[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 12 – Tales from the Crypt presents Ritual (2002)

Director: Avi Nesher
Cast: Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, Daniel Lapaine, Tim Curry
Screenplay: Rob Cohen, Avi Nesher
99 mins. Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality.

I bet there are quite a few people out there, even among fans of Tales from the Crypt, who were unaware that there was a third feature film in the series. Were you one of them? We’ll get into all that and more today as we discuss Ritual!

Dr. Alice Dodgson (Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing, Bittersweet Symphony) has just had her medical license revoked following the death of one of her patients. Unable to get work anywhere in the United States, she instead packs up and moves to Jamaica to take on caring for a young man the locals believe to be cursed. As Alice begins to peel back the layers of the situation, she discovers a sinister plot to use voodoo to kill the man, and she must find out why quickly in order to save him.

Originally, Universal Pictures planned on a trilogy of Tales from the Crypt films, starting with Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood. After the financial failure of the latter, Universal scrapped these plans, and some years later, Ritual, which wasn’t initially planned to be a Tales from the Crypt feature, became one. Bookends featuring the Cryptkeeper (voiced once again by John Kassir) was shot and added to the finished film, and voila! You have yourself another Tales from the Crypt film.

Sadly, the film doesn’t bolster a whole lot of confidence in the viewer almost immediately after beginning. This is some of the most lackluster shoehorning of a franchise I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve watched most of the Hellraiser sequels. The bookends with Cryptkeeper are so disappointing. He’s surrounded by scantily-clad women, perhaps in the hopes that we wouldn’t notice how terrible the puppetry is (we noticed). This is clearly not the same Cryptkeeper seen in the HBO series. That version was a full animatronic puppet that looked incredible and really gave a flavor to every appearance. This one is a hard plastic puppet with “deadlocks” that just sits there. It’s almost like you can hear a dispirited John Kassir from the soundbooth being forced at gunpoint to do the terrible line readings he’s been given. I know, I know, you are probably wondering why I’m going off about a bookend that really has no bearing on the finished film. Well, there are two reasons for that:

  • I spend money on this thing thinking it was going to be a classic Tales from the Crypt movie, complete with iconic Cryptkeeper!
  • This is the same bullshit that dropped Cats significantly in my scoring, because the filmmakers knew they were creating a subpar product and didn’t care.

Now, onto Ritual itself. The biggest problem with forcing this into being a third Tales from the Crypt film is that you expect that same kind of Crypt flavor in the storytelling. You expect something from this brand to be fun, goofy, perhaps a little mean-spirited in the name of satire, and overall, entertaining. That’s the way Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood were. Even The Frighteners, which almost ended up being retrofitted into a Tales from the Crypt film, had that flavor and style. Ritual is just a little paint-by-the-numbers (it is a very loose remake of the classic I Walked with a Zombie), and it does nothing interesting with the material. Perhaps its biggest sin is that it is…boring. I’ve seen Ritual a few times, and I struggle to get through it with each viewing. Not, each viewing does get a little less bad, but at the end of watching it, I struggle to even remember anything of value about the movie-watching experience. It’s a deeply forgettable and boring movie, something that no Tales from the Crypt film should have in its DNA.

The cast is fine with what they have. You can see Jennifer Grey and Tim Curry (Congo, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) in particularly really committing to the material. It’s just that they have nothing to do. Even Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It, Palmer) can usually give a memorable genre performance (on a side note, Craig Sheffer also appeared in Hellraiser: Inferno, a movie that was retrofitted into being a Hellraiser movie, and you have to wonder if he ever knows what the movie he is in will end up being).

Ritual is forgettable, boring, and a disservice to fans of this franchise, who should be able to have trust in something bearing the name of Tales from the Crypt. The movie is not the worst thing to have to sit through, but fans deserve much better, and a boring movie is oftentimes worse than a flat-out bad one. Shame. Shame indeed.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Ernest R. Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, click here.
For my review of Gilbert Adler’s Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood, click here.

[Early Review] Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotomo

Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

 

I was blessed earlier this week with the opportunity to see Solo: A Star Wars Story before its initial release. I cannot express in words the feelings I had sitting in a theater with my best friend and taking in the experience. I’ll get to it another time.

Solo has had a long and difficult journey to get to the big screen. After original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go from the project, seasoned director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, Inferno) stepped in to complete filming. By that, I mean to reshoot most of the film. So after all this, and making its May 25th release date, is Solo a worthy addition to the Star Wars franchise?

The film picks up about ten years before we meet the titular smuggler in A New Hope and witnesses the major events in his life leading up to that point, from his joining up with Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotomo) to his initial interactions with con artist Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, TV’s Atlanta). Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply) struggles between making the right choices and the smart choices, and he finds that the good in him is capable of outweighing the bad.

So, there’s still a lot of spoilery territory with Solo, so I’ll tread as best as I can. First of all, I can say that this film is not an improv-heavy comedy. It’s probably the funniest Star Wars film in some time, but it never hinges too heavily on it.

