BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018)

Movie Review by LL Soares

This one really surprised me. I was going to see BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYLE in the theater last year when it first came out, but for some reason I didn’t. And then the reviews I read were mixed, so I didn’t go out of my way to track it down, until it finally came to cable (HBO) recently. The thing is, I regret not seeing it on the big screen, because BAD TIMES deserves the full theater-going experience.

Written and directed by Drew Goddard, who previous made THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and was a writer for the series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (2002-2003), ANGEL (2003-2004) and LOST (2005-2008), it shows us once again that Goddard knows how to assemble a compelling story, and the characters who are part of it.

The El Royale is a once-fancy motel/hotel that has the distinction of being on the border between California and Nevada. One half of the building resides in California, and the other in Nevada, which means there are different rules for each (mainly alcohol laws and sales tax). When you enter the lobby, it looks like a hotel with the sign-in desk and bar, but the rooms look a lot more like separate motel rooms. In the 60s, this place was a big deal, but now it’s fallen on hard times and doesn’t do the same volume of business anymore. In fact, it’s pretty much empty by the time our characters start showing up.

One stormy night, several unusual guests show up at the El Royale. Jeff Bridges (of THE BIG LEBOWSKI, 1998 and TRUE GRIT, 2010) plays Father Daniel Flynn, an old priest with a graying beard and occasional memory problems, who has come to the hotel to search for something. Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo, also in director Steve McQueen’s WIDOWS, 2018) is a singer whose career never really took off, who is on tour and is booked to sing at a nearby nightclub. Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm, MAD MEN, 2007-2015, and BABY DRIVER, 2017) is a vacuum salesman, who soon is revealed to be an FBI agent working for J. Edgar Hoover (Hoover vacuum, get it). A 20-something smart-alec named Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, 2015, and SUSPIRIA, 2018) shows up, with a secret companion (Cailee Spaeny, PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING and VICE, both 2018) in tow. The only person we see actually working at the hotel is manager Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman, LEAN ON PETE, 2017 and THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, 2018). All of these people are not what they seem to be, and have secrets that will unfold over time.  Some of them will survive until morning, and some won’t.

By the time Chris Hemsworth (THOR from the Marvel movies, of course) shows up as a charismatic cult leader, the tension ratchets up a lot.

The characters are well-developed using effective dialogue and flashbacks. I thought Goddard’s script was solid and the crime elements handled well.  There are some surprises along the way, and the performances are excellent. Of particular note are Bridges and Erivo, the latter of which does some very nice soul singing in some scenes. And Hemsworth is perfect as the swaggering Billy Lee.

This movie didn’t seem to get much attention when it first came out, but it’s definitely worth a viewing. Hopefully you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was. I think this one would have made it to my top 10 list of 2018 if I’d seen it in time.

I give BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE a rating of four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE – 4 knives!

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BRIGHTBURN (2019)

Review by LL Soares

The concept of this one is kind of brilliant. Why not take the origin story of Superman and turn it into a horror movie? What a great pitch idea! But BRIGHTBURN, the resulting film, is underwhelming in execution.

Directed by David Yarovesky (THE HIVE, 2014), with James Gunn of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY as a producer, and a script by Brian Gunn (brother of James) and Mark Gunn (cousin on James), BRIGHTBURN has its moments, but seems like a tiny story for something that should have been much more dynamic.

So we’re in a town called Brightburn, Kansas, where Kyle (David Denman, Roy from the American version of THE OFFICE, 2005-2012) and Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks, who was Effie Trinket in the HUNGER GAMES movies and was also in the PITCH PERFECT films, two of which she’s directed, and who sort of seems to be too big a star for this movie) are a loving couple who can’t have children (of course!). Enter a mysterious object that falls from the sky onto their Kansas farm, and which turns out to be some kind of space pod holding a seemingly human baby! It’s a boy, and the answer to their prayers! And the little tyke is so cute!

They raise the child as their own, and don’t tell anyone about it (but didn’t anyone else see the object fall from the sky?) He grows up to be Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, who was also young Scott Lang in AVENGERS: ENDGAME, 2019), a good kid who’s close to his mother. Until he hits puberty and suddenly his behavior isn’t so nice. The thing is, he’s not a normal kid and can do all kinds of things like break moving lawnmower blades with his hand, and fly, and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. All stuff that makes puberty all that more of a challenge.

When he breaks into the bedroom of a girl he likes from school named Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter), she’s not happy to see him; she’s scared. And later, when he crushes her hand at a bad moment at school, things just get worse. Leading to Brandon doing sinister things to keep secrets, involving violence and murder. Including awful things happening to Brandon’s Uncle Noah (Matt Jones, “Badger” from BREAKING BAD, from 2008 -2013) and Caitlyn’s mom, who wants him to stay the hell away from her daughter.

It’s all kind of predictable and not very riveting, despite some quick and gory shocks (including eye trauma and a dislocated jaw, among others) that try, but really don’t’ do much to provide any sparks.

Mom Tori takes the longest to face reality (of course), and when she does, it leads to the big finale. The movie as a whole is a rather tepid affair, not really much of a thrill ride, although Jackson Dunn is suitably creepy as a kid who realizes he has incredible power and who decides “Why not use it to get what I want?”

Things don’t get really interesting until the end (and the end credits), which seem to be opening the door for a sequel that (based on box office receipts) probably won’t happen, which is too bad. I would have much rather have seen that movie instead!

