Ouija: Origin of Evil (***1/2) improves upon the model


Oulja: Origin of Evil – 2016

Director Mike Flanagan
Writers Flanagan and Jeff Howard
Starring  Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, Parker Mack, Doug Jones, Kate Siegel, Sam Anderson

The 2nd installment of the board game movie series Ouija involves a scam with good intentions. An older man (Anderson) is attending a seance with his daughter (Siegel). The conductor of the seance (Reiser) has some help formulating what communication the father and child will receive from the beyond. The message is a clear one to the old man: focus on the good, but hold onto your money. Seeing the easy tears that come to Anderson’s eyes as he believes what he’s being told, one gets the feeling that they’ve done a good job at least in casting this second film. This man is in grief, but hopeful. How could they do that in a B movie?  Why would they even push for that kind of detail?

The first story was kind of a throwaway. Kids get hooked into a board game that is tied to a house with a past. The past is kind of interesting though, and they wisely decide to mine that fertile territory for this episode.

It’s rare the horror movie sequel that makes the first one better. Most just kind of dine on the remnants of the first story. Paranormal Activity pulled it off and so, now has Ouija. The way they do it is a simple, solid story and good acting by everyone involved. Reaser and Thomas are a big improvement over anyone outside of Cooke from the first film. Basso and Wilson are solid as the two children who help their single mother Alice run her pseudo-seance operation.

Things begin to go sideways when eldest daughter Lina (Basso) gets caught sneaking out to a party involving drinking and games. Well, one game. She confides in her mother on the way home and Alice decides it might be a good idea to try it out as an additional gimmick. As she is setting it up, she unwittingly opens a door to the dead within the house to speak through her youngest, Doris (Wilson).

Things go well at first, as Doris seems to be a conduit to the same type of gentle spirits that Alice would hope they could communicate, like that of her dead husband and father to their children. He’s there, to be sure, but he’s not the dominating presence in the house.

Suffice to say this film will break the three rules of Ouija:

  • Never Play Alone
  • Never Play in a Graveyard
  • Always say Goodbye

Those broken rules do have a checklist effect on the plot. None of what results should be all that surprising.

There are some genuinely good moments though. It’s easy to appreciate Henry Thomas as the ever calm Father Tom, who sees all of the signs and doesn’t suffer the immediate decimation that most wearing the collar suffer at the hands of malevolent forces. It is also very neat to see someone show that demons will lie and it will not always be explained in an agonizing fashion later in the story. Some good decisions are made by those struggling to overcome the demons. Leaving the ending ambiguous is also a treat.

It’s not a great film, but it is a good one. If they can just leave it here. But then there is that origin before the origin…

(***1/2 out of *****)

Sully (****1/2) provides a perfect landing


Sully – 2016

Director Clint Eastwood
Written by Todd Komarnicki based on The Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger
and Jeffrey Zaslow
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan, Jerry Ferrara

There is a scene in the midst of Sully where we see a flight attendant telling one of the passengers near the front of the airplane to jump out of the just landed plane while she is trying to corral the rest of the passengers to line up in an orderly fashion. He looks at her, confused, as he has no life jacket and this exit does not have a landing pad for upon which to land. She is following protocol and really doesn’t comprehend what the passenger’s face is trying to express. She is trying to keep everyone else moving and calm. She prods him to action and he jumps. After swimming around in water that has a chill factor of -5, he makes his way back to the nearest flotilla. This is but one way something could have lead to a death. Somehow it was avoided. Every action is completely understandable in this highly charged environment filled with such tension. This is what happens when humans are a factor.

There is no harder story to tell in Hollywood than a true one. The meat and potatoes grist of a story may be there, but everything that accompanies the meal is usually the same. Take any biopic about a singer or actor and you see drug abuse and its subsequent recovery. Take any story about a miracle and you get the little guy having to overcome obstacles applied by external forces (most often government) that is there just for the sake of telling us what rules they broke.

