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Click (2006)

27 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There are “movies starring Adam Sandler” (“Punch-Drunk Love,” “Spanglish,” “Funny People,” “Reign Over Me”) and then there are “Adam Sandler movies” (movies produced by Sandler and starring him to put him up front in attempts to maintain his popularity—“The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy,” “Grown Ups,” “I Now Pronounce Chuck & Larry,” and many more). Sandler can act really well (his terrific performance in “Spanglish,” in particular, breaks my heart), and he can also be very funny…even though a majority of those “Adam Sandler movies” don’t do good jobs of showing his comedic talents. Thankfully, there are exceptions—I like “Happy Gilmore,” “50 First Dates,” “The Wedding Singer,” and the subject of this review, “Click.”

Of the section of “Adam Sandler movies” I find enjoyable, “Click” is probably my favorite. It has its typical “Sandler-esque” crude humor, but it has a bigger heart to it and an unexpected level of pathos that surprisingly make the movie more than what it could’ve been. There are laughs, but there is also a lot of drama as well—drama of the “It’s a Wonderful Life” class.

Sandler plays Michael Newman, an architect who works so hard to get a promotion in his firm that he barely has time to spend with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two kids. He misses his son’s swim meet, he has to cancel the annual summer camping trip, and he can’t enjoy have a family dinner without his arrogant jerk of a boss (David Hasselhoff) calling him constantly. Adding onto the agitation is his inability to turn on the TV without turning on the ceiling fan or opening the garage, and so he sets out late at night to buy a universal remote control. The only place open is “Bed, Bath & Beyond.” In the “Beyond” section is where the mysterious Morty (Christopher Walken) works. Morty takes Michael to the “Way Beyond” section and brings him the universal remote to end all universal remotes…

It turns out this remote controls everything in Michael’s universe. He pushes the pause button, and everything pauses around him. He clicks rewind, and he can revisit favorite memories. He can even fast-forward through parts of his life he’d rather skip, like arguments with his wife, slow traffic, and sad moments when his kids are let down. This leads to many funny moments such as he plays with the color setting on himself, making him appear yellow (pirate), then green (Hulk), then purple (Barney), until he finally gets a good tan (Julio Iglesias). And it also has its inventive moments too, such as when Michael explores features from his “Main Menu,” such as his “making-of” and a moment with commentary by James Earl Jones.

But Michael learns that the remote is no toy, as it seems to learn his fast-forwarding patterns and is skipping through larger portions of his life. This is where the dramatic aspects come in. Michael learns the hard way that he needs to put more focus on what he has rather than what he doesn’t have, because his life will just go by quickly otherwise. It’s hard to believe this is in the same film that also features crude jokes with side characters including Michael’s wife’s friend (Jennifer Coolidge, really annoying) and some grossout humor including a long fart joke. While the comedic aspects in the first half of the movie are broad, they’re toned down as the situation involving this dangerous remote becomes more serious. And it works because Michael is a relatable guy and his plight is recognizable—he wants everything to go well, but his priorities are out of place. We feel bad for him when he loses so many precious times (and even loved ones) and is in danger of losing even more. And it’s because Sandler is so good at playing the “everyman” that we want things to go well for the character.

“Click” is a bit uneven, but for what it set out to do, it works. Sometimes it’s funny, other times it’s touching, and overall, it has a good point to make: don’t fast-forward through the most important parts of your life, figuratively. There’s more I can find here than I could in many other “Adam Sandler movies,” so I use “Click” as a prime example of what they could be.

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Power Rangers (2017)

23 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Recruit a team of teenagers with attitude!” You want teenagers with attitude? You’ll get them in this new version of “Power Rangers.”

I liked “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” as a kid. I had some of the Rangers’ action figures, I wore out the VHS tape of the 1995 feature-length spinoff from watching it so many times, and I even watched some of the spinoff TV series as well (“Wild Force,” “Ninja Storm,” “Galaxy”). But then something happened.

I grew up…but the Power Rangers didn’t grow up with me.