And what does the title mean? Well, when the kid goes out doing mischief, he wears this weird costume with a cape and a burlap bag over his head, and he leaves a symbol at the scene of every crime that looks like two Bs. His name is Brandon Breyer. The town he lives in is Brightburn. They never actually name the creepy super-powered dude who’s doing all the bad stuff, but I’m thinking maybe he’s called Brightburn, too? Like that monster in Cloverfield was called CLOVERFIELD for some reason.

I give BRIGHTBURN, two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives BRIGHTBURN ~ 2 ½ knives!

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Review by LL Soares

First of all, let me say that GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is the best American Godzilla movie so far. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Featuring a strong cast of both humans and monsters, KING OF THE MONSTERS (KOTM) falls into the same trap all American versions have fallen into so far – the need to provide a substantial human plotline. Why? Nobody goes to a Godzilla movie for the human stories. Well, not any hardcore fans I know. The main reason being that almost always, the human storylines are just plain boring.

The human melodrama in KOTM is no different.

The movie is directed by Michael Doughery, who previously made the decent anthology horror film TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) and the Christmas -time nightmare KRAMPUS (2015), and it’s based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Zach Shields (based on a “story” by Dougherty, Shields, and Max Borenstein, the guy who wrote the previous 2014 GODZILLA film).

That mysterious government organization MONARCH is back—the device that links the movies of this particular “monster universe” (they were also part of the plot for KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2017, and the previous GODZILLA, 2014, and have a hand in the next movie in the series, GODZILLA VS. KONG, 2020)—and they’re appearing before Congress (represented by Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Thomas Middlemitch as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, Dr. Vivienne Graham and Sam Coleman, respectively) to plead the case that the giant monsters we’ve seen so far need to be studied rather than destroyed (despite the fact that Godzilla pretty much leveled San Francisco in the last movie). The military wants the okay to just go in and kill the “Titans.” Oh, and since the last movie, more giant monsters (called kaiju in Japan, and Titans here) have shown up, including a giant larvae version of Mothra.

Meanwhile, we’ve got the main human story here, revolving around the Russell family led by Mark (Kyle Chandler, who was Coach Taylor on the great series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2006-2011, as well as being in movies like SUPER 8, 2011, and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, 2016) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren in the CONJURING movies, and was also in THE DEPARTED, 2006 and was Norma Bates in the series BATES MOTEL, 2013-2017).  The Russells lost their son in Godzilla’s previous rampage in San Francisco (five years earlier), and now are having a tug-of-war over their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, best known as Eleven from the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS, but you should also check out her performance as a different Madison in the British series INTRUDERS, 2014), now a teenager. Dr. Emma has custody of the girl and has developed some weird contraption called an Orca, that uses sonic waves to communicate with the Titans, while Mark has since become an alcoholic and left, doing who knows what. He wants back into his daughter’s life, and Emma is not thrilled.

There’s also a storyline about a group of eco-terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance, best known as the evil Tywin Lannister from GAME OF THRONES, now an effective bad guy here), who want access to the Titans in order to use them to “restore balance” on a planet now plagued with the woes of climate change, by setting them free to fight it out and basically run amok across the world. Let’s just call it what it is – he wants to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Larvae Mothra escapes and soon after has built a cocoon under a waterfall. Then King Ghidorah, the three-headed, lightning-spouting dragon, is freed from a massive block of ice. The giant pterodactyl Rodan emerges from a seething volcano and is described as a “fire bird.” Other Titans emerge across the world, including Behemoth, a giant mastodon-like creature with ape-like limbs (he looks pretty cool), a MUTO (one of those freaky mutants from GODZILLA, 2014), a giant spider (Kumonga from the old Toho movies?) and some others. The secondary monsters don’t get much more than cameos, unfortunately. I wanted to know more about them, especially Behemoth.

There are some fights among the “Titans” – the main reason we’re here – with the dynamic mainly involving Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (the two alphas) for supremacy. The difference being that Godzilla is some kind of ancient Earth god, and Ghidorah is an “invasive species” from another planet. Once Ghidorah is free from that ice, Godzilla shows up right away to put him in his place (or at least try). Rodan is reduced to being one of Ghidorah’s minions, while Mothra, once she emerges from the cocoon, is in full moth mode (with very cool praying mantis arms) and, also being a Earth-bound goddess, tries to assist Godzilla is restoring planetary balance.

Of course there’s a scene where Godzilla sort of dies and has to be revived (the continuing resurrections of the lizard god…), and mankind tries to get in on the battle with their weapons. There are tons of Easter eggs here that long-time Godzilla fans will notice. Among them: the fact that Ghidorah is first referred to as Monster Zero (the monster’s alternate name in 1965’s GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO); the military coming up with their ultimate weapon to stop the Titans, which just happens to be called the “oxygen destroyer” (which goes all the way back to how they defeated Godzilla in the original GODZILLA, 1954, aka GOJIRA, and pops back up in GODZILLA vs. DESTROYAH, 1995); and there’s even a mention of the tiny Shobijin fairies (played by the twin singing duo The Peanuts in the old 60s Mothra movies) who used to sing to Mothra (and may have a modern-day equivalent).

The monsters, er…Titans, now done via CGI rather than actors in rubber suits, look very cool, and the monster fights are decent (including a battle that should have made a smoking crater out of Boston’s Fenway Park), even though just about every monster battle is obscured by rain or smoke. But whenever things get interesting, the human storylines interfere and have to take center stage again. The whole eco-terrorist thing isn’t too bad, at least it has a direct correlation to the Titans. But the whole “parents fighting over their daughter” thing gets annoying very fast, and takes up way too much screen time. Which is too bad, because Chandler, Farmiga and Brown are all really good actors and sounded like great additions to the cast when they were announced (remember, the previous GODZILLA movie had Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen in the cast, all good actors, who were also kind of wasted).  It’s not the actors’ fault, so much as the script, which just doesn’t provide for a very compelling human story.

