My Two Cents: READY OR NOT

Ready Or Not

Directed by Matt Bittinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Andi McDowell

Fox Searchlight

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By show of hands, who here enjoys a rousing game of hide and seek? If I was to bet, I would say that at some point in our childhoods, we have all played. For children, everything is about fun and games; tag, duck-duck-goose, and the aforementioned hide and seek. Count to one hundred then come and find me. Like I said, these are kid’s games. Now, what if, as an adult, you were thrust into a night of a deadly game where you had to hide to save your life, and if you were found, you’d be killed? This is the situation that the new film from Matt Bittinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Ready Or Not, presents to us.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is a lovely bride-to-be, marrying into the wealthy and eccentric La Domas family. The family, being rich, are skeptical as to Grace’s intentions. The La Domas Empire was built on the backs of board games and playing cards. Think Milton-Bradley or Parker Brothers. With this being said, it is only fitting that the family “welcomes” Grace into the fold with a wedding night game of chance. Unfortunately for Grace, she selects the wrong game; hide and seek. Thus begins a night of survival for the newlywed, as she must make it until dawn without being found.

Going into Ready Or Not, I had no real expectations. I saw the trailer for the movie a couple times, and thought it looked interesting. We decided to check it out, and will grab you right away with its back-handed charm. The characters are all jaded and untrusting, which makes them, as odd as it sounds, relatable. The family is dysfunctional and cagey, which is the case in a lot of people’s experience. The idea of someone having to survive the night until dawn, being hunted by lunatics is not original by any stretch, but the execution here is almost perfect. The dark humour and sarcasm contained in the dialogue is biting and beautiful, and the distain these characters show for one another adds to the humor and paranoia. Also, as an added bonus, there are outbursts of violence that will satisfy your bloodlust and your sense of amusement. The final ten minutes of the film are wild, and the creators do not skimp on the violence and gore. This was a welcome touch in a year that has been less than generous with good horror movies. Ready Or Not is a fun film if you take it for what it is. It may have even slid into my list of favorites so far in 2019. If you want to be entertained for ninety minutes, Ready Or Not is a game worth playing.

T.

My Two Cents: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

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Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Directed by: André Øvredal (Troll Hunter)

Starring Zoe Margret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush

CBS Films, Entertainment One (2019)

Based on the book written by Alvin Schwartz

While I was growing up, there were not a lot of horror books and shows made for kids and preteens to enjoy. It seemed everything in the nineteen seventies and made for the horror genre was geared towards adults. The nineties kids had plenty of horror –lite to enjoy. That generation had Are You Afraid Of The Dark? And the Goosebumps books to jump-start their horror obsession. By the time these arrived, I was already desensitized from watching movies like The Exorcist and The Shining at a young age. No starter horror for me. I jumped in headfirst. Today, kids can be exposed to horror without being scarred for life. This is where Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark falls into place. The main characters are all younger teenagers, and the frights are far more palatable and less gruesome.

Scary Stories is the tale of a group of teens growing up in Middle American during one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history; the late 1960’s. On Halloween night, the gang visits a mansion, which according to legend, is haunted. The family that lived in the home had many dark secrets, including a hidden away daughter that lived a secluded, tortured existence. The kids take a book that once belonged to the daughter, and this begins a series of fateful stories being written into the book by a ghostly presence. These stories begin to happen in real-time, and the group must face their fears to save their lives.

Scary Stories is definitely meant for a teenage crowd, but also has enough to keep adults interested as well. Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water) co-wrote the screenplay, and if you are a fan of the directors work, you know there will be some wild imagery and creative monsters in the movie. I found the political and social references of the time set a dark tone for the story, although most of the younger viewers won’t understand them. Subtle humor is injected for a good counter balance the intensity of some scenes. All in all, I enjoy my horror with a little more violence, bloodshed, and of course, nudity. After all, I am a horror veteran. Scary Stories, however, would be a very nice jumping point for someone who is new to the genre, or feels like upping the game from light fare like Goosebumps.

T.

 

My Two Cents: Ari Aster’s MIDSOMMAR

Midsommar

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Francis Pugh, Jack Raynor, Vilhelm Blomgren

A24 Films 2019

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After watching Hereditary, director Ari Aster’s first feature length film, I wasn’t really sure how to feel about it. Visually, the movie was great. The acting is stout and believable, and the characters are polarizing. However, I felt that maybe I missed a lot of the films symbolism after the first viewing. The film was very monotone for the first hour, and not until the final act did I become fully engaged in what was happening on the screen. After a second viewing, I was able to absorb a lot more, and pause and rewind when I felt a scene needed to be dissected. This made me appreciate Hereditary a lot more. Upon hearing about Midsommar, Aster’s second feature, I was hoping that I wouldn’t encounter the same trepidation I had after Hereditary. I was cautious.

This was not the case at all.

Midsmmar is the story of Dani (Francis Pugh), an early twenties woman whom experiences an absolutely horrific family tragedy. Dani’s emotionally absent boyfriend Christian, along with his college friends, are planning a trip to Sweden to experience a centuries old festival that takes place on a commune. Out of guilt and thinking she will decline, Christian invites Dani along. To the dismay of the group, she accepts the invitation and they are soon on their way to Sweden. Through a series of bizarre rituals and strange customs, the trip starts to unravel for the group of American outsiders (oddly enough, only one American actor stars in the film). I will leave the synopsis to this bare bones description, because honestly, you have to experience this film for yourself.

I love Midsommar. The film is a beautifully paced, and gorgeously shot look inside grief and the impact it has one a person’s mental wellbeing. I found it easier to process than Hereditary. The symbolism is there, but the messages and meanings are there for the viewer to grab on to, rather than piece together and think too much about. You know right from the time of their arrival that the journey will end badly. You just have to watch and see how badly it ends.

To be honest, there are not many likeable characters in Midsommar, but that is a good thing. This results in the tension being heightened and the dread more palpable. People grieve in different ways, which makes grief isolated and a subjective matter. This is why I feel not everyone will like this movie. I love looking beneath the surface of film plots, and with Midsommar, I was revealed a truly beautiful experience. The last thirty minutes of this motion picture is one of the wildest, imaginative and twisted conclusions to a film I recall seeing in cinema. If you enjoy watching something truly original, Ari Aster has cooked up a five star feast for your senses.

T.

 

My Two Cents: M. Knight Shyamalan’s SPLIT

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Split

Directed and written by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley

2017 Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions

When you go to see an M. Night Shyamalan film, it’s like a roll of the dice. His first few films were a safe bet. Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and to an extent, Signs, are all good films. Lady in the Water and The Happening, not so great. His second to last release, The Visit, was decent enough that I was looking forward to seeing M. Knight’s latest; Split. The trailers looked good and the concept plays well as a horror/thriller.

Split is the story of Barry, a man whom has twenty-three separate personalities. The majority of harmless, but a few of the personas have malicious intentions. The movie begins with three young women being abducted, and the story unfolds from there. We soon learn the background stories of Barry’s many personalities, and one of the captives, Casey Cooke. There is really not much more I can speak of without ruining plot twists. However, I will say that Split contains one of Shyamalan’s signature twist endings which features a familiar face, and perhaps sets up a possible sequel for at least one of M. Night’s films.

All in all, Split is enjoyable and has enough suspense and story to keep the viewer interested. James McAvoy portrays Barry. He does an amazing job playing essentially a half dozen characters. Anya Taylor-Joy, who shined in last years The Witch, shines again as the captive with a past just as dark as her captor. The pacing is great and the story translates well on the screen. I do, however, have a couple of things that bother me about the film. We only get to see one third of the personalities that inhabit Barry’s brain. I think it would have been interesting to see a glimpse of each of the twenty-three psyches. I do understand that the director needs time for character development, but just a peek would have been nice. I also thought the film lacked violence. Not because I am a savage, but because it would have lent nicely to the mystique of one of Barry’s personas (for sake of spoiling, I cannot say which). A little more violence would also have intensified the already satisfying suspense.

To recap, the high points are the performances of James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. They dominate the screen, and their characters have compelling stories. The Shyamalanian twist at the end is also worth the watch. This is even more true if you are a fan of his movies, as it ties two of his stories together. Split is not The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable (both amazing films), but it is a million miles better than the happening. In a time (January and February) when crappy films are released and usually die, Split stands out and will hopefully succeed.

T.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

MY TWO CENTS LOGO

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Captain America: Civil War  (Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo | Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie) MARVEL STUDIOS

When I was a kid, I was pretty much consumed by three things. Star Wars, WWF (now WWE) wrestling, and Marvel Comics. Besides my love for Batman, I was deep into Marvel. I would give anything a read, but for the most part I gravitated toward The X-Men and Spider-Man. This was awesome when Hollywood rolled out the red carpet for comic book movies back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s as Spidey and the X-men were the premier stories to be told on the big screen. The only thing that sucked was the fact that the rights to different Marvel franchises were scattered all over the major motion picture studios. I think each company had a piece; Sony had Spider-man, Fox took the X-men and Fantastic Four and Universal had the Incredible Hulk. You get the picture. All of this meant that we would probably never see any crossover of our favorite heroes. Marvel wised up and decided it was their best interest to start their own motion picture company in 2005. Disney then subsequently purchased them in 2009. Essentially, Disney owns pretty much every right except X-Men and all characters mutant-related (unfortunately that includes my personal favorite, Deadpool), and of course Spider-Man, and his cast of characters. But here is the good news. Marvel Studios now has a working relationship with Sony. This means Peter Parker, Aunt May, Green Goblin, and the whole gang will now appear in Marvel Studios productions, and vice versa. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I hope it makes sense, and IT IS important to my review on Captain America: Civil War because, you guessed it…our sneak peek at Spider-Man in his first appearance in a Marvel Studios movie. And to me, and I’m sure any Marvel purist, is an amazing (no pun intended) event.

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It’s good to see you again, Web-Head!

 The Avengers are heroes. They have time, and time again, saved Earth from all sorts of threats. There is only one problem. When they go into battle, they usually end up leveling a city and the result is loss of civilian life. After a recovery mission in Wakanda (fictional African country) goes south, and an incident occurs, several nations from around the world want the Avengers to be held accountable. The United Nations has demanded that all “enhanced humans” sign an accord to hold up their accountability. This causes a split right down the middle of the Avengers, with Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Captain America at odds with each other due to each of them having strong opposite beliefs. All hell breaks loose. This is all I can really say without giving story lines away. As far as comic book movies go, Captain America: Civil War is now at the top of the food chain. When I was a kid, I dreamed of things like this. This film is jam packed with so many elements and characters, that the one hundred and fifty minutes whipped right by. Usually with a giant ensemble cast, you loose some characters along the way. That is not the case. The film keeps gaining characters, and snowballs into a cinematic juggernaut. The special effects and battle sequences are seamless. Often I get lost in CGI and end up resenting it because of the distraction, but it just becomes part of the story in Civil War. The main battle sequence between the two feuding factions is dynamic and fluid, and I was fully engaged.

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Former friends turned bitter enemies?

 Captain America: Civil War also kicks off Phase 3 of the Marvel cinematic universe, which means we are exposed to new characters, and get to see a little more of a couple surprise favorites. Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man, and is nothing short of clever and charming, as he was in his own film last year. T’Challa, the Prince of Wakanda is fierce and believable as Black Panther. The actor portraying Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, is going to make a nice addition to the ongoing story. Last, but not least, we get our first glimpse at the new, and drastically improved Spider-Man. The other films starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield had their moments, but there was always something missing. Peter Parker is a kid, and the other Spidey movies lacked Peter’s boyish wonder and charm. Tom Holland now gets a turn at bat to play Peter Parker, and if his performance in Civil War is a glimpse into Spider-Man’s future, he is going to smack a home run. It will be fun to see how Sony and Disney work together to create a brand new world for the wall crawler. Although the Civil War has been tagged under the Captain America franchise, this was much more. All of the Avengers, old and new, are important pieces to the story. Only Bruce Banner (Hulk) and Thor are AWOL, but there is a good reason, which will be explained in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. We also get to see a lot more of Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany), and the stunning Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olson). It is quite a stellar cast, lead by Chris Evans (Captain America) and Robert Downey Jr. (the always dashing Tony Stark/Iron Man). It is actually quite impressive that Marvel Studios has amassed a roster of actors this deep and talented on an ongoing basis. The directing team of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo are given the task to put together this enormous puzzle, and the do an amazing job. They were also in charge of Captain American: Winter Soldier, which to me right up on top of my favorites list. The Russo’s are given many more moving parts with this sequel, and make an even better film. Because they are also in charge of the next two Avengers films, expect nothing less than pure enjoyment.

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A fine addition to the Marvel cinematic universe; Black Panther.

As I read this back to myself, I sound like a fan boy. I forgive myself, because that is exactly what I am. I remember being ten years old and reading Marvel’s Secret Wars. It was a limited issue mini series that basically put most of the Marvel heroes and villains on a planet by a being called the Beyonder. The Beyonder essentially wanted to see the two sides fight it out. Captain America Civil War is not Secret Wars, but it is a gigantic step towards amalgamating these characters into one universe. Now wouldn’t it be something if Twentieth Century Fox and Marvel/Disney could work something out so maybe one day we could see a big screen Secret Wars. The X-Men and Marvel’s Avengers sharing the same universe? Maybe that’s just wishful thinking from lifelong fan boy, but hey, crazier things have happened. The closest thing we have right now is Captain America: Civil War. Don’t walk, but run (or fly if you are an “enhanced human”) to the cinema. You will not be disappointed.

T.

In 50 (or so) Words…DEADPOOL (2016)

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DEADPOOL (2016)

Directed by: Tim Miller
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein
Twentieth Century Fox, The Donners’ Company, Marvel Enterprises

After discovering that he has terminal cancer, mercenary for hire Wade Wilson is offered to under go an experimental procedure that can save his life, and also give him extraordinary powers. After being lied to and left for dead, Wade discovers he has gained the ability to rapidly heal from injuries. He also left with an appearance only a mother could love. Hell-bent on seeking revenge, Wilson dawns a mask and costume, and takes the moniker “Deadpool”. Along side some familiar “allies”, a quick wit, and armed to the teeth, “The Merc with the Mouth” goes on a killing spree in search of the people who turned him ugly.

Anyone who is a fan of the Deadpool character as he is represented in the Marvel Comics universe knows that the film is actually a pretty close adaptation and stays true to the character. I looked forward to seeing this film as soon as the test footage was leaked a couple years back. I am a fan of the comic book. The “breaking the fourth wall” shtick (Deadpool is aware he is in a comic book and acts accordingly) was, and still is a fresh approach. The movie takes advantage of this, and it is brilliant. This is Deadpool with the gas pedal pinned to the floor. From what I have read, this was Ryan Reynolds’ passion project, and he is brilliant. You could scour the world and not find any actor to play the part of Wade Wilson better than my fellow Canadian. From the humor, action, charm, and countless Easter eggs (intentionally hidden message, or inside joke) that are contained in Deadpool, it’s a hell of a good time at the cinema. I can see this being a movie I can watch time and time again, and still be impressed. I can only hope that Twentieth Century Fox and Marvel Studios have enough sense to add this character to future X-Men based films, because honestly, they have become dry. This is a great example of what can be accomplished when the studio loosens the reigns and lets the creativity flow. What I am trying to say is Deadpool is awesome. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I may have enjoyed it a little more than The Force Awakens, and I loved that film.

T.

In 50 Words – THE WITCH (2016)

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THE WITCH (2016)

Directed by: Robert Eggers

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Atlas Entertainment, Relativity Media

A farmer and his family are forced to find their way in the New England wilderness after they are exiled from a colonial plantation. The family settles on a plot of land near a forest believed to be inhabited by an evil force. Almost instantly, bizarre and unexplained events begin to happen, including the youngest child being kidnapped. The family must rely on each other and their faith in God and Christianity to get them through as they are preyed upon by the entities that reside in the woods.

Viewers who go into The Witch expecting a typical horror movie could possibly be disappointed. The jump scares are kept to a minimum, and the blood and guts are all intended to be deliberate as opposed to glorified and gratuitous. Instead, director Robert Eggers relies on atmosphere and tension build-up to keep the audience engaged and off balance. The folklore of the time is heavily relied upon, and hits the mark. This day and age, it seems silly to fear black magic and Satanism, but in the sixteenth century, these fears were very real. I was very impressed with the costume and set design. The film had a very authentic and distressed feel. The characters were well constructed, and the actors playing those characters were also genuine and intense. I am sure this film will achieve critical and moderate financial success, but on the same token, it will be a polarizing film with mixed feelings from viewers. The Witch brings true horror to the table, as opposed to cheap gimmicks and loads of blood. As I watched this family collapse under their own suspicion and religious beliefs, I just hoped that the Evil in the forest surrounding them would show some restraint. Not the case. I left the theater thinking what did I just watch? I also left the theater feeling like I had just seen something original and special.

4 Bloody Moons 4 out of 5 Bloody Moons

T.

In 50 Words…The Forest (2016)

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The Forest (2016)

Directed BY: Jason Zeda

Starring: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt

AI-Film, Lava Bear Films, Gramercy Pictures

An American woman, Sara (Dormer), travels to Japan to track down her oft troubled identical twin sister. The trail leads to the Aokiagahara, the “suicide forest” at the foot of Mt. Fuji. The “sea of trees” is a place where people commit suicide, and is widely believed to be haunted. As she finds evidence that her sister may be alive and lost in the forest, Sara will have to confront her past, as well as the supernatural forces of Aokiagahara to uncover the truth.

As a fan of the folklore that comes along with the infamous “suicide forest” in Japan, I was actually intrigued by the possibilities that The Forest could bring to the supernatural genre. Imagine being alone in the forest at night in the dark. No imagine having to worry about ghosts messing with you as you try to keep your sanity. Sounds pretty freaky right? The Forest falls so flat on its face, and almost immediately. For starters, the majority of the forest scenes take place during the day. This is not very effective. The scare count for me was zero. The story was very rushed, and with no real build-up. The history and the creepiness of the Mt. Fuji area is wasted on this film. The Japanese are renowned for their innovative horror films. Hollywood is renowned for taking a scary-as-hell legend and making it suck. I feel bad for Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) and first time director Jason Zada, but on the bright side; it can only get better from here. Might as well get the terrible horror project out of the way first. It upsets me to be this harsh, but I have to be honest. The Forest was one of the least interesting films I have seen in quite some time.

1-bloody-moons 1 out of 5 Bloody Moons

If you would like to read some information on Aokiagahara, the”Suicide Forest”, here is what Wikipedia has to say…

Wikipedia – Aokiagahara (Japan)

T.

In 50 Words…HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)

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The Hateful Eight

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth

The Weinstein Company

Runtime: 187 Minutes, Rated: R

A group of traveler’s, consisting of bounty hunters, Civil War veterans, and killers converge on a remote outpost in the heart of the Wyoming wilderness during a severe blizzard. As these strangers seek shelter, each appears to have their own agenda. Is it the storm that brings upon this chance meeting, or is it destiny that has these folks are gathered at Minnie’s Haberdashery on this cold winter’s afternoon?

I always look forward to Quentin Tarantino’s new films simply because they are typically brilliant. The dialogue, acting, and dark humor are always engaging and enjoyable. Those points remain true in his 8th film, The Hateful Eight. The movie comes across like a stage play, as it takes place primarily in one room. The blocking and back ground performance away from the primary action  is well done. I did have one issue with the film that kind of took away from it being close to perfect. The run time, at over three hours, is too long. When the ending came around, it almost seemed like a relief that the movie was over, and lessened the impact of the conclusion for me. Also, the score music seemed incredibly loud in spots, but that could be the fault of the cinema. Overall, an entertaining film, full of humor and violence. Walton Goggins and Samuel Jackson are brilliant, as is Jennifer Jason Leigh. For me, this one falls between Inglorious Basterds and the amazing Django Unchained.

4 Bloody Moons 4 out of 5 Bloody Moons

T.

In 50 Words… Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Before you read, please be assured that this tiny review contains NO SPOILERS.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Voyega, Oscar Issac

Lucasfilm, Bad Robot, Walt Disney Studios

Thirty years after the Galactic Empire is defeated by the Rebellion, The First Order is now attempting to seize control of the galaxy, like the Empire before them. A map that the First Order seeks falls into the hands of a scavenger, a First Order deserter, and a droid. They must deliver this map to the Rebellion, or it could spell the end of the Jedi forever. Along the way, this group of heroes run into some familiar faces, as well as new evil foes. Is it a coincidence that these strangers are brought together, and can they bring balance to the force once again?

The long-awaited and much-hyped sequel every Star Wars fan has been waiting for has finally arrived. Was the wait worth it? In my humble opinion; yes. This film admirably lives up to the original trilogy, and introduces this generation to new characters, and fondly reintroduces us to some familiar old favorites like Han, Chewy and Leia. I was actually nervous (seeing as Star Wars basically raised me) going into see the film. It took about three minutes to let my guard down and realize this installment would not be questionable like the prequels are. I am relieved and happy that the franchise is in good hands with Disney, and J.J. Abrams. As the director, and a fan of Star Wars, he has made a movie for the fans. In the process, he has reignited the myth and mystique of the Force. Without giving away any plot details, I would just like to conform that the galaxy is in good hands with Rey, Finn, Poe Damron, and B-88. The Force is indeed awake, at long last. I love you Star Wars.

T.