A very short review of “The Meg” (2018)

“The Meg” (2018) is an easy movie in which to find flaws.  They’re many, they’re egregious, and they’re consistently front and center.  The biggest flaw for me is its truly terrible script; it’s like the screenwriters weren’t even trying here.   (At one point we see a character simply grunt a response to another during an exchange, as though the screenwriters were too disinterested to write a line of dialogue.)  The movie’s other weaknesses include the occasionally spotty CGI and some head-scratching science.

With all of that said, however, I still had fun with “The Meg.”  (The title refers to a prehistoric shark called megalodon, which our protagonists inadvertently release from a newly discovered deep-sea trench.)  I’d rate it a 6 out of 10 because it was a fun enough summertime monster movie.  It’s clunky stuff, but it’s passably enjoyable lowbrow entertainment for fans of creature features.

I like Jason Statham too.  (This is the first film I’ve seen him in since 2004’s “Cellular.”)  He certainly isn’t a bad actor, even if his lines in this film should have had him inwardly cringing.  He’s got presence and charisma.

I’m not sure I would actually recommend “The Meg,” but I didn’t hate it.

 

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A few quick words on “Black Mirror” Season 5 (2019)

I’m just piping in here to say that I still enjoy “Black Mirror” — even after Season 5 left a lot of fans nonplussed.  No, this tonally different, three-episode arc wasn’t the show’s best season, but it was still a decent watch.   I had some minor criticisms, but I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

Perhaps predictably, my favorite of the three was “Smithereens.”  Not only did it most closely follow the tone and dialogue of past seasons, it boasted a fine lead performance by Andrew Scott, better known to many of us as Moriarty from Britain’s “Sherlock” (2010-2017).

For those of you who are wondering why the “season” was so short, I read today that “Bandersnatch” was supposed to be a part of it, and was produced at about the same time.  The showrunners then decided to make that episode a standalone feature, given its unique nature.

 

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A few quick words on “Pumpkinhead” (1988)

Until last night, I’d never actually seen 1988’s “Pumpkinhead” — even though I occasionally joked online about its inspired, iconic titular monster.  I was predictably pleased by the movie’s creature effects, but even more disappointed than I thought I’d be by the film’s overall quality.  I’d rate the film a 7 out of 10, based on my own enjoyment of it — but I’m a horror fan who loves monsters and who’s typically forgiving of 80’s cheese.  If you haven’t seen “Pumpkinhead,” I suspect you’ll finds its flaws a little more egregious than I did.

The film’s strengths are its fantastic monster, designed by legendary visual effects master Stan Winston, and its interesting story concept.  It’s easy to see why the sneering, towering golem here inspired a cult fanbase — complete with sequels, videogames and comic books.  (Yes, horror movie pedants, I realize that Pumpkinhead is technically a demon-infused and magically mutilated corpse, and not a golem.  Whatever.)

This is Winston’s first turn as a director, too … and it seems to me that his genius apparently didn’t quite extend to this larger role.  “Pumpkinhead” feels cobbled together, even by 80’s-movie standards, with poor writing, acting and editing throughout.  The presence of Lance Henriksen improves matters somewhat, as does an adolescent Brian Bremer in the role of “Bunt.”.  (Bremer looks to be about 13 or 14 years old, but he easily outshines his adult co-stars.  His surprisingly relaxed performance might be the equal of Henriksen’s.  The latter is usually as good as we expect, but even he actually flubs a line here and there.  He’s a long way from his brilliant turn as the “Bishop” android in the classic “Aliens” two years prior.)

All things considered, I’m not sure I would actually recommend “Pumpkinhead.”

 

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A short review of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019)

It’s true what they say about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) — its script is almost completely brainless.  It’s got about as much depth as the old “G.I. Joe” cartoon (1983-1986) that played after school when we were kids.

But I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy this.  And I’m sure you know why — the big-budget, big-MONSTER special effects.  They were spectacular — and sometimes they approached being unexpectedly beautiful.  (It’s hard to explain here, but our eyes are treated to more than skyscraper-tall brawls between “titans.”  We get a light show too — thanks to some confusing, thinly scripted, but nonetheless dazzling energy-based monster powers.  It was really damned good.)

Add to this a generally excellent cast, and you might be able to forgive the screenplay for insulting your intelligence.  I know that most people would name Ken Watanabe as the actor who truly classes up the joint.  And there’s plenty of truth to that, but I myself would name Charles Dance as the movie’s biggest standout.  The man’s craft is goddam Shakespearean, and I think he’s equal of the likes of Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen.  And I’d like to think that his throwaway line, “Long live the King,” was at least partly a fan-service reference to what I’m guessing is his best known role — Tywin Lannister on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (2011-2019).

Based on my own enjoyment, I’d rate this movie an 8 out of 10 — with the caveat that I’m a kid at heart when it comes to giant monsters.  If you’re the same way, then “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” might just become a guilty pleasure that you return to more than once.

 

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A very short review of “Halloween” (2018)

I just cannot be partial to slasher films.  It’s never been my preferred horror sub-genre to start with, and, at this point in my life, these movies have become so predictable and devoid of story that I often find them boring.  There are exceptions — some of the the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” films (1984- 2003) and “Child’s Play” (1988) were grotesquely creative and had terrific supernatural setups that were well executed.  But even the attraction of  John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” films (1978, 1981) is still mostly lost on me.

With all of that said, I’ll still say that my horror fan friends were right when they told me that 2018’s “Halloween” was a superior sequel.  It looks a lot better than the segments I’ve seen of of the campier followups in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

It’s far better filmed and directed, it’s occasionally scary and it benefits from a very good cast. (Jamie Lee Curtis is of course quite good as the film’s heroine and perennial “final girl.”  I’m also always happy to see Will Patton on screen, and I like Judy Greer a lot.)  The script occasionally shines unexpectedly, too — the screenwriters have a truly impressive talent for making minor characters vivid with funny throwaway dialogue.  (One of the three screenwriters is actor-writer-comedian Danny McBride, who I liked quite a bit in 2017’s “Alien: Covenant.”)

I’d be lying, however, if I told you that I wasn’t occasionally bored by this latest “Halloween” — simply because its basic, boilerplate plot and conclusion seem endlessly redundant with those of other slasher films.  There are few surprises toward the end — one “gotcha” moment was especially nice — but the overall story is just too tired.  I’d rate this film a 7 out of 10 for its merits, but I can’t actually get excited enough about it to recommend it.

 

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A short review of “Vanishing on 7th Street” (2011)

“Vanishing on 7th Street” (2011) kicks off with an extraordinarily good start — it’s begins as an especially frightening supernatural apocalyptic thriller.  Nearly everyone in the City of Detroit disappears at once, leaving only several survivors to cope with ubiquitous shadow figures that wish to visit the same fate upon them.  The opening scenes completely intrigued me, and one early moment made me jump.

Hayden Christensen is good enough in the lead role — he actually is a competent actor, despite the movies for which he gained infamy in the early 2000’s.  (And I won’t name these widely panned films in which he starred, because I don’t want to start any wars with its ardent fanbase.)  Thandie Newton is predictably quite good, John Leguizamo is predictably awesome, and the young Jacob Latimore is terrific too.

How sad, then, that this creatively conceived thriller so utterly loses its way.  The film stumbles completely by the end of its first hour.  We spend far too much time listening to four characters bicker in an isolated stronghold while the failing lights flicker around them.  We also visit the same basic scare sequence a bit too often.  (It’s pretty damned scary when the shadow figures encircle our protagonists at first, only to recoil when they’re repelled by the light.  But it gets progressively less scary after the fifth or sixth time the movie shows this happening.)

There are enormous logistical questions about the plot’s setup and elements, too.  Virtually all are left unanswered by the movie’s somewhat ambiguous ending.  Was this … intentional?  Was the movie intended as some sort of open-ended abstract art film, instead of a complete horror story?  It certainly didn’t seem that way from its detailed and effective early scenes.

I can’t actually recommend this film.  But it’s … different and interesting, I’ll grant it that.  Based on the parts of it that scared me and piqued my interest, I’d rate it a 5 out of 10.

 

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A short review of “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” (1988)

“Killer Klowns From Outer Space” (1988) is generally a bad movie.  It has the depth and execution of a mediocre high school play; its acting and screenwriting are almost uniformly poor.  (The sole exception here is the wonderful character actor John Vernon, who is always fun to watch.)  I’m not even sure it tries to be a good movie.  But that’s probably okay with both the filmmakers and its target audience — as you can tell from its title alone, this is deliberate schlock.

And … it’s arguably pretty good schlock, despite its failings — depending on your tastes in bad movies.  I don’t think I’d recommend this movie to others, but I suppose I’d rate it a 6 out of 10, based on my own enjoyment.  In addition to its generous helping of 80’s cheese, “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” manages to do several things quite beautifully — namely its low budget creature effects, costuming and set design.

For a film so clumsily unimpressive, you’ve got to admit that a hell of a lot of creativity went into its titular monsters and their spaceship.  (They are not human clowns, the movie informs us, but alien monsters in the shape of clowns — and we don’t get any more exposition than that.)  The garish, creepy art designs are actually really damned good, and it’s easy to see why this film developed a cult following among fans of offbeat horror.  It’s also easy to imagine that coulrophobics (people with a phobia for clowns) might find this movie genuinely unsettling.

Here’s the good news — if you aren’t sure you’d want to spend money on this movie, you can currently watch it for free (and legally) right over at Youtube.  Here’s the link.

Postscript: I thought that Grant Cramer, who played one of the movie’s protagonists, looked incredibly familiar.  Yet I was surprised when I learned I hadn’t seen anything else in his filmography.  Here’s who I may have been seeing — he is the son of none other than legendary starlet Terry Moore.  Classic movie fans might remember her from any number of films from Hollywood’s Golden Age.  But if you’re a monster movie fan like me, then you remember her as the young heroine of 1949’s original “Mighty Joe Young.”

 

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