Thanksgiving Movie Turkeys 2016

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Welcome to a special THANKSGIVING column!  Happy Turkey Day!

On that note, I know that I don’t usually post my BEST OF  and WORST OF movie lists till after December 31, but all this turkey has got me to thinking about— well, turkeys!  As in the worst movies of the year so far.

I won’t make any final picks until the 2016 calendar year comes to a close, but in the meantime, here’s a look at some nominees for the Worst Movies of 2016 so far.  Happy reading, and while you’re at it, please pass the stuffing!

THE FOREST- This weak horror movie wastes a potential frightening setting:  Japan’s Suicide Forest, a real place with real history, but this movie is about as far away from real as you can get.  Contrived and dull.

HAIL CAESAR! – A misfire from the Coen brothers.  This period piece about 1950s Hollywood looks great but the story is not cohesive nor are the laughs.  George Clooney’s comic timing is not taken advantage of, and Josh Brolin’s lead role is that of the straight man, so he doesn’t add to the laughs either.  Best scene features Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill.

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY – Terribly unfunny comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen.  Nuff said about this turkey.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE –  That’s right.  This big budget DC superhero romp is one of the worst movies of the year. Neither the conflict between Batman and Superman nor its resolution ever become believable.  A very forced contrived story.  Best part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

HARDCORE HENRY – Gimmick sci fi actioner with the entire film shot from the protagonists point of view just doesn’t work.  Ulitmately a very boring movie.

THE DARKNESS – Horror film starring Kevin Bacon just isn’t very dark.  Yet another demonic entity proving bothersome to a once happy family.  This demon showed up when the family was on vacation at the Grand Canyon!

THE CONJURING 2 – Sadly, this sequel to THE CONJURING doesn’t come close to the original, in spite of the presence of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  A particularly awful script. Director James Wan needs to move on to some new material.

MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION – pointless sequel to the Jason Statham actioner.  Statham returns as hitman Arthur Bishop, wasted in a completely ridiculous story.

BLAIR WITCH – Awful, awful sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). The less said about this one the better.

SHUT IN – Despite a terrific performance by Naomi Watts, this wannabe thriller is marred by a ridiculous story with one of the least satisfying and most unbelievable twists I’ve seen in a while.

Okie-dokie, that about does it so far.  Will any of these movies make my pick for the Worst Movie of 2016?  Or are there Worse Turkeys yet to come?

For the answer to that question, you’ll have to check back in January 2017.

Thanks for reading!

Gobble, gobble!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) – Comedy-Drama Captures Intensity of Teen Years

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The best movies, regardless of genre, are based on truth.

And that’s what makes THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016), a coming of age comedy-drama about seventeen year old Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld),  so enjoyable.  It comes across as oh-so-true.

Nadine is the ugly duckling in her family, forever living in the shadow of her near-perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner).  Through voice-over narration, we follow Nadine’s difficult childhood, from dealing with school bullies to butting heads with her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) who gets along much better with her son Darian.  Nadine’s one champion is her father Tom (Eric Keenleyside), but in a tragic moment symbolic of her entire childhood, he suffers a fatal stroke behind the wheel of their car while Nadine watches helplessly from the passenger seat.

As she turns seventeen, the one positive for Nadine is her relationship with her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson).  The two girls are inseparable, and being with Krista is the one time Nadine feels happy.  This all comes to a dramatic halt when suddenly Krista starts dating Nadine’s brother Darian.  For Nadine, this is a betrayal and is something she cannot handle.

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Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson)

Now feeling absolutely alone, Nadine finds herself at her lowest point ever.  While she continually pours out her troubles to her stoic seemingly non-caring teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) who in spite of his constant snarky comments is always there to listen to her, she adores the hunky Nick (Alexander Calvert) from afar.  She also finds new hope in quirky Erwin (Hayden Szeto), a fellow student who is obviously very interested in her.  Trouble is, she’s not that interested in him.

Sure, this story is nothing new, but what is refreshing and incredibly satisfying about THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is the script and direction, both by Kelly Fremon Craig, and the excellent acting performances.

I loved Craig’s script.  The dialogue is sharp, frequently hilarious, and right on the money in terms of what it’s like to be seventeen.  It also especially nails the contentious relationship between Nadine and her mother.  One of movie’s best moments— and there are many of them— is when near the end of the film Nadine texts her mom that she’s safe, and her mother struggles to respond, writing and then deleting angry, fearful texts before finally settling on “OK.”  It’s a poignant moment, one that many parents have to deal with, that battle between being protective and letting go.

But the best part of the script is the humor.  I laughed out loud quite a bit during this movie.  Some of the funnier scenes are between Nadine and Erwin— their scene on the Ferris wheel together is a hoot.  The scenes between Nadine and Mr. Bruner are also very funny.

The serious scenes are equally as good.  The moment where Nadine becomes the punchline of a conversation about the movie TWINS (1987) is pointedly painful.  Likewise, the touching moment near the end of the film where Darian confronts Nadine is satisfyingly powerful.

Craig’s direction is just as good.  The film is lively, quickly paced, and full energy.  THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is not a superficial raunchy teen comedy.  On the contrary, it’s a deeply moving comedy-drama about a teenage girl dealing with her troubled life while searching for some meaning to it all.

The acting is wonderful.  Hailee Steinfeld is excellent as Nadine, and she easily carries this movie.  While Steinfeld was particularly memorable several years ago in the remake of TRUE GRIT (2010), I actually enjoyed her more here.  She captures the teen angst which Nadine experiences and makes it real.  She’s believable as a character who just wants to fit in, who wants to have friends, wants to have a boyfriend, but who feels so alienated from other people her own age.  One of the funniest and most insightful scenes is when Nadine goes off on her generation’s incessant use of texting on their phones.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is Steinfeld’s movie and she owns it.  But she has a fine supporting cast as well.

Haley Lu Richardson is sincere and likable as Nadine’s best friend Krista.  It’s clear that she’s devastated that her new relationship with Darian has damaged her lifelong one with Nadine. In another powerful scene, the moment where Nadine forces Krista to choose between her and her brother is one of the best scenes in the movie.  Krista initially refuses, but with her back against the wall, she chooses Darian.

Hayden Szeto is particularly good as the nerdy Erwin.  Other than Steinfeld, I think Szeto gives the best performance in the film. Erwin is obviously a good person, but Szeto’s performance lifts Erwin above the cliched “nice guy.”  First off, he’s as uncomfortable about relationships as Nadine is, but unlike Nadine, he’s coming from a happier place inside.  You are really rooting for him to win her over.

Kyra Sedgwick is also excellent at Nadine’s mom, Mona.  It’s clear that the reason Mona and Nadine butt heads so much is because they are so similar.  Mona is absolutely lost after her husband dies, and afterwards she is just as miserable as her daughter.  Sedgwick does a fantastic job emoting her pain and unhappiness.  You can see it all over her face.  But Mona is not a hopeless lost parent.  Sure, she struggles and is not going to win any parent of the year awards, but she continues to fight.  One of her more telling scenes is when she gets into a shouting match with her son and she uses the line “I’m the adult here!” to which Darian replies, “Then why do you always call me?”  And at that moment Mona realizes that he’s right, and that she’s been relying on him too much, because as she realizes she has no one else.

Blake Jenner is okay as Darian, and Woody Harrelson does his job as droll Mr. Bruner.  He’s not a particularly effective teacher.  We see him showing movies to his class and teaching them with as much enthusiasm as a study hall monitor, and he speaks to Nadine in ways that could easily get him fired if overheard, but the bottom line is in his own way he’s there for Nadine.  He is her constant listener, and later when she finds herself absolutely alone, it’s Bruner who she turns to, and he doesn’t let her down.  One of his better lines comes late in the movie as he drives her back to her house:  “I know this has to be said, and there’s no other way to say it, so I’ll just come out and say it.  Get out of the car.”

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Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) with Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson).

