Category Archives: Long Reviews (>400 Words)

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) Movie Review

I hadn’t stepped foot in a movie theater in 425 days. It is perhaps the longest consecutive stretch of time I’ve gone without seeing a movie in a theater since I’ve been able to walk. And, all things considered, I made good use of those 425 days. I researched, drafted, and completed a master’s thesis (on horror movies that are nothing like Spiral: From The Book of Saw, but the Saw franchise certainly has an important place in the history I was looking at). I am on the verge of earning my master’s degree; and the time commitment probably would have kept my theater-going to a minimum even if the world was not facing a crisis.

None of this is particularly relevant to my review of Spiral: From The Book of Saw, save for the fact that this was the film that broke my 425-day streak. And I thought it fitting to return to theaters with the type of movie that really keeps me invested in film art: pure horror genre schlock.

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Spiral: From the Book of Saw may be the oddest horror sequel title ever thought up (who wrote the book of Saw? Is it available at my local library? Is it like an Anarchist Cookbook type deal, where it teaches you how to concoct sadistic death traps just like John Kramer used to? So many questions that have no answer). It is entirely possible that Continue reading Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) Movie Review

Mortal Kombat (2021) Movie Review

I have no relationship to the Mortal Kombat IP. If I’ve ever played the video games, I don’t remember (I was more of a Tekken 3 and Soul Caliber II kid, and even after putting about 100 hours into those I was never very good at fighting games). I haven’t seen Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 film, either. Really, my knowledge begins and ends with the techno song which opens that film and “Fatality!”

Understandably, then, I found myself fairly lost within five minutes of this film beginning. A prologue set in 17th century Japan launches us into a fight sequence between Continue reading Mortal Kombat (2021) Movie Review

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

2021 Oscar Predictions – Best Original & Adapted Screenplay

It is good to preface the Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay categories with the usual spiel about the Writers Guild Awards (WGA). It has been very common, since 2000, for the WGA award and the Academy Award to go to the same movie in these categories. There is the occasional split, but there are usually a reasonable explanation as to why this occurs (for example, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King pulled off a massive sweep at the Oscars due to the Academy wanting to honor the series as a whole, while the WGA gave it to a much smaller film, American Splendor).

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Original Screenplay – The Nominees:

Continue reading 2021 Oscar Predictions – Best Original & Adapted Screenplay

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

2021 Oscar Predictions — Best Actor

The thing about Academy Award acting categories is that, while they are often some of the most high profile awards of the night, they are also some of the least exciting from a prediction standpoint. Of all categories, the acting categories are usually locked up long before the ceremony begins. In recent history in particular, the same acting nominees usually steamroll through awards season, winning every award leading up to the Oscars. Of course, there is always room for upset. But even so, entering the Oscars it is generally fairly clear who the top one or two contenders are.

This year’s Best Actor category is a little strange for reasons that are bittersweet.

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

2021 Oscar Predictions — Best Actress

You might think that this category is all wrapped up now that the Golden Globes have happened. But the Globes are not the be-all end-all predictor of the Oscars. This is particularly true in acting categories, where the campaigning to the Globes’ HFPA looks much different than it does for the Academy. Each year, there seems to be at least one off-the-beaten-path choice by the Globes in the acting categories. And this year, that left-field win appears to be from the Best Actress category.

2021 Oscar Predictions — Best Supporting Actor

Some people like to talk about “category fraud” in the acting categories. It is generally a fairly semantic debate. Is Lakeith Stanfield the lead of Judas and the Black Messiah? Why, then, is he nominated with Daniel Kaluuya in Supporting? Does that mean there is no lead actor in the film?

But it’s just a matter of campaigning. In general, it is easier to get your film’s actor nominated in a supporting category than it is the lead category. In ensemble films, it is fairly easy to make the argument that anyone is a supporting performance, just based on screentime and/or billing. I’d put Stanfield in the lead category, but I’m also just happy to see him nominated. He and Kaluuya both are two of the best actors working today.