Friday, June 23, 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. A Review (Review #1724)




It is difficult to be the voice of dissent, the one who says, "No", the one who argues against the near-fanatical cries of the majority. I am not a dissenter by choice or desire. I speak what I see. When it comes to the reaction many have towards Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, a line in Akira Kurosawa's RAN comes to mind: "In an mad world, only the mad are sane". 

I am not "mad" in the angry or insane manner (at least I hope not in the latter). However, I probably will be declared as such by those who have proclaimed Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse as "one of the greatest films ever made in the history of cinema" and "peak cinema". Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is not a bad film per se, but it is not this generation's Citizen Kane, not even close.

As a side note, I am curious to know if those declaring Across the Spider-Verse "one of the greatest films ever made in the history of cinema" have ever even heard of either Citizen Kane or RAN, let alone seen them. 

It has been five years since the events of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is still struggling to balance his life as a Brooklyn teen with being a superhero. His parents Jeff Morales (Bryan Tyree Henry) and Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) worry about what is to become of their distracted son.

If only they knew what he really was up against. Not only is he facing off against a villain he initially dismisses as "the villain of the week" known as The Spot (Jason Schwartzman) but now back from another universe comes Gwen Stacy aka Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld). She has her own issues in her universe, what with her dad Captain Stacy (Shea Whigham) thinking "Spider-Woman" killed Gwen's friend Peter Parker. Gwen, now having left her universe, is part of a special team of Spider-Beings who must prevent anomalies in the various Spider-Verses.

Miles secretly goes to Mumbahattan, where the cocky Indian Spider-Man, Pavitr Pravhakar (Karan Soni) resides. Miles saves Pavitr's girlfriend's father Sergeant Singh, but that begins the collapse of this universe. Whisked away to the Spider-Society HQ, Miles reencounters his unofficial mentor Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and Miguel O'Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac). Miles' meddling has prevented a "Canon event", something that needed to happen to have that world's Spider-Man be whom he was destined to be.

It is now that Miles learns his "Canon event": the death of his father after he rises from Sergeant to Captain. He is determined to stop it, and if it means fighting off every Spider-Being, he will do so. Even the news that Miles was already an anomaly due to being bitten at all, let alone by the wrong spider, cannot dissuade him from saving future Captain Morales. Unfortunately, Miles ends up in the wrong universe, one where his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) is still alive and works for the supervillain known as The Prowler. In a shocking twist, The Prowler is none other than Miles Morales! Now, a myriad of Spider-Beings must join forces to save the non-Prowler Miles.

That is a lot of plot for what is essentially the second part of a two-part film (the third film Beyond the Spider-Verse scheduled for next year). One element that I found extraordinary was that Across the Spider-Verse is proud to spend so much time on almost anything that does not involve the central plot (Miles attempting to stop his Canon event). The first twenty minutes, which are also the pre-title scenes, revolve around Spider-Gwen. The next twenty to thirty minutes revolve around Miles' domestic issues, down to being late for his parents' party. If my calculations are correct, that means it is almost a full hour in this two-hour twenty-minute film before we get  Gwen and Miles to reunite.

That, in turn, leads to extended sequences involving the Indian Spider-Man which in turn throws in Hobie Brown aka Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya) which leads to finally getting Miles to Spider-Central. I, for my part, cannot be convinced that so much could have been cut or trimmed to move the story forward.

Here though, I imagine the fans who have declared Across the Spider-Verse their generation's Citizen Kane do not care. They are getting a glut of Spider-People, down to the live-action versions via archival footage. However, I found that there can be too much of a thing, good or bad. 

I will grant that the animation itself is quite beautiful. It also, like in Into the Spider-Verse, manages to blend the various styles well, sometimes in the same scene, without being jarring. There are impressive sequences in Across the Spider-Verse that the viewer will enjoy.

However, what apart from the look, or looks, of the film does Across the Spider-Verse offer? There is certainly a lot and I do mean A LOT of spectacle but I cannot find logic to having taken up so much time with unnecessary things. The comedy bits where Miles has to both fight The Spot (who is forgotten for almost the whole movie) and his various encounters with crime that delay him to the school meeting did not work for me. 

