DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

Review by LL Soares

An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, which was itself a sequel to his early novel, THE SHININGas well as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s equally iconic film version of THE SHINING (1980)there’s an awful lot about DOCTOR SLEEP that could go wrong. Especially since King is famously unhappy with the Kubrick film, and the director, Mike Flanagan (who also adapted King’s GERALD’S GAME in 2017), consulted with King on this project. Despite that, Flanagan revisits some of the unforgettable imagery from that same Kubrick film.

So does DOCTOR SLEEP work, despite trying to stay true to more than one source material?

I thought it was pretty successful overall.

Director Flanagan, who also directed the films OCULUS (2013), HUSH (2016), and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), as well as the Netflix series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, also wrote the screenplay for this one.

In this film, Danny Torrance (played by Danny Lloyd in Kubrick’s film and Roger Dale Floyd in flashbacks as a boy here), is grown up (and now played by Ewan McGregor, of “TRAINSPOTTING,” 1996, and young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the STAR WARS series of films), and pretty much a lost soul. He drinks too much, he gets in fights, he wanders from town to town. He still has the mental powers he had as a kid (including telepathy, and more interesting tricks that are revealed later), except he is trying to run away from them, trying to run away from himself, and finding that he can’t, no matter how much he moves around. He finally stops for awhile in a small town where he befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis, “ONCE WERE WARRIORS,” 1994, and in the upcoming AVATAR sequels), who offers him a second chance to sober up and start fresh.

He’s still haunted by the trauma of his childhood, where, during a winter at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, his father (played by Jack Nicholson in the original film) went insane and tried to kill him and his mother, Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall originally).  He’s obviously been unable to shake that nightmare and it still has a strong hold on him. He gets visits from the ghosts of the Overlook, including the Old Woman in the Bath (Billie Gibson). He also still gets visits from Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers in Kubrick’s film and played by Carl Lumbly here), his mentor and the man who told him originally that he had “the shining” as a boy. Hallorann is dead, but still lingering, and pops up from time to time to offer advice.

Dan’s been able to stay beneath the radar of other people like himself, but there’s a girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran, who was only in one movie before this, 2017’s I CAN I WILL I DID) who’s a good person like he is, and is much more powerful, who is able to contact Danny (now going by Dan) and communicate with him. This becomes especially important when Abra “witnesses” a murder in an abandoned field (part of some long empty fuel-producing compound). The victim is another kid like her (though not as powerful). The killers are another thing entirely.

They’re called the Knot and they’re led by Rose the Hat (Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, previously in “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION,” 2015, and “THE GREATEST SHOWMAN,” 2017), an Irish lass who wears (you guessed it) a (top) hat. She and her band of murderers are always on the lookout for kids who “shine” because they eat them, literally. Well, their souls. It keeps them near-immortal, and they’re a merciless bunch. The thing is, while Abra is able to “see” them with her mind, Rose eventually can see her as well, and tracks her down, intent on either making her one of the Knot, or feasting on her soul. Most probably the latter.

As I said, Abra reaches out to Dan, and together they conspire to defeat Rose and her minions. But it won’t be easy. She’s a formidable one, as is her second-in-command named Crow Daddy (the excellent Zahn McClarnon, also in “BONE TOMAHAWK,” 2015, and the TV shows FARGO, MIDNIGHT, TEXAS, and WESTWORLD), who’s as vicious as Rose is, and Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind, also in Gaspar Noe’s “ENTER THE VOID,” 2009, and the TV series REVENGE, 2011-2015) , the latest addition to the Knot, who is a “pusher” (can get people to do what she wants by telling them what to do). The rest of the Knot members have named like Barry the Chunk (Robert Longstreet, “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU,” and “AQUAMAN,” both 2018), Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken, The Giant from TWIN PEAKS, 1990-1991, and Lurch in the 90s ADDAMS FAMILY movies), and Silent Sarey (Catherine Parker, “ABSENTIA,” 2011).

A game of cat and mouse proceeds, and innocent people are sucked into the struggle (some fatally), culminating in a final showdown at the now boarded-up Overlook Hotel, and it’s there where the Kubrick imagery explodes, with ghosts of Dan’s father (now played by actor Henry Thomas, using the name Thomas Downing in the credits), that scary old woman in room 237 (now played by Sallye Hooks), and even the creepy twin girls (played in Kubrick’s film by Lisa and Louise Burns, and now played by Sadie and Kk Heim). Those bright red carpets and scary hallways are back in a big way (as is the elevator that bleeds!), as Dan faces his personal demons head-on for once and for all.

The leads here are really good. I like McGregor here a lot, Curran is a terrific kid actor who is the backbone of the movie and has a bright future ahead of her, and Ferguson is really memorable as the villainous Rose. The script and direction are also top-notch.

I didn’t think the marketing push for this one was very good (it could have been more aggressively marketed, I saw very few commercials for it), almost as if the studio didn’t believe in it, which is unfortunate, because it’s a strong film, much better than IT: CHAPTER TWO from earlier this year, also based on King. I thought just about everything about DOCTOR SLEEP worked, and I liked the new characters as much, or more, than the returning ones.

A solid addition to the cinema canon of Stephen King, and if you’re a fan you should check it out. I give DOCTOR SLEEP ~ 3 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives DOCTOR SLEEP ~ 3 1/2 KNIVES

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DEATH BY INVITATION (1971)

Review by LL Soares

A low-budget tale of revenge, 1971’s DEATH BY INVITATION (the title tells you nothing about the film, by the way), is yet another in a long history of films about witches killed in the past who come back to take their vengeance on the descendants of their murderers. Despite the cheap look of the film, there are some good ingredients here that could have amounted to a much better movie. Sadly, director/writer Ken Friedman just isn’t able to make everything mesh into a satisfying whole.

We begin in a town that could be Salem in the time of the witch trials. A beautiful woman (Shelby Leverington) is being tried as a witch by a group of town elders and is dragged through the town square to the local church, where she will receive her ultimate (and fatal) sentencing.

Jump ahead to present-day 1971, and the witch from the previous scene is now named Lise, and is friends with a family headed by Peter Vroot (Aaron Phillips), who we recognize as one of the villagers who bore witness against Lise in her former life (that man was clearly Peter’s ancestor). The Vroot family is also made up of Peter’s wife Naomi (Sarnell Ogus), sons Roger (Denver John Collins) and Michael (Bruce Brentlinger), and daughters Coral, Sara, and Elly (Rhonda Russell, Sylvia Pressler, and Lesley Knight, respectively). There’s also Jake (Norman Paige), who is Coral’s fiancée.

Somehow, Lise has become close to the Vroots; she appears to be close friends with Naomi, and is treated as one of the family. While she doesn’t live in the house with them, she’s often there. It seems like they’ve known each other for a while, but all of a sudden, Lise decides to start taking her revenge on the descendants of her enemies, beginning with a twenty-something Roger, who sneaks away to go to her apartment with sex on his mind. Instead, Lise tells him a story about an ancient tribe where the women were the hunters and end up cannibalizing the men. As her story ends, she gets Roger to kneel before her, and then he is killed (offscreen). We see blood streaming down his back, but don’t really know what’s happening to him.

When he’s been missing for a couple of days, the police are called in. These include a Detective (Tom Mahoney), who has a cynical attitude and who complains about paperwork, and his “sidekick,” a uniformed Police Officer (Jay Lanno). But they aren’t much help, and don’t seem competent enough to solve the disappearance.

Meanwhile, more members of the family are killed off. The one who comes closest to the truth is Jake, who hits on Lise a few times until she finally takes him back to her place. There, she tells him a story about an ancient tribe of cannibal women (the same story she told Roger). But Jake isn’t as easy prey as poor Roger.

Despite the low-budget shenanigans, there are a few things to recommend the film. Shelby Leverington is a striking lead as Lise, and it’s amazing she didn’t become a bigger star, at least in horror films. While she did have a long career, she mostly played one-shot characters in lots of TV shows, like KOJACK (1977), LOU GRANT (1982), MATLOCK (in 1988), and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1992), and a few feature films. She also had a recurring role in HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN (1984-1988). But she has so much potential here, it’s clear that, with the right opportunities, she could have had a more successful career. Her Lise almost seems like a precursor to Samantha Robinson as THE LOVE WITCH (2016). Aaron Phillips (as Peter Vroot) looked familiar to me, but it turns out this was his only movie role. Norman Parker (billed here as Norman Paige) is good as Jake, and also had roles in DARK SHADOWS (1969-1970), and the movies THE CLAIRVOYANT (1982), and BULWORTH (1998), as well as recurring roles on shows like THE EDGE OF NIGHT (1982-1983), AS THE WORLD TURNS (in 1986), and the sitcom FAMILY TIES (1985-1987). For several cast members this movie is their only credit (or one of very few).

