Blu-ray Review: Danny Collins (2015)

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danny collins poster

In DANNY COLLINS (2015) Al Pacino plays an aging rock star.

I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to wrap my head around Pacino playing a Neil Diamond-type— his onscreen persona just seems too intense— and after seeing this movie, I’m still not sure, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying him or the movie.

Al Pacino is Danny Collins, a Neil Diamond-type rock star who is in his waning years and has let his life pretty much go down the toilet.  He does drugs, he’s married to a trophy wife who he doesn’t love, and he barely has the stamina to get through a performance anymore.

His life changes when his agent Frank Grubman (Christopher Plummer) presents him with a gift:  a letter written to him from John Lennon nearly 40 year ago.  Lennon’s letter was written to him in response to a magazine interview Collins had given early in his career where he had expressed doubts about his music.  Lennon’s letter offered him personal encouragement.  Lennon had sent the letter to the magazine, and the editor had kept it rather than give it to Collins.  After the editor’s death it had gone to a private dealer, where it remained until Grubman tracked it down.

The letter inspires Collins to make some life-altering changes, and number one amongst them is to finally reconnect with his estranged adult son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) and his family.  And this is what DANNY COLLINS is ultimately about, and is why it becomes such an enjoyable and rewarding movie.

Al Pacino, in spite of my misgivings, is terrific as Danny Collins.  I still can’t picture him as a rock star, but that doesn’t really matter because in this movie he’s playing a rock star who just doesn’t have it anymore, and in that regard, he pulls it off just fine.  But more importantly,  this story is about him reconnecting with his son, which is no easy task since his son wants absolutely nothing to do with him, and it’s here where Pacino shines.

My favorite part of Pacino’s performance here is that it’s much more understated than his usual work.  He plays Danny Collins as a man who is weary and tired, and yet when he needs to be fiery, he rears back and pulls energy from deep within, and in scenes where he has to break through his son’s defenses, he does it with ease.  He exudes sincerity and caring, and from a character who’s reputation is anything but, he makes it all very believable.

Pacino receives fine support from the rest of the cast, led by Bobby Cannavale as his son Tom.  Cannavale is perfect as the working-class husband and father who wants nothing to do with his rock star father who basically disowned him for his entire life, and when Collins shows up at his door to make amends, it’s not pretty.  However, Collins is persistent and makes it clear he really does want to become part of his son’s life, and as this persistance gradually chisels through Tom’s hardened construction worker exterior, Cannavale effortlessly handles these nuanced changes.

I’ve enjoyed Cannavale in films like LOVELACE (2013), CHEF (2014), and ANT-MAN (2015) to name just a few, but I don’t think I’ve seen him better than here in DANNY COLLINS.

Annette Bening also adds fine support as Collins’ new love interest Mary Sinclair, who runs the hotel where Collins is staying.  They hit it off instantly and share a flirtatious chemistry throughout.  Jennifer Garner is also very enjoyable as Tom’s wife Samantha.  Garner, from the TV show ALIAS (2001-2006) is very good here as the lovable mother and wife, who takes to Collins immediately and helps ease the tensions between father and son.  And young Giselle Eisenberg  makes for a very cute and entertaining little daughter Hope.

And Christopher Plummer enjoys a scene-stealing performance as Collins’ agent Frank Grubman.  It’s the type of wise-cracking role Alan Arkin has played recently.

DANNY COLLINS was written and directed by Dan Fogelman, who wrote CRAZY, STUPID LOVE (2011), one of my favorite comedies of recent years, which starred Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone.   Fogelman keeps the tone of DANNY COLLINS light, and as a result the film in spite of some of serious moments remains playful and fun throughout.

You also can’t beat the music score, as it’s peppered with John Lennon songs.  How cool is that?  Original song “Hey Baby Doll” which is supposed to be Danny Collins’ signature tune and the one that his aging audience always wants him to perform, sounds just like a Neil Diamond ditty and is perfect for this story.

I’m still not sure I buy Pacino as an aging rock star.  But I certainly buy him as a once absent father desperately trying to reconnect with his adult son.  And in the story that DANNY COLLINS has to tell, that’s all that really matters.

—Michael

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DEAD MEN WALK (1943)

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Here is my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the George Zucco/Dwight Frye horror movie DEAD MEN WALK (1943), up now in the January issue of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.

Enjoy!

—Michael

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

January.  The dead of winter.

The time of year when DEAD MEN WALK (1943).

At least if you’re George Zucco, anyway.