But see, hardcore fans go to Godzilla movies for the kaiju, not the humans, and almost all of the human stories in previous Godzilla movies (American and Japanese) aren’t much more than glorified filler, so this is nothing new. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if the human stuff was scaled back a lot (and needn’t be played by such talented people). In a Godzilla movie, the screentime should be 60% or more given over to the kaiju, with as little time as possible spent trying to humanize things on the people end. All said, KOTM probably gives the Titans about 40% screentime (still a big improvement over the previous American films), but it still could have jettisoned a chunk of the histrionics.

And there were some wince-inducing scenes that should have been cut as well. Primarily every scene where a gigantic creature somehow becomes aware of a little tiny human (and seems able to tell who they are, despite their tininess). These huge creatures don’t care if you’re a good guy or a bad guy, you’re just an ant to them. And when, say, Godzilla leans in real close to a tiny Millie Bobby Brown and then snorts (to let us know he isn’t going to eat her, and he’s a good guy), that’s the kind of stupid, idiotic crap that should be left on the cutting room floor. What is this a Gamera movie? LOL. I laugh because I love Gamera, too, especially the 90s Japanese movies, but remember back in the 60s when he was called the “Hero of Children.” Man! There’s also a “monsters bowing” scene later on that was just pure silliness, and made me think back to the days when these monsters actually talked in some of the Japanese movies (GODZILLA’S REVENGE, 1969, or GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, anyone? I’ll pass, even though I loved REVENGE as a kid).

But what the movie gets right is very good, and clearly things are going in the right direction. Next time maybe don’t stack the deck with so many big name stars who get paid to take up screen time, and instead use the money for more cool monster effects!

As a Godzilla fan, I give GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, three and a half out of five knives. But for everyone else, it’s probably just three knives. This isn’t Masterpiece Theater. But then, it’s not meant to be.

(By the way, I saw this one in 3D, thinking it would actually add to the experience. But it didn’t. And stay for some secret scenes during the end credits.)

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS ~ 3 ½ knives!

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PREDATORS (2010)

This one is a blast from the past, when Michael Arruda and I did CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I really enjoyed this movie and figured I’d repost this. Enjoy. – LLS

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PREDATORS (2010)

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A forest.  Suddenly two screaming bodies fall from the sky and hit the ground hard.  Close-up reveals they are MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.)

MA (checking his body):  Thank God.  No broken bones.

LS:  Damn!  What kind of a free-fall ride is this?

MA:  Are you hurt bad?

LS:  Not at all.  Last time I suffered three broken ribs and my shin bone tore through my flesh.  This time, nothing.  How cheap is that?  I might ask for my money back!

MA:  You do that.  I’m going to begin our review of PREDATORS.

LS:  Nah.  Seeing you scream like a baby was worth the price of the ticket.

MA:  That was called “acting.”  I wasn’t really scared.

LS (laughs):  And I’ve got a head of hair like Bon Jovi.

MA:  And your point would be?

LS (suddenly wearing a huge rock star style wig) What the—-?

MA:  Today’s movie, PREDATORS, is not a remake or a “re-imagining” of the 1987 original movie PREDATOR, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s a brand new chapter in the franchise.

The story begins with a bunch of people with parachutes falling from the sky and landing in a strange, unknown forest. There’s Royce (Adrien Brody), a mercenary killer who quickly becomes the leader of the group; Isabelle (Alice Braga), a tough-minded military soldier; Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), an enforcer for a drug cartel; Nikolai (Oleg Taktarov), a Russian soldier; Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a soldier from Sierra Leone; Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a member of the Japanese Yakuza; Stans (Walton Goggins), an extremely volatile Death Row convict; and Edwin (Topher Grace), a doctor, who seems incredibly out of place in this group.

LS: I especially liked Hanzo and Cuchillo, man. The movie I saw, the coming attractions included a trailer for the upcoming Robert Rodriguez (who also produced PREDATORS) film MACHETE, starring Danny Trejo —remember when that was a fake trailer for GRINDHOUSE (2007)? — well now it’s going to be a real movie! Not only do I love this guy as an actor, I hope MACHETE makes him a star. But he’s not in PREDATORS long enough.

MA: Yeah, Danny Trejo seems to be a Robert Rodriguez favorite.  I remember him way back in FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1996), that insane vampire flick which Rodriguez directed, starring George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino!  And he appeared in Rodriguez’s popular kids’ movie franchise, the SPY KIDS trilogy in the early 2000s, playing a character named— you got it, Uncle MACHETE.

LS: Gotta love Uncle Machete, man!

MA: I agree with you.  He’s not in PREDATORS enough.

LS:  The same for Walt Goggins. I love this guy. He was great as Shane in one of my favorite TV shows ever, THE SHIELD. But he was also good in Rob Zombie’s debut HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003), as well as the brand new FX TV show JUSTIFIED. I’m always happy to see him, and this movie was no exception, although I have to admit, it was hard to see his character – who claims to be a murderer and a rapist – as anything more than comic relief.

But you’re right, the intro is great. The movie starts off really screwed up, with each character falling from the sky and then thinking they’re all enemies – it’s like an acid trip, man.

MA: They quickly deduce that they have been chosen because they are hunters, and they have been placed here in this forest, because they are in the middle of a game preserve, and THEY are the game.  When they reach a clearing and see a very strange-looking sky, they realize they are on an alien planet.