One odd note is that Jake is supposedly engaged to marry Coral Vroot, and yet, they barely interact together. In fact, they’re rarely in the same room together. There are family scenes where Jake is there, but Coral isn’t present! This includes a group scene outside, and scenes where the family is gathered around the dinner table. Why would the Vroots’ future son-in-law be constantly there, while the Vroots’ actual daughter, Coral, is rarely seen? It’s almost like they completely forgot about Coral in various scenes, even though she’s the sole reason why Jake is constantly at the family’s house. In one scene where Coral and Jake actually do talk, she goes to bed early, leaving Jake alone with Lise (not a smart move).

A major flaw about the film is that they clearly didn’t have the expertise of someone who knew how to do gore effects, so instead of actually showing how people die, it’s implied and we see flowing blood. It could have been nice to actually KNOW how each person is murdered, but we have to guess, which can make things confusing, since it’s not always clear cut. One body found in a plastic bag seems to have unlimited blood (we assume the person was killed days ago, but when they’re found, they’re still bleeding!).

Filmmaker Ken Friedman only has three credits as a director: this film, MADE IN THE U.S.A. (1987), and one episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, when the host was Malcolm McDowell (and the musical guest was Captain Beefheart!!). Friedman did go on to write other screenplays, though, including ones for WHITE LINE FEVER (1975), 11th VICTIM (1979), and the Mickey Rourke crime flick, JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989).

DEATH BY INVITATION could have been a good ‘un, but it’s just too inept. In the hands of a better director (and with a decent gore effects person), it could have been much more memorable. But as it is, it’s mostly forgotten.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017)

Streaming Review by LL Soares

Streaming over on Amazon Prime, you can check out the 10-part miniseries TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017), a Japanese show that got very little promotion when Amazon acquired it. There were actually two versions of this story—the miniseries available on Prime, where the episodes run from 30 – 50 minutes each (it varies) —and a two-hour and 22 minute theatrical version which played at festivals. I have no idea how coherent the theatrical version is—that’s a lot of story to cut down into 2 ½ hours! I suspect, though, that many people will find the 6+ hour miniseries to be something of a challenge. I was able to get through it, but that’s because I liked the pure crazed anarchy of it. Other viewers may not agree it’s worth seeing to until the end.

Directed by controversial Japanese director Sion Sono, who also gave us SUICIDE CLUB (2001, probably his most famous film), STRANGE CIRCUS (2005), LOVE EXPOSURE (2008), COLD FISH (2010), and WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013), TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL begins in a sushi restaurant where Manami (Ami Tomite, also in Sono’s TAG, 2015, and Yoshihiro Nishimura’s MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU, 2017) is celebrating her 22nd birthday. Suddenly, a woman arrives who pulls out a machine gun and kills most of the people in the restaurant, until she is murdered by another group of killers. Everyone is after Manami, because when she turns 22, her secret powers will manifest.

It’s a long story. There are two groups of vampires. The Dracula Clan, the oldest group, once dominated but have since been forced underground, hidden from the society of humans. The new clan, the Corvin (or Neo-Vampire) Clan, control much of the above-ground world, unbeknownst to the human populace. In a last-ditch effort to return the Dracula Clan to prominence, the planets aligned on September 9, 1999. Children born at nine seconds past 9:09 on this day were considered sacred, and were secretly stolen and given blood of Dracula to suckle on, then they were returned to the hospitals. Three children were born at this time in Japan, but we assume others were born in other countries. When these children turn 22, they will have the power to resurrect the Dracula Clan and restore the clan to its former glory.

However, most of the children suckled on Dracula blood do not live to their 22nd birthday. Most go mad and kill themselves. Manami is the only one who survives, and she immediately becomes a chess piece in the struggle between the Dracula and the Corvin Clans. On the Dracula side, we have the relentless warrior named K (Kaho, of FOREBODING, 2017, and JOURNEY OF THE SKY GODDESS, 2019), who leads a gang of female assassins. She works for the “Master” – Dracula’s descendant in Romania. On the Corvin side, we’ve got the ambitious gangster Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima, of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, 2017) who wants to be the lord of the vampires, his lover Elizabeth Bathory (Megumi Kagurazaka, of Sono’s WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?, 2013, and Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS, 2010), and Elizabeth’s mother, an ancient vampire who looks like a shriveled up doll with a big head, until she’s given vampire blood to drink and turns into a youthful woman with pigtails!

