HORROR MOVIES 2018 – Worst to First

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Jamie Lee Curtis as long suffering Laurie Strode striking back against Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN (2018)

2018 wasn’t really the best year for horror movies, at least not at the theater. Netflix actually had some of the better horror movies I saw this year. But at the theater it was slim pickings. Of the nearly 100 movies I saw at the move theater this year, only 12 were horror films, and a few of those weren’t really “horror” per se. Granted, there were a few clinkers I avoided all together, and so by design I saw fewer horror flicks in 2018.

Here we go, my list of HORROR MOVIES 2018, from worst to first:

12.THE NUN  – by far, the worst horror film I saw this year. I know, a lot of people liked this one, but the script with both its lame story and ridiculous dialogue was horrible. Shot on location in Romania, the film looks terrific, but that’s all it has going for it. Part of the CONJURING universe.

11.INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY – yet another INSIDIOUS prequel. I really wish they’d put this series to rest already. I do like Lin Shaye as demon hunter Elise Rainier, but since this character was killed off in the very first INSIDIOUS movie, the continuing back stories told in the prequels don’t really resonate.

10. JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM – not really a horror movie, but you do have those dinosaurs. Pretty bad entry in the JURASSIC series. Silly and oftentimes dull.

9. HALLOWEEN – after all the hype, this latest entry in the HALLOWEEN series was ultimately a disappointment. Ignoring every other movie in the series except for the original John Carpenter classic HALLOWEEN (1978) the film joins Laurie Strode 50 years later as she’s still dealing with the traumatic events of being stalked by Michael Myers on Halloween back in 1978. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series to play Laurie once again, and her scenes are by far the best in the movie- the best written and the best acted. The rest of the movie is surprisingly awful. Tells nearly the same story as HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998).

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8. RAMPAGE – Again, not really a horror movie, but the film does feature giant animals battling each other. This ultra silly Dwayne Johnson vehicle has its moments, and it’s more fun than you might think.

7. HEREDITARY – I know, for a lot of horror fans, this was the best horror flick from 2018. I was lukewarm to it. I enjoyed it for nearly 2/3 of the way through, but its ending pretty much ruined it for me. There’s a lot to like about this horror movie, which for me, ultimately did not deliver.

6. OVERLORD – this horror move/World War II action adventure combo wasn’t half bad. On the eve of D-Day, a small group of American soldiers on a secret mission discover a horrific Nazi secret. Works better as an action film than a horror movie, as the horror elements don’t really show up till the end, and they’re not as horrifying as expected.

5. THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE – this demonic possession movie was better than I expected. The gimmick here is that the possessed being is a corpse rather than a living person. I know. That doesn’t sound like much of a gimmick. But it works here thanks to a compelling lead performance by Shay Mitchell as the woman in the morgue who encounters the angry demon.

4. HELL FEST – another one that was better than expected. This one got off to an awful start with some sloppy direction and bad dialogue, but its standard tale of a crazed killer causing havoc at a Halloween amusement park gets better as it goes along, much, much better. Amy Forshyth is excellent as main character Natalie, the one girl in the group who’s not interested in horror or the supernatural but finds herself smack dab in the center of all it.

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3. THE MEG – this giant shark tale starring Jason Statham should have been stupid, but surprise! It’s actually pretty good. So much so that it was one of my favorite movies from last summer. No, it’s not JAWS (1975), but it’s the best of the recent shark movies, in spite of run-of-the-mill special effects.The strength of THE MEG is its surprisingly snappy script and exceptional performances by everyone involved, and seriously, you can’t really go wrong with a Jason Statham action movie, even if he’s battling a gigantic prehistoric shark.

2. ANNIHILATION – this film is way superior to the previous ten films on this list. This horror/science fiction flick about a group of women led by Natalie Portman on an expedition to investigate a bizarre phenomenon where the normal laws of nature don’t apply has three things going for it: the science fiction aspects will blow your mind, the horror scenes deliver, and its female cast is second to none. Exceptional science fiction horror.