Royce believes that in order for them to survive, they need to know who is hunting them, and so he leads the group in search of the hunters.  Of course, they discover the hunters are the Predators from the PREDATOR franchise.  There are actually two types of Predators in this movie, the classic type from the original franchise, and a newer more powerful Predator, a race that seems to be running this particular planet, as they keep the classic Predators captive. The two kinds of Predators are mortal enemies.

LS: Another interesting point. We find out that while the original “classic” Predators can travel alone, these new, bigger Predators always hunt in packs of threes – a point that will be important as the movie unfolds.

MA: Royce and his merry band of soldiers later meet Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a half-crazed survivor from an earlier hunt— half-crazed because he’s been surviving alone on the planet for 10 “seasons” now!  Noland tells Royce that the Predators have a ship which they use to go to and from the planet, and Royce makes it his plan to commandeer the spaceship to get back to Earth.

LS: Fishburne is good, but he’s in this movie way too briefly. I wish he’d actually thrown his lot in with Brody’s gang and used his know-how to help them out. And for a guy who’s somehow been able to stay alive for 10 years on this planet, he sure makes some bonehead moves in this movie. It’s like, once he meets Adrien Brody and his gang, Fishburne turns stupid.

MA: The hunt is on, as the Predators set their sights on the humans, while Royce and company set their sights on the escape ship.

PREDATORS is a movie that I had zero expectations for.  I thought– do we really need ANOTHER Predator movie? – but, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and I ended up liking it a lot.

LS: Me, too. I was kind of bummed out I had to see this one. But man, what a surprise. Not only did I like it, I thought it was easily the best PREDATOR movie ever!

MA: You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way, but now that you mention it, I would have to agree.  It is the best one in the series.

(An ALIEN jumps down from a tree branch, gesticulating angrily at them.)

MA:  I’m sorry.  Your two bouts with the Predators were OK, but they weren’t as good as this movie.

LS (to ALIEN): You gotta tell the folks making your movies to stop using all that CGI.  It’s making you look like a cartoon, and that’s not scary.

(ALIEN walks away with drooping shoulders.)

MA:  Although its brief pre-credit sequence showing Adrien Brody simply falling from the sky without anything else happening was silly and nondescript, after the credits, the movie quickly introduces its characters and gets its story moving without delay.  I was into this movie within the first 10 minutes.  It hooked me right away.

LS: Hey, I thought you liked the “falling from the sky” intro. I know I sure did. I was grooving to this movie from the minute it started. I loved that things weren’t explained right away, and we had to figure things out at the same pace as the characters did.

MA: Well, yeah, that part I liked.  The uncertainty of everything at the beginning, that feeling of “what the hell is going on?” really grabs you.

Things are helped, of course, by some fine acting.

Let’s start with Adrien Brody.  He’s one of the reasons I was a bit skeptical about this movie.  I thought, Adrien Brody as the lead of an action-horror movie? He’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I expected him to be sorely miscast.  I’ll say it right here.  I was completely wrong about him.  Not only was Brody excellent in this movie, not only was he believable as a tough, mercenary killer, he delivered one of the best acting performances I’ve seen in a genre film this year.  I think it’s because I didn’t really expect him to be able to pull this role off, but he comes off as utterly convincing.

LS: In the past, I didn’t care for Adrien Brody all that much. But he’s totally won me over. Imagine, it took him leaving art films and taking roles in genre flicks for him to really grow on me. But I loved his performance in SPLICE and I really dug him here, too.

Let’s face it, even though the monster was cool in the original PREDATOR, the people were rather cheesy. Schwarzenegger was okay – he still couldn’t act very well at that point, but he knew to keep his talking to a minimum – but the rest of the cast was pretty campy. I mean, Jesse Ventura? He’s a better  politician than he was an actor. Watching the 1987 original feels really dated. But this new movie kicks all kinds of ass.

MA: Brody in a genre film is starting to become a regular thing.  We saw him earlier this year in SPLICE, but he was also in KING KONG (2005), and he was even in— and I hate to even say the name of this movie— THE VILLAGE (2004).  While I liked him a lot in SPLICE, he’s even better here in PREDATORS.  I could get used to seeing Brody in horror movies.

LS: I actually thought he was pretty good in THE VILLAGE (which I think is really underrated – LLS), and excellent in SPLICE. He just keeps getting better and better.

MA: I also really enjoyed Alice Braga as Isabelle.  We saw Braga earlier this year in REPO MEN.  I think she delivered a better performance in REPO MEN, as that role was more complicated and challenging, but she’s damned good here, too.

LS: I liked REPO MEN, and Braga is very good here as well.

MA: The rest of the cast was also very good.  I especially liked Louis Ozawa Changchien as Hanzo, and Oleg Taktarov as Nikolai, and while Walton Goggins was entertaining as the unpredictable psychopath Stans, I was somewhat disappointed with Topher Grace as Edwin, the doctor.  Grace played Venom in SPIDERMAN 3 (2007), and here in PREDATORS, his character is rather bland.  Plus, I knew there had to be some reason why a doctor was selected to be part of this group, and when that reason is revealed, I thought it was a letdown, which isn’t Grace’s fault, but given what he had to work with, he didn’t really do a whole lot to raise that character to a higher level.

LS: I don’t care for Grace, and I thought he ruined Venom for the movies (Venom is a so much cooler character in the comics). But the part where Hanzo faces off against a Predator, with just a samurai sword, was easily one of my favorite scenes.

MA: That was an EXC ELLENT scene!  As duels go, it was majestic.

Laurence Fishburne makes the most of his brief screen time as Noland, the half-crazed survivor.  He could have been in the movie longer, and I wouldn’t have minded.

LS: I like Fishburne a lot, and wished he’d had a bigger presence in the movie.

