Film Review: NIGHTMARE CINEMA (USA 2018) ***

Nightmare Cinema Poster
Trailer

Five strangers converge at a haunted movie theater owned by The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke). Once inside, the audience members witness a series of screenings that shows them their deepest fears and darkest secrets over five tales.

NIGHTMARE CINEMA is a horror anthology, something quite common in horror flicks of the past and re-appearing now again with 5 stories.  The common thread is the cinema theatre where several characters converge only to watch their scariest nightmares on screen.  The theatre owner is the projectionist (Mickey Rourke) who is as scary as the nightmares.

The first story is THE THING IN THE WOODS directed by Alejandro Brugues.  There appears to be a serial killer nicknamed the welder who is doing away with a group of teens.  There is a reason the welder is carrying on these violent killings which is revealed later as the thing in the woods.  This episode is passable at best and works like a slasher film with lots of blood, gore and flying body parts.

The second entitled MIRARE directed by Joe Dante is the second best of the lot as it involves besides the horror, paranoia.  The theme has been done before – where the plastic surgeon is not what he seems.  A young bride disfigured from a car accident is convinced by her fiancé to undergo plastic surgery for the wedding.  Upon recovery, she discovers other disfigured bodies in the hospital besides hers.

The third of the anthology MASHIT (the name of a spirit) has the most promise but unfortunately is the most muddled of the lot.  Perhaps Japanese director Ryūhei Kitamur is working in unfamiliar territory here.  A priest and a nun has a sexual relationship amidst some possession that is taking place with the children under their care.  One suicide leads to another.  A young girl is currently under prey but tuns out that it is her mother who is possessed.  

The next one, THIS WAY TO EGRESS, directed by David Slade where everyone speaks with a British accent involves a woman visiting a doctor after things get weirder and weirder with her.  She wonders if she is crazy but is ushered out the door by the doctor without the answer.  This one has the best cinematography and excellent disgusting looking production sets, black and white with interiors all seemingly covered in blood.   Everything looks very sinister as the woman keeps asking strangers (with faceless features) if they have seen her children.  The ending is a tad of a disappointment given the tense buildup.

The best is reserved for the last and indeed, the last episode DEAD directed by Mick Garris (who also directed the inter-joining projectionist parts) is an excellent horror piece combining a return from the dead and slasher scenarios.  After performing his concert piece, a boy and his parents are attacked while in their car in the parking lot.  The parents are killed while the boy survives a bullet wound.  Things get complicated in hospital recovery where the boy’s mother appears and ask him to cross to other side, the side of death.

Though a bit inconsistent, the horror anthology works, bringing back memories of those old anthology classics like TALE FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and DEAD OF NIGHT (1945).  The anthology ends up a mixed bag of tricks – some good and some bad segments.  For horror fans, NIGHTMARE CINEMA should still satisfy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3STondh5fE0

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Film Review: CHILD’S PLAY (USA 2019) ***1/2

Child's Play Poster
Trailer

A mother gives her 13-year-old son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

Director:

Lars Klevberg

Writers:

Tyler Burton Smith (screenplay by), Don Mancini (based on characters created by)

After a number of sequels, the original 1988 horror classic CHILD’S PLAY gets a reboot with the same title following a high tech doll that rejects its programming and becomes self aware. 

Director Lars Olevberg and the script by Tyler Burton Smith play it smart by combining the elements of camp and horror in what turns out to be a fast-moving totally entertaining reboot.  The film proves tat camp and scares can work extremely well together.  CHILD’S PLAY delivers what is expected and more.

The film opens in Kaslan Industry’s Vietnam factory that makes these big tech dolls.  A Vietnamese worker goofs off and is slapped awake by his supervisor.  Angrily, he removes all the doll’s control inhibition functions on the chip before inserting it into the doll.  It is comical to see see and hear Vietnamese in a horror film done tongue-in-cheek and it works.  The doll is eventually sold in the States but the customer returns this defective doll to a Zed-Mart worker, who is a single mother (Aubrey Plaza).  Instead of returning the doll to the factory gives, she gives it as a birthday person to her son, Andy.  This is when the trouble starts.  Chucky, the doll starts having a life of his own and in his desperation of keeping Andy as a friend, does away with those that annoy Andy beginning with the family cat.

Director Olevberg does not skimp on the blood and gore as in the lawnmower scene.  But the segment can be taken tongue-in-cheek as in the one whee the kids are laughing out loud as bodies are being dismembered, while watching THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE on the television.  There is a hidden message here in how Americans, typically American kids have been dis-sanitized from violence in films.

More camp comes in the form of the excellent ‘Buddi’ theme song, which is also played for laughs during the film’s closing credits.  Chucky also has dialogue “Are we having fun yet?” or “Is it time to play again?” to creep audiences out.

Aubrey Plaza is one of the funniest actresses around who frequently inhabits roles of loose women as evident in THE NUNS and BAD GRANDPA.  In CHILD’S PLAY, she plays a young single mother (who in he own words had a fertile sweet sixteen) has a kid who also catches her making out when entering the apartment one day.  Gabriel Bateman is also excellent as Andy Barclay the son, but one would think they would have got a younger actor to play the part.  This Andy looks too old to be receiving a toy doll for his birthday, though it may be argued that this one has all the modern controls to turn on the stereo etc.

It is coincidental that TOY STORY 4 also opens this week both with the boy also called Andy.  These are two films about toys – one for family and the other for horror fans, which make the perfect counter-programming market strategy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeHNLikDiVw

Film Review: ANNA (France 2019) ***

Anna Poster
Trailer

Beneath Anna Poliatova’s striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the world’s most feared government assassins.

Director:

Luc Besson

Writer:

Luc Besson (screenplay)

ANNA returns flashy French director Luc Besson (THE FIFTH ELEMENT, arguably his best movie) to his NIKITA (the film re-titled LA FEMME NIKITA in North America) roots with an ultra-violent slick spy/assassin action pic.  ANNA is ridiculous, stylish, sexy and camp.  Love it or hate it.  Two of my film critic colleagues, TV personality critic Richard Crouse and NOW Magazine critic Norman Milner both hated it with a passion.  I sort of loved it, so why the enormous difference in opinion?

One reason is how one wants to look at the film.  ANNA is tacky.  It would not be a surprise if the film would be re-titled LA FEMME ANNA.  Besson has done this before and better.  This might just be a vehicle for his new muse, super model Sasha Luss.

The plot can be summed up in one line.  Quote Wikipedia: “Beneath a woman’s striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the most feared assassins on the planet.”  Of course there is more.  Anna (Luss) has a lesbian lover, Maud (Lera Abova) as well as two male lovers, Russian Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) and American Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy).  Overlooking Anna at all times is KGB chief Olga (Helen Mirren. looking sufficiently ‘awful’ for the part, glasses and all).  The film is unveiled in non chronological order, where more than too often, an incident occurs before the story moves back 3 weeks or 3 months to explain what really happened causing the incident to occur.  The tactic is laughable but this could be Besson’s intention to mock the spy/mystery genre.

The film lasts a little under 2 hours, which is quite the chore if you hate the film from the start.  On the other hand, regardless the fact, there is enough going on in the background, exotic sets and locations, beautiful people, outrageous action set-ups (like the hot sexy closet scene).

Apart from the hours of action nonsense, there is one sad part that stands out – the subplot involving Anna’s lesbian girlfriend Maud.  Maud is oblivious of Anna’s dubbed ice and just loves her regardless.  Maud dances in happiness, often whispering sweet nothings to Anna who completely ignores her for other worries.   One wishes better for this poor character which somehow stands out in this emotionless flick.  Besides Abova, Helen Mirren as Olga and Cillian Murphy as Lenny deliver stand out performances that one wishes would save the movie.

The only thing consistent about the outrageous story is Anna’s desire to become free, which she obviously attains at the very last moment in the story.  I am sure that there are quite the few in the audience who wish they could be free as well from Besson’s movie.

Besson has had a string of flops including VALERIAN which I absolutely adored.  One has to give the man credit not for want of trying.  ANNA cost $30 million to make but looks as if it cost more than double that.  It is expected to have a soft opening at the box-office.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ku-PkrtyUs

Film Review: ISABELLE (UK/Canada 2018) ***

Isabelle Poster
Trailer

A young couple’s dream of starting a family shatters as they descend into the depths of paranoia and must struggle to survive an evil presence that wants nothing more than their very own … See full summary »

Director:

Robert Heydon

Writer:

Donald Martin (screenplay by)

ISABELLE is a psychological thriller that treads on the successes of past horror classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST.  The lead character is a pregnant mother and the character is being possessed by some demon who wants to live in the human world.

Director Rob Heydon sets the stage at the film’s start with several audience anticipation moves.  An all-American couple (though the film was shot in Hamilton and Toronto, Canada) moves into a New England neighbourhood.  First comes a scream from the pregnant mother, Larissa (Amanda Crew).  “The baby kicked me.  She is strong.”  “You don’t want this baby.”  These are words that propose that things are going to get nasty.

True to expectations, things do not get better.  Larissa meets the odd next door neighbour, Ann (nicely played by Sheila McCarthy) and her wheelchair bound daughter, Isabel (Zoe Belkin), who spends all the time staring at her through her second floor bedroom window.  

Larissa loses the baby.  She becomes terribly depressed and prescribed depression medication that seems to make her go all weird and paranoid.  There is only so much hubby Matt can tolerate.  The script introduces a weird looking pastor who actually is normal and tries to help the couple.  The music is also greta at creating the mood of a scary atmosphere.

The film contains some great genuinely scary moments.  “I want to see my baby,” demands Larissa after delivering her stillborn.  But they never let the audience see it, well perhaps only a glimpse.  

Director Heydon sure is adept at keeping the mood of the film successfully creepy.  The dead baby keeps appearing out of nowhere to invade Larissa’s dreams to just shock her.   The baby’s scorching red eyes add to the scares.  Red eyes are commonly used, as witnessed too with Chuck’s eyes in CHILD’S PLAY, also opening this week.  Larissa also acts weird but McCarthy’s neighbour is sufficiently creepy all on her own.  The camera shot of a newspaper article of a child abuser adds on even more.  It is assumed that Isabel is be the daughter of the child abuser, though the spelling of Isabel is different from the title of the film.

The film has a short running length of less than 90 minutes.  For this short a running time, too much happens – especially at the end, so that credibility is stretched to the limit.  It is not that audiences would believe what transpires on screen anyway, but too much occurring too fast in a hour film tends to come off as silliness.

The best thing about the film is its build up of the couple’s paranoia and how it affects both the husband and mother – and how they cope with it together.  At times, one wonders whether the film is just a psychological drama with no supernatural element.  ISABELLE ends up a satisfactory low budget horror thriller – the typical Canadian flick that stands in as an American one in order to expand its target audience but the film is up for stiff competition opening the same week as CHILD’S PLAY.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zt23AB3MUU

Film Review: WILD ROSE (UK 2018) ***1/2

Wild Rose Poster
Trailer

A musician from Glasgow dreams of becoming a Nashville star.

Director:

Tom Harper

Writer:

Nicole Taylor

Every decade or so, one film arrives that has the premise of some dreamer travelling to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee to make it big in country music.  Clint Eastwood and his son Kyle starred in his directed HONKYTONK MAN way back in 1982, a flop at the box-office that was actually an excellent film.  Also well remembered is the Australian entry, Chris Kennedy’s 1997 DOING TIME FOR PATSY CLINE, where an Aussie teen played by Matt Day leaves his Australian farm to travel to the United States for the Opry.   The latest has a Glaswegian single mum chasing her singing dreams.

Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) has always dreamt of becoming a country music star for as long as anyone can remember.  But she lives in Glasgow and has two kids.  Worst of all she is a convicted criminal, just released from prison and forced to wear an ankle bracelet for whereabouts reasons and curfew.

Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo, and Julie Walters star in this inspiring comedy drama about a would-be country singer who dreams of leaving her dreary, workaday Glasgow life for the bright lights of Nashville.  After a tiff at Glasgow’s local bar, the Grand Ole Opry, she destroys any chance of returning to her job as the house-band singer.  Sporting her white cowboy hat and white leather cowboy boots, Rose-Lynn lands a new job as a housekeeper for the lovely, and very posh, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo).  After catching her singing on the job, Susannah’s kids quickly become Rose-Lynn’s biggest fans and Susannah her enthusiastic patron, determined to help her get to Nashville.  But Rose-Lynn’s dreams come at a cost. She has to leave her two kids to her reluctant mother (Julie Walters), who knows all about abandoning dreams.

WILD ROSE also plays as a coming-of-age story of an overgrown kid still chasing her dreams.  But what distinguishes WILD ROSE from the ordinary feel-good chasing ones dreams story is its insistence of dealing with reality.

The film is slightly marred by the songs sung with the lyrics that over explain what has happened, plot-wise.  For example when Rose-Lynne returns back to Glasgow, the lyrics “There’s no place like home” can be heard in the song that she sings.

The drama is aided by two excellent performances, one by Buckley as Rose-Lynne and the other by Julie Walters as her mother who proves that acting can all be done with the eyes.  Her character does not have long monologues or speeches and neither does her character need to indulge in cheap theatrics.

The film’s greatest pleasure is its rooting in reality.  The decision on whether to put family or career (singing in the Opry) first is crucial and the script by Nicole Taylor never fails to remind audiences of the fact.  And the obvious message is the one on where it is to find ones dreams.  To elaborate more would spoil the film’s ending, so it is best to see the film oneself.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_o9-zcirEM

Film Review: MURDER MYSTERY (USA 2019) ***

Murder Mystery Poster
Trailer

A New York cop and his wife go on a European vacation to reinvigorate the spark in their marriage, but end up getting framed and on the run for the death of an elderly billionaire.

Director:

Kyle Newacheck

Writer:

James Vanderbilt (screenplay)

Adam Sandler’s second comedy with Netflix cannot be as bad as the dismal THE RIDICULOUS 6 which at present still holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  MURDER MYSTERY is actually quite funny, given a little more class with Jennifer Anniston as Sandler’s co-star, not to mention the luxury yacht and European setting.

Sandler typically plays the poor man’s fool, in this case a New York City police officer.

Nick Spitz (Sandler) finally takes his wife, Audrey (Aniston) on a long-promised European trip.  En flight, a chance meeting with a mysterious man, Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans) gets them invited to an intimate family gathering on the super yacht of an elderly billionaire, Malcolm Quince (a cameo from Terence Stamp). When the wealthy man is murdered, they become the prime suspects of French Inspector Laurent Delacroix (Dany Boon).  At one hilarious point, the Spitzes are questioned by the millionaire Quince what they are doing on his ship.

The script which is quite well composed by James Vanderbilt, who seems to understand these things, puts together several genres, the most important of which is the murder mystery genre.  At one point, Nick even puts forth the classic 3 basic motives for murder.  As they try to uncover the identity of the killer, they put together the three motives of money, revenge and love.  The murder mystery portion is played straight unlike other comedies of this sort, most notably Neil Simon’s MURDER BY DEATH or his THE CHEAP DETECTIVE.  The humour in the film arrives primarily from the  couple’s bickering and their foolhardiness in their attempts to escape the killer.  The funniest jokes are also inconsequential to the plot but they are funny.  Two notable ones (not to be revealed here) involve angry flossing (this has to be seen to be believed) and the line’Ask Siri”.

The film also contains an impressive list of international stars.  Little Britain’s David Walliams plays Tobias Quince, Malcolm’s gay son.  One wishes there is more of Waliams.  French popular Dany Boon plays his inspector quite seriously though he bumbles the investigation as much as Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau.  New Mexican star and heart-throb Luis Gerardo Mendez plays race car driver Juan Carlos.

Sandler and Anistan make a good movie couple, in love but still bickering over small things.  “Will you stop questioning all I do?” asks Nick at one point. “But everything you do is questionable.” is Audrey’s response.  What is also touching in the movie is the fact that each of them, being in the marriage for a while is able to tolerate and forgive each other.  Even when Nick has lied to Audrey that he was a detective.  The story illustrates how a solid relationship in a marriage can survive – a point subtly made in the film. 

MURDER MYSTERY is not the best comedy around or not a message movie that will answer questions in life, though it tries to answer the question what a maharaja is.  But for a Netflix film to be watched in the comfort of ones home, it makes an excellent choice for an evening film.  It has a good mystery, is funny and light and is what one needs after a hard day at work.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YEVQDr2f3Q

Film Review: MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (MIB: INTERNATIONAL) (USA 2019) ***

Men in Black: International Poster
Trailer

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

Director:

F. Gary Gray

The fourth of the franchise and a spinoff rather than a sequel, loosely based on the Malibu/Marvel comics of the same name by Lowell Cunningham, the series sees the cool black guy persona replaced by a cool black young female (Will Smith replaced by Tessa Thompson), teaming up with a handsome white guy played by Chris Hemsworth.  The tactic works.  Thompson and Hemsworth pair very well together.

The film begins with a family scene as if to ensure that all sci-fi films now have a more personal and family touch.  The recent two super hero action films followed suit as in DARK PHONIX with the super hero first scene in a car as a little girl with her family and in the family picnic scene in AVENGERS ENDGAME.  Molly is a little girl who witnesses men in black in action from her bedroom window while helping an alien at the same time escape.  It takes Molly a lifetime before she finds the MIB organization.  Infiltrating into the headquarters, she convinces the head, Agent O (Emma Thompson reprising her role) into recruiting her.  She teams up with Agent H (Hemsworth) to save the world from the scum of the universe, MIB-style.

The film clearly aims at style.  When asked the reasons to wanting to join the MIB organization, Molly responds among other reasons that she looks good in black, the comment also echoed by Agent O.  The fights are also stylized, the most impressive of all being the one where Molly battles Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), an intergalactic arms dealer who also has three arms. Gray’s (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS) film trudges along  too slowly for an action flick, which also seems derive too much off the KINGSMAN and other sci-fi movies.

The plot adds in a thinking element.  The MIB organization has a mole.  Though it is not difficult to guess who the mole is, the plot (this one) often runs too complicated and is too fast to follow.  

The film is shot in exotic locations like London, Marrakesh, New York City and Italy, as the titles proudly announce.  The coolness of the locations is reflected in several very cool scenes the best of which is the dance floor scene with the alien Twins (performed by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, well renowned dancers from France aka Les Twins) a shape-shifting alien un-killable duo who appear a number of times in the story doing their moves.  All the MIB agents can do is look and stare.

Has the MEN IN BLACK franchise run out of steam?  Quite a few people think so from the well below 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the current wiring of this review.  But not for want of trying.  Despite the film containing the new MIB U.K. branch, more hilarious and imaginative alien creatures, politically correct updates and exotic location settings, MIB: INTERNATIONAL has regrettably only achieved minimal results.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdWVqhDOj8