QUICK REVIEWS OF RECENT MOVIES

SHORT TAKES by LL Soares

THE FIRST PURGE (2018) – the most political franchise in recent horror films delivers a prequel this month, and there’s an upcoming television show version as well. The movie tells the story of the arrival of the New Founding Fathers, the ultraconservative party that steps in when the U.S. has suffered massive economic collapse. One of their big ideas is to have one night a year where all crime, including murder, is legal, called the Purge. The first Purge one takes place on Staten Island, where people are paid money to stick around during the Purge, and even more money if they partake in the violence. When it begins, and things don’t get violent quickly enough, mercenaries are pumped in to turn it into a bloodbath. As usual in these films, the low-income citizens are the ones who suffer the most, and are the ones who have to fight back when the mercenaries come in, turning it all into an overnight war zone.

It stars Lex Scott Davis (of the series TRAINING DAY, and the recent remake of SUPERFLY, 2018) as an anti-Purge activist named Nya; Joivan Wade (from the British series EASTENDERS and DR. WHO) as her younger brother Isaiah, a good kid who has fallen off the straight and narrow and uses Purge night as a chance for revenge; Y’lan Noel (of the shows THE HUSTLE, 2013, and HBO’s INSECURE) as Nya’s former boyfriend and local drug kingpin Dmitri; and Marisa Tomei (MY COUSIN VINNY, 1992, and THE WRESTLER, 2008) as psychologist Dr. Updale, who dreams up the Purge and puts the first one togethere together. There’s also a facially scarred psychopath named Skeletor (Rotimi Paul, also in DUTCH KILLS, 2015, and MAPPLETHROPE, 2018) running around. It’s directed by Gerard McMurray, who previously made the college hazing drama BURNING SANDS (2017).

I like the PURGE movies, and this one was okay, if predictable. I give it two and a half knives.

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****

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) – Paul Rudd is back as Scott Lang, who can shrink to the size of an ant or grow to the size of a giant thanks to a cool costume created by scientist Henry Pym (who was the first Ant-Man, and played here by Michael Douglas). In this sequel, several plots intertwine as Lang tries to stay out of trouble his last two days under house arrest involving the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016). He hasn’t seen Pym and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly of LOST) in months, but they pop up and he suddenly gets involved in an attempt to reach Pym’s lost wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) who shrunk so small she disappeared into the sub-atomic world. Meanwhile, Lang’s sidekicks from the first movie (Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian) try to go straight with a security company. There’s a slimy weapons/technology dealer named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins of the shows THE SHIELD, JUSTIFIED, and VICE PRINCIPALS), who has been supplying Pym with equipment and wants in on whatever he’s working on now; and Hannah John-Kamen as the “Ghost,” a villain who has a lot of trouble controlling her atomic structure, constantly alternating between solid and, well, being ghost-like. Judy Greer plays Scott’s ex, Maggie, now married to a guy named Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), and Maggie and Scott’s daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) has a lot of screentime, as Scott tries to prove he’s a good dad, despite all the shenanigans. There’s also Randall Park of TV’s FRESH OFF THE BOAT as an FBI agent who keeps trying to catch Scott doing something illegal so he can send him back to jail. Also along for the ride is Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), an old colleague of Pym’s who was once part of an experiment called Goliath.

It’s all directed by Peyton Reed, who directed the first ANT-MAN movie from 2015.

There are too many plots going on this one (the one about the Ghost seems especially expendable), but it moves fast, has great big/small special effects, and cast is good. It’s far from the best Marvel movie, but it’s entertaining enough. I give ANT-MAN AND THE WASP two knives.

