Streaming Movie Review: THE GIFT (2015)

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Rebecca Hall, Justin Bateman, and Joel Edgerton share an awkward dinner in the mystery/thriller THE GIFT (2015).

Even though I see lots of movies each year, I’m never able to see every one I want to see at the theater, so it’s always fun to catch a film I missed the first time around.

Such was the case with THE GIFT (2015) a thriller from few years back written, directed, and starring Joel Edgerton.

I like Joel Edgerton a lot.  I’ve enjoyed nearly every movie I’ve seen him in, from IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017), BLACK MASS (2015), to THE GREAT GATSBY (2013) where he played Tom Buchanan.  THE GIFT was his directorial debut, and as debuts go it’s pretty darn good.

 

THE GIFT tells the story of a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) who move to California to get a fresh start in life since Robyn had recently suffered a miscarriage. They move to a place close to Simon’s home town. Not long after they are there, they run into a man (Joel Edgerton) who says he used to know Simon, but Simon doesn’t recognize him until he tells Simon his name, Gordon Mosely, or “Gordo” for short. At that point Simon does remember him and they have a polite exchange.

That is the end of that until Gordo sends them a gift, a gesture Robyn thinks is sweet, but Simon strangely seems unnerved by it, and explains to his wife that Gordo was something of an odd duck back in school, so much so that he earned the nickname “Weirdo.” When Gordo begins to visit more often and attempts to become closer friends with the couple, Simon pushes back, and the whole thing raises a red flag for Robyn because she doesn’t quite understand her husband’s feelings of hostility toward Gordo.

As things grow weirder and tensions rise, and as Simon and Robyn begin to feel threatened by Gordo, Robyn decides to look deeper into the man’s background, and what she finds is not what she expects, especially regarding her husband.

I really enjoyed THE GIFT.  Its story grabbed me right away and held my attention throughout. Because I thought I knew where the plot was heading, I kept expecting it to become stupid or predictable, but that didn’t happen.  It stays strong throughout and kept me guessing all the way to the end.

As a result, THE GIFT is a solid mystery/thriller.

The three principal actors all do an excellent job, and as a director, Joel Edgerton should be commended for getting so much out of his actors, even if one of those actors was himself.

First and foremost, it was fun seeing Jason Bateman cast against type. The comic actor, who has enjoyed a very long career and has starred in the recent comedies GAME NIGHT (2018), IDENTITY THIEF (2013), and the HORRIBLE BOSSES movies, as well as the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003-18) TV series, is really good here as Simon, the seemingly wonderful husband with a dark past. I bought his performance throughout.

Likewise, Rebecca Hall is equally as good as Robyn. It’s a nuanced performance because she has to react to things that affect her intuition and gut feelings, rather than to things that are blatantly in her face.  And she pulls it off because most of the time I knew exactly what she was thinking and feeling. I’ve enjoyed Hall in other movies, in films like THE TOWN (2010) and VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (2008), but her performance here ranks as one of my favorites.

To round out the trio, Joel Edgerton does a fine job as Gordo as well.  As I said, I’m a big fan of Edgerton’s, even though the last two films I saw him in weren’t very good, GRINGO (2018) and RED SPARROW (2018), but that being said, Edgerton’s performances in those movies were just fine.  In THE GIFT, as was the case with Rebecca Hall, Edgerton’s performance is a nuanced one. At first, there’s something quite sad about the man, and then something a little creepy, but then sad, or is it creepy? That’s part of the reason this movie works so well.  It keeps you guessing.

Which brings me to the screenplay, also by Joel Edgerton. It scores high on several fronts. It creates realistic three-dimensional characters who are difficult to label, because we get to see different sides to them. It also works as a solid mystery and thriller.  I did not figure out where the story was going ahead of time, which is always a good thing, nor was I disappointed with the reveals at the end of the movie. Everything pretty much works.

The screenplay also works as a social commentary, as it has something to say about bullying, and it says it well.

And as I said, it’s an impressive directorial debut for Edgerton. In addition to being a successful mystery, it’s also an effective thriller.  The best part is that it doesn’t rely on violence to unnerve its audience.  It relies on its story and its characters. There is a feeling of unease throughout the movie, a feeling that keeps the audience off-balanced, and this feeling pervades until the end credits roll.

THE GIFT is an excellent thriller, one that I’m sorry I missed at the theater during its initial run. But it’s currently available on Netflix, and I highly recommend you take a look.  You’ll be sure to enjoy it— unless, of course, a long-lost friend shows up at your doorstep bearing gifts. If that happens, you might want to look over your shoulder— or into your significant other’s past.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

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HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018) – Dark Action Tale Hearkens Back to Films of John Carpenter

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Dave Bautista and Jodie Foster in HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018).

