The Houses October Built 2 (2017)

Directed By: Bobby Roe

Starring: Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson

Running Time: 141 Minutes

Genre: Horror/ Found Footage

PLOT (from IMDB):
Recovering from the trauma of being kidnapped last Halloween by the Blue Skeleton - a group who take “extreme haunt” to another level - five friends (Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson) decide they must face their fears in order to move on. Heading back out on the road to visit more haunted house attractions, signs of the Blue Skeleton start appearing again and a new terror begins.

If you remember my review for 2014’s THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT, I found the found footage horror film quite bland until the last twenty minutes - even though I thought the “documenting scary haunts” idea was actually pretty interesting. I just felt there wasn’t enough that was done with that aspect, with those scenes forgetting that THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT was a horror film rather than a documentary. I never bothered with watching the first film again due to my dislike of it. But here am I, taking the time out to watch its surprising 2017 sequel and quickly reviewing it.

Let me just say that my feelings for the first film pretty much match my feelings for the sequel. I went in hoping for something new and different, but ended up getting the same exact film as the first one for the most part. We get the haunts aspect again for the first hour, and then the sequel remembers its a horror film for the rest. The characters are still pretty stupid and unlikeable. The situation is still not scary or tense in any way. Even though I wanted to care about these people and the situation they’ve put themselves into, I have trouble rooting for fame whores who didn’t learn their lesson the first time.

While I didn’t root for anyone, I thought the worst character was Brandy. The ending of the first film has been retconned for this sequel to even exist, as all the characters survived their encounter with the Blue Skeleton - even though some of them apparently were killed by the group. While the male characters are using their encounter for fame and fortune [of course], Brandy has been traumatized by the event and refusing to document the haunts with her friends. Well, she does for about 30 minutes before joining the guys again after being promised they won’t take her to similar haunts like the last time. And when strange things begin to happen, she complains to her friends [who don’t believe her] and threatens to leave [which she never does]. Then the Blue Skeleton tortures everyone all over again, and I don’t feel sorry for her or anyone else. You’d think these people would be smarter the second time around. Silly me.

I won't say THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2 is a total failure. The film looks pretty great presentation wise. The found footage stuff is heightened by the use of a drone that shoots some beautiful overhead shots. The acting feels as natural as ever, which works for a film like this. I liked that the haunts were different and added variety to the film, unlike the same-y feel of the last film. And the twists in the film were actually interesting and could lead to a hopefully different type of film in the third installment. Honestly, I wish this sequel had explored the twists in the story more. I probably would have been more excited about it. But instead, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2 was more of the same.

I still like the concept of this budding franchise, but THE HOUSES OF OCTOBER BUILT 2 is a pointless sequel that doesn’t add anything new until it’s way too late. It’s not a fun or scary watch, with characters I can’t get behind and a situation that still feels undeveloped - especially for a sequel. I did appreciate the direction, the acting, and some of the twists presented. But I didn’t get much out of this one. Meh.

1.5 Howls Outta 4

Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Umberto Lenzi

Giovanni Lombardo Radice (as John Morghen) - Mike Logan
Lorraine De Selle - Gloria Davis
Danilo Mattei (as Bryan Redford) - Rudy Davis
Zora Kerova (as Zora Kerowa) - Pat Johnson
Walter Lucchini (as Walter Lloyd) - Joe Costolani
Robert Kerman - Lt. Rizzo
Fiamma Maglione (as Meg Fleming) - Myrna Stenn

Genre - Horror/Survival/Cannibalism

Running Time - 93 Minutes

Another year, another Italian Horror Week. Unfortunately, the man responsible for bringing the bloggers of the horror world together lost his battle to cancer in March. We still miss you. Doc Terror! But thankfully, many of us have come together for Jimmy to keep what he started alive.

This year, I decided to review the controversial 1981 cannibal horror film CANNIBAL FEROX. The irony of me picking this film didn’t hit me until it was approved. For those not in the know, I had planned to discuss CANNIBAL FEROX back in June of 2015 for Midnight Confessions, the podcast I co-host with Reverend Phantom and Moronic Mark. It had been planned months in advance for a Italian Horror Month that June for the show, which I was really excited for. Unfortunately, I was privately dealing with being a caregiver for my mom, who was suffering with a severe bout of cancer for 10 months. She passed away on June 3rd, 2015, forcing me to take a month hiatus  from the podcast and missing that entire month altogether. So CANNIBAL FEROX now seems connected to a horrible disease that took away two important people in my life. Not really the type of film any one would connect with cancer, but it somehow fits within my strange and bleak world. It is what it is.

What CANNIBAL FEROX isn’t is a film that’s catered to everyone, as it will please some and disturb others. It also isn’t a film that is nowhere close to being as memorable, or as good quality-wise to its counterpart - 1980’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. But CANNIBAL FEROX still manages to be an important film within the horror genre, for better or worse.

Gloria Davis (Lorraine De Selle) is a student writing a college thesis to disprove the idea of cannibalism in the Amazon in order to receive her PhD. To get prove for her piece, she takes her brother Rudy (Danilo Mattei) and friend Pat (Zora Kerova) along as witnesses to her findings in Brazil. Once they arrive to the Amazon, bad things happen to the trio. Their transportation gets stuck in a big mud puddle. The coati given to them as a distraction to the local tribes in the area is murdered by an anaconda. And trying to find a way out, they run into Mike Logan (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) and his injured friend Joe (Walter Lucchini) - diamond smugglers who claim to have been attacked by cannibals. As the group witnesses Mike’s psychotic behavior due to drug use, they realize that Mike’s story isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Learning the truth, Gloria and company realize that they’re now seen as guilty in the eyes of the local tribe due to associating themselves with Mike - unfortunate victims of their revenge. Gloria finds out the truth about cannibalism, making sacrifices along the way.

While many see CANNIBAL FEROX as a poor copy of Ruggero Deodato’s highly infamous CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the two films couldn’t be more different. While certain elements do remain similar in both films, Deodato’s film had more of an artful element to it - with the director actually trying to make a film of high quality while spreading a message that even the most prim and proper people could be more savage than the supposed uncivilized people who inhabit a jungle. It made you question who the real monsters using disturbing imagery that has repulsed people for decades. CANNIBAL FEROX has repulsive imagery as well, but Umberto Lenzi seems to care more about shocking his audience rather than making us question what we’re watching. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing, but FEROX doesn’t work quite as powerfully as HOLOCAUST does for that very reason. However, both films have their place within the cannibalism sub-genre.

CANNIBAL FEROX is a film that wants to be many things, but falls short on some of them. What it does succeed on are the scenes in the Amazon with Gloria, Mike and company. Unlike HOLOCAUST, the group of so-called “civilized” people aren’t at the Amazon to hurt or look down at the local tribes that may or may not be cannibals. Only Mike Logan, the film’s clear antagonist, shows any sort of vile behavior towards the locals. While he claims to have been attacked by cannibals, we soon find out that Mike was the one attacking these so-called cannibals because he didn’t receive the prize he was promised by one of them and killed some of them out of greed and anger. Mike is also a pretty disgusting drug dealer who calls women a “twat” and molests them any chance he can get. Because of Mike, Gloria’s plan to just visit an Amazonian tribe to study them and take notes for her thesis becomes a nightmare - as she and her friends are now guilty by association due to Mike’s actions. Mike’s actions also disproves Gloria’s idea of this cannibal myth, as his cruel behavior unleashes the barbarism of the tribe wanting nothing more but revenge on the “white people”.

In a way, Mike acts as a imperialist. He went to an island to steal their resources for his own benefit, turning on the island only when the resources aren’t enough to satisfy his greed. The locals revolt against him and whoever they believe is friendly with him, leading to an ugly and gory war that leaves many scarred and damaged. Like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, FEROX seems to be taking a stance that the real barbarians are the civilized folk who enter an unfamiliar location and believe they’re above it all and feel entitled to everything that location possesses. It’s clear who the real monster in this film is.

Mike isn’t the only misguided character in the film. Gloria, who’d you would think would be a bit more open-minded about foreign traditions or history, is completely misguided as she heads to the Amazon to disprove this idea of cannibalism. There are stories about this kind of thing for centuries in many facets of the world. Yet, Gloria is so caught up in her civilized world that she can’t fathom this idea that indigenous people might consider eating human flesh as a sort of lifestyle and habit. While she’s not as evil as Mike, her ignorance leads her to dangerous territory that changes her life forever. And judging by the ending of the film, she doesn’t really learn her lesson, even though she’ll suffer with her ignorance for the rest of her life. 

The others are just victims of their own stupidity. Rudy joined his sister Gloria to take photographic proof for her thesis, but should have known a few common things about where he was going. After all, how does one go to the Amazon and not know that piranha inhabit the river before dipping into it to hide? Joe just follows Mike’s lead throughout the entire thing because he’s scared of him, leading to his unfortunate fate. And Pat? Well she would rather get high or have sex during an educational venture, making her the biggest idiot of CANNIBAL FEROX. She even almost helps Mike rape and kill locals at one point. She’s no better than Mike really. At least the characters have development and you can somewhat relate to them on some level - even if they are pretty unlikeable people.

While the Amazon scenes work for the most part, the scenes in New York City should have never been in the film to begin with. I get that Mike needed some sort of backstory to explain why he went to the Amazon. I understand that learning about Mike through people who knew him - his girlfriend, the mob guys after him - was meant to show what a lowlife the guy was. But these scenes just ruin the flow of the film. In fact, they don’t really lead to anything important. The cops are looking for Mike. The mob is looking for Mike. Mike’s girlfriend is looking for Mike. But Mike is caught up in his own crap during this film, making these subplots meaningless. None of these people accomplish their goal at the end, so why even bother?

I’m also not a fan of these animal cruelty scenes in these cannibal films. Both CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and CANNIBAL FEROX are infamously known for these scenes, making many horror fans not want to watch these films more than once because of how the animals are treated in these films. I’m not a vegan or anything like that, but who finds pleasure in watching animals suffer or get murdered on their television? Deodato tried to make these scenes a bit more artful and meaningful in HOLOCAUST at least, even if I look away whenever these scenes pop up. Lenzi doesn’t even try in FEROX, mainly using these scenes to shock and disgust viewers to get a rise out of them. Do I really need to see a helpless coati, that’s tied to a pole, be smothered to death by an anaconda for three minutes straight? Do I really need to hear this coati cry for help and in pain at what this huge snake was doing to it? Do I find pleasure in this? No, I was disgusted that I had to watch that scene as part of this review. It’s not fun. It really bothered me. It’s made worse when the camera just lingers on this murder as if that’s okay. I’m all for the “survival of the fittest” in the animal kingdom, but that coati was murdered against its will without a chance to defend itself. There are also other scenes, especially one with a tortoise getting decapitated so it can be eaten [also disturbing]. But that coati and snake scene really upset me, to the point where I almost regretted taking on this film for a review. I know things like this happen. It doesn’t mean I need to see it on film for some sort of shock value.

The direction by Umberto Lenzi isn’t stylish or anything memorable visually. The editing is off at times and the flow of the film is definitely questionable at times. But Lenzi does manage to get a reaction out of you through his visceral camera work. Lingering on animals getting killed will either make you regret continuing to watch, or make you shut off the film entirely. The gore effects are pretty well done, making certain moments like cutting out an eye, a scalping, and castration make you cringe in disgust. Or maybe it’ll make you giddy. Whatever floats your boat. Lenzi also seems to follow Deodato’s book by telling the viewer that we’re all savages on some level through our main characters and the actions they make in order to survive. Deodato had a more artistic vibe in his direction, however, while Lenzi would rather shock and disgust us with his work. If that’s what Lenzi was going for, he succeeded big time.

The score by Roberto Donati and Fiamma Maglione is more subtle than not, which adds to the atmosphere of CANNIBAL FEROX. We get funky music, jungle beats, and synthesizer riffs that grab you during the more violent and uncomfortable moments in the film. I believe some music was taken from Lenzi’s previous cannibal film, EATEN ALIVE!. The score is probably not as memorable as the score from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but it works nonetheless and adds to the overall mood of the film.

The acting in CANNIBAL FEROX isn’t the main focus of the film, but there are some pretty memorable performances here. Probably the highlight in terms of star performances is, without a doubt, Giovanni Lombardo Radice - known as John Morghen here - who plays one of the more memorable and vile villains in 80s horror in Mike Logan. Radice, a well known actor in the Italian horror world, probably provides one of his best performances as a con man who can charm you into bed, but is nothing but the scum of society. He’s smooth while still being a twitchy, sweaty creep. Radice’s vile and maniacal performance stems from the fact that he hated even starring in a film like CANNIBAL FEROX, displeased with the story and the treatment of certain characters and animals. Using that frustration and anger, he channels a misogynistic performance that rivals David Hess’ Krug from THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT as one of the more despicable characters ever portrayed in a horror movie. If there is any reason to watch CANNIBAL FEROX, it’s for Radice’s performance.

The other actors fare well in their own right. French actress Lorraine De Selle is spot on as the misguided and naive Gloria. She’s responsible for the best body language and facial expressions during the entire film, pretty much displaying the same feelings about this entire scenario as the audience watching. I bought her transition from snooty graduate student to traumatized survivor. Danilo Mattei is the male hero of the film as Rudy. He carries a masculine and strong performance that makes you want to see him survive, until the script betrays him for being stupid when it’s most convenient. The only other notable actor is Robert Kerman as a NYC police detective looking for the whereabouts of Mike Logan. It’s funny that he also starred in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, where he actually has a better performance in. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t get the chance to do much in FEROX, but it’s always nice to see him in these kind of films.

While CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is the “better” film, CANNIBAL FEROX is no slouch either. It’s sleazy, disturbing, and sometimes hard to watch. The animal cruelty is a big no-no in my book [I don’t need to see that in a film, I’m well aware that stuff happens], and the scenes that occur in New York City feel as if they’re from a different film that Lenzi wasn’t able to complete for some reason. However, it does what a cannibal film should. It provides a simple message that we are all monsters on some level, no matter if we’re civilized or not. The gore scenes are pretty cool. And the acting, especially by Giovanni Lombardo Radice, is worth the price of admission alone. CANNIBAL FEROX is definitely a polarizing film that’s not meant for everyone. But if you’re willing to take a chance on it, you could do a whole lot worse in this sub-genre. Definitely one of the better cannibal films out there.

3 Howls Outta 4


Midnight Confessions Ep. 127: "We take a SLASH at horror comedy..."

It’s not quite October yet, but Fall is upon us and we’re getting in the spirit with some horror flicks that aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves and those films are UNMASKED PART 25 (1989) and SLASHERS (2001). There’s nothing wrong with some silliness with your horror, but sometimes the combination works and sometimes it doesn’t, lets see how these two stack up in the horror comedy world. 

Plus music by: Black Flag, The Dwarves, Haunted Garage, and The Novas.


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Midnight Confessions Ep. 126: "Back to school time... oh the horror!"

It’s September, which means it’s even closer to Halloween, but it also means back to school for a lot of the kiddies. So we thought we’d take a look at the film that started it all for Brad Pitt, CUTTING CLASS (1989), but before we go back to school, we get to go to CHEERLEADER CAMP (1988)—but we start with our thoughts on the new IT movie as well as the filmography of the late great Tobe Hooper. He made a lot of good horror flicks and they’re all worthy of discussion. 

Plus music by W.A.S.P., Murderock, Oingo Boingo, Faith No More and Nirvana.


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It (2017)

Directed By: Andy Muschietti

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jackson Robert Scott

Genre: Horror/Supernatural/Clowns

Running Time: 135 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB): In the town of Derry, Maine, the local kids are disappearing one by one, leaving behind bloody remains. In a place known as ‘The Barrens’, a group of seven kids (Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer) are united by their horrifying and strange encounters with an evil clown (Bill Skarsgard) and their determination to kill it.

With a record-breaking box office this weekend worldwide for an R-rated horror film, 2017’s version of the Stephen King adaptation IT has taken everyone by storm. Clowns are upset, people with coulrophobia are soiling themselves, and horror fans are extremely happy that a horror film has saved the box office after a dry Summer season. IT was a film that was heavily hyped and debated about by fans of the novel, and by those who had fond memories of the 1990 television miniseries that brought us a memorable Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown, creeping many of us as children and pre-teens. There were people that said the new adaptation would suck. There were some that believed that the source material would never translate well on screen in any format.  There were people who were displeased with the casting and the look of the modern Pennywise, feeling the film was going to fail the moment it was screened. And to all those naysayers, you were dead wrong about this one. IT not only surpasses the previous adaptation, but it manages to be a really good time too.

While 2017’s IT is a great film, I didn’t think it was perfect. I did have small issues with the movie, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of it. I thought some of the CGI, especially in the final act, wasn’t the greatest. I know CGI is something us modern audiences must get used to in order to watch supernatural events happen on film. But there were certain times where Pennywise looked like a cartoon and it took away a bit from the scene. It’s not as bad as some of the CGI as in Andy Muschietti’s underrated 2013 horror film MAMA, but it’s evident. I also felt that some of the characters didn’t get as developed as others. I think Mike got a bit of the short straw, especially when a lot of his character was given to Ben [the history of Derry’s tragic events]. It’s hard to give everyone a strong arc in a 2-hour film, but there were times where Mike just felt like he was “there” rather than really feeling as if he was part of the Losers Club. And probably the biggest flaw of the film: it wasn’t that scary. I’ve never been scared of clowns, so Pennywise made me laugh more than anything. And jump scares don’t do much for me 99 percent of the time, and didn’t do much for the audience that I was sitting with [none of them screamed or reacted to these moments]. I found IT enjoyable as a well-written adaptation of one of Stephen King’s better novels rather than feeling any sort of fear of what I was watching.

That being said, IT is a pretty great adaptation of the novel’s first half. The dialogue is strong. The characters are interesting. And it had a nice flow from Pennywise terrorizing poor Georgie, to the Losers Club finally confronting Pennywise for all the trouble he’s caused Derry. For me, IT is more than just Pennywise the Clown haunting kids and using their fear to feed his hunger. I’ve seen some complaints online with people wanting more Pennywise and wishing he was funnier, not understanding that the story is not even about Pennywise really. He’s just a plot device to give deeper meaning to what the child characters are experiencing in their lives.

IT is really about the struggles of growing up in a tough world. We’ve all experienced adults not really understanding our feelings towards certain things. Bill loses his younger brother and his parents treat him like a nuisance they don’t want to deal with, taking out their grief on him when he only wants their love and support as he personally feels guilty about it. Beverly deals with rumors of promiscuity while being sexual abused by her father. Ben is bullied for being overweight, while pining for Beverly - who in turn has eyes for Bill. Mike is bullied for his skin color, while still haunted by the death of his parents. Richie cracks jokes to hide his insecurities. Stan struggles with his identity. Eddie deals with his hypochondria, due to his mother who has passed on Munchausen syndrome to him. Even psychotic bully Henry is somewhat sympathetic, as he has a hard ass police father who bullies him. You can understand where his anger comes from, even if he is an evil prick. The kids all have issues we can relate to, since we were all their age once. Pennywise feeds on their insecurities, eventually making them stronger [or weaker] in the process. Unlike the TV adaptation, which has a very good first half in its own right, this version gets what the novel is really about in terms of its subtext, its tone, and how it portrays its characters.

Funny how IT is a better A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film than the last few sequels and that stupid remake. I guess it can be done!

As for Pennywise, I loved how he was used in this film. I was worried he’d be overexposed as the film’s visual antagonist, but he only appears when necessary. He’s less funny than the previous adaptation, but way more vicious and sinister. If I were afraid of clowns, he’d be the one I’d be worried about instead of Tim Curry’s wonderful interpretation. Pennywise is no joke in this film.

The characters wouldn’t work without some great actors playing them. The child actors are absolutely fantastic, really bringing a genuine bond and chemistry between them all that reminded me of THE GOONIES and/or STAND BY ME. Jaeden Lieberher did a great job carrying the film as Bill, the leader of the Losers Club. I felt his guilt and grief over the loss of his brother, denying himself that Georgie was dead when he knew what the truth was. He captured that childlike innocence that we never want to lose as we grow up. Sophia Lillis was a standout as Beverly, capturing a lot of depth for someone so young. She played off of so many actors, yet shared a different dynamic with each of them, fleshing out a tragic character looking for that light at the end of the tunnel. Lillis is one to watch out for. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard was great as Richie, providing the film with the comic relief. His dialogue is the absolute best and he was the one I most connected to. Hey, I had a foul mouth too when I was younger and had no shame about it. Fuck off. And Bill Skarsgard blew me away as Pennywise. I was really unsure about his casting at first, but he brought the devious and sinister nature of the character that Stephen King envisioned in his novel. Tim Curry will always be Pennywise to many of us, as 1990’s IT is one of his best performances. But 2017’s IT needed a darker version of the character - a Heath Ledger to Curry’s Jack Nicholson, I guess you can say. It totally worked and I look forward to seeing Skarsgard again in the second part. 

Andy Muschietti’s direction is really inspired. I enjoyed his visual eye for MAMA years ago, praising his work on that film. But IT is a much better playground for him, as he’s able to conjure up some memorable imagery that many of us are still taking about days later. The fear sequences are really tense and suspenseful, especially inside of the Neibolt House during the last half of the film. I liked that the film looked it could have been made in the late 1980s, from the fashion, to the technology, and to pop culture easter eggs splattered throughout. I loved the direction during the projector scene where Pennywise figures out what the Losers Club is planning for him. I also dig that each location for the characters look different and look lived in already. I had issues with some CGI, but others really worked and helped the film pop visually. It’s a really beautiful film from a director who knew what kind of film he wanted to make here. And I got to say - the gore in a film starring children really surprised me. I won’t spoil things if you haven’t watched, but no child is safe right from the opening sequence. It’s unfair to compare it to the 1990s version, since that film was restricted due to television rights and FCC guidelines. 2017’s IT just proves that this story deserved an R-rated treatment on the big screen to highlight the nightmare feel of the novel.

And 2017 has had some great soundtracks. The New Kids on the Block gag was really funny, but hearing Anvil. The Cult, XTC, and Anthrax during key moments that enhanced the scenes was really cool. I’ve been really digging the use of popular music in movies lately, and IT was no exception. It captured the time frame and the characters within the story perfectly.

IT really surprised me. I was expecting it to be better than the 1990 adaptation, but I did not expect the film to be this good. I’m actually worried the second part won’t live up to expectations now. But Chapter One provides what you want in a horror film. You have a great villain. You have characters you can relate to and like. You have memorable moments. And you’ll enjoy yourself because it’s a film that actually has heart and treats its source material with a ton of respect. It didn’t scare me unfortunately, but it may scare someone else. IT is, without a doubt, one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever put to film. I’m so happy it’s doing so well, because that means horror is doing well. No one is in the Losers Club when it comes to that.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


Lunar Cycle [July 2017 & August 2017]

This section of the blog is due to me being lazy, I mean swamped with watching so many films that I want to discuss on this blog. But I don't really have the time, so I decided to quickly [well as much as I can really] to review films I don't really want to focus too much time on. You'll be seeing these more often than not. Time for the reviews!

Directed By: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, CJ Jones

Genre: Action, Crime, Music

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Plot From IMDB: After being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), a young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Review: Edgar Wright continues his hot streak of crafting entertaining and well-made movies with BABY DRIVER. A dream project for Wright since the mid-90s, Wright has managed to merge a crime-thriller with the element of music to create fleshed out characters, exhilarating car chase scenes, and a cute love story that will likely become a cult classic for years to come.

Wright, who also wrote the screenplay, uses real songs to create character depth. This is especially true with the lead character Baby - a young man who suffers from tinnitus due to a car accident from when he was a child. Constantly listening to multiple iPods that have songs that reflect his mood, his actions, or how he feels about the world around him, it gives Baby a ton of personality without the use of dialogue [which Baby doesn’t really have much of in the film]. It also builds upon the action sequences, as Baby is listening to music as he drives or gets away, as if he can’t live without a soundtrack motivating him. The visuals of these action scenes of car chases and shoot outs are already kinetic and thrilling. But the music adds another layer, as if you’re watching a Grand Theft Auto game come to life. The best part is that, unlike the FAST AND FURIOUS series [which you know I love], the action is all practical with no real special effects in sight. It’s easy to follow and sort of seem like a throwback to films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION. There’s nothing over-the-top about the soundtrack, or the direction of the action, which I greatly appreciated.

Speaking of the soundtrack, tracks by Queen, T. Rex, and The Commodores just highlight how magical classic music was before it became a soulless brand and product. Watching Baby dancing around to music that reflect his mood, or watching him walk away dejectedly to a ballad is so simple, yet expresses so much about his character and how he sees the world around him. The soundtrack, in a lot of ways, is the most important character of BABY DRIVER.

The actors are just fantastic. Ansel Elgort has been impressing for a few years now, but BABY DRIVER is his crowning achievement so far. Without saying a whole lot throughout the film, he comes across as an actor who would have been a huge star during the 50s era of Hollywood. Elgort has a ton of charisma and the camera loves him. He has a wonderful presence on film that proves he’ll be a leading man in no time. The supporting actors are just as great. Some are stronger than others, especially a captivating Kevin Spacey as Baby’s boss. He’s having fun in a role that lets him be a menacing force. Jamie Foxx also shines, as the bad seed of the crew who has to challenge everything with a swagger and sarcasm that has been missing in his recent performances. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez play a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde, portraying a nicer side before proving how dangerous this couple-in-love really is. And as Baby’s love interest, Lily James is cute and sweet as Debora. I wish she had a bit more to do and was fleshed out more beyond being the stock girlfriend, but James and Elgort have a lot of chemistry with each other. You definitely root for the two to make it out of all this happily ever after.

BABY DRIVER is a film I had wanted to see once I watched the first trailer for it, and it exceeded my expectations. It’s a stylish film that has purposeful substance in terms of its presentation and it’s story. It has an energy most modern films which they had - scenes with a purpose, actors who are confident in their roles and in their director, and a director who finally got to make his dream movie and not screwing it up. Not only are you invested in our main character, but you’re drawn into the lives of the characters that surround him. With action and drama that you will remember for a long time, BABY DRIVER is one of 2017’s must see films.

Directed By: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Bokeem Woodbine, Laura Harrier, Logan-Marshall Green, Jennifer Connelly (voice)

Genre: Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure, Comic Books

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Plot From IMDB: Peter Parker (Tom Holland), with the help of his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man when a new threat (Michael Keaton) emerges.

Review: I’m not going to lie to you - I wasn’t excited one bit for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. The second reboot for this film franchise, the idea of it wasn’t thrilling. The trailers didn’t do much for either, making the film look more like an IRON MAN spin-off rather than a new SPIDER-MAN film. I actually loved Tom Holland’s new take on the character in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, but did I really need a new trilogy with a different actor in the role?

Surprisingly, HOMECOMING ended up being a lot more fun and Spider-centric than I was expecting. With no origin story this time around [thank God], the screenplay was allowed to get straight into the action and the characters after-the-fact. In fact, I enjoyed the John Hughes take on the mythos, bringing Peter Parker back to a teenager who struggles with balancing between his love for being Spider-Man and his frustration for having to be a normal teenager. I got a kick of watching the events of CIVIL WAR through his eyes, as he gives funny commentary about stealing Captain America’s shield or taking down Ant-Man. I also embraced Spider-Man actually enjoying being a superhero, especially at a time where superheroes have become serious and sort of gritty and bleak at times. Counter this with Peter acting like a total dork in front of his classmates, especially Liz - the girl he’s into romantically. He also struggles keeping secrets from his worried Aunt May, while doing everything in his power to impress Tony Stark by trying to take down the bad guys on his own. HOMECOMING was written by six people believe it or not, yet it still clicks for the most part, flowing pretty seamlessly from beginning to end and getting me excited for the next installments.

I think the best part of HOMECOMING for me is how they treated the Vulture. I’m not going to lie - the Vulture is probably a C-level Spider-Man villain at best, even though he is one of the character’s earliest foes. But unlike a majority of the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Vulture is treated as an actual character with genuine motivations that you can relate to on many levels. In fact, he’s probably the best villain in the MCU since Loki in my opinion. Instead of an old man battling cancer while trying to regain some sort of fountain of youth, Adrian Toomes is a city worker who’s feeling slighted by the city he works for after years of doing their dirty work to clean it up. He’s anti-establishment and anti-corporate, stealing alien technology to run his own lucrative business within the black market. He’s also Spider-Man’s true first test as the Vulture, whom the film gives a grittier and more updated look that is more than flattering on the big screen. He never overshadows the film as many other villains do, only popping up when necessary to move the film along. But the character has a bigger presence than I had expected. He’s probably the best big screen Spider-Man villain since Doctor Octopus in SPIDER-MAN 2.

If I do have issues, it’s with the love story between Peter and Liz. While it’s cute at times, I never felt genuine chemistry between Tom Holland and Laura Harrier at all in the film. I guess you can’t do steamier stuff with high-schoolers like you could with the original Peter/MJ dynamic, or the even more interesting Peter/Gwen coupling. But it felt a bit too Degrassi High/Afterschool Special vibe for me. Plus, the actors didn’t really share enough scenes for me to really care about this subplot. The only purpose of this angle was to lead into a twist that I surprisingly didn’t see coming. But other than that, I didn’t really care too much for it.

Speaking of twists, one of the final reveals in the film for a certain classic Spider-Man character left me a bit confused. I won’t spoil it, but I raised an eyebrow on it because the reveal seemed so different from what has been established in comics and in other films prior to HOMECOMING. I have no issue with the people involved in this reveal, as it’s definitely intriguing. I just didn’t buy it as a narrative piece, as it felt as something to shock fans rather than to confirm our suspicions. It just felt odd.

The direction by Jon Watts is fine. The use of a great soundtrack, plus vibrant colors and energetic transitions, created a nice visual presentation to reboot the franchise. It looked cute and felt younger than the previous films, which is the entire point of HOMECOMING. The special effects looked great for the most part and the action scenes are well done. 

The acting is probably HOMECOMING’s greatest strength. Tom Holland, without a doubt, is the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man out of all the actors who have portrayed the character. He gets all of Peter’s quirks and nuances down to a tee, quipping cool one-liners with the best of them while still balancing how dorky Peter really is. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both very good as Spider-Man, but Holland seems to understand the character and nails it to perfection. Even better is Michael Keaton as The Vulture. Not being able to escape playing characters with wings, Keaton manages to be both menacing and sympathetic as a man who wants to do right for himself and his family by doing bad things to get ahead. His chemistry with Holland is great and it was great to watch him in a superhero movie again after all these years. And I was extremely happy to see that Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t a huge presence in this film, as the trailers led us to believe. He’s probably in the film for 15 minutes at most, only appearing when it’s important and to mentor Peter. That’s all you needed it to advance Spider-Man’s Avengers storyline leading into INFINITY WAR. You never feel overwhelmed by Downey or Jon Favreau [as Happy Hogan] in HOMECOMING. It obviously belongs to Holland, and lets other supporting actors such as Marisa Tomei and Jacob Batalon [as Peter’s comic relief best friend Ned] shine along with him. 

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING really impressed me. I went in with low expectations, not caring much about another reboot. But it ended up being a fun time with good laughs, great performances, and cool action. Even if one of the final twists left me a bit irked, I’m still looking forward to seeing where they go next with the franchise once INFINITY WAR is over.

Directed By: Seth Gordon

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Genre: Action, Comedy

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Plot From IMDB: Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) butts heads with a brash new recruit (Zac Efron), as they uncover a criminal plot that threatens the future of the bay.

Review: For those who really know me, I’m a huge Baywatch fan. Yeah, it’s stupid. The acting is questionable. The slow motion scenes are exploitative. But I watched every episode of the main series, Baywatch Nights, and Baywatch Hawaii [as well as those TV movies] without any shame. I loved the dumb thing, even if it tried to destroy my brain cells while doing funny things to my groin area. So when a film adaptation was announced with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that would be similar to the style of 21 JUMP STREET, I was all for it. Too bad what I got was a film not even worth wasting CPR on.

I’m not going to make this review longer than it needs to be. All you need to know is that BAYWATCH is an awful television show adapted to film, but it’s just an awful film period. It’s amazing how SIX screenwriters managed to mess up an easy premise that could have worked if they understood what kind of film they were trying to make. Was it supposed to be a homage to Baywatch? Was it meant to be serious? Was this supposed to be a 21 JUMP STREET type comedy that turned a dramatic television show into a film comedy? In all cases, they failed big time.

The reason why 21 JUMP STREET worked is because the writers understood how to handle a tonal transition that actually paid homage to its source material, while keeping it within the same universe as the television show. The jokes were funny. The cast were game. The cameos made sense. Everything clicked.

BAYWATCH struggles with this. The writers have no clue how to make the jokes work. There’s a running gag on how the lifeguards take matters in their own hands, doing the work that the police should be doing. It’s a good joke because that’s exactly what the television was about most of the time, never really explaining why lifeguards had so much authority outside of their jurisdiction. I wish the gag was funnier in the film, but I appreciate that the writers were aware of this plot. And I enjoy the banter between Mitch and Brody, as both are Alpha males trying to one-up the other. But the actual jokes themselves fall flat and I barely laughed at any of this. Most of the time, BAYWATCH tries to hard making us laugh. It doesn’t help when it also wants to be a serious action film, clashing with the comedic tone in my opinion. I wish it were one or the other in this case.

The only reason BAYWATCH doesn’t totally fail is the acting. The screenwriters and director Seth Gordon [who may have dealt with studio interference in terms of his vision] aren’t 100 percent committed to the tone of the film. But Dwayne Johnson does the best with the material he’s given, making the most out of playing Mitch. He plays it mostly straight, which works because he doesn’t seem in on the joke. I wish the film was more comedic, because Johnson’s serious performance would have stood out more. Zac Efron is also pretty damn good as Brody, Mitch’s more comedic rival. He has great chemistry with Johnson and seems to be having fun. I hope they co-star in another film that knows how to use their talent. The other actors play their parts well, especially Jon Bass as Ronnie - the overweight lifeguard that gets embarrassed in almost every scene. But it works because Bass is game for anything and has scenes that actually made me chuckle. Plus, it was nice to see David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson in cameos.

But other than that, BAYWATCH disappointed the hell out of me. I was expecting more since I enjoy the television show on a superficial level. But the film fell flat for me. Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, and other others tried their best with this sub-par material, but they couldn’t save it all the way through. I’m sure it made enough money for a sequel, so hopefully the next one will actually balance the action and the humor better. 

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