Director: Derek Drymon, Jennifer Kuska Cast: Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Brian Hull, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Fran Drescher, Brad Abrell, Asher Blinkoff Screenplay: Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo, Genndy Tartakovsky 98 mins. Rated PG for some action and rude humor including cartoon nudity.
I’ve spent the last week binging everything Hotel Transylvania. Prior to a week ago, I hadn’t seen a single film in the franchise, but when I learned that my first press screening of the year would be Transformania, I immediately began watching these films. I watched all three original films, all three short films, and a few episodes of the television series to get into the right realm to see this fourth, and reportedly final (for now) installment of the franchise. See, I do my research.
Dracula (Brian Hull, Pup Star Rescue Dogs) is preparing to retire and hand off the ownership of Hotel Transylvania to his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez, Monte Carlo, TV’s Only Murders in the Building), but he fears that her husband Johnny (Andy Samberg, America: The Motion Picture, TV’s Saturday Night Live) will ruin his beloved hotel with his HUMAN alternatives, he inadvertently convinces Johnny to use a Monsterfication Ray to turn himself into a monster. The ray also turns Drac and his buddies into humans as well. Now, they have to fix the Monsterfication Ray and turn everyone back to normal before Johnny’s monster transformation becomes irreversible.
It’s nice to see all of these characters grow and interact with one another. One of the things that I loved while watching these films over the last week was seeing this steadily growing ensemble work with one another for the sake of hijinks. I think my favorite of the group is the third film, so seeing Drac’s relationship with Ericka (Kathryn Hahn, Afternoon Delight, TV’s WandaVision) continue beyond that film was really nice and seeing that she still has memories of her time as a monster slayer helped to bridge the films nicely to its roots. So often, we get characters that turn good in one film and then become perfect little angels like their past didn’t matter, and here, Ericka’s past definitely mattered, but she’s able to use her skills for a more noble purpose. It was also awesome to see Jim Gaffigan (Chappaquiddick, Luca) return as Van Helsing, a character I found to be captivating and funny from the previous film. Here, he’s living in seclusion and has a purpose in the narrative that, again, ties to his franchise roots (though why he never considered using the Monsterfication Ray to just turn monsters back into humans instead of killing them makes me ponder).
The only missing character that I notably missed is Drac’s father, voiced by Mel Brooks. Never a large role in the franchise, he’s always a welcome inclusion, and it would’ve been fun to see him, a former human-killing hateful vampire, turned into a human. I also noticed the lack of Adam Sandler in the role of Dracula (I didn’t miss Kevin James because Frankenstein just never had a lot to do in the series). While Brian Hull does a great Adam-Sandler-as-Dracula impression, I could tell he wasn’t the same Drac, and it was notable here.
Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kuska take over directing duties from Genndy Tartakovsky, who made the first three films (and contributed to the story and script for this installment). Their directing is much more frenetic. There’s a lot going on in the frame here, and some of it is unnecessary. I can call out the opening of the film set at the hotel party. There is so much plot jammed into this beginning, and then there’s a lot of unsuccessful visual gags here as well. It doesn’t completely derail the film, but moments of the film, specifically in the handling of Johnny, gets really annoying. There’s a chase scene at the party where Johnny yells out Mavis’s name perhaps a hundred times in a five-minute sequence, and it becomes really frustrating, and headache-producing, to listen to.
Part of that falls down to the screenplay as well, co-written by Tartakovsky along with Amos Vernon and Nunzio Randazzo. There’s an excellent idea at play here that goes back to the central themes of the first movie (whereas the sequels expanded on other elements of the characters). The concept and story work pretty well, but some of the dialogue is tell-don’t-show or characters saying aloud what’s obviously happening on screen. There’s some humor that’s mined from the central premise, but it’s more hit-and-miss than the other films.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania has had five different release dates since Sony originally placed it in October 2021. The Delta variant launched this film all over the back half of last year before it rested as an Amazon Original in January, and the finished movie is probably the weakest installment of the franchise thus far, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. If you’ve enjoyed the previous three films, then this one should be an enjoyable, though slightly less so, time in front of the television. If you didn’t like the Hotel Transylvania franchise to this point, then this one won’t sway you. I liked it but seeing it in such quick succession with the other films only highlights its flaws more.
Hello again, everyone! We’ve reached the end of 2021 and it’s time, just like every year, to discuss the best in movies from last year. 2021 was an overall improvement of a year, and I also happened to see a lot more movies in 2021 than the year prior. In 2020, I think I saw 30 movies. 2021 was a lot closer to 90.
More than anything else, 2021 was the year I got to go back to the movies. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that would happen. This year, the theaters reopened (and had movies to show), and I got vaccinated. To be honest, it was tough for me to even consider going to the movies again once they reopened until I was vaccinated. That’s not me preaching to any of you; it’s more me saying that I didn’t think I could lose myself in the movie without thinking of COVID.
That means I missed seeing theater-worthy movies like Godzilla vs. Kong, but I was finally convinced it was time to return to the cinema for Spiral: From the Book of Saw was released. Saw was such an important franchise for me, I couldn’t miss it.
Yes, I finally went back to the theater in June, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been a really solid element in my mental health to be back at the cinema (I’ve stated many times that the theater has been a place of solace for me when the world becomes too much to handle). I’m not alone in this regard, as audiences flocked back to the theaters back in the 30s in the height of the Great Depression. Well, 2020 and its sequel were rather Greatly Depressing, and I used the theater as a tool. Great movies or terrible ones, it really didn’t matter.
All of that is a long way of telling you that I saw a great many movies, and I feel better talking my Top Ten Films of 2021. So let’s not waste any further time and get right into it.
Now, in order to properly begin, we have to state the obligatory forewarnings:
I did not see every film released in 2021. In fact, there are still a few films released very quietly in 2021 that many reviewers have not been able to see, like The Tragedy of Macbeth and Cyrano, and I am unable to include those films in my list. If you know of a film that belongs on this list but you don’t see it, it just means I didn’t see it…that, or it doesn’t belong on my list.
On that note, this is my subjective list, not yours, and not objective whatsoever. They are MY personal picks for best of the year. These are the films that spoke to me as a filmgoer. There are better made films that came out in 2021, and there are some films on this list that did not get Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and quite a few that will miss the Academy’s selection process for Oscar-worthiness. They are MY picks and mine alone, so don’t be upset if a film is on your list that isn’t on mine. That’s the beauty of art and entertainment: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.
Along with all that, I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So let me know by commenting below with your Top Ten Movies of 2021 (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.
-In less than 2 1/2 hours, Edgar Wright turned me, someone who had heard one Sparks song but couldn’t even connect it to the band, into a lifelong fan who spent his entire summer listening to the band as if he was trying to play catchup for time lost. His documentary is equal parts biography, concert film, and fever dream, and it all seems to work quite well. It’s also an incredibly watchable film, an entertaining instruction manual on first watch and a celebration of the band for those viewers who had discovered the incredibly prolific but under-appreciated musicians.
-Who would’ve guessed that the Princess Diana movie starring Kristen Stewart would end up being a horror-thriller Christmas film? Well, okay, it isn’t so exact as that, but this is a Christmas-set “biopic” that is less concerned with the details and minutiae of a life’s timeline and more set on a story that captures the character and person that Princess Diana was. Set during the last holiday season of her time involved with the royal family, the film sees Diana breaking apart at the seams while she struggles to maintain a strong face for the sake of the Crown. She’s there for her children, the one piece of her life in this world that still has good in it. I also have to credit the incredible performance of Kristen Stewart as Diana, a piece of acting prowess that captures her spirit and soul more than her mannerisms and speech patterns, but I was completely lost in her performance and never once doubted that I was seeing Diana on the screen. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the unsung actor from the film, Sean Harris as McGrady, the Royal Head Chef, and one of the best scenes of the year, in which McGrady confesses how the staff really feels about Diana, and don’t forget the single best needle-drop of the year as the film comes to a close.
The Last Duel
-Ridley Scott dropped two bangers in 2021, and one of them ended up on this list. I didn’t have the highest hopes for The Last Duel because, for me, Ridley Scott can get a little divisive. Every film he makes, the film gods flip a coin. As bonkers as House of Gucci ended up, The Last Duel is an elegant and intense view at altered perspectives done in the style of Rashomon. I have minor faults with a few elements in the overall film, and I argue that “kids-on-their-phone” is so old man and silly. The reason that The Last Duel underperformed is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and many filmgoers are forced to make choices of what they want to watch. Several great films slipped between the cracks this year, and a movie that portrays a rape (not once, but twice, mind you) may not be the type of film that audiences wanted this year. That’s one of the factors why a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home did so well this year while bleaker fare like Nightmare Alley and The Last Duel struggled to find a presence. Beyond all that, though, the film is fantastic. It’s a tough sell to do a film that covers a painful and intense event from multiple viewpoints. You have to keep the film fresh while essentially telling the same story. Scott’s film teases us with the titular duel and then presents these views in a captivating way, and each retelling sought to alter the narrative in interesting ways.
-I try not to hinge my thoughts on one film based upon another, but it’s nearly impossible to do so in the case of Dune, or Dune: Chapter One, or whatever it will eventually be called. We knew going into this film that it would be an adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, but we also went into it knowing that the second half of this story was uncertain. It’s a lot of baggage to carry for a single film, and that’s not even diving into the quality of the film itself. Well, Denis Villeneuve surprised us all yet again by turning the oft-believed-unfilmable novel into a science fiction masterpiece on the level of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Well, potentially one day, but it’s a beautiful and elegant masterpiece of cinema nonetheless, but it needs to be stated that this is the first half, and it carries a level of understanding. Dune was not filmed back-to-back with its sequel like Back to the Future II & III or The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions or even the previously mentioned epic production of The Lord of the Rings. Dune was also not handled like the recent 2-part It adaptation. With that film, had we not gotten It: Chapter Two, the first film would stand on its own. Dune: Chapter One hinges on that sequel more than any other two-parter that I can recall. Had that sequel not been announced, I’m not sure this film would be on this list, but it was announced, and it will (likely) happen. With all that, I can’t wait to see this story come to an end and rewatch the first film a bunch when it drops on home video.
-Okay, I trust James Gunn to make a solid and entertaining film, and I trust the recent moves of the DCEU (overall, I’ve been positive on most of the universe, but the recent stuff has been the best), but I didn’t expect nearly as entertaining a time as I got with The Suicide Squad. Early reviews were very positive, and when I finally caught the film at a press screening, I was initially worried the hype was too hyped. Nope, this is an excellent time at the movies, a mean-spirited and bonkers action film that has shades of gritty 70s action pictures. Essentially, Gunn has made a big-budget Troma film, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life with his characters. A more stacked cast than his previous Marvel films, he’s able to give each of his “Squad” a moment to shine. By shine, I’m referring to debauchery or sin, but you get what I mean. The Suicide Squad is a wild ride of entertainment that, dare I say it, is damn beautiful and makes me excited for Peacemaker later this month.
–Candyman was the last new movie I saw in 2021, and I’m surprised to see it on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original film quite a bit, but I did not expect the hit on this legacy sequel just waiting for me to watch it. A little context for you: I’m big on franchises and I don’t like the idea of the legacy sequel (it feels lazy and oftentimes falls into the same pitfalls as the films it ignores), and the only reason I waited on Candyman 2021 was that I hadn’t watched Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead, so last week, I binged the whole franchise, and I must say, this newest film is the best film in the series by a stretch. The clever screenplay, co-written by Jordan Peele, paired with the picture-perfect directing from Nia DeCosta (I can see why she was so quickly snatched up by Marvel). It’s a legacy sequel that chooses to build on the mythology in a way that doesn’t retcon anything that came before but instead decides to add and validate what came before while challenging the history of the series at large. It’s gorgeous, haunting, and thought-provoking to the very ambitious ending.
-This is the part when everyone stops reading, so let me remind you that this is a subjective list, and I would be wrong not to put Halloween Kills on the list. I’ve said it before, but Halloween is my all-time favorite horror film, and I have a special place in my heart for the rest of the franchise, convoluted and deeply-flawed though they may be. For Halloween 2018, I was interested but, as stated above, I don’t like the retcon aspect. All that being said, I get why the rest of this franchise was retconned, as most audiences did not keep up with the mythology as much as I did, and trying to make sense of it all would’ve been a bit of work. Also, Laurie Strode was dead in the previous films. Well, I saw Halloween 2018, and it is easily the best-made film since the original, but I felt like it was more of a Greatest Hits album of Halloween, sending up a mashup of great scenes and references from the other non-canon entries, but really not doing a whole lot to distance itself. Well, I revisited Halloween 2018 right before Kills came out, in what amounted to a quick trilogy binge (1978/2018/Kills). Halloween Kills, while being less-polished than David Gordon Green’s previous film, is all the better for its ambition. Sure, it does tread some of the same waters and ideas, but it uses them in a wholly different way. Here, we see Haddonfield as a real town full of interesting characters (I love that many of the background characters of 2018 show up again in Kills), and it’s a town dealing with its trauma in an unhealthy way. This sequel speaks to the question of how we react to fear, and it pushes the Halloween story into delightfully bloody new directions while making its predecessor much better and more palatable as a chapter in Green’s story.
The Green Knight
–The Green Knight was a movie that almost seemed to not want me to watch it. It didn’t have a lengthy run at my local theater, and the weekend my wife and I had planned to see it ended up with me self-quarantining and getting tested for COVID because I was very sick. I ended up being negative but by the time I ended up feeling better, we didn’t have a free night to see it, so we missed its theatrical run. Thankfully, I ended up with a 4k copy of it, and I was actually able to watch it. Also thankfully, the movie is excellent. The way The Green Knight takes the classic fable and legend and reconfigures it to fit David Lowery’s filmmaking sensibilities and give us a Gawain who is essentially a hopeful hero without any heroic skills, a leader who only takes the killshot because he can, a man who cannot take responsibility for his actions and flees at the sight of danger. It’s also a technically stunning piece of medieval fantasy with terrific performances and a haunting visual aesthetic. If you missed it like I did, rectify that immediately.
-There’s an argument out there that Belfast is not as hard-hitting and serious as the events it is depicting require, and I can understand it. The reason the film works for me is that it’s not about those events specifically; it’s about the family at the center of it, specifically young Buddy (played by newcomer Jude Hill). Seeing these traumatic events through the eyes of a child was something very effective for me. For Buddy, everything going on in his world is strained through the filter of his family, and that’s all he wants. He wants things to go back to normal, he wants to stay in Belfast, he wants his life to go in the direction it has been up to now. That’s his reckoning in the film, and it’s a small story against a big backdrop, and it was a joyful (as joyful as it could be, given the surrounding political unrest of the time) coming-of-age story that I want to share with my family, friends, everyone.
-No, I’m not a Marvel fanboy saying it is better than everything ever made without discussion ever. The last time I had a Marvel film on my Top Ten, it was back in 2011 and it was Thor. If you look at my list, there’s a good number of acclaimed films in Oscar contention as well as some really entertaining popcorn movies. Shang-Chi is the best of both worlds, and if there were to be a superhero film in the Best Picture race, it would be Shang-Chi. The film has an important cultural touchstone, and it showcases a terrific starring turn from Simu Liu as the titular hero, but the film has so much more. It has a terrific friend/potential love interest in Awkwafina, and it has one of the MCU’s best villains in real Mandarin Xu Wenwu. The film has loads of excellently-choreographed action, nods to wuxia, and it plays off one of the MCU’s best arcs in the Mandarin, especially with how the character ties to Iron Man 3. I even find the finale to be much more than a CG mess that most superhero fare gets lost in. Shang-Chi ends with a bang, but it is character-driven all the way through. Gosh, I can’t wait for a sequel to this film. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is all-around excellent, and it’s my favorite movie of 2021.
There you have it. My Top Ten Films of 2021. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. What are your favorite movies of last year? Leave your favorites below! See you next year.
Director: Matthew Vaughn Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander(3), Daniel Bruhl, Charles Dance Screenplay: Matthew Vaughn, Karl Gajdusek 131 mins. Rated R for sequences of strong/bloody violence, language, and some sexual material.
The Kingsman film franchise kind of came out of nowhere. I remember not being even remotely aware of the first film at all, including its release window, and then a number of reviewers and pundits that I tend to align with were praising The Secret Service’s blend of old and new spy tropes alongside director Matthew Vaughn’s (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) unique style and violent sensibilities. After seeing it, I really enjoyed how self-aware the over-the-topness of the world depicted in Vaughn’s adaptation completely contrasted with other action franchises at the time, though I was still surprised to hear of a follow-up in The Golden Circle. Though that sequel did not share the same praise of the original, I was of a rare sort that put it on the same level, embracing the slowly-expanding realm of oddities that slithered throughout the burgeoning franchise. Where would this series go next? Surely The King’s Man was even less expected than The Golden Circle. My excitement built with each viewing of that first trailer (and it played a lot, if you went to the theaters as often as I did), so how did the finished film go? Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, mostly positive, with great action and an inconsistent tone.
Set in the early 1900s, The King’s Man follows The Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, No Time to Die) and his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats, The Souvenir: Part II) as they try to make a positive impact on WWI. The Duke, knowing of UK’s leadership failures and the willingness to send young soldiers to die for a war started by old men, builds an underground network of spies in order to stop a cabal from further toppling the governments of the East into chaos.
I’ve read a few other interpretations of The King’s Man remarking that the film is too focused on being a prequel that it doesn’t provide a stellar story, and I couldn’t disagree more. I actually found that the film spends too little time on the forming of the Kingsman that, at times, it feels like one of the later Hellraiser sequels that wasn’t a Hellraiser movie until someone attached 10 minutes of Pinhead in order to shoehorn it into the franchise. Now, the quality of The King’s Man is streets ahead of those later Hellraiser films, but I almost wondered if Vaughn had formed this idea for a WWI spy film before realizing he could make it a Kingsman prequel. Outside of the final 10-minute stinger at the end of the film and a few references to the shop and Statesman bourbon, the film does very little to link itself to the franchise at large, which is kind of the point of this film’s existence. Now, that isn’t to say that The King’s Man is a bad movie, it just felt like those first two Star Wars prequels, where everyone kept wondering when Anakin would turn to the dark side.
Where the film succeeds is in Vaughn’s understanding of action, and The King’s Man does feature perhaps the single most entertaining action set piece of 2021. The action hits and it hits hard. I don’t have a fault with the film’s action or its visuals or the characters. Vaughn has a knack for making this kind of spectacle filmmaking which really looks dazzling, especially on the big screen. His narrative tows the believability-line just enough to make it fit within his larger franchise narrative even if the story does not.
The King’s Man has a bevy of interesting characters to take away, most notably Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man, Official Secrets) as Grigori Rasputin, a member of our secret villain’s collective. There’s a reason why Ifans is featured so heavily in the trailer despite not being as prominent in the finished film, and that’s because he owns the screen every single time he re-enters the narrative. He’s a disturbing and sick individual who chews the scenery with such glee and also capably performs (in that costume, no less) through some solid fight sequences.
I also really liked Fiennes’s take on Oxford, as he’s very much a father who recognizes the dangers of young men fighting the wars of old men, and he sees the indoctrination of his son Conrad. Knowing that the only way to keep his son out of war is to recruit him to the dangerous underground organization he’s been building seems to suggest an understanding of what is needed to do the right thing the right way. I like that he tows the line of being a father/mentor and an equal to his son, and it makes the back-and-forth of their relationship quite captivating.
The film’s biggest struggle throughout all of this is the wildly-inconsistent tone. While the first two Kingsman films seem to comfortably rest on the James Bond archetype of Roger Moore’s performance, with action and heart and comedy seemingly married in the right recipe. With this prequel, the film has moments where the inconsistencies of the tone almost seem to add to the twists and turns of the narrative, but that would be giving it too much credit. The problem, for me, is that I didn’t know from one minute to another if the scene I was watching was supposed to be aiming for comedy or serious, and the latter won out far too often. It just seems to miss out on what was so fun for the other films due to its reliance on overly-serious elements that occasionally lost me.
The King’s Man is a mildly-successful piece of entertainment that doesn’t get everything right and loses a bit of the fun of the previous entries, but a strong lead performance and an exciting selection of action set pieces keep the film enjoyable throughout its more mixed aspects. I still recommend this one to fans of the franchise but temper your expectations if it’s the comedy of the franchise that worked for you.
3/5 -Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.
Director: Rick Rosenthal Cast: Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ryan Merriman, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tyra Banks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brad Loree Screenplay: Larry Brand, Sean Hood 94 mins. Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality and brief drug use.
Well, here we are again. It’s the end of the 31 Days of Horror, and I’m not sure what we can talk about. We finished the Halloween franchise last year with H20, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Freaky Friday) cut Michael Myers’s head off, and everything is fine now, so we have nothing to talk about because the story is over…wait, what? It’s not? Oh God…no.
It’s been three years since H20, and Laurie Strode made an awful mistake when she beheaded her brother, Michael Myers (Brad Loree). Turns out, she killed the wrong man, and now, institutionalized, she awaits his return. Meanwhile, Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes, Narc, Breaking Point), a reality television creator, has gathered a bunch of attractive young people for a Halloween tour of Michael’s childhood home. He’s recruited Sara Moyer (Bianca Kajlich, Bring It On, 10 Things I Hate About You) and her two college friends for this internet experiment, but Michael is on the way home, and this welcome party is not ready for his rage.
Every franchise will inevitably have a low point, and Halloween: Resurrection is that low point for Michael Myers. Let’s start off with the opening, the reason for this film’s existence: the retcon of H20. I actually don’t hate this idea (thought I wish there were more foreshadowing in the previous film), but it’s the execution of this reveal that didn’t work that well. I don’t hate Michael’s return here, but if you are going to pull this twist off, you need to have a better movie following this opening or it’ll feel like you should’ve let Michael stay dead. In this case, considering the franchise got rebooted again right after Resurrection, they maybe should’ve not made this movie at all.
Let’s talk about the performance of Brad Loree as Michael Myers. This is Loree’s first and only time as Michael, and I just don’t think he had an understanding of Michael Myers. Part of it is the screenplay as well as the directing of Rick Rosenthal (Bad Boys, Drones) in his second Halloween helming, but Loree’s Myers does not work at all. He’s more in line with a portrayal of Jason Voorhees in this film (Kane Hodder was reportedly the stunt double for Loree, so this may not be too far off base, and Loree had reportedly tried out for Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs Jason). He walks into doors like a confused Roomba, eventually crashing through them at 5mph. He doesn’t seem to react to anything the way that this famous killer would. He gets smack-talk from Busta Rhymes and just takes it! He even gets electrocuted in the dick at one point.
Resurrection seems to set up Sara to be the next main girl of the series, but Kajlich is given very little to do in the movie. Not only is she incapable of screaming (a must if you wish to take over as a scream queen). It’s not that she’s unlikable, but she isn’t captivating.
The rest of the cast is given little of value to do, but the most disappointing of the cast is Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks (Coyote Ugly, Tropic Thunder) as Freddie and Nora, the leaders of this expedition into Myers’s home. Busta Rhymes feels so out of place, he’s unlikable, and his performance is more self-parody than anything serious or exciting. You’d be hard-pressed to even remember that Tyra Banks is in the finished film except that she’s on the poster. These two are just heavy reminders that Rosenthal’s production just isn’t taking Halloween seriously. Nothing is scary, nothing is tense, nothing is tonally acceptable.
Something else I wouldn’t mind is this found-footage angle, ahead of its time but ultimately underutilized in the film. Nothing much happens for the first hour and I didn’t much care by the time the ending came around. I was one of the excited people when the discussion of a found-footage Friday the 13th was hotly discussed, and, had it been done right, I would’ve been all for it here, but again, there’s a lack of care.
I won’t dive too much into it, but the ending is also a loss. If you’re going to have the kickass ending of H20, and you decide to retcon it, you better have a DAMN good ending to follow it up, and this movie, like this timeline of the franchise, goes out with, not a BANG, but a whimper.
Jamie Lee Curtis later admitted that she considered this movie to be a joke, and series creator John Carpenter cringed at the thought of it (but he did get paid), but Halloween: Resurrection exists. Thankfully, those that hate this installment can very easily not watch it, as it doesn’t have much bearing on the previous installments, and H20 is an ultimately better ending for everyone involved. As it stands, this is the worst in the franchise and a very disappointing installment, essentially neutering every character arc and sending the franchise into a death spiral. Diehard fans should try it, but all others need not apply. You can skip Resurrection. I sometimes wish I had.
1.5/5 -Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.
For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.
For my review of Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, click here.
For my review of Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, click here.
For my review of Joe Chappelle’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, click here.
For my review of Steve Miner’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, click here.
Director: Jason Axinn Cast: Josh Duhamel, Dule Hill, Katharine Isabelle, James Roday Rodriguez, Katee Sackhoff, Will Sasso, Jimmi Simpson, Nancy Travis Screenplay: George A. Romero, John A. Russo 71 mins. Rated R for bloody/gruesome zombie violence.
I’m all for checking out a new interpretation of an old classic. I mean, how many versions of Dracula exist out there, and I like a good chunk of them enough to make the constant re-adaptations worth it. Night of the Living Dead is another classic staple, THE zombie movie, and due to some copyright snafus, it’s pretty easy to adapt or remake however you see fit, and that’s exactly what happened here.
You know the story: when Barbara (Katharine Isabelle, Ginger Snaps, American Mary) and her brother arrive at a faraway cemetery to leave flowers for her late father, they are beset upon by a man who kills her brother and sends her fleeing for her life. She holds up in an old farmhouse with another man experiencing the same thing. They soon come to learn that the dead have risen up all around them, and they are in search of human flesh. Now, they have to survive the night in the farmhouse as they are attacked from all angles by the undead.
I was immensely disappointed in Night of the Animated Dead, and I was so hopeful, too. The front cover looked artful and stylish, and I was really interested to see a very unique visual flair to the film, but what we got looked more like introductory-animation-course and not a feature film being sold at Target. The animation looked very jerky and unrealistic (and I know, animation does not need realism, but this animation lacked detail in its movement and really lost my attention quickly.
There are a few things that help to save the film, however unsuccessful. One of them is the screenplay, pulling heavily from the source material to the point that Romero and Russo have been credited for the story. I also liked that there’s an ever-so-slight expansion to the material where we see what happened to Ben (Dule Hill, Hypnotic, TV’s Psych) at the gas station early on in the film. Not much is done with it, but I appreciated the attempt. I also think the voice work is admirable, but I’d wonder why so much money was spent on getting named talent to voice these characters and then animating them so poorly.
I’ve seen three distinct takes on Night of the Living Dead in my life, and this is by far the worst. I can’t ever see myself choosing this film over the 1968 or even 1990 versions of this classic tale. Had the animated been done with care, perhaps I’d feel differently, but this is an adaptation that is ultimately a loss in almost every way.
Director: Catherine Hardwicke Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg 122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality.
It seems almost too easy to make fun of Twilight as a franchise, and I’m not here to bash. It’s been a good many years since I’ve seen any of these films, and I felt like a revisit. I’ll start by saying something nice about the source material (I’ve read the first 100 pages of the first book, so I’ve earned this). These books by Stephanie Meyer got younger people reading again, and I’ll never fault that (even if the source material is dreck). Okay, I tried my best. Now, let’s get to the vamp-lovin…
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, Snow White and the Huntsman, Spencer) has just moved to Forks, Washington to stay with her dad, and she’s just trying to fit in. When she’s forced to be lab partners with the strange and reserved Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, Remember Me, The Devil All the Time), she finds that she is unable to stop thinking about him. Soon, she learns a great secret: Edward and his family are vampires, full of long-life and glittery skin. Now, Bella is forced down a dangerous path, for loving Edward comes with a host of other problems, both living and undead.
As I said above, it’s easy to bash this movie and its sequels, and to be fair, Twilight is not a good movie, but it isn’t the worst thing put to cinema, so let’s talk about what works. First of all, I’m going to be the guy that defends glittery skin. I actually don’t mind this take on vampirism, especially the glittery skin thing that so many people hate. Fun fact: vampires aren’t real, and people have played hard and fast with the rules for decades, so this is not the strangest take on the undead bloodsuckers, so just calm your shit on that one.
Also, there are solid performances in the movie. Not from the two leads, not at all. Both Stewart and Pattinson are really unlikable in this movie. Stewart has these fits throughout the movie where she can’t stop blinking, mumbling and faux smiling, and it’s almost unnerving, and Pattinson’s take on Edward is creepy and dickish, but there are solid performances from members of the supporting cast. I really like Billy Burke (Drive Angry, Batman: The Long Halloween – Part 2) as Bella’s father, Charlie. I believed that he was a bit of a dolt at parenting, that he was trying to do the Friend thing more than the Dad thing, and he couldn’t wrap his head around the parenting of a teenager because he hasn’t had to.
I also really liked Peter Facinelli (The Vanished, 13 Minutes) as Carlisle Cullen, the adopted father of Edward. Facinelli brings a restraint to his characterization of Carlisle that the “teen” Cullens completely fail at. Comparing Facinelli’s take on the vampire to Pattinson’s Edward, Carlisle comes off as a friendly but quiet man, whereas Pattinson is trying so hard not to be noticeable that he’s awkwardly even more noticeable. The same can be said of Elizabeth Reaser as Esme, Carlisle’s wife. Reaser isn’t really in the movie all that much, but she’s great. She has that quality of a mother who is a little over-friendly to her son’s new girlfriend.
The problem with a lot of the performances in the film is that the screenplay, by Melissa Rosenberg (Step Up, TV’s Jessica Jones), is quite messy. The reason for this is she based her screenplay on Stephanie Meyer’s book. I’ve read enough of Meyer’s book to know that the screenplay is actually pretty close to the book, and the book is bad, so the screenplay is bad. That, combined with director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Miss Bala) making some bad calls, like her insistence that the film should have narration, and some of her collaboration with cinematographer Elliot Davis on the color palette, some things that would prove to be just as problematic as the series would unfold.
Twilight has some elements that work, and the finished film is not a total loss, but unfortunately, this is a movie that hinges on the romance, and the romance is bad. Both Stewart and Pattinson do not correctly understand their characters, and they both rely on some poor scriptwriting based on even poorer subject matter. I stand by that fans of the source material will probably like this movie, but it’s bad, just not as bad as most haters would lead you to believe.
Director: Adam Wingard Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein 113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language.
Well, here we are, at the culmination of everything in the MonsterVerse to this point. Sure, it didn’t take 22 films like Marvel did to get to this point, but this is still a major milestone for the universe thus far. It’s time for Godzilla vs. Kong. Place your bets.
It’s been five years since the epic battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah, and the world has tried to adjust to the world of the Titans. Godzilla hasn’t been seen since that battle, and when he re-emergences to attack an Apex Cybernetics facility in Pensacola, the world turns on the King on the Monsters. Meanwhile, a much-older Kong is living in a domed environment on Skull Island, being overseen by Kong expert Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town). Ilene teams up with former Monarch scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard, The Legend of Tarzan, TV’s True Blood) to get Kong to his homeworld in Hollow Earth, a pocket near the center of the planet, the mystery of Godzilla’s attacks intensify, leading toward a forced confrontation between the two titans and battle over who is the real King has begun.
Godzilla vs. Kong fully realizes what this franchise and these monsters are all about. The humans in this film are the most well-defined and likable of the franchise, and they also take a step back for the creatures and the mythology in a way that previous installments have failed to understand. I’ve spent the last several months discovering old kaiju films from Toho’s past, and I’ve learned that the mythology and style makes the movie along with the big monster bashing battles. These movies need to embrace the fantasy elements of their narrative, no matter how ludicrous. I loved the Hollow Earth journey for Kong, even though I recognize it as complete bullshit. That’s because no one is coming to these movies for their realism, which I think is one of the reasons my enjoyment has lessened over the years concerning the 2014 Godzilla film.
Godzilla vs. Kong makes great use of several exciting set pieces, while also staying on target to bring its two combatants together in an exciting way, and director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, You’re Next) gives us a neon-colored selection of fights that feel reminiscent of Pacific Rim while also exploring the two monsters in more depth than we’ve had before. Again, this is the movie in this world that has ultimately understood that the stars are Godzilla and Kong, not the humans. The role of the humans is to set the story in motion and then be more reactionary to the monsters than much else.
Most of the primary cast works well within the film, even though a few characters feel needlessly silly, most notably Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, If Beale Street Could Talk) as Bernie Hayes, a conspiracy theorist who uncovers a dangerous plot of Apex Cybernetics along with the returning Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, Enola Holmes, TV’s Stranger Things).
I also wasn’t a fan of the characterization of Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri, No Longer Human, Weathering With You), the son of the Ishiro Serizawa from the first two Godzilla films. First of all, I barely registered that this was supposed to be the son of Serizawa, and I wasn’t understanding why they made the connection to play out his character in the way he was written.
The other major flaw of this film kind of sits with the resolution of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If you’ve forgotten, that film ends with Godzilla as the Alpha surrounded by all his subordinate Titans, and then there’s no mention of any of it in this film. We know that it follows King of the Monsters because of some of the reveals in this film and returning characters, but where did all the Titans go and why aren’t any of them really integral to any of this plot. Looking back at King of the Monsters, it’s easy to see that most of those plot threads are captured in the incredibly lazy way of using news footage in that film’s closing credits, but it just kind of feels like King of the Monsters had a Resident Evil movie’s finale, where all of it is seemingly undone within moments of the next installment, and it frustrated the hell out of me as a viewer.
Through its faults, and the film indeed has them, I was entertained as hell by Godzilla vs. Kong, and I hope this isn’t the last of the MonsterVerse, now that it has accomplished its main goal of getting these two to duke it out (and there is a winner, don’t let anyone fool you), and now I want to see where it goes from here. This was loads of fun even on a second viewing, and I’m already looking forward to a third watch.
4/5 -Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island, click here.
For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.
For my review of Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, click here.
For my review of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, click here.
For my review of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, click here.
For my review of the anthology film The ABCs of Death, click here.
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer Screenplay: Leigh Whannell 108 mins. Rated R for strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language.
Saw III felt like an event in horror back in 2006. It was the end of a trilogy, following two very popular installments. We weren’t sure if the franchise would continue, if it could continue, and if so, in what form? So many questions, and it was a packed theatrical experience in my hometown theater. Now, 15 years on, Saw III ended up not being the last installment (and even the next last installment, Saw: The Final Chapter, ended up not being the last installment either, in typical horror franchise fashion), so how does this third entry in the 9-film series fare amid the larger framework, and is it any good?
It’s been six months since Eric Matthews disappeared, and with each new killing, Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers, Johnny Mnemonic) gets more and more desperate for answers. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Mississippi Burning, The Firm) and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith, The Blob, Believe) haven’t been seen in that time, but they’ve been busy setting their new game in motion, involving a vengeful father who must save the very people he blames for the death of his son and a surgeon forced to keep Jigsaw alive until the game is complete.
Saw III still feels like a final chapter in many ways. It sort of completes a certain story of the Saw franchise while sowing the seeds for the next 4 installments. I love when a horror series can build upon its established mythology as it furthers the narrative, and Saw III is perhaps the best example of this series excelling at both. It looks back at how Amanda has been integral in Jigsaw’s story as she sets up events from the first two films, and it dives into the deep mentor/protege relationship that the two have cultivated as Jigsaw tries to understand if she is capable of taking on his mantle after his death.
As far as the new game goes, I found this one quite interesting. I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how this game would matter in the grand scheme, and it plays out in a number of surprising ways. This is something some of the later films would struggle with, but I found the twists and turns to be rather interesting in this film. The traps are interesting as well, a good combination of elaborate and disgusting. The Rack is one of the best traps of the entire series.
The cinematography and editing in the film are very similar to previous installments, but Bousman continues to push the visual flair of the series, crafting some interesting transitional shots that keep the action moving even when the narrative pauses to jump into the past.
Charlie Clouser’s score here is the best of the series thus far, as he takes popular theme’s like Hello Zepp and elevates them in new and interesting ways. I’ve always been a fan of the score in this franchise, and Clouser’s work in this film is another way. Between Clouser’s music, the cinematography, and editing, everything feels like a Saw film, and it won’t sway you if you didn’t like them in the first two films.
Saw III isn’t here to bring in new fans, and it doesn’t have to. If you’ve enjoyed the franchise thus far, Saw III should continue the strong streak of this 2000s horror juggernaut. If you weren’t a fan of Saw or its follow-up, this just may not be the franchise for you, but I adored this sequel and nearly everything about it. It’s one flaw is that may spend more time in the past than it does in the present, but it’s all good stuff nonetheless.
Director: Ernest Dickerson Cast: Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Khalil Kain, Clifton Powell, Bianca Lawson, Michael T. Weiss Screenplay: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe 96 mins. Rated R for violence/gore, language, sexuality and drugs.
I remember the VHS cover for Bones. I remember seeing it when I’d peruse my local video store. I knew nothing about it, except the guy on the front cover looked like that rapper I didn’t listen to. It was a creepy cover, but I had nothing else drawing me to it. I only recently learned that was directed by Ernest Dickerson (Juice, Blind Faith), someone I’ve been aware of for years. I figured, since the film is celebrating its 20th anniversary today, now would be the right time to check out Bones and see if it was as underrated as I’d heard.
It’s been twenty years since the death of Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dogg, Training Day, Turbo), and the brownstone building that was his home has become a relic and a tomb. Now, four friends, led by Patrick (Khalil Kain, Renaissance Man, Coming to Africa), have purchased the Bones house and update it to open a nightclub inside. This sets off a chain reaction that begins the resurrection of Bones who is out for vengeance against those who betrayed him decades ago.
Dickerson’s biggest strength as a director is his ability to play into the genre and utilize a strong filmic sensibility for practical effects. When he utilizes practical effects in the film, it’s a kickass experience. The practical effects are gorgeous and grim and wholly captivating. The problem is that Bones also uses visual effects which are completely distracting and poorly lit. So many of the visual effects have aged and ineffective.
That’s not the only area of mixed execution in the film. Snoop Dogg is utilized quite well in the film. He hadn’t done much acting as of this time period, and he’s played as more of a presence with a bit of an over-the-top flair. He also plays nicely off of Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, Ghosts of Mars), who plays his romantic interest, Pearl. Snoop and Grier had done music videos in the years leading up to Bones, and that chemistry is here as well, but remember I said that acting was mixed? Well, our group of four friends opening up the nightclub are all pretty lackluster. None of them are written all that well, nor are they performed all that well. Mostly, they are overwritten and overacted to the point of parody, and while Bones isn’t meant to be taken seriously, these four youths are seemingly in a different movie, which is disappointing.
Bones is filled with mixed bits because while certain performances and effects work, others do not. The practical effects work is lit well, but the CG is not. The production design is excellent, but the editing is a bit rough and scattered. It’s a movie of parts that work and parts that do not, though I would still give the film a mild edge because enough of it works to have fun. Bones isn’t a classic by any means, but I had enough fun with the narrative and Dickerson’s direction to enjoy myself.
3/5 -Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Ernest Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, click here.
Director: Duwayne Dunham Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown, Judith Hoag, Joey Zimmerman, Emily Roeske Screenplay: Jon Cooksey, Ali Marie Matheson 84 mins. Rated TV-G.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t watch Halloweentown as a kid. I lived in a part of the country where the Disney Channel was apparently part of some expensive cable package that my family just didn’t have. With that, I just didn’t grow up with Halloweentown. My wife did. Several of my friends did. I didn’t, so when Halloweentown comes up in conversation about best films to watch during this time of year, I don’t really have much to add. Well, I bought the first two films with the intention of watching them with my wife during the Halloween season, so let’s discuss this Disney Channel Original favorite.
Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown, Bringing Down the House, Friendship!) is 13 years old, practically an adult in her own eyes, and yet, she’s never been able to take part in Halloween. Her younger siblings are the same way, and their mother, Gwen (Judith Hoag, Armageddon, Finding You) has never given a reason. It seems this year will be no different, but when Marnie’s grandmother, Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain, In & Out), arrives for her yearly Halloween visit, Marnie learns the truth: she and her sister Sophie (Emily Roeske, 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, Fell’s Redeemer) are both witches, and this is Marnie’s last year to begin training or her powers will be gone forever. She follows her grandmother home aboard a mystical bus, and they are whisked off to Halloweentown, a magical locale full of witches, warlocks, and humanoid creatures of all varieties. It seems like a wonderful place to Marnie, but there is danger brewing in Halloweentown, and her family is in grave danger.
Watching this film in my early 30s is perhaps not the right time to see it. Halloweentown feels to me like The Goonies: if you missed it when you were the target audience, it may be lost on you. I don’t want to completely hate on the film because in many ways it is similar to shows I grew up on like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? but without anything actually scary.
Debbie Reynolds is absolute magic as Aggie Cromwell. It seems that, if nothing else, she understood the assignment and infused the role with an enthusiasm rarely given to television movies in the 90s. Her time with bright and shiny Hollywood pictures would have led me to believe her to be “Bigger” than this movie, but she treats it with the same respect she would have given to any role, and that’s part of what makes her so emphatically entertaining in the role.
As for the children in the film, none of these performances are offensive, but all three of the Piper children are played with a We’re-in-a-Disney-Channel-movie-so-we-need-to-enunciate-in-a-way-that-makes-everything-light-and-bubbly-at-all-times-so-the-young-viewers-will-not-get-too-anxious-of-the-danger-we’re-in kind of performance. Perhaps believability was never possible in a film like this, but I was always invested in Harry Potter’s magical world for its characters and the danger they were in was palpable enough to allow me to enter their world.
I liked the aspect of Halloweentown that actually dived into the macabre specifically the flavor of the town and its people. I wish it were portrayed with a semblance of childlike fear, just enough to give a minute amount of spookiness to the finished product, but I liked the town and its various residents, particularly the unnerving skeletal taxi driver, Benny. As I said before, all of these characters within the town would have been even better if the film had any real scares, even as far as mood goes.
And that’s the film’s biggest problem for me. It’s not scary, and I know what you’ll say next. You’ll tell me that this is a kids movie and that it can’t be that scary for children, and you’ll tell me that nothing in it is meant to scare ME, but here’s the thing: this film is fearless. There’s nothing even remotely spooky going on in this movie. Let’s compare it to aforementioned Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, as I still watch both of these shows during the Halloween season for nostalgia and a bit of lighthearted amusement. Both shows cease to scare me, but they scared me quite a bit as a child, even someone like me who watched Halloween at age 4, who has grown up watching the Adult Horror from a young age. The scares in Goosebumps and Are You Afraid are mild, to be sure, but they are there, and they worked just enough on me as a child to get some thrills out of them and then wash myself clean of them after 30 minutes. I’m not asking for Halloweentown to be remade into a film like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (but Disney, if that interests you, call me), but it’s extremely obvious that this film was not intended for even slight fear, which is odd because I figured putting a director like Duwayne Dunham (Now You See It…, Tiger Cruise) at the helm would be akin to a little bit of eerieness at the very least, as he had directed a couple episodes of Twin Peaks, a show that consistently delved into eerieness. Again, not asking for a Twin Peaks Halloweentown (but again, Disney, call me), but I want something, anything, to tell me that this wasn’t just a Christmastown movie reskinned with a Halloween aesthetic.
No, I didn’t hate Halloweentown, but I didn’t love it. I thought it was simply okay, a bit of a letdown for a film with such a fervant following (St. Helen’s, Oregon, where the film was made, has a month-long Spirit of Halloweentown festival every year), but I don’t think I’m the target audience for this anymore. Maybe I just missed the boat, but it’s my goal on this site to educate and give my opinion on any film, and I try to see every film through the intended lens. I ask myself, “What is this movie trying to be and is it successful?” It’s one of the first things I think about when I see a movie, and it’s as important to me as entertainment value. For me, Halloweentown is intended for children, and I feel like it works well enough at what it’s trying to be that I won’t hate on it. It’s just a movie that, even were I a young child, seeing it for the first time, I would’ve been “Meh” on it. It’s fine, it’s inoffensive, but you won’t ever see me choosing Halloweentown over the more solid Hocus Pocus in terms of family Halloween fare. That’s all.