I was puzzled over Miles' "Canon event". I thought his was Uncle Aaron's death, not his father's impending one. Wasn't it after Aaron died that Miles adopted his Spider-Man mantle? Moreover, given that his father's last name is "Morales", isn't Jeff already Hispanic? How is Miles "biracial" when from what I can see, both his parents are Latino? I could go with Afro-Latino, but how is he "half-black, half-Puerto Rican" when again, "Morales" is a Hispanic surname and thus, makes his father at least part-Hispanic?

Across the Spider-Verse is at times very frenetic, particularly in the Mumbahattan section as various Spider-People come across, or when Miles is finally at Spider-HQ to meet the intimidating Miguel O'Hara. That perhaps should be expected, as Into the Spider-Verse had that same manner. I just think that in that film, the various reprises to their separate origin stories were more lighthearted. Here, it was just repetitive. 

I figure some scenes were just there to set up characters for Beyond the Spider-Verse (why have a LEGO Spider-Man when he literally added nothing to Across the Spider-Verse), but why not just include them at Spider-HQ? 

At one point in Across the Spider-Verse, I literally wrote in all caps, "THIS IS BORING" and I stand by that. Across the Spider-Verse is not "one of the greatest films ever made in the history of cinema". Not even close. It is a wildly visually arresting film but far too long for being essentially a midpoint in a trilogy. 


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. A Review


The last Transformers film that I saw was Revenge of the Fallen. I knew a nice couple with a newborn back then who had surprisingly invited me to see it with them. They told me this was the third time that they had seen Revenge of the Fallen that opening weekend, with their second time being in 3-D (I went to a 2-D screening). As I watched, I sat absolutely stunned that anyone would willingly subject themselves to seeing Revenge of the Fallen at all, let alone three times in one weekend and even in 3-D. While Rise of the Beasts may not be on that level of horror, it is still a very bad product: loud but dull, pointless and unnecessary.

After an introductory section where we learn that the giant world-swallowing Unicron is thwarted from obtaining a powerful key that is spirited away to Earth, we go back in time to 1994 Brooklyn.

Here, veteran Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is desperate for a job that will pay not only his bills but also for his brother Kris' (Dean Scott Vasquez) medical expenses. In desperation, he agrees to steal a car from a swanky hotel. Little does Noah know that this car is a Transformer, specifically Mirage (voiced by Pete Davison). Mirage and other Transformers have been summoned by Transformers leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) to find this key, a key that might get them back to their home world.

Into all this comes Elena Wallace (Dominque Fishback), a museum intern who has uncovered information related to the key's location. It is somewhere in darkest Peru. With that, Noah, Elena and various Transformers travel there to find the key and keep it away from the Terrorcons who serve as Unicron's henchmen, especially the villainous Scourge (Peter Dinklage). Aiding the Transformers are the Maximals, Transformer-like beings who escaped with the key to Earth. Their leaders are the gorilla-like Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) and hawk-like Airazor (Michelle Yeoh).

The various bots battle it out for the key, with Noah joining in. While the Transformers turn out to be victorious (and some manage to return from the dead), others do not. Now, Noah has a chance at a job, and to join a mysterious program called G.I. Joe.

I can't say much about Rise of the Beasts because there is little to say. It is loud. It is busy. It is really nothing. It amazes me that the film is only actually a little over two hours long as it feels so much longer. The first twenty minutes or so are taken up by Noah's domestic issues, particularly of his younger brother. That whole section could have been cut altogether, or at the very least summed up in less than five minutes. Instead, we get away from a Transformers story into one about the difficult American healthcare system.

Perhaps the bloat of Rise of the Beasts is due to there being five credited screenwriters (Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters and Eric and Jon Hoeber, whom I presume are related). We have another case of too many cooks in the kitchen, too many people throwing so much at the audience that it becomes unwieldly. Those are the credited screenwriters, though I suspect there were more hands on this.

Even if one was generous in saying that five screenwriters could make Rise of the Beasts coherent, it does not excuse some awful plotting and lines. At one point, Mirage expresses puzzlement over the state of his relationship with Noah. "Friends? You've been inside me!", the connotation not even worth thinking about. Elena calms herself by singing TLC's Waterfalls (a song that technically was not released as a single until 1995), but what this or talking about her father has to do with giant robots endangering the Earth one can only guess at.

Worse is the film's naked attempts at sympathy. Bumblebee, one of the most popular of the Transformers, is "killed" in a major battle. Stealing from The Search for Spock, his remains are taken to Peru in the hopes of reviving him. Of course, he's being revived, complete with him appearing at the right moment to the first line of LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out. What could be more apropos than having Bumblebee make his triumphant return to "Don't call it a comeback!"?

