolves that killed/took her son, with the intention of killing them in turn.

Bailey is the third child in the area to go missing. The second child was taken from Cheeon (Julian Black), who is a friend of Medora’s husband.

While he sleeps on the couch, Medora walks around late at night naked, wearing a wolf mask.

When he gets back from tracking down the wolves, Core finds Medora gone, and more evidence of what happened to her son. Meanwhile, her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) is on his way home after getting injured in a gun battle. When he finds out about his son, he goes on a rampage. Meanwhile, Core helps the local police chief, Donald Marium (James Badge Dale), with his investigation of both what happened to Bailey, and what Vernon will do next.

This is the kind of movie where nothing is as it seems, and everyone has their own motivations for doing things. Russell Core is just caught up in the middle of it all, including one man’s violent retribution. I don’t want to give away too much more of the plot.

Watching HOLD THE DARK, I couldn’t help but notice that Saulnier has grown as a director. He’s got a bigger canvas here than he had in past films, and he uses it well. The cast is top-notch, especially Wright, who always turns in a stunning performance, as the world-weary Russell Core – he’s pretty much the heart of the movie; Keough as the enigmatic Medora (who isn’t in the movie a lot, but leaves an indelible mark on things); Skarsgard – always a go-to guy for intense and menacing roles – as the ruthless and often homicidal Vernon; and James Badge Dale as Police Chief Marium. Saulnier’s frequent collaborator, Macon Blair, who has appeared in his other films (and was the star of BLUE RUIN), also shines in a brief role as Shan, a friend of Vernon’s who patches him up after he gets a gunshot wound. Blair also wrote the screenplay for HOLD THE DARK, based on a novel by William Giraldi.

Jeremy Saulnier’s next project is directing some episodes for the third season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE.

HOLD THE DARK does a good job incorporating the cold, lonely landscape of Alaskan villages into the storyline. There’s a cave with hot springs that also plays a major part in the story. I’m also a huge fan of masks, and the wolf mask worn by Medora, and another one worn later by Vernon, add to the mood of the film. All in all, this is a powerful movie that deserves to be sought out. I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives HOLD THE DARK ~ 3 1/2 knives!

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HALLOWEEN (2018)

Review by LL Soares

When I was a kid, the original HALLOWEEN (1978) was a big deal. Everyone was talking about it, and it played in theaters for months. I saw it at a drive-in theater, something I miss a lot. HALLOWEEN wasn’t just one of the first slasher films that precluded the onslaught of similar films in the 1980s, it was one of the best, thanks to director John Carpenter. Not only did Carpenter direct it, he also co-wrote it with Debra Hill, and composed the unforgettable soundtrack music. The tale of Michael Myers, who kills his sister as a child, and is locked away in a sanitarium, until he escapes as an adult and goes on a killing spree, HALLOWEEN worked because it was simple, straight-forward, and highly effective. There was no complex, convoluted plot, no prolonged explanations, just a guy in a William Shatner mask painted white, running around and killing people with ruthless precision.

As you might have heard, the new HALLOWEEN (2018) was written as a direct sequel to the first film, jettisoning not only the sequels to the original HALLOWEEN, but also the reboot by Rob Zombie in 2007 and his HALLOWEEN II in 2009. Zombie’s remakes didn’t get much love when they came out, and even I, a hardcore Rob Z fan, consider them the weakest of his films, but you can’t blame a guy for trying, and he did try to bring his own particular spin to them. At least he had the vision to cast Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, 1971, CALIGULA, 1979) in the role of Dr. Loomis (originally portrayed by the great Donald Pleasence in the 1978 film).

The new one is directed by David Gordon Green, an interesting director whose first feature film was the much-praised GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000), about a group kids living in poverty who try to stave off boredom. His films also include the comedies PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008) and THE SITTER (2011), and the “based on a true story” drama STRONGER (2017). Green wrote the screenplay for the new HALLOWEEN with actor Danny McBride (one of the stars of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and who also collaborated with Green on the HBO shows EASTBOUND AND DOWN, 2009 – 2013, and VICE PRINCIPALS, 2016 -2017), and writer Jeff Fradley, who also helped writer some episodes of VICE PRINCIPALS.

