Slender Story (Slender Man, 2018)

Slender_Man_PosterAs social media has become a larger and larger part of our lives, film makers have tried to incorporate this into the horror genre.  Films have tried to tackle both the fears of the Dark Web and supernatural takes on social media usage.  Unfriended and it’s sequel Unfriended: Dark Web actually go both routes.  From cyber-bullying to ghosts…they are trying to make it work. So far, there have not really been any standouts. And the general fears of technology that dehumanizes us has been a common trope for Asian Horror for decades.

Slender Man takes the popular Creepy Pasta internet meme and sets him up as the big scary.  A bunch of friends go online and perform a ritual to summon the Slender Man. After one of the girls disappears, they attempt to bring her back, back the ritual goes awry and the Slender Man keeps coming for the girls because he wants to drive them mad or send them to the bad place or something.

The film borrows from established lore (such as Slender Man taking people to his home and preferring the young) and also from other horror films (apparently it takes a week for the scary stuff to begin, similar to the Ring’s seven days and then you die). But even when it sets rules, it fails to stick to them. Later in the film, a character apparently goes to the magical website and is freaking out the next day.

None of the characters are that compelling, and we are never given any real deep indication of what drives our leads, so the stakes just do not feel that high. There are a few times where they give visual hints of the presence of Slender Man, but the film really fails to use this as well as it could.

The creepiness of Slender Man is found in him being seen from the corner of your eye, or off in the distance. If the film was going for a “is he real or not” you could maybe justify how little effort there seems to be to make his threat seem real. But the film makes it clear from the start he is a legit entity. As such, the film really would have benefited from playing with the viewers by inserting Slender Man into the background of scenes. Like when the girls are talking, you suddenly realize he is somewhere in the distance. Leave the audience unnerved.


Of course, as I noted the central problem here is that none of the characters have any personality, not even by the low standards of bad horror films. And honestly, I had to fight falling asleep with the film. It just does not do enough with hit’s subject matter to keep the viewer interested in or invested in the characters or possible thrills.

In the Distance (Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, 2015)

Always_Watching_PosterA TV crew is doing a new story on a business that clears out homes that were foreclosed upon by the bank. In one house, they are shocked to find the home looks as if the family just vanished. As they start to investigate, they find a box of tapes and find that this is not a story of a mean bank foreclosing on a family or a family that picked up and ran off. They discover that the tapes show that the family was being haunted or stocked by a mysterious person.

At first, they see him in the distance of a video of a child’s birthday party. But the more videos they watch, the more the mysterious (and faceless) figure appears. Always a little closer until he is in the house.

Camera Man Milo starts to study the tapes and this results in him starting to see the figure himself. He is able to convince co-workers Sara and Charlie he is not crazy and they try and solve the mystery. But the mystery begins to take a toll on the three and their relationships begin to break down.

The Operator is obviously mean to be Slender Man, minus the tentacles. Actor Doug Jones (Hellboy, the Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth) mainly has to stand around in the background a lot, but his lankiness and height really sell the idea of the Operator as slightly outside of reality. And the film really makes sure to keep you watching, sure that at any moment he might appear on the screen, in the corner, behind someone or in the woods.  It is pretty effectively done.

It runs a bit off the rails at the very end, where it introduces an element we had not really seen earlier in the film, but it is not so much so that it wrecks the creepier vibe from the rest of the film.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, with the biggest setback being that it is a “found footage” film. Admittedly, the fact that our leads are a television news crew makes it fairly plausible that they have access to a variety of cameras, but the format also forces a plot contrivance that since you can only see him on video, they decide they must keep cameras running continuously.

Oh yeah…the film has a great horror icon film cameo towards the end. Smart choice on the film makers’ part.


Making Memories All Over Again (Overboard, 2018)

Overboard_2018_posterI suppose it was inevitable that somebody was going to go and remake Garry Marshall’s beloved Overboard. This time around, they try to counter the creepy factor by switching the roles.  Leonardo is a rich Spanish playboy who has never worked a day in his life. He has no respect for his employees, and when single mom and nursing student Kate arrives to clean the carpet of his yacht, things go south. Kate gets in a fight with Leonardo who then throws her (and her equipment) overboard.

One night, Leonardo falls overboard and gets amnesia. Kate decides she wants revenge and concocts a plan to convince Leonardo and the authorities that they are married.

She brings the confused Leonardo home and then uses him to take care of the house to allow her to focus on school. Her best friend’s husband gives him a construction job. What follows is nearly a point by point remake.

I found it harder to ignore the creepy factor, since Kate is bringing a strange man into his house with her three daughters.  Eugenio Derbeznever comes off as creepy with the daughters though. Instead, he does a pretty good job as Leo grows to care deeply for the girls. In fact, one scene that I thought worked far better in this film than the original is the moment he has regained his memory and is leaving the family. The three young girls chase after him, desperate for him to stay.  The youngest, who he taught to ride a bike races her bike as fast as she can screaming out for Leo as she falls farther and farther back from the limo.

Anna Faris is certainly funny and has a real sweetness (though she really is playing a character similar to her character Christie on the show Mom). Then there is Eva Longoria and Mel Rodriguez the husband and wife that are Kate’s moral support. They are an enjoyable couple.

This is not nearly as good as the original, but has a good cast that makes the film watchable.

Making Memories (Overboard, 1987)

Overboard_1987_PosterThe self absorbed and rich Joanna hires carpenter Dean Profitt. She is obnoxious and genuinely mean. But after an accident leaves her with amnesia, single parent Dean convinces her they are married and she is the mother to his four boys.

Wow. This sounds criminal and positively creepy. So why is Overboard remembered so fondly by people? Why is Dean a lovable scamp, rather than a disturbed monster for so many viewers? Weeeeeelll…

As one of those people who really does like this film, a whole lot of it is on the shoulders of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. They do the heavy lifting to make this palatable here. Joanna is purely unpleasant, but Hawn gives her a hint of humanity when, long after Proffitt has been left behind (without being paid for his work) she is bothered by his commentary on her life. Russell plays Dean as a guy who is clearly kind of lost and refuses to be a parent to his boys. He simply wants to be a pal.

The film acknowledges from the start that Dean’s deception is wrong.  And in the beginning? Russell puts a lot of charm into his being selfish. But as time progresses, Joanna starts to adjust to her life and her belief that this is her family.  She starts to stand up for the boys and push back.

The entire cast of the film is great, and there are some genuinely great moments between Hawn and Roddy McDowell who plays Joanna’s long suffering servant. Especially a scene where Joanna realizes how terrible she has treated him, and yet he has done nothing but work to meet her every need.  Hawn is very convincing in her change as Joanna realizes she no longer feels at home in her own world. Upon her apology, McDowell (who has a look of genuine compassion for her in that moment) gives advice noting that she has had a very rare privilege to see life from a perspective beyond the one she was born to.

It is the performances that elevate the film above a creepy plot device. And it really is enjoyable. Hawn and Russell have a solid onscreen chemistry (no doubt due to their offscreen relationship) and both have real comedic chops that keep you focused on the characters rather than the situation. So why does a creepy premise not tank the film? Honestly? Um…just because…?


Back In Action (The Incredibles 2, 2018)

Incredible_2_PosterRight before the film starts, the cast and crew pop up on screen to tell us the fourteen year wait for the sequel will totally be worth it. Not exactly needed of course. Hey, my butt is already in the seat.

The original Incredibles film was a fun comic book film that was doing that Marvel type of action four years before we got Iron Man.  Probably of all the Pixar films, the Incredibles was one of the few that readily seemed to be set for sequels. But when asked, Pixar tended to defer to the availability of Brad Bird.

After the collapse of the highly anticipated Tomorrowland…Pixar got their chance.

Set shortly after the end of the first film, we discover things did not go so well. People still feel that the heroes do more damage than good. Enter brother and sister Winston and Evelyn Deavor. They want to convince the world that super-heroes are necessary, and so they convince Helen Parr to resume life as Elastigirl (noting she had a much lower history of property damage). Bob, on the other hand, becomes a stay at home dad. Bob really wants to be fighting as Mr. Incredible, but he is trying to step back and be a supportive husband ad father.

A lot of the moments I enjoyed most were with Bob and the kids. While the first film revealed baby Jack Jack to have a variety of powers, the Parr family never actually witnessed it. While Bob is initially excited, he finds it taxing, one more problem along with trying to help Dash with schoolwork and Violet come to terms with a frustrating love life. There is a genuinely sweet moment when Bob is exhausted and apologizes for not being the father he wants to be…Violet has a look of kindness as she reaches out to reassure him. It is a really sweet moment.

Flipping the situation for Helen and Bob works very well in the film. The Elastigirl scenes are fun and exciting.  There is a great fight scene where she is in the position of having to keep her eyes closed to avoid being hypnotized. Bird and company make this quite exciting.

The film also gives us something new, which is other Supers beyond the Parr family and Frozone. This leads to an action packed finale where saving everybody actually falls onto the Parr kids.

The Brad Bird voiced Edna Mode returns for a fun sequence that explores Jack Jack’s abilities.

I feel Pixar has created a pretty successful sequel here that compliments the original film quite well.

Back On Your Feet (Life of the Party, 2018)

Life_of_the_Party_PosterOn the day that they drop off their daughter for her senior year of college, Dan announces to Deanna that he has been cheating on her with another woman and wants a divorce. Broken hearted, Deanna decides to rectify her one big regret in life…that she quite college to marry Dan.  She signs up at her daughters school (which is Deanna’s old school) to complete her archeology degree.

She runs into mean girls, makes friends with the girl’s in her daughter’s sorority and even strikes up a romance with a much younger guy.

The film relies pretty heavily on college movie tropes, but never does a lot of interesting things with them.  The conflicts are mostly quickly resolved with very little impact.  For example, the Mean Girls subplot runs through the entire film, it’s resolution is solved by a sentence and suddenly, those girls think Deanna and her friends are okay. Late in the film Deanna does something that hurts her daughter, and they get over it right away, since the action backfires on Deanna and threatens her education.

On the other hand, in spite of McCarthy playing Deanna as talkative and awkward, her daughter and the sorority sisters embrace her right away. And while played for humor, the relationship with fraternity guy Jack is actually kind of cute. They bond right away over wine and he genuinely likes her.

In spite of the film not really doing much with it’s tropes, I did get some laughs (Especially when McCarthy is sharing the screen with Rudolph). It is a pretty light comedy, and can be enjoyed on a lazy rainy afternoon.

Need a Way Bigger Boat (The Meg, 2018)

The_Meg_PosterA few years ago deep dive rescuer Jonas made a critical decision that cost him his job. Jump ahead to the present and a deep sea exploration team has become trapped deep in the ocean after discovering a hidden world teeming with life…including giant Megalodon sharks. They bring in Jonas to conduct a rescue…but after the rescue it appears they are not the only ones to return to the surface.

Is the Meg a great film? No. Like the books it is inspired by, it is cheesy.  The film is full of over the top characters (at one point Rainn Wilson’s excitable billionaire notes that Statham’s Jonas has a heroic walk, but seems to have a bad attitude).

This is pretty much…what if Jaws was a big action movie.  And you know what? It is a lot of fun.  I had a whole lot of fun watching this one. It is action packed and has a rather engaging cast. This second part is important because these characters are not particularly deep, but the cast tends to imbue them with enough personality to make for an entertaining and cheesy ride.

No, it is not a great film. The Meg is not a classic, bt it is dumb and goofy fun.

Game Addict (Ready Player One, 2018)

Ready_Player_One_PosterIn the future, life is so bleak, everyone hangs out in the virtual reality of the Oasis. There, everything is focused around the 80’s pop culture that it’s creator, Halliday was obsessed with. People have video game avatars inspired by various films and they spend all their time and money in the Oasis. Upon his death, Halliday announced a competition to find an Easter Egg that grants the winner the ownership of Halliday’s fortune and the Oasis itself.

Apparently, it was so hard, only a few people are still trying.  On one side are folks like Wade (in the Oasis he goes by the name Parzival) and his friends Aech, Sho and Daito. The other involves an evil corporation run by Sorrento that wants the Oasis to exploit it. Wade pines for the mysterious and legendary Art3mis.

I am going to be honest here. I tried reading the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I could not finish it. It was absolutely awful. So, filtering it through Steven Spielberg is probably a necessary move. Because the movie is not totally terrible.

It has some really dumb stuff. I mean, Wade is obsessed with Art3mis but has only known her avatar.  In real life she is disfigured has a birth mark on her face. This is how we know how big of a guy Wade is…he doesn’t care. He still thinks she is beautiful. This is Olivia Cooke, who plays the character:

So…yeah…he is a prince. The film is obsessed with filling every shot in the Oasis with pop culture references. We see King Kong, Chucky, Freddy, endless video game characters, Parcival drives the delorean from Back to the Future, Art3mis drives the motorcycle from Akira, we see the van from the A-Team and the Batmobile.  It becomes sensory overload.

The characters are very, very by the book and not terribly interesting.

I mean, the most interesting characters are Aech, Sho and Daito.  And the cast is all pretty good. I mean, you have a supporting cast that includes Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendelsohn and Lena Waithe.

The visuals are top notch.  I mean, the action scenes are fun to watch for the most part.

So, basically, Ready Player One is okay. Better than it’s source material, but pretty well below some of Spielberg’s strongest popcorn material.

Spy Games (The Spy Who Dumped Me, 2018)

Spy_Who_Dumped_Me_PosterIt is Audrey’s birthday and she has not been having a good day. Recently, her boyfriend Drew dumped her via text, and her best friend Morgan is determined to bring her spirits up. When Morgan texts Drew that they are going to burn his stuff, he suddenly responds, asking her not to, and promising to show up the next day, but in the meantime, she is accosted by the CIA who announce that Drew is actually a spy. Drew shows up and gives vital information to Audrey and Morgan before being killed.

What ensues is the two being caught up in an international espionage plot as they try and determine who they can trust. Hunted by the CIA, British intelligence and a terrorist group they try and survive shootouts, car chases and evil torturers.

Honestly…I feel like I should just hate this movie and trash it. The plot is not fresh and the film is incredibly predictable. At no point did any surprises…well, surprise me. But you know what?

I enjoyed this flick. A lot. This is largely because the cast makes it work so well. I was laughing throughout the movies and the cast was the reason. Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon totally have great comedic chemistry.  They sell the heck out of their friendship and their comedic timing with each other is a blast. Gillian Anderson is a straight man character, but she creates laughs with the simplest of moments. The small roles are filled with people who just make the most of them (Lolly Adefope killed me with her role as a condescending co-worker and Kev Adams had me in stitches with his role as an Uber driver).

The Spy Who Dumped Me makes up for it’s shortcomings with such engagingly funny interactions and jokes that it left me smiling and laughing as I left the theater.

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