Monday, October 28, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - 3 from Hell (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - 3 from Hell (2019)

3 from Hell is maybe the best we've seen from Rob Zombie yet. In many ways, it is a perfect representation of what he brings to the cinema. Dark, twisted, colorful, and fun in spite of vile forays into thoroughly unsettling territory, his vision is a crazy kaleidoscope of horrors and cheap thrills. Unabashedly devoted to centering his work upon the evilest denizens of his creative landscapes, he finds ways to both terrify us with these creations and make them endearing. The worst among us can be repulsive and charming in equal measures, and the same could be said for Zombie's audacious fiends. The director's love for grindhouse cinema is also something that could be seen as an amazing strength or glaring weakness. Many might decry this element of his approach as degenerative and uninspired. Others may find it to be wildly compelling, and may even argue that he conjures this sort of atmosphere as well as (if not better than) Robert Rodriguez and QT have been able to. All this aside, I will note that I'm a fan of his work. In particular, I found The Devil's Rejects to be a sinister opus that felt a bit like a horror film directed by Sam Peckinpah, and I view Lords of Salem as an intense and terrifying oddity that isn't easily forgotten.  His feature are shot well (even if the choppy editing can be problematic at times), his soundtracks are superb, and he gets wonderful performances from his talent.  I fully appreciate his catalog.  3 from Hell is another superior effort-- as I said at the onset, it may just be his best, though that is surely debatable. What isn't debatable is the sheer impact and the wicked buffet of awful delights that this one is guaranteed to provide for those willing to dip their toes in this ghastly pond. 

Final Grade: A

While Zombie gives Spaulding the best send-off he could under the circumstances, his presence is surely missed throughout an otherwise exemplary sample of the director's divisive fare.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - The Changeling (1980)


Short Attention Span Review - The Changeling (1980)

Everyone loves a good old-fashioned haunted house story, right?  Throw in a vengeful ghost and George C. Scott, and you have the makings of a classic.  The Changeling is highly regarded for a reason, and like The Haunting (which veteran director Peter Medak studied at close range long before crafting this 1980 chiller), it still works.  A spooky yarn is a spooky yarn, and the absence of CGI or other modern effects doesn't hinder this ghastly cult classic in the slightest.  I would argue that all of the gags in The Changeling work to perfection, though like the best films of this ilk, it relies more on what we hear and suspect than what we actually see.  A good script, a powerful score, top-notch cinematography, and several impeccable sets elevate this into the upper statosphere of fright flicks.  Scott dominates the proceedings--he's in damn near every scene, and he brings his trademark fire and gusto to the party.  He also handles the quiet moments surprisingly well, and this is essential; The Changeling is both thoughtful and clever in its construction.  The climax is certainly volatile, and I just can't lodge any complaints against this stirring essay in grief and terror.  At the end of the day, movies like this live or die based on whether or not they can send enough chills racing down your spine.  The Changeling is a damn good movie, and it is scary.

Note: Shudder subscribers should absolutely stream this one with Joe Bob.  Great stuff.  And if you dig horror and you haven't signed up for Shudder yet, you are missing out.  Shudder is the best streaming service out there.

Final Grade: A

Creepy and mesmerizing, The Changeling is a Grade A spookshow.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - The Brink (2017)


Short Attention Span Review - The Brink (2017)

The Brink is a curious film that doesn't seem to know just what it wants to be.  It works best when it's an ultra stylish and hyper-kinetic action smorgasboard a la John Wick.  This serves stars Jin Zhang and Shawn Yue best, and this was one of those riveting thrillers wherein I liked the bad guy (Yue) almost as much as I liked our hero (Zhang).  And that's saying something, because Zhang is way too cool in this movie, sporting a punk rock dye job and his standard graceful yet devastating martial arts talents.  The Brink also works surprisingly well as a zany spiritual journey where greed, vengence, and even love intersect, and fates are decided at the whims of a callous Sea Godess who may or may not exist--though without some sort of divine intervention, I'm not sure how anyone could have survived the waterlogged conclusion.  And then there are the melodramatic moments, which aren't nearly as overwrought as they can be in this breed of action movie, but still frequently crash and burn.  And while that awesome finale (a threeway showdown on the deck of a trawler being tossed around by a typhoon) is wild to look at, it does stretch the film's razor-thin sliver of plausibilty to its limits and beyond.  It remains an entertaing and flamboyant romp, with dazzling imagination and sizzling choreography to spare.  It's a bit silly here and there, and a bit sappy in parts as well, but that's easy enough to overlook when you have Jin Zhang kicking ass all over the place.  Oh, and Yue's bad guy had a wicked little weapon roughly the size of an ink pen that fired miniature silver harpoons.  Sounds ridiculous, but it was ill.

Final Grade: C+


When The Brink works, it works because stars Jin Zhang and Shawn Yue  really throw themselves into their parts.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Rambo: Last Blood (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo: Last Blood deftly combines the darkness and brutality of the last entry with the utter silliness of the second one.  Gorier than many horror movies, grim as hell, and slickly produced, this is a ferocious action flick that should satisfy fans of this iconic character.  Stallone could play this part in his sleep, and he never misses the mark in what will stand as an appropiate farewell for John J. Rambo--should Hollywood allow him to hang up his bow.  The story is simplistic, and while that is often seen as a slight, it becomes a strength in this lean mean killing machine of a motion picture.  Playing somewhat like a grimy 70s revenge yarn, it simmers for a while, then throttles up for a guns-blazing conclusion that is as thrilling as it is implausible.  I'm awarding bonus points for what may have been the best song placement in the history of the cinema.  Rambo: First Blood is incredibly dark, exceptionally violent, and it does showcase the depth and emotional heft that went AWOL to this franchise's detriment in the second and third installments.  It is a far cry from First Blood, a film I hold in the highest regard, and I didn't like it quite as much as I liked 2008's Rambo.  I did enjoy it a lot, though, and if this is indeed Rambo's parting shot, this movie served a character I treasure well.  Mission accomplished, Sly.

Final Grade: B+


Stallone shouldn't be able to do this at his age, but he can still get down and dirty with the best of them.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)


Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Oye.  This movie had so much potential, but it just couldn't connect the dots.  While director Renny Harlin did manage to drop some cool imagery on us, and there were some rather solid action bits, a lack of character development and a jokey script undermined his efforts.  Robert Englund was surely invested in the material, and seemed to be having a ball with his part, but it was just a little too much.  I enjoyed some of Freddy's wisecracks, but I didn't really want to see him portrayed as a murderous clown.  And that was apparently the goal in The Dream Master, which also suffered from a number of cringeworthy gags that missed the mark entirely.  There were some zingers that landed, and some of the creativity that made Dream Warriors a winner made it onto the screen.  However, while it was servicable for this type of flick, the effects work wasn't quite as good as what we saw in the prior entry.  The script dispensed with several pivotal characters with minimal fanfare, and failed to develop their succesors enough to inspire me to root for them.  Aside from the roach kill and a rousing finale, I nearly lost interest.  To be fair, the roach kill was totally f'n gnarly, but by the time I got to that part. it was a genuine "too little, too late" scenario.  Then we got the parting shot, an obligatory "Freddy's still out there" gimmick--and it was really, really weak.  In fact, that would be an adequate summary of this late 80s slasher sequel: really, really weak.  If not for that one wild moment when The Dream Master totally bugged out, I would give this one an "F."

Final Grade: D-


Robert Englund has a great time with The Dream Master.  I did not.

Short Attention Span Review - Black Rain (1989)


Short Attention Span Review - Black Rain (1989)

Black Rain is a real mixed bag.  It has so much going for it, but it is also littered with glaring flaws.  The visuals are a treat, with director Ridley Scott making the most of every environment the film inhabits.  He also delivers some riveting action setpieces, and star Michael Douglas shines in one of his grittiest and most physical roles.  I liked that the movie wasn't shy about venturing into some grey areas, with our dogged hero admitting to being on the take in one of Black Rain's most powerful scenes.  I really dig Yusaku Matsuda in the the last part he would ever play (unbeknownst to Scott, Matsuda was in the latter stages of a battle with cancer, and would perish weeks after the film premiered) as the villainous Sato.  He really delivered in a huge way, snarling and sneering without overplaying his hand.  He doesn't steal scenes with his bravado, but ratchets up the excitement with every appearance.  That's a lot to enjoy, and I almost forgot to mention Andy Garcia having way too much fun as the clearly doomed sidekick with a big heart and a great smile.  The producers must have realized just how obvious his ultimate fate was--they featured his decapitation in the theatrical trailer. So what went wrong?  First off, the song (no, I'm not going to bother looking it up--better that it go unnamed herein) that plays over the opening and closing credits is an unforgivable offense.  Secondly, the script drops the ball repeatedly where logic is concerned.  I mean, there are maybe a dozen total fails on this front.  This happens so often that our hero begins to seem like a very intense and equally conflicted buffoon.  Dude would have lasted about ten minutes in Japan.  He basically veers from one situation to another that should have led to either the loss of his job or his life.  It would be safe to consider him rather fortunate, for while he emerges unscathed, his behavior does result in his Japanese cohort losing his job and his American partner losing his life.  Those are the breaks when you sign up to be a sidekick.  Thankfully, the former does salvage his career, and in the end, he and Douglas find honor and even receive medals for an unsanctioned sting operation that results in a catastrophic loss of property and life.  Yeah, Black Rain has its good points, but it is pretty damn dumb.

Final Grade: C

Douglas proves more than capable in the role of a rugged action hero.  Having said that,  a problematic script  nearly steals his thunder.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Powerful Pages - Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Powerful Pages - Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Old Bones is the latest novel from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, two gifted authors who have made quite a name for themselves with their unique brand of fiction.  Combining mysteries a la Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a flair for science and history that brings Michael Crichton to mind, they spin gripping yarns with morbid touches that would be perfectly at home in a horror novel.  It's a mixture that I and a great many others enjoy, though lately I have grown just a little fatigued with their Pendergast series.  This detour with two of their best heroines at the helm was like a breath of fresh air, and I had an absolute blast with it.  In Old Bones, an ill-fated attempt to dig up new insight into the woeful fate of the Donner Party is derailed by greed, deception, and cold-blooded murder.  A search for a rumored hidden treasure and a devious plot on a grand scale put Nora Kelly (a tough-as-nails archaeologist) and Corrie Swanson (a rebellious FBI agent working her first case) directly in the cross-hairs.  These strong women find themselves at odds from the word "Go," and a serious power struggle ensues. They'll have to iron things out quick, fast, and in a hurry if they want to survive, much less figure out why a bunch of old bones are worth killing for.  Given that the grim legacy of the Donner Party is a key element of the plot, Old Bones is a bit gruesome, and this dark vibe meshes nicely with a desolate setting and a difficult battle against the elements.  While the last act is thrilling and all of the various threads in a fairly intricate narrative are effectively tied off, I may have been hoping for a little more from the climax.  And I pegged the killer fairly early on, and for better or worse, that's something I tend to hold against whodunits.  Still, it's about the journey, and this one had me hooked.  It doesn't rank among this impressive duo's best works, but it is an intense addition to their catalog nonetheless.