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1. A QUIET PLACE – my pick for the best horror movie of 2018. Sure, its ending doesn’t make a lot of sense, but what comes before it works so well I let the weak conclusion slide. This tale of vicious alien creatures with exceptional hearing which hunt down humans whenever they hear them follows one family’s efforts to survive in this apocalyptic tale directed by John Krasinski, who also stars as the father in the family. Co-star Emily Blunt has one of the best scenes in the movie, a birthing scene. Yup, try giving birth silently as a hungry alien creature closes in for the kill. Scary stuff. Well done throughout. Also a lot of fun to see a movie that for nearly 45 minutes offers no sound on the soundtrack as the family has to survive silently. It was amazing how fast the silence caused people in the theater to stop munching on their popcorn.

There you have it. A look at the horror films from 2018.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE MEG (2018) – Giant Shark Tale Ridiculous But Fun

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THE MEG (2018) is often ridiculous and about as scary as a Scooby-Doo cartoon, but this mega shark adventure is also something else: fun.

THE MEG opens with a deep-sea rescue mission gone wrong.  Rescuer Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is in the midst of leading a rescue team to save folks trapped in a damaged nuclear submarine, but when something seems to attack the sub, Jonas makes the executive decision to leave some of his team behind in order to rescue the few lives he has with him. It’s a decision that does not bode well with others on his team, as later no proof of a powerful sea creature which Jonas said was attacking the sub is ever found.

In terms of opening sequences, it’s not all that memorable and sounds more exciting than it actually is.

The action picks up five years later at a deep-sea station off the coast of China where a scientist named Zhang (Winston Chao) is leading an expedition to travel to the very depths of the ocean, and beyond.  See, Zhang believes that at the bottom of what is considered to be one of the deepest parts of the ocean floor, lies a gaseous barrier rather than a solid bottom, and he believes beneath that barrier is another world. And faster than you can say Jules Verne, a mini sub is launched from the station to prove just that.

The sub breaks through the barrier, but before anyone can celebrate, it’s attacked by a mysterious unseen creature. And of course, Zhang and company turn to the one man who has ever attempted a rescue that deep in the ocean, Jonas Taylor. Jonas, of course, says he’s done with all that, wants no part of it, and nothing they can say will change his mind. His resolve lasts all of two seconds before he learns that the woman commanding the sub and one of the people trapped inside is his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee).

And so Jonas packs his bags and is off to the rescue, where of course he will come face to face with a massive prehistoric shark which may or may be the same creature which he encountered five years before. The film doesn’t really make that clear.

And this is only the beginning, because once the rescue is done, the mammoth shark decides he’s had enough of living so far below the ocean and comes up for a visit.

One of the main reasons THE MEG is so much fun is its story keeps evolving. It’s not just one long rescue mission tale.  Things continually change. As a result, the movie remains exciting throughout, and with some brisk pacing, there are very few slow parts here.

The screenplay by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, based on the novel Meg by Steve Alten, also contains lots of lively dialogue which is sure to be a crowd pleaser. It also does a really good job developing its characters, which for a movie like this, is a pleasant surprise. In fact, that was one of my favorite parts of this movie, that its characters were all so likable.

But the story is not without flaws. A lot of things aren’t explained all that well. For instance, once the giant shark makes its presence known, everyone who doubted Jonas apologizes to him. Yet, at one point in the story, Jonas says the creature outside the sub in his doomed mission was destroyed in the subsequent explosion, so, just how the appearance of this prehistoric shark acquits Jonas is unclear to me. Just because there’s a huge shark around now doesn’t mean there was one that day Jonas left those people behind to die.

For such a deep-sea expedition, it seems to take only seconds for everyone to get down to the ocean floor and then back up again. And some of the later shark scenes are flat-out ludicrous but somehow don’t deteriorate into laughable material.

And while the story scores high on the adventure meter, it scores less so when it comes to conflict.  Nearly every plan our heroes suggest works.

Director Jon Turteltaub plays things safe. THE MEG is rated PG-13, so there’s not a drop of blood to be found. Yet, somehow, the movie doesn’t suffer for it.

The shark itself is okay.  CGI sharks just don’t cut it for me.  This one works best when we see it only partially, like shots from above where we see its massive form swimming beneath the waves. Those scenes are ominous, but seen up close, it’s nothing more than a frightening cartoon.

One of the strongest parts of THE MEG is its cast. Pretty much everyone in the movie is very good, and so that goes a long way towards making this film as enjoyable as it is.

Director Jon  Turtelbaub deserves some credit here for getting so much out of his actors in this one.

