Not So Fantastic 4…

Directed by
Josh Trank

Writers
Jeremy Slater (screenplay)
Simon Kinberg (screenplay)
Josh Trank (screenplay)
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby  (Marvel comics)

I went into this movie knowing full well that it was primarily lambasted by critics and fans. I don’t know how many times I heard the word “joyless” used to describe it, but I didn’t hate the previous version or its sequel, despite many naysayers’ opinions.

But, this gritty “reboot” of the “First Family” of modern Marvel comics is best described exactly how it has been… Joyless.

It’s not fun. It’s not exciting. It’s as dark and as gloomy as the alternate universe they’re trying to reach with the MacGuffin device that Reed Richards and Ben Grimm create in Reed’s garage…

Short, spoiler-free version of the review: If you love the FF, skip this movie. Go watch any other version of this team – even the disposable Corman version is more enjoyable by its badness.

If that’s all you need to know, you can bow out here.  What follows are specific issues, good and bad, related to the film, and will contain some spoilers.

For those familiar with the Fantastic Four’s origin, I don’t need to reiterate much – Genius Reed Richards; his best pal, Ben Grimm; Reed’s eventual wife, Sue; and her hot-head brother, Johnny take off in Reed’s experimental rocket, get bombarded by “cosmic rays,” crash land on Earth and discover that they’ve been drastically altered. Reed is now the super stretchy, Mr. Fantastic. Johnny has become a literal hot-head, and bursts into flame as the Human Torch. Ben has transformed into a giant, orange, humanoid rock pile with the dehumanizing name, The Thing. And, Sue… well she can turn invisible, and gets to be Invisible Girl (later promoted to Invisible Woman). Sue also eventually gets to create invisible force bubbles, and do other things that are less passive than her original ability. They set about fighting crime from their headquarters in New York, The Baxter Building. And their arch-nemesis, Victor Von Doom arises frequently to cause them grief. That’s the basic set-up. Obviously the story evolved over decades of comics, and I suspect Josh Trank’s version was meant to evolve it further (and keep the FF from reverting back to Disney-Marvel).

In some ways, Trank’s film does do interesting things. ALL of the four display actual skill or talent to varying degrees. Reed (Miles Teller), now a child prodigy, designs a matter transporter as a kid, and with the mechanical help of Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) builds that device with varying degrees of success until they’re discovered by Dr. Franklin Storm (an underutilized Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter, Sue (Kate Mara), at a high school science fair and recruited into a sort of Xavier school for smart kids that also used to include reclusive Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) who gets pulled back in for one last project.  Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) is still a hot-head, but besides just racing cars recklessly, he builds them from scratch. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, he, like his father, is black…

Unlike some fans, I didn’t have a problem with Franklin and Johnny Storm not being white, or that Sue remained white. It’s the 21st century, and families look a lot different than they did in 1961 when the comic debuted. I didn’t even need an explanation for it. We never see the Storm kids’ mother(s) so any of a number of possibilities existed, and literally none of them mattered. Johnny and Sue were siblings and Franklin was their father. End of story. Instead, we get a half-assed explainer line or two about Franklin adopting Sue from Kosovo that leaves more questions than it answers, especially in an America (in my experience at least) where the likelihood of a white child being adopted by a non-white family is, and I suspect I’m being generous, slim. Now, as a viewer, I’m distracted by trying to figure out what Franklin was doing in Kosovo, how he acquired Sue, etc. instead of paying attention to the story…

And the story… Well, there’s no rocket, nor cosmic rays. Instead, the project involves opening a doorway to a different dimension that looks like either a primordial Earth, or an empty Hell. Tim Blake Nelson, also underutilized, serves as the secondary antagonist, Dr. Allen, (who apparently is Harvey Elder/Mole Man, according to some sources, though there’s literally no sign of it in the movie). His primary function seems to be to keep driving the project forward, and commandeering it for use in exploiting the new world as soon as the device is successful.