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Also, there’s not much in this movie to tie it into the recent events of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), but if you stick around for the closing credits (which is practically obligatory for all Marvel movies), you’ll find a special scene that ties that up nicely after all, and brings Mr. Lang and Company up to speed.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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WILLOW CREEK (2013)

A Movie Review by LL Soares

I’d been wanting to see this movie for awhile now, mostly because I’m a big fan of director Bobcat Goldthwait. Yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait. The comedian who became famous for playing the character Zed in the POLICE ACADEMY films of the 1980s, along with roles in movies like ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986), SCROOGED (1988), and providing the voice of Mr. Floppy on the sitcom UNHAPPILY EVER AFTER (1995 – 1997). Before that, he was a seasoned stand-up comic. And eventually he went from acting to directing, notably with his first feature film, SHAKES THE CLOWN (1991).

SHAKES was uneven, but had some great moments. But his films as a director since then have taken a darker and (at times) more profound turn. They include SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006, where a guy finds out some troubling news about his finacee), WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (2009, with Robin Williams as the father of a kid who dies in an embarrassing way,  and who writes a profound suicide note to cover it up, resulting in huge community and media attention), and GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011, with Joel Murray as a terminally-ill vigilante and Tara Lynne Bar as his 16-year-old sidekick), and are all worth seeking out.

WILLOW CREEK (2013) is something else entirely, as Goldthwait creates a fairly conventional found-footage monster movie. It’s all about Bigfoot and the original 1967 “Patterson Gimlin” film footage, as eager Bigfoot fanatic Jim (Bryce Johnson, also in some of Goldthwait’s previous films, as well as the TV series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, 2010 – 2016) and his actress girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore, also in the films DEFINITELY, MAYBE, 2008, and LABOR DAY, 2013) make a documentary as they follow the trail of the original filmmakers, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, leading them to Willow Creek in Northern California. Along the way, they interview locals, some of whom believe the sasquatch myth is real, and others who think it’s all just a hoax to bring tourist dollars to the town.

Everything seems to be going well until the two of them actually go deep into the woods to find the original location of this most famous Bigfoot siting, and then the whole thing turns into a BLAIR WITCH-like horror story.

Considering that it was shot in just five days, WILLOW CREEK does a great job ratcheting up the suspense and anxiety, as Jim and Kelly cower in their tent when they hear bizarre noises and movements late at night (supposedly Bobcat himself provided all the Bigfoot noises). All found-footage horror films are going to get compared to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), and, like BLAIR WITCH, our heroes find themselves in a nightmarish situation, get lost when trying to get out of the woods (finding they’re walking circles), all leading up to a scary ending.

While WILLOW CREEK doesn’t really offer anything daringly new to the found-footage genre, it’s an excellent example of the genre, with likeable leads and legitimate tension. The slow build adds up to an effective finale, that will have you glued to your seat. It’s simple and straightforward, and surprisingly effective.

I really liked this one.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

RESOLUTION (2012)

Movie review by LL Soares

RESOLUTION was the feature film debut of directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who have since made the terrific movie SPRING (2014). In it, Michael Danube (Peter Ciella) receives a strange video of his old best friend, Chris Daniels (Vinny Curran). The video shows Chris, alone in the woods, talking to himself (and his dog) and shooting guns. Right off the bat, we have to wonder what is going on, because if Chris made this video and sent it to Mike, then who filmed it? There’s no clue in the correspondence, but clearly Chris seems rather lonely.

Mike heads out to a cabin in the woods using a map that was also provided in the email, and finds Chris on the front deck of his house, rambling incoherently and shooting at unseen “birds” that he says are bothering him. In fact, by going to the cabin, Mike is pretty much taking his life in his hands, since Chris’s behavior is so erratic. It doesn’t take long for Mike to figure out the cause of this strange behavior, since Chris is obsessed with his “pipe” and smoking meth.

Having just found out that his wife is pregnant, Mike takes it upon himself to do something good in the world – getting Chris cleaned up, and that is the central focus of RESOLUTION. Not long after he arrives, Mike handcuffs Chris to a pipe in the wall and makes it clear that he is not leaving for seven days, the time it will take to get Chris off drugs using the “cold turkey” method. Mike says that after this period of time, he will take Chris to rehab, if he wants to go. If not, he’ll leave, and never come back.