Truth be told, I was literally waiting for both the resurrection and the use of Mama Said Knock You Out given the predominance of hip-hop and rap in the soundtrack. 

The overblown nature of Rise of the Beasts drowns out the two human actors. Ramos and Fishback had nothing to work with. In the climatic final battle, they were so superfluous one wonders why they were there at all. For all the progressivism of having a Hispanic and black lead, Rise of the Beasts still could not get away from stereotypes. I wondered why Elena could not be already established as a historian versus an intern or Noah is not gainfully employed. Why could they not be coworkers at the museum who stumbled upon this discovery? That everyone, including the human characters, handle something as goofy as Rise of the Beasts with the reverence of D-Day drains what fun the film could have had. 

Rise of the Beasts cannot have fun with itself. Every death of these machines is treated as some kind of immense tragedy, which is silly given that this is both a film based around toys and we know some of them are coming back.

I, to be fair, did not immediately recognize Davison's voice, but he did not give a performance. I cannot say that Michelle Yeoh gave one either, only that I did immediately recognize her voice. 

Finally, trying to attach Transformers to the G.I. Joe universe only makes one reel back at the horror of more expanded universes. 

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts could have been fun. Instead, it is loud, pointless and just there.


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Flash (2023): A Review



Whatever merits one may find in The Flash, the newest entry in the DC Extended Universe, it comes at a terrible time. We have been treated to many films that tackle multiverses in the past few years (Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3). Last year's Best Picture winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once, centered around a multiverse. The Flash's face, Ezra Miller, has had some shall we say eccentric behaviors that has made Miller toxic to some viewers. The Flash is not a major character, even when featured in past DCEU films and outside of a successful television series has little to offer. With all that being said, is The Flash the horror that many of its detractors have proclaimed? I would say, "no". The Flash is not a horrible film. 

It's just not anything. 

Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Miller) is tired of being seen as the junior partner in the Justice League. He is also tired emotionally and physically from the trials his father Henry (Ron Livingston) is going through. Henry has been convicted of murdering his wife and Barry's mother Nora (Maribel Verdu). While Barry knows his father is innocent, there is not enough evidence to prove it.

After rescuing a collapsing hospital and taking out his frustrations by racing, Barry discovers he can run so fast he can literally go back in time. Despite warnings from Batman (Ben Affleck), Barry goes back in time enough to prevent Nora's death. He is able to see what the Allen family's life is like and is happy, until a shadowy figure knocks him into his past. Barry is eventually forced to join with his former self to recreate the accident that gave him his powers. 

Unfortunately, the other Barry Allen inherits them, and he is far too immature to handle them well. It also does not help that in this universe, there are no superheroes and Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) has come to invade and conquer Earth. With that, the Barrys join forces with Batman (Michael Keaton) and later on, not Superman but Supergirl (Sasha Calle). Battles ensue, heroes die, and Barry realizes that he cannot change the past entirely. 

I do not know if it is damning with faint praise to say that I did not hate The Flash. One senses that there is something of a story desperately clawing to get out. Issues such as attempting to change history and acceptance of grief are bubbling underneath the surface. It is surprising, however, that despite having only one screenwriter (Christina Hodson) and one screen story by credit (Joby Harold), The Flash seems a hodgepodge of chaos. At almost two-and-a-half hours, The Flash takes such a long time on other matters that by the time you get somewhere, you are bored.

Was there a reason for the entire hospital sequence? Granted, it was a chance for Bruce Wayne's loyal Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to pop in and cash their checks (Affleck has two scenes, so he did a bit more work). Yet, we could have cut the entire sequence and gotten to Henry Allen's impending court date to get to our story.

Perhaps this section was there to give us some simply ghastly VFX work. Not since poor Bradley Cooper attempted to make a baby doll appear lifelike in American Sniper has the screen given us such awful computer-generated imagery of babies. The various sequences of Barry seeing his newly created future was equally ghastly, as was when the Barrys went through that same world.

As the various worlds are collapsing onto themselves due to both Barrys furiously attempting to fix the climactic battle in their favor, we get what I think will end up being controversial moments. In these various universes we see both the George Reeves and Christopher Reeve versions of Superman (the latter joined by Helen Slater's Supergirl), along with Adam West's Batman and even the never-materialized Nicolas Cage version of Superman. 

