Wonder Woman – The Triumphant Lifeline DC Movies Desperately Needed

Let me get straight to the point. Wonder Woman is a great film in any genre, not only superhero fare. It trades overproduced action sequences for a coherent, evenly paced story-line. It relies less on expository and quick quip dialogue and instead lets its characters develop and act based on their established traits. And most importantly, for the DCMU (DC Movie Universe) in particular, it finally found the right mix of seriousness while allowing its cast to breathe, laugh, and, yes, smile!

Wonder Woman took its main cue from Man of Steel in setting up the very unearthly aspects of Princess Diana of Themyscira, but it learned to not dwell on them. Diana is very proud of her heritage, and although she doesn’t fit in and is saddened by the state of “man’s world”, she doesn’t spend any considerable amount of time dealing with an existential crisis built on that alienation. She has been ready for action since she was a child and that is what occupies her mind – the only thing that’s changed is the surrounding environment: paradisiacal Themyscira is switched for a dark and grey World War I Europe.

This readiness for action is what drives the movie and its main protagonists. It wants to explore Wonder Woman’s heroic motives, but it does a great job of not lingering laboriously on this. She has a heart to care for mankind; it’s simple and straight-forward. Her actions are a manifestation of that. And even when she questions mankind, it makes sense as a direct reaction to something that has happened, and not some pseudo-heady post-modern dilemma.

While the plot sails along smoothly, and each set piece is well woven into the story, the movie does falter in one important aspect: it fails to create any real tension. The final act becomes especially tedious due to this. It relies on our investment on Diana’s choice whether to believe mankind is worth fighting for or not. As we all probably know the answer to that, these final scenes can’t help but be structurally anti-climatic. The main villain, who is not well established, offers no immediate threat and ends up simply being an agent to get her to say silly lines like, “I believe in love!”

But in the end that is what this movie is concerned with: telling us why Diana stuck around Earth and is willing to fight for us. It’s a well constructed enough backbone to stand on that the lack of, “how will they get out of this one,” set pieces doesn’t hurt the overall quality of the movie.

Taking these minor flaws aside, Wonder Woman is a triumph for the big screen – and should be considered the benchmark for the DCMU. It’s their most confident and complete story, not relying on CGI-heavy effects or action sequences every five minutes to make us forget there is no plot (or that the plot is too confusing to follow for anyone outside the core DC-fanbase). It finally gets the tone correct – keeping the real-world seriousness of Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman while adding the more light-hearted aspects of Suicide Squad to the mix. And most applause-worthy (for a movie in any genre), it produces a female hero who is fully rounded, who likes to kick butt as much as she likes her hair beautiful – who isn’t afraid to fall in love.

Hollywood take note, being a female hero does not always have to equate to being a sexless, emotionless, pseudo-man with breasts. Wonder Woman is a girl-power movie without having to shout “girl-power” once. It’s better for it, and hopefully future superhero films with female leads will be too.

I definitely recommend catching Wonder Woman on the big screen. Warner Bros. did the right thing by listening to the fan criticism and putting out the movie that we wanted to see. I have no doubt that this movie will be a huge hit, and no doubt that her future films are open to limitless possibilities. As an origin story, I rank this nearly as high as Batman Begins – and we all know what followed after that. Look out Marvel, Warner Bros. and the DCMU has finally arrived to the games.

 

Phil Ray

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What I am Watching: The Witch, Don’t Breathe, Event Horizon and The Void

I went around asking some folks to recommend some horror or suspense movies that focused more on atmosphere and character than shock and gore. I got a few good hits. Here is what I thought of four that I watched.

The Witch (2016)

The Witch is a quiet little movie that didn’t make much of a splash at the box office. It recounts the story of a Puritan family who is banished from their settlement and has to try to make it out on their own. When the family’s baby son, Samuel, disappears, the movie takes a dark turn. The mother becomes depressed, the children seemed possessed, and the father does his best to hold things together with his faith in God.

The horror aspects of the movie are muted and intimated throughout. Is there really a witch out to hunt the family down or is it all strange hallucinations – possibly from hunger or some disease? The dank atmospheric tone and slow pace reels one in as the mystery unfolds to a tense climax which should leave one questioning the movie’s true intent as the credits roll.

I wish more big Hollywood horror films would take their time to tell a story as concerned with their characters and details as in The Witch. What frightens is not simply the payoff – but the build-up on which a payoff is buffered. Creating suspense, tension and mood are essential ingredients to this formula and director Roger Eggers proved that he has a talent for this. I am not sure if he will continue in the horror genre, but if he does, we may have quite a splendid writer/director in the making.

While The Witch is far for perfect, it deserves a viewing. I highly recommend this little film.

Event Horizon (1997)

This is another movie that, like The Witch, did not do well in the box office. Although given its larger budged it can be considered more of a bomb. I remember skipping it myself when it first came out, but I am glad I went back to watch it on a recommendation, it’s pretty damn spectacular.

The plot centers around an expedition to recover a ship, the Event Horizon, that was lost in outer space, but then suddenly reappears on the edge of our solar system. Once our travelers manage to reach the ship, a mystery unfolds as to its true mission and whereabouts in the years that it was missing. The Event Horizon may have traveled into another universe or dimension, and, more importantly, it may also have brought something back with it which spells doom for anyone who dares to leave the ship once they have boarded.

This movie is famous for its many production problems, and the version we see is not the R-rated version (this movie is PG-13) that director Paul W. S. Anderson and writers Philip Eisner and Andrew Kevin Walker had in mind. They wanted a more brutal movie, that would up the ante on the sci-fi/horror tropes of movies like Alien.

Still, the story works. There is a psychological element to the film which reminded me a bit of Micheal Crichton’s book Sphere (the movie adaptation was released only a year later to a slightly better box-office reception). The horror elements in Event Horizon are stronger than in Sphere though, and there is good amount of blood that spills on the old wayward ship. Lawrence Fishburn and Sam Neill also play wonderfully off of each other and manages to keep the tension going nearly up to the last minute.

The ending was a bit over the top for me, but it fit into narrative. I just wished it had kept the same level of suspense that had been simmering for most of the movie. It decided to go out with a Mortal Kombat style bang instead. However, the ending wasn’t bad enough to ruin what had come before. I definitely recommend taking this movie out for a spin. It still looks great and may give you the right amount of chills.

Don’t Breathe (2016)

I can’t believe I skipped this movie when it came out. It was a wonderful, suspenseful, and thrilling roller-coaster ride.

Three bandits decide that robbing a blind man is the brightest idea they have ever had. Things don’t exactly go as planned when said blind man is an Army veteran with combat skills to make Chuck Norris blush.

The premise is simple, get out of the house alive after the robbery is botched. The only problem is that the house is the blind man’s territory, and he knows every nook and cranny to keep his unwelcome guests trapped inside.

The tension is palpable and each scene kept me guessing how it was that these kids would manage to escape. Furthermore, there is a secret that the blind man holds in his basement which brings the second half of the movie to a whole different level of terror and suspense.

Director Fede Álvarez plays the camera well and utilizes the old house where the majority of the action takes place like a wizard. Just when I thought that there was nowhere else to explore, the movie took me upstairs or downstairs and hit the reset button on thrill ride.

I highly recommend this movie. It should keep your heart rate high throughout, and make you think twice about messing with someone who looks like an easy target.

The Void (2016)

I enjoyed the first ten or twenty minutes of this movie, but it slowly started losing my attention. It’s an ambitious project that begins in what seems to be small town occult activity, with cloaked figures appearing out of the dark, and ends up dealing with parallel universes.

The story centers around Deputy Daniel Carter who takes a hurt man he finds on the side of the road to a nearby hospital. The rest of the movie is set in this hospital where strange things begin to happen. For starters, one of the nurses murders a patient and later transforms into some strange tentacled creature.

It was around this point that the movie didn’t have enough fire power to keep me going. I watched on but only half paid attention to what was happening. The characters weren’t all that interesting and the plight they were in didn’t quite grab me either. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t in suspense, and I sure as hell wasn’t concerned with what happened next.

I did make it to the end where things get very monster-rific and pay homage to the horror movies of the 80s with the tons of practical effects. The payoff, where the mastermind tells his tale of why he was doing what he was doing made me chuckle a bit too. Needless to say, I wasn’t very much impressed.

I know a lot of people enjoyed The Void, though, and it came highly recommended. The plus on this one is its ambition – I appreciated the fact that it started on a very small scale and then brought itself into a very large scale. So, though I didn’t enjoy it, you may love it. Continue reading

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Culture vs Bad Behavior: An Expat in Brazil Wonders Where The Line is Drawn

CULTURE (Dictionary.com)
noun
1.
the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action
2.
the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group: the Mayan culture 

I imagine that one’s own culture will always be a sensitive topic when outsiders decide to comment on it. It’s like having a complete stranger walk into your house and give you an assessment of what is working and not working in your living arrangements. The phrase, “Who asked you?” is not totally unwarranted.

That said, I think there are exceptions to this rule which do permit someone who is an outsider to give their opinions.

First, if you are having to co-inhabit a space over an extended period of time then you have every right to express what you think needs improvement. Your life is being directly affected by the decisions of the original inhabitant.

Second, even if you aren’t co-inhabiting the same space but it is being managed in such a way that makes it nearly impossible to ignore, you have the right to speak up. Think of a neighbor who has used their front yard to set up the most beautiful garden you have ever seen, or the neighbor who uses their front yard as a makeshift trash dump. At some point, your impulse will be to comment on both.

Finally, and the most obvious, I believe an opinion is warranted if you are specifically asked to give one. Whoever asked must be prepared to get the good news with the bad though.

I follow these simple rules of thumb when talking about Brazil. I say good things, I say bad things, and I feel no shame in doing either because I would expect the same criteria to be followed if someone were talking about me or my culture.

That brings me to a conversation I had with an American and his Brazilian companion a little while back. She asked me directly what I thought of Brazil. This is usually a danger zone area, so I tried to be as polite as possible but at the same time tell her how I actually felt.

“There are good points but there are also some definite bad points – the sort of things which I have never seen before in my life,” I said.

This led to a healthy debate about whether or not I was trying to impose my cultural values (coming from America) on a nation, and whether that attitude was imperialistic.

bad-behaviour.png

I thought that was a valid critique on her part. After all, I was only born here, but I did not grow up here and my view of the world was formed by my American upbringing. It is nearly impossible to not have some American bias when expressing my feelings on how Brazil should be run. However, this led me to think about something completely different: Where does one draw the line between “culture” and “bad behavior?” Furthermore, if one insists that the bad behavior is part of the culture, than is it fair to say that that person or nation has bad cultural parameters. And lastly, where does Brazil fall in that equation: is it their behavior or their culture which is bad.

To be clear, I define bad behavior as anything that causes direct or indirect harm to either another person, society at large, the environment and the predominant culture values of a nation. Littering, stealing, lying, abuse of authority, and other things of that nature fall into my opinion of bad behavior. I can say in good faith that it is bad behavior and not culture, because many nations have moved past some of these behaviors while still maintaining the best of their culture.

First I thought of other expats I have had the fortune to come into contact down here to gauge their thoughts on the matter and make sure that I wasn’t alone in thinking some of the behavior here is outrageous. By and large, they say nearly the same thing, “The country is nice but ethics isn’t really a word that’s thrown around a lot.”

This opinion comes from friends from places as disparate as Nigeria, Ghana, Croatia and Sweden who can even appreciate some benefits of living in Brazil, as opposed to their home countries, but can’t comprehend why some people act the way they do. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a pedestrian who refuses to throw trash in the bin, other times it’s the Brazilian obsession with trying to find shortcuts where there are none which eventually create bigger problems for someone else down the line.

The list of bad behaviors and qualms seem endless and are subjects of discussion every night in expat groups across Facebook. And although I can define it as bad behavior, the question still lingered, “Is it possible that this bad behavior is part of Brazilian culture?”

Well, to start, I do come away with the feeling that Brazil does indeed have a lot of great culture. There is wonderful music, food, architecture, art and folklore to explore. The problem is that Brazil also has a lot of bad behavior that is excused in the name of culture, as the girl I was speaking to eventually expressed to me. I could not disagree more, bad behavior needs to be called out and changed, regardless of whether someone was born and raised here or not.

As an American, I feel embarrassed by American travelers who run around the world thinking they own a place, and talking down to people. That isn’t American culture – that is bad American behavior. It doesn’t offend me one bit if someone calls it out. I know very well that my city of Philadelphia is a bit rough around the edges (maybe not as much as New York) but I don’t get upset when people talk about how fat we are or that we booed Santa Claus – that’s bad behavior, which can be altered and has no connection to the wonderful culture and history of beautiful City of Brotherly Love.

Likewise, I can look at some nations I have never been to that subjugate women, kill homosexuals, and persecute people of other faiths and say without wavering, “That is bad behavior.” And if a nation’s goal is to truly infuse this bad behavior into ones culture and transmit it from generation to generation then I have no qualms (nor fear of the PC brigade) to call it bad culture.

So, yes, Brazil, you either have a case of really bad behavioral norms or your culture is just bad. It’s up to you to decide what it’s going to be because your future depends on it.

Personally, I tend to believe it’s the former, as I meet plenty of Brazilians everyday who are wonderful people and who really represent the best in Brazilian culture. But there are also plenty of people out there who a good friend of mine likes to describe as having a “weak moral fiber.” They are like a graffiti stained wall that paints a negative picture of the country where there could be plenty of positives.  

There has to come a time when Brazilians must look themselves in the mirror and ask whether it’s really worth the hassle doing some of the things that they do, and think about the consequences of those actions on other people and the country as a whole.

Is it really worth the extra bucks to pull one over on a friend? Is it worth the damage to the environment to keep littering? Is it worth some government aid to keep electing people who rob you in plain sight? Is it worth the enjoyment to blast your music for the whole neighborhood to hear knowing that a mother who has worked all day to feed her kids can’t go to sleep because of your noise? Is it worth your time to not read or stop to think about the affect of your actions ten years down the line? Is it worth any of it to act like life is just a game where you must come out the winner at all costs – even if the gains, like in any gambling sport, are short-lived.

Brazil has a lot going for it. It was dubbed, “The country of the future,” many years ago, but it seems to never get its act together long enough to ever reach that gloried future. Brazilian art from names like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Milton Nascimento, and Vik Muniz have traveled the world and stood side by side with some of the world’s greatest in their respective fields. The culture of everyday folk from dance, music and cuisine has been shared across the globe. Oscar Niemeyer and Lina Bo Bardi are recognized as some of the greatest architects in history across the globe. Brazilian works of literature have also been translated into hundreds of languages and enjoyed by millions. Brazil does not lack in the culture department. What holds the country back is its inability to take itself seriously and to constantly blame others for its woes. It’s this inability that makes one look at a polluted river and only blame the government but not see where their own actions had an effect. It’s this inability that allows for some in the country to never choose the long hard road but instead choose to trod listlessly down the “Brazilian way”.

Phil Ray

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Ranking all of the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” Movies

I am by no means a horror movie super-fan, but I do enjoy a good horror film now and again. The horror films that marked my childhood – and scared me enough to never want to revisit the series again – were any from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

Freddy Krueger is indeed the stuff that nightmares are made of. Although Robert Englund’s legendary performances plays a big role in that, Wes Craven’s idea of being attacked in one’s sleep, when we are the most vulnerable, is genius too.

Since I have been on a horror movie kick of late, I decided to grow a set of balls and revisit all the movies – none of which I can recall I had ever seen from start to finish. There are nine major releases in total.

While these movies certainly didn’t have me reaching to turn on the light, like when I was a kid, some were quite entertaining and even made me think twice before closing my eyes.

The series also has its real duds, and had it not been for my desire to complete all of them, I would have never made it through the schlock.

Here is my ranking of the movies from worst to best. Make sure to disagree and tell me how you would rank them. Enjoy!!!

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

This 2010 remake of the 1984 classic is dead on arrival. The kids (who are played by actors who look like they are pushing thirty) walk around like the bunch of depressed millennials that they are and feel like they have no pulse long before they are killed. It made me wonder if the original Freddy Krueger would even get off on killing these kids? Well the answer is, “no!” because this Freddy Krueger is not a viciously brutal child killer, but a sickening predatory child molester – so going after broken and lonely social outcasts are his thing.

Although the cinematography is crisp, and the special effects look great, the clinical production of the movie only compounds on the lifelessness that abounds. Every single character – from the parents to Freddy himself (who is barely intelligible behind his prosthetic mask) – is given nothing interesting to do but take up screen time.  The kids, in particular, are so bland that I had no reason reason to root for them. This in effect created no suspense. In fact, I couldn’t wait for most of them to die, and even when they did die I kept wishing the old Krueger would step in and say “Cut! This is how you properly decapitate someone!”

But, alas! How can this new Krueger devise imaginative ways to murder his victims when his victims lack any imagination or creative drive?

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) did prove one thing – the stereotypical millennial does not have the sufficient spark for life necessary for an intense slasher horror film. When the studio heads inevitably try for another remake, I hope they push for a script with some kids who have skipped a rock or two in their lifetimes or even climbed a tree. Better yet, set it in the 80s ala Stranger Things – those kids were awesome.

Don’t watch this movie unless you want to fall asleep. I know that if I had to be forced to watch this mess again, I may indeed have nightmares – but not for the reasons that producers were shooting for.

8. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is the sixth and final chapter of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street series. It attempts to put the Freddy Krueger character to rest with a bang, but it hit all the wrong buttons. This movie isn’t as bad as the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street – but no by much.

Is there anything worthwhile to say about this movie? Well, the soundtrack wasn’t bad. There is a pretty great Iggy Pop tune that plays during the end credits and a few decent pre-mega-rock/pop-phase Goo Goo Dolls songs to fill in the empty space between each excruciatingly bad scene.

The other mini-redeeming quality of this movie is that it puts a cap on the rest of the Krueger mythology as far as telling us a little about his youth and how he came to be a child murderer. Unfortunately these scenes are short and vary blasé. Had the writers taken the time to really go into the psychology of Freddy Krueger before he turned hell hound, it would have added a lot more weight to the climax – and perhaps would have even made for a more interesting focal point for the film as a whole.

What we do have instead is a movie that doesn’t really concern itself with a plot or characterization, but rather, how to get all the players into place for Freddy’s terror. While that criticism could be levied on some other movies in this long franchise, at least the Freddy-kills in those movies were darkly funny, creative, and somewhat scary. Here they are mostly all played for Loony Tunes-level comedy violence.

The final act of Freddy’s Dead is probably the most absurd part of it all. Krueger is taken out of the dream world again (you would’ve figure he would have learned how to defend himself from that little tactic by now) to face off with his own daughter. It’s a grudge match that is badly staged and lacks any real depth of character or odds to root for or against. Although the writers did try to build Freddy’s relationship with her as something more meaningful, via a series of flashbacks, these scenes, like the ones trying to explain his upbringing, were short and badly written thus adding nothing to the final confrontation.

Skip this one unless you are in completest mode or really need to see a Johnny Depp cameo. Here is the never boring Iggy Pop, though.

 

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

I know this movie is a bit of a fan favourite (and also the highest grossing film of the original six movies in the franchise) mostly for its very creative Freddy-kills, but it bored me to bits. I think I nodded off a few times before I could finish it. The comments section is below – so you can let me have it – but let me say my piece.

Simply put, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master lacks an interesting story. Its only mission is to set the pieces in motion to allow for Freddy to continue his murderous spree by tricking Kristin, the main protagonist in the previous A Nightmare on Elm Street film, into pulling her friends into one of her dreams.

Like I said, this movie is beloved for its many inventive Freddy-kills, and there are certainly a lot of them and they are without a doubt morbidly entertaining. However, I needed little bit more than just that to hold my attention.

Though I do love a fair amount gore and violence in my horror movies, without a proper set up, the payoff feels empty. Besides that, Freddy is at his best when he has reason to kill – revenge for being murdered and fear of being forgotten being his two great motivators. Without that extra impulse, he can teeter closely to being portrayed as just a cartoon character. This is not a horrible movie, but I would probably never put it on again.

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

The second installment in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is one strange turkey. It picks up a few years after the events of the first movie, but it doesn’t really bother to expand on them. There is a whole new host of characters which include Jesse, a teenage boy who is now living in the same house that Freddy had haunted in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s not long before Freddy begins to appear in Jessie’s dreams.

The movie takes us on a trip through Jessie’s increasingly bizarre behavior as Krueger uses the boy’s body to operate in the real world. Having Krueger manifest in this fashion is a bit confusing and also strips away a lot of his scare factor since in dreams he is much more terrorizing and powerful.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge also fails to present us with a good motive for his killing other than just the fact that he wants to and can – as I have stated earlier, this neuters Freddy Krueger a bit into just your average bogeyman. What saves the movie is that Freddy has yet to fully turn into the king of the comic one-liners, and his attacks here are still delightfully sadistic and gruesome.

I had never seen this movie before and one thing that did stand out was the gay subtext – there’s a lot of boy and man ass to be seen, and Jesse’s scream is on par with most of the best female scream-queens. Later, out of curiosity, I searched around the web to see if I was reading too much into the movie, but it seems that there are many sources that confirm what I thought. Some have even speculated that the plot of the movie (with all the changes in Jesse’s demeanor, as he struggles with Freddy living inside of him) is a metaphor for his coming to terms with his own sexuality. I don’t know if I would go that deep – to me it just felt like 80s gay camp fun.

Whatever the gay case may be, Freddy’s Revenge doesn’t do much to set up a good reason for Krueger’s revenge, as none of the original kids are back, but it at least makes an attempt at having a plot, keeps Freddy Krueger mostly vicious, and is filmed well enough for me to rank it higher on this list than the movies we have already gotten past. This movie needs to be watched with a good dose of tongue inserted firmly in cheek.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)

Although this fifth installment in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series plods along at a very uneven pace, flitting between being a straight up gore-filled horror film and an atmospheric Goth inspired suspense thriller, it manages to have a few truly interesting moments.

Alice, the hero from the last A Nightmare on Elm Street film, is the main protagonist again. Freddy Krueger has been silent for a while, but when she suddenly begins to have visions of herself dressed as a nun some mysteries unravel about Krueger’s past and his plans to get back into action.

Freddy Krueger’s kills are not that scary or creative this time around, but the scenes involving the visions of a mysterious nun and the secrets she hides caught my attention. Though this movie edges very close to entering the fantasy genre in some spots, I found the change of pace refreshing after having watched four previous films which mostly covered the same ground. Even the coloring of the film is different, with a shadowy blue filter covering most of the scenes, adding to a more suspense than horror mood. While the plot was a bit bizarre and uneven in parts, it was clear enough to have made me invest more in The Dream Child’s final acts, unlike many of the movies we have already seen on this list.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child is not a great film by any means, but it’s far from unwatchable; it simply takes a decidedly different path in telling a Freddy Krueger story. It may lack the humour, and jump scares of earlier films, but it does a decent job a building up Krueger’s mythology by telling us about his past. There are times when this works magic and other times that it falls completely flat. It makes me wonder what this movie could have been under more skilled hands in the script writing department.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Trying to stay fresh and inventive in any long franchise is difficult – especially one where the audience already knows the major plot points and gimmicks. Therefore, very rarely are the follow ups to the original as good as the first outing.  Yet sometimes, things are tweaked around just enough that a good story comes around that is on par with the energy of the original – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – Dream Warriors is one of those films.

The story focuses on Freddy Krueger’s attempt to kill the last of the Elm Street children. At the start, a young girl named Kristen is his main target. After one of his bloody dreamscape attacks, her mother thinks that she has tried to commit suicide and promptly puts her in a psychiatric hospital to be looked after. There she meets other kids who are also plagued by strange nightmare involving a man with razor glove.

Dream Warriors brings back the original movie’s final girl, Nancy, who plays a therapist who is assigned to the hospital. She has been able to control her dreams so that Freddie cannot attack her and wants to help these kids do the same in order to defeat him.

It’s a shame that Nancy’s character never comes off as believable – she simply doesn’t have the gravitas or emotional weight of someone who was once a victim of Krueger. She also doesn’t look the part of a therapist for these kids who appear to be only about a year or two younger than her. Her dialogue and action sequences are wooden compared to them. She, and the scenes focused on her, unfortunately, end up being the movie’s weakest link.

The movie succeeds greatly when it lets everyone else get a chance to shine. These kids are interesting, charismatic, tough, and funny. This forces Krueger to find many new and inventive ways to kill them off. The movie also does a better job at moving the original plot from the first film further along (unlike the direct sequel, Freddy’s Revenge) and adding more to the mythology of the Kruger character like expanding on his abilities in both the real and dream world, which I think was a great touch.

While the original A Nightmare on Elm Street works as a straight up horror/slasher classic, Dream Warriors is a broader, action-filled horror film which stand out for its gruesomely awesome kills and a set of kids who decide to take the fight to Krueger instead of wimping out.

3. Freddy vs Jason (2003)

Start screaming now because I ranked this one so high!

I will say right from the start, this is not a good movie, but it’s damn entertaining. It offers up blood, guts, and a few fun action sequences – although one could debate that Michael was responsible for most of them. Most importantly of all, as flimsy as it was, there was an actual plot line to follow (anyone notice how important that is to me, yet?)

The story centers on Freddy needing to slip back into people’s conscious fear in order to have enough power to terrorize and murder kids again. In order to do this, he conveniently brings Jason back to life and somehow the big man manages to get all the way to Elm Street. Once Jason starts killing unsuspecting teenagers (who look about thirty) older people start murmuring the Freddy name, thinking he is back. The kids start to get curious about this Krueger character and and our old man slowly creeps back into the game.

There are plenty of, “don’t ask how or why that happened” moments in Freddy vs Jason, but the movie seems to be completely aware of this and just winks at the audience while pushing forward at breakneck speed. Its main concern is the headline match up of Freddy and Jason going at it over the souls of wayward teenagers.

The breaking point that leads to this epic confrontation is when Jason starts killing off more teenagers than he should have, which begins to draw all attention to him and leaves Freddy out of the fear-zone. Mr. Krueger quickly realizes he has unleashed an uncontrollable beast and aims to put an end to the shenanigans so he can have all the fun – the fight is on.

Freddy vs Jason is campy and even a bit cheesy – but not embarrassing so. After a series of overly explained Freddy movies, this was a call back to what audiences enjoyed the most from the series: blood and guts and just enough brain power to not be a complete dud. The not-so-young-looking kids are full of life and genuinely frightened, but they are also not afraid to fight back in Dream Warriors fashion.

After having watched all the movies in the series to this point, I found that the most endearing part of the movies were the victims who wouldn’t allow themselves to be victims. Different than some other horror movies that have their characters fight to survive, the best A Nightmare on Elm Street movies are the ones where the characters take the fight to Freddy before he can really get warmed up.

Another positive in this little funfair is that the gore and special effects department had a bit of a field day. There is blood squirting, decapitations, and dismemberments galore. Although this movie doesn’t have the shadowy demonic mood of the earlier classics, it is a good take at the more entertaining pop-culture phenomenon which is Freddy Krueger without completely neutering him. This movie is a a fun breeze to watch and it’s definitely a nice finish for Mr. Englund, who finally hung up the claws after production was ended.

2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

After watching the A Nightmare on Elm Street series implode on itself and then finally attempt to but Freddy to rest in the horrible Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, I wasn’t sure I could handle another movie.

Thank God Wes Craven came back to save me. This movie is smart, suspenseful, and has its share of real scares. It’s also plays out like a dry run for what will eventually become Scream for it is set in a “real world” where the actors (all playing themselves, or a caricature thereof) comment on the impact of the fictional world of the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

The plot revolves around the fact that Wes Craven is writing a new script for the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and Heather Langenkamp is asked if she wants to reprise her role as Nancy. Most of the actors from the original franchise show up as themselves, including Robert Englund. as they decide whether or not they want to be part of the project.

What feels like a pseudo-documentary feature at the start slowly evolves into a supernatural horror-fest as Freddy Krueger (who is supposed to just be a made up character) manages to slip into reality, terrorizing Heather’s family and friends. From thereon in, the movie does a sleek job of bending the lines between truth and fiction while poking a finger at itself, the movie industry, horror films and critics of the genre.

As I was watching Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, I kept thinking that if felt like a poor man’s version a David Lynch movie, where reality and fantasy blur, but it’s done so expertly and with good intentions that I can hardly fault it. Everything that had been missing from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series for so long – the mood, the build-up, the creepy camera angles and a Freddy Krueger who jokes less and is truly menacing – is back in this film, and this 1994 movie still holds up very well for those reason.

One final plus how this film pays fan service to the original 1984 movie. There are some copycat kill-scenes and plenty of other call backs. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was able to both close out a chapter in horror history while commemorating the glory from yesteryear. Freddy Krueger could have easily been put to  a satisfying rest after this movie, but he came back for one more bloody bout in Freddy vs Jason. In either case, both movies washed the bad taste of Freddy’s Dead out of my mouth.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Yes, there have been plenty of fun rides with Freddy Krueger over the years, but nothing beats the original outing.

The first thing that stood out while I watched this movie for the first time in a very long time is how A Nightmare on Elm Street looked fresh. The cinematography was crisp and the plot moved along at a pace that current audiences are more accustomed to. Furthermore, although the characters (especially the lead, Nancy) were a bit one dimensional, there was a palpable sense of urgency they transmitted when facing the dilemma of how to deal with a monster who attacks them in their dreams.

This version of Freddy Krueger (who is still called Fred) is far removed from the campy pop culture icon he would eventually become. His role here is to add real terror (not rattle off one liners), usually creeping up from the shadows and killing in less inventive albeit extremely brutal ways.

An example of how Wes Craven chooses direct slasher brutality over the oft-utilized carnival-like dreamscapes of later movies is how Tina, one of the kids on Freddy Krueger’s hit list, is killed. Freddy stalks her from the shadows in his nightmare world but when he finally catches up to her, in order to start slicing her up with his iconic glove, he throws a blanket over both of them. We, the audience, are mostly not shown the attack in Freddy’s world, the real horror is in watching what Tina’s death looks like in her world, in her bedroom, while her boyfriend looks on helplessly. It plays out like a scene from the Exorcist on speed as she is jolted about the room and even ends up on the ceiling, blood spilling everywhere. Sequences like this add a true element of horror and suspense that still hold up to a lot of today’s standards for the genre.

Much of the success of this film can be attributed to director and writer Wes Craven, who uses camera angles, lighting and mood to set each scene up. He never allows things to settle down long enough to lose track of the main story but he also allows us, the audience, a time to breathe (albeit heavily) before shocking us back into his nightmare. Robert Englund is also great as Freddy. He has a lot less to say, but that’s because his main mission is revenge, not entertaining a crowd.

This movie didn’t scare me as much now as when I was a kid, but it still managed to give me enough chills to think twice before closing my eyes. Most will agree that the best horror is not the type that only knows how to play us for jump scares every other scene, but the type that stays with us long after the credit rolls. A Nightmare on Elm Street definitely stands firmly as a part of that latter group. It would be a decade before Wes Craven would helm the ship again and make Freddie a truly frightening creature, but even his New Nightmare doesn’t match the grandness of this original film.

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What I am Watching: Alien Covenant 100% Spoiler Free Review

I just came back from the pre-premiere screening of Alien: Covenant. This movie had a lot riding on it. It had the unenviable job of pleasing those of us who thought Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was a mini sci-fi masterpiece, by creating more mythology and expanding of the world of the Engineers, and those who thought Prometheus was a bore and wanted a tighter bridge to Scott’s original 1979 Alien, by adding more action packed scenes and tense horror. Was it successful? That’s up to you to decide, these are my thoughts.

My biggest worry going into this film is that it would be yet another retread of the tired Alien franchise formula – reach a planet or location, find out the planet or location has some unfriendly inhabitants, die. For the first few acts of the movie it was mostly that. (This is evidenced in the trailers and doesn’t really give anything away.) There wasn’t much wonder to the exploration of new terrain, if it was all old terrain. It was by numbers enough for me to go take a quick bathroom break and head back without feeling I had missed anything important. Perhaps for the young audience who has never seen the original films this may be exciting – and, in fact, the Covenant’s crew decent onto dangerous terrain is well filmed and staged.

Once we get to the part of the movie we all know is coming – infections! – things get a bit more interesting. There is a some more mythology built in, pseudo-religious subtexts, and a bit of the heartbeat that kept Prometheus ticking. We are given a little more information on The Engineers and take a few steps to move the story forward towards direct prequel land. Although some attempts are made to flesh out the world and its characters, the movie falters a bit. It feels afraid to go too far into the territory that divided some many audiences with Prometheus. Information in this movie comes in blurbs as opposed to long meditations on a theme.

When the movie shifts into decidedly “Alien-esque” territory, it offers up some interesting material – a few that I wish would have been explored further, especially when it comes to how exactly these xenomorphs think and react to the world around them. Again, I felt that this was fear of Prometheus backlash. Ridley Scott and the studio wanted a crowd pleaser, not another starkly divisive movie. Alien: Covenant had quite a few opportunities to really build on the themes of creation and humanity, but it whimpered just as each opportunity seemed to be reaching a crescendo.

Another failure of the film was the casting. None of the characters in this film were nearly as charismatic to root for or despise as Sigourney Weaver, from the original four movies, or Noomi Rapaca and Charleze Theron, from Prometheus. Even Michael Fassbender managed to be a little less interesting here as an improved, and less curious and self-willed, version of the earlier David. It even took a while to spring on me in the movie’s final two acts who our heroin (in traditional Alien fashion) was going to be, and when I established that, I also realized that I could not have cared less if she had lived or died because the film had not done a good job in getting me invested in her. This makes the final scenes less thrilling, as we, the audience are just waiting for the inevitable ending to show its scary xenomorph face again.

Alien: Covenant is sure to please audiences who haven’t seen a good Alien movie since Cameron’s 1986 Aliens. Although the exposition is overly long and full of “stupid people doing stupid things” moments (if you thought the biologist in Prometheus was dumb when he decided to play with an alien snake, wait until you get a load of these mental giants), when the movie finally gets going it has a few entertaining action set pieces.

The heart stopping action is too little and too late, though. And again, these scenes are hampered by the sense that Alien:Covenant doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be – a serious heady movie (like Prometheus) or a call back to what Scott and Cameron were able to achieve in their first two iconic movies in the franchise. This juggling act seemed to be too much for Ridley Scott to handle – and it shows. We are never sure whether to hold on to our movie theatre seats in suspense or to sit back and ponder what a character has just seen or what they may have meant by what they just said – and I have a feeling Ridley Scott wasn’t too sure of that himself either.

I probably won’t go running out to see Alien:Covenant again, but it is the most thorough and well made Alien film since the original four. It’s certainly more enjoyable to watch than Alien 3, and headier, in parts, than the popcorn-thrills of Alien: Resurrection, but it’s not quite in the same league as the first two movies. Even the campy first installment of the Alien vs Predator series had a little bit more pop in its step and more faith in its thematic vision (blood, jump scares, and gore) than this movie. Although I didn’t hate the film, I would have preferred to have seen either Alien 5 or a Prometheus 2 – a half spirited mixture of the two just didn’t do it for me at all.

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Phil

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What I am Watching: Stephen King’s IT (1990) and The Stand

There seems to be a Stephen King revival of late – with many of his works getting a first time film or television adaptation and others getting a reboot or remake. Although I have seen a few of his book adaptations, others I hadn’t. I decided to look back on some of his earlier to see what all the fuss was about. Below are my reviews of IT and The Stand – two very long pieces of work that ended up as television mini-series in order to better accommodate the length of the source material.

IT (1990)

 

IT is probably one of the most iconic King novels and adaptations. I tried to read the book as a kid, but I got me nightmares just having the book with me in the same room (the cover art was scary) so returned it to the library. I fared no better with the television movie, only catching a few scenes here and there throughout the years but being so genuinely creeped out by Pennywise the Clown that I never gave it a go. So with the announcement of the IT movie later in the year, it felt like a perfect place to start and I was pumped to give the movie its due attention.

This movie tells these two parallel stories. One is of a group of kids in 1960 who are terrorized by a supernatural force dubbed IT, who most often manifests itself as as clown named Pennywise (played by the legendary Tim Curry to perfection). After realizing that IT feeds on their fears, these kids band together as The Losers Club to try to find a way to stop him – they also make a promise to themselves to go back to their hometown if IT is ever heard from again.

The other story is set thirty years later, in 1990, and follows these kids as adults. When they hear news that IT is on the prowl again, they hold true to their promise and travel back to their hometown for one more showdown with the creature. Although IT, seems like only a bad childhood memory, he still yields enough power to create fear among the group as adults.

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The Loser Club as adults in 1990.

The main problem with this movie is that the adult characters are not as endearing and the adult story not nearly as frightening or interesting as when we sticks to 1960 storyline. The kid ensemble has better chemistry and we, the audience, are taken on a fearful ride alongside them as IT plays with their childhood phobias. Even if the movie may feel tame compared to current horror standards, we can still empathize with the children as we think back to those same things that may have scared us when we were young.

While the movie does try its best to reflect how Pennywise still affects each member of The Losers Club as adults, it’s uneven. It’s made clear to us that IT did strip them of their innocence, but the characters flit between playing child abuse survivors and a group of people who are simply on a revenge mission. Both sentiments may be true, but the motivation behind the two feelings isn’t always so well expressed in the writing, directing and acting. This lack of focus hurts the film because it removes any sense of suspense and eventually leads to an anti-climatic finale. In other words, the adult plot line is clear from the start and since they already know who IT is (due to the 1960s storyline) we as an audience are left to go with the motions along with each of them.

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The Losers Club in 1960

The kids, on the other hand, represented a bit more of what we would feel, at any age, if confronted with an out-worldly demon who fed off our fears. These parts of the movie provided the The Losers Club (and us) the natural and logical steps from paranoia and fear to the eventual courage that they would need to face the boogy man. This makes for a much more interesting story to invest in. The set pieces and fright scenes are also set up on each character’s back story which makes the fright scenes more chilling. In contrast, the adults are given very little development outside of what we already know happened to them as youths.

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Tim Curry is this movie’s true saving grace though. As Pennywise he is menacing without having to work hard for it. His voice and eyes are enough to conjure up all sorts of nasty thoughts – and perhaps he was the cause of a whole generation’s fear of clowns. There is little, if anything to fault, about his performance but that can be said about nearly every role he has ever stepped into – especially when it calls for him to play out of this world characters. Check out my review of Legend here if you want to find out about another great Curry performance.

Despite some lulls in the suspense and an uneven performance from the adult actors, IT is definitely worth watching. Fans of the source material do complain that the television movie watered down a lot of what makes the book great, but I speak for the audience that never read the book (and certainly every book adaptation has to keep both readers and non-readers in mind) when I say that it both entertained me and gave me some slight creeps. IT may not be “hide under the sofa” scary (remember this was 1990 pre-X Files or Twin Peaks network television) but the story certainly stays in your head for a while after the end.

Speaking of  the end. This is where the movie does fall apart completely. After hours of build up and suspense we are given a rather unsatisfying finale. What had been offered as a very long mediation about the fear that resides in the recesses of our minds, but instead we are given an ending which centers around killing the very real creature that lives in the sewers. This diminishes the fear factor of most of the film that came before it. It would have been great it IT was not something The Losers Club couldn’t really pin down as anything that had an actual physical form and could be killed. It’s a big problem that perhaps the remake will resolve – but we will have to wait until part two of those movies to find out.

The movie did interest me enough to pick up the book and take a very long read, though. If another task of a movie adaptation is to be good enough to get people to pick up the source material than IT succeeded in that wise.

The Stand (1994)

Another Stephen King project that is constantly up for a possible remake is The Stand. Because of its considerable length it was also made into a television mini-series and again, having never read the book, I am giving my opinions solely based on what I saw on screen.

This story deals with an end of the world (or just America) plague which leaves a group of survivors behind who begin to have visions. In these visions they see an old lady named Mother Abagail playing guitar on her porch and a man named Flagg embroiled in fire. Both these characters ask the survivors to go to them – and the fate of the rest of humanity holds in the balance depending on which way the people go.

The Stand was definitely more even throughout than IT – as there wasn’t any distracting difference in quality between two parallel story lines – but that isn’t to say it’s better or worse than the previous film. In fact, they are both at about the same level of made-for-TV movie quality. The Stand benefits from a slighter better cast (including Gary Sinise and Ruby Dee, who do their best with dialogue which can get pretty trite at times) and a character driven story which doesn’t really rely to heavily on horror tropes. The movie is about these people’s choices to go one way or the other and it works pretty well for a while – but only for a while.

Mother Abigail

Mother Abagail in Nebraska

The first two chapters, “The Plague” and, “The Dreams” I found to be very entertaining and imaginative. While there is a supernatural element which is slowly introduced, it doesn’t detract from the post-apocalyptic world where bodies are strewn across the street and where people are trying to sort the mess out. Their visions give them hope that there is an escape, though. It drives the plot at a steady rhythm as they travel either towards Mother Abagail in Nebraska or Flagg in Las Vegas.

The first two chapters of The Stand also feel very current, given how much we have been force fed apocalypse movies. A point that The Stand has in its advantage though is that while it certainly does show a world in ruin, it also tries to reinforce the idea that some people won’t go completely mad in a dead world. It reminded me of the underrated second season of The Walking Dead where, until Rick’s group arrived, Hershel and his farm seemed to be operating along just fine. The Stand delivers this more peaceful side of the story without making it boring or feel like we’ve been transported into a Disney movie.

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A tight jeans assemble for Flagg in Las Vegas.

The Stand begins to lose steam when the supernatural elements go from being a backdrop and take center stage in the story. We come to understand that there is a fight between good and evil that must play out, but it’s never really fully fleshed out as to why and to what end. We can surmise that God and The Devil want to take the opportunity to start the world anew with their “flock,” but this theme is only a spark that never truly burns into a satisfying flame. Mother Abagail seems to be unsure of how to go about explaining the importance of stopping Flagg and the only threatening thing about Flagg is whether or not he will force everyone to wear jeans as tight as his.

The third part of the mini-series, “The Betrayal,” was the most boring, and it only half kept my attention. As each person chooses his or her side in this final “Stand” (the name of the movie is repeated quite a few times in dialogue in case we don’t get it) there isn’t any real explanation as to why they want to be aligned with good or evil other than just “I’m a good guy and I’m a bad guy.” Not including this greater study of the two dimensional scope of something as thematically powerful as the thin line which divides good and evil is where the movie fails. It becomes a simple adventure story where Mother Abagail sends out some of her men to go take Flagg down while Flagg tries to stop her from foiling his plans.

The last chapter, “The Stand,” is anti-climatic but well produced. It leads up to the final confrontation between Mother Abagail’s group and Flagg’s group. The conclusion to this face off, for reasons I just mentioned, is lackluster and falls flat, though. Without giving us any hints as to the importance of the act of killing off Flagg or the reasons why any of the characters would choose either side of the battle, there is no investment in wanting to see him die other than knowing he is the bad guy and bad guys don’t win. Much like in IT, the supernatural force which can lead us into the hell inside our minds is reduced to a physical element that can be felled with a good wack to the head.

That said, The Stand didn’t bore me. I finished it rather quickly and recommend it to anyone who has a some extra hours to spare. It’s not embarrassingly bad, even at its worst. It’s a great story which one can only imagine had many more layers in the source material – and that may benefit from someone remaking it for today’s audience. For what it’s worth, this is yet another success story for an adaptation which made me want to pick up yet another very long Stephen King novel.

Long live the King.

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What I am Watching: Kids and movies that actually came out this year!!!

Kids (1995)

When Kids originally premiered in 1995, it created quite a stir. It was called everything from exploitative to borderline child pornography. It was slapped with an NC-17 rating, and a bunch of my classmates ran around quoting bits of it without actually having seen it. I was one of those kids that didn’t see the movie, and I am glad that I only caught it for the first time now. It is a strong film, that requires a mature eye to understand and appreciate.

The story follows the day in the life of Telly – an adolescent boy in love with doing nothing and deflowering very young girls. One of the girls which he has had sex with, Jennie, finds out that she is HIV-Positive. Since he was her only sex partner, Jennie spends the day trying to find Telly.

He is a difficult boy to find, though, because after having already managed to have sex with one virgin, which is the film’s opening scene, he is on a mission to try to have sex with his second virgin of the day – a first for him.

Despite the nihilistic and even criminal outlook on life, Kids treats its characters with respect – even the vilest of the bunch. It’s filmed in a pseudo-documentary style which acts as a shield so as to not judge its characters or influence how we should think about them. Director Larry Clark is much more concerned with showcasing the emotional despair which can come from modern adolescence and turn it on its head by simply stepping away and letting its character’s breathe.

