Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Director: André Øvredal

Cast: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint

Screenplay: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.

 

I remember reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I had all three books, and I vividly recall the striking imagery. It was one of those first experiences that attributed to my love of horror, alongside watching Halloween with my mother when I was four and the Goosebumps book series from R.L. Stine. It was a pivotal part in shaping my fascination with fear and the macabre as ways of telling real stories, and they were damn entertaining too. Now, producer Guillermo del Toro, coming off his Oscar wins for The Shape of Water, is bringing us the film adaptation of this classic book trilogy with director André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) behind the camera.

The story begins on Halloween night 1968, with Stella (Zoe Colletti, Annie, Skin) and her friends, Auggie (Gabriel Rush, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Chuck, who discover an old book in the supposed haunted home of the Bellows family. This book contains several scary stories and a lot of empty pages too. Stella takes the book home and discovers that new stories are appearing in it. At the same time, each of the kids that stepped foot in the Bellows home is in a story being written, one that comes true. Now, Stella and her friends are running out of time to get the book back home and break the curse of Sarah Bellows and her book of scary stories before they become a part of it.

As with many anthology films, which Scary Stories loosely is, the individual stories are one piece, and the framing device another. Of the many scary stories featured in the film, I think they all work quite well. The creature design is pretty awesome, some visual treats I haven’t seen before, and I think they, for the most part, work really well.

The main problem with the movie is the framing device. The whole story of Sarah Bellows and the book of scary stories should work on the surface, and it adds a nice layer of tone and flavor to the 1960s setting. The problem is that the framing device isn’t as strongly written as the stories that appear within the film, and this main plot of Stella and her friends is given far too much of the runtime of the film. It easily could have been cut about 20 minutes to streamline the plot more.

I also didn’t connect with Stella very much. She is a little flatly-written, and I was far more interested in the secondary characters like Auggie and Chuck as well as archetypal bully Tommy (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns, Brad’s Status).

For the problems with the screenplay, Øvredal does a great job with direction, setting tone and mood down to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of reading the stories as a kid. The film reminded me of reading Goosebumps or watching the television series for Are You Afraid of the Dark? He crafted a creepy atmosphere oozing with unsettling imagery. Much like The House with a Clock in its Walls from last year, this is a kid’s horror film that doesn’t shy away from some truly haunting imagery. Whereas The House with a Clock is closer to a Hocus Pocus, Scary Stories almost aims for It or The Monster Squad, definitely something more adult than I expected. I would caution potential viewers by saying the film has some disturbing elements, but all the same, this is exactly the kind of movie experience that adolescent Kyle would have been all over.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a winning horror experience. While the film struggles in building new mythology and setting the framing device into play, it mostly wins with the actual scary stories. It was a hellishly fun viewing experience that perfectly sets up more stories to come. Hopefully the filmmakers can course-correct some of the problems of the film for a sequel should one arise. I still had a lot of fun and would urge filmgoers looking for a nostalgic horror throwback to check this one out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Director: Rob Letterman

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy

Screenplay: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Nicole Perlman

104 mins. Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

 

After decades of waiting, a live-action Pokemon movie exists, and it follows Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town as he…wait? It doesn’t? Then who’s it about? Detective Pikachu? Seriously? Okay, let’s start this one again.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, Paper Towns, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) works in the high-stakes world of insurance, and he has no interest in being a Pokemon trainer, but when Tim learns of his father’s death, he goes to Ryme City to settle things. When Tim arrives at his father’s apartment, he comes across a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool, The Croods) sporting detective wear and claiming to belong to Harry, Tim’s father. The crazy thing is that he and the Pikachu completely understand each other as if they’re speaking the same language. Pikachu wants to solve the case of Harry’s possible murder, but he has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything. The two unlikely heroes join forces to find the culprits, and their search brings them to a conspiracy neither one ever expected.

I was really disappointed to hear that the first live-action Pokemon movie would be a Detective Pikachu movie, mostly because there was so much material to be mined in the Pokemon Universe, and choosing to focus on a game that was largely unreleased in North America until recently seemed like a really odd choice. Then, I heard Ryan Reynolds was voicing Pikachu and I got really concerned. It seemed to me like this whole franchise was coming together in a really bad way. Then, the poster looked okay. Then, the trailer looked silly, but it also looked like fun, so I became increasingly excited about the prospect of a Detective Pikachu movie, but there was still that lingering confusion as to the narrative purpose of a Detective Pikachu movie. It was only after seeing the film that I got it. There is a very important narrative purpose to this movie, and while I still would have like to see a straight-forward Pokemon adventure, Detective Pikachu is a great introductory course for Pokemon fans, and it has the potential to bring in a lot of new fans.

For the most part, Ryan Reynold’s voice work is pretty solid for him and the writing gives him a lot to play with. His chemistry as a CG-character actually melded pretty well with Justice Smith’s Tim. Their central relationship is the reason for watching the movie, as many of the secondary characters serve a purpose to that central relationship but little else.

Director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Goosebumps) injected a lot of little references and visually appealing fan moments into the movie. I had some concern about the use of legendary characters like Mewtwo in this movie, and how they would be incorporated in an interesting way, and overall, it was mostly done with care. Again, the whole Mewtwo has a purpose in the film and a narrative reason to appear, albeit a thin one. What’s great is that, even with Mewtwo, his lore from the animated films and games appears to be intact and built into the character’s past. That’s one of reasons that I couldn’t look away from the screen during the movie. I have been a Pokemon fan since it hit stateside, and I was glued to the screen for every little CG critter to show up.

The biggest flaw of the film is that it caters to one demographic age range, which was a silly choice. This is a kid’s movie, and before you say DUH! I want to say that Pokemon, as a franchise is now multi-generational, much like the Toy Story movies. Kids who grew up with Pokemon when it started are not adults with their very own children, and if Detective Pikachu aimed their narrative at both kids and adults, it would have been more successful. I had a lot of fun watching, but the plotting was a little simplistic and I put it together rather easily. The final turn of the film surprised me a bit, and it was a good little hook to the narrative, but the overarching plotline was rather simplistic. Too much so.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu now holds the distinction of being the best video game movie ever, at least from a critical viewpoint, and I truly enjoyed it. It’s the kind of movie that Pokemon fans will like and non-Pokemon fans can at least understand. It’s plot is a little too rudimentary, but the central comradery between Pikachu and Tim is strong enough to carry, and it has plenty of cute little monsters to keep the spectacle alive.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my theory involving Detective Pikachu’s connection to Home Alone, click here.

Suicide Squad (2016)

suicidesquad2016d

Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevigne

Screenplay: David Ayer

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.

 

I’m not the first person to say that the DCEU has had a rough time of it trying to build a shared universe of films. After Green Lantern failed to ignite the franchise, Man of Steel hit with mixed reviews, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice got destroyed by fans and critics alike. Then, Suicide Squad was released to…drumroll, please…negative reviews. It hasn’t been easy for DC. Now, it took me some time to get to Suicide Squad just out of pure frustration with the film but I had some interesting views on it.

suicidesquad2016g

After the death of Superman, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, The Help), an intelligence operative, puts forth a plan to assemble a team, Task Force X, led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, TV’s The Killing, Child 44). When Flag’s girlfriend June Moone (Cara Delevigne, Paper Towns, Pan) is overtaken by a supernatural evil entity called The Enchantress who wishes to unleash a hellish future upon the Earth, Task Force X is called to action to stop her. The team, consisting of Deadshot (Will Smith, Men in Black, Concussion), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Legend of Tarzan), and other criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison, assemble to save the day…and plan their escape.

suicidesquad2016c

I was extremely hesitant to the idea that Will Smith was the central focus of all the members of the Suicide Squad. I didn’t like the idea of the entire movie forming around Smith, who hasn’t been able to carry an action film in some time. After seeing the performance, I take it back. Will Smith’s Deadshot is the most accessible character, a man doing bad things for the best intentions. His arc is one of the more interesting and successfully engaging in the film.

As for Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie owns the scenes that feature her. Robbie’s was one of the more anticipated for the film and another extremely workable and engaging performance. As for her relationship with The Joker (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), it isn’t one that people should pine for. Everyone seems to think that Harley Quinn is a strong empowered woman when really, she is the furthest from, at least in this film. Harley Quinn is broken, insisting that she belongs to The Joker, her Puddin’, and that she would do anything for him. The Joker’s master manipulation is what turned her into what she is: an obedient, sexually exploited, pet. Now, an interesting character indeed, but nothing that women should look to for empowerment.

suicidesquad2016i

Let’s talk about The Joker while we are here, and one of the major problems of the film. Now, I must say that Jared Leto is absolutely amazing in the film, and for the time we see him, I left wanting more, and there’s a reason for that. Leto’s performance takes mere hints from Heath Ledger’s The Dark Knight portrayal and Jack Nicholson’s Batman incarnation, as well as Cesar Romero’s Batman: The Movie from the 1960s. But Leto took a step further, going full method. Stories from the set of dead pigs being shipped as gifts are only scraping the surface of where he takes the character. So what’s not to like? The major problem with The Joker in the movie? He isn’t in it. He barely appears, which would be fine, but the fact that he was cut mostly from the film is a slap in the face to the great work Leto provides. Jared Leto created enemies on set with his batshit work, and there’s nothing to show for it. And it isn’t just him. The entire film suffers in the same way that Batman v Superman does. It feels like a collection of great scenes that don’t fit together. You get the sense that Suicide Squad was gutted even before hearing it confirmed.

suicidesquad2016h

The rest of Task Force X? There is some pretty solid work from Jai Courtney (Divergent, Terminator Genisys) as Captain Boomerang and Adelwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Trumbo) as Killer Croc (another horribly slashed character who just isn’t given enough to do). Jay Hernandez (Hostel, Bad Moms) does the best he can, but his character just isn’t that well written.

Lastly, we touch on The Enchantress. Cara Delevigne does the best she can, but her villain has no motivation. I spent half the movie just trying to figure out what damn machine she is building, what she is trying to accomplish, and exactly what her minions were. They kind of looked like poop demons covered in hot tar and became mindless drones.

Something very fascinating that the DCEU is attempting to do with this shared universe is how connected it is. Batman v Superman is a direct sequel to Man of Steel, and Suicide Squad inciting incident revolves around a key moment from BvS. I enjoy that each film heavily influences the others.

suicidesquad2016e

The tone of Suicide Squad isn’t perfect, but the film is a lot of fun to watch, which makes up for a lot of the shortcomings around it. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I cannot deny the glaring issues in pacing, editing, and writing that stared me in the face the entire time. For me, however, at least the DCEU is going in the right direction. I found myself liking BvS more than Man of Steel, and Suicide Squad was an increase in quality as well. Issues, yes, there are plenty, but Wonder Woman looks poised to take the quality a further notch up the scale, so overall, at least Suicide Squad was fun. Right?

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

#SpoilerAlert: did anyone else see Harley Quinn’s rap sheet at the beginning says she assisted in the death of Robin? What was that all about?

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