Jamie Lee Curtis became a star in the original HALLOWEEN with her role as Laurie Strode, one of a group of teenagers Myers attacks, and the only one to survive. In a lot of ways, the new movie is her story, because Curtis is back as Laurie, 40 years older, and still traumatized by the events of the 1978 film. In fact, Michael Myers has left such an indelible stamp on her, that she’s pretty much made him the focus of her entire life, becoming an expert with an array of weapons (mostly guns), turning her home into a series of booby-traps, and ruining just about every human relationship she’s ever had, including the one with her daughter, Karen (the great Judy Greer, also in THE DESCENDANTS, 2011, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 2014, and ANT-MAN, 2015, and seemingly a hundred other things), who was taken away from her by family services when she was 12. Laurie had a chance to instruct her daughter in the ways of self-defense, trying to drill her survivalist mentality into her, but as an adult, Karen is a psychologist who is basically trying to put her life back together. There’s also Allyson (Andi Matichak), Karen’s daughter, who wonders why her mom and her grandmother are so estranged, and who seeks Laurie out, with the intention of putting the family back together.

Meanwhile, Michael has been in a mental hospital for 40 years and has not spoken one word. It’s not that he can’t talk, it’s that he refuses to. His long-time doctor, the great Dr. Loomis, has since died, and we now have Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) trying to draw Michael out of his shell, to no avail. Two investigative reporters (Jefferson Hall and Dana Haines) come to the hospital to research Michael for their popular podcast, and open up a whole can of worms in the process, almost as if their presence reminds Michael what he’s supposed to be doing – namely killing.

While being transported to another, worse, hospital (since he doesn’t seem to be making any progress), Michael, of course, escapes, and he and his lust for killing are once again set free onto the world. He immediately high-tails it back to Haddonfield, Illinois, where the first movie took place, to pick up where he left off.

But Laurie’s been preparing for this her entire adult life. So she’s ready for Michael. Or is she?

Also along for the ride this time are Dylan Arnold (who just finished playing the nerdy kid Twig on the CMT network’s final seasons of the show NASHVILLE), as Cameron, Allyson’s boyfriend; Will Patton (of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, 2002, and THE FOURTH KIND, 2009) as Officer Hawkins, who says he was one of the deputies who responded to the original murder back when Michael Myers was a little kid; and Jibrail Nantambu as a funny little kid named Julian whose babysitter is doomed. Michael Myers himself is played by both Nick Castle (who played Michael in the original movie), and, when he’s in action, by James Jude Courtney.

Let’s look at what works and what doesn’t in the new HALLOWEEN, shall we?

What Works

First off, the direction is strong and assured. I like David Gordon Green as a director, and the cast is very good, especially Curtis, who still has her acting chops, and then some. If nothing else, this movie is a chance to give an underrated actress a showcase, and a chance to shine. By focusing so much on Laurie Strode, the movie gives us an interesting perspective, which I like.

Another big plus is the fact that John Carpenter is along for the ride this time, as one of the producers, and as the composer of the movie’s soundtrack. The music provides variations on what he did in the first movie, but it’s top-notch, and almost a character itself.

I also liked Michael Myers here. The way he moved, the way he just randomly kills, the way he is drawn to weapons, made him very effective. Back in 1978, he seemed like the human equivalent of the shark in JAWS, a sort of mindless killing machine, and the new movie captures that very well.

And I really liked the last scene in this movie. Unfortunately, we have to weed through an uneven storyline to get there.

What Doesn’t Work

A lot of mainstream critics really seemed to like this one, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. A lot of mainstream critics, as a rule, hate most horror movies and are not especially fans of the genre. They also, almost always, are horrible judges of what is considered scary. When HEREDITARY, a very good movie, started riding the wave of film festival buzz earlier this year, before coming to regular theaters, most critics said it was one of the scariest movies of all time. It wasn’t. It was good, but I didn’t find it particularly scary. A lot of the same critics are saying the new HALLOWEEN is scary. It’s not. For a horror movie, the scares are few.

Part of this is probably because the director and writers mostly work on comedies (although Green started out making dramas). People assume anyone can make a horror movie, but that’s not really the case. Or rather, anyone can make a horror movie. But not everyone can make an effective/scary one. In fact, really scary movies are few and far between.

I thought the script here was very uneven. I found the whole reporters/sanitarium stuff that we start off with to be stilted – and it provided a very weak beginning to the film that almost had me bummed out right away. It bounced back a little once the reporters are out of the picture, but you really don’t want a lame start for a horror film.

There are several times where its pacing just seems off.  While Michael himself is good, they just don’t do enough with him. And while Laurie’s trauma/preparation was an interesting spin on the character, most of the story just left me cold by the time the end credits rolled.

