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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) - Review

When Independence Day hit theatres back in 1996 audiences were blown out of their seats by the amazing practical effects that film had to offer, they were caught up with a charismatic cast that pulled off the right amount of drama and comedy, and it had Randy Quaid yelling, “Hello boys, I’m back!” before blowing up the alien mothership. Twenty years later and all of that is missing. This is a case of a sequel being released well passed its best before date, and the advances in special effects do more to harm than good. Instead of beautifully constructed models being blown to smithereens we get overcrowded computer generated graphics that look like unused effects footage from X-Men: Apocalypse. Overall there is not much here for either fans of the original or new viewers stumbling upon this lame franchise attempt.

With that all said let’s get down to the nitty gritty and see just what the hell happened. Beware there will be spoilers…that is if it’s possible to spoil this piece of space debris.


Twenty years after the events of the previous film we find that Earth has become a peaceful planet and everyone is sitting around singing, "Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya." We quickly learn that even though world peace has been achieved mankind has taken the alien tech that crashed and created the ESD (Earth Space Defense), a united global defense program that serves as Earth's early warning system. With a moon based laser cannon, and jet fighters than can operate in space, Earth is ready for the aliens to return. In my opinion that is one very optimistic view of what the countries of Earth would do if a bunch of sophisticated alien technology had fallen into their laps.


Half of this stuff would have been on eBay a day after the invasion was over.

I’m betting that if such an event as ID4 had occurred there would have been a mad scramble to collect as much of that tech as possible so as to get a leg up on their neighbors, and that's only if those country's economies had somehow magically survived after having most of their cities and populations wiped out. Wars would have quickly broken out over the chance of obtaining such military upgrades, and trying to feed and house millions of refugees would lead to internal fighting as well. Sure mankind was briefly unified against an alien threat, but any student of human nature knows once that immediate threat is over its back to fighting amongst ourselves, but now they'd be able to do it with new and improved weapons.

And right there you have a pretty good premise for a second installment in a hoped for franchise; mankind drags itself out of the wreckage of their homes, countries erupt into fights over this alien tech that's just lying around, heroes on both sides fight for supremacy for their respective countries, and then during the final act the aliens do return.


And they blow up any remaining national landmarks.

Hell, this sequel even teases us with a movie that we should have gotten ten years ago. ESD Director David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) meets with African warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), a man who had been fighting a ground war with the aliens who had survived the failed invasion. This guy had apparently spent his entire life taking on the alien threat with a couple of large machetes in hand to tentacle combat, and all I can ask is, “Why aren’t we watching that movie?”


Dikembe Umbutu is the hero we needed, not the one we got.

Instead of focusing on a man who was raised by a brutal warlord, who watched his family die in a decades long and ruthless battle with an entrenched an hostile alien force, we get this “Legacy Heroes” crap about young hotshot pilots who are mankind's last line of defense; starring “rebel without a clue” Jake (Liam Hemsworth) or as I like to call him “Not Thor,” an orphan of the initial attack who is in love with the former president’s daughter (Maika Monroe) who for some unknown reason is playing not being played by Mae Whitman from the original.  Jake is the "bad boy" who lost his spot in the Air Defense League for almost killing fellow trainee Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher), the stepson of Will Smith’s character, in a training exercise.


Liam Hemsworth is The Wrong Stuff.

Note: We get one line explaining Smith’s absence, something about him dying well testing a new fighter based on the alien tech. So gone is the charismatically fun Will Smith, off filming Suicide Squad and ducking Emmerich's calls, and in his place is a character that is so bland, and so poorly acted, that whenever he isn’t on screen you forget he exists.

not will smith 

Jessie Usher, stealth actor.

Dylan's entire motivation in this movie seems solely about punching Thor's Brother in the face.  Why the filmmakers thought a movie about an alien invasion needed drama between two supposed “badass” military heroes who just “Can’t get along” is beyond me, and worse is the fact that this subplot literally goes nowhere. Speaking of subplots that go nowhere; also returning for this movie is David’s father Julius (Judd Hirsch), who somehow survives riding a mile high tidal wave aboard the S.S. Minnow.


"The aliens started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed."

He’s later discovered, long after we assume he rightfully should have died, by a group of orphans. This ragtag bunch of misfits find a school bus full of more children and they all decide to take a road trip to Area 51. There is so much screen time wasted on this character it's beyond comprehension; we first meet him reading excerpts from his book “How I Saved the World” to a group of people at an old folk's home, but then there is no payoff to that joke. He doesn’t save the world this time, he doesn’t actually do anything but deliver tired one-liners. Of course he isn’t the only one delivering tired one-liners, we also have Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) who has awoken from his twenty year coma when the aliens return.  And he's all about the cheesy one-liners.


“Hey, guest spots on The Big Bang Theory aren’t going to pay the bills.”

Dr. Okun isn’t the only one affected by the returning aliens, former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is one of many people having visions of a strange circle with a line running through it. This becomes relevant when a huge spherical ship pops out of a wormhole next to the moon.  The world leaders immediately become alarmed, and as it looks like the Borg Sphere from First Contact I can’t blame them. Everyone wants to laser blasts the thing into oblivion before it has a chance to attack, but David believes this is a different alien race, and that they shouldn’t attack unless provoked. The World Leaders ignore David and they destroy the craft. *Bullshit Screenwriting Alert* This is all just so that David can be proven right again. In the first film he warned the President that the massive ships hovering around the world were not friendly and were going to attack, and he was right. Now he tries to tell the President (Sela Ward) that these aliens could be friendly, and he’s of course right again.

moon canon 

“Look we built this really nice space canon; it’d be a shame not to use it."

David teams up with Jake, who is your standard movie hero who disobeys the rules to “Get the job done,” and they fly out to investigate the destroyed spaceship. They discover inside it a large white sphere that looks like the child of an Apple computer and the robot ball Sphero. And inside that sphere is the sole surviving alien being from a race that had evolved passed the need for physical bodies, and he came to Earth to help with the evacuation when it was discovered that the evil aliens were on their way back, but then we went and shot him with our space canon.  Hey, we all make mistakes, unless you are the awesome David Levinson who is never wrong.

jeff goldblum 

David Levinson, the Mary Sue of scientists.

Director Roland Emmerich is under the false impression that bigger is better. Independence Day: Resurgence goes for more global wide destruction than we got in the first one, but then it fails to have any characters for us to give a damn about. The best CGI in the world cannot create tension and suspense if you don't have anybody worth worrying about.  Emmerich doesn’t even go with just making the destruction scenes bigger, he also gives us an alien queen who is danger of being sued by the Cloverfield monster. As if somehow a kaiju sized monster in your final act would make up for all the lacklustre action we’ve had to suffer through up till then.


I actually cheered on the Queen as she tried to stomp a bus full of orphans.

This is a two hour movie that felt like three. The returning cast members failed to bring back the charm of the original, and the newcomers were bland and almost universally terrible. The big action sequences were basically CGI clusterfucks that would barely be intelligible if we cared about what was going in the first place, which we don’t. That they intend to make this a franchise, with our heroes going off to fight the aliens on their home turf, is ludicrous. This movie will be lucky to get a spin-off straight-to-DVD animated movie.

Final Thoughts and Questions:

• Randy Quaid was the actual hero who saved the day in the last film, but his son does not appear as a Legacy Hero. Did President Trump have him deported prior to this movie?
• We see David Levinson hitting on a fellow scientist, but we never find out what happened to his ex-wife from the last movie. You know, the one he spent all that time trying to get back together with.
• Dr. Okun wakes up after a twenty year coma and immediately starts running around, because muscle atrophy is apparently a thing of the past.
• Once again it seems alien aircraft are easily hotwired.
• Yet at one point our valiant heroes find their stolen craft being remotely controlled by the aliens. Which begs the question; how the fuck did they steal them in the first place if that's a feature?
• They do eventually break free of the alien’s remote control, but they still have no way of steering them, so they have to do a controlled dive at the alien queen. Yet somehow they still manage to pull out of the dive and continue the attack instead of just crashing into her. How did they magically regain the ability to maneuver the ships?
• President Whitmore pulls a Randy Quaid and flies his bomber straight into the Queen’s mothership. This fails to kill the Queen making his character, and this portion of the film, completely pointless.
• We learn that the aliens came to Earth originally to steal the planet’s core. Why they pick populated planets, ones that have the ability to put up a resistance, is beyond stupid. Is Earth supposed to be the only planet in the Universe with a core?
• When the alien queen is destroyed the drilling ship, which was one minute away from destroying the planet, turns off its drill and leaves Earth. It does not lose power and crash like the ones in the original film did, no this one just leaves because their CEO died and I guess they were afraid they wouldn’t get paid.  Alien unions are tough.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) – Review

The original story of Snow White is a very simple tale; vane and evil queen wants potential rival of her beauty murdered, a huntsman fakes her death and the young girl is helped later by a bunch of dwarves. In 2012 we got Snow White and the Huntsman, a film which tried to “Lord of the Rings” up the story, and though it wasn’t all that good it was successful enough to spawn a sequel, a sequel that went into development hell when the affair between the lead actress and her married director got out. So four years later, and after many directors and actors came and went, we got The Huntsman: Winter's War, a movie that no one really asked for and mostly likely everyone will soon forget.


Originally intended to be a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman this film ended up being both a prequel and a sequel due to the departure of Kristen Stewart, for whatever reason the studio will admit to. The movie begins with a sort of origin story as we see Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) murdering her husband and taking over his kingdom. The endless narration, provided by an uncredited Liam Neeson, tells of how Ravenna moved from kingdom to kingdom like some supernatural black widow, marrying and killing king after king and thus expanding her reign. I’m not sure how this con would work; after the first couple kings die mysteriously just who and the hell would marry this Queen of Death?


Sure she’s hot and all but the fatality rate is 100%.

But Ravenna isn’t the only evil queen in this movie; we also have her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) who at first is a shown as a sweet girl with none of the magical powers of her older sister, but when Freya gets knocked up by the man she loves, then betrayed when said man murders her baby, she goes all Ice Queen and kills him.


Insert obligatory Frozen joke here.

Freya moves north to start her own kingdom (Are kingdom’s something you find on Craig’s list?) and with an army she acquires from who the hell knows, she forms a land of ice and snow. She sends out her army to steal children which she will then brainwash with her doctrine of “Love is a Sin” and turn them into Huntsman. If none of this makes a lot of sense you are not alone. As villains go Freya is a terribly weak character, and is never much of a threat despite her ice powers. When two of her stolen children grow up to be badass warriors Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), she is at first proud of them, and then vastly disappointed when they fall in love with each other.


They even make out in Jon Snow and Ygritte’s hot spring.

Cold hearted Freya confronts them and creates a massive ice wall to separate them before forcing Eric to watch as Sara is killed by her fellow huntsmen. Eric is then struck from behind and his body is dumped in an icy river. Standard villain mistake; not verifying that the person is actually dead. The movie then jumps ahead seven years to a little while after the events that took place in Snow White and the Huntsman. From King William of Tabor (Sam Claffin) Eric learns that at the direction Snow White the Magic Mirror was being moved to a safe place known as “Sanctuary” but while on route it had been stolen. The Queen wants her ever faithful huntsman to get it back. As Kristen Stewart never makes an appearance in this film this entire quest seems rather contrived, and the quest to get back the mirror leads to the introduction of dwarven comic relief (Nick Frost) and friends, as well as deleted scenes from Lord of the Rings.


Are they following the mirror to Mordor?

This movie doesn’t have an ounce of originality in it's 114 minute running time, every scene looks borrowed from another movie; the meet a mysterious stranger in a tavern fight, they cross the Bog of Eternal Stench from Labyrinth on bridge out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and every scene with Freya reminds us how much better of a character Elsa from Frozen was. The entire cast seems to be working as if studio snipers are just perched off camera to ensure that none of the actors escape. Chris Hemsworth occasionally tries to breathe some life into the movie with his trademark grin, but all it does is make one wish you were watching him in a Thor movie instead. Jessica Chastain only appears in this film to fulfill some contractual obligation due to her getting the role in Crimson Peaks, and it’s clear she really didn’t want to be here.


She really should have read the fine print on that contract.

Questions of Note:
  • Ravenna and Freya are constantly conquering kingdoms, just exactly how many bloody kingdoms does this land have?
  • Freya outlaws love, so I guess kidnapping children is the only way to expand your kingdom if you've basically made sex illegal.
  • Why are the members of Freya’s army called Huntsman? They conquer kingdoms not animals.
  • Why does Eric and Sara have thick Scottish accents?
  • There is a running joke about how male dwarves consider female dwarves ugly, even though when we meet a couple of female dwarves they are nothing of the kind. Comedy?
  • Goblins swing through the trees like apes from a Tarzan cartoon.
  • To save the party from the goblins Eric cuts the rope bridge over the bog river, but he does this with himself on the same side as the goblins. So he’s not what you’d call a tactical genius.
  • Also it’s a small river encompassed by large trees, so the tree swinging goblins shouldn’t really need a bridge to cross it.
  • The Magic Mirror gains new abilities whenever the script demands it.
  • Sisters have a falling out and one has ice powers. Disney’s lawyer were told to, “Let it go.

Aside from some nice visuals there is nothing to offer viewers; the script is a mess, the cast seems completely uninterested in whats going on, and first time director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (he was a visual effects artist before this) is unable to create any sense of urgency or wonder in what is supposed to be an exciting fantasy film. Kristen Stewart certainly dodged a bullet in not appearing in this generic and tone deaf mess.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tarzan Triumphant: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

TarzanTriumphant-BB1Originally released as Tarzan and the Raiders in 1931 for The Blue Book Magazine Tarzan Triumphant is the 15th book in the Tarzan series and shows that by this time Burroughs had his Tarzan formula down pat. Civilians enter the jungles of Africa, Tarzan will become aware of them and investigate, a lost city will be found, and one or more of the civilians will fall in love with a princess, a priestess, a slave girl, or a British aviatrix. Then at some point towards the end of the book the Waziri warriors will show up to kick ass. As formulas go it’s a pretty good one, and Burroughs mixes in such a great collection of characters that make almost every story fun and exciting.
The beginning of Tarzan Triumphant has author Edgar Rice Burroughs informing us that two thousand years ago of the martyrdom Paul of Tarsus which caused an epileptic named Angustus of Ephesus to flee through the Island of Rhoades, acquire a slave girl, travel through Alexandria, Memphis, Thebae, and headed deep into Africa. How does something that happened so long ago have any bearing on Tarzan and his friends? Well this epileptic would found the Land of Midian which will be today’s lost civilization, where two diametrically opposed societies believe the other to be heretics, and it's these religious fanatics that will put our heroes in great jeopardy.

And who are today’s guest stars? First we have Lady Barbara Collis, daughter of the Earl of Whimsey, who is flying over the Ghenzi Mountains. When she runs out of fuel, with added problem of a broken compass, she is forced to bail out of her aircraft. She parachutes down into a massive volcanic crater, also known as Midian, and it there that she is at first believed to be some messenger of God. This group of people, known as South Midians, consists of repulsive looking, dark haired, big nosed men and women who suffer from epileptic seizures. There does happen to be one attractive resident; Jezebel is a blonde and beautiful girl who quickly befriends Barbara. She teaches Barbara the local language and does her best to hold up the whole “Messenger of God” con for as long as possible. The cruel and sadistic religious practices of the South Midians shock Lady Barbara but when she tries to stop them this just has the jealous male leaders decry her a false prophet and a heretic and she is sentenced to death. When has the religious con ever worked out for anybody?

We also have Leon Stabutch, a Russian personally chosen by Joseph Stalin to avenge Peter Zeri's death (killed in Tarzan the Invincible), and his mission is to and track down and kill Tarzan of the Apes. Things take an unexpected turn for this communist agent when a band of shiftas attack (local militia in the lawless rural mountainous regions that consist mostly of bandits and revolutionaries) all the natives making up Stabutch’s safari desert him. This particular group of shiftas is led by Dominio Capietro, an Italian communist, who spares Stabutch as they are both Reds. As Tarzan is a threat to Capietro’s operation he is more than willing to help Stabutch with his mission if ridding the world of the Ape Man. Unbeknownst to them Tarzan has been given reports of a white man leading a group of raiders and has headed off to investigate.

Note: When a native asks Tarzan for help with these shiftas that are looting, killing and enslaving his people Tarzan initially refuses, “But why do you come to me?” demanded the ape-man. “I do not interfere among tribes beyond my boundaries of my own country, unless they commit some depredation against my own people.” But when he is told the shiftas are being led by a white man, “That,” said Tarzan, “is different. I will return with you to your country.” I understand that Tarzan can’t police all of Africa but it's strange that him just hearing a white man is involved will get him off the pot.


Next we have Danny "Gunner" Patrick, a Chicago mobster who is on the run after double crossing the local crime boss that employed him. Thinking England would be a nice safe place to lay low he books passage on an ocean liner where he encounters Lafayette Smith, a geologist heading to Africa to study rock formations. When Gunner learns there are no police in Africa he decides to join Smith’s expedition, even though he hasn’t a clue what geology is. Smith is one of those scientist types that should never leave the lab as he has no concept of danger or self-preservation, but lucky for him Danny is packing a Thompson machine gun, a little item that saves the day several times including a nice rescue of Tarzan from the shifta horde.

Because Africa is such a tiny place all these characters end up in the same part of the jungle. Smith accidentally finds a crevice that leads into the Land of Midian and is able to rescue Barbara and Jezebel from being burned alive, unfortunately his rescuing skills, as well as his marksmanship and navigation, are not the best and they are soon captured by the North Midians. These are the other inhabitants of Midian who, unlike their northern brethren, are all blonde and attractive but just as religiously zealous. Total out of the frying pan and into the fire situation.

Note: Any reader of Burroughs knows that the author is not a fan of organized religion and his depiction of the Midians is a biting satire against the silliness of Christianity. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the Python gang was a fan and some of the stuff here influenced Monty Python and The Life of Brian.


Tarzan Triumphant is almost farcical in its nature; we have Smith and Danny bumbling through the jungle, a place neither clearly belongs, and then we have Barbara and naïve Jezebel who give us a sweet relationship between women of vastly different backgrounds, as well as some nice comedy. Barbara is sharp and sarcastic while Jezebel thinks any man that is not like the repulsive looking people from her village is “beautiful.” Jezebel eventually will encounter Danny, who she says is beautiful, and their back and forth dialog is brilliant.  She has only rudimentary understanding of the English language that she gained from being with Lady Barbara and when she tries to understand Danny’s American gangster slang it’s just hilarious. This is basically provides us with an excellent Abbot and Costello routine years before those two teamed up.

tarzan triumphant

This group of misfits will be captured, escape on their own, get recaptured, then get rescued by one of the other misfits or Tarzan himself, that is until the Waziri warrior eventually show up to blast the hell out of the shiftas. I simply love this book; it is pure escapist entertainment, with great humor and wit that had me laughing out loud several times. Once again Tarzan serves as the “outside agent” and it’s the civilians who enter “his country” that is the focus of the book. From Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle on it’s the quality of the “guest stars” that determine whether the book works or not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Witch (2015) - Review

"If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today you'd better go in disguise!" In the 2015 horror film The Witch, by writer/director Robert Eggers, it is the unknown that is the true horror to found here, and what was more unknown and scarier than the dark and gloomy forest of the New World? Taking place in 17th Century New England, sixty-two years before the Salem Witch Trials, this story deals with a Puritan family ostracized by their community and how fear and evil of all kinds tears them apart.


The father of this family is William (Ralph Ineson), a man so absolute in his Puritan beliefs that he challengers the community leaders, and this is what gets him and his family kicked out. With him are his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), their son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). It becomes clear that Katherine would rather be back living in the town, or even happier if she were back in England, but a devoted wife must follow her husband. Caleb is going through puberty, which causes him to look at his older sister in disturbing ways, and Thomasin herself isn’t all that happy taking care of the toddling terrors that are the twins. Add to all this the constant bible quoting by their overly pious father and it’s a recipe for disaster. But not all the strife is relegated to this 17th Century nuclear family, beyond their family homestead is the forest, a dark and primordial place where you can lose more than your way if you dare to step inside its boundaries.


One day, while playing with her new baby brother, Thomasin’s life is rocked to her very core when a simple game of peek-a-boo results in the baby suddenly vanishing almost right before her eyes, and when the child is not recovered the family spirals even further out of control. We soon see an old crone murdering the infant to use its blood and viscera for a flying potion, and it is all truly horrifying. This is the movie’s title character, and she is right out of Eastern European folklore. This is the kind of witch that would either have a house that walks on chicken legs or she’d be building a home out of candy to lure children to their deaths. Robert Eggers’ The Witch is about religious fanaticism and superstitious fear but not in the “Man uses fear to control others” way but more that evil itself uses this fear and divisiveness to tear humanity apart for its own ends. When a lack of food, and a mother wracked by grief, causes Caleb and Thomasin to venture back into the forest only one of them returns.


Beware, that is not Red Riding Hood.

Many viewers have criticized this movie for not being scary enough, but Robert Eggers is not of the school of the "wall banging" and "jump scares" that you get in the current batch if modern horror films such as The Conjuring or Mama. Not that there is anything wrong with that style but Eggers seems more interested in creating a creeping dread that will take hold of the viewer and never let go.
When this Puritanical family starts going at each others throats, accusing each other of being a witch, I found this more in keeping with the Twilight Zone as seen in such classic episodes as "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," but instead of aliens manipulating stupid humans it’s the dark forces of witchcraft. This is a movie that states that not only is the horror in you but it's also out there, and if you give into your fears something nasty may be just around the corner. So basically don’t go into the woods today, even if you hear that teddy bears are having a picnic.


Cause it’s totally not bears, and your soul could be on the menu.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Boy (2016) – Review

Creepy dolls in the horror genre is nothing new; from The Twilight Zone’sLiving Doll” episode to The Conjuring’s lame spin-off Annabelle we’ve been subjected to countless iteration of the scary doll motif. In the film The Boy takes the sub-genre to an even deeper level lame than we got with Annabelle or that terrible Poltergeist remake. Director William Brent Bell knows how to create an atmosphere of fear and dread, but then he tosses that all aside for cheap jumps scares. Worse is that two of those jumps scares are of the “It was just a dream” variety. I haven’t been so annoyed with dream sequences since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Though to be fair The Boy came out before the BvS movie, but this film could have been improved vastly if one of the dreams had The Flash traveling back in time to warn us to not watch this movie.

The Boy 2016 

*Spoilers ahead*

The movie begins with young American Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan) arriving at an imposing English mansion where she has accepted a babysitting job. The job is to take care of eight year old Brahms while his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire (Jim Norton/Diana Hardcastle), take off for a much deserved holiday. There is only one small problem; Brahms is not a real boy but a life sized porcelain doll. It’s at this point a rational person would be trying see how fast they can get that cab back but not our Greta, she just rolls with it as Mrs. Heelshire informs Greta of all her responsibilities in caring for Brahms; read to him, dress and feed him, and play loud Gregorian music. So right off the bat writer Stacey Meaner hands us a premise that is incredibly hard to swallow, and as the movie continues it just gets harder and harder. Who in their right mind would stay and do this job? Let’s check off the red flags shall we?


1) Creepy gothic manor in the middle of nowhere.


2) Disturbing family portrait.


3) No cell service.


4) This fucking doll.

Consider the suspension of disbelief broken. Sure we get a backstory that Greta has fled Montana to escape an abusive ex-boyfriend, but is this the only job on the planet? I don’t care how much they are paying her for this gig because even if there isn’t anything supernatural going on it still means your employers are little bit crazy. Who needs that shit on top of a stalking ex-boyfriend? The movie does establish quickly how Greta is not the most level headed thinker; when the Heelshires depart for their holiday, after Mrs. Heelshire creepily whispers into Greta’s ear, “I’m sorry.” She once again fails to take the hint and call a cab. During a stormy night she discovers that someone has cut a lock out of her hair, stolen her necklace while she was showering, and thenshe hears what sounds like a child’s laugh and footsteps in the hall she goes to investigate.  And when she finds the ladder to the attic mysteriously down what does she do?


She investigates the dark attic while wearing a towel.

It just gets worse from here. Local grocery delivery man Malcom (Rupert Evans), tells Greta that the Heelshire’s lost their son on his eighth birthday in a tragic fire, and that the doll appeared shortly afterwards. She is also told that Brahms was an “odd” boy and it is rumored he could have been responsible for the murder of local girl. It’s also noted that the fire happened the same day as the murder, just before authorities had a chance to question Brahms. Does Greta now ask Malcom to help her pack and drive her to the airport? No, she hangs around this spooky ass house as objects continue to apparently move on their own, and a child’s voice on the telephone asking her to, “Come play, pretty Greta” and “Why won’t you follow the rules?” Brahms even leaves her favorite sandwich outside her door. It’s at this point that Greta comes to the realization that somehow the ghost of the dead child inhabits the doll, and it’s because he is shy that no one sees him when he moves. Yeah, that makes sense. So Greta decides to take the job seriously and begins to treat the doll like real child, and she follows the list given to her by the Heelshires, a list which mysteriously appeared next to the doll.



  1. No Guests
  2. Never Leave Brahms Alone
  3. Save Meals in Freezer
  4. Never Cover Brahms’ Face
  5. Read a Bedtime Story
  6. Play Music Loud
  7. Clean the Traps
  8. Only Malcolm Brings Deliveries
  9. Brahms is Never to Leave
  10. Kiss Goodnight
But they completely forgot:
  1. No Bright Lights
  2. Don’t get Him Wet
  3. Never Feed Him After Midnight
It’s at this point I suspected that Greta had actually gone nuts from shock, but soon she enlists Malcolm in her insanity, even getting Brahms’ help proving that the he is in fact alive. Greta treats this all with a giddy sense of fun, kind of like the way the mom in the original Poltergeist reacted to the furniture moving on it's own, but in that case a dead kid and voices on the phone weren’t a factor. Malcolm even tries to float the idea that they don’t know for sure if this spirit isn’t malevolent, and that odd little Brahms could have been a murderer. Greta pooh-poohs this as her sweet porcelain Brahms would never hurt her.


Cue idiot ex-boyfriend.

How did this jerk track her to England all the way from Montana you ask? Well turns out he banged on her family’s door, telling them he was sorry and wanted to send her a letter apologizing for the whole abuse and miscarriage that resulted. Do her parents offer to mail the letter for him? No, they give him her address in England so that he can continue to stalk her and violate the restraining order. Either her parents are dumber than she is or they want her dead for some reason. Regardless Cole (Ben Robson), her psychotic ex-boyfriend, shows up unannounced and tells her that he has plane tickets for the both of them to return to Montana the very next day. Brahms is not cool with that.


*Massive Twist Spoiler Ahead*

Despite Malcolm showing up, giving her an easy out, Greta doesn’t ask for his help, doesn't call the local authorities or do much of anything aside from offering Cole a pillow and a blanket. During the night Cole is woken by dripping blood as someone has used dead rats to write "Get Out" in blood on the wall above him. Cole rightfully freaks out and accuses Greta of writing the message; while Greta tries to explain to Cole that it is the doll’s doing Malcolm arrives, (he was waiting outside in his car like a useless twit), and the two try and convince Cole that the doll is alive. Cole does the next sensible thing, he smashes the porcelain dolls head to smithereens. The room erupts with weird rumblings as the walls begin to shake, and just as Cole presses his ear against a large mirror and says, “Shhh, there’s something…” the mirror explodes in the asshats face.


Enter the real Brahms.

Yeah, turns out that Brahms (James Russell) didn’t die in the fire all those years ago but has been living in the walls for the entire time, and he just sneaks out to move the doll around to vicariously live through his porcelain avatar. **sigh** Up to this point the film had been a fairly ridiculous horror film, one that at times managed to give a person goosebumps, that is when it wasn’t going for cheap jumps scares, but this twist reveal is just plain terrible and not even all that original. Back in 2009 there was an episode of Supernatural where a supposed haunted house turned out not to actually be haunted, but that there was a crazy person living in the walls. So not only is this script full of unbelievable stupid characters it’s not even all that original. The film then tries to turn itself into a chapter of Friday the 13th as the masked killer stalks Greta and Malcolm through the house.


Well he’s got the mask, but he’s missing the machete.

The problem here is that Brahms isn’t some unstoppable supernatural force like Jason Voorhees was, he’s just some dude that’s been living in the walls for twenty years. Malcom and Greta repeatedly knock the guy down but they constantly run off instead of just hitting him a couple more times. The film then has the audacity to rip-off the scene from Friday the 13th Part 2 where the Final Girl disguises herself as Jason’s mom to get close enough to deal a fatal blow. In this film Greta just tells Brahms that she is willing to be his babysitter and then she stabs him during the goodnight kiss. She, and the surprisingly not dead Malcolm who we last saw being pummeled by Brahms, drive off into the sunset while the camera tracks through the house to reveal Brahms is alive and is restoring the doll.


It’s cute that they thought this could be a franchise.

This is a well shot movie, and the director does manage to give us some genuine scares, but the script is so unbelievably stupid that whatever goodwill the actors and director managed to earn is completely blown during the last act. It’s no surprise that this film was released during the January dumping grounds along with The Forest.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tarzan the Invincible: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

BlueBook193102It’s Tarzan of the apes versus the Red Menace! Originally released under the title Tarzan, Guard of the Jungle, in the pages of The Blue Book Magazine between from 1930 to 1931, this is a book that may have today’s young readers asking, “Mom, what’s a communist?” With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War such stories have become a bit dated, but when Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing these stories the threat of communism was something many feared. In several of his books Burroughs managed to slip anti-communist sentiments into his fantasy or sci-fi stories, and in the case of The Moon Men we got a blatant and scathing attack on communism using science fiction tropes as analogs to the current threat, much as Gene Rodenberry did with the original Star TrekThen there are books like Tarzan the Invincible where the story is contemporary and our heroes must work against Communist agents who want to see the “evils” of Capitalism fall.

Tarzan himself is not much of a political animal, though his birth family is British he considers himself more of the ape society than that of man’s, but if a threat to the peace and stability of his beloved Africa rears its ugly head he will put an end to it, viciously and violently. When a small group of white men, leading a larger force consisting of many African natives and Arabic fighters, cross over into the part of Africa that Tarzan considers his home the Ape Man decides to find out just what these people are doing in His Africa.

The party consists of two Russians, the beautiful Zora Drinov and the crafty Comrade Zveri, an East Indian named Raghunath Jafar, and Miguel Romero from Mexico, all have come to Africa to foment unrest between the French and the Italians, hoping this will cause a war between two of Communisms greater foes. The native and Arab contingent have joined on the promises that this will drive the whites out of Africa, but they wouldn’t have been so quick to join if they knew that Comrade Zveri actually plans to become Emperor of Africa and that his claims to be a leader of the communist revolution is just a sham to further his goal of wealth and power. Zora herself seems to be a true believer in the cause, so much so that she at first isn’t too fond of Wayne Colt, an America who is working against his own country. Even though he is on her side in the fight against the bourgeois, the fact that he is betraying his own country is something she cannot abide. That Colt is portrayed as noble, courageous, self-serving and good looking will have most readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs deducing that he may not be the “Traitorous American” Zora is led to believe he is.

Zveri has crossed into Tarzan’s territory because he wants to loot the treasure vaults of the fabled city of Opar. It’s at this point in the series that we must consider that “Opar, the lost outpost of Atlantis” isn’t all that lost. So many people have come and gone into this place that the priests of the Flaming God should think about putting up a tourist kiosk. Zveri only dares to trek into the domain of the Ape Man because he believes Tarzan to be away on some dirigible adventure (see Tarzan at the Earth’s Core). Though even with Tarzan “assumed out of the way” raiding the City of Opar is no easy task, especially when 90% of your party are a superstitious and cowardly lot, and who flee at the first eerie cries from the lost valley.

Of course things aren’t all that great in Opar itself, when Tarzan slips past the communists to warn the High Priestess of the coming intruders he finds that La herself has been overthrown. Tarzan is seized by the new regime, but he quickly escapes with the beautiful La, who is still madly in love with Tarzan. Unfortunately once again Tarzan goes off to hunt for food without telling his charge where he went or if he is ever coming back. This results in a despondent La wandering off into the jungle, but what is truly terrible is that the dangerous animals of the jungle are the least of her worries.


Tarzan the Invincible has once again two damsels in distress; Zora is constantly in the brink of being raped or sold into slavery, and when La staggers into the camp she quickly finds herself in the same boat as Zora. Now Zora does manages to survive most her encounters with the vile Arab raiders that wish her harm, but mostly it comes down to her being either rescued by Wayne Colt or Tarzan.  What is great in this book is how badass La has become, she is not your typical damsel that we find in many of the Tarzan stories. She kills several of the bastards who dare lay hands on the High Priestess of the Flaming God, gutting them with her sacrificial knife, and later she teams up with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion to kick even more ass, and that this is her last appearance in the series greatly saddens me. When natives flee in terror at seeing this golden goddess striding through the jungle, with her fingers enmeshed in the mane of a massive golden lion, I kind of wish that she would have eventually hook up with Tarzan. Sorry Jane, you're sweet and all, but you just don’t quite measure up to the High Priestess of the Flaming God.

This book also has some of the greatest Tarzan moments of series; we get Tarzan using his brains to mess with the superstitious natives, the ever loyal Tantor stamping Tarzan’s enemies into pulp, there’s Jad-bal-ja eating anyone who would dare lay a finger on Tarzan or his friends, Nkima is his brilliant and hilariously cowardly self throughout, and once again the brave Waziri warriors (who are really Tarzan’s personal jungle SWAT team) show up at the end to help kick butt.

Note: Tarzan does get shot in the head…again. He must have the thickest skull on the planet for the amount of times he’s fallen out of a tree on his head, or had a bullet crease it, and yet never suffer from no brain damage.


This one hell of a fun book, it perfectly encapsulates what makes Tarzan such a great character; he is heroic but also unpredictable, he could rush off to save the day or instead spend days lolling in the sun on the back of Tantor the elephant, and when he does arrive it’s often in the form of an avenging jungle god who meets out justice in the only way he knows how, violently and finally. All the supporting characters in this book work to keep the story moving at a fast clip, the villains will fail, love will triumph, and Tarzan will prove he is the one and only true king of the jungle.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Conjuring 2 (2016) – Review

"If there's somethin' strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?" Well apparently if you’re the Catholic Church you don’t call the Ghostbusters, you call Ed and Loraine Warren instead. In 2010 director James Wan terrified audience with his horror film Insidious and then in 2013 he doubled down and broke box office records for a horror film with The Conjuring, and it looks like he is on the way to doing it again with The Conjuring 2.


The first Conjuring movie opened with the Warrens explaining the case of the evil doll Annabelle to a lecture hall full of people, and now in The Conjuring 2 the film opens with the Warrens investigating the notorious Amityville Horror house. These are basically like the James Bond cold opens where we come in as Bond is finishing off a mission only in this series it's the Warrens busting some ghost or demon, but sadly we don't get any cool Saul Bass credit sequences between the opening and the movie proper.

Basing a film franchise on the paranormal investigations of the Warrens is pure genius; you can slap “Based on a true story” and then make up any crazy shit you want because that’s basically what the Warrens did in real life. This movie even deals with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Loraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) being accused of perpetrating hoaxes by local skeptics, but then the movie will show us terrifying images that are clearly not something you could fake. 

“Demonic nuns, bullshit or not?”

Five minutes of googling will reveal to you that the Amityville case was simply about home owners teaming up with the lawyer of a convicted murderer, Butch deFeo who has since admitted to murdering his abusive parents while high on heroine, and to fabricate a hoax so as to make shitloads of money for one party and a possible retrial for the other on the grounds of demonic possession (Side Note: The Lutzes made tons of bank from book and movie deals while deFeo is still in jail, so the plan only half worked). The Warrens were just one of many paranormal investigators who jumped on the Amityville bandwagon to get some free publicity. So we can all agree that the Amityville horror was bullshit, but what about the Haunting of Enfield House that is the center of The Conjuring 2.


“Can we all agree this is bullshit as well?”

Yes, the haunting of Enfield House was another hoax, this time perpetrated by two teen-age girls who have since admitted as such. But Mike, you say, who gives a shit if it was real or not, is Conjuring 2 a good movie? Well you can all relax, it most certainly is. James Wan knows exactly what will scare an audience, and though his film still has its fair share of “jump scares” it’s the overall creeping dread and horrifying imagery that gets under your skin. When the ghost of Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian) starts harassing the family’s youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) we become immediately invested. Here is a sweet innocent girl being terrorized by an evil spirit, and by god do we ever want the Warrens to show up and start kicking his spectral ass.


Note: The kids own a musical zoetrope that plays “He was a Crooked Man” and it joins the long list of creepy toys that you DO NOT BUY FOR YOUR CHILD!” The thing unleashes a horrific visage of the “Crooked Man” that gives the demonic nun a run for her money in the scare department.

The movie does try and play around with “Is this a hoax?” idea, but as we the audience have seen things that clearly cannot be faked by teenage girls; such as Janet teleporting around the house, it makes that element of the plot the weakest. Sure it makes us want to scream “Ed, Lorraine, don’t give up on that family, they need you!” but overall that didn’t quite work for me because we know in our hearts that the Warrens are this film’s heroes and they will not abandon an innocent in danger, even if visions of a demonic nun keeping harbinging Ed’s death.  It's because of these visions that Loraine wants to hang up the ghost busting business, but when the Church asks them to investigate this family in need they can't turn it down.
Question: Does the Catholic Church have like a "Red Phone" to contact the Warrens with?  Maybe they should invest in a "Ghost Signal" that they can put on the roof of the Vatican.  Regardless of the dangers the Warrens fly to England to investigate on behalf of the Catholic Church which is apparently afraid of embarrassing themselves by getting mixed up with a potential hoax.


When the kid went all Linda Blair that kind of ruled out the hoax aspect.

Quibbles aside this is an excellent horror film, though not quite as good as the original it was still damn frightening at times, and certainly better than the prequel/spin-off Annabelle. Once again Patrick Wilson is the standout as the paranormal expert with a heart of gold; and Vera Farmiga is certainly no slouch as the demonically beleaguered wife, but basically the whole cast does terrific work here with no one hitting a wrong note.  With all the crappy horror films I’ve seen so far this year this was a nice breath of fresh, and chilling, air.

Monday, June 13, 2016

London Has Fallen (2016) – Review

Everyone knows that Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen was an over-the-top Die Hard rip-off that had more explosions than plot, and only managed to hit 48% on the Rotten Tomatoes, but it did pull in $161,000,000 million in worldwide box office receipts, thus the sequel London Has Fallen was greenlit. Now being helmed by relative newcomer Babak Najafi the producers of this sequel decided that if they’d only had more explosions than in the previous film it would fare better that the original. This was not the case.


The film begins with the G8 (Group of Eight) targeting Pakistani arms dealer and terrorist leader Aamir Barkawi (Alon Moni Aboutboul) at his daughter’s wedding with a drone strike. Later we are told the government leaders didn’t know that civilians were in the area but one has to call bullshit on that defense, and since when does the G8 get together decide on which terrorists to blow up? The current G8 has a hard enough time deciding on what to order for lunch during their annual meetings let alone agreeing on which random terrorist to hunt down and kill. Regardless of the stupidity of this Barkawi does survive the attack and he and his sons now want revenge for their dead daughter and sister.


In my opinion they should have cast Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin again.

The movie jumps ahead two years where we are re-introduced to our hero Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), Secret Service agent for President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart). He’s expecting his first child with wife Leah Banning (Rhada Mitchell), and we get the prerequisite new dad jokes. Banning has decided to retire from Presidential detail so that he can spend more time with his family, and presumably less time being shot at, but before he can print off his resignation letter the Prime Minister of Britain dies.  So Banning must put everything on hold so he organize the security detail for the President’s trip to England. He hates the whole idea of this trip, and even Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) is unhappy and asks if the President could possibly skip this event. Asher of course immediately pooh poohs the idea of cancelling the trip, informing Banning and Jacobs that, “It’s a State Funeral. It’s our oldest strongest ally.” Letting slide the fact that Britain is not America’s oldest ally, that would be France, who seriously would even consider floating up the idea of The President skipping the funeral of the Prime Minister of Britain?


Our leads have a “Fuck the rest of the world” attitude for most the film’s running time.

Of course it turns out that paranoid Banning was right and the whole funeral was a trap. The Prime Minister had been murder so as to lure forty heads of state into the crosshairs of the terrorist’s revenge plot. The film spends an inordinate amount of screen time showing all the world leaders arriving in London; the United States President by Airforce One, the President of France by boat, while Canada and Japan simply drive in. Then the hammer falls and shit gets real. Turns out that in the intervening two years Barkawi had managed to infiltrate every level of police, government and military personnel in Britain. Checkpoint security guards place car bombs under the State Visitor’s cars, ambulances are loaded with explosives to blow up bridges, and even the Queen's Guardsmen at Buckingham Palace had been infiltrated as we see them gun down the German Chancellor.


You’d think Buckingham Palace would have a better vetting process.

What follows is your standard Right Wing Republican wet dream. Terrorist seize control of the capital of one of the world’s most powerful nations as if that is something that is even remotely possible. Almost every famous landmark in London is destroyed in such explosive glory one almost forgets we're watching a terrorist attack and not an alien invasion or a meteor menace movie.

Note: This film would have completely won me over if at some point Aaron Eckhart explained the terrorist threat by burning a peach.

But apparently Eckhart is all out of peaches and all he has is a ham, and by that I of course mean Gerard “This is Sparta!” Butler. Mike Banning is not only a Super-Agent that cracks jingoistic one liners at the drop of a hat, but he's almost completely immune to gunfire. He can stand against hundreds of machine gun toting terrorists and not one bullet will find him.


These terrorist make Stormtroopers look like crack shots.

Banning needs this skill because aside from his incredibly ability to “not die” he is really terrible at his job. When the terrorists attack we are treated to a very nice action sequence of Banning trying to get The President back to Airforce One; motorcycle terrorists and mobs of fake policemen try and stop them, but at no point does he think of just hiding. Banning tells The President that even though the terrorist know that the United States Embassy is the first placed go they still have try for the Embassy, because it’s the only option. I’m not sure that’s true.  Are they assuming MI6, MI5 or even Scotland Yard wouldn't let them hang out? How about just popping into one of the many apartments or houses you pass by? Surely not every resident in London is a terrorist and somebody would offer The President of the United States a safe hiding spot until the city is retaken.


 But you know, explosions and stuff.

London Has Fallen is just a collection of action movie clichés that are trotted out one at a time to fillthe movie’s 90 minute running time. I will say this, the film does not fuck around. The plot is completely ludicrous and unbelievable, if one to give it a second thought, but the film rockets along at such breakneck speeds that it hopes the audience hasn’t the time to question how stupid the whole thing is. The action is well choreographed, and if you like to see wholesale destruction of famous landmarks this could be the film for you, but if you thought Olympus Has Fallen was silly and ridiculous you may want to give this one a miss.


Note: A can’t wait for the sequel when President Eckhart finally steps down and Vice President Morgan Freeman must battle terrorists armed with meteors.