A short review of “The Silence” (2019)

“The Silence” may be dreck, but it’s good dreck.

If you’ve read anything about this new Netflix movie, than you know it’s regarded as a lower-budget ripoff of the immensely well received “A Quiet Place” (2018).  (Both follow a family surviving an apocalyptic invasion by monsters who hunt by sound.)  And I suppose it is, with a bit saccharine teen drama and a neglected cult subplot shoehorned into it.

But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy it at all.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10 for being a fairly entertaining creature feature.

Stanley Tucci and Miranda Otto are always great to watch, and the Kiernan Shipka is a cute kid with a lot of charisma.  (Am I the only guy in the world who thinks that Tucci is extremely talented?  To appreciate his range, compare his milquetoast suburban dad here with his growling, menacing super-zombie in last year’s “Patient Zero.”)

The monsters were suitably revolting and well rendered, and the action sequences were mostly engaging.  (The scene involving a well was well executed — no pun intended.)  Maybe I’m just a kid at heart and want more creepy crawlies in my horror films, as opposed to endless demons and shrieking wraiths.

Here’s the key to enjoying it — think of it as a throwback to cheesy 70’s monster movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” or “Damnation Alley” (1977).  We had fun with those when we were kids, didn’t we?

 

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A short review of Season 1 of “Black Summer” (2019)

I don’t understand how “Black Summer” can be as good as it is.  It’s produced by The Asylum, the makers of low budget, direct-to-video ripoff films like “Atlantic Rim” (2013) and “Triassic World” (2018).  It’s a prequel to the horror-comedy “Z Nation” (2014-2018) — a show that was so bad I couldn’t make it through its first episode.  Yet “Black Summer” is inexplicably a great, albeit imperfect, TV show.  I’d rate it a 9 out 10.

I might be in the minority here; a lot of people are severely panning this show online.  And I do recognize its weaknesses — there is very little detail in its plot or character development … there is often even very little dialogue at all.  And even I recognized some plot holes.  (I’m typically a little slow on the uptake where these are concerned.)

But this bare-bones zombie story still manages to screen some likable characters, and then put them through a thrilling succession of hyper-kinetic chases and melees.  I was on the edge of my seat, and I consequently didn’t miss the methodical, detailed plotting of shows like “The Walking Dead.”  The season’s finale is crowned by an extended, eye-level, real-time action set-piece that ought to be considered a classic in the  zombie-horror subgenre.  It was mind-blowing. I just can’t dislike a horror property that genuinely scared me.

I could simply be out of step with everyone else; I often have different tastes in zombie fare.  I love Zack Snyder’s 2008 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which this series reminds me of.  And I also love similar overseas productions like Spain’s “[REC]” films (2007 – 2014) and Britain’s “Dead Set” miniseries (2008), while those amazing entries are hardly known among my friends.  I also cannot understand why many people who love George A. Romero’s and Robert Kirkman’s productions must always compare other films and TV shows unfavorably to them.  We can love both.  Why not?

Hey, if you don’t want to make my word for it, here is what Stephen King tweeted: “No long, fraught discussions. No endless flashbacks, because there’s no back story. No grouchy teens. Dialogue is spare. Much shot with a single handheld camera, very fluid.”

I obviously recommend this.

 

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Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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A review of “Pet Sematary” (2019)

“Pet Sematary” (2019) is an unnecessary remake, but still a decent one.  I personally prefer the flamboyant 1989 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel; it was more garish and stylish, if a little campy.  (And its flashback sequences involving one character’s deceased sister are priceless horror fare.)  But this sleeker, more restrained update is nonetheless still made and sometimes pretty scary.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

The writing and directing are generally good, even if certain jump scares were so heavy-handed that they were nearly laughable.  (The script wisely capitalizes on the universal, existential dread of mortality, as the first film did.)  There are few new bells and whistles here; the 2019 film instead tries to distinguish itself with a key variation in the plot of King’s eponymous 1983 book.  (I won’t describe it here, as I’m not certain whether it is a spoiler.  But this change isn’t “shocking,” as The New York Times’ headline proclaims; it’s simply a basic story alteration.)

The cast is roundly quite good.  A surprise standout for me was Amy Seimetz, who plays the mother of the story’s troubled Creed family with surprising power and nuance.  She’s a damned excellent actress.  And I was surprised to learn that I failed to recognize her as one of the doomed spacefarers  from 2017’s “Alien: Covenant” — another role that required her to portray apprehension and panic.

There were two possible nitpicks that occurred to me as I watched “Pet Sematary,” but these probably aren’t the fault of the filmmakers, as they likely stem from the literary source material.  (I read the book several times, but I was a young teenager when I did so.)  As an adult, I am only a fuzzy on two story elements:

  1. How is the character of Victor Pascow (played here by Obssa Ahmed) able to offer help to the troubled Creed family?  Can anyone in his circumstances do so?  Might others step forward as well?  Why should Pascow be uniquely motivated?  (I am again trying to keep this review spoiler free.)
  2. Why is the mother’s traumatic childhood a factor in the story’s present?  It’s … mostly tangential, right?  It is a compelling character element, and portrayed beautifully by Seimetz.  But I don’t fully understand how it seems to affect what transpires before us.

One final note — I’ve seen a few people on the Internet compare John Lithgow’s performance to that of Fred Gwynne in the 1989 film.  (They both play the character of Jud, the family’s elderly neighbor.)  Lithgow is predictably wonderful here — especially when Jud is showing kindness to the young daughter (played charmingly by Jete Laurence).  But Gwynne was better, because he was so perfectly cast.  It was a role that he was born to play.

 

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A short pan of “Velvet Buzzsaw” (2019)

Sorry, but for me “Velvet Buzzsaw” (2019) was a bust.  I’d rate it a 3 out of 10 for being an interesting and ambitious Netflix horror film that nevertheless failed to hold my interest.

My interest was piqued along with everyone else when I first saw the trailer for this earlier this year.  It looked amazing.  It was a high-concept supernatural horror film with great visual effects and a cast that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and John Malkovich.  (The cast also includes Toni Collette, who I’ve recently come to understand is a damned good actress.)  It looked funny too.

But “Velvet Buzzaw” fatally suffers from the characters that it depicts.  All of the above actors portray profoundly irritating characters, and not even their formidable talents make these characters any fun to watch.  The movie takes place in the Miami Beach art world, and the major characters are artists, critics, or gallery owners and employees.  (The plot device here is a collection of haunted paintings that kill their owners.)  With the exception of Malkovich’s artist (“Piers”), these characters are so cloying, trite and pretentious that seeing them on screen is nearly nerve rattling.  You don’t care much that they’re imperiled.  You just want to see them die, so that the movie will be over.

This would have been a far better movie if screenwriter Dan Gilroy chose to depict its events mostly from Piers’ point of view.  I suppose that would have been difficult; he isn’t central to the plot.  But it would have been worth it.

There are some things to like.  Malkovich and Russo re always fun to watch, a lot of the special effects are quite good, and the final demise in the film is actually very well rendered.  (Given the mediocrity of the movie as a whole, I was surprised at how clever and unsettling this was.)  A college buddy of mine with excellent taste in horror actually liked “Velvet Buzzsaw” quite a bit.  So maybe this is just a matter of taste.

I can’t recommend this, though.

 

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A short review of “Captain Marvel” (2019)

“Captain Marvel” (2019) has a couple of weaknesses, but mostly rises above them in its second half to become an entertaining big-budget popcorn movie.  It generally succeeds, and I had a lot of fun with it.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

At first, the movie comes off as a mild disappointment — a boilerplate, made-to-order space opera with a thin script, simplistic dialogue and sometimes average acting.  (I personally don’t think that Brie Larson has the most depth or range of any actress in Hollywood.)

But the movie has a few surprises for us, both in terms of its story and its ability to win us over with humor and its sense of escapist, comic book fun.  Larson does have a lot of onscreen presence and charisma, and she does fine conveying anger and urgency.  She also has great deadpan comic line delivery.  After seeing the film, it’s difficult for me to picture anyone else in the role.

The special effects were nothing short of fabulous.  I didn’t expect to see a Marvel film with a space battle that could compete with those of the “Star Wars” franchise.  The fan service and the continuity with other Marvel films is also terrific.  Speaking of fan service — the Stan Lee tributes were genuinely touching.  One of them was a threefold reference to Lee, Kevin Smith and the 1990’s, when the story is set.  Talk about understanding how to please your target audience.

I’d recommend this.

 

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