RELIC (2020) – Thinking Person’s Haunted House Movie

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Relic

RELIC (2020) is the thinking person’s haunted house movie.

Its tale of a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter is on one level a story of a house possessed, but on a deeper more figurative level it’s about dementia personified.

When Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) arrive at Kay’s mother’s house to check in on her, they discover that she’s not there. Kay informs the police and tells them that her mother is in her 80s and does tend to forget things sometimes and is easily confused. A search party covers the surrounding woods without success.

But then Kay’s mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) suddenly is back inside the house, and every time Kay asks where she’s been, she changes the subject. Worried that her mom shouldn’t be living alone, Kay looks into elderly home options. Meanwhile, she and Sam stay on to keep an eye on Edna for a while.

Edna complains that there is someone else in the house, and while Kay initially dismisses this assertion as early dementia, things start happening which convince Kay and Sam otherwise.

RELIC is a slow-burn horror movie that scores high on the creepy meter. There are quiet eerie scenes throughout, and for me, this was the best part of this movie.

Sure, it’s a deeper screenplay than most, as written by director Natalie Erika James and Christian White. Its take on dementia is spot-on, and the doubt which Kay and Sam have towards Edna’s fears is believable and normal. So, when later they begin to see things differently, it makes for a scary transition.

Plus, the direction this story ultimately takes is so much better than grandmother really was seeing a ghost! It takes the figurative theme of how we lose everything including ourselves as we age and makes it literal.

RELIC is Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut and it’s an impressive one. The film is creepy throughout, and its ending is sad and horrifying at the same time. You might find yourself having to turn away from the screen.

On the other hand, it is very slow, and so for some viewers they may find themselves bored, but if you’re patient, there is a decent payoff.

The film is reminiscent of THE BABADOOK (2014) in terms of tone and feel.

The three principal actors are all very good. Emily Mortimer makes Kay the detached and often guilt-ridden daughter who kept away from her mother for so long and now towards the end is trying to make things right, although it doesn’t feel that way to her as she looks to put her mother into a home.

Bella Heathcote plays Sam as the devoted granddaughter who is much more enthusiastic about wanting to stay and help her grandmother around the house. And so it is far more upsetting for Sam when her grandmother begins to act in ways that make wanting to stay in the house all rather unpleasant.

And Robyn Nevin delivers the best performance in the movie as Edna, perfectly capturing what it’s like to live with dementia, as her personality switches on a dime. And she has one icy cold stare, that’s for sure!

I liked RELIC. It’s a quiet horror movie that is best watched on a quiet night with the lights out.

Preferably without your grandmother around!

—END—

“No Man Has Suffered As I For You!” —Poems Inspired by THE MUMMY (1932)

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imhotep

Boris Karloff as Imhotep, the Mummy.

Continuing my summer series of writing poems inspired by the Universal classic monster series, and after having penned poems based on FRANKENSTEIN (1931), DRACULA (1931), and THE WOLF MAN (1941), today we venture into Egypt for poems inspired by THE MUMMY (1932).

THE MUMMY is often the forgotten film in the Universal monster franchise, which is too bad because except for its sloppy conclusion, it’s a superior film technically to both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, thanks to the eerie camerawork of director Karl Freund. It also features one of Boris Karloff’s best screen performances, as the undead mummy ImHoTep. And until some of the more recent MUMMY movies, ImHoTep was unique in that he shed his bandages and became a speaking character, a memorable monster thanks to Karloff’s masterful performance.

Without further hesitation, here are some poems inspired by THE MUMMY:

the mummy (1932) ralph

The Mummy is brought to life.  So much fun that poor Ralph (Bramwell Fletcher) cracks up and dies laughing.

“Poor Ralph”

He

Went

For a

Little walk.

You should have seen his

Face! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

 

mummy 1932 karloff - johann

Imhotep (Boris Karloff) showing Helen (Zita Johann) glimpses of her past.

“Pool of Dreams”

Look!

You

will not

remember

what I show you now.

Memories of love, crime, and death!

 

“Immortal Love”

My

love

lasted

longer than

temples of our gods.

No man suffered as I for you.

 

the mummy 1932 - van sloan and karloff

Doctor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) and Imhotep (Boris Karloff) tussle over the scroll.

“The Scroll of Thoth Reclaimed”

The

scroll

is here,

in that room!

Now tell that weak fool

to hand it to the Nubian!

 

“Doctor Muller’s Warning”

Come

out

under

the stars of

Egypt. Put it back.

Bury it where you found it. Now.

 

“Imhotep Discovered”

Spells

chipped

away.

Imhotep

sentenced to death not

only in this world but the next!

 

 

“Helen’s Lament”

I

am

Anck-es-

en-Amon.

Somebody else, too!

Save me from the mummy! It’s dead!

 

Well, there you have it. Some poems penned by me inspired by THE MUMMY. Hope you enjoyed them!  I know I’m having fun writing them.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE OLD GUARD (2020) – Charlize Theron Action Fantasy is Old Hat

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old guard

In THE OLD GUARD (2020), you have Charlize Theron playing the leader of a small band of immortal mercenaries who travel the world in search of missions to do good for humankind.

Sounds pretty cool, right?

