Spider-Man: Far From Home
The Lion King
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Antique shops, man. If there's one place you should avoid to keep from getting sucked into a genre film, it's antique shops. Sure, they might all look like they're nothing but lawn jockeys and gigantic ostentatious picture frames, but don't believe the facade. Dens of evil, I'm tellin' ya. Each and every one. Case in point, the antique shop we never get to see in The Final Wish.
Why don't we get to see it? Because the proprietor is dead, that's why. Young wannabe Chicago lawyer, Aaron Hammond [Michael Welch; the Twilight series], thought he had problems when he failed to get the job he interviewed for and then got locked out of his apartment for missing so many rent payments. As he slumped against the wall and answered a phone call from his long-lost ex-girlfriend Lisa [Melissa Bolona; The Hurricane Heist (2018)] telling him his antique dealing father had just passed, Aaron knew his problems had just begun.
He returns home to his grieving mother, Kate [Lin Shaye; "Elise Rainier" in the Insidious series], who coincidentally lives in the same house that was used for Annabelle: Creation (2017). Here's hoping she didn't pay full asking price for it, eh? But, I digress...
All the antiques from dear ol' dad's shop are now scattered around the family home. Aaron's attention is drawn to a mildly creepy, goat-topped urn and now the movie officially starts.
To be honest, The Final Wish is a giant "be careful what you wish for" cliche, but I'm a sucker for those stories. The twist to this one is that our hapless leading man has no idea the cursed antique is granting his wishes at first. The goat-capped urn just sits there listening for Aaron's stray wishes. It's kinda like owning an Amazon Echo, if Alexa wanted to steal your immortal soul.
Scratch that. It's exactly like owning an Amazon Echo.
Since The Final Wish doesn't tread any new ground other than the "passive wishing" trick, genre fans already know things go downhill quickly. There's an investigative phase complete with the requisite Tony Todd cameo, a visit to the previous owner of the goat urn, and a suitably tragic ending. This film follows the formula as if it were on rails. Frankly disappointing since the core story and much of the screenplay came from the brain of Final Destination (2000) scribe, Jeffrey Reddick, but "cliche" isn't necessarily the same as "horrible". Unoriginal to be sure, but it's okay to like a cliche. This is a safe space. We don't judge.
While the character introductions were a bit ham-handed, production quality overall was high. The camera work was well done, if mildly vanilla most of the time until things got weird. Once the story took a turn for the demonic, cinematographer Pablo Diez got a chance to play a bit and came up with some fun camera angles and lens choices.
On the acting side, Michael Welch does a good job as the self-centered, djinn-cursed law school grad, Aaron, but it's Lin Shaye's portrayal of his mother, Kate, that steals the show. Once things really get going, she glides effortlessly between sympathetic grieving widow and over-the-top manic grandma. Her performance is wonderfully disturbing and outshines pretty much everything else in the film.
The Final Wish is a middle of the road derivative of the 1902 story, "The Monkey's Paw", just like all the other djinn/genie/cursed item movies out there. Of course, blueberry pancakes are just a derivative of the pancakes researchers found in Otzi the Iceman's 5300 year old stomach and I still like blueberry pancakes.
The Scariest Things
I stumbled across this verdant gem the other day and thought, "I should watch this. It'll fit right in with the Vegetarian Horror theme of The Scariest Things Podcast Episode LIX!"
Oof. The things I do for fame and fortune...
Arbor Demon (also known as Enclosure) starts off with a pregnant woman happily hiking alone in the woods until she's startled by something the audience can't see. She gets chased by something the audience isn't shown, and, ultimately, she's caught by something the audience doesn't get to look at. And that right there describes most of what's wrong with this movie.
Fiona Dourif [Cult of Chucky (2017)] plays Dana, the recently pregnant photographer wife of Charles [Kevin Ryan; TV's Copper (2012 - 2013)]. Charles doesn't know Dana's pregnant. He wants to be a rockstar and is kind of a tool. On the verge of Charles' first months-long tour with his band, the couple decides to take a camping trip in the woods for some alone time before he leaves.
In an effort to put some distance between themselves and a group of gun totin', camouflage wearin', good ol' boys, Dana and Charles move deeper into the woods. From their new position, they watch in horror as something tears through the hunters' camp... while we viewers get to mostly watch Dana and Charles in their tent watching whatever it is we don't get to see. It sure was some dramatic use of those binoculars, though! Whew!
Production quality of Arbor Demon is actually quite high. The cinematography is decent, sound quality is excellent and consistent throughout, even the score is well done and fits each scene as it should. But when you're watching what's obviously a monster movie you're not watching it because you appreciate a movie with reasonable set lighting. You're watching it for the monster. And, while the creepy forest demon hand was very cool, the audience can only stand a few scenes of it mysteriously disappearing behind a tree before we're wondering if the whole special effects budget was blown on a single monster hand.
You'd think things would pick up once Baby Busey appeared, but sadly 'twas not to be. Charles saves Sean [Jake Busey; The Predator (2018)], one of the hunters, but the pacing of the movie remains uneven and the dialog gets even more awkward and... kinda kooky. Granted, if anyone can deliver goofy lines and make them sound mildly coherent it's Jake Busey, but that still didn't help the muddled backstory meant to explain the forest grannies demons.
Don't get me wrong, aside from looking like a group of elderly tree-grandmas, the forest demons were pretty cool. The special effects makeup and costuming would've scored big points in any Arbor Day cosplay contest. However, if their scenes in the movie were any indication, the demon outfits weren't what you'd call "action-wear". These demons were more about giving disapproving looks and pointing accusatory fingers than any sort of rough-and-tumble shenanigans.
Arbor Demon had some potential. They'd obviously spent some money on production and the monster suits were well made. Once you finally get to see them, it's fun to see the individual characteristics of each costume. Someone spent a lot of time putting those things together and it showed.
Unfortunately, and possibly because the suits were too fragile or cumbersome to move, the monsters in this monster movie lacked any sort of punch. The pacing was too uneven to build up any tension to support them and the dialog was too scattered and awkward to give them any kind of ominous history. They were just left standing silently in the forest, pointing at stuff, and probably hoping things would wrap up in time for them to catch the senior discount for dinner at Denny's.
The year was 2005. Movies were in their infancy and we'd still be waiting quite a while before filmmakers could give us "talkies", let alone movies in color... At least, I think that's right. In any case, from out of the chaos of those nascent days arose a shining example of how to make a fun movie for about a buck twenty-five.
Producer/director Andrew Leman's The Call of Cthulhu is said to be the first film adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft's most famous stories. And with the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society acting as distributor for the film, rest assured that this adaptation stays true to the original story. Nearly scene by scene a perfect match, in fact. That level of attention to detail only comes from true fans of the source material. Especially when you're working with less than a shoestring budget.
Why black & white and silent? Leman and his production partner, Sean Branney, decided early on that they wanted to create something that looked like it could have been made in 1926. It also helps that shooting in black and white is more forgiving than shooting in color when you're on a tight budget and can't afford to worry about things like the specific materials you're using in your sets and costumes. That bold decision made, Sean Branney set about adapting the original short story to fit a cinematic format.
For anyone not familiar with the story, it's a winding tale involving a dark cosmic mystery. Eons ago, old gods had ruled the universe. Cthulhu happened to be one of them. When their time had come to an end, the old gods returned to wherever it was they came from and Cthulhu took a nap at the bottom of the sea. On his own, sunken private island no less! There he waits -- as do the other old gods -- for a time "when the stars are right" and they can make their return to reclaim what was once theirs. Namely, everything. And they don't plan on being nice about it either.
The movie -- or, rather, featurette, since The Call of Cthulhuâ~s run time clocks in at about 47 minutes -- depicts the tale as it's being told by a mental patient (Matt Foyer). He does this through the surprisingly coherent use of flashbacks within flashbacks. At one point, the movie goes at least four flashbacks deep! Now that's impressive. Don't worry, though, you always make it back out. It's a tale of nightmares and cultists and strange idols and shipwrecks. Of coincidences and revelations and forgotten mysteries.
True to form for a silent film, nearly everything rides on the score. Since nobody's talking and there aren't any sound effects, the film's music is thrust to the forefront. Despite losing their composer late in the game to scheduling conflicts, the filmmakers were able to find the talent they needed to flesh out their completely original score. The music ties the scenes together wonderfully and acts as a sort of omnipresent character guiding viewers through the film.
Also, if you're a fan of film techniques before computers took over, The Call of Cthulhu is a treat. Superimposition, tricks with perspective and angles, and "special effects" like a stormy sea made by waving blankets all make for a fun trip back into cinematic history. There's even a big, stop-motion Cthulhu figure! That should make you want to see the movie all on its own.
What it all comes down to is that this movie was a labor of love by a group of people who truly enjoy the original stories. Sure, there's over-acting, the sets often look like they're about to tip over, and the special effects are mildly goofy at times, but if you can look past all that, you'll find performances with heart, one of the truest book-to-screen adaptations I've ever seen, and it'll be a fun 47 minutes watching a story that many thought "unfilmable" come to life.
THRILL... as Rose McGowan takes a bunch of naps!
GASP... as Christopher Lloyd changes light bulbs!
SCREAM... as you lose track of which story you're supposed to be following!
Sometimes I just feel bad for movies. Obviously, with the good ones, you beam at them; their story lines are strong, their actors full of pathos, their edits effective and well-placed. You know they're going to do well out in the world. Holding their own at the box office or rising to the top of the indie circuit. With the not-so-good ones, though... they're like the wayward children of the film world. You watch them and think, "wait, you're gonna introduce a brand new character now?!" or "hey, what happened to the story you were telling earlier?" And you just know all the other movies are going to pick on them during recess.
I have a feeling The Sound (a.k.a., Paranormal: White Noise) got picked on. A lot.
I really wanted to like this movie. Writer/director Jenna Mattison's directorial debut grabbed me with its premise: super low-frequency sound (infrasound) was to blame for supposed "paranormal" experiences. As in, the effects of extremely low-frequency sounds -- sounds too low for the human ear to pick up -- on the human body caused people to hallucinate, feel a "presence", and many of the other things associated with a traditional haunting. Pretty cool, right? Because science!
And, to be fair, the movie started out okay. Kelly Johansen (Rose McGowan; Scream (1996)) is an infrasound expert, blogger, and debunker of the paranormal. With her blatantly advertised Apple MacBook laptop computer and oh, so convenient Apple iPhone (both of which probably should have been given their own credits at the end), Kelly travels around debunking reports of ghosts. Which somehow makes her money. Regardless, she just gets back from a farmhouse where she scientifically proved a little boy was a liar-liar-pants-on-fire, when an anonymous tip comes in about scary things in Toronto, Canada. What?! Scary things in Canada? It's no wonder she left again in a hurry. Next thing we know, she's in a cab on her way to the haunted, abandoned subway underneath the not haunted, fully active subway. Hotel? We don't need no stinking hotel.
Luckily, the people who run the subway in Toronto are very trusting and they keep all the doors unlocked. Wanna get into the abandoned sub-subway? Just open the door and it's all yours! Down goes our heroine, where she meets a young fellow who tells her how to get to the most haunted spot. The spot where, 50-some-odd years ago, a lady was pushed and/or jumped onto the tracks and died. Happily, these forgotten subway tunnels under the working subway tunnels have excellent WiFi so she can continue posting her progress to Twitter.
And that's just the first of many storylines you can choose to follow.
In the course of Kelly's initial exploration she discovers a dead body. The most shocking thing about that is that she actually calls the cops! Who does that?! Nobody in a normal horror movie, I can assure you. Detective Richards (Michael Eklund; Netflix's Altered Carbon (2018)) shows up, but the body has mysteriously disappeared. Natch. Once he finds out she's a blogger, though, it's obvious that she should be allowed to prowl around alone in the abandoned tunnels so he leaves and she takes a nap. The first of many, as it turns out. You can just tell she's thinking, "oh, I feel a flashback coming on... I should take a nap."
Once Kelly wakes up from her flashback-laden nap she continues with her exploration. Going deeper and deeper into the haunted subway system looking for the place where the low-frequency sound is at its strongest and most dangerous. Along the way, she meets Clinton Jones (Christopher Lloyd; Piranha 3D (2010)) who spends the entire movie changing light bulbs. Though he does take time out of his busy schedule to show her some nice graffiti and to explain how the subway was built on an old Potter's Field cemetery where the poor and unknown were buried (which sounds oddly familiar).
Eventually, our friend Kelly finds the area containing the lowest of the low-frequency sound waves. As an infrasound expert, she knows the area to be extremely dangerous for the human body. She understands that the time she can stay there safely is counted in minutes, so she only takes one nap and only does a few random Google searches that she could've easily done topside once her investigation was over.
And that's only the halfway point.
The main problem with this movie (in addition to it being waaay too slow and thoroughly ridiculous) is that it's trying to be too clever for its own good. Plot lines come and go faster than characters in the Game of Thrones. Did it have something to do with a psychiatric hospital? What the Hell was all that with the detective? Was the cemetery bit completely irrelevant?
While I do love a good pseudo-science and I'm always looking to promote more women writers and/or directors in the male-dominated horror genre, I gotta say stay away from this one.
Follow Rose McGowan's example and just take a nap instead.
Oh, my gosh! So, these young women were enjoying some time at this lakeside cabin, right? They were, like, in the house, you know? And then! Guess what happened! Oh, jeez, you'll never guess. Okay, I'll just tell you. Are you ready? Some other people, you know, who didn't even know the women, right? And, no, it wasn't like the landlord or anything. These were total strangers, you know? Well... they came in the house! I was like, "Whaaaaaaat?? They don't even live there?!" but there they were! Inside the house. OMG, it was so crazy.
Ah, the home invasion movie. The laziest of all horror sub-genres. Are the home invaders monsters? Are they unkillable supernatural murderers? Robots? No? So, they're just a bunch of guys who broke into a house? I see. Might as well make a movie about getting into a car accident or eating tainted shellfish down at the Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack*. Nobody likes it when those things happen either.
Alright, how about I stop ranting and start reviewing.
Writer/director Giorgio Serafini's The Executioners tells a very thin story about four young women who drive out to a nice, lakeside house for a weekend getaway. The sun is shining and the house looks lovely as the women arrive, but right away we can tell something's wrong -- not as part of the story, but with the movie itself. While the production values are pretty high, problems with the film's pacing begin to show right from the start. The opening scene flows along nicely until our four characters gaze out over the lake for the first time. For a long time. Did they forget the camera was running? C'mon, people, we're burning daylight!
Unfortunately, that's only the first sign that The Executioners suffers from the far too common ailment, Just A Bit Too Long Disease. The gaze out over the lake? Just a bit too long. The painfully contrived hey-look-we're-friends-having-a-nice-weekend intro? Just a bit too long. The protagonist's week-long sneak from one side of the basement to the other? You get the idea. With as much action as they were trying to show, the editing should have been a lot tighter. Using pacing to build up tension is one thing. It's something else entirely when viewers can use certain scenes to go refill their drinks without missing anything.
Naturally, you can't have a home invasion movie without a home invasion. This time, our home invasion is provided by Mr. Black (Anthony Belevtsov; Triple 9 (2016)) and his colorful crue. Mr. Black, Mr. Blue, and Mr. Red -- who apparently each dunked their head in a can of paint to match their name -- break in and begin terrorizing the ladies. And, of course, since this movie also has a revenge angle to it, our home invaders had to cross The Line. The line that, when crossed, turns our protagonists into blood-thirsty seekers of vengeance. If the protagonists are male, it seems like that line can be almost anything: killing the guy's dog, owing the guy money, sending the guy to prison, etc. If the protagonists are female, that line is nearly always rape. So, here's where The Executioners takes a turn for the exploitative. Likely, Serafini was aiming for "shocking", but what he really landed on was "tacky".
After that, the rest of the film falls apart at a steady pace. Jemma Dallender (I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013)) and Natalie Burn (Mechanic: Resurrection (2016), The Expendables 3 (2014)) do a decent job as two of the weekend women, but they can't carry the whole thing by themselves. Director Giorgio even throws in a "twist" at the end hoping to salvage something from the wreckage, but it's not so much a twist as it is the cinematic equivalent of telling someone their shoes are untied when they're not.
You don't get a gasp of surprise or jaw-dropping shock from that.
You just get irritation and an eye roll.