But it still stays with a lot of people who obviously didn’t outgrow it like I did (including Internet reviewer Lewis “Linkara” Lovhaug, who has his own “History of the Power Rangers” web series). A good chunk of those people didn’t particularly care for the new direction the 2017 reboot of the franchise (simply titled “Power Rangers”) took upon hitting the big screen. This new direction was adding complexities, grit, and even “PG-13” to the fun and to the characters, whereas everything in the previous series and movies was consistently lighthearted and silly and “PG” (or “Practically G”).

And as strange as it may seem, even though I outgrew the Power Rangers franchise…I actually liked this movie.

It does have some major flaws, however. A majority of the dialogue isn’t particularly good, some of the jokes fall flat (especially one involving a cow early in the proceedings), there’s an inconsistency of tone (which I’ll get to later), and the climactic battle involves a McGuffin to be found at a Krispy Kreme. Just as “Happy Gilmore” had a lot of Subway and “Talladega Nights” had a lot of Applebee’s, the final act of “Power Rangers” practically belongs to Krispy Kreme. There’s even a scene in which the film grinds to a halt as the central antagonist enjoys a delicious donut.

But thankfully, the good elements of “Power Rangers” outweigh the bad. The story is surprisingly terrific; for a Power Rangers movie, having an impressive story is quite an accomplishment. It has its typical superhero origin story, with five teenagers discovering a buried, abandoned spaceship and some mystical stones that give them amazing abilities, but it also uses themes of friendship, leadership, and teamwork in ways that work surprisingly well. I was surprised by how much I was getting into a Power Rangers story!

Another reason for getting so invested in this Power Rangers story is a big one: all five of our young heroes are terrific! I don’t mean to merely say that the actors are appealing (which they certainly are). I mean this film about a team of superheroes manages to set each character up and develop them properly. They’re all different youngsters with different problems and one thing in common: each other. One kid, named Jason (played by Dacre Montgomery), is a former football jock which makes him qualified to be the leader of this group, but he also has to learn responsibility which is tough for any young man. Another, Kimberly (Naomi Scott), used to be a mean-girl type on campus, and her reason for losing her old friends is more complicated and surprisingly brutal, which teaches her to move forward. Another, Billy (RJ Cyler, from “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), is an autistic victim of bullying whose brains help save the day. Another, Zack (Ludi Lin), is a loner who cares for his ill mother. And last but not least is Trini (Becky G), who feels uncomfortable in her own skin due to her struggles with her sexual orientation.

Yes, people. The Power Rangers are actually “teenagers with attitude” in this updated version, not like the squeaky-clean, perfect, bland teens in the series. Imagine that!

Moving past some inane lines of dialogue these young actors have to read from a script, these kids feel like real kids with real problems, which is a most pleasant surprise, especially for a Power Rangers movie. And they work great together, slowly warming up to one another after being strangers, training for combat, having to work together as a team, and finding that common element that will ultimately bind them as such. There’s a scene midway through the film in which they sit around a campfire and discuss their problems, and it’s the best scene in the film because it feels warm and genuine and even kind of deep. I would see a sequel to ‘Power Rangers” simply to see these characters again.

But wait, you might wonder, this doesn’t sound like a Power Rangers movie. Don’t worry, because there are still Power Rangers elements here. We have characters like the Rangers’ advisor Zordon (Bryan Cranston, slumming it as a face in a wall but never quite shows it), Zordon’s annoying robotic assistant Alpha (voiced by Bill Hader), and the Rangers’ ultimate archrival, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a former Ranger who seeks to obtain a hidden stone (buried underneath a Krispy Kreme) and creates a giant golden monster to forcibly take it for her. And there are still the Zords, the Rangers’ heavily armored vehicles that can form as one if need be. And there’s still a big fight in the city between the Mega-Zord and a gigantic mutant beast. And yes, there’s still that awesome theme song from the original show that plays when the Rangers are finally headed for battle. But another problem with “Power Rangers” is kind of an odd one: it works best when it isn’t trying to be “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” It has kind of an inconsistent tone, especially when it comes to Rita, who is more silly than threatening. Banks is having a ton of fun with the role, but her scenes and the Rangers’ scenes have a distracting contrast. Alpha isn’t as annoying as he is in the show, but his comic-relief moments still come off as forced. But the scenes with Zordon work well (hey, every origin story needs a wise instructor). And even if the action is pushed aside to make room for a big bombastic final act, I didn’t mind…except that it might be a little late by that point. The film is two hours long, and most of the running time is devoted to character development that intense action seems a little out-of-place.