In Carpenter’s original, you couldn’t take your eyes off the screen. It was riveting from beginning to end. And I didn’t feel that way with the new movie at all. There were parts I liked, but it didn’t seem like a fully-functioning whole. There were missteps.

And what the hell is up with the title? It’s not a remake or a reboot, but a sequel 40 years later, so why call it HALLOWEEN? Just to create confusion? It’s like in comic books where every once in awhile Marvel or DC will end all of their series and start over again with all-new Number One Issues, so that when you talk about #1, you have to include the date, so people know which one you’re talking about. Really, there is no reason why the new movie has to be called simply HALLOWEEN. I’m not completely sure why, but it irritates the hell out of me.

I wanted to love the new HALLOWEEN, but all I could muster was a like. It’s better than some of the other sequels, though I still have a lot of affection for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), which was the only film in the series to have nothing to do with Michael Myers. For diehard fans of Myers and the HALLOWEEN franchise, the new movie is worth seeing. But don’t buy into the hype and go in expecting something that it will blow you away and get you as revved up as Carpenter’s original. The new one isn’t even close.

But, based on the weekend box office, it looks like it’s doing well enough to revive the franchise.

And that’s okay. Not terrific, but okay.

Which is kind of my overall reaction to this one.

I give it two and a half knives out of five.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HALLOWEEN (2018) – 2 1/2 knives

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MR. INBETWEEN (2018)

A “TV TRANSFUSION” Review by LL Soares

It’s really annoying when you watch a new show, really love it, and then it ends much too soon.

This is what happened to me when I watched the six episodes of the new show MR. INBETWEEN on the FX Channel on three Tuesday nights from late September to early October of this year. It was the first show to be aired here in the States to be made by FX Australia. Six episodes is an awful short season for a TV show. Even more so when it’s shown two episodes at a time over three consecutive Tuesday nights.

It stars Scott Ryan as Ray Shoesmith, a hit man and all around enforcer for a gangster named Freddy (Damon Herriman, best known here for playing Dewey Crowe on the series JUSTIFIED and Buddy on the unjustly canceled-before-its-time Cinemax series, QUARRY, Herriman will also be playing Charles Manson twice in 2019, in Season 2 of the Netflix series MINDHUNTER and in Quentin Tarantino’s next movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD!). While Herriman is the most recognizable actor here, Ryan is the star, and MR. INBETWEEN gives us a great introduction to this actor.

His character, Ray, isn’t some glamorous James Bond type or an especially scary cold-blooded killer. Instead, Ray is just an everyday bloke who just happens to beat people up, or more often kill them, for a living. Ray is a put-upon, world-weary dude who is just trying to get through life, and who has zero tolerance for assholes, on the job or in his regular life.

Aside from his boss, we also meet his best friend, Gary (Justin Rosniak, also in the original movie version of ANIMAL KINGDOM, 2010), a goofy, bearded fellow who is constantly getting into trouble; Bruce (Nicholas Cassim), Ray’s older brother who has a motor function disease that is incapacitating him more and more as time goes on; Brittany (Chika Yasumura), Ray’s eight-year-old daughter; Jacinta (Natalie Tran), his ex-wife; and Nick (Edmund Lembke-Hogan) another thug who becomes Ray’s sidekick in a couple of episodes, until Ray finds out a troubling secret about him. There’s also Ally (Brooke Satchwell), who Ray meets in a dog park one day and who he has a relationship with. She’s tough and sexy, and is understandably disturbed as she slowly finds out what kinds of things he does for a living.

The episodes involve such stories as Ray taking the blame when Gary’s wife finds a p-no tape involving water sports in their house (Gary tells her that Ray left it there, and she proceeds to tell poor Ray how disgusting he is); Ray spending time with his daughter the times when he has custody, including bringing her over to his brother Bruce’s house – Ray takes care of his brother who’s health is slowly deteriorating; Gary’s Russian brother-in-law coming to stay with him, and eventually robbing him at gunpoint; Ray firing a semi-automatic at a carful of gangsters following him in their car; and Ray going to anger management classes mandated by law, even though he clearly doesn’t think he belongs there (he doesn’t hurt people out anger, he does it because they deserve it). The last two episodes are a two-part story involving a couple of killers who take Ray and his car by gunpoint, with the intention of bringing him to his death, but they take a side trip to a house where Ray has some hidden money, which he’s offered to give them if they let him go.

The character of Ray, despite his profession, is sympathetic and likeable, and you find yourself cheering for him despite the things he does. After all, he’s just trying to make a living. He also refuses to take any crap from people in his normal life – like when some teenagers insult him in front of his daughter; he tracks them down later to give them some rough life lessons.

The thing is, at six episodes, by the time I was getting comfortable with the show, and really digging Scott Ryan’s performance as Ray, the season was over. Ryan also writes all six episodes, and it’s directed by Nash Edgerton, who also directed the movies THE SQUARE (2008) and GRINGO (2018), and a bunch of Bob Dylan music videos, as well as being a seasoned stuntman.

FX just announced that they’ve renewed the show for a second season, but what the hell am I supposed to do in the meantime? If anyone from FX is reading this (which, I know, is highly unlikely), how about making twice as many episodes in Season 2? Six ain’t enough to even get your feet wet.

So I found myself tracking down a 2005 Australian movie called THE MAGICIAN on Amazon Streaming. It’s the first time we ever get to meet Ray Shoesmith, and it’s kind of funny to see Scott Ryan 13 years younger than he is now, with a faint shadow of the mustache he’d have in later years. He looks so damn young in this movie! And yet, it’s a nice little appetizer if you’re a fan of MR. INBETWEEN. It’s one of those “found footage” mockumentary films, where the director/cameraman is supposed to be making a documentary about someone’s life. In this case, the subject is Ray, as the “director” Max (Massimiliano Andrighetto) follows around his neighbor (Ray) and films him as he does his job, which includes shooting people in the head, and roughing up people who owe his boss money. There are some themes and plot points in the movie that show up again later in the TV show, but, just like the show, the heart of the piece of Ray, who just treats the job of hit man and all around thug as just another workaday blue collar gig. He’s as likable in 2005 as he is now, although it’s clear that THE MAGICIAN was made for peanuts (allegedly with a budget of $3,000), as a chance for Scott Ryan (who stars in it, of course, but also wrote and directed the movie) to get some exposure. It’s a fun little throwback for you if you get hooked on MR. INBETWEEN, like I did.

I’d really like to see Ryan’s career take off after this.

But I really want to urge you to seek MR. INBETWEEN out. With each episode running about 30 minutes, it’s not a big investment to watch the six episodes of Season 1. And that way you’ll probably get hooked on the show and be as annoyed as I am that we have to wait awhile for Season 2!!

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

THE PREDATOR (2018)

Review by LL Soares

I went in really wanting to like THE PREDATOR, the latest film in a franchise that began in 1987, but I was ultimately disappointed. The buzz beforehand was this would be the movie to reboot those dreadlock-wearing aliens who love to hunt humans and rip out their spines, and while some of it works, overall, I just wasn’t jazzed.

As mentioned, the first movie in the series, simply called PREDATOR, was an excuse for action star Arnold Schwarzenegger to go toe-to-toe with one of the predatory monsters of the title in the middle of jungle. Invisible for most of the film (these creatures love their cloaking devices), we didn’t get to really see the monster until the end when its invisibility device breaks, and Arnold has his final showdown. I didn’t think it was an amazing movie, but the monster was very cool, and it’s one of the better Schwarzenegger actioners of the time.

Clearly something about these creatures captured the movie-going public’s imagination, because those nasty Predators have been popping up in a lot of movies since, including sequels, and an “Alien vs. Predator” spinoff that was never all that good, despite combining two of the coolest aliens of the 80s.

The last time we saw these title baddies was in the 2010 “reboot” PREDATORS, which somehow continues to be overlooked, even though it was the best entry in the series. And yes, I’m including THE PREDATOR in that group. PREDATORS featured a bunch of human killers, including Adrien Brody, Danny Trejo, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins and Topher Grace, who find themselves transported to an alien planet where the Predators hunt them down. It was a cool concept of bring humans to them instead of their coming to Earth, and it was dark, and well-written, and very cool. And yet no one seems to mention it when they talk about the franchise, which just boggles my mind.

In the new movie, your typical clandestine government agency led by a ruthless dude named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, currently on the show THIS IS US, and who was terrific as Christopher Darden in the first season of AMERICAN CRIME STORY, 2015-2016, about the O.J. Simpson trial), has been aware of the Predators since the late 80s and have been keeping an eye on their comings and goings. Each time they’ve shown up on Earth, they’ve upgrade themselves to be more formidable (as we all know, this is what Predators do). A scientist named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn of IRON MAN 2, 2010 and MAGIC MIKE, 2012), who happens to be an expert in evolution, is “recruited” to join them after a crashed Predator ship is spotted in Mexico. There’s a big debate over why they’re called Predators (as Dr. Bracket points out, predators kill for survival, while these aliens kill for sport; shouldn’t they then be called Hunters? She’ll bring this up again in the movie.)