I thought so. But sadly it sounds better than it actually is. Yes, even though THE OLD GUARD is getting positive word of mouth and decent critical reviews, I was a bit underwhelmed. Maybe my expectations were too high?

Nah!

Andy (Charlize Theron) has been fighting the good fight for centuries. Yup, she’s an immortal warrior who has been saving the day forever. Literally. Yet, she feels increasingly frustrated because in the here and now the world is worse than ever, and she feels that in spite of all her efforts through the years she has not made a difference.

Presently, she leads a small group of fellow immortals which include Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari),  and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). When they are hired by an ex-CIA operative named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue a group of abducted children in Sudan, they are ambushed, and they discover that Copley had set them up, as evidently he has another agenda, and it has to do with a villain named Merrick (Harry Melling) who is very much interested in learning the secret of this group of heroes’ immortality.

Around the same time, a young U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, Nile (Kiki Layne) is killed, only to come back to life, and the group realizes a new member has emerged, so in addition to fighting Copley and Merrick, they have to find and recruit young Nile, who is not in the least interested in joining this group of heroes.

Oh, and by the way, we also learn that these heroes aren’t really immortal. Come again? See, they just have very long life spans. They can still die. Eventually. They just never know when.

How terribly— inconvenient.

I was excited to watch THE OLD GUARD, mostly because of the presence of Charlize Theron, whose work I enjoy a lot, and also because I thought the film had a very cool premise.

Now, Theron is as good as expected. She’s excellent as Andy, although I didn’t find the role all that interesting. For example, early on she laments that she simply hasn’t made a difference, that the world is worse than ever, yet this angst never becomes a driving force in her personality. And while her choreographed fight scenes are very good, they’re not great. Her action scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) were superior.

But the film’s premise I thought was lacking, and it wasn’t as innovative and exciting as I expected it would be. It’s a rather blah screenplay by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the graphic novel series on which this movie is based. The dialogue is pretty standard and doesn’t rise to the level of an electrifying superhero movie.

The plot also has issues. Their mission isn’t terribly exciting, mostly because it’s not really a mission! When the film opens, and they are sent to rescue abducted children, that mission had promise, but it turns out that was only a set-up. For the rest of the movie, they are only doing two things. One, seeking out Copley and Merrick, and this is only for their own self-preservation, and two, recruiting and training Nile.

Yawn.

It’s a classic example of a film that was made to spawn a series, with the set up for the next film being  now that we’ve assembled this group of heroes let’s send them on an exciting adventure in the next movie! Why not just do that in this movie??? What a terrible waste of time. This happens a lot in these types of movies. SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) was another example.

Merrick is also a pretty ineffective villain. He doesn’t have much of an agenda, and he has zero screen presence.

Actually, none of the characters in this one are all that interesting. It’s a rather dull band of immortal heroes.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood does an okay job. The action sequences are decent but not outstanding. The pacing of the film is also rather slow. The film runs just over two hours and it felt like it.

THE OLD GUARD is a Netflix original, but it is nowhere near as good as a previous Netflix original action movie, EXTRACTION (2020), which had some of the best and most intense action sequences in any movie I’ve seen this year.

The cast didn’t really wow me. Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, does add fine support as Copley, and the character undergoes a transformation in the film which sets him up as a key player in the sequels, and I do believe Netflix is planning to make more of these movies.

And while there are some decent scenes in this one— a sequence on a plane is one of the better ones in the movie, for example— there’s simply not enough of them to lift this flick to the upper echelon of superhero action movies.

It’s also rated R, yet I hardly noticed. I don’t think it earned its rating all that well.

THE OLD GUARD is a film filled with promise. With Charlize Theron leading the way, this group of heroes should be one worth watching and rooting for. Sadly, for most of this film, due largely to a standard and rather unimaginative screenplay, that’s not the case.

Since there is a second film in the works, it looks like we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.

And that’s because THE OLD GUARD is all rather old hat.

—END—

 

 

JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE (2020) – Documentary on Civil Rights Icon and U.S. Congressman Only Scratches The Surface of his Accomplishments

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john lewis good trouble

When the documentary JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE (2020) was released on July 3, I immediately put in on my list of movies to see and review.

Now, as much as I enjoy documentaries, I tend to put them on the back burner as I wade through horror films, action movies, thrillers, and even comedies before I finally get to the nonfiction movie fare. But when Lewis passed away on July 17, there was no more waiting.

JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE is the story of Civil Rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis. His is an important story to tell, especially here in 2020 when race relations are taking a hit and we seem to be moving backwards, thanks largely to a Trump administration which seems to relish in the type of aggressive and hatefult rhetoric that emboldens folks with racist views—aka, racists— to say and worse yet do things which do not support the notion that all people are created equal, regardless of the color of their skin. It’s a story that is sadder today, since Lewis has passed away, and he is no longer with us to lend his voice and actions to the cause of ending racism.

Directed by Dawn Porter, who also directed the documentary TRAPPED (2016), about the fight for women’s abortion rights in the U.S., JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE does an adequate and albeit somewhat unremarkable job of telling this story. Its strength is interviews with Lewis in the here and now, as we listen to his wisdom looking back over the years. But its weakness is that it is seriously lacking in depth. It only scratches the surface of the many stories from Lewis’ life, which is too bad because most of these stories are in need of deep research and in depth reporting, two things which this film do not provide.

