Director: Freddie Francis Cast: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed, Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion, Lilian Brousse, Maurice Denham Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster 80 mins. Not Rated.
Hammer Horror is a term that seems to specifically reference the big horror icons through the lens of the Hammer: Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. It goes much further, though, and dives into a wide berth of creepy tales from the legendary studio. Today, we’ll talk about one of the thrillers where the monsters are human: Paranoiac.
It’s been eleven years since the dual tragedies of the Ashby family. First, the parents died in an airplane crash. Soon after, son Tony (Alexander Davion, Valley of the Dolls, The Plague of the Zombies) committed suicide. In the years since, the Ashby family has remained quite reclusive, but now, with the inheritance about to be delivered to Simon (Oliver Reed, Gladiator, The Brood), a man shows up at the homestead claiming to be Tony, but is it really? While several family members doubt Tony’s survival, his sister Eleanor (Janette Scott, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, The Day of the Triffids) wants more than anything to believe him. Is this man really Tony, or someone after the inheritance?
Director Freddie Francis (Tales from the Crypt, Dracula Has Returned From the Grave) started his career in cinematography, and he spent a lot of time in the tail end of his career doing the same, but during this time period, he helmed quite a few Hammer Horror films, both in color and also in Black-and-White. Paranoiac is a perfect B&W film because it has a lot of elements of classic horror/thrillers. This is a horror film of dialogue and character-driven thrills. Francis and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster (The Horror of Frankenstein, Fear in the Night) keep a number of secrets and reveals close to the chest, and the 80-minute run time allows for all killer, no filler. We are quickly given all the main players to the narrative in Simon, Eleanor, and Aunt Harriet (Sheila Burrell, Cold Comfort Farm, Afraid of the Dark), who controls the inheritance as our film opens. As we see, the family is full of conflict before Tony even enters the narrative. It’s interesting to see how Tony exacerbates the situation for everyone involved, and then discovering the layers behind each of them beginning to unravel, it’s clear that, whether or not Tony is real, his presence here will change the individual family members forever.
The standout here is, as always, Oliver Reed as Simon. A drunk, womanizing, space-waster, Simon is the one blessed with the more layered character, and he makes use of it. He’s wasted every little bit of money that Aunt Harriet has given him on booze and good times, and now his goodwill is gone, and he’s getting by on IOUs and credit. He’s even trying to get Eleanor committed in order to gain on her portion of the inheritance. He’s a man who has lost his parents, forfeited his good standing in town, and now seeks to betray his remaining allies in order to get a step ahead.
Eleanor has an unusual relationship with Tony. She’s the most-affected by his absence, and she’s the first one to see him initially, and he only officially appears to her when she tries to commit suicide the same way he supposedly did. Their relationship is complicated by his return because she’s lifted him to this high pedestal, evolving a love for him that pushes past familial into the realm of romantic entanglement. It creates a complexity in their engagements and also furthers the question of the identity of Tony.
The film unfolds at a nice enough pace until the final minutes, when every story point is concluded very quickly, some of them satisfactory, some not. It’s a shame that some of these story threads are not fully concluded when the rest of the film moves along quite nicely. It doesn’t derail the story, but I wish the final moments were worthy of the preceding 75 minutes
Paranoiac gets comparisons to Psycho, but I think the film stands on its own as a thrilling and exciting little mystery that shows its cards at the right time and, barring a few missteps in the finale, creates an eerie mood where no one can be trusted, least of all our lead characters. It’s a compelling narrative that’s well worth the time.
Well, I’m glad that is over. 2020 has come to an end, and with it, we see a very unusual year with a very unusual effect on the film industry. I can’t remember the last time I went this long without setting foot in a theater. The last movie I saw at the cinema was The Invisible Man back in early March. That was before my birthday so I can officially say that I haven’t been to the movie theater at all in my 30s. Geez, this year could not end fast enough. And no, we won’t see theaters immediately come back to the way they were in 2021, but there’s hope. There’s been some serious vaccine development happening. My wife is expecting her second dose of the vaccine next week, and hopefully I’ll be in line soon enough.
One of the biggest differences between our current situation and pandemics and illnesses past, though, is that we have the luxury of many at-home devices and personal entertainment options. In 2020, I watched a ton of movies that I’ve owned for years and haven’t seen yet. I’ve read books and played video games that were on my list. I listened to new music and explored new genres. Money was also tight, though, as many people went without their normal income for months on end. My family unit was pretty concerned about this, so we canceled many of our unneeded services, and I went to watching older movies, classic movies, that I haven’t seen before as opposed to whatever was being dumped on Netflix. All this is a roundabout way of saying that I didn’t see a lot of newer movies this year, so my list won’t be as eclectic as it has in previous seasons, but I’m going to move through it the best I can and give you my thoughts on the best movies I saw last year. Really, though, I missed a lot of films I desperately wanted to see, so you could call this a list of 10 solid movies from last year. When it all shakes out, there may be a completely different set of films that would have made my Top Ten if this year had gone normally.
So, let’s do this the same way we’ve done it before, with a few obligatory stipulations and notes:
-As stated above, I did not see every film that was released in 2020. That would have been an impossibility, even in 2020. I saw as many as I could. Of course, as always, life happens and some films were missed. So if you don’t see something on this list, it doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t belong. I may just not have see it…yet. That, or it doesn’t belong.
-These are MY personal picks from the options available this year. These are not predictions for the Best Picture nominees of the Academy Awards nor are they undeniably the best films of the year where there is no cause for discussion. In fact, I pray for challenge and discussion. Some films have different placement at the end of the year than they would have based on their initial scoring, and some may have major flaws. Like I’ve said before, enjoyment goes a long way…
Alright, no more fluff, let’s do this thing.
The Way Back
-This is a hard movie to watch, but I think we knew that going in. Ben Affleck, a recovering addict, in a movie, playing an addict. It was a recipe for a rough viewing, but the film comes off tremendously cathartic. It’s hard to call it a sports film because so much of the narrative seems to be focused on Affleck’s performance, but his work is so strong and painful that it stays with you long after the movie ends. My only problem is that the film seems to veer away from his alcoholism in order to give a classic sports film finale that seemed to reckon with his character arc, but other than that, this was an unforgiving character study.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge
-I told you there might be some odd surprises here, and I wasn’t lying. Scorpion’s Revenge is probably the best Mortal Kombat film yet, an animated telling of the original mythology seen from the eyes of one of its most popular characters. The film is simple, and it’s purpose is only to entertain, but it does that and more with its stylish, hard-hitting action and an unforgiving and almost cruel fight sequences. I grew up playing the Mortal Kombat games and watching the (original!) movie, so it was great to see the WB Animation team (known for such tremendous work on the DC Animated films) to take a stab at this mythology, and it paid off.
Gretel & Hansel
-I put off on watching this one back when theaters were still open. I really didn’t like Oz Perkins’s previous work on I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (in fact, it was my least favorite film of the year back when it came out), so seeing his take on the classic fairy tale Hansel & Gretel just didn’t seem to win me over. Even with the solid posters and trailers for the film, I felt like I was being set up for disappointment. Finally, I was swayed late in the year to check this one out and I’m so happy I did. There’s style and tone unique to this film that makes the classic story all anew once again. Sophia Lillis was tremendous in the lead role (a fitting choice to invert the names as such, as she owns the narrative), and I was impressed with Alice Krige’s take on the witch. This film oozes atmosphere and doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you slept on this horror tale like I did, seek it out as soon as you can.
Da 5 Bloods
-I was on the opposite side of things for Spike Lee’s newest film. BlacKkKlansman was my favorite movie the year of its release, and the idea that Lee’s next film would be a Vietnam War film with a touch of the search for buries treasure was just bonkers enough to get my full attention. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I made sure to give the film the proper attention on the soonest night that I could sit back for the 150-minutes it required. Da 5 Bloods is not as polished as BlacKkKlansman, but it is nonetheless a staggering movie that attempts to reach a whole lot of different subjects, from war to friendship to aging to race and of course politics in our current state of the nation. Lee jumps from one unusual and captivating sequence to the next, all the while remembering to keep the film entertaining beyond anything else. I just had loads of fun with the movie’s action while also a quiet contemplation for some of its most serious and heartbreaking beats as well. This is another win for the exciting filmmaker.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
-It’s tough to make a sequel. It’s even tougher to make a comedy sequel. Even more so when it is a long-gestating comedy sequel of a pop cultural icon like Borat. Back in 2006, it was a huge success, so why did Sasha Baron Cohen return to make a sequel 14 years later? Trump, and the current political state. I was initially worried, but Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a largely successful comedy sequel that tells a very simple story, mostly to get back into the undercover interview-style that Cohen’s comedy is usually mined from. I don’t think the movie 100% works as well as its predecessor, but it is a scathing view of American politics through an outside lens, one that asks more questions about the state of the nation while it also tackles a very human story of Borat connecting with his daughter. It also has one of the most shocking and talked about endings of any film from last year. I very much enjoyed Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and I hope we see him again some day for a trilogy capper.
The Invisible Man
-Man, I was so excited for the Dark Universe. Finally, a return to Universal’s monsters in a way that felt fresh and exciting in the wake of the successful MCU and cinematic universe model. Damn, I was disappointed when the entirety of the plan fell apart due to the poor quality and reception of The Mummy, so when I heard that Leigh Whannell would be helming another stab at the Universal Monsters with a simplistic and new take on The Invisible Man, I was excited with a hint of trepidation. I mean, The Invisible Man is not the most popular of these characters, he never interacted with the other monster in the way that Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, of The Wolf Man had. Still, he is an exciting filmmaker who has never steered me wrong, ever since his breakout writing work on the Saw films. Thankfully, The Invisible Man is an exciting and terrifying update on the mythos of the character (that has absolutely nothing to do with the H.G. Wells novel) and changes the central players to fit a more 2020 theme. It’s scary, exciting, and bold while all maintaining a $7 million budget. How Whannell was able to pull all that off with such a small budget is incredible, and outside a little bit of a uninspired ending, the film is a constantly galloping bit of excitement and shocks, with a phenomenal performance from Elisabeth Moss.
-It’s nice to see a company like Pixar really flex their creativity with films like Soul. I’ve often recalled Pixar’s promise that they do not make animated movies strictly for children, and Soul is a movie that I can see not many children loving in the way they enjoy Toy Story. Soul is very much an adult animated movie that has a lot to say. I wasn’t really sure where it was going with its message (it seemed early on to shun those who chase their dreams) but when the film arrived at the destination, I found myself overwhelmed with the ideas at play and the gorgeous animation on display. The voice cast is terrific, the world-building is stunning, and the film’s themes are universal. It’s a heady movie, closer to a mix between Inside Out and Coco, that begs for multiple viewings. It’s just a shame it wasn’t a theatrical release because it would have been an incredible audience experience.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
-I had forgotten this one was based on a play when I started it, and I recall reading the play years ago, but a play like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is impossible to enjoy from reading in the same way as it is viewed and performed. This is an excellent cast, including a potential career best from the late and great Chadwick Boseman, but make no mistake. There isn’t a single bad performance in this movie. It’s a bluesy and heartbreaking viewpoint into a world that I know little about. Boseman’s playing off of the other performers, specifically Viola Davis, is wonderful, but I have to sing the praises of Colman Domingo, who is an unsung hero in this movie. Domingo consistently puts out great work and never gets the credit I feel he is deserving of, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is just another one of those incredible performances from the character actor. The run time is tight, the ending is impactful, and the staying power is strong. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an incredible movie experience that adapts its source material better than even Fences a few years before (not to knock that film, but Fences felt like it was a filmed version of the play, whereas Ma Rainey felt more like an adaptation to film).
The Trial of the Chicago 7
-I may be biased in selecting this for my #2 (either way, it belongs in the Top Ten), but I love a courtroom drama, and Aaron Sorkin’s newest film captures the excitement and tension of a great courtroom drama expertly here. Yes, you can throw all of your complaints about its accuracy, but this list is not the Top Ten Most Accurate Films of 2020 (that list would be boring). Sorkin’s fire-spitting dialogue makes for an excellent screenplay and his cast executes it perfectly. I never felt bored, I never checked my watch, and the film’s timeliness was oh-so-strong that it feels all the more present in 2020. Perhaps Sorkin’s directing has not reached the levels of the many filmmakers who have directed his previous screenplay’s, but it’s capable filmmaking with no flair but no flaws either, and his story and performers more than make up for it.
-The strongest films of the year in 2020 seem to be the ones most excellently written. Look at the top five here. So many incredible stories that were written with precision and all meat, no fat. Uncle Frank is no exception. I honestly hadn’t heard of this film before getting a screener from Amazon. I didn’t even know that Alan Ball had written anything new recently. His direction is maybe a little more fine-tuned than Sorkin’s, having trained so much on his television work in Six Feet Under and True Blood, but again, the screenplay is what makes this film. That, and the excellent work from Paul Bettany in a restrained and honest performance. Sophia Lillis (she had a damn good year between this and Gretel & Hansel) keeps up nicely, as does Peter Macdissi, an actor that I’ve never seen so joyful and liberating as he is here. Even the supporting cast, from Steve Zahn to Margo Martindale, everyone is playing to their strengths. The story is simple, it’s one we’ve heard before, but its “truth” in realistic portrayals and difficult emotional character beats make Uncle Frank my favorite film of 2020.
There you have it. My Top Ten films of 2020. It was a tough year, and many of my most anticipated films from the beginning of the year were pushed off to this year, but what I did see was a big mix of films both good and bad. Here’s hoping 2021 gets us back to normal.
But hey, I want to see your Top Ten films of 2020. Leave them below and let me know what you thought of the films on my list! Happy New Year!
Director: Harold Ramis Cast: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Connor Screenplay: Larry Gelbart, Harold Ramis, Peter Tolan 93 mins. Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor, language and some drug content.
Bedazzled was one of the first DVDs I ever owned. I remember getting a DVD player (for the family) for Christmas and, after hearing my dad swearing at the DVD player for an hour when he couldn’t get it plugged in, I was able to start my collection of DVDs, one that has exploded into a dangerously large amount over the last twenty years. I added Bedazzled to my collection because I was regularly checking it out from the video store anyway, so I might as well save the rental money and just own it. Now, it’s been at least a decade since I saw it, and I was very excited to revisit it for the 20th anniversary, but I was very nervous that it could have aged terribly.
Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy, Crash) is a bit of a loser. He’s an unpopular geek who desperately wants to be accepted by his co-workers. At the very least, he’d love to just be noticed by his beautiful colleague Alison Gardner (Frances O’Connor, The Conjuring 2, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), who doesn’t even seem to know he exists. When his latest attempt to speak to Alison fails, he is approached by a beautiful woman in a red dress, who introduces herself to Elliot as The Devil (Elizabeth Hurley, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, EDtv). The Devil offers Elliot a deal: to grant him seven wishes for his soul. Now, Elliot has seven wishes to woo Alison; now if he can only get the wording right.
To be clear: I haven’t seen the original 1967 film. Not that it matters, as we should be able to view a remake on its own ground. All that being said, Bedazzled is a very enjoyable film from director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack). I actually really liked Brendan Fraser’s lead performance as Elliot. There’s a level of charisma in the way he related to me as a viewer. I think a lot of us have been in similar places to Elliot, feeling out of place in our day-to-day, wanting something or someone he can’t have, and it’s admirable that he would try to sell his soul to get her. I think Fraser gives a likability to the unlikable Elliot, making him someone to root for even as he bungles each attempt to win Alison’s affection.
I also really enjoyed Hurley’s take on the Devil. It only makes sense that the Devil would appear to a hopeless romantic as a stunningly gorgeous woman who can make him bend to her will. More than that, Hurley has fun with the role. She creates someone that the audience can enjoy, almost making us forget that she’s kind of an antagonist to Elliot’s search. We know the Devil doesn’t really want Elliot to succeed. She wants him to make his mistakes quickly so she can search out the next lost soul on the planet to work on, but Hurley works the expectations well. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance, but she does add to the film with her presence.
Bedazzled isn’t a top-tier film for Harold Ramis. It doesn’t contain the level of zaniness that we’ve seen from him, but it gives another rare glimpse of the heart and thoughtfulness that he was able to get from films like Groundhog Day, a more contemplative work. Bedazzled isn’t as subtle, but it does have a lot of charm that makes it watchable. The film has aged a little rough in terms of the way it portrays certain stereotypes, but outside of that, it’s an enjoyable enough romp. Looking back on it, perhaps it’s because it was a repeat watch of mine as a child, but I do still revere it, and I was so glad to have revisited it.
I’m a big fan of Dexter Fletcher right now. Not only did he direct the recent Rocketman, he also came aboard to complete production on Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was let go partway through shooting. Further back, he directed the criminally underrated and underseen Eddie the Eagle, a hugely entertaining biopic.
Now, according to Variety, Fletcher has been attached to helm Renfield, a film based on Dracula’s henchman from the novels and seen in many various forms across adaptations. In the 1931 Dracula, Renfield was an amalgam of the Renfield from the novel, a lunatic who is in allegiance with the vampire, and elements of the Jonathan Harker character from the novel. In Francis Ford Coppola’s version, Renfield retained much of the insanity and imprisonment that the character was originally intended to serve, so it will be interesting to see which version of Renfield we’ll be getting in Fletcher’s version. The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman pitched the story and Rick & Morty‘s Ryan Ridley penned the flick.
I really like this idea, but I’m curious about Universal’s plan for these monster films. It certainly seems as though they abandoned any thought of the Dark Universe after the poor reception of The Mummy, an interesting notion because it was not the Dark Universe that made The Mummy bad; it was The Mummy not being very good that did it.
Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, which is coming in the next few months, was previously discussed as a new low-budget entry point into a new Dark Universe, but since he was hired on, that hasn’t been mentioned since, so will Dexter Fletcher’s film be at all connected to that film or James Wan’s potential Frankenstein film, or even Paul Feig’s Dark Army monster film? I don’t need the answers right now, but it is becoming curiouser and curiouser.
There’s also the question of Dexter Fletcher’s involvement in Sherlock Holmes 3 and what’s the plan with that film? Will it come first or is Fletcher stepping away? This report raising lots of questions and very few answers.
So what do you think? Is Dexter Fletcher the right man for Renfield, and do you think he’s still attached to Sherlock Holmes 3? Let me know/Drop a comment below!
Cast: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan, Arthur Byron
Screenplay: John L. Balderston
73 mins. Approved.
We’re taking a look back at the original rapper…er, wrapper tonight while we talk the Universal Monster film The Mummy.
About a decade earlier, the mummified remains of the Egyptian prince Imhotep (Boris Karloff, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Black Friday) were discovered alongside the Scroll of Thoth, an artifact supposedly capable of bringing the dead back to life. When a foolish man from the recovery expedition reads the scroll aloud, he unknowingly brings Imhotep to the land of the living, going insane in the process. Now, ten years later, Imhotep, under the guise of the Egyptian man Ardath Bey, tries to reunite with his long-dead love, reincarnated as the beautiful Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann, The Sin of Nora Moran, Tiger Shark).
This was actually the first time I’ve ever seen this original version of The Mummy, and while I enjoyed it, I definitely felt the style over substance that I’d heard murmurs of from other colleagues. The lack of substance comes from a lot of the background regarding this movie, mostly that it was just a star vehicle for Boris Karloff, and it was screenwriter John L. Balderston (Red Planet Mars, The Prisoner of Zenda), a big fan of Egyptian culture, who infused the script with a lot of what makes The Mummy special. He also included some truly radical reincarnation sequences and other scenes that would have made the film more special but were tragically cut.
The substance issues of the film stem from the fact that, without Balderston’s style, the film would have been a near-carbon-copy of Dracula with a little Frankenstein thrown in, and it’s more obvious than usual. There’s the long-lost love of the villain who he’s trying to bring back, there’s the need to kill and drain life that’s so notable, and even both films opening with a version of Swan Lake’s music.
It had been a year since Boris Karloff played Frankenstein’s Monster, and he’d essentially been transformed in that time into a bona fide star, practically a household name, credited on the poster as Karloff. He’s really solid in the film, able to stretch his acting chops and flex more than he did as the monster.
I was less impressed with the rest of the cast with the exception of the always-wonderful Edward Van Sloan (Sealed Verdict, Betty Co-Ed). Zita Johann very publicly quarreled with director Karl Freund (Mad Love, Gift of Gab), and it’s fairly obvious she doesn’t want to be there. David Manners (The Black Cat, The Death Kiss) and Arthur Byron (20,000 Years in Sing Sing, Marie Galante) are both serviceable but also a bit unmemorable.
The Mummy shines because of its interesting mythology, the performance of Karloff and Van Sloan, and it’s extremely powerful atmosphere, but there are story issues and some performances just don’t make the cut. It was a good movie in the Universal Monsters pantheon, but not nearly the best.
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Straithairn, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
132 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.
The MonsterVerse is one of the more successful cinematic universe to rise out of the shadow of Marvel, probably the fourth best one after the MCU, the DCEU, and The Conjuring Universe. It’s also the one that feels more easily connected, but it also feels like if has nowhere to go after next year’s Godzilla vs. King Kong. That is, until King of the Monsters blew open the floodgates for franchise expansion.
It’s been five years since Godzilla faced off against the MUTOs, and the world has been trying to recover, until a group of eco-terrorists under the command of Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, Gosford Park, Johnny English Strikes Again) kidnap Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Annabelle Comes Home) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, TV’s Stranger Things) with the intention of using them to help wake up the numerous Titans slumbering all around the world. Now, Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler, Argo, First Man) has been tasked by MONARCH to help track them down, but he wants nothing to do with Titans after the death of his son during the attacks of 2014. He is forced to come to terms with his hatred for Godzilla as the Titans keep waking up, from the fiery Rodan to the great alien beast King Ghidorah, in order to stop them and save the human race from possible extinction at the hands of the kaiju.
Godzilla 2014 had a problem with the handling of the title creature. Godzilla movies actually do not feature a lot of the great kaiju, but when he is used, it is wonderful. The way Godzilla was hidden for a bulk of the film didn’t work all that well for me, so I’m glad to report that King of the Monsters puts those kaiju on display from the opening scene to the epic finale. In fact, while I liked the previous Godzilla film, it seems like all the problems of the last film are somewhat corrected or at least bettered by King of the Monsters.
The human characters are nothing really special in the sequel, but compared to the human story of the first film, I prefer this rag-tag group of monster hunters trying to track the kaiju awakenings around the work. From Chandler’s Mark to returning favorites Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water, Paddington 2) and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu). I at least generally liked this group of humans, and I wanted to see them succeed, with one exception.
The way Emma’s character is written is downright terrible. It would be nearly impossible for her character arc to work well given the arc she is given, and Farmiga does what she can in the role, but the character just flat-out doesn’t work, and it takes a lot out of the film given that she’s one of our human leads.
Thankfully, though, this Godzilla movie is about the kaiju, and that’s what really matters. Looking back at the mission statement of this site, to look at what a film is trying to accomplish, King of the Monsters is about the kaiju, and for that, the films works quite well. Godzilla has a fully realized arc, and he is most definitely the king and star of the film. Where director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus) shines here is that he gives great attention and love to the lore of the Godzilla expanded franchise. He picks his versions of each of the kaiju quite well, especially where he takes on Mothra. Mothra can be a trickier kaiju to stay grounded with because of all the mythos of the character, but Doughtery showcases his love of this world with his incredible attention to detail.
Dougherty’s favorite kaiju is Rodan, and he takes the opportunity to include the famed creature in his film. The only problem is that Rodan has such a rich history and stands as a kaiju I really love, and I don’t think it has any purpose in this film. For a character with such an interesting background, Rodan could be a film’s main antagonist, but in this film, it stands as just another lackey of Ghidorah, and I didn’t like the way it was put in the film. It could’ve been replaced with just about any other kaiju and the film would feel the exact same.
The director and his co-screenwriter Zach Shields had to expand upon this world, and in that way, the world feels extremely well expanded for future films. There are so many kaiju in the film, and they are merely cameos or introductions to monsters we may see in future films, but the groundwork has been laid quite well. I can see a lot of possibilities for the future of this cinematic universe, using both established characters or the new ones created in this film. It even nicely lays the groundwork for the next film in the franchise without forcing it by introducing the idea that MONARCH has been following Kong’s life since Skull Island. This is a problem tackled in this film that many fledgling cinematic universes can’t get past. BvS and Iron Man 2 tried to shoehorn a cinematic universe together with references and connections abound, and it could have buried their universe. The Mummy tried to do all that in the first film and killed its franchise. What needs to be done is to make a fun and entertaining experience first, and give blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details next while using your credits to set up the future. That’s why I never understood the aversion to post-credits scenes after the success of the MCU. It’s like a teaser for what comes next without ending every film on a cliffhanger. King of the Monsters is one of the most successful universe-building installments ever.
Dougherty has fun with the film because he understands the tone of his stories, and that’s what has made him such a fun storyteller to watch, from his work on Trick ‘r Treat to Krampus, he’s just a blast of a filmmaker. He finally used the Blue Oyster Cult song Godzilla, and he used it well!
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a better film than its predecessor, and while it doesn’t perfect the art of kaiju films with its occasionally flawed characters and reliance on spectacle over story, it’s a damn fun movie, one that kept me looking on with childhood glee and praising its visual sense and creative creature design. This is a fun movie, done.
-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.
Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwin, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea
Screenplay: Joel Edgerton
114 mins. Rated R for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use.
Joel Edgerton (The Gift) just kind of came out of nowhere. Sure, he had been acting for several years, but I never would have placed him as a more-than-competent director and writer, but he did just that with his first film. Now, he seeks to follow-up The Gift with the true-life family drama, Boy Erased.
Boy Erased is the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea, Mid90s), a college student who is having a crisis of faith. He has impure thoughts about men. His mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies), and father, Marshall (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables, The Mummy), sign him up for a gay conversion therapy. His father is a Baptist preacher who will not allow Jared to live in his house or visit if he remains the way he is. Jared attends classes everyday with head therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton), a firm believer in the process who pushes Jared and others to the extreme in his quest to make them “normal” heterosexual boys again. As time goes on, Lucas comes to the realization that he is who he is and “changing” is not an option.
Boy Erased takes a while before it really kicks into high gear. The first half of the film to me was a little lost in trying to find its footing. I’m not sure what the big problem is because I like the film’s structure of beginning in media res. The writing is fine but the slow build nature mixed with some pacing issues in editing likely created this problem.
That being said, when it does get going, the last half of this film is an absolute powerhouse. Hedges and Crowe are, in particular, revelatory. There is one scene in particular toward the end of the film that these two share that brought me to tears. The raw emotion of a father and son on two completely different wavelengths is something so heartbreaking.
Writer/Director/Supporting Actor Edgerton holds a capable lens to the proceedings and he tends to just let the performances do the heavy lifting. His work as Sykes in a little disturbing and very saddening. As I said before, I think his writing stumbles a bit at the beginning, but all in all, he is a talent worthy of watching.
Edgerton has a moral focus with the film and its presentation of this conversion therapy. There are a lot of horrific things happening here and it’s made all the more shocking with his choice to end the film with some follow-up on the characters but also some facts about conversion therapy that really hit home with me. These types of endings don’t always work, but Boy Erased is a film that definitely sticks the landing. It’s just sad that a film like this even had to be made, but conversion therapy is a very real and frightening thing for LGBTQ people, especially the young ones who are already going through so much in their adolescence.
Boy Erased struggles a bit out of the gate, but when it finds its footing, Joel Edgerton proves to be a force both behind and in front of the camera. He fills his films with impactful performances that elevate his own craft in the process. It’s not an easy film to view, even with a few peppered moments of levity, particularly from Jared’s mother, but it’s an incredible moving tale about the human spirit and one man’s journey to accept himself. See this movie as soon as you can.
2017 is over, and as we hang for a moment on some of the best movies to come out of 2017, we must also take minute to recognize the stinkers. The real poopoo.
And there were a lot of stinkers. Here, today, I’ve put together my list of the ten films that I felt are the worst of the year. Keep in mind:
I didn’t see every bad movie in 2017. This is a list of the worst films I saw. I didn’t see The Emoji Movie. I just…I couldn’t.
This list includes films that were downright bad, but I also placed them on the list if they had wasted potential or were overall disappointing.
Alright, let’s get this over with…
–The Mummy isn’t an absolutely terrible movie. My biggest frustration is that it has wasted potential and puts the cart before the horse. This movie isn’t a mummy movie. It’s like one of those prequel comic books that studios release before their actual movie. It suffers from being too much world-building when it should just be a good movie. Leave the world-building for post-credits scenes for now. It’s not a bad thing to use the Marvel model. But instead, they threw a bunch of shit at the wall to see what stuck. The other problem? This isn’t a horror film. It’s an action film. If you are doing a Dark Universe, make it scary or at least unnerving. This is a Tom Cruise vehicle that drives right off the cliff. And I’m pissed, because the Dark Universe can work.
–Atomic Blonde’s action set pieces are some of the best I’ve seen all year. The problem is when the action starts. Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is underdeveloped, it has too many villains (and not a single one compelling in the slightest), it’s twist is underserved, and the framing device is far more interesting than the story it is framing. The style works and the music choices make for a fun time, but when the spy plot doesn’t earn its reveals, it’s a big waste from start to finish, and this director and cast deserve a whole lot better than this.
-I saw Rings early last year, and you know, there are some good scenes. Like 1% of the movie. The rest is convoluted boring dreck that isn’t scary, doesn’t update the mythology, and worst it all, doesn’t make any damn sense! Three opening scenes and none of them really work. A twist-ish of an ending that wasn’t interesting (and it was in the trailer). The plot points are clichés taken from better films and Samara isn’t compelling. It also ran on forever. Forever. Forever…Rings was, from beginning to end, a terrible movie, one that should’ve stayed unreleased.
-The cardinal sin of Snatched is that it’s just plain unfunny. I recall giggling slightly at the film’s final joke, and that gleefulness may have just been my knowledge that the film was coming to a close. I love Goldie Hawn but she gets overshadowed by the far less funny Amy Schumer. Overall, I waited for Snatched to get good. I waited a long time. But the movie was so strung together by a dull plot and unlikable characters that my waiting didn’t get me anywhere. Snatched is disappointingly unfunny.
-Not only is Rough Night unfunny, it is a shell of a better plotline. We’ve seen this played out before in films like The Hangover and Very Bad Things, but those movies were funny. Rough Night is a rough watch because the story sets itself up for comedy that never shows up. Scarlett Johansson is woefully miscast and it almost feels like she is aware of that as she constantly appears bored. The rest of the cast play flat friend archetypes. Rough Night never seems to work and some of the comedy is so bad it feels cringe-worthy at times. It just doesn’t work.
Fifty Shades Darker
–Fifty Shades Darker learns nothing from its predecessor. It is supposed to be this erotic masterpiece of passion and sensuality, and it is so boring. The chemistry is virtually nonexistent, the plot has been done better in soap operas, and the ending. Dear God, the ending is so bad. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, as the rest of the film was nothing to be happy about, but I felt as though James Foley on board as director was at least a good sign. Foley gets nothing to do with a shit screenplay from Niall Leonard based on a shit book from E.L. James. Garbage.
Even Jamie Foxx couldn’t keep his mouth shut about how bad Sleepless is. For the sheer number of solid actors in this film, the movie is just…awful. I can’t blame you if you have no idea that Sleepless was even a movie in 2017, but it was, and I suffered through it so you wouldn’t have to. You’re welcome. Maybe the film would be even marginally likable if at least one character were marginally likable. Dirty cops, broken families, and a flat villain. I always say that you don’t need to have likable characters if they are at least interesting. Well, guess what? No one is that interesting here either. Skip it.
The Bye Bye Man wastes Doug Jones. That’s just about the worst thing you can do. Doug Jones is magnificent, and when The Bye Bye Man is actually oscreen, he is pretty menacing, but a cliché, boring, laughably bad screenplay is the building block for your horror film, you are set up for failure. The first scene in the film is somewhat compelling, and then you put the pieces together, and then you hate it. Lastly, who the hell came up with this title? What a stupid creature name! Ugh.
-I remember nothing of Rock Dog. Good for me, bad for the film. Seriously, I recall thinking to myself the whole time that this was a shitty knockoff of Kubo and the Two Strings, and I sat there for far too long as the film sputtered and died in front of me. I have nothing more to say.
–Before I Fall might be one of the funniest movies of the year. That being said, the comedy comes from all the serious parts of the film, and the moments meant to bring lightheartedness to the film are ugh-worthy. This poorly-plotted and simple take on the Groundhog Day/Edge of Tomorrow model is so melodramatic that I couldn’t sit still in my theater seat. I wanted so desperately for the film to be over. No one is likeable/no one is interesting.
The Abduction of Jennifer Grayson
-The way this little indie portrays Stockholm Syndrome borders on the offensive, and that’s coming from a guy who is never offended. This shockingly stupid film stars James Duval of Independence Day fame. Oh, you don’t recognize his name? Yeah, there’s a reason for that. I watched The Abduction of Jennifer Grayson before going on a long trip out of town, and the trip felt like it took up less of my time than this movie. When you tuck yourself in at night, be thankful that you haven’t seen this pile of shit.
All Eyez on Me
-Well, more proof that just because you look the part doesn’t mean you can act the part. All Eyez on Me runs over the two-hour mark but it feels like a Tupac miniseries that someone scrunched into a film and then dropped a deuce on. There is nothing to say of merit to this movie. Yes, Tupac uses an iPhone in this 90s-set biopic. Yes, Jada Pinkett Smith called out the film’s historical inaccuracy. Yes, it has cars from the 2000s in it. Beyond all the issues with the film from a technical aspect, I was flat-out bored from beginning to end here, and there’s not a single piece of this movie that would make it commendable. It’s the worst film of 2017.
So there it is. These are the worst films of 2017. I’m glad that’s over.
Is there something missing here? What did you think was the worst film of 2017? Let me know/Drop a comment below!
115 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.
After The Mummy, is Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation) back on track?
American Made is the true story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a pilot who worked for TWA until the CIA came calling in the form of the mysterious Agent Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, mother!). Then, he works for the CIA until Pablo Escobar and company come calling. Then, he works for Pablo Escobar, the CIA, and himself as he attempts to swindle just about everyone with his faux delivery company. And Barry Seal is the man who delivers, as long as he keeps the biggest secrets from his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright, 21 & Over, TV’s Marry Me).
I had little to no real expectation for American Made. I respect Tom Cruise, but outside of Mission: Impossible, I haven’t been reeling for much from the star recently. Well, I’m glad to have been wrong. Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) directed the hell out of this movie, capturing a true tonally strong sense of the late 70s/early 80s. From the moment the film starts, we get an injection of VHS tape fuzz running over the titles and from Barry’s self-recorded confessional tapes. With all the globetrotting in the film, Liman presents a handy-dandy map of all of it to make more sense to the viewers, and it works well. Every scene in the film had care for the tone and feel.
Tom Cruise was great as the lead. He plays Barry Seal with a king of genius stupidity that echoes throughout the accidental shenanigans he finds himself in. The voice he uses is pretty solid, but you can tell he really isn’t putting the pieces together until it’s too late. In fact, he seems to be just barely skating by on luck.
Though Cruise holds much of the attention, the supporting players turn in some really enjoyable work. I’m referring specifically to Domhnall Gleeson and Caleb Landry Jones, who plays Barry’s brother-in-law JB. Gleeson is smarmy and sleazy in all the right moments and from the moment JB enters the picture, you know exactly who he is, what kind of trouble he’s about to cause, and how much you are going to hate him. All compliments, of course.
American Made is a fine film, reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street at times, and perfectly enjoyable. Its one true flaw is that it seems to go on too long, though I’m not quite sure where to cut it down. It just feels bloated even though its pace is so swift. All in all, there isn’t much to hate in a film like this, and it’s a nice opportunity to learn more about America’s estranged past.
-Kyle A. Goethe
Have you seen American Made yet? What did you think? Let me know/drop a comment below!
Who can say for certain which film will come out on top this weekend. The contenders are:
-Doug Liman’s newest film American Made, starring Tom Cruise,
-Matthew Vaughn’s sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and
-Andy Muschietti’s It, based on the Stephen King novel.
While American Made is a newcomer to this weekend, it hasn’t been making the splash many thought it could. This could be due to the poor reception to The Mummy, which also starred Cruise. The shift in the film world around blockbuster stars no longer having the kind of pull they once could. Director Liman has been working over two decades but doesn’t have the household name approval despite acclaim for his more recent work like Edge of Tomorrow.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle opened to lukewarm reception last weekend with many saying it was a major step down for the franchise from the universally loved first installment.
It is currently in its fourth weekend but continues to be a strong contender. Domestically, It is the fifth highest-grossing film of 2017 (the highest-grossing R-rated film) and the nation is currently on a King Renaissance, so there is no stopping this juggernaut.
All three films have been heading for roughly $16.5 million, and I’ve seen both American Made and It and enjoyed both, so I’m curious to see which one will walk away the victor here, but it is quite clear that the sequel to Flatliners, aptly-named Flatliners, will have a very weak opening weekend. The film, starring Ellen Page and Diego Luna, is dying in cinemas. Currently sitting at a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, it isn’t surprising that the film is struggling considering the nonexistent marketing campaign for the film and the lack of press screenings. I mean, c’mon, even The Emoji Movie has defenders. Flatliners is currently trending to make $6 million this weekend.
What do you think? What film(s) are you seeing this weekend? Let me know/drop that comment below!