MA:  I liked the way he was always whispering, so as not to attract the Predator’s attention.  It was kind of creepy.

LS: And he kept talking to some imaginary friend. It reminded me of my relationship with you!

MA:  I imagine I resent that remark, friend!

WHISPERING VOICE FROM WOODS:  Over here.

MA:  Who said that?

VOICE:  You’re too loud.  They’ll hear you.

LS:  Show yourself, you wimp!  What’s the idea of hiding in the woods like a big baby?

MA:  Who are you?

VOICE:  The wind.

LS:  The wind?  What is this, THE HAPPENING?

MA (trembling):  N-no!  First, THE VILLAGE, now THE HAPPENING.  There are too many M. Night Shyamalan references.  Stop it!  STOP IT!

LS (shaking MA):  Get a grip on yourself, before I have to hit you upside the head with this machete!

MA:  Whoa!  Where did that come from?

LS:  From the Danny Trejo Fan Club.  Are you good to go now?

MA (taking a deep breath):  Yeah, I’m okay.  Thanks.

I thought the special effects ran hot and cold.  The vicious four-legged creatures that attack the group before the Predators enter the scene, were rather fake-looking and obvious CGI creations.  The Predators themselves were okay.  Sometimes they looked scary and real, and at other times they looked phony.  The best looking creature in this one was the classic Predator, the one who was being held prisoner by the newer, stronger Predators.  He was scary and horrific looking, and I wish he had been in the movie more.

LS: I thought the alien “dogs” were okay. As for the Predators, I’ve been a fan since day one. I thought the original PREDATOR (1987), was pretty goofy, but the monster kicked ass. And they’ve continued to be terrific visually, through all the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR films, and especially here.

MA: Director Nimrod Antal did a good job here.  The action sequences are exciting, and the hunt scenes intense.  There were also a few gory touches that made this one as hard-hitting as it needed to be.

LS: He did a great job! He’s also directed a few other interesting films, like KONTROLL (2003) and VACANCY (2007).

MA: Writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch wrote a story that hooked me from the get-go.  Even though this was a PREDATOR movie, and everyone in the theater knew that the Predators would be the guys doing the hunting, the story was written in such a way that the first half of the movie, in which we don’t see a whole lot of the Predators, was still compelling and very interesting.  I think this was due largely to this being a brand new story.  It wasn’t a rehash of the original two movies, or the two recent films that pitted the Predators against the Aliens.

LS: Yeah, the script was super! The pacing is relentless throughout. I really enjoyed it.

MA: There were elements of surprise here.  Just where the hell is this forest anyway?  Why is there an ordinary doctor among the group of killers?  What are those strange four-legged creatures?  Why is one Predator being held captive by other, slightly different looking Predators?  There was enough happening early on to pique my interest and get me into this movie.

Once Laurence Fishburne’s character appears, I thought the movie leveled off somewhat in terms of surprises.  It becomes more of a standard action movie, as the hunt heats up.  While this is enjoyable and entertaining, the film does become more routine during its second half.

Still, it doesn’t fall to anything resembling “below average,” and this is because of the strong performance of Adrien Brody.  Brody drives the story along, and with the strength of his acting abilities, he carries this movie on his back, and he takes it all the way to a successful finish.

I also really enjoyed the music score by John Debney, the man who did the music for SIN CITY (2005).  It reminded me a lot of the score from the original 1987 PREDATOR movie, by Alan Silvestri.

To nitpick, I would have liked some better explanations for a few things.  For starters, just how is it that the classic Predator understands what Adrien Brody says to it so easily?  Do Predators understand English?

LS: Si, senor!

MA: Just how was it that these people were whisked off Earth and sent here?  And just where is HERE?

But these are minor quibbles in a movie as entertaining as this.  PREDATORS is the kind of movie where I don’t care if there are minor missing elements to the story, because the story as is works so well.

I thought PREDATORS was one of the more entertaining movies I’ve seen this summer.  It’s got great acting, especially from its lead Adrien Brody; it’s got lots of neat action sequences; and it is not boring in the least.  It’s well worth the price of admission. I give it 3 knives.

LS: I like the fact that not everything was explained, but just enough was to keep us glued to the screen. PREDATORS was a big surprise for me, and I really enjoyed it. I’d give it 3 and a half knives.

MA: So, there you have it.  Definitely give yourself a treat this summer.  Go out and see PREDATORS.

(PREDATOR appears behind them with a beer in each hand.  He hands them to LS and MA).

LS:  Gee, thanks!

MA (lifting bottle):  Here’s to a kick-ass movie, which should really reinvigorate this franchise.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s another PREDATORS movie in the works in the not too distant future.

LS:  Let’s not rush into more sequels, okay?

MA (to PREDATOR):  And what do you think about the prospect of starring in more Predator movies?  Are you GAME?  Oops!  Bad choice of words.

(PREDATOR aims his weapon at them.)

LS:  Game. You would have to remind him.

MA:  He just can’t help himself. He’s addicted to hunting.  Well, folks, we’ve got to duel our friend Mr. Predator here.  But we’ll be back next week with another review of another new movie.

LS (hands MA a paint ball gun):  Ready?  (MA nods).  Okay, Mr. Predator, the game is on!

(MA and LS take cover in the woods, while the PREDATOR roars.)

WHISPERING VOICE:  They went that-a-way.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by LL Soares and Michael Arruda

 

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM (2019)

Review by LL Soares

At this point, we know what a new JOHN WICK movie is going to be like. It’s a formula that doesn’t change much from film to film, because it works so well. CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM is more of the same. Two hours and ten minutes of killing. By gun, by martial arts, by any way (or blunt object available) possible. I enjoy these movies, and CHAPTER 3 was no exception.

The plot, what there is of one, is pretty simple. In CHAPTER 2, John Wick (Keanu Reeves, SPEED, 1994, and THE MATRIX, 1999) killed someone on the grounds of the Continental Hotel, a sanctuary for assassins. It’s one rule is that you do not kill anyone on the premises. So, having broken this golden rule, Wick is a man marked for death by the High Table, the mysterious group who lord it over the hired killers of the world.

The manager of the Continental, Mr. Winston (Ian McShane, of from the series DEADWOOD and currently on the Starz Channel’s AMERICAN GODS) gives Wick an hour’s grace period before he becomes a duck in a shooting gallery. Then, a 14 million dollar bounty is put on his head. As the movie goes along, this amount will increase.

So, as CHAPTER 3 opens, Wick is running around New York City, trying to stay alive, as various killers notice him, and hunt him down. This includes everyone from martial artists in Chinatown to the Russian mob. Wick manages to stay alive, leaving an ocean of dead bodies in his wake. Eventually, he ends up at the ballet school of an old friend, simply called The Director (Anjelica Huston, PRIZZI’S HONOR, 1985, THE GRIFTERS, 1990), and he calls in an old debt to demand her help in getting out of the country. His destination: Morocco.

In Morocco, Wick does more killing to stay alive, and calls in another marker with a friend named Sofia (Halle Berry, MONSTER’S BALL, 2001, and the original Storm in the X-MEN movies of the early oughts), a killer who has two very obedient dogs. John Wick loves dogs, so you can see why they are (or were) friends. He wants to set up a meeting with a member of the High Table to negotiate for his life. But things don’t go as planned.

Meanwhile, a new character called The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon, best known for playing Taylor Mason on the terrific Showtime series BILLIONS, and previously on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) shows up in New York. She works for the High Table, and, while she’s there to search for Wick, she’s also there to punish those who helped him get away, including ol’ Winston, as well as the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne, Morpheus in THE MATRIX, 1999, and Jack Crawford on the excellent series, HANNIBAL, from 2013 – 2015), who leads an army of killers disguised as derelicts, and The Director, who we saw earlier. The Adjudicator is vicious but does not get her hands dirty. She has a dude named Zero (Mark Dacascos, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, 2001, and “The Chairman” of IRON CHEF AMERICA: THE SERIES, 2004 -2018) and his lethal ninja warriors to do the dirty work, like meeting out punishments.

After a sojourn in the desert, Wick returns home to take on The Adjudicator and her men, in a Continental Hotel that suddenly finds itself no longer a sacred place (The Adjudicator reduces it to “Deconsecrated” status in her mission to get rid of Wick once and for all, so killing on the premises is now fair game).

Winston, of course, has some tricks of his own up his sleeve, and his right hand man, Charon (Lance Reddick, THE WIRE, 2002-2008, and FRINGE, 2008-2013) shows Wick to a storeroom full of guns that would make an NRA member giddy.

Sure, the series fetishizes guns and violence, but the fact that it is so over the top, and so unapologetically vicious, is part of its appeal. Clearly I’m not the only one with an affinity for Wick and Company, since these movies have been doing increasingly well at the box office. The first film made about $14 million, this newest one made over $54 million in its opening weekend. Expect more “Chapters” to come.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM (which means “Prepare for War” as revealed in some subtitles later on) is directed by former stuntman Chad Stahelski, who also directed the previous two JOHN WICK films. He knows he’s in on a good thing, and I hope he keeps directing these films. The screenplay is by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Mac Abrams, featuring characters created by Kolstad (who wrote the scripts for the first two movies by himself).

These movies work for a lot of reasons. The first being that it’s the perfect role for Keanu Reeves, who has had an uneven career as an actor, but who does especially well with stoic characters who reveal little emotion, like Neo in the MATRIX films and now here as John Wick. He’s just perfectly cast in these types of things, and is enjoyable to watch. The rest of the cast is also very strong. And then there’s the non-stop action, which is filmed exquisitely by Stahelski (along with his cinematographer, Dan Laustsen, of course) who, as a former stuntman, knows how to do this stuff right. The fight scenes throughout are excellent. Stahelski is very good at pacing.

If you’re a fan of violent films, or simply a fan of the previous films in the series, then you’ll be happy with the new Chapter. Me, I give it 3 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM a score of 3 1/2 knives.

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LUTHER THE GEEK (1989)

Movie Review by LL Soares

Another movie that I’d heard about for years, but hadn’t seen. LUTHER THE GEEK came out in 1989 and was directed by Carlton J. Albright. Albright also wrote the screenplay, using the name Whitey Styles. This is another one of those productions where the director only made one film. Although Albright also produced and wrote the screenplay for THE CHILDREN (1980) and produced DREAMS COME TRUE (1984). But that’s it for film credits. And this is the only where he’s the director.

LUTHER THE GEEK is yet another low-budget horror movie, but it’s got some effective scenes, and is worth checking out. The thing is, it could have been even better!

We start out with a flashback to when Luther was a kid. Little Luther (Carlton Williams, who is actually director Albright’s son) sneaks into a circus tent with a bunch of hillbilly men to see a real, live “geek.” This scene is basically just there to show us what a geek is (in case anyone didn’t understand the title). A guy in a cage is given a chicken and bites its head off and drinks its blood. Geeks did exist in carnivals in the America of yore, and were most often town drunks who agreed to play the geek in return for getting all the liquor they could drink. Anyway, little Luther is astounded by the display. At one point, though, a man knocks him to the ground and Luther hits his head, knocking out some teeth. He realizes, though, that he likes the taste of blood.