As I said, the best part of the movie is when Lewis is speaking in the here and now. The trouble is he doesn’t speak at length very often, as the camera cuts away to something else all too often and all too quickly. There were times when I wished the camera would have remained on him and allowed him to reminisce and speak of his ideas and philosophy on things at much greater length. What better way to learn about an historic icon than from his own words? But the film doesn’t go this route.

Instead, it covers a lot of ground, mostly superficially. All this being said, I still enjoyed JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE, as it had a lot to say. I just wished it had dug deeper into its subject.

The title comes from Lewis’ story of how when he was a child his mom told him to stay out of trouble, but he found that wasn’t his way, that things in the world called to  him to become involved, to get into trouble, or good trouble, as he termed it, for the good of humankind.

Lewis was present at the march in Selma and was beaten severely there. He spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, the same day as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech.” Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders.

The film covers these events with archival footage and interviews with family, friends, and Lewis himself. But again, what’s missing is depth. Few historians weigh in, and the archival footage is minimal.

A microcosm of this documentary is the scene where Lewis is watching archival footage, and he says that this is the first time he is actually watching some of this footage. And this is how the film plays out. It’s almost more of tribute for John Lewis than about him.

It’s all very light and enjoyable, as a bunch of family and friends have all gotten together to say nice things about their valued friend and brother, John Lewis. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this, but I also wanted more. There’s so much more to learn about Lewis that is not touched upon in this film.

But there are plenty of enjoyable anecdotes, such as Lewis’ story on how he would preach to his chickens as a child, and to further show how special this memory was to Lewis, there’s a scene later where he shows off his collection of toy chickens housed in a model doll house which he converted into a model chicken house!

There’s the story of how Martin Luther King Jr. always affectionately referred to Lewis as “the boy from Troy.” And the footage of Elijah Cummings, who also just passed away in 2019, joking about how he was constantly mistaken for Lewis, especially during photo ops with adoring fans of the civil rights icon.

The film also covers Lewis’ tireless work on the Voting Rights Act over the years, which suffered a major setback in 2013 due to an ill-conceived Supreme Court ruling, which led to some pretty unsavory voting practices in several states in recent years, specifically Georgia in 2018 which handed the victory to Republican Brian Kemp over Democrat Stacey Abrams. Stories like this serve as a reminder that nefarious forces are at work in politics, and it takes relentless and tiring work of people who care to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

The world just lost one of these people who care on July 17, 2020, John Lewis.

You can learn a little bit about John Lewis by watching JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE. The documentary serves as a nice introduction to his life and achievements. But if you want to learn more, you’re going to have to do your homework and engage in some reading and research.

But that’s okay. John Lewis is worth the time and effort. Especially in the here and now when his voice is needed more than ever.

A voice that reminds us that when we see things that are not right that we have a moral obligation to speak up and do something about it.

An obligation to get into trouble.

Good trouble.

—END—

WASP NETWORK (2020) – Story of Cuban Spies Suffers From Horrible Pacing, Disjointed Narrative

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wasp network

It’s the pacing, stupid.

I wanted to see WASP NETWORK (2020) because I enjoy most of the actors in it.

Edgar Ramirez was excellent in HANDS OF STONE (2016),  where he played boxer Roberto Durant in a movie that didn’t receive much love but I liked a lot.

Wagner Moura knocked it out of the park as Pablo Escobar on the TV show NARCOS (2015-16), and Ana de Armas has been showing up everywhere these days and making lasting impressions in nearly every film she’s in, from BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) to KNIVES OUT (2019). She co-starred with Edgar Ramirez in HANDS OF STONE, and with Wagner Moura in SERGIO (2020), a film I reviewed several weeks back that I liked much more than WASP NETWORK. And she was in THE NIGHT CLERK (2020) another movie I just reviewed, and she’s slated to star in the next James Bond movie NO TIME TO DIE (2020).

And the movie also stars Penelope Cruz.

WASP NETWORK actually tells a very interesting story about Cuban spies who infiltrate the United States to thwart the efforts of other Cubans in the U.S. who are working to overthrow Castro but don’t care how they do it, often dealing with drug dealers and terrorists. So, the film actually has a pro-Castro slant since the protagonists in this one are working to keep Castro in power. Which is an interesting take on the subject of Cuba-U.S. relations.

However, it is all undone by some absolutely horrible pacing and one very sloppy narrative style.

WASP NETWORK opens with Rene Gonzalez (Edgar Ramirez) defecting from Cuba to the United States, leaving his wife Olga Salanueva (Penelope Cruz) and young daughter behind. Settling in Florida, he joins a group of Cuban resistance fighters whose outward mission is to assist fellow Cubans who want to enter the United States but who are secretly working behind the scenes to end the reign of Fidel Castro. The first thirty minutes or so of the movie tell Rene’s story.

Then the action switches to Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) who also defects from Cuba and who also joins the same group Rene did. Juan Pablo also meets and falls in love with Ana Magarita Martinez (Ana de Armas) who he eventually marries. The second thirty minutes of the movie tells Juan Pablo’s story.

So, the first hour of the film, while slow, is at least coherent, as we are introduced to two similar characters in similar situations, and when they meet, the stage is set for the story to go somewhere. Unfortunately, where it goes and how it gets there is a major disappointment.

See, we are introduced to a third character, Jose Basulto (Leonardo Sbaraglia) who we learn runs a Cuban spy ring which is secretly working to thwart the efforts of the group that Rene and Juan Pablo work for, and furthermore, out of the blue we also learn that Rene and Juan Pablo are actually part of this group of spies working for Basulto.

So, as stories go, again, there’s nothing wrong with this one, but there is something very wrong with the way it unfolds. The number one problem is the pacing. The first hour of the film is exceedingly slow, but this can be forgiven because at least a couple of interesting characters are being introduced.

But during the film’s second half, the pacing issues do not improve. In fact, they get worse. Furthermore, there’s the added element of a bizarre narrative style that sinks this one long before the end credits roll, and with a running time of two hours and seven minutes, that’s a long time to sit through a film that clearly is not working.

Director Olivier Assayas can’t seem to focus on more than one character at time. The story is told in chunks, each chunk on one character, and so folks in this movie tend to disappear for long stretches. Two thirds of the way through there’s also a montage which comes out of nowhere which introduces the members of the Wasp Network. The only trouble is, we never see these folks again until we learn their fates just before the end credits roll, as the only Wasp Network members the movie focuses on are Rene, Juan Pablo, and Jose Basulto. It’s a bizarre moment that doesn’t fit at all with the rest of the movie.

Assayas also uses camera fades way too often, making for a disjointed narrative. He used them with greater success in the underrated ghost story flick PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016) starring Kristen Stewart, a film I liked a lot.

The screenplay by Assayas and Fernando Morais struggles to tell a coherent story, which is too bad because as stories go it’s an intriguing one on a subject I wanted to learn more about. But it fails on all levels. The dialogue is sleep-inducing, the narrative is poorly executed, and the characters remain low-key and lifeless throughout.

Not even a cast of actors whose talents I enjoy were able to save this one. Penelope Cruz probably fares the best as Rene’s long suffering wife who never really leaves his side, even though they spend most of the movie separated from each other. But her best scenes don’t come until the latter half of the movie.

Edgar Ramirez is fine as Rene, in what is the closest role the film has to being a lead, but it’s role that is not fleshed out satisfactorily enough. Things are even worse for Wagner Moura as Juan Pablo. His character is not developed at all, and while Moura channels charm and charisma in the role, it’s all for not.

And Ana de Armas is reduced to an unimportant supporting role, and her character pretty much disappears for the entire second half of the movie.

WASP NETWORK was filmed in 2019 by the way but was only released in June 2020.

WASP NETWORK was a major disappoint for me, mostly because I’m a story guy, and the story told here was done so very sloppily and without any sense of pacing.

Instead of watching WASP NETWORK, I suggest you defect to another movie choice.

—END—

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CAT GIRL (1957)

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cat girl

Who’s that Cat Girl?

No, she’s not a villain on BATMAN. That’s Catwoman.

And no, she’s not Batman’s ally. That’s Batgirl.

She’s not even the lead in a classic horror movie directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton. That movie is CAT PEOPLE (1942).

CAT GIRL was made fifteen years later and is largely inferior to Val Lewton’s influential horror movie, but the good news is the lead role in CAT GIRL is played by one of my favorite British actresses, Barbara Shelley. Shelley has starred in such classic British horror movies as BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958), Hammer’s THE GORGON (1964) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), again with Lee, as well as the science fiction classics VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (aka FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH) (1967).

But before all these came CAT GIRL.

Shelley always adds class and distinction to her roles, and her performance here is no exception. She’s excellent in the lead role, even as the rest of the film ultimately lets her down.

The plot is quite simple. A young woman Leonora Johnson (Barbara Shelley)  returns to her family home with her new husband, where she learns from her crazy uncle that their family is cursed, that they have this bizarre attachment to cats, so much so, that once home, Leonora falls victim to this curse and becomes a murderous cat creature.

Yup.

That’s why it’s called CAT GIRL.

Things actually start very well. The beginning of the movie is steeped in creepy atmosphere. The black and white photography by director Alfred Shaughnessy is ripe with dark shadows and completely captures the classic haunted house feel. But unfortunately as the story develops the film loses its atmosphere somewhat, driven by the fact that there’s simply not that much suspense, especially since the cat girl sequences look cheap and aren’t very good. The killer cat sequences are laughable.

The screenplay by Lou Rusoff also gets off to an intriguing start. See, not only is Leonara in danger from her looney relatives, but her own husband Edmund (Ernest Milton) is a real creep! We learn early on that before marrying Leonora, he had a fling with her best friend, and worse yet, the fling continues still, and he makes it clear that his marriage to Leonara is not going to get in the way of this other relationship. Complicating matters is this friend and the man she is currently dating are  also accompanying Leonora and Edmund on this trip to Leonora’s ancestral home, and all four of them are supposed to be friends.  This has all the makings of a classic sitcom! Not.

