M3GAN (2023)

January 5, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Dolls are the new Clowns in horror. Okay, that’s not actually true since there is a long history of creepy dolls coming alive. Do you remember “The Twilight Zone” 1963 episode “Living Doll” featuring Talking Tina (voiced by the late, great June Foray, known for Rocket J “Rocky” Squirrel, Cindy Lou Who, Granny in the Warner Bros cartoons)? More recently we have experienced Chucky in CHILD’S PLAY (1988) and ANNABELLE (2014), and in a much less frightening style, the many dolls and playthings in TOY STORY (1995). This new generation is brought to us by director Gerard Johnstone (HOUSEBOUND, 2014) and the writing team behind MALIGNANT (2021), Akela Cooper and James Wan. Of course, new generation means high-tech, so this one injects the Artificial Intelligence from Alex Garland’s EX MACHINA (2014).

The tone is set from the beginning as we open on a “Saturday Night Live” type parody of TV advertising for a product PurRpetual Pet, furry critters that talk and poop while being controlled from an app (like everything else these days), and are guaranteed to outlive their owner, thereby eliminating grief. The manufacturer is Funki Toy Company, where Gemma (Allison Williams, GET OUT, 2017, and the daughter of national news anchor Brian Williams) is the head of the robotics department. Gemma’s workaholic lifestyle and commitment to career is rocked when she must take guardianship of her eight-year-old orphaned niece, Cady (Violet McGraw, “The Haunting of Hill House”). Having no clue how to parent or even relate to a child, Gemma fires up her advanced prototype, M3GAN (Model 3 Generation Android), a lifelike synthetic, learn-on-the go robot meant to bond with one person … and in this case, parent Cady in a way that allows Gemma to stay focused on work. And yes, things don’t go according to plan.

As a caution, the first half hour (after the fake TV ad) is a bit dull; however, the pacing and entertainment value jump significantly once M3GAN comes home with Gemma and Cady. Sure, it’s kinda campy, and even funny at times, but M3GAN’s look and mannerisms are sufficiently creepy, even if her subtle eye movements and facial gestures are much more fun than her over-the-top protection of Cady. Amie Donald and Jenna Davis combine to deliver M3GAN’s physical movements and vocals, respectively. Even with it’s too-obvious jabs at corporate greed and parenting via tech, the film is likely to be a hit with teenagers, especially once it hits streaming platforms. Grown-ups aren’t likely to find it as appealing, although most every movie lover will admit this one trumps the annual tradition of lousy horror releases in January.

Opens in theaters on January 6, 2023


AQUAMAN (2018)

December 13, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Were the TV series “Entourage” still on the air, they would now need a new recurring punchline. The AQUAMAN movie is real! At the helm, we are surprised to find the master of horror, James Wan, in the director’s seat. Mr. Wan is known for such genre flicks as SAW, INSIDIOUS, and THE CONJURING, and his talent for visuals transfers well to the comic book style. In fact, with a run time of almost 2 ½ hours, the visual effects are both exhilarating and exhausting.

Sure, we’ve seen short bursts of Jason Momoa as Aquaman in a couple of previous DC movies, but this time he owns the pool. Momoa plays Arthur Curry as a hunky beer-chugging rock and roll party dude who just happens to talk to fish and breathe underwater.  Since it’s the first Aquaman movie, writers David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (ORPHAN) and Will Beall (GANGSTER SQUAD) provide us the backstory.

On the coast of Maine in 1985, a lighthouse attendant named Tom Curry (played by Temuera Morrison) discovers Princess Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washed ashore. What follows is a whirlwind romance, the birth of their son Arthur, Nicole snacking on a goldfish, as well as her first kick-ass action fight scene. To protect her son, she agrees to head back to Atlantis where she faces the consequences of birthing a half-breed with a landlubber.

When we first see a grown Arthur – with a classic hair flip – he is thwarting the hijacking of a Russian submarine by Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his father (Michael Beach, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK). Manta is one of the two main villains – the other being Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s war-mongering, power-thirsty half-brother. Sharing a common enemy, Orm enlists Manta and provides a highly-advanced weapon that, for some unfathomable reason, Manta begins (via montage) to ‘Iron-Man’ it to another level – one much less stable. It’s Orm who gets much more screen time as he plots a massive attack on surface dwellers (humans) who have been destroying the sea for years. You didn’t think Hollywood would miss a chance to tell us how despicable we are, did you?

The basic story is that Orm must defeat Aquaman to claim the throne and become Master of the Sea. Of course, Arthur is reluctant to get involved and only does so at the urging of his old mentor Vulko (Willem Dafoe) and Mera (Amber Heard), both of whom wish to avoid a war with humans. The first battle of the would-be kings takes place in The Ring of Fire, a royal battleground missing only the accompaniment of Johnny Cash. The duel ends prematurely, so that an epic battle can later serve as the film’s epic climax.

Although director Wan may throw a bit too much ‘plot’ and action at the proverbial wall, it is interesting to note the history/mythology associated with Atlantis, the ruling class, and the missing trident. The legends are fascinating and the journey takes us to all ends (and depths) of the globe … from the deepest seas to the middle of the Sahara Desert (itself once a sea) to the incredible core of the Earth. We see the ancient ruins, as well as the high-tech futurama Atlantis … and it’s all stunning to watch.

Don’t tell Marvel, but the film is somewhat a blend of BLACK PANTHER and THOR, and Momoa is every bit the Aquaman that Chris Hemsworth is Thor (quite a compliment). Yes, we find out that Atlantis, like our dry land world, is burdened with politics and power-hungry types, but the underwater world and the visual effects keep us mesmerized. We see terrific dragon-like sea horses, a drumming octopus, and a Kraken-like creature supposedly voiced by Julie Andrews (fact or fiction?). There is an early sequence that takes swimming with dolphins to a level you didn’t experience on your vacation, and the lighting effects at times recall TRON and can be a bit disorienting.

This is probably the largest scale DC movie to date, and director Wan chooses to make a splash with every element – character, mythology, setting, and effects. We also get appearances from Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Randall Park as a TV talking head/oceanographer making the case that Atlantis is real and a threat. We even get Roy Orbison singing “She’s a Mystery to Me”, and the IMAX aspect ratio makes the first ever over-the-top underwater spectacle. And what a spectacle it is.

watch the trailer:

FURIOUS 7 (2015)

April 5, 2015


furious 7 Greetings again from the darkness. “For Paul”. A touching tribute to the late Paul Walker provides an emotional end to the most high-octane (sorry about that) F&F episode yet … and the perfect victory lap (sorry again) for the franchise. Of course, we know that it won’t be the last, if for no other reason than easy box office money.

The franchise began in 2001, and the familiar faces are back: Vin Diesel as Dom, Paul Walker as Brian, Jordana Brewster as Brian’s wife Mia, Michelle Rodriguez as amnesiac Letty, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludicrous” Bridges as comic relief Roman and Tej, respectively, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent Hobbs. New to the scene are Djimon Honsou as a terrorist, Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa as elite henchmen (henchpersons?), Nathalie Emmanuel as super-hacker Ramsey, and Kurt Russell as the shadowy government-type cutting shady deals for fuzzy reasons. The biggest add is of course, Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw, the Black Ops big brother to Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) – silenced villain from the previous film (in which Statham made a brief appearance foreshadowing this story line).

Achieving remarkable success for what started as a fun little street racing cult film, this series thrives on its familiar characters, simple plot lines, staggering lineup of dream cars, and ever-louder and larger stunts, fights and set pieces. One of the earliest scenes features a fight scene that would be the climax of most action movies: The Rock vs Jason Statham. Rather than end or solve anything, this fight merely serves as a set-up for one of the film’s punchlines – involving The Rock and a plaster arm cast (pay no attention to that leg cast). In the middle, we get a too brief clash between Michelle Rodriguez and Ronda Rousey, but the real finale is a rooftop battle between Vin Diesel and Jason Statham that has such an extended cut-away, we almost forget they are going at each other.

In between those colossal fights, we get Paul Walker sprinting up the side of a bus that is sliding off a cliff, a wicked and armed drone, car chases galore – including one with a stealth chopper, synchronized10,000 foot car drops from an airplane, and most impressively, car jumps between the Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. That last one is not just any car, but a stunning red Lykan Hypersport … one with little resale value after its final trip.

Michelle Rodriguez’ character is fighting her amnesia, Ludacris and Tyrese play off each other like Laurel and Hardy, while Dom does his best Yoda impression, and Statham comes off like a revenge-seeking
missile from a Terminator movie. Every character gets their fair share of posing, preening, strutting and smirking. It would be an insult to call this over-the-top because that would imply we have previously seen
the top. This is high-speed, high-altitude mayhem that plays directly to a large fan base.

Personally, I’m not a devout F&F follower, and have seen only the first entry prior to this latest. My attendance for Furious 7 was driven (get it?) by my interest in seeing the tribute to Walker, and my personal code of seeing every Kurt Russell movie (don’t ask). However, I do understand the mass appeal, and I believe the followers will appreciate the approach of director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring), who replaces 3 time series director Justin Lin.

watch the trailer:


INSIDIOUS: Chapter 2 (2013)

September 22, 2013

insidious2 1 Greetings again from the darkness. This is a perfect example of why it’s acceptable for writing standards to be lowered (somewhat) for horror films. This isn’t science fiction or history. We are in the theatre for one simple reason … we want to be frightened (to jump in our seats). Two years after the first Insidious, director and co-writer James Wan, screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who also appears as Specs) and producer Oren Peli, re-team for this sequel. It’s also just a few months after Mr. Wan’s very successful and well-made The Conjuring.

I enjoyed the first one.  There was a nice story that borrowed a bit from Poltergeist and some other horror classics. In a rare treat, Wan and Whannel actually tie in the sequel to the story from the first. Sure, some of it is a stretch with all of the parallel dimensions and multiple entities, but for the most part, it works and provides some nice thrills and chills.

insidious2 3 An especially nice surprise is the creative return of Lin Shaye as Elise, who stole all her scenes in the first entry. While the voice-over of her “younger” scenes was distracting, her screen presence helps hold the final act together. Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins and Barbara Hershey are back as the family Lambert … and this time we get more backstory on why the family seems unable to escape the demons.

Wan, Whannell and Peli have done a very nice job of rejuvenating the horror genre, while still including the traditional fun of active closets, abandoned hospitals, creaky doors and musty basements. A certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required, but if you are looking for some scary fun, you could do much worse than the two “Insidious” films.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the horror genre (especially haunted houses and possession) OR you enjoyed Insidious from a couple years ago.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting Oscar-caliber performances or an airtight script

watch the trailer:



July 22, 2013

conjuring Greetings again from the darkness. The overdose and saturation of reality TV the past decade has resulted in at least a couple of Ghost Hunter type shows. Surely you have stumbled on at least one of these. Director James Wan kicks off this latest haunted house adventure with the all-too-familiar “Based on a True Story” and then proceeds to fill the next couple of hours with scene after scene of horror film staples … things we have jumped at many times over the years. However, this one is bumped up a notch thanks to atmosphere, direction and acting ability, and the fact that yes, the ghost hunters are/were REAL.
The Perron family has moved to the country for a “fresh start” and here is what we learn:

1. If the family dog won’t enter the new house, then neither should you or your kids. It’s time to move out. How many dogs aren’t dog-wagging thrilled to follow the kids right in through the front door?

2. If all the clocks (electric and wind-up) stop at exactly the same time, it’s time to move out.

3. If you stumble on a boarded up cellar/basement, just leave it boarded up … and it’s time to move out.

4. If multiple birds fly full speed into your house, breaking their necks, it’s time to move out.

5. If your daughter discovers an antique toy that she carries around while talking to her new imaginary friend … it’s time to move out.  If she brings her “old” imaginary friend with her to the new house … see The Shining.

6. If, over two consecutive evenings, your sleepwalking daughter bangs her head into the armoire left by the previous owners, it’s time to move out.

7. Having 5 daughters seems to make parenting exceptionally difficult, but this in itself is no reason to move out of the house.

8. Playing blindfolded ‘Hide and Clap’ is not an appropriate game when you live in a 3 level home. This is no reason to move out, just find a game that doesn’t require a blindfold … or an Ouija board.

9. If you ever have to call demonologists to your home, don’t get defensive about not being a religious family. Just move out of the house.

conjuring3 Director Wan gives us tastes of the haunted house/possession Big 3: The Exorcist, Poltergeist and Amityville Horror. It’s not at the level of these, but it’s certainly better than most horror films of the past two decades … at least we don’t get any stupid teenagers wandering through the woods. In fact, this one plays right off our natural tendency to feel safe and secure while surrounded by our family within the confines of our own home. The biggest scares come from the moments we are most relaxed.

It’s Rated R for being frightening.  There are no spinning heads or pea soup, and the gore factor is exceptionally low considering Mr. Wan directed Saw, the film that kicked off torture-fest movie genre. The acting here is really good for a horror film. Patrick conjuring4Wilson also starred in Wan’s Insidious, and here he plays Ed Warren. With his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), the Warrens are well known ghostbusters, ghost hunters, demonologists, or whatever label you care to apply. We learn about their most famous case regarding Annaelle the creepy as heck doll, and we also see how they save a trophy from each of their cases … and store it in their home (a seemingly dumb move). Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are also strong in their roles as the Perron parents. Another thing I liked was that the kids seem like real kids … especially the recognizable Joey King and MacKenzie Foy.

conjuring2 Horror and Comedy are both at the mercy of personal taste.  What makes you laugh and what makes you jump is probably different from others, so these two genres are difficult to recommend.  Still, it takes talent to direct a horror movie and not really introduce any new “gotcha’s”, while still keeping the viewers grabbing the armrests. So enjoy the jumps, cover your eyes, and keep in mind … if your dog won’t enter your new house, it’s time to move out!

**NOTE: an interesting side note … Ryan Gosling co-wrote the song that plays over the closing credits

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: your favorite horror films are the haunted house types

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have 5 daughters and think moving to the country is a good idea

watch the trailer:



April 9, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ahh, the lost art of horror films. I don’t mean slasher films or gore-fests. I mean real horror films. The Saw series falls into gore-fest and its collaborators, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannel, team up again for a more traditional horror film … one designed to scare the viewer, rather than just gross out society.  Of course, recommending a horror film is as risky as recommending a comedy.

The film opens as Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne move into a beautiful old house with their two young sons and infant daughter. By beautiful house, of course I mean terribly creepy with nooks and crannies, creaking floorboards, squeaky doors and an  attic designed by Satan. The mom (Byrne) quickly realizes things aren’t just right with this house, and as is customary in horror films, the dad finds some lame excuse (grading test papers??) to work late so the mom and kids can be haunted without him.

There are some bits and pieces from classic horror films like The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Amityville Horror and, yes, Saw (but not the gory stuff). Remarkably, this film is rated PG-13, which means the filmmakers really have to tell a story … and they do … well as much as can be hoped for in a fright film.  There are even touches of humor throughout.

The mom gets so desperate, she begs to move. They do. Guess what? Things aren’t better. So mother-in-law Barbara Hershey (from creepy Black Swan) says she knows someone. Next thing you know, two goof-balls (one is the film’s writer Whannel) who look like they should have their own cable show are in the house confirming something is definitely amiss. So they call in their boss. Unfortunately, the great Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist) passed away, so our expert is played by Lin Shayle. She does an effective job explaining astral projections and the next thing you know all hell has broken loose. Nice work lady.  Surely she requires payment upfront.

What makes the film work are the characters, the setting, the atmosphere and the really nice build-up of suspense and drama. Sure I think there were some details that could have been handled much better. For instance, the “other” brother looks like he is going to be a factor, but instead all of the attention goes to Ty Simpkins as Dalton. Simpkins was seen recently with Russell Crowe in The Next 3 Days. Also, more of the backstory with Hershey and Wilson’s childhood could have provided some twists.

Still, I will say if you are a fan of horror films, this one is worth seeing. If nothing else, you will absolutely love the opening credits with their haunted images and smoky font. It’s a bit of a fun challenge to find the “image” in each of the opening sequences. Just make sure to finish your popcorn before the movie starts. That stuff is too expensive to be tossing across the aisle when you JUMP!!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are always game for a real horror film … one that scares you with characters and atmosphere, rather than splatter.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting the next generation of Saw OR you can’t imagine an effective PG-13 horror film (in other words … you need gore).