As a side note, Slater and Reeves never actually appeared together in a Superman/Supergirl movie. There were plans for Reeves to cameo in Supergirl to meet his Kryptonian cousin, but they fell through. 

There is not enough nostalgia to justify this section. Moreover, I imagine that more than one viewer would genuinely wonder who some of these figures are. How many Zoomers know of George Reeves' Superman from the 1950's television series? Some might not even be aware of Christopher Reeve's Superman given that for some, Henry Cavill is the only Superman they know (he does appear via computer-generated imagery, something that comes across almost as a slap in the face given how popular he has been to fans). 

How the Adam West version of Batman, which was strictly camp, can fit into what is meant to be a serious film cannot be explained. How Christian Bale or Robert Pattinson's very dark version of The Dark Knight cannot fit into The Flash is equally left unexplained. Neither can the exclusion of other past Supermen Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, Tom Welling and Tyler Hoechlin, as well as former Supergirl Melissa Benoist and former Flash Grant Gustin.

Gustin's exclusion in particular has, from what I understand, drawn the ire from DC fans given how successful both he and The Flash television series have been. It is strange to be so celebratory about certain versions of these characters but selective on who pops in. Batman's West is in. Gustin's Flash is out. 

Most baffling is George Clooney reprising his role as Batman at the end of The Flash. Clooney has never fully lived down his disastrous performance in Batman & Robin, a film that derailed the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. To his credit, Clooney is the first to laugh at how Batman & Robin came close to wrecking his career, and I can only assume that he did it as a favor, perhaps for his friend Affleck. Still, why he was in this at all, even for a quick cameo, is baffling.

It is more baffling since we had 71-year-old Michael Keaton return as Batman in the alternate universe that the Barrys are in. If the 1989 Batman and the 1997 Batman & Robin films are in the same universe, then Keaton and Clooney are supposed to be the same person. In a mad effort to please fanboys, The Flash only succeeded in making things maddeningly muddled.

Keaton is the sole standout in The Flash acting-wise. He has the gravitas of an older, more seasoned superhero who is lured out of retirement. He does seem to be superfluous to the overall story, but Keaton does excellent as the more world-weary Caped Crusader.

Everyone else, though, brings nothing to the screen. Miller, to be fair, is not terrible when playing the more serious Barry Allen. Less so is Miller when playing the goofier Barry. A chance for Miller to play dual roles falls flat. Calle's Kara Zor-El has a permanent scowl on her face, but to be fair she is not given much to do or work with. It is hard to build a personality when you are almost thrust into things and expected to carry so much of the film.

Shannon looks bored and again, to be fair, his General Zod is a weak antagonist. He is pretty much forgotten about while Batman and the Barrys search for "Superman" only to find the future Supergirl. That entire section is so unimportant that Zod's henchwoman, nicknamed "Mistress Murder" by the immature Barry, is just there.

The Flash has some simply inexcusable visual effects. Despite the protests of its director, Andy Muschietti, so much of The Flash's visuals look so fake it is astonishing that the film could have been so costly to make. A quick moment when the Flash's head pops out rivals a similar moment in Thor: Love and Thunder in terms of fake looking. 

The Flash's script is too self-indulgent with certain elements. A section where we learn that in this universe, Eric Stoltz finished Back to the Future and Michael J. Fox ended up in Footloose and Kevin Bacon in Top Gun is not funny and pretty pointless. It must have been funny to the production crew, because Stoltz is brought up later. A pointless section where Barry calls Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) looking for his son Arthur (the future Aquaman) is equally pointless and just pads the film's already bloated runtime. Jason Momoa's post-credit scene does not help and can be skipped in my estimation.

We could have gone faster if we had had a montage of the final battle versus seeing endless computer-generated imagery of Zod killing Zara. 

It is strange that the idea of changing the past to "fix" the future has been touched on in so many movies already. Even the original Superman and Superman II had the Man of Steel literally turn back time to save the one he loved. 

The Flash is a jumbled mess, bloated, with no sense of direction and worse, no heart behind it. Only Michael Keaton's return as Batman is worth anything, and even that was not necessary. While not the worst film I've seen this year, Warner Brothers really should close down the Extended Universe once and for all. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

A Guy Named Joe: A Review



War always makes widows, but what about the sweethearts who lose those they love? A Guy Named Joe touches on this idea, and while perhaps longer than it should be, it is lifted by a strong performance.

Cocky fighter pilot Pete Sandidge (Spencer Tracy) does not care about rules but results. Despite taking no precautions in fighting the Germans, he is exceptionally sensitive when aviatrix Durinda Durston (Irene Dunne) does anything even remotely risky. He does not want to openly admit it, but Pete is quite smitten with Dorinda, who is more open about it. She wants him to stop taking so many risks, as does his commanding officer, Colonel "Nails" Kilpatrick (James Gleason), who sees Pete as an able but arrogant flyer.

As unofficial punishment, Kilpatrick sends Pete and his wingman/BFF Al Yakey (Ward Bond) to remote Scotland. A chance to train new pilots opens up in the U.S., and Dorinda is sent to try and convince Pete to accept. He does not want to, but he finally realizes that they love each other and agrees to. There is, however, one last mission.

Pete discovers that he is not crazy, but he is dead. Seeing his old friend Dick Rumney (Barry Nelson) verifies to Pete that he is, indeed, dead. Rumney serves as Pete's de facto guiding angel to help a new pilot on Earth, Ted Randall (Van Johnson), by whispering encouragement and instructions which Randall will think is his own voice. Dorinda, still grieving, reunites with Yakey and then meets Randall. A romance begins between Dorinda and Randall, much to Pete's irritation. After a talk with The General (Lionel Barrymore), Pete realizes that he can't hold on to Dorinda, while Dorinda on her own realizes that she needs to move on with her life. Will history, however, repeat itself when Randall is given a dangerous assignment? Will Dorinda and Pete be able to let go of each other?

A Guy Named Joe (the title comes from a group of British kids who say that every American pilot is named "Joe") at its heart has an interesting story about moving on past grief, to accept that the living need to keep living without losing love for the dead. This story would have resonated more with contemporary audiences who were still seeing so many wives and sweethearts who suffered the same fate.

The film is also elevated by a beautiful performance from Irene Dunne, who sings the lovely ballad I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You). Whether showing love for Tracy's Pete or grieving for his death, Dunne is perfection as the woman who loved, lost and loved again. Her scene with Bond as she attempts to hide her tears until she reveals the depths of her grief is a great moment. It is deeply moving scene.

Ward Bond is equally reliable as Yakey, the best friend who forces Dorinda to move on. He too balances moments of drama with comedy, such as his flustered efforts to hide the damage to Pete's plane. 

A Guy Named Joe was the film debut for Van Johnson, and I thought he did well. A particularly good moment is when this wealthy young man finds that a fellow pilot ignores a beautiful girl due to homesickness. Pete, who finds Randall an elitist snob, warms to him when Randall out of his own pocket makes a long-distance telephone call to let the pilot talk to his mother. Oddly, his love scenes with Dunne were a bit weak, not from her but from him.

The weakest performance in my opinion is Tracy. He is too snappy and makes Pete a jerk more than a lovelorn man. His casual cruelty towards Dorinda and Randall makes him an unpleasant figure, and to my mind he looks too old to be the love interest. However, when he has some monologues about the joys of flying or whispering to Dorinda about how loving is for the living, he does great.

I think A Guy Named Joe is longer than it should be (it is a full half hour of the doomed Pete/Dorinda romance). It also gives no reason for Don DeFore's character to be there (he plays Randall's best friend). 

A Guy Named Joe is worth watching for a good story and Irene Dunne's performance. While not the best film on the subject of afterlife love, it does a good enough job.


Monday, June 19, 2023

The Blackening: A Review (Review #1720)



Now with Juneteenth an official federal holiday, one should not be surprised that a Juneteenth-related film is released. The Blackening, however, struggles to decide whether it is comedy or horror, ending up as neither. 

A group of college friends reunite to celebrate Juneteenth by going to a cabin in the woods for a night of drinking and playing Spades. Shawn (Jay Pharoah) and Morgan (Yvonne Orji) arrive early to set things up, and they come upon "The Blackening", a board game which asks them questions involving black history. A wrong answer will get them killed. Shawn couldn't name a black character who lived in a horror film, leading to his death and Morgan's capture.

Now the other guests arrive. There's Lisa (Antoinette Robinson), her biracial BFF Allison (Grace Byers) and the requisite gay friend Dewayne (cowriter Dewayne Perkins). Lisa's on/off lover Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls) is also a guest, joined later by sassy Shanika (X Mayo) and King (Melvin Gregg). The odd man of the bunch, metaphorically and literally, is Clifton (Jermaine Fowler), whom no one remembers inviting but whom they know. 

As they begin to bicker about past issues, they too stumble upon The Blackening board game. Now, the serial killer forces them to play this game or be killed. Clifton is sacrificed first, ostensibly for being "the blackest" but really for admitting to voting for Donald Trump...twice. Now the rest of them must unite and separate to stop the killer from slaughtering them. Who could the killer be? Why are they targeted? Will they survive this bloody Juneteenth?

The Blackening has an identity problem. It cannot decide if it is a horror spoof, a straight up horror film, or a social commentary. It appears to opt for all three, which makes the tones wildly uneven. 

In the "horror spoof" part, we get very odd sections where the characters appear to communicate telepathically and attempt to prove their lack of blackness through increasingly odd ways (one uses her biracial status, another uses being gay). 

In the straight-up horror section, we get crazed killers trapping them and forcing them to play games in the Saw tradition. For the social commentary, we have mentions of how Alison is afraid of her white father and Ranger White (Diedrich Bader) will not allow them into the cabin because the owners usually rent to certain types. One immediately pipes in "WHITE!" only for Ranger White to say "families".

As a side note, since when did park rangers have the right to allow or not allow people into private homes?

It is curious that The Blackening has this group of friends getting together given that based on their interactions they hardly seem like friends. They seem rather to hate and resent each other, the constant bickering and sniping suggesting less lifelong friendships and more barely tolerant of each other. They don't come across as "frenemies" because they seem to constantly go after each other. 

Inter-group antagonism isn't the only predominant situation in The Blackening. Each character has a MASSIVE chip on their shoulders. Most of their grievances revolve around race: how many seasons "dark-skinned Aunt Viv" vs. "light-skinned Aunt Viv" was on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the presumption that every white character was against them. Other times, they seemed to carry grievances over their connections: how for example Dewayne was irritated that Nnamdi and Lisa had gotten back together. 

The Blackening again could not decide whether to spoof horror conventions or go straight towards them. If director Tim Story or Perkins and his cowriter Tracy Oliver had opted to go fully-in one way or the other, the film would have done better. A horror spoof would have been fun, allowing the actors to play around with stereotypes and conventions of the horror genre. Some poking fun at films like Us, Get Out or The Cabin in the Woods would be amusing. A straightforward horror film would still have allowed a chance to tackle subjects like how African Americans are still thought of as "collateral damage" versus leads.

Instead, The Blackening shifted from one to the other, unwilling to go all-in to the film's detriment. How can one take the situation seriously when they sing the O'Reilly Auto Parts theme song? That element was introduced when Lisa remarks that on Twitter she was threatened by saying that jingle is more relevant than the National Anthem. Why exactly that was part of The Blackening only the filmmakers can answer. 

One aspect that I found odd was how while we were asked to believe the characters were good, they were all one-note and veering close to stereotypes. Of particular note is Mayo's Shanika, a loud, obnoxious woman whose defining characteristic is the liberal use of a racial epitaph. When, for example, Lisa is killing an attacker with a candlestick and starts shouting how it is always black women who saves everyone, I wondered why she would be saying anything at all, let alone while crushing someone's head.

Perhaps if she had said that after she killed the attacker it would have been funny. If she had said nothing, it would have been horror. Instead, it was emblematic of how it tried to be both and couldn't.  

There were no real performances because there were no characters. They never came across as individuals or complex. They were just there. Curiously, the only one that did stand out was Fowler in his Urkel Meets Norbit performance. I am nowhere saying it was a good performance, merely that out of all the ones in The Blackening, it was the only one that was different. So many felt forced and unnatural. When Perkins as Dewayne tells Ranger White he's "never happier to see a white savior", not only is the line a bit cringe but also delivered in a surprisingly bored way. 

As a side note, if you cannot figure out who the mastermind of The Blackening game is, you are a fool. It was so obvious that I was waiting for "the big reveal" that was anything but. 

To be fair, there were a few moments where I did chuckle. Calling the Blackening board game "Jim Crow Monopoly" was funny. The scene where Morgan loses her wig was amusing, as was when Lisa is chastised for selecting a candlestick for protection. "What, are you in Clue?" she's asked, later to be called "Colonel Mustard". Again, if they had gone for a straightforward spoof, we could have had something.

Instead, The Blackening is like so many of the characters: a film with a big chip on its shoulder and not funny or scary enough to care over. 

Friday, June 9, 2023

Don't Bother to Knock: A Review



It is a curious thing that Marilyn Monroe is not thought of as a femme fatale, but she was in two great noirs: The Asphalt Jungle and Niagara (the latter being the rare color noir). Many people list Don't Bother to Knock as a noir film. I am not convinced that it is, but it does show that Marilyn Monroe was a stronger, better actress than she got credit for.

Taking place in one night at New York City's McKinley Hotel, Don't Bother to Knock starts with the troubled romance of hotel chanteuse Lyn Leslie (Anne Bancroft) and pilot Jed Towers (Richard Widmark). Jed is surprised Lyn wants to end their relationship, seeing him as uncaring and without an understanding heart. Jed certainly is something of a playboy, which is why his interest is piqued after spying a pretty young thing in the hotel room across the courtyard.

That girl is Nell Forbes (Monroe), whose uncle Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) got her a babysitting job at the hotel. Eddie, the elevator operator, thinks this will be a good way for his niece to get her on her feet. Outwardly pleasant, Nell is a deeply troubled and disturbed woman, still suffering from the shock of her fiancée's death in the war. As their dance erotique continues, Jed sees that Nell is losing the ability to tell fact from fantasy. She puts her charge Bunny (Donna Corcoran) in danger, not to mention everyone else. Will Nell lose her grip of sanity and endanger both herself and others? Will Jed and Lyn manage to find each other again?

Don't Bother to Knock showcases Marilyn Monroe in one of her best performances. What is interesting is that this was before she turned to the Actors' Studio for training. Here, Monroe captures the lost, forlorn young woman, traumatized by a repressive home life and haunted memories in a heartbreaking and sympathetic performance. We see early in the film where she acts silently, trying on beautiful jewelry and clothes. She looks innocent and mischievous, and the scene starts off as slightly naughty but harmless.

However, once she hears the roar of a plane's engine, her face changes. Going to the window, there is this expression of deep sorrow, sadness and longing that Monroe conveys. This, along with slashes on her wrists, explain more than dialogue would. 

Monroe comes close to being something of the kid sister to Blanche DuBois, where she is at times deeply lost in her own world. Unlike our bonkers Southern belle though, Nell is also dangerous. She does not shrink from attempting murder or threatening children to get at what she wants. That despite her actions in the end you feel sympathy for Nell is a credit to Marilyn Monroe's untapped potential.

Widmark is more than her equal as the in-turns sleazy and caring Jed. He is drawn to this woman due to her beauty, but he also sees how dangerous she is. He comments that he doesn't understand her, saying she's silk on one side and sandpaper on the other. You should not like Jed since he was willing to take advantage of a disturbed woman. Nevertheless, Widmark manages to find the humanity in this questionable person.

Cook, Jr., who mostly played noir villains, here plays a sympathetic figure. As Nell's Uncle Eddie, Cook, Jr. showed a worried but loving person. He is not above calling a spade a spade (at one point saying that Nell "smells like a hooch dancer" after she puts on too much perfume). He does, however, show that he thinks Nell is loving but disturbed, not in full control of herself. 

Don't Bother to Knock was also an early role for Bancroft, and she did quite well as Lyn. She loves Jed but also knows he is not right for her. It is unfortunate that she is relegated mostly to singing versus acting. It also would have been nice to see Lyn and Nell interact more.

To be fair, I thought Corcoran's Bunny was not particularly pleasant. She came across at times as whiny but given how she was threatened I guess I can cut her some slack.

Don't Bother to Knock runs at a surprisingly fast 76 minutes, but it never feels rushed. Perhaps a bit short but the film does a lot in its running time, even include a couple of musical numbers. 

A showcase for its actors with an engaging story, Don't Bother to Knock is a film that should be better known.


Monday, June 5, 2023

The Boogeyman (2023): A Review (Review #1718)



Recently, I wrote that Book Club: The Next Chapter was "one of if not the worst movie I have seen this year". I really should know not to tempt fate that way. Nowhere near scary enough to be true horror nor schlocky enough to be good fun, The Boogeyman drowns in its own self-seriousness to be boring, illogical and just flat-out stupid.

Still grieving the death of their mother, sullen teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and more perky tween Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) attempt to make things as best they can. Their psychiatrist father, Dr. Will Harper (Chris Messina) will talk to anyone else about anything else in his home office, but not to his daughters about his wife's death in an accident.