The hardest thing for me to wrap my head around in HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018), the new futuristic action movie by writer/director Drew Pearce, is Jodie Foster playing “a little old lady.”

But other than this— and Foster nails the role by the way—I liked HOTEL ARTEMIS just fine.

It’s 2028 Los Angeles, and the people are rioting because an evil company has shut down the city’s water supply.  It seems that in 2028 if you’re poor you’re not getting access to water.  At the same time, a bank heist goes awry, and two brothers make their way to the Hotel Artemis, a secret hospital that treats criminals run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her right hand man Everest (Dave Bautista). The two brothers, like everyone else inside, are given code names, generally the names of the rooms in which they are treated.  In this case it’s Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his younger brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry).

It’s a volatile place, as the riots are exploding on the outside, and inside everyone is a dangerous criminal. To make matters more complicated, one of the patients Nice (Sofia Boutella) is an assassin and is there to take out a target, and the mob king of Los Angeles, the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is also on his way there seeking treatment.

All of this sets the stage for an action-packed conclusion that, while hardly original, is generally satisfying.

HOTEL ARTEMIS is the type of futuristic action tale that John Carpenter would have directed in his heyday, and while not as creative as a John Carpenter movie, it’s still a heck of a lot of fun.  It reminded me a bit of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981).

Drew Pearce makes his directorial debut here with HOTEL ARTEMIS, and while it’s not a spectacular debut, it’s still an impressive one. I liked the pace, the dark look of the film, and the action scenes were decent enough. The story also builds to an exciting climax, and the characters, while not really all that developed, are lively enough to keep the audience interested.

Judging by the extremely small audience I saw this one with— there were perhaps six of us in the theater— I’m guessing it’s struggling at the box office, which is too bad, because I thought it was a lot of fun.  It seems to have been largely overshadowed by the well-received horror movie HEREDITARY (2018), but truth be told, I enjoyed HOTEL ARTEMIS more.

The story is pretty straightforward and rather simplistic, and the dialogue isn’t going to win any awards, but I thought it had its moments. Writer/director Drew Pearce previously wrote the screenplay for IRON MAN 3 (2013), a film I liked, and that screenplay was probably a tad better than this one.

The strongest thing HOTEL ARTEMIS has going for it is its cast. I loved Jodie Foster in her “little old lady role” as The Nurse. She gets the best lines in the film, and her performance is spot on.

I also liked the chemistry she shared with Dave Bautista’s Everest, and I thought their scenes together were the best in the movie.  I’ve enjoyed Bautista in nearly every movie I’ve seen him in, from his villainous Hinx in the James Bond flick SPECTRE (2015) to his brief bit in BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) to of course his very memorable portrayal of Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies. Bautista is definitely one of the highlights of HOTEL ARTEMIS. His soft-spoken style provides perfect balance to his sculptured behemoth physique.

But the best performance in the movie belongs to Sterling K. Brown who plays the main protagonist Waikiki, the brother with all the plans, whose life keeps being stalled by his careless younger brother, but since they’re brothers Waikiki refuses to leave him behind. We just saw Brown as part of the cast of BLACK PANTHER (2017), and he’s currently on the TV show THIS IS US (2016-2018). I especially remember Brown for his portrayal of Christopher Darden on AMERICAN CRIME STORY (2016).  Brown is excellent here.

Sofia Boutella dazzles as sexy assassin Nice, just as she had done in STAR TREK: BEYOND (2016), ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) and the dreadful THE MUMMY (2017). While her role as Jaylah in STAR TREK: BEYOND remains my personal favorite, she’s pretty darn good here and is right up there with Brown, Foster, and Bautista.

Speaking of STAR TREK, Zachary Quinto, who plays Mr. Spock in the rebooted movie series, is also in the cast, but it’s a thankless role as the Wolf King’s son Crosby Franklin. The character is pretty useless, and strangely it’s pretty much a waste of Quinto’s talent.

And I thought Jeff Goldblum was miscast at the Wolf King. He doesn’t appear until halfway through the movie, and after so much build up as to how powerful, cold-hearted, and villainous this guy was, I hardly expected to see him look like Jeff Goldblum. An intellectual Wolf King? I expected someone like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, or even Jeffrey Dean Morgan. But Goldblum? Didn’t really work for me.

In a smaller role, Charlie Day enjoys some fine moments as a big-mouthed arms dealer with the code name Acapulco.

HOTEL ARTEMIS plays like a 1980s John Carpenter movie only without Carpenter’s flair for the cinematic. Still, writer/director Drew Pearce does a commendable job here and has made a film that in spite of its straightforward, simple, and even predictable storyline, is still a heck of a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy your action films dark.

It also has an effective music score by Cliff Martinez that adds to the atmosphere of riot-ravaged Los Angeles. And while his score is not as memorable as his work on THE NEON DEMON (2016) or DRIVE (2011), it’s still pretty darn good.

HOTEL ARTEMIS is also Jodie Foster’s first screen role since ELYSIUM (2013), and I enjoyed her performance in HOTEL ARTEMIS much more than in that 2013 Matt Damon sci-fi flick.

If you’re in the mood for a fun action-packed popcorn movie, and if you don’t mind your action dark and gloomy, check out HOTEL ARTEMIS.

You’ll definitely enjoy your stay.

—END—

 

 

OCEAN’S 8 (2018) – Mildly Entertaining Heist Tale

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Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of the OCEAN’S movies.

The Steven Soderbergh-directed trilogy did little for me in spite of its impressive cast, led by George Clooney. Of course, the first one, OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001) was a remake of the 1960 film, OCEAN’S 11 starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

With that in mind, I wasn’t all that excited to see OCEAN’S 8 (2018), the all- female take on the OCEAN’S formula, starring Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, younger sister to Clooney’s Danny Ocean, but I wanted to check it out anyway, mostly because of its cast.

For me, the Soderbergh OCEAN films always held such promise: they had fabulous casts and told fun lively tales about bold heists of Las Vegas casinos, but the trouble was, they just weren’t that fun and lively. The culprit? Scripts that just never brought the characters or the stories to life.

So, now comes OCEAN’S 8, where the heist features an all-woman team. Would the results be any different?

Sadly, no.

OCEAN’S 8 opens with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) getting out of prison after convincing the parole board that all she wants to do is live a normal crime-free life. Once out of prison, this promise last all of two seconds as she immediately scams her way into purchasing items from a high-end boutique followed by a hotel room. And before you can say Rat Pack she’s already assembling her team for her big heist which she had been planning during her five-year prison stay.

Ocean’s team includes Lou (Cate Blanchett), Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Amita (Mindy Kaling), Constance (Awkwafina), and Nine Ball (Rihanna). The job? To steal a diamond necklace, which they intend to do by manipulating the famous Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) into wearing it to New York City’s annual Met Gala where they plan an elaborate scheme to remove it from her neck and get it out of the building undetected.  It’s a job which would make her older brother Danny proud.

I had the same problem with OCEAN’S 8 that I had with the other OCEAN movies: love the cast and the plot, but the script not so much.

You can’t find too much fault with the cast here. They’re fun to watch, but none of the actors are enough on their own to carry this lackluster tale to higher places.

Sandra Bullock lacks the charm of George Clooney in the central role, and so you don’t have that same “bad boy does good” feeling going on here. It’s the type of thing that Cary Grant used to be able to pull off with ease- the thief who you actually really like.  Clooney could do the same.  Bullock here, interestingly enough, comes off as more of a villain than Clooney ever did.  Her take on the “family business” is far less playful than Clooney’s.

Cate Blanchett is okay as Lou, but it’s the supporting cast who actually make more of a mark. In particular, Rihanna as Nine Ball and Awkwafina as Constance both add considerable spunk and energy to their roles. Even though their roles aren’t any more developed than the others, I enjoyed watching these two whenever they were on-screen.

Likewise, Sarah Paulson was also very enjoyable as Tammy, as she, too delivers a spirited performance.

I thought Helena Bonham Carter gave the best performance in the movie as the manic and apprehensive Rose Weil. It’s nothing I haven’t seen Carter do before in her long and successful career, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t do it well.  I pretty much enjoyed her scenes in this one the most.

And Anne Hathaway does what she is supposed to do, as the wealthy celebrity Daphne Kluger, but it’s not really a role that moved me in any particular way, which doesn’t help the story, since she wasn’t someone I felt deserved to be an unwitting participant in a major jewel heist.

Which brings me to the weakest part of the film, the screenplay by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch.  The biggest knock against it is, like the earlier OCEAN films, it’s just not sharp enough with its humor or its story to make me care all that much. There’s nary a memorable line or scene to be found.  I’ve always found the OCEAN films to be only mildly entertaining, responsible for providing a minor diversion for a couple of hours, but hardly all that exciting or fun.  OCEAN’S 8 is the same.

And in terms of story, the heist has very little meaning. Anne Hathaway’s Daphne Kluger is no villain, and so there’s no feeling that she deserves to be robbed. Plus, since the jewels aren’t even hers, she’s not even the one being robbed. There’s also very little motivation for Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, other than that crime seems to run in her family’s genes. There are hints, as in the first George Clooney OCEAN film, that the heist is personal, as Debbie uses the crime to get back at the man who put her in prison, but this plot point remains minor throughout the film.

In addition to writing the screenplay, Ross also directed OCEAN’S 8, and while the film looks good, in terms of pacing, things never really build to a satisfactory climax.  I thought the whole film just seemed off somehow.

Ross also wrote and directed the first HUNGER GAMES movie in 2012, and his work on that film was much stronger than his work here.

OCEAN’S 8 might entertain you, especially if you’re a fan of the previous OCEANS movies, as it’s pretty much the same exact formula, but if you’re not really into the George Clooney films, I can’t see how you’d enjoy this one any better.

Underneath all the glamour and glitter, OCEAN’S 8 is just a mediocre heist tale, a mild diversion, the type of film you might want to catch at home rather than at your local theater.

And while an OCEAN’S 9 may be inevitable, what should come first is an OCEAN’S 101 for the writers who write the screenplays for these movies.  Now that would have some value.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

HEREDITARY (2018) – Stylish Horror Movie Can’t Keep It All Together

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hereditary poster

I had heard good things about HEREDITARY (2018), the new horror movie by writer/director Ari Aster, with some folks comparing it to last year’s hit GET OUT (2017), and so I was really looking forward to seeing this one.

Alas, after seeing it, I can’t say that I share this opinion. To me, it’s less like GET OUT and more like THE WITCH (2015) another critically acclaimed horror flick that for me simply fell flat and didn’t work.

That being said, there are parts to HEREDITARY that I really liked, but taken as a whole, the film didn’t do it for me.

HEREDITARY opens with an obituary. Which is as good a way as any to open a horror movie. From the obit we learn of the passing of the grandmother of the Graham family, and judging by the eulogy given by her daughter Annie (Toni Collette), she was a complicated and often demanding woman who wasn’t going to be missed in the traditional sense.  After the funeral, Annie returns home with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and 13 year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) to the house which they shared with the now deceased matriarch of the family.

When Annie sees an apparition of her dead mother inside the house, she realizes she is more troubled by her mother’s passing than she has let on, and so she attends a support group for people who have lost loved ones, and it’s there through Annie’s testimony where we learn her family’s history of mental illness and the horrific events which took place because of it.

When more tragedy strikes Annie’s family, she struggles to hold both herself together and the rest of her immediate family, often appearing unhinged and unbalanced, which will leave the audience guessing, is what is happening due to undiagnosed mental illness or the supernatural?

If only the movie offered a satisfactory answer.

Again, there were parts to HEREDITARY I really liked.

The acting is off the charts good.  Toni Collette knocks it out of the park as Annie, the mother who may or may not be dealing with her own mental health issues. The pain Annie feels over the losses in her family are among the most disturbing scenes in the movie.  Collette brings this wounded troubled character to life, and there are a couple of scenes in particular where she is grieving that are almost too disturbing to sit through. In fact, you could make the argument that the best scenes in HEREDITARY aren’t the traditional horror scenes, but the dramatic ones.  There are some truly powerful moments in this film that pack a wallop.

Gabriel Byrne is also excellent as husband Steve, the calm, rational father who offsets the high-strung Annie perfectly. It’s an understated performance, but it is just as effective as Collette’s.

The two teens are also superb. Alex Wolff is phenomenal as Peter, and his relationship with his mom is as pained and problematic as they come.  Any parent of a teenager will relate to this dynamic. While there are obviously good days and bad days to raising teenagers, the scenes in this film capture perfectly the darkest days of the experience in scenes that are again way better than the traditional horror scenes. While Wolff’s performance here isn’t quite as good as his chilling performance as Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in PATRIOTS DAY (2016), it’s still very memorable.

And Milly Shapiro does a fine job as Charlie, the daughter who was very close to her grandmother and most impacted by her death.

So, you’re not going to find better acting in a horror movie.

And the film really gets off to a good start. I really enjoyed the first half of this one, perhaps even the first two-thirds. It’s not until I realized that so many of the themes put forth here just were not coming together that things began to take a downward turn.

Writer/director Ari Aster presents us with an impressive canvas of themes to work with, especially for a horror movie. The opening shot after the obituary shows an intricate doll house, which is what Annie does for a living, design miniatures models, and the camera closes in on a miniature bedroom where we see a figure in bed which amazingly morphs into live action as we are introduced to Peter as he wakes up for his grandmother’s funeral. As opening shots go, it’s a keeper.

And it plays into a central theme of the movie, which is the debate of free will vs. fate. Do we have choices in life, or is everything that happens to us already predestined? This theme runs through the first half of the movie.

Then there’s the mental health angle. Does Annie suffer from mental health issues? Based on her behavior and on the information we learn about her family’s history, as well as the movie’s title HEREDITARY, the answer seems to be yes. In addition, the question must also be asked, what about the children?  Do they suffer from mental health issues? Again, the answer could be yes.

On the other hand, the answer could just as easily be no because there are plenty of supernatural elements occurring in the story. For two-thirds of this movie, it does a good job keeping its audience off-balance with these questions.

One of the best scenes in the movie, if not the best scene, features a dinner table conversation between Annie and Peter, where dad Steve largely remains silent, and it takes place at a point where Annie seems the most unhinged. And yet when she loses it in the conversation and lashes out at her son, and at her entire family, saying that she’s sick and tired of no one in the family owning up to their actions and always letting the guilt fall on her, she actually makes a lot of sense, which throws the audience a curve, because here’s this character who seems unbalanced but yet her argument comes off as true and valid. And then Peter backs it up by once more not owning up to what he did and instead implying that what happened was his mother’s fault.

The real horror in this movie is the family dynamic.  We see a family that comes off as very real, with little or no sense of wanting to harm each other, but through their actions can’t seem to do anything to bring themselves together.  It’s a dynamic which is much more powerful than the supernatural parts of the movie.

Which is why the movie’s ending is so disappointing.

Ari Aster throws all these themes at us, and creates a compelling family back story, but then does little with it.  The answers given here are simply not satisfying, and when the film makes the choice near the end to go full throttle towards the supernatural, it falls several notches. It simply takes away from what was shaping up to be a high brow horror tale.

The pacing is also dreadfully slow, and at two hours and seven minutes, that’s a long time to sit through a slow-paced movie. I didn’t mind as much during the first half, because the pace helped set the mood, but as the film went on, it seemed to grow slower and slower.

HEREDITARY also borrowed a page from the IT FOLLOWS (2014) playbook, featuring naked adults in creepy poses. It’s a thing that worked better in IT FOLLOWS than it does here.

There are parts to HEREDITARY that I definitely liked, as the first half of this movie held so much promise and offered so many possibilities, but it simply failed to deliver on these possibilities during its second half

As a result, HEREDITARY is a mixed bag. Its stylish and nontraditional horror style works for a while, but when it finally decides to shed some light on its questions and provide some answers, well, at that point, it simply becomes a little more traditional and a little less innovative.

I left the theater thinking, that’s it? That’s what the whole story was all about?

I think a better answer to the questions posed in this movie is that we are all predestined to act in a certain way based on our heredity and our family genes, and as such we are doomed to repeat our ancestors’ flaws, but that’s not the answer this film gives. Instead, it goes for another definition of hereditary: the right to a title based on inheritance, and in this case, that take is much less effective.

So much so that in several of the key scenes near the end, folks in the theater were laughing. Not a good sign for a horror movie.

You can do a lot worse than HEREDITARY. It’s ambitious and creative, well-acted and at times powerfully emotional, but you can also do a lot better. It throws a lot of themes at you but then fails to keep things tight. It meanders along and allows itself to lose momentum as it slowly creeps towards its disappointing traditional conclusion.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CURSE OF THE FLY (1965)

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the curse of the fly poster

THE CURSE OF THE FLY (1965), the third movie in the original “FLY” series, is the odd duck of the FLY family.

First of all, the monster known as “the Fly,” that human-fly hybrid with the hideous fly head atop a man’s body does not appear in this film. Second, neither does Vincent Price who starred in the first two films. And third, whereas the first two movies were American productions, this one hails from the UK.

As a kid, I never liked this movie for the simple reason that the “Fly” did not appear in it. But don’t let that major omission fool you, because at the end of the day, THE CURSE OF THE FLY is a well-written horror story that has a lot of things going for it, which is a rarity, because usually by the time you get to the third film in a series, there’s a lot of repetition.  Not so here. THE CURSE OF THE FLY pretty much stands on its own.

