OVERLORD (2018)

Review by LL Soares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives OVERLORD ~ three knives out of five.

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SUSPIRIA (2018)

Review by LL Soares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

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

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HOLD THE DARK (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Director Jeremy Saulnier kicks ass!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

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

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HALLOWEEN (2018)

Review by LL Soares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Works

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

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

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

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

What Doesn’t Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is kind of my overall reaction to this one.

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

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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

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VENOM (2018)

Review by L.L. Soares

Yet again, Hollywood underestimates the popularity of a comic book character.

In some ways, the history of VENOM (2018) reminds me a lot of DEADPOOL (2016). Both were successful characters introduced by wunderkind comics book artists (and then-future founders of IMAGE Comics) during the time they worked for Marvel (Venom during artist Todd McFarlane’s run on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and Deadpool during Rob Leifeld’s run on THE NEW MUTANTS). Both had dismal “first appearances” in the world of movies. For those who forgot, Venom has been onscreen before, in the absolutely abysmal Sam Raimi flick SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), where he was played by That 70s Show star, Topher Grace. Rumor has it that Raimi didn’t want to include Venom in the movie, but the studio (Sony in this case) insisted. For some unfathomable reason, Grace (a young comedic star from a television show) was cast as world-weary Eddie Brock, a reporter who in turn becomes Venom. Horribly miscast, and in a horrible film, Grace’s version of Venom is rightly forgettable. Deadpool, on the other hand, also had a dismal debut in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) played by Ryan Reynolds as a wisecracking character who doesn’t have much to say in the film (thus negating his most significant superpower, his wit). Reynolds was smart and savvy enough to know that Deadpool deserved better and pushed for the solo movie that made the character (and Reynolds) a household name. The summer before DEADPOOL the movie came out, I saw tons of people in Deadpool costumes at my local version of ComicCon, heralding the fact that the movie was going to be the huge hit that it was.

People also love Venom from the comics; they just wanted the version they loved to be done right onscreen. SPIDER-MAN 3 failed to give them that. So when VENOM, an overall goofy movie that has some real fun parts, finally opened in theaters, and people got a character who was very obviously their hero (anti-hero) from the comics (as opposed to that forgettable Topher Grace character), they ate it up. Just like Venom does to some lowlife criminals in the movie.

The star of VENOM is Tom Hardy, and it’s interesting that we have yet another link to the “bad first appearance” theme I’ve started here. Hardy has had big success in superhero movies before, having played the iconic Bane in Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), after Bane had been done (badly, and forgettably) first as a henchman for Poison Ivy in Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997), where he was played by wrestler Robert “Jeep” Swenson.

Which is all a long way of bringing us to a review of the new VENOM movie, starring Hardy.

In the comics, the origin of Venom is a long, convoluted tale that begins when Spider-Man gets an alien costume during the cosmic “Secret Wars” storyline. A costume that turns out to have a life of its own and an evil agenda, leading Peter Parker to ditch the “cool new black costume” he brings back to Earth. The costume, actually a parasitic alien called a “symbiote” that needs a host to survive, then latches on to suicidal reporter Eddie Brock, whose life has just fallen apart.  Brock hates Parker for his own reasons, the costume hates Parker for rejecting it, and the costume retains the knowledge of Parker and his secret identity, turning Brock into a powerful bad guy who also just happens to know all of Peter Parker’s secrets. But no longer was the symbiote portrayed as a cool black version of Spider-Man’s costume. On Eddie Brock, the costume became much more horrific: a monster with rows of dagger-like teeth, and a horrid and very prominent tongue. In other words, the Venom that comics fans would recognize and love.

The new VENOM movie, having less time for an origin story, and (legally) no real access to Spider-Man, creates a new/truncated origin for our hero, involving alien symbiotes come to earth, and world-weary Eddie Brock, but eliminating the Spider-Man connections. Of course, I’m sure plans are afoot to somehow have Venom and Spider-Man interact onscreen someday, despite the boundaries of who owns what. Marvel has, afterall, acquired Spider-Man himself from Sony in a kind of studio collaboration process, as seen in the movie SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING.