Sadie channels her grief by wearing her mom's clothes and berating her high school circle. Sawyer, for her part, is terrified of the dark. One day, Dr. Harper gets an unexpected and unscheduled patient, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian). Harper breaks his "no new patients without a scheduled pre-screening" rule for Lester, who tells him he carries guilt over his children's deaths. Lester ends up hanging himself in Harper's home. 

Something evil, though, also came with Lester in his unannounced visit. This evil, which feeds off the sadness and misery of others, now targets the Harper family. Will sullen Sadie, perky Sawyer and morose Will be able to defeat "the boogeyman"?

I am not a horror film viewer. They are not my taste and I rarely get scared while watching. I do, however, attempt to see a horror film as best I can through the eyes of horror film fans. The Boogeyman fails spectacularly on every level. 

First, it is not scary. The Boogeyman does not feature prominently in the film. I would argue that he is almost superfluous to the film. He pops in, particularly at what is meant to be a climatic battle. However, he is so quickly seen that it leaves no impact.

I think director Ron Savage and screenwriters Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman (with the first two sharing a "screen story" credit in their adaptation of a Stephen King short story) were more focused on making some kind of grief-centric drama than the horror film we were promised. A lot of time is spent on the Harper family grief that someone entering The Boogeyman would think this is more Ordinary People than The Black Phone

That is already bad enough, but The Boogeyman doubles down with some awful clichés that are cringe-inducing. There's the sullen teen who struggles with letting go of anything both physical and emotional. There's the psychiatrist father who cannot talk to his kids. In a curious moment in the hospital where Sawyer is recovering from the boogeyman's attack, Sadie finds her father alone. He reminisces that this is where his wife died. As performed by Thatcher and Messina, the whole thing veers dangerously close to parody.

As a side note, one moment that was meant to be scary had the audience burst out laughing. To help Sawyer overcome her fear of the dark, their psychiatrist Dr. Weller (LisaGay Hamilton) places a red light in the middle of the room. She tells Sawyer and Sadie that it will flicker quickly, then dim more and more until the room is completely dark. During one of those flickers, we see Hamilton's face pop out. With her large glasses and curled hair, the end result is more clown-like than fright fest. 

Moreover, a lot of The Boogeyman does not make sense. For example, Lester Billings commits suicide at the Harper home. Let's leave aside for now how a) Dr. Harper let someone who essentially broke into his house have an impromptu session and b) no one noticed Sadie coming back from school. To find out more about the boogeyman, Sadie comes across a tape recording of that impromptu session, which in fright she accidentally throws into a vase of water. 

My question is, why did Dr. Harper not turn in the tape to the police investigating the suicide? He to my knowledge was fully cooperative and had nothing to hide, but this pertinent piece of information was apparently completely forgotten.

Maybe, just maybe, the stress of the situation may have made Dr. Harper forget he recorded the last words of someone who killed himself in his home. What is more idiotic is when Sadie goes to the Lemmings' home. The house appears abandoned, complete with unkept dishes in the sink and spoiled food in the fridge. Out of nowhere, Mrs. Lemmings (Marin Ireland) pops out like a very low-rent Sarah Connor. She has been waiting for the boogeyman, which killed her three children in rapid succession, to return so she can kill it.

I started to wonder things like, "How does she live given the conditions of her home?", "Does no one know she is still alive and living in this dilapidated home?", and "Why did the police not interview her?". Are they even aware she is still alive? Her final end is also silly, making the traps she set so comical than horrifying.

As a side note, I kept wondering why did no one ever bother to turn the lights on when walking down dark hallways. So much of the boogeyman's powers would have faded if anyone literally hit the switch.

The Boogeyman is filled with embarrassing performances.  It might not be fair to blame the actors as they were all directed to be as blank and somber as possible. The film has a lot of staring out and sotto voce line delivery. Even the moments that try to be more lively, such as a boring slumber party in a subplot with Sadie's girlfriends that goes nowhere, The Boogeyman can't get any acting out of anyone.

Also, is there any reason why The Boogeyman ended with Elvis' Burning Love? For those who thought ending Knock at the Cabin with Boogie Shoes was silly, this should top that.  

As the film comes to the end (with a bizarre hint of a sequel), the Harpers are united in a therapy session. Emotionally relieved, Dr. Harper says "That sucked". I thought the exact same thing about The Boogeyman