I really enjoyed THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN.  While it reminded me of how happy I am that I’m not seventeen anymore, it also captured the promise and energy of what it feels like to have your whole life ahead of you.  Of course, it also captured the pressure, which gives an entirely different meaning to the “edge” in the title.  Rather than being on the verge of seventeen, “edge” here can easily refer to the intensity and sharpness of the age.

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SHUT IN (2016) Wastes Fine Performance by Naomi Watts

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I saw SHUT IN (2016) for the simple reason that Naomi Watts was playing the lead role, and movies with women in the leads, although becoming more common, are still few and far between.

This weekend I was treated to two movies with women in the lead— this one, and Amy Adams in ARRIVAL (2016).

And while Naomi Watts is very good here— really good— sadly, the movie is not.  In fact, SHUT IN is pretty awful.

Psychologist Mary Portman (Naomi Watts) works out of her home in rural Maine, and the film opens with her and her husband about to take their troubled teen son Stephen (Charlie Heaton) to a new school since he was expelled from their local one.  Stephen does not want to go and thinks his parents are trying to get rid of him.  Mary says goodbye as her husband and Stephen drive away, but in an ensuing argument in the car, there is a tragic accident, killing Mary’s husband and leaving Stephen in a vegetative state.

The action switches to six months later, where Mary is treating a young disturbed deaf boy  named Tom (Jacob Tremblay) while also having to care for her now bedridden and unresponsive son Stephen.

One night, just before the arrival of a massive snow/ice storm, little Tom shows up at her house, as he has run away, upset that he’s about to move to a new foster home.

I have to interrupt this plot summary with a complaint, and I have a few of those regarding this movie.  At this point in time, what a perfect setting for a thriller- a woman trapped in her home without power due to an ice storm along with her comatose son and an emotionally disturbed deaf child.  What a perfect set-up for them having to deal with some sort of outside threat.  At this moment, I was thinking, this has the makings of an excellent thriller.

How can a movie with so strong a set-up mess it up so badly?

Read on.

First off, this situation is never allowed to develop because before the ice storm arrives, little Tom runs away again and disappears into the woods.  After a brief search, he is presumed dead.  Creepiness ensues when Mary begins to hear strange noises in her house in the middle of the night while catching glimpses of what looks like Tom sneaking about.  Her doctor, Dr. Wilson (Oliver Platt), who communicates with her via Skype, chalks it up to her emotional state and says she needs more sleep.

I had a lot of problems with the screenplay by Christina Hodson which seemed to throw common sense out the window.

First, when Tom arrives at Mary’s home, it’s in the middle of the night, and he’s alone. He’s asleep in her car with the driver’s side window smashed, inside her garage.  Now, she lives in the middle of nowhere in rural Maine!   Just how did this young deaf boy all by his lonesome travel from wherever he was through the snowy countryside in the middle of the night and get to her house?  Not only isn’t this explained, no one in the movie seems at all surprised by this.

Plus, we’re expected to believe that this boy smashed  the car window to let himself inside?  If he’s inside her garage, why didn’t he just knock on her door so she can let him into the house?

Then, when he runs away again, it’s assumed that he disappeared into the woods and probably died.  There’s even a ridiculous scene where the sheriff is at Mary’s house and says as much, and it’s all so casual— in fact, that they’ve been chatting over coffee, and it’s only a few hours since the boy disappeared!  There’s no sense of urgency.  It’s laughable.

Then, when she starts hearing noises in the middle of the night, and she catches glimpses of Tom inside her house, no one in the story suggests the common sense answer that just maybe he never left the house but is hiding somewhere inside?  I certainly thought that, but not one character in this film considers this even once.  Again, it’s common sense thrown out the window.

And so the premise of these characters shut in due to a winter storm having to face an unseen threat never comes to fruition because the threat is a different one altogether, one that is so ludicrous I had to fight to not laugh.  The revelation in the film’s third act is a complete disappointment.

As directed by Farren Blackburn, SHUT IN is a by the numbers thriller.  It actually plays like a horror film, even though there’s nothing supernatural going on here.  Worse yet, there’s nothing all that horror-like happening either.  There are your standard jump scares, your false scares where a character jumps and it’s revealed that oh, it’s just a harmless raccoon, and worst of all, the it was just a dream sequence.This happens more than once.  We see something horrible occur, and then Mary wakes up from a nightmare.  I felt very cheated by the frequent use of this plot device.

The third act becomes standard horror fare, as Mary has to defend herself from the threat which is finally revealed, but like I said, it’s such a ridiculous plot point, I couldn’t take it seriously at all.

Which is too bad because this movie wastes a really good performance by Naomi Watts.  She plays both the tired, overtaxed emotionally drawn mother and the sympathetic insightful child psychologist.  It’s a neat perfomrance, but she’s stuck in a very poorly constructed unbelievable story.

The two young actors are completely wasted here.  Charlie Heaton, who was so good as Winona Ryder’s oldest son in the hit TV series STRANGER THINGS (2016), spends the bulk of this movie lying on a bed staring into space.  Child actor Jacob Tremblay, who was phenomenal in ROOM (2015) plays the deaf  Tom here and has no lines of dialogue, but worse yet spends most of the movie off screen showing up in glimpses in Mary’s dreams.

This changes in the film’s third act, but like I said, the revelation is so ridiculous at this point in the movie I stopped caring.

SHUT IN is an inferior thriller that suffers most from a poorly constructed story that not only wastes the talents of the actors involved, but also what could have been a nice setting and premise for an effective thriller.

It’ll leave you scratching your head and feeling cheated, in disbelief that this story was the best the writers could come up with.

Rather than feeling claustrophic and shut in, you’ll be feeling disappointed and shut out.

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ARRIVAL (2016) – Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Tale

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ARRIVAL (2016) is a thought-provoking science fiction film that joins the ranks of other recent science fiction hits, films like INTERSTELLAR (2014), THE MARTIAN (2015), GRAVITY (2013), and DISTRICT 9 (2009).  That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the same impressive blow-your-mind heights of Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, but it does come close.

Alien ships have suddenly descended upon Earth, but these aren’t the war-like machines from H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS.  On the contrary, these humongous ships simply hover peacefully above ground with no sign of activity inside or out.  At first authorities all over the world aren’t even sure they are occupied.

But occupied they are, as a door to each ship opens every few hours, allowing authorities around the world access to them, and everyone has the same question:  what are they doing here?

The militaries of the world especially want to know because they’re fearful the aliens might be planning an invasion.  And so in the U.S., the military surrounds the ship, and lead officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) assembles a team to make contact with the aliens led by linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).

And this really is Amy Adam’s movie, because the film revolves around her character, Louise Banks.  It’s Louise who faces the daunting task of trying to communicate with the aliens, of trying both to teach the aliens our language and learn theirs.  By far, these scenes are the best in the movie, very thought-provoking, and highly captivating.

Banks also has been dealing with a personal crisis, as she had recently lost her teenage daughter to cancer.  Throughout the film, Banks sees flashes of moments with her daughter, as there seems to be some connection between their past and the aliens she’s now communicating with, but what it is, she has no idea.  Moreover, she’s exhausted and knows that these episodes could simply be the result of too little sleep.

ARRIVAL was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who directed SICARIO (2016), which was my favorite movie last year.  One of the main reasons I wanted to see ARRIVAL was because Villeneuve was directing it.  And he doesn’t disappoint.

There are some very memorable scenes in this movie.  The image of the huge ships hovering just above land are very cinematic, although not entirely original.  DISTRICT 9 used similar images to great effect as well.

But the scene where the aliens first appear to Louise and Ian is a good one, very creepy and suspenseful.  And the ensuing scenes where Louise and Ian work to communicate with the aliens are fascinating to watch.

The film does try to generate suspense in other areas, as some of the other countries, specifically China and Russia, are less patient with the aliens than the United States and threaten to blow up the alien ships before sufficient contact is made, making Louise’s job a race against time, but the best scenes in this film are the the thought-provoking science fiction ones.

The screenplay by Eric Heisserer is decent.  Heisserer wrote the scripts for a bunch of recent horror movies, including the reboot of  A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2009), the reimagining/prequel THE THING (2011), and LIGHTS OUT (2016).  I wasn’t crazy about any of these movies, but I liked ARRIVAL a lot, so this is easily Heisserer’s best screenplay to date.

I enjoyed the story and the characterizations, but what I didn’t like as much was the ending.  For its big payoff, the moment audiences eagerly await throughout the film, which is the answer to the all important question:  just what are the aliens doing here?  I thought was less than satisfying.

I totally get it from Louise’s perspective.  I understand what she learns and why it’s so mind-blowing.  From her point of view, it’s really cool.  But from the aliens’ point of view, it’s less so. I couldn’t help but wonder after learning the reason for the aliens’ visit if their actions made complete sense. I’m not so sure.  The ending to Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR worked better for me.

The acting here is first-rate.  I’m a huge fan of Amy Adams, and once again she delivers a terrific performance.  Dr. Louise Banks is the central character in the movie, and Adams is more than up to the task of carrying this film on her shoulders.  She’s believable as the brilliant linguist and as the grieving mother, haunted by images of her deceased daughter’s childhood.

Jeremy Renner is equally as good as scientist Ian Donnelly, although his character is secondary to Adams’ Banks.  The two also work well together and share some sexual chemistry which keeps the progression of the story believable.

The supporting cast is decent as well.  I thought Michael Stuhlbarg was particularly good as CIA agent Halpern.

There’s been a resurgence of quality science fiction movies in recent years, and this is a good thing.  You can go ahead and add ARRIVAL to that list.  While not quite the grand slam that was Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, it’s still an above average science fiction movie.

All in all, ARRIVAL is a satisfying science fiction tale about an encounter with an alien race that may or may not be trying to teach us something.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE GORGON (1964)

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Hammer Films’ THE GORGON (1964) reunited stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee with director Terence Fisher for the first time in five years, as they hadn’t made a movie together since THE MUMMY (1959).

Yup, in the late 1950s, these three had taken the world by storm with their megahits for Hammer:   THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), and THE MUMMY (1959).  But in the years afterwards, Cushing and Lee largely avoided horror films, although Cushing made a couple, and while Fisher continued to direct quality horror movies for Hammer like THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) neither of these films performed well at the box office.

So, when Hammer finally reunited its A Team, there were high expectations.  The result, THE GORGON, is a movie that comes oh so close to being another Hammer classic, and while it’s a very good horror movie, it falls just short of being a great one.

It’s funny, but the best and worst parts about THE GORGON are the same thing:  the gorgon!  The best part about THE GORGON is its subject matter, which for Hammer, a studio whose bread and butter had been its remakes of the old Universal horror movies, was a nice change.  Gone were Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy, and in their place was a new monster, taken from mythology, the gorgon, who turns her victims to stone, and with this new monster the movie also told an original story.

But the worst part of THE GORGON is also the gorgon, and that’s because the special effects here are abysmal.  We don’t actually see the face of the gorgon until the end of the movie, but once we do, it’s laughable.  Supposedly, a woman with snakes on her head was too much for make-up artist Roy Ashton to pull off successfully, which is a real shame since the rest of the movie plays like a superior thriller, and then it comes to a crashing halt when you see the actual effect.  As Christopher Lee has been quoted as saying, “The only thing wrong with THE GORGON is the gorgon!”

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It’s also kinda hard to believe, since Hammer’s monster make-up had always been excellent— Lee as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and Oliver Reed as the werewolf in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, for example.  You just don’t expect the monster to look so bad in a Hammer Film, especially in one where everything else about it is so very good.

THE GORGON takes place in the early 20th century in a small European village known as Vandorf, where a series of murders has occurred where the victims have all turned to stone.  Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodliffe), whose son was one of the most recent victims, arrives in Vandorf to investigate his son’s death, which has been reported as a suicide, a claim Heitz refutes.  Heitz’ investigation uncovers reports that a gorgon, Megera, had settled in the village years ago and legend has it that it still prowls the countryside at night turning its victims to stone.