Final Grade: B

Monday, September 16, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)


Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Dream Warriors is a fan favorite for many reasons.  Among them are an impressive cast for a late 80s horror flick, a lot of creativity, kooky effects, and director Chuck Russell filling in nicely for genre heavyweight Wes Craven.  It also boasts a lively script, some of Englund's best work straddling the fence between horror and comedy, and a frantic pace.  It is surely the best entry in this series that Craven didn't engineer, and it's a pretty damn good horror movie in general.  I love the inventive kills, and there are some huge beats in the story.  The only shortcomings are a few instances where there was a little too much cheese in the recipe and a couple of effects gags that miss the mark.  Honestly, that's to be expected in a film of this ilk that aims to do so much, and there are way more hits than misses.  The TV kill is one of my favorites, and the puppet sequence is also wicked.  John Saxon's presence in the closing reel is a huge plus, and the subplot with the creepy but helpful nun is a nice touch.  This is a really fun spookshow with a lot of substance, and while the first film from this franchise is much better (I do consider it to be a legitimate classic), Dream Warriors is as good as it got for Freddy beyond that.  And that's good enough for me to show it some love here in the Land of Way.

Final Grade: B

Dream Warriors shines when emphasizing the creativity that always separated this franchise from the pack.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Westworld (Seasons 1 and 2)


Short Attention Span Review - Westworld (Seasons 1 and 2)

Apparently, one of the silver linings of my injury and my recovery has been a steady diet of high-quality science fiction.  Westworld might be the best example of that yet, and anyone who hasn't made time for this series from HBO is truly missing out.  The original movie was a fun little adventure written and directed by Michael Crichton.  The idea behind that venture was rock solid, but the picture itself was pretty basic in a lot of ways--particularly if one compares it to Crichton's later efforts.  The series is an extremely complex and equally provocative affair with a stellar cast and magnificent special effects.  It will return with a third season sometime in 2020, but the first two seasons tell a striking tale that is a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself.  While some characters will return, I believe the program will see something akin to a new beginning.  One can only hope that this renewal will prove as compelling and daring as the foundation that has been laid.  There are powerful ideas in play here, and rich characters who are seldom good or bad, but some volatile combination of both.  The nature of the storytelling is just as inventive, with time shifts, dramatic twists, and shocking revelations allowing the talent involved to weave a visionary web.  I was damn near mesmerized by this one, and it continually raised the bar and caught me off-guard.  The marriage of awesome technology, killer effects, and profound ideas to a wild west setting is a stellar juxtaposition that gives all of this complexity an entertaining sheen.  I could single a lot of performers out here, as Westworld essentially litters the screen with dazzling performances.  I will limit myself to a handful in the interest of brevity.  Anthony Hopkins is as on as he has been in a great many years.  Jeffrey Wright has never been better, and the same could be said of Evan Rachel Wood.  Ed Harris is phenomenal, dude is like a force of nature, and he has been given the most audacious part in a show filled with them.  Westworld is unbelievably good, and anyone looking for riveting sci-fi will find something to treasure with this dangerous spectacle.  

Final Grade: A+


Ed Harris is absolutely legendary in Westworld, a true blue science fiction epic. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Monster Jams: Mike Patton and Jean-Claude Vannier - Corpse Flower (released 9/13/2019)


Monster Jams: Mike Patton and Jean-Claude Vannier - Corpse Flower (released 9/13/2019)

Talk about a strange brew--this bizarro collection of adventurous tracks from vocal mad scientist Mike Patton and famed composer Jean-Claude Vannier is genuinely an album without boundaries. An eclectic ensemble provides strings, keys, and percussion for this boisterous effort that roams a broad musical landscape with playful abandon. There is a cinematical feel to the compositions that veer from blues to pop amid a great many detours into various sounds and moods. At times cocky and sarcastic, Corpse Flower also hosts numerous moments of gentle amusement and loving tenderness. It even growls at various junctures, and the artists have so much fun exploring the space that it is often hard to discern whether or not they are winking at the listener or cracking a whip. The lyrics are occasionally blunt and direct, but veer more toward the poetic or even the surreal--and also plunder Oscar Wilde's material in the opening salvo. As a Patton fan, I would classify this among his most curious endeavors, yet it is infinitely more accessible than his most challenging recordings. A hearty buffet of sonic delights, Corpse Flower is one of 2019's most unique releases, and it takes listeners on a delightful journey with a lot of eerie subtexts. Standout tracks include "Browning," "On Top of the World," and "A Schoolgirl's Day," but there isn't a bad cut in the mix. 

Final Grade: A

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Powerful Pages - Darkness on the Edge of Town by Adam Christopher (An Official Stranger Things Novel)


Powerful Pages - Darkness on the Edge of Town by Adam Christopher (An Official Stranger Things Novel)

My readers are aware that I enjoy Stranger Things immensely, and I love a good book, so I decided to give Darkness on the Edge of Town a go.  This tie-in centers on Hopper as he tells El about a strange case from his past.  In the summer of 1977, Hopper was a detective working homicides in New York. A series of ritualistic murders draw he and his fiery partner into a dangerous web that includes shady government agents, tough street gangs, and a demented madman with insidious plans for the city.  The novel culminates with a massive blackout and a desperate fight for survival.  Christopher's prose is clear and descriptive, and his grasp of the characters we know is strong.  The characters he creates are perhaps a bit more vivid, and he shows a knack for pacing and action sequences.  There are several sections where this book is a genuine white-knuckle pageturner.  It is an entertaing read, and it is cool to see a younger Jim Hopper mixing it up with a nifty collection of rogues on the mean streets of the Big Apple.  The novel is designed to appeal to both teens and adults who enjoy the show, and the tone may suffer a bit as a result.  It is a bit tame for the older generation, while it may be a little too rough for young adults--and the timeframe won't have as much allure for those readers either.  It's also fairly run-of-the-mill in a lot of ways; there is nothing daring or bold about the plot.  The execution is solid, and the story is exciting, but in many ways it is a routine thriller.  The big hook here is a chance to see a popular character cut his teeth in a dangerous situation long before finding himself facing far bigger challenges in Netflix's most popular program.  As such, it's perfectly serviceable, and it should please those looking for some cheap thrills with a couple of familiar faces in the mix.

Final Grade: B

Short Attention Span Review - Life (2017)


Short Attention Span Review - Life (2017)

Widely panned as an Alien wannabe with a great cast and a lousy creature, Life came and went with minimal fanfare.  I have a soft spot for films in this vein, so the fact that I had yet to watch this sci-fi/horror hybrid only underscores just how badly it was overlooked.  I say that because having viewed Life this weekend, I'm here to tell you that this one is well worth a watch.  And it tries really hard to be something more than an Alien clone, though the trappings are too familiar.  Bottom line: if you do a creature feature in space, you're wading into that territory.  There's no way around it.  It's like making a shark movie--your picture will be compared to Jaws.  Those are the rules.  And while Alien was a B movie at heart, Ridley Scott transformed it into a visionary spectacle for the ages.  Life is technically sound, but it doesn't rise above being a B movie in concept or execution.  But it's a good B movie, sporting a great cast, quality effects, and a vicious monster that is unique.  I really liked the way the picture was shot, and I also liked that creature.  And Life has some serious momentum--once the horror aspects really kick in, it's very exciting and equally dark.  Many fans will likely be turned off by how cold-blooded the script is, but genre fans may find that this sinister undercurrent enhances the experience.  It is no classic, not by a long shot, but as monster movies go, it's a winner.  If you're looking for some gruesome thrills, you could do far worse.  

Final Grade: B


Jake Gyllenhaal sits at the head of the table where Life's considerable star power is concerned, but this is still a B movie.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Get Out (2017)


Short Attention Span Review - Get Out (2017)

As someone who loves horror and would argue that the genre has been at the very forefront of social commentary and diversity where the cinema is concerned, I chafe at the notion of so-called "progressive horror."  Maybe that's partly why I avoided Get Out for so long.  Add to that my disappointment with Us, and it's fair to say that I approached last night's viewing of this influential chiller from 2017 with some trepidation.  However, unlike director Jordan Peele's follow-up, I found Get Out to be very rewarding.  Deftly balancing potent commentary with satire and several resounding shocks, this is a real winner.  I'm not sure that it was as groundbreaking as many made it out to be, but it surely had a lot to say.  The script represents a superb effort that fueled an unnerving march toward a grisly conclusion.  In the early stages, this movie feels kind of like a razor-sharp episode of The Twilight Zone, and the execution is a marvel to behold.  The filmmakers really manage to toe the line, building upon the premise with eerie brush strokes while being careful to avoid taking things so far that credibility is lost.  Peele allows things to simmer until the very end, when he delivers a massive climax that is deeply fulfilling.  I will praise every aspect of this provocative shocker, to include the performances, the score, the editing, and the effects work.  This wasn't just a good horror movie with a message, this was a great horror movie, and it certainly included some powerful ideas and difficult concepts.  Yet Get Out wasn't preachy or pretentious, and the entertainment value didn't suffer from a need to make a statement.  Quite the opposite, really, as the statement rendered here paved the way for a compelling and satisfying terror tale that will be treasured for years to come.

Final Grade: A

An uneasy slow burn, Get Out boils over to tremendous effect in the closing reel.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Hellboy (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Hellboy (2019)

Could the new Hellboy really be as bad as everyone said it was?  The way I remember it, about thirty seconds after it got released, the entire universe had labeled it a colossal failure.  Many reviews seemed to portray the picture's greatest shortcoming as an inability to measure up to Guillermo del Toro's work with the character.  Honestly, (and I know this is blasphemy to some) I didn't dig those flicks all that much.  And you know what?  With that mind, I have to say . . . this Hellboy was pretty bad.  Uneven and sophomoric, the pieces just didn't fit together all that well, and the ending was a total letdown.  I had heard that the CGI was dodgy, but I didn't find that to be an issue, and I really liked a lot of the character and set designs.  Mostly, the issues that handicapped this reboot were related to plotting and a lack of restraint.  And that turd burglar of a finale.  However, while it surely missed the mark in a lot of ways, I did enjoy this Hellboy at times.  It had some fun bits, and while it may have been too crude in many places, the effort Neil Marshall and his crew put into scraping the bottom of the barrel did yield some obnoxious entertainment along the way.  I enjoyed David Harbour in the title role, and some of his line deliveries really worked for me.  While I wanted more from the lovely Milla Jovovich (who was splendid, but given far too little to do), there were some nasty baddies in the mix.  The gore quotient was high, and I think the hard R approach served the property well when they didn't go overboard with it.  It's just a shame that the script fell so short, and I'm not sure that everyone involved was on the same page so far as the tone of the movie is concerned.  Yes, the new Hellboy is a misfire.  However, it's like Hudson Hawk or Tango & Cash--it's one of those duds that still has some unmistakable appeal.  Is it good?  No.  Far from it.  Is it entertaining?  Yeah, somewhat.  

Final Grade: D+


Okay, the new Hellboy is a dud, but don't blame David Harbour.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Nightmare Cinema (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Nightmare Cinema (2019)

I could cry.  I was so hyped for this one, peeps.  I love anthologies.  I love Mickey Rourke.  I would rate Joe Dante among the very best directors out there, and Mick Garris is no slouch.  And there are other talents involved with this production who have a solid reputation within the horror genre and beyond.  And things started with a bang--I really, really enjoyed the first entry from Alejandro Brugues, an energetic romp that carved the slasher flick into entertaing slivers.  This unruly delight seemingly set the stage for exactly what I hoped Nightmare Cinema would be.  Man, we were off and rolling.  Dante's tale came next, and it started well enough, and didn't fail from an execution standpoint, though the conclusion was both lackluster and oh so tired and forced.  The third entry courtesy of Ryuhei Kitamura was a fucking mess; it seemed to be aiming for the same territory that the legendary bad movie The Visitor occupied, but it made that seminal catastraphe from 1979 seem coherent.  Lame, amateurish, ill-conceived, poorly plotted, and totally pedestrian--I was ready to bail, but I had to see if things would pick up.  The fourth tale was at least shot well by David Slade, and it held my interest, but it didn't offer much in the way of substance.  I appreciated the darkness and the precision that fueled this one, but as with Dante's work herein, it ended in such a way that it felt like yet another missed opportunity.  This brought me to the last story, directed by Garris, and it was okay, I guess, though it brought nothing new to the table and didn't offer much at all in the way of impact.  It was so-so at best.  Finally, the wraparound material (also directed by Garris) featuring Mickey Rourke as The Projectionist was shoddy at best and laughable at worst.  Rourke didn't even appear for a couple of segments, and while there was an idea there that could work in this context, it just felt like a lazy attempt to tie things together.  Nightmare Cinema is a loser, my friends, and it pains me to say that.  It's a loser where both anthologies and horror movies in general are concerned.  The first segment is a lot of fun, but it is the only piece of this lousy pie that is worthwhile.  What a bummer.

Final Grade: D-

Do Mickey a favor.  Watch The Wrestler instead.  

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - It: Chapter Two (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - It: Chapter Two (2019)

Okay, okay, it's true: It: Chapter Two is not as good as the first installment was.  I have heard a lot of people say that, and I can't really disagree.  However, it's a matter of inches, and It: Chapter Two is a terrific horror movie.  To be frank, it has everything the first one had going for it--and more.  It only falls a little short because as well as the adult Losers have been cast, and as interesting as their half of the story is, the first half of the tale had a bit more bite, and those younger Losers had a bit more charisma.  Having said that, horror fans have nothing to complain about here, this is a fine film and it compliments its predecessor nicely.  If viewed as a whole, it is quite possible that director Andy Muschietti has given us the best Stephen King adaptation of all time.  And taken separately, each entry would rank near the top of such a list, though I will likely always have The Shining (a legendary film that is less an adaptation than an alternate vision) in the driver's seat.  All that aside, It: Chapter Two is everything I hope for from the genre.  It has rich characters, a gripping plot, serious emotional heft, scares galore, and a nice dollop of humor to boot.  Despite a lengthy runtime, it is intriguing from the first frame to the very last, and never loses momentum.  It has a decent amount of gore, killer atmosphere, a Grade A score, and one hell of a mean streak.  It also has heart, and it features a number of stellar performances.  Bill Hader deserves all the praise being directed his way, but then so do all of his fellow adult Losers.  And the younger Losers crew is still a major part of the story, as there are an abundance of flashbacks.  For me, though, the real star here is Bill Skarsgard, whose work as Pennywise borders on the supernatural.  Hey, I loved Tim Curry too, and what he did with this role in the 1990 mini-series was iconic for good reason.  But Skarsgard does something magical with this fiend, bringing him to life in ways I couldn't have imagined.  He has devoted himself to a fearless portrayal that intertwines flamboyance and nuance, birthing a menacing and unpredictable antagonist who is both utterly foriegn and yet somehow intimately relatable.  I think It: Chapter Two is a rock solid movie, and I truly believe that Bill Skarsgard's work in these movies has given us a villain for the ages.

Final Grade: A

With It and It: Chapter Two, Andy Muschietti has given horror fans a real treat, especially if they enjoy Stephen King.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Captain Marvel (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel was a big deal because it represented Marvel's first picture with a female lead, and no one could make a credible argument that it wasn't a big success.  However, I'm here to tell you that I see it as a far bigger success than most.  It's not just another rock solid feature from an enterprise that has produced one winner after another for the last twenty years.  No, Captain Marvel is more than that--I rate it as one of the most entertaining films they have blessed us with.  Now, I won't put it among their best efforts, because it is not on the same level as Infinity War or Endgame, or either of the Captain America sequels.  However, when it comes to sheer entertainment, it's right up there with the recent Spidey outings or the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff.  Clever, funny, ripe with 90s nostalgia (to include 90s Samuel L. Jackson, a big perk and a wild technological victory rolled into one), and fast-paced, Captain Marvel is a wicked cool treat.  There are surprises, killer songs, colorful shenanigans, and a whole lot of girl power.  The effects are ill, the performances rock, and the script and direction provide some nifty flourishes that distinguish this one from your average origin tale.  It is a little quirky, but I loved those quirks (Goose the cat is so f'n gnarly), and the Skrulls looked so damn awesome on the screen.  And, most importantly, there's Brie Larson, who was seemingly born to bring this supreme asskicker to life in stunning fashion.  She slays it from start to finish, hammering the screen with enthusiasm, warmth, humor, physicality, depth, and confidence.  I would argue that she fits here as well as any of Marvel's most impressive casting decisions, and I fully understand the significance of that statement.  Captain Marvel is one of the most enjoyable films I watched in 2019, and this Marvel fanboy thinks that it is more than just another quality production from a brand that can do no wrong.  It's a sensational show, oozing cool and dripping with excitement.

Final Grade: A

Captain Marvel has a lot going for it, but the biggest reason for the picture's success is Larson, who makes the most of a powerful role that fits her like a glove.  A badass glove.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)


Short Attention Span Review - Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

If you love the cinema, you have probably seen Apocalypse Now and heard a little about the making of this visionary masterpiece.  Apocalypse Now is one of those rare feats in the industry, a stupendous achievement where tales surrounding the lengths that the artists went to create something are almost as intriguing as the work itself.  In 1991, Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper put together this documentary that offers tremendous insight into that storied production.  Deftly combining interviews with most of the key players and raw footage captured on set, Bahr and Hickenlooper allow us to feel like the proverbial fly on the wall while an audacious undertaking threatens to unravel at every turn.  Not only that, but the cast and crew threaten to unravel as well, making this a gripping tale in and of itself.  Hearts of Darkness is about people testing their boundaries.  It's also a battle against the elements and a test of endurance.  It's about faith and conviction, and it is also about desperation, and perhaps even madness.  It's one thing to ponder a director who had taken the industry by storm dragging his cast and crew into the jungle to shoot a sprawling epic while in search of an appropriate conclusion.  It's yet another to see the various challenges unfold, to listen in as Francis Ford Coppola struggles to find himself as much as he struggled to find that ending that would make the journey worthwhile.  It is an inspiring peak behind the curtain that shows us an odyssey that could have yielded disastrous results, and it is both a tribute to passion and sheer lunacy that something so prolific was born of this fury and fire.  Luck may have played a role as well.  Regardless, Hearts of Darkness is a vivid documentary that is both enlightening and entertaining.  It is surely must-see viewing for those who recognize Apocalypse Now as one of the boldest and most riveting movies ever made, but even someone who had never heard of that grim saga would probably enjoy Hearts of Darkness.  

Final Grade: A

An unparalleled look at the making of a genuine classic, this documentary is a profound exploration of art on a grand scale.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Blade Runner 2049 (2017)


Short Attention Span Review - Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner is a film that I cherish, and I avoided this belated sequel for some time.  Honestly, I didn't think there was anything worthwhile left to say where this property is concerned, and I love the questions and discussion that the 1982 masterpiece from Ridley Scott generated.  Last night, I decided to take a look at Blade Runner 2049 in spite of my misgivings.  I'm not really sure why, and I admit that I fully expected to find myself at odds with the material.  From the onset, however, I realized that while Denis Villeneuve may not have matched Scott's brilliance, he authored a dazzling spectacle of his own.  The visuals are extraordinary, the sound is amazing, and the script is equally impressive.  While it is a bit slow, the methodical approach serves the intricate plot well, and allows the viewer to bask in all the breathtaking artistry on display.  It really is a treat for the eyes, with both the design elements and the special effects representing the best that the film industry has to offer.  Mind-boggling stuff, peeps.  The performances are just as compelling, with Ryan Gosling carrying the picture, while Harrison Ford is fully invested in a smaller role that gives the proceedings a strong center.  Jared Leto's extremely creepy work as an icy villain also warrants praise, and Sylvia Hoeks is a veritable powerhouse as his devious vessel of destruction.  Most importantly, like the original, Blade Runner 2049 grapples with difficult questions and big ideas--and it encourages us to explore many of the most important threads on our own.  Less a sequel than another distinct story inolving a shared vision of the future and many of the same characters, it doesn't tarnish what came before in any way.  In fact, I am shocked to admit that I feel that Blade Runner 2049 adds to this stirring landscape.  The pace and the runtime are likely to present issues for some viewers, and many others will long for more action.  This isn't for everyone, to be sure, but those who hope to discover invigorating science fiction ripe with dangerous ideas will find much to enjoy.    

Final Grade: A


Dark and introspective, Blade Runner 2049 is a brooding opus that features some of the best effects you're apt to see. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - The Meg (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - The Meg (2018)

Ever since Jaws gave us the summer blockbuster, shark movies have been a thing.  And while most everyone recognizes Jaws as a legitimate masterpiece, none of these successors have come close to challenging for the crown despite the technological advances of the motion picture industry.  Lately, many films in this niche have embraced their second-tier ceiling and opted to pile on the cheese.  This effects-laden blockbuster straddles the line; the pitch (Jason Statham versus a dinosaur shark) sounds like pure schlock, but the script and execution aim for something more.  In retrospect, I wonder if the filmmakers would have been better served by embracing the zany nature of the piece and taking the plunge.  Here's why: as sound as the production values are, and as well as the picture is shot, things seem to work best when it is at its silliest.  And when it veers toward a more sincere approach, it can never quite overcome the ludicrous trappings of the production.  Even when an emphasis is placed on building or maintaining some degree of credibility, it still boils down to Jason Statham versus a dinosaur shark.  And Jason Statham spends a lot of the movie in the water, throwing down with a dinosaur shark.  I kept waiting for him to kick it.  Is The Meg entertaining?  It is, but it's not quite as entertaining as it should be.  It's way too silly to be taken serious, but the filmmakers treat it way too seriously to give the audience a silly good time.  That's the problem.  The good news is Jason Statham, who is all in, and does as well as anyone could have in a role that runs contrary to his greatest strengths* as a performer.  It's a big performance in a big movie--with an even bigger shark--and Statham nails it.

*Those kicks.

Final Grade: C+


The Meg is essentially Jason Statham versus a giant shark--and it is as good (and bad) as that premise would suggest.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996)


Short Attention Span Review - Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996)

I've been on a bit of a Jackie Chan kick lately.  Last week, I reviewed Police Story, which I have always regarded as one of this acrobatic and lovable martial arts phenom's better efforts.  I think most fans would agree with me on that.  I'm also a big fan of First Strike, which I revisited last night, and I think a lot of those same fans would rate this one as mediocre.  Now, I enjoy Police Story a little more, and I can see why this globe-trotting romp with Jackie riffing on James Bond may not get as much love.  It's definitely sillier than most of the star's pictures, with a convoluted plot and a series of playful action scenes that are utterly devoid of the bloody grit that made the mall setpiece in Police Story so f'n gnarly.  However, as I noted in my review of Police Story, the odd blend of slapstick and bone-crunching mayhem is more than a little offputting.  First Strike doesn't have the same problem; the tone is consistent whether the picture is focused on espionage or a dazzling showdown where Jackie uses ladders as weapons.  It's all in good fun, and though the stakes are high (there's a nuclear warhead involved), First Strike aims for the funny bone from start to finish.  Now, that is a curious juxtaposition in and of itself, but it works surprisingly well.  It's not really a parody of the sub-genre, but simply replacing a typical super spy with a bumbling but sincere Jackie Chan softens the impact and defangs the more sinister undercurrents in play.  What we're left with is a fast-paced and engaging picture that features some of my favorite stunts from this legendary daredevil.  In particular, I treasure that ladder bit and a stellar grand finale that spotlights some sensational underwater fight choreography--and includes sharks.  I find this 1996 vehicle for a global superstar in his prime to be an entertaining affair with a nice mix of laughs and amazing stunts.  While it may not receive as much fanfare as his most celebrated productions, I think it's almost at the same level, and I'm glad I gave it another look.

Final Grade: B


The ladder sequence is most definitely a highlight of this silly showcase.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

As a lifelong fan of the big guy, I was stoked about this one, but I missed it during the theatrical run.  Last night, I atoned for that by viewing it with the fam in glorious 4K, with the volume cranked up.  Way up.  And while it didn't reinvent the wheel (or even try to, for that matter), I had a blast with this epic showdown.  I felt like this was a nice bridge between the new school and the old school, and it was awesome to see lots of giant monsters throwing down on this scale.  The story was solid without being special, but then plots have never been the strengths for such movies--and Godzilla: King of the Monsters had a lot more going for it in this department than a great many of its predecessors.  I actually found myself deep in my feels at a few points, most notably when Ken Watanabe had his big moment.  Incidentally, this bit gave way to the biggest thrill of the picture, and that sequence netted a hearty cheer from the Wayland household.  I also enjoyed the 2016 Godzilla, but Michael Dougherty kept his word, and delivered a bigger and better picture this time out.  Mothra was incredible.  Rodan was dope.  And King Ghidorah was badass--and Godzilla: King of the Monsters brings these titans together for several riveting clashes, with the wicked conclusion providing us with a truly kickass climax.  The way this film is tied to Kong: Skull Island worked nicely, and the stage has definitely been set for a clash between Godzilla and King Kong.  Who in their right mind wouldn't want to see that brought to life with modern technology and a killer budget?  So, yeah, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a fun show; it's a relatively simple creature feature, and it will surely be written off as a lot of noise and special effects by the type of people who don't dig a lot of monster movies to begin with.  Screw them.

Final Grade: B+

Big, loud, and fun--just what we want from a giant monster movie.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Monster Jams: Tool - Fear Innoculum (released 8/30/2019)


Monster Jams:  Tool - Fear Innoculum (released 8/30/2019)

It's not easy to review an album like this, an experience that must be heard, but I will take a stab at it nonetheless.  Tool has always been a visionary act, an astounding collective fueled by imagination, artistry, and serious chops.  Thirteen years after their last release, they are back with Fear Innoculum, a deft masterpiece that proves to be well worth the wait--and undoubtedly houses hidden treasures that will emerge upon repeated listenings.  There is a depth to these songs that seems to dwarf most of what's out there, and there is a brazen thirst for exploration that remains as unified as it is bold.  The band embarks upon songs that feel like the sonic equivalent of epic journeys, and they do so with an ease that belies the innate grandeur of their musical dexterity.  The cuts here are fierce, haunting, playful, driving, ominous, absolutely beautiful, and, most importantly, fully immersive.  Despite running contrary to anything that the current landscape represents, these powerful contributions to the band's robust catalog are nothing if not accessible, this in spite of the scope and complexity on display.  Most tracks exceed ten minutes in length and cover a lot of territory, but there is a cohesion that never falters.  Expectations are repeatedly cast aside so that the music can explode in another direction or recede into a valley, where it may emerge as either a loving harmony or an aggressive attack.  This may sound rather exhausting, though it is truthfully anything but; there is no fatigue when dipping into this provocative pool, only excitement, and perhaps even joy.  I'm not sure exactly what I wanted from Fear Innoculum, but I know it will take some time to properly embrace what I got--and it's more than we deserved.

Final Grade: A+


Well. it took long enough, but Fear Innoculum is a delightful cabinet of curiosities for fans to cherish and explore.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Comics Corner - Conan the Barbarian: Exodus #1



Comics Corner - Conan the Barbarian: Exodus #1

You're already aware that I took great pleasure in Conan's return to Marvel.  Today, this worthy pairing provided me with a completely fresh take on the rugged barbarian.  Gifted artist Esad Ribic is the man responsible for this book, handing the artwork and the story, and he brings something unique to each side of the coin.  The tale is painted, and there is an elegance and a realism to his approach that is a stark departure from the usual pulpy and lurid depictions of this iconic character.  The plot is unveiled entirely through these stunning images, as there is no text.  This does not handicap the comic given the power and insight Esad has applied to this undertaking with his tremendous talent.  A harrowing journey springs to life in these breathtaking pages, and we can practically feel the chill in our bones as our young Cimmerian struggles to survive in a harsh winter landscape.  Conan is both predator and prey in a stirring rendition of desperation and liberation.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about this title is the way it offers readers a fine departure and yet remains true to the character we know and love.  Conan the Barbarian: Exodus is an inventive pageturner that I really enjoyed, and I'm happy to use this platform to promote it.

Final Grade: A

Brought to lifein stunning fashion by beautiful paintings and an absence of text, Conan the Barbarian: Exodus is a true piece of art.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Galaxy of Terror (1981)


Short Attention Span Review - Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Last week, I reviewed Forbidden World, a low-budget horror/sci-fi/action hybrid from cult cinema icon Roger Corman.  This week, I went back to the archives for another exercise in schlock from this producer with a passion for exploitation, Galaxy of Terror.  To call this zany outing a superior effort to Forbidden World would be a tremendous understatement, but that still doesn't make it a good movie.  The big difference is entertainment value, with this kooky affair delivering a lot fun for a couple of distinct reasons.  First, there is a lot of creativity involved, both in terms of plot and craftsmanship.  Secondly, Galaxy of Terror is batshit crazy.  A minute in, the picture goes off the rails.  In truth, it wasn't until the very end that the movie made any sense, and it's still a bit of a mess.  Fast-paced, gory as hell, and operating with a minimum of character development, this oddity's real saving grace is the cast.  Genre faves like Robert Englund, Sid Haig, and Grace Zabriskie are on board, with solid performers like Eddie Albert and Ray Walston leading the way.  They are menaced by an assortment of ghoulies, with the effects work that brings these oddities to life varying from shabby to . . . well, not too shabby, I guess.  The production design is far more impressive, but that should come as no surprise: that's where the one and only James Cameron cut his teeth.  I most certainly could have done without seeing Taaffe O'Connell getting raped by a giant maggot (you read that correctly), a scene good old Roger views as a shining accomplishment.  And there were definitely about five cartwheels too many in the big finale.  What can I say?  Galaxy of Terror is trash, good people, but it's also a good time at the movies for the right kind of crowd--namely, my kind of crowd.

Final Grade: C-

Wonky, silly, and cheap, Galaxy of Terror is nonetheless an entertaining B movie with a nifty cast and an abundance of gore.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Us (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Us (2019)

In the early stages, I found much to enjoy about Us.  Jordan Peele's direction is a powerful strength, and I found the characters interesting and the performanves engaging.  As Peele laid the foundation for this picture, I felt that I was venturing into masterpiece territory.  He did wonders with the atmosphere, and the premise really had me.  The score was a major attribute, and the cinematography was flawless.  Unfortunately, the movie never really took off, and the more it stuttered and stumbled, the greater my frustration became.  By the end, I just wasn't feeling Us at all, and despite a wicked little flourish right before the credits rolled, I have to chalk this one up as a loss.  I deeply wish that the pacing would have been diffeent; the picture is maybe ten to twenty minutes too long, and works best in the second half of the runtime when it is committed to carnage.  Unfortunately, it would pick up steam only to abandon that momentum, often at the expense of character logic.  There were a couple of scenes where people sat around and talked when they should have been running or fighting for their lives.  In a way, I felt that the movie reached a point where it should have descended into chaos by virtue of the premise, but the filmmakers preferred something akin to an intellectual high ground.  I also wish there had been a bit more mystery.  As Peele focused more and more on unraveling the sinister aspects of Us and building a mythology to support the premise, the film grew less potent and engaging.  By the time all the cards had been shown, I felt the movie had basically collapsed--and filmmakers are not required to show all of their cards.  To summarize, I really enjoyed the way Us began, and I do believe that a genuine showstopper could have been erected upon that foundation, but I can't say that I enjoyed Us as a whole.

Final Grade: D+

Creepy imagery abounds in Us, but a lethargic pace and an overwrought plot drag the proceedings down.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Police Story (1985)


Short Attention Span Review - Police Story (1985)

Jackie Chan movies are certainly unique.  Police Story, one of his best features, is a fine example of the curious juxtaposition that Jackie enjoyed.  Police Story is equal parts slapstick, farce, and extreme violence.  It is incredibly physical, with Jackie throwing himself into both the comedic bits and the stupendous stunts with reckless aplomb.  In a way, the formula is deeply flawed, in that those who appreciate Jackie's silly antics the most probably cringe at those bone-crunching displays of martial arts mayhem--and vice-versa.  And the pictures these trademark areas of expertise yield are often uneven, as striking a balance with these disparate elements presents considerable difficulties.  Yet the reason for Jackie's enduring success is no mystery: he has incredible skills where both foolish shenanigans and dazzling action setpieces are concerned, and his passion for filmmaking is damn near unrivalled.  Police Story showcased the star at his peak, and thus produced a fair amount of chuckles and several amazing stunts.  In particular, the big finale is a true showstopper.  Set within a mall, this has to rate among Jackie's most spectacular exercises in choreagraphy, combining chases, clashes, and daring feats in an explosive demonstration of filmmaking bravado.  It's a bloodbath at times, with so much broken glass coming into play that the cast and crew allegedly dubbed the picture "Glass Story" during production.  While this is only one of the film's highlights, Police Story is worth watching for the rousing climax alone.  As a sum of its parts, it is a prototypical Jackie Chan vehicle, and that makes it an odd trip, but a trip well worth taking.

Final Grade: B+


The climax is all about gonzo stunts, stunning choreagraphy, and shattered glass.