As for that crashed ship, it showed up just when our hero, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, who was previously the villainous Pierce in LOGAN, 2017, as well as being in GONE GIRL, 2014), a mercenary working for another clandestine agency, is lining up a shot to take out some kidnappers who are part of a drug cartel. The ship messes everything up, and Quinn makes sure to grab some tech (mainly a helmet and an arm gauntlet/weapon) and mail them back home for safe keeping. The package shows up at his house, where his genius level son (who also suffers from autism), Rory (played by Jacob Tremblay of ROOM, 2015, and THE BOOK OF HENRY, 2017), opens the box and can’t resist playing on what’s inside. Since he’s a genius, he figures out to get them to work, thus alerting other Predators who are in pursuit of the crashed ship, and leading them right to Earth.

Meanwhile, Traeger’s men are doing their best to frame up Quinn for any casualties at the crash site, in their effort to cover it all up, since that’s what these government agencies do. Quinn is sent off to military prison, on a bus full of other wackos who seem to be both talented killers and, for the most part, total psychos. Nicknamed “The Loonies” by Quinn, they include leader Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes, from the movie MOONLIGHT, 2016), wise-cracking Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key of KEY AND PEELE and KEANU, 2016), Tourette’s sufferer Baxley (Thomas Jane of THE PUNISHER, 2004, and THE MIST, 2007), religious Nettles (Augusto Aguilera, of the upcoming series TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG, 2018) who keeps mentioning “The End Times,” and demolition guy Lynch (Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy on GAME OF THRONES).

It also turns out that Traeger has the body of the Predator who was recovered from the crash in his lab, which is why Dr. Bracket was drafted to help. But when that Predator wakes up from its heavy sedation and escapes, Dr. Bracket is yet another intended casualty to be eliminated for knowing too much. The doctor is rescued from mission-mandated death from Quinn and his Loonies, who are then on the run from the government, after they themselves escape from that prison bus. They high-tail it back to Quinn’s house, where his tough military wife, Emily (Yvonne Stahovski, of the shows CHUCK, 2007 -2012, DEXTER from 2012-2013, and, currently, THE HANDMAID’S TALE), lives with that genius kid, Rory.

Traeger and his guys are hot on the train of that escaped Predator, who is hunting for Rory, but who’s also being hunted by another, much bigger Predator, who even has Predator Dogs! This would be a cool new twist, if Predator Dogs didn’t already exist. They first popped up in that underrated movie PREDATORS from 2010, which I say again is still the best entry in the franchise.

THE PREDATOR is directed by Shane Black, who also directed some good movies (KISS KISS BANG BANG, 2005 and the underrated THE NICE GUYS, 2016) and some bad ones (IRON MAN 3, 2013), and he does a slick job with this one, although way too often it seems more like a generic action movie, with lots of car crashes and explosions, and people leaping from high-up stuff, than a cool sci-fi flick. The script by Black and Fred Dekker (based on characters created by Jim and John Thomas) is uneven at best, and thinks it is way cooler than it actually is.

Let’s see. The pluses here are Boyd Holbrook as our hero, Quinn. He is more than capable as the action star this time around, and could clearly have a future as a leading man in these kinds of things. The dude has the charisma necessary to be a star. The Loonies can be fun at times, and Olivia Munn is good as the scientist in peril.  Sterling K. Brown is really good as the bad guy here, but he’s not given a lot of depth, and could have used a little more humanizing. The Predators, as usual, are cool as hell, and the main reason these movies exist, even if the human storylines have too many ups and downs.

The negatives include those “downs” I just mentioned, the times when the script seems too much like a by-the-numbers action movie (too often), and some big lapses of logic, including a bunch of guys surfing on top of a giant alien spacecraft that’s trying to zoom away. Not only do they somehow stay on top of it, but they also find a way to bring it down (this is not really a spoiler, is it? Unless you’ve never seen an action movie before), and it’s just hokey as hell. There are a few moments like this, and none of them make the movie better.

And, of course, the ending blatantly sets thing up for a sequel. Which will probably happen.

Yet another big budget movie that got a lot of buzz before its release and then turned out to be mediocre at best, I give THE PREDATOR two and a half knives. Not horrible, but you’d be much better off seeking out 2010’s PREDATORS instead.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives THE PREDATOR – two and a half knives.

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