Anyway, back to this movie. Rich tech tycoon Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, who starred in the HBO series THE NIGHT OF) has financed a space shuttle to go to a passing asteroid and collect some samples (proving there’s life on there!). Coming back to Earth, the shuttle crashes in Malaysia, creating headlines. Drake’s staff is able to retrieve all of the samples except one, that hops from person to person until it eventually comes home to Mr. Drake. But that takes awhile.

In the meantime, Drake is secretly experimenting on homeless people that have been abducted from the streets, combining them with the samples – those alien parasites called symbiotes – to create a new, stronger human. The symbiotes can’t live in our atmosphere without a host, and, if Drake can find the secret of combining them, not only will the aliens be able to survive in our atmosphere, the human hosts will be able to survive in space, thus creating a race of symbiotic supermen who are so much cooler than weak, ordinary humans. The sad part is, every time Drake tries to unite a human and a symbiote it ends in rejection, and the humans end up dead.

Enter investigative reporter Eddie Brock, who can’t help trying to expose wrongdoing, and who gets a chance to interview Drake. When he brings up some of the overseas shenanigans Drake’s company is involved in on-air, the powerful businessman makes sure Brock is fired from his job. And for good measure, Drake also fires Brock’s fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), who is one of Drake Corp.’s lawyers. This leads to Brock and his girlfriend breaking up, along with Brock being jobless.

By the time he finds out about the human experiments, thanks to the conscience of Drake Corp. scientist Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), Brock wants to never hear the name Carlton Drake again, but eventually comes around, taking up Dr. Skirth’s offer to sneak him into the labs to take pictures.

While he’s there, Brock is exposed to one of the symbiotes, and is pursued throughout the building by security. Somehow, he escapes, but this turns into a city-wide chase throughout San Francisco, ending up at Eddie’s apartment, where all hell breaks loose, in the form of Venom’s “coming out.” It starts as a voice in Eddie’s head, until the creature manifests itself when attacked, making mincemeat of anyone who tries to harm its host human.

The rest of the movie involves Drake and his minions trying to get Brock and bring him back to the lab, since he’s the one case where the human/symbiote experiment succeeded! Oh, and for good measure, Drake eventually gets a symbiote of his own and turns into a similar creature called Riot, who is Venom’s superior on their home world, but Venom isn’t exactly the type to go along with the whole hierarchy thing now that’s he’s had a taste of freedom here on Earth.

The movie starts out a little awkward. At first, Tom Hardy seems miscast as Brock; it’s hard to picture this sad sack character as a successful/charismatic TV reporter, and even his relationship with successful/sophisticated lawyer Anne strains credibility. But things change once Eddie meets his new “partner.” The interaction between Brock and Venom can be pretty humorous at times, and its their interplay that eventually turns this movie from potentially awful to a very fun ride. The Brock/Venom dynamic reminded a little of a similar concept in another recent movie, UPGRADE (2018), where Logan Marshall-Green gets a passenger inside his body (and his head) when an AI is implanted into his damaged body. I actually think UPGRADE is the better movie, but VENOM is more goofy fun, and Hardy turns a performance that at first doesn’t seem to be working into one that’s very entertaining.

Of course, Venom and Riot are going to eventually have a showdown, at the site of another space shuttle launch (part of a very sinister master plan on Drake’s part), but this movie is more of an origin story than anything else. Carlton Drake and his alter ego aren’t all that amazing; they’re just a (almost generic) bad guy for Brock and Venom to team up to defeat.

Because, obviously, Venom is pretty much the only reason to see this movie.