Both sides want Manami, and fight to get her. This includes not only vampiric attacks, but lots of automatic guns and samurai swords. Vampires are killed more likely in a hail of bullets than with a wooden stake. At one point, Yamada opens the Hotel Requiem to some of the human population, inviting numerous young and attractive people who do not have any immediate family members (and won’t be missed). Yamada has sinister plans for them, involving the revelation that the world has come to an end (via nuclear destruction) while they’ve all been partying, and demanding that they feed the Corvin Clan with their blood. He also wants Manami and her sacred blood for himself. K does whatever she can to keep Manami away from him.

It’s a long, convoluted storyline with lots of blood, bullets, and overall violence. Sion Sono is known as an iconoclastic director in Japan, and his films aren’t for everyone. If you like the first episode, you’ll probably want to give it a chance. If not, you might want to invest the time elsewhere. But I really enjoyed it, from the insane storyline right down to the theme song by Japanese pop band, Tricot. An unexpectedly poignant storyline unfolds late in the series, involving the hotel’s chef named Cody, a vampire who sneaks out of the hotel to the outside world after his shift is done, and his friendship with a little girl who is the only human born in the hotel.

Fans of crazy, ultraviolent Japanese movies might have a good time with this one. If nothing else, TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL is unlike anything else on TV.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

3 FROM HELL (2019)

Rreview by LL Soares

Sometimes, well water can be sweet.

For his new film, 3 FROM HELL, Rob Zombie goes back to the well that contains his feature debut, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003) and its sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), to give us a third film in the series, rounding out the blood-soaked trilogy.

I remember seeing HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES when it first came out. It was riding on a wave of infamy, having been rejected by Universal Pictures for its NC-17 level violence, and having to find distribution elsewhere (luckily Lions Gate came to its rescue). While it had a bare-bones plot (innocent people wind up in the path of a family of lunatics), it had a very distinctive style that embraced the ethos of such 70s horror classics as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), and I loved the look and feel of it. THE DEVIL’S REJECTS felt more like a fugitives-on-the-lam grindhouse flick (as well as a modern-day western), and I loved it even more, making it easily my favorite of Zombie’s films. It showed that there was still more to tell about the murderous Firefly Clan, led in REJECTS by Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley), Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) and the killer clown known as Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig).

The thing is, at the end of REJECTS, our heroes (Anti-heroes? Raving mad lunatics?) died in a hail of bullets as their car raced towards a roadblock of police cars, with “Free Bird” playing loud on the soundtrack.

3 FROM HELL takes the story exactly where REJECTS leaves off, with the blood-soaked Rejects being rushed to the hospital, each sustaining at least 20 gunshot wounds. Somehow, they survive and are nursed back to health, only to be thrown in prison for more than a decade. The killers stew in their own juices for a while, then things get bloody.

We get caught up with the hospital and prison stuff via a quick documentary-like sequence that starts the film. A reporter even interviews the trio in their prison cells. This is the first and only time we see good ol’ Sid Haig, who, because of health problems, has limited screen time here. He goes on one of his trademark rants, before we’re told he’s executed soon after, via lethal injection.

Without him, how can there be 3 FROM HELL, you ask? Well, the new trio is completed with the emergence of Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake of HANNIBAL RISING, 2007, and MANDY, 2017), nicknamed Foxy or the “Midnight Wolfman,” Otis’s half-brother, who is crucial to Otis’s escape from prison. After they flee in a trail of blood, Otis and Foxy lay low as they plan a way to bust Baby out of the women’s branch of the prison. Eventually, they come up with a scheme that involves the Warden himself, a dapper, mustachioed dude by the name of Virgil Dallas Harper, played by Jeff Daniel Phillips (also in Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM, 2012, and in the TV shows WESTWORLD, 2016, and CLAWS, 2017). There’s a violent home invasion, hostage taking, and even a performance by an unsuspecting party clown named Mr. Baggy Britches (Clint Howard, Ron’s brother, who was the child star of the TV show GENTLE BEN. His other credits include SPLASH, 1984, ICE CREAM MAN, 1995, and HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS, 2006) before Warden Harper finally agrees to play ball.

Once Baby is freed (after years of solitary and the scorn of a prison guard played by Dee Wallace), the gang of three move around a lot, trying to stay off the radar of the authorities, which is hard when we’re talking about homicidal maniacs, especially now that Baby’s brain seen especially addled after her stint in the big house. We see a glimpse of this in a scene where Baby, alone in her cell, watches as a cat-faced ballerina dances behind a ventilation grate. It’s surreal enough to remind me of the some of the imagery I loved so much in THE LORDS OF SALEM (and wouldn’t it be cool if the dancing Cat woman teamed up with the naked Owl lady of UNDER THE SILVER LAKE for a demented version of the Owl and the Pussycat?). If Baby was crazy before, she’s even more batshit loco this time around, to the degree where even Otis seems caught off guard by her unpredictable behavior.

There are moments when our trio just seems tired of living, and it would have been cool if they verbalized this more. After years of craziness and violence and unrestrained murder, you wonder if they’ve reached the point where they feel like they’ve done it all and maybe it’s time to lay down and die.

They agree the best course of action is to head down to Mexico, and we’re soon South of the Border, with our trio trying to spice things up with knife-throwing contests and bordellos (and lots of tequila!) when they’re not going stir crazy in their hotel rooms. Unfortunately, this is the territory of the Black Satans Gang, led by the son of a guy Otis killed during his jail break (Danny Trejo in a brief role as a guy named Rondo), and the “proprietor” of the hotel, a twitchy dude named Carlos (Richard Edson, a terrific character actor who was also in DO THE RIGHT THING, 1989, SUPER MARIO BROS., 1993, and STRANGE DAYS, 1995) just happens to make a phone call to let them know that Rondo’s killers are in town, and ripe for the taking.

Which, of course, leads a bloody showdown between a lot of Luchador-masked assassins and three hillbilly psychopaths. Carlos’s put-upon “assistant,” a dwarf played by Pancho Moler (who was also Sick-Head in Rob Z’s previous flick, 31, 2016) turns out to be a sweet-natured ally.

Anyone who saw the previous mentioned 31 knows that the Number One reason to see the movie (one of Zombie’s lesser efforts) is for the monologue-spewing psycho clown named Doom-Head, played by Richard Brake in the movie. Despite that movie’s flaws, it’s a break-out performance. So it’s no surprise that Brake fits in just fine as the third amigo in 3 FROM HELL. He even adds some dark humor to the proceedings, as his Foxy is constantly bummed out by the way the media refers to him as a lesser criminal hanging around with Otis and Baby (he thinks he’s just as scary, Otis tells him he’s delusional). In fact, the quarreling between the three protagonists will remind you of kids arguing, and it can be just as funny. Moseley continues to give off Manson-like charisma as Otis, and Sheri Moon Zombie is kind of remarkable here as Baby at her most demented. It’s a solid performance from the otherwise underrated Moon, who shines in most of Zombie’s flicks.

The Mexico half of the film is my favorite – the dusty western feel plays like a demented funhouse mirror version of THE WILD BUNCH –and its peak is when the wacko Baby Firefly goes sneaking around with a bow, shooting arrows into the masked skulls of the Black Satans. Moon is the biggest of badasses here, and I couldn’t help but love her.

Which brings me to a quick observation – most of Rob Zombie’s movies almost seem like a love letter to his wife (albeit, a blood-soaked love letter). He writes roles specifically for her, and she’s given juicy material to work with. One reason why I loved Zombie’s LORDS OF SALEM so much (even though a lot of people slammed it) is that it’s the purest example of a Moon showcase, where she proves she can lead a movie all by herself. I really don’t know why more directors don’t hire her, but I’ve enjoyed every single one of her performances in Rob’s films.

The soundtrack is mostly the work of musician Zeuss, but there are also some choice cuts, including Suzie Quatro’s version of “The Wild One,” three songs by the excellent James Gang (“The Devil is Singing Our Song,” “Ride the Wind,” and “From Another Time”), Joe Walsh’s original band pre-Eagles, and an especially effective use of Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.” There’s even a song by yodeling Slim Whitman (“It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”).

How you feel about 3 FROM HELL depends an awful lot on how you feel about THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. If you hated the previous film, this one is not going to win you over. But if you enjoyed the fuck out of it as much as I did, then 3 FROM HELL will be a welcome return to the world of these demented thrill-killers.

I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives 3 FROM HELL ~ 4 knives!

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Note: I saw 3 FROM HELL as part of a special 3-night-only release from Fathom Events, since this movie did not get a traditional theatrical release. It will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on October 15th.

IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

Review by LL Soares

If you enjoyed IT (2017), based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, there’s a good chance IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019) will bring things to a satisfying conclusion for you. CHAPTER TWO expands on the previous film by showing us the Loser’s Club, who defeated the demonic clown Pennywise in the first film, now as adults 27 years later, brought back to their hometown to take on the monster once again.

The strong cast includes Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh (she was played by Sophia Lillis in the first film), James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough (he was previously played as a kid by Jaeden Martell), Bill Hader as Richie Tozier (previously played by Finn Wolfhard from STRANGER THINGS), Isaiah Mustafa as Mike Hanlon (previously played by Chosen Jacobs), Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom (previously played by Jeremy Ray Taylor), James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak (previously Jack Dylan Grazer), and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris (previously Wyatt Oleff). Even though this is the adult part of the story, we still get flashbacks to the kids once in a while.

It turns out most of them moved away from Derry, Maine, and lived lives independent from their childhood trauma, but not everyone has made the most of their second chances (after not getting killed by Pennywise as kids). For example, Beverly is married to an abusive jerk, while chubby kid Ben has grown up into a handsome and successful businessman. It also turns out that, the more time they spent away from Derry, the less they remember living there, and the monster clown they united against. The one person who stayed behind is Mike Hanlon, who might be the saddest character in the film, because he never got a chance to forget it (having never left) and his life is sort of a shambles. He lives alone in a room above the town library, where he collects clippings of anything nefarious that sounds like old Pennywise is back. He also consulted with a local shaman for ways to prepare for the demon’s inevitable return. But really, there’s no way to prepare for Pennywise.

Mike is the one who calls everyone back when Pennywise returns from whatever hibernation he was in and starts killing again—making it clear that their mission is not yet done. Everyone comes back home, if reluctantly, except for one of them (I won’t say who). Immediately upon returning to Derry, each of them is singled out and confronted by Pennywise in various disguises, creating illusions that are meant to overwhelm them and scare them half-to-death. The objective is clear, Pennywise wants these people to leave, since they almost finished him off last time. But they’re not going. Despite their combined sense of fear, they also get strength from one another, and realize they have to finish the job they started.

It’s clear that, with 27 years between the two films, the adult versions find it hard to believe that they were able to defeat Pennywise the first time, and doubt that they could do it again. But they have reservoirs of courage that they haven’t tapped into yet.

The big showdown underground, while action-packed, feels a bit like a retread of the similar battle that capped off the first film. But it mostly works. And the cast is strong. I especially like Chastain here, and Hader, in a rare dramatic role, steals just about every scene he’s in. And Hader’s Richie plays well off hypochondriac Eddie throughout.

I still find this version of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) kind of fascinating, as he alternates between acting child-like and innocent one moment, and all teeth and murder the next. It’s definitely a different take than Tim Curry’s when he played Pennywise in the 1990 TV miniseries based on the same book. It just wouldn’t have worked if Skarsgard just imitated Curry’s much-loved performance, and I like what he does with the character.

The sequel, like the first film, is directed by Andy Muschietti, who does a fine job here. The script this time is by Gary Dauberman (the first film was written by Dauberman with Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga), based on King’s novel. And Stephen King himself has a cameo in the film as a shopkeeper when Bill Denbrough stops to buy a bike that looks just like the one he had as a kid.

At two hours and 49 minutes, IT: CHAPTER TWO is almost three hours long, and there are times when it feels it (in comparison, the first film was a measly two hours and 15 minutes!). Strangely, there was also a kind of childhood magic that imbued the first film, which is clearly lacking here. Not all of the characters are as interesting as adults as they were as kids. McAvoy, in particular—an actor I normally like a lot—didn’t feel like he had a lot to do in this one. And, while it does a good job showing us what comes next, there was something lacking about CHAPTER TWO that made it slightly less enjoyable for me than the first one.

I’m sure fans of King’s novel will have problems with some of the differences between the book and the movies, but, as I said in the beginning, if you were happy with the first film, chances are good you’ll like the second. It’s not perfect, but it’s a solid conclusion to the previous film’s story, and it has some terrific moments (and some tedious ones). I give it three and a half knives.

LL Soares gives IT: CHAPTER TWO ~  3 1/2 knives!

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© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

READY OR NOT (2019)



Review by LL Soares

The story of READY OR NOT is simple enough. A woman marries into a family of rich eccentrics, and on her wedding night is forced to play a game of hide and seek. She hides, and the rest of the them try to find her and kill her before the sun comes up. If she survives, they believe that they will die.

You know, some people just shouldn’t get married.

Grace (the terrific Samara Weaving), is at the Le Domas estate on her wedding day. She was a foster kid growing up and has always wanted to be part of a real family. And she’s madly in love with Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien, also in “BAD TIMES AT EL ROYALE,” 2018), who is heir to the family fortune. The family made its money selling board games. Despite Grace being so excited to become a Le Domas, the family, right off the bat, is rather strange, especially Aunt Helene (Nicky Gaudagni), who, with her crazy hair and staring eyes, looks like a vampire, or the sister of Robert Blake’s character from LOST HIGHWAY (1997). Anyone that menacing-looking should be a tip-off that something’s really wrong here. The rest of the family just seems a little off in comparison.

Other family members include Alex’s mother, Becky (Andie MacDowell); his father, Tony (Henry Czerny, from the TV show REVENGE, 2011-2015, and the great HBO miniseries SHARP OBJECTS, 2018); ne’er-do-well younger brother, Daniel (Adam Brody) and his wife, Charity (Elyse Levesque, ORPHAN BLACK, 2013-2017); sister Emilie (Melanie Scorfano, star of the SyFy series WYNONNA EARP) and her husband Fitch (Kristian Bruun, probably best known as Donnie Hendrix on ORPHAN BLACK); and, of course, creepy Aunt Helene. There are also the servants, led by Stevens (John Ralston, DESIGNATED SURVIVOR), the butler, and various attractive young women in maid’s outfits.

The thing about the Le Domas family is, they take their games very seriously. So at midnight after the wedding, they all meet in a special room full of animal heads to play a game. It begins with a box that will choose what game they play – and of course poor Grace gets the one card everyone has dreaded. She’s off to hide, still in her wedding dress, as the family members grab an assortment of old-timey weapons like axes, muskets, and crossbows. And then the game begins.

Seriously, if marrying into the family results in a night like this, Alex really needed to give his wife-to-be an honest warning of what was in store for her. When asked why he didn’t tell her, Alex brushes it off as “Well, you wanted to get married,” which is pretty lame. Then again, there might be a reason why he was so hesitant to fill her in beforehand.

At first a victim, Grace eventually decides to fight back, and that’s when things get really interesting.

With lots of violence and gore (and language), this one gets an R-rating (hurray!). And despite the simple premise (which was almost completely revealed in the trailer, by the way – I hate that!), READY OR NOT was a lot more fun than I was expecting. As things started off, I thought this was going to be a predictable trudge, but, while it’s not exactly surprise-packed, there are some surprises, the biggest being that Samara Weaving completely owns this movie, and her character is the main reason to see it. She easily goes from sweet and trusting to hard-as-nails in a believable way that makes you cheer for her.

I’ve been a fan of Weaving’s for awhile now, so I’m not surprised. In fact, her having the lead role in this one was one of the main reasons I went to see it. Genre fans will no doubt recognize her from roles in the movies MAYHEM and THE BABYSITTER (both 2017), and the TV shows ASH VS. THE EVIL DEAD and SMILF. Other recognizable faces belong to Adam Brody (from shows like THE O.C., and movies like JENNIFER’S BODY, 2009, and LOVELACE, 2013), whose good here as a character who we’re never sure who’s side he’s on, and Andie MacDowell, who was big in the 80s and 90s in movies like GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984), where she played Jane, SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989), and, of course, GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), and who plays the matriarch of the Le Domas clan as maybe the one person who really regrets what she’s doing. Nicky Guadagni, as creepy Aunt Helene who left such an impression on me, seems pretty over-the-top at first, but she grew on me as perhaps the most ruthless of the clan. Guadagni was previously in the movies CUBE (1997) and SILENT HILL (2006).

