The Gift (2015)

Joel Edgerton is a great actor but in this it’s hard to remember he’s acting. His character is so stone cold evil. It’s rare I’ve ever seen a character as bad as he.

The Gift (2015)

 

Cast

Jason Bateman as Simon
Rebecca Hall as Robyn
Joel Edgerton as Gordo

Directed by

Joel Edgerton

Written by

Joel Edgerton

Mystery, Thriller
Rated R for language
1h 48min

The gift isn’t much of a gift at all. The gift to me was when I discovered Joel Edgerton is not only Gordo, the creepy stalker in the film, but also the writer/director of the piece. Wow! He certainly does a great job. Most directors might gravitate toward a role in their film that is endearing to the audience, Gordo couldn’t be any further from that sort of character. Things that go bump in the night can usually be explained away. If you were in Simon and Robyn’s case, you might find out your explanations are incorrect months or years later. So what were those creepy bumps for Simon and Robyn? Edgerton’s script shows they are part of a larger, much darker, horrific beyond an R rated gift. You’ll be surprised at the twist.

Robyn and Simon have just moved in to a posh 60’s retro home and are settling in as a married couple. They receive numerous visits from Gordo who says he knew Simon in High School. We get the feeling their relationship was more ominous in nature than it appears to Robyn, who Gordo starts to form a platonic relationship with. Through a course of events, the film becomes a typical stalker thriller but eventually sets itself apart as a very clever, well written, and telling “human nature” account of who everybody “really” is (not just Gordo).

I really liked “The Gift” because I enjoy psychology. As the tale unravels we actually see perspectives we aren’t meant to see. The obvious hero is far from it and the villain, while never a hero, becomes someone we can empathize with, though never fully. I thought the cast was amazing and the story really stays with you because of their performances. Jason Bateman does a great job in this thriller whereas he usually plays comedy parts. He can do a variety of roles. It’s a perfect thriller but I thought it did take too long developing the story. I think it’s over 2/3 of the way through before the typical stalker thriller stuff ends and you get into the genius of the film. For that reason it lost a star with me. Watch this creepy fun movie, I recommend it.

The Conjuring 2

From scares like a creepy toy that plays “The Crooked Man” to a phantom nun with yellow eyes, the Conjuring 2 will please horror fans many times over. Furthermore, I hope a third sequel gets made soon!

From scares like a creepy toy that plays “The Crooked Man” to a phantom nun with yellow eyes, the Conjuring 2 will please horror fans many times over. Furthermore, I hope a third sequel gets made soon!

 

The Conjuring 2
Cast

Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe

Directed by

James Wan

Written by

Carey Hayes, James Wan, David Leslie Johnson

Other Info

Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rated R
2h 14min

Like its predecessor, this movie features a story about the Warrens. In real-life, Ed Warren was a WWII Naval officer who, after the war, became a self-taught demonologist alongside his wife Lorraine who is a self-described clairvoyant among other titles. They are highly documented investigators of the paranormal. Ed is the only non-ordained demonologist, or one who performs exorcisms, recognized by the catholic church. They have published many of their famous investigations and claim to have done tens of thousands of them. In the film, Patrick Wilson plays Ed and Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine. The movie is based on their experience with The Enfield Poltergeist.

Director James Wan is well known for scaring moviegoers. His Saw and Insidious franchises have netted hefty sums from the wallets of people looking for that thing they’ve never seen before. He’s a master craftsman of the horror genre. There isn’t nearly as much blood and gore in The Conjuring 2 as you will find in Saw movies. Still, there are well crafted scares throughout. A spinning toy that sings “The Crooked Man” is part of one scare that has stayed with me.

Vera Farmiga does an excellent job as Lorraine Warren. You can see in her eyes and movement she has such a profound love and respect for her husband. When he picks up the guitar at one point to bring some peace and music to the haunted place, she is just as captivated with him as the daughters are. It’s interesting how Ed in many ways is the hero of The Conjuring 2. When I saw the first film, I didn’t know he was a real person. Knowing a little about Ed Warren’s history helped me appreciate him immensely in the second film. There is a lot of info on the internet and the Warrens even have their own website that is still up today. Ed has passed on but Lorraine is still with us. She speaks about her paranormal experiences at various events. This film concerns the possession of a young girl and how her family saves her with the help of the Warrens.

conjuring1

There is no doubt there will be another sequel since there are other stories about the Warrens that remain to be told. I think the first two in the franchise are both very scary horror movies with interesting real-life foundations. Because I was shocked and thrilled, The Conjuring 2 loses no stars from me. I highly recommend it to horror fans.