Heitz visits an old acquaintance, Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), a brain specialist who practices medicine in Vandorf, seeking his support, but Namaroff dismisses Heitz’ claims as pure fantasy. When Heitz himself falls victim to the gorgon, his second son Paul (Richard Pasco) arrives to seek answers about both his father’s and brother’s deaths, and he too is met with resistance from the town’s authorities and from Dr. Namaroff.  He does befriend Namaroff’s beautiful young assistant Carla Hoffman (Barbara Shelley), and she promises to help him learn the truth.

Paul receives more help when his professor from college, Professor Karl Meister (Christopher Lee) arrives in Vandorf to lend his support.  Together, they attempt to solve the mystery of the gorgon.

THE GORGON is a beautifully shot atmospheric horror movie, another gem by director Terence Fisher.  Its strength is its creepy atmosphere, especially the scenes inside the haunted castle overlooking the village of Vandorf, and its scenes of suspense, both expertly handled by Terence Fisher.  One of the more suspenseful scenes has Paul and Meister breaking into Dr. Namaroff’s home looking for evidence, and having to hide when Namaroff arrives.

The only thing lacking in this one is scenes of frightening horror.  Terence Fisher’s best horror films all have scenes like this— the Creature’s first appearance in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the staking of Lucy in HORROR OF DRACULA— but his lesser films tend to lack this visceral punch.  THE GORGON, as atmospheric and haunting as it is, lacks jolt and could really have used an infusion of terror.

For me, the best part of THE GORGON has always been the reuniting of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  Their presence definitely lifts this movie.  With Dr. Namaroff, Cushing pretty much plays a variation of Baron Frankenstein.  He actually makes Namaroff even colder than Frankenstein, as in general, Cushing always instilled some saving charm for the Baron to keep him from being an outright villain, except for that one time in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).  Here, Namaroff has no charm.  He’s actually quite the unlikable character.

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Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in THE GORGON (1964).

Christopher Lee is cast against type, as he plays the energetic and very charming Professor Meister.  Under a gray wig and beard, he looks like Albert Einstein’s cousin.  It’s a fun role for Lee, and it’s definitely fun seeing him play the hero, going against not only the gorgon but Cushing’s villainous Namaroff.

The only drawback is Cushing and Lee don’t have a lot of scenes together in this one.  Had they been in this one together more, it would have been an even better movie.

Barabara Shelley, always a class act, is very good as Namaroff’s assistant Carla, the woman who means well in spite of her sinister secret.  Yikes!  Michael Goodliffe is also solid as Professor Jules Heitz.  He provides a strong presence early on, so much so that his early death comes as a surprise.  You have the feeling that he’s going to be in this story for the long haul, but then the gorgon had other ideas.

The rest of the cast is rather wooden and unforgettable, although Patrick Troughton shows up as Police Inspector Kanoff.

And again, by far, the appearance of the gorgon at the end of the movie is the weakest part of THE GORGON.  The rest of the film is seeped in seriousness, and then you see the monster and it looks like an amateur student special effect.  Both Terence Fisher and Hammer stumbled in a similar way several years earlier with their Sherlock Holmes movie THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959). HOUND is a fabulous superior movie, one of Hammer’s best, and yet in the film’s climax the “hound from hell” is incredibly fake looking and a major disappointment.  However, it’s not as damaging as the effects in THE GORGON, because HOUND was a Sherlock Holmes movie, and the hound, phony looking or not, was not the focus of that movie, which was dominated by Peter Cushing’s masterful performance as Sherlock Holmes.  The gorgon in THE GORGON was a major character and as such, its lackluster appearance really takes this one down several notches.

But back to the plus side, my favorite Hammer composer James Bernard provided another exceptional music score for this one.

As a fan of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and all things Hammer, I really like THE GORGON.  However, it’s not on the same level as Hammer’s initial hits nor is it one of the best horror movies of the decade.  But it is an atmospheric original horror tale directed by a master of the genre, Terence Fisher, and it stars Cushing and Lee.  You could do a lot worse than THE GORGON.

Just don’t expect to turn to stone when at long last in the film’s conclusion you finally behold the creature’s face.  If you’re reduced to anything, it’ll be tears from the laughter at seeing so goofy a visage.

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Eye-Popping Visuals Propel DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), the latest Marvel superhero movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange, a neorosurgeon turned superhero who can hop through alternate universes and time and space with relative ease, is an eye-popping cinematic adventure, missing only one important ingredient:  a story worthy of its visual grandeur.

DOCTOR STRANGE is the story of brilliant neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose ego is as big as the multiple universes in this movie.  He’s the best there is and he knows it.  But all of that changes after a catastrophic car accident leaves him with hands that are no longer functional due to severe nerve damage.  His days as a surgeon are over.

But Strange refuses to accept this fate, and in his search for answers learns of a man Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who after being paralyzed, miraculously regained full used of his legs.  It was a case that Strange himself had passed on, believing that Pangborn was beyond cure and surgery would not have helped.  Strange tracks down Pangborn, who tells the doctor that our of desperation, he had traveled to the Far East and it was there that he met people who taught him about mytisc arts and cured him.

So Strange travels to the Far East to meet these folks.  Initially, he rejects the teachings of this group, led by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), as he believes in medical science, not mystic mumbo jumbo.  But The Ancient One and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) eventually show him enough of these alternate universes and mystic powers that he has no choice but to accept their teachings.

He becomes their star pupil, which is a good thing since they need his help, as a former pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is stealing valuable pages from their private book collection and using them to wreak havoc on the world.  At first, Strange wants no part of their war.  As he says, he’s a doctor who has sworn to save lives, not destroy them, but once again, after seeing firsthand the evil deeds of Kaecilius, he changes his mind, and the newest Marvel movie superhero Doctor Strange is born.

Strange sets out not only to save the universe but also to get back his girlfrend, fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) who he had alienated with his ego-driven rude personality.  Since this is a Marvel superhero movie, chances are high that Strange will succeed at both.

I really enjoyed DOCTOR STRANGE, in spite of a story that I found very, very silly.  In fact, for me, the weakest part of this movie was its story.  Not the background story on Doctor Strange himself.  I liked that part.  I’m talking about the whole plot with Kaecilius, and him using ancient spells and what-not to cause all kinds of sinister damage on the world.  That whole story I just couldn’t get into.  I couldn’t take it seriously.

Other than this, the screenplay by Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill, and director Scott Derrickson, based on the comic book by Stan Lee, is pretty good.  I enjoyed the characterizations a lot here, and the dialogue is snappy and first-rate.  These writers share a pretty strong horror/science fiction background as well.  Spaihts wrote PROMETHEUS  (2012), while Cargill and Derrickson wrote the SINISTER movies.  Derrickson also wrote the screenplays to THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005) and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014), two films he also directed.  I enjoyed DOCTOR STRANGE more than all of these other movies.

The Marvel superhero movies have always boasted A-list casts, and DOCTOR STRANGE is no exception.

Leading the way is Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange.  Cumberbatch nails the role, and he makes Strange a guy you love to hate, or hate to love.  I mean, he’s an arrogant pain in the ass, and later, even as he humbled by his injuries and by the vast overwhelming amounts of information and knowledge shown him by The Ancient One, he’s still an arrogant pain in the ass.  But when he’s using this side of his personality to take on the bad guys, he’s a hoot to watch in action.  I’ve said this about other actors who have appeared in Marvel superhero movies, and I’ll say it again here:  Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange delivers a high level performance that has no business being in a superhero movie.  It’s great acting.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is likeable enough as Mordo, and Tilda Swinton is her usual icy self as The Ancient One, perhaps being a bit warmer here than we’ve seen her in the past.  Swinton of course played the White Witch in the NARNIA movies, and she was also sufficiently cold as the irritating Mason in the fine science fiction actioner SNOWPIERCER (2013), starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans.

Benedict Wong delivers a nice scene-stealing performance as Wong, the stoic librarian and protector of The Ancient One’s books who Strange spends most of the movie trying to get him to crack a smile, which he refuses to do.

I also really enjoyed Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, and thought her scenes with Strange were all very good.  It’s just too bad the character never really became anything more than simply Doctor Strange’s love interest.

And while Mads Mikkelsen is effectively villainous as main baddie Kaecilius, like most of the villains in the majority of the Marvel superhero movies, he doesn’t do a whole lot nor is he developed to the point where we feel like Doctor Strange is in deep trouble because of him.  At this point, I’m convinced that the powers that be behind the Marvel superhero movies just don’t care that much about their villains, because without fail, in spite of the fact that these movies are all pretty darned good, the villains are always the least memorable part.  In fact, for me, the best Marvel villain remains TV villain Wilson Fisk played by Vincent D’Onofrio on the TV series DAREDEVIL.  The movie villains haven’t come close.

I saw DOCTOR STRANGE in 3D, and I have to admit, it looked pretty darn good.  In fact, I’d have to say one of my favorite parts about this movie was the way it looked.  I loved its visuals, especially the scenes near the end where Doctor Strange is hopping through time and space.

I thought director Scott Derrickson handled things well, and this is certainly the best movie I think he’s directed.

Once more, I pretty much enjoyed everything about this movie except for its story, which I found silly and at times flat out ridiculous.  Frankly, I thought it was beneath the rest of the production, which featured strong acting and high production values and eye-popping visuals.

Like the other Marvel movies, there is an after-credits scene— there are two actually, one midway through and one at the very end.  I enjoyed the first more than the second.

So, where does DOCTOR STRANGE rank with the other Marvel movies?  Well, for me, it’s not quite as good as the heavy hitters:  THE AVENGERS movies, IRON MAN (2008), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), and DEADPOOL (2016) I enjoyed more than DOCTOR STRANGE.

But I liked it better than the THOR movies, and it’s probably up there in the same neighborhood as the first CAPTAIN AMERICA movie.  It’s a solid superhero adventure, entertaining from start to finish.

And since it’s part of the Marvel cinematic universe, which has produced one quality superhero movie after another, that’s not so strange.

—END—

 

 

 

 

Travel through time with TIME FRAME, my Debut Science Fiction Novel

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time frame cover

If you like time travel stories and exciting science fiction adventures, you might enjoy my novel TIME FRAME.

It’s my debut science fiction novel and it’s still available both as an EBook from NeconEbooks at http://www.neconebooks.com., and as a print paperback edition at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, or at Amazon.com.

I wrote TIME FRAME with the spirit of time travel movies and TV shows in mind, films like THE TIME MACHINE (1960), TIME AFTER TIME (1979), and any number of STAR TREK episodes.  If you enjoy time travel adventures, chance are you’ll enjoy TIME FRAME.

Writing TIME FRAME was a challenge because it’s a story with multiple timelines and I had to make sure that by the story’s end that they all made sense.  I think they do.  I also wanted to take things as far as possible, to write a story where I took those traditional time travel tropes and blew them out of the water.  Not sure if I succeeded, but the story does include a large explosion on the high seas.

I also didn’t want my science fiction tale to be cold and stoic.  I wanted heated and emotional, which is why I wrote as my main characters a close family, with the thought in mind:  how far would you go to protect your family?  Would you break the rules of time travel to save your loved ones?

This one also started with a single idea. I had recently lost my own grandfather, who I was very close to, and I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I just wanted to see him one more time.  And so I came up with the single scene of a young man opening his front door and finding his grandfather standing there looking perfectly normal, which the man knew had to be impossible because his grandfather was dead.  This scene was the genesis for TIME FRAME, and I built the story around that, as I thought about possible scenarios that could make this scene true.  What could account for a man who had been dead for several years returning to his loved ones looking happy and healthy again?  The answer became the novel TIME FRAME.

TIME FRAME remains available as an Ebook and can be ordered for $2.99 at www.neconebooks.com.

You can also order a print paperback edition for $14.99 at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, or at Amazon.com, or you can order it directly through me by sending me an email at mjarruda33@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael