PET SEMATARY (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Am I the only one who thought the 1989 movie version of Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY, directed by Mary Lambert, wasn’t a bad film? I mean, when there’s a decent version of the story already adapted, why be in a rush to remake it? Remakes should be reserved for the numerous Stephen King books that were made into BAD movies, don’t cha think? Or maybe to put some R-rated scares in stories that previously adapted for sanitized TV miniseries on ABC?  In other words, PET SEMATARY wasn’t high on my list of King movies that had to be redone.

The thing is, the new PET SEMATARY isn’t a bad movie. It’s done well, with a good cast. It’s just that it doesn’t have much new to add (except maybe for an unexpected death that may catch King fans by surprise). So when I sat down to watch this version, I have to admit, it didn’t do much for me. I’d seen the story before, just as well done, and so this felt like a waste of an hour and 41 minutes. But that’s just me.

If you’re a horror movie fan, then you already know the story. A family moves from urban Boston to rural Maine to “get away from it all.” The dad’s a doctor who’s sick of working the all-night shifts at the hospital and wants to take it easier. So Louis (Jason Clarke, the underrated actor from “ZERO DARK THIRTY,” 2012, “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” 2014, and “MUDBOUND,” 2017) and his wife, Rachel (Amy Siemetz, from the shows “THE KILLING” and ‘THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE,” and the movie “ALIEN: COVENANT,” 2017) move with their kids, pre-teenager Ellie (Jete Laurence, “THE SNOWMAN,” 2017) and toddler Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) to a cabin in the woods. Turns out that there’s a cemetery behind their house in the woods. Kids in the neighborhood bury their dead pets there. Which is kind of creepy, since they turn it into an almost pagan ritual, wearing animal masks in an orderly procession and all.

Even scarier, their house is on the route that huge gas trucks take to get where they’re going. And they go by fast!

There’s also a scruffy neighbor named Jud (John Lithgow, of “RAISING CAIN,” 1992, “RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” 2011, and amazing in Season 4 of the series “DEXTER” in 2009), who lost his wife and who could be feeling sorry for himself, but he’s actually a nice guy and befriends first Ellie, then the family. When the family cat, Church, gets run over by a car, Jud tells Louis about a secret graveyard BEHIND the pet cemetery. A spooky, swampy piece of land where Native American tribes used to bury their kin, until they moved away, determining the area was cursed. You see, this second cemetery has supernatural properties. If you bury something there, it comes back to life. Although, not exactly how you remember them.

Jud doesn’t want his daughter to find out her beloved cat is dead, so he follows Jake to the spooky graveyard, buries the cat there, and soon afterwards, it comes back.

Except it’s mangy as hell and really needs a bath. And sometimes it has a really nasty temper now.  

So, after seeing what the graveyard can do, when someone in Louis’s family dies, he sure as hell isn’t going to let them stay dead!

And when a human being is buried in that awful place, that’s when things get really spooky.

As I said, the directors, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, who previously gave us the very good horror film, STARRY EYES (2014), do a good job adapting the material. The script is by Jeff Buhler (and Matt Greenberg). There’s not a lot here that’s particularly problematic. It’s a good, solid adaptation. Except that it was already adapted in 1989, as a decent movie, and the new movie just seemed like more of an attempt by the studio to cash in on the resurgence of popularity for Stephen King—thanks to the blockbuster version of IT (2017)—than a movie that really needed to be made. Or, rather, remade.

Everyone involved does a fine job. Nobody embarrasses themselves here. But in the end, it seemed a little pointless. I was going to give it 2 ½ knives because of that – but frankly, I don’t think that’s fair. Just know that if you haven’t seen this story before, you’ll enjoy it. It’s a good movie. But if you’ve already seen it, there aren’t a lot of reasons to see this new one.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

Advertisements

SHAZAM! (2019)

Review by LL Soares

This might be a confusing time for fans of Captain Marvel.

Back in the 1970s (1974 -1977, to be exact) there was a little Saturday morning show called SHAZAM!  where young Billy Batson (Michael Gray) said the secret word and transformed with a clap of thunder into Captain Marvel (Jackson Bostwick). But the most recent movie to be called CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) stars Brie Larson as a superheroine with cosmic powers, who is soon going to be helping the Avengers kick Thanos’s ass in AVENGERS: ENDGAME later this month.

And now we’ve got a new SHAZAM! movie as well, where Billy Batson (Asher Angel, from the Disney TV show “ANDI MACK,” 2017-2019) turns into…er…Shazam? (Zachary Levi, “HEROES REBORN” 2015-2016)…when he says his own name. Holy lightning bolts, Batman! What’s going on here?

For brevity’s sake, here’s a crash course in the history of Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was originally created by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck in 1939 and was a very popular comic book hero whose peak was in the 1940s. There was even a live-action serial (short films with a continuing plot, for those who aren’t familiar with them) about the character called Adventures of Captain Marvel, starring Tom Tyler as the titular superhero. But in 1953, Fawcett stopped publishing the comics, due in part to waning sales (the superhero genre wasn’t selling as well) and partly due to a lawsuit from DC Comics, claiming Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics got the trademark for the name Captain Marvel, which they used for a new line of characters. In 1972, DC Comics got the rights to the actual characters of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family (Cappy has a whole family of superheroes, another similarity with Superman at the time), but couldn’t use the name Captain Marvel. So the series was called SHAZAM. This latter property is the basis of the new SHAZAM! movie.

Up to speed?

Anyway, the basic idea is Billy Batson, a normal everyday kid, is given the gift of turning into an adult superhero (who’s a lot of Superman) when he says the word SHAZAM which stands for the great heroes of the past: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. This power is bestowed upon him by a wizard named Mentor (referred to as just “Wizard” in the credits of the new movie, and played now by Djimon Hounsou of “GUARDIAN’S OF THE GALAXY,” 2014, and, ironically, currently in Marvel’s “CAPTAIN MARVEL,” 2019) The gimmick of the new movie is that even though young Billy turns into an adult superhero, he still has the mind of his 15-year-old self. So sometimes thing get goofy.

It’s a more light-hearted plotline than most DC Comics movies these days, although there’s some gritty stuff here, too. When we first meet Billy, he’s at a carnival with his mom. At one point, he gets lost, and can’t find his mother. The police find him, and he ends up in a series of foster families. This, right off the bat, had me scratching my head. A kid gets lost, knows his name and his family must be nearby, and the police can’t track down his mother? This seemed incredibly stupid to me. But hey, we have to keep going…

Billy runs away from every foster family he’s placed in. He runs away because he’s trying to track down his mother. He has a list of names from the phone book of women named Batson, who might be his mother. But he keeps coming up empty. Now he gets placed in a new home, which is run by the couple Victor Vasquez (who you might recognize as “THE WALKING DEAD” character JERRY!) and his wife Rosa (Marta Milans, “NO TOMORROW” 2016 – 2017). The other kids in the group home include teenage Mary (Grace Fulton, “THE GHOST WHISPERER,” 2005-2007, “REVENGE,” 2012-2013, and “ANNABELLE: CREATION,” 2017) who’s trying to get into college; video game enthusiast Eugene (Ian Chen, from the TV shows “FRESH OFF THE BOAT” and “GREY’S ANATOMY”); introverted Pedro (Jovan Armand, from the show “THE MIDDLE”); cute little Darla (Faithe Herman, “THIS IS US”); and disabled Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, also in “IT,” 2017 and the upcoming “IT: CHAPTER TWO”). Billy gets closest to Freddy, since they share a room. But obviously Billy doesn’t have plans to stick around very long.

Meanwhile, that wizard I mentioned (Hounsou) is trying to find someone who is “pure of heart,” so he can transfer his magical powers to them before he dies of old age, and random people find themselves suddenly transported to the wizard’s cave, so he can test them to see if they’re good enough. Of course, no one’s ever good enough. But one of the kids he rejected carries a grudge, and grows up to be the evil Dr. Silvana (Mark Strong, also in “KICK-ASS,” 2010, “JOHN CARTER,” 2012, and “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE,” 2014, as well as 103 other credits on IMDB.com). He’s intent on finding that cave again and teaming up with the wizard’s enemies – the Seven Deadly Sins – which are imprisoned inside stone statues in the wizard’s cave. They promise to give him powers of evil, so he can defeat the wizard’s hero (if he ever finds one).

A lot of this comes from the comics, but man, is it a slog. I found the first half hour of this movie really tough to sit through. I didn’t care about Billy Batson or his mom, or Sivana and his grudge, or the dopey wizard and his tests. All of it bored me to tears, and I kind of wondered why I spent the money for a movie ticket, and then something happened.

Billy Batson, of course, passes the wizard’s test and is transformed by magic into the mighty hero SHAZAM! whenever he says the word SHAZAM! which is also his name (I believe it’s also supposed to be the wizard’s name here as well, so that’s a tad confusing). At this point, Asher Angel’s Billy turns into Zachary Levi, the actor who plays SHAZAM!, and suddenly, the movie’s worth watching.

JUST LIKE MAGIC!

Like I said, I didn’t find Asher Angel’s Billy all that riveting, but once he’s transformed into Zachary Levi’s SHAZAM, things get interesting. Here’s where it becomes a combination of BIG and SUPERMAN. The best interaction in the movie is between Levi’s Shazam and his buddy Freddy, especially when they do a series of “stunts” to determine what Shazam’s powers are. (Super speed, CHECK!). While he tries to figure out all the cool things he can do (including buying beer), Dr. Sivana has absorbed the Seven Deadly Sins—they look like crazy CGI monsters!—who turn into smoke and go inside his glowing eye to give him evil super powers (doesn’t that sound amazing!). Unfortunately, those CGI monsters don’t have much personality and are kind of generic, and they’re as exciting as flat soda.

