Netflix’ DRACULA (2020) – New Mini-Series’ Take On Stoker’s Novel Difficult to Digest

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DRACULA (2020), a three-part miniseries available now on Netflix, is brought to us by the same folks who brought us SHERLOCK (2010-2017), which starred Benedict Cumberbatch.

Their take on Bram Stokers’ iconic novel, one of the most revered horror novels in the English language, and one of my personal favorites, is one that pushes the envelope at every turn, so much so that for Dracula purists like myself, the end result is not easy to digest.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like DRACULA. I did. Or, at least parts of it.

But there were more parts that I didn’t like, aspects that made it clear that the series’ makers were sacrificing story and truth for ingenuity and chaos. In short, the goal here seems to have been to make as many dramatic and in-your-face changes as possible to make this a fresh and original take on the tale. The trouble is, at the end of the day, there’s not a whole heck of a lot left that resembles Stoker’s original novel.

This in itself I don’t have a problem with. I’m open to re-imaginings. The problem with this reboot is the bold changes get in the way of the story, and that’s never a good thing. It’s like being aware that an actor is acting. Here, it clearly seemed that changes were being made just for the sake of being different. In short, I think the filmmakers were simply trying too hard.

DRACULA opens with a very ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) at a convent being interviewed by Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells), who wants to know as much as possible about his experience at Castle Dracula. Now, in Stoker’s novel, Harker does convalesce in a convent after he escapes from his horrifying ordeal at Castle Dracula, so I thought this was a neat way to open the mini-series.

The events at Castle Dracula then unfold as Harker recounts his story, and it’s in this telling that we first meet Count Dracula (Claes Bang). This is all well and good until it’s revealed that Sister Agatha’s last name is Van Helsing, meaning that in this interpretation, Van Helsing is a nun.

Okay. Stop right here.

Van Helsing is a nun.

Let that sink in for a moment.

My first thought was, okay, a bit dramatic, but I can live with this. I’m on board. I’m ready for this interpretation. But it doesn’t stop there. Van Helsing in this DRACULA is hardly the Van Helsing we’ve seen before. Sure, she’s Dracula’s adversary, but barely, and like other aspects of this version, as the interpretation goes along, it becomes unrelatable, and that simply gets in the way of good storytelling.

So, Part I is mostly the tale of Jonathan Harker’s ordeal at Castle Dracula. Part 2 covers Dracula’s voyage on the ship the Demeter on his way to London, and then Part 3 gets wild and crazy. Without giving too much away, if you’re familiar with Hammer’s DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) you know which direction the third episode takes.

There’s no doubt that Claes Bang’s interpretation of Dracula was meant to be fresh and original, and it is definitely unlike previous takes on the character. Bang’s Dracula has a wise-cracking quip about everything, and he seems to have walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie. He’d be right at home exchanging barbs with Iron Man and Doctor Strange as he battled them for supremacy of the world. In short, I didn’t like this interpretation. For me, Dracula works best when he is flat-out evil, which is why I’ve always enjoyed every Christopher Lee performance. His Dracula is always evil.

That’s not to say that Bang plays Dracula as a nice guy. His Dracula is definitely a villain, but he’s just a little too colorful for my tastes. That being said, Bang does deliver a powerful performance which grew on me with each episode. So, for me, it’s a case where I thought the actor did a tremendous job but the writing tweaked the character too much for my liking.

Likewise, Dolly Wells does a nice job as Sister Agatha Van Helsing, but again, the writing took this character and did things with her that diminished her impact. For starters, Van Helsing simply isn’t as powerful a presence here as Dracula. That in itself is problematic.

I can’t say then that I was a fan of the teleplay by Mark Gatis and Steven Moffat, where changes seem to have been made solely for the purpose of being different without taking into consideration how it would affect the story. Still, it’s an incredibly ambitious screenplay. There is just so much thrown into this mini-series. That in itself is impressive. But sadly most of it didn’t work for me.

The rest of the cast is okay. The only other cast member who stood out for me was Lydia West as Lucy, who shows up in Part 3. When Dracula finally meets Lucy in Part 3, it makes for some of the most compelling moments in the entire miniseries. I loved this part, mostly because of West’s performance here, as she and Bang share some sensual chemistry, but sadly, this sequence doesn’t last all that long, so as good as it is, it’s far too brief.

Then there’s Mina, here played by Morfydd Clark. Mina is a central character in the novel, and she’s always been one of my favorite characters in the novel. Few movie versions have ever done her justice. In the novel, she’s probably the strongest character, but in the movies, she’s generally reduced to being a victim who needs to be saved by Van Helsing. In this version, she’s barely a blip on the proceedings, which is too bad.

I did like the way this one looked. A lot. Especially the look of Castle Dracula in Part 1. Evidently it’s the same castle exterior that was used in the original NOSFERATU (1922). How cool is that?

I also enjoyed the homages to other classic Draculas, especially to the Hammer Draculas. Early on in Part 1, Dracula is depicted as an old man, as he is in the novel, and the look here resembles Gary Oldman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992). Later Dracula’s guise resembles Christopher Lee, and then in Part 2, while he’s on the Demeter, his costume mirrors that of Bela Lugosi. I appreciated these touches.

And for Hammer Film fans, there’s an Easter Egg for DRACULA A.D. 1972, and for HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), specifically that film’s classic finale. So I give credit to directors Johnny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, and Damon Thomas for these moments.

But overall, DRACULA struggled to hold my attention. I found its dramatic revisions distracting and far less captivating than the story told in Stoker’s novel.

And while I can comfortably say it was not the version for me, I have a feeling that somewhere down the line I’ll watch it again.

Some day.

 

When I’m ready to once more entertain the notion that Van Helsing is a nun and Dracula a comic book villain.

—END—

 

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) – Frightening Re-Imagining of Classic Tale

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THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) is a clever and creative re-imagining of the Invisible Man tale, of both the classic Universal Invisible Man movies, and of H.G. Wells’ famous novel, on which all of these movies are based.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell changes the focus of the story and places it on a young woman Cecilia “Cece” Kass (Elisabeth Moss) who is trapped in an abusive relationship which only gets worse when her husband fakes his own death and makes himself invisible, giving him unlimited power to torment her relentlessly. It adds a whole new layer to the story and gives new meaning to “he said, she said,” since obviously no one believes her story.

My only question when all was said and done was why? Why go through all the trouble of faking your own death and making yourself invisible if your only goal was to torture your wife? The movie does give a reason for his motives, but it still doesn’t change the fact that this is an incredibly convoluted way of getting what he wants.

When THE INVISIBLE MAN opens, a frightened Cece escapes from her abusive husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and is whisked away to safety by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). Cece is so fearful of Adrian, that even when she is staying with Emily’s friend James (Aldis Hodge) who’s a cop, and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) she can’t bring herself to step out of the house, terrified that her husband will find her.

But a short time later, the news breaks that Adrian committed suicide, which strikes Cece as odd since he was always in control, and taking his own life would be the last thing she’d expect him to do. Anyway, he leaves her a ton of money, and all seems well, until Cece begins to feel his presence around her, and then strange things begin to happen.

Cece becomes convinced that Adrian faked his own death and has found a way to become invisible. Of course, her story is completely unbelievable and makes her sound crazy, as if Adrian got inside her head and scarred her so badly that she’s now having delusions that he’s still alive. So, she sets out to prove she’s right, but before she can do so, there’s a vicious murder and when she is seen with the bloody knife in hand, her defense that it was an invisible man and not her, all but seals her fate.

I really liked this new version of THE INVISIBLE MAN. It’s smart and scary and provides a fresh new way of telling the story. The only thing I didn’t like, as I already said, is I thought the plot was a bit too contrived. Why a man would go to all this trouble to get what he ultimately wants is a head scratcher. There are far easier ways to get the same result.

Still, the screenplay by Leigh Whannell is a good one. Whannell, who wrote the SAW movies and the INSIDIOUS films, has written his most ambitious screenplay yet with THE INVISIBLE MAN. Making it a story about an abused wife living in horrific fear of her abuser husband adds an entirely different element to the tale and makes it that much scarier.

Speaking of which, that’s one of my favorite parts of THE INVISIBLE MAN, that the film is scary. While I’ve enjoyed Leigh Whannell’s screenplays, I did not enjoy his directorial debut with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015), the first film in the INSIDIOUS series that I didn’t really like. But he more than makes up for it here with THE INVISIBLE MAN.

I don’t get scared easily at the movies, but there are a couple of scenes in this one which made me jump. There’s a nice contrast between silence and noise here. When Cece senses something is wrong, it’s dead silent. She feels someone in the room with her but she can’t see him, and so she keeps perfectly still, relying on her other senses, hearing and smell, and so you have scenes that go from silence to terror, and they really work.

The underlying theme of the entire movie, the abused wife, keeps the audience unsettled throughout and enhances the traditional horror movie elements, which also work really well.

I wish the movie had played up the plot point of whether or not the invisible man is real, or is Cece just going psycho? I found this aspect of the story fascinating, but the film only flirts with this for a while before making it clear that yup, there’s an invisible guy on the loose.

I’ve been a fan of Elisabeth Moss since her days on MAD MEN (2007-15), and of course she now stars in THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017-2020). She’s excellent here as the tormented Cece. The film is mostly about her, and Moss is convincing throughout. She does ask a question which also unfortunately remains unanswered, when she asks Adrian, “Why me?” He could have had any woman in the world. Why was he obsessed with her? The film doesn’t really provide an answer, which is one of the weaknesses of the movie.

The Invisible Man himself Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) isn’t developed at all. We know little about him. He just comes off as a jerk who happens to be a genius. In a way, this makes sense. Do we really want a back story for vicious wife abuser? Not really. But compared to Claude Rains in the original THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) who stole that movie with his crazed voice in spite of never being seen since he was invisible, Oliver Jackson-Cohen is barely a blip on the monster meter. Jackson-Cohen was much more memorable as troubled brother Luke on the Netflix series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018-2020).

Strangely, more villainous here is Adrian’s brother Tom, played with weasel-like coldness by Michael Dorman.

It’s worth noting that Leigh Whannell kept the name Griffin for the Invisible Man, which hearkens back to H.G. Wells’ novel and the classic Universal Invisible Man movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Aldis Hodge is excellent as police detective James Lanier, as is Harriet Dyer as Cece’s sister Emily. Storm Reid is also very good as James’ daughter Sydney.

The film also has a menacingly powerful music score by Benjamin Wallfisch, which really adds a lot to the tension in the story.

THE INVISIBLE MAN is a successful re-imagining of the Invisible Man story that adds layers and depth not present in previous tellings. That being said, it doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny, as it never convincingly makes its case for the reasons its main villain takes such a convoluted route to achieve his goal, but if you can look past this, you’ll enjoy this frightening new take on a classic science fiction horror tale.

—END—

 

 

 

 

THE CALL OF THE WILD (2020) – Sanitized CGI Version of Jack London Tale Still Works

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Call-of-the-Wild

While it is a somewhat sanitized and family friendly version of Jack London’s classic novel, and one that substitutes CGI effects for real dogs, THE CALL OF THE WILD (2020) nonetheless manages to be a successful heartwarming adventure.

There are two reasons for this success.

First, the screenplay by Michael Green, based on Jack London’s novel, is a good one. In spite of Harrison Ford’s sleep-inducing voice-over narration, the story is told crisply and efficiently, apropos for London’s short novel. There’s no fat on this one which clocks in at a brisk 100 minutes. Best of all it’s consistent with its themes of searching for redemption in the wilderness, and the need for answering one’s ancestral call, in this case, the call of the wild.

The second reason, strangely, is the CGI. I say strange because when the movie opens, it’s apparent from the get-go that Buck, the main character in the story and a dog, is a CGI creation and not a real dog. My first thought, especially since it was very apparent and obvious, was that this was going to work against the movie, give it less realism. And while this is true, the story still works because realism becomes secondary. Let me explain. This story is about Buck, a remarkable animal, and realism matters less because Buck is beyond real. He’s exceptional, larger than life, and as such the effects aren’t a detriment. And so realism becomes less important here than truth, and that is one item the movie does not sacrifice.

All this being said, I still would have preferred a real dog, but I can’t deny that the effects won me over, even as I realized what I was watching was a special effect.

THE CALL OF THE WILD is the story of Buck, a half St. Bernard half Scotch Shepherd, who lives a happy spoiled life with the wealthy Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford) and his family. But one night Buck is snatched away, as dogs fetch a good price in this time of the Gold Rush, as sled dogs are needed.

So Buck soon finds himself in the Yukon where he learns to fear the club of man, as he is belted over the head until he learns submission. This one of the areas in the film that is sanitized, as Buck learns to obey quickly, whereas in the novel it was a much more brutal sequence.

Buck becomes part of a sled team delivering the mail, led by two friendly mail carriers Francoise (Cara Gee) and Perrault (Omar Sy). Pearrault in particular treats the dogs well and talks to them as if they are human. The team is led by a dog called Spitz, but when the dogs begin to respect Buck more, a rivalry develops, and eventually Buck replaces Spitz as the lead dog, in another sequence made family friendly. In the novel, Buck kills Spitz. Here in the movie, he simply beats him down till he shows respect.

After Perrault receives orders to sell his sled dog team, Buck and his fellow dogs are purchased by an inexperienced and cruel man Hal (Dan Stevens). Buck is eventually rescued by John Thornton (Harrison Ford) who nurses Buck back to health, and the two share a life of peace and quiet in the snowy wilderness, even as Buck continually hears the call of the wild beckoning him to seek his destiny.

As I said, I had my doubts about this version of THE CALL OF THE WILD, but it really does work, and I left the theater thoroughly satisfied.

Again, while I would have preferred a real dog in the movie, the CGI effects are done well. The CGI model used in the film was a digital scan of a real dog, and it’s pretty convincing. It’s just not 100 percent convincing, and for me, the biggest surprise was that this didn’t really matter. Buck carries this movie. That’s right. The best character in THE CALL OF  THE WILD is a dog, and in this case, not even a real dog. Buck shares a genuine bond with his fellow dogs and human owners, and it’s this connection that drives this story forward.

And while Buck outshines the humans in this one, he does receive fine support. Harrison Ford, in spite of his one-note-covers-all voice-over narration, is decent and believable as John Thornton. Interestingly enough, Rutger Hauer played John Thornton in the 1997 version of the story, and of course, Ford and Hauer were adversaries in the classic science fiction film BLADE RUNNER (1982).

My favorite human performance in the movie belongs to Omar Sy as Perrault. He was the most interesting character in the film, other than Buck, and I enjoyed the way he interacted with the dogs. I also enjoyed Cara Gee as Francoise.

And Dan Stevens is sufficiently villainous as the main scoundrel in the film, Hal. It’s a small role, though, and Stevens had much more to do in the recent horror movie APOSTLE (2018), where he played the lead, a man who infiltrates a bizarre and deadly cult to find his missing sister. Stevens also played the Beast in Disney’s live action remake of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017).

Director Chris Sanders keeps this one lean and efficient and manages not to lose sight of the dramatic story elements even while keeping this one family friendly.

Purists of Jack London’s novel may shake their heads and grumble, but dog lovers and fans of good storytelling will appreciate this version of THE CALL OF THE WILD which tells Buck’s story with genuine emotion and respect.

The call of the wild may be less savage here, but it remains intrinsic and true.

—END—

 

LEADING LADIES: BROOKE ADAMS

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Brooke Adams in 1978.

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at the careers of lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Brooke Adams, who, if you’ve seen the outstanding 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, you’ll definitely remember her performance as one of the contributing factors to it being such a great movie.

The Philip Kaufman directed INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) is one of those rare instances where the remake is as good or arguably better than the original. There are many reasons for this. Among them, Kaufman’s direction, a truly unforgettable chilling ending, and a fine ensemble of actors, including Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy. I saw this at the movies when I was just 14, and it instantly became a favorite. I also immediately became a fan of Brooke Adams.

Here now is a partial look at Adams’ career, focusing mostly on her genre credits:

MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971) – Nurse (uncredited) – Adams’ first appearance on the big screen, an uncredited bit as a nurse, in this tepid horror movie by director Gordon Hessler, featuring Herbert Lom and Jason Robards. Based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) – Party Guest (uncredited) – another uncredited bit in the Robert Redford version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel.

SONG OF THE SUCCUBUS (1975) – Olive Deems/Gloria Chambers – plays the lead in this TV movie about a modern-day rock star haunted by the ghost of a Victorian era musician.

MURDER ON FLIGHT 502 (1975) -Vera Franklin – part of an all-star cast in this TV movie about a series of murders on a jumbo jet, featuring Robert Stack, Ralph Bellamy, Sonny Bono, Fernando Lamas, Hugh O’Brian, Walter Pidgeon, and receiving most of the hype at the time, Farrah Fawcett.

SHOCK WAVES (1977) – Rose – stars alongside Peter Cushing and John Carradine in this low-budget thriller about Nazi zombies.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – Elizabeth Driscoll – my favorite Brooke Adams role. Stars alongside Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy in this superior retelling of the classic Jack Finney story. The best part of Adam’s performance here is that she does fear very well and captures how unsettling it would be to be caught up in such a dire situation as the imminent invasion of the pod people.

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Brooke Adams, Donald Sutherland, and Jeff Goldblum about to get some bad news on the telephone in one of the many tense moments in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978).

CUBA (1979) – Alexandra Lopez de Pulido- co-stars with Sean Connery in this romantic adventure by director Richard Lester.

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Sean Connery and Brooke Adams in CUBA (1979).

THE DEAD ZONE (1983) – Sarah Bracknell – David Cronenberg’s effective adaptation of Stephen King’s novel stars Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, and Martin Sheen. A good role for Adams, as she plays Sarah, the former girlfriend of Walken’s Johnny Smith. When Johnny awakes from a coma, five years have passed, and Sarah is now married to someone else. Jonny also finds that he now possesses an unusual power. Excellent horror flick!

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Brooke Adams and Christopher Walken in THE DEAD ZONE (1983).

THE STUFF (1985) – Special Guest Star in Stuff Commercial – appearance in Larry Cohen’s campy horror comedy, starring Michael Moriarty.

SNAPSHOTS (2018) – Patty – Adams’ most recent screen credit, in this drama co-starring Piper Laurie.

All told, Brook Adams has 66 screen credits. A lot of these have been on television.

Born on February 8, 1949, Adams is still actively acting. She has been performing on both the big and small screen since 1963, with her first big screen performance happening in 1971. For me, I’ll always remember Adams for her riveting performance as the very frightened Elizabeth Driscoll in the 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this edition of LEADING LADIES and join me again next time when we look at the career of another lead actress in horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

Horror Movies 2019

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MIDSOMMAR (2019), the most disturbing horror movie from 2019.

I saw 21 horror movies at the theater this year.

For folks who say they don’t make good horror movies any more, that simply isn’t true. The last decade was a good one for horror movies, and 2019 was no exception. Of the 21 horror flicks I saw on the big screen last year, I would only categorize three of them as being really bad. The rest run from halfway decent to very, very good.

Here they are, ranked from worst to first:

 

21. THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA – My pick for the worst horror movie of 2019, yet another weak entry in THE CONJURING universe, this one about a demon that preys on children.

20. ANNABELLE COMES HOME – My pick for the second worst horror film of 2019 also hails from THE CONJURING universe, which should tell you something about this “universe.” While the Annabelle doll is frightening to behold, filmmakers continue to struggle to write good stories in which to place it in. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson appear only at the beginning and end of this dud.

19. IT CHAPTER TWO – Overlong at 2 hours and 49 minutes, this version of Stephen King’s novel fails to make Pennywise scary, and that’s saying something. The main characters are much more interesting as children, which is a major reason why I enjoyed Part One of this tale more.

18. THE PRODIGY – another variation of the “evil child” storyline. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

17. THE DEAD DON’T DIE- In spite of a strong cast which features Bill Murray and Adam Driver, this zombie comedy simply didn’t work for me. Fans of writer/director Jim Jarmusch swear by it, but I found his slow-as-molasses style monotonous and his breaking-the-fourth-wall comedy obvious. Also fails to respect the genre. Worth a look because some of the comedy is diverting. Reminded me of Bob Newhart on an off-day.

16. PET SEMATARY – Inferior remake of the 1989 movie. Fails to take advantage of the changes it made to Stephen King’s novel. I definitely missed Fred Gwynne from the 1989 version.

15. COUNTDOWN- Gimmicky horror movie about a murderous app was better than expected, although it’s still not very good. Start off bad, gets better for a time, but doesn’t really end strong. I did enjoy Elizabeth Lail in the lead role.

14. BRIGHTBURN – Ah, the story of Superman told as if it were a horror movie. Not really, but the similarities are definitely there. Farm couple discover an alien child from outer space with superpowers, but rather than turn into a superhero, he becomes a murderous killer. Elizabeth Banks plays the mother who just won’t accept the fact that her son is not going to grow up and write for a Metropolitan newspaper! I liked the idea behind this movie, but ultimately it just wasn’t all that scary.

13. US- Certainly the most over-hyped horror movie of the year. After his horror movie triumph GET OUT (2017), writer/director Jordan Peele gives us, US, a horror film that starts out strong but then completely unravels. Once it starts to explain just what exactly is going on, it loses all credibility.

12. CAPTIVE STATE – Science fiction horror movie chronicling what happens after the human race has been enslaved by a hostile alien race which has taken over the planet stars John Goodman and is pretty good for the most part, although it has one twist too many and runs out of gas before it finally reaches its conclusion.

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The King of the Monsters is in a slump thesee days.

11.GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS- Godzilla sure has been in a slump lately. This follow-up to the sub par 2014 GODZILLA isn’t any better and wastes stars Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown. For some reason filmmakers of late just don’t seem to want to make a movie that’s really about Godzilla. Instead, we’re stuck with ludicrous overbearing plots that distract and take away from what a Godzilla movie really should be: a fun giant monster movie, or a flat-out frightening giant monster movie. I’d take either one over the pretentious storytelling featured here.

10. 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED- shark sequel about divers fending off hungry sharks in some very dark underwater cavers has its moments. Slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor.

9. MIDSOMMAR – With MIDSOMMER, we reach the first of the very good horror movies of the year. This slow burn horror movie by writer/director Ari Aster is by far the most disturbing horror movie of the year. Not for the faint of heart, this film will literally churn your stomach and will take its sweet time doing it, as it runs for nearly two and a half hours, but it tells a tale which is as compelling as it is long. Features Florence Pugh, one of my favorite actresses working today.

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Imogen Poots in BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019).

8. BLACK CHRISTMAS – Some folks really hated this remake by writer/director Sophia Takai because of its heavy-handed MeToo Movement storyline, which features male villains and female heroines, but I liked this one just fine, mostly because the lines it draws are largely based on truth. Imogen Poots delivers a knock-out performance.

7. ESCAPE ROOM- This horror thriller about a group of people fighting for their lives in an escape room which plays for keeps, in that if you lose, you die, was a lot of fun and was one of the more enjoyable thrill rides of the year.

crawl

6. CRAWL- I really liked this exciting tale of a daughter and father trapped in the flooded basement of their Florida home with some very hungry alligators during a massive hurricane. High concept thriller doesn’t disappoint. Thrills from start to finish. A perfect summer time popcorn movie.

5. CHILD’S PLAY – Mark Hamill voices Chucky and steals the show in this effective remake of the 1988 classic. I enjoyed the updated take on having Chucky come to “life” due to technology rather than a supernatural curse.

4. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP – Surprisingly enjoyable sequel features a very funny script by Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick which although it retains the same comedic elements from the first movie tells a completely new story. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin all return to reprise their roles, ten years after making the original.

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DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

3. DOCTOR SLEEP – I loved this movie, which is the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel this year. The film succeeds in capturing the essence of King’s novel, as well as being a sequel to both King’s novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film THE SHINING (1989). Ewan McGregor is perfect in the lead role of the grown-up Dan Torrance.

2. READY OR NOT – This thriller about a bride who marries into an eccentric family and learns that on her wedding night she is about to be murdered in a deadly game of hide and seek works because its dark humor is so sharp. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud at things you know you have no business laughing at. Samara Weaving (THE BABYSITTER)  is excellent in the lead role as the bride who decides to fight back, and then some!

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Beware the scarecrow! SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

1. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK –  My pick for the Best Horror Movie of 2019 is SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz, this one tells multiple stories which are connected by a convincing wraparound story. It continually gets better as it goes along, and really knows how to build suspense. It also serves as proof that a PG-13 horror movie can be both scary and effective. For atmosphere, writing, directing, and acting, you can’t get much better than this. From beginning to end, everything about this one is taken seriously, and the result is the best horror movie of 2019.

There you have it, the 21 horror movies I saw in 2019, ranked from worst to first.

There were a lot of good horror flicks this year, and I’m looking forward to what filmmakers have in store for us in 2020.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORST MOVIES 2019

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Here’s a look at my picks for the Ten Worst Movies of 2019:

10. PET SEMATARY

Coming in at #10 it’s PET SEMATARY, which is both an inferior remake of the 1989 movie and a pretty tepid take on one of Stephen King’s scariest novels. The changes made to King’s story here have potential but sadly the filmmakers do little with them. And as much as I like John Lithgow as an actor, he did not make me forget Fred Gwynne’s memorable performance as Jud Crandall in the 1989 film.

9. THE DEAD DON’T DIE

Fans of writer/director Jim Jarmusch seemed to really like this one, but for me, this zombie comedy just didn’t work. For starters, it had no sense of the genre, as its zombie/horror elements were weak and uninspired. In spite of an impressive cast which included Bill Murray and Adam Driver in lead roles, the deadpan breaking-the-fourth-wall humor I found obvious and mundane.

THE DEAD DON'T DIE

8. THE PRODIGY

One of the more forgettable horror movies of 2019. Another evil child chiller that offers nothing new.

7. ISN’T IT ROMANTIC

No. It isn’t. It’s not even that funny. This rom com starring Rebel Wilson as a cynical romantic who suddenly finds herself living in a romantic comedy can’t seem to move beyond its clever gimmick. While some of the humor works, most of it doesn’t, making for a lukewarm entry in the rom com genre.

6. IT CHAPTER TWO

This long, overblown, and slow-moving horror “epic” which clocks in at two hours and forty-nine minutes would have struggled to be scary even in half the time. Simply put, the main characters here were far more interesting when they were children, which is why part one of this flick was more entertaining. A waste of a good cast, as even the presence of James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain can’t save this one. Even worse than the incredibly long running time is how not scary Pennywise is in this movie. Based on Stephen King’s novel.

5. RAMBO: LAST BLOOD

Bottom of the barrel entry in the RAMBO series, this uninspired revenge flick is just that: Rambo exacts vengeance on thugs who abducted his niece. The ridiculous ending seems to be inspired by HOME ALONE (1990). The film makes no effort to lend credibility to the idea that Rambo at his advanced age could take down a gang of violent drug heavies singlehandedly.

rambo last blood stallone

4. ANNABELLE COMES HOME

Another awful horror movie from 2019.  In spite of the fact that Annabelle is one creepy doll, filmmakers continue to struggle to write worthwhile stories about her. This one wastes the talents of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who show up only for the beginning and end. Someone should lock Annabelle in her glass case and throw away the key. The series just isn’t very good.

annabelle comes home

3. THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA

My pick for the worst horror movie of 2019. No surprise, this one also takes place in THE CONJURING/ANNABELLE universe, which simply put, is not the universe you want your horror movie to appear in. I loved the original THE CONJURING (2013). The ensuing movies just haven’t been very good. Here, we have a demon that preys on children, and a priest who does battle against it in scenes that are laughably bad.

2. COLD PURSUIT-

The Liam Neeson actioner may have worn out its welcome with this movie, in which Neeson plays a snowplow driver who seeks vengeance against the thugs who murdered his son. Blah, blah, blah. Been there. Done that. This one also makes some bizarre attempts at humor, with some over the top superimposed captions following each character’s violent demise. My least favorite Liam Neeson movie in quite some time.

1. THE LIGHTHOUSE

Yeah, I know. For some folks, this was their pick for the best movie of the year. And yes, I can’t take anything away from writer/director Robert Eggers’ masterful black and white cinematography. This might be the best made movie I’ve ever loathed so much. Photography looks awesome, but this tale of two lighthouse keepers, played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who become stranded there together for an extended period of time, and hence have to deal with each other, is a story of boredom and madness, and for me, it provoked just that. I wasn’t interested in either character, and watching them simply deal with each other over the course of this film was a maddening experience that left me completely bored. Story matters. Magnificent cinematography on its own does not a movie make. I often judge a movie by how soon I’d want to see it again. I never want to see THE LIGHTHOUSE again.

the lighthouse

Hence, it’s my pick for the worst movie of 2019.

And there you have it, my picks for the worst films of 2019.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure 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

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 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, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITTLE WOMEN (2019) – Innovative Adaptation by Greta Gerwig One of Best Films of 2019

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Eliza Scanlen, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, and Florence Pugh in LITTLE WOMEN (2019).

Greta Gerwig is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers.

Her directorial debut was just two years ago with LADY BIRD (2017), a biting yet sensitive story of a high school girl’s turbulent relationship with her mother as she prepares to go off to college.  And before LADY BIRD Gerwig had already been enjoying a career as an accomplished actress and writer.

Now comes LITTLE WOMEN (2019), an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel that I liked even more than LADY BIRD. Simply put, LITTLE WOMEN is so good it’s one of the best movies of the year, if not the best.

And I’m not really a fan of Alcott’s novel or the previous movie versions of this tale.

But I am an instant fan of this movie, and there are two major reasons why. The first is the way writer/director Gerwig frames the story, and the second is the film’s cast.

To keep a classic story fresh, sometimes it helps to shake things up a bit, and that’s exactly what Greta Gerwig has done with this interpretation of LITTLE WOMEN. Gerwig made the bold decision to tell this story out of sequence.  The film begins with events that occur late in the story, and then rather than use simple flashback, Gerwig takes the movie viewer on a journey through events that make perfect sense even though they are not in chronological order.

To do this successfully, one has to have a command of the story or else the audience will be flat-out confused. Gerwig demonstrates full command of this tale. Events are linked through emotional connections rather than time, and so when a character is thinking or feeling a certain thought or emotion, the story goes there in time and those events play out. The result is an innovative take on a classic tale that in spite of not following a chronological order makes complete and perfect sense.

LITTLE WOMEN is the story of four sisters living in Concord, Massachusetts in the years during and following the Civil War. There’s Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), the free-spirited writer who values her writing above all else, oldest sister Meg (Emma Watson) who is more traditional and down to earth than Jo, Amy (Florence Pugh), the artist who’s also the loudest and often most troubled of the sisters, and the youngest, Beth (Eliza Scanlen), the quiet musician who is the least healthy sister.

They are being raised by their mother Marmee March (Laura Dern) since their father (Bob Odenkirk) is away fighting in the war. Their young wealthy neighbor Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) is infatuated with Jo, and as such becomes friends with all four sisters. He eventually proposes to Jo but she turns him down. Now, the film opens after this major event in the story has already happened, with Amy in Paris with her Aunt March (Meryl Streep) where she meets a forlorn Laurie traveling Europe on his own.

The story follows the plight of these four sisters, and in doing so remains remarkably timely as the film has a lot to say to modern audiences about the state of women in the 1860s, and it makes some interesting parallels to today. For example, there’s Jo’s conversation with her mother where she pushes back against the notion that a woman’s purpose is only to fall in love and get married. Jo argues that she wants to make something of her life, not just get married, but yet admits she his horribly lonely. And there’s Amy’s speech about marriage which outlines just how powerless women were in those years, that there was no way for her to make money unless she married into it, and even if she were wealthy, if she married, her wealth would immediately go to her husband, who also would have complete custody over any children they had. The details of what a woman’s life was like without rights resonates today when some of those rights are again being threatened.

It’s a superior script by Greta Gerwig that works on every level.

And what a cast!

The four leads are superb. Saoirse Ronan who also played Lady Bird in LADY BIRD is wonderfully captivating as Jo here. She captures the character’s fiery spirit and brings her to life in a way that seems far removed from the pages of a literary classic. She makes Jo a living breathing character. Ronan is one of the most intriguing actresses working today.

Likewise Florence Pugh is commanding as Amy March. She runs the full gamut from a young immature girl to a wise and worldly woman. Like Ronan, Pugh is another actress to watch. She made this movie right after filming the disturbing horror movie MIDSOMMAR (2019), and in interviews Pugh has said making LITTLE WOMEN served as therapy for her after such a traumatic experience making MIDSOMMAR.

I also really enjoyed Eliza Scanlen as Beth, and Emma Watson, who I feel is underrated as an actress, also does a fine job as the down to earth Meg.

Laura Dern delivers her best performance in years as Marmee March, and that’s saying something because Dern is an excellent actress who has delivered a lot of phenomenal performances. She makes Marmee the glue that keeps her family together, even when she’s gone off to tend to her ailing husband.

Timothee Chalamet shines as Laurie. Chalamet and Ronan also starred together in LADY BIRD, and their familiarity with each other shows here in LITTLE WOMEN as they really have a strong on-screen chemistry together.

Tracy Letts, who was memorable as Lady Bird’s father in LADY BIRD, is memorable here again as Mr. Dashwood, the editor who buys Jo’s stories but is very particular about the kinds of stories he wants. Bob Odenkirk only adds to the acting depth with his portrayal of the patriarch of the March family.

And then if all this isn’t enough, the film has heavyweights like Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper in the supporting cast.  Streep knocks it out of the park and has several scene stealing moments, albeit subtle ones, as Aunt March, and Chris Cooper, as he always does, delivers the goods as Laurie’s father Mr. Laurence. While Cooper here is playing an admirable father, we just saw him play a much less admirable daddy in A BEAUTFIUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019).

The entire cast is flawless.

Greta Gerwig is every bit as successful behind the camera as she is writing the screenplay. The film is wonderfully shot and visually attractive. It especially captures the feel of a cold and snowy New England winter. There are also some neatly framed shots, like the scene where Jo rejects Laurie and then finds herself sitting alone in a field with a picturesque New England scene in the background complete with a church steeple in the distance which enhances Jo’s loneliness since she is so far removed from the symbol of marriage.

The dance scenes are lively, the script sharp, full of both poignant and humorous moments, and the pacing perfect. The film’s two-hour and fifteen minute running time never drags.

This version of LITTLE WOMEN is driven by its storytelling, by Greta Gerwig’s innovative script and her on-target directing, as well as by its superb ensemble acting. The result is a completely engrossing tale of four New England sisters who have hopes and dreams and like any family of modest means struggle to achieve them. Through it all, they stand by each other.

And while the main character of the story is Jo—it’s her story arc that frames the entire movie—the film also spends considerable time on Amy. Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are both up to the task of putting this movie on their shoulders and with the help of a strong supporting cast they make it one of the best movies of the year.

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BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) – Me Too Movement Horror Movie Makes Its Point

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The scariest thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019), the new horror movie about sorority girls being terrorized by a supernatural killer, is its subtext— that men prey on women and get away with it.

It’s the scariest part because it’s largely true. You don’t have to look far to realize this, from who’s president of the United States in 2019, to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Justice hearings. BLACK CHRISTMAS is driven by the overwhelming frustration women feel in the battle with abusive men.

It’s also the scariest part because the horror elements in the movie really don’t work all that well.

But its subtext works and works well, in spite of the fact that the film hits you over the head with its theme time and time again, to the point where it’s so blatantly obvious it almost defeats its purpose. Almost. It doesn’t because, as I said, it’s based on truth, and truth works.

BLACK CHRISTMAS is a remake, the second remake actually of the 1974 movie BLACK CHRISTMAS, which was directed by Bob Clark, the man who also gave us the classic Christmas movie A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). The original BLACK CHRISTMAS starred Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, and John Saxon, and is a highly regarded horror film, notable because as a “slasher” movie, it pre-dates John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) by four years, which is significant because HALLOWEEN is largely considered to be the movie which jettisoned the slasher movie genre.

The remake BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006) is not so highly regarded. Now comes the 2019 version, written and directed by Sophia Takai as a Me Too Movement horror movie. This new BLACK CHRISTMAS isn’t exactly getting lots of love, and I suspect a lot of that criticism is because of the film’s feminist angle rather than on its merits as a horror movie.

That being said, it’s not a great horror movie, but the point it is making is well taken, especially here in 2019. Just ten years ago the blatancy of this film would not have worked, but its raw take on the issue resonates in the here and now.

It’s just before Christmas break, and most college students are on their way home to spend time with their families, but some students remain on campus. Riley (Imogen Poots) and her sorority sisters Kris (Aleyse Shannon) and Marty (Lily Donoghue) are among those who are staying. While the girls prepare to perform a song at the big fraternity party on the last night before students leave, Riley is struggling emotionally because the young man who sexually assaulted her and got away with it because people didn’t believe her side of the story, will be at the party.

The girls perform their song, and it is a biting attack on the young men in the fraternity, especially towards the young man Riley accused of assaulting her. They are booed off the stage. Soon afterwards, they begin receiving obscure yet threatening text messages, and when some of their sisters disappear, they fear they are being targeted, perhaps by frat boys with a vendetta.

Now, there are many ways this story could have gone. The fact that it takes the most obvious and ridiculous path does not help its cause as a horror movie. See, in this story, the villains are those fraternity brothers who have somehow made a supernatural pact with the undying spirit of their sexist racist university founder, which as a result turns them into supernatural killers!

Yup. The plot is that ridiculous.

However, the subtext in this movie is not ridiculous, and that’s why it ultimately works. The lyrics to the sisters’ song at the party are spot on, and capture real frustrations and real pain.The idea that men treat women this way is not ludicrous. Men do treat women this way. Not all men, obviously, and the film covers this point by having some male characters who are above this sort of nonsense. In fact, one of them, Marty’s boyfriend, comes right out and tells them he’s offended that they would attack all men since he’s not like that, and that they’re not doing themselves any favors by doing so. He also points out that they were naive not to expect that the fraternity brothers wouldn’t target them after they performed such a humiliating song at the party. He is then promptly killed off. So much for the enlightened male!

Sure, I would have preferred a more clever plot, one that was more ambitious, where perhaps Riley and her sisters might find themselves working side by side with the frat brothers to fend off  a common enemy, the supernatural killer, but that’s not really how things work in 2019, is it? You don’t see opposing sides coming together all that often. Again, the film’s take on this issue resonates.

BLACK CHRISTMAS attempts to do with sexism what GET OUT (2017) did with racism, that is, make a horror movie with a strong and relevant theme. BLACK CHRISTMAS is far less successful in this regard as its attempts to do so, while appreciated, are way too simplistic and over the top to be completely successful. Yet, somehow, it still works.

For example, in the climactic scene where the fraternity brothers finally get a hold of Riley, and they force her onto her knees, say some very humiliating things to her, and make her say some humiliating things, it’s all so over-the-top it strains credibility. Yet, it’s a very uncomfortable scene because in spite of the ridiculousness of the the sequence’s horror elements, the things said are not only awful, they’re real. I mean, these things are said about women.

And that’s ultimately why this movie worked for me. It speaks to an issue that is real.

I like Imogen Poots a lot, and she’s really good here in the lead role as Riley. She brings to life Riley’s deep pain, her fears, her insecurities, and ultimately her strength in rising up against her attackers.

The rest of the cast is fine, although screen veteran Cary Elwes is stuck playing the very one-sided Professor Gelson, who makes it no secret to the girls that he’s out to get them because of their petition to have him removed from the University for his insistence of teaching them literature only written by white males.

BLACK CHRISTMAS is not going to win any awards for being subtle, or for being a really good horror movie. But its presence here in 2019 is a good indicator of what a lot of women are feeling and of their need to strike back against threats they see as alive and well in the here and now.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ONE MILLION B.C. (1940)

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one million bc battle

After KING KONG (1933), film audiences really had to wait a while before any other giant monsters returned to the big screen. The next major giant monster release really wasn’t until Ray Harryhausen’s special effects driven THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn.” Of course, the following year Japan’s Toho Studios released GODZILLA (1954) and after that there was no looking back for giant monster fans.

But in between 1933 and 1953 were lean years, with just a couple of films released featuring oversized creatures. One of these films was ONE MILLION B.C. (1940), an adventure about two different cave tribes who have to overcome their differences in order to survive.

One of the reasons they have to fight to survive is there are some prehistoric beasts on the loose. Yup, this isn’t factually accurate, of course, as some of these creatures would have been extinct long before cave people walked the earth, but who’s complaining?

While ONE MILLION B.C. technically isn’t a horror movie, it does feature enormous ferocious creatures, and it is also of interest for horror fans because it features a pre-Wolf Man Lon Chaney Jr. in the cast.