We’ll start at the top with Jason Statham, who’s been one of my favorite action movie stars over the past ten years or so. As he almost always is, he’s excellent here. He’s extremely believable in the part, except of course when he dives into the water for a hand to hand combat session with the supersized shark. Perhaps he should apply to become a Marvel superhero?

Even so, Statham does a good job making the ludicrous situations he finds himself in believable. His scenes with the little girl at the station, Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cal) are precious, and Shuya Sophia Cal is adorable and entertaining in the role.

Li Bingbing plays Suyin, Zhang’s daughter and Meiying’s mother.  She’s pretty much the lead scientist on the expedition, and she is definitely not a heroine in need of saving. She pretty much goes toe to toe with Statham’s Jonas Taylor, and the two of them lead the charge against the shark. She’s also very sexy.

Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight on THE OFFICE (2005-2013) plays the wealthy businessman who finances the expedition. He’s the guy you love to hate.

Cliff Curtis, who played Travis on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD (2015-17), is very good here as Jonas’ friend Mac. Likewise, Winston Chao is convincing as Zhang, as is Ruby Rose as the sexy engineer Jaxx who designed the deep-sea station.

Robert Taylor stands out as Heller, the doctor at the station who was there that fateful day when Jonas failed to rescue everyone from the nuclear sub, and for the past five years he had blamed Jonas for their deaths, claiming he had become unhinged. When the mega shark appears, Heller is quick to apologize to Jonas. Taylor, who plays Sheriff Walt Longmire on the TV show LONGMIRE (2012-2017), probably gives the best performance in the movie.

Olafur Darri Olafsson and Masi Oka are also very good as a couple of scientists, and likewise Jessica McNamee is memorable as Jonas’ ex-wife Lori.

Only Page Kennedy doesn’t  fare as well, as scientist DJ. He’s the one black character on the crew, and he’s also supposed to be the film’s comic relief, but a lot of the jokes I thought were cliché, and I think the one person of color in the movie deserved a better written role.

As shark movies go, THE MEG is one of the better ones. It’s a much stronger film than the recent 47 METERS DOWN (2017), and more fun than  THE SHALLOWS (2016).

That being said, it still pales in comparison to the Holy Grail of shark movies, JAWS (1975). It’s not intense like JAWS, and it’s certainly not realistic like JAWS. However, during the film’s third act, there are several nods to the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic.

THE MEG is a lot of fun, and as such, for a summer time popcorn movie, it comes highly recommended.

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MECHANIC: RESURRECTION (2016) – Pointless Sequel Even for Jason Statham Fans

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If you’re a Jason Statham fan, you might like this movie.

Then again, you might not.

MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION (2016) is a sequel to THE MECHANIC (2011), a halfway decent action movie which starred Jason Statham and Ben Foster.  Statham is back for the sequel, while Foster is not.

Let’s not mince words:  MECHANIC: RESURRECTION is a terrible movie.

It has little to offer other than some picturesque location photography and the obligatory Jason Statham fight scenes.  That’s really what this sequel is all about.  It’s just an excuse to film Statham beating on bad guys.  The most frustrating part of the whole thing is you don’t have to be Shakespeare to come up with a decent action movie plot.  The story to this one is lame and laughable .

Unstoppable assassin Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is living the good life.  He’s hiding out in Rio de Janeiro, and life is good, mostly because he’s “retired” since everyone believes he’s dead.  When the movie opens, his free ride comes to a close when a woman approaches him with a job, and she tells Bishop that if he declines her boss’ offer, that they will broadcast to the world that he is still alive.  I guess she hasn’t seen too many Jason Statham movies.  You should never threaten the guy.

Bishop goes ballistic, and in one of the film’s better action sequences— not a good sign when the film’s best action sequence occurs before the opening credits— singlehandedly wipes out about 30 henchmen, in a rather cool scene which culminates on top of a frighteningly high cable car.  This opening scene is very James Bond like.  So the film gets off to a strong start.  But it’s all downhill from there.

Bishop learns that the man who wants to hire him is his former friend Crain (Sam Hazeldine) who now happens to be his mortal enemy.  I guess they stopped sending each other Christmas cards.  When Crain’s next contact comes along, a woman named Gina (Jessica Alba), Bishop turns the tables on her and forces her to tell him her story, a sob story that is about as believable a plot in a bad Lifetime movie.  It turns out Gina works with underpriviliged children, and Crain threatened to kill the kids.  Jeesh!  You can’t get much lower than that.  Where’s Crain’s black hat and mustache?

Bishop promises to bring Gina to safety and stresses that he will never work for Crain, but in the very next scene, Crain’s men overpower Bishop and abduct Gina, and the next thing we know, Bishop is working for Crain.  Of course, he’s doing it to protect Gina’s life.  What a guy!

Crain wants Bishop to kill three men, and every time Bishop succeeds, Crain promises to let Bishop speak with Gina so he’ll know that she is still alive.  Bishop’s special talent is that he makes his hits look like accidents, and so he goes about killing these targets—who are supposedly protected by the best security on the planet— while making their deaths look like accidents.

When Bishop gets to the third man, Max Adams (Tommy Lee Jones) he decides to offer him a deal in order to turn the tables on Crain, seemingly for no other reason than the guy is being played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Bishop’s plan would have worked just as easily with Adams dead.

The plot to MECHANIC: RESURRECTION nearly put me to sleep.  It was farfetched and convoluted  throughout.

While I remain a Jason Statham fan, mostly because he looks the parts he plays and is believable as an unstoppable assassin, MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION is one of the weaker films I’ve seen him in.

Jessica Alba, who I usually like a lot, wasn’t convincing here at all. I never believed Gina was a real person.  It’s probably the weakest Alba performance I’ve seen yet.

Likewise, Sam Hazeldine as Crain made for a pretty boring villain.  It didn’t help that every time he opened his mouth a cliche came out.

And Tommy Lee Jones looked like he was having a blast during his one hour shoot.  Yup, it looks like Jones strolled onto the set for about an hour, delivered his lines, and left.  He has very little impact on this movie.

The worst part of MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION is the writing.  The screenplay by Philip Shelby and Tony Mosher tells a simpleminded story that is as dull as it is unimaginative.  It also contains cliche-ridden dialogue throughout.

Director Dennis Gansel fares slightly better.  The pre-credit sequence is a good one, and there’s lots of picturesque photography of several exotic settings, including Rio and Thailand.  But the bulk of the action scenes don’t hold up, and Bishop’s “accidental” murders aren’t as creative as the ones in the first movie.

The first movie THE MECHANIC (2011) was also a better movie because it had strong source material, as it was a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name.

This sequel MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION is as lame as can be.  It’s for hardcore Jason Statham fans only.  Then again, I’m a big Jason Stathan fan myself, and I didn’t like this one at all.

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Melissa McCarthy Is Hilarious In SPY (2015)

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MOVIE REVIEW:  SPY (2015)spy poster

By Michael Arruda

 If I laugh a lot during a comedy, that’s usually a good sign, and SPY (2015), the latest comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, made me laugh quite a bit.

In SPY, Melissa McCarthy plays a desk bound CIA agent named Susan Cooper who spends her days speaking into the headset of suave CIA agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), providing him with intel when he’s in the field, and generally saving his butt on a regular basis.  Of course, since he’s drop dead handsome and she’s overweight and not model-pretty, she’s secretly in love with him, and he pays her no attention.

When Fine is killed in the field by the villainous Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who reveals to the CIA that she knows the identities of all their agents, it prompts CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) to make the unusual decision of sending in an agent Rayna and her people have no chance of recognizing.  Crocker, of course, selects Susan, who aggressively volunteers for the assignment because she wants to seek revenge for Bradley’s death.

This decision infuriates fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who wants the assignment for himself, and when he doesn’t get it, he quits and goes rogue, shadowing Susan in the field, constantly reminding her that she’s not good enough to get the job done, and that he’s going to get it done on his own.

Of course, the “job” involves locating a nuclear weapon, which Rayna has somewhere in her possession, and she plans to sell it to the highest terrorist bidder.

So, Susan sets out to save the world, and with the help of her best friend and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) who at first is on a headset back at headquarters, supplying Susan with valuable information but eventually joins Susan in the field, she spends the rest of the movie trying to infiltrate Rayna’s organization so she can find the bomb before Rayna sells it to terrorists.