Once they learn the project will be taken away from them, Reed, Victor, and Johnny, in a drunken fit of bravado, drag Ben along into the alternate dimension in order to be the first to cross over. It all goes wrong, Victor is left for dead, the remaining three return in an explosive lab accident that alters them and Sue, who happened to be in the control room at the time. Now they have super powers, are being studied for weaponization by the government and the movie jumps ahead a year… Leaving us less than forty minutes of the run time remaining…

…to have some petty squabbles and soul-searching, followed by the horrific return (after a year in Hell) of Victor Von Doom as some sort of monster that can apparently kill with a thought, and a “He’s going to destroy the world” sequence that looks like the Black Sun finale of the Wolfenstein game wherein they realize they can only defeat Doom as a team, etc. etc.

I genuinely liked the cast, they really seem to have done what they could with the material, and Trank gets points with me for trying to make both Susan Storm and her superpowers more nuanced and fully realized. But in the end, this “gritty” reboot is like getting actual grit somewhere – unpleasant, irritating, and unenjoyable…

Rating

Not very Fantastic 4 out of 10

Trailer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double Feature Review # 6 Shiny and Chrome

No, this isn’t a review of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” mainly because that entire review would be “OMIGODGOWATCHFURYROADRIGHTNOW!” instead, it’s a review of “Laid To Rest,”(2009) and its sequel, “Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2.”(2011) 

The short version of the review – if you like brutal slasher films that have the added bonus of actually looking like professional movies, go get these right now, and Happy Halloween.

LTR2coverLTRcoverThe longer review begins with The Girl (Bobbie Sue Luther) awaking inside a casket in a funeral home. She escapes from the casket, attempts to call for help, and realizes she has no memory of anything prior to waking.

As she tries to figure out what’s going on, she sees a man (Nick Principe) in a chrome skull mask murder another man (Richard Lynch). Chromeskull then attempts to enter the room. The Girl manages to escape, and injured, makes it out to a road where she’s picked up by Tucker (Kevin Gage) who takes her home. Tucker’s wife, Cindy (Lena Headey) is less than pleased to have her husband bring home a young woman. Chromeskull tracks The Girl to Tucker and Cindy’s place, and murder ensues. The rest of the film is spent following The Girl as she tries to figure out who she is and keep from getting brutally slaughtered.

Just enough things go wrong for The Girl to keep Chromeskull hot on her trail, but just enough goes right to keep her one step ahead of the unrelenting killer. So, if you have the stomach for some gore and mutilation, and you’re looking for a new faceless, identity-free, masked killer with spiffy weapons this should be your thing. Chromeskull himself doesn’t seem to be supernatural, but he’s apparently got an endless supply of money, which becomes even more clear as Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 opens…

In the aftermath of the previous movie’s finale, we’re introduced to what appears to be the serial killer equivalent of the Men In Black, as Chromeskull’s team of people sweep in to make everything go away. Led by Preston (a surprisingly sinister Brian Austin Green), Chromeskull’s minions clean up after him, and do their best to keep his system of locating, abducting, torturing, and murdering young women afloat. While in the process of tracking an escaped victim, Preston gets a taste of murder, and discovers he realllllly likes it.

Preston has his own troubles, though. Aside from dealing with the mess left behind from the previous film, he has to fight off Spann (Danielle Harris), who seems bent on unseating Preston from his place as Chromeskull’s right hand man, while dealing with his new-found sadistic blood lust, and law enforcement that seems only inches away from catching his employer.

LTR 2, presumably because of budget, gives the audience more back story, more plot, more suspense, and more graphic violence. Chromeskull and Preson wield edged weapons that would literally only be useful as engines of horrific brutality (but they look damn cool).

If you were into the first Laid To Rest movie, watching the second is a no-brainer.