But then again, it is a “Power Rangers” movie, so…I dunno. Look, I liked the movie for reasons I didn’t expect to. That’s about all I can say about “Power Rangers” anymore. It’s fun, it’s well-acted, it’s even compelling at times. The action is there, the Power Rangers callbacks are there, and even some of the silliness is there; you just have to get through some solid character development…and resist the urge to get some donuts after viewing the film.

Sleight (2017)

17 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Sleight,” directed and co-written by J.D. Dillard, is a film that tells the familiar dangers of urban society that we’ve seen in other films and even on the news, but in doing so, it inserts a fascinating element of trickery: the troubled young man caught up in trouble with gangs and drugs is masterful at illusion.

He’s a street magician, performing card tricks, floating quarters, and making swift motions. And he’s excellent at it. But being the sole provider for his younger sister requires more than spare change on the street for performing magic tricks. So, he’s a street performer by day and a drug dealer by night, making runs for a local crimerunner.

You expect things to go wrong for this 18-year-old kid, and they do. Soon, he, his sister, and his girlfriend are in danger, and he figures the best way to escape them is to face them. Predictable, yes, but the way “Sleight” goes about bringing this story to life is intriguing, particularly it comes to how the kid is able to perform these tricks and what he must do to get out of this mess.

An engaging lead helps a lot too. Jacob Latimore stars as the kid, named Bo, and his performance is nothing short of brilliant. He forces you to feel his plight (see what I did there?) and understand what he does and why he has to do it to survive. Even when things are at their most deadly, in a particularly tense scene in the middle, you see him balance the fear he feels with trying to keep a game face in front of people who will otherwise kill him. The supporting characters are good too, with Bo’s sister Tina played by Storm Reid and Bo’s girlfriend played by Seychelle Gabriel. Latimore and Reid play off each other perfectly, and you buy them as brother-and-sister. Gabriel plays an appealing love interest, who doesn’t know Bo’s nightly duties and is able to listen and understand when he finally comes clean.

Then there’s Dule Hill, a character actor who has done great work as mild-mannered schmoes in TV shows like “Psych” and “The West Wing.” Here, he plays the gang leader Angelo, and he’s quite effective at playing a straight-up A-hole, perhaps channeling Giancarlo Esposito’s despicable character in the similarly-themed 1994 film, “Fresh.”

Everything builds to an inevitable climax in which Bo must use his hidden abilities against Angelo and his gang in order to get control of his life back and protect the people he loves, after everything has gone almost completely to hell. By then, I forget about how expected the outcome will be and remember that the most important thing is how Bo is going to pull it off. By that point, I am engrossed in the character and all I care about is him making it out of this messy situation.

I’m recommending “Sleight” for what isn’t easy to do, which is to take something familiar and keep it engaging and intriguing. But after seeing it, do yourself a favor and forget about the “open-ended” ending. It’s highly unneccesary, especially when taking into consideration that “Sleight” already told a full story with hardly any loose ends to be tied in a sequel. “Sleight” told the whole story. There is a fitting epilogue that gives closure, and then everything almost feels botched by just one last scene that ends the film on an ambiguous note when it didn’t need to.

I know Jacob Latimore will be forgotten by the Academy when it comes down to announcing next year’s nominees for Best Actor, but he won’t be forgotten by me, because I think his is one of the best performances of the year. “Sleight” may be forgotten by most people because it’s a small film being released so early in the year (from what I can tell, the Academy has an attention span of 3-4 months maximum), but I can’t forget good work by talented people. And that is the greatest trick of them all.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

18 Dec

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Size change in fiction has always fascinated me. It’s interesting to imagine the world you live in from a different perspective. What would it look like if you were bigger? Or smaller? Disney’s 1989 smash hit “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” took it to the extreme, shrinking its heroes to ¼ inch in height so that an ordinary backyard becomes a treacherous jungle for them to trek through.

How does this happen? Well, brilliant but hapless scientist Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) invented a machine that could shrink things down to microscopic size if he could get it to work. One of the neighbors’ sons, Ron (Jared Rushton), accidentally hits a baseball through the window and it somehow fixes the machine’s problem upon hitting it, causing it to work all too well, shrinking Ron, Ron’s older brother Russ (Thomas Brown), and both of Wayne’s own kids, Amy (Amy O’Neill) and Nick (Robert Oliveri). They’re too small to get Wayne’s attention, and they get swept up and taken out with the trash. So now they must travel miles worth of enormous backyard, where they come across many dangerous obstacles—bees, sprinklers, lawnmowers, and more.

Will they be saved? Will they be restored to normal size? Well, seeing as how it’s a family adventure by Disney, don’t feel bad in correctly assuming the answer to both questions is “yes.” Just have fun with this comedic, thrill-packed adventure and enjoy what it has to offer, which is a darn good time.

The thing that intrigues me the most about “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” is its visuals. For a film released in 1989, many of the effects hold up surprisingly well. The sets are outstanding, with oversized props and glorious attention to detail. The jungle-like backyard looks unwelcoming. The animatronics, such as a giant friendly ant and a monstrous scorpion, look convincing—the ant especially will steal your heart…or at least it stole mine. At one point, one of the miniature kids is thrown into a bowl of Cheerios and milk, and it looks amazing. Even some of the blue-screen effects, such as a dangerous ride on top of a soaring bee, look nice. (Though, not all the blue-screen shots are well-done, such as when the kids are falling through the air—it’s a bit awkward. But those are so few and far between superior effects.)

If “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” were all about the look, it’d be fine, but I was engrossed by the human characters walking through it all. The kids are all likable and are given room to develop and…”grow” (forgive the pun). Russ starts as a meek wimp who quits the football team and the behest of his former-jock father, Big Russ (Matt Frewer), and as the film continues, he becomes a swashbuckling hero and an unofficial leader of the minute group. Amy is a popular but shallow teenage girl who just wants to “get home, get big, and get to the mall,” but throughout the journey, her priorities change for the better. Nick is a pre-teenage version of his father, and all he wants is to be heard by his father; he gets his chance by providing an important clue by the end of the film. My favorite development came from Ron, who starts off as a bratty 12-year-old jock and is still a wise-guy by the end of the film but much friendlier. All four young actors do good jobs, but Jared Rushton as Ron impressed me the most.

But the film’s main comedy comes from the two sets of parents—Wayne and Diane Szalinski (Marcia Strassman) and Big Russ and Mae Thompson (Kristine Sutherland). Rick Moranis is delightful as Wayne, goofy enough for us to laugh at him but more than likable enough too. He’s a perfect everyman. (Honestly, I like Moranis’ work here a little more than his goofier roles in “Ghostbusters” and “Spaceballs.”) And speaking of “goofy,” Matt Frewer is surprisingly effective as Big Russ, a man who goes through his own change while worrying about his missing kids. Most of the laughs come from Wayne’s inventive method of searching the yard for the kids without even touching the ground, Big Russ’ reactions to Wayne’s bizarre behavior, and the byplay between parents trying to work together but simply can’t (er, they can, but they…won’t).

Oh, and there’s also the Szalinski family’s dog, Quark, who of course knows more than the human characters. Simply put, this dog is a delight. Anytime the camera is on him, he’s a natural actor.

The film is a ton of fun but it isn’t great. I get that it’s just supposed to be a fun adventure, but sometimes I think things turn out a little too well for these kids. Also, I’m not so sure James Horner’s music score is the best fit for this material—it’s a little too foreboding and overly serious at times. It makes scenes that are already intense (such as when the kids are about to be sucked into a lawnmower) overly so.

And I have to ask—where in the world did that killer scorpion come from?! It leads to a neat-looking fight between the scorpion vs. the ant and the kids vs. the scorpion, but seriously, where did that thing come from?

But whatever. “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” is loads of fun and in the great tradition of Disney. Much of it still holds up today as it did in 1989 when it was originally released, and I have fun watching it now as much as I did when I was a kid watching it over and over.

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

22 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I didn’t write a full review of 2014’s “Ouija,” because it can be summed up very quickly. It’s lame, dumb, badly-written, and contains a nonsensical twist that makes it worse. Dumb, bland teens play with a Ouija board, bad things happen, they get picked off one by one by a malevolent spirit. You’d think these idiots would’ve seen the “Paranormal Activity” movies to learn not to mess with things they don’t understand. It’s a boring movie with very little to it, other than…the filmmakers wanted to see if they could make a movie about playing a supernatural board game. (Unless it’s Jumanji or Zathura, I don’t care much.)

Side-note: Yes, I know people are terrified of the Ouija board game, but if it was a real hazard to everyone, do you think they would’ve kept it stocked in toy stores all these years? Besides, according to renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, it’s not the board game itself that lets in demons; it’s you inviting them in. (You could basically do the same thing with Checkers pieces or a Twister dial, or, if you saw “The Conjuring,” a music box or a doll.) The Ouija board is just a toy. But due to the spiritualistic elements surrounding it, it’s easy for filmmakers & storytellers to try and use Ouija for purposes usually relating to horror elements, which leads us to…

Even though “Ouija” was universally panned by critics, it made a bundle at the box office, leading to the studio getting a half-baked idea that it might warrant a sequel. I have no idea what the planning process was like, but I like to think that studio executives, as well as producer Michael Bay (yes, THAT Michael Bay, whose track record with the horror films he produces is very off-putting), knew there was nowhere for this “franchise” to go but up, and so maybe they knew they had to make this new one as good as possible. Who’s a good director who knows how to make horror movies? Who can take what little the original film had to begin with and make something gripping and scary out of it?

Mike Flanagan is the one they chose to take Ouija in a new direction. His previous horror films include the underrated chiller “Oculus” and my favorite horror film of 2016 by far, “Hush,” so I’d say that was a very good choice. And if you saw my Verdict rating above, you know I think Flanagan did a very good job with “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” a prequel to the 2014 film. I was surprised by how smart and how genuinely chilling this movie is, especially considering its deplorable predecessor.

Set in 1967 (47 years before the other film), “Ouija: Origin of Evil” focuses on one family (as opposed to a group of stock dead-meat teen characters in the first film). California medium Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is a widowed mother to rebellious 15-year-old Lina (Annalise Basso) and adorable 9-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson), all of whom are adjusting to life after the sudden death of her husband/their father. Alice hosts séances at home for clients, and her daughters help make the illusion more practical. But they mean well; Alice assures her children that they’re not scammers and they do it to help people, even if their methods are showy. But they themselves would appreciate a real way of connecting to the afterlife.

Alice buys a Ouija board game (property and trademark of Hasbro, whom I hope has a sense of humor in allowing their product associated with grisliness) and rigs it for use at séances. But when Doris begins playing with it, the family discovers to their amazement that they can really communicate with authentic spirits, including the man they lost.

This is a very intriguing premise so far, as we see people using phony methods of connecting with spirits and are bewildered by the discovery of something more real than they expected. But it’s not fun for long, as Doris is in contact with spirits who are much less than friendly. Soon, she is possessed by a black-skinned demon (Doug Jones…of course, Doug Jones). Alice is still blinded by the amazement she feels for the whole ordeal, but Lina is suspicious and seeks help from priest Father Tom (Henry Thomas), who discovers there is far more sinister going on with poor little Doris than Lina or Alice ever expected.

Flanagan has fun with the ‘60s setting, littering the film with retro callbacks, such as space-program references, retro fragments such as the roman numerals (of the date) at the bottom of the title card, the classic Universal logo that opens the film, and even inserting little black blips at the top-right of the screen to make it appear as if it was projected on film. With the exception of an obvious CGI figure that (thankfully) only pops up about 2-3 times, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” looks and feels like a film that was made and released in the late-‘60s. But Flanagan also knows how to use scares effectively. He uses jump-scares scarcely (I think the first fake-out scare was intended to be funny rather than annoying, thank goodness), he eases people in with tension and a creepy feeling without overloading the buildup with falseness (a problem most horror movies face today), and then, in the overbearing climax, that’s when he pulls out all the stops. That’s what a good horror film is supposed to do: ease the audience into its weirdness/creepiness and let it all out when the time is right, by which point the audience is very much on-edge.

But wait, you may ask. How is it scary? Flanagan uses creepy visuals, even out of focus in the background. He shows horrific things happening. And like I said, he uses false jump scares scarcely—when there are real jump scares, there’s actually something to be scared of. (I know, a shocking concept, right?) And overall, it’s creepy. It leaves you with the knowledge that there are dangerous forces at work and are playing with Doris’ mind and haunting Alice and Lina’s lives, and it builds its suspense from there. The climax is a little overbearing, with everything becoming a threat around every corner of this house (including a creepy basement and a hidden room), but it deserves to be by that point.

But a horror movie wouldn’t be nearly as effective if we didn’t care about the characters this stuff is happening to. Flanagan manages a win with this as well, picking three very good actresses (Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, and Lulu Wilson) who successfully deliver a family dynamic and play people we care about and fear for. Henry Thomas is also solid as well, playing a man of God who is also looking for otherworldly answers ever since his wife died.

It’s important to note that no one needs to see the 2014 “Ouija” film before seeing this “prequel.” This works perfectly well as a stand-alone story, and its predecessor needs no more attention than it already got. “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is much better than it deserves to be. Not that I would want another “Ouija” movie to come from this—I mean, after all, just like there was nowhere for the franchise to go but up, this franchise seems like it can only go downward from here.

The Final Girls (2015)

14 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Final Girls” wants to be both a satire and a loving homage to ‘80s slasher horror films, but I don’t recall any “Friday the 13th” or “Sleepaway Camp” film (and yes, I’ve seen my share of those films) with a universe so…colorful. Let me explain—“The Final Girls” is about a bunch of modern teenagers who are magically transported into the world of an ‘80s slasher film they were watching, and this new dimension is the mid ‘80s in full Technicolor. The flowers are artificially colored, the leaves are brightly green, the characters wear bright colors, and so on. This is more like “Hot Tub Time Machine’s” interpretation of the ‘80s than, say, “The House of the Devil.” (Both “The Final Girls” and “Hot Tub Time Machine” apparently picked the same ‘80s year too: 1986. Odd coincidence.)

But no one should be complaining too much, because the overly-retro look of the exaggerated movie-‘80s adds to the fun. We can associate it with the ‘80s, and that’s good enough. “The Final Girls” is meant to be a spoof rather than a genuine horror film. And while it lampoons its own nostalgic callbacks with self-awareness, it embraces them with admiration too. We get the stereotypes (the jock, the slut, the token minority, etc.) lined up for slaughter by a silent, demented killer in a secluded summer camp, accompanied by present-day young people who observe the madness.

The main character of “The Final Girls” is Max (well-played by the appealing Taissa Farmiga), a college student whose mother (Malin Akerman) played one of the many victims in a popular mid-‘80s slasher film, entitled “Camp Bloodbath.” A year after her mom dies in a car accident, Max reluctantly agrees to appear at a “Camp Bloodbath” retrospective as a favor to Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), the nerdy stepbrother of Max’s sarcastic hipster friend Gerty (Alia Shawkat, “Arrested Development”) who arranges the screening at a local theater. Accompanying Max, Duncan, and Gerty are Max’s sensitive-jock crush, Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and an unwelcome Vicki (Nina Dobrev), who can’t seem to get over the fact that she and Chris are broken up. Soon after the movie starts, the theater is caught on fire, and the five kids try to escape behind the screen. They realize too late they have actually escaped through the screen and into the movie itself.

They find that the movie plays on a loop and the only way to get out of it is to go through it with the central characters. This proves to be a difficult task, as things seem too real in this world, especially the killer who waits in the woods for the perfect (and appropriate—or inappropriate) moments to strike. Now they have to try and make it through the film without becoming victims themselves.

Another difficulty in this journey is the reunion between Max and her mother—er, her mother’s character, in her early 20s. Max wants to make sure her mother doesn’t fall victim to the killer, thus trying everything possible to change the course of the film. The relationship between Max and her mother is very strong and helps bring an emotional backbone to a film that is otherwise a joyful romp. The film is surprisingly serious-minded when it comes to this aspect’s themes of loss, redemption, and fear of losing again. On top of that, both actresses play their roles very well. And this relationship also has light comedic purposes, such as Max having to play mother to her own mother, whose character is eager to lose her virginity to the class-A horn dog Kurt (Adam DeVine), which will of course result in her murder by the on-looking killer. That’s funny, but it’s also emotional when you consider that she feels the need to protect her from the hardships of the real world.

One of the film’s running gags is that these five central millennial characters have to play practical parental roles to these ‘80s-movie archetypes such as teaching the airhead slut Tina (Angela Trimbur), And these types are more than exaggerated, which should irritate me but strangely left more of an impact on me as it went on. Maybe it had to do with the context of 2015 archetypes going through all this—somehow, it makes me wonder what people are going to make of this young generation decades from now. What would they see in us (or in our movies) that we simply don’t see ourselves today?

Wow, I just wrote myself into a philosophical topic in a review of a broad comedy.

You know what? I’ve said enough. Check out “The Final Girls.” It’s entertaining. It’s funny. It’s cute. It’s even touching at times. It’s well-written, and it’s worth nothing one of the writers was Joshua John Miller, whose father was Jason Miller (well-known as Karras of “The Exorcist” fame); maybe he developed the character of Max as a way of dealing with his own parental loss. And of course, it’s very colorful. Metaphorically and literally.

V/H/S/2 (2013) – V/H/S: Viral (2014)

27 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

As someone who enjoyed the found-footage horror anthology “V/H/S” as more-or-less a “guilty pleasure,” I was curious to see what could be done as a follow-up. Would “V/H/S” be a worthy horror franchise or would it wear out quickly after a desperate cash-grab attempt?

“V/H/S/2” (or “S-V/H/S,” as it was originally called) is about on par with “V/H/S” in that it’s uneven yet enjoyable for the best parts (just enough for me to recommend). There is one big difference, however—“V/H/S/2” has a middle segment that is creepier, more outrageous, and more fun than any of the other segments in either of the two “V/H/S” films. It itself is a terrific horror film worthy of a recommendation.

Once again, the wraparound story for the anthology involves people sneaking into a house and watching unsettling VHS tapes. While I thought the previous film’s connective tissue had some chilling subtle moments, I felt it was weak overall with a lack of clever resolution. But with this one (directed by Simon Barrett), I surprisingly found myself more involved in what was happening, as once again, little things change here and there that had me edgy—the surprise was I thought the twist was actually unique and well-done. My only problem with it is after the characters watch the segments in between. The things they see don’t seem to faze them very much; they just seem to shrug it off and continue to the next one each time.

The first segment (“Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” directed by Adam Wingard) is shown through a man’s ocular implant with a camera. The doctors warn him that the implant is experimental (hence the camera, to see how things go at first). Shortly after he gets it, he starts seeing visions of people who shouldn’t be there. It’s an unsettling, effectively done chiller with an ending that made me look away.

The second segment (“A Ride in the Park,” directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale) is shown mostly from the POV of a Go-Pro attached to a bicyclist’s helmet. The bicyclist is attacked by a zombie and soon becomes one himself. He turns others into zombies and they set off in search for fresh meat. This is a neat twist on the zombie-movie, with enough visceral gore to appease genre fans.

The third segment is the aforementioned best: “Safe Haven,” directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans. The narrative here is more intricate than any of the previous segments, and it definitely works as its own short horror film. It involves a news crew getting the scoop on a cult run by an Indonesian deportee (played chillingly by Epy Kusnandar) who promises immortality to his followers. I could tell where this was going as soon as I knew a cult was involved, and it seemed to lead to where I thought it would. But after that, there was still about 15 minutes left to go…and man, I was way off! Would you believe me if I said Kool-Aid was the least of the worries here? This segment has a ton of surprises, neatly horrific developments, and unforgettable additional elements that make it worth recommending for all genre fans, if they can take it.

Unfortunately, after that, we get to the weakest segment in the series: “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” from Jason Eisener (best-known for “Hobo With a Shotgun”). With a goofy fun-sounding title like that, I expected much more than what I got. Maybe it was because nothing could top “Safe Haven,” but I just wasn’t interested in this part at all. It’s fairly straightforward—teens have a sleepover, aliens invade, they try to get away, they get abducted, the end. Oh, and there’s a camera attached to a dog. It might be enjoyable for some, and it may not be fair comparing it to “Safe Haven” after all, but I expected a better end portion than this.

I recommend the film overall, but it really comes down to “Safe Haven.” It’s worth seeing just for its own insanely entertaining bit of craziness.

But then we take a step down in quality and quantity; the ultimate end of a promising horror franchise; the final nail in the coffin…

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V/H/S: Viral

Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“V/H/S: Viral” is not merely bad—it’s obnoxious. With the previous films, you could tell they were labors of love from indie filmmakers having fun with this style of “hyper-realistic” horror. But with this, you can tell it’s a feeble cash-grab attempt. I don’t feel any passion put into this at all, and everyone else seemed to agree with me, as no future “V/H/S” films were planned since this film’s release.

I think what this film is trying to say is that we’re all obsessed with viral videos and many members of our generation are looking to capture the next best online hit. I think (but I’m not sure, as the motivations are muddled at best) that was the intention of the wraparound story to present that message. But the result is so confused and baffling that it’s hard to find the sense in it. Even the ending, which should spell out what it means, left me scratching my head. But on the plus side, it made me feel better to know it was over and I didn’t have to think about it anymore.

From what I could gather, it’s about teens trying to make their own viral videos and weird things happen that endanger their lives…and that’s all I got.

There’s no structure of people finding VHS tapes and watching horrific shorts. It’s just a bunch of random shorts thrown in between this strange supposed-wraparound.

(Just to state up front—I won’t list any names of the directors of these segments. I like to think I’m doing them a favor.)

The first random short is “Dante the Great,” which is about a magician who obtains a mystical cloak that truly is magic and gives him unbelievable power, which goes to his head. His assistant has to confront him and fight him one-on-one and somehow gain the upper hand against his real magic. This actually would be a neat idea and the effects are decent, but its execution is all over the place. Sometimes, it’s shown as a documentary. But then there’s hidden camera footage that no one could have gotten. There’s cheating in “found-footage,” and then there’s this.

The second segment is “Parallel Monsters” is a little better. It has an intriguing concept of a guy unlocking a portal to another dimension and switching places with his counterpart, only to find that it’s not what he expected at all. What he finds is creepy enough and it leads to some effective imagery. But unfortunately, it ends on a disappointing note.

After the passable “Parallel Monsters,” we are then cursed with the most detestable part of the film: “Bonestorm,” about a bunch of loud, rude, crude, vulgar, obnoxious, detestable skateboarders who go to Mexico and fight off a bunch of cult members looking for a sacrifice (I think; it was hard to tell exactly what was happening). This is what got me over the edge, as I facepalmed myself and wondered if it was even worth sitting through the rest of this thing. But I faced it head-on, as painful as it was. “Bonestorm” was such an aggressively bad short. Its shot choices are repetitive and with no style put into it, making it painful to look at—even skateboard videos and video games have more style than this thing.

Even the message of the film makes no sense! I just realized that even though there’s this stupid wraparound story that’s supposed to talk about young people and their obsession with “going viral,” neither of these three segments have ANYTHING to do with that in the slightest! They’re just random shorts trying to recapture that spirit of the previous films and failing miserably. No thought went into this at all. “V/H/S: Viral” is a lazy, badly-done conclusion of a “trilogy” made by people who I would guess didn’t care for what it was going to be as much as how quickly they could turn it in. I hated this movie.