Donnie Darko

Weird things are just simple things you don’t understand yet. For many, this film appears weird but I would argue it’s not quite as weird once you have a little research under your belt and of course, you actually sit down and watch it, credits to credits. If you have done those things, I’ll bet it’s less weird for you. Am I right?

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Jake Gyllenhaal plays this evil-eyed high school kid very well. He is haunted by this vision of an evil bunny. The research I alluded to in my introduction will tell you what that’s all about as well as how he cheats death in the beginning of the film. After that, he is unwittingly on a journey to understand the bunny and his own mental health issues. 

Donnie is seeing a therapist. She increases his medication which seemingly should make the evil bunny go away but it does not. We can only reason from that he is not a hallucination. When we start understanding more about this creepy bunny, the film takes a strange Ray Bradbury-like turn and if you can follow this as a sci-fi film, the creepy turns to sensibility.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this film s simple ir that most viewers will “get it.” I am saying, just like Bird Man, you can read many interpretations into this. It has multiple meanings and all can be successfully argued.

I think I can safely say you will not understand this film without reading something about it on the internet. I’ve read quite a few lengthy posts about it. The general idea put forth is that there are 2 realities: the real life one and some other-worldly dimension. I’ll let you chew on that and see if you agree once you see it. I think the ending is great, it shows Donnie to have the capability of being self-less. Incidentally there are a lot of great names in this film. You have some great actors giving excellent performances. In my closing words I would just reiterate that this film is not weird. I would encourage interested parties to look around at some interpretations online and then make your own. I do wish more was explained but that’s my only criticism. I recommend this one to ’80’s movie’ fans, sci-fi geeks, and dark movie fans.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Anticipation was high for my wife and I going in to see this film. After about 20 minutes, it wore off. After 40 minutes, we had very little idea what was going on.

Anticipation was high for my wife and I going in to see this film. After about 20 minutes, it wore off. After 40 minutes, we had very little idea what was going on. When there was a bout 20 minutes left to the end, we walked out.

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Independence Day: Resurgence
Cast

Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Directed by

Roland Emmerich

Written by

Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt, Dean Devlin

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13
120min
Riley’s Rating: 1]

The film started in sort of a cool way. It was the type of sci fi beginning that brings you up to speed. At some point in the movie however my wife and I just lost all hope of having an interest and we walked out. Please know that we rarely walk out of movies. In over 13 years of marriage and seeing films, we’ve done it 2-3 times I think. You may know that feeling when you realize it just can’t improve.

The Basic story is that 20 years have passed since aliens nearly destroyed the Earth in the first film Independence Day. The Earth has had a lot of time to build up its defenses but will it be enough when the aliens do return in Independence Day 2.

It’s not meant to be a funny or nonsense movie but I have a feeling comedians and critics will be pulling funny material for routines and columns for decades. Take a few of these particulars for example: Liam Hemsworth’s character pees on a dead alien, there is an alien prison at Area 51, Bill Pullman goes (in a matter of an hour) from a lock down mental health facility to giving national military advice, and the queen alien is supposed to be as big as half the Atlantic ocean. Let me remind you of what I listed in the writers section: there were 6 professional writers for this film. Process that for a minute … 6. When I research most my reviews there is 1 writer, 3 tops.

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Speaking of time spent on reviews, there are a slough of reviews out there on this movie that have done a lot more homework than I. I had high hopes for this film since my wife is a fan of the first one and we wanted to see what happened in the sequel. What we got instead was a convoluted mess that barely made sense and first and whirled out of control quickly to where neither of us knew what was happening.

Could it be the director was hoping for the pro-war, pro-military crowd to dance a jog just for the sake of kicking alien ass? I apologize if that offends anyone but I am really grasping in the dark to find a motive for making this film. I haven’t said this in a review for a while, I do not recommend this film to you. The end leaves room for a sequel so perhaps they’ll produce something better next time. Too bad they missed the mark with this one.

The Visitor

A blogger level film critic doesn’t enjoy many all-expenses paid things. I read about Roger Ebert being sent to Cannes year after year. So far, that ‘aint happening here. But I can write and podcast stuff about movies here and get it off my chest. That is gratifying. I hope you enjoy. Listen in the player below to my audio movie review of “The Visitor” and a little banter as I am wont to do.

This is a fun movie I did an audio review of and I’m super happy to share this episode with you. One more banterism for you: what do you sppose movies would be like if we stopped paying money for comic book films? Just a thought. No judgement (at least not much). Now, to intro the epsiode:

I review this 70’s drive-in oddity. Episode includes a “bird walk” on the meaning of left and right wing that sort of flew in out of nowhere. I recorded and mixed this one on vacation at Stateline. You’re welcome.

The Visitor (1979)
Stridulum (original title)
R | 1h 48min | Horror, Sci-Fi | 21 November 1980 (USA)

The soul of a young girl with telekinetic powers becomes the prize in a fight between forces of God and the Devil.
Director: Giulio Paradisi (as Michael J. Paradise)
Writers: Luciano Comici (screenplay) (as Lou Comici), Robert Mundi (screenplay) (as Robert Mundy) | 2 more credits »
Stars: Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen

Swamp Thing & Them

(Audio and written review) “Swamp Thing” is a horror movie that at times may come across as a bit funny but it is meant as a serious film. It looks like a throw back to films like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Continue reading my written review and/or listen to my podcast review below. In this case, the podcast has much more material. For example I do a short review of the foreign horror film “Them” in this episode. Listen in the player below and/or keep reading the review.

Swamp Thing (1982)
PG | 1h 31min | Horror, Sci-Fi | 19 February 1982 (USA)

After a violent incident with a special chemical, a research scientist is turned into a swamp plant monster.
Director: Wes Craven
Writers: Wes Craven, Len Wein (comic book)
Stars: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise

It’s from 1982 so there wasn’t that much of a challenge on films to have the perfect cgi and graphics. They did a pretty good job with effects anyway. It was direct by Wes Craven who we all know from a “Nightmare on Elm Scream” and “Scream” and many other beloved horror films. “Swamp Thing” is a Sci-Fi horror. It’s also a theme where the monster grabs the woman and she screams but the creature does not hurt the woman. We see a similar thing in “King Kong” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

We have a scientist who is trying to make something that will cure the whole world’s hunger problem. He’s a “good guy.” The chemical he is working on explodes in his face as bad men are seeking the formula. As a result, he become 1/2 man 1/2 animal. His suit is both rustic and great. By today’s cgi standards they could have done a lot better but it’s still great. At one point he throws a lot of people. This is done in a rustic and funny fashion, almost like 70’s television: the “A Team” and stuff like that.

The woman is Adrienne Barbeaux. She starts off homely but as she sheds clothing and starts to go on the run, she reveals that she is very hot! Never judge a book by its introduction!

So in this film, we get it all: a creature and a beautiful leading lady. I greatly enjoyed this film and give it an 8/10.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

My score: 6/10. A complete rethinking of the original premise, this film probably let many viewers down. I mean, what other reason do you go see a Halloween film than to see Michael Myers in the mask. You won’t find him here. What you do get is a reimagined story involving robots like “Westworld” and a mind control campaign that utilizes television. Sound like a breed apart? It is.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
R | 1h 38min | Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi | 22 October 1982 (USA)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch Poster

Kids all over America want Silver Shamrock masks for Halloween. Doctor Daniel Challis seeks to uncover a plot by Silver Shamrock owner Conal Cochran.
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writer: Tommy Lee Wallace
Stars: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy

Director Tommy Lee Wallace has done a lot of stuff since this film. None of it was blockbuster material but I find no fault in that. For example, he directed two episodes of the original made-for-tv “It.” Unfortunately, Halloween III lacks the sensibility of the original. The formula of “The Shape” (Michael Myers) coming back for more killing is the chilling premise that worked. It wasn’t broken so it shouldn’t have been changed.

This is a fun movie though. I see it on par with a “Child’s Play” or an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Indeed Halloween is the top of the hill for classic horror but there’s a long way to fall from there and still be a great movie. I give this one a 6/10.

Passengers (2016)

I give it a 2/5. It’s much sci-fi ado about nothing worth telling.

My Rating: 2/10 – Space has been called “the final frontier” but what good is space to an explorer all by his lonesome? That’s what we have with Chris Pratt’s character: a lonely man living out a full year knowing no one is there to spend time with him much less save him. That’s what we begin with, what ends is the opposite.

Passengers“A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.” -IMDB

Cast

Jennifer Lawrence Aurora Lane
Chris Pratt Jim Preston
Michael Sheen Arthur
Laurence Fishburne Gus Mancuso

Directed by

Morten Tyldum

Written by

Jon Spaihts

Other Info

Adventure, Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi
PG-13
Wed 21 Dec 2016 UTC
116min
IMDB Rating: 7.0

Director Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game, Headhunters, provides us with some truly incredible sets. When the doors swish open, they are indeed metal and laden with decor that looks like an Alien ship or even Star Wars one. In fact, this film must have spent most its budget on sets and cgi. It’s truly breathtaking. Unfortunately, the amazing look of this film is in direct contrast to its unaffecting story. I wonder is even the best directing can make a bad story interesting.

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt need no defense. They are both stellar in what they do and they do an ok job here again, bearing through this awful script and concept. I must note that Lawrence Fishburne is in it too, but just for about 2 scenes that are only partially worth it to the plot. I felt it was a waste of such an amazing actor to have him in this miniscule, needless role.

The story is this: A man is part of a colonizing group that are all asleep in hibernation for 1,000’s of years. He wakes up to find he is alone on a spaceship with all these sleeping people. He wakes a woman up to have a partner and when she finds out she may never make it to the promised land, she mas mixed emotions. The ending shows us what the author think her final resolve would be.

FINAL THOUGHTS
This is a shiny, good looking sci-fi film. Unfortunately it relies too heavily on a simple premise that fails to become interesting even when beaten into the audience’s collective head over ad over again throughout the long middle of the film. The beginning was interesting, it drew me in. The ending was at least a resolution, which not all films have of course, but I do not know how the writer could have come to this conclusion. I was not moved. If you believe you were murdered, would you forgive that person? This is the premise and my response is “who cares, you’re dead.”

2/5

Annihilation

Something other-worldly has landed and this is nothing like us. We don’t know what it wants or if it wants anything. We can’t see it but we see its impact on the area around it. This is a film that reminded me of “Alien” 1 in its sci-fi purity. It also surprised me with some chilling horror aspects.

Annihilation (2018)
R | 1h 55min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy | 23 February 2018 (USA)

“A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.” –IMDB
Director: Alex Garland
Writers: Alex Garland (written for the screen by), Jeff VanderMeer (based on the novel by)
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson

Director Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) Pulls out all the stops with this his second directorial project. I don’t want to let him sound “new” though, take a look at his writing credits: “Dredd” (screenplay), “Never Let Me Go” (screenplay), “28 Days Later…” (written by). In my opinion, “Annihilation” is his largest undertaking to date. He wrote the adaptation from a novel and directed this film.

Now for the cast: Natalie Portman pays Lena, the soldier turned biologist who ventures out on a mission to examine a strange new region changed by unknown forces. She is not only following her scientific curiosity but she wants to find out what happened to her late husband Kane, played by Oscar Isaac, in a place called “The Shimmer.” Benedict Wong plays a hazmat suited govt. professional who keeps a storyline running throughout the film through questions. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the all-too-creepy leader of this expedition, Dr. Ventress. She speaks in barely above a whisper most the film. Gina Rodriguez is the third woman on the mission. She is known for playing Jane on the tv series “Jane the Virgin.” Also in this is Tessa Thompson who you will recall was in “Thor: Ragnorok.”

What it’s not:

A long pointless sci-fi posing as a mystery. I want to celebrate this fact because it seems lately we’ve been fed pseudo si-fi that never delivers.

What it is:

An engaging well-written story that holds your attention through elements of drama, mystery, horror, and sci-fi. It’s also an incredibly cast and well-directed film that keeps you guessing and never leaves you hanging. While keeping some questions open-ended there is much room for discussion but the main spine of the story is explained and concluded well. I find this to be more and more rare in sci-fi mystery these days. Is it any coincidence the director of this film is its seasoned writer and a great one at that?

I won’t hide the fact that this is a long film at 2 hours. There were a couple of times I wondered how much time had passed (and I tend to do this when things are not chugging along). Still, in those moments you get to absorb the most incredible visuals and CGI. In between that the adventure moves swiftly.

My final word and rating:

This is a great adventure film I highly recommend. It is rated R for horror and gore elements so it’s not for the squeamish. I am a horror fan however so for me and my recommendation, I give this film a 9/10. I am officially a big fan of director/writer Alex Garland and looking forward to his next project.

The 5th Wave

Chloë Grace Moretz commands the screen with a presence that belies her youth. It’s a great movie and I highly recommend it. My one criticism is that it took a while to get going.

Title: The 5th Wave
Number of times I’ve seen it: 1
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year: 2014
Director: J Blakeson
Top Billed Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz (“Hugo,” “Kickass”), Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez (“Million Dollar Arm”)
Brief Synopsis: Aliens start inhabiting Earth and a group of tenagers rebel trying to save themselves. The main character, Cassie Sullivan, is trying to find her little brother.

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Here we have yet another teenage post apocalypse love triangle action sci fi film. On that level, it holds its own. There are some great action and cgi destruction scenes.

Chloë Grace Moretz commands the screen with a presence that belies her youth. It’s a great movie and I highly recommend it. My one criticism is that it took a while to get going. I don’t think the story started moving for me until the scene where the main character is shot in the leg. That’s where the mysteries start to unravel. Because that took far too long, it lost a star from me.

Frankenweenie (2012)

5/5 A boy’s love for his dog becomes a circular journey of learning to let go.

Frankenweenie
“Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.” -IMDB

Cast

Winona Ryder Elsa Van Helsing (voice)
Catherine O’Hara Mrs. Frankenstein/Weird Girl/Gym Teacher (voice)
Martin Short Mr. Frankenstein/Mr. Burgemeister/Nassor (voice)
Martin Landau Mr. Rzykruski (voice)

Directed by

Tim Burton

Written by

Leonard Ripps, Tim Burton

Other Info

Animation, Comedy, Family, Horror, Sci-Fi
PG
Fri 05 Oct 2012 UTC
87min
IMDB Rating: 7.0

You’d think death and grieving were topics best left for grown up movies like Ordinary People et. al., but these topics work surprisingly well in Tim Burton’s animated movie Frankenweenie. It is a highly enjoyable ride for families to the “other side” and back again. As Victor’s science teacher tells him, science experiments must have “heart” as well and brain. A boy’s love for his dog becomes a circular journey of learning to let go. Where does the merry-go-round end? I wont tell you that here but know it is a wildly fun, inspiring ride for viewers of all ages.

As one would expect in a Disney/Burton film, there is an all star cast of voices. Catherine O’Hara, known for her role as the mom in Home Alone plays three characters: Mrs. Frankenstien, Weird Girl, and Gym Teacher. Her voice was the most striking at first for me. When I first heard her doing a character I thought, “Wait a minute I KNOW that voice!” Then you start thinking about where it’s from. Martin Short also does a noteworthy job at the voices of Mr. Frankenstein, Mr. Burgemeister, and Nassor. Incidentally, Mr. Burgemeister is an homage to the Rankin Bass character from Santa Claus in Comin’ to Town and is a delight to watch. He is included likely because this movie was made in “stop action” format with “puppets” as they are called in the credits the same way Santa Claus is Coming to Town was. It is also the same format Burton utilized for The Nightmare Before Christmas. In a time when digital computers seem to be the format for all animation, it is exciting to see this style used to tell a story effectively on screen. There are many other household names in the movie playing a lot of entertaining characters.

Victor is a grade school boy who has a great dog named Sparky. We see them at play and get to know Sparky’s extra-large personality and warmth as a dog in the early part of the movie. This is shown well through his relationship with Victor but also through his relationship “through the fence” with a poodle and other kids. Sparky is clearly an exceptional and loving dog. I wanted to take him home myself.

As you probably have already gleaned from the trailers, Sparky dies and Victor just won’t “let him go” so-to-speak. This is where Victor tries bringing Sparky back to life in his attic just like the Frankenstein movies. By the way, Victor’s last name is also Frankenstein in Frankenweenie. The nods are not subtle in this movie but that’s ok because everything works to make a wonderful and fun family film about death and loss. It also becomes a wild ride reminiscent of Godzilla and Gremlins. Without spoiling all the fun in between, we learn that bringing things back from the dead can have monstrous consequences. There is a somewhat puzzling (for me) ending but ultimately it all works out to be one of the best family films (for all ages) I have seen an a long time. I think I can safely call it an instant classic.

Super 8 (2011) – A mediocre ‘Stand By Me’ meets ‘Stranger Things’

The trailer for this poses as a fun childhood movie with a strange unknown thing looming. Since I was age 10 when this movie takes place (1979) I was really excited to see the custard colored refrigerators and old school gas stations as well as other stuff from that year. I remember

The trailer for this poses as a fun childhood movie with a strange unknown thing looming. Since I was age 10 when this movie takes place (1979) I was really excited to see the custard colored refrigerators and old school gas stations as well as other stuff from that year. I remember it as a humane and inspiring time. Some images of 1979 really made me nostalgic in the first hour. After that however, the movie began to sputter like a 70’s moped in need of a fill up.
Super 8

Super 8

“During the summer of 1979, a group of friends witness a train crash and investigate subsequent unexplained events in their small town.” -IMDB

Cast

Elle Fanning Alice Dainard
AJ Michalka Jen Kaznyk
Kyle Chandler Deputy Jackson Lamb
Joel Courtney Joe Lamb

Directed by

J.J. Abrams

Written by

J.J. Abrams

Other Info

Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
PG-13
Fri 10 Jun 2011 UTC
112min
IMDB Rating: 7.1

The sweet childlike homes, schools, and connected-ness of the kids all was like 1979. Unfortunately, the story couldn’t continue in that era and turned to your typical violent alien film of the 90’s or 2000’s like Independence Day. Spoiler ahead (sort of). One difference from other alien movies is that there is just one alien. It is quite ugly but not much different from most in movies extant. The alien is not as scary as the gratuitous shocks the director gives the audience.

I counted 6 but there are surely more. Be warned, especially if you are annoyed by these things. There is only one thing that can save a movie with these, in my opinion. That thing is a great ending. Unfortunately, you won’t find that here either. Young kids aged 15 and below will like this movie. A couple times it looks like Transformers. Most above that age will look at their iphone to see the time as it plays out.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There is enough nostalgia and cgi here to entertain but not fully satisfy me as a viewer. They had a good set of images to start with but they just aren’t developed enough to keep me from looking at my watch. I recommend to young kids and die hard fans of Spielberg (those who watch even his mediocre stuff).

2/5