The best sequences in the film rely on the relationship built between Han, Chewie, and Lando, and thankfully these three performers steal the film. There was a lot of talk about Ehrenreich’s performance and his need for an acting coach, but the final product was some solid work from the actor. I have to imagine there is a great deal of stress in taking on the mantle of a character from four previous films and dozens of books and comics, and I’m sure it was difficult to switch director’s and styles as much as I’m sure he had to, but I thought he did quite well in the role, never falling into Harrison Ford impressions.

Joonas Suotomo has had some practice as Chewie from the past couple Star Wars installments, and he provides Chewbacca with youthful charisma that meets, but never passes, Peter Mayhew. Donald Glover is excellent as Lando, again never falling into caricature, but driving his own path that makes for some truly smarmy work from Glover.

The supporting cast is admirable as well, with specific love given to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s True Detective) as Beckett, Han’s mentor. The scenes he shares with Val (Thandie Newton, Crash, TV’s Westworld) are tender and joyful. There is also an interesting parallel to the relationship between  master and apprentice in both Jedi and Sith lores.

I also want to touch on the score. While I enjoyed the previous non-Williams score from Rogue One, Solo’s score from John Powell is fantastic and thrilling and feels more like it is a part of Star Wars. John Williams crafted the Han Solo theme and then handed off duties to Powell, and the partnership created something truly special.

Solo is not without its faults, however, and the issues with the film are particularly glaring when they happen. First, the film has some serious pacing issues. This is an issue Ron Howard’s films tend to have. It just feels like it went on far too long and when I thought the finale was coming, it didn’t.

There’s also a checklist feeling to the film. One thing I really enjoyed about Rogue One was that they took a sentence, a mere moment, of the lore and expanded it for a film. Solo instead chooses to hit every major Han Solo milestone in one film, and it feels like someone at Lucasfilm has a checklist and is checking items off as they happen in the film:

“Oh, he has to meet this character.”

                “Oh, he has to do this major event.”

                                “Oh, we have to explain this throwaway line.”

The film suffers from it, and they should have just picked one major event or relationship from his life to dive into. I disagree with reviewers saying this adds nothing new to the franchise, but I can also kind of understand what they mean.

Finally, there’s a scene at the end, when you see it, you’ll know which one I mean, where the film takes a major turn down a different path and it feels both forced and confusing, and while I, a major Star Wars fan, get it, I feel like casual fans won’t. Not that they can’t understand it, but it felt very out of place. While I won’t divulge this scene, but you will definitely know what I’m talking about.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a thrilling adventure, one that I quite enjoyed. While it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more unique, and I still can’t claim that we needed this film, it was a nice pallet cleanser for the serious tone of The Last Jedi. There are some fine performances and some really cool sequences, the film still feels like it’s trying too hard to do too much. That being said, I cannot wait to see it again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay: James Gunn

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

 

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is now available on home video and streaming platforms, and this film was universally liked but not universally loved. I took another look at it to see how I really felt.

Set a few months after the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers) and the team find themselves on the run from the Sovereigns when they come across a being known as Ego (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) who announces that he is Peter’s father and has been looking for him. Peter takes off with Ego and brings along Drax (Dave Bautista, Spectre, Enter the Warriors Gate) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Live by Night), leaving Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, Furious 7, Riddick)  to fix the ship and keep an eye on their prisoner, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus, The Circle) who is very much alive. While Peter learns much of his heritage from Ego, there is something strangely perfect looming over their time on the living planet while Rocket and Groot are hunted down by the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger, The Belko Experiment). With the team split up, they soon learn that they are at their strongest when they stick together in this sequel helmed by James Gunn (Movie 43, Super).

Is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 an improvement over the original? No, but does it have to be? No. I’m tired of these comparisons that say that a sequel or follow-up is not successful unless it surpasses the original. It doesn’t have to. But there are some things that are better. First off, I think the film’s coverage of its secondary characters is better. We get a much better look at Yondu that’s more than the somewhat one-dimensional character we had in the original. Michael Rooker is a masterful and often forgotten character actor and he absolutely shines here.

I also think the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is the best one in his entire filmography, which, at this point, is a pretty impressive feat. James Gunn’s choice to overload the end credits with five mid and post-credit scenes is brilliant and it adds to the insanity. I think overall, Gunn’s choice to embrace the flavor of what he brought to the screen is the winning element of the Guardians of the Galaxy series. You probably saw the music video for Inferno, the Guardians theme, recently, and I love that this kind of marketing and viral social meeting presence is available to fans.

I also felt that the relationship between Star-Lord and Ego is an interesting and complex one. Chris Pratt said in an interview that this film helped him to get over the death of his own father. Theirs is the driving force of the film and everything feeds off it. In fact, this is a film about fathers and the families we create, whether by blood or not (oh, and the de-aging of the devilishly handsome Kurt Russell is pretty impressive).

Things that altogether weren’t as good as they should have been? Really, it’s a small list, but I wish Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Oldboy, Hacker’s Game) could’ve done more. I think we will see more of Mantis later, but I felt like she was underused. I also was never a big fan of the Nebula/Gamora dynamic and I hope more relevance comes to this when Infinity War hits. Then there’s the loss of Nathan Fillion’s terrific cameo. I wish there had been a place to squeeze him in, but the film is rather bloated. Maybe that’s it. There’s so much going on that the film feels a little bloated. Yeah, that’s it.

“I am Groot.” -Groot

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a fine film and a fine addition to the MCU. I love these characters and treasure further adventures with all of them. The soundtrack is subtle and important and stays with you long after the film ends (I’m still humming it). Yeah, it’s just a damn fun time at the movies and in that respect, it’s a beautiful experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

 

 

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[#2017oscardeathrace] Hell or High Water (2016)

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Director: David Mackenzie

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham

Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan

102 mins. Rated R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Jeff Bridges) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]

 

Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, The Little Prince) is known most recently for two personas. The first is a hippie, as seen in his landmark role of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. The second: The cowboy. In Hell or High Water, from director David Mackenzie (Starred Up, Perfect Sense), we see the latter. That isn’t to diminish the role, far from it. In fact, each time Bridges personifies a cowboy, he brings something wholly new and unique to the role.

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Hell or High Water follows two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine, Star Trek, The Finest Hours) and Tanner (Ben Foster, Warcraft, Inferno), who become bank robbers to afford the reverse mortgage on their mother’s land, where oil was recently discovered. As the two brothers get hasty, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton comes onto the case with his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham, Twilight, The Space Between Us) to track down the masked robbers.

My big fault with Hell or High Water is the simplicity. There is an allegory about debt here that’s nice, but mostly, the film is pretty straightforward, and it didn’t really surprise me much in the way it played out. It was still quite enjoyable, and the performances from its main cast, particularly Chris Pine, who rises above preconceived notions to put out an award-worthy showcase. Foster and Birmingham are exceptional here as well, and Bridges earned his nomination, but for me, it just didn’t have that feeling of a Best Picture nominee.

An unexpected win for the film is it’s cinematography and editing, both top notch characters of their own, they elevate the simple story and are more than likely the main reason Hell or High Water was recognized with a Best Picture nomination. It is gorgeous filmmaking from David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario).

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I don’t want to give away the film’s climactic ending, but suffice it to say that this character piece is well-worth your time, especially for fans of modern westerns, a subgenre becoming more and more pronounced due to the talent contributing to it. Check out Hell or High Water, which slid under the radar for much of 2016; it deserves your attention.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 7 – Suspiria (1977)

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Director: Dario Argento

Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bose, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi, Dario Argento

Screenplay: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi

92 mins. Rated R.

 

As you go through life, you always hear about the different films you need to see. For me, Suspiria is definitely one of those films. Everyone who knows me knows about my love of horror, and yet, famed director Dario Argento (Phenomena, Dracula 3D) always slipped by me. Until Now. This year, I decided it was time to discover Argento. So I picked his most famous film.

 

Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, TV’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Minority Report) a ballet student from America, has arrived in Germany to develop her talents at the famous Tanz Dance Academy. But just as Suzy shows, another student, Pat, is fleeing for her life. Pat escapes to a friend’s home, explaining that something horrible is going on at Tanz before a mystical force preys on her. Suzy too begins to discover that there is indeed something very strange going on, and as she succumbs to fainting spells and horrific visions, it is clear that something evil is after her.

The most powerful element of Suspiria is its beauty, and I’m not just referring to its lead. This is an elegant film with stunning use of primary colors, giving the movie a unreal and nightmarish feel, like a child’s bad dream. The dreamlike quality is furthered by the childish dialogue of its main characters.

I can’t say that the visuals are the only great element at play here. There is a terrific score from progressive rock band Goblin. This is music that is often imitated but rarely equaled in a horror film.

Jessica Harper leads the cast fine, though the practice of dubbing in Italian horror back in the 70s causes a bit of difficulty in really conveying emotion throughout. She is matched by Joan Bennett (TV’s Dark Shadows, Father’s Little Dividend) and Alida Valli (The Third Man, Eyes Without a Face) as Madame Blanc and her instructor Miss Tanner, respectively.

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Suspiria is well-acted, beautifully shot, and viscerally audible. The film, based on a lie by Dario’s lady-friend and co-screenwriter Daria Nicolodi, has aged very well. The first film in what Argento refers to as his “Three Mothers” Trilogy, it was followed by Inferno and The Mother of Tears, and I can’t wait to get to more from this legendary filmmaker.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon set to Appear in “Inferno”, Shooting Begins in April

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Some news for you folksies today. According to an article posted by Entertainment Weekly, Tom Hanks will be returning to play symbologist Robert Langdon in the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s Inferno.

Now, this part gets a little chronologically confusing, so bear down with me here…

Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books goes as follows:

  1. Angels & Demons
  2. The DaVinci Code
  3. The Lost Symbol
  4. Inferno

The soon-to-be trilogy of films directed by Ron Howard consists of:

  1. The DaVinci Code
  2. Angels & Demons
  3. Inferno

Now, for the most part, these stories are interchangeable, no one of them has any consequence on the others, but it is interesting to note that The Lost Symbol will (as of this blogging) not be adapted. I read it. It’s the fourth best of the books.

 

Ron Howard will be stepping behind the camera again in April.

What do you think? Is this exciting news or do you find it quite meh? Tell me.

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