How ‘It Chapter Two’ robs book-readers of Stephen King’s bittersweet finale

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “IT CHAPTER TWO” AND STEPHEN KING’S NOVEL FOLLOW. 

No one who’s read the behemoth that is Stephen King’s “It” was fooling themselves that Andy Muschietti’s 21st-century duology would have been completely faithful in its translation to the big screen. Fully fleshing out the Loser’s Club’s friendships and King’s trademark themes of childhood innocence lost is one thing; imbuing visual language into the cosmic origins of the extra-terrestrial being that is Pennywise and his eternal battle with a space turtle who vomited the universe is another ask altogether.

2017’s “It” realized this to a successful degree, subtly drawing on the aspects of King’s novel that would best cater to the attentive contours of mainstream horror audiences – the omnipresence of evil in Derry’s history, the emotional anchor of the young Losers, a malevolent force that could shapeshift into our worst fears – while mostly leaving to the page the bits that were too eccentric and narratively ambiguous for a studio movie to try to recreate. This is a buzzy Warner Bros. production, after all. Not an A24 joint. Continue reading →

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‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ Review: Del Toroian story is a devastating, creepy blend of dark fairy tale and real-world violence

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

In “Tigers Are Not Afraid” – the 2017 movie from Mexican filmmaker Issa López that is small on budget, high on craft and just now hitting screens in the U.S., including a limited run in San Antonio this weekend – grown-ups are nowhere to be found.

Kids live and scavenge on their own, settle into makeshift homes on rooftops, and journey through urban underworlds. It could almost be a utopia of sorts, an anti-Neverland that has traded jungles for graffiti’d buildings that look like they were previously targeted by bombs, forming an empty Mexican ghost town with a desolateness so stark it’s almost post-apocalyptic.

But López instead manifests that youthful isolation in heartbreak, in longing, in the very real effects that the Mexican drug war has had on families…and on tearing them apart. Since 2006, the movie lets us know early on, tens of thousands have disappeared or been killed in the country.
Their children, we learn, practically go uncounted for. Continue reading →

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Review: Some ghoulish fun with enticing ideas

From its opening moments, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” takes the nightmarish bluntness of its title – also the name of the yestercentury horror anthology series that inspired it – to heart, painting with broody aesthetics a late-1960s suburbia ripe for treachery, murder and spooky goings-on. Much in the vein of Guillermo del Toro, that master of the macabre and dark fantasy here lending his post-Oscar victory hand as producer, it’s a touch of the supernatural that brings the terror lurking underneath beds and in the twistedly imaginative minds of young children to the fore.

I didn’t have the experience of staying up all night fervid and sweaty after reading the novelettes the movie is based on, but judging from the legacy of a series that managed to puncture pop culture in a slightly darker vein than “Goosebumps,” this André Øvredal-directed adaptation is a more or less faithful recreation of its more intimate brushes with terror, of the isolation in anticipating some neglected evil incarnate that has its sights set on you and only you (the familiar concept of “It Follows” may owe something to Alvin Schwartz’s imagination). Early on in “Scary Stories,” however, these frights – appropriate as a supposed gateway horror for younger audiences, but it’s not like many of them won’t also be absorbing the upcoming, much more sinister “IT” sequel – barely function beyond the borders that contain them in specific scenes. Continue reading →

Review: Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” is madness served with a side of sunshine

I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so guiltily vindicated by a movie as with the final act of Ari Aster’s sun-bleached, dread-dripping “Midsommar,” a film that bears its blood weight in flower petals and doesn’t leave you forlorn so much as utterly disarmed.

I should have expected as much. After the writer-director burst into our consciousness with last year’s swervingly subversive “Hereditary,” I should have remembered that the best method of preparation for his follow-up, by comparison a movie whose terror comes from a much more personal place, would probably be not trying to prepare for it at all.

This time around, Aster’s destination is completely, and masochistically, at odds with his methodology, a project with so much tonal juxtaposition that it’s a bit of a miracle it ends up working as well as it does, even if it takes some time adjusting to its contours.“Midsommar” is a movie about inevitability, the not-so-sweet period of denial about eventual loss and refusing to anticipate its arrival; the feeling we’ve all had that we’ll do anything to stave off an apocalypse – be it death or breakup or the execution of insidious acts – before the worst kind of realization sets in that you can’t even delay it a moment. Continue reading →

Review: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ is a deeply-layered, uber-ambitious genre movie

“Blink, and you might miss it” is the great, contradictory nature of horror. Spontaneity is an on-ramp to FOMO when watching a scary movie; there’s a reason the genre is so closely associated to images of multiplex audiences practically peeling back their eyelids like they themselves are the target of the flashing knife, the pouncing boogeyman, the black-magic spell being cast.

For as long as we’ve been terrified by the nightmarish images conjured up by Hollywood’s twisted minds, we’ve been equally as enamored. Our hands can be cages in which we’d gladly cut ourselves off from watching what unfolds on-screen, but – to borrow from the same metaphor – our fingers are also the bars. And some deep-rooted force is typically victorious at encouraging us to bear witness.

Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Velvet Buzzsaw,’ a painting is worth a thousand gallons of blood

In “Velvet Buzzsaw” – Dan Gilroy’s third film in five years after “Nightcrawler” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” – art is a destination for curious eyes, eager wallets and ostensibly deep critique.