So, even before the cat curse comes into play, things are rather interesting! But sadly, they don’t really stay that way, and that’s because Leonara once she learns the truth about her husband simply lets Cat Girl take over and seeks some friendly feline vengeance.

Lou Rusoff also wrote the screenplays to several other low budget horror movies from the 1950s, including DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955), IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), and THE SHE-CREATURE (1956).

CAT GIRL was originally released as part of a double bill with THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957), a film I like much better than CAT GIRL, which has some good things going for it but not enough to lift it to classic horror status.

So, in spite of a strong atmospheric opening, and the presence of a group of friends in some complicated relationships, and Barbara Shelley in the lead role, CAT GIRL is eventually done in by low production values and a lack of decent scares.

Poor Cat Girl.

While she tries her bloody best, at the end of the day, there’s still only one female feline leading the pack. Yup, Catwoman is still top cat.

Maybe Cat Girl could apply for the position of Catwoman’s enforcer? I have no doubt that she’d be purr-fect in that role!

—END—

 

 

BECKY (2020) – Violent Thriller About Vengeful Thirteen Year-Old Has Its Moments But Strains Credibility

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becky

If you’re a parent of a middle school girl, or even a teacher of one, you know that generally speaking they can be moody, unpredictable, and often difficult. They can also be a handful.

Which is exactly what some dangerous escaped convicts find out when they commandeer a summer cabin, torture the occupants for information, and find one very angry thirteen year-old girl standing in their way in the new thriller BECKY (2020), a film which reveals what a lot of us already know: even hardened murderous criminals are no match for a spited thirteen year-old!

BECKY opens with parallel stories unfolding at the same time. We see Becky (Lulu Wilson) picked up from school by her dad Jeff (Joel McHale) at the same time we witness Dominick (Kevin James) escape from prison. Becky has been having a very difficult year, as her mother has passed away, and she is not handling it well. To make matters worse, Jeff has brought her to a cabin which holds special memories for her regarding her mom, and he has also invited his new girlfriend Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her young son Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe) to spend the weekend with them. And if that’s not enough, Jeff informs Becky that he plans to marry Kayla.

Ouch! Way to alienate your teenage daughter, Dad!

Meanwhile, Dominick and his fellow escaped convicts, including the giant Apex (Robert Maillet) make their way to the cabin— no, not to find refuge from the police, but because for some reason which the movie never makes clear— Dominick had hidden a key there, a key to something he values so much he’s willing to kill for it. Just what that key is for is anyone’s guess because the movie never tells us! Some films can get away with leaving out vital information in a plot, while others cannot. BECKY falls into the latter category.

Anyway, when Dominick and his buddies arrive at the cabin, Becky is off in her private clubhouse in the woods pouting, so when Dominick discovers that the key is gone, and he  starts torturing folks to get them to tell him where it is, she’s saved from this ordeal. And when she returns to see her father tortured, it doesn’t sit well with her. Plus, as fate would have it, she does have the key that Dominick is looking for, and once Dominick learns this, he sends his crew into the woods to capture Becky and get it back.

Easy-peasy. Right? Wrong!

Becky turns out to be quite the handful. And then some!

There were parts about BECKY that I liked, and there were also a lot of parts that I didn’t like. The film definitely enters HOME ALONE territory in its latter half, with young Becky taking on brutal thugs she has no business beating up on, but with a mix of ingenuity and gumption, she does just that. It also helps her cause that these crooks aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. They’re actually kind of dumb, which is good for Becky, but bad for the movie. If these guys were really that deadly, Becky most likely wouldn’t have stood a chance. So as much as I enjoyed watching young Becky kick the living stuffing out of these thugs, it really strained credibility that she did so.

With big bright opening credits, the initial feel of this one was that it was going to be campy. It’s not. It may have been better had it gone the route of high camp. As it stands, it goes down another route entirely, that of a heavy R-rated horror movie with some really gory scenes. The good news is these scenes work. One scene in particular where Becky attacks Dominick by stabbing him in the eye is jolting and effective. Even better, and this is one of the few scenes which leaned toward campiness, when Dominick is writhing in pain, his eye dangling from his face, he begs one of his associates to cut it off, and the guy in a panic grabs a child’s safety scissors and tries using that, which only makes the situation worse.

The violence in BECKY is over the top and bloody. I have no problem with this. The problem I had is as the film goes along, it becomes less and less believable that Becky could be this successful.

One of the best parts about BECKY is Lulu Wilson’s performance in the lead role as Becky. Wilson has had plenty of practice. Wilson is only 15 years old, and yet she already has a solid resume of horror movie/TV shows appearances, as she has starred in the TV series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018-20), and the horror movies ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017), OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014). She gets to do a lot more here as Becky than in her previous films, as she turns the character into a force to be reckoned with, and when she utters the line “But I want to hurt you. I want to hurt you real bad!” it resonates.

Funny man Kevin James makes his dramatic debut here as Dominick, the killer convict with a swastika tatoo on the back of his head who’s obsessed with finding that all important key which will open— wait. That’s right. We don’t know what it opens. But whatever it is, Dominick sure is obssessed about it. I half expected him to utter, “My precious!” upon seeing it!

