Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

Doctor Sleep (2019) A (Right On Time!) Review

Way, waaaaaaaaay back 1980, my father took thirteen or fourteen year old me to the just released horror film The Shining.

Yeah, I know. Excellent parenting, no?

Back then, I had little awareness of director Stanley Kubrick and his films. For that matter, I knew very little about author Stephen King, though I likely knew by that point the film was based on one of his novels.

We sat through the film and I was really embarrassed to be sitting next to my father when the completely nude woman in the bathtub appeared and what famously followed.

But other than that, I found the film a chore.

I really didn’t like it much at all and, when we left the theater, I suspect my father didn’t either (Now that I think about it, I should ask him…!).

Then, something really curious happened. The Shining showed up on TV here and there and I’d catch some minutes of it, then a few more, then still more.

And I’ll be damn if that film didn’t grow on me. I’m dense, I guess, but after a while I got it. I became a big fan of the movie and, in time, of director Stanley Kubrick, and today consider the movie one of my all time favorite horror features.

Ever.

Those who know even a little about the movie and Stephen King likely know that Mr. King was not too fond of the film. In fact, he famously stated he was unhappy with the changes made to his novel. Some have speculated it was because Mr. King viewed the novel more personally than any other (the main character is a writer struggling with alcoholism while Mr. King famously also struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction).

Fans of Mr. King’s novels have been vocal in defending the novel and many consider it a far better work than the movie. I haven’t read the novel and can’t comment on that.

Mr. King was clearly bothered enough about the movie version that years later and in 1997 he personally produced a TV mini-series which was more faithful to the novel.

The mini-series, IMHO, sucked. I thought it was dull and in the end was completely lost in the shadow of its more famous movie version.

A few years later and in 2013, Mr. King would release a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. As with most King novels, it did well and, given the success of recent Stephen King movie adaptations (in particular It), it isn’t terribly surprising a film version was made. It was released last Friday and I got to see it a few hours ago…

…and I must say, I’m befuddled.

The film, directed by Mike Flanagan (The House on Haunted Hill) is well made. The acting is generally quite good.

But the film… it feels bloated and unfocused. Even worse, there are almost no big scares. In fact, I would describe the film as not all that frightening at all. Finally, when all is said and done, the movie’s main villains are… well… without getting too SPOILERY… they wind up being not all that hard to take down in the end.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Doctor Sleep concerns Danny (now Dan) Torrance (Ewan McGregor), first immediately after the events of The Shining (both book and movie. Reportedly Mr. Flanagan tried to bridge the gap between the novel and Kubrick film). After he’s grown, we find that, like his father before him, Dan has become an alcoholic. During these opening scenes we also meet up with a group of oddball cultists known as The True Knot. They are led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, quite good) and roam the highways in their vans and motor homes hunting people who have “The Shining”, ie psychic abilities. Their victims are small children, and the group kills these children and feed off their souls.

I couldn’t help but think this group had more than a little similarity to the vampires presented in the 1987 cult classic vampire film Near Dark

The True Knot are in trouble: They are having a harder and harder time finding new victims, that is, until Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) has visions of their latest victim which in turn alerts The True Knot of her existence.

They hunger for her. Meanwhile Abra has psychically contacted Dan Torrance and, when it appears she is in danger, the two eventually team up to deal with The True Knot.

I won’t get into too many more spoilers about the film. I will say this: The movie takes a while to get going, presenting perhaps more information than was needed in the first act (Did we need to waste so much time with the backstory of Snakebit Andi?). Eventually, when things are sorted out and the players are revealed, the movie moves a little better but, again IMHO, things never really clicked as well for me and while I wouldn’t say I was hating what I saw, neither did I feel it was as interesting as I hoped it would be and the characters in The True Knot felt like -with the exception of Rose the Hat- they belonged in a cheap comic book. And, lest you think otherwise, I love comic books!

Worse, things became rather predictable and it was pretty obvious where the movie was going and where specifically the climax would occur.

In the end, I can’t recommend Doctor Sleep, despite the fact that the film was professionally done, both behind and in front of the camera. The story itself simply wasn’t that interesting and there were few -almost no!- scares, a very surprising fact given the film is supposed to be a horror movie.

Yet I wonder… given how I originally didn’t like The Shining when I originally saw it, is it possible that in time I may wind up liking Doctor Sleep?

Sadly, I don’t think so. Too bad.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) a (almost right on time!) Review

I’ve spent the last few posts talking about Terminator: Dark Fate (let’s refer to it as TDF from here on out) and now, having seen the film, offer my opinion on it.

To begin: I very much recall going to the theater way, waaaaaaaay back in 1984 to see The Terminator. While viewers who watch the film today may not realize it because of the inevitable passage of time and cribbing of ideas, seeing the original film when it was originally released was a ferocious experience. It was, to my mind, the first time the action and horror genres were merged.

Once the film got going, it felt absolutely relentless, and despite what we now see as an obvious low budget and dodgy effects (again, this is the product of the passage of time), The Terminator essentially made director/writer James Cameron’s career. He would go on from this film to make the equally tense action/horror Aliens and from there Terminator 2 (which many, but not me, consider the very best Terminator film) before eventually becoming a box-office champion with Titanic and Avatar.

The Terminator franchise left James Cameron’s hands following T2, and he had no part in either Terminator 3, Terminator: Salvation, or Terminator: Genysis. Neither did he have a part in Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles TV show, which I found quite good.

Unfortunately, the Terminator films that followed T2 were not that good, IMHO. Almost all of them had good elements, but the overall works simply didn’t carry each film into “great” movie territory.

Recently, the Terminator property reverted to James Cameron and with Terminator: Dark Fate, he’s “back”, though this time with the story and production credits while Tim Miller (Deadpool) directs.

If you’ve read my previous postings, it is worth noting that in making TDF, it was decided to create a story that actively ignores all the Terminator works that came post-T2. So going into the film, audiences should try to wipe their minds clean of all those works and stick with the first two.

The movie begins with a rather shocking development that reminded me in many ways of the opening of Aliens 3. I don’t want to give too much away here (I will talk about it toward the end, so BEWARE SPOILERS!) but if you’ve read online anything about the film, chances are you already know what happens at the very beginning of the film…

We then move to Mexico and, specifically, car factory worker Dani Ramos (Natalie Reyes, quite good), and the arrival -natch- of two visitors from the future, Grace (Mackenzie Davis, quite spectacular as an “augmented” human) and the evil Gabriel, aka REV-9 (Gabriel Luna, quite good), the robot sent to the future to take out Dani.

The story thus far isn’t all that different from all the other Terminators that came before: You have your “ordinary” person being alternately hunted and protected by two people who have come from the future. The early action set pieces are quite spectacular and Gabriel’s evil robot, while essentially still incredibly similar to Robert Patricks’ T-1000 from T2, has the added trick of being able to split into two Terminators at one time.

The opening action sequence terminates (ouch) with the arrival of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, looking as grizzly as can be but dangerous and smart assed to boot). The three form an uneasy alliance which eventually takes them to you-know-who (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and together the four of them form an even more uneasy alliance in trying to take on and destroy Gabriel.

Watching TDF, I realized how much better the film was compared to those that followed T2. Again, I don’t feel all those films are horrible, but clearly the people behind the making of TDF spent the extra capital in developing the relationships between the characters so that when we got to the ending, it was something of an emotional gut punch, at least to me.

TDF still falls a little below T2 (my second favorite Terminator film behind the original) yet rises IMHO far above the others and, for someone who was there when the first came out, felt it was almost a love letter to the fans of the series, even if it didn’t necessarily move out of the general Terminator comfort zone, story-wise.

Still, I liked it quite a bit and would easily recommend it to anyone interested. If you worry that these old-folks simply can’t do it in an intense action film, let me say they handle themselves quite well. I fear, however, that people are not giving this film a chance (it has been noted it underperformed despite generally good critical and audience reactions) because of the run of so-so Terminator films, including the not so-very-old Terminator: Genysis.

And that’s really too bad. If I could go back in time, maybe I’d convince the makers of those sequels to lay off and, by the time TDF shows up, people might be more willing/eager to give it a shot.

TDF is an easy recommendation for me. A film that, while not necessarily reinventing the Terminator-wheel, nonetheless respects the original two films and provides us with some genuinely good thrills and action set pieces, along with a story that is also quite good (if familiar) and some very welcome humor.

Go see it with an open mind… or at least without thinking about the last three Terminator films that followed T2.

Now then…

SPOILERS!!!!!

BEWARE!!!!

Still here?

Ok, you’ve been warned.

TDF opens with a post-T2 Sarah Connors and a young John Connor (both actors were digitally de-aged) resting from the end of T2.

Then, the T-800 (a de-aged Arnold) appears and kills John Connor.

It’s a rough scene, especially given we had a full film in T2 whose whole reason for being was to keep John Connor alive. However, in the course of that film, the future was changed and Skynet was destroyed.

What TDF does, somewhat cleverly but still kinda/sorta grimly, is show us that John Connor’s death no longer matters. That the T-800 that kills him turns out to have completed its programmed mission for a future that no longer was going to come into being.

Thus, the T-800 we see later in the film is that same robot, only he spent the next 20 plus years adapting to humanity and realizing what he did was terrible.

It’s an interesting notion and one that I felt made the relationship between Sarah and he that much more intriguing but… man, what a bummer of a concept! As I said, it was not unlike Alien 3, which opened with the deaths of two very likeable characters who survived the massacre of Aliens.

Still, for me not something that ruined the film.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary!

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) an (almost right on time!) review

It’s taken a few days for me to get to writing this and, if you’ve read the post I wrote just before this one, you already know why.

One Sunday night my wife, youngest daughter, and I went to the theater to catch Zombieland: Double Tap, the sequel to (natch) 2009’s Zombieland, a film that delightfully skewered plenty of Zombie-movie convention.

Zombieland: Double Tap (let’s refer to it as Z2 from here on out, OK?) comes ten years from the release of the original and we quickly find out what’s going on with our four protagonists of the post-Zombie apocalypse: Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).

And the answer is: Not a whole lot.

They haven’t grown much since we last saw them, though they do seem to have a little more of a family thing going on and they have relocated to the White House. Problem is that familiarity, as the cliche goes, is breeding contempt, and Little Rock, the youngest of the four, in particular is developing a strong itch to spread her wings and go out -and away- from this group.

Meanwhile Columbus and Wichita, who are together, are also having issues. Wichita seems to still like Columbus but she too feels trapped with him and the routine they’ve developed. Which makes it most unfortunate that at that point Columbus decides to propose marriage…

Wichita and Little Rock fly the coop, leaving behind the two male leads, and Columbus in particular doesn’t know how to react to this. Soon, they find another survivor and things get a little more complicated, especially when Wichita returns and states that her young sister has abandoned her as well for a (*gasp*) hippy they found along the way.

Look, anyone coming in to Z2 expecting profound/deep plot lines and/or high art should have their head examined.

Z2 is a cute, at times quite funny journey through this particular Zombie apocalypse that features some interesting cameos (but none quite as good as the one presented in the first film, even though he makes his return in this one) and adventure.

None of it is taken terribly seriously and that, unfortunately, is the movie’s main problem and one I also found with the recently released Hobbs and Shaw.

To wit: How can you make a film that is (I’m assuming here) supposed to have its moments of suspense/thrills when it is clear from the get go that the filmmakers are taking none of this very seriously?

The fact is that Z2 does build to what should be an exciting, even suspenseful ending but the filmmakers never once give us a sense of any sort of seriousness/danger, at times winking at the camera and offering jokes that are clearly breaking the proverbial fourth wall.

So we’re left with a film that is for the most part quite amusing but never really moving to that higher gear to deliver some genuine thrills.

However, unlike Hobbs and Shaw Z2 is intended to be a comedy and therefore it doesn’t bother quite as much that the thrills are missing as they were in H&S.

Still while I recommend Z2, I have to also be honest and say: “I really wish there was more to it than what we got.”

Just because you want to make a smart ass comedy (nothing wrong with that!) doesn’t mean you can’t also deliver some suspense, amiright?!

Downton Abbey (2019) A (On TIme!) Review

Back in 2011 and when my daughters were still too young to do so on their own, I wound up taking them to the last movie in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

It was, to say the least, an interesting experience.

Why?

Because I read none of the Harry Potter books nor had seen any of the previous Harry Potter movies. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the phenomenon that was Harry Potter -indeed, you’d have to have lived in a cave to that point not to be!- but the reality was that I knew next to nothing of the Harry Potter storyline other than the three main characters and that they were in some kind of sorcery school.

So, going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the concluding chapter of a long series of novels and their movie adaptations, and going into it as cold -information-wise- as I was, was a… odd… experience.

I didn’t know who most of the characters were and didn’t know what they were up to and just kinda let it all wash over me. By the end of the film, it was like I had walked in on something that was reasonably entertaining but which I was hopelessly out of my element about.

Fast forward to yesterday and I tell my wife, a BIG fan of the TV series Downton Abbey, that I was willing to accompany her to the movie version which was just released this past Friday.

And, like Harry Potter, I was going into this pretty cold. Again, I knew some of the main characters in the series, but going into the film version I knew I’d be hopelessly lost with many of the character arcs and occurrences.

But, hey, my wife was dying to see the film and I was absolutely willing to take her to see it.

Like with HPATDH2, I found myself reasonably entertained with what I saw even if I was certain I missed plenty of nuance with regard to the many characters presented.

As a writer, I have to admire Downton Abbey’s screenwriter Julian Fellows for giving viewers so much material, so many different stories, without it getting too mushy and confusing.

If there is one thing I would criticize about the writing, however, is that there is a certain convenience to the way all these disparate storylines are resolved. Further, the movie presented a decidedly bucolic vision of post WWI England. While the movie did address at least one unpleasant aspect of those times -the way homosexuality is dealt with- it nonetheless was done/resolved in a quick manner.

But these are minor quibbles. Considering we are dealing with a two hour film that has enough plot to perhaps have given us an entire season of Downton Abbey, one has to admire the craftsmanship of this period piece along with the bits of wit/humor strewn throughout.

Yeah, I know I didn’t get it all and I know I missed on plenty of things and fans of the show probably would have plenty of reactions I, as a newbie, couldn’t, but if you’re a fan of the show seeing Downton Abbey, the movie, is a no-brainer.

If you’re not a fan and/or don’t know much about it, maybe you should check out the series first.

You’ll likely get much more out of it.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs And Shaw (2019), A (Almost on Time!) Review

The Fast and Furious franchise has been a huge box office success for years now to the point where investors decided to make a spinoff featuring Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Shaw. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

If you’re a fan of the franchise, this looks like a fun time, no?

Well…

Here’s the thing about these films: They’re pretty ludicrous. But, as ludicrous as they were, I will give the F&F franchise this much: they kept things “serious” enough so that you feel some actual suspense. As stupid as they could get, you sometimes worried for the fate of the characters.

Not so with Hobbs and Shaw.

This film, from the opening minutes to the closing act, is presented as a goof. There are plenty of stunts and quips, delived by Hobbs at Shaw and vice-versa. Some of them are genuinely funny. There are two cameos that are for the most part delightful (I won’t spoil the surprise), and Vanessa Kirby and Idris Elba do fine as Hattie (Shaw’s sister) and Brixton (the movie’s big bad guy).

But…

There is absolutely no sense of danger in this movie, despite all the stuntwork and sweat. There is no feeling, at any moment, that either Hobbs or Shaw or Hattie are in any genuine danger. As fearsome as Brixton could have been -he is presented as something of a bionic/android super powered man- he never lays much of a finger on our heroes nor could I, as an audience of at least one, ever felt he actually would.

So what we’re left with is a very slick and very loud film filled with explosions and crashes, shattered glass and crumbling concrete, and a decent enough story that the director/producer never allowed to get serious.

Which begs the question: How are we to feel any suspense, any thrills, in a film that so clearly doesn’t seem to want you to feel them?

There’s also this romance thing that is almost pathetically inserted into the film between Hobbs and Hattie that, it would seem, the movie’s makers belatedly realized was going nowhere and decided to tamp down on and essentially ignore by movie’s end. Perhaps I didn’t stay in long enough but the closing credit scenes (at least two or three of them, I lost track), didn’t bother to show whether Hobbs and Hattie finally had a date (OOPS! EXTREME SPOILER: They both survive at the end of the film!).

I have to say, despite some good laughs and some well executed action sequences, Hobbs and Shaw left me curiously unimpressed and, as we move further and further from the date I saw it (that was earlier last week), the less impressed I am with the whole thing.

Next time and despite the ludicrous things presented on screen, perhaps they should at least try to take these things a little more seriously.

Guardians of the GAlaxy Vol. 2 (2017) a (mildly) belated review

Back in 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy was released to theaters and was a box office mega-hit. The film was generally loved by critics and especially audiences and helped cement Marvel’s movie Empire by expanding its reach into space.

Back then, I wanted very badly to catch the film in theaters but was unable to, finally picking up the BluRay when it was released and finding… I didn’t like the film. (You can read my full review of Guardians of the Galaxy here).

In fact, re-reading the review of the original Guardians of the Galaxy I posted, if anything I was being a little too nice in describing my feelings about it. I hated the film. I hated having wasted my (and my wife’s) time watching this juvenile, silly, and incredibly un-original work.

So little did I think of the film, Dr. Strange, and Captain America: Civil War (three Marvel films which I saw in close temporal proximity) that my feelings about Marvel films took a serious nose-dive. Where once I looked forward to catching the latest Marvel films, I found myself avoiding them. To the point where I have yet to see most of the Marvel films released since this period of time such as Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and the last two Avenger films (I have digital copies of both and intend to catch them, though!).

The other day Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, yet another of the Marvel films I was avoiding, aired on TV and I caught the first few minutes of it.

Mind you, I’m still smarting from how little I liked the original film and had no intention of seeing the sequel. Especially when I recalled upon its release GOTG Vol. 2 found more than a few of the fans of the original feeling it wasn’t as good as the first one.

If I hated the first one and fans of that film didn’t like the second quite as much, what were the odds I’d like it?!

…well…

Funny thing happened on the way to my ignoring GOTG Vol. 2. I caught the first few minutes, as I said, on TV and… I kinda liked what I saw. It was silly but pleasantly so.

Alas, I didn’t have the time to watch the whole thing in one sitting so I set the DVR and let it record the movie. I finally caught the whole thing a couple of days ago aaaaaannnnnndddddd….

Whatdoyouknow?!

I liked it!

Understand: The film isn’t “perfect” and there are some rather clunky elements in it, but overall GOTG Vol. 2 carries a more original plot than the Star Wars retread of the first film (which was a large part of the reason I didn’t like that film) with more emotional payoffs. The silly humor is still there but toned down from the overbearing nature I felt was in the first film, and the characters feel like they’re more of a part of a team and care for each other.

The plot -for those one or two people not me who haven’t seen the film- goes like this: The Guardians are contracted to protect power cells from an incoming monster. They complete their mission but Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) betrays their employers by stealing a handful of the power cells.

The Guardians are pursued and their ship crippled as they escape the wrath of their employers and crash land on a planet. It is there Peter Quill/Star Lord’s (Chris Pratt) long lost father Ego (Kurt Russell) appears and reveals he has been looking for his son for years.

With their ship nearly destroyed, Rocket is left with the young Groot and their prisoner Nebula (Karen Gillian) alone to fix the ship while Quill, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista) fly off with Ego and his companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to his planet while those pursuing the Guardians approach…

Shakespeare it ain’t, but then again, other than Shakespeare, what is?

The film moves along at a brisk pace and while at times very silly, plot-wise, I found the characters this time around more intriguing and the story better presented than the Star Wars retread of the first film.

So, yeah, I liked the damn thing even as I hated the first and, you know what?

That’s the way it goes.

Recommended!

What’s Up Doc? (1972) a (incredibly) belated review

A while back TCM played the 1972 Peter Bogdanovich directed screwball comedy homage What’s Up Doc? Here’s the movie’s trailer/behind the scenes:

I had warm memories of the film but, frankly, hadn’t seen it in at least twenty plus years. I wondered if it was as good as I recalled. The DVR was set, the film recorded, and then a couple of months later and with my wife and daughter sat down to see it.

It wasn’t easy getting those two to sit in!

After some twenty minutes, my daughter bailed. She doesn’t have a lot of patience for “old” films and, frankly, I can’t totally blame her. Nowadays films have a quicker pace to them, and this film certainly started “slow” compared to more recent works.

My wife found at least some of what she saw humorous enough and held on, but I think during those early minutes she too was “touch and go”.

But then, once the movie’s finished with the preliminaries and into the story proper, as well as the slapstick that’s to come, What’s Up Doc? becomes a truly wonderful comedy and very worthy of my pleasant memories.

The plot is complex but never complicated: There are four identical traveling bags held by four different characters.

Two of the suitcases carry totally innocuous items: Judy Maxwell (Barbara Streisand, equally sexy and off the wall as a walking hurricane of a character) has a suitcase of clothing. Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal doing his best to emulate a stuttering, stuffy Cary Grant who, along with his fiancé –Madeline Kahn in her film debut- is headed to a music convention in the hopes of getting a grant to study… Neanderthal music?) carries igneous rocks.

The two other cases contain something far more interesting: Mr. Smith (Michael Murphy) carries a suitcase full of top secret documents. He’s being pursed by a U.S. agent. The last suitcase, owned by Mrs. Van Hoskins (Mabel Albertson), contains a treasure in jewels.

The jewels catch the eye of the shady Hotel Clerk and equally shady Hotel Detective who plan to steal it. The U.S. Government agent, who Mr. Smith quickly gets wise to, wants to retrieve the top secret documents. And all four suitcases wind up, with their owners, in four separate rooms on the 17th floor of the Hotel they are staying at. This results in mass confusion and considerable hilarity.

The movie plays out, for the most part, like a slapstick stage play, with characters talking in and around each other while the identical suitcases move from room to room and character to character while Judy Maxwell takes a liking to her opposite, character-wise, in Howard Bannister.

The set pieces wind up working terrifically, each bigger and better than the other, followed by a breather before getting into the next comedic set piece. I feel the final big set piece, involving Liam Dunn (I won’t give away too much here, for fear of SPOILING a …gulp… 47 year old film) is a perfect climax and the proverbial cherry on top of the pie. Mr. Dunn, best known for appearances on Mel Brooks films, is but one of the people who would go on from this film to work in two of Mel Brooks’ most famous films. He, along with Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, and John Hillerman would go on to appear in Blazing Saddles. All but Mr. Hillerman would also show up in Young Frankenstein.

In conclusion, if you don’t mind seeing “old” films and/or can put up with a few slow minutes in this movie’s opening act (assuming you’re spoiled on the more speedy pace of modern films), What’s Up Doc? is a no-brainer. A hilarious, albeit strangely forgotten, film that stands up quite well with some of the better comedies out there.

Upgrade (2018) a (Mildly) Belated Review

Sometimes, a movie takes you by surprise and rocks your world. Especially when the movie (and, one has to assume, the movie’s makers) are treading into creative areas similar to the one’s I’ve been mining.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the delightful Upgrade is somehow “ripping off” ideas I’ve used in my novels.

Hell no!

What I’m saying is that there are elements in the movie that I recognize in some of my novels… but that’s all they are, similar elements.

The creative playground out there is quite big and it wouldn’t surprise me if writer/director Leigh Whannell’s been reading/watching/admiring some of the same material I have over his life. In other words: If you’ve read and like my books, I suspect you’ll like this movie and, no, it doesn’t “rip off” my books -at all!- but does play in similar territory.

But enough preamble. Here’s the trailer for Upgrade:

As you can see by the above, Upgrade involves one Gray Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, quite good) who is a mechanic and something of a technophobe living in the near future where computers are everywhere and a creeping dystopia is coming to life. When we meet him, he’s doing the finishing touches on a Trans-Am Firebird, the type many would be familiar as being in the movie Smokey and the Bandit, when his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) arrives from work.

They have some light banter before Gray insists his wife accompany him to deliver the Trans-Am to the man who hired him to refurbish it. Turns out the man is a computer genius who heads a large tech company and whose work his wife is familiar with. The man is sullen and awkward, but offers to show them his latest project, a new computer chip which he states will revolutionize the world.

Upon leaving the reclusive man’s home, Gray and Asha’s self-driving car is hacked and crashed. A group of toughs come to rob them and Asha is shot and killed while Gray is rendered a quadraplegic.

Understandably morose following a painful recovery that has this once independent man a widower and tied to a wheelchair, he is visited by his previous employer, who states the chip he showed him might just be able to get him on his feet again.

And that’s about all the spoiling I’m going to do for this film.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know some of what’s to come, but this very low budget (supposedly around $5 million) film is quite amazing. It’s lean, mean, and doesn’t waste a second of your time while delivering a clever story that is at times familiar (boo!) only to surprise you with some well thought out twists and turns (yay!).

The ending, too, proved a fascinating, well thought out piece of cinema, giving you the proverbial cherry on top of the cake.

While Upgrade doesn’t necessarily revolutionize B movies, it offers plenty of thrills and clever storytelling. Further, despite its ending it also allows for -if the writer/director is interested- sequels which could examine… well… that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

If you haven’t seen it, give Upgrade a whirl. It’s well worth your time.

Post-script: I noted on director/writer Leigh Whannell’s IMDB listing that he’s attached to the Escape From New York remake. A very, very interesting choice. Given how much I liked Upgrade and how that film was set in a pseudo near-future not unlike the original Escape From New York, I can certainly see the reason he was chosen.

Could be good.

A Simple Favor (2018) a (mildly) belated review

When A Simple Favor was released last year, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was one of those films that, quite simply, weren’t on my radar. But I recall reading plenty of good reviews and became intrigued.

I wanted to see the film with my wife but a couple of weeks passed and the film, by that time, left theaters and, therefore, we had to wait until it was available on home video to see it. A couple of days ago, we did just that.

A Simple Favor, directed by Paul Fieg (The Heat, Spy, Bridesmaids), stars Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers, a geeky single mom whose entire life seems to revolve around her son and her video blogs. She meets Emily Nelson (Blake Lively in an absolutely terrific turn) one day and things change for her in all kinds of bizarre ways.

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

As I mentioned above and need to repeat, Blake Lively is incredible in this movie as the enigmatic Emily, a woman married to a one-time best-selling author who works for a high flying talent agency. She is as beautiful as she is enigmatic, a classic noir blonde that you just know is all kinds of trouble.

Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie, on the other hand, is the meek and impressionable type, though she too has her secrets and skills, and when she’s asked to do a “simple favor”, pick up Emily’s son from school, and Emily subsequently disappears, an eerie mystery develops and the police become involved. What follows is a serpentine story that throws plenty of curves at you… along with a healthy dose of laughs.

Yes, laughs.

For Paul Fieg, known mostly for comedy, isn’t about to let the film become too dark and gloomy. The tone is generally light and, if I have any particular criticism, its that perhaps there should have been a point where it did get a little darker, especially during the film’s final act.

But I won’t get into details. To say much more would be a crime!

A Simple Favor is a very easy recommendation, a film that uses certain well worn tropes to create a noir-like mystery film but which is also a pretty damn funny and, therefore, quite creative.

And Blake Lively… jeeze. I never had strong feelings for her as an actress one way or another, but she’s so damn good in this role.

If nothing else, see the film for her!

Overlord (2018) a (mildly) belated review

As I’ve made it plain many times before, it is difficult for me to find the free time nowadays to sit down and watch a film, much less go to theaters and catch the latest big or not-quite-so big release.

Instead, I make a note of what’s come out and, if I have the time, sneak films in whenever I possibly can.

One of last year’s releases, the World War 2/Horror hybrid Overlord, caught my attention but it wasn’t until now, weeks after its digital video release, that I’ve had a chance to sit down and watch it. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

The film sure looks like a live action version of the video game Wolfenstein, complete with similar font used in its title…

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(A quick aside: I have very fond memories of the game that served as inspiration to this one, Castle Wolfenstein, originally released back in the early 1980’s. A friend at our High School had an Apple II computer and this game and we spent many a fun hour playing it, along with Ultima II! Here’s what that game looked like:

Image result for Castle Wolfenstein
Image result for Castle Wolfenstein
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Yeah, we’ve come a very long way, graphic’s wise!)

Getting back to Overlord, the film begins promisingly enough. We are quite literally plopped right in the thick of things, with a group of paratroopers, among them our heroes, about to deploy behind enemy lines shortly –very shortly- before D-Day.

Things, as they are wont to do, go frightfully sideways as Nazi air flak rips through the plane. Our heroes jump into the fire, quite literally, and we follow Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a Haitian/African American paratrooper (yeah, the film plays more than a little fast and loose with Army integration circa 1944) as he barely makes it out of the plane and onto the ground.

Boyce and a group of three other survivors of the doomed flight get together and make their way to their target: A very small French village which has a church up the road from it in which the Nazis have taken over. The Nazis have a communications station in the church and it is this groups’ primary mission to wipe it out before daybreak and D-Day, when the communications array could harm the incoming troops.

So there we have it, the tense mission and tight deadline.

But wait, there’s more!

When the soldiers are within the village planning their moves, an added complication: There’s something else going on in that Nazi-held church, something that looks like a science experiment gone extremely wrong…

Overlord, as already mentioned, starts well enough and had me interested in where it was going despite some of the politically correct elements thrust upon the story in an effort to give us a more “diverse” cast of characters.

Unfortunately, as the movie progressed and our heroes were in the village, it felt like the movie’s creator’s had used up their deck of creative cards. Frankly, as the movie progressed it settled into a neither terribly bad nor terribly good “groove” and never got out of it.

Worse, the film’s actions became predictable. When the big bad Nazi showed up, you knew the heroes would do something about him. But when he got away, you just knew he’d become… well… I don’t want to get too spoilery but, suffice it to say, along with a general deflation, the film’s story beats became only too obvious.

In the end, Overlord was an “ok” film in my eyes. Visually, they nailed the look nicely and some of the gore effects were very well done.

But having said that, the film couldn’t build upon its opening act and, instead, coasted to an all too obvious -and never as exciting as it should have been- ending.

A shame.