You can tell this isn’t a Marvel Studios (and therefore Disney-adjacent) blockbuster, because it’s not as slick as the Marvel movies, and the CGI, while mostly good, looks a little hokey in some scenes. But the Venom on the screen is the one comic book fans love, and they’ve already proven that they have totally embraced him, based on the box office receipts. VENOM just feels more low-budget in comparison to what we’re used to from Marvel, from the scenery to the character development (or, in most cases, lack thereof). VENOM isn’t exactly flashy and awe-inspiring, but it is a faithful presentation of the character, and in this case, that’s enough.

The cast, for the most part, is pretty much wasted. The great Michelle Williams, who I’ve loved in everything she does, isn’t given a lot to do in the girlfriend role, even though she does get to wear the symbiote briefly in one scene (Go, Lady Venom!), and she’s a little more hands-on and helpful than most human sidekicks. It doesn’t hurt that her Anne is smart (probably much smarter than Eddie). Riz Ahmed is a good actor, but his Carlton Drake is yet another one-dimensional billionaire who thinks he’s above the law (an archetype we’ve been seeing a little too much of lately).

But Tom Hardy makes the Eddie Brock thing work, despite itself, and has some funny moments as he bonds with his inner (and outer) monster. Hardy is one of my favorite current actors, but I have to admit, early on, I was a little unsure of whether he could pull this off. Eddie Brock isn’t one of most nuanced or best written roles he’s had, and at first he doesn’t seem sure what to do. Let’s face it, in a lot of ways, this is a step down for him acting-wise. But once Venom finally shows up, the movie redeems itself, and so does Hardy (here). And, in a perverse way, it’s nice to see an actor of Hardy’s caliber (normally) get his own piece of the superhero/cash cow pie.

The movie’s directed by Ruben Fleischer, who previously gave us ZOMBIELAND (2009) and GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), and he does a good job here. The script has its ups and downs and is one of the movie’s weakest links (luckily Hardy and Williams are better than the material) and it was written by Jeff Pinkner (who also wrote the screenplays for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, 2014, and THE DARK TOWER, 2017), Scott Rosenberg (CON AIR, 1997, HIGH FIDELITY, 2000, and JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, 2017) and Kelly Marcel (SAVING MR. BANKS, 2013, and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, 2015). It’s based, of course, on the character created in the comics by David Michelinie (writer) and Todd McFarlane (artist).

Like Marvel movies, we even get some extra scenes during the end credits. One gives us a peak at Woody Harrelson as a guy who’s none other than Venom’s biggest enemy (all set up for the sequel). The second one, at the very end of the credits, is a prolonged scene/commercial for the upcoming animated film SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018), that Sony is putting out this December. That’s overlong and not really worth sitting through, unless you’re looking forward to that movie, too.

VENOM isn’t a great movie, but I’m a fan of the character and by the end, I didn’t feel cheated (like I did with SPIDER-MAN 3) and it’s a fun ride while it lasts. So, because I had such a good time with it, I’m giving VENOM a rating of three knives.

And I’m looking forward to the inevitable sequel.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

 

LL Soares gives VENOM ~ three out of five knives.

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MANDY (2018)

Review by LL Soares

MANDY (2018) has just come to theaters after a very positive run in film festivals. It’s also available for rental on streaming services such as Amazon and Youtube, as well as iTunes, where you can buy it. What you think of the movie may be affected by what you think of lead actor Nicolas Cage. But this is the most-buzzed about movie he’s made in years, a grindhouse-worthy, gory revenge thriller by director Panos Cosmatos, who previously made the surreal masterpiece BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010), with a screenplay by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn.

Lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) works hard in what looks like the forests of the American northwest. He works hard, then comes home to his signifcant other, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), who is an artist. They live in a little house in the middle of a forest, and pretty much keep to themselves. Sometimes Red wonders if they should move somewhere else, but Mandy likes it there.

One day, a van drives past Mandy on a rural road. Inside are cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) and his “flock,” who have dubbed themselves The Children of the Dawn. The group includes Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy), who drives and is Jeremiah’s right hand man; Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouere) who appears to be the woman who has been with Jeremiah the longest; Sister Lucy (Line Pillet), a younger woman who does what she can to please Jeremiah; and a few other men who aren’t as memorable.

Jeremiah is convinced that Mandy is special and that he must have her, even though he only glimpsed her from the car window. He demands that his people get her for him, so Brother Swan leads the way.

A group of them go out in the middle of the forest and blow something called the Horn of Abraxas. In response, some demonic-looking bikers come riding out of the woods, on jet-black motorcycles. The bikers lead the others to Mandy’s house, where she is abducted and Red is beaten.

When Mandy wakes up, she is put through an initiation of sorts and brought before her new master. But she refuses to be dominated. Instead, she laughs at Jeremiah, who then has her killed. Red, who is tied up behind the house with barbed wire, is forced to watch. Then the group of freaks heads out into the night.

Red gets free, mutliating himself in the process. He then decides to exact his vengeance. He goes to the trailer of a guy named Caruthers (Bill Duke) and gets a crossbow he had left with the man. Caruthers also gives him other weapons. Red also does some blacksmithing and forges a special one-of-a-kind battle axe. His first mission is to hunt down those maniac bikers.

We’re not sure if the bikers are human or not. They look otherworldly, like extras from the HELLRAISER movies. But Caruthers says that they’re just killers who were given a bad batch of LSD that drove them insane with pain. Either way, Red proves they’re mortal, using his weapons. But it’s not easy, and he’s further injured in the fights.

He then hunts down Jeremiah and his band of merry murderers, covered in blood and a little crazy himself.

At one point, Red comes across a man called The Chemist, played by Richard Brake (who was the best thing in Rob Zombie’s 31, 2016, where he played Doom-Head), who has a tiger and who goes into a trance to tell Red where Jeremiah has gone. I kind of wished the tiger had gone along with Red to assist him in his bloody tasks.

There are also some dream sequences, where Red dreams of Mandy, that are animated. This shouldn’t work, and could have looked very goofy, but somehow it does.

It seems that, online at least, the movie has been polarizing. Some people have complained that the pacing is slow, but I found the way the movie moved seemed just right, with enough gory punctuations to keep you engaged. Some people found Cage’s performance too over the top, but frankly, this is the kind of crazed performance people have come to expect from Nicolas Cage, and I think the movie works well with his particular brand of crazy. The rest of the cast is solid, including Ms. Riseborough as the titular Mandy, and especially Linus Roache as the evil Jeremiah. When we first see the cult leader, he reminded me totally of actor Richard Lynch, back when he appeared in movies like Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO (1976); there’s the same strong sense of menace. Jeremiah has a vulnerable side too, but if he shows it to you, then he’ll have to kill you.

The movie leads up to the big final confrontation between the wronged husband and the vile sociopath who believes he is above the law. The results are predictable, but no less effective.

If you’re already of fan of Mr. Cage, then chances are that you’ll love this movie. The feel of the movie and the visuals, go very well with his intense performance. If you’re not a fan of his, then there may be a few scenes where you think he’s overdoing it, but even then, you may enjoy it, just because it’s so unusual and well-made. Mr. Cosmatos has a powerful style and a strong visual sense, that made this movie special for me.

I really loved this one, and I give it four knives.

(Also, keep an eye out for a scene where Red and Mandy watch a commercial on their television for a product called Cheddar Goblin. It’s a special laugh-out-loud moment, tucked inside all the intensity and gore.)

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives the movie MANDY ~ four knives.

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THE PROWLER (1981)

Movie Review by LL Soares

And here we have another review of an 80s slasher movie I always meant to see, but somehow missed. This one puts enough of a spin on the basic formula to make things a little interesting, but it’s still another excuse for a relentless murderer to pick off a bunch of party-going kids.

THE PROWLER (1981), however, begins during World War II, when a soldier gets a “Dear John” letter. We hear the letter’s writer reading it over the opening credits. This was common at the time, when a girl back home felt she had waited a long time for her boyfriend, and couldn’t wait any longer for him to return. After all, he might soon be dead, if he wasn’t already, and she wants to go on with her life. Rosemary Chatham (Joy Glaccum) is young and rich and enjoying her college graduation dance in the 1945, when a mysterious figure in a uniform kills her and an amorous boy in a gazebo with a pitchfork. The murderer is wearing a uniform and his face is concealed. He leaves a single rose at the murder scene. And that’s the set-up for our little story.

Jump to 1981. The local college hasn’t had a graduation dance since Ms. Chatham’s demise, almost 40 years previous, but maybe it’s been long enough for old wounds to heal. We’re in a small New Jersey town, and Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger of Hitchcock’s ROPE, 1948, and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951) is just about to leave for his annual fishing trip, leaving his young deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman, also on episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS and BOSOM BUDDIES in 1981) to watch over things. Even though there’s word of an “escaped prowler” on the radio, the Sheriff says he doubts the guy will even make it to their town, and Mark should have an uneventful weekend.

Thinking it should be a piece of cake, Mark drives over to the college to watch over the dance and his girlfriend, Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson, CARBON COPY, 1981). Except it’s not as easy as it sounds when a killer shows up to slaughter college kids, such as Pam’s roommate, Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath) and her boyfriend Carl (David Sederholm) in a gruesome shower scene, involving first a bayonet through Carl’s head and then a – surprise! – pitchfork to finish off Sherry. While fleeing when she discovers a body, Pam finds a man in a wheelchair in the yard—neighbor Major Chatham, the father of the Rosemary character from earlier, and played by Lawrence Tierney of such classics as BORN TO KILL, 1947 and RESERVOIR DOGS, 1992), whose role is so short it’s one of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety—who tries to grab her. Was he the killer, or someone trying to help? We’ll never know, because we don’t see him again. Even when Mark and Pam go to his house to search for clues, he’s nowhere to be seen.

The killer continues to stalk the kids and leaves a single rose near the body of each dead girl (he must have an account with the local florist!). Victims also include a teacher chaperoning the dance named Miss Allison (Donna Davis), and Pam’s friend Lisa (Cindy Weintraub), who at one point tries to steal Mark away at the dance. When Mark tries to call the Sheriff for help on his vacation, the motel clerk can’t even be bothered to look for him. The guy (Bill Nunnery) just puts the phone down for a few minutes, pretending to go look, and then comes back on to say he can’t find him. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Lazy! There’s also a crabby guy named Pat Kingsley (John Seitz) who runs the local hardware store and his creepy brother Otto (Bill Hugh Collins), who makes a surprise appearance later on.

The WWII connection, and those signature roses the killer leaves behind makes THE PROWLER a little more interesting than some of the other ’80s slasher films (there were a lot of them!), but the plot doesn’t do much with it. It’s just another chance to introduce us to more college kids who will get knocked off one by one. Goutman is good as Deputy London, and, as usual, the most interesting character is our female lead/”final girl” Pam, played here by blonde Vicky Dawson, who is fine as our protagonist, even if she isn’t given much to do besides running around, either looking for clues or fleeing from the mysterious murderer.  There’s even a jump scare at the end that no doubt was trying to cash in on the similar one in Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). I’m just sad Dawson didn’t have a bigger career.

THE PROWLER was directed by Joseph Zito, who went on to make more famous films like FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984, a job he got probably because of THE PROWLER); the action movies MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and INVASION U.S.A. (1985), both starring Chuck Norris; and the Dolph Lundgren action flick RED SCORPION (1988). The script was by Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera.

Not the best of the 1980s slasher flicks, but far from the worst, THE PROWLER is probably most memorable for graphic murder effects by the great Tom Savini, and worth checking out by afficionados of the genre.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares