Sunday, September 01, 2019

Dora and some scary stories


As we head towards Halloween it’s a good time for horror movies, but the first movie I’m going to be reviewing is based on a cartoon for toddlers. And it’s actually pretty good.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold updates the show to live action and makes the title character a teenager, but still maintains the same sweet, precocious quality and celebration of Latinx culture. Isabela Moner gives a star-making turn as Dora, and the junior Indiana Jones quality to the story provides fun for both kids and adults, aided by director James Bobin keeping things moving briskly with just the right tone. More of this from kids’ movies, please.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is another throwback, this time to the urban legend stories collected in book form by Alvin Schwartz in the 1980s. The film wisely set the stories in the 1960s, allowing for some political commentary as well as preventing the sight of kids running from monsters while filming them on their smart phones. The film uses four stories from the books (Harold, The Big Toe, The Red Spot, The Dream, and Me Tie Dough-Ty Walker – the latter very loosely adapted as the Jangly Man) with a wrap around story involving kids reading the book and the stories coming to life. Think the Goosebumps movie but way creepier thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s involvement . The visuals pay homage to the original illustrations and there’s enough dark humour to keep things light enough for PG-13 (while still way too scary for young kids). This deserves to join the ranks of classic horror anthology movies like Creepshow and Trick ‘R Treat.

Finally, Ready or Not is the latest entry in the classic rich people are different subgenre of horror. This time the rich people in question have a quaint little tradition of playing a midnight game whenever someone new joins the family by marriage. The only catch is that if the new spouse randomly picks hide and seek from the list of games then the other family members must hunt them down and kill that unlucky person before dawn. So of course, Grace (Samara Weaving, giving it her all) pulls that card on her wedding night. The plot kicks in early and never stops moving, providing plenty of memorable death scenes and a few twists and turns. The supporting cast is fantastic, especially Andie MacDowell as Grace’s mother-in-law and Adam Brody as the brother-in-law who may or may not be sympathetic to Grace. Soon you’ll be rooting for Grace to go full Sarah Connor/Laurie Strode and get medieval on those rich arseholes. I won’t spoil the ending but let’s say while the full Satanic influence on the plot may be a little much for some viewers, it provides a gleefully bloody resolution.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sequels, remakes . . . oh look, an original film too!


Toy Story 4
Now that MoviePass is cancelled (again) I finally have time to catch up on reviews for all the movies I've seen lately. First up, Pixar's latest blockbuster. Look, we didn’t need a fourth Toy Story movie. Toy Story 3 was a perfect end to the franchise and making another sequel is obvious money-grabbing, even by Disney standards. Having said all that, Toy Story 4 is about as good as an unnecessary sequel can be. The humour and charm is still there, and the return of Bo Peep (after sitting out the last one) is most welcome. Even the late Don Rickles gets to return to voice Mr. Potato Head, thanks to some archive recordings. The new cast includes amusing roles for Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, but mostly the joy is in the familiar fun found in the previous movies. Nothing ground-breaking, then, but it doesn’t tarnish the franchise the way some may have feared.

Child’s Play
The last couple of Chucky movies have actually been pretty good, despite going straight to DVD/streaming. So I was generally opposed to this remake. But it turned out okay. Turning Chucky into a smart doll gone wrong instead of a serial killer resurrected in a doll makes the story more contemporary, but less creepy. Mark Hamill does a decent job replacing Brad Dourif’s voice and nails the obsessive friend quality of the jealous doll. The rest of the cast act like they’re in a comedy more than a horror film, and maybe they’re right. The ending, which somehow involves Chucky controlling drones, leaves behind any attempt at horror and turns full sci-fi comedy. Also, cat owners beware. You will not like what Chucky does to the family kitty.

Midsommar
Hereditary, while well-made and acted, was one of the more unpleasant horror movies of recent years, so it’s no surprise that director Ari Aster’s follow up is equally disturbing. Clearly inspired by The Wicker Man and other movies featuring sinister communes, Midsommar slowly builds the unease as the American main characters visit a strange Swedish community before exploding into an orgy of ritualized suicide, weird sex and murder. Florence Pugh gives a very good performance in what is essentially the story of a woman with a shitty boyfriend, wrapped in horror movie tropes.

Spider-Man: Far From Home
I have mixed feelings about the MCU version of Spider-Man. Tom Holland is great in the role, finally capturing the smartasss kid with a heart of gold quality to Spidey that was mostly missing from the previous live action versions of the character. And the villains they’ve chosen so far have been great. But the films are also so integrated into the cinematic universe around them that we have yet to see Peter Parker drive the plot in his own solo movie. Homecoming basically had Iron Man as co-lead, and Far From Home carries on that tradition by having Spidey play second fiddle for much of the running time to Nick Fury and Happy Hogan.
With that provision, there is much the filmmakers get right with Far From Home. The European setting gives it a refreshingly different feel, and Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic as Mysterio, the fish-bowl headed superhero who, spoiler alert, turns out to be a supervillain. His mastery of illusion leads to some wonderfully trippy sequences. The ending hints at (hopefully) a more scaled-down sequel where Spidey doesn’t have to rely on any of his superfriends. Two end credit sequences reveal, respectively, the return of an old nemesis played by a beloved actor from the Sam Raimi movies and a huge fakeout involving those pesky Skrulls.
So, to sum up, this movie is a lot of fun but Into the Spiderverse remains the best big screen Spidey.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters?


First of all, I quite liked the 2014 Godzilla. I understand the frustration with the lack of action, weak characterization and constant cutting away from the big G, but Gareth Edwards is one of the few modern directors who understands both scale and building anticipation slowly, and his Godzilla excelled in both those areas. Unfortunately, Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes the wrong lessons from the first film, giving us more monster on monster action while failing in pretty much every other respect. 
The human characters are both paper thin and have ridiculous motivations (the "villains" want to end the world to save it, I think). Talented actors such as Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown try hard to make us care about their characters, but it’s impossible to understand what makes them tick. The attempts at humor are also fairly pathetic, which makes the talking scenes between the monster action a chore to sit through. That would be more forgivable if the fight scenes really popped, but unfortunately the filmmakers decided they were making a mid-nineties popcorn movie that needs to hide its CGI, so every single monster rumble takes place in snow, rain, darkness or a combination of two of those. What we do see of the monsters, especially Mothra, is stunning, so it’s a shame the movie rarely shows them clearly. 
I love the idea of Godzilla as a force of nature protecting the Earth from worse threats (while not giving a shit who gets crushed along the way) but unless Warner Bros. really turns things around for Godzilla vs. Kong and focus on a decent script, this MonsterVerse is pretty much dead in the water.