Below is a real treat, an interview with the Hayes Brothers, the writers of the 2 Conjuring films.

Dead Silence (2007)

Just after James Wan directed “Saw” he created “Dead Silence,” a creepy tale of a ventriloquist’s puppet.

Dead Silence (2007)
R | 1h 29min | Horror, Thriller | 16 March 2007 (USA)

A young widower returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife’s murder, which may be linked to the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist.
Director: James Wan
Writers: Leigh Whannell (screenplay), James Wan (story) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg

A happy-go-lucky fellow and his girlfriend have recently moved into their new home. They find it to be everything they want, but then this puppet is delivered to them.

James Wan is a phenomenal Horror director who has now become a producer as well. One thing I can say with certainty is that James Wan can craft a scary movie. Even though it feels a bit like something is missing here, Wan has left us with a very scary horror movie from credits to credits. All horror fans will find it worth watching I think.

Furthermore about James Wan: H seems to include a scary prop of some sort in his movies. You see it in the little doll and the mask of Jigsaw. Here, you see it in this ventriloquist puppet hell-bent on terror. It works quite well for scares. I don’t think you can ever get too jaded to not jump when a puppet like that moves all of a sudden. It’s creepy and probably has been in film and stories way back to the early days. Speaking of props, think about the bear trap in Saw along with the many gadgets and machines engineered to kill. Wan is definitely a prop director.

The acting is fine, there is nothing spectacular. It’s worth noting that Donnie Wahlberg was in so Saw sequels and he plays the detective here in this film. Much emphasis is put on the puppet and as a result, not much else is developed in the story. So, even though I really like the premise and the puppet, it loses some points with me for not being as well rounded a film as I would have liked.

7/10

Southbound

Short horror stories that come together on the road, the southbound road if you take my meaning of South.

A series of interconnected short films, “Southbound” is pure horror reminiscent of the 1970’s-1980’s minimalist styles.

Southbound (2015)
Cast
Chad Villella

as Mitch

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

as Jack

Kristina Pesic

as Sutter

Directed by
Roxanne Benjamin
David Bruckner
Patrick Horvath
Radio Silence

 

Written by
Roxanne Benjamin
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin
David Bruckner
Susan Burke
Dallas Richard Hallam
Patrick Horvath

 

Other Info

Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Not Rated
1h 29min

These small films fit into one another just like the Twilight Zone movies. If you’re looking for a common theme, you’re likely to be disappointed, There are these giant devilish skeleton bats that chase some of the characters, apparently for justice. Other than that, it’s just a fairly well made, and simply made, horror movie with a few clever twists.

There is one part where a man is distracted by his phone while driving and he hits a girl who had just escaped a satanic sacrifice ceremony. He calls 911 only to become more confused by what has happened and of course frustrated. Some of the stories are like that, unsatisfying.

Th giant bat effects ARE satisfying, along with the final scene where we are brought up to speed about what’s happening in the chase in the opening scene. The movie works like a circle, setting you on a path and then replacing you there after you’ve finished another story.

This film has a lot of killing and blood in it. There isn’t much explanation for any of it though. I suppose you could draw the conclusion that if you live an immoral life, you’ll have to reckon with the grim reaper or the devil or some being at the end of your life. Not a very original idea for a horror movie but there are enough clever twists to keep you guessing. It lost two stars with me for the lack of explanation about many elements in the stories.

I suppose it could be seen as the devil is coming for those who have killed or sinned terribly but they never say why. If you don’t mind open ended movies, you’ll probably not get my criticism. I like finding out why the mysterious things happen. It pleases me when everything fit, Southbound is a good movie but seems to leave so many thinking projects up to the viewer. For plain text horror with minimal production, I recommend it!

The Shallows (2016)

This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw.

Blake Lively shows some incredible strength as an actor carrying 2/3 of the film on her own in the water trying to get to safety against a gargantuan shark. Along with excellent writing and acting/directing, the effects are effectively terrifying.

theshallowsposter

The Shallows
Cast

Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Jose

Directed by

Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by

Anthony Jaswinski

Other Info

Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rated PG-13
1h 26min

There are quite a few films out there that feature a blond girl surfing. Blue Crush, Soul Surfer, Aqua Dulce, and more. The posters are like this one, full of a beauty with a board. That is usually all it takes to bring a big crowd. In this case, while the image is the same, this is not just a girl surfer movie. Blake lively had a surf double, Isabella Nichols, who is the no. 1 junior champion surfer in the world. But with surfing scenes excluded, Blake did most of her own stunts. This is a very physical film and sometimes her physicality is crucial to telling the story. Plot is limited. Nancy (Blake Lively) is recovering from her mother’s tragic death by traveling to Mexico for some serious surfing. IN a very beautiful and secluded cove, she finds some near-perfect waves and starts enjoying them. There are two Mexican dudes there and they seem much more at ease with the beach than she is. They call to her but she never gets close to them. The guys leave and Nancy is face to face with a shark. What happens next is what makes it a thriller.

The following 2/3 of the film consists of basically one actor (Blake Lively), a big scary shark, incidentally the shark looks great, and an endearing seagull that Nancy talks to and is comforted by. shallows2You wouldn’t think that thrills and suspense could be generated with such minimal props but they can be and they are in the Shallows. There is an excellent use of 1/2 above 1/2 underwater camerawork. Instead of being clueless what’s going on under the surface, the director shows you and it’s even scarier. I have to take issue and challenge the movie calling itself horror. While there are unpleasant jumps here and there that shock the viewer, it’s a bit too “woman-against-nature” Survivor-like to be considered horror. If one of the surfers was a serial killer as a side story, I might accept the label as accurate. As it is, I see it as a thriller and a great one at that.

shallows3This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw. Much care has been given to the CGI and props to make the shark attacks look real. The “final battle” between the shark and Lively is the stuff that award-winning thrillers are made of. I absolutely loved the way the director handled that. The Shallows is a top-notch thriller made with simplified tools. Blake Lively gives a strong physical and emotional performance. The film looses no stars with me, I give it a 5/5. Go enjoy it while it’s still in theaters.

Alex of Venice

Mary Elizabeth Winstead fills the screen with beauty and strength as she maneuvers through the end of her marriage and the beginning of taking charge of her own happiness.

*This review contains spoilers.

This movie is a blueprint for letting go of a failed marriage, embracing change when you feel too old, and being unselfish through divorce for the sake of your child. Believe it or not, there is a lot of joy in Alex of Venice.

set_alex_of_venice_poster

Alex of Venice
Cast

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Don Johnson

Directed by

Chris Messina

Written by

Jessica Goldberg, Katie Nehra, Justin Shilton

Other Info

Drama
Rated R
1h 26min

I’ve been crossing paths with people who got married before age twenty and thinking they all must be crazy. I changed so much in my twenties. For me, it was necessary to “find myself” through my twenties to have the marriage I enjoy now. I got married at 33.

Chris Messina (Devil) directed this film that shows the sudden jolt that occurs when one who married young realizes she’s with the wrong person. What does one do in such a situation? Alex in Venice shows us how one woman deals with it.

Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a workaholic attorney who clearly hasn’t analyzed her life enough. Her marriage is all but lifeless. Her husband George (Chris Messina) is the one who takes the drastic step of moving out. Actually, he doesn’t just move out, he flees. Alex is forced to grapple with taking care of her father (Don Johnson) and son alone. It has the potential to break her but as we see, she becomes stronger. Winstead has alluring eyes that brighten up any film she’s in (10 Cloverfield Lane, Swiss Army Man). She does a great job playing this role, its believable what she’s going through. She encounters casual sex (only one time), the ecstasy drug (yep she goes there), and partying in hopes of discovering the self she could have been and in fact now is. It’s all done with mixed success. In the end she becomes stronger, and this type of separation could make one weak.

In the final scenes, Alex and George show in their tender conversation with their son that they are indeed divorcing but that they both pledge to be there for him in the strongest love they can. It’s a tear-jerker scene but also inspiring in that it shows the strength people can have, along with maturity, when a marriage just doesn’t work out. Society judges enough without judgement in books and movies. This movies gives an image like a lighthouse of the way it can be when both people put their egos aside, admit it’s a dead marriage and then work toward a good divorce. It’s not a “feel good” movie but I found inspiration for the times in life you have to let go and walk forward with courage. This film achieved what it set out to do, I give it a 5/5.

The Final Girls

“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve dreamed of being the final girl.” Duncan

Just like “Scream” in the 90’s, this film seizes the opportunity to mock and pay homage to 1970-1980’s horror flicks. It sets and hits its own comedic, horrific mark 100% on target. This is, hands down, a lot of fun.

The Final Girls (2015)
Cast
Taissa Farmiga

as Max Cartwright

Malin Ackerman

as Nancy / Amanda Cartwright

Alexander Ludwig

as Chris Briggs

Directed by
Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written by
M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Other Info

Comedy, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 28min

This film is a refreshing break to be enjoyed most certainly by horror buffs, specifically, 80’s horror buffs. There’s also some laugh a minute comedy going o here. There’s been a movement in films recently of paying homage to 80’s films. The quality of these campy films has been mixed. An example of one that got it right in “Turbo Kid.” After watching that film, I felt the ectoplasm of Mad Max dripping off me. It was jam packed with stuff like Walkman’s and synthesized fight scenes. “The Last Girls” is in that same vein.

Through a freak supernatural event, high school seniors are transported inside a horror movie. One there, one is elated that a movie they loved so much is now their real life setting. Things happen, some funny, others horrifying. We hear the student’s theories on how to survive in a horror movie. Oh and yes, there is a killer like Jason Voorhies in “Friday the 13th.”

One member of the crew has a special challenge. Her once famous slasher-film actress mom has died in the real world but same is in fact resurrected in the film. There is a chance to save her, if she could only figure out how. All of this takes place at Summer camp where the killings are just as brutal as a 1980’s serious horror flick.

Someone notes that the last girl is always the one to kill the killer, hence the movie’s title. Some may be put off by the corny themes but I found it hilarious. At one point, they think a murder is fake so they taste the “corn syrup.” Guess what, they discover it isn’t corn syrup. This is really funny and I won’t make a big deal about it that the same gag is in “Tropic Thunder” when Ben Stiller’s character plays with director “Damien’s” beheaded skull. All of this film is borrowed or stolen, that gives us the right to laugh at it. For horror buffs who can step away for an hour or so and have a good laugh, I recommend this film.

Review: The Fantasy and Adventure Success of ‘The Dark Tower’

When dealing with a monster novel series set to film, there is always the challenge of meeting high expectation of the book fans. I don’t know about that but I can say I had a great time watching this adventure/fantasy/action film. It had great actors, a more than functional plot, a villain and a satisfying conclusion: just the kind of Summer film I’ve been looking for!

The Dark Tower (2017)
PG-13 | 1h 35min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 4 August 2017 (USA)

The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Writers: Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Jeff Pinkner (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor

Nikolaj Arcel directed this film, he is known for A Royal Affair and Truth About Men. He has also been a writer on many films and tv shows such as Millennium. In the IMDB media section, you can see him working alongside Ron Howard so we are talking about an experienced director for sure. With so much going on in the plot of this film, that is required.

There is a cast of thousands here (almost) but the three primary characters are played by Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Taylor. Elba is the gunslinger, a frightful presence for good. The things he can do while loading his guns in mid-air will be talked about for decades. McConaughey plays the Man in Black. He is a terrifying villain who does a LOT of killing, you could subtitle the film “How to kill 100 guys in 10 days.” Please note that unlike some modern villains, he doesn’t threaten he just kills. His was an excellent casting choice. Tom Taylor plays Jake, the protagonist boy the film revolves around. He has done scattered tv but a lot when you consider his young age. All three were fine casting choices and serve the film well.

This film is based on a 8 book series by Stephen King of the same title. I have not read any of them but I loved this movie. The story is as follows: Jake sees things and sketches them. He gets flack from his stepfather and kids at school for being a geek and a weirdo. He sees a tower at the center of the universe that protects us from all evil, a man in black who is attempting to destroy the tower through clairvoyant children he abducts through portals, and a gunslinger who protects the tower. When the evil beings that work for the man in black come for Jake, he escapes into a portal, meets the gunslinger and they are forced into a battle for everything good against evil.

I really enjoyed this film. That may be because I have read a lot of Stephen King’s novels so I know his hip writing style. This is a fantasy film that weaves in and out of the real world. You can’t try to make sense of the fantasy part because it’s inside King’s head. I for one enjoy going in there. I think to enjoy this film you must first surrender and expect nothing. That way, the exciting cgi monsters and action scenes will have their intended impact. If you compare it to any other film, you’ll be disappointed. It is simple and perhaps could have been more elaborate through 2 films, after all it is based on 8 books. Still, its simplicity makes it accessible.

I had a great evening at the movies taking this adventure portal. I recommend the ride to you!

9/10

Final Girl

Something different for the girl-kicks-ass genre.

Some movies give you backstory. Others expect you to fill in the blanks of why, when, and how. The truth is, “The Final Girl” doesn’t need much backstory, it starts with the action right away.

Final Girl (2015)
Cast
Abigail Breslin

as Veronica

Wes Bentley

as William

Logan Huffman

as Danny

Directed by
Tyler Shields
Written by
Adam Prince, Stephen Scarlata, Alejandro Seri, Johnny Silver
Other Info

Action, Drama, Horror
Rated R
1h 30min

I love low budget, simple, action-filled horror films like this. The story may not be plausible but you get what they are trying to do. It’s something about vengeance and something about victory … good triumphing over evil.

Abigail Breslin has truly grown up and shows how she can act and fight in her role as Veronica. I loved her in “Signs” as a little one and more recently in “Maggie.” She played a zombie great in that. She’s one to watch! The story consists of a group of popular scumbags in high school who “hunt girls.” I mean that literally, not that they are ferociously seeking sex. A man loses his wife and daughter to them and decides to train a young girl to defeat these truly evil and disturbed young men.

Most the action is at night. It unfolds more or less as you would expect. Like a james bond movie, it’s fun to see Veronica use her techniques in the real arena. For those who dig girl-kick-ass films, this is right up your alley. I loved every minute of it. It is simple, cool, hip, a little scary, and full of vengeance. How can you NOT like a movie with all that in it? This is a perfect movie, I highly recommend it.

Krampus

“You better watch out.”

A lot of kids beg their parents to watch horror. You can’t protect your kids from everything. I’d say let your guard down with this one. It received a pg-13 rating but I think kids 10 and up (who are over the Santa Claus thing, otherwise there may be all sorts of confusion) will have a rock and rolling time.

Krampus (2015)
Cast
Adam Scott

as Tony Engel

Toni Collette

as Sarah Engel

David Koechner

as Howard

Directed by
Michael Dougherty
Written by
Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Other Info

Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 38min

There are some really scary scenes but if you talk about it with your kids, they should get a kick out of it. “Krampus” is also a film for grownups. Fans of straight up horror may be put off by the juxtaposition of comedy, but for those wanting something sarcastic and quite different in horror, this is a good one to see.

Rotten Tomatoes didn’t like this film much. What that means s, a compendium of critics’ ratings averaged out below 67%. That almost kept me away from this film. I’m glad I persisted and saw it, despite the critics. It was a lot of fun!

I wouldn’t call this film horror. It could better be described as a Christmas comedy like “Home Alone” with horror conventions. If that sounds good to you, you have to go see this film. It starts out with all the trappings of a John Hughes film and then busts out with amoral killing, blood, guts, and even a doll that resemble sthe one from “Saw.”

The Krampus christmas devil is not new. From what I can gather, the mythology has been around for centuries. Apparently the Christmas devil will come visit you if you renounce Christmas and good will toward men. I think it’s hilarious how they took this story and made it into an instant Christmas classic. I’m a teacher of 28 ten year olds and I asked for a show of hands yesterday of how many kids had seen “Krampus.” The tally was: 28/28. Sometime old fogies on Rotten Tomatoes measure a film by tradition values and trends. One shouldn’t do that with Krampus. It will be on my Christmas viewing list for sure along with “A Christmas Story,” “Nacho Libre,” “A Miracle of 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Carol.”

As an aside, I’ll be pulling back from using Rotten Tomatoes as a first line impression of movies I am curious about. I think what’s happening is a lot of movies are not me seen by yours truly due to a low score with the critics. Sure, you take a chance not reading a rating for a movie but at the same time, that rating can act as a sort of brainwashing, a muddying of the waters that are your views about the movies. I’ve loved RT for years and I still do in a way but my usage is now going to be far less. Now, go rent Krampus and have some scary laughs >:) I gave it 5/5 stars because it is exactly what it advertises to be and I love movies that are true to themselves that way.