We next see a parole board discussing a candidate who is being considered for early release. Luther Watts was in prison for 20 years. The vote is close, but Luther is paroled for being a “model prisoner.” When we next see him, we learn two things. First, he replaced the teeth he lost as a kid with some metallic choppers, which he files down. Second, there is nothing normal-seeming about this guy, and there’s no reason why anyone would parole him. Did that board even meet this guy in person? To give you an idea what he’s like, Luther isn’t even called “Luther” in the credits. He’s called THE FREAK and is played by Edward Terry.

Anyway, right away, Luther gets into trouble at a supermarket, eating raw eggs and making a mess. The manager calls the police and escorts him out. On a bench beside a bus stop, he sits beside an old lady (Gail Buxton in an old lady wig), then proceeds to attack her, biting her neck viciously until she bleeds to death. Somehow, the creep gets away!

Eventually he makes his way to a lonely farmhouse, at first to chase the chickens around. There we meet Hilary (Joan Roth), a woman whose husband is either dead or away. She is terrorized by Luther, until they’re interrupted by Hilary’s college-age daughter, Beth (Stacy Haiduk) and her boyfriend Rob (Thomas Mills) who show up unexpectedly. Beth has a sexy shower scene before she and Rob join Hilary in being terrorized. At one point Luther steals Rob’s motorcycle, but can’t ride it, and cracks it up. Dumb-ass Rob chases him down to get his bike back, but learns to regret it.

There’s not much plot to this one. It’s basically a home invasion flick where a psycho breaks into a house and makes some people’s lives miserable. At one point a clueless police officer shows up (of course), played by Jerry Clarke, and let’s just say he doesn’t save the day.

At no point does Luther join a carnival and become a geek, though. He just terrorizes this poor family.

Despite the fact that they had very little to work with that makes sense, Roth and Haiduk aren’t too bad, with Roth being the best performer here, and cute Haiduk doing a decent job. Haiduk, in fact, is probably the most successful actor in this movie, since she has 70 credits on IMDB.com. LUTHER was only her second film, and she went on to get roles on the TV shows SUPERBOY (1988 – 1992, as Lana Lang), the underappreciated vampire series KINDRED: THE EMBRACED (1996), and MELROSE PLACE (in 1997).  More recently she played characters on HEROES, PRISON BREAK, and TRUE BLOOD, as well as the soap operas ALL MY CHILDREN, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and DAYS OF OUR LIVES!

But here’s where I get to the part about it having the potential to be better. Lead Edward Terry isn’t completely awful as Luther. He is intimidating, and sometimes creepy, but he’s pretty much a one-note character. And he doesn’t speak. All he does is cluck like a chicken. This actually works in the eerie final scene, but up until then, you wonder how this guy is able to move around in the real world at all with his weird clucking and completely psychotic behavior.

It would have been a lot more effective if he was able to act normal sometimes and trick people into trusting him. As a metal-toothed, clucking freakshow, no one is going to go near him if they can help it, and there is absolutely no way this guy would be given parole. He can’t assimilate into normal society at all; he doesn’t even try. He’s more like a cartoon caricature than a real human being.

If Terry had played him as a more articulate guy who vacillated between vulnerable/normal and a complete psycho, I think the movie could have been a lot more effective, and more of a cult classic. More personality and complexity would have made this a plum role! But I can’t blame Terry, because he’s just doing what the script calls for. Albright’s script is the culprit here, keeping the movie from ever being truly scary.

Sadly, Terry was only in this one (the part was actually written with him in mind to play it), and in THE CHILDREN (mentioned previously). But he was in the art department for the John Huston film THE DEAD (1987), strangely enough.

But with a more complex character (maybe he would only start clucking when he was really going off the deep end), or at least a smarter one, LUTHER THE GEEK could have transcended its low-budget limitations. As is, the creepy-ass ending works despite the rest of the weak script, rather than because of it.

That said, I did enjoy watching this one. It’s not a total dud (and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of total duds), but I found its flaws really frustrating. Oh, and for TROMA fans, this one was released on DVD (and I’m assuming on VHS back in the day) by Troma Studios. The special effects makeup, which actually isn’t bad, is by Mike Tristano, who refused to be credited for the film. There’s also an interesting synth score by Vern Carlson, who also did the music for GALAXINA (1980).

Maybe instead of remaking classic movies that were done right the first time, someone could remake LUTHER THE GEEK and get it right. That’s what remakes should be for – helping failed films with potential reach a higher level. Unfortunately, I don’t see LUTHER getting remade anytime soon.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

 

HER SMELL (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Some movies, you just take it for granted, should be a great time. I’m a big fan of actress Elizabeth Moss. You might know her from the TV shows THE WEST WING, where she played Zoey Bartlet from 1999-2006; MAD MEN, where she played Peggy Olson from 2007 – 2015; and THE HANDMAID’S TALE, which she is currently starring in AS Offred/June. She’s also a movie star, having appeared in movies like Jordon Peele’s US (2019), HIGH-RISE (2015), GET HIM TO THE GREEK (2010), and the fascinating THE ONE I LOVE (2014). She’s the kind of actress who leaves a big impression, and it’s easy to believe that you’ll love just about anything you see her in.

I’m also heavily into music, especially punk rock, and Moss plays a punk singer in her new movie HER SMELL. One modeled after singers like Courtney Love and Patti Smith.

Elizabeth Moss as an out-of-control singer in an all-girl punk rock band? It should be a home run, right? Strangely, it’s not.