READY OR NOT was directed by two-thirds of the producer/director collective called Radio Silence, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (the third member, who didn’t direct here, is Chad Villella). Together, the three of them made segments for the anthology films V/H/S (2012) and SOUTHBOUND (2015). Previously Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett also co-directed (without Villella) the horror movie DEVIL’S DUE (2014). READY OR NOT was written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not the guy who created AMERICAN HORROR STORY).

I thought this was a fun flick, worth seeing in a theater. I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

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MIDSOMMAR (2019)

Review by LL Soares

(Some Spoilers)

Any horror movie that takes place among a pagan cult is going to be compared to the gold standard, the original version of THE WICKER MAN (1973). But comparisons don’t mean that no one should attempt to put their own spin on this sub-genre. And I really enjoyed director Ari Aster’s take on this kind of tale.

As you probably know, Aster is also the guy who wrote and directed HEREDITARY, which was a hit horror movie last year, getting tons of praise from festivals, critics, and fans. After that movie, most people couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next. I, for one, wasn’t disappointed.

MIDSOMMAR begins in the U.S., where Christian (Jack Reynor, also in Ben Wheatley’s FREE FIRE, 2016, and currently starring the CBS ALL ACCESS series STRANGE ANGEL) is thinking about dumping his girlfriend, Dani (Florence Pugh, in the highly praised LADY MACBETH, 2016, the Liam Neeson thriller THE COMMUTER, 2018, and the TV miniseries THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, 2018), because being around her is getting stressful. Dani’s sister, who is mentally ill and regularly threatening suicide. Dani is an enabler, and gets sucked into her sister’s drama every time, and Christian is finding it exhausting. Sure, Christian comes off as kind of a jerk when he’s hanging out with his bros, who encourage him to move on, but he’s got to figure out just how committed he is to this relationship. Events however decide his fate for him, when Dani’s sister and parents really do end up dead, and Christian doesn’t have the heart to break up with her while she’s grieving.

This first part of the film is the weakest, and it may feel like it drags a bit, but it’s setting it all up for later. The relationship of Dani and Christian is central to this movie, and the ups and downs they’ve gone through definitely play a part in what happens later.

So, back to Christian’s friends. There’s Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who came from Sweden and wants his friends to go back with him for a special celebration. Josh (William Jackson Harper, Chidi from the great TV series THE GOOD PLACE), who is doing his thesis on pagan cultures and who is very excited to see one up close, and Mark (Will Poulter, also in WE’RE THE MILLERS, 2013, THE MAZE RUNNER, 2014, and in the Netflix interactive special, BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH, 2018), who’s sort of a jerk. The four of them plan to make the Sweden sojourn a “guy’s trip” and have no intention of inviting Dani to come along. However, at a party she finds out about their plans, and pretty much invites herself, figuring that a vacation in a foreign country might just be the best way to get away from it all and deal with her grief.

So, reluctantly, they bring her along.

Once the five of them get to Sweden, things get a lot more interesting, first in a field where they take magic mushrooms (a nice introduction to the weirdness to come), and then when they reach the remote village where Pelle is from, for their big, special pagan celebration.

Beyond this point, I really don’t want to go into much detail, because the movie is full of surprises. And no, it’s not just a ripoff of THE WICKER MAN. This one has a story all its own, with points it wants to make, and Aster has created a riveting, powerful film. The performances are great, especially Florence Pugh, who is amazing here, and Jack Reynor. The way the film is brightly lit – almost everything takes place in bright sunlight, and the villagers all wear bright white clothes – makes it the exact opposite of most horror films that lurk in the dark, but it’s still full of terrors. I also really liked the use of peasant artworks to fortell just about everything that’s about to happen (so keep an eye out for them!). The atmosphere is thick with dread for what’s to come, and just the overall mood and feel of the film is terrific.

A lot of weird things happen in MIDSOMMAR, and while some are predictable, I found myself eagerly awaiting each twist and turn. I was completely wrapped up in the storyline, and eagerly became invested in it, right up to the end, where a simple, final scene packs on hell of a wallop.

Director Ari Aster has made another modern classic of the genre. And if you’re like me, you’ll be completely enthralled with this one. I give it four and a half knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives MIDSOMMAR ~ 4 1/2 knives!

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