Chris is furious at first about being chained up, of course, but slowly goes through various phases, from trying to convince Mike that he’s okay, to threatening him, to agreeing with him. While this is going on, they get a few visitors. These include Micah and Ted (Skyler Meacham and Josh Higgins), two guys that Chris and Mike went to high school with, who are now hillbilly drug dealers. They come by looking for some drugs they left behind, and when Chris answers the door (with a baseball bat) to say Chris can’t see them, they get angry and threaten him. They soon leave, though, when another group shows up, led by Charles (Zahn McClarnon), men from the nearby Indian reservation. Charles says that owns the cabin they’re staying in, and that he wants them off his property – or else! It turns out that Chris has been squatting all along.

Mike makes a deal with Charles to pay him so they can stay until the cold turkey process is over, and they arrange to meet later outside a casino where Charles works. At that point, Charles agrees to let them stay in the house, but they have to be out by the end of the week.

During his stay, Mike leaves the cabin several times to go on walks, and he finds weird stuff along the way. These include some vinyl records at a weird stone fireplace in the middle of nowhere; film equipment in a shack out in back of the cabin; weird young men wearing business shirts and ties who claim to be taking “a break from praying” while they smoke cigarettes in the woods; and a weird cave with primitive drawings on the wall, and a surprise occupant inside.

Clues point to French students who had stayed at this location decades before (a Frenchman, claiming to have been their archeology professor, still lives in a trailer far from civilization). As the story goes on, Mike finds other weird objects, including what looks like an old videotape, that shows that someone has been filming Mike and Chris now — during their time together in the cabin. In fact, videos of them start showing up on Mike’s computer as well. Who the hell is filming/watching them? And where are all of these weird videos and recordings coming from?

RESOLUTION is a very interesting film, but not everything makes a lot of sense. For one thing, Mike seems to have a delayed reaction when it comes to weird happenings. At first, when he finds weird objects or meets oddball people, he has little or no reaction to what’s going on. When the drug dealers come to the house and threaten to kill him and Chris, he doesn’t seem very concerned, even going for a walk alone in the woods soon after they’ve left. It’s not until much later in the film that he actually seems disturbed by all these goings-on.

Meanwhile, Vinny Curran plays it way over the top at first as the drug-addled Chris at first, but as the story goes on, he becomes more lucid and sympathetic. There are moments when the banter between the two old friends seems real, and those are the best moments of the movie. These two guys play off each other very well.

Things get pretty screwy by the end, and the very last scene actually brings up more questions than answers, but I thought RESOLUTION was an impressive debut by Benson and Moorhead. It doesn’t really give you much of a clue about how great their next film, SPRING, will be (what a huge leap forward!). Also, some of the characters from this movie (including Chris and Mike) will pop again in Benson and Moorhead’s most recent film, THE ENDLESS (2017), which I plan to review later.

Benson and Moorhead are two directors who are headed for great things. And RESOLUTION just reveals that right off the bat, with their first feature, they showed us how much damn potential they had.

I look forward to everything they do in the future.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

MOM AND DAD (2017)

Movie Review by LL Soares

It’s not always easy being a Nicolas Cage fan. The man has made a lot of movies, and while his early career showed so much promise, with memorable roles in such films as WILD AT HEART (1990), KISS OF DEATH (1995), LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1996), and the Coen Brothers’ RAISING ARIZONA (1987), his output since has been a mutli-colored quilt of varying quality. That said, I will watch this man in just about anything. Some of his worst films are actually some of his most entertaining, because, frankly, you don’t go to a Nic Cage movie to be dazzled by acting perfection. Whether at his most serious (and best) or most manic (and just plain bonkers) Cage just rivets your eyes to the screen, and keeps them there. There aren’t many actors like that. And don’t forget, since 2000 he’s still been in some good ones, including ADAPTATION (2002), BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), KICK-ASS (2010), and DRIVE ANGRY (2011).

