3 From Bill Skarsgård

Okay, so I’ve not written anything here in quite a while.  September brought my annual vacation, then at my company picnic a local SPCA brought puppies.  I went home with a new little girl who has been running me ragged keeping her out of trouble and cleaning up after her!  Anyway, onto some reviews…

“It: Chapter Two”

A movie that needs no real introduction.  Not as good, I didn’t think, as the first, but still quite enjoyable.  Bill Skarsgård’s turn as the titular pronoun’s evil clown incarnation is still fantastic and creepy.

Final Grade: B+

“Villains”

A dark comedy about two thieves (Skarsgård and Maika Monroe) who unfortunately have their getaway car run out of gas on a back road.  They spy a nearby home and break in, hoping to steal the owner’s car or at least siphon gas from it.  Instead, they find out the homeowners (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick) have some rather criminal tendencies as well.

A fun and twisted romp, well performed by the cast.  Highly recommended!

Final Grade: A

“Castle Rock”

Series by Hulu, streaming on their service.

Based loosely on the fictional town featured in many Stephen King novels and stories (King serves as an Executive Producer and Writer on the series), the first season of the show starts with a new warden taking over at Shawshank Prison after the last warden has died.  Finding a wing of the prison that isn’t used, the new warden sends some guards to investigate and they find a man (Skarsgård, his second King property) imprisoned there, presumably by the late warden for reasons unknown.  The man is mostly quiet and doesn’t talk, but says the name “Henry Deaver,” a former Castle Rock resident turned death row attorney.  One of the guards notifies Deaver, who returns to Castle Rock, intrigued as to why this man would have asked for him.

The series unfolds over 10 episodes, revealing just who the man is, what his connection to Deaver is, and why the town of Castle Rock is plagued with random acts of severe violence.  More thriller/sci-fi than horror (as might be expected by King’s involvement), but I rather enjoyed it nonetheless.  The twists keep coming, and the pacing is very good.  Season two is coming soon (but does not contain Bill Skarsgård in the cast).

Final Grade: B+

 

Scary Hide and Seek

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

Based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz, this semi-kid-friendly horror piece wraps several of the original stories in an overall package that isn’t quite an anthology. On Halloween night, 1968, several kids break into the old mansion on the outskirts of town, rumored to be haunted by the spirit of Sarah Bellows. The legend says that although Sarah was kept locked up by her family for reasons unknown, if a child crept up to the house and asked for a story, Sarah would oblige and tell them, through the walls, a scary story. Our meddling kids happen upon Sarah’s hidden room in the house, and therein find her handwritten book of scary stories.

Over the next several days they discover that Sarah isn’t quite done with her stories yet. New stories appear in the book starring each of the kids, and each becomes real in horrorific ways. The kids desperately try to find a way to stop Sarah and her tales, before they all fall victim to them.

Though it might be a bit much for very young children, preteens and older into horror — or fans of the books — will find much to like here. Producer Guillermo del Toro and director André Øvredal have put together an enjoyable romp that, while not necessarily scary, definitely has its creepy moments. The main actors are all quite good as well (Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur). The creature effects round out the package, with effects wizards turning out some original monsters, as well as bringing some of the book’s illustrations (by Stephen Gammell) to life.

Final Grade: B

“Ready or Not”

When I first heard the title of this movie, I honestly thought it was a bad idea. Taking the concept of the game of hide and seek and turning it into a movie? I assumed it would be as terrible as the many movies made about games of truth or dare. Then the trailer came out, and I was intrigued.

And, I’m happy I gave it a chance.

The movie stars Samara Weaving as Grace, who has just married into the eccentric and fabulously wealthy Le Domas family. Having made their money from board and card games, the family has a tradition that when someone new joins through marriage, the family must gather together and play a game. Said game is randomly chosen by the new family member via a special antique puzzle box which will spit out a card bearing the name of the game to play. While most are completely benign, if “Hide and Seek” is revealed, the new spouse must hide while the rest of the family seeks — with the ultimate goal being to sacrifice the new spouse in a ritual before dawn, lest tragedy befall the existing family members. No one has chosen it in 30 years, so what are the odds, right?