The original THE FLY (1958) was about a scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) whose experiments with a teleportation machine went awry when unbeknownst to him a fly got trapped inside the device with him, and during the transport. their genes were spliced together, and what emerged from the machine was a monster with a fly’s head on a man’s body.

The sequel RETURN OF THE FLY (1959) followed Andre’s adult son Philippe (Brett Halsey) as he continued his father’s experiments, and he too had fly trouble and was also transformed into a fly monster. Vincent Price appeared in both films as Francois Delambre, Andre’s brother and Philippe’s uncle. Strangely, in spite of Price’s star power, his roles in these two FLY movies were simply supporting ones.

In THE CURSE OF THE FLY, we meet yet another son of Andre’s, Henri Delambre (Brian Donlevy) who with his two adult sons continues to work on saving the Delabmre legacy by continuing to tinker with the teleportation machines. At least these folks are careful and make sure there aren’t any flies in the machines with them. So, while there is no fly monster in this movie, there are mutants. See, in spite of all this tinkering, the Delambres still have not perfected the technology, and the mutants are all the victims of their experiments. The Delambres keep them locked in secret rooms on their property.

THE CURSE OF THE FLY is mostly about Henri’s son Martin (George Baker) who in spite of his father’s dedication to the cause wants out of the family business.  Good thinking there, Martin!  Instead of helping his dad, Martin decides to get married, and he surprises his father when he returns home with his new bride, the lovely Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray.)  Henri believes this is a bad idea, having a stranger on the property when they’re conducting their experiments, but once he meets Patricia, he changes his mind and welcomes her into their home.

But unbeknownst to both of them, Patricia has escaped from a mental institution, and this is why THE CURSE OF THE FLY is such an interesting movie. It has a really neat story. In fact, the film opens with Patricia running aimlessly along a dark road where she is almost hit by a car driven by Martin. Yep, this is how the two of these characters meet, and shortly thereafter, they fall in love and get married. For Martin, it’s all part of his getting away from his dad, and for Patricia, it’s about her getting away from the institution.

And later, when she begins to see strange things at the house, like the mutants, she begins to wonder if she’s going crazy again. So really, even more so than the Delambres, THE CURSE OF THE FLY is about Patricia and pretty much follows her story arc.

THE CURSE OF THE FLY was directed by Don Sharp, who directed a few Hammer Films, including their highly regarded THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963), Hammer’s follow-up to THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960). Sharp also directed the first two Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies, THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965) and THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966).

Sharp gives THE CURSE OF THE FLY a definite British feel. It’s creepy throughout, and its black and white photography only adds to the mood.

And that’s easy to do here because THE CURSE OF THE FLY has a strong screenplay by Harry Spalding. The story is believable and the dialogue matter-of-fact and realistic, and I love the dueling story arcs.  You have Patricia’s story on the one hand crossing paths with the whole Delambre plot.  It’s really a neat story.

Carole Gray is convincing as Patricia, the young woman with mental issues who finds herself living in a house with people conducting strange experiments.  Gray also starred in the thrilling science fiction movie ISLAND OF TERROR (1966), which was directed by Terence Fisher and starred Peter Cushing.

George Baker is just as good as Martin Delambre.

Brian Donlevy, who enjoyed a long career spanning four decades, and who starred in two early Hammer movies, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1955) and ENEMY FROM SPACE (1957) gets top billing here.

While there are no “monsters” in this one, there’s lots of creepiness, making THE CURSE OF THE FLY a worthy entry in the FLY series.

Summer time is almost here. So the next time you grab the mustard and curse the fly you’re swatting off your hot dog, think of poor Patricia, living in a house with mad scientists and mutants, in the nightmare world of THE CURSE OF THE FLY.

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ADRIFT (2018) – Emphasis On Romance, Not Adventure

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ADRIFT (2018) is a romance/adventure based on the true story of a young couple’s unfortunate run-in with a massive hurricane in the Pacific Ocean which leaves them stranded in the open sea.

But the emphasis here is clearly on romance. In fact, the story told in this movie really isn’t much of an adventure.

It’s 1983 and 24 year-old free spirit Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) is living the dream on the beaches of Tahiti, having left her troubled family life behind in California.  When she meets kindred spirit Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) the two hit it off immediately, and suddenly a full romance blooms between them.  Tami feels that Richard, although he’s several years older than her, might be the “one.” Richard feels the same way and when he and Tami agree to help out a pair of Richard’s friends by sailing their boat back to California for them, Richard asks Tami to marry him, and she of course says yes.

