Movie Review: AVENGERS: ENDGAME – impressive, emotional end to the Avengers saga, but where can the studio possibly go from here?

Just about a year after Avengers: Infinity War was released, the second part of the story, Avengers: Endgame has descended upon the Earth, much like the kind of invading alien force audiences are all too familiar with, ironically, because of movies just like this.  I write this on Saturday, April 7 – opening weekend – and the movie is projected to have an opening weekend gross in excess of $1 billion, and that’s in addition to other cinematic records it is crushing.  Of course, the age-old question asks: is it any good?  My reaction is similar to that of Infinity War: it’s really good, and I really liked it, but it doesn’t get 5 stars, and left me with questions about the future of the entire Marvel franchise.

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Movie Review: SHAZAM! takes a lighter approach than recent DC movies, but the script is a horrendous, weak mess.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing this is the second Captain Marvel movie released this year, even though Brie Larson’s titular character was never actually called by that name, and Zachary Levi’s character doesn’t even have a name – but yes, the guy in the red costume and yellow lightning bolt is actually named Captain Marvel.  Marvel Comics won the copyright battle on that one, and so from that day, he’s been referred to colloquially by his activation word, Shazam! I will not even try to give you a canned history of the character, as I didn’t grow up reading him and don’t have any particular affinity for him either.  In fact, the only personal relationship I have to a version of this character is to the British rip-off character, Marvelman, so a little more of that later.  But right here, all you get is the movie.

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Movie Review: CAPTAIN MARVEL – the latest in the Marvel Studios juggernaut is enjoyable thanks to Brie Larson’s charm, but lightweight.

Carol Danvers, much like Tony Stark in 2008, was a comic book character largely unknown outside of the increasingly insular world of comic book readers, but thanks to her inclusion in the cinematic Marvel Universe, now over $1 billion worth of people know the name worldwide, bringing with it untold fame and riches for its Oscar-winning star, Brie Larson.  More importantly, the movie introduces Marvel’s first female headliner and positions the character as potentially the most powerful in the entire franchise.  Unfortunately, in today’s sociopolitical climate, the very notion has been met online with the kind of outraged-male bile all too common.  I’d have preferred not to put this kind of spin on my reviews, but it’s unavoidable.

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Movie Review: PET SEMATARY – The 2nd attempt to film Stephen King’s best novel makes a lot of changes, but few of them work.

I am a child of the 80s, and just like whichever decade your teen years were set, that is the era that defined me.  Part of that period in my life was where my affinity for the horror genre evolved, with the books of Stephen King maybe the largest single element.  Throughout that decade, with no internet to make things easy, I devoured not just his books, but also news of his books.  Each time I went into a book shop with the intent of picking up his newest release, I left in a hurry to get home to crack open the cover.  I remember calling the US telephone operator from my bedroom in Scotland around 1987 or so and actually getting the number of King’s Bangor mansion, but there was never an answer each time I called.  All this is to tell you that I was a big fan of King, to preface the review of 2019’s Pet Sematary.

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Movie Review: BIRD BOX – this Sandra Bullock movie is so bad I wished I’d brought my own blindfold.

So yeah, you know how this review is going to go down based on the title.  No major reveal here, so it’s kind of like the movie itself!  I actually hadn’t heard of this movie until a few weeks ago, and the trailer and accompanying article didn’t exactly set me on fire.  It seemed too much like A Quiet Place for my liking, and that was a movie I mostly disliked.  Now most places you will read about it are indeed referring to it as “A Quiet Place … for eyes!”.  Not only didn’t I like Birdbox, I hated it!

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Movie Review: GHOST STORIES – another good contemporary “horror” movie, but does the ending show the writers’ true colours?

The horror genre is undergoing something of renaissance in the last few years.  A younger generation of moviemakers appear to have finally embraced the fact that above all else the genre embodies existential panic greater than no other.  I think we can all agree, whatever side of the political divide one happens to be, that the current state of the world is doing nothing to allay our fears.  Disenfranchisement, loneliness, depression – all emotions that are running at higher rates than at any time in recent memory.  Why do we need the familiar movie monsters to scare us, when those that lurk inside ourselves are so much worse?

Horror is my first love – I was exposed to the Hammer and Amicus movies as a child and it imprinted upon me a strong attraction to the darker side of life, but I’m also a pretty discerning viewer, and I don’t like any old shite just because it happens to be in the genre.  I was never all that interested in the celebrity monsters (though I have a soft spot for the early Universal movies) – I prefer the creative energies that emerge from indie moviemakers, and the last couple of years has seen some great talents arrive on the scene; the team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Spring, Resolution, and The Endless), and auteur Mickey Keating (Ritual, Darling, Carnage Park) have a keen sense of the kind of horror that strikes the core of the modern soul.  No cartoonish Jasons or Freddy from these guys, the focus of their movies is the effect on the protagonist with real character-driven stories.  It’s been a good year for this kind of existentialism  – even when the movies don’t up the body count or splatter the screen with gore, what they do is creep into the mind, remind us that we are all just a couple of hard luck events from losing everything we have and are.

Ghost Stories, written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, adapted from their own stage play, has been compared to the British anthology movies from the 60s and 70s like The House That Dripped Blood and Tales From The Crypt – movies that were part of my own introduction to the genre – for me, though, the resemblance stops there.  I don’t know if it was Nyman and Dyson’s intention to just do a modern version of this kind of movie, but I didn’t truly feel that when I watched their movie.  When you watch from beginning to end, you realize that the anthology structure is a storytelling device that ultimately tells something completely different, in short, there’s a grand reveal that takes precedent over everything that comes before it.  I really enjoyed it, but at the same time as though lodged in the back of my mind: were Nyman and Dyson faintly embarrassed about the horror genre?  One can choose to look at the ending as the moviemakers saying, “all that horror stuff … it was just to get to this point, a necessary evil” and I think that while it’s clearly a straw man argument on my part, it’s a valid take on the movie.  As clever as it is, and as much as I liked it, there’s still that little nagging feeling …

The movie is uneven, but not so much in terms of quality.  It’s structured as three stories told to Philip Goodman, a paranormal debunker (played by Nyman), after he’s challenged to investigate them as examples of undeniable proof of the existence of the supernatural.  While the stories as told in cinematic terms are mostly gripping, they’re still just anecdotes as far as the character Goodman is concerned, and as timid and driven Goodman seems to be in his James Randi-like mission, he always seems to be possessed of a need to believe, regardless of how skeptical he appears on the outside.  It can’t be just accidental or bad writing – it’s something I appreciated, although Nyman could have played it a little more subtle for it to feel like a more authentic character study.

In chronological order, the stories are: a night watchman’s shift in a creepy old building is disrupted by a possibly malevolent entity; a teenager dangles on the edge of sanity as he recounts the story of hitting a demonic entity while driving through the woods; a rich man is plagued by poltergeist activity in his magnificent modern-day mansion while waiting for his wife to give birth to their first child.  These stories are reluctantly told to Goodman by the participants, and as I mentioned, they’re uneven,  The first story you’ve seen a few times before, and it reminded me a lot of the terrifically unnerving Session 9.  It’s good, but treads familiar ground.  The second story stars the excellent young actor Alex Lawther (so good in the Black Mirror episode Shut Up and Dance), but it’s much shorter than the others and didn’t convince me that it was necessary, despite an implication-heavy storyline.  My favourite of the three stars Martin Freeman (Cargo, Black Panther) as the haunted rich man, a far cry from the kind of characters audiences are more familiar with him playing.  I liked this one because of the sheer austerity of the location, and the cold detachment played by Freeman here.  It’s a modern take on the haunted house story with a significantly more personal angle to it.

Although these three stories make up the bulk of the running time, the actual story only starts when these tales are finished – to go any further here would put me deep into spoiler territory, so I won’t say anything more about the how the movie wraps up, other than it immediately went in a completely unexpected direction in both story and character.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think most people will feel the same way about it once they get past any initial confusion arising from the transition scene.  More than a few viewers will feel that “Aaaaaaaahh,” moment that comes a couple of minutes from the end.  I liked that part,  but didn’t love it, and it’s why I feel that Nyman and Dyson didn’t make a movie that committed to the genre.  Nevertheless, it’s also going to be an ending that a lot of people like because of that same reason.

It’s been a good year for thoughtful horror – here’s to it continuing!  Check out my reviews of Hereditary and Pyewacket if you’re looking for something in a similar vein.

3.5/5.0

© Andrew Hope, 2018

Links to other reviews mentioned here:

SPRING

RESOLUTION

THE ENDLESS

RITUAL

DARLING

CARNAGE PARK

CARGO

BLACK PANTHER

HEREDITARY

PYEWACKET

 

Movie Review: 1922 – Based on a Stephen King novella, this movie has good production values, but is smothered by terrible pacing

As someone who used to be a huge Stephen King fan, and is currently going through a kind of King renaissance thanks to Audible, I’m finding both why I liked King so much in my teens, and why I didn’t as I grew older: in terms of premise and plot I like King just fine, but when it comes to characters and exposition, his prose gets drowned, submerged as if wearing concrete shoes.  1922, a Netflix-released adaptation of the story in King’s Full Dark, No Stars collection feels pretty similar, but this time it’s the pace at which the story unfolds.

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