The National Transportation Safety Board serves as the bogeyman in this take on the heroic actions of Chelsey Sullenberger (Hanks) and Jeff Skiles (Eckhart). If for no other reason than serving as filler, the board picks every opportunity to act as the antagonist in an event where antagonism never surfaces. The unit, consisting of members whose individual names were removed from the script at the request of Sullenberger, gives the already reeling pilot fresh doses of antagonism immediately following the landing. So aggressive is the group that we get the distinct impression that Sullenberger and his co-pilot are not able to see their families for several days after the event. In essence, he is held hostage until they finish their review.

Any reasonable assessment of this film can discount this whole subplot from the start. There has to be a reason for us to want to watch the film beyond the amazing feat the two pilots pulled off, along with the subsequent rescue by several New York ferry and rescue operations, right? Well…no. I could have handled more of those heroes that helped Sully save 155 souls from pending doom.

As it stands, Sully is still a fantastic movie. Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood have mastered the art of restraint. We see every ounce of doubt in Hanks’ eyes in the simple act of running along the water before dawn. The conversations between his Sully and Linney’s Lorraine Sullenberger bring immediate tears to one’s eyes when we realize that the things that weigh us down in life often get in the way of us just being grateful for life and love itself. We notice when she says she loves him after a particularly tough conversation and he neglects to respond in kind. And we feel closure when this omission is very quietly rectified in a later phone call.

Sully is the kind of movie America will always need to remind itself of the quality of its citizens. We can even extend this to humanity itself. We have countless examples of life being difficult. We are indeed living outside the garden of Eden. What Eastwood has done, though, is to bring us a vision of God’s grace that is so hard to comprehend that the one who provided it even doubts his role within said vision. So many people are thankful to a man who has difficulty accepting that he should receive thanks.

It is for this reason that the NTSB role is acceptable in Sully. They provide a touch of the grist of doubt that Sully feels. If it is a little exaggerated, it is only because we feel so much sympathy for the protagonist. The board is only doing its job looking at all of the factors. We just want to be happy he’s alive.

A good film leaves you wanting more, but knowing you’ve seen enough. Eastwood shows glimpses of Sully’s past when they apply to how it made the hero with whom we’re presented. His doubt is resistant to every indication that he deserves praise. It makes a remarkably satisfying result when we finally see the tide is turned in his own self-analysis. Hanks does all of this with a dry poignancy that is matched by Eastwood’s spare presentation. If ever two talents were meant to work together, it is these two.

Every supporting actor falls perfectly into place, with Eckhart in particular providing excellent counterbalance. The predominant mood is one of cooperation here and that is hard to pull off in long form. There is but one awkward moment between the two of them, which is made all the sweeter when one realizes that’s just the way things happen when you are human.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Humans at their best doing what they do imperfectly, but still brilliantly. How do they do it?  Eastwood and Hanks come closest to showing you how these humans play a factor.

(****1/2 out of *****)

The Accountant (****) is compelling though predictable


The Accountant – 2016

Director Gavin O’Connor
Writer Bill Dubuque
Starring Ben Affleck, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Jean Smart

It’s a potential franchise for the perpetually disenfranchised. It’s Rain Man on steroids. It’s not so good will hunting. It’s a connection for all of us who thought we could never connect to someone of different ability, often referred to as being in an autism spectrum.

Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, an accountant in a nothing town in rural Illinois. He’s got a straightforward demeanor that could be construed as rude. He doesn’t like to fish, but he will use your farmland as a shooting range for payment of services rendered.

Back in Washington D.C., Ray King (Simmons) is on the verge of retirement as Director of the financial crimes division of the Treasury Department. He gives a young analyst (Addai-Robinson) the opportunity of a lifetime that she literally cannot refuse.

Many miles away, a hit man threatens the life of a sleazebag financial pirate, coercing him into changing his ways.

Of course these three stories are connected. One sees the common threads for almost everything in the first act, but seeing how well O’Connor lets his actors play out is a genuine treat.

Affleck is an absolute dream playing someone with a social disability but a type of mathematical genius. It’s a role he’s been playing his whole post-Gigli life. He has a command of the screen with his inability to make eye contact but his incredible gift with numbers, graphs and two shots to the head. We are seeing a hero more easily remembered than any he’s played to now.

The rest of the cast is incredible, if overkill for their roles. Each provides a nuanced touch that brings the predictable story into a fist pumping ride along. Addai-Robinson, the relative new talent of the bunch is smartly invested as a young protege to Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon role, if we were to keep with the Batman theme.

That O’Connor would select this story makes sense if one were to see his previous classic Warrior, as it borrows many of the same themes. There is but one moment of this film that is a genuine surprise to the reviewer. What is truly the biggest wonder is that it all works from an entertainment standpoint. This is fertile ground for a series. Let’s hope they follow through.

(**** out of *****)

Don’t Breathe (****) is only a motion away


Don’t Breathe – 2016

Director Fede Alvarez
Writers Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

Once in a while a movie comes along where everything clicks. The talent of the writing matches that of the directing and the cast does little to take away from it all.

Jane Levy is Rocky, who along with her idiot boyfriend, Money (Zovatto) and her lovelorn friend Alex (Minnette) are making what counts for a living robbing houses in what is left of the Detroit area. Money gets wind of a possible big cash score and the crew discusses whether to go for it.

Rocky is all for it. She is planning on leaving Detroit for California with her little sister and this could help them make the final push. Alex, who is using his Dad’s security company to help the trio make smaller scores, is against changing the status quo. Money, well, let’s put it this way: Money doesn’t have any plans and he won’t need them.

The owner of the house in question is a blind U.S. Veteran who lost his daughter to a drunk driving accident by a socialite’s daughter. He scored a rather large sum in a cash settlement. He has an attack Rottweiler. He never leaves the house beyond short walks in his abandoned neighborhood. They decide to go for it anyway.

They’re not all idiots though. That would be too easy and it would make the film a rather short experience. The importance of Don’t Breathe is that, outside of Money, there are no thoughtless characters in the story.

The inventive nature of this screenplay goes beyond strategic placement and knowing the geography of the house. There are several points in the first 3/4 film where the unexpected happens. That last 1/4 is still fun, even if one can tell what is going to occur.

Lange is more menacing as a buff blind man than he is at any point in his terrorizing role as Avatar‘s Colonel Quaritch. He’s dangerous and resourceful, but he’s not a perfect killing machine. There are moments that he flails and moments where he can narrow down to one inhale and exhale. He’s not Daredevil. He’s more believable than that.

Levy offers the same visceral pluck that she had in the Alvarez remake of Evil Dead. Her character is sympathetic, but she is not a withering flower. She is playing for keeps once she knows the score.

Alvarez and Sayagues have a more relevant film here than just typical horror. There is motivation behind every character and that raises the stakes beyond useless gore. They may have a tough time pulling off a sequel, but the ending leaves that open. An extra star for them if they never do make it.

(**** out of *****)

Swiss Army Man (****) Esoterica for the masses


Swiss Army Man – 2016

Written and Directed by Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan
Starring  Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Swiss Army Man is kind of a ridiculous farce. It’s kind of a Fight Club meets Waiting for Godot for the lonely, sad and somewhat perverted. Starting off in a remote location, Hank is about to end it all for the lack of a response to the messages he’s sent out in various types of floating garbage. He sees a corpse in the sand of the desert island beach and responds to it like a beacon, calling him back with glimmer of hope.

Then over the next hour or so, the corpse, who we discover is named Manny, provides Hank with a variety of boosts that helps move him forward and keep him alive. As Hank and Manny work their way back towards civilization, we see that Manny is slowly becoming re-animated. Hank tries to conjure memories for Manny and the memories begin to get more real.

If this appeals to you, I will not ruin it for you by telling you more. What I can say is this the script is intriguing, the direction is adventurous and the acting is sublime. If you think you know what’s happening, you just might. But hang in there, it’s worth it. It’s a story told and a film executed with imagination we don’t see much.

Paul Dano is moving away from actor I would most like to commit a felony against to one of the more reliably excellent. Daniel Radcliffe is even more amazing. This role alone is enough to propel him past the Harry Potter stage of his career. Hopefully this means we won’t see anymore sequels to mediocre magic films or run of the mill horror.

As for Scheinert and Kwan, this is the first I have heard of them. Their allegiance to farts is admirable and if there is no other statement they make to the world, this is a worthy first effort. If you see no other film with a friend who likes farting, this is it.

It’s more than this, of course. They give some good existentialism in the slowest moving road movie of all time. The topics are so wide ranging, innocent and open minded, even the densest among us will find common cause.

The weakest part of the film occurs nearing the last frame when everyone gathers and the script doesn’t know where to go and who is supposed to learn what. They should have ended it about 5 minutes sooner. It’s not a big deal though. Either way this movie will leave you with a smile and a willingness to pass gas in public.

(**** out of *****)

The Magnificent Seven (****) is star power at its best


Magnificent 7 – 2016

Director Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk based on Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa,
Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Starring  Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Matt Bomer, Sean Bridgers

In all fairness, I didn’t really care to see this movie. Washington has been in several good but nowhere near great films lately and I thought I would wait until it was released on video. When I came upon an extra 4 hours, I decided it was the best thing I hadn’t seen yet to pass the time. It was a grand decision.

Let’s be clear, nothing I watched in the span of 133 minutes is anything close to original. It’s the basis of most of the Westerns ever released, even if this version is properly accredited to Kurosawa’s original classic.

What one gets in a movie like this is the opportunity to try on a comfortable story with the flavors of the moment. The two primary ingredients this time, Washington and Pratt, are given the privilege of filling well worn characters with their own version of the trope. They are marvelous, but surprisingly aren’t even the best performers in the story.

That honor is awarded to Bennett and Lee. Who they play is not as important as how they play the roles. Both are fearless in attacking their roles with a fierceness rarely seen in retread stories. Bennett is the wronged woman Emma Cullen, stepping up when everyone steps back. She’s never expected her life to be rolled over by the likes of Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard) and she’ll be damned if she takes it laying down, like the rest of the residents of her mining town Rose Creek are all too willing to do. Emma heads to the nearest town in search of help. She ends up with Warrant Officer Sam Chisolm (Washington), who accepts the opportunity at vengeance because he wants a crack at Bogue.

Chisolm gathers up the dangerously loquacious Josh Faraday (Pratt) and together they gather the United Nations of anti-heroes to come along and help. This group includes Hawke’s dangerous yet shell shocked sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux. Robicheaux just happens to be doing the Every Which Way But Loose tour with his friend Billy Rocks (Lee). To say Rocks is good with knives would be like saying Quigley’s only good with rifles. Frankley, the dude can master every type of weapon imaginable.

By far the strangest addition to the group is D’Onofrio’s grizzled old kook trapper Jack Horne. The tone of voice used from the onset is shades of latter day Brando. That voice morphs into something different, but equally indecipherable when they get to Rose Creek. As much as he needs subtitles to be understood, D’Onofrio has mastered the skill of holding the camera’s gaze. It’s not a wasted performance by any means. Let’s just say I had to acquire the taste.

Mexican outlaw (Garcia-Rulfo) is represented as more than an a brown person with an accent. His character is given some gravitas and actually fits in well with Pratt’s goofball persona, without losing any of his stoic demeanor.

Only the rogue Comanche (Sensmeier) comes closest to being a trivia question here. His motivations are never clear enough to explain his desire to join the group, especially after nearly every one of them pulls a gun on him at first meeting when it’s obvious he’s not a threat in the slightest.

Pratt makes a bit of a comeback here, after floundering a bit with Jurassic World. Even if he’s merely a more dangerous version of Star Lord, he gets the best moments of the script and never flounders the opportunity.

Washington, as usual, gets the straight man role and flourishes. He’s not been a supporting actor in so many years, it’s hard to expect that he would develop any tics at this point. He’s got the charisma of Eastwood, but he doesn’t have to rely on a snarl. He’s the most reliable actor of the last 20 years and this is a performance that brings him glory without having to do more than flex his tiniest acting muscles. His leader outshines the one note Brenner and equals Shimura’s original. What’s most incredible is that what he’s doing doesn’t even feel like acting. It’s just who he seems to be.

Sarsgaard gives us some good old greasy evil. He’s despicable and he has style. He walks on the good side of Ribisiville. That’s a good thing, because until I saw this, I didn’t know one could pull off a stylish version of Ribisi.

The best thing about this story is Lee. He continues to shine in everything he’s in. He exceeds the grasp of his caricature here. He’s just supposed to throw knives. Instead he brings charisma to every scene he’s in, while bringing depth to Hawke’s already good performance. He is the spice that moves the needle to near greatness.

Fuqua continues to succeed in Hollywood, when critics keep comparing him to Denzel’s Oscar vehicle Training Day. He turns huge profits with most projects and his actors love working for him. Working with True Detective writer Pizzolato serves the best instincts of both. There is no downtime here. This is the best PG-13 violence I have witnessed in a film. It looks dangerous and the humor works without removing the tension.

Even if you are not a fan of the recent spate of pale remakes that come along with every generation, this update is worth your time. It will take a spot in my collection, to be sure. Right after Kurosawa.

(**** out of *****)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (***) is a pleasant walk through New Zealand


Hunt for the Wilderpeople – 2016

Written and Directed by  Taika Waititi
Starring  Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rhys Darby, Rachel House

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a pleasant movie that touches on serious things in a pleasant way. It doesn’t want to do more than that, even if some may want to believe it does. That we get to see some beautiful scenery in the meantime doesn’t hurt.

Ricky Baker (Dennison) is delivered to a rural home bordering the New Zealand bush to live in the foster care of Bella (Te Wiata) and her husband Uncle Hec (Neill). He resists just a little, but soon is feeling at home with the love and attention he is receives. Bella is easy to get along with, Hec resists just a little. Bella suddenly dies, placing the new family in jeopardy when child services informs them Ricky must be taken back.

Through a series of misunderstandings, Ricky takes off for the bush soon followed by Hec and the manhunt for the “wilderpeople” is on.

The movie is a nice one, but it treads into wackiness so often it is hard to take seriously as it one could with even a few tweaks. The story is at its best when Bella is on screen, but she leaves so early we are then forced to see Neill and Dennison work out the same type of vibe Disney had with Up without nearly the amount of poignancy.

If they had kept the story with the two leads, it would be a fine film. Neill can do this role in his sleep, and Dennison is more engaging than most Disney kids. Unfortunately they go a little too often to the well of hijinks with House’s welfare worker who acts as though she were Sheriff Buford T. Justice. This kind of humor works when one is 10, maybe, but it gets old quick here.

There are other bright spots, such as when Ricky comes across a beautiful girl on a horse, then meets her dad.

Overall, the film floats just above average. It’s harmless fun.

(*** out of *****)

Ghostbusters Answer The Call (***): Hard to shine that penny


Ghostbusters – 2016

Director Paul Feig
Screenplay Katie Dippold and Feig
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Wiig, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong

When it comes to evaluating the new Ghostbusters, much is made about the gender of the Ghostbusters. I think this had less to do with the producers than the marketers, who were more than willing to feed the press a narrative that they thought could boost sales. It didn’t. Is sexism involved? To some extent, sure. There is an idiot in every crowd. The biggest problem is that the first trailer they released was misleading, confusing and just plain bad.

The marketers had not seen the film and thought it was a sequel. From the moment that mistake hit the air, this honest attempt to update one of the most beloved comedies was behind the 8 ball. The subsequent attempts to turn the occasional trolls into some organized movement against women just turned all the people who want a comedy into those feeling obligated to like it or else or those who would never like it no matter how good it was.

To be honest, I am just glad that Dan Akroyd didn’t get to fulfill his vision to force us to watch him on film again. Yes, he along with all of the other Ghostbusters are cameoed in the new film, but his role comes across like a fart in a windstorm.

Once Harold Ramis passed away, my desire to see a new Ghostbusters expired. Murray was a hard sell, but even if he came back as a ghost as rumored, Ramis was the glue that made the formula work.

So Akroyd fades and the idea of a new crew of men fades with him. Next we get girl power. Whatever. It just needs to be funny, and with limited access by the ghost of Akroyd’s faded career. Having stayed away from SNL since Will Ferrell left, I had no opinion of Jones or McKinnon. McCarthy is a talent whose skill for picking material put her in the John Candy zone, for better and mostly worse. Wiig is a rallying cry for many women, kind of like Tina Fey. I don’t get much a vibe from her outside her turn in the Drew Barrymore film Whip It.

In all, there was little baggage carried by the reviewer heading into the film.  Alternatively, thanks to all of the crap marketing and media, there was little desire to watch. I had to get it out of the way, though. So here goes.

First, the bad. There isn’t much in the film that is truly bad. The special effects barfxtraveganza in the last 1/2 hour is the worst, lead by the “destructor” that is chosen. Most of the cleverness is weeded out by this point and really we’re waiting for it all to end.

The worst cameo in the film comes with Bill Murray’s miscast cameo. It’s hard to buy him as a NY Rex Reed type critic of the paranormal. This is nearly salvaged by his Arthur Denton-like final scene. It’s over quickly, at least.

Now the good. There really isn’t anything in the film that gels completely or even consistently. The bad guy (Casey) is a delightfully creepy choice. His performance is muted by a decision to go for a voice over with awful effects in the last 1/3 of the film.

The best decision of the film is in the filling of roles. Instead of direct replacements for Spengler, Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, Melnitz, Barrett and Tully, we have all new personalities. Sometimes they are distinct and sometimes they run over one another. Yates (McCarthy) and Gilbert (Wiig) have lines that could be interchanged, as to Holtzmann (McKinnon) and Beckman (Hemsworth). Only Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan stands out as an entirely distinct character. Each of the players have some memorable lines, but they all have mostly forgettable dialogue and interactions. The script is adequate, but undercooked.

That the film fails to be better than average is a result of having Feig and Dippold guiding the story along. Both have done great work (Parks and Rec., The Office) when the story can develop over several episodes, but in a movie with multiple characters and cameos thrust to the fore, there is less time to make sense of their awkward mannerisms. Several things hang waiting for a punchline that may be too subtle for a Friday night at the movies.

The cameos range from an inexplicable bust of Ramis at Columbia University, to Murray’s NY Socialite critic, Akroyd’s dumbass cabdriver and Hudson’s business owner. The best is saved for last, though.

The main problem with Ghostbusters: Answer the Call has nothing to do with gender politics. It’s that after all the outside noise, this film is just another mess of average. Wiig is so toned down, she’s almost non-existent. McCarthy is fun most of the time. McKinnon has some great lines and more that are just ridiculous.

Hemsworth is almost identically frustrating. They make him so incredibly dense as to be unbelievable. He walks the line between brilliant (the dance) and absurd (the acid) like a drunk at a wedding. They wanted Moranis with pects, but they got something less.

Jones is really the most consistent thing about the film. Her Patty Tolan is more fleshed out than her obvious predecessor, Zeddemore. She is not a genius, but she’s in no way limited. She has gifts and contributes mightily to the gelling of the story and the team. Her presence is easily worth one star on its own.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call is similar to every other reboot since the original Magnificent Seven. Get new actors out there, a few new effects and let the camera roll. It’s not women’s lib, it’s a Hollywood tradition.

(*** out of *****)


31 (**1/2) – It’s Hostel on the road


31 – 2016

Written and Directed by Rob Zombie
Starring  Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Richard Brake, Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, Jane Carr, E.G. Daily, Lew Temple

When I found out that Rob Zombie was making a new movie, my interest was piqued. His track record following the Tarantino formula with an emphasis on horror has been delivering diminishing returns since his high-water mark of The Devil’s Rejects. Still, it hadn’t diminished all that much until now.

Discovering that Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs brought a smile, inasmuch as no one can think back on his character Washington on Welcome Back Kotter. Who on that show doesn’t bring back a smile? Okay, yeah, I don’t like Horshack either and then to have his doppelganger Michael Weiner bulge onto the Twitter scene over the last 5 years hasn’t helped either. But I digress…It’s Washington, man!  Rob Zombie remembers the same guys we remember…and makes them victims (or survivors) of his films, just like his more successful auteur counterpart.

My hopes for this film started to drain the moment I heard Hilton-Jacobs faux Jamaican accent. Why oh why do they ever let that accent into any movie that doesn’t take place in the Caribbean? Hell, I even hated it in the third Johnny Depp opus. It’s something that should be discouraged at all points. No one likes the approximation of someone who calls pot ganja less than this reviewer. So much for that reunion with the past. How soon till they kill him off?

In essence, this story is a combination of Hostel and  House of 1000 Corpses. A caravan of minstrel carnies travelling through middle-America get kidnapped on October 31. Some of them wake up tied in the middle of some large, forgotten factory turned into a murder house. They are eloquently explained the rules of their plight, called 31, by a 3 white-wigged Brits. They have to survive 12 hours of pursuit by one (or two) psycho after another. They are told the odds of their survival before they begin. Why this game is being run by snobby sounding Brits in the middle of the U.S. is never explained. Come on, though, who do we hate more than snobby Brits? Especially if one of them (MacDowell) endured A Clockwork Orange.

Who survives should be obvious if you see the pressers for the movie. What we are here for is inventiveness. That inventiveness is not up to Zombie’s standards. We see bats with nails in them, axes, knives, chainsaws and plenty of Nazi references. It’s all underwhelming compared to where we’ve been with Rob Zombie in the past.

The cast, including Foster, Daniel Phillips, Jackson and especially wife Sheri Moon Zombie are all game for what’s in store. I have come to expect a lot out of  Moon Zombie through these films. What she lacks in range she more than makes up for with intensity. Richard Brake is the Bill Moseley of this film, with all of the foul words, grossness and evil intensity. He’s alright, but he really doesn’t do much more than spout Zombie’s attempts at cleverly sadistic dialogue. In the end, someone being murderously pursued just can’t care about long-winded diatribes at the end of a knife.

So, yeah, Zombie’s off a bit with this one. By the end, we’re more annoyed than scared about what happened. We’re given an ambiguous final shot that inspires nothing more than a sigh. He can do better, and he’ll no doubt have a few more chances.

(**1/2 out of *****)



Sing Street (****) You can go anywhere


Sing Street – 2016

Written and Directed by John Carney
Starring Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aidan Gillen, Jack Reynor, Kelly Thornton,
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Mark McKenna

A friend of mine – WeMissE –  who posts his Oscar picks on this site each year turned me onto the video for the song Drive It Like You Stole It Thursday night. By the time I listened to it for the third time, I had bought the movie, even though I had never bothered seeing either of Carney’s first two films. By Saturday night, the first time I watched it, I had no regrets. WeMissE has this as his leading contender so far for film of the year. For me, it’s definitely in the running.

The story begins in 1985 with 15 year old Conor Lalor (Walsh-Peelo), whose family is going through some challenges enough to transfer him from his relatively respected Jesuit school to a free-state school called Synge Street which is a bit tougher. His older brother Brendan (Reynor) – moored to the family even though he graduated – gives Conor a glib reading on his present prospects. Brendan and Conor have a genuine connection, and his older brother’s musing helps Conor soldier through this rather drastic change.

Soon after starting his new school, he notices the beautiful Raphina (Boynton) across the way at a home for orphaned girls. He walks over to her and strikes up a conversation. After discovering that she wants to be a model, he tells her he needs a model for a video that he and his band are making.

Problem is, he’s not a musician. He doesn’t have a band. Fortunately he’s got a friend that helps him in his quest. In a short time he acquires some new mates to be in his band and gets some much needed inspiration from Brendan. He takes the ideas and works with multi-instrumentalist Eamon (McKenna) to create an ever-evolving group of songs that show his development as a band leader and as a person.

What’s remarkable about the film is seeing how Conor and the group’s tastes adjust based on who they are influenced by. This is something with which most people who ever tried imitation of their musical heroes can identify. The sequence of seeing some delightful pop hits of the 80’s transforming into new original music by that Carney, Guy Clark and his other writers is a gift for anyone who enjoyed the era.

What he does with this creative direction is fun to watch as any film I have seen this year. The performances are remarkable, both in acting and in music. The script equal parts funny, poignant and hopeful. If no one in this film had a lick of musical talent, the film would still be fun. That we get to see both feels like we’re getting away with something.

The film loses a bit of steam in the last act, when the romantic portion of the story takes a couple of abrupt turns and ends up in a strangely fake looking boat ride. I would have thought the story could have ended perfectly with more ambiguity, perhaps closer to the dream sequence represented on the aforementioned song. You can see it a little here:

If you like coming of age movies, you will like this film. If you like movies featuring music that aren’t “musicals” where characters spontaneously break into song for no damn reason, you will like this film. If you still have hope in humanity, you will like this film. If you like any combination of the above, your feelings will come closer to what Conor feels for Raphina.

(**** out of *****)

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