Movie Reviews, June 5, 2021

So hey, fully vaccinated I actually felt comfortable going to a movie theatre again.


Disney’s latest cartoon to live action feature takes on villain Cruella DeVil from ‘101 Dalmatians.’ You know the one: loves fur, wants to make a spotted coat out of puppies. The film begins with the childhood years of Estella and her two-tone hair that leads to bullying in her English boarding school. Estella wants nothing more than to challenge the status quo and become a fashion designer. Much like their previous effort in ‘Maleficent,’ Disney presents a lot of back story on just why Estella takes on the moniker Cruella and becomes such a villain — only, in this version, she doesn’t. Yes, she pulls some illegal and immoral stunts over the course of the film, but at the end of the day she is not the character from ‘101 Dalmatians.’ This incarnation of Cruella is out to right past wrongs against her family, and become a smash hit in the London fashion scene at the same time. Regardless, it was an enjoyable romp filled with action, adventure…and some occasional, terrible CGI work. Worth watching to see the two Emmas in the cast (Emma Stone and Emma Thompson) chew up the scenery in the best ways possible.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: the movies in the ‘Conjuring’ universe have strayed so far from the original stories they are claiming to be based upon, that it is downright ridiculous. Purporting to chronicle the ‘true stories’ of self-proclaimed paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren, none of these films has ever been able to resist the urge to amp up the horror elements and introduce characters and scenes that even the Warrens never claimed to have happened. And this far into the series (counting the Annabelle and Nun spin off movies), boy did this one go over the top. This time around the Warrens are assisting in the exorcism of a young boy. During said exorcism, one of the people present, Arne Johnson, belittles the demon for picking on a child and invites it to take him instead. The demon obliges. Mr. Johnson, over the next several days, has horrifying visions, doesn’t feel like himself, and ultimately murders his landlord. His lawyer then, with the assistance of the Warrens, makes the claim in court of not guilty due to demonic possession. And that’s where the similarities to the ‘true story’ end. From here on out we have a story about demons, devil worshippers, priests having secret children, weird ritualistic totems, curses being placed on people…I’m so over it. Whether or not you believe the Warrens’ stories about their cases, whether or not you believe the real Mr. Johnson was possessed by demons when he committed his crime, it doesn’t matter. This movie just wasn’t very good and was all over the place. If this trend of escalating the situations continues in this series of films, the next installment will have the Warrens travelling to Mars to assist space marines in battling demons that came through a portal experiment.

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+


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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