10.07.2018

Venom (2018)


DIRECTED BY
Ruben Fleischer

STARRING
Tom Hardy - Eddie Brock/Venom
Michelle Williams - Anne Weying
Riz Ahmed - Carlton Drake/Riot
Jenny Slate - Dr. Dora Skirth
Reid Scott - Dr. Dan Lewis

Genre - Action/Horror/Sci-Fi/Comic Books

Running Time - 112 Minutes


PLOT (From IMDB):
When Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.

REVIEW
Even after the terrible usage in SPIDER-MAN 3 and the licensing of Spider-Man from their studio to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony decided to continue with their “Spidey-Verse” with the release of VENOM - a solo venture featuring one of Spider-Man’s more famous foes and resident anti-hero of the Marvel Universe in general. While the lack of Spider-Man involved in Venom’s origin left me feeling less than motivated to watch, the casting of Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock did leave me intrigued as I’m a fan of his work. But you know me - I’m going to watch any comic book related movie in a theater, so VENOM was always going to be on my radar. I wasn’t expecting much out of the film and the bad reviews didn’t help to persuade me that I was going to waste my money watching this. And while VENOM is definitely mediocre and forced at times at what it’s trying to accomplish, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself throughout. It definitely has serious issues, but I thought VENOM was more fun than it had any right to be.

The main reason VENOM may be worth a recommendation for superhero genre fans is for Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock. Hardy seems to be really enjoying himself in the role, acting like a schizophrenic with an alien voice in his head while doing some cool stunt work. He also plays Eddie like a human being, flawed and all, wanting the big scoops as an investigative reporter that end up costing him not only his job, but the love of his life in the process. The human moments for the character seem to be where Hardy thrives the best, creating a three-dimensional character that we can identify with and support throughout the film. And when he actually becomes Venom, his behavior becomes more erratic and he has hilarious dialogue with his alien counterpart. Hardy could have phoned it in for a paycheck, but you can tell he’s one-hundred percent invested in giving us a great performance and to lead a franchise. He definitely made me forget about Topher Grace’s unfortunate performance from eleven years ago.

And while the screenplay isn’t anything to write home about and the direction as generic as they come when it comes to this genre, at least both aspects are memorable enough to be entertaining. Whether it’s in a good or a bad way, that’s up to the viewer. But I friggin’ had a blast at the cheesy dialogue, the silly action sequences, the better-than-expected special effects [Venom and the symbiotes looked cool], and the hammy acting by everyone involved. It felt like a B-movie from a different era and I was more than okay with that. Sometimes I don’t want to think while watching a film, and VENOM allows that in spades.

VENOM is nowhere close to perfect though. The story itself is totally contrived and cliche, the dialogue is ridiculous a lot of the time, and the villain is stereotypical as hell [the idea to recreate the world in his own image like a God] even though he starts off more interesting than he how he ends off. Things just randomly happen without explanation, leaving one feel that there was more to this film but was edited off for some reason. As I later learned, over 40 minutes of footage was cut - I guess to save later for a blu-ray release. You can really tell, since VENOM does feel disjointed every now and then, making for a strange pace that still kind of works for some reason. And the final act is pretty weak to be honest, even if the action element was pretty okay.

I also thought some of the actors, especially Michelle Williams, seemed to be forcing her performance. I didn’t really buy her all that much and seemed to try too hard. She didn’t feel like a real character to me, but rather an archetype of the love interest that had to be inserted to give Eddie Brock some motivation. She’s definitely a better actress than what she portrays in VENOM, as she seems to having trouble trying to keep up with the comedy and with Tom Hardy. Maybe it was the material she was given. Maybe she just did the film for a paycheck. Either way, she stood out a bit because I don’t think she took the role seriously enough for most of the movie. Some of the other actors had a similar issue to varying degrees, but Williams was the most high profile.

THE FINAL HOWL
Even with its issues, VENOM turned out better than it had any right to be. Yes, it’s not a good movie. Yes, the story is cliche, predictable, and really dumb. The obvious edits create some pacing issues and most of the actors seem to be forcing it and trying too hard. And it’s weird not having Spider-Man be part of the character’s origin, as he should be honestly. However, VENOM still manages to be an entertaining film that never bores you, regardless of its problems. And Tom Hardy is excellent as Eddie Brock, finally giving the character the portrayal we all wanted since 2007. It looks and feels like a B-movie and I had fun with it. And with the $200 million-plus worldwide gross the film has already received, we’re definitely getting more of this universe - with a long anticipated villain that will hopefully be done justice to. Not the superhero film of the year, but still worth a watch if you want something silly and dumb for two hours.


SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4



10.05.2018

Catch Up Reviews: Mandy (2018), Terrifier (2017) & Summer of '84 (2018)


DIRECTED BY
Panos Cosmatos

STARRING
Nicolas Cage - Red Miller
Andrea Riseborough - Mandy Bloom
Linus Roache - Jeremiah Sand
Bill Duke - Caruthers
Richard Brake - The Chemist
Ned Dennehy - Brother Swan
Olwen Fouere - Mother Marlene

Genre - Horror/Action/Supernatural

Running Time - 121 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB):
Taking place in 1983, Red (Nicolas Cage) is a lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader (Linus Roache), who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a crossbow and custom Axe, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.



