Category Archives: Leave it

Movies I wish I had skipped. This could be for any number of reasons: the film was made sloppily, the narrative didn’t engage me, or I simply could not connect with the film in any way for whatever reason.

Unhinged (2020) Movie Review

Unhinged was one of the first films to release theatrically in the United States following the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. And it seemed like it was generally well-liked by those who saw it at the time. This is not all that surprising within the context. It is a highly-visual, modestly-budgeted spectacle film. Those missing the theaters enough to brave the virus to see something (anything) on a big screen would understandably enjoy the pulse-pounding wild ride that is Unhinged; and, at the same time, they may be willing to overlook the cartoonish nature of its plot.

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By cartoonish, I don’t mean to say childish. No, the bad-faith mayhem of Derrick Borte’s film is Continue reading Unhinged (2020) Movie Review

Smiley Face Killers (2020) Movie Review

Director Tim Hunter is perhaps best known for the crime drama River’s Edge starring Keanu Reeves. He has since directed the occasional feature, but most of his work is done on television programs. Fittingly, his Smiley Face Killers has the appearance of a teen drama show (like Riverdale or Scream: The TV Series, two shows Hunter has worked on).

I don’t say this disparagingly; it is simply an apparent feature. The young actors are lit and shot like they are models in an advertisement. Soft focus accentuates them in the frame. Soft, high key lighting highlights their features. At one point, a major character strips down and takes a shower, and the camera lingers on Continue reading Smiley Face Killers (2020) Movie Review

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) Movie Review

One of the first lines of dialogue in Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong foreshadows the titular inevitable showdown: “There can’t be two alpha Titans.” Naturally, the collision of Kong and Godzilla will entail absolute destruction. Two unstoppable forces aimed at one another. Kong is trapped under a biodome in the heart of Skull Island, an artificial habitat nested inside his natural habitat where he is monitored by Monarch. And he wants out. Godzilla, meanwhile, walks out of the ocean in Florida to attack the headquarters of Apex Cybernetics.

The Bond Villain-adjacent CEO of Apex (Demian Bichir) and the company’s head of engineering (Shun Oguri) approach disgraced professor Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) about a plan to stop Godzilla which involves Lind’s theory that these mythic Titans hail from the center of our (hollow) Earth. This plan leads them to a researcher in Monarch’s Kong habitat (Rebecca Hall). Lind proposes that they use Kong to lead them inside the hollow Earth through an entrance in Antarctica, where they can harness a power source worthy of taking down the giant lizard.

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If this all sounds too convoluted for the first act setup to a movie with the name Godzilla vs. Kong—setup which is crammed into 20 minutes of screentime—then Continue reading Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) Movie Review

Monster Hunter (2020) Movie Review

The cold open to Paul W.S. Anderson’s Monster Hunter involves a not-quite-good-looking CGI desert landscape which is sculpted by a pirate ship (that rides on the seas of sand) and a semi-visually-defined monster roughly the same size as that ship. Following this scene (not so much an establishment of this fantasy world as a shotgun blast propelling us backwards into it), we find ourselves in a recognizable setting. A military squadron saddles up their humvee and sets course, speaking in generalized hoo-rah jargon in a scene which establishes basic character types. One of them is a jokester. One of them is the hard-as-nails commanding officer. One of them looks longingly at a picture of his family back home.

The movie is called Monster Hunter. No one ever said it was going to be subtle.

Suddenly (inexplicably, one might say), the squadron is caught up in a storm which lands them in a barren desert landscape (like the one from the previous scene. Hm…). It does not take long before they are chased by a large horned beast (a monster, if you will). They put up a good fight, but the creature quickly Continue reading Monster Hunter (2020) Movie Review

Tom & Jerry (2021) Movie Review

It took no longer than one minute watching Tom & Jerry for me to realize that this animation-live action hybrid reboot of the classic cartoon wasn’t going to go well. Once I saw a trio of animated pigeons lip-syncing to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” as they fly over the New York City skyline, I just knew. I could sense that the team behind this film—namely director Tim Story and screenwriter Kevin Costello—didn’t have a firm grasp on what would translate this older intellectual property into something entertaining to a new generation of youngsters.

The problem isn’t necessarily the hackneyed technique of adding a cool hip-hop soundtrack to a property not known for such sounds. It isn’t even really the conceit of bringing cartoon characters “into the big city,” a premise which has been used in such big screen duds as The Smurfs (2011). The real issue I have Continue reading Tom & Jerry (2021) Movie Review

Freaky (2020) Movie Review

Writer-director Christopher Landon has a long history working with Blumhouse, first with the Paranormal Activity sequels then with the duo of Happy Death Day horror-comedies. The latter—Happy Death Day 2U in particular—present an intriguing twist on familiar generic ground which I enjoyed quite a bit. It would only make sense, then, that his latest, Freaky, a body-swap horror farce, would tickle my fancy just the same. That was my first thought.

Then, I recalled that Landon also co-wrote and directed Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a similarly self-aware horror comedy that I found Continue reading Freaky (2020) Movie Review

The Little Things (2021) Movie Review

The Little Things, which is currently available to HBO Max subscribers on Warners’ streaming service, takes place in 1990. It was also first written in the 1990s (registered with the WGA in 1993, apparently). And this comes as no surprise, given its bold adherence to the tropes of the procedural crime genre that ballooned in the 1990s after the massive success of The Silence of the Lambs.

Se7en is the film The Little Things is being compared to the most vocally (writer-director John Lee Hancock is quick to point out Continue reading The Little Things (2021) Movie Review

The Reckoning (2020) Movie Review

Neil Marshall’s The Descent holds special weight in my mind. I can recall being extraordinarily tense throughout watching that film, cementing it in my head as a distinctly effective horror film. That film is an intensely close-quarters survival thriller turned creature feature that has its cult fanbase, of which I guess I am a part. But after watching The Reckoning, I question whether it was simply a claustrophobia I did not know I had that made that film so effective.
 
 
The Reckoning, Marshall’s follow-up to the similar dud Hellboy, is a substantial disappointment. The premise of the film holds promise: during the time of the Great Plague, a woman is accused of dealing with the devil while trying to save her homestead following the untimely death of her husband. Setting a witch trial narrative on the backdrop of the Plague is intriguing. The Witch by way of Contagion, perhaps? Not quite.
Continue reading The Reckoning (2020) Movie Review

Review: The Dark and the Wicked — Fantasia Festival 2020

The Dark and the Wicked is screening as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival program.

Bryan Bertino’s The Dark and the Wicked, his first feature film since 2016’s The Monster, is in one sense a story of grief and loss. Two siblings, Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.), return to their parents’ Texas farmhouse, as it has become clear that their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) is struggling to care for their ailing father (Michael Zagst). Following an untimely death, Louise and Michael have to maneuver grief, while also contending with an evil presence that is haunting the farm.

It is certainly a workable premise for a moody horror flick, but the film ultimately fails to Continue reading Review: The Dark and the Wicked — Fantasia Festival 2020

Review: Survival Skills — Fantasia Festival 2020

Survival Skills is screening as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival

Quinn Armstrong’s Survival Skills has plenty of contemporaries. This faux police training video has the same old media affection, anachronistic diegetic reality, and cringe comedy of the late night comedy of Tim & Eric, viral alt comedy videos like Too Many Cooks, and a handful of other indie films on the festival rotation in recent years. Survival Skills deviates enough from these by presenting a less overtly comic take on the postmodern pastiche of the VHS tape aesthetic. But this tone is also the major detracting feature of the film.

The film follows smiley Jim (Vayu O’Donnell) on his first day as part of the Middletown police department. The trials and training he undergoes is part of a training video, but his actions start Continue reading Review: Survival Skills — Fantasia Festival 2020