Beyond the Gates (2016)

Recently I saw Drive and it had that 80’s background synthesizer mood. Soon that I saw Turbo Kid that had similar background music. Could this be coming back? It works for me!

Beyond the Gates (2016)
Not Rated | 1h 24min | Adventure, Horror | 9 December 2016 (USA)
Two estranged brothers reunite at their missing father’s video store and find a VCR board game dubbed ‘Beyond The Gates’ that holds a connection to their father’s disappearance.

Director: Jackson Stewart
Writers: Stephen Scarlata, Jackson Stewart
Stars: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant

This one does uses that 80’s synth sound too only it’s decidedly a horror/thriller film unlike the thriller Drive or comedy action Turbo Kid. When your budget is low, you have to get creative with sets and effects. This film indeed does that effectively. What better concept for a film like this than a VHS tape that opens the door of hell?

The story revolves around a guy, his girlfriend, and his estranged brother who he grew up with in a small town. The protagonist’s dad owned a VHS store there and so the protagonist and his brother spent a lot of time hanging around the movies and playing with reminders and other equipment there. They stumble across a tape that is what used to be known as a VHS RPG. In this case they are given clues on how to get “beyond the gates” and reunite with their father who has mysteriously disappeared.

There is blood and guts and it ends up being a pretty “jump scary” film. Even so, a goofy vibe permeates the whole film. It reminds me of the inside jokes of nerds from high school woven into a film that most viewers wouldn’t laugh at or be scared by. Nonetheless, I found it a lot of fun. The ending is ridiculous but it takes itself so seriously you can’t help but find it satisfying.

Final Thoughts
Beyond the Gates is a low budget horror/thriller that brings you back to the 80’s horror mood. The synthesized music seems a virtual red carpet for Michael Jackson’s dancing thriller zombies. The effects are creative, though not very believable yet that isn’t important in this fun under-produced film about playing a VHS tape that opens the door of hell. I would say that not all will “get” this one. It took me two sits to actually finish it. Still, if you can shut the world out and just enjoy low budget horror with a somewhat silly story, this is your movie. To you and fans like you (like me), I recommend it.


Captain Fantastic

Finally, a movie where Viggo Mortensen can come out of his shell. He’s a dad who tries to raise his kids in his out outdoor, survivalist image with mixed results. With an excellent cast, well written script, and superior directing, This is one of my favorite films of the year.

Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso

Directed by

Matt Ross

Written by

Matt Ross

Other Info

Comedy, Drama
Fri 29 Jul 2016 UTC
IMDB Rating: 7.9

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so they say. You’ll have to wait and see in this film. All his many kids seem to respect him. This is true even when he orders them to eat the heart of the animal they killed and then carve it up for a meal. There are no mall trips or iPhones for Christmas.

As I watched this I kept wondering: “Is this a loving act?”

When the mom dies of cancer, the kids want to go to her funeral. Dad takes them and meets a lot of extended family conflict. It’s understandable they judge him, from a certain “civilized” point of view.

The ending brings the message home. I think this is the author and director’s vision for all of us. Love is always love whether in or out of civilized society. I loved everything about this film. I recommend it to all movie fans, especially parents of young adults.


Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a refuge amidst so many predictable and non-inventive movies out now. It tells a creative story line of lovers who thrive despite their antagonistic surroundings. The synopsis on IMDB reads: “A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.” It was directed by Wes Anderson known for The Royal Tennebaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. If you can enjoy a love story told in a campy way, this one will delight.

Moonrise Kingdom has many stars in it including: Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce). There are excellent secenes delivered by all the most notable being the portrayal of the 12-year olds in love.

Moonrise Kingdom starts and ends slowly. I can’t tell you it ever speeds up but because there is so much great and beautiful retro stuff to look at, I didn’t complain. It takes place in 1965 on a remote yet suburban island. We encounter a family with children and a crew of boy-scouts learning to live off the land and get various merit badges. If you can believe it, the two paths cross and we get a love story between two twelve year old kids and a whole bunch of campy humor. The tenderness of the kids in love is not lost however. There is something deeply touching in the way they bare their weaknesses verbally to each other while running away from a world that can’t hold them. If you can suspend disbelief and judgement for 90 minutes or so you may enjoy this one. If you are looking for realism, you should pay for a ticket. Odd scenes and dialog permeate but I liked that. I can see how some audiences would be put off by this film’s quirkiness. It was something different in a predictable movie Summer of films like the Dark Knight and The Amazing Spider-Man. That made it quite refreshing for me. If you can handle getting lost in a fantasy film, you will enjoy this one.


This review contains spoilers. The stages of life, from kindergarten to ones senior year of high school, are fairly predictable. This is often more true of heterosexuals only I’m afraid. Gays still have a much tougher time growing up and understanding their sexuality. This film examines the stages of one gay man, a black man who must discover who he is with very little assistance.

I love films that employ the use of several actors to portray a person through life. This is one of those. There were times it felt so real, like I was there watching the schoolyard fights, and other time I felt so much empathy for the protagonist I fought back tears. My wife was not as successful in that regard.

This is an incredibly moving film.

It’s the story of a black boy who grows up in urban poverty. He’s bullied for being different, and his own mother who is a drug addict calls him “faggot.” It seems the only role model he has is the street drug dealer in his neighborhood.

We see him dealing with so much adversity and trauma. Interwoven throughout are his feelings for other boys. He gets a chance to explore them once but never again until much later after he has spent time in jail and “rebuilt himself from the ground up.”

There’s nothing flashy here, no gratuitous sex or violence. This is the life of an American black man who learns to adjust in his world while being gay. This is one to talk about for sure. More films like this are necessary. I recommend this film highly to those who identify with and/or support the LGBT lifestyle. Also anyone who has a heart for those who are different from the elusive societal “norms.” The characters are like family. When you see them on the street corner or in their apartments you don’t just see them, you are invited in by their performances.

As a white, heterosexual male, I found this film stunningly beautiful, an amazing triumph in film on a topic that we need more films about.

The Belko Experiment (2016)

You might argue that Rod Serling had a negative view of the future when he wrote his Twilight Zone episodes. Many of them are fatalistic. This film is along those lines. When you have a negative view of authority and even the corporations you work for, it makes sense they might want you dead in the name of an experiment. I think these are the times we live in: sardonic, negative, fearful. This film certainly echoes that.

The Belko Experiment (2016)
R | 1h 29min | Action, Horror, Thriller | 17 March 2017 (USA)

Watch Now
From $14.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.

Director: Greg McLean
Writer: James Gunn
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona

This film looks a lot like The Purge. You have the established workplace forcing people to kill each other. I wonder why this experiment is important to the corporation and what do they hope to learn from it. The film didn’t do very well with critics, this nonsensical “experiment” may have had something to do with it. Like I sometimes do, I saw it all as a social commentary in the form of metaphor.

When employees are let go, they are in essence killed. By that I mean, they cease to exist in the workplace. The victims in this film are bloodied and certainly they would wish they’d have been fired instead. There are a series of killing rounds and a short time where the viewer can divine a meaning from it all. For me the message were nothing new: corporations see us all as expendable and people are evil when they have to kill to survive.

Final Thoughts
If you liked The Purge, you’ll like this. It’s more a thriller than horror, though it is labeling itself horror. There are buckets of blood if you like that sort of film. I recommend it as a bloody thriller that it more or less mindless. You can read stuff in like I did but it’s a very banal film, what you see is what you get. Of course, if you see deeper, leave me a comment and we’ll discuss it!


The Amazing Spiderman

In The Amazing Spiderman we see Spiderman more without the suit than with it. We also see him less as an untouchable comic book superhero and more as one of us mortals. The question then becomes: “Is this the same brand or a new one?”

In The Amazing Spiderman we see Spiderman more without the suit than with it. We also see him less as an untouchable comic book superhero and more as one of us mortals. The question then becomes: “Is this the same brand or a new one?” Here’s a short summary from IMDB: Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors, his father’s former partner.  It was directed by Marc Webb known for 500 Days of Summer and No Doubt: Return of Saturn. Its stars include Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, and Rhys Ifans as Lizard.

This film is a darker, more gritty, telling of the classic comic than the earlier franchise. It unfortunately has a laboriously long section of Peter’s life before the Spidey suit and spends way too much time developing minutae like how his glasses belonged to his father. Still, it is interesting to see what they do differently. Another liability is how Peter and Gwen are both played by actors pushing 30. They are meant to be in high school. At times I thought they were in college. Another different thing is that Peter has a much more stormy relationship with Aunt Mae and Uncle Ben. For example, Peter is almost expelled after fighting with the school bully on the basketball court. Uncle Ben chews him out for this, an act I can’t comprehend the old Ben doing.

When these hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on a per-established brand, character development is probably not important. What is important is that you follow the parts of the formula that work. There is a villain, a lizard, whose character is a part of the formula but he is also underdeveloped. As an aside, in my opinion he looks really fake. I’ve seen better CGI on National Geographic dinosaur documentaries. He’s not really sure if he likes Spiderman or not which is very confusing. We also never learn the true nature of the relationship between Peter’s parents and the lizard. Perhaps this was purposely left out for the sequel.

The new Spider Man runs amok doing whatever he feels at the moment. Once however he stops to truly focus on making a web spinner that would require hours of intense tedium and patience in real life. I don’t think with his what looked like ADD he could do such a thing. Flying maniacally on buildings and suddenly having this sort of patience is part of the muddy portrayal of Peter Parker. When he gets into the suit it isn’t much better. The Amazing Spiderman is not as good as the prior Spiderman trilogy because it assumes we are already on board with the new Spiderman’s vision. I for one needed to be shown and I never got that privelege. Here’s my last thing on character development: the romance with Gwen Stacy comes off as staged with awkward dialogue. A couple of times I could have sworn he spoke with an unintended stutter. I didn’t care if they ended up together, it felt as if their relationahip was obligatory top the movie and without passion. He is unlike the previous Spiderman in many ways. In fact, we see a superhero here more like Kickass than a comic book one.

In conclusion: There is very little that is “new” for us in this film. Of course, it is always fun flying around with Spiderman and there is a truckload of that. I think fans with an open mind will enjoy it but at the same time wish it “felt” like Spiderman. Perhaps it was the name that made this explains why Stan Lee himself financed this “prequel/remake” as its executive producer. We will never know for sure. Incidentally, Stan Lee does appear in a scene where Spidey is smashing through the high school library wall. Lee has headphones on while grooving to music. Based on the number of screens Spider Man was playing on here in our High Desert theaters, Lee is grooving all the way to the bank. As for me and whether this movie was a great action comic retelling, I’ll have to say it falls short. Despite its scattered portrayal of Peter Parker and a lousy CGI villain, this movie won points with its skyscraper scenes and other compelling special effects. I guess we will never know how it would have done if it had its own title and its own original characters.

Under the Shadow (2016)

This film is streaming now on Netflix (USA). While this is a horror film, it shows interesting and important history of the 8 year war between Iraq and Iran. I found it amazing to watch what these two middle eastern countries did to each other, each in the name of its god. There is a strong and scary film here. It’s not horror in every scene but there are enough jump scares to keep fans happy.

Under the Shadow (2016)
PG-13 | 1h 24min | Horror, War | 7 October 2016 (USA)

As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.

Director: Babak Anvari
Writer: Babak Anvari
Stars: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi

NETFLIX: Available in United States of America
From $3.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

This is the story of a mother and her daughter in time of war. Both suffer extreme stress levels as the father/husband has to leave them alone to go and be a doctor in the war for a time. While home alone in a war zone, the mother and daughter experience a strange haunting that neither can explain.

I saw a comparison to The Babadook early on. It’s a psychological drama that has horror elements. There are times we do not know if the scary elements are real or just stress induced psychosis from the mother. The daughter has these visions too though so it seems something is happening. It’s hard I think to explain away a lot of what happens. It is in my opinion indeed a legend, a ghost story. How much the viewer wants to believe depends on her/him.

This film does have subtitles so if that puts you off, stay away. As for me I found them easy to follow and greatly enjoyed this foreign horror film. The casting and acting is top-notch. This is a must for horror fans as well as psychological drama ones.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

When this animated film was released, it appeared in the ads to be similar in its stop action and quirky appearance to some of its predecessors like: Wallace and Gromit, Flushed Away, and Chicken Run. It certainly piqued my interest with its mega marketing campaign.

I must have seen the trailer 100 times both in theaters and on the web. The Pirates! Band of Misfits was directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt who are the masterminds behind Aardman Animations which is known by some to be one of the most prestigious animation companies in the world. One thing that sets them apart in my view is that they produce stop animation where the camera must be stopped intermittently and the figures are moved millions of times to create the animation.The biggest voice actors are Hugh Grant as The Pirate Captain, Martin Freeman as The Pirate with a Scarf, Imelda Staunton as a ruthless Queen Victoria, David Tennant as Charles Darwin, Jeremy Piven as Black Bellamy, and Salma Hayek as Cutlass Liz. It is most definitely a quirky work with little inside (often hidden) jokes throughout. For example, when Peg Leg Hastings says “lock up your daughters” it’s a reference to a Slade song. But you wouldn’t get that if you were a kid right? I know mine didn’t get it. It’s too bad that much of the humor of The Pirates! Band of Misfits is lost on kids.

Original and quirky, but over kids’ heads is how I would describe this movie in a sentence. For that reason, I’d only recommend it for Aardman enthusiasts and not optimal entertainment for kids 13 and under. Mine were bored most the way through.

The story is about Pirate Captain who is seeking to be “Pirate of the Year.” Through a disjointed and often unexplained chain of events, he comes into contact with the historical figure Charles Darwin. Darwin is taken aback by Captain Pirate’s dodo bird and convinces him to come to London with the bird to present it at a science convention. From there, Queen Victoria gets involved who hates pirates and loves to eat endangered or exotic animals. Confused yet? Well, like most animated movies, there is a happy ending where everything gets wrapped up in a pretty bow. For me, the metaphorical beauty was the end credits. Watching my kids yawn, ages 13, 7, and 5, was far too contagious for I myself to fend off.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a visually stunning film. The filmmakers have my respect for their compelling stop action animation. Unfortunately the story is not engaging and lacks side-splitting humor like, for example, that of the slugs in Flushed Away. Still, lovers of the animation style will enjoy it. It’s not the best Aardman feature but it’s not a bomb either. I hope the next one considers the kids a little more because I will certainly want to see what Aardman does next.

Men in Black 3

Fans of the Men in Black franchise recently became thrilled to know there is now a 3rd installment. Like its predecessors, the third movie has all the slime, goofy special effects, and laser guns you could ask for in a sci-fi action comedy. It also has some really good actors and that is what ultimately makes this movie franchise a winner.

Men in Black 3 was directed by Barry Sonnenfield, known for Pushing Daisies and the Lemony Snicket … children’s movie (among others). He has created an exciting movie here that includes a powerfully written twist at the end. The film stars Will Smith as Agent J, Tommy Lee Jones as agent K, and Josh Brolin as a younger agent K. By way of trivia, IMDB reveals that Sacha Baron Cohen was considered but not chosen for the role of Boris. He would have been great no doubt but as it stands, the character they got to play Boris does an excellent job. Based on the acting, special effects, and clever twist at the end, I gave this movie a high rating. It was a fun roller coaster ride that provoked thinking about stuff like time travel. I love sci fi movies that make me think.

By way of summary: Agent J is transported back in time to help save Agent K from Boris’ deadly actions. As he goes back, we see the slime and future devices in retrospect … “retro-furtristic” if you will. It could have been a film on Roswell or Area 51 as it presented the retro cars of the 40’s and 50’s. Horrible Boris the Animal is at his worst here. We witness him murder and commit crimes through time and up to the present. Nevertheless, through a series of events, Boris is defeated and Agent J returns to the present day victorious. He has saved K’s life by going back in time. I won’t reveal the twist here but fans of the franchise are going to love it. I think anyone, pre-existing fan or not, will find it both touching and exciting at the same time.

In my final analysis, I found Men in Black 3 to be a wild and crazy ride that I might consider going on a second time. The actors and the writing deserve the most credit I think. And of course, let’s not underestimate the power of slime. For a fun night out at the movies (kids or adults) I recommend Men in Black 3.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages is a funny, touching, rocking film that most adult audiences will love. There is a lot of sexual content and imagery so uptight folks should stay home. As for me, the free spirit rock of the 80’s was refreshing and enjoyable and the pole dancers weren’t horrible either.

Rock of Ages is the film adaptation of a musical that has been going strong for years on the strip and across the country. It has both a mainstream and cult following. There has been much buzz about this movie and whether it will do justice to the musical that has taken the world by storm. Can the accoutrements of film achieve what musical theater has done? I just watched in XD and I’d say: sometimes, yes, and other times, not even close. One thing is the same in both however: the music of the ’80’s is amazing, without question. Rock of Ages features music from: Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, and REO Speedwagon.

The film was directed and produced by Adam Shankman, known for Hairspray, A Walk to Remember, and others. The film was written, not surprisingly, by seasoned, successful Hollywood names the accolades of which include: Wall Street, Megamind, American Psycho, Just Go With it, and others. From powerful rich writers to actors in the same vein, this movie has a cast of verified stars: Tom Cruise (Stacee Jax), Diego Boneta (Drew Boley), Julianna Houge (Sherrie Christian), Alec Baldwin (Dennis Dupree) just to name a few. The casting is good and I discovered when researching for this review that Tom Cruise indeed sang all his own parts. I had my doubts since they sounded quite professional in the movie. Tom Cruise pulled it off! The movie plays a lot like the musical. I recently saw it AS a musical at the Pantages in Los Angeles so I was certainly extra critical in my analysis of the film’s musical performances. All the actors could sing and their performances rivaled the stage versions.

By way of trivia, Def Leppard did not grant rights to use their songs in the stage musical. They surprisingly did however allow their music to be performed in the movie version. Tom Cruise sings an amazing cover of their “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

This movie is a lot of fun and has great music. I felt like dancing in my seat to it. It does lag at points however and the Stacee Jax character is given way more screen time than his character merits. This is a love story and that is the focus of the stage musical. Stacee Jax’s character makes the movie boring at times. It is better when he sings. It was almost as if they felt they needed to showcase their big star (for whom they no doubt paid dearly). Stacee Jax had a much smaller role in the stage musical as it should be.

Here is a bare-bones synopsis: A guy and girl come to Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune in rock music. They pay their dues in bars, restaurants, and stripper bars until they finally achieve their dreams. Along the way they learn the pain of the city which includes an eccentric Stacee Jax as an unwitting teacher. He is the celebrity lead singer of a rock band that everybody in the movie virtually worships. There is a side plot here of religious people trying to get rock and roll off the strip. It smacks of Tipper Gore and her censorship crusade.

That is the movie in a nutshell. All throughout, you get amazing and inspiring music from the 80’s. To be honest, I don’t think they needed to hire so many A-list actors and writers, the music it what sells this one. No-namers could have done the job just as well. If you go, just go for the music and you will be delighted.

In my final analysis, Rock of Ages is a funny, touching, rocking film that most adult audiences will love. Overly religious types may be offended at suggestive scenes and material. There is a LOT of sexual content and imagery so if that turns you off, stay home. As for me, the free spirit of hair band music of the 80’s was refreshing and enjoyable. I like the spirit of the 80’s and what the bands represented and the pole dancers weren’t horrible either. As they sing so beautifully in the final scene: “Don’t Stop Believin’, hold on to that feeling!” I remember listening to that Journey song in the 80’s and I can say now all these years later that I am still holding on to that feeling.