LawrenceA

From the Last 25 Years

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Thanks very much for the mention/summary of VOICE FROM THE STONE!

 

There are so many new films, and 90% of them will be quickly forgotten.

But the good ones are very very good.

It's almost impossible to find them, though.

 

I'll give VOICE FROM THE STONE a try!

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The Mummy (2017) - Terrible supernatural action misfire from director Alex Kurtzman and Universal, meant to be the opening salvo in their proposed "Dark Universe" series of horror-adventure films. Tom Cruise stars as military contractor (I think? It was kind of vague) Nick Morton, who, along with reluctant comic relief sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson), is in Iraq looking for an archaeological site that he thinks will contain treasure. Instead it contains the long buried sarcophagus of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who made a pact with the evil god Set in a bid for power, only to end up buried alive in another country. Now it's up to Nick and his sometime girlfriend, archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), to stop the revived Ahmanet from unleashing Set's demonic fury upon the modern world. Also featuring Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, and Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll.

 

Where to start? The script, credited to 6 writers, including director Kurtzman, David Koepp, and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, is atrocious, with unfunny one-liners and a disregard for history, cultures or common sense. The characters as portrayed are routinely unmemorable and/or unlikable. The secret "anti-evil" society headed up by Crowe's Jekyll, obviously meant to be a recurring entity in the proposed forthcoming movies, is nebulous and silly in a bad supernatural TV series manner. The action scenes are neither exciting nor innovative, while the horror aspects are few and far between, and poorly handled at any rate. Much of the visuals seem to have been designed to "look cool in the trailer" rather than make any narrative sense. They seem to have wanted a zombie movie, but the CGI hordes hold little substance or menace. This was just a complete failure on almost every level, and will be a prime contender for the worst of the year.    3/10

 

Source: Universal Blu Ray.

 

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Wonder Woman (2017) - Critically-acclaimed superhero adventure based on the venerable DC Comics character, from Warner Brothers and director Patty Jenkins. The hidden island of Themyscira has been the home of the Amazons for centuries. A race of demi-god women versed in the arts of war, they stand vigilant awaiting the time when the last remaining Greek god, Ares the god of war, makes his presence known, so that the Amazons can use a superweapon known as the "God-Killer" to defeat him once and for all. Diana (Gal Gadot) is the headstrong daughter of the Amazon queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and when an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near their hidden stronghold, Diana takes the news of the First World War raging outside of their domain to be a sign that Ares has returned to the world of men. Outfitting herself with mystical weapons, including the sword said to be the God-Killer, Diana travels to Europe with Steve in hopes of ridding the realm of Ares and putting an end to war for all time. Also starring Danny Huston, Robin Wright, Elena Enaya, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lisa Loven Kongsli, and James Cosmo.

 

This was a big hit with audiences earlier this year, and the critical response was such that there's been talk of an Oscar push. Perhaps I suffered from elevated expectations, but I finished the film disappointed. On the plus side, I enjoyed the opening section in Themyscira, with the fantasy-Greek architecture and costumes. I liked Chris Pine, although much of his attitude seemed anachronistic for a WW1 setting. I was impressed with Robin Wright as Antiope,the most battle-hardened Amazon; it's a long way from Princess Buttercup. And I liked the visual aesthetic for the Dr. Poison villain played by Enaya. So many of these newer superhero films suffer from uninspired super-villains. Speaking of which, a casting announcement I read while the movie was being made ruined a late-in-the-story twist. I also really liked the score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.

 

On the minus side, the film utilizes the same action cinematography as that used by producer Zach Snyder in his own directed films: a character leaps into action, only for the movement to slow to almost a freeze-frame, before speeding back up for the final impact. I find it corny, cheesy and distracting. I was also only partially sold on Gadot as Wonder Woman. Her previous appearance in Batman v Superman required very little dialogue and emoting, whereas here she's called on to do a lot of both, and she's only about 75% successful. The film's finale also descends into CGI overkill, with cartoonish fights scenes lasting too long and imparting little emotional impact. This is not a truly bad movie, and if I had seen it opening day, I may have been a little more forgiving. But for now my score is barely a B-, which may sink lower upon further reflection.   7/10

 

Source: Warner Brothers Blu Ray.

 

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Speaking of which, since I made my tiny 4-film list for 2017, I caught another of this year's films on DVD via the DVD rental store in town.

 

it was The Big Sick and it was a saucy yet charming comedy-drama involving a Pakistani-American immigrant who worked as both a cab driver and a stand-up comic who fell for a young American woman. They became involved for a while but broke up. Shortly thereafter, he finds out that she has medical issues and needs to go into a temporary medically-induced coma. He stays by her side and gets to know her parents. 

 

Since this is based on a real-life couple who are still together, the ultimate happy ending comes as no surprise, but what is nice here is the snap everything has, the dialogue that hits just the right notes, the ideal cast, all well-suited for their roles (with a particular shout-out to Holly hunter with her best role in years as the heroine's sassy mother). It's well worth a look.

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Speaking of which, since I made my tiny 4-film list for 2017, I caught another of this year's films on DVD via the DVD rental store in town.

 

it was The Big Sick and it was a saucy yet charming comedy-drama involving a Pakistani-American immigrant who worked as both a cab driver and a stand-up comic who fell for a young American woman. They became involved for a while but broke up. Shortly thereafter, he finds out that she has medical issues and needs to go into a temporary medically-induced coma. He stays by her side and gets to know her parents. 

 

Since this is based on a real-life couple who are still together, the ultimate happy ending comes as no surprise, but what is nice here is the snap everything has, the dialogue that hits just the right notes, the ideal cast, all well-suited for their roles (with a particular shout-out to Holly hunter with her best role in years as the heroine's sassy mother). It's well worth a look.

 

I've heard a lot of good things about that one, and I'm looking forward to it. I've enjoyed Kumail Nanjiani for several years on various TV shows, and I was happy to see his success with this film.

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The Wizard of Lies (2017) - HBO film detailing the financial crimes of Bernie Madoff and the impact it had on his family. Robert De Niro stars as Madoff, a seemingly legitimate financial planner and investment banker who was respected in the financial community for decades before it was revealed that he had actually been managing the largest Ponzi scheme in recorded history, bilking investors out of over $50 billion. His wife Ruth (Michelle Pfeiffer), as well as his two sons Andrew (Nathan Darrow) and Mark (Alessandro Nivola), were completely unaware and completely unprepared for this revelation, and their lives collapse as much as those of Madoff's victims. Also featuring Hank Azaria, Michael Kostroff, Kathrine Narducci, Steve Coulter, Kristen Connolly, Lily Rabe, and Diana Henriques as herself.

 

Based on the book by reporter Henriques, this is a dark, somewhat ambiguous portrait of modern evil. While the film certainly sides with the idea that Madoff's family members were duped as much as his investors, the film doesn't answer the biggest questions about Madoff himself: why, exactly, did he do it? The story seems to point to a motive beyond simple greed, and that he saw himself as somewhat of a common man teaching the rich a lesson. But that doesn't account for the various retirement funds and life savings belonging to blue collar workers that were decimated. De Niro is good, as he often is when called on to underplay, and Pfeiffer is decent, although I thought she blew it on her big emotional scene when her accent seemed to disappear. The direction from Barry Levinson is moody, if a bit too sedate at times, and the 134 minutes could have been trimmed by 15 or 20. All in all, though, this is worth a watch.   7/10

 

Source: HBO Blu Ray.

 

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House of the Witch (2017) - Terrible SyFy Channel movie about a group of dim-bulb teens who decide to spend Halloween in a nearby abandoned mansion that is rumored to be haunted. As they start getting dispatched one by one, they also learn that the ghost is a vengeful witch that was executed long ago. Featuring Emily Bader, Nolan Bateman, Arden Belle, Darren Mann, Coy Stewart, Michelle Randolph, and Grace Balbo.

 

Bad dialogue, stupid characters, mixed-up production design, and an undercooked premise all combine to make this a chore to finish. The nondescript performers fail to make an impression, but at least they looked like teenagers for a change. A few moments of extreme violence stand out, but only a cinema masochist should bother with this one.  2/10

 

Source: SyFy Channel.

 

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Truth or Dare (2017) - Another SyFy Channel offering, from director Nick Simon. 8 dumb college friends decide to rent a house with a disturbing past, and throw a Halloween party there. When they start to play a game of Truth or Dare, though, they awaken an evil force that makes their game into a blood-soaked ordeal. Featuring Cassandra Scerbo, Brytni Sarpy, Mason Dye, Harvey Guillen, Alexxis Lemire, Luke Baines, Ricardo Hoyos, Christina Masterson, and Heather Langenkamp.

 

The cast of young unknowns are blandly attractive when they aren't actively irritating. The game challenges start to resemble the kind of gory shenanigans found in a Saw movie. Stories with malevolent entities that operate under a set of rules can be interesting, as when the protagonists think of novel ways to overcome the wording of the rules. Unfortunately, here the bad forces seem to only pay lip service to their own rules, and therefore suspense is lost as the audience realizes that the villain can just do whatever it wishes. Horror icon Langenkamp has a short cameo as a survivor of a similar Truth or Dare encounter with evil.   3/10

 

Source: SyFy Channel.

 

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Baby Driver (2017) - Fast-paced, frenetically-directed tongue-in-cheek action/crime flick from director Edgar Wright and Sony Pictures (under their revived TriStar banner). Ansel Elgort stars as Baby, an extremely talented getaway driver in the forced employ of heist planner Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is paying off a debt to Doc by driving, and as his final assignment is coming soon, Baby is looking forward to moving on with his life. He falls for diner waitress Debora (Lily James), and sees a future with her, but getting away from Doc's clutches may not be that easy. Also featuring Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Flea, CJ Jones, Lanny Joon, Brogan Hall, and Paul Williams as the Butcher.

 

When I first heard the title of this, I had horrid visions of a talking baby voiced by Adam Sandler or Kevin Hart cracking off-color jokes as he races around in sports cars. Thankfully this is nothing like that, and was in fact named after a Simon & Garfunkel song. Director Wright lays on the style thick, at times perhaps too much so, with a constantly moving camera and edits synced with the beats of the ever-present soundtrack tunes. The music, a variety of rock, pop, funk and hip-hop, is so present, in fact, and so integral to the film, that one wouldn't be amiss in labeling this a musical. The cast are all good, with Foxx and Hamm the stand-outs as particularly dangerous criminals. The film's Atlanta setting is used well, and both Elgort and James do admirable accents. If there's a distinct drawback to the film it would be in the at-times uneasy mix of humor and graphic violence. This is one of the best films from the current year that I've yet seen, although I'm not sure how much appeal this will have with more conservative audiences. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: Sony Blu Ray.

 

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Neverknock (2017) - Canadian monster movie that merely rises to the level of mediocrity. 30 years ago, several kids were killed in an abandoned house after knocking on the ornate front door. In the decades since, it has been a town tradition for brave kids and teens to knock on the door and tempt the same fate. On Halloween, 5 teens (and one younger sister) follow the tradition, but with one added factor: one of them has a cut hand, and blood touches the door. This awakens the Neverknock, a demonic creature invisible to all but those it targets, and gifted with the terrible power to make its victims see their worst fears. Now the teens must survive and figure out a way to stop the Neverknock. Starring Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Lola Flanery, Jodelle Ferland, Eliana Jones, Kiana Madeira, Varun Saranga, and Nicholas Campbell.

 

Using their worst fears against them has become an overused cliche (this is the second film in a week using the same m.o.), and the set-ups are never more obvious, as characters "off-handedly" mention things that scare them (needles, dogs, fire). Most of the characters here are also the usual bland ciphers, although the acting is decent. What ranks this one just a little higher than its ilk is the creature, a unique humanoid with slimy gray skin, scattered featured around its face (one eye up high, random teeth sticking out of a cheek), and moving with a contortionist's agility in an upside-down crabwalk. Nothing about the creature is really explained (a seemingly popular narrative touch in frequent films, perhaps a backlash against the last decade's over explanation of things in horror), but things are left open for a sequel. There's no hurry, guys.    5/10

 

Source: SyFy Channel.

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) - Excellent superhero adventure comedy from Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios, directed by Jon Watts. High school junior Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland), having gotten a taste for the big-time superhero life after his participation in the events of Captain America: Civil War, longs to get the call from mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that will make him a full-fledged member of the Avengers, leaving his drab life behind. After months of patrolling his home turf of Queens, New York, Peter is starting think that he'll never get to move on when he stumbles upon a gang of crooks, led by the Vulture (Michael Keaton), that are using repurposed alien technology to build super-powered weapons of destruction. Peter thinks that if he can take this criminal ring down, it may be just the proof Stark needs to promote Spider-Man to the big leagues. But his life as a costumed crime-fighter has unintended consequences on his life as a teenage student. Also featuring Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Bokeem Woodbine, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Chernus, Tyne Daly, Martin Starr, Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Garcelle Beauvais, Hannibel Buress, Chris Evans, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

 

With this third start to the Spider-Man series, the property is back in the hands of Marvel Studios, although still co-producing with Sony/Columbia. The result is the most satisfying screen Spider-Man yet, and one of the best films Marvel has released to date. They manage to get the milieu correct, the down-on-the-street NYC vibe, as well as keeping the youthful exuberance and humor from the comic books. That last aspect cannot be stressed enough, as so many of the modern superhero films take a dark, grim approach, filled with angst-ridden depressives and malcontents. In this film, even the villains are more human, three-dimensional, and compelling. Keaton is terrific as the chief baddie, turning one of the comic book's silliest villains into something close to realistic and relatable. Holland is also a stand-out as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, actually appearing his character's age of 15, even if the actor was 20 when it was filmed. While some traditionalists may chafe at the multi-cultural casting, as well as the liberties taken with some of the supporting characters, most audiences won't notice or care. I really enjoyed this, and look forward to the next in the series. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: Sony Blu Ray.

 

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The Sandman (2017) - Dopey science fiction/horror movie from executive producer Stan Lee and writer-director Peter Sullivan. Photographer Claire (Haylie Duff) is shocked to learn that her brother has died, and that her young niece Madison (Shae Smolik) must come and live with her. Claire quickly discovers that things are not all right with Madison, as the young girl claims that she is being followed by a creature called the Sandman that has come to life from a storybook that her father used to read to her. As the bodies start piling up, Madison also reveals that she has powerful psychic abilities, and a shady government agent (Tobin Bell) wants to exploit her. Also featuring Shaun Sipos, Amanda Wyss, Paul Logan, Ricco Ross, Jason-Shane Scott, Lyn Alicia Henderson, and Scott Peat.

 

If the plot sounds familiar, it should, as this seems like a blatant mash-up of The Babadook and Firestarter. Several scenes from the movie's second half seem directly lifted from the latter. While the talent is more recognizable, and the production values a tiny bit better, this is standard SyFy Channel stuff, even if it wasn't specifically made for the cable outfit. And why Stan Lee, the venerated Marvel Comic book mastermind, was involved with this movie I couldn't say.   4/10

 

Source: SyFy Channel.

 

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Rings (2017) - Belated third installment in the ghostly horror series, from Paramount Pictures and director F. Javier Gutierrez. The gimmick remains the same: after a person watches a short cursed video, they have 7 days until the spectral menace known as Samara appears and kills them. Your only hope is to get someone else to watch the video before your 7 days are up, and then the curse is passed on. Shady college professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) comes across the video and starts up some sort of secret club for people to watch the video and have plenty of others around to pass it on to, thus allowing the survivors to investigate the video's origins. Or something. Nice girl Julia (Matilda Lutz) can't reach her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe), and she discovers that he was part of this video-watching club. She eventually watches the video herself to save him, but then sets out to try and discover Samara's beginnings in hopes of laying her to rest once and for all. Also featuring Vincent D'onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig, Lizzie Brochere, and Laura Wiggins.

 

The Ring/Ringu (1998) was a smash-hit Japanese ghost movie that arguably marked the peak of the "J-horror" craze (Japanese set, or remade, horror films) in its own country, while serving as the basis for the very good (in my mind better) 2002 American remake. There was a very lackluster sequel in 2005, but nothing since, so I guess the producers thought the time was right to drag this out of mothballs. Filmed in early 2015, this was extensively re-edited and the story altered, which is very evident while watching, as the first and second halves seem like separate, half-baked movies. The first half suffers more, with the dubious college professor and his poorly explained club, plot elements that completely disappear, only for the film to switch gears into a formulaic "small town secrets" thriller. D'onofrio provides a modicum of entertainment in this stretch, but not enough to save the movie.     4/10

 

Source: Paramount Blu Ray.

 

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