Real-time Movie Reviews from My Bedroom
I work at a school so Covid has always felt inevitable. Especially now since everyone is all “back to normal”. I was hoping for the, “no fever, sort of allergy feeling, Covid,” and while I didn’t get that, I also didn’t get the “straight to the hospital” version. My Covid sits somewhere between the two. Like the flu or cold on steroids. My voice is raspy, I’m battling a fever, my muscles ache and my head is packed full of something unhealthy. My nightstand looks like a Walgreens after a riot.
Quarantine is Boring
Over the last three days, my body hasn’t felt like doing much but that hasn’t stopped my brain from racing in a hundred different directions. I can’t do a podcast episode, but what I can do is watch lots of horror films that I haven’t had a chance to get around to yet.
The Film Festival is Open
Sure, I’m the only one invited, but I thought I could give you my take on some spooky films that I’ve sat through over the course of this week.
Everyone’s A Critic
Great! Just what we need, more movie reviews. I know. But… hear me out. I am just a guy who likes watching movies. You won’t get reviews with words only a cinephile would understand. I won’t shove my pompous, egocentric, vast knowledge of cinema down your throat. I’ll just tell it how it is, from my point of view.
Us / 2019 / Jordan Peele – Score: 88 out of 100
I’d been putting this movie off for a while now. I really enjoyed ‘Get Out’ despite the mixed reviews and the apparent concern over which movie genre it fits in. It was well-acted and I was pleased with the ending and felt that the story was creative.
‘Us’ gives off much more of a horror film feel, much earlier in the movie. The movie starts off in 1986 and we see a young girl named Addy watching the television when a commercial comes on for Hands Across America. That’s important later, but you’ll get no spoilers here, you rascals. That evening, her parents take her to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk where she inevitably wanders away and enters a spooky house of mirrors down on the beach, away from everything else.
“Don’t go in there!” I yell. She doesn’t listen. After working her way through the maze she ultimately bumps into herself, but not a reflection. Uh oh.
Fast forward to the present day and we see that Addy Wilson is now an adult with a husband, Gabe, and two tween kids, Zora and Jason. They’re getting ready to go on a trip to her childhood vacation home near Santa Cruz Beach. Addy is anything but eager, but despite any misgivings, decides to go along. Once there, they meet up with their friends, the Tylers. The Tylers consists of Josh and Kitty and their twin daughters who are horrible human beings.
From there, the film really gets into full swing as we find out that a family that looks an awful lot like the Wilson’s is stalking the family at their vacation home. Does everyone have a doppleganger? If so, what do they want? Where did they come from? And why are they hell bent on taking over the country? And how can we always be sure which is which?
Blood! Jump scares! Amazing acting! Twists and turns and a story that makes you think about the old ‘haves vs. the have nots’ adage. I can’t wait for the third horror film from Jordan Peele, ‘Nope’ comes out soon.
The soundtrack is great with outstanding use of “I Got 5 on It” from the Luniz and funny and gory use of a classic N.W.A. tune.
Lupita Nyong’o is outstanding as the adult Addy. Winston Duke does a great job delivering dad humor as the caring but in the dark, Gabe and Shahadi Wright, and Evan Alex shine as their quirky, strong kids. You’ll even love to hate the Tyler’s played by Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, and Cali and Noelle Sheldon (real-life twins).
We Need to Do Something / 2021 / Sean King O’Grady – Score: 66 out of 100
I went into this one 100% blind. Max Booth III, is a horror writer who wrote the novella, “We Need to Do Something” back in 2020. Between the throwback styling of the movie poster, the font choice, and the summary, I thought, “What the hell?” I also said, “What the hell?” various times while watching this 90-minute flick.
I’ll say this, the actors gave it their all. I’ll give you the premise.
The movie opens with a family of four rushing into a bathroom with what little supplies they could scoop up before the storm warning came. The bathroom is interesting, almost a fifth character. The mom, played by Vinessa Shaw, is scolding the angsty, finding her way in the world, daughter who is played by Sierra McCormick. She was late and almost got caught in the storm. Where was she? “Where was she?” indeed.
There’s a younger brother who serves as the comic relief and is actually fairly likable in the role. The dad, played by veteran actor, Pat Healy is wonderful as we watch his quick descent from annoyed husband and father who knows his wife is cheating on him to complete madness.
Through backstory scenes we learn that the daughter is fully into her experimental, try anything once, don’t label me, I might be a lesbian, phase. We see that she gets close with a darker female student who bonds with her and together they perform a satanic curse. As the family struggles to keep their sanity and things get weirder just outside the bathroom, we’re left to ask ourselves, was it really a tornado that trapped the family, or has their curious, high-school-aged daughter opened a portal to hell?
There’s a brief vocal cameo from Ozzy Osbourne; a few things having to do with an animal’s tongue and some snakes. Had the movie been 90 minutes of the four family members losing their minds, the score would have been bumped up another 10 points. The acting is pretty solid. There is a wonderful use of the song, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Taco. The witchcraft love story sort of ruined it for me.
The Resort / 2021 / Taylor Chien – Score: 57 out of 100
Three apparently well-to-do, twenty-somethings surprise their friend, Lex with a trip to Hawaii so that she can investigate a haunted resort. She’s writing a book or making a film or something. Legend has it, that this abandoned resort on an off-limits island is haunted by the infamous Half-Faced Girl. I should mention that it’s also Lex’s birthday, which she uses against them every time they want to do something she doesn’t.
The acting is fine at times. The group is a full-on stereotypical white group of friends. A blonde, a brunette, the funny, party guy who just wants to show his butt at the waterfall, and the tough guy with a tender heart. Brock O’Hurn is an okay actor as the beefy, Chris. I just couldn’t get past the fact that he looked like Thor and Aquaman had a baby but that baby didn’t get any of the superpowers.
I’m not comfortable giving out scores below 50 yet so I started there and worked up. The setting is gorgeous. The abandoned resort is a neat idea and gives off that ‘buildings left behind at Chornobyl’ vibe. The half-faced girl is way underused and the one great visual effect is in the last couple of minutes.
The Forever Purge / 2021 / Everardo Valerio Gout – Score: 73 out of 100
In the nine years since Ethan Hawke, James DeMonaco, Jason Blum and Michael Bay brought us the original ‘The Purge’; we’ve had ‘Anarchy’, ‘Election Year’, ‘The First Purge’ and now “The Forever Purge”. I’m sure I would be skewered by horror purists but I actually enjoy the ‘Purge’ movies. The concept is creative, the plots hit on current issues, the costumes are well done and there’s just enough given about the characters to care a little bit about them.
And also, we could be headed in this direction if things keep going how they are.
This Purge brings us to El Paso, Texas. We meet Adela and her husband, Juan, who are recent immigrants to the United States. They work hard to make a living and are well-liked by most of the community. Juan works as a ranch hand for the Tucker family, a wealthy, family-oriented group of cowpokes who are only sometimes racist.
Caleb Tucker, the matriarch of the family, is played brilliantly by one of my favorite character actors, Will Patton. He is very kind to Juan and this angers his son, Dylan who thinks Mexicans are okay but should stay in Mexico.
Everyone makes it through the Purge which has only recently been reinstated across America. It’s a feel-good moment until you realize that you’re only twenty minutes into the movie. On the morning after the Purge, a group of white supremacists and hate-filled ruffians, begin the ‘Forever Purge’. Masked gangs of killers attack the Tuckers and the nation, forcing both families to stick together or die alone.
You are either entertained by the Purge franchise or you dislike it. There isn’t much I can say to change your opinion. They’re like the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies, they keep coming out because people keep going and seeing them. I’d take the Purge over Fast and Furious any day of the week though, sorry Dom.
The Rental / 2020 / Dave Franco – Score: 76 out of 100
Dave Franco is quickly rising the charts on my favorite Franco brother list. James is an obvious first choice and middle brother, Tom is a talented artist in his own right, he’s just mysterious and in the shadows.
Dave Franco’s feature directorial debut, “The Rental” shows that the youngest Franco has real promise in this genre of cinema. The story focuses on a pair of brothers, Charlie and Josh, who along with Charlie’s wife, Michelle (Alison Brie), and Josh’s girlfriend, Mina head off on vacation. The couples rent a luxurious oceanside Airbnb for their getaway. “Why’s it so cheap?” they ask. “Pfft,” I answer.
Without giving away too much of the story, Charlie is work partners with Mina. Michelle is okay with how close they are at first before she starts to suspect something. Josh looks up to his brother and has never been able to do much with his life. Each of these characters, at times, had me wishing for their demise but I think that was Franco’s point. Franco grew up in Palo Alto, California, born and raised with the other half. This group of twenty-somethings with their seemingly perfect lives are about to get a wake up call.
The idea of renting someone’s second or third home is foreign to me. It already feels uncomfortable. So when these friends start to realize that someone might be watching their every move and potentially exposing their indiscretions… lookout.
Is he the bad guy? Could he be the bad guy? Should I be rooting for the bad guy because these folks all sort of suck? Toby Huss plays the home’s property manager. He’s a racist, zero f’s, mysterious fella that the viewer nor the characters can ever be sure about. He’s wonderful. All of the actors are, really. Even the dog. Did I mention there’s a dog? Yikes. Should have mentioned that earlier. Well done, Dave Franco. The best kind of prize is a ‘surprise’.
XX / 2017 / Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama – Score: 81 out of 100
“XX” is a film I had heard about years ago and then forgot about until today. “XX” consists of four short films each directed by talented female directors. These are all short, so I can’t get too much into the details of each but I will break them down carefully for you to wet your whistle in case you are late to the party like I was.
The Box is directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and is based on the short story by Jack Ketchum.
While riding on a train with his mother, a young boy gets nosy and asks to look inside a present that an older, bizarre-looking man is holding. The man ignores the fact that the child is rude and offers him a peek. It’s all downhill from there. We never know what was in the box, “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?”, but one by one the family of four starts to lose interest in eating food. And there’s so. much. food. Chewing and plate scraping. I almost turned it off. I’m glad I didn’t. It doesn’t end well.
The Birthday Party was written by Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark and directed by Annie Clark.
We see a mom, who lives in a fancy house, in a well-to-do community. She has it all, except we see that maybe she doesn’t. She has a creepy assistant, an absent husband, and struggles mightily from OCD or ADD or quite possibly, the whole shebang. Her adopted daughter is having a birthday party later in the day and everything needs to be perfect.
Unfortunately, something is going to go very wrong and she will do everything in her power to cover it up so that things look good for the neighbors. Melanie Lynskey, as the mother, is a standout in this section and maybe the whole thing.
Four Films in One
Don’t Fall was written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin.
This one is way different than the rest. Four friends find an amazing, possibly off-limits, place to camp in the desert for the night. Paul, Gretchen, Jess, and Jay find an ancient cave painting depicting an evil spirit before heading back to their Winnebago. Gretchen is attacked by a creature that looks similar to the spirit in the painting, a skinwalker perhaps, which takes over her body. Poop hits the fan quickly after that.
Her Only Living Son was written and directed by Karyn Kusama.
The last installment packs a punch. We find a single mother, struggling to parent her soon-to-be 18-year-old son, named Andy. He’s rebellious and has recently been getting in trouble at school. He was always a kind boy but things are starting to change. The one thing that this mother can’t figure out is why everyone around her seems to be encouraging his behavior.
It’s almost as if they are starting to worship the young man, or possibly who he’s about to become. And just who was this boy’s father anyway? Whoever it may be, they’ve come back after eighteen years looking to claim what’s theirs.
Who runs the world? Girls. These four powerful woman directors managed to unsettle their viewers in a short amount of time. Give it a try. It’s a short but fun ride. Sofia Carrillo directed the stop-motion animated segments that weave their way between each short film. I’m not sure what they have to do with the four films or if they even tie together at all but a creepy walking dollhouse with a blinking doll face scampering the house looking for odd objects is kooky and fun.
Willy’s Wonderland / 2021 / Kevin Lewis – Score: 75 out of 100
As I stare at my computer I don’t know where to begin. In a recent podcast episode, I discussed Chuck E. Cheese and my interest in animatronics and Five Nights at Freddy’s. In my day-to-day work and parenting life, I miss a lot of things. Willy’s Wonderland is something I missed.
Released during early Covid times, this 5 million dollar picture only took in $450,000 at the box office. It’s earned a sizeable following via streaming platforms, however.
Willy’s Wonderland stars Nicolas Cage (who also produced the film) as “the Janitor”. He doesn’t get a name and doesn’t really need one. We don’t get to know much about his character and the fact that he doesn’t speak one word in the whole movie doesn’t help our cause. What we do know is that he is a badass. Why he’s a badass? Why he doesn’t talk? Who knows? and frankly, who cares?
I could ramble on about this movie forever so I will try to sum it up quickly.
The Janitor drives a fast car and is cruising through the countryside (destination unknown) when suddenly all four of his tires blow out. Someone left a police spike strip in the middle of a gravel road. The Janitor is mad but opens his trunk and grabs a can of Punch Energy Drink “A Fistful of Caffeine for your Kisser”. It won’t be the last time we see him go for a can of the fictional energy drink.
So a tow truck arrives, and tows him into the tiny town of Hayesville where we meet a troubled young lady who just got caught trying to burn down the old, closed-for-good, Willy’s Wonderland. She’s caught by her sherrif mother and returned home to their trailer where she’s handcuffed to a pipe for her own good.
This Could Take a While
Crap, I can’t go scene by scene, although I’d like to.
Long story short. The mechanic shop doesn’t take credit cards and all of the ATMs in town are down because Hayesville doesn’t have internet. The tow truck driver offers The Janitor a chance to work off the $1000 bill by cleaning up the interior of Willy’s Wonderland overnight. His car will be waiting for him in the morning if he does a good job. Something’s fishy.
Now we find out that some horrible awful stuff went down inside of Willy’s Wonderland, the animatronics are possessed by some bad folks and the next hour is Nicolas Cage, not talking, obsessively cleaning and waging a one-man war against the singing, adorable animatronics. The aforementioned young lady comes back into the picture along with a group of her expendable friends and what follows is pure 80’s horror fun with a semi-autistic lead character who will handle any task given to him in a scheduled, routine fashion. The Punch drink becomes almost like a power-up for a video game character.
There’s pinball, fight scenes, some gore, a dash of sexy time, and all the creepy fun you’d expect from a shuttered kids’ entertainment center. And there’s Nicolas Cage who, whether you love him or not, you have to be intrigued. He seemingly takes any role he comes across and he manages to add his Cage spice to every character. I’m not sure I’d recommend this to your average movie consumer but it was fun in that “What the heck did I just watch” kind of way.
Mandy / 2018 / Panos Cosmatos – Score: 89 out of 100
I decided it would be a good idea to follow up Willy’s Wonderland with an even crazier Nicolas Cage film. I’m not sure what I was thinking but I’m fairly certain that it was totally worth it.
Mandy is a beautiful, trippy, atmospheric, disgusting, joy ride from the mind of Panos Cosmatos and produced by Elijah Wood. There is no one else that could have played the lead role of Red Miller other than Nicolas Cage. It was as if Cosmatos wrote the entire story after listening to Mr. Cage sleep talking during a nightmare.
As far as a quick synopsis. It’s 1983, somewhere in the deep woods of the Shadow Mountains, Red Miller works hard cutting down trees and his girlfriend and soulmate, Mandy Bloom is a peaceful soul who loves to read books, draw and learn about the universe. Bloom is played by the uniquely beautiful and talented Andrea Riseborough. The actors have a tremendous chemistry together and you can feel how much the couple love their simple life, alone in the woods.
Sounds Sweet… I thought so too.
On her way to work one day, Mandy is spotted by a man riding shotgun in a van full of odd characters. The man is Jeremiah Sand and the ‘odd characters’ are his followers known as the Children of the New Dawn, a religous cult. Sand must have Mandy for his own and later sends ones of his disciples to summon the Black Skulls to aquire her. And who are they? Just a satanic biker gang who live off of human flesh and a highly potent liquid form of LSD. Duh.
From there, bad things happen. Mandy is taken from Red. Red’s world is turned upside down and his only mission is to seek revenge on the Black Skulls and the Children of the New Dawn. There are dream sequences with killer animation similar to ‘Heavy Metal’. The coloring, the fog, the trippy drug sequences, flashing lights and gallons of blood seem to blend together and leave you looking at every corner of each frame. Honestly, whatever I try to say about the film won’t do it justice. As was the case with Willy’s Wonderland, I’m not sure this is for everyone. Don’t watch it if you’re on drugs. Do watch it if you’re on drugs. Whatever you do, just sit back and try to take it all in. Good luck.