Archives for posts with tag: horror

Grade C-

“Minutes Past Midnight” is a horror anthology that would have fallen flat on its face and stayed that way had it not been for three stories that redeemed it.  “The Mill At Calder’s End,” “Feeder,” and “Ghost Train” were the best of the bunch, offering very good acting, direction, cinematography, music, and screenplays.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Minutes Past Midnight” is the scene that reveals what happened to the boy who disappeared in “Ghost Train.”

Fans of horror movies should at least watch the three stories I mentioned above; and if you have some time to kill and want to watch a few ridiculous, short movies, then watch the other stories that “Minutes Past Midnight” has to offer.

— M

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Grade B-

 

Stephen King’s novella of the same title gets a decent adaptation in “The Mist.”  After a strong storm, a large mist quickly surrounds a town, trapping dozens of people in a supermarket.  Terrifying creatures roam within the mist, hunting and killing anyone who ventures outside.  But danger also lurks within the refuge of the supermarket.  As the hours slowly tick by, the people form opinions on what is happening and how to survive it.  Three separate groups start to form, and one will overpower the others, ushering in a new level of violence and bloodshed that will rival the horrors within the mist.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Mist” is the scene when 5 survivors trapped in a vehicle make a shocking decision.  More on this below.

I have read the novella and thought it a brilliant piece of writing.  But the movie version is…far from brilliant.  Two things prevented it from being great.  First: Thomas Jane is completely wrong for the part of the main character.  His superhero looks had no place in this story.  The main character was a regular person forced to do extraordinary things under a tremendous amount of pressure and fear.  Jane was completely out of his element as he wasn’t believable at all when he tried to look afraid.  I was expecting him to suddenly walk around with his Punisher shirt on, blasting the creatures with a large, automatic rifle and saving the whole world.  Second: the ending.   I understand some of the logic that went to the decision that was made in the vehicle; but there was another option.  And the aftermath of that decision?  Depending on your values and point of view, you will either be horrified and stunned, or start to laugh.   And the fact that the ending can produce laughter tells me that it was the wrong ending to put in this movie.

The creatures were great though.

— M

Grade B+

 

Hundreds of years into the future, a transport ship crashes into a desolate planet with no means to send a distress signal.  A captured convict (played by Vin Diesel) on his way back to prison, a bounty hunter (played by an icy Cole Hauser), a co-pilot (played by Radha Mitchell) who is focused on saving her life at the cost of others, and a handful of assorted voyagers are the unlucky ones.

At first, Diesel is considered the biggest threat to the survivors because he is a convicted killer of many and an escape artist; but a quick exploration of the planet with three suns reveals terrifying creatures that lurk underground in the darkness, waiting for the right moment to go above ground…and that moment will come soon when a lengthy eclipse takes place.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Pitch Black” is the scene when Diesel kills a large monster easily, then says “Did not know who he was fucking with.”  Maybe Diesel is the biggest threat on the planet.

“Pitch Black” is a low-budget, sci-fi/horror movie that definitely delivers.   The story, direction, acting, pacing, and special effects are solid.  The three main characters — of Diesel, Mitchell, and Hauser — have enough depth to them to add extra layers of complexity to the story.  There is one bit of shenanigan that I will address: the numerous creatures are starving, and there aren’t enough people to feed on, so they start feeding on each other, and one is so crazed by hunger it doesn’t fly away when light — which hurts the creatures — is shined on its body as it attacks a survivor.   Why didn’t this happen more, especially when the light source of the survivors were weak and few?

— M

Grade B

 

Adapted from a Stephen King novella, “1922” stars Thomas Jane who plays a farmer who will do whatever it takes to hold on to his farm, his son, and his way of life.  Standing in his way is his wife, played by Molly Parker, who has fallen out of love with Jane and wishes to sell her part of the farm and start a new life in a big city.

The idea of losing all that he loves in this world keeps twisting in Jane’s mind and gut until he becomes twisted enough to manipulate his son into helping him kill Parker.  The murder is slow and violent, and Jane has crafted a story that may keep people from asking too many questions about his wife’s disappearance.  But sometimes, the dead don’t stay dead.

My most memorable, movie moment of “1922” is the scene when Parker’s spirit — covered in blood and showing the wounds she suffered at the hands of her husband and son — first comes to Jane.

“1922” is a well-crafted ghost story, moving slowly and methodically, building up the suspense and horror.  It doesn’t rely on cheap scares.  The horror comes from what people can do to those they love because of greed, and the guilt and damnation that results from the evil that people do.

— M

D+

 

A book titled “Death Note” magically falls from the sky and comes into the possession of a teen-aged boy (played by Nat Wolff) who is sick of the injustices that he experiences.   Flipping through the pages, Wolff reads the rules that are laid out in the book, the main one being the person whose name is written on the Death Note will die.  Wolff doesn’t believe all of this, of course, until the spirit that gives the Death Note power shows up suddenly in a somewhat comical scene.  With a bit of prodding from the spirit, Wolff writes the name of his first victim — a school bully — into the Death Note, along with a general description of how the bully will die.  Seconds later, it happens.  And just like that, Wolff’s descent into vengeance and darkness begins.

Wolff doesn’t go into this Faust-like journey alone.  He reveals what the Death Note can do to his High School crush (played by Margaret Qualley), and she readily tangles herself up in this horror.  Together, Wolff and Qualley write down the names of those whom they think are not fit to live, trying to right the many wrongs in this world.  But power corrupts; and when the law comes close to solving the case of who is doing all these mysterious killings, the true natures of Wolff and Qualley will come out.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Death Note” is the scene when the first victim is killed.  It reminded me of a “Final Destination” style kill — gruesome and fun.

“Death Note” had such potential, all ruined by poor execution on the part of the director and writers.  The movie is plagued by shenanigans.  The lead investigator of the mysterious mass killings has a “theory” that the killer needs a name and a face before he or she kills.  Although his theory is correct, it is never discussed exactly how that theory came to be.  Then we have an abandoned, government black ops site that still contains secret files!  Also, the spirit that gives the Death Note power is sometimes shown in a funny way, ruining scenes that could have been very tense and/or horrifying.  There are more negative things to mention but I’ve wasted enough time on this movie, so I’ll end it with this: “Death Note” is an eh movie that is good to watch if you have seen almost all the new movies out there and you’re desperate to watch a new, sort of horror flick.  Think of it as a granola bar: it won’t satisfy you, but it’ll keep you from starving.

— M

 

Grade B

 

A famous writer (played by James Caan) gets into an accident while driving through a blizzard and is rescued by his “number one fan” (chillingly played by Kathy Bates).  With an injured shoulder and badly broken legs, Caan is bedridden and is cared for by Bates, who at first comes off as a guardian angel; but as time passes, she proves herself to be quite the opposite.  Caan utilizes all the imagination of a brilliant writer to find an escape, but it may not be enough to counter Bates’ devious mind.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Misery” was the “hobbling” scene.  No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it still makes me cringe.

Rob Reiner does a good job of directing this Stephen King story.  All the elements of a good suspense tale is here, and Bates’ performance takes this movie to a higher level of quality.

— M

Grade C-

The sixth movie of the “Saw” franchise has the usual ingredients that fans of the series enjoy: traps that lead to gory deaths that will make the audience cringe and probably laugh, rapid-fire cuts in editing, a fast pace, and the surprise twists at the end.  Although Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell) is dead, he makes appearances through flashbacks and causes pain and suffering via his last wishes that is given to his wife and Costas Mandylor, who plays a dirty cop who continues the work of making people suffer and die for not appreciating their lives — apparently, being a smoker or a secretary to an insurance company is enough to put you in one of the traps.  As Mandylor carries on the brutal games, the F.B.I. comes close to revealing who the new Jigsaw is, forcing Mandylor’s hand to prevent this from happening.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw VI” is the scene when Shawnee Smith’s character is revealed to have some connection with what happened to Jigsaw’s unborn child — a connection that will lead to some of the crucial moments of this movie.

Making most of the victims in “Saw VI” health insurance workers was an interesting way to try to get the audience to get more emotionally involved in the story.  After all, isn’t it more fun to see characters you hate suffer?  Despite this and the extra revelations of how some major characters are connected with the others, this series is well past retirement age.  But as long as it is profitable, Hollywood will prop it up on walkers and an oxygen tank and put it to work again.

— M

Grade C-

A family of four, including an autistic boy, takes a trip to the Grand Canyon and the boy falls into a cave that contains five stones that keep five ancient demons at bay.  The boy picks up the stones, puts them in his backpack, and joins the family and everybody goes home and weird things start to happen.

Strange noises, putrid smells, wild animals appearing suddenly, handprints…things escalate rapidly and the boy is blamed; but the parents wonder  maybe there are ghosts, but maybe it’s just the boy and he is becoming dangerous, then again maybe there are spirits, but the boy is acting funny and started a fire and almost burned down the house…the family can’t seem to make up its mind on what to do with the autistic son.  So he stays in the house and more weird but violent things happen.  The daughter knows there is something supernatural going on; the mom (played by Radha Mitchell) finally catches on and does research on the internet about paranormal stuff; and the dad (played by Kevin Bacon)…ha ha, good luck trying to convince him there are evil spooks in his house.

Oh, somewhere in the 2nd act, the daughter is revealed to be bulimic; Mitchell falls off the wagon and resumes her drinking problem; and Bacon is revealed to have cheated on his wife in the past and he has to deal with a hot assistant who is tempting him — all subplots that are completely unnecessary and makes the movie wander around and lose focus.  I believe the writer and director were trying to convey how the family was falling apart because of the influence of the evil spirits; but these things could have easily been cut out and made the story leaner and tighter with a better pace.

Back to the focus of “The Darkness”: the five demons are slowly using the boy to create a pathway for them to enter our world and destroy it. Why?  Um, it’s not mentioned, so I have to assume that they are just being demons.  Bacon and Mitchell must find a way to figure out what is going on and how to stop the evil from getting through, or else the world is doomed.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Darkness” is the scene when the portal opens up fully and instead of the spirits coming out, the autistic son goes in and the spirits are taking him deeper into the cave where the stones were originally hidden.  Huh? What?  Aren’t the spirits supposed to enter our world and destroy it?  So why are they retreating further into the cave where they have been trapped for hundreds of years?  Maybe I missed something but I don’t think so.  It just doesn’t add up.

“The Darkness” is well acted, well directed, has a decent plot, and provides a few scares that are mostly cheap.  From a technical point of view, it is mostly competent, the way a base model Honda Civic is competent at its job…but no way in hell does a Civic give you the same excitement and joy and fear as driving a Lamborghini Aventador will.  Understand?

— M

Grade B

One of the first slasher movies that popularized this sub-genre of horror movies, “Halloween” broke new grounds with its style, music, and minimalist production — this was a low budget movie, after all — and scared millions of fans during its day.

Jamie Lee Curtis stars in “Halloween” as a babysitter who goes up against “the boogeyman,” a psychopathic killer who escaped an insane asylum to go back to his hometown on Halloween to terrorize his old neighborhood.   During the day, the boogeyman chooses and stalks his victims; and when night falls, he strikes.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Halloween” is the scene when the boogeyman, a.k.a. The Shape, a.k.a. Michael Myers, slowly appears from the shadows behind Curtis.

Today’s audience probably can’t appreciate this movie because they are used to slick, big budget horror movies that have lots of gore and a high body count.   Granted, “Halloween” does suffer from victims doing stupid things that turn them into victims instead of survivors.  But this is a well-directed movie that rises above other slasher flicks of its day because of the genius of writer/director/producer/composer John Carpenter.

— M

 

Grade B –

A low budget horror flick, “Abattoir” is about a strange, old man (played by Dayton Callie) who buys houses where brutal crimes have happened.  The rooms where the crimes occurred are removed, and the house is put on sale again at a loss.  One such house belonged to slain relatives of a reporter (played by Jessica Lowndes).  Finding it extremely strange that the house would be sold within a week of the crime, plus the crime scene was gutted out of the house, Lowndes starts an investigation that will lead her to Callie and a creepy town where evil secrets are tied with Lowndes’ past.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Callie shows off his Abattoir to Lowndes, revealing all the horrors within.  This is where the movie really shines, showing the audience dozens of murder rooms and seeing the ghosts within go through an endless loop of suffering and dying.

Unfortunately, “Abattoir” suffers from many shenanigans that ruined a very good, original idea.  How did the cop/ex-boyfriend know exactly what house Lowndes was in when she went to the creepy town?  Despite being way in over their heads and warned repeatedly to leave and never come back, Lowndes and ex come back immediately instead of leaving and coming back with a larger force of cops, or at least more guns.  **SPOILER ALERT** How stupid and desperate and retarded were the people of the creepy town to have followed Callie and sacrificed so much for a better life?**And why would the police allow a crime scene to be gutted out of the house within days of the crime?

But for Callie’s good performance and the originality of the plot, “Abattoir” would have plunged into a much lower grade.  For horror fans, there is enough here to warrant at least one viewing…just don’t expect too much.

— M

 

Grade C +

The second movie to try to capitalize on the hit, video game series “Silent Hill,” “Silent Hill: Revelation” has a father and daughter (played by Sean Bean and Adelaide Clemens, respectively) forced to go back to a place where evil waits to be unleashed upon the entire world.  Clemens knows she is the key to the release of this great evil, but she risks it all to save her father.  Into the nightmarish world of Silent Hill she goes, where failure will doom her and the world into an eternity of hell.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Silent Hill: Revelation” is the scene when Clemens’ sort of love interest — played by Kit Harrington — sees some weird and scary stuff in Clemens’ apartment.  Having known her for less than a day, and having been warned by Clemens that Harrington does not want to know her, he still stays with her and helps her!  He’s either an extremely nice guy or extremely horny.  As it turns out, there is another reason for his decision to stick it out with her.

The biggest flaw of “Silent Hill: Revelation” is that it’s not scary enough.  I’ve played some of the “Silent Hill” video games…those were scary as hell (I played them in the dark).  The movie’s focus is on action instead of palpable dread and terror, giving the audience a lot of eye candy at the expense of horror.  This is an inexcusable failure on the writer, the director, and the studio.  All they had to do was follow what the video games did.  Simple, right?  Apparently, not for some people.  There’s a saying: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

— M

Grade C+

A family of three survives the apocalypse (some type of disease — and that’s really all the information the audience gets) in a large, boarded up house in the woods.  A stranger breaks in looking for water, and the father (played by Joel Edgerton) decides to trade water for some of the stranger’s food.  They apparently bond so well that the stranger and his wife and young child move in Edgerton’s house. For a while they all live happily like a hippie commune until an event brings the possibility of disease within the house, an event that is never fully explained and is one reason why this movie gets a low grade.  From this point on, some of the worst natures of people in times of crisis comes out, mostly from Edgerton; and this is what “It Comes At Night” is truly about, the monstrous nature of people that lie dormant, waiting for the right moment to emerge.

My most memorable, movie moment of “It Comes At Night” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Edgerton is tracking a mother and her young son, finds them, aims his rifle at them and…

The extremely misleading title of “It Comes At Night” will frustrate many viewers because the title and trailers leads us to believe there is a monster out there stalking people at night, which is not the case.  The lack of info on how the disease is transmitted, and several plot holes will further aggravate the viewer, as is proven in the overwhelmingly negative reviews in so many outlets.  But I happen to like this movie’s study in human nature in times of disaster and the question it poses: what price will you pay for survival?

— M

Grade A

Based on the novel by Stephen King, “It” is a story of seven children who are considered outcasts in school, their everyday fears overshadowed by a creature that has awakened, taking the form of a clown (played by Bill Skarsgard).  Summer is supposed to be a time of fun for children.  Not so for the seven outcasts — calling themselves the Losers — who have to fight a war on two fronts: the terrors that most children face; and the supernatural entity that threatens to kill them one at a time unless the Losers Club bands together and takes the fight to the creature.

My most memorable, movie moment of “It” is the scene when the girl member of the Losers is attacked by her father who has been molesting her.  This scene alone makes the movie unfit for young children, and disturbing for most people to watch.

“It” should bring back many childhood memories of those who watch it.  The best of times (summer days of playing, hanging out with friends and teasing each other, first crush on a girl) and the troubling times (being a loner, feeling like a loser, the start of a girl’s period, being bullied, the mental/verbal/sexual abuse that some parents inflict on their children) are vividly and sometimes graphically exposed in “It.”  Although most of the lead actors are children, “It” is meant for adults, and adults will have a great time watching this movie that is horrifying, funny, and very, very well made.

— M

 

 

Grade B-

It’s a rare thing to have the sequel of a movie to be equal to or better than its predecessor.  “28 Weeks Later” is one of those rarities.

28 weeks after the outbreak of the “rage” virus that turns people into rabid, maniacal killers, an American led NATO force begins the clean up and reconstruction of England.  Displaced survivors are now filtering in to a large district controlled by the military.  But two children, a brother and sister, will enter the district and set forth a chain of events that will bring back infection, death and destruction.  Two U.S. soldiers (played by Jeremy Renner and Rose Byrne) have the opportunity to minimize the effects of the new outbreak; but their chances are slim when they are going up against hundreds of infected and soldiers ordered to kill everyone on sight.

My most memorable, movie moment of “28 Weeks Later” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Renner gets out of a stalled car to push it — and those inside the car (Byrne and the two children) — to safety, while soldiers behind Renner are getting their flamethrowers ready to burn him and the car.

A few glaring shenanigans destroyed the A grade I wanted to give this movie.  1) a woman who is a carrier of the virus doesn’t have armed guards posted at her door 24 hours a day; 2) the lead infected has thinking abilities that are not present in any other infected, and the movie never explains why; and 3) a glorified janitor has access to the most sensitive areas of the military compound.  Still, “28 Weeks Later” is an above average horror movie.  Very good acting, direction and editing; a fast pace, numerous tense and horrifying scenes keeps the viewer entertained all the way to the last second.

— M

Grade A-

Four people desperate to survive a virus that turns people into maniacal, rabid killers make a desperate escape out of London.  With a taxicab full of food and plenty of hope, they gamble their lives on a place that offers food, weapons, and protection.  But what lies in wait for them may be a bigger nightmare than the hundreds of thousands of the infected.

My most memorable, movie moment of “28 Days Later” is the scene when Cillian Murphy (playing the lead role) is chased by the infected who were lying in a dormant state in a dark church.  To me, this was the scariest part of the movie, and it shows early on the skills director Danny Boyle has in creating a horrifying and suspenseful atmosphere.

As far as I know, “28 Days Later” is the first movie that has fast moving, non-zombie/infected/seriously angry people who can infect others within seconds, so it gets a special mention for that.  Although technically not a zombie flick, I put this movie in the same category as zombie movies, and it is one of the top 10, best zombie movies ever made.  Yes, it has some shenanigans such as: the taxicab able to ride over a heap of abandoned cars in a tunnel; and the bad guys unnecessarily moving someone miles away from their base to kill them, which leads to an escape (reminds me of those old, corny James Bond movies where Bond escapes because the bad guy wants to be too fancy with the way he wants to kill Bond).  But everything else works very well, and it was all done on a low budget, which makes this movie more deserving of praise.

— M

Grade C

A psychologist (played by Naomi Watts) caring for her catatonic teen, son (Charlie Heaton) who needs 24 hour care faces a snowstorm that can leave them cut off from the rest of the town for a few days.  That wouldn’t be so bad; but there is the possibility of a dead boy haunting Watts.  A boy whom she was treating for anger issues; a boy who may blame Watts for being sent away; a boy who may not have died.  As the storm approaches, Watts’ supernatural experiences become more terrifying (to the character, not so much to the audience).  Is she being tormented by the boy’s angry spirit, or is the boy still alive?  Or is Watts’ guilt over how she handled the boy’s case and how she treated Heaton prior to his accident finally overwhelmed her mind, causing her to lose her sanity a little at a time?

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Watts’ friend sees through the computer camera something that reveals what is really going on.

“Shut In” gets a low grade because the main character makes one stupid decision after another throughout most of the movie.  An example: she wants to get out of the house, but the doors and windows are nailed shut.  The windows are flimsy, so what would you do?  For Watts, instead of breaking a  window, she panics and runs around and decides to break a skylight.  If she’s not concerned with making all kinds of noise by breaking a skylight, why not just break one of the ground floor windows and get out in less than five seconds?

“Shut In” would have received a much, much lower grade had it not been for the twist in the third act.  I have to admit, the movie suckered me into thinking one way, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my thinking was erroneous.

My last criticisms of this movie are these: there were too many similarities to “The Shining” during the third act — if you watch this movie and have seen “The Shining,” you’ll see; and the creepiness factor of the bathroom scene (you’ll know which one) is so high it’ll make every woman cringe, unless you’re really, really kinky.

— M

Grade C –

Riding on the coattails of “The Conjuring” and cashing in on that horror movie, “Annabelle” succeeds when it comes to making money, but falls on its face as a horror movie.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…let’s start with the story.  A man buys a super creepy doll for his pregnant wife — she collects dolls, even ugly, creepy ones that would give Charles Manson nightmares — and then they get attacked by cultists.  A female cultist named Annabelle is killed by the police, and her body is found cradling the creepy doll.  Does the couple move out?  Nope.  Do they get rid of the doll that was cradled by the serial killer woman during her final moments?  Nope.  Do creepy, evil things start to happen soon after that?  Yup!

The clueless couple eventually accept that they are being haunted, and after befriending a woman (played by Alfre Woodard) who has some experience with the supernatural, they figure out what is haunting them, and why.  How to stop the powerful, malevolent force…well, that’s not so easy.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Annabelle” is the scene when Annabelle levitates, and the evil force that is making her rise is shown.

“Annabelle” is told with a leisurely pace — many would call it boring and slow, but I didn’t mind it too much because it revealed much of the mindset of the female half of the couple, and that mindset is crucial to the finale.  What I did have a problem with is that the scares were too few and far between; and the Woodard character did something at the end which I found to be out of character.  Although there was a scene in the second act that was supposed to set up what Woodard did at the end, it still made no sense after I analyzed Woodard’s words and actions.  It just completely took me out of the movie and my mind was screaming “Shenanigans!”

— M

 

 

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple who stay in a secluded, vacation house who are terrorized by three masked strangers.  With their lines of communication and transportation destroyed, Tyler and Speedman are on their own and must find a way to survive the night.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Strangers” is the scene when Speedman finally locates a shotgun and shotshells, enough to kill an army of strangers.  But — and here is why this movie gets a low grade — Tyler and Speedman make one stupid move after another.  It’s as if they suddenly got stupid and decided to do everything wrong.  Were the characters that stupid, or was the writer/director not a very good screenwriter?  I choose the latter.  A few well set-up scares saved “The Strangers” from getting a much lower grade.  Yes, Maximus, I was entertained; but not as much as I would have if the director was a skilled screenwriter.

— M

Grade B +

Writer/Director/actor Leigh Whannell creates a surprisingly good horror movie with “Insidious: Chapter 3.”  Most horror series, once they are up to part 3, the truly horrifying thing about them is how badly they are made and how much they suck.  Not so with this third round of the “Insidious” movies, which makes it more of an abnormality…in a good way.

Stefanie Scott plays a teen who recently lost her mom to cancer, and now she is hearing things and believe it’s her mom trying to contact her.  But instead of letting the dead be dead, Scott tries to communicate with the entity she thinks is her mom — but it’s not her mom.  A terrible accident has Scott die for a few seconds, and when she comes to life, she will find that she has brought something very evil into her life…a spirit that she nor her family can fight off by themselves.

Coming to their rescue — maybe — is an elderly medium we have seen from the first two “Insidious” movies, played by Lin Shaye.  Although Shaye had many encounters with dark spirits in the past, giving her an insight and wisdom on what to do, Shaye is spiritually weakened by a personal tragedy and a direct threat to her life from The Bride In Black spirit.  To be successful in helping Scott and keeping herself alive, Shaye must deal with her fears, or else two good souls will be lost forever.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Insidious: Chapter 2” is the scene when Scott, possessed by a demon, breaks off her cast on both legs and starts walking.  As Scott walks, the bones in her legs can be heard breaking again!  This poor girl…even if she frees herself from the demon, she’s going to have one hell of a recovery period from those broken bones!

Fans of “Insidious” will be very satisfied with this third chapter — it’s almost as good as the first, and better than the second.  It has a few cheap scares, but most of the scares are set up well and play up to your fears of things that lurk in the shadows.

— M

 

Grade B –

“Insidious” left us with **SPOILER ALERT** the father, played by Patrick Wilson, having his body taken over by an evil spirit; and Wilson’s own spirit is in the spirit world through astral projection. “Insidious: Chapter 2” shows us a bit of the past to make sense of what we are about to see in the present, which is the matriarch of the afflicted family (played by Rose Byrne) trying to make sense of what happened in the final moments of the first movie; and her doubt as to who Wilson really is and how to keep herself and her children safe from all the spooks and her possessed hubby.  With the help of a medium and two bumbling ghostbusters, Byrne will be in the fight of her life as she and her family are attacked by evil spirits on two fronts: the spirit world, and the real world.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Insidious: Chapter 2” is the scene when we learn of the tragic origin of the “bride in black” spirit from the first movie.

“Insidious: Chapter 2” is a clever sequel that employs time shifting and spirits of the present visiting people and spirits of the past.   There are the usual cheap scares —  spooks jumping out accompanied by a loud noise — and the genuine scares that takes its time to develop and makes you wonder what the hell is going on.  Unfortunately, the bumbling ghostbusters (one of whom is Leigh Whannell, one of the writers) usually ruin the scary scenes with their comedy acts.  This is a movie that should be played straight, sans comedic, tension relievers.  Let the audience be tense, let them be at the edge of their seats; once you got them on the hook, leave them on the hook until the end.

— M

Grade C +

For those who are Roman numeral challenged, “Saw V” is the fifth movie of the “Saw” series.  Mostly this movie is about one of Jigsaw’s proteges and how this person came to be just that.  It’s a somewhat interesting origin story; and of course, “Saw V” has the traps (half of which are a bit boring compared to the previous “Saw” movies), the cruel and bloody choices the victims have to make to “redeem” themselves, the frenetic editing, the fast pacing, and the lean sets.  What we no longer get are the clever, non-linear story-telling that gives us several twists and surprises in the end.

The shenanigans are also amped up in “Saw V.”  Many traps are huge, set pieces that would take an army of MIT grads with lots of disposable cash to set up.  But we are to believe two or three people (including a near-death cancer patient) did all this.  There is a limit to suspension of disbelief.  Also, there’s a difference between suspension of disbelief, and suspension of b.s.  The former is fairly easy for moviegoers to do; the latter…not so much.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw V” is the scene when two victims put their arms in traps that have buzzsaws so that enough blood can be drawn to release the locks and set them free.   Gruesome, cringeworthy, and a bit funny because both victims were making faces that looked like they were having orgasms.

This fifth installment of the “Saw” series continues the downward slide — regarding the quality of the script — that was started in “Saw IV,” a strong sign that maybe it’s time to put this baby to bed.

— M

Grade D –

A modern, vampire tale: a man (played by Cristobal Tapia Montt) enters a small town looking for a woman.  Instead, he finds trouble: a young thug who does what he wants because of who his father is; and the thug’s father, a high-ranking police officer who will do anything to protect his son.  Father and son commit a heinous crime that they try to cover up, but “The Stranger” has terrible secrets of his own that will threaten to spill the blood of many who live in the town.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Stranger” was the start of the closing credits.  I was so happy that it ended and my suffering was over.  Why did I not stop the movie earlier?  Because I was watching it with three other people…otherwise this movie would have been stopped at the 20 minute mark.