I’m not a Kevin James fan. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I haven’t enjoyed one single comedy I’ve seen him star in. He’s actually very good here as Dominick in BECKY. The only problem is, like the rest of the story, it just doesn’t seem believable that Becky would walk all over him the way she does. He proves to be a very ineffective villain.

The rest of the cast is fine. Retired wrestler Robert Maillet was fun to watch as Apex, the super powerful enormous convict with a conscience, as harming children takes its toll on him. His presence also begged the question: why does Dominick need a key anyway? Whatever it opens Apex could probably bust into it himself with his bare hands!

BECKY was directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. They handle the violent scenes well, and do a nice job setting up the characters and the setting, and it all makes for a rather entertaining movie with the exception of its latter half which becomes less believable.

The same can be said of the screenplay by Nick Morris, Ruckus Skye, and Lane Skye. Compelling thriller at first, but simply not enough effort towards the end to keep it credible. The convicts shouldn’t have been that clueless, and Becky should have had a much more difficult time overcoming these guys.

As it stands, BECKY is a competent thriller that is not as fun as it could have been, as it only dabbles with campy humor, and it tends to lean towards graphic horror, and as such, it is definitely not for the squeamish.

It does successfully capture the persona of an angry thirteen year-old girl, however, and so it can be forgiven somewhat for eventually wading into the waters of a HOME ALONE movie.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COFFEE & KAREEM (2020) – Dumb Comedy Provides Some Laughs

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coffee-and-kareem

Sometimes I find myself shaking my head and asking, why did I choose to watch this movie again?

That’s what I did with COFFEE & KAREEM (2020), a new comedy on Netflix starring Ed Helms about a white cop in Detroit dating a black woman who gets involved in a madcap misadventure with the woman’s 12 year-old son after the youth attempts to have him killed. Doesn’t this sound like a fun movie? Nope.

But the trailer actually looked funny, I like Ed Helms, and I thought that perhaps this interracial plot would have something redeeming to say for our current troubled times.

And while COFFEE & KAREEM is far too dumb to provide any relevant social commentary, the one saving grace and the one thing that kept me from hating this movie is a lot of its jokes are really pretty funny. I laughed frequently, which for a comedy, is a good thing.

Coffee (Ed Helms) is a rather ineffective police officer on the Detroit police force. In fact, after he allows a drug dealer to escape from his custody, he’s relegated to traffic duty. But his problems are just beginning. See, he’s dating the lovely Vanessa Manning (Taraji P. Henson), who happens to be black, and her wannabe-gangsta twelve year-old son Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) is having none of it. His mom dating a white guy? Who’s a cop? Not on his watch! So, Kareem hatches a plan to pay a drug dealer— the same one who escaped from Coffee’s police cruiser— to teach the officer a lesson.

Of course, this being a screwball comedy, things don’t go as planned, and the next thing you know Coffee and Kareem are fleeing for their lives from violent drug dealers and crooked cops, and to survive, they have to set aside their differences and work together. Yep, it’s an old fashioned buddy comedy, this one of the father and son variety. Step-son, that is.

As plots go, this one is silly, trite, and relentlessly stupid. In fact, the plot is the worst part of the movie. It’s one of those films where because the story is so phony you wish you weren’t stuck watching it. It’s also one of those plots where every cop is crooked. Of course, in this day and age, you might be thinking, that’s not so unrealistic, but seriously, it is. And no effort is made to make any of what happens here real or believable.

But a lot of the jokes work, enough to save this one from being a complete turkey. There are some laugh out loud visual gags, one involving a hand grenade, another involving Taraji P. Henson’s violent take-down of two henchmen. Ed Helms and Terrence Little Gardenhigh share frequent funny moments together, and the three drug dealer heavies channel a Three Stooges vibe throughout which is most welcome, like one scene where before they break into a house one of them rings the doorbell, and there’s a whole ensuing discussion about the stupidity of doing so.

The screenplay by Shane Mack provides plenty of comical moments, but they’re all stuck in a plot that is as boring as a routine traffic stop.

I like Ed Helms, and he’s humorous here, but Officer Coffee is a difficult character to rally around. He’s the cliche last honest guy on the police force, and while he has plenty of admirable qualities, he’s more a buffoon than anything else. Helms has been far funnier before, especially in THE HANGOVER movies, the insanity of which COFFEE & KAREEM tries to capture, but the advantage THE HANGOVER movies had, or at least the first one anyway, was that in spite of the crazy happenings, somehow it was all rooted in reality. It all seemed real, which is not the case with COFFEE & KAREEM. Helms also knocked it out of the park in dramatic fashion in CHAPPAQUIDDICK (2017), in which he played it straight as Ted Kennedy’s advisor and friend Joseph Gargan.

Terrence Little Gardenhigh has a field day as twelve year-old Kareem, and much of the movie seems to be tailored around him. Trouble is, I just didn’t find this foul-mouthed youth to be a very likable character. The R-rated comedy GOOD BOYS (2019) took a similar route with a bunch of fifth graders and turned up the vulgarity, but that film worked because one, the kids were endearing, and two, much of the raunchiness in that story happened to the kids, and the comedy was their reactions to it. Here, Kareem is anything but endearing, as his plot to have his mom’s boyfriend killed isn’t funny at all, and he’s not simply reacting to vulgar events. He’s vulgarity personified.