I like actor Mark Strong a lot, he’s a terrific actor, but man, the dude gets no respect. He should be a big star at this point, but instead he’s playing second-rate bad guys like Dr. Sivana! When is this guy going to get his big break and become a leading man already!  

Eventually Sivana and Shazam meet, and we get some superpowered fisticuffs, culminating in a big showdown between Sivana and the CGI Sin Monsters vs. Shazam and some unexpected allies (they’re actually pretty cool).

SHAZAM! is directed by David F. Sandberg, who also gave us “LIGHTS OUT “(2016) and “ANNABELLE: CREATION” (2017), and he does an okay job here. The screenplay is by Henry Grayden (“EARTH TO ECHO,” 2014), and frankly, if they hadn’t cast people as talented as Levi and Strong, this would have been a complete waste of time.

Overall, my feeling is that when Levi is onscreen, especially with Grazer, the movie is a lot of fun. When Levi isn’t around, it drags. So I’m really on the fence about this one. Is Levi enough to justify the whole movie? Not really. But I give SHAZAM! a score of 2 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives SHAZAM! ~~ 2 1/2 knives!

Stab_2Stab_2HALF

TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001)

Movie review by LL Soares

I’m a big fan of French horror films. From the 1960 classic Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) to the 1970s French vampire films of the great Jean Rollin, to the movies Jesus Franco made in France, to the more recent films considered part of the New French Extremity movement, such as HAUTE TENSION (2003), INSIDE (2007) and MARTYRS (2008). So when I finally had a chance to see Claire Denis’s 2001 film TROUBLE EVERY DAY, one of the earlier films of the New French Extremity, I was happy to check it out.

Claire Denis is sort of a one-woman genre of her own, having made so many different kinds of movies, from the colonial drama CHOCOLAT (1988) to the French Foreign Legion drama BEAU TRAVAIL (1999), to her most recent films, the comedy LET THE SUNSHINE IN (2017) and the sci-fi flick HIGH LIFE (2018). Of course, she made a horror movie, and it’s a doozy.

TROUBLE EVERY DAY is kind of a vampire film. It starts out with a woman named Core (Beatrice Dalle, also the titular character in the movie BETTY BLUE, 1986, as well as in Michael Haneke’s TIME OF THE WOLF, 2003, and the great French horror film INSIDE, 2007) wandering around and seducing a trucker, who she then proceeds to mutilate and drink his blood. Not really the fangs in the neck variety, let’s just say that Core is a very messy eater. She bites off facial features and body parts as much as she drinks blood, and when her husband Leo (Alex Descas, also in several other Claire Denis films, and in Olivier Assayas’s IRMA VEP, 1996) tracks her down, she’s a bloody mess. The fact that he stays with her, and that he covers up her murders by burying the victims and cleaning her up, says a lot about their relationship. First of all, he obviously loves her. And second, he clearly feels guilty about what she has become.

It’s also the story of newlyweds Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey, also in BEAN, 1997, and GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI, 1999) Brown, who have just arrived in Paris for their honeymoon. They are also in love, and June at first seems very happy. But there’s something wrong, an overriding tensions that slowly devours their wedded bliss. This gets worse when Shane takes the last of some pills he has brought along. He immediately goes searching for a doctor from his past, namely Leo, who we met earlier.

Shane works for a pharmaceutical company and in enigmatic flashbacks, it’s clear that he worked with Leo on some past project in the jungles of Bolivia. We are led to believe that whatever has happened to Core has something to do with this secret research. And it also had some effect on Shane that we’re not sure about.

Shane can’t find Leo. The lab where he worked fired him, and the scientists there claim to have no idea where Leo is. In the meantime, Leo has taken on the role of a local physician for rural patient, and keeping a low profile, while still doing research of his own in the basement of the house he shares with Core.

Meanwhile, two criminals have been casing Leo’s house, and are curious why he goes to such lengths to keep it secure (there are bars on all the windows, etc.). Obviously, he’s done this to keep Core from going out (even though she escapes occasionally anyway), but the thieves think he’s hiding something of value in the house. After at least one unsuccessful attempt to break in, they finally are able to break a basement window and gain access after Leo has gone off to work.

Needless to say, they find something they’re not expecting.

Shane has been getting more and more desperate. He needs to track Leo down, but isn’t getting very far. In the meantime, he is avoiding any passion with June (for fear that he might not be able to control himself?). In one scene, he stops making love to her to run to the bathroom and finish himself off violently, which disturbs his wife (and us). Then a woman who works at Leo’s former lab finally contacts him and tells Shane how to reach his old friend. Shane arrives at Leo’s house soon after those thieves have broken in…

TROUBLE EVERY DAY is dark, enigmatic, and atmospheric, and the violent scenes are very gory.  A big reason why I wanted to see it was because Denis is such an interesting director, and I’m a fan of star Vincent Gallo, who had previously starred in and directed the great BUFFALO ’66 (1998) and had roles in films like Abel Ferrara’s THE FUNERAL (1996) and a previous Denis film, NENETTE AND BONI (1996). He would go on to write and direct (and star in) the controversial THE BROWN BUNNY in 2003.

I really enjoyed this one and think it deserves a wider audience.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

US (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Like a lot of people, I loved Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, GET OUT (2017), and it’s amazing how much that movie has already become part of the cultural landscape. The spoon clinking on the sides of that teacup. The Sunken Place. The movie has resonated and become part of pop culture. So, no matter what his next movie was, it was going to be hard to top the success of GET OUT.

US (which Peele wrote and directed, as he did with GET OUT) is interesting in that it’s a very different kind of story. It’s still a horror movie, and personally I’m happy to see that he’s continuing to work in the genre. But where GET OUT was more of a straightforward narrative, going from Point A to Point B, US is something else. Not everything will be answered this time to everyone’s satisfaction. That said, I enjoyed it a lot.

Like GET OUT and its creepy opening scene of Lakeith Stanfield getting abducted while walking around an upper-class white neighborhood, US also start out ominously, showing us a family at a boardwalk amusement park in 1986. While Mom (Anna Diop, currently playing Starfire in the DC Comics series TITANS) goes to the bathroom and Dad (Yahya Abdul-Manteen II, who most recently played Black Manta in AQUAMAN) is occupied playing “Whack-a-Mole,” their young daughter wanders off the boardwalk and into a funhouse on the beach. Inside the hall of mirrors, the girl, named Adelaide (Madison Curry) finds herself alone and lost when the lights go out. While trying to find an exit, she bumps into another little girl who looks like her.

We then move to present day, where the grown Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, 2013, and BLACK PANTHER, 2018) is on her way to Santa Cruz with her family, to visit her husband Gabe’s (Winston Duke, also in BLACK PANTHER and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, 2018) old stomping grounds. The two also have a daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and a son, Jason (Evan Alex). They are staying at a cabin which belongs to Gabe’s family, and he wants to go to the beach to hang out with his old friend Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker of the Adult Swim series TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB, and the movie THE COMEDY, 2012) his wife Kitty (Elizabeth Moss of MAD MEN and the Hulu series THE HANDMAID’S TALE), and their twin teenage daughters, Becca and Lindsey (Cali and Noelle Sheldon). Adelaide clearly does not want to go to the beach, but Gabe talks her into it. Before they leave, Gabe shows off that he got a speedboat, which he rides around in the lake behind the cabin.

After hanging out with Josh and Kitty, who mostly just drink on the beach, the family heads back to the cabin, and then things start getting weird.

It’s not long until they notice what looks like another family standing at the end of their driveway. Two adults and two kids are just standing there, holding hands and making a human chain (like the “Hands Across America” commercial we see in the first part of the film). Gabe tries to intimidate them into leaving, but they don’t move. In fact, when they do move, they become downright hostile, charging the house. Adelaide and her family try to keep them out, but they break in, and immediately take over as the aggressors here. Then we notice something weird. The intruders look just like the members of Adelaide’s family (and they’re led by a woman who looks just like her). Adelaide’s doppelganger (named Red in the credits) is the only one who can speak, in a wheezy rasp. The rest of Red’s family can only communicate in grunts.

Each doppleganger goes after their corresponding family member, leaving Red and Adelaide alone in the living room. And then the family begins what becomes a fight for their lives.

Why do these strangers look just like Adelaide and her family? What do they want? Where did they come from? Well, I don’t really want to go into too much detail about these things, because US is full of narrative twists and turns. The movie does a good job of building suspense throughout and maintaining a tone of dread.

There are also references to other movies tucked into the script, mostly genre flicks from the 80s, from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (previously seen in THE LOST BOYS, 1987) to THE SHINING (1980, like those twin daughters of the Tylers), to C.H.U.D. (1984) and Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES (1997).

Some people have been finding the final third of the film to be disappointing and/or confusing, which makes things difficult here, because I really don’t want to give too much away. But I dug the movie throughout. I thought the acting was terrific (especially Lupita Nyong’o, who is pretty much the star of the film) and the suspense consistently engaging. There’s also a great score by Michael Abels and strong cinematography by Mike Gioulakis.

It deals with bigger themes than GET OUT, and isn’t as clear-cut as that film. Despite that, I really enjoyed its ambition and imagery, and thought US was a strong follow-up to Peele’s debut.

Not everything in US works, but enough does to make it a thrilling ride. I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives US — three and a half knives!