The plot of SPY is completely inane, but you don’t see this movie because of its plot.  You see it because of Melissa McCarthy, who happens to be one of the funniest people working in movies today.

McCarthy enjoys a lot of side-splitting moments here in SPY.  She’s funny early on as the shy, super intelligent desk agent who goes unnoticed and without respect.  There’s a hilarious scene where she’s berated by her boss Elaine because she has pink eye.  Later when she’s in the field she shows off her physical comedy skills, and towards the end of the movie, she goes into full-fledged over-the-top Melissa McCarthy mode as Susan becomes a take-charge save-the-world agent who has to rely on every aspect of her being to get the job done.  McCarthy has some of her funniest moments in these latter scenes.

And while McCarthy gets to play off co-stars Jude Law and Jason Statham with amiable results, she doesn’t share quite as much chemistry with them as she did with Sandra Bullock in the hit film from two summers ago THE HEAT (2013).  In THE HEAT, Bullock played a complete character who held her own with McCarthy.  Here in SPY, both Law and Statham play caricatures rather than characters, and so their scenes with McCarthy don’t resonate as well.

That being said, Jason Statham is really funny throughout this movie, and he has some of the funniest bits in the film.  He plays super tough agent Rick Ford, a guy who believes he’s invulnerable.  Trouble is, he can’t seem to stop telling people just how invulnerable he is.  The scene where he spouts off all the ways he has cheated death is one of the more hilarious moments in the film and had me laughing out loud.

Jude Law is less interesting as Agent Bradley Fine, a character that is a one joke caricature of the dashing handsome spy.  Miranda Hart fares better as Susan’s friend and co-worker Nancy.  The scene early on where the two of them go out for a drink at a bar and encounter a beautiful operative who they’re insanely jealous of is priceless.  And later, when Nancy joins Susan in the field, they’re pretty funny together, more so than when McCarthy pairs with Statham or Law.

Allison Janney makes for a convincing hard-ass CIA director.  Rose Byrne as the Cruella-De Vil-ish Rayna Boyanov is okay, although it’s a one-note performance.  Boyanov is the spoiled rich girl gone wrong.  Yawn.  Boyanov is also the phoniest character in the entire movie, and she becomes harder to take as the movie goes along.  I enjoyed Byrne much more when she played Renai Lambert, the mother in the first two INSIDIOUS movies.

Writer/director Paul Feig, who directed earlier McCarthy hits BRIDESMAIDS (2011) and THE HEAT (2013) infuses this one with lots of oomph, energy, and style.  The opening credits sequence is right out of a James Bond movie, specifically the recent Daniel Craig Bond films.  The action sequences here are decent.  While the chase scenes are average and played strictly for laughs, the fight scenes actually look pretty good.  They even sport some realistic blood.

More importantly, the humor remains sharp for most of the movie.  McCarthy stays funny throughout, and Jason Statham surprisingly steals nearly every scene he’s in.

It’s not until the third act of the film that SPY staggers, running out of steam for the simple reason that it goes on too long.  A running time of 120 minutes for this kind of comedy is a bit much.  At this length, it’s difficult to sustain the laughs, and SPY definitely struggles with this.  Shave off about 20 minutes and the comedy would have worked better.

As it is, it reaches the point where you realize that what you’re watching has stopped being funny and has delved head-first into mindless silliness.  There are way too many plot twists near the end, and rather than appear clever, they come off as “we’re not sure how to end this movie so we’ll keep on going till we get it right.”  The film definitely could have used a tighter ending.

SPY still works though.  I laughed throughout most of the movie, and even though it deteriorates somewhat towards the end, it wasn’t enough to stop me from liking it.

Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and she receives fine support from Jason Statham, who’s surprisingly funny for most of the movie, and from Miranda Hart as her friend and co-worker Nancy.  McCarthy is one of the funniest actors working in film today, and she’s the main reason to see SPY.   I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Separated at birth???

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Separated at birth?

Hmm.  Take a look at these photos of action star Jason Statham (whose new movie PARKER opened in theaters this weekend, January 25, 2013) and Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.  See a resemblance?

In our household, we’ve long thought these two look like brothers.  Take a look for yourself.  What do you think?

 Opposing teams might think twice about giving Pedroia a hard time this season.  His “big brother” Statham might take offense.  Yikes!