The plot of ONE MILLION B.C. is pretty much a love story, as Tumak (Victor Mature) and Loana (Carole Landis) who are from opposing tribes meet and fall in love. Loana’s tribe is the more advanced and civilized of the two, and as they welcome Tumak, he learns of their more modern ways and uses this knowledge to help his own people. Meanwhile, life in the stone age is no picnic. There are nasty creatures at every turn, and pretty much all of them want to eat people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Tumak’s father Akhoba, who is a bit rough around the edges and sees nothing wrong with eating all the food first and letting his underlings have the scraps, which is unlike Loana’s tribe, who share their food equally.

While Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Lon Chaney Jr. and the rest of the human cast are all fine, since they’re playing cave people, they don’t really have any lines of dialogue, meaning this one can become tedious to watch.

The real stars in this one are the creatures, and the special effects run hot and cold. Mostly cold. There is a T-Rex like dinosaur that is laugh-out-loud awful. It’s obviously a man in a suit, its size changes, and at times it seems to be no taller than a center for the NBA.

The best effects are when the film utilizes real lizards and makes them seem gigantic. Most of the time this type of effect is inferior, but in this film the “giant” lizards look pretty authentic. The film also does a nice job with the “mastodons” which are elephants in disguise. If anything is done well consistently, it’s the sound effects. All the creatures, regardless of how they look, sound terrifying.

The special effects were actually nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940).

ONE MILLION B.C. was directed by Hal Roach and Hal Roach Jr., and while the monster scenes are all rather exciting, what happens in between them is not. In fact, most of the film is pretty much a bore.

But audiences in 1940 didn’t think so. ONE MILLION B.C. was the box office champion that year.

Mickell Novack, George Baker, and Joseph Frickert wrote the standard no frills screenplay.

Victor Mature would go on to make a lot of movies, including SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949) and THE ROBE (1953), while Carole Landis, who pretty much gives the best performance in the film, sadly struggled to land leading roles in subsequent movies, ultimately leading to her tragic suicide at the age of 29 in 1948.

And Lon Chaney Jr. of course would make THE WOLF MAN the following year, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Over the years, ONE MILLION B.C. has been overshadowed by its Hammer Films remake, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), which starred Raquel Welch and featured special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Neither film is among my favorites.

This Thanksgiving, as you prepare to give thanks and dig into that grand turkey dinner, you might want to check out ONE MILLION B.C., a movie that recalls a long ago time when it was humans who were on the holiday menu.

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CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019) – New Reboot by Elizabeth Banks Is Stylish, Mindless, and Fun

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The original CHARLIE’S ANGELS TV show (1976-1981) premiered when I was in middle school, so at the time, for obvious reasons, the show caught my attention. But as an adult seeing it years later it never did much for me, and I really never considered myself much of a fan.

Likewise, although the rebooted CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies in the early 2000s starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu performed well at the box office, I wasn’t a fan of these movies either as I didn’t really enjoy the move to turning the series into a comedy.

So, if you asked me if I’d be seeing yet another reboot of the series, my answer would most likely be no. I would have pretty much zero interest in seeing it.

Except when I read that Elizabeth Banks, an actress I enjoy a lot, was directing, writing, and starring in it. Furthermore, the cast was also going to include Kristen Stewart, another actress I really enjoy, and so against my better judgment, I went to the theater to check out this latest edition of CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019).

I was not disappointed.

Elizabeth Banks’ CHARLIES ANGELS is a stylish polished action flick with women doing all the butt kicking, and this time, even though the tone for the most part is light, this story does not hide behind comedy to make its point. These women kick butt for real, and it’s believable.

One of my favorite scenes is the film’s finale where the villain boasts that he has the Angels surrounded, and he has, with a small army of henchmen at his disposal, but it’s the Angels who have the last laugh, as unnoticed among these macho thugs stand a multitude of beautiful women, guests of the elegant party they’re all attending, and these women are not there just to be looked at. They’re there to fight. It’s a moment that in a quiet subtle way reveals that men so often aren’t even paying attention to the women in the room, as if they couldn’t possibly be a threat. The Angels’ back-up are literally invisible to their enemies, as they hide in plain sight. It’s a great moment in what otherwise is a pretty standard actioner.

The action scenes are fun and exciting, and Banks handles them well. She has less success with the screenplay which provides a forgettable story that serves only as a bare framework for the action scenes. Banks scores higher with some of the dialogue, which is entertaining, and some of the tweaks she makes to the ANGELS canon, like having “Bosley” be a code name for multiple handlers around the globe.

The plot is about a device that is about to revolutionize the energy industry, but an employee of the company developing the device, Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) discovers a flaw and realizes it could easily be turned into a weapon. Her efforts to warn her superiors are ignored, and so she turns to one of the “Bosleys”  (Djimon Hounsou) for help.

When the device is stolen, the Angels jump into action led by Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Ballinska), along with Elena who eventually becomes the latest Angel recruit.

As I said, the plot is pretty meager.

The best performance in the movie belongs to Kristen Stewart— Bella who? Stewart has come a long way from the TWILIGHT series, and her performance here as the quirky Sabina who has no filter for when it comes to saying the wrong thing is one of the liveliest parts of the movie.

But I also enjoyed Naomi Scott as the green Elena Houghlin who becomes Angel material while working on this job. Likewise, Ella Balinska is fun and believable as Jane, the former MI6 agent now turned Angel. Basically, the spirited performances by all three of these actors lifts the material to the point where I didn’t care that the plot was rather dumb. They made the story enjoyable.

Writer/director Elizabeth Banks plays the chief Bosley, and Patrick Stewart hams it up as the original Bosley who doesn’t take “retirement” all that well. Stewart is always fun to watch and his presence adds a lot to this one.

Jonathan Tucker makes for a formidable assassin named Hodak who would have been memorable had he possessed some personality.

And in a fun reveal at the end, we get to see who is now running the Angel’s organization for Charlie, and it’s an original cast member!

This 2019 CHARLIE’S ANGELS is certainly a mixed bag. The nothing story does the film no favors, but the spirited performances by the three leads and effective direction by Elizabeth Banks lift it to a level that makes it a rather enjoyable if not mindless action film.

Hey, men like Stallone and Schwarznegger have built their careers making mindless movies like this. If CHARLIE’S ANGELS says anything, it’s that women can make them too.

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