Lately, for some reason, the quality of the movies he’s been starring in has gone up. Sure, there was a decade or more where they all seemed to be dogs of different types, and he was clearly in it just for the money (the rumor being he had humungous debts to pay off). But now, he’s getting better scripts. It might have to do with the fact that, while he seems willing to be in just about anything, more talented people are gravitating toward him.

I am really looking forward to two recent films of his to get buzz at film festivals, MANDY and LOOKING GLASS (both 2018), but until they’re available to the rest of us, I thought I’d check out Brian Taylor’s horror/comedy MOM AND DAD (2017).

Taylor, by the way, wrote and directed the wackadoodle CRANK (2006) and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009), as well as writing and directing several episodes of the equally demented TV series HAPPY! (2017 – Present). So, right away, you know you’re in for a thrill-ride. This guy’s good.

In MOM AND DAD, Cage plays dad Brent Ryan, a dude going through a mid-life crisis. He’s married to stay-at-home wife, Kendall (Selma Blair), who spends her days going to yoga classes and gossiping with her friends. They have two kids, high schooler Carly (Anne Winters, also in the TV series 13 REASONS WHY, 2018, and ZAC AND MIA, 2017 -2018) and the younger Josh (Zackary Arthur).

The action starts early on, when a bunch of angry parents attack the school where their kids are learning. Turning on the news, you’ll see that there’s some kind of crazy behavior going viral, where parents have the uncontrollable urge to kill their children. We don’t fully know why this is happening, but it’s suspected that it’s some kind of chemical agent leaked into the air by evil-doers of some kind.

As the parents start to riot outside, rushing the gates intent on murder, the kids flee.

Carly flees with her BFF Riley (Olivia Crocicchia) until they eventually meet up with Riley’s mom, then Carly finds her boyfriend, Damon (Robert T. Cunningham). The two, figuring out what’s going on, decide to go back to Carly’s house and get Josh, before their parents come home. When they get there, they find out that the family’s maid has already done something awful to the daughter she often brought to work with her.

Of course, before the kids can get Josh out of the house, Mom and Dad come home early. Dad Brent already seems a little off before all this begins; he’s got major anger issues. In flashbacks, the kids (especially Josh) remember incidents where dear old dad would be smiling and friendly one minute, then a serious and angry the next. But there’s no hint of abuse. The abuse is reserved for inanimate objects, like a pool table that Brent gets for the cellar, puts together from a package, and then smashes to bits with a sledgehammer when Kendall starts berating him for spending the money. He’s also fixated on a vintage Thunderbird that he’s had since he was a kid. The car plays a more prominent role later.

Kendall is going through a rough patch herself, with a teenage daughter who mostly won’t talk to her, and an existence she finds unfulfilling, Mom is just as dissatisfied with her lot in life. So here we have two people who feel a bit lost, who suddenly have a shared, and focused sense of purpose. Even if that purpose is the slaughter of their children.

Carly, Josh and Damon (who Dad doesn’t approve of, it’s implied, because he’s black), try to stay alive as our titular psychotic parents try to do whatever it takes to kill their offspring, including running a hose into the cellar where they’re hiding and pumping gas down there (later of course, someone lights a match, and I thought the whole house would blow up, but just one spot does. I’m not sure how believable that is).

This is the kind of role Nic Cage could do in his sleep, and there’s enough very dark humor to make the characters a joy to watch. Selma Blair is very good, too, as Mom.

Later on, when Brent’s senior citizen parents show up (played by Lance Henriksen and Marilyn Dodds Frank), we find out that this virus has no age limit, and that old people running around trying to kill their grown son gives us more chances for gallows humor. You gotta love a movie where both Nicolas Cage and Lance Henriksen go on murderous rampages!

I enjoyed the hell out of this one. My only complaint is that is seemed too short. When the ending came it was unexpected (the movie’s over already!?!). But, while we’re on the ride, it’s a lot of fun in a violent, psychotic kind of way.

I give this one ~ three knives.

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© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares