Legacy sequel to one of the greatest Christmas movies of all-time takes place in 1973 with an adult Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) now a married, down on his luck writer struggling as Christmas approaches. He sadly gets a call from his mother (Julie Hagerty) that his father (Darren McGavin in footage from the original) has died. With pennies to his name, Ralphie loads up his family into their car and heads back home to Hohman, Indiana to spend Christmas with his mother.
Well intended flick is directed by Clay Kaytis from a script and story by he, Nick Schenk and star Peter Billingsley. It really tries hard to recreate the magic and tone of the original, but it feels forced instead of part of the story as in the first film. No more evident than Ralphie’s elaborate daydream sequences. They fall flat here where they were absolutely delightful in the original movie. It lacks the heartfelt whimsy of A Christmas Story, though one can still appreciate what the makers were trying to do, even if it doesn’t work nearly as well as the first time around. This holiday flick is also a bit too drama heavy at times to be the light breezy fun the original film was and still is. Sure, it is amusing to see Ralphie, Flick (Scott Schwartz), Schwartz (R.D. Robb), Randy (Ian Petrella) and even Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) and Grover Dill (Yano Anaya) again played by the original actors, but even some of their roles seem forced in instead of a natural part of the story. Ralphie’s wife and kids (Erinn Hayes, River Drosche and Julianna Layne) aren’t nearly as memorable as they need to be either, especially amongst all the other classic characters. It’s not terrible and certainly not unwatchable, but it just doesn’t recapture the magic that it tries a little too hard to recreate.
Good things came from Amazon yesterday! Two of my favorite movies arrived on Blu-ray. X is simply my favorite horror so far this year and a film I find gets better with repeat viewings. The Batman which has many horror film elements and even starts out on Halloween night!
The Batman finds a Gotham City overflowing with trash, crime and corruption. Mob bosses and corrupt city officials rule the city, and a lone vigilante dressed like a bat (Robert Pattinson) tries almost in vain to fight the tide of lawlessness. Enter into the scenario a deranged serial killer called The Riddler (Paul Dano) who is exposing and sadistically killing these corrupt officials and a beautiful cat burglar (Zoe Kravitz) with a vendetta of her own, and The Batman/Bruce Wayne finds himself in a maelstrom of conspiracy, murder and sins of the past!
Newest incarnation of the classic character is well directed by Matt Reeves from a script by he and Peter Craig. It is the darkest and most brooding version yet, with scenes bordering on a horror movie, even opening on Halloween night, as the Jigsaw-esque Riddler claims his first victim and we are introduced to Pattinson’s Dark Knight battling a face-painted street gang. The film has plenty of spectacular action, including a thrilling car chase with Batman pursuing Colin Farrell’s Penguin on a busy highway, and some brutal fight scenes. The film also delves heavily into Batman’s detective work, as Riddler leaves clues for him to solve, and Batman/Bruce Wayne finds he himself is involved in conspiracies from the past. There is a touch of romance with Zoe Kravitz’s beautiful and mysterious Selina Kyle, but otherwise this is three hours of violent action and moody intrigue. That is also the drawback in this otherwise delightfully dark tale. At a 2:56 runtime, the film is overlong, and some parts do drag. It is also a humorless and sullen film which doesn’t help one endure the extensive runtime. Some might find it’s predominately bleak tone exhausting. As for those planning to take the kids, it may be too dark and violent, pushing the limits of its PG-13 rating. Kids will definitely be restless at three hours in length. Overall, it is an intense and bleak film, though the end does manage a glimmer of hope for embattled Gotham and its bat-winged guardian. On a production level it is an epic film with its own look, feel and atmosphere with great production design by James Chinlund. There is also a perfectly moody score by Michael Giacchino and sumptuous dark, gritty and shadow-filled cinematography by Greig Fraser.
There is a wonderful and eclectic cast. Pattinson is the darkest Dark Knight yet, with a young, brooding emo Bruce Wayne and an even darker and violent hero than we’ve seen on screen. He is very good as both, though the film does focus more on Batman than the reclusive Master Wayne. This Batman has some anger issues and the Riddler is pushing him to his limits. Zoe Kravitz is purr-fectly cast as Catwoman/Selina Kyle. She has her own reasons to brood, and she is sexy and mysterious, and she and Pattinson make a good team in both gothic romance and action sequences. Paul Dano is very creepy as The Riddler. He is quite different than any version, being more Saw inspired than Frank Gorshin. A couple of times he goes a bit too over the top but is mostly low-key spooky and has a chilling sadistic streak. In support we have Jeffrey Wright making a great James Gordon, Colin Farrell as a sleazy and effective Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot, John Turturro as gangster Carmine Falcone and Andy Serkis is endearing as a feisty Alfred. A great cast in a very dark and intense spin on a classic character.
In conclusion, this was a delightfully adult version of Bob Kane’s classic character making him more dark, brooding and violent than we have seen him before. The portrayal of Gotham is bleak with even Batman bordering on hopelessness at cleaning it up. It skates close to horror with its serial killer-like villain and has only the briefest moments of romance to break up all the darkness. Only thing that holds it back is a mammoth three-hour runtime that drags in a few spots, and as it is humorless and bleak most of the time, it can be a very gloomy sit for some. Once again DC Films is refreshingly pushing the boundaries of its characters.
Third Conjuring flick takes place in 1981 and finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of a little boy named David (Julian Hillard). It almost costs Ed his life, leaving him unconscious, and unknown to Lorraine, the demon transferred to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man present during the ceremony. As Ed recovers in a hospital, warning that Arne is possessed, the young man under demonic influence, stabs his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. Now the Warrens must somehow prove that demonic possession was involved and Arne is innocent of murder.
Threequel is directed this time by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) from a script and story by producer James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick based on a supposed real-life case of the Warrens. It opens with a supernatural bang with yet another exorcism, but it is an effective one and sets the tone for the film. It establishes to the audience that Arne is the host and we know something bad is soon to happen…and it does. Third in this series takes a bit of a different direction once blood is shed, as not only does it have the now traditional supernatural hi-jinx, but is a paranormal detective drama as well. Ed and Lorraine go on the road to investigate the origins of David’s possession, unraveling a trail of evil and death leading to a demonic cultist. It takes this franchise in a bit of a different direction and is well done, but the exorcism/possession storyline elements are just too familiar and overdone in recent films to be that scary. At least the cultist angle adds a human adversary which is a welcome change. Chaves is a competent director, but he can only do so much with such frequently treaded material and he doesn’t quite have Wan’s skill at theatrical scares. The investigative portion of the story is intriguing and keeps one’s attention and is the strongest element of this second sequel. If anything, it takes The Warrens out of their usual haunted house setting and that at least keeps them and this sequel from getting too stale. The FX are well done, there is some bloodshed and in contrast, the flick also has some nice heart to give resonance to the Warrens’ cause. Chaves may not have Wan’s visual eye, but he does produce some atmosphere and appropriately spooky imagery, especially in Lorraine’s visions, and orchestrates the jump scares well, though is less reliant on them. The climax is an entertaining The Exorcist meets Silence of the Lambs mash-up that works very well and ends the story with the theatrics fans come to expect.
The cast are solid. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are good as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Whether you believe the real couple are legit or shysters is up to you, but their cinematic counterparts make for endearing characters. They tread a little new ground for this series and do well and the actors make a good team that gives the movie it’s heart. Ruairi O’Connor is sympathetic as the tormented Arne and pretty Sarah Catherine Hook is likable as his girlfriend and little David’s sister, Debbie. John Noble also appears, in an exposition role, as a retired priest with knowledge of the cult in question, while Eugenie Bondurant is creepy as the cultist whose curse drives this flick’s story.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a well made film with some spooky moments and wisely takes it’s paranormal couple into a somewhat different scenario to freshen things up a bit. It’s well directed by Chaves, though still focuses heavily on demonic possession/exorcism elements that have become almost as frequently seen in recent horror, as zombies. If you are a fan of this series you will probably like this one and if not, the investigative/detective drama aspect may keep you intrigued enough to be entertained, during it’s almost two hour runtime. Series hasn’t run of of gas quite yet, but shows signs that it might be time to really dig into the Warrens’ case files for a fourth installment. Watch through the credits for some spooky footage, photos and reel to reel recordings from the real life Warrens and this case.
Godzilla vs Kong opens a few years after Godzilla’s battle to the death with King Ghidorah in Boston. Godzilla has left mankind in peace, till suddenly launching an attack on an Apex Cybernetics facility in Florida. Meanwhile, Skull Island is becoming unstable and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) seeks to find Kong a new home. As fate would have it, scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) needs a titan to lead the way to the Hollow Earth, which may be the original home of Kong’s race. As Andrews and Lind, with the help of Apex, begin to move Kong from his ill-fated island home, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) teams with Titan Truth Podcast host Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to find out what Apex is really up to and why it’s provoking Godzilla to attack. As there can be only one alpha titan, the paths of Godzilla and Kong are fated to collide and as they are destined to meet in combat, Apex is about to unleash a threat that may be the end of all titans on Earth.
Sequel to Godzilla, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island is directed by Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) from a script by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, based on a story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields. As such, it is a fun monster battle blast. Sure the plot is a bit convoluted and character development/motivation is kept to a bare minimum, but we don’t watch a Godzilla or Kong movie expecting Shakespeare. Adam Wingard delivers what might be one of the most visually sumptuous kaiju flicks ever made, as well, as some of the most vicious and intense monster fights once Kong and Godzilla collide. His previous films showed a man who loves movies and it’s his inner film geek that best serves this fun, popcorn monster mash. The film gives us a giant monster flick that delightfully flaunts it’s influences, as G vs K evokes Ishirō Honda with it’s spectacular battles, Edgar Rice Burroughs, as Kong and his handlers explore the lost world of the Hallow Earth, and a touch of James Bond as Madison, her bud Josh (Julian Dennison) and Bernie sneak into Apex’s secret underground lab in Hong Kong. Wingard also gives us a Godzilla whose appearances evoke Jaws in the very best way. The human characters may be shortchanged, and Kong is far more the focus than Godzilla, but the action is fast and furious and comes quick enough for what exposition there is, to not get in the way of the entertainment. The battles between Godzilla and Kong are both visually spectacular and extremely brutal and Wingard does deliver what he promises…a definite winner. The script also cleverly finds a way to get the loser of the battle back in action and a chance to redeem themselves, when Apex unleashes a common enemy that presents a danger to both combatants. The digital SPFX are absolutely top notch, especially when pitting Godzilla and Kong against each other in neon drenched Hong Kong, and in the exploration of the Hallow Earth world. The cinematography by Ben Seresin is absolutely gorgeous and compliments Wingard’s expert shot composition and visual design very well. The score by Tom Holkenborg/Junkie XL is simply one of the best non Akira Ifukube scores attached to a Godzilla flick. All in all, story and character weaknesses aside, this is a roller coaster, fun ride of monster movie mayhem.
Wingard has assembled a good cast that help make two dimensional characters a bit livelier. Rebecca Hall is noble and strong-willed as the Jane Goodall-like Dr. Ilene Andrews. She’s likable and has Kong’s best interests in mind. Alexander Skarsgård is also endearing as the slightly timid but driven Dr. Nathan Lind. He lost a brother to a Hollow Earth expedition and is dedicated to successfully exploring it. Millie Bobby Brown is once again spunky and strong-willed as Madison. She is sworn to clearing Godzilla’s name and prove he is no enemy to man. Brian Tyree Henry is fun as eccentric podcaster Bernie, seeking to uncover Apex’s secret, as is Julian Dennison as the reluctant tag-along Josh. Rounding out our good guys is the charming Kyle Chandler in a smaller role as Dr. Mark Russell and adorable Kaylee Hottle as Jia, a little deaf girl and last survivor of Skull Island’s indigenous people. Her handicap gives her the ability to sign, which she teaches Kong, in a clever story device to have the massive simian emote and communicate more. Kong is presented as a noble hero here, while Godzilla is clearly the aggressor and bad guy, till a last act reveal unveils his motivation for the attacks. As for our underdeveloped bad guys, Demián Bichir is appropriately sinister as Apex CEO Walter Simmons, who wants to destroy all monsters, sexy Eiza González gets some of the worst lines as the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree, his daughter Maya and Shun Oguri has sadly little screen time as Ren Serizawa, the son of Dr. Ishirō Serizawa, who wants payback from Godzilla over his father’s death. A plot-line that definitely needed more attention. Thinly written characters, yes…a good cast, definitely!
Overall, those expecting a monster flick with the story depth of some of the recent high-end superhero epics might come away disappointed. Those going in expecting a monster Wrestlemania of epic portions, will probably be very entertained and on that level, Wingard and company deliver big time. The action is fast and furious, human interference is kept to a minimum and it is one of the most visually dynamic giant monster movies ever. The battles are brutal and intense and, for the most part, Wingard lets his titans go at it with the human interactions kept on the down low. Sure, the character development could have been stronger, but it’s somewhat convoluted story allows film geek Adam Wingard to delightfully reference a number of flicks both within and without the monster movie world. It also has some clever touches like Kong’s equalizer, an ancient axe made from a Godzilla ancestor dorsal spine. It makes for a wonderfully fun, popcorn flick that has wonders for the eye, plenty of adventure and some of the best monster fights yet captured on film. The Legendary Monster-verse seems to be finally finding it’s stride. Let’s hope they keep it going if this flick is a monster success.
A new trailer recently landed for the highly anticipated Godzilla sequel, now we get character posters for all the creatures featured! Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla : King of the Monsters arrives in theaters on May 21st, 2019!