Sonic the Hedgehog Review: Warm And Surprisingly Spot-On Funny

Screenshot from Paramount Pictures

Rating: 4/5 stars

When it comes to movies, I always do my research before shelling out 10$ to go see it in the theaters. I like to know who’s in it, what’s involved and to get an idea of what I’m getting myself into. Trailers can sometimes make or break a film and determine right away if it’s going to earn their cash. When the first trailer for “Sonic” came out, people were instantly horrified at the bizarre (and frankly, flat out ugly) design for the titular SEGA mascot. The film was met with instant scorn and hatred from the internet and forced the studio to spend thousands of dollars to go back and fix Sonic’s design; making him look less “realistic” and more towards his traditional design. The change was greeted warmly by fans but…what about the rest of the movie?

The story leads our speedy blue hero, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) arriving on Earth to escape dangerous forces trying to steal his speed powers from his home dimension. After living in isolation Green Hill city and secretly watching local cop Tom (James Marsden), Sonic’s existence eventually alters the attention of the government. They dispatch Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to capture and study the otherworldly hedgehog. Now Sonic and Tom embark on a road trip to escape Robotnik, get Sonic back home and enjoy life on Earth one last time before his time runs out.

When I first heard this was a combo CGI/live-action blended film, I was deeply worried we were going to get another unwatchable heap of dumbed-down, brain dead garbage like the live-action “Alvin and Chipmunks” movies or the “Garfield” films. Thankfully, “Sonic” proved this film as more going for it than just a shiny, updated new design for the Blue blur. This story is about family and friendship; first and foremost. That may sound like a cheesy, sappy kinda message you’d expect to be beaten over the head within any typical kids film, but here, it treats Sonic more like someone longing to connect rather than relying on typical fish-out-of-water jokes. There is a connection being made here and it’s working on the cast as well as the audience.

Having Sonic be lonely and longing to connect with someone creates a warmth and a sense of purpose that feels very real and touching without playing it up for laughs or making it too serious to stomach. I’ve seen many incarnations of the iconic speedy hedgehog and this is by far the most likable and, more importantly, the least obnoxious. The humor goes hand in hand with the film’s values and morals and relies on the strength of the character’s bonds rather than overloading it with Easter eggs and in-game references. “Sonic” manages to strike the near-impossible perfect balance of quality storytelling and effective hat-tipping to please all audiences.

Schwartz is the perfect voice for Sonic. His youthful energy and quick-witted one-liners make him likable enough that, no matter how long he’s on-screen, he never wears out his welcome. I adored his relationship with Tom and felt Marsden was a great companion for Sonic’s juvenile antics to work off of. But as everyone has no doubt already announced on every media platform, Jim Carrey is the real core of the film as Dr. Robotnik. Carrey is back in top form; cranking out the zaniness and gold comedic timing he hasn’t whipped out since “Batman Forever.” He’s energetic, funny, fully commits to the eccentricities Sonic’s nemesis is known for and never EVER misses a beat. There’s never a dull moment or disappointing scene with him in it and I greatly look forward to seeing what he will do with Robotnik next when sequel time comes.

Overall, if I had any negative points with “Sonic” it’s that I feel there were missed opportunities with the government’s involvement in trying to catch Sonic. They vanished as quickly as they came and it felt like some more could have been done there. However, the warmth and surprisingly spot-on humor more than makes up for whatever the film lacks. Marsden and Schwartz make a top-notch duo, the fun and humor work with many ages on many levels and Jim Carrey is back in full force and he makes it impossible not to have fun when he’s around. “Sonic” is a prime example of how quality video game movies can be and here’s hoping that will continue into a franchise with many sequels to come.

The Invisible Man Review: A Fresh Take On An Old Classic

Screenshot from Universal Pictures 

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5 stars

At one point, sharing cinematic universes were all the rage thanks to the successful formula perfected by Marvel studios. Universal Studios wished to have their own “Dark Universe” with remaking classic Universal monsters and bringing them together in an “Avengers” like story. After the colossal failure of Tom Cruises’ “The Mummy,” the “Dark Universe” concept was scrapped and all other Universal monster films were either killed on the spot or morphed/reworked into something completely different/original, like with what Guillermo Del Toro did with his award-winning masterful piece of work, “The Shape of Water.”

“Saw” director Leigh Whannell also made a significant turnaround with his new take on “The Invisible Man.” This time, the focus is not on the titular monster but rather on one of his victims: Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) barely manages to escape her barbaric ex-boyfriend Adrian (Oliver-Jackson Cohen) and go into hiding. Two weeks later, she received word he’s committed suicide and left his entire billion-dollar estate to her provided she remains mentally competent. Things seem to be go better for her until she starts noticing odd events, strange instances leading her to one disturbing and horrifying conclusion: Adrian isn’t dead, and worst of all, he’s found a way to disappear completely and is back in her life with no one believing her.

While clearly being fueled and influenced by the “MeToo” movement in the narrative and structure of the film, “The Invisible Man” rarely skews off into implausible territory and keeps everything from the emotions, the relationships, and even the science to a fairly intense lens of reality. Cecilia’s story is entirely relatable and cleverly uses that victim perspective to make the story connect on levels no other take on the “Invisible Man” story has ever managed to accomplish. This is very much her story and that paranoid sense of being followed manages to be amplified brilliantly by simple camera shots of basic landscapes and environment. Every hallway, front lawn or parking lot becomes a potential death trap with a faceless enemy looming out there.

This is a fresh take on an old classic that anyone can sit down and understand through its excellent filmmaking and simple but effective story cues surrounding the concept. Elizabeth Moss truly exemplifies the longing for power sensation after feeling so powerless for so long and striving to conquer her fears and her enemy. You feel every shiver across her spine, every disturbing sound possibly signaling his presence, so much is said in the most silent of scenes. The family that takes Cecilia in contributes to the dangers and risks this unseen threat is presenting. Even when the titular character is making a move, it’s carefully planned and calculated and feels very natural and dangerously realistic to how someone with this power would act.

I think the best thing to commend this film is its unpredictability. While some of the supporting cast fall into predictable roles and lack any real growth in comparison to Cecilia, the movie has some “blink and you’ll miss it” shocker moments that will leave your jaws firmly planted on the floor; all without the use of jump scares I might add. The secret behind the “Invisible Man” is quite a clever one (no spoilers obviously) and is actually something I could see being a real possibility with today’s technological advancements. It seems the collapse of the “Dark Universe” project has ultimately been for the best. It’s given directors creative opportunities to recreate these monsters in new and exciting ways through top quality films.

Overall, “The Invisible Man” is a masterfully sculpted horror-thriller that invokes the essence of a supernatural threat but modernizes it for today’s day and age with relatable subtext, moral messaging and empathic motivations. The simplest pan shot creates incredible tension every time and Elizabeth Moss embodies everything flawlessly from start to finish. This is how you update a Universal monster character and THIS is how you make a great film.

The Verdict On In The Tall Grass: Is It Worth Watching??

Rating: 1 ½ out of 4 stars

One of the advantages of streaming services like “Netflix” and “Hulu” is they can provide smaller budget adaptations to certain films or stories big-budget Hollywood studios like Warner Bros. wouldn’t think twice about. Stephen King had great success with his story “Gerald’s Game” being adapted to a film on Netflix. Unfortunately, Netflix tried to strike gold again but ended up with a freshly polished turd that doesn’t work, doesn’t make sense and doesn’t do Stephen King, the director, the cast and Netflix any justice whatsoever. This is the creepy, winding, confusing Stephen King adaptation of his novella story, “In the Tall Grass.”

Siblings Becky and Cal DeMuth (Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted) are on a road trip when they are stopped by a young boy calling out for help inside a field of tall grass. When they go inside to investigate, they can’t find the boy and also discover they can’t find their way out of the grass fields. A sinister force lurks in the seemingly endless grassy fields, warping reality, confusing the people inside and turning things around to the point people start losing their minds and turning on each other. Now they must escape this unavoidable prison and return to the outside world before they become a part of these grassy fields forever and ever.

I never heard of this story by King before, let alone read it so I can’t really say how accurate it is or isn’t. I will say though that if this film is an accurate adaptation of the novella, then the quality issues of this film clearly started with the ludicrously off-putting source material. “In the tall grass” has a simple yet eerie premise that (typical of King’s work) combines simplicity with supernatural themes seamlessly. While films landlocked in one central location for the duration of the story (Phone Booth, The Shallows) can be tense, engaging thrillers, “In the tall grass” feels like it’s already worn out its welcome about 15 minutes into the film. Even with all the twists and disturbing turns, the characters experience while in the fields, it all starts to look and feel the same and the horror and confusion end up becoming sluggish and even annoying.

Even once the story gets to the “supernatural setting is turning people against each other” angle, another common trope of King’s work, things only get even more confusing and poses more questions than it answers (and those they do answer are done quite poorly). There are some images and sequences that really crank up the absurdity and weirdness of the film’s mysterious threat, effective and unusual at times but don’t stay long enough to linger in your mind. The cast is a serviceable one, decent at times and dismal at others with only a very small window of talent being displayed. That window I spoke of gravitates almost exclusively around Patrick Wilson, who plays the father of the boy who called people into the grass. His talent is being wasted on this film. He’s clearly giving A+ effort in a D- film and it’s a commendable effort.

Harrison Gilbertson is the only other person who actually tries, he does a good enough job and I greatly enjoyed learning more about his character; though can’t say the same for anyone or anything else that happens. The content in the film borderlines mind-bending to outright uncomfortable, almost to the point of wanting to turn it off and re-watch “The Office” for the thousandth time. It’s creepy and eerie at times with its fairly decent camerawork and soundtrack, but it never lives up to its full frightening or even comprehensible potential. It’s a weird film that doesn’t know what it’s trying to present or if it does, it’s doing in the most asinine and mind-numbing way; just like the last act of “Arrival.”

“In the tall grass” could have been more chilling, more effective and more cerebral but it falls short every time on every front. Patrick Wilson is literally carrying the whole movie and the rest of the story can’t keep it together long enough for the movie to make sense or for you, the viewer, to care if it does or doesn’t. Just go watch “Gerald’s Game” or “The Mist” movie, Hell. Even “Silver Bullet” has more entertainment value than this film does.

Gentlemen Movie Review: Highly Entertaining But Borderlines Offensive

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Nothing is as mesmerizing as a Guy Ritchie movie.

His recipe consists of fast-paced dialogue, a spritz of the black comedy and marinated in metaphors and embellishments of cinematic genius. The movie “Gentlemen” has been marked as Ritchie’s return to his signature cockney crime genres such as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barriers and it definitely did not disappoint.

Told from the perspective of Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a selfish and conniving private investigator who was hired by newspaper mogul to trail multi-millionaire British expatriate, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConahey) who owns a marijuana empire, through sheer tyranny, violence, and coercion. Word got out that Pearson is going to retire from his criminal career and plans to liquidate his weed farm to potential buyers including; Jewish – American billionaire, Matthew Berger and British- Chinese mobster, Dry Eye (Henry Golding). However, instead of relaying the information to and cooperating with the newspaper, Fletcher goes to the belly of the beast and decides to blackmail Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), who is the resident’s right-hand man of Mickey Pearson.

With Fletcher being an unreliable narrator, he hopes to exploit Mickey Pearson’s empire and his criminal activities through writing a movie script, called BUSH, which he is planning to sell to Miramax studios if he does not get his money. A very meta-reference about the film within a film, distributed by the said studio.

The movie is entertaining nonetheless, with nonsensical dialogue that borderlines offensive which makes viewers laugh nervously to every unpredictable turn of events. Every actors’ performance in this movie is hilarious and over the top. Hugh Grant who usually is typecast as the polished English gentlemen has been subverted into a grimey, calculating and obnoxious private investigator who has ill-intentions. Hugh Grant completely disappears into the character and leaves slightly amused about the actor/character conceit. The same with Henry Golding, the actor who played Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians – he turned into a two-faced, arrogant gangster who had the audacity to rip off Pearson.

 Much of the movie itself is a colossal conceit, which says a lot about the title of the film, “The Gentlemen,’ meant to be an ironic nod to the character’s unruly, destructive and violent personalities. Although with the black comedy, there were some distasteful jokes such as Raymond and Coach pronouncing an Asian name as a pseudo – swear word or Jewish billionaire speaking in a ‘stereotypically gay’ way- having a lisp.

After decades of directing films that are huge franchises such as Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, and more significant projects, Ritchie finally gives his fans want they wanted in the Gentlemen. A chaotically organised, nonsensical movie filled with never-ending hypotheticals and lightning-fast dialogue for two straight hours that makes you want to watch it over and over again.

“Joker” Movie Review: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Joker

Screenshot from Warner Bros. Pictures

Rating: 5/5 Stars

DC has been circling the cinematic port-o-john drain for some time now. While blockbuster success stories like “Shazam” and “Wonder Woman” have certainly raised some dollars and new fan bases, all the dark brooding and more intense edge they proclaimed was one of their strongest suits has yet to rear its gritty head…until now. Todd Phillips, director of “The Hangover” films decided to break the mold and attempt a new, daring, disturbing standalone take on one of the most classic and legendary supervillains in comic book history, The Joker. Having zero connections to any previous Joker or Batman incarnation, “Joker” is a wild take of a film that hits all too close to home for many people and finally gives me hope that DC could be good again.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a failed comedian and a failed human being; slumming through his broken life at a dead-end job as a party clown in Gotham City. As society mistreats and demeans him, along with his own mother (Frances Conroy) and TV hero (Robert De Niro), Arthur’s life spirals out of control and quickly descends to the madness that changes everything he knows and is as a person. Taking on the persona of “The Joker,” Fleck plans to make an impact on society, an impact so bloody and destructive that the people will never forget who he is, what he’s done and what he is about to inspire the people of Gotham to become.

It would be grossly unfair to call “Joker” an origin film. This is a film unlike any you’ve seen before, an alternative take on a comic book character that speaks to people on a level that is painfully all too real in all the best ways imaginable. This take on this iconic character puts people’s empathy and sympathy squarely on the clown prince of crime’s shoulders; something no other cinematic adaption has been able to come close to accomplishing. “Joker” reminds us of the people suffering not only under the discrimination of high society and perceived “norms” of the world, but also the insufficiently funded mental health treatment system that hit this reviewer a lot harder than I expected it would. It’s a depressing representation but accurate as well.

The violence displayed is never glorified or justified here, if anything, the brutality of it shows how heavy murder impacts a person, which is something most films gloss over when you have action sequences piling up off-screen body counts. In a lot of ways, “Joker” feels like a cautionary tale to the world; reminding us how discarded people feel like they have nothing and no one in their lives and are willing to do anything to get people to give a damn about them, even murder. Phoenix truly transforms into the character; physically and emotionally. He presents the Joker in a way that he is neither inherently evil nor is he a tragic hero. He’s written and portrayed not as a character but more as a whole, full living human being and it is truly remarkable.

The film cleverly blurs the line between reality and Arthur’s own personal fantasized reality, putting into question everything he does and everything that happens; constantly keeping you guessing about whose reality is a worse place to live in. Robert De Niro is perfectly cast as a Johnny Carson like talk show host, inspiring and infuriating Arthur throughout the film; leading to a climactic final act that will leave everyone (inside and outside of the film) horrifically shocked. Despite not being connected to any previous DC film or Batman film, I applaud the interwoven minor references to Bruce Wayne and feel they add a bit of framework to Arthur’s journey and feel more like necessary components than shoehorned Easter eggs.

“The Dark Knight” was egregiously ignored at just about every award show and category (save for a posthumous award for Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker), so if there was ever a chance at a comic book movie that deserves to win some golden recognition, it’s “Joker.” This is a film unlike any other film I can think of, a warped take into the human mind that makes you feel a plethora of emotions and perceptions on this highly divisive character. “Joker” is a must-see film, a truly visionary piece of filmmaking that will raise questions and spark conversations for years to come.

“Between Two Ferns” Movie Review: Is It Worth Your Money??

Brie

Screenshot from Netflix

Rating: 2 and ½ out of 4 Stars

As “Saturday Night Live” will tell you, making movies out of skits is not a terribly smart business decision. With the exception of “Wayne’s World,” every film based off a skit like “Night at the Roxbury,” “The Ladies Man” and “Superstar” has been a disastrous failure with both audiences and box office grosses. Will Ferrell’s “Funny or Die” network has accumulated a great deal of talent, sketches, and recognition that they produce high-quality comedy in small, short video bursts that keep them relevant without becoming oversaturated or longwinded. Zach Galifianakis has a show called “Between two ferns,” a short comedic interview series where he awkwardly talks to and insults celebrity stars in this offbeat “Funny or Die” original series.

The film naturally follows Zach wanting more than his dinky little public access interview show currently offers. When a disaster demolishes the set and forces Will Ferrell to rethink Zach’s worth. Ferrell challenges Zack to complete 10 episodes with 10 different celebrities on the road to meet a deadline and if he pulls it off, he’ll receive his own network show. Now Zach is on the road meeting big name celebrities like Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Peter Dinklage and others trying to save his weird and awkward show.

It’s kind of hard to review a movie based on a show like this, truth be told, it’s even weirder to understand HOW someone can even MAKE a movie out of an interview talk show skit like this. Luckily, “Between two ferns: the movie” manages to keep what made it funny and great consistent, plentiful and it doesn’t try and make a weird story or emotional journey to the extent of previous skit based films have attempted. In a lot of ways, the movie plays like you’re watching a bunch of “Between two ferns” episodes back to back; watching one celebrity get awkwardly roasted and then immediately jumping right into the next one. It doesn’t sound like you could fill a movie out of that but it does and it helps that the writing and comedic timing of everyone involved is spot on and is some of the best the “Two ferns” show has ever produced.

The story involving Zach and his crew going around meeting random celebrities in unusual places even helps add to the humor of new, unpredictable situations like one involving John Legend and Chrissy Tiegen and a visit to Peter Dinklage’s house. There is a wraparound story involving a student documentary crew filming and following Zach and his staff around but it doesn’t go anywhere and the same can be said of Zach’s crew. Similar to “Borat,” there are small roles with characters to try to fill in supporting roles in-between the interviews. They don’t really develop the characters to any extent so they serve more like funny commercial breaks before Zack gets weird with the next guest.

It’s hard to cite this as a criticism as I didn’t want or expect anything more than just lots of hilarious interviews with big-name stars, and on that front, they definitely delivered. But as a film with an overall structure, it misses a golden opportunity to explore more humorous chances and scenes with Zach’s crew. Their introduction was hysterical, it felt like an R rated version of “The Office” and if they had more of that quality sprinkled throughout the rest of the crew’s scenes, this film would have been even funnier than it could have imagined.

All in all, “Between two ferns: the movie” actually DOES work as a movie. It’s got a great cast of stars with impeccable comedic delivery and writing; it keeps what works and sticks to its strong suits from start to finish. The cast could have been used a bit more creatively and doubled up the comedic potential but overall, whether your familiar with the skit series or not, this is a comedic gem you don’t want to miss.

“Frozen 2″ Movie Review: Is It Worth Your Money??

Frozen2

Screenshot from Walt Disney Animation Studios

Rating: 4/5 Stars

I remember seeing “Frozen” for the first time when it first came to theaters. I knew next to nothing about it thanks to very few witnessed advertisements so I went in mostly blind and was very pleased to see how everything played out. It was a beautiful, wonderful, elegantly scored film that felt like a real return to Disney’s classic film quality levels. Imagine my surprise at how quickly the film evolved into a massive phenomenon and then, Disney taking a whopping 6-year gap before finally putting out the sequel. Needless to say, the hype surrounding “Frozen” was obscenely high and left a great deal to live up to for “Frozen 2” to match.

Our story takes us back to Arendelle where Elsa (Idina Menzel) enjoys a peaceful reign as queen until she starts hearing a strange voice calling her to the enchanted forest; outside of the kingdom. Desperate to find answers to the origins of her powers, Elsa ventures into the forest along with her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) and friends Kristoff (Jonathon Gruff) Olaf (Josh Gad) and Sven the reindeer. What the group discovers is a new side to the sister’s parents, the king, and queen, and how their ties to the magic world are far more complicated and dangerous than Ana or Elsa ever imagined.

Topping a juggernaut like the original “Frozen” is no easy task for any sequel, thankfully, “Frozen 2” doesn’t just try to merely copy its original formula and instead treats the film’s story just like it treats its characters: allowing them to age. “Frozen 2” has grown up in every aspect compared to its “sister” movie; everything from the themes, morals, drama, music, and conflicts have all escalated into much bigger and more mature elements that I don’t think anyone was expecting. Gone are the catchy, Disney pop-ish musical numbers that can be easily lip-synched on sing-along CD albums and are now deeper, more emotionally meaningful songs that resonate with personal growth and the changes that come with age. Even Olaf, the goofy lovable snowman, sings about how he hopes he will be wiser when he grows older.

This new approach certainly appeals to the older audience members and it helps that most of the story really focuses on the character’s core motivations and developments. This maybe Elsa’s journey but there are so many other pivotal moments and lives involved here, it feels like everyone’s invested in this and the dangers and environments they encounters measure up accordingly with each bigger moment. The new environment expands the world of “Frozen” with new creatures, new mythology, and lore and it’s gorgeously rendered with spellbindingly beautiful computer effects and graphics. The world has never looked so wondrous before.

Kristen Bell and Indina Menzel truly go above and beyond their emotional capacities. Their bond and ties are truly tested here, pushing them to the limits and still managing epic songs that elevate Bell and Menzel’s talents to new heights. Sadly though, the music never becomes memorable or catchy enough that you’d want to say buy the soundtrack and listen to it over and over again like the first film. The songs are beautiful and expertly scored but just doesn’t make it replay value, with the exception, of course, being Kristoff’s song; a hilarious 80’s power ballad tune that is hilarious to watch and even better to listen to. Its high time Kristoff got a real song this time around.

However, “Frozen 2” suffers from a few flaws; ones that are actually quite identical to the ones afflicting “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” Namely, “Frozen 2” delivers slim to zero new characters. The ones they do introduce are so paper thin and barely on screen, they feel more like cameos than proper roles. Another problem is nothing that new is brought to the table. Much like how “Ralph 2” just explored new levels of the same relationship we knew about before, “Frozen 2” gives us a few new neat tidbits about Elsa and her parents but it’s largely the same old story with just a few lessons about growing up. Kristoff’s relationship with Ana is one of the best new expanded storylines they’ve had but even that was handled fumblingly at times.

Overall, “Frozen 2” is a gorgeous, well-matured film that doesn’t try to be another kid’s movie and be something deeper and richer with heart and depth. The lack of new characters is disappointing and the rehashing of similar relationship problems/cues is unfortunate, but all in all, this is a beautiful movie that does take a few risks and tries something more adult-oriented and it works on many levels even if not all the way through every time.

“Countdown” Movie Review: Is It Worth Your Money??

Movie

Screenshot from Movie Coverage

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Movies, as well-intended or crafted as they can be, often rely on simple elements or gimmicks to rack in the audiences and those gimmicks come in all kinds of different styles: big-name actors, clever concepts, gore, special effects, brand recognition; etc. Horror movies have often relied on gimmicks to deliver a monster/ghost story or slasher flick that delivers something unique enough to make people want to see it. Having a movie about a killer phone app like “Countdown” sounds silly, absurd and pretty dumb just on face value alone. However, while this movie isn’t anything truly great it IS something new…it’s just that most people won’t believe it.

Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail) an aspiring nurse who meets a patient who informs her there is an app that supposedly tells you exactly how long you have left to live. Naturally, she doesn’t believe the app really work, Quinn’s patient dies and she learns the danger is real and her countdown time says she will die in 3 days. Now she must unravel the secret behind this deadly app, find out where it came from and most importantly, find out how to stop it before her time runs out and she meets her destined fate as another victim to this bizarre phone app.

This is one of the few instances where I come across a movie I know next to nothing about, and by that I mean I saw barely any trailers, clips or even advertisement whatsoever. I was taking a risk on a movie that sounded dead on arrival with such desperate attention-seeking story about a phone app that essentially kills you. However, the more I watched the movie the more I learned this wasn’t anything quite that hokey and that there was actual thought put into the movie’s story; such as establishing rules, mythology and how this app’s functions play out with the characters.

Unlike “The Ring” where everyone who watches a cursed videotape dies, “Countdown” doesn’t automatically give everyone who downloads it a short-lived life clock. Some people download it and say they will live another 40 years, others download it and it says they will die in 24 hours. There is a system and demonic lore to this concept, which is already light years more fleshed out than I expected this movie to ever be. The cast tries everything from exploring phone technicians and even demonic exorcists to free themselves of their rapidly approaching deaths and it provides ample and effective tension to go along with the bone-chilling scares that follow.

The demon figure itself is actually scary and even gave me a few frights here and there. Unfortunately, the cast doesn’t carry enough thought and background padding like the story received. Everyone in here plays dime-a-dozen roles, relying on tired old clichés about whiny siblings, inappropriate male figures and the same old backstory you’ve heard and seen done better a million times. “Countdown” works better as a mystery thriller than a thought-provoking perspective on fate, destiny and changing your future or even as a horror movie sometimes. You’re more interested in learning the ins and outs of this app’s origins and functions than you are the cast it’s terrorizing.

The cast is just too weak and generic. You don’t care who dies or who doesn’t because no one feels like a real person and no one is acting like they are a real person either. The buildup and payoff overall do serve a satisfying enough purpose even when the cast and the film’s flimsy attempt at humor fails at almost every chance it has. While the plot’s material leaves it wide open for sequels, I can’t for the life of me seeing the need to go see another one and feel all that could be said and done here was already over and done with.

Overall, “Countdown” has a bland cast with weakly written characters and average level acting. You don’t care or invest enough to be emotionally involved in their fates. The plot and the overall story behind the killer phone app is more interesting and thought out than expected and in the end, I feel that makes the movie decent enough to give a watch. It may sound dumb but “Countdown” has more brains behind it than I think most people give it credit for.

“Doctor Sleep” Movie Review: Is It Worth Your Money??

doctorsleep

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Of all of Stephen King’s adapted works, none was as impactful and iconic as Stanley Kubrik’s creative approach to “The Shining.” Though heavily different from King’s original source material, Kubrik’s inventive filmmaking style and Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable performance cemented the movie in cinematic history and still holds up to this day. The idea of a sequel (book or film form) sounds like an absurd and impossible task to accomplish, however, Mike Flanagan who had stellar success directing “Oculus,” “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” and Netflix’s “Haunting of Hill House” TV series; proves to be up to the task of adapting King’s spinoff/sequel to “The Shining” entitled “Doctor Sleep.”

Set decades after the horrific events of the Overlook hotel incident, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) had suffered from alcoholism, depression and horrific nightmares of the ghosts that still haunt him (literally and figuratively). He travels around trying to find purpose in his life and finds a new talent using his “shining” powers helping dying patients in a hospital. He stumbles across a group of beings who siphon the shining off kids as “steam” in order to live forever. When a young girl (Kyliegh Curran) possesses the strongest shining Danny has ever sense, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) leads the immortals after the girl and now Danny has to use his gifts to save her life and stop the evil before it takes more young lives.

Following Danny’s life, after “The Shining” is not only an interesting story approach, it’s also the most sensible considering how the original film ended. What’s surprisingly satisfying about “Doctor Sleep” is how it crafts its own story and fleshes out its own characters so well that even with the earmarks of “The Shining” being present during its 2 and a half hour running time; it never feels boring or like it’s relying too much on callbacks for its core material. Both Danny and Rose get equal amounts of screen time; alternating back and forth between the two and learning more and more about their lives, their beliefs and how they use their powers for themselves and towards others. Everyone gets a chance to shine (pun intended) and the world and story building feels stronger/better for it.

Ewan McGregor isn’t my first choice for playing an adult Danny Torrance but he clearly proves he was the BEST choice. McGregor beautifully displays the broken, aching misery that someone like Danny would naturally experience considering what happened to him. You feel for his struggle and applaud his noble acts to help others even while struggling to help himself; both of which are presented in raw, intense performances from McGregor throughout the film. Ferguson plays a delightfully charismatic and wicked villain as Rose the Hat. She truly feels like a real life King character brought to life with her mannerisms and twisted motivations. Her group serves as excellent villains and provides a variety of intense and terrifying challenges to our heroes.

The callbacks to “The Shining” mostly work, but at times they do fail to feel like a properly connected sequel should when the film makes the unfortunate mistake of re-creating key scenes from “The Shining” with different actors. Sometimes it’s not really noticeable like with the excellent casting of Carl Lumbly as Dick Hallorahn and Alex Essoe as Wendy Torrance, other times (like Jack Torrance essentially), it’s hard not to cringe a little at the poor imitation. I will say though the film’s climax brings the story full circle back to the Overlook Hotel in a sequence that is chilling, intense, horrific and satisfying on every possible level. I won’t say how everything plays out but I will say that whether you are a fan of the film or the book, this movie’s grand finale will please people all across the board.

Overall, aside from a few weak imitations of key “Shining” scenes, “Doctor Sleep” is a masterfully crafted successor that manages to stand on its own two legs; using its connections to the previous film as winks and clever nods rather than leaning on them like crutches. McGregor and Ferguson are perfectly portrayed, written and developed along with everyone else involved. This is a worthy continuation of King’s story and manages to be its own beast without leeching off the original’s coattails. It’s a lengthy sequel but one that definitely does the books and the film justice and of course, quality.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” Movie Review: Is It Worth Your Money??

TERMINATO

Rating: 1/4 Stars

Much as people balk and groan at the thought of seeing sequels or new installments to decade-old franchises, I love seeing film series I grew up and adored coming back after so many years and continuing a story with a new take. However, many people seem to agree (myself included) that James Cameron’s epic sci-fi series “The Terminator” should have stopped pumping out future films a long, LONG time ago. Many believe “T2: Judgement Day” is the last true and respected Terminator sequel made and everything else sucked afterward (I strongly disagree on “T3: Rise of the Machines” however). Now Cameron is back to produce this latest (and hopefully last) ditch effort to revitalize the franchise with “Terminator: Dark Fate.”

20 years after Judgement delayed was stopped, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has lost her way and struggles to find a new path now that the world is finally free from the technological terror of Skynet…or is it? In Mexico City, a young girl named Dani (Natalia Reyes) is attacked by a twin pair of deadly terminator machines called Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) who seeks to kill her for something she will do in the future to aid humanity. A mysterious cyborg woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) also comes from the future to protect Dani. Now along with a still-spry Sarah Connor and an old T-800 unit (Arnold Schwarzenegger), they must all work together to stop a new dark future from coming and save humanity once again from the threat of machines.

If there ever was a movie franchise that perfectly embodied the “beating the dead horse” metaphor, it’s Terminator. After the last disastrous effort to restart the franchise with a new trilogy of films with “Terminator Genisys”, people were hopeful Cameron’s involvement along with classic stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming back would mean a return to the film’s quality roots which have been dead and dormant since “T2.” Turns out they were wrong, they were VERY wrong! Ignoring the events of every Terminator movie except the first two, “Dark Fate” is a lazy, weakly cobbled together hot mess that copies tropes, ideas, and clichés from every single previous Terminator movie (including the bad ones).

“Dark Fate” is essentially a poor man’s clean slate that tries to start a new storyline to keep expanding the lore by ripping off every movie that came before it; sacrificing all originality and creativity. The first 5 minutes of the movie is the most shocking and infuriating part of the entire film and if you’re anything like me, it’ll be impossible to really get into the rest of the movie after seeing it. This film doesn’t feel like a worthy successor to any of the previous Terminator movies; it feels more insulting than anything else. For example, Skynet is written out and a new software-based menace called Legion emerges as the new big bad, with Dani as the ‘new’ John Connor and Grace as the ‘new’ T-800 protector role.

The only things that work here are a few action sequences and (unsurprisingly), Hamilton and Arnold back as Sarah Connor and the T-800 unit. Their attitude, awkward chemistry and bad ass images really bring back that nostalgic thrill back to the good old days of quality Terminator movies. They slipped back into their roles seamlessly and have every bit of sharp wit, gravitas and intensity they’ve become immortalized for. Sadly, everyone else falls pitifully short. Dani is a sad substitute for John, having no personality, memorable lines or even much of an impressive future role to play in the new timeline. Mackenzie Davis’s Grace tries her best but suffers from weak writing and weak conceptualization (basically, she’s a knock off of Sam Worthington’s character from “Terminator Salvation”…and she needs insulin shots to survive).

Even the new Terminator robot, Rev-9, offers nothing new and just copies the same powers and abilities the T-000 had in “T2” and the powers of the TX from “T3.” Overall, “Dark Fate” has nothing going for it, even with Cameron, Hamilton, and Arnold all being attached to it. Everything this movie has to offer has been seen and done before and better in the previous Terminator films. The story and characters are insulting, weakly written and prove that the Terminator franchise needs to stay dead and buried and not come back until someone in the absurdly far future knows how to salvage this mess.