Ratings

Laid To Rest – 6 out of 10 insane impractical edged weapons

Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 – 7 out of 10 shiny murder toys

Trailers

LTR – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6rtXAqfSa0

Chromeskull – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEh_xNzfBDA

 

Double Feature Review #5 Not “Nightmare On Elm Street”

With the recent passing of Wes Craven, the Internet was flooded with examinations of his work, discussions of his significant contributions to horror cinema, and reminders that he could do other movies (“Music Of The Heart”?!). Among those conversations, I learned of a made-for-TV movie he directed called, “Night Visions.” Intrigued, and possessing both Internet access and youtube, I found the movie in no time and proceeded to check it out.

Night Visions

(1990)

VisionsDirector: Wes Craven

Writer: Wes Craven, Thomas Baum

Tom Mackey (James Remar) is your typical “cop on the edge.” In fact, for the first third of the film, he pretty much hits every beat – divorced, hard-drinking, short-tempered, roughs up suspects, argues with the captain (Mitch Pileggi), badge and gun on the desk, etc. He levels out a little when he gets paired with Dr. Sally Powers (Loryn Locklin), a psychologist specializing in criminal psychopathology. She’s interested in examining a killer firsthand, and Mackey’s working a case featuring a serial killer named, accurately if unoriginally, the “spread-eagle killer.” Of course, Mackey and Powers get along like oil and water, until it’s time to act like partners.

In many ways, this is by-the-numbers buddy cop stuff. Mackey’s the tough cop, Powers is the rookie, and as an added bonus, she’s also some sort of psychic… It’s not entirely clear how her abilities work. Sometimes, she just seems to “know” things, while other times, she seems “connected” to a person, and can adopt their mannerisms, patterns of speech, etc. Either way, she eventually seems to tune into the killer, she’s pursued by the killer, Mackey has to save her, and we finish with an ending that suggests that “Night Visions” might have been meant as a backdoor pilot for a series that never happened.

All of this combined should make this a terrible movie. But, I’ll admit to having fun while watching it. It’s not “so bad it’s good,” nor just bad. It’s probably not something I have plans to revisit… But, maybe I’ll keep the youtube link bookmarked… Just in case…. It’s middle of the road, with some hints of a good movie peeking out, and slap now and again of bad TV movie. (At one point, I think I saw the boom mike drift into the top of the frame in the Pileggi closeups when he and Remar are introduced to Locklin’s character.)

Oddly, and I imagine it’s partly due to Pileggi’s casting, but I felt a low-rent,“X-Files,” vibe. As they explored Powers’s, well, powers, I also got a whiff of the TV show,“Millennium,” especially as the movie first suggests that Powers is just smart and observant (season 1), then admits that she’s some sort of visionary psychic (season 2).

If you’re hanging around some Sunday afternoon, and nothing good’s on, find this movie on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z82IYZzXsDk) and check out a piece of Craven’s filmography that you’d probably never heard of, let alone seen.

Special thanks to the Screamcast for turning me onto “Night Visions.”

http://www.thescreamcast.com/

 

Deadly Friend

(1986)

Deadly

Director: Wes Craven

Writer(s): Diana Henstell (novel) Bruce Joel Rubin (screenplay)

If you’re familiar at all with Wes Craven’s work, you’ve probably heard of the mess that is “Deadly Friend.” By most accounts, Craven was trying to avoid being pigeon-holed as a horror filmmaker, and attempted to shoot the adaptation of Diana Henstell’s novel, “Friend,” as a supernatural/sci-fi thriller with a dark romantic element. With Matthew Labyorteaux and Kristy Swanson as the leads, a script by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost, Jacob’s Ladder) and Craven, less interested in killing sprees than the monsters of the real world, “Deadly Friend” could’ve been exactly that.

Instead, reshoots, additional gore scenes, and studio interference turned this movie into a genre mash-up that, in one moment, shows Kristy Swanson’s character, Sam, trying to connect over dinner with Paul Conway (Labyorteaux) and his mother (Anne Twomey), and later features Sam murdering Anne Ramsey by exploding Ramsey’s head with a basketball… But, despite what the trailer shows, Swanson is not, strictly speaking, a murderous teenager. She’s merely the victim of a series of tragic events.

