Category Archives: Genres

Willy’s Wonderland (2021) Movie Review

The premise of Willy’s Wonderland resembles the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. Everyone knows it. They probably knew it when they made the movie. Call it a ripoff if you’d like. I can’t really say, myself, as I’ve never played the games (from what I understand, the enjoyment derives mostly from jump scares, which just ain’t my bag). But there is something to the idea that Willy’s Wonderland is a video game movie of sorts. For one thing, the unnamed protagonist played by Nicolas Cage doesn’t speak—a feature of many a video game.

Cage’s character, a silent stranger who rolls into the rural town of Hayesville, Nevada (the town is so untouched by the modern world that it does not have an iota of internet access), finds himself with his tires blown out on the side of the highway. Towed back to town, he doesn’t have the money to afford repairs. Luckily, Continue reading Willy’s Wonderland (2021) Movie Review

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. KongĀ 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

Bad Trip (2021) Movie Review

Eric Andre and Kitao Sakurai’s Bad Trip, a loosely-narrativized prank film, was a casualty of theaters closing in 2020. Now, what was originally planned for theatrical release has landed on the front page of Netflix. It is a common fate for films nowadays. But, perhaps unexpectedly, this mid-budget comedy is one of those lost 2020 films which would probably have played best in a crowded theater environment. So…you could call it the Tenet of comedy.

The film strings together a thin plot involving Chris (Andre) who, after being starstruck by the re-entry of his high school crush Maria (Michaela Conlin) into his life, brings his friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) on a roadtrip to New York City to win her heart. Meanwhile, Bud’s sister (Tiffany Haddish), who recently escaped from prison, hunts Bud and Chris down for stealing her car. However, the real selling points of the movie are Continue reading Bad Trip (2021) Movie Review

Zach Snyder’s Justice League (2021) Movie Review

There is so much baggage, backstory, self-mythologizing, and overly amplified discourse surrounding the fated “Snyder Cut” of DC’s Justice League that I don’t care to touch with a 10-foot pole. So let’s just suffice it to say that I never believed the hype of the Snyder cut, and that if you are amped for the four-hour-long version of the DC team-up movie, then you are probably going to get everything you want from this HBO Max release.

2017’s Justice League is credited to Zach Snyder, who had to step away from the project early in post-production due to a family tragedy. Joss Whedon stepped in to complete the project, which led to Continue reading Zach Snyder’s Justice League (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

Wrong Turn (2021) Movie Review

Mike P. Nelson’s Wrong Turn, a hard reboot of the 2003 horror film of the same name (which in turn spawned numerous direct-to-video sequels), is (at least initially) so knowingly a “teen scream” slasher that it borders on parody.

A group of late-twenty-somethings hiking the Appalachian Trail find themselves lost somewhere in Virginia and set upon by something lurking in the woods. Almost instantly, the film starts teetering on the “city/country axis” like it’s a gymnast on a balance beam. The rural Virginia folk turn their noses at these “yuppie” millennial travelers, with one confronting them about how they likely never worked a day in their lives (actually, our protagonist has a double master’s degree in art history and dance, so she is a gainfully employed barista).

When our clan of hikers find themselves stranded, one of the first things that strikes fear into their hearts is the inexplicable disappearance of their cell phones. Without this precious tool (“No phone, no GPS!”), they are all but helpless to defend themselves against the crude makeshift traps set for them among the trees. When they come across the people who are terrorizing them, the travelers Continue reading Wrong Turn (2021) Movie Review

Lucky (2021) Movie Review

May (Brea Grant), the protagonist of Lucky, suffers the condescending disinterest of the police, reductionist head-shrinking of social workers, and emotional manipulation and gaslighting of her partner (Dhruv Uday Singh). Oh, and she also gets attacked by a masked man every night of her life.

Lucky, written by Grant and directed by Natasha Kermani, is a lean (perhaps too lean) horror satire that imagines society’s patriarchy, microaggressions, and trauma as a surreal nightmare cycling again and again with no end in sight. As far as “social horror” goes, it’s a pretty perfect premise.

The film starts as a fresh twist on an old favorite. May and her husband Ted are attacked in their home by an intruder in the middle of the night. Only, Ted is shockingly nonplussed by the situation. In fact, Continue reading Lucky (2021) 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