It’s also, eventually, a channel for horror, bloodshed and shlock. The contrast isn’t accidental, and the transition happens nearly as fast as it took you to get to this paragraph from the one above.

The general absence of subtlety in Gilroy’s film, a contemporary art-market satire drunk with a few drops of cinematic absinthe, makes parts of “Nightcrawler” feel like a PBS documentary. For better or worse, hyperbole is a way of the world in “Velvet Buzzsaw,” and even more so as it reaches the realm of violence. “I think sober hasn’t been good for him,” Jake Gyllenhaal’s faux-elitist art critic utters at one point. “Velvet Buzzsaw” doesn’t think so either.

Continue reading →

Review: Cinema’s iconic alien hunter deserves better. Maybe that means putting him to rest.

Something was always going to give.

The space-time continuum splintered when it was announced, seemingly a decade ago, that Shane Black would helm the next installment of the unquenchable “Predator” franchise.

On one hand, you have a nostalgia-fueled auteur responsible for two of the smarter comedy-mysteries of the 2000s. On the other, he’s taking on a sci-fi property in freefall correlating with an insistence to stay bound by shackles of self-seriousness. Continue reading →

Review: In transition from lobsters to ‘Sacred Deer,’ Lanthimos embraces cruelty

The latest film from Yorgos Lanthimos is one that somewhat proudly stands on an infrastructure of masochism, both implicit and explicit.

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is uncomfortable virtually all the way through – for both its characters and for us in the seats watching through peered fingers. The Greek director/writer who broke out as a sort of demented Wes Anderson with last year’s Oscar-nominated “The Lobster” has now added a dash of Darren Aronofsky, and the result is one of the more original and – no matter how hard some will try to repel its sadistic vibes – unforgettable motion pictures of 2017. Continue reading →

Review: ‘It’ a thrilling, if flawed, big-budget horror offering

There hasn’t been very much in the way of blockbuster horror lately.

Instead it’s been a tale of two extremes for the genre; either we’ve had the student film-esque, cheap scare formula made popular by Paranormal Activity that resides in cheese territory, or arthouse offerings like It Follows and The Witch with subtext that is sometimes scarier than anything manifested onscreen.

The Conjuring comes closest to representing a compromise of the two sub-genres, with its sense of bigger-scale, crowd-pleasing terror that doesn’t forget about the importance of character. Continue reading →

Review: Final installment of ‘Resident Evil’ as brainless as its zombies

It’s a bit of a miracle that we got to six “Resident Evil” movies.

The brainless, faithless adaptation of the hugely popular videogames set the bar low with its first entry in 2002, but it would only be downhill from there.

With “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” it’s more of the same that we’ve been getting for 15 years – messy narratives, recycled action, and an almost complete lack of fun. The film’s title alone suggests a long-overdue sense of finality, the last gasps of a forgettable series just waiting to be put down once and for all.

In a movie where seemingly every element is a letdown, the script is the most frustrating weakness. Despite the series being at a point where the only filled seats in the theater are the same people who have been there since the start, “The Final Chapter” begins with an excruciating amount of exposition recapping the series thus far. It’s little more than a montage that’s not far from Prezi-level quality.

From there on, there is little logic to be found for an hour and 40 minutes. That’s especially true when it comes to the film’s big baddies; they aren’t the film’s undead (though there’s plenty of that as well), but they might as well be just as brainless with how many easy passes they seem to give Alice and company. It’s like they’re begging for their plan to be halted.

Which might work in a different context, but not here. An incredible forced revelation in the final act doesn’t help the proceedings. It’s a horribly executed attempt to get any semblance of empathy out of the audience. Instead it borders on self-parody.

In many ways, it seems like the overarching problem with this “Resident Evil” entry, and the series as a whole, is that it takes itself much too seriously. But it’s hard to justify even that excuse when there is no semblance of cohesive story.

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In retrospect, most fans probably aren’t making it out to a “Resident Evil” film in 2017 for the story anyway, rather looking for mindless action and bombastic set pieces connected by the thinnest threads that logic can provide.

But “The Final Chapter” underwhelms in that vein too. The action sequences – which range from fighting zombies to zombie dogs to zombie-bat-pterodactyl creations – are so poorly directed that they feel like leftovers, a cache of deleted scenes from prior “Resident Evil” movies.

The camerawork is headache-inducing, the CGI downright cheap, and the sound editing…I refuse to believe there was any sound “editing” involved. From a technical standpoint, the movie is nails-on-a-chalkboard bad.

One would have thought that Paul W.S. Anderson – who has written the previous five films, and directed three of those, as well as “The Final Chapter” – would have decided enough is enough with the mediocrity.

Right up to its truly insufferable ending, the series never figured out what its identity was – should he have focused on compelling stories or an innovative visual aesthetic? Because “Resident Evil” was never going to be both.

The fact that the series almost never truly lies in the realm of horror was perhaps the strongest sign early on of prolonged disappointment. But refusing to ever truly be movies made for the fans is the lasting legacy of “Resident Evil,” if history ever grants it that distinction of being remembered beyond February.

 

“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is rated R for sequences of violence throughout

Starring: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

2016