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2HALF

CLIMAX (2019)

Review by LL Soares

I’m a big fan of director and provocateur Gaspar Noe, and for me a new film by him is kind of like an event. I first came upon him through his highly divisive film, IRREVERSIBLE (2002), a disturbingly violent flick that angered as many viewers as it fascinated. It’s a well-made, provocative film, but clearly not for everyone. As it is, I was impressed with it, but can’t really say I “liked” it. It’s a hard film to like. It did, however, establish Noe as a director to watch. I immediately sought out his previous feature, I STAND ALONE (1998), another dark descent into hell. After making various short films, his next big release was ENTER THE VOID (2009), a different kind of film, this time a story from the perspective of someone who has died and entered the “bardo”  – the state between death and rebirth/reincarnation. It’s a hallucinogenic and visually impressive flick that is not only my favorite Noe film, but one of my favorite films of all time. In 2015, he came out with LOVE, which shifted the theme from violence to graphic sex, with real penetration, which of course meant more controversy, but I thought it was one of his weaker efforts.

Which brings us to his new one, CLIMAX. It’s about a group of dancers gathering for a celebration. It begins first with a bloodied woman trudging through snow, then switches to a TV screen where the various dancers appear as talking heads, introducing themselves and answering questions about art, dance, and sex. The footage appears to be on a VHS tape (establishing the time as the 1980s? 90s?) and there are numerous videos and books surrounding the television, including copies of Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (1977) and Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE (1979).

Once we meet the players, we then see them “in person.” They begin with a giant dance-off, with each dancer getting a few moments to shine. It’s a long, riveting performance (which was all done in one continuous shot), as each character expresses themselves through dance. They’re going to be leaving soon for a tour of America, and are all excited.

The next part of the film involves the party. Characters talk (mostly about sex) as they eat and drink sangria from a punchbowl. This gives us further insight into the players involved. First, we heard them talk about themselves (the TV), then we saw them express themselves through dance, and now we see them with their guards down, talking among themselves. Predictably, most of the conversations are rather raunchy.

Then, something goes wrong. Someone has spiked the punchbowl with LSD and everyone starts slowly losing their grips on reality. Most of the action so far has taken place in the large auditorium where they danced and partied, but now some of the characters leave and go to other parts of the building, including the dorm rooms where the characters live. Some characters hook up, others explode with violence. When people begin to realize they’ve been drugged, they turn on the characters who didn’t “drink the kool-aid” – first a Muslim dancer named Omar (Adrien Sissoko), who doesn’t drink (he is thrown out into the snow), and then a woman named Lou (Souheila Yacoub) who said she didn’t feel well and who later reveals she is pregnant (other characters don’t believe her, and blaming her for the drugging, start violently hitting amd kicking her). The camera follows everyone throughout, as things get stranger and emotions get more erratic.

The most famous person here is Sofia Boutella, who you might recognize from playing the lead character in THE MUMMY (2017), as Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016) and as the spy Charlize Theron seduces in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017). She’s also an experienced dancer, and here she plays Selva, the troupe’s lead dancer, and it won’t take long for her to be sucked into the chaos along with everyone else. Other characters include a woman named Emmanuel (Claude Gajan Maull) who brought the food and drink (and is one of the first people accused of drugging them, but she’s as spaced out as they are), who brought her young son, Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant) to the occasion (and ends up locking him the electrical closet, but, of course, she quickly loses the key); Taylor and Gazelle (Taylor Kastle and Giselle Palmer) a brother and sister duo where the brother is very possessive; Selva’s jealous boyfriend, David (Romain Guillermic); Psyche and Ivana (Thea Carla Schott and Sharleen Temple), a lesbian couple who have an argument early on, and DJ Daddy (Kiddy Smile) who  at first seems to be a figure of reason, but who descends into the hallucinatory madness just like everyone else.

The film has a lot of the visual quirks that Noe often puts in his films. For example, the end credits appear near the beginning of the film, and occasionally placards flash onscreen reading things like “Birth is a unique experience,” “Life is a collective impossibility,” and “Death is an extraordinary experience.”

Some of the dancing looks like the frantic movements of demonic possession, which makes this the second movie I’ve seen lately (the other being Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA remake from last year) that ties modern dance with scenes of horror. For some reason, dance and horror go very well together onscreen (also think of BLACK SWAN, 2010).

The soundtrack includes songs by Gary Numan, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (of Chris & Cosey, and the seminal industrial band Throbbing Gristle), Daft Punk, and Aphex Twin. And it keeps you riveted throughout. Aside from the choreographed dance numbers, a lot of the film is improvised and has a chaotic feel, which is just what Noe is going for here.

While it is visually enticing, and revels in hallucinations and madness (also another of his regular themes), I still can’t help feeling it is one of Noe’s lesser works. The emphasis here is on having an “experience” rather than telling a story, and while that’s fine, there’s not a lot of meat here. It’s not as profound and beautiful as ENTER THE VOID or as relentlessly disturbing as IRREVERSIBLE. And, as it reaches the end, the insanity starts to get a little bit tiresome.

But it’s still Noe, and it’s still more adventurous and interesting than most of what we see in theaters these days. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives CLIMAX ~ three knives.

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

Review by LL Soares

In space, no one can hear you yawn.

That said, movies set in space definitely don’t have to be boring – especially coming from the Marvel Universe. Just look at GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (I’m talking the 2014 original here, I kinda hated the second one). And of course AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018, which I think is underrated). Which brings us to Carol Danvers, the hero at the heart of the new Marvel flick, CAPTAIN MARVEL!

I think actress Brie Larsen is great, and I was really happy to hear she got the role, back when they were announcing the casting decisions. And I knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to have a sizeable role as Nick Fury (and young Nick Fury at that, with youthful good looks – thanks to CGI – and two eyes!). What I didn’t count on was a fairly boring script.

We begin with Carol Danvers—super-powered but not yet Captain Marvel—as part of a team of space soldiers called “Starforce” (and with this, the generic space stuff begins). They’re defenders of the Kree, one of Marvel’s major alien races, who are identified by their blue skin. Except Danvers—referred to as Vers by her Kree comrades (it all makes sense later), is clearly not Kree. But she’s not really sure where she’s from. She has weird flashes of memory of a seemingly different life, but she can’t make heads nor tales out of it. She gets a little more clarity when she is captured by the Skrulls (the other big alien race in Marvel Land, who are green and sort of lizard-like, and who have the ability to shape shift to look like anyone they want to). In captvitiy, Vers is subjects to a machine that plunders her memories, in the process making them much more vivid, and ramping up Vers’s curiosity about her past even more.

The Skrulls use her memories as a map to a planet called C-53 (aka Earth), where something important they want is. Vers pursues them there. Back on home planet Earth, Vers starts experiencing major déjà vu, because, yes, she’s been here before.

S.H.I.E.LD. agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) (and if you don’t know what S.H.I.E.L.D. is, you need to watch more Marvel movies) get called in when Vers crash lands into a Blockbuster video store. It’s the 1990s, and none of the Marvel superheroes we know and love have shown up yet, so the super-powered Vers is something of an anomaly. In fact, Fury doesn’t even believe she’s from another planet at first, until he gets caught up in the Kree/Skrull conflict, thanks to his boss being impersonated by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelesohn). Vers takes on the Skrulls herself, with help from Fury, while her Starforce team, led by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who is a Kree warrior but, like Vers, isn’t blue (something that is never explained) hurries toward Earth.

This movie kind of lost me from the start, with the generic space opera of the “Starforce” team going to an alien planet to extract one of their spies from a Skrull stronghold. I thought this whole segment came off as Star War-lite and that wise-cracking Vers seemed to be the only Kree soldier we meet who has any kind of real personality. The rest of her team is pretty forgettable, even Djimon Honsou as Korath, and Jude Law—a normally terrific actor—is forced to play bland sci-fi commander Yon-Rogg. It’s not until Vers get to Earth that things get interesting at all, thanks for Fury, a cat named Goose (one of the best characters in the movie, without saying a word), and Ben Mendleson as Talos, and even that wasn’t exciting enough to get this movie out of the breakdown lane. Speaking of which, a generic car chase scene just smacks of cliché.

Basically, I liked Brie Larsen as Vers/Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, but this is yet another weak origin story and her character didn’t get interesting at all until the very end. Annette Benning is okay as a scientist from Danvers’ past (as well as the Kree AI overlord The Supreme Intelligence, who looked so much cooler in the comics), Lashana Lynch and Akira Akbar are good as Maria Rambeau, Danver’s best friend from her past, and her daughter, Monica, respectively. And it’s always good to see Jackson and Gregg. But the script is like an hour and forty minutes of boredom and 24 minutes of adrenaline, which is way off balance. At least our “Captain oh Captain” is set up to make a big splash when she returns in AVENGERS: ENDGAME next month (April 26th, to be precise).

For those who are scratching their heads and wondering, “Isn’t Captain Marvel a teenage boy who turns into a Superman wannabe?” You’re not losing your minds. Back in the 40s and 50s, Billy Batson said the secret word SHAZAM! and turned into the first Captain Marvel, but then DC Comics sued Charlton Comics, saying the Captain was too much like Superman, and so he disappeared. Afterwards, Marvel got the rights to the name Captain Marvel, and ran with it (several characters have born the name “Captain Marvel” since 1969, including Ms. Danvers) and then DC bought the rights to the actual character we knew as Captain Marvel, calling him just plain SHAZAM (and there’s a SHAZAM! movie coming out April 5th from DC , to make things even more confusing).

CAPTAIN MARVEL is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously gave us such indie films as the baseball drama SUGAR (2008) and gambling drama MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015). They also worked together on the excellent “teacher with a drug habit” flick HALF NELSON (2006), which Fleck directed alone and Boden co-wrote the screenplay for. The screenplay for CAPTAIN MARVEL is by Boden, Fleck and Geneva Robertston-Dworet, and is “based on a story” by Boden, Fleck, Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve. That’s a lot of writers for a script that’s so bland.

I hate to say it, but despite a good cast, a cool lead character, and a lot of potential, CAPTAIN MARVEL is a disappointment. And kind of one big yawn. It could have been so much cooler. But, as it is, I give it two knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives CAPTAIN MARVEL ~ two knives.

Stab_2Stab_2

ANNIHILATION (2018)

(NOTE: Annihilation was my choice of my favorite film of 2018. Here’s the review for those who missed it)

A “Cinema Knife Fight” Review by LL Soares

(THE SCENE: An abandoned building in the middle of an alien forest. Plant life is abundant and grows everywhere, but is in mutliple vivid colors that just aren’t common in nature, as we know it. LL SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA approach the house, which is completely overrun with vines and flowers)

LL SOARES: We made it to the first checkpoint.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Are we still on Earth? It looks like another planet.

LS: I know! Everything is so strange since we entered “the shimmer.” It’s disorienting.

(They enter the building and immediately something grabs MA and drags him up to the ceiling. LS shines a flashlight up at a giant SPIDER, covered in bright flowers, which proceeds to spin a web around MA, wrapping him up tightly for a later meal)

LS: Did you have to grab him so soon? We were reviewing a movie.

SPIDER: I’m awful hungry.

LS: Okay, okay. Don’t start whining.

SPIDER: Why don’t you review the movie now, for me? You’ve got a captive audience, and I’m sure Michael can still hear you.

LS: Okay. This week’s movie is called ANNIHILATION. I was pretty excited about this one because it’s the new movie by Alex Garland, who previously gave us the very cool EX MACHINA (2014), which was his directorial debut. But Garland was no newcomer to movies. His first exposure was THE BEACH (2000), which he didn’t write the screenplay for, but which was based on his novel of the same name. But that led to him writing screenplays for the Danny Boyle movies 28 DAYS LATER (2002) and SUNSHINE (2007), as well as the movies NEVER LET ME GO (2010) and DREDD (2012).

EX MACHINA, which he wrote as well as directed, starred Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson, with Alicia Vikander as a self-aware Artificial Intelligence, and it was such a strong, self-assured debut, that I was eager to see his next movie as a director, and ANNIHILATION is it.

One thing about paying to see a movie just like everyone else (instead of going to preview showings), and posting our big movie review of the week on Monday is that I get to hear a lot of the critical buzz before my review goes up. I avoid all other reviews until I’ve written my own, but sometimes you can’t help but hear what kind of reaction a movie is getting, and from what I could tell, ANNIHILATION was getting a very mixed reaction.

So, I’ll start out by saying I didn’t have mixed feelings about this one at all. I knew exactly how I felt leaving the theater.

SPIDER: So, what did you feel about it?

LS: I’ll keep you in suspense a bit longer.

ANNIHILATION is the story of a strange event that changes a part of the world. The event is a metor which comes down and strikes a lighthouse. Immediately, the lighthouse and its immediate environs are changed. But it doesn’t stop there. The area affected is growing, and from the outside it looks like some weird oozing barrier, which scientists are calling “the shimmer.” They’ve sent several teams of soldiers and scientists into the shimmer, and none have come back. That is, until a soldier named Kane (Oscar Isaac) mysteriously shows up in the home of his wife Lena (Natalie Portman), who is a biology professor at John-Hopkins University. He has been gone almost a year, and since it was a top-secret mission, he wasn’t allowed to tell her anything about it.

Lena is overjoyed to see her husband again, but he’s definitely different. When he also suddenly becomes very ill, things get compicated. Lena and her husband are abducted and brought to a lab on the outskirts of “the shimmer,” and Lena finds herself part of the next team going inside. This team is all women and includes psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the first person Lena meets at the facility, as well as physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) and soldiers Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) and Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez).  It’s not really clear why the team is comprised solely of women (because previous teams were all men and they’re grasping for straws?), but right away these are characters who are believable and sympathetic.

Once they go inside the shimmer…well, I’m not really eager to talk too much about that.

SPIDER: Come on! Gimme a clue!

LS: I avoided learning too much about the plot before seeing ANNIHILATION, and it was one time when I was glad I hadn’t read the book beforehand. I really wanted to go into this one blind, not knowing what to expect. I wanted their journey into the shimmer to seem as alien to me as it was to the women exploring it.

I will say that the idea of a meteor or something extraterrestrial coming down and changing things it comes in contact with isn’t new. We’ve seen similar plotlines in DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965), which was in turn based on the novella THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE by H.P. Lovecraft. In J.G. Ballard’s wonderful novel, THE CRYSTAL WORLD, something is changing all organic life into lifeless crystal, with no end in sight (it would make an amazing movie). And, for another take on it, there’s John Wyndham’s classic THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (adapted for film in 1963). But ANNIHILATION has a completely fresh spin on the idea, and the movie (and I’m assuming the novel) offers some very fascinating results of such an occurrence.

SPIDER: So, did you like it.

LS: I did. One of the main problems some people have had with the the movie is that they claim it’s confusing. But I didn’t find that at all. I thought most of it made clear sense. And here’s where I want to bring in the movie THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018) for a comparison.