What transpires on screen is two-thirds dark comedy, and one-third thriller. As Grace comes to the very quick realization of just what is as stake, and her new hubby Alex (Mark O’Brien) tries to help her as best he can, the rest of the family is truly out for blood, and the jokes wind down the longer Grace keeps them all running. When the jokes happen they are well timed and fun, and the filmmakers (directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, edited by Terel Gibson) do an excellent job of combining the comedy and the suspense, all the way to the very satisfying and multi-layered conclusion. The cast does a great job at bringing it all to life, with a particularly scene-chewing turn by Nicky Guadagni as Aunt Helene. Also stars Adam Brody, Hery Czerny, and Andie MacDowell.

Final Grade: A-

“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Hollywood, 1969, is a visual masterpiece.  Not just a period piece with people in costumes on period sets.  Tarantino went full scale and had parts of Los Angeles set decorated to appear as if it were 1969.  Streets filled with cars from the era, billboards and ads, and extras all wearing era appropriate attire.  I couldn’t really detect any hint of green screen in use, and searches on the Web insist they simply weren’t used.  This was all practical; built when needed, decorated regardless.  And the result is stunning.

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“Anna and the Apocalypse”

Anna and the Apocalypse” is an indie film (directed by John McPhail) out of the UK that promotes itself as a zombie comedy musical.  Yes, musical.  Available now in the USA via popular digital platforms, the movie centers around teenager Anna (Ella Hunt) and her small circle of friends as they prepare for the various Christmas festivities at their school when a zombie apocalypse breaks out in their normally quiet little town.  The group fights their way around town in an attempt to reunite with family members and loved ones, and hopefully find a way out of the undead mess.

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More Mini Reviews

Vice” – Christian Bale destroys his body and plays former Vice President Dick Cheney in this well-made version of Cheney’s story and rise to power.  Amy Adams plays his wife, while Steve Carrel plays Donald Rumsfeld.  Was interesting to see how the events of the Bush Jr. administration came to be, since there were always the rumors and such circulating.  Well worth a watch if you remember this time period in American history.  Final Grade: A

Aquaman” – Introduced in previous DC movies, water breathing hero Arthur / Aquaman gets his own standalone story.  And since “Justice League” was such a travesty, nice to see the standalone movies are more entertaining.  Jason Momoa gives a fun performance as the hero, and while we all know he has a great body, part way through the movie I began to wonder if Arthur just doesn’t like shirts.  Anyway, while the movie is overall a fun superhero romp, it does drag in a few places.  And why did we need multiple bad guys?  Final Grade: B-

Bird Box” –  2018 Netflix original.  After horrific forces have destroyed most of the population, a woman (Sandra Bullock) must guide two children to a supposed safe haven.  The catch is that the enemy can only destroy you if you look at it, so the characters must spend time outside in blindfolds (for some reason the monsters won’t come inside), trying to make their way around as best they can.  The main problem I had with this plot is the lack of thought by the characters that, hey, actual blind people exist and manage to survive using various techniques.  Instead, there is lots of stumbling around, using strings, and so forth.  Most of the story just seemed nonsensical to me.  Final Grade: D+

The Changeling” – From 1980, streaming on Shudder.  George C. Scott plays a composer who witnesses his wife and young daughter killed in a horrible motor vehicle accident.  Many months later, he rents out an old enormous house to try to get his creative juices flowing again, only he quickly realizes something else is in the house with him.  An effective, albeit not particularly scary by today’s standards, haunted house story where we actually get most of the answers we could want as viewers.  Final Grade: B-

You Might Be the Killer” – 2018, also streaming on Shudder.  Horror comedy starring Buffy-alum Alyson Hannigan, about a guy named Sam (Fran Kranz) who is training some counselors at a soon-to-open summer camp.  Being a camp in a horror movie, the counselors start dying to a masked killer.  Sam keeps blacking out, and beings to wonder who might be responsible for all the death surrounding him.  If you are a fan of the camp themed slasher movies, you will likely enjoy this funny romp.  I know I did.  Final Grade: B