Paul Conway is a technical genius, interested in the human brain and replicating it via artificial intelligence. As proof of concept, Paul has build BB (voiced by Charles Fleischer, most well known as the voice of Roger Rabbit) a robotic pal who is capable of learning, thinking, and making decisions. BB defends Paul from bullies, does things around the house, and as the movie demonstrates early, is willing to kill for Paul.

Eventually, BB is destroyed, Sam is fatally injured, and Paul joins his two closest friends together by placing BB’s “brain” in Samantha. As expected, things go horribly awry and the fake blood flows…

Even as mangled as this movie was, it’s still (aside from a final scene that makes NO sense unless it’s a nightmare) fun to watch. I would, however, like to see the original Craven cut. But, I’m reviewing what I saw, not what I wish could be. As such, I’d have to rate this about a five murderbots on a scale of ten, plus an additional point of esteem for the late Wes Craven.

Ratings

Night Visions: Six psychic visions out of ten

Deadly Friend: Six murderbots out of ten

Links

Night Visions: (full movie): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z82IYZzXsDk

Deadly Friend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQj2GKwKp5w

Double Feature Review # 4 Hatchets Everywhere

There are studios whose primary function seems to be creating “mockbusters,” films that are meant to be mistaken for other, more popular, movies as an easy cash grab, something that sits on the rental shelf next to the proper movie, to be grabbed in a moment of haste.

I recently had that experience with “Hatchetman,” a movie that rested right next to the movie I was actually looking for, “Hatchet.” In this case, “Hatchetman” predates “Hatchet” by a couple years, so it wasn’t a blatant cash grab beyond being just a cheap slasher flick. When I took the disc up to the rental counter, I suspect the clerk tried, subtly, to tell me I had the “wrong” movie, by casually saying, “Oh, I’ve seen Hatchet, but not Hatchetman. You’ll have to tell me if it’s any good.”

I appreciated the concern, but “Hatchet” wasn’t available, so I figured I’d give it shot, since I’ve been doing double feature reviews… So, here goes…

Hatchetman

2003

Director/Writer: Robert Tiffe

There’s no quote for this one, because I couldn’t think of any dialogue that was quote worthy. The dialogue came in three categories: Exposition, Screaming, and worse than George Lucas.

“Hatchetman” is a slasher, plain and simple, but not in a good way. It’s an example of what every parent warned us slasher movies were in the 80s – an excuse for gratuitous nudity, gore, and violence against women…

But, in this case it just wasn’t any fun…

A bunch of strippers (gratuitous nudity) are stalked by the titular “Hatchetman” who wields a pretty awesome weapon, and uses it to kill and mutilate women (violence against women) and chop off their hands (gore). The women are gradually picked off over the course of several nights, despite the efforts of detective who also happens to be the (ex) boyfriend of the stripper we’re clearly supposed to care about. And in the end, because the movie runs out of characters who haven’t been murdered, we eventually learn, via process of elimination, the identity of the Hatchetman. I think there’s also a “Psycho”esque discussion of the villain’s mental state at the end… Frankly, I’d kind of tuned out…

I didn’t care about a single character in the movie, didn’t revel in the violence and gore, and wasn’t (because I have access to the internet) titillated by the nudity. The production elements – cinematography, acting, effects, and script – combined all the worst elements of Lifetime and Cinemax movies into (worst crime of all) a boring pile…

Hatchet

2006

Director/Writer: Adam Green

“You can’t hook up with itchy chicks, Marcus. Everyone knows that.” Ben

Sooooooo much better than “Hatchetman.” This feels like a movie that was made with love, fake blood, and practical FX.  “Hatchet” understands slasher films, and essentially creates a parody of the slasher, but with the knowledge that the best genre parody films are also great genre films.

A couple buddies in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, split off from their pack of bros, and, after a brief stop for a (far too short) visit with Tony Todd as Reverend Zombie, they head out, along with several other tourists for a swamp tour, that becomes a nightmare as they face off against the murderous Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder).

You may have heard this film described in hyperbolic terms both negatively and positively. It rests somewhere in the middle. It is an enjoyable film for those that like horror with comic elements, and is well worth the time and money it might cost you to rent it. Like, “Hatchetman,” this movie features nudity, violence, and gore, but unlike “Hatchetman,” it mostly feels organic to the movie. More importantly, “Hatchet”  features some characters the viewer can root for, whose demise actually gives one a moment of pause.

“Hatchet” is not perfect, and it isn’t for every horror fan, but it is an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half or so…

Ratings

Hatchetman – Two out of ten fancy axes

Hatchet – Six out of ten rusty axes

Trailers

Hatchetman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SBpX-J2VKw

Hatchet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3C33S_cqiJ8

Double Feature Review # 3 : Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Even if you’ve never seen any of the four(!) movies based on Jack Finney’s 1954 novel “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers,” you know the basic idea…

Something weird falls from space and pod people start taking over/replacing people while they sleep…

And there’s something about allegories related to Communism, or conformity, or the environment, or paranoia… or something…

This review will focus on the two most recent remakes, 2007’s “The Invasion” and 1993’s “Body Snatchers.”  

The Invasion

2007

   

The Invasion (2007) Poster

       

Director(s): Oliver Hirschbiegel, James McTeigue (uncredited)

Writer(s): David Kajganich (screenplay), Jack Finney (novel)

The American space shuttle, Patriot, breaks up during reentry and scatters fragments all over the world, and those fragments contain the spores that will be invading this time around. Once they begin infecting human hosts, they strive to create a homogenous society in which there is no war or strife, but no passion or love. In other words, the most boring paradise ever. However, as plastered all over synopses of the movie, Kidman’s son appears to be immune, and may hold the key to defeating the aliens.

This is both the most complex version, at least in its “scientific” description of the “snatching” process; and most vanilla, in that the only spot of color, both literally and in performance, is Jeffrey Wright. His portrayal of Dr. Stephen Galeano was one of the few really engaging things about this movie.

Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig are competent, and well put through their paces, but this is not only the fourth film, but one with a spoiler basically built into the description. There’s little room for suspense, and less doubt that this will have a “happy” ending, especially given the PG-13 rating. I never feared for anyone’s safety, nor felt the “Oh, no, (s)he’s one of THEM!” surge you’re supposed to feel. I just waited it out until it was over.

Body Snatchers

1993

  Body Snatchers (1993) Poster

 

Director: Abel Ferrara

Writer(s): Raymond Cistheri (screen story)

and Larry Cohen (screen story)

Stuart Gordon (screenplay) & Dennis Paoli (screenplay)

and Nicholas St. John (screenplay)

Jack Finney (novel)

“Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide?”

“Nowhere… ’cause there’s no one like you left. – Carol Malone

Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar) is stuck with her dad, step-mother, and half-brother on a military base while her dad does something involving testing for toxic waste, and Marti hangs out with military brats and young soldiers who should know better. It follows the standard set-up, and then chases ensue.

This version is least like the other three. Character names, situations, and events are all drastically changed. If anything, it almost feels like someone took an existing script and crammed it into “The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.” I actually recall little of this, other than more gratuitous nudity, including shots of a young Gabrielle Anwar that made me feel kind of dirty, and more graphic depiction of the “snatching” process.

Because it was so “alien” from the other versions, I had a harder time guessing who had been snatched and who hadn’t, but in the end, I didn’t feel the tension necessary to make this movie work. It does feel like a genuine attempt to do something different with the formula, but it just didn’t take.

Both films get a six out of ten pods. They could have been worse, but they could’ve been so much better…

“The Invasion” trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZjiGfdzQmM

“Body Snatchers” trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okW2UfLNaJc

Double Feature Review #2: Men On Fire

Due to a comment on the previous “Something Old, Something New,” I’ve opted to do two things:

1) Change the name to something that sounds more film-related than wedding-related, and

2) clarify my selections for the double feature: “one is a remake, sequel, or directly influenced by the other” to include “based on the same source material.”

As pointed out with the Dredd review, the latter is not a remake, sequel, or (especially) not directly influenced by the previous film. So with that piece of housekeeping out of the way…

On to the reviews.

Based on the novel “Man On Fire” by A.J. Quinnell, these two films feature his recurring character, John Creasy, a world-weary, reclusive, former special agent who takes what seems to the unenviable job of babysitting the daughter of wealthy parents. When the girl is kidnapped, Creasy is wounded and left for dead. Despite his injuries, he proceeds to re-engage what Liam Neeson’s character in “Taken” referred to as, “a certain set of skills,” and murders his way through the country in search of the men who kidnapped the girl he has begun to think of as a “daughter.”

man-on-fire_1987

 

Man On Fire (1987)

Director: Élie Chouraqui

Writer: Élie Chouraqui & Sergio Donati;

Fabrice Ziolkowski (translation)

This version seems to be an Italian production, though it features Scott Glenn, a very American lead, and Elie Chouraqui, a French director. Whether by director’s choice, or budget limitation, it lacks the bombastic flash and one-liners one equates with this period in cinema, and feels more like a gritty 70s-era thriller than an 80s action film.

Glenn is very understated as Creasy, even as he goes about the business of death. His Creasy seems tired and disinterested in his new job, until he realizes that his charge, Samantha (Jade Malle) is as alone as he is, and they begin to form a surrogate parent/child relationship. This growing relationship is actually front and center for a bit of the film, so the pace may not appeal to an audience more accustomed to modern action films. But, the performances are solid, and Glenn’s supporting cast includes Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, and Jonathan Pryce. If you can find a copy (mine is a VHS acquired from eBay), I certainly recommend watching it.

 

 

 Man_On_Fire2004

 

Man On Fire (2004)

Director: Tony Scott

Writer: Brian Helgeland

Creasy’s art is death… He’s about to paint his masterpiece…” Rayburn

According to IMDb, Tony Scott was considered for the role of director of the ’87 version, but hadn’t apparently “proved” himself yet. He eventually got his chance in 2004 when he remade the film with his frequent collaborator, Denzel Washington. This version is bigger in every way. Bigger stars, bigger budget, bigger director, more flash, more bang, more Denzel coolly walking away from explosions. Scott’s trademark action-camera style and use of color and distorted images is fully present, so your mileage may vary based on how you feel about that.

Denzel’s Creasy is burnt out, hard-drinking, suicidal, and concerned about the cost of his former life on his soul. But, he’ll work for what Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) is willing to pay, so he ends up in charge of protecting Ramos’s daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning).

Fanning’s Pita is precocious, determined, and, frankly, so damn adorable there’s no way Creasy couldn’t fall in love with her. The two bond while Creasy works with Pita to improve her competitive swimming, and sabotage her piano instruction. When Pita is kidnapped, a wounded Creasy escapes the hospital and police custody, and follows a chain of clues to leave a bloody trail of vengeance across Mexico.

Scott’s film is bloodier and more action oriented than the earlier version, but it doesn’t sacrifice character development in the process. It has a solid supporting cast, including Radha Mitchell, Rachel Ticotin, and Mickey Rourke, and has particular fun with Christopher Walken as Creasy’s friend, Rayburn. In all, it’s an enjoyable movie, if something this ultimately bleak can be “enjoyable,” and of the two, is the one I’m more likely to revisit, if nothing else than because I can stream it more easily than I can watch a VHS.

 

Given my most recent reviews, I’ve opted to use a ten scale related in some way to the film(s) being reviewed. In this case, that translates to:

1987 version – Six out of ten dead kidnappers.

2004 version – Seven out of ten dead kidnappers

 

1987 Theatrical trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6sl07pG3es

2004 Theatrical trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4kLizDXLY0