I like Taraji P. Henson a lot, as she has delivered some powerhouse dramatic performances in such movies as HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) and THE BEST OF ENEMIES (2019). Here, she plays things for laughs, and while she’s not in this one all that much, she makes her few scenes count.

On the other hand, Betty Gilpin is wasted in a completely cliche role as the aggressive crooked cop Detective Watts. The role has no range, and Gilpin plays it one note throughout. Gilpin, who for me was the best part of the recent thriller THE HUNT (2020), is not allowed to do much here other than be combative and crazy.

I did enjoy RonReaco Lee, Andrew Bachelor, and William “Big Sleeps” Stewart as the three drug dealing baddies, who as I said channeled a Three Stooges vibe throughout and made me laugh nearly every time they were on screen.

COFFEE & KAREEM was directed by Michael Dowse. He must like buddy comedies, because he also directed STUBER (2019), a buddy comedy starring Dave Bautista as a cop who recruits the help of his Uber driver Stu, played by Kumail Nanjiani. STUBER was an amiable comedy, but it also wasn’t anything to write home about.

COFFEE & KAREEM is a subpar comedy that will not have you reminiscing about the buddy cop comedies of old, except to recall how much better they were. There are laughs to be sure, and this is to be commended, but the unrealistic story was a snooze, so in spite of the jokes, I found this one hard to sit through.

As much as I like coffee, this one had me yearning for tea.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (2020) – Will Ferrell Musical Comedy Is Much Better Than Expected

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eurovision-song-contest-the-story-of-fire-saga-2020

For starters, the title is awful— EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA— it sounds like a teen fantasy novel gone wrong— and it stars and was written by Will Ferrell, whose work I’ve enjoyed less and less with each passing year. But yet—

—-yet, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (2020) is actually a really good movie, one that gets better as it goes along. It’s also one of Ferrell’s best films in years.

Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) has dreamed his whole life of winning the famed Eurovision Song Contest for his home country of Iceland, so much so that he has devoted his entire life to the endeavor, much to the chagrin of his father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) who makes it no secret how ashamed he is of his son’s “foolish” dreams. But Lars’ best friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) feels otherwise and together they make up the band Fire Saga and work each day to achieve their goal of making it to Eurovision.

Trouble is, they’re not particularly good, and they have established the reputation in their village as being pretty darned awful, which is a major reason why Erick thinks his son is wasting his life away on a dream rather than working.

But fate intervenes when Iceland needs one more entry for their national competition, and so they select a band randomly, which turns out to be Fire Saga. While Lars and Sigrit are overjoyed, as expected, they do not win, and hence don’t qualify for the trip to participate in Eurovision. But “fate” intervenes again when a ferry boat carrying every single Ice Landic act who placed ahead of Fire Saga mysteriously explodes in a fiery inferno, leaving as the only act left– Fire Saga. Suddenly they are on their way to Eurovision!

And that’s what the bulk of the movie is about, Lars and Sigrits’ adventures as they practice and prepare to particpate and somehow win the Eurovision competition.

Okay. On the surface, this plot sound silly, trite, and dumb, but it really isn’t. There’s a lot going on here.

The beginning of EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is very silly and humorous, as some of Fire Saga’s awful music numbers are laugh out loud funny, and so the feeling is, this is going to be a goofball comedy perhaps satirizing shows like Eurovision. But that’s not the direction the movie takes.

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is really about two things. For one, it’s a love story between Lars and Sigrit, which at first sounds funny, because the idea of Will Ferrell in a love story is— well, laughable. And Ferrell is himself here, meaning he’s goofy, but he does channel an exhuberant innocence the way he did as Buddy the Elf in what I think is still his best movie, ELF (2003). Lars is also super focused on winning the contest, and so he barely notices Sigrit who definitely has feelings for him.

And so the love story is driven by Sigrit and by Rachel McAdam’s spirited performance as the character, as she delivers by far the best performance in the movie. She believes in Lars and during their journey together falls in love with him but hesitates to be up front with her feelings because she doesn’t want to ruin their art together.

Which is the second thing EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is really about, the making of art. These two characters devote their lives to a cause, and for Sigrit it’s more about performing than winning, while Lars just wants to win, but they both have something to say with their music. And they say it.

They both also see the world as artists do. So when Sigrit speaks of believing in elves, which on the surface is a statement about superstition in Iceland and is in the movie for comedic value, on a deeper level, it’s about a figurative way of thinking that allows artists to see things in ways that others don’t and to believe in things that others don’t. It’s why art— music, films, books, paintings— can change the world.

Now, I know this sounds too deep for a Will Ferrell movie, but these elements are all in the script, which is why I liked this one so much. Beneath this silly musical comedy about an unlikely singing duo, there’s a subtext which speaks and speaks well about what it is to be an artist. It’s a really good screenplay by Ferell and Andrew Steele.

It also gets the humor right. There are several laugh out loud moments in this film, from the outrageous bands in the contest and some of their numbers, to the playful banter between Lars and Sigrit, to some over the top sequences where Lars’ innocent silliness is on full display. Ferrell enjoys a lot of funny moments here.

And the end of this movie is really moving. You’ll actually forget how this one started, as a seemingly silly spoof, and be moved to tears by the emotional impact of its conclusion. Seriously!

As I said, this is Will Ferrell’s best work in some time. While most of his recent films have been meh, and in fact I haven’t loved a Ferrell movie since ELF, he steps it up big time here with EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. While Lars is never ordinary, he is sincere, driven to win to a fault, and in spite of his innocent offbeat silliness he’s believable.

He’s also complemented by Sigrit, brilliantly played here by Rachel McAdams. Hands down, McAdams gives the best performance in the movie. I like McAdams a lot, and she has delivered some memorable performances over the years. I especially enjoyed her work in SPOTLIGHT (2015) and she was hilarious in the very funny comedy GAME NIGHT (2018) in which she starred alongside Jason Bateman.

Here, McAdams plays Sigrit as an artist inspired by Lars and moved by him to be the best singer she can be, something that is sadly lost on him for most of the story. Her enthusiasm for her craft is infectious, and she and Ferrell have excellent chemistry throughout and are enjoyable together during the entire movie. McAdams effortlessly traverses between silly and serious and she makes Sigrit one of the more interesting characters I’ve seen in the movies this year.

Pierce Brosnan adds solid support as Lars’ father Erick, who for most of the movie is embarrassed for his son. Brosnan doesn’t play the character in a cliche over the top way. His contempt for his son is deep and real, and Brosnan nails the emotion throughout.

Dan Stevens is also excellent as Alexandar Lemtov, Russia’s contestant in the Eurovision contest and the odds-on favorite to win the entire competition. He also has eyes for Sigrit. Like the rest of the movie, Steven’s performance is a mix of over-the-top humor and subtle subtext. In Lemtov’s case, he’s a closeted homosexual who laments that Russia doesn’t allow him to live his life the way he wants.

Directed by David Dobkin, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE STARTER in spite of its God-awful title and presence of Will Ferrell which would lead one to believe this is just a goofy comedy, is really a movie that supercedes expectations and is one of the more entertaining and enjoyable films I’ve seen this year.

Dobkin gives this one so much energy it flies by and even though it’s a two hour movie it seems much shorter than that. It’s full of memorable music numbers, has a surprisingly literate script by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele, and features wonderful performances by Ferrell and more so by Rachel McAdams.

So, ignore the title, and the fact that Will Ferrell is playing an over-achieving singer and songwriter. EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE STARTER is a treat of a movie, one that offers both surprises and laughs throughout, and finishes with an emotional conclusion that is above and beyond what one would usually expect for this type of movie.

You might even find yourself believing in elves!

—END—

 

 

 

 

THE WOLF MAN (1941) Poems – Even A Man Who Is Pure In Heart Can Write Poems when the Autumn Moon Is Bright!

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the wolf man poster

For fun this summer, I’ve been writing poems about my favorite Universal monster movies. I’ve already covered a few FRANKENSTEIN movies and the Bela Lugosi DRACULA (1931).

Up today it’s THE WOLF MAN (1941), a film that continues to get better with age, one that is widely considered today to be the best werewolf movie ever made.

Here are a few poems inspired by this movie, once again, using the Fibonacci form.

 

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The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) stalks his prey.

 

“Even a Man Pure in Heart”

Pure

Heart

Even

a man who

says prayers by night

becomes a wolf, the moon full, bright.

 

The-Wolf-Man-1941-Claude-Rains-and-Lon-Chaney-Jr-talking

SIr John Talbot (Claude Rains) and his son Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.),  one of the more anguishing father/son relationships in horror movie history.

 

“Sir John Talbot”

You

Must

Make your

Own fight, son.

These people have a

problem. Why would I want a cane?

 

the wolf man rains chaney

Sir John (Claude Rains) and Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) hammering out their differences.

 

“The Advice of a Father”

Good

Bad

Right Wrong

Are Very

Complex Things. In a

Man’s Mind Anything Can Happen.

 

the wolfman - chaney ouspenskaya

Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) bids farewell to her deceased son Bela, whle Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) looks on, in disbelief that he killed a man when he knows he killed a wolf.

 

 

“Maleva”

Way

You

Walked Was

Thorny, through

no fault of your own.

My Bela, now you will find peace.

 

the wolfman - ouspenskaya and chaney

Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya)  telling Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) like it is.

“Larry’s Dilemma”

I

killed

a wolf!

You think I

don’t know the difference

between wolf and man? You’re insane!

 

“Larry Talbot”

I

am

sane. I

didn’t seek

this. A werewolf bit

me. Why won’t you all believe me?

 

 

wolfman - chaney, ankers

No, Larry, you shouldn’t be flirting with an engaged woman, and no Gwen, you shouldn’t take that moonlit stroll in the woods with him, but you do, and the rest is history.

“Larry and Gwen”

When

the

moon is

full. I turn

into a wolf. I

could harm even you. Go away!

 

Hope you enjoyed these poems, which are pretty much just my re-working quotes from the movie into poetic form. They’re fun to write, and hopefully they’re fun to read.

On that note, as always, thanks for reading!

—Michael