REVIEW
Following his cult 2010 arthouse horror film BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, Panos Cosmatos returns with MANDY - another surreal and arthouse horror film that takes elements of rape-revenge and exploitation films to create a memorable, even if unoriginal, story. In a lot of ways, MANDY is a love-letter to late-70s/early-80s horror and exploitation. We get elements of HELLRAISER [Satanic Cenobite looking bikers], MAD MAX, PHANTASM, FRIDAY THE 13TH [Crystal Lake reference], THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II [chainsaw battle], and so on. And the visuals are definitely inspired by works of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, with the film’s rich reds, blues, and greens that infiltrate the more dream-like scenes. The film isn’t for everyone and may test some with its slow burn first half, which leads into a crazy second half. And while unoriginal and sometimes cliche at times, MANDY still manages to leave an impression on you once its over, making this surreal nightmare resonate and leave you wanting more.

MANDY really works due to its performances, especially that of Nicolas Cage. Cage hasn’t made the best impression as an actor for a while now, but 2018 seems to be the year of his critically acclaimed comeback with both this and MOM & DAD [a film I hope to watch soon]. Cage was born to play a role like Red - a peaceful man turned crazy vengeful when his love is taken away from him in a violent way. Cage manages to do a wonderful job from going to normally subtle to batshit over-the-top - having chainsaw battles, snorting drugs, slicing throats and getting bled on like Ash from THE EVIL DEAD - Cage is in his element here. And even though Cage can be a bit much at times, it’s convincing here considering all the crap he goes through along his way towards vengeance. Andrea Riseborough is also fantastic as Mandy, giving a quiet performance that relies more on her facial expressions and body language rather than the words she says. She has a Sissy Spacek quality about her, making her a compelling presence. Linus Roache is also pretty great as cult leader Jeremiah Sand, managing to be creepy without doing a whole lot. Takes balls [pun intended] to show your pecker out there and then get laughed at, so kudos to him on his bravery and intensity. Also nice to see Bill Duke and Richard Brake make small supporting roles.

And even though it’s only a short segment, that Cheddar Goblin is truly a bizarre character. I’d like to know what drugs I need to take to create something so strange, yet memorably appealing at the same time. With the fandom it has gained, I could see this character make another appearance in another Cosmatos film. 

And any film that uses King Crimson’s “Starless” during its opening credits automatically gets approval from me. Such a wonderful song and used in the right type of film.

MANDY isn’t for everyone, so it’s a hard film to recommend to mainstream audiences. If you’re not into Lynchian storytelling and arthouse style that is inspired by Italian horror and other genre films, then this film isn’t for you. But if you want to see a pretty great Nicolas Cage performance, some trippy filmmaking in terms of visuals and storytelling, and violence shot beautifully, then MANDY may be for you. Sometimes, I feel a film like this can come across as pretty pretentious, turning me off from it. But something about MANDY had me invested from beginning to end, leaving me still thinking about it days after watching it. It’s not a perfect film, but I absolutely loved it. One of the most interesting films I’ve seen in 2018 by far and worth a look if you go into it with an open mind. The less you know about it, the better. It may surprise you.


4 Howls Outta 4





DIRECTED BY
Damien Leone

STARRING
Jenna Kanell - Tara
Samantha Scaffidi - Victoria
David Howard Thornton - Art the Clown
Catherine Corcoran - Dawn
Pooya Mohseni - Cat Lady
Matt McAllister - Mike the Exterminator

Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 86 Minutes



PLOT (From IMDB):
A maniacal clown (David Howard Thornton) terrorizes three young women (Jenna Kanell, Samantha Scaffidi and Catherine Corcoran) on Halloween night and everyone else who stands in his way.



REVIEW
With all the talk and hype about this one, TERRIFIER was a film that was majorly on my radar from the moment I heard about it. You know me - I love slasher films and I wasn’t going to miss this one as long as it was streaming on Netflix for the time being. With a cool looking killer and word-of-mouth claiming that this film was a “nod to ‘80s slashers”, I was expecting a fun nostalgic trip with TERRIFIER. And while it does have some cool moments, I felt that the hype didn’t match with TERRIFIER.

The best things about the film are, without a doubt, the gore effects and death scenes. A slasher film needs memorable and sometimes gruesome deaths, and TERRIFIER meets that requirement. The violence is pretty nasty in this film, feeling more like SAW and HOSTEL at times rather than an 80s slasher. But these effects are the highlight of TERRIFIER. We get people getting shot, slashed, stabbed through the skull, decapitations, hammers to the head - nothing all that inventive but still cool to watch unfold. And the best part is that most, if not all, of the effects are practical rather than CGI. I thought they were all done really well. Damien Leone directed a decent little slasher here that doesn’t succeed in tone, but succeeds in spirit. It’s also perfectly paced at less than 90 minutes too. Gorehounds will love the effects.

The other highlight of TERRIFIER is the film’s villain. Art the Clown, who was also featured in 2013’s ALL HALLOW’S EVE, is pretty great and extremely memorable. Never uttering a word, actor David Howard Thornton uses body language and facial expressions to convey Art’s creepy and psychotic personality. Art acts like a mime and moves around as if he was Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. He stalks and stares at his victims with a glare that could send chills up and down your spine. And Art is pretty handy with weapons, making you aware that his targets don’t have much of a chance. A lot of slasher filmmakers try to create a villain that could eventually star in their own franchise, losing sight of crafting a standalone horror film just to make a business decision that could either be successful or a total failure. And while TERRIFIER isn’t a complete success, at least Damien Leone managed to create a villain that many horror fans will remember and want to see more of. I wouldn’t mind a sequel or a spinoff to TERRIFIER, as long as Art the Clown is doing his thing.

I wish I could say that I loved the other characters as much as I did the film’s villain. But when I’m indifferent to the protagonists and feel more for the killer, that’s a problem I can’t overlook. Even in those franchise with the classic horror villains, you still had heroes that you could root for and identify with. I was unable to do that with TERRIFIER. The characters have no depth. They’re not even archetypes of any kind. People just randomly show up, just to be murdered. Honestly, TERRIFIER doesn’t even have a story. There’s sort of a premise here and it tries to follow slasher film 101. But things just happen for the sake of happening. Maybe it was designed to be one of those stories where it’s just a “moment in time” rather than a character arc that has a beginning, middle, and end. But none of these characters made a lasting impression on me. I felt bad for the actors because they do a good job with what they’re given, which isn’t a whole lot.

TERRIFIER got a lot of hype for a film that probably didn’t deserve it. Sure, it has great special FX [the death scenes are pretty damn awesome] and a memorable villain in Art the Clown [David Howard Thornton is more than solid and could probably carry a franchise as this character]. But with lack of story and characters that are paper-thin and unremarkable, I can’t justify myself watching this again for a long time. Decent for what it is, but I was expecting a whole lot more than what I got. 



2.5 Howls Outta 4







DIRECTED BY
François Simard
Anouk Whissell
Yoann-Karl Whissell

STARRING
Graham Verchere - Davey Armstrong
Judah Lewis - Tommy “Eats” Eaton
Caleb Emery - Dale “Woody” Woodworth
Cory Gruter-Andrew - Curtis Farraday
Tiera Skovbye - Nikki Kaszuba
Rich Sommer - Wayne Mackey
Jason Gray-Stanford - Randall Armstrong

Genre - Horror/Drama/Mystery

Running Time - 105 Minutes


PLOT (From IMDB):
After suspecting that their police officer neighbor (Rich Sommer) is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends (Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Corey Gruter-Andrew) spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous.


REVIEW
As a sucker for anything from or inspired by the decade of excess, SUMMER OF ’84 seemed like an easy choice to watch and talk about. My eagerness to watch the film was also helped by the fact that the people behind 2015’s awesome TURBO KID were also behind this film. While not as fun and colorful as TURBO KID, SUMMER OF ’84 is a more mature and grounded entry in the filmography of Simard, Whissell, and Whissell. I don’t think it’s as good or memorable as the earlier film, but still a worthy watch nonetheless.

My issues with SUMMER OF ’84 really stems from the film’s pacing. I enjoy a slow burn, but SUMMER OF ’84 really does take a while to get going. But when it does, it’s great - in particular, the final act is well-done and surprising at points. But I felt that nostalgia weighed the film down in the first hour. Instead of really moving the story along, SUMMER OF ’84 was more focused on sharing its inspirations. I’m always down for a film that’s a little bit of STAND BY ME, THE ‘BURBS, THE GOONIES, and any other ‘80s film that dealt with children living in the suburbs and suspecting evil people and things happening right under their noses. But you also have to keep the audience interested by telling a story that moves along faster than a snails pace. I almost fell asleep during this one at one point because there was too much nostalgia and dialogue-heavy moments, when I wanted more mystery and investigation over whether the neighbor really was a serial killer or not. Maybe I was looking for something different in the film than some others, but too much character development can be a bad thing as well.

I will say that when the film focuses on the investigation by the teenagers in the neighborhood, SUMMER OF ’84 is a lot of fun and downright creepy at times. The mystery isn’t so much of a mystery, but a case of whether Officer Wayne Mackey is a serial killer or not. Through REAR WINDOW spying and breaking into Mackey’s home, we slowly learn the truth. And this is where the film shines, as it’s a simple investigation that allows character growth and a mystery to be answered in a really dark manner. All of the characters are well defined and share realistic relationships with each other and the neighborhood. In a lot of ways, the protagonists seem to be majorly inspired by Stephen King’s Loser Club from the novel “It”. You have the brave leader, the smart one, the overweight one, the outsider, and the girl-next-door who comes from a broken family and finds a new one with the mentioned teenage boys. The characters are fleshed out and you care about them as they struggle with the idea that someone in their neighborhood could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Even the adults are well fleshed out, including our suspect. He’s a well respected cop in the neighborhood and seems like a great guy. But is he really? And watching the kids get spooked by the strange things he does also makes the viewer wonder if the kids are on to something, or if they’re just paranoid. And with a chaotic final act and an ending that could possibly justify a sequel of some sort, SUMMER OF ’84 has things going for it - even if it takes its sweet time getting there.

The direction by Simard, Whissell, and Whissell captures the time frame very well, wearing the inspirations on the film’s sleeve. While a slow burn, the film never feels longer than it is and keeps you interested in the end result. Unlike TURBO KID, SUMMER OF ’84 is a more muted and grounded affair - yet still trying to maintain a level of lost innocence that will never return. As someone raised in a metropolis, I can’t really identify with suburban life. But I’m sure those who do will compare the neighborhood to their own when they were the characters’ ages.

The acting is also well done. Graham Verchere is an excellent lead, capturing the portrait of a young teen struggling with the idea that his life-long neighbor could be harboring a secret that’s threatening not only other children, but himself as well. Verchere is confident, brave, smart, and truly feels like a curious teenager that may end up in more trouble than its worth. Tiera Skovbye, best known as Betty Cooper’s sister Polly on Riverdale, is also very good as Nikki - the troubled girl-next-door. While a bit older than Verchere, the two have good chemistry with each other even if it starts a bit awkwardly. The other actor to really mention is Rich Sommer, of Mad Men and GLOW fame. He’s perfectly cast as the suspected serial killer since he has such a baby face and nice guy demeanor. He carries his end extremely well and enjoyed all facets of his character arc.

SUMMER OF ’84 is a good film that captures the mid-80s suburban life really well, wearing its inspirations with pride while trying to create its own identity. While I think the film takes way too long to get to where it needs to go and maybe relies on the nostalgia love a bit too much at times, the mystery aspect is done well enough where you want to see how it all ends. The acting is wonderful and the characters are fleshed out enough for us to care about what happens to them. If you like films like THE ‘BURBS, STAND BY ME, REAR WINDOW and THE GOONIES, SUMMER OF ’84 probably deserves your attention.



3 Howls Outta 4



8.18.2018

[Animal Summer '18] Grizzly (1976)


DIRECTED BY
William Girdler

STARRING
Christopher George - Michael Kelly
Andrew Prine - Don Stober
Richard Jaeckel - Arthur Scott
Joan McCall - Allison Corwin
Joe Dorsey - Charley Kittridge
Charles Kissinger - Dr. Hallitt
Mike Clifford - Pat

Genre - Horror/Thriller/B-Movie/Bad Animals/Bears

Running Time - 89 Minutes


You have to give it to Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley - they indirectly influenced a lot of studios and producers after the blockbuster success of their 1975 film JAWS. Even today, we have channels dedicated to Shark Weeks and SHARKNADO films, while the box office is thriving on another shark film called THE MEG. The “animal-run-amok” sub-genre of B-movie horror films have crafted some memorable, and absolutely terrible, films and TV programs that surprisingly have stood the test of time in a pop culture sense.

One of the more familiar films of the sub-genre happens to be one of the first filmed after the release of JAWS - 1976’s GRIZZLY. Replace the beach with a forest setting and a giant shark with a giant bear, and you got a cult favorite that has been RiffTrax’d and even spawned an unreleased sequel [although you can find footage of that online]. GRIZZLY doesn’t compare to the quality of JAWS, or even other “animal-run-amok” films that have been released before or since. But it manages to be a decently fun time for a rip-off.

PLOT
Campers and park rangers are being murdered by a giant grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) is worried about the future of the park, wanting it shut down to protect citizens while his squad can find and hunt down the bear. However, the director of the park (Joe Dorsey) won’t hear any of it - instead hiring untrained hunters to hunt down the bear. This just creates more problems as the hunters murder anything that moves, while the bear defends himself and goes after them. Realizing that the director doesn’t care about the park, using the publicity to gain more visitors, Kelly and his crew decide that they’re the only ones who can stop this menace once and for all.

REVIEW
Calling GRIZZLYJAWS with claws” is pretty accurate, as producers/writers Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon pretty much used the same template that made the before mentioned film a success. Inspired by encountering a bear during a camping trip, Flaxman thought it would be a neat idea to replace a shark with a grizzly bear to capture the same effect. William Girdler, best known for his 1974 EXORCIST clone ABBY at the time, decided he would direct the JAWS clone with a $750,000 budget. With a $39 million box office gross, GRIZZLY managed to be a big success for Columbia Pictures and Film Ventures International. Unfortunately, GRIZZLY just highlights the fact further that JAWS is the King of Animal-Run-Amok films even after all these years later.

It’s surprising Spielberg and Benchley didn’t sue anyone involved with GRIZZLY’s production, unlike what happened with 1981’s GREAT WHITE. GRIZZLY feels like Flaxman and Sheldon took JAWS’ script, changed names and settings, and decided to replace a mechanical shark with stock footage of an 11-foot grizzly bear. The similarities aren’t even subtle either. Park Ranger Michael Kelly is obvious Chief Martin Brody. Helicopter pilot Don Stober is this film’s Quint. Naturalist Arthur Scott is Matt Hooper. Greedy park director Charley Kittridge is Mayor Larry Vaughn. And the shark has been replaced by a bear. We also have a female photographer named Allison who is, I guess, Ellen Brody since she and Kelly share a flirtatious relationship. Even the plot points are the same. Animal kills people. The rangers want to shut down the area to protect the citizens from the threat, but the authority figure refuses for greed/publicity purposes. The animal gets more violent, leaving the three heroes to stop the threat themselves until an explosion conclusion. Unless you prefer bears to sharks, you’re better off watching a much better movie.

It doesn’t help when the characters aren’t as fleshed out as the ones in JAWS. They’re all familiar archetypes, all playing their token roles well enough to move the story along. But you don’t really know much about any of these people but superficial aspects of their personalities. Even the flirtatious angle between Kelly and Allison doesn’t really go anywhere, nor do they have much chemistry for anyone to care. Even the trio of Kelly, Stober, and Scott don’t connect as a unit as much as one would want. They all do the right thing in trying to help each other contain this bear, but you never get the sense that they have a friendship bond that makes you believe these three would unite over a threat like this. And Kittridge is your typical tycoon villain who eventually sees the error of his ways, without much fanfare or development. The story is written well enough for a rip-off, but it never tries to be anything other than that. Nor it tries to bring anything new to the table for it to be memorable.

I think the most interesting part of GRIZZLY’s screenplay is how it resembles a slasher film before the term was even used. Even though JAWS did use first person point-of-view shots for the villain, GRIZZLY uses this tactic more frequently due to its much smaller budget. We never see the bear for half the film, instead seeing bear claws attack helpless victims as its travels through the forest. There’s always a looming threat throughout the film, as people are murdered - including some of the main characters. Instead of playing like a survivalist film like JAWS, GRIZZLY is more like a porto-slasher and it works for the movie.

Speaking of the bear, the low budget doesn’t allow the creation of a mechanical bear that could attack the actors on command. So instead, we get a lot of stock footage of a bear named Teddy roaming around - looking bigger due to close-up shots. And whenever the bear attacks, some guy wearing bear paws claws at the victims and mauls them. I’ve seen worse in films of this ilk. The better special effects come with the gore effects, which are quite violent for 1976. We see blood splatter, limbs and body parts being ripped apart, and even structures getting destroyed that end up killing people. Yes, the use of mannequins aren’t hidden as well as they should be. But what can you do for a film that cost less than a million to make? It’s done well for a modest budget and I was pretty impressed.

The direction by William Girdler is fine for a B-movie like GRIZZLY. The location shots for the park were filmed in Clayton, Georgia and look very nice. The use of the park is done well and matches well with the stock footage of the bear. The film flows decently well, even though it does drag a bit during scenes that don’t involve the bear. Like I mention, the special effects are done well and give GRIZZLY an oomph it needs. I do wish the film was a bit more fun, in terms of being it more exciting or even campier [no pun intended]. JAWS managed to blend drama and comedy really well, but JAWS was ultimately a serious movie. GRIZZLY takes itself seriously, when it honestly should be a bit more silly. The story and the characters don’t really lend to a dramatic “killer animal” movie, making GRIZZLY feel uneven in tone. I’m not saying Girdler should have directed a comedy, but a bit more levity would be been nice. Girdler’s future project, 1977’s DAY OF THE ANIMALS, manages to be a lot better because it knows how to blend the serious with the camp. It also has a stronger script and more memorable moments. GRIZZLY doesn’t contain these elements, so a different tone could have hid that. I will say that the ending is probably the best part in terms of presentation. I won’t spoil anything, but it involves Christopher George, a bear, and a rocket launcher. The effects seem to have been lifted from the Batman TV show from the 1960s. I actually laughed out loud, which made me wish Girdler could have added more scenes like that one.

The acting in GRIZZLY is okay. Christopher George is fine as Ranger Kelly, trying to do his best Roy Scheider impression as best as he can. He doesn’t come close, but he’s a reliable presence in these B-movies and carries the film well enough. Andrew Pine is good as Stober, but fares better when he doesn’t try to be Robert Shaw’s Quint. Richard Jaeckel is a bit better as Scott, as he plays the “Matt Hooper” copy better than expected. I think he had the most energy of the three actors and I liked him the best. The other actors play their roles as if they were starring in a quality 70s TV-movie. They’re neither memorable or terrible. Special mention goes to Teddy, who looks like a really cuddly bear and was trained well in the role. Too bad he was too cute to be a vicious threat.

THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE PUTTING OUT FOREST FIRES

  • We have more backpackers pitching tents than raccoons in the woods.” Hey, don’t talk about Ennis and Jack behind their backs. Not their fault they can’t quit each other.

  • Every face tells a story.” Michael Jackson was quite the storyteller, then!

  • Bears don’t eat people.” Obviously no one in this film has ever watched gay porn.

  • A woman was mauled behind a waterfall by the bear. Next time, listen to T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli.

  • The bear tried to destroy a watchtower. He must not be neither a Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix fan.

  • Scott and the rest of the camp enjoy drinking Coca-Cola. Maybe this bear lashed out because he was afraid of being institutionalized for just wanting a Pepsi. He’s not crazy! You’re the one who’s crazy!

  • Scott tried to take out the bear on his own, but failed. Why? Because Scotty doesn’t know. DON’T TELL SCOTTY!!

THE FINAL HOWL
Not a great film, but GRIZZLY manages to be a decent watch if you’re in the mood for a “beer and popcorn” flick. The proto-slasher elements and the bear effects work, considering the film’s modest budget. And it tries to do its best while ripping off JAWS, but ends up just making you wish you were watching a much better film instead at times. Still, watching a cuddly grizzly bear murder campers is fun when it happens, and the explosive ending is one of the silliest and most hilarious endings ever in a B-movie. Not smarter than your average rip-off, but handles the bare necessities well enough to warrant a watch.



SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4



8.13.2018

[Animal Summer '18] The Meg (2018)


DIRECTED BY
Jon Turteltaub

STARRING
Jason Statham - Jonas Taylor
Li Bingbing - Suyin Zhang
Rainn Wilson - Jack Morris
Ruby Rose - Jaxx Herd
Winston Chao - Dr. Minway Zhang
Cliff Curtis - James “Mac” Mackreides
Shuya Sophia Cai - Meiying
Page Kennedy - DJ

Genre - Horror/Sci-Fi/Bad Animals/Sharks

Running Time - 111 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB)
After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.

REVIEW
You know I love me some shark movies during the summertime. Add in Jason Statham, and you got me buying a ticket to see THE MEG - a $100 million blockbuster that’s aiming to continue the successful theatrical summer shark trend from the last few years. Going into it, I wasn’t expecting anything of the caliber of 1975’s JAWS, which will probably always be the ultimate killer shark film and rightfully so since it still holds up today. But I figured - you have Statham vs a giant CGI shark. It could be on the same level as 1978’s JAWS 2, or 1999’s DEEP BLUE SEA, or even 2002’s schlock-classic SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON. Unfortunately, studio interference got in the way of THE MEG, turning an R-rated script into a PG-13 one with no gore and an uneven tone that sometimes makes you wonder if the producers knew whether to make the film a serious one, or a future campy cult classic. When you main star even criticizes that this wasn’t the film he had signed up for, red flags appear.

What works in THE MEG? Obviously Jason Statham, who is a better actor and screen presence that many don’t give him credit for. He’s really the main reason to watch THE MEG, as he’s the most likable character as Jonas Taylor - playing the role as a total bad-ass who does everything he can to save the majority of the cast [even if he has to sacrifice the few to do it]. You can tell Statham knows what film he signed up for, playing it for laughs and for thrills whenever the film calls for it. Honestly, I kinda wish THE MEG was just Jason Statham vs. a shark for 90 minutes. Believe me, the man would have easily made that work because he’s that damn good. I just wish he was in a better movie. Or at least a better cut of the same movie, in this case.

The rest of the actors are fine in their roles, which are nothing more than stock characters you’d expect in a film like this. I liked Li Bingbing as Suyin, the main heroine and obvious love interest for Jonas. I thought she and Statham had nice chemistry, especially when you add in the adorable Shuya Sophia Cai as Meiying in the mix. Rainn Wilson was both equally funny and annoying as Jack Morris, the shady billionaire investor who had his own motivations with this entire Meg situation. I feel there was a lot of his character arc that was cut out of the film, but he was fine. I also thought Page Kennedy had some great comedic moments as well as DJ. The cast was fine and seemed invested in what they were filming, which is great for a movie like this.

The other great stuff involves the presentation. Despite cutting a chunk out of the film to please a wider audience [thanks studio interference…], Jon Turteltaub directed a great looking film that flowed extremely well for its running time. The pacing sacrificed a lot of character development, but THE MEG never bores you since there’s always something happening. The CGI surprised me with how well it looked on screen. I was honestly expecting SyFy level quality, but you can tell THE MEG had a huge budget and it was used well. I thought the film looked beautiful at times, especially during many of the underwater scenes. There was only one issue of bad CGI near the end, but the rest looked great. The set-pieces looked believable and I enjoyed the shots of the different locations the cast traveled to. Plus, THE MEG had several moments of suspense and tension that worked. I wish there were more of them and they were stretched out more at times, but at least Turteltaub put them in. I honestly want to see the uncut version he filmed, because he seemed disappointed in the theatrical version. The film is already 111 minutes. I can’t even imagine what was on the cutting room floor.

Well I take that back. The blood and gore was on the cutting room floor. I get that the studios felt that if they cut out certain aspects of the film, the release would be able to cater to a wider audience and bring in more money. That’s fine and I understand it as a business move. But when the SyFy shark films have more blood and gore than your theatrical big budget release, I begin to question that move. JAWS, which was released over 40 years ago, has more violence and scares than THE MEG does. We get explosions, some blood from chewed up animals, and even a limb floating in the water. But the shark barely kills anyone, not like it would matter anyway because we never see it. The violence is cut away. It’s a killer shark movie!! How can there not be a level of fear in terms of the violence? I was really disappointed in that. Supposedly the original cut had silly and campy death scenes. I hope that version is released on Blu-Ray so I can be thrilled by something.

And I mentioned how the pacing affected the character development. There’s nothing wrong with having archetypes in your film, especially in a shark movie like this. But I felt like the story was rushed at times. I wanted to see Jonas struggle more with his past actions and how it affected his current situation. I wanted to know about Jack Morris’ reasoning for investing in Mana One and his true purpose for it before the Meg appeared. And what was up with that ex-wife sub-plot that didn’t really go anywhere or make any sort of impact for the story? It could have been left out and it wouldn’t have changed much. I’m not expecting Oscar-caliber screenwriting, but when you have a lot of characters and most of them survive until the end, you have to provide the audience with some answers to their questions. When I know more about the characters in a SHARKNADO film, we have a problem.

I also found the tone to be uneven. When THE MEG made fun of itself and got a bit goofy, it was a ton of fun to watch. But then the film would take itself real serious, making me wonder what the director was going for here. I’m sure the studio interfering had a major role in that, as I read that the original version of the script was to have a tone similar to PIRAHNA 3-D. Hey studios, let filmmakers do their thing whether it’s successful or not. Glad you have a hit here, but you’d probably would have made more money if the film was just let be for what it was.

THE FINAL HOWL
Originally I was going to give THE MEG a more negative review, as it disappointed me in terms of not being fun enough to make a lasting impression on me. But as I thought about it, the film does have some technical merit going for it, with beautiful cinematography and a nice flow [even if it sacrifices character development]. And the actors seem to be having fun, with Jason Statham being the awesome badass that he is. He’s honestly the best part of THE MEG. There’s not enough shark attacks or memorable moments that put the film on the level of a DEEP BLUE SEA. But it’s definitely above most SyFy schlock and a decent two hours to waste if you need a shark fix at the theater. Slight recommendation, only for the fact that there was a great film in here somewhere that never reached its full potential. 


SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4



8.04.2018

Stone Cold (1991)


DIRECTED BY
Craig R. Baxley

STARRING
Brian Bosworth - Joe Huff/ John Stone
Lance Henriksen - Chains Cooper
William Forsythe - Ice
Arabella Holzbog - Nancy
Sam McMurray - Lance
Richard Gant - Cunningham

Genre - Action

Running Time - 95 Minutes


When it comes to Hollywood, it’s not rare to see professional athletes attempt their hand at acting. Wrestlers, such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista, have managed to transition into a second career that have made them profitable stars. Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal have tried as well to varying success. But American football players have had some success as well. Jim Brown was a big star in the 1970s and 1980s, being a major player in the blaxploitation genre. Same with Fred Williamson, who made a name of himself as being a bad-ass in the blaxploitation and action genres. And as infamous as he is, O.J. Simpson did well as an actor - especially becoming a highlight in THE NAKED GUN trilogy.

But in 1991, Hollywood tried to create a new action star from the football field. Brian “The Boz” Bosworth, a controversial former NFL linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks known for his weird fashion and unpolitical correct way of expressing himself whenever he didn’t get his way, was believed to be the next Stallone, Willis, or even Seagal. As the unofficial finale for his action trilogy, director Craig R. Baxley [1988’s ACTION JACKSON & 1990’s I COME IN PEACE] and Columbia Pictures believed 1991’s STONE COLD would turn Bosworth into box office gold.

The plan backfired, however, as STONE COLD only made $9.1 million with a $25 million budget. The film would later achieve cult status due to cable and home video, but it never made Brian Bosworth the crossover action star he was intended to be. In fact, The Boz was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst New Star. Bosworth would star in more film projects, but STONE COLD remains the pinnacle of his acting career. But is STONE COLD worthy of its cult status? Or did the mainstream public get it right by not making Brian Bosworth a bigger star? 

PLOT
Tough-as-nails cop Joe Huff (Brian Bosworth) is dealing with a three-week suspension over questionable police methods, even though these methods bring down the bad guys. However, the FBI offers Huff a chance to get back to work early. The federal agents want Huff to go undercover and infiltrate a biker gang called “The Brotherhood” that’s seeking vengeance after a member of the gang has been sentence to a long prison term. Huff wants no part of it, but the FBI threatens him with a much longer suspension without pay if he refuses. That forces Huff to accept the job - changing his identity to “John Stone” and working his way into one of the head positions of “The Brotherhood”. Even though some of the members, including the weary Ice (William Forsythe), don’t trust him, the gang’s crazy and violent leader, Chains Cooper (Lance Henriksen), sees potential in John Stone. This creates tension within The Brotherhood, while risking Stone’s true identity at the same time.

REVIEW
STONE COLD is a film I watched during those wonderful VHS rental days in the early 90s, but without me remembering much about it. Having re-watched it for the first time in decades, I don’t understand how STONE COLD didn’t leave a mark on me more. STONE COLD is one bad-ass action flick with pure action, interesting performances, and just a fun atmosphere that action films today don’t seem to have at all. In an era where CGI and superheroes have become the bread-and-butter of the genre, STONE COLD reminds us of a simpler time where none of that was needed. And the film is all the better for it.

The story is super simple. You have a bad-ass undercover cop. You have villainous bikers. The cop infiltrates the bikers and cause a civil war between them. The cop falls for the bad girl. And then the cop’s identity is revealed, leading to a violent final showdown. There’s nothing more or less than that. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in an action film before, or even since. But for STONE COLD, it works because it knows what it is and plays with what it has. Some may find fault in that, but I don’t mind it.

What STONE COLD really excels at is giving the audience a lot of action. And any action nut would be more than satisfied by what STONE COLD presents for ninety minutes. You get explosions, muscular dudes, explosions, gunfights, explosions, strippers, explosions, motorcycles slamming into cars, explosions, Brian Bosworth in bikini briefs, explosions, Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe out-crazing each other, explosions, and a motorcycle flying into a helicopter for a major explosion. Women will enjoy STONE COLD, but it’s obvious this film was made for men to please their testosterone. There’s no frills, no CGI, no thinking about who is good and who is bad - STONE COLD is pure 80s action that was unfortunately released in 1991 when tastes were changing. It’s no-nonsense and doesn’t require you to think. Isn’t that what you want in an action film to begin with?

The direction by Craig R. Baxley elevates STONE COLD’s visual style and presentation. While it’s probably not as good compared to ACTION JACKSON or I COME IN PEACE, Baxley still manages to create a fun atmosphere by shoving the action and violence so far down your throat that you have to just accept it and like it. It’s even more impressive how much STONE COLD works visually, considering that Baxley wasn’t even the film’s original director. Apparently Bruce Malmuth, director of 1981’s NIGHTHAWKS and 1990’s HARD TO KILL was fired for personal issues that started to pour onto the set. Also, an IATSE dispute led to director of photography John R. Leonetti and other crew members to walk off the set. Baxley quickly stepped in and just used a barebones story while adding in action and explosions any chance he got to fill up the runtime. And it totally works for some reason, because STONE COLD is a blast to watch for how dumb it is. I’m sure Malmuth would have done a great job as director, but Baxley directed the simplest film he could with the budget he was given, creating a cult classic in the process. It flows incredibly well. The action scenes are shot professionally. The film is never boring and maintains a consistent tone. You’d never think this film was shot within 4 weeks.

The acting is STONE COLD won’t win any major awards, but it does what it needs to do to tell its story. I’ve seen people complain about Brian Bosworth and how his performance proved why he didn’t become a bigger star. But I don’t think The Boz is terrible at all in the role of Joe Huff/ John Stone. Sure, he doesn’t display a ton of charisma like other famous action stars. And he doesn’t have the acting chops like some others. But for the role he’s been given, Bosworth does a fine job. He comes across as a cool guy who is easy to believe could kick some ass. He has a great on-screen presence, especially with his good looks, muscular frame, and awesome mullet.  And as an actual biker, he feels legit when it comes to riding and fitting in with other bikers. I think he deserved to star in other action vehicles. It’s a shame STONE COLD did poorly, especially when it wasn’t his fault. And even though The Boz works as our anti-hero, the villains steal the spotlight. Lance Henriksen sounds like an odd choice to play a crazy biker leader named Chains Cooper. But he’s a great character actor, and he proves that in STONE COLD. Dude is convincing as a biker and as a priest in the final act, chewing the scenery and playing subtle insanity quite convincingly. I don’t think Bosworth’s acting would have been as good as it was if it wasn’t for Henriksen pushing him to be a decent film adversary. Add in William Forsythe as Ice, you have a great trifecta of characters working against each other. Forsythe plays Ice as someone sinister, intelligent, yet reckless to a fault. Henriksen and Forsythe try to out-do each other in every scene they share together, and it’s wonderful. It’s even more impressive when you realize Forsythe was filming another film [OUT FOR JUSTICE with Steven Seagal] at the same time, going in-between sets to act in both. I thought he was great as usual. Arabella Holzbog is convincing as Chains’ and Stone’s main squeeze, Nancy. And Sam McMurray always clinches the supporting role as FBI agent, Lance. I don’t know what some expecting from the acting here. It’s an action film called STONE COLD - everyone played their roles well.

STONE COLD’s biggest fault is probably its screenplay. I don’t think it’s terrible, but it’s a pretty generic action movie template presented here. STONE COLD doesn’t bring anything new to the table. You get the cop who hates authority. You get a crazy villain with an insane plan. You get the hero stealing the villain’s girl. You get the hero breaking up the villain’s group for a while before his cover his blown. And you get a happy ending at the end. You can watch countless other action films that follow this to a tee. Don’t fix what’s broken applies to STONE COLD. However, I can see why some folks may have issue with that.

Yes, the characters could have been fleshed out more. In fact, Joe Huff’s character was supposed to have a wife, sister, and kid before Craig R. Baxley came in to replace the crew that had left. Those scenes were cut for budgetary reasons, with Baxley feeling a more simple approach would work better. I think it would have added something if we knew more about Huff’s backstory other than the typical “bad-ass cop” thing he had going on. Plus, why did he always go after bikers and had a record of capturing the most? And why didn’t The Brotherhood not realize who Huff was sooner? 

Also, nothing beats COBRA when it comes to a supermarket shootout in an action film. That opening scene in that 1986 film is iconic. STONE COLD apes it and does it well enough, but it just reminded me of a better film [no offense, STONE COLD fans]. It’s a good intro to Huff’s character, but I think it was too similar and probably made the film feel like a copycat.

THE FINAL HOWL
STONE COLD isn’t the most original action film out there, but it’s definitely one of most fun. This is definitely a beer and popcorn movie that the action genre fans will absolutely love. The film never lets up, with something happening in every scene - whether it’s Brian Bosworth looking cool while rocking that mullet, Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe trying to see who can ham it up more, or just insane action sequences that will pump the blood in your veins. STONE COLD was unfortunately a box office bomb and it stopped The Boz’s action career from taking off at the time. But it deserves its cult status and is worthy of entering the Macho Hall of Fame. When it comes to STONE COLD, it’s better to be first in Hell than last in Heaven.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



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