George Zucco is one of my favorite character actors from the 1940s.  In the horror films of that decade, he often played a villain or a mad scientist, and while he never achieved a name for himself like Bela Lugosi or even John Carradine, he was quite good in many, many movies.  I always remember him for his brief bit as Professor Bruno Lampini in the Universal monster fest HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), and he also played the High Priest Andoheb in three of the Universal Kharis MUMMY movies, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944).

Zucco plays the lead in DEAD MEN WALK, and as expected he’s quite good.  He plays a dual role in this one, as he portrays twin brothers, one good, the well-respected doctor Lloyd Clayton, and the other, the devil worshiping  Dr. Elwyn Clayton, not so good.

And if this weren’t enough, Dwight Frye even shows up as Zucco’s hunchbacked assistant, Zolarr.  As a result, in spite of being a no-budget thriller, DEAD MEN WALK is a real treat.

DEAD MEN WALK opens with a funeral, as Elwyn Clayton (George Zucco) lies dead in his coffin.  His twin brother Dr. Lloyd Clayton (George Zucco) declares his brother better off dead, since he was such an evil soul.  When Elwyn’s hunchback assistant Zolarr (Dwight Frye) shows up, he accuses Lloyd of murdering his brother.  Lloyd dismisses Zolarr’s accusations and says he acted in self- defense.

Anyway, faster than you can say “Fritz” or “Renfield” (take your pick) Zolarr resurrects Elwyn’s body and brings him back to life, and it’s easy to do, because we learn that Elwyn is now a vampire!  As a vampire, Elwyn wastes no time putting the bite on Lloyd’s niece Gayle (Mary Carlisle).  It’s now up to Lloyd to protect his niece and stop his undead brother once and for all.

DEAD MEN WALK isn’t anything more than a Grade Z horror movie, but Zucco and Frye raise it up a few notches and make it worth watching, which is a good thing because visually this one has little to offer.  There are very few exciting scenes, nor is there much atmosphere.  Director Sam Newfield’s idea of suspense is to have Dwight Frye peer menacingly through a window.

Even the vampire elements are downplayed.  All the bites occur off-camera, and when George Zucco plays the vampire twin, he wears no make-up.  The two characters are distinguishable because the good doctor wears eyeglasses and the evil vampire brother doesn’t.  Maybe his vision improved as an undead!

The script isn’t bad though.  It’s written by Fred Myton whose credits go back to the silent era.  In fact, his earliest credits date back to 1915.  One hundred years ago!  How about that?  The dialogue in DEAD MEN WALK really isn’t bad at all.  In fact, it’s actually pretty good, and for the most part, when the characters speak, they sound like real people.

Zucco’s great as he always is.  And he’s much more than just a screen villain.  In fact, his evil twin is pretty one-dimensional.  It’s the good brother, Lloyd, who Zucco actually makes more interesting.

And what else can you say about Dwight Frye other than it’s a shame he wasn’t able to make more movies.  After his roles as Renfield in DRACULA (1931) and Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), he was typecast as weirdos and hunchbacks.  He died young, at the age of 44 in 1943.  A shame.  Only Frye could give a dignified death to a character whose last lines are cries of “Master!  Master!”  Most other actors screaming these lines would be laughable.  When Frye screams them, as Zolarr lies trapped in a burning house, he generates legitimate sympathy for the character.

Dead_Men_Walk- Frye & Zucco

Dwight Frye and George Zucco prepare to scare an unsuspecting victim in DEAD MEN WALK.

 

And really, Dwight Frye and George Zucco are the only reasons to see DEAD MEN WALK.  They lift the material and make this otherwise Grade Z movie enjoyable.

It’s cold.  It’s January.  It’s that time of year we’re all stuck inside.

To beat that claustrophobic feeling go out for a walk.  It’ll do you good.  And you won’t be alone.

Not when DEAD MEN WALK.

Worst Movies of 2015

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Here are my Top 10 Worst Movies for 2015:

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10.  GET HARD – ** – Unfunny comedy with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.  There was a time when I used to enjoy Will Ferrell movies.  Been a while.

9. PROJECT ALMANAC – ** – a group of teens build a time machine.  After a light start, this silly science fiction movie tries to become a serious thriller but collapses under the weight of its own pretensions.

8. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 – ** – third entry in the INSIDIOUS series is the weakest yet.  I’m also just not that into prequels.

7. JUPITER ASCENDING – **- colorful but utterly preposterous tale of an intergalactic princess (Mila Kunis) seeking her birthright, with ramifications that will affect the entire universe!  Yeah, right.

jupiter ascending

6. THE LAZARUS EFFECT – * 1/2- This modern day Frankenstein tale of scientists attempting to resurrect the dead has its heart in the right place—heh heh—but is undone by a very weak story.  There’s no resurrecting this movie.

5. SAN ANDREAS- * 1/2-  a silly disaster film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a chopper pilot who flies all over California— at the expense of the people he’s supposed to be rescuing, I might add!— in order to save his family from a deadly earthquake.  Is that Charlton Heston and George Kennedy I see?  This one is as bad as the epic of all bad disaster movies, EARTHQUAKE (1974).  At least that one had Sensurround!

This one is so bad not even the presence of Paul Giamatti as a scientist can save it.  Yet another story about an estranged married couple who have to put aside their differences in order to save their children from some extraordinary catastrophe.  Sorry, but if you couldn’t make it work during normal times, what makes you think you can do it during an earthquake?  Ugh!

4. SINISTER 2 – * 1/2-  This is as weak and tepid a horror sequel as you can get.  The saddest part of the whole thing is that the SINISTER movies have in them a really cool monster/demon, Bughuul, and sadly he’s not used to his potential in either movie.

Also, in this series, Bughuul makes children both kill their families and film the murder.  The original film had the murders taking place in the past, and so it made sense when the main character uncovered old 8mm films of the murders.  Here, the sequel takes place in the present day, yet the possessed children are still using film cameras to record their crimes.  Wouldn’t they just use a Smartphone or a Tablet?

A silly horror movie sequel, not worth your time.

3. 50 SHADES OF GREY- * 1/2-  This one should have been called 50 SHADES OF BLAH.  Talk about being dull and boring.  As tedious as the films in the TWILIGHT series.  Dakota Johnson is completed wasted in the role of Anastasia Steele.

Also, for a film that is supposed to be graphic and sexual  it’s about as tame as graphic and sexual can be.  I’ve seen more risqué stuff on Benny Hill.

2.TED 2 – * – This is probably the only film of the year that I hated.   While I enjoyed the first TED movie somewhat, I thought this one was a complete waste of time.  Nothing here for anyone over the age of 12.  Juvenile, tasteless, and worst of all, not very funny.  Its idea of humor is to have Mark Wahlberg and Ted sneak into Tom Brady’s bedroom in order to steal his sperm.  Three guesses on how they plan to do it, and the first two don’t count.  Oh, yeah, that’s funny!  No.  It’s flat out weird.

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1.THE GALLOWS – * – I wish my pick for the worst movie of the year wasn’t a horror movie, but alas, it is.  How dumb is this one?  Well, the main plot point is that in honor of the 20th anniversary of a high school play gone wrong— a student was accidentally hanged to death on stage- the school decides to put on the same play again.  Duh!  Needless to say, someone isn’t very happy about this decision, and once again more students turn up dead.  Unfortunately none of them were responsible for the script.

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And that’s my list of the Worst Movies of 2015.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

BEST MOVIES OF 2015

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Here’s my list of the Top 10 movies I saw in 2015:

It Follows poster

10.  IT FOLLOWS- ***- This was my pick for the top horror movie of 2015.  It makes #10 in my overall list.  Terrific horror movie by writer/director David Robert Mitchell.  It’s creative in its execution, suspenseful, has a superior movie score, and is very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s early work back in the 1970s.

9. THE MAN FROM UNCLE – *** – a critical and commercial disaster, this film nonetheless worked for me, so much so that it was one of my favorite movies of the year.  I loved the polished direction, the slick music score, and the whole 1960s “spy feel” of the film.

Sure, the two leads could have been more charismatic, but I still found it all terrific fun.

8. CHAPPIE- *** 1/2- one of my favorite science fiction films of the year.  Sure, it’s all very melodramatic and overdramatic, but this tale of a robot with artificial intelligence really worked for me.  Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for the films of writer/director Neill Blomkamp.

7. MAD MAX:  FURY ROAD – *** 1/2- my pick for the best science fiction movie of the year.   George Miller, who directed the original films starring Mel Gibson, returns to his roots here with a film that is exceedingly exciting and features some of the most imaginative chase scenes I’ve seen in quite a long time.  Tom Hardy is fine as Max, but it’s Charlize Theron who steals the show in this one as tough as nails heroine Imperator Furiosa.

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6. AVENGERS:  AGE OF ULTRON – *** 1/2 – Excellent sequel to THE AVENGERS.  I love the Marvel superhero films, and their AVENGERS movies are among their best.  Nonstop entertainment.

5. THE BIG SHORT.-*** 1/2

I really enjoyed this intriguing drama about the home mortgage crisis and the near collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008.  Christian Bale is getting all the hype with buzz of a possible Best Supporting Actor nomination, and he’s good here, but I liked Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling even more. Well-acted, well-written movie that tells a story that’s a real eye opener.

Written and directed by Adam McCay, most known for his comedic work, directing such films as ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004) and THE OTHER GUYS (2010).  McCay puts this background to good use as THE BIG SHORT, in spite of its heavy and oftentimes depressing subject matter, is very light and quirky in tone.  McCay also wrote the screenplay for the Marvel hit ANT-MAN (2015).

Brad Pitt rounds out the solid cast.

4. BRIDGE OF SPIES – ****- The main reason I liked this Steven Spielberg Cold War thriller was Tom Hanks’ performance.  I’m not always a big Tom Hanks fan, but he knocks the ball out of the ballpark with his spot on performance as an attorney asked to defend a Soviet spy.  The story which follows is captivating and riveting.

In addition to Hanks’ standout performance, Mark Rylance is also excellent as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.  This is also quite the period piece, as Spielberg meticulously captures the Cold War period.  At times, you feel like you’re watching a dramatic museum exhibit.

3.  JOY-**** -Critics did not like this comedy/drama by writer/director David O. Russell which tells the story of Joy Mangano, the woman who created the Miracle Mop, but I absolutely loved this one.  Jennifer Lawrence turns in a phenomenal performance as Joy, and this movie clearly belongs to her.  A quirky, funny film that is every bit emotionally moving as it is humorous.  It reminded me a lot of Russell and Lawrence’s earlier pairing, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).

The fine supporting cast includes Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Edgar Ramirez, Elisabeth Rohm, and Dascha Polanco.

This cast led by Jennifer Lawrence combined with the creative directorial style of David O. Russell makes JOY one of my favorite films of the year.

2.  SPOTLIGHT-**** – For me, SPOTLIGHT was the most disturbing film of the year, and its second best.  It tells the story of how The Boston Globe exposed the scandal in the Catholic Church and uncovered truths which before this story most people refused to believe.  The number of abuse cases in Boston alone were staggering.

The film is amazingly underplayed, and it’s able to do this because the story itself is so horrifying.  All it has to do is tell its story, and that’s enough.

SPOTLIGHT is a fine example of a true life horror story that is more disturbing than most genre horror films.  In addition, it’s also one of the best movies about newspapers and reporters ever made.

Amazingly well-acted, its cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Brian D’Arcy James.

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1. SICARIO – **** – Any one of my top 5 picks could have been my number movie of the year.  They’re all that good.

However, my personal favorite of the year because it both pushed all the right buttons and is the type of movie I love- a riveting suspenseful dark thriller- is SICARIO.

I loved this thriller about an FBI agent thrown into the midst of the drug war with a Mexican cartel.  Emily Blunt is outstanding as FBI agent Kate Macer.  Even better is Benecio Del Toro as Alejandro, a mysterious hitman who in spite of his shadowy cold-blooded agenda, always seems to have Macer’s back, even when he holds a gun to her head.

Josh Brolin is also excellent as a calm, cool, and confident government agent who recruits Macer but is too shady to earn her trust.

Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, the SONS OF ANARCHY actor who has a lot of other acting credits as well.  This is his first screenplay.  It’s a good one.

Some of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve seen in a while.  A must-see movie.  My pick for the #1 movie of 2015.

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And that’s my Top 10 List for 2015.  What’s yours?

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES – BEST AND WORST OF 2015

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Here’s the list of science fiction movies I saw in 2015, from first to worst:

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MAD MAX:  FURY ROAD (2015) – *** 1/2- While I view MAD MAX: FURY ROAD more as an action/adventure movie, it certainly also falls under the science fiction category since it takes place during an apocalyptic future.

Writer/director George Miller who wrote and directed the original MAD MAX movies starring Mel Gibson, returns to his roots here and has made an action film for the ages.  This one contains some of the most creative and intense action chase scenes I’ve seen in some time.

And while Tom Hardy is fine as Max, good enough to make you forget Mel Gibson, it’s Charlize Theron who’s most memorable in this one as the gritty female protagonist, Imperator Furiosa.

Best seen on the big screen.

And more importantly the best science fiction film of the year.

 

CHAPPIE (2015) – ***1/2- I guess I’m a sucker for the films of Neill Blomkamp.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his earlier films DISTRICT 9 (2009) and ELYSIUM (2013), and now I can add CHAPPIE to that list.  Of course, I’m in the minority here with CHAPPIE, as it was largely panned by critics, and yes, I recognize that this tale of an artificial intelligence robot come to life relies heavily on the melodramatic and the overdramatic, but it all worked for me.  I loved Sharlto Copley’s motion-capture performance as Chappie.

For me, CHAPPIE pushed all the right buttons.

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STAR WARS:  THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) – ***- Like the rest of the STAR WARS series, STAR WARS:  THE FORCE AWAKENS is more space fantasy adventure than science fiction, and but its setting definitely places it in the science fiction category.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is grand entertainment and hearkens back to the original STAR WARS films, especially the first one, sometimes a little too much, as at times it plays like a straight reboot of that original film.  Awesome fun to see the original characters back, especially Harrison Ford as Han Solo, but it’s the newcomers, especially Daisy Ridley as new heroine Rey who ultimately steal the show.

The Force is strong with this one.

THE MARTIAN (2015) – ***-  Ridley Scott’s science fiction tale of an astronaut (Matt Damon) accidentally left on Mars who uses his scientific knowledge to survive while he waits for a rescue mission is a fan favorite, as it seems everybody loves THE MARTIAN.  I liked this one too, but I found it a bit too upbeat and predictable.  Never was there any doubt about the outcome.  I felt as is I was watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  I love Bugs, but does he ever fail?  Same here.

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PREDESTINATION (2014)- *** – technically, this one came out in 2014, but I saw it in 2015.  This one did not get a wide release and I had to see it at home On Demand, not on the big screen, which was too bad because it’s one of the best science fiction films of the year.  It’s also one of the finest time travel tales ever filmed.  So, for folks who love time travel stories, this one is a must-see!

Its tale of a special agent (Ethan Hawke) who travels through time to hunt down criminals is so much more than a melodramatic adventure.  It’s a thought-provoking character study that will ultimately blow your mind.  If you’re expecting action and adventure or geeky science fiction, you’ve come to the wrong movie.  It’s literary science fiction at its best brought to life on screen.  The less said about this one the better, till you see it.

JURASSIC WORLD (2015) -***- also included this one on my horror movie list, though I view it more as an action adventure film than a science fiction/horror movie.  Still, it’s tale of resurrected dinosaurs fits into the realm of science fiction.  Very light in tone, I nonetheless found the adventure tale fun and engrossing, and really enjoyed Chris Pratt’s performance, more so than the dinosaurs in this one.

TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015) – *** – Critics hated this revisionist Terminator tale which changes some things from the previous TERMINATOR movies, but I liked it.  I guess I’m just a sucker for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the TERMINATOR films.  Arnold skipped the previous installment, but he’s back here, and I found him thoroughly enjoyable.

There’s enough twists and turns, and action and stunts to keep the most hardened faithful fans happy.  Not quite sure why so many folks disliked this one.  It worked for me.

EX MACHINA (2015) – **- Another tale of artificial intelligence.  This is a much more serious and highbrow take on the subject than CHAPPIE.  However, it was also far more stoic and far less emotionally satisfying.  Its tale of a grad student (Domnhall Gleeson) working with an eccentric and bizarre scientist (Oscar Isaak) on a female creation with artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander) never really grabbed me.  If STAR TREK’s Mr. Spock wrote a movie, this might be it.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015) – **- This re-telling of the Frankenstein story from the perspective of Igor is worth watching only for the spirited performance by Daniel Radcliffe as Igor.  Underwhelming movie.  Tries to be action-oriented a la the Robert Downey Jr. SHERLCOCK HOLMES films but is not up to the task.

TOMORROWLAND (2015)- **-  Hmm, another movie based on a Disney World attraction.  Yep, as bland as it sounds. Actually, there were parts to the tale of time and space manipulations starring George Clooney that I liked.  Unfortunately, there were other parts that I didn’t like.  Potentially intriguing and thought-provoking story dumbed-down for younger audiences, which is an insult to that age demographic.  They could easily handle the more complex material.  I expected more from screenwriter Damon Lindelof, who  among other things wrote STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013), PROMETHEUS (2012) and episodes of the TV show LOST. Co-written by director Brad Bird, whose resume is equally as impressive.

PROJECT ALMANAC (2015) – ** –  this time machine tale of a group of teenagers who build a time machine is OK but fails to reach the next level.  The main characters use their machine to do things like go back and re-take a test they failed the first time.  How’s that for drama?  When it tries to become a darker thriller, its folds under the weight of its own pretensions.

JUPTER ASCENDING (2015) – **- colorful but ultimately ridiculous fantasy about a princess (Mila Kunis) seeking her intergalactic royal birthright which has ramifications for all of Earth and beyond.  Cast includes Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, and Eddie Redmayne!  The type of tale regularly told on the old 1960s TV show LOST IN SPACE.

THE LAZARUS EFFECT (2015) – * 1/2- Part science fiction, part horror, this one also appeared on my HORROR MOVIES list from 2015.  Horror, science fiction, it doesn’t matter.  Both parts are equally bad.

This modern “Frankenstein” tale of a group of medical students experimenting with resurrecting the dead has the right idea but ultimately the wrong story, which never “lives” up to the material.

Worst science fiction film of the year.

And that’s my list of science fiction movies from 2015.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

HORROR MOVIES: Best and Worst of 2015

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Here’s the list of horror movies I saw in 2015, from first to worst:

It Follows poster

IT FOLLOWS – *** – by far, the best horror film of the year.  If you see one horror movie this year, make it this one.  It plays like a John Carpenter film from the 1970s.  Probably my favorite thing about this movie by writer/director David Robert Mitchell is its plot which is unlike most other horror films.  Not gory at all, but suspenseful and captivating throughout.  Very stylish.

THE VISIT- *** – Who knew this M. Night Shyamalan movie about two children visiting their increasingly odd grandparents would be so good?  After a string of misfires, Shyamalan pushes all the right buttons with this one, capturing the perfect blend of horror and humor.

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KRAMPUS – *** – another flick I expected not to like that turned into one of the better horror movies of the year.  This Christmas horror movie in spite of its potentially ridiculous storyline gets the horror right and makes the most of its creepy images and suspenseful scenes.  It’s a holiday comedy with a serious horrific attitude.  Check this one out.

JURASSIC WORLD – ***- technically not really a horror film, but it does contain some angry hungry dinosaurs.  This one is mostly light in tone, but I found it entertaining throughout, and I really enjoyed Chris Pratt’s performance.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2:  THE ANGEL OF DEATH- ** 1/2 – I liked this sequel to the well-made THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012).  I enjoyed the atmosphere and the cinematography more than the story.  A Hammer Film.

UNFRIENDED – ** 1/2 – I thought I would hate this one, but the gimmick of having all the action appear on a computer screen actually works, mostly because audiences today all use computers/laptops/smartphones  and so watching this type of screen seemed perfectly natural, even if its story of high school friends tormented online isn’t very compelling.  Not half bad.

THE GREEN INFERNO – ** 1/2 – not my cup of tea, but this Eli Roth tale of cannibalism actually features likable characters and a decent story.  NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN – ** – ultimately disappointing tale of Frankenstein, told from the perspective of Igor.  So why not call this one Igor?  Best part is Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as Igor.  Tries to be upbeat and action-oriented, a la the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, but doesn’t really work.

MAGGIE – ** – Arnold Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie?  Is it full of brutal kills and big gun violence?  Not at all.  This is actually a low-key drama about Arnold caring for his teen daughter who’s slowly turning into a zombie.  Slow moving and quiet.  Worth it if you’re in the right frame of mind.

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CRIMSON PEAK- ** – good looking horror movie is undone by a dumb story that ultimately makes little sense.  The main character in this ghost story is supposed to be a strong smart heroine, and yet she’s the only person in the movie who can’t see the danger around her.

INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3- ** – didn’t like this third chapter in the INSIDOUS series at all.  I’m just not a big fan of prequels, especially when they’re as poorly written as this one.

THE LAZARUS EFFECT – * 1/2 -weak horror movie about a  “Frankenstein”- like experiment to reanimate the dead.  If only this movie could be reanimated.

SINISTER 2 – * 1/2 – utterly horrible sequel.    Story makes little sense nor is it scary.

THE GALLOWS – * – my pick for the Worst Horror Movie of the Year.  How dumb is this one?  Well, the main plot point is that in honor of the 20th anniversary of a high school play gone wrong— a student was accidentally hanged to death on stage- the school decides to put on the same play again.  Duh!  Needless to say, someone isn’t very happy about this decision, and once again more students turn up dead.  Unfortunately none of them were responsible for the script.

There you have it.  My list of horror movies from 2015.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael