MaximumMadness

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Reviews

Critters Attack!
(2019)

"Critters Attack!"- Typical SyFy channel schlock. Completely disposable, but good for a few laughs.
I have a certain affinity for the "Critters" franchise. Sure, they were never high art, but they were a good bit of fun back in the day, and hold up as mildly engaging little creature-features. They're the perfect sorts of films to pop on during a slow, rainy day thanks to their excellent old-school puppet effects and a few goofy jokes thrown in for good measure.

2019's "Critters Attack!" is the long awaited fifth installment, coming nearly thirty years after the release of the previous film. Primarily produced for a direct-to-video and cable release, the film is a low budget affair that feels very typical of your general SyFy channel level schlock. Cheaply thrown together and ultimately disposable... but good for a few fleeting laughs thanks to some nifty creature effects and a couple clever moments sprinkled in.

Tashiana Washington stars as Drea, a 20-something sushi delivery girl with big dreams of going away to college. However, things soon start to turn deadly in her sleepy little town when a certain race of rolly-polly aliens invade. That's right, the krites are back and badder than ever! Now, Drea must team up with her younger brother (Jaeden Noel), two kids she's babysitting (Ava Preston, Jack Fulton), and a mysterious and seemingly "good" Krite nicknamed Bianca, in order to stay alive and save the day. At the same time, a woman named "Aunt Dee" (Dee Wallace) sets out to hunt the invading monsters...

Perhaps the most peculiar thing about "Critters Attack!" is the fact that from a basic scripting level... it's actually not that badly written. Screenwriter Scott Lobdell, perhaps best known for his work in the field of comics and for writing the delightful slasher-comedy "Happy Death Day," does a pretty good job establishing characters, setting up an interesting story, and injecting some fun and subversive little sequences. And there is definitely some fun to be had with the film thanks to this. I particularly enjoyed the subplot involving Bianca, the "good krite."

And to give credit where it is due, the creature effects are also typically very well-made. We all know the real reason you watch a "Critters" film is to see some monster-infused mayhem, and the movie doesn't disappoint in that regard. The krites are as deliciously vile as ever, and the puppetry is pretty darned solid all around. It definitely holds up to the effects of the previous films, and even exceeds them at times. I also will admit that the kills are appropriately gooey and gory, which is good fun for horror fans.

Unfortunately, the film often falls flat due to an obvious low budget and a shaky execution from director Bobby Miller. It's very clear that the production wasn't exactly inundated with money, and it leaves the movie feeling very cheap, patchy and thrown together. And that sort of thing is becoming harder and harder to accept as filmmaking technology continues to evolve and costs continue to fall. The fact I've seen zero-budget student films that look better than this professional production is a real problem.

And that's primarily the fault of the direction, which is sub-par at best. I'm sure Miller tried his hardest, but that doesn't change the fact that the pacing is inconsistent, the set-ups are basic and amateurish, the tone is all over the map and the general feel is very... blah. This same script in more experienced hands could have worked quite well. Unfortunately, that just wasn't the case here.

But at the end of the day, I can't say I absolutely hated the film. As someone who enjoys a bad B-movie now and then, there was still some entertainment value to be had thanks to the nifty creature effects, gory kills and a relatively solid screenplay. And if you similarly enjoy low-budget schlock like me, I'd probably give this movie a very mild recommendation. It'd be worth seeing once if you should happen to catch it on cable, or see a cheap copy buried in a bargain-bin somewhere.

I'm giving "Critters Attack!" a sub-par but watchable 4 out of 10. It's patchy and poorly executed, but has enough fun little moments that fans of crappy B-movies might enjoy it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
(1997)

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"- The iconic series still manages to thrill and enthrall over twenty years later!
Despite having been born in the late 80's and having grown up a true 90's kid, I must admit that I was never particularly aware of the cultural phenomenon that was Joss Whedon's beloved series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I mean sure, I knew the show existed, and I had watched the original movie with my older sister a few times. But that was about it. I think I was just a little too young at the time to really grasp just how massive and important the show was, and how much it appealed to audiences of all ages. But as I grew older, I found myself gradually becoming more and more interested in the series, though I never quite had the time to finally hunker down and watch it from start to finish, outside of having seen most of the first three seasons while I was in college.

However, like many others this year during the current global pandemic, I opted to use my spare time while I was furloughed from work to catch up on movies and series that I've been meaning to watch. And "Buffy" was right at the top of my list. Over the course of four months, I gradually watched through the series in its entirety for the first time, along with its popular spin-off "Angel."

And how was it? It was as outstanding as I ever could have hoped it would be! While it may be a bit dated at times, and while some seasons are stronger than others, I was shocked by just how well it held up, how relevant many of its themes still are, and just how darned entertaining the show is. This is one iconic series that still manages to thrill and enthrall even decades later!

Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as Buffy Summers, who is seemingly just your ordinary teenage girl, worried about things like boys and homework. Except she's not just your ordinary girl-- she is "the Slayer," a chosen one gifted with superhuman strength and agility, who is destined to do battle with vampires, demons and the forces of darkness! And together with her best friends Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan), along with her "Watcher" Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), she must face non-stop adventure as her little town of Sunnydale is invaded by creatures and monsters over and over again.

While his credibility and star-power has faded over the last few years due to a slew of admittedly icky personal controversies, creator Joss Whedon and his crew of writers and directors crafted a wonderful and addictive series in "Buffy." Deftly mixing creepiness with campiness, and drama with comedy, the show is a unique blend that is deeply satisfying to watch. Especially once you get passed the bumpy, lower-budget first season and into the much more refined remainder of the show. The series tackles timeless themes that many people face as they grow and age, and does it with a refreshing sense of wit and style. And it's just plain darned fun to watch thanks to the endlessly likable characters and sharp humor. Whedon is well-known for his stylized dialogue and for injecting clever gags into his works, and it's just splendid here. The show is absolutely hilarious, which helps even out the darker moments.

The cast is absolutely fantastic. Gellar makes for a compelling lead in Buffy, and it's a lot of fun to see how the character evolves over the seven seasons as she grows and changes. Gellar really knocks it out of the park-- there's a reason she's still beloved in this role. Brendon and Hannigan are absolutely phenomenal in their roles as Buffy's friends and allies in the war against darkness, and they add a lot of heart and humor to the show. Heck, at times they even overshadow Buffy- especially Hannigan. Anthony Stewart Head adds a sense of class to the proceedings and is a great deal of fun as Buffy's long-suffering teacher and advisor Giles. And a revolving door of supporting players add quite a bit to the series. Particularly notable are an excellent David Boreanez, a brilliant James Marsters, an adorable Emma Caulfield, a very likable Amber Benson, a hilarious Seth Green and a very solid Michelle Trachtenberg as various allies of our heroes who come and sometimes go over the seasons.

I also have to mention the general production of the series. While the effects are dated, and there is a definite sense of the early seasons being "super 90's," the show is typically very well put together. The cinematography is quite excellent for its time, with later seasons still holding up quite well. The music is awesomely moody and sets the tone exceptionally well. And the production and creature design is usually top notch stuff.

Now before I wrap this up, I feel I should address one other thing. There seems to be almost a mandatory and prerequisite need to discuss the various seasons in these sorts of reviews. Because everyone has their opinions over what the "best" and "worst" seasons are. And I have to admit... I do have my own opinions. But the most important thing I have to say is, I don't think there are really any "bad" seasons of "Buffy." Sure, some seasons are stronger than others, but I really enjoyed all seven for the most part, and see them all as vitally important pieces of the puzzle. So I wouldn't recommend skipping any of them, or stopping at a certain point. It's all worth seeing.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a magnificent series that still stands tall decades after its initial release. Its themes are still relevant, its characters are still likable, and it's still a blast and a half to watch. And it easily earns a perfect 10 out of 10! Now if only we could get a proper HD remaster that maintained the original 4:3 aspect ratio and stuck closer to the original color-correction...

Happy Death Day 2U
(2019)

"Happy Death Day 2U"- Delightfully dopey and endlessly entertaining! It's a ton of fun!
If there's one thing that director Christopher Landon's two "Happy Death Day" films have in spades, it's charm. Yes, the stories may be silly as can be, and I'm sure you could poke a million holes in the logic... but frankly, I don't care. Because the original film, and indeed this slick and ridiculously entertaining sequel, are just too darned enjoyable for me to mind their flaws.

Jessica Rothe is back as the long-suffering "Tree" Gelbman, and once again, she finds herself at the center of a brand new adventure. After learning that her original time-loop was caused by an on-campus quantum experiment by fellow student Ryan (Phi Vu), Tree is inadvertently sent hurtling through time and space, landing in another time loop... in another dimension. Now, Tree must work with this dimension's versions of Ryan and her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) in order to try and find a way home. But things obviously aren't that easy. Not only is there a new killer on the loose in this dimension... but Tree also learns that her desperately missed deceased mother (Missy Yager) is still very much alive, putting her into a moral dilemma.

While the original "Happy Death Day" focused primarily on a horror-comedy approach by adding a dash of humor and a wonderful time-loop gimmick to a classic slasher-film formula, "Happy Death Day 2U" is much more of an overt sci-fi comedy. It plays down the slasher-horror element quite a bit and instead just has fun with the concept. It's quite a bit more slap-sticky and overtly humorous in its approach, and I think it works fabulously. It gave me fond memories of films like "Evil Dead II" and "Bride of Chucky"-- movies that took their respective series into more satirical directions.

As before the cast is just wonderful. Jessica Rothe once again leads the film with an engaging and fearless performance. She's also give some surprisingly meaty dramatic scenes to sink her teeth into, and she does an amazing job. Suffice to say, these films have definitely made me a fan of hers. Vu, Broussard and other returns actors including Rachel Matthews and Ruby Modine are as excellent as ever. Especially Modine, who gets a chance to completely reinterpret her character thanks to the dimension-hopping angle of the story. Newcomers such as Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin are just a blast and add a lot to the proceedings. And Yager is wonderful as Tree's mother in a small supporting role. We knew she was important from the first film, and it's a delight to actually meet the character.

Writer/Director Christopher Landon is also at the top of his game. The movie is extremely well put together, with a sharp sense of style. And it's clear Landon is having the time of his life behind the camera, with some wild comedic set-pieces and some really entertaining and experimental little scenes. A sequence in which Tree hilariously kills herself over and over stands out as one of the film's best. His script is also very tight and absolutely packed with humor and heart. He really does a fabulous job at handling the characters and their arcs, and I can't wait to see what he cooks up next.

And just like the first movie, the beating heart of the film is the emotional journey that Tree is forced to endure. And I think that's what sets these films apart. The strong character development, which is uncommon in many modern horror and genre films. Especially mainstream releases. The first film focused on Tree's journey into becoming a better person. This film expands on that, and has some great themes, including making peace with your past and learning to embrace your future. And it just... makes you feel good seeing such a great character learning these lessons.

If I had to point out any real flaws to the film, well... I definitely think this sequel will have a slightly more limited appeal than its predecessor. It's a bit more "extreme" in its approach, and I do think it might turn some audiences off. Especially if they were hoping for a more straight-forward sequel. I also think the mystery of the new killer was a little forced. I honestly would have been totally fine if there wasn't a killer in this movie, because it almost feels like an afterthought, and if anything, it kinda kills the pacing in the third act for a few minutes.

But those are just minor squabbles in an otherwise incredibly enjoyable film. Is it an award-worthy piece of art? No. Definitely not. But I don't think it was trying to be. It's trying to just be a fun movie. And I think it succeeds wonderfully.

I'm giving "Happy Death Day 2U" a very good 8 out of 10. For my money, it's just as enjoyable as the first film.

Happy Death Day
(2017)

"Happy Death Day"- A clever horror-comedy that makes the most of its time-loop gimmick!
Wow, there has certainly been a deluge of time-loop stories lately, hasn't there? From quickly forgotten films like "Before I Fall," to quirky mainstream comedies like "Palm Springs," to popular television series like "Russian Doll," audiences can't seem to get enough of these types of projects. And possibly the best of the trend is 2017's delightfully twisted and wonderfully hammy horror-comedy "Happy Death Day!"

Jessica Rothe stars as "Tree," a troubled and sometimes selfish sorority girl who gets her kicks from things like ignoring others and having illicit affairs with her college professors. But things quickly change when she is murdered one night by a masked assailant... only to wake up and relive the same day over again... and then die yet again at the hands of the masked figure. With the help of a charming fellow student named Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree is able to surmise that she is stuck inside of a time-loop, destined to relive the day again and again until she can solve the mystery of her own murder and keep herself alive. And along the way, she'll also learn to confront her inner demons and maybe become a better person for it.

Directed by Christopher Landon from a script by Scott Lobdell, "Happy Death Day" works extremely well thanks to the wonderful cast, a good blend of humor and thrills that make the most out of the time-loop gimmick, and some top-notch character development. It's a resounding success all around, and is arguably one of the best horror-comedies in recent memory.

I absolutely adore the cast. Rothe, a relative newcomer, knocks it out of the park as our lead. I've only seen her once or twice in the past, but she absolutely commands the film. She gives Tree a good sense of depth, and is also just as entertaining as you could want her to be. Absolutely fabulous performance. Broussard is endlessly likable as Tree's main ally in the film, and potential romantic interest Carter. He helps ground the movie, and is a lot of fun in his part. I also absolutely loved Rachel Matthews as the school's resident queen-bee mean-girl Danielle. It's a small part, but Matthews makes quite the impression. And of course there's a small turn from Ruby Modine as Tree's long-suffering roommate Lori. She's quite good in the film and has some juicy scenes to sink her teeth into.

The film's execution is also top-notch stuff. Lobdell's script skillfully mixes classic slasher-film scares with a keen sense of humor, creating a pretty ideal blend that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats while also piling on the laughs. The script also makes the most of the time-loop narrative in clever and subversive ways. There are so many fun little moments showing Tree's journey, and her just... having fun with the fact she keeps reliving the same day over and over again. And director Landon's execution of the material is pitch perfect. I've been a fan of Landon for a while now thanks to his other projects, and he's just the right fit. His sense of pacing and composition is fantastic, and he's able to execute the laughs and the thrills to perfection. In a lot of ways, he very pleasantly reminded me of early Sam Raimi in how he handles the material. And that's a very good thing.

And then there's the character development, which is really the beating heart of the film. In a lot of ways, Tree's growth is more important than the story. And it is just perfect. The film does a remarkably good job at establishing Tree as a very flawed and often unlikable person at the start... but then cleverly begins to dole out little bits of information suggesting it's not really her fault, and that she has a lot of pain beneath the surface. And the story goes on, Tree eventually begins to reevaluate her life in pretty fantastic ways. It may be a bit simplistic at times, but I really appreciate it when a movie is able to take us on a journey like this. Especially a horror film, which don't always have the best track records when it comes to character development.

If I absolutely had to point out any weaknesses to the film, I would say that the story perhaps takes a little too long to get going. The first few days in the time-loop can kinda drag a bit. A little tightening to "trim the fat" would have been appreciated. I also do think some of the twists and turns are a little... "convenient." But then again, the film is so much fun, I can forgive that for the most part.

I absolutely adore "Happy Death Day." It takes a simple premise-- "What if 'Groundhog Day' was a slasher movie?"-- and spins it into pure gold. It's arguably the best "time loop" story in recent memory, and it's just a blast-and-a-half to watch. I'm giving it a very good 8 out of 10. Definitely worth seeing.... again and again.

Bill & Ted Face the Music
(2020)

"Bill & Ted Face the Music"- A charming, nostalgic trip down memory lane. Most excellent!
It's been nearly thirty years since we last heard from Bill and Ted. But they're back, baby! And their latest adventure is a very charming and wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory lane that should please longtime fans of the beloved series. It certainly is most excellent!

Years after their last adventure, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) have not yet fulfilled their destinies to create the song that united the world, and both their band and their personal lives have hit some major hang-ups. With the Wyld Stallyns now stuck doing cheesy gigs and wedding receptions, they soon begin to question whether or not they really will ever write their legendary tune. However, they are soon visited by the daughter (Kristen Schaal) of their old friend Rufus, who brings them to the future where they learn the troubling truth-- they have but only a little more than an hours' time to write their song, or else all time and space will implode. And thus, they set off on a daring new adventure to steal the song from their future selves. At the same time, the pair's equally air-headed daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) set out on a quest through time of their own in order to build a most legendary band to back their dads.

When it's at its best, "Bill & Ted Face the Music" is pure, unadulterated fun. Is it a bit patchy? Sure. Do its ambitions sometimes outreach its obvious lower budget? Yes, here and there. But that doesn't change the fact that it's an endlessly entertaining and endearing return for two of our favorite cinematic characters.

Reeves and Winter slip right back into the shoes of their iconic characters, and are both just a blast-and-a-half to watch. It's like they never went away. Especially Winter, who is a joy to behold. I also absolutely adored Weaving and Lundy-Paine, who add a lot to the proceedings. In many ways, their story and the relationship their characters have with their fathers is the beating heart of the film. Schaal is as fun as ever in this new role. Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes are a good bit of fun as the titular duo's long-suffering Princess brides. I absolutely loved Anthony Carrigan as a neurotic, robotic villain from the future. And returning actors including William Sadler as the Grim Reaper and Amy Stoch as Missy help tie the entire series together. (Just wait till you get a load of what Missy has been up to in the ensuing years!)

Series co-creators Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson once again write, and they have a lot of fun with the concepts and subplots and characters. The movie has all of the humor you've come to expect from a Bill and Ted story, plus some genuinely touching moments thrown in for good measure. Directorial duties are handled by Dean Parisot of "Galaxy Quest" fame, and he does reasonably well with the material. It's typically well shot, and scenes are competently composed. I definitely got a bit of a "Galaxy Quest" vibe at times from the visuals, which was a welcome addition. And I absolutely loved the musical score by famed composer Mark Isham.

And most importantly... this is just a fun movie to watch. It's a wonderful little reunion, and it just feels good to have these characters back.

If you really twisted my arm and forced me to be critical of the film, I would definitely say that the pacing is suspect at times. The middle act does drag a bit, while the third act feels a teeny-bit rushed. The visual direction is solid, but a few scenes suffer from the somewhat lower-budget. And I'd be lying if I said there wasn't the occasional joke that falls a little flat.

But dear lord, I just really enjoyed this film. It was a most excellent adventure all around, and it's exactly the sort-of movie we need now in these troubled times.

I'm giving "Bill & Ted Face the Music" a very good 8 out of 10. Party on!

Sonic the Hedgehog
(2020)

"Sonic the Hedgehog"- A silly, fun flick for the whole family, and another step in the right direction for video-game-to-film adaptations!
Hey! Hollywood appears to be on a roll lately! After last year's "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" proved to be one of the most faithful and engaging video-game movies yet, a certain blue hedgehog with a speedy superpower has arrived to continue the trend!

2020's "Sonic the Hedgehog" is based on the famous Sega mascot, and comes to us from first-time feature director Jeff Fowler. Featuring a fairly impressive cast including comedic mastermind Jim Carrey and the delightful Ben Schwartz as the voice of our titular hero, the film is by and large a success thanks to its solid cast, infectious humor and some very creative sequences. And although it may be a slave to formula and at times can come off as generic and quaint, it's another step in the right direction for video-game-to-film adaptations!

Sonic (Schwartz) is an anthropomorphic hedgehog hailing from a distant alien world. Sought after for his powers of super-speed, he was forced to flee to the planet Earth as a child, and has been hiding out in the small town of Green Hills, Montana ever since. However, when he inadvertently catches the eyes of the US government, he is forced to team up with local Sheriff Tom (James Marsden) to find a way off of Earth. At the same time, an evil and unhinged genius called Dr. Robotnik (Carrey) is assigned to the case, and becomes obsessed with catching our speedy hero!

The cast is a great deal of fun. I've always really enjoyed Schwartz as a performer, and he really fits the role of Sonic. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he makes the character endlessly likable. Marsden is quite solid as Sonic's human friend Sherriff Tom. He's a really good foil to the hedgehog and they have great chemistry. I also really enjoyed the adorable Tika Sumpter in a supporting role as Tom's wife Maddie. She doesn't have a huge part, be she's always a pleasure when she's onscreen. And then there's Jim Carrey, whose clearly channeling his work from the 90's in an endlessly over-the-top performance. Your mileage may vary, but I found him... decent. I would have preferred a little more restraint on his part, and his jokes didn't always land for me. But I still liked him for the most part.

The film is also generally very well put together. Director Fowler has a sharp eye for visuals and composition, and the movie is very well-shot. It's bright and colorful and crisp. Exactly what you'd want out of a "Sonic" movie. There's also some fantastic little sequences that display Sonic's powers in interesting ways. A scene set in a baseball field where Sonic plays a game against himself is a lot of fun, as are two scenes that utilize a "frozen time" gimmick similar to those used in the 20th Century Fox "X-Men" films. You really get a sense of Sonic's speed and powers here. It's also very fun and engaging. I laughed quite a few times throughout, and it kept me invested from start-to-finish. And I absolutely have to commend the film for all the brilliant little references and callbacks to the games. There are dozens upon dozens of Easter Eggs for major Sonic fans. If you're like me and grew up on the original games, you'll have a ton of fun looking for them.

I feel I should also address the pink elephant in the room-- that being the original design. Everyone knows that the first trailer features a radically different rendition of Sonic that was changed for the final release after immense backlash. And I think it was the right move. The movie is so fun and so playful, the original much-more realistic design just wouldn't have worked. And the studio definitely earned some serious brownie points from me for listening to the fans.

If I were to point out any major flaws, however, it would be that the film is at times a little too reliant on clichés and formula. While writers Pat Casey and John Miller do a good job at writing characters and snappy dialogue, the story itself is... kind of bland and predictable. It really is just another movie where a fantasy character ends up in the "real world," and it uses all the tropes you'd expect. If you've seen movies like "Masters of the Universe" or "Enchanted," or heck... even "The Smurfs," you'll know what you're in for. The pacing is also a little suspect at times. It's kind of slow to start, and the ending feels rather abrupt.

But that one major flaw aside... I can't help but give "Sonic the Hedgehog" a hearty recommendation. Thanks to its great cast and impressive execution, I was able to (mostly) forgive its flaws. This is one seriously fun flick! And it's easily one of the better video-game movies.

I'm giving "Sonic the Hedgehog" a pretty good 7 out of 10. While it may not be a particularly groundbreaking film, it's a perfectly enjoyable romp that should appeal equally to both franchise fans and families.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend
(2020)

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy VS The Reverend"- A mildly entertaining plus-sized episode elevated by its unique interactive gimmick.
You thought you had heard the last of Kimmy Schmidt? Well, think again! Tina Fey's beloved cult-comedy hit is back with a new interactive special-"Kimmy VS The Reverend!"

Picking up some time after the series finale, the new special finds Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) quickly approaching her wedding day with British Prince Frederick, played by a fantastically cast Daniel Radcliffe. However, Kimmy soon comes to learn that the nefarious Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) has had a second, secret bunker all along, and that there is another group of captive "mole women" out there, waiting to be rescued. And so, Kimmy must set out to save the day along with her best friend Titus! (Tituss Burgess) At the same time, Titus' manager Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) tries to keep him secured in a role in an upcoming action picture, while Lillian (Carol Kane) opts to throw a bachelorette party for the absent Kimmy with hilarious results.

"Kimmy VS The Reverend" is a delightful little coda to the series, thanks in large part to its implementation of the interactive gimmick. Every so often, the viewer will be given a choice between two or more options, which will have an impact on the narrative in some way. Some are small and merely create minor cosmetic differences in specific scenes, while other decisions are larger in scope, and can entirely effect the outcome of the story. If you're familiar with choose-your-own-adventure books, you'll feel right at home, because the special very much plays out like one. And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for easter-eggs! While I won't spoil any, there are some very clever hidden scenes to unlock if you make the correct choices. I've been wondering for quite some time why Netflix hasn't been exploiting their potential for interactive entertainment more than it has. It seems like a complete no-brainer. So it's nice to see the format applied to one of the site's most unique sitcoms.

The writing is generally quite solid, even though I would argue that it's lacking in the big laughs that typically defined the original series. The special made me grin on several occasions and got a few decent chuckles out of me... but I never really got any of the big belly-laughs I had come to expect from "Kimmy Schmidt." It's more charming than amusing, I'd say. But I could forgive that, because it makes up for it with the interactive gimmick, which kept me thoroughly invested.

And as always, the cast is a complete delight. Kemper slips right back into Kimmy's shoes like no time had passed at all, and Burgess is excellent as always. But the biggest surprise was Radcliffe in his guest-role as Kimmy's fiancé Frederick. He fits right in with the rest of the cast, and has a great chemistry with virtually everyone. It's a shame this was his only appearance in the series, because I'd love to see more of his character.

"Kimmy VS The Reverend" may not be the best, nor the funniest episode of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." But it's certainly one of the most memorable thanks to its interactivity and branching storyline. If you're a fan of the series, this is definitely something to check out! I'm giving it an 8 out of 10! As Kimmy would say, it's "hashbrown, awesome!"

Community: Asian Population Studies
(2011)
Episode 12, Season 2

In honor of "Community"- a review of every episode. (S2;E12- "Asian Population Studies")
(This is the thirty-seventh installment in an ongoing series. I am in the process of writing brief reviews of each and every episode of creator Dan Harmon's beloved cult-comedy series "Community"- my favorite sitcom. As this is a hobby, updates will come incrementally and it may take some time for me to complete this task.)

"Asian Population Studies" is something of an odd episode when it comes to "Community." It's important for a number of reasons. Primarily because it serves as a catching up point for several major sub-plots running throughout the series. It also introduces (and re-introduces) characters who have made a wave in one way or another in the past. And yet... on its own, it actually has a fairly simplistic and, if I may be so bold, "patchy" story tying it all together.

It's a frequently funny episode that's just... well, a bit messy.

The recent sobriety of Professor Duncan (John Oliver) has made the study group realize they may need to expand with a new member. And Annie (Alison Brie) is hoping that her crush Rich (Greg Cromer) might fit the bill, much to the chagrin of Jeff. (Joel McHale) At the same time, Troy (Donald Glover) reveals to Pierce (Chevy Chase) that Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) had sex with Chang (Ken Jeong) at the Halloween party... a development complicated by the arrival of Shirley's ex-husband (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) and the revelation that Shirley is eight-weeks pregnant. Who's the father? Who will be the newest member of the study-group? And will Jeff and Rich ever squash their rivalry?

At its best moments, "Asian Population Studies" works thanks to the increasingly bizarre developments of its multiple storylines. Malcolm-Jamal Warner makes for a welcome addition to the cast in his supporting role, and Shirley's storyline is easily the stand-out of the episode. It's also nice having Cromer back in some capacity. He's one of the more interesting guest characters the show has had to this point, and he lends a lot to the proceedings. It's just a shame that like so many other wonderful guests, he doesn't make too many appearances overall in the series. But that's episodic television for you.

Unfortunately, the greatest strength of the episode is also its greatest weakness. Because for all intent and purpose, this episode really is just a writhing collection of sub-plots that are loosely spun together. It feels a little less cohesive than the average episode, and even a bit unfocused at times. It's just a little too hard to connect with it as a result. It still mostly works. But it's one of the typically excellent second season's weakest offerings.

I'm giving "Asian Population Studies" a solid 7 out of 10. It's charming and funny when it counts. But it's unfortunately a bit of a step-down after the previous few episodes.

The Fifth Element
(1997)

"The Fifth Element"- Inventive and entertaining start-to-finish!
Good old popcorn movies. They never go out of style! They're the perfect remedy to pop on after a long week at work or on a boring rainy afternoon. Something to sit back, relax and enjoy. And director Luc Besson's 1997 sci-fi action/comedy epic "The Fifth Element" may just be one of the all-time greats! A film that is endlessly inventive and entertaining from the first frame to the last.

In the distant future of 2263, a dark and mysterious force emerges that threatens to destroy all life as we know it. And the only thing that can stop it is an ancient weapon that combines the elements of fire, wind, water and earth with a living being- a "fifth element"- to channel them. And that fifth element? A peculiar and beautiful alien clone called "Leeloo" (Milla Jovovich), who must team up with a special-forces-agent-turned-cab-driver (Bruce Willis), a sagely monk (Ian Holm) and a fast-talking talk-show host (Christ Tucker) to save the universe!

It's hard to believe that "The Fifth Element" will soon be going on twenty-five years old. Because for all intents and purpose... it's as refreshing and fun as it ever has been. The film benefits from a wonderful cast, a great tone and a deliciously over-the-top style that sets it apart from others that came both before and after.

While Bruce Willis is definitely the headliner in the cast, there isn't enough that can be said about how wonderful Milla Jovovich is in the part of Leeloo. She is the beating heart of the film. She is fearless and charming, and can also kick some serious butt when needed. This is the film that made her a star, and she's just fabulous. Not that it takes anything away from the rest of the cast, though. Because they're just as good. Willis is a blast as usual, with his smart-alec nature and penchant for action, and he lends a lot to the proceedings. Holm brings a sense of class and dignity, and even gets some sharp comedic moments to sink his teeth into. And I know he's divisive in this film... but I friggin' love Chris Tucker as the obnoxious and hilarious Ruby Rhod. He's just a ton of fun. Special props also go to the always-reliable Gary Oldman as Zorg, one of the film's main villains. He's great in the part and brings a lot of life to the proceedings.

I also really love the tone Besson establishes in the film. There's a lot of big, archetypal ideas at play, and in lesser hands, it could have turned out much more dour. But Besson wisely injects the film with some wonderful humor and a light, breezy quality. In a way, I would almost favorably compare it to a cartoon. Albeit, a cartoon for grown-ups. It never takes itself too seriously, and has a massive fun-factor. It's just such a joy to watch this movie.

And then there's the style. And that's where the film really turns itself up to eleven! This is such a strange and unique film. There are so many wonderful details, eye-popping designs, wild costumes... you haven't seen anything quite like it! It's bold and vibrant and wondrous. Even sexy at times. This film is widely known for its insane visuals, and it's for a good reason. From the strange and otherworldly aliens to the hilariously revealing clothing to the vibrant pastel colors... Besson and his design team bring their A-game to the visuals. It's stunning.

The only place where the film sometimes falters is in the pacing. The movie moves quite fast, and as a result, you do get the odd bit of tonal whiplash. Silly scenes don't always flow well into the more serious plot-driven moments. But I'd be lying if I said that this was a major problem. It's just a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent package.

"The Fifth Element" is one of the definitive popcorn movies. It's loud. It's vibrant. And it's a ton of fun! This is not only one of best popcorn flicks of the 90's. It's one of the best popcorn flicks ever made. Period. It's hard to be objective in a case such as this, but there's no other way around it. I gotta give "The Fifth Element" a 10. Is it a perfect film? No. But it is perfect fun? Yes. Most certainly, yes.

Community: Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas
(2010)
Episode 11, Season 2

In honor of "Community"- a review of every episode. (S2;E11- "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas")
(This is the thirty-sixth installment in an ongoing series. I am in the process of writing brief reviews of each and every episode of creator Dan Harmon's beloved cult-comedy series "Community." This project was originally conceived as a response to NBC's cancellation of the series before it was renewed for a sixth and final season on Yahoo. As this is a hobby, updates will come incrementally and it may take some time for me to complete this.)

Ah, Christmas. That beautiful time that comes but once a year. A season of giving. A season of appreciation. And, in the case of "Community"... a season for delightful holiday specials!

"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" quickly became a personal favorite on its original air-date in 2010. Boasting a delightful throwback style, wonderfully quirky tunes and a surprisingly emotional climax, it's arguably one of the best sitcom holiday specials... well, of all time as far as I'm concerned. And it's another fine example of this series' rampant creativity!

Abed (Danny Pudi) finds himself in a strange situation when he begins to see the world as though it was an old-fashioned Rankin-Bass stop-motion TV special. And he quickly deduces that it's his mission to find the true meaning of Christmas. Concerned, the rest of the study group, under the supervision of Professor Duncan (John Oliver), agree to play along as they "enter" a fictional world in their shared imagination. But they will quickly learn that all is not what it seems, and there's a devastating truth to why Abed's worldview has changed so much...

While it's not overly complex in its story, the true magic of "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" lay in its execution. The entire episode is accomplished through stop-motion animation, and it's just gorgeous to look at. All of the characters are delightfully designed, and the "Christmas World" they enter is a wonder to behold. The cast all excel in voice-over roles. Particularly Pudi and co-stars Chevy Chase and Gillian Jacobs, who are both given quite a bit of meat to work with. I also loved the musical numbers. Yes, this is a musical episode, and it's as fiendishly funny as you could hope.

"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is without doubt my personal favorite holiday themed episode of "Community," and in a grander sense, one of my favorite holiday episodes of any show or sitcom. It's whimsical and wonderful, and easily earns a perfect 10 out of 10!

In Search of Darkness
(2019)

"In Search of Darkness"- An exhilarating and nostalgic examination of 80's horror. A must-see for genre fans!
(SEPTEMBER 2020 DISCLAIMER: At the time this review was written in February, 2020, all indications were that the film would never be available to stream online, and would only be limited to a single brief release window on DVD and Blu-Ray. This was based on information provided by the creators at the time it was written. However, the film has since been re-released for a second printing, and there are plans to re-release it yet again to coincide with the release of the sequel, "In Search of Darkness Part II." Additionally, the film is also available to stream through the SHUDDER streaming platform. Thus, the review will contain some inaccurate information in regards to the availability of the documentary-- it is now readily available for viewers. I do not plan on editing the review itself beyond this disclaimer, as most of my points still stand.)

The great tragedy of director David A. Weiner's delightful "In Search of Darkness" is that sadly, many won't be able to see it. Produced for only a limited window of time, it is unfortunately no longer available for purchase. While I don't know if an official reason was ever given, it's not a stretch to guess that this short period of availability is presumably due to rights and licensing agreements. Especially given this was a lower-budget documentary produced primarily through crowd-funding. So at least for the foreseeable future, it will remain the ultimate cult film in a strange way. A movie that truly belongs to a small, dedicated crowd.

But for those who were able to purchase a copy, it is most certainly a dream-come-true. A remarkable little documentary that showcases and examines dozens of films released in the decade of the 1980's. All while featuring numerous interviews with a wide and varied range of subjects.

If you are a horror hound like I am, "In Search of Darkness" is most certainly a must-see film.

The format is relatively simple. The documentary goes through the decade year-by-year, discussing a number of films for each year. Each film is given a window typically lasting between 1-5 minutes, as our interview subjects discuss the movies' plots and productions, along with interesting bits of trivia and factoids. We are also occasionally treated to specialized segments discussing various topics of the decade, including the re-emergence of 3D cinema, and the phenomena of the "final girl."

And as for our subjects, we have everything from actors like Tom Atkins and Doug Bradley... to directors like John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon... to cult figures like Joe Bob Briggs and "Darcy the Mail Girl"... to modern internet entertainers like James "The Angry Video Game Nerd" Rolfe. It's a varied and eclectic group that all add much to the proceedings.

If I were to point out any weakness in the film, it would be that I do feel the movie could have been longer. That might sound shocking given its immense length at over four hours... but some of the more obscure films discussed only get very brief lip-service, and it would have been nice to have seen them discussed in greater detail. Especially with major franchise films like "Friday the 13th" getting a greater focus.

But this is only a very small complaint in an otherwise excellent production. It successfully highlights numerous movies, is thorough and informative, and is just a joy to watch. Not only did I learn more about some of my favorite films, but it also introduced me to many new movies that I now plan to seek out and enjoy.

I'm giving "In Search of Darkness" an excellent 9 out of 10. If you are a horror fanatic and have the opportunity to check it out, do so. It's a gift to audiences and a fine film filled to burst with love and respect to the genre.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
(2019)

"Jay and Silent Bob Reboot"- A very messy but frequently funny tribute to the View Askewniverse.
Well. Look at all these morose bad reviews right here. Smells like someone crapped in their cereal.

It's fascinating to look at the reception to Kevin Smith's latest film, "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot," the long-awaited seventh chapter in the twenty-five year old franchise known as the "View Askewniverse." The movie was met with predominately solid reviews from critics on release and garnered a predictably warm reception from longtime fans. At first, it seemed very much like Smith hit a homerun. And yet, just a few months later, audiences have seemingly turned completely against it, with the movie being slammed over and over in user-reviews and in comments sections all over the internet.

And where do I find myself in all of this? Well, I'm... kind of in the middle if I'm to be honest. On one hand, yeah. I can kinda see where the negativity is coming from. "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" is often messy, at times unfocused and at its worst... even occasionally nonsensical. It's less a movie and more a string of skits tied together with the flimsiest of plots. But on the other hand... I actually had a really good time watching this film. I laughed quite a bit, was won over by the heart of what story there was, and had a wonderfully warm feeling of nostalgia throughout. On an objective level, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the heck out of the experience. It's just unfortunately a bumpy ride at times.

Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith) must set out to Hollywood once again when they discover a new film is being made out of the old comic-book "Bluntman and Chronic," which of course was based around them. Along the way they get into various misadventures, as Jay meets his long-lost daughter (Harley Quinn Smith) and her multi-cultural group of friends, they get into a tangle with the Ku Klux Klan, and discover they must infiltrate a massive fan-convention where a key scene from the film is being shot. Oh, and there's cameos galore as many familiar faces from the "View Askewniverse" make appearances, often in very surprising ways.

Part of the great appeal of the film is having one more chance to catch up with the characters we love, and it is a genuine pleasure to see them again. Despite having aged quite a bit since their last outing, Mewes and Smith slip right back into the shoes of their stoner alter-egos and are as entertaining as ever. I also really enjoyed Harley Quinn Smith in a role that actually made her stretch her chops as an actress. And appearances from frequent Smith collaborators including Jason Lee, Brian O'Halloran and even Ben Affleck are welcome and help tie the film- and the series- together. I was particularly taken with Affleck's scene, as it has quite a bit of weight given his past appearances in the View Askew universe. It all gives the film a lovely sense of nostalgia that I found quite appealing.

And while it may be subjective, I did laugh quite a bit throughout the movie. It's definitely not one of Smith's better-made films and it obviously suffers a low-budget, but there are some genuinely clever scenes at play. Particularly during the protracted climax set in the "Bluntman and Chronic" fan convention. I won't spoil anything, but be prepared to laugh if you're a longtime fan of Smith's work, both on-screen and off. I was also really impressed by the heart of the film- Jay's realization that he has a long-lost daughter that he wants to reconnect with. It gave the film a little extra emotional "oomph," so-to-speak, even if it's not always the main focus.

Unfortunately, the trade-off to this is the quality of the writing and the general execution, which is where the film loses a few points for me. For all the film does right in the nostalgia department and in the humor, it's just not all that well made. You can tell they had a lower budget this time around, and Smith doesn't always make the most of it. It's often very flat looking, and doesn't really have a sense of scope. For a road-trip movie... it feels like it was all shot on studio-backlots and sets. And the writing is about as flimsy as it could be. While the emotional storyline of Jay and his daughter "Milly" is genuinely well-executed, the rest of the script is really patchy and uneven. Like I said above, it's more a collection of skits than an actual film. I also had some minor issues with the pacing, as some scenes did go on a bit too long, and some of the cameos felt kind of stretched out. A far superior film could have been made if they just trimmed about ten or so minutes of "fat" from the story. And my god... I really didn't understand a bizarre running joke about "Hater Tots," and wish that whole "subplot" had been cut out entirely.

But as it stands, I can't help but give the movie a mild recommendation to longtime fans of Smith and his work. As wonky as the execution may be, the charming cast and good humor made the experience a worthwhile one for me. I laughed at the jokes. I enjoyed the film's more emotional scenes. And I really dug the nostalgic throwbacks to the earlier films. "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" might not really be a good film. But it is good fun. And while your mileage may vary, that was enough for me.

Strictly as a Kevin Smith fan, I'm giving "Jay and Silent Bob" reboot a solid 7 out of 10.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
(2019)

"Pokémon: Detective Pikachu"- The beloved franchise's first foray into live-action is a charming and nostalgic success that should please longtime fans.
Whelp, it looks like the dark age of mediocre-at-best video-game movies may finally be at an end... and thank goodness! And all it took was a bit of creativity, respect for the source material and a delightful electric mouse to do it!

"Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" is the first live-action film to stem from the beloved and long-running franchise created by Satoshi Tajiri. Directed by Rob Letterman of "Goosebumps" fame, the film succeeds largely thanks of its clever use of nostalgic appeal, phenomenal world-building and another fantastic performance from Ryan Reynolds, who provides the voice of the titular crime-solver. And after twenty-six years of almost universally sub-par adaptations, I think it's safe to say... it is the best video-game movie yet!

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is a 21-year-old insurance salesman and former Pokémon trainer whose life isn't going very well. Especially when he learns that his police detective father Harry has been killed in the line of duty at the idyllic Ryme City. However, not everything is as it seems... and soon enough Tim encounters his father's former partner, a Pikachu (Reynolds) who he somehow has the ability to understand, and who believes Harry is still alive. Setting off to learn what really happened, they eventually join forces with a wannabe reporter (Kathryn Newton) and her Psyduck pal, and discover that the mystery goes far deeper than they could have ever imagined...

As someone who grew up in the heyday of "Pokémon Fever" in the late 90's and early 2000's, I was something of a franchise fan back in the day. I played through the original North American releases of Red, Blue and Yellow, I watched the early "Indigo League" episodes of the long-running anime series, and of course I collected the first few expansions of the trading card game. And though I drifted from the series around the time Ruby and Sapphire came out, suffice to say, I do have a certain nostalgic attachment to the overall beast that is "Pokémon."

And "Detective Pikachu" is exactly the sort-of film it needed to be to appeal to that child inside me. It pays nonstop tribute to the franchise through fun winks and nods, and comes across as a complete love-letter to the fans with clever references abound. (I won't spoil anything specific, but fans of the anime series will surely get a kick out of a certain storyline that ties almost directly into events from one of the animated feature-films.) As a former fan myself, I couldn't help but grin ear-to-ear from the opening scene through the end credits. If you grew up on "Pokémon," I really can't help but imagine that you'll fall in love with the film immediately.

But perhaps the best aspect of the film is its immense and extremely well-executed world-building. From its first moments, "Detective Pikachu" plunges you into the world of Pokémon, and it is exquisitely handled. Director Letterman guides us through the film in such a way that it is both accessible for newcomers while also feeling familiar to fans. He gives us just enough information to bring us in... and lets us piece the rest of it together ourselves. Never over-explaining or under-explaining any part of the experience, and often using clever and subtle means to enhance the film... like faint things that are barely visible in the background, or street-signs you barely notice as they pass by the camera. It makes the world feel real and lived-in. Like you could walk right in through the screen. A lesser filmmaker would have likely ground the film to a halt and over-indulged in the proceedings. But Letterman is clever to avoid this pitfall. And I really appreciated it.

I also really enjoyed the cast, and they give the film much of its immense charm. Particularly Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu. While there is the inevitable comparison to be made to Reynolds' trademark character "Deadpool," I actually think he makes Pikachu his own character. He knows when to ham it up with a good, dumb joke and when to play it straight. I also really enjoyed Smith and Newton as our key human characters. While Newton does play her part a bit broad, it worked for the light-hearted tone the film set, and I thought she was absolutely adorable. I also quite enjoyed the iconic Bill Nighy as the enigmatic benefactor of Ryme City, and a small but fun turn from the always-reliable Ken Watanabe as a police detective Tim encounters several times throughout the story. That add a bit of class to the proceedings.

If I were to pinpoint any place where the film falls flat, I would say that the movie can often play it a bit too "safe." I think it was a necessary evil in this case, as you don't want to overwhelm the average filmgoer who may not be familiar with Pokémon, but the story and the various arcs the characters go through are a tad-bit... stock. You can pretty much guess the twists and turns the story is going to take, and there's only a few real surprises to be had if you're at all familiar with basic story-structure. Still, I do think it was better to play it safe now to bring in an audience, and that a potential sequel could later take more risks.

"Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" was an absolute blast for this former fan of the series. While its writing is a bit predictable, the fabulous world-building, nostalgic appeal and top-notch cast make it a very fun film that the whole family can enjoy. And I can't wait to see where a follow-up may take us next! I'm giving it a very good 8 out of 10.

Child's Play
(2019)

Sorry Jack... This Chucky's bland! 2019's toothless "Child's Play" reboot lacks the fun (and frights) of the riskier, creepier original.
So there's a scene in 2019's questionable "Child's Play" reboot where a group of kids watch Tobe Hooper's camp-classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," while the new techno-gadget Chucky ominously watches them in the background. It's supposed to be a tense scene, as Chucky begins to malfunction and emulate the violence on-screen. And yet... the only thing I could notice was that the clips they showed from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" were dreadfully out of order. I didn't care about the creepy doll watching in the distance, ready to strike. And I didn't fear for the safety of the children. I just kept noticing how badly they botched the editing.

...and that should sufficiently sum up how invested I found myself in director Lars Klevberg's new film. I cared more about a movie-within-the-movie than I did about the movie itself.

Yes, after a somewhat tumultuous production that was wrought with drama, the remake of the classic killer-doll film is finally here. And as is all too often the case with retreads of classic materials... it ended up amounting to a whole 'lotta nothing. 2019's "Child's Play" is just another toothless, mediocre redo that will likely be forgotten the instant it leaves theaters. It's never as fun, nor as frightening as the franchise that inspired it. And whenever it tries to do something to set itself apart, it just never really comes together.

Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) is a 13-year-old boy whose having a bit of a rough time. He's having trouble fitting in and finding friends, and his mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza) is always working or spending time with her skeevy boyfriend. (David Lewis) But everything is about to change when Andy meets his new best friend... a high-tech "smart doll" named "Chucky" (voice of Mark Hamill) that his mother oh-so-ironically gives him as a gift one night. But soon enough, Andy will learn that there something is very wrong with Chucky... something devious... and something deadly...

Now despite my somewhat dismissive opening, I will admit that there are indeed a fistful of things about "Child's Play" that almost make it worth a watch. Almost. Not the least of which being the new origin for the beloved killer doll. I actually enjoyed the concept of Chucky being an artificially-intelligent gadget that is corrupted and gradually turns evil. It takes a familiar concept and gives it a new spit-and-polish. I also quite enjoyed the bulk of the cast, including Plaza's likable turn as a struggling mother and Brian Tyree Henry in a supporting role as the Barclay's detective neighbor. They're just so enjoyable in their parts.

So it's a shame that they are to the service of a slap-dash story that just doesn't really do much with them. It's hard not to notice how disjointed and how poorly developed the film is. So many ideas and storylines are brought up and then never paid off. So many characters are introduced and then never given an ounce of development. It feels like a film that never went past its first draft. Case in point being the fact that our new Andy is established as being handicapped by way of hearing loss. The movie goes out of its way to bring this up repeatedly throughout its first half... but it never pays off. Sure, Chucky talks to him through his hearing aid for about five seconds... but what's the point? It doesn't add anything to the character. Or Andy's new friends Pugg and Falyn, who he meets about halfway through... the movie introduces them, and they pal around with him... but we never learn anything about them, and thus we never care about them. It's just frustrating how little development the film gives to any of its concepts. All the previous films- even the lesser entries like "Child's Play 3"- at least tried to work with their concepts. But not this one. It just feels lazy.

I also took some serious issue with the direction and the general presentation of the film. I will say that director Klevberg's general guidance of the film is mostly slick and solid. It's reasonably well-shot and there's a few nifty kill scene to satisfy your inner gore-hound. But, much like the story... it feels really disjointed. Some of the visual and tonal choices felt contrary to one-another, with scenes feeling like they were ripped from different films. It kinda took me out of the experience and made it hard for me to connect with the film. There's also a few head-scratching scenes where glaring errors were left in. While I won't say anything specific as to avoid spoilers, if you really pay attention, there's some really sloppy work in a few key scenes. Again... it just lends to it feeling lazy.

And then there's the design and execution of Chucky. Oh, boy... As much as I enjoyed the techno-doll angle, the biggest fault of the film is the way they handle Chucky himself. I'm sorry... but it was a really mixed bag. And it can be incredibly distracting. It was the one thing they needed to get just right, and they failed pretty hard at times. I cannot fathom how the doll looks, moves and "acts" worse in this film than it did in the original. Not only is he just ugly to look at, which makes it impossible to buy the idea he's some hot-selling item... but the puppetry is very mixed. There's plenty of scenes where it looks great. But at other times, you can just feel the puppeteers off-camera. And there are also some moments where Chucky is replaced by a CG model... and it's always really obvious and immediately removes you from the film, because the CG model doesn't really move like the puppet. It's just... wonky as heck.

I know this film has its fans. And I respect that they found something to like about it. But I'm sorry... as a life-long "Chucky" fan, this reboot just did nothing for me. I was intrigued by it and gave it a fair chance... but it ended up leaving a very bad taste in my mouth when the credits rolled. And I'm certainly far more interested in further sequels to the original franchise than I am for any potential sequels to this film. 2019's "Child's Play" gets a sub-par 4 out of 10 from me. Sorry Jack... but this Chucky's just kinda bland.

Hellboy
(2019)

"Hellboy (2019)"- What have they done to you, Hellboy?!
It's always a delight when a film inspires such a visceral negative reaction in me, that I have to pause and ponder hard on the proper words to describe it. And that's definitely the case with 2019's ill-advised and utterly unnecessary reboot "Hellboy," based of course on the comics created by Mike Mignola. It isn't enough to call this film simple phrases like "poor" or "bad." No, this movie almost necessitates the use of more colorful language. Words like "cockamamie" and "nonsensical" come to mind. As do words like "asinine" and "abhorrent." And most definitely "abominable."

But, to keep it simple and put it in more tangible terms, yeah... it was pretty darned dreadful. Suffering an aimless narrative, a sloppy execution and a complete lack of the charm and artistry that defined the comics and prior film adaptations, this new take on the classic cult-character is a fundamentally broken mess of frustration and failed potential. And it can go straight to... well, you know where.

Hellboy (David Harbour), a demon that was raised by humans to help fight supernatural threats, is called into action when the ancient and deadly Blood Queen Vivian Nimue (Milla Jovovich) is resurrected. Along with his surrogate father (Ian McShane), a woman from his past named Alice (Sasha Lane), and shape-shifting fellow agent Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), Hellboy must stop the vile mistress from bringing about the end of the world. Along the way... a bunch of random, inconsequential stuff happens involving grouchy giants, vengeful pig-men, multiple secret organizations, a Mexican wrestling ring and a rather randy witch who evidently has a hairy tongue. But none of it really contributes much to the proceedings.

Part of the great tragedy of this new take on the source material is that it had so much potential. Yes, we all know about the quite excellent prior film adaptations by cinematic maestro Guillermo del Toro. And everyone of course knows that the long-proposed third film was dropped in favor of this new adaptation. (And to this day, I will admit I am still a bit heartbroken over this.) But I was willing to give this movie a fair chance, because I love the character. And on the surface, the elements are all there. Director Neil Marshall has a great track record when it comes to the strange and the bizarre. The cast is oft-electrifying. And the visuals are frequently interesting. But it just does not work as a coherent film, to the point it becomes frustrating to watch. Everything about this movie just feels misjudged and mishandled.

The writing is one of the chief offenders. There's no clear goal or logical flow to the story or characters. It's a slapdash amalgamation of disconnected and disparate components that don't fit together at all. A writhing mass of seemingly random subplots lazily peppered in around a "central story" that really only takes up about thirty minutes of the two-hour runtime. At times, it almost feels like multiple different scripts were somehow mixed together accidentally. Characters are often established, then immediately written out, leaving them pointless. Plotlines come and go on a whim. And the movie frequently writes itself into ridiculous corners that it quickly and lazily solves with contrived deus-ex-machinas, giving little satisfaction. And as a result of this aimless structure, even important facets of the story like the main villain (played well by the incredibly likable Jovovich) feel completely disconnected from the narrative! I'm sorry, but the writing is just nonsensical and it does not work.

Adding to that is a general feeling of unease in the production. As I said before, the visuals are frequently quite fascinating to look at thanks to the wild world established by Mignola's comics. But that's not enough to save what is otherwise an incredibly shaky execution. It almost feels like director Marshall didn't know what to do with the material from day to day. It all feels very patchy and inconsistent. Some scenes are rushed to the point they become hard to follow and you miss out on key exposition, while others grind the story to a screeching and jarring halt, giving you a strange sort-of whiplash effect. At times the camerawork is wild and creative- see an early sequence involving Hellboy fighting off three giants which is arguably the film's best sequence... while other scenes are really amateurish and basic with poor framing and lazy setups. Much like the script felt like multiple screenplays that had been mixed together, the visual direction feels at times like it was handled by different people with very different styles. And combined with patchy editing and mixed-bag visual effects, this strangely inconsistent execution makes it hard to keep yourself invested.

And to top off the trinity of troubles with this new "Hellboy"... the movie just isn't anywhere near as creative or as charming as it ought be. The cast is great- particularly David Harbour, who makes the character of Hellboy his own. But the character isn't likable or interesting this time around. He's just a brash guy who occasionally makes bad one-liners. The same can be said for the other characters- nobody stands out, as everyone is just a bland, broad archetype. And despite the visual flourishes no doubt crafted by dozens (if not hundreds) of designers and technicians... it all just begins to look ugly and uninspired after a while. Gone are the beautiful minimalistic visuals of the comic. Gone are the exquisite and intricate designs of del Toro's films. This new "Hellboy" is just bland and ugly... inside and out.

"Hellboy" barely claws its way to a miserable 2 out of 10. It's a messy, unlikable slog. If you want to spend some quality time with the character, do yourself a favor and either pick up a few issues of the comic or revisit the excellent prior films instead. Because take it from this "Hellboy" fan... this movie is one hell of a disappointment.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
(2017)

"Life is Strange: Before the Storm"- A poignant prequel that enhances the story and enriches the characters despite some minor faults.
Perhaps one of the most popular sleeper hits in recent memory was the 2015 video-game "Life is Strange." A sort-of interactive movie, that original game found an audience quickly and took hold of them with a beautiful tale of friendship and loss, topped off with a unique supernatural twist. And while the story seemed to be done and over with by the time its (multiple) endings rolled around, something about the game lingered in the hearts and minds of the fans. We wanted more. More of the characters we had grown to love and more of the world that Dontnod Entertainment so wonderfully crafted.

And that wish was granted with 2017's spin-off prequel "Life is Strange: Before the Storm." Developed by Deck Nine and distributed by Square-Enix, "Before the Storm" continues the tale began in the original in a unique and exciting way, while also wonderfully delving more into the backstory of characters deeply important to the series mythos. And though it's not without its faults, and though it lacks the inherent freshness that so defined its award-winning predecessor, the fact remains that it is a unique and engrossing new chapter in the growing saga of the "Life is Strange" universe.

Set a few years before the events of "Life is Strange," "Before the Storm" follows the whirlwind friendship between Chloe Price and Rachel Amber, as they experience the high and low-points of life in their adolescence, while also getting pulled into a complex and emotionally devastating personal journey.

Much like the original, a soft, sensitive and oft-startling relationship forms the backbone of "Before the Storm." In this case, the growing connection between Chloe Price and Rachel Amber. It's every bit as sweet as the companionship between Chloe and Max was in the first game, and it's a delight to see their blossoming feelings towards one-another, even if we know it won't end well. (Which is no spoiler, as we know just this from "Life is Strange.") It's a powerhouse of emotions, and really invests you as a player, especially if you're already familiar with the series. And if you're one to really put yourself into a story, definitely go in with tissues, because there are quite a few tear-jerker moments to be had throughout the three main chapters.

In terms of production, the game is equal to what came before in virtually every sense. While the graphics have been altered slightly, they still boast that same wonderfully stylish palate that fans will expect, and the controls feel like they've been tightened considerably- they're much more concise and responsive. In order to make up for the loss of the original's time-travel mechanic, we also get a new gameplay element here that's actually a lot of fun to tinker with, even if it is shallow... that being timed branching conversation options that allow Chloe to get into verbal sparring and insult matches with NPC's. Think of it like a "snotty teenage backtalk simulator," and you should know what I mean.

The vocal performances are also quite good, though you do definitely get a sense of bewilderment throughout the early chapters in the game with the new voice-over artists. Due to an actor's strike, many of the voice-actors from the first game could not take part in this follow-up, and it can be jarring at first. But once you get used to the new actors, all is quickly forgiven. Special props go to Rhianna DeVries, who does an excellent job taking over the role of Chloe. Although don't worry, as original Chloe actress Ashly Burch does make an appearance in the bonus fourth chapter available in the deluxe release of the game.

Speaking of, this is a game I'd highly recommend picking up in its deluxe format. Not only is there a bit of extra content in the three main chapters, but there's also an absolutely wonderful and incredibly emotional fourth bonus chapter that I will not spoil... but will surely bring a smile to the faces of fans.

Where this game loses a few points though is in its general structure. The pacing feels a bit off at times. Particularly early on. As tender and loving as the growing friendship of Chloe and Rachel is, it feels a bit rushed, and the general plot sort-of comes out of nowhere. And as I said, I also do think that the new gameplay mechanics are shallow, and aren't quite a perfect replacement for the time-travel elements of the original. You just... lose a little something without them there.

But that being said, I still cannot help but whole-heartedly recommend "Before the Storm" to all fans of the original. While it falters at times, it's still remarkable in many ways, and the poignant narrative and emotionally involved writing make it one of the more complex story-driven games to come out... well, since the first "Life is Strange."

And for that, I give "Before the Storm" a very good 8 out of 10. To quote Chloe Price... it's hella awesome.

The Grinch
(2018)

"The Grinch"- A review in Seuss-esque poem form.
So I just saw the new "Grinch." It was something for me to do. And now it's done and over. The experience is all through.

The storyline was pleasant enough. The performances are nice and mild. The animation was just wonderful. It was crisp, vivid and wild.

But saying all that praise, there's still something eating inside. Something that's wrong with this new movie... It's a fault I cannot hide.

It's a concept that's alluring, For a film that's not too long. But stretching it to feature length... was a decision that felt wrong.

There's a brilliant thirty minutes, of story here to tell. But certainly not for eighty six. It makes it a hard sell.

But at least it was better than the Jim Carrey version, which is a film too over-hyped. It was unpleasant and tedious and overstayed it's welcome. One might call it some plain-old tripe.

But let's get back to the animated endeavor, and how I'd rate this new remix. Looking at it from an objective opinion... my rating would be an average six.

The Deepest Sleep
(2014)

"The Deepest Sleep"- Though it fumbles with clunky new mechanics and some questionable twists, this climactic chapter closes out the eerie indie-horror franchise with style.
Closing out a trilogy is always a tricky thing, isn't it? So often, the third and final chapter in a story fumbles and loses sight, or tries too hard to give the fans too much of what they want one last time, to the detriment of the story. It seems like such a rare and treasured feat when the last story is able to live up to what came before.

But "The Deepest Sleep" is thankfully one of those rare instances. Though it may objectively be the weakest of creator Scriptwelder's beloved independent horror game franchise, and while it does indeed oft-fumble along the way, the fact remains that it gives the series the closure it needs. And it does it with the same spooky flair you'd expect from the "Deep Sleep" universe.

Hot off the cliffhanger seen in the last game, the player once again "awakens" inside of a twisted lucid dream. But this time, it's different. And there are new threats to face along the way as you try and solve the mystery and escape this dark world forever. For you are now in the deepest level of the dream-world, where dreaded and deadly creatures known as the "Bottom Feeders" reign supreme...

As I have expressed before, the beautiful simplicity of "Deep Sleep" is why the game excelled so. Utilizing traditional point-and-click gameplay, combined with simplistic but high stylized retro graphics that lend to the hazy, dream-like quality of the game, "Deep Sleep" was such an effective experience because it wisely knew to focus on quality of story and quality of gameplay over quantity of jumps, effects and mechanics. And indeed, the immediate sequel "Deeper Sleep" continued this trend, taking what worked before and merely fine-tuning it- expanding on what worked before without fundamentally altering it.

Unfortunately, "The Deepest Sleep" does fundamentally alter what came before. It tries to innovate what was already perfect. And in attempting to take a step forward, it instead takes the series a step back. And there's no better demonstration of this fact than the newly introduced creatures known as the "Bottom Feeders."

An attempt to add a stealth mechanic to the game, these monsters are instead a frustrating nuisance that feel jarring and out of place, grinding the game to a halt whenever they appear. They hunt by sound, and sound is produced by moving the cursor. So, basically, whenever they appear, you have to move in an incredibly slow and deliberate manner, as to not alert them via an on-screen "sound meter." But the problem is, this isn't a puzzle. It's a time-waster. Something there to manufacture contrived tension- and it just doesn't work. And this is made worse by the fact that the creatures simply vanish from the game halfway through, leaving them feeling pointless. After so much brilliance in the first two games regarding the simplistic gameplay, this new idea just comes across as an abject failure- and attempt to fix what didn't need fixing in the first place.

I also found the general structure of the story to be slightly more problematic here. And it's for much the same reason as the gameplay- it took beautiful simplicity and subverts it with needless additions and contrivances. Though I refuse to spoil anything, I do firmly think that while "The Deepest Sleep" does give the series the closure it needs and is generally well-told, the handling of a few key twists and turns is sloppy and confusing. Especially one dramatic turn near the end that just doesn't quite make sense.

Regardless, however, these flaws cannot detract from what does work. Because when this game works, it works absolute wonders.

As has been the case since the beginning, the atmospheric thrills and chills of the "Deep Sleep" universe are as shocking and effective as always here. The gorgeously moody visuals combined with the top-notch sound design make the game chilling and frightening from start-to-finish. Especially with a few well-timed jumps and some wonderfully devilish visuals and callbacks to prior entries. The puzzle-solving is fast and fun, with some great mind-benders to keep you guessing and very well-hidden clues strewn about. The pacing is typically consistent and quick, while never moving too fast as to lose the player.

And the ending is just perfect. Or rather, "endings," as the game has two very interesting alternative conclusions to choose from. And both serve as a great cap to a great series, giving you the resolution you desire while also leaving just enough questions at the end to keep you thinking about it long after you've finished.

"The Deepest Sleep" may fumble. And indeed even fall flat on its face at times. Attempts to renovate old ideas don't pay off and a few fumbling twists and turns later in the game don't add up. But the atmosphere is just outstand as always. The puzzle-solving is intriguing and enthralling. And the ultimate conclusion is jaw-dropping. It may be the weakest of the trilogy, but "The Deepest Sleep" still comes highly recommended. And I give it a very good 8 out of 10.

Big Trouble in Little China
(1986)

"Big Trouble in Little China"- The ultimate 80's cult masterpiece.
As I sit at my computer pondering what to write out for what will be my six-hundredth IMDb review, a myriad of ideas cross through my mind. But none are so appealing as one certain notion that quickly popped up and hasn't quite let go. That being that it may finally be time to discuss what is not only one of my own personal favorite films... but also a film that is arguably the definitive 80's movie. A cult masterpiece whose audience and legacy has only grown larger and larger in the thirty-or-so years that have passed since its initial release.

Yup, it's time to discuss John Carpenter's twisted and endearing fantasy-comedy hybrid "Big Trouble in Little China."

Released to mixed reviews in 1986, the film was a massive failure for both director Carpenter and star Kurt Russell, bringing in dismal box office numbers and quickly resulting in Carpenter's disillusionment with the Hollywood film industry. And yet, in 2018, the film is widely considered to be a masterpiece of its era. So much so in fact, that there has even been recent talk of a modern reboot or belated sequel starring today's most popular action hero Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. So what was it about this film in particular that appealed to audiences over the years? Why did a box-office bomb that was initially met with apathy and dismissal suddenly become such a beloved classic?

Russell stars as Jack Burton, a loud-mouthed truck driver whose having a bit of a bad day. Accompanying his quote-unquote "friend" Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) to their airport to pick up his fiancé Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), Jack quickly finds himself in over his head as a gang of ruthless thugs kidnaps the young woman, and he encounters a bizarre assortment of seemingly supernatural foes. As it turns out, Miao Yin is needed by an ancient and devilish sorcerer (James Hong) to complete a dark ritual, and it's up to Wang Chi and his mentor Egg Shen (Victor Wong) to save the day... while Jack is dragged along as his glorified sidekick- kicking, screaming and complaining the entire time.

It's been said a million times, and I must echo it once again here- the great appeal of "Big Trouble in Little China" is that on the surface, it's a competent fantasy adventure. But just below the surface, the film is elevated far beyond its competence by its infectious humor and self-aware charm. It very much is a film told from the perspective of the dopey comedic sidekick, who not only doesn't know what's going on... but he doesn't much care, either. Burton is a fantastic protagonist because he's simply trying to get by, and like anyone else would be, he's majorly peeved he even has to deal with this nonsense. It's a refreshing change-up to see a "hero" who would much rather be chugging beers and munching on potato chips rather than rescuing damsels and saving the world. And Russell is clearly having the time of his life in the role. Imagine a really burnt out Han Solo whose let himself go, and you have Jack Burton.

Director Carpenter relishes in the material, delivering non-stop action and near-endless jokes throughout the brisk ninety-nine minute runtime. It's obvious that Carpenter, better known for his many horror films, has a certain affinity for old-school kung-fu schlock, and is just having a blast behind the camera. In a lot of ways, the film feels very much ahead of its time, with many sequences featuring dazzling wire-work and highly stylized effects that feel like something right out of "The Matrix." Heck, there's even a few scenes that feel like they were inspired by the then cutting-edge genre of Japanese anime. It's really strong stuff, and its among Carpenter's most dazzling work.

The supporting cast is also in on the fun, and everyone seems to play the material with a certain sense of affection, while also giving a sly wink to the absurdity of the material. Of course the most notable being James Hong's now legendary turn as the evil magician David Lo Pan. It's rare to see such a devious and yet completely and utterly likable villain, and it's arguably Hong's greatest role. Dennis Dun and Victor Wong round out our heroes in strong and enjoyable turns. And we even get the charming and wickedly entertaining Kim Cattral in a strong supporting role as Gracie Law, a headstrong and shrewd woman who becomes Burton's kinda, sorta, maybe "love interest."

So we've established that the film's well-made and performed, and is generally quite fun. But why did this film in particular become such a phenomenon years after release? Why is "Big Trouble in Little China" a cult classic? Honestly, I don't think there's one specific reason. The fact is, this film is a perfect storm of everything going right. Much like "Ghostbusters" or other comedy classics, "Big Trouble in Little China" excels simply because the stars just sort-of aligned. The casting was perfect. The humor was perfect. The effects were perfect. The tone was perfect. It's just one of those wonderful cases where everything went right, and people were able to appreciate this fact. Film is a careful balance between what's planned and what actually occurs during filming. And "Big Trouble in Little China" is a prime example of this. Everything about the film is just exquisite.

"Big Trouble in Little China" an absolutely charming 80's relic, and is amongst the decade's finest and most entertaining releases. With one of the best protagonists of its time, a strong sense of adventure and an absolutely phenomenal sense of humor, you just can't help but thoroughly enjoy it start to finish. There's a reason it became such a big hit in the years that have passed, and it will continue to be enjoyed for years to come. And it easily earns a perfect 10 out of 10.

The Open House
(2018)

"The Open House"- A complete and utter waste of time.
It's a rare film that can do so much, so well and for so long, and then completely destroy itself as badly as Netflix's "The Open House." But I suppose that's just the way things go. What begins as a wonderfully dreary and darkly touching tale of tragic loss and raw emotion stumbles and falls flat with what is perhaps the most infuriating third act I've seen in years. It's a shocking and indeed heart-breaking failure, feeling so misjudged and so contrived, that the entire experience implodes into a raging storm of fury and annoyance for the viewer.

And it is for this reason that I can say with some certainty... "The Open House" is perhaps the single worst film of 2018.

Gifted student and athletic runner Logan (Dylan Minnette) is left reeling after the tragic death of his father. Grieving alongside his mother Naomi (Piercey Dalton), Logan is left cold and hollow, in a constant state of depression. The two decide to get away for a while in order to deal with their pain, taking refuge in a large vacation cabin owned by Logan's aunt, which is currently listed for sale. However, things might not be what they seem, and it soon becomes clear that there's something dangerous happening. The two are plagued by mysterious sounds and strange occurances in the dead of night. Has Logan truly lost his mind in his sorrow? Or is it something- or someone- else?

Written and directed by the duo of Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote, "The Open House" is such a frustrating film because for all intent and purpose, it starts off spectacularly. Their collective direction is methodical and deliberate. Their writing and handling of characters keen and thoughtful. And the performances of Minnette and Dalton are nuanced and exceptional. It's a movie that clearly has some great ideas behind it, and plenty of juicy themes for Angel and Coote to sink their creative teeth into. The movie spends much of its time delving into and dissecting the impact of grief and depression, and how it can destroy us from the inside. It also has some good ponderings on how we choose as individuals to deal with loss.

Such a pity then that it essentially throws this all away. While I will not spoil the proceedings, I must comment that the film's fatal flaw is that it lacks any degree of satisfying resolution. It spends much of its first hour building up to something grand... building character and themes, with great misdirections and subversions of expectations. And then it trades it in for a sub-standard and cliché-ridden climax with predictable twists and turns that any fan of horror will see coming from a mile away. It's just so... dreadfully out of place in contrast to the rest of the film. I see many echoing these opinions, and I must agree. It's a film that feels incomplete... and utterly misunderstood by its own creators. The third act is not even out of left field. It's out of a different freaking dimension hidden somewhere behind the left field! A dimension where up is down and right is wrong, and where the rules of logic, reason and storytelling do not apply.

It's a film that ultimately left me feeling absolutely betrayed as an audience member as the credits began to roll. Like I had wasted my time while the directors were snickering behind my back.

There is almost no way to describe "The Open House" without breaking out into a string of profanity and venomous insults. It's just atrocious all around- all build up and no real pay-off. Coming from a creative team who clearly didn't know how to write an ending, and just tossed together a slew of anti-climactic twists without thought or reason, squandering the immense potential and good-will it had built up to. I'm sorry Angel and Coote. But you done failed. Big time.

"The Open House" easily earns a 1 out of 10. It's among the most pointless and unlikable films I've ever seen, and I have serious doubts that I'll see another film this year that I could possibly hate more.

Blair Witch
(2016)

"Blair Witch" (2016)- A contrary opinion.
"The Blair Witch Project" has remained a beloved if not divisive film since its initial release nearly twenty years ago. One of the earliest mainstream films to adopt the "found footage" format, "The Blair Witch Project" became one of the most acclaimed and profitable releases of its time, quickly generating a mass following and near-endless praise. And while the initial hype was dulled by an ambitious but ultimately misaimed sequel in 2000's "Book of Shadows", the love many have for that original film still rung true, and fans waited eagerly for a proper sequel. A sequel that would be released in 2016- "Blair Witch," directed by Adam Wingard.

The film's production was kept in a death-grip of secrecy, with false trailers and titles swirling. Nobody knew a new film was even being made. And upon release in the festival circuit, it seemed like audiences finally got a winning follow-up. Word-of-mouth was fantastic, with many horror publications boasting of strong feedback while giving the films high marks in their own reviews. And then it was released to the public... and it crashed and burned. The response was pure venom and bile. Audiences hated it. Critics crucified it. And it looked like another dud for the franchise.

But was it really that bad?

I don't think so at all.

Yes, it's one of those wonderful times where I get to play the contrarian card, because sue me... I really enjoyed "Blair Witch," and to me... this was the sequel I was looking for all these years.

In 2014, James Donahue, brother of original "Blair Witch Project" director Heather, discovers a YouTube video purportedly taken in the same mysterious house where his sister vanished twenty years ago. Footage that appears to show a woman fleeing from mysterious, seemingly supernatural forces. Still haunted by Heather's disappearance, James assembles a group of friends and sets off into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, to see if he can find any trace of what happened to her...

The great joy of "Blair Witch" lies in how obviously it is a loving tribute to that outstanding first film, though updated and appropriately amped up for modern tastes. It's what the first film was, only bigger, zanier and crazier... and arguably all the more "fun" for it. Albeit fun in the sort-of way where you find yourself giggling madly in anticipation of the next big jump or set-piece. It's a roller-coaster of a follow-up that still feels true to its more humble origins thanks to its callbacks, format and keen use of atmosphere, while adding in new twists and turns to keep the material fresh.

The general malign directed towards the film often lays in people feeling that in some way it fundamentally went against what worked so well about the original. It wasn't as subtle. It's not quite as clever. It showed too much. And yes, that is true. But I'd argue that given the passage of time and the intimate knowledge that people have regarding what came before... it's better for this film to do those things that drive the hardcore fans crazy. It's better for it to be blatant. It's better for it to be more "wild" and less "frightening." It's better for it to be over-zealous. Because that's what we'd least suspect. That's what would get us.

We've seen "The Blair Witch Project." We know why it works. We know that the philosophy of "less is more" is what made it a classic. So why would we want to see those same ideas watered down and repackaged? I know how scary it was seeing that original film in 1999 to simply hear Heather screaming "What is that?!" while running through the woods. This time... I wanted to see more. I wanted to see a film that threw its hands up, said "Screw it, we're gonna have fun with this mythology!" and actually started to give us demented glimpses of what had only been hinted at before. And I got what I wanted.

This is a film that needed to be silly and psychotic... and even a bit messy to work.

Director Wingard relishes in the atmosphere of the film in the best of ways. This is a stunningly well-choreographed film, from the stellar photography down to some of the most breathtaking sound design I've heard in recent memory. The film really does have impact, and though the scares are oft-cheap, they always feel earned. And I just loved how Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have embellished on what came before. There's some great twists and turns along the journey, and new ideas introduced, such as the Witch's ability to seemingly and permanently extend the night, add a lot to the proceedings.

I was also taken with the cast. Stars James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry are all very likable and fun, albeit in somewhat more trope-infused, archetypal roles. McCube and Hernandez have good chemistry and play well off one-another as what are essentially our two leads, while Robinson and Curry are just a blast and a half as geeky dweebs who are a little too obsessed with the Blair Witch legend. They add a cheekiness to the film that I very much liked. Almost like some of the obsessive real-life fans of the original film somehow ended up in the sequel. And though their roles are less defined, Scott and Reid ground the film as a couple of skeptic friends who are along for the ride.

It really comes down to this. If you are looking for the original film again, you won't find that here. "Blair Witch" is an attempt to re-invigorate a franchise, while doing whatever it can to spook you at every opportunity. And if, like me, you're open to seeing a silly roller-coaster of a sequel, then check it out. It's not a great film. But it is great entertainment. And I'm giving it an 8 out of 10.

Insidious: The Last Key
(2018)

"Insidious: The Last Key"- A bit of a fumbling misstep in the beloved horror franchise. A film strictly for fans only.
I've been quite upfront in the past about my affinity for the "Insidious" film franchise. The brainchild of horror maestros James Wan and Leigh Whannell, this low-budget series has made frequent and effective uses of old-school creeps, as it wowed audiences with its tales of ghostly hauntings and supernatural perils. And through three very solid installments, it began to seem like a series that could do no wrong. But alas, the fourth chapter arrived, and while it was a big hit... it's left fans pretty evenly divided right down the center. Some adore it, some detest it.

And me? Well, I'm pretty much split right down the center myself. Director Adam Robitel's "Insidious: The Last Key" is by no means a particularly bad film. It has likable characters, continues the strong atmosphere established in prior films, and is frequently eerie and entertaining in all the ways you've come to expect of the "Insidious" franchise. But something about it just... doesn't feel right. It's a film that very much feels set to auto-pilot. Repeating similar themes and tropes we've already seen while adding little new to the formula.

Sometime shortly before the events of the original film, psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is called upon to investigate troubling occurrences in a young man's (Kirk Acevedo) home. Trouble is... his house is in fact Elise's childhood home, which she fled decades prior after a childhood of misery and woe. After reconnecting with her extended family (Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke, Caitlin Gerard), Elise and her associates (writer Whannell, Angus Sampson) set out to solve the mystery... only to realize that not only is there a supernatural threat they must conquer... but that there may be another threat in the world of the living that is all too real...

Director Robitel is a fine replacement for Wan and Whannell, whom handled directorial duties in the previous three films. Robitel's wonderfully inky palette and sense of flow makes many of the scares fantastically effective, and his great sense of pace helps the film feel urgent and fast, but never to a distracting point. This is aided by the sharp cinematography and returning composer Joseph Bishara's haunting themes. From a production standpoint, the film is top-notch, and I'd definitely be open to seeing Robitel return for future installments.

And as has been the case in virtually every installment, the cast is quite good and aids in endearing the film to the audience. Shaye is an absolute joy, and it's wonderful to see such a great actress finally given a defining role to sink her teeth into. Whannell and Sampson are charming, good fun as always as the film's comedic duo of Specs and Tucker. And I quite liked the additions of Davison, Locke and Gerard as Elise's brother and nieces, even if they aren't given much to do.

And in fact, that's the big problem here- there's not much to do for anyone in this film. Or at least nothing new for anyone to do. The movie toys with new concepts and ideas, but often doesn't deliver on them, instead doubling back onto notions and plot-points brought up in prior films, rinsing and repeating them over and over. And it makes some of the new ideas feel shallow and more akin bland sequel bait than anything else. Case in point is Gerard's character Imogen- the film establishes early on that she may indeed share the same abilities as her aunt Elise, and yet outside of only one or two brief instances, the film does nothing with this. Same goes for the plot, which is based heavily on Elise's family and how she's lost her connections to them. The movie does a good job setting this up... but instead of delivering on it, it often throws it aside for references to prior films or more meandering scenes of the characters encountering ghosts in the supernatural otherworld.

It just drags the movie down too often, leaving the film feeling like it has an identity crisis. It never feels like a proper fourth film... it feels more like an extended series of vignettes designed to tie it into the series' overall mythology. It's not so much a new chapter as it is a collection of footnotes. And even then, they aren't particularly interesting footnotes.

Still, thanks to its stellar cast, grand atmosphere and a mildly intriguing story, I'd say "Insidious: The Last Key" is worth seeing, provided you're a fan of the series. It won't win over new converts, but it does just enough right to make it worth a go for those who have followed this franchise from the beginning. Let's just hope that the inevitable fifth film corrects the course. I give "The Last Key" an about-average 6 out of 10. Definitely the weakest installment, but still worth seeing.

Species II
(1998)

"Species II"- A confounding conundrum of a sequel. A complete and utter mess, yet oddly entertaining and endearing for its kitschiness.
It's a rare and notable feat when a film can do so much wrong... and yet still hold your interest and keep you entertained throughout. But so goes the story of "Species II," a weird little conundrum of a film from director Peter Medak. A sequel to the mildly entertaining 1995 original, "Species II" has always been a bit of a sore spot for both audiences and for its own cast. Heck, even lead star Michael Madsen once infamously referred to the film as a "crock of (you know what)" in an interview. Its storyline is contrived. Its handling of characters suspect at best. And its sense of pacing and resolution underwhelming to say the least.

And yet... I kind of enjoy it. Yeah. I'll admit it.

It's not even a case of being one of those delightful "so bad, it's good" kinda movies. It's just sort-of fun to watch despite its faults. It's a glorified Saturday morning cartoon for grown-ups, filled with gooey gore and plenty of bared breasts and bottoms, designed to appeal almost exclusively to our inner teenager. It's pure kitschy exploitation junk-food. It's bad... but it's what you'd call "fun bad."

Three years after the escaped alien-human hybrid Sil was destroyed, astronaut Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard) returns from a mission to Mars a changed man... Little does the world know, however, that he's been infected with an alien toxin that begins to take over his body and transform him into a fiendish monster. Attempting to build an army of offspring, Ross begins to impregnate woman after woman with his deadly spawn. And it's up to some returning heroes (Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger), along with a clone of the original Sil called "Eve" (Natasha Henstridge) to stop his deadly scheme!

Director Medak, best known for the swashbuckling comedy "Zorro, The Gay Blade" and the wonderful haunted-house picture "The Changeling", does a fairly admirable job here. It's a well-crafted film, with some top-notch design work and a fantastic sense of visual execution. Medak creates plenty of moody sequences and does well with the script he's working off of, with a strong sense of flow and composition. And of course, as was the case with the original, the creature effects and gory deaths are just as mind-blowing as ever, especially thanks to the contributions of H.R. Giger. Say what you want about the film, but the aliens are just awe-inspiring and absolutely gorgeous.

And indeed, it's this execution, combined with the charming talents of the returning cast that manages to salvage the experience. Even if he hated the finished product, Madsen is great in his returning role as former mercenary Press Lennox. It's a fun character archetype, and Madsen plays the part to perfection. Helgenberger is given some more intrigue and adventure to work with here, and she improves on her already very solid turn from the original. And I thought Henstridge was even better here than she was in the first film. She's given some more emotion this time around and also a bit more overt action, which was nice to see.

Unfortunately the new cast is pretty uniformly terrible. Lazard is a dull villain who fails to inspire dread much of the time, and his wooden performance feels forced and oft-uncomfortable. It's only towards the end when he goes all in that he becomes any sort-of credible threat. Mykelti Williamson, whose usually a pretty solid actor, unfortunately falls flat on his face as the shoehorned comic relief- a catchphrase-spewing African American who punctuates every other sentence with contrived slang. And even James Cromwell and Peter Boyle- two classy and classic actors whom play minor characters- don't do well at all with their respective roles. They seem confused and lost as they fumble over their lines.

The film's structure and writing are the film's biggest downfall, though. Writer Chris Brancato's script is trite and silly, with a lot of head-scratching moments that don't add up, and weird sequences that seemingly contradict the prior film This isn't helped by the oddly nonsensical tone, which bounces back and forth between horror and comedy so often, you occasionally find yourself laughing at the scares and wincing at the jokes. I also took issue with the fact that this is a film where characters often behave stupidly just to contrive scares- including one unintentionally hilarious scene where a man actually touches infected blood with his bare hands for no reason whatsoever. And the pace is just nonsensical at times, with the film speeding up and slowing down at random intervals to the point it becomes distracting.

And yet... I don't hate this movie. The returning cast is just too good, the visual direction is just too strong and the exploitative sex and violence is just too fun for me to wholly dismiss the finished film. It's bad. Oh, it's very bad. But it's the sort-of bad where you can sit back, pop open a beer, and have a good time watching the insanity before you unfold. Especially with some friends to riff alongside you while you crack fun at its silly moments.

"Species II" earns a below average but watchable 4 out of 10 from me. It's one of those sequels that's objectively a total failure... but is still enjoyable despite its faults.

Species
(1995)

"Species"- Delicious 90's cheese. A silly, sexy sci-fi thriller that doesn't really hold up, but is fun to watch regardless.
I remember back around '95 when director Roger Donaldson's "Species" first hit the public's attention. It was built up as the sort-of ultimate "modern" science fiction film- with buckets of gore, cutting edge computer effects... and of course, its notorious use of a "sexy alien villain" whom is seeking to mate. It was supposed to be a new classic- an erotic thriller like no other. And indeed, the film was generally well-liked for the most part. At least at the time. Heck, I even remember many of my extended family members renting the film over and over again when it first came out on VHS. Of course I was too young to see the film at the time... but I was definitely aware of its cultural impact.

But alas, as is all too often the case, the 90's struck again. Yes, in retrospect, "Species" is one of those many films that was popular at the time... but has been showing its age exponentially as time goes on. It's hard to take it seriously now with its simplistic writing and laughable effects. And yet, a part of me does still definitely have a little love for this weird, uneven film. It's cheesy and antiquated and doesn't really hold up. But what can I say? With bouncing naked bodies, creative kills and some decent performances, it's still quite a bit of fun to watch.

A seedy government agent (Ben Kingsley) has used a decoded extraterrestrial signal to create something entirely unexpected- an alien-human hybrid. However, when the surviving test subject "Sil" manages to escape in a violent breakout, a rag-tag team (Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker) is assembled to track her down at any cost. Trouble is, the alien DNA has accelerated Sil's growth, causing her to mature into a fully-grown adult (Natasha Henstridge) in mere days. And her biological clock is starting to tick...

Part of the charm of the film is that the cast is quite varied and talented. Though Natasha Henstridge was definitely cast more for her looks than her chops, she's pretty decent in the role of Sil, and makes for an adequately menacing presence. She's odd and aloof, and plays the part of an alien trying to blend in pretty decently. But the real highlights here are definitely Madsen, Helgenberger and Kingsley. Madsen plays it cool and sleek as he oft does in these types of roles, but for his part- that of a mysterious operative- it works very well. Helgenberger is charming and fun as a biologist whom helps study Sil. And Kingsley looks like he's having a blast and a half as a smarmy government stooge. Molina and Whitaker are also pretty darned good, adding a sense of class to the film, and it's fun to see them in an earlier film now that they've both gained great fame.

And for the most part, the general production is fantastic. Director Donaldson does just about everything he can with the material, and there's a number of shockingly effective sequences. His sense of flow, composition and pacing is top-notch. I also very much adored the work of creature designer H.R. Giger. Giger, whom also famously designed the titular baddie from the original "Alien," crafts a new fiendish monster for the ages in Sil- a beautiful and deadly seductress. It has all of Giger's trademarks, and is stunning to behold on-screen- especially with the amazing practical effects and puppetry. When it goes old-school, the effects are just mind-warping. And the gory kills are among the decade's best!

But it's sadly not all sunshine and roses. And there are some big flaws that are impossible to ignore here. The film was definitely the product of its time, and it just doesn't up under modern scrutiny. Not only are the plethora of digital effects wonky and overly artificial, but the script by Dennis Feldman also leaves much to be desired. It feels a bit contrived and quaint looking back, and it's hard to take it seriously as a result. I also do take issue with how the film's most notorious facet- the sexuality- was handled. Don't get me wrong, I genuinely like the idea here. And it's safe to say that erotic thrillers can be masterful and the use of sex can add a lot to a film. But it comes off as a bit too skeevy here. It feels like nothing more than an excuse to show off the actress' "assets" and film some softcore "skinemax" material. And yet at the same time, it also feels oddly tame in many ways because it's basically only focused on bared breasts and brief simulated sex scenes. There just isn't much balance to it. Using sex and sex appeal in a film is a fine line. And "Species", well... it just doesn't quite stay on the line. It either needed to be more restrained... or it needed to go much further.

Also... the jump-scares. They're so bad. Like seriously. This film has the single most laughable attempt at a jump I've ever seen, in a sequence involving a squirrel. It makes the "Oh, it was just a cat" jump-scare cliché look tame by comparison.

In the end, it comes down to this. "Species" has a troubled script, dated effects and a some really lame attempts at scares. But it benefits from a fun premise, a groovy creature and a handful of great performances. So it comes down to how much you're willing to forgive. Me? I liked it despite its faults, because what it does well... it does really well. And so, I'm giving it an about-average 6 out of 10. If you love your delicious 90's cheese, it's definitely one to check out! Just don't expect too much out of it.

Rings
(2017)

"Rings"- A spectacular failure of a sequel that supplies neither the thrills nor heart of previous entries. It almost needs to be seen to be believed.
I've been fairly upfront in past reviews about being something of a fan of the famous (and infamous) "Ring" media franchise. From the original Koji Suzuki novels, through the highly-acclaimed original Japanese film series... and indeed through the almost prerequisite American reboot and its own follow-ups, I've been following the franchise for near 20-years now. Through highs and lows. Through ups and downs. I was so captivated by the phenomenal origins of story, that I just can't stop myself from continuing to tag along for the ride... awaiting the next installment whenever it might come.

And after a prolonged absence, the franchise finally returned to American screens with 2017's "Rings"- a belated follow-up that was released more than a decade after the previous outting. With a notably troubled production, the film was repeatedly shelved and subjected to near nonstop re-writes, re-shoots and re-edits before being dumped onto screens with little fanfare. And while it did turn a light profit, the film was met with an almost universally venomous backlash from both critics and audiences alike. People hated this film. And sadly it is for good reason.

"Rings" is a catastrophic failure. Spectacular, even. For a franchise with such high and respected a pedigree, it's almost inconceivable how often and how aggressively the film falters and falls flat. How many times it confuses rather than enthralls. And how many basic, fundamental mistakes could be fit into a mere 100 minute timeframe.

Buckle up, folks. This is gonna get ugly.

The film's narrative is a discombobulated mass of loosely connected plot-lines, mainly following a young woman named Julia (Matilda Lutz), whom is drawn into the mystery of the legendary haunted video-tape by her boyfriend Holt. (Alex Roe) At the same time, there's some strange business regarding a skeevy college professor (Johnny Galecki) whose obsessed with the tape after randomly finding it at a flea-market, some nonsensical new twists on the origin of the villainous specter Samara Morgan (Bonnie Morgan), and a whole lotta confusing scenes that seemingly add nothing to the film... including a laughably over-the-top cold open that so far as I can tell is completely unrelated to the main plot.

To the film's credit, I will say that director F. Javier Gutierrez has a keen eye for visuals, and the choice in shots and composition is suitably decent. It does indeed look enough like the prior films, and there's a few cool moments to be had. But they are too few and far between to salvage what is otherwise a complete and utter train-wreck of a film.

To start, the pacing and editing are flat-out infuriating. From the wonky opening act through the head-scratching climax, the film rockets through plot-lines and twists like a cartoon on caffeine. Characters will be introduced one minute, and by the next minute suddenly be in life-or-death peril. A storyline will be brought up in once scene... then completely dropped two scenes later without resolution. All the while, the film just moves, moves, moves. There's no breathing room whatsoever, resulting in an almost immediate inability to follow the story's development. By the fifteen minute mark, I was almost completely lost. By the thirty minute mark? I just didn't care anymore. And by the halfway point? I had to resort to reading the synopsis on Wikipedia just to understand the cavalcade of nonsense being hurled at my eyes.

This certainly isn't aided by the amateurish structure and production, which was frankly dumbfounding. The film, as it has been released, doesn't look, sound or even function like a movie. It just doesn't. Almost immediately, the placement of simple things like music or even just the title card made no sense. Yes, you read that right... the film doesn't even put the title in the right place, instead just slapping it in about ten minutes in after a few random, disconnected scenes, in a spot where it feels jarring and out-of-place. And it's immediately followed by a tender romantic scene involving our heroes... that for some reason has scary horror music playing in the background. And it just gets worse from there. Especially in the second half, when revelations begin to play out that basically make no sense and convolute the backstory to the point it starts to contradict the two movies that came before. It's like they slapped together scenes from three or four different movies, dropped in some temp music tracks, and called it a day. And don't even get me started on the dreadful production design. I'm pretty sure the main character's bedroom set is someone's front porch with a bed and a computer desk on it... because it looks like someone put a bed and a computer desk on their front porch. Seriously.

And then there's the cast. I don't want to be mean... but everyone is terrible. Absolutely, almost wonderfully terrible. It's clear the actors and actresses were cast for their looks and not their talents, because there's not a single person here who looks like they know what they're doing... except for a wonderfully dopey turn from Johnny Galecki, who hams it up in a performance that I can only call "bad faux Vincent Price." He makes the movie amusing when he's on-screen, at least. Meanwhile, our lead Matilda Lutz is so instantly bland and forgettable, I actually kept getting her confused with the other female characters, who also put in similarly apathetic performances... and who all look oddly alike. I suppose Mr. Gutierrez has a "type," so to speak.

Look, there's no other way of saying this. "Rings" is dreadful. Not only the worst of the American film trilogy, but possibly the worst of the entire overall media franchise. As bad as "Sadako 3D" was, at least it had some funny moments. "Rings" on the other hand? It's just confusingly bad. And it earns a well-deserved 1 out of 10. Hopefully the next targets Samara goes after are the director and producers who made this crap.

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