It appears as if they will have the perfect life together, until that is, their voyage is interrupted by a deadly hurricane which severely damages their boat, sending it adrift into the seemingly endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

The first thing that didn’t work for me with this movie was its storytelling style.  It opens with the boat being slammed by the hurricane.  Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes for a compelling first sequence, but then the story jumps back in time to explain how Tami and Richard first met. And while the story does move back and forth between their initial romance and their plight on their damaged vessel, the actual event where they face the hurricane isn’t shown again until the very end of the movie.

I’m simply not a fan of this method of storytelling.  I always feel a bit cheated. I mean, you get an intense sequence right off the bat, but then the story moves backwards in time in order to give you the background story.  To me, if you’re going to start the story here, it should continue to move forward. You’d have a much more exciting film if the entire movie took place after the hurricane. Or simply unveil the romance first and tell the story in chronological order so the sense of dread can be allowed to build.  Here there is no build up, because the story jumps back and forth, and the pacing is all over the place, with the speed of choice being most often slow.

I do understand why the story was presented this way, as it helps frame the specific “reveal” which the filmmakers try to set up, but careful viewers can figure this “reveal” out by the very first scene of the film. Still, even though I understand it, I’m not a fan of this flashback style, as it detracts from the story. It also sets up false excitement at the outset.  Wow! What an opening! The storm happens right away!— oh wait, this isn’t really happening yet— we have to go back first and return to this moment later.  

As such, I wasn’t all that impressed by the screenplay by Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and David Branson Smith, based on the book by Tami Ashcraft.

Nor did I particularly enjoy the direction by Baltasar Kormakur. The best scenes are the ones in Tahiti. The island photography is beautiful and captures the essence of the gorgeous beaches, making it the perfect setting for a love story. As a love story, ADRIFT works fine, as Tami and Richard are two free spirits who seem to be made for each other.

But the adventure scenes in this one don’t work so well.  The film never gets all that intense, and worst of all, the hurricane sequence just isn’t all that riveting.  It doesn’t come until very late in the film, and most of it is shot in close-ups on the boat, which could be effective if these close quarters scenes captured the emotional impact of the storm on the characters, but they don’t.  The centerpiece of the hurricane sequence in terms of mother nature is the massive wave which overturns the yacht, but this wave really isn’t all that cinematic as it’s over all too quickly.

The best part of ADRIFT is Shailene Woodley’s performance as Tami Oldham. She gets the bulk of the screen time and she is the driving force behind this story of survival. She also captures Tami’s love of life and adventure, but even so, at the end of the day it’s not enough to lift this movie above its standard script and direction.

Woodley has previously starred in the DIVERGENT series, and she was also in THE DESCENDANTS (2011) with George Clooney. She’s really good here in ADRIFT and hopefully we’ll continue to see her in future lead roles.

Sam Claflin, who was very good in THEIR FINEST (2016), is fine here as Richard. He makes less of an impact than Woodley since Richard is injured for most of the movie, and the fight for survival lies mostly in Tami’s hands. But he makes Richard a likable enough man so that you want him and Tami to be together. Claflin has also appeared in the HUNGER GAMES movies.

There really aren’t many other characters in ADRIFT, so the job of carrying the film lies squarely on Woodley’s and Claflin’s shoulders. While they’re up to the task, there really isn’t much to hold up.

ADRIFT works mostly as a love story, and while it’s also being marketed as an adventure tale, that’s something of a misnomer since there’s not much here in terms of intensity or excitement.

If love stories are your thing, you may find ADRIFT somewhat satisfying.

But if you’re looking for adventure, you’re on the wrong boat, as even though this one clocks in at a brief 96 minutes, chances are you’ll find yourself with your mind adrift.

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BOOK CLUB (2018) – Boasts Considerable Star Power with Fonda, Keaton, Bergen, and Steenburgen

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Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen in BOOK CLUB (2018)

First of all, even if this movie had been bad, I still would have been impressed with its star power.

I mean, you have Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen sharing equal time as the four lead characters in BOOK CLUB (2018), a charming tale of four lifelong friends who still get together once a month for their book club meetings and who decide to spice up their lives by reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

But I’ll cut to the chase and get to the good news, which is BOOK CLUB is not a bad movie. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  It’s a really good movie.

Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) are all feeling old. They decide to shake things up a bit by reading the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James for their monthly book read, and soon their conversations turn to sex. It’s a subject that’s on all their minds, but at their age, they simply don’t feel comfortable talking about it or even thinking about it. Reading the novel changes all that for them.

Carol tries to spice up her love life with her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) who has only just recently retired and just doesn’t seem himself lately. The sequence where Carol secretly slips some Viagra into his drink and their subsequent argument in their car which leads to them being pulled over by the police is one of the funnier bits in the film.

Vivian becomes reacquainted with an old boyfriend Arthur (Don Johnson), while Diane, whose husband had recently passed away, meets a pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia) who’s very much interested in her. And Sharon, a federal judge who believes she’s way past the age of dating, is egged on by her friends to get back into the game, especially when she learns her ex-husband is marrying a young woman who’s the same age as their son. Sharon enters the world of online dating, which leads her to meet a friendly accountant George (Richard Dreyfuss).

All of these stories work well, which is no surprise when you consider the quality of the actors involved here.  But BOOK CLUB is more than just fine acting.  It also has a very good screenplay by Bill Holderman, who directed, and Erin Simms.  It’s witty and honest, and the comedy here isn’t ridiculous or silly, but sincere and heartfelt.  And you definitely will laugh while watching this one.

But having four amazing actresses in the movie certainly doesn’t hurt, and all four are well worth the price of admission.

First of all, Jane Fonda looks absolutely amazing. She’s 81 years old, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She looks twenty years younger.

I’ve had a crush on Diane Keaton ever since ANNIE HALL (1976) and after seeing BOOK CLUB I think I still have a crush on her. She exudes intellectual sexiness. Her story in BOOK CLUB is probably the one that is most developed of the four.  The sequence where she first meets Mitchell on a plane is laugh out loud funny,

Once they start dating, they have strong feelings for each other, but Diane feels like she needs to be committed to her two adult daughters, and she feels if she were involved in a relationship so soon after their father’s death it would hurt them, but Mitchell makes the case that it’s okay for her to be happy.  Keaton and Andy Garcia share some of the movie’s best scenes together, and they enjoy a strong onscreen chemistry.

One part of Diane’s story that didn’t work for me was her relationship with her two adult daughters.  They treat Diane like she’s 90 years old, as they worry about her living alone and want her to move to Arizona to live with them.  This seemed unrealistic to me since Diane seemed quite capable of living on her own.

Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson succeed as the long married couple Carol and Bruce who in spite of their recent difficulties really do still love each other, and this comes out beautifully in their performances.

Candice Bergen’s scenes are also very funny as she tries to navigate the world of online dating, like when she inadvertently takes a photo of herself with her computer camera while she’s wearing a facial mask. Her scenes with Richard Dreyfuss are also quite good.

In addition to Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen there’s also a very strong supporting cast.

Andy Garcia is excellent as Mitchell, the pilot who falls easily in love with Diane.  It’s probably the best Garcia performance I’ve seen in years.

Craig T. Nelson is equally as good as Carol’s husband Bruce. One of his best scenes is when he explains his recent moods to Carol, saying that his retirement left him very scared about what there was left to do in his life, and it shook him badly, which is another good example of the sincerity of the screenplay.

Don Johnson enjoys quality screen time as Arthur, and Richard Dreyfuss makes the most of his very brief screen time as accountant George.

I really enjoyed BOOK CLUB, from the acting of all involved, to the funny and sincere script, to the cinematography, as there are some very picturesque shots of the skyline around Mitchell’s home in Arizona.

The film also does well with its theme, that we are not meant to be alone.  It’s Jane Fonda’s Vivian, probably the most successful of the four, who continually tries to make the argument to the contrary, citing that she knows how all relationships end, and so she is perfectly happy to ignore them and live her life without them. But when she meets Arthur again, she realizes that in spite of all her success as an independent woman, she’s missing something in her life.

For Diane, it’s the validation that it’s okay to be happy, that she doesn’t have to stay in mourning over the death of her husband in order to respect her daughters’ feelings.

Sharon learns that it’s never too late to start dating, and Carol discovers that being married to the same man for years upon years doesn’t have to take away from their sex life.  It just takes communication.

I laughed a lot during BOOK CLUB, as did the decent sized audience I saw it with.

BOOK CLUB is a witty look at four successful senior women who start off having some fun talking about sex for the first time in a while and then find themselves using these conversations as a springboard to re-connect with members of the opposite sex, something they didn’t think was still possible for women their age.

It tells an uplifting and very funny story that will have you laughing throughout in this very amiable comedy by Bill Holderman featuring four powerhouse actresses, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen.

That’s some impressive star power.

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