These kids have no time for angst – there are drugs to try, alcohol to consume, and people to fuck. They are in hyper-living mode as way to drive out the demons of the monotony of oncoming adulthood. Some kids will go through these phases and come out okay on the other side – others won’t. This film is not concerned with that – it simply wants to present us that moment in an individual’s life.

Larry Clark created a mini-masterpiece with this film. It is a slice of 1990s New York and of American teenage drive. These kids (like me) were probably the last generation without social media and internet. We had to discover the world in a much more tangible and scary way – which mean actually being out there to get kicked in the mouth.

Some of the things we saw weren’t pretty – some of them were marvelous. Kids brought me back to that time of uncertainty even if I wasn’t nearly as wild as these characters. This is an independent movie classic that should be watched by anyone who loves real non-filtered America cinema, and films that go full throttle with their attempt to say something about the world around them .

Get Out (2017)

There have been a million reviews of this movie, and mostly all positive, so there is nothing I want to add on that front because I agree with mostly all of them – Get Out is a cinema gem.

Director and Writer Jordan Peele managed to take a worn story and spin it on its head as a tale about racial tension and the anxieties faced by black Americans in society.

I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this movie – from the script to the camera work to the acting to the spectacular editing and set design. This is a film for today – which is brave in asserting its themes and message: racism in the modern age is veiled, it’s sneaky, and one won’t be perceive it unless it is being looked at through the eyes of those who experience it daily.

Daniel Kaluuya, who plays the film’s protagonist, Chris, are those eyes. The movie is a slow burn until Peele is sure that we see what Chris sees and shouts along with one of the other characters of the movie “Get Out!”

I highly recommend this movie and I hope the film academy remembers it next year.

Split (2017)

Let me get the cheesy joke out of the way – I am split on this one.

One the one hand, it was great to see M. Night Shyamalan back in action. He is a hometown Philly guy, and I feel that even when he misses the mark, he is nearly always trying to make his movie. He may have lost his way a bit in the last decade or so, but Split puts him right back in the driver’s seat to tell the stories that he wants to tell. The movie is freaky, well paced, and there’s even a nice little twist and nod to an earlier film of his at the end.

On the other hand, the protagonists of this movie irritated the hell out of me. There was chance after chance after chance for them to escape or harm their capturer – in his many iterations, but they didn’t. Even when the psychologist, who I thought was the smartest character in the movie, decided to step in, she wasn’t much help either. The rest fell into predictable horror movie motifs with blood and guts to spare.

This movie, like a lot Shyamalan’s work since the fabulous Sixth Sense, has B-Movie appeal with A-Movie elements in the acting and directing department. But these elements aren’t enough to really bring any real depth or layers to a paper thin plot that quickly goes from would-be psychological thriller to slasher film.

I wouldn’t say to run out and watch this film now, but I also wouldn’t say to never watch it. It’s a passable flick – and may pump Shyamalan fans up to a possible return to form. And if you are a fan of one of his early films, you will definitely get excited about the little coda at the end of the movie.

Logan (2017)

I wish I could say I enjoyed this movie – I really do. The truth is much harsher though. I thought Logan was pretty boring and introduced nothing exciting and new to either the superhero genre or the Wolverine’s character aside from some F-Bombs.

The story is set in the future, with an aged and dying Wolverine. He rides off with Professor Xavier (played by a very frail Patrick Stewart) to protect a young girl who, by way of some genetic engineering. may be Wolverine’s offspring.

The little girl, X-23, played by Dafne Keen, is the most entertaining part of the movie. She has blood in her eyes, and spirit in her voice (when she finally decides to talk). She ads the unknown element to the movie while both Jackman and Stewart go through the motions.

I am a big fan of the Wolverine character, and can even tolerate the solo movies, but this one tried to hard to be “adult” and “balsy” but it ended up cutting short the fun, excitement, and harshness which Wolverine should bring to the screen. He was a lame duck here, and the movie suffered for it.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Nostalgia meets a few new songs and a lot of CGI. I loved this version of Beauty and the Beast as much as I enjoyed the original animated classic. The sets were beautiful, the story pretty much the same magical fun, and the music fabulous as ever. There was very little Disney could do wrong in trying to do a nearly shot by shot adaptation of their earlier classic, and they really did not take many risks to alter that outcome.

There are a few added pieces of background information – especially on Belle and Gaston’s characters – which make both feel a bit more rounded. There are also a few new songs that didn’t take away from the old ones, but felt right in place with the stand-bys.

This is a great movie for older and newer generations to enjoy. In a world of bombs, death, and hatred, Beauty and the Beast felt like a real refreshing bath of good vibes and fun.

Power Rangers (2017)

Continuing on the nostalgia vibe, Power Rangers was a movie I was really looking forward to seeing. My hope was that they would try to update it a bit so that it could be taken more seriously than the cheesy show I loved as a teen, while still keeping its tongue firmly in cheek. Well, it managed the serious part alright, but perhaps it went overboard.

These five kids spend the first hour and twenty-eight minutes of the movie in angst, doubt, and reaffirming each other that they are not losers. I felt like I was watching an episode of Party of Five meets Degrassi High – considering I may have probably watched an accumulated five minutes of both shows due to my general dislike for teen angst drama, I spent over an hour in excruciating discomfort.

When these five losers finally figured out how to Morph – after many failed attempts and doubts as to whether they should even morph – the fight scene was accompanied by some weird art-house music that didn’t match the level of excitement that these scenes should have conveyed.

Power Rangers should have been made with the same lively style of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot – which despite its imperfections, breezes by without taking any of itself seriously – instead we had this pseudo-emo movie for disillusioned millennials with a good dash of Zach Snyder DC gloominess.  Power Rangers were never about that – it was about kicking Rita’s butt in giant dinosaur Zords and half-baked kung-fu moves.

If you have kids, I guess it’s worth giving this movie a try. If you are just on a nostalgia trip, like me, you may want to skip it.

Sully (2016)

A late comer to my Oscar watch list, Sully was a straight forward film directed by a straight forward guy, Clint Eastwood. It tells the story of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks), who successfully landed a passenger aircraft on the Hudson River in 2009.

I thought the film was great as it delivered on its promise to tell the untold story of what happened behind the scenes during the media madness that surrounded Captain Sullenberger in the weeks following the successful water landing.

There is nothing too flashy in this movie. There are no big emotional monologues. There is no over the top action (even during the excellently filmed Hudson River landing scene). It simply wants to tell a story in the clearest and quickest way possible. I highly recommend this movie.


That’s my short list for now. I am going to dip back into movie madness again soon. More horror movies and a few older ones I imagine. As always thanks for reading and tip me off to anything I should be seeing.

P. Ray

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