A badly written script (almost every line has the word “fuck” or some variant of it, telling me that the writer/director doesn’t have the skill to create tense, gripping dialogue without the crutch of curse words; characters who do things that make no sense; pacing that is off), and acting that belongs in high school plays completely wreck a good story.  If you’re looking for a movie to watch while folding your laundry and playing with your phone and checking out the sale items on the local CVS flier, then this movie is for you!

— M

Grade B

Ten years after “Prometheus,” the crew of the colony ship, Covenant, experiences a serious malfunction of their ship.  Forced out of their expected 7 year cryo-sleep to make repairs, the crew’s focus switches from their destined planet to one that is much closer and supposedly more suited for humans.  Only Katherine Waterston, who plays the second in command, is hesitant to alter the plans; but the acting captain (played by Billy Crudup) and the rest of the crew are insistent on checking out the newly discovered planet, and off they go.

An exploratory team lands on the planet that turns out to be beautiful and teeming with plant life — but no animals or even insects can be seen or heard.  Despite this oddity, some of the crew are already planning on starting their new colony here…until two crewmen suddenly become sick and the horrifying, true nature of the planet is revealed.

Alien spore infestations/gestation/gory emergence, frenetic bursts of intense fights against aliens, impeccable cinematography, good and evil synthetic people (both played amazingly by Michael Fassbender), the mystery of what happened to the last two crew members of Prometheus, and claustrophobic bug hunts are all here.   There are moments where you — the “Alien” movies aficionado — will tell yourself “Oh, I’ve seen this before in previous ‘Alien’ movies,” but it shouldn’t be looked at negatively.  It’s simply director Ridley Scott giving fans what they want to see.  What should be treated negatively are the two, huge shenanigans in “Alien: Covenant” that, had they not been there, would have earned this movie a grade A.

Shenanigan #1: **SPOILER ALERT** Fassbender, as David, easily places his stolen spaceship above the city of “Engineers” and drops a crapload of bio-weapons on the Engineers below.  So these Engineers, with their highly advanced tech capability, had no way of knowing who was piloting their ship, and just let one of their own spacecraft hover above their city without any sort of vetting on who was actually inside the ship?  And where were the other space vessels of the Engineers throughout the city?  This highly advanced race looked like they forgot to pay the bills and all the good stuff were repossessed.  Shenanigan #2: Crudup, despite seeing the evil nature of Fassbender/David, lets himself fall into a trap that even a stoner whose brain is half-baked would’ve seen coming.

The fact that I gave this movie a B despite those two giant shenanigans tells you that I really enjoyed watching this.  Yes, I am a serious fan of “Alien” movies; but beyond that, “Alien: Covenant” is a good movie that combines old school elements with the new, and it definitely deserves to be part of the “Alien” lore.

And now, for my most memorable, movie moment of “Alien: Covenant”: the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Fassbender/David fights Fassbender/Walter.  For a brief moment, this sci/fi flick becomes a kung-fu flick.  It was surprising and entertaining.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in “Shaun Of The Dead,” a British comedy/horror about two best friends who are caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in their hometown.  First order of business, find a way to rescue Pegg’s mom and ex-girlfriend, then head to a secure place: The Winchester Pub!  But as everyone knows, there’s what you plan for, and there’s what really happens.  Fans of British comedies and zombie flicks will love this great collaboration of the two genres, giving its core audience lots of funny jokes, zombie action and gore, silliness, and a few well acted scenes of drama.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Shaun Of The Dead” is the scene when Pegg’s group runs into another group of survivors led by Pegg’s friend; and both groups are nearly identical!

— M

Grade B –

“Saw IV” concentrates on two storylines: what truly motivated Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell) into putting people into traps; and a cop (played by Lyriq Bent) being tested by Bell to see how far Bent’s obsession will go regarding Bent’s need to save everyone.  While the former is interesting and well played, the latter was forced, with Bent doing many things that were out of character despite the screenwriters trying to justify it with Bent’s emotional problems.

More bloody, heinous traps; more gruesome deaths of victims; more plot twists; more revelations; more mini cassettes with Bell’s altered voice; more frenetic editing and transitions that move the story along rapidly…all leading to more reasons for fans of this series to squirm and laugh and gasp and enjoy the morbid nature of these stories.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw IV” is the very detailed, disgusting, and fascinating autopsy scene.  Unless you have a very strong stomach, this is not the time to be eating your hot dogs or chips and salsa.

Four movies in, and the “Saw” movies still have lots of steam.  How far can it go before going stale?  I shall find out soon because I’ll be checking out part V.

— M

Grade B –

And the gore and traps and plot twists keep going in the “Saw” franchise with part III.  Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith reprise their roles as Jigsaw and his ex-junkie understudy, respectively.  Bell is at death’s door, so he enlists the help of Smith to kidnap a doctor to help keep him alive as he plays his last game, which presumably is the testing of an emotionally broken man played by Angus Macfadyen.  So here we have multiple themes/storylines  happening, adding layers of depth that makes this — and previous “Saw” movies — a level up from the many rip-offs out there.

First we have the complex relationship between Bell and Smith…teacher-student, father-daughter, perhaps lovers depending on which side you focus on.  Then there is the Macfadyen story: a husband blinded by rage to the point he has mentally abandoned his family…will he sacrifice everything to feed his rage and vengeance, or can he forgive and start living again?  The doctor…can she snap out of her daze (induced by drugs and an unhappy marriage) to keep a maniac alive without proper medical equipment?  And of course, there are the plot twists and surprise ending.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Saw III” is the scene when a man’s head and limbs are held in independently twisting, vise-like devices.  The key to freedom is guarded by a shotgun, and as the seconds tick by, the man’s limbs are slowly turned until bones, ligaments, and tendons break and snap.  Ouch!

“Saw III” does have plot holes and inconsistencies, which I refer to as shenanigans; but the clever and gory traps/puzzles, fast pace, twists and surprises, and some thought-provoking themes more than compensate for said shenanigans.  For fans of this horror sub-genre, prepare to cringe, laugh, feel queasy, and have fun.

— M

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: “The Bye Bye Man” is a mediocre horror movie about a malevolent spirit whose name must not be mentioned, or else he’ll become more powerful and he will eventually kill anyone who utters his name.  An extremely intense, violent and shocking opening sequence sets the bar very high, but it’s only a tease, as the rest of the movie is a disappointment from that point.  The stupid decisions the victims make, the silly excuses the story makes to get the parents out of the way, and the cheap scares all contribute to making this movie forgettable.  In the trailer, it is mentioned that the spirit’s name must not be said…he must not even be thought of.   Well, “The Bye Bye Man” is a movie that will soon be lost in the vast ocean of horror movies that failed to live up to their hype; a title that no one will ever utter nor remember.

— M

Grade C

Manny’s Movie Musings: astronauts do the dumbest things and start messing with an alien lifeform that is evolving at a fast rate; and when things start to go bad they just forget basic safety precautions and containment procedures.  The victims’ deaths are somewhat interesting; the evolution of the alien is somewhat interesting.   “Somewhat interesting” should not be the result of a $58 million movie.  Adding more misery to “Life” is the inevitable comparison to “Alien,” a masterpiece of a movie.   Whoever greenlit “Life” for production probably has no life left in his career in the movie business.

— M

Grade B+

Fresh off his indie hit, “The Visit,” writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan creates another mega indie hit, “Split.”  James McAvoy plays a seriously troubled man with about 24 different personalities.  Each personality vies for its time “out in the light,” but the more malevolent personalities have taken over, resulting in the kidnapping of three young ladies.

The police have no idea where the girls are, and it will be up to the girls to find a way out of their prison.  Time is quickly running out, because a new personality is coming out of McAvoy, an entity that supposedly has the power to alter McAvoy’s body into one that is monstrous.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Split” is the bonus scene after the end credits, revealing a tie-in with another Shyamalan movie that hints of what his next movie will be.

Shyamalan’s mojo is definitely back, helped by the superb acting of McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays one of the kidnapped girls.  I can’t wait to see Shyamalan’s next movie.

— M

Grade B +

From the mind of comedian Jordan Peele comes “Get Out,” a story of a black man (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who visits his white girlfriend’s (played by Allison Williams) family in the suburbs and slowly finds out that things are very, very off with her family and servants.

Everything is ok at first: the parents are all smiles and greet Kaluuya with hugs; the father mentions how he would have loved to vote for Obama a third time; the father using various slang to show he’s hip and down with the Negroes, etc.  Then Kaluuya notices the odd behavior of the black servants; the thinly veiled, racist remarks of Williams’ drunk brother; plus a weird dream of Kaluuya being hypnotized by Williams’ mother.  And this is just the start of Kaluuya’s long nightmare that will have him fighting for his sanity and life as the full secret of his girlfriend’s family is slowly unraveled.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Kaluuya is told of the family secrets and the heinous plan of what is to be done to him.

“Get Out” is not just a very good suspense/thriller, it is also loaded with social commentary that are insightful, funny, and infuriating.  Examples: a black man’s worry of being caught in a rich, white neighborhood at night; the troubles that black men have to deal with when dating white women; white liberals who are constantly giving examples of how they are not bigots; the physical superiority of black men over white men; the mental superiority of white men over black men; and how trendy it is now to be black, as if the color of skin is some kind of accessory to flaunt.

The subject of race relations is a touchy one, and those who are overly sensitive may want to steer away from this movie.  Everyone else, jump in and watch the movie and have a laugh.  “Get Out” is, after all, a satire.

— M

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