HER SMELL has Moss playing Becky Something, the lead singer and guitarist of the band Something She. Her band mates are drummer Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin, also in the Netflix series GLOW and the movie THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, 2017) and Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn, CLASH OF THE TITANS, 2010) on bass. Becky has a daughter who she brings on tour with her sometimes (at first, I thought she was Ali’s daughter) named Tama. Her entourage (some willing, some not) includes her “shaman” Ya-ema (Eka Darville, JESSICA JONES), who follows her around and burns candles, her always-frustrated manager Howard (Eric Stoltz, MASK , 1985 and PULP FICTION, 1994), her mother Ania (Virginia Madsen, CANDYMAN, 1992, and SIDEWAYS, 2004 ), and her husband Danny (Dan Stevens, of the shows DOWNTON ABBY and LEGION, and the movies THE GUEST, 2014, AND APOSTLE, 2018) a radio disc jockey who keeps bringing divorce papers with him that Becky won’t look at, much less sign.

The movie opens with Something She performing (just one song!) and then leaving and going backstage, in one long, rambling scene where Tama gets passed from person to person, and Becky whines a lot. In fact, whining seems to be Becky’s superpower. For a singer with adoring fans (not sure how that happened!), she’s very insecure (of course, nothing new) and consults with her shaman on every decision she makes (mostly bad ones), as he follows her around constantly, and she bitches at everyone about how they’ve let her down. She’s also heavily into alcohol and drugs (of course). Poor Dan just wants to get the hell away from her, but he’s linked to her because of Tama.

Next, we go to a recording studio, where Becky won’t leave, even though their time is up, and no one has the guts to kick her out (why not just call the cops? I’m sure she’d love the publicity). Along comes The Akergirls, a young band that obviously reminds Becky a lot of her own band when they were just starting out. The Akergirls consist of Roxie Rotten (Ashley Benson of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and SPRING BREAKERS, 2012), Dottie O.Z. (Dylan Gelula, CHASING LIFE, 2014-2015) and drummer Crassie Cassie (model and actress Cara Delevigne, who always gives a fun performance, and who you may recognize from PAPER TOWNS, 2014, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, 2017, and SUICIDE SQUAD, 2016). They’re the new discoveries of Howard, who is trying to get their debut album recorded, because it’s clear that he’s not making much money off Becky anymore and he desperately needs a hit. The new band idolizes Something She, especially Becky, and feel honored just to be in the same studio with them. When Becky’s bandmates take off, completely fed up with her behavior, Becky uses the new girls’ adulation to manipulate them into being her new backup band in the studio, much to Howard’s chagrin (now she definitely won’t be leaving anytime soon).

Later on, at a big gig where the Akergirls are opening for Something She, Becky loses her shit completely and makes a scene, which ends up with her running out on stage, bloody and dazed. This will lead to a hiatus, where Becky tries to get her act together and make a comeback.

The big meltdown includes Becky showing up two hours late, with an impromptu camera crew in tow, and includes more whining until she breaks a bottle and cuts herself and Ali. The bottle cutting seems to pop up because up until then Becky is just annoying as hell, and it’s like the filmmaker suddenly thought, “Hey, I have to actually give her an edge.” The movie is written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, who also gave us LISTEN UP PHILIP (2015) and QUEEN OF EARTH (2015). Oddly enough, he was also one of the writers of the screenplay for the recent Disney film CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018).

There are things I liked about HER SMELL, mostly the supporting roles by the members of Becky’s band (Rankin and Deyn are terrific), and The Akergirls. Dan Stevens, always a good actor, is pretty much wasted here as the sad ex who wants to be free from Becky’s psychodrama, but can’t get away.

Moss, who is normally terrific, is mostly irritating here, which is what she’s supposed to be, I guess. But the movie is an endurance test that never really ever making it worth our while. It just doesn’t amount to anything. We’ve seen this kind of movie too many times before: the out-of-control rock star whose life spirals out of control. (Hell, we just saw it in Bradley Cooper’s A STAR IS BORN last year). The thing is, Moss’s Becky offers absolutely nothing new to the equation. She’s not different or interesting in her “out of control” behavior (which is more aggravating than anarchic). Hell, even her band’s songs are kind of boring (and definitely forgettable). I can’t really blame Moss for this. She clearly gives the role her all, in a performance that has been labeled “fearless” by some critics.

My problem here is with Perry’s script, which never once convinces me that Becky Something is someone I should care about. She’s not a profound musician, she’s not a fascinating human being, she’s just an annoyance that people put up with only because they either need her for some reason (employment, motherhood) or are somehow misguided enough to be her fans. If her performances were truly incendiary, then I could see the appeal. But they’re not. Moss tries like hell to make this woman real, but I had a hard time accepting her as a believable character. Whether in total chaos mode or, later on, sober and seemingly reflective, she just never really seems “genuine.” She seems more like a rock star caricature than a true source of drama.

Amber Heard (of DRIVE ANGRY, 2011, and Mera in AQUAMAN, 2018) also appears as Zelda, a bigger star who knew Becky back when they were both starting out, and who tries to help her out. Becky treats her like a hanger-on, and resents any help that’s offered, even though it’s clear Zelda is successful and talented, and frankly, she doesn’t have to waste her time hanging around Becky’s “I’m gonna fall apart all the time” shtick. I’m sure she has better things to do.

So did I.

In something like A STAR IS BORN, Cooper and Lady Gaga were convincing as rock stars, her on the way up, him spiraling down. Not once did I find Becky Something convincing. And that’s really too bad, considering the talent involved in this movie.

I give it two knives.

(c) Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HER SMELL ~ 2 knives

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