SPIDER: Oh no! Do you have to mention that one?

LS: I do, but to make a point. THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is a severely flawed movie, but the basic concept is that, by coming into contact with another dimension, our heroes face some people and things that are decidedly alien. While the movie failed to use this concept in a compelling way (it was more annoying than compelling) the basic idea of alienness was something I could appreciate. How do you portray such a thing in a believable way?

ANNIHILATION shows us another situation where alienness is not fully explained, and yet, I fully accepted it and embraced it, because if we came upon a truly alien entity or environment, there’s a good chance we would not really understand it. Unlike THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, ANNIHILATION takes this idea and runs with it, and gives us a movie that fully exploits the concept of pure alienness.

I think it’s a major achievement. Where THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX tries to give us something new and different, and just gives us something confusing, ANNIHILATION gives us a solid, powerful exploration of something that is truly outside of the human experience.

There’s some wonderful stuff here. First off, the acting is impeccable.

Jennifer Jason Leigh had a big career in the 1980s and 90s, and then seemed to disappear for awhile. The truth is, she was working steadily the whole time, maybe just not in as big budget movies as she once did. The result is that there seemes to be a resurgence in her career right now, based on praise she has gotten for roles in movies like ANOMALISA (2015), THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) and as one of the  villains in the new Showtime revival of TWIN PEAKS (2017). I couldn’t be happier that she’s doing so well right now, because she’s a brilliant actress. Typical for her, Dr. Ventress is not a completely likeable character, but Leigh shines at giving us characters who can be unlikeable, but are no less human for it.

Gina Rodriguez is probably best known for playing the title character in the series JANE THE VIRGIN (2014 – Present), and she plays completely against type as the hard-as-nails soldier Anya Thorenson here. Swedish actress Tuva Novotny, previously in the movie EAT PRAY LOVE (2010) is also very good as Cass Sheppard. Tessa Thompson, whose career is also on an upward trajectory right now, in movies like CREED (2015) and THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), as well as the current HBO series WESTWORLD, plays a more sensitive, thoughtful character as physicist Josie Radek. All are terrific here.

Oscar Isaac has the smaller role of Lena’s husband Kane. But, as always, he’s very effective.

Natalie Portman is terrific here as the lead character, Lena. I first became aware of her way back when she was a kid in LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994), and it’s been cool watching her grow into a terrific actress, in movies like CLOSER (2014), V FOR VENDETTA (2005), BLACK SWAN (2010), and JACKIE (2016), she’s just, simply, one of the best actresses around today, and she’s the strong, determined heart of ANNIHILATION. Not once do you question why she feels the need to do what she does. Not once do you feel that she’s lost her way, even when she’s in an environment completely foreign to her. She soldiers on throughout.

The effects, mostly CGI, are well done. This is the kind of movie where CGI offers some distinct advantages, since some of things they depict are so foreign to us. Sure, there might be a few moments where something looked a tiny bit fake (this always happens in CGI, I’ve never seen any movie using it that is completely convincing throughout), but for the most part, the computer images are above average.

I also want to praise the movie’s score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Instead of trying to manipulate the audience, their soundtrack actually enhances the experience.

The direction by Alex Garland is also impeccable, at times reminding me of giants like Stanley Kubrick (especially toward the end of the movie), and Garland’s script is solid (based on the celebrated novel by Jeff VanderMeer).

I didn’t ever feel completely lost or confused while watching ANNIHILATION, because with Garland at the controls (and Portman as our guide), I never once felt that I wasn’t in the hands of a complete professionals who knew exactly what they were doing. Is everything that happens completely coherent and understandable? No. Because we’re not supposed to understand everything. None of the characters, not even Portman, fully understands what they’re experiencing. So why should we?

To be truly alien, events have to be outside our realm of experience, outside our comfort zone, and Garland and Company achieve this admirably.

I found myself enthralled throughout, and still thinking about what I’d seen long after the movie ended.

February has been a very good month for movies, and I really enjoyed BLACK PANTHER as well. It was one of the best superhero movies made so far. But ANNIHILATION is something else entirely. It’s not just a well-made, smart science fiction movie. It’s the first movie masterpiece of 2018.

I give it four and a half knives.

SPIDER: Wow, you really liked this one a lot!

LS: Yes, I did. I actually liked it even more than I thought I would.

SPIDER: Well, maybe I’ll go see it sometime. Right now, I’d say it’s time for dinner.

(MA opens his eyes, waking up from his coma-like state, and struggles in his web cocoon)

SPIDER: Do you want to stick around and watch me eat?

LS: I’ll pass. I’d better get back to civilization. I’ve got to get the word out about this movie.

SPIDER: Ta ta!

(LS EXITS)

MA’s VOICE: Come back here, you bastard!

-END-

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares give ANNIHILATION – 4 1/2 knives!

Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2Stab_2HALF