Film Review “Top Gun: Maverick”

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis with Ed Harris
Paramount Pictures
Release Date: May 27, 2022
Running time: 131 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

“Top Gun” is one of the essentially movies to watch of the 80’s. I have seen it MANY times and even on 3D Blu-ray, which is an incredible way to view it. So here we are 36 years later and we have “Top Gun: Maverick”. You got to be a little nervous revisiting such an important film as this but this sequel stands up on its on and even surpasses the first film in some areas. “Top Gun: Maverick” also packs a punch of nostalgia and is surprising funny…I mean like belly laughing funny. This was a pleasant surprise as well. The most shocking factor of this sequel is the fact that Tom Cruise hasn’t aged in the last 36 years and delivers one of his best performances. I see this film having a very healthy run at the box office. A must see for sure this summer season!

Before we get too deep into the movie, I need to provide y’all with three important reasons to experience this film in IMAX!!! The first reason is an easy one…with IMAX you get to experience 26% more picture that in standard theaters. A lot of films these days are shooting with these specific IMAX cameras and it’s no joke you get to see more of the movie, so it’s a no brainer. Second, is that you literally fear the roar with IMAX sound. The sound easily rumbled the entire theater. The last one I didn’t know till after I saw the film, which is that there was six IMAX cameras located in each of the cockpits. This was why the aerial shots were so stunning and heart-pounding for sure.

Official Premise: After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. When he finds himself training a detachment of TOPGUN graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose”. Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

I have to give Jennifer Connelly props for nearly taking my breath away…she looks stunning in this movie (and she is another one that doesn’t age). Her and Cruise have great chemistry and I loved their love storyline that they had together. It was cool getting to see Val Kilmer show up again as Ice Man. The aerial scenes were absolutely stunning, like I mentioned above about the sound, the seats were literally shaking in the theater. I don’t know how Tom Cruise continues to out due himself with these films but the guy is a legend and literally wins you over even if your not a fan. Looking forward to a second viewing of this film because I feel like there is so much happening that you could benefit from multiple viewings.

Film Review: “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” – REVIEW 2

 

  • DR. STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
  • Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olson
  • Directed by: Sam Raimi
  • Ratied: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 6 mins
  • Walt Disney Studios
Second only to the Oscar-nominated “Black Panther” of 2018, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is the best Marvel film to be released to date. Having made over $230 million domestically in its first seven days of release (Box Office Mojo), the Sam Raimi-helmed story about everyone’s favorite doctor of mystical arts is a visual spectacular with plenty of excitement, great acting, and a complicated story that demands your full attention. It is nothing short of marvelous and easily the finest since “Avengers: End Game.”
(For those who have yet to see the newest “Doctor Strange” don’t worry, you won’t find any spoilers here.) We are instantly thrust to a weird place in between universes where a pony-tailed version of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a teenager named America Chavez (Xochitil Gomez) are chased by a demon as they try to reach a powerful spell book. The incredible situation goes from bad to worse before America, who has the ability to travel across the multiverse, ends up in “our” universe where she is saved by Strange and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong).
After realizing there were witchcraft runes on the demon that chased America, Stephen finds Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) to request her help. He soon discovers, though, that what transpired during the events of “WandaVision” have left Wanda psychologically imbalanced. In fact, she reveals her full embracement of her dark alter ego – The Scarlet Witch. She demands Stephen turn America over to her so she can be with her children in an alternate universe. This leads to an epic magical showdown at Kamar-Taj from which Stephen and America flee across the multiverse to another Earth that is governed by a powerful group named the Illuminati.
Stephen does not receive a warm welcome from the Illuminati council despite his grave warnings about the impending arrival of the Scarlet Witch. Ultimately, he must rely upon his ex-romantic partner Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who on this version of Earth is an expert on the multi-verse, to help him and America defeat the increasingly unhinged Scarlet Witch.
Cumberbatch gets to explore many more facets of a character who when first introduced to us was an egotistical narcissist on the same level as Tony Stark. However, Stephen grows significantly in this newest story and becomes a hero that can be fully embraced and understood. (A stark contrast to Peter Parker who never seems to mature past be a mistake prone, bumbling stumbling man child.) Stephen Strange may still have elements of over-confidence, but with Cumberbatch’s undeniable skill and some solid writing, he becomes fully developed hero in this second film devoted to the Master of Mystic Arts.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” easily has some of the best eye candy of the entire Marvel collection with dazzling special effects and colorful imagery. It is also has some moments of brutal violence, hence the PG-13 rating, as it alternates between dark moments of despair and flashes of levity that we have come to expect in all of the Marvel flicks. The assembled cast is nothing less than fantastic with particularly stand-out supporting performances from Olson and McAdams.
In the end, “Doctor Strange and Multiverse of Madness” is the best entertainment you will find currently at any cinema.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Watcher”

Starring: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman and Burn Gorman
Directed by: Chloe Okuno
Rated: R
Running Time: 91 minutes
Shudder

During “Watcher,” I was reminded of a scene from the first season of “Master of None.” It shows the carefree nature of a man walking home from a night of drinking, as he giggles and dances sloppily on his way home. The flipside, which we see, is a woman, walking home, after that same night of drinking with the man, petrified because she can hear footsteps behind her. Instead of a joyous walk home, she speed walks without revealing to her potential captor that she knows she’s being followed. “Watcher” doesn’t take place in one night nor is the fear immediate, it creeps in over an hour and a half as we watch Julia (Monroe) sense and fight back against someone who may or may not be watching her from afar.

Julia, an American, starts out of her element. She’s in Romania’s capital, supporting her boyfriend who’s so busy at work, he hardly has time to see her, much less show up for dinner on time. Julia spends her days walking about town, having trouble communicating since she doesn’t speak Romanian, and wondering what is happening across the street. At night, she stares out her window and sees the lives of others, whether they’re at the dinner table, in front of a TV, or staring right back at her. She knows he’s there, even when she can’t see him. Her boyfriend shrugs it off, becoming more concerned about her mental health and damn near everyone around her seems content on brushing things off even as a serial killer stalks the streets as evident by his murders being details on the news.

The “Watcher” is a slow-burn, as it lets Julia and the audience settle into Eastern Europe, without ever making us feel fully comfortable with some affective jump scares and lingering shots that have us holding our breath. The influences are clear for this film as director/writer Okuno utilizes elements from films, like “Rear Window,” but I’m a little disappointed she never twisted any of those elements in an attempt to modernize or fool the audience. While “Watcher” is a great thriller homage that taps deeply into paranoia, it never quite does anything unique that makes it stand out as an instant classic, even though it’s shot and feels like it should be one.

Panic Fest Film Review: “The Chamber of Terror”

Starring: Timothy Paul McCarthy, Jessica Vano and Ry Barrett
Directed by: Michael Pereira
Rated: NR
Running Time: 93 minutes

In the opening moments of “The Chamber of Terror” we meet Nash Caruthers (McCarthy), a deep-voiced renegade. He’s sealing up a member of the Ackerman crime family alive in a coffin, making short grandiose statements about his personal revenge. The audience knows nothing about any of this and yet the movie continues to chug along. We flash forward a month later where Caruthers finds himself in the Ackerman family’s underground torture dungeon where revenge meets revenge, as well as the paranormal.

Any more info would ruin “The Chamber of Terror” even though I’ll admit the first 10 minutes of the film had me wondering if I had made a mistake hitting the play button, but thankfully this is all a part of writer/director Pereira’s plan. I would implore you not to turn it off even though that opening feels like a film school student who watched “Boondock Saints” way too much. Thank God I don’t rely on my gut instincts that much or else I would have missed out on the best low budget gorefest I’ve seen in years. And by low-budget, I mean that they probably spent the majority of their budget on every exploding head, blood geyser and chunky internal organs littered across this film.

As the movie progresses, the plot gets sillier and more intricate, with characters gradually breaking the fourth wall as if they realize they’re in some kind of film worthy of an 80s Saturday night on a UHF channel. Caruthers delivers most of the silliness, fighting back against his captors in bizarre ways and delivering phony lines that even Bruce Campbell would struggle saying with a straight face. It’s a difficult film to describe because its only inherent purpose is to introduce outlandish characters and watch them interact in a blood-soaked sandbox.

“WolfCop,” another Panic Fest film that has made the rounds for its comedic approach to insane ideas, is referenced early on in the film. If you’ve seen “WolfCop,” then you know what kind of film you’re in for and if not, don’t take your love of horror too seriously, or even “Chamber of Terror” for that matter. While “The Chamber of Terror” sounds like a bad haunted house attraction in a shopping mall, the film itself is a confidently directed horror comedy that gets more ridiculous and bloody as the film goes on. By the end, you hope that Caruthers winds up in another misadventure.

Film Review: “The Northman”

 

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Taylor-Joy
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hrs 17 mins
Focus Features

If you have not seen the Viking action/drama “The Northman” yet, then you are missing out on a classic work of historical fiction by director Robert Eggers (“The Lighthouse,” “The Witch”). Headlined by a superb performance from Alexander Skarsgard, “The Northman” is based upon a Scandinavian folktale written by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1150-c. 1220), which served to later influence William Shakespeare’s writing of “Hamlet.” Eggers’s glorious cinematic take on the ancient story of Amleth is violent to the core with an emphasis on historical detail and Viking mythology.

The story, which is a tad slow occasionally, begins in the year AD 895 when King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns to his island kingdom of Hrafnsey. A celebration, organized by his wife, Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) is held to honor his triumphant return. However, King Aurvandil, who bears a terrible wound, refrains from too much revelry as he is focused on preparing young Amleth to be his successor. As such, they participate in an ancient ritual overseen by the king’s jester, Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe).

During the morning after the king’s return, he is betrayed by his brother, Fjolnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang, “The Square”) and Amleth must flee the island to stay alive, but not before he vows repeatedly to get his revenge. This fire within serves him well as he is taken in by Vikings who raise him as a berserker. During one of their forays into the lands of the Rus people, which encompasses parts of modern-day Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, Amleth (Skarsgard) learns that his uncle was overthrown by King Harald of Norway and lives in banishment in Iceland.

Seizing the opportunity to get his vengeance and rescue his mother, Amleth disguises himself as a slave before slipping onto a ship bound for Iceland. It is during the voyage that he meets a Slavic slave named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Queen’s Gambit,” “The Witch”) who claims she is a sorceress, something she proves later. A connection develops between them as Amleth bides his time while continuing his ruse under his uncle’s nose.

Skarsgard, a native of Sweden who had long wanted to do a film about Vikings, is a powerful, physically imposing presence on the screen. He makes Thor the God of Thunder look weak and insignificant and could have possibly been a better choice for that role as he immerses himself into Amleth as seamlessly as Daniel Day Lewis on his best day. The one quibble with his performance is that sometimes it is a little difficult to understand his dialogue.

While Hawke is delightful in his role, his performance is all too brief, and it feels like he was underused. Kidman enjoys a little more screentime, but her presence is overshadowed by Taylor-Joy’s who is enchanting. While Olga may have some magical abilities, Taylor-Joy doesn’t let it be the defining characteristic of her pivotal role.

Eggers’s work is genuine homage to Viking culture and lore without losing itself in special effects-generated magic. Sure, you can sense a pinch of “Conan the Barbarian” and even “Lord of the Rings” in parts of “The Northman,” but in the end it remains true to itself and retains its own special identity.

Panic Fest Film Review: “CRABS!”

Starring: Kurt Carley, Robert Craighead and Bryce Durfee
Directed by: Pierce Berolzheimer
Rated: NR
Running Time: 80 minutes

Sometimes it’s difficult to type or relay articulate thoughts with intentionally silly movies. CRABS! is the kind of film that I could easily just type, “Turn your brain off, pop an edible or get some beers, and enjoy the schlocky magic.” However, I can’t because you’re expecting an actual critique. All I can say in my opening paragraph is if my simplistic line above about the movie isn’t something that is in your own wheelhouse of pop-culture entertainment, just go-ahead and know you won’t like this movie.

For the rest of us though…CRABS! is a melting pot of Ed Wood and Japanese Kaiju monsters, with sprinklings of Gremlins, Tremors and CGI that might break Asylum films budget. CRABS! let’s you know immediately what kind of film you’re in for as the opening sequences are as follows: a crab makes cutesie noises as a nuclear power plant explodes, a young couple is having sex vigorously on the beach in broad daylight, a crab (potentially the one that got a front row seat to radioactivity) comes up to the couple only to kill the horny lovers. Once again, if your funny bone isn’t tickled before the title credits, then you won’t like the rest of the film.

CRABS! has an eclectic cast, featuring a boy in a wheelchair looking to create robotic legs, his girlfriend and her thirsty mom who teaches at the high school in town (she acts equally flirty and airheaded with the men and students in town), a foreign exchange student who is given the most ludicrous dialogue to say with his ridiculous accent, and a Sheriff’s Department that’s only made up of two men; both who really enjoy smoking pot. The plot, which there actually is one, is nonsense and almost unnecessary. Even a hint of scrutiny would make the plot crumble like a house of cards in a windstorm. Yet again, it’s definitely the kind of film that fits the phrase, “leave your brain at the door.”

However, even though the film wears its influences on its sleeve like a soldier being pinned with badges of honor, CRABS! really doesn’t offer anything new or different to a genre that’s ever changing and evolving. While it is an enjoyable trip, it’s not a film that’ll stick with you for years or even be begging for a rewatch; I’m not even sure if an unnecessary sequel is in the future for this film. “CRABS!” is intentionally terrible, and as long you understand that you might have a lot of fun with it.

 

Panic Fest Film Review: “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes”

Starring: Luisa Taraz, Frederick von Luttichau and Anna Platen
Directed by: Kevin Kopacka
Rated: R
Running Time: 73 minutes
Dark Sky Films

What happens when a couple inherits a big haunting castle? Margot (Taraz) and Deiter (Luttichau) have a lot of work to do, and while neither seen worried about the creaking and dark corners lurking around the castle, both are terrified by something in the cellar, so much so Deiter doesn’t even want to go down there again. Sounds like a great horror film set-up, right? “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes” isn’t a horror movie though, and honestly, I’m not sure what genre it fits in other than made-up ones mouthed by people on an acid trip.

Talking anymore about the plot behind this film would give a lot away, even though it appears I said next to nothing about the script or motives of the characters. I don’t want to spoil a film, regardless of how niche it is. I will say the twists and turns the movie takes are surprisingly interesting and inventive for a film that appears to be a general homage to European horror films of the 70s. While the film isn’t a tribute, the aesthetic it’s going for allows for it to evolve and flow naturally throughout its peculiar tale. I would say I’ve seen films that have done what it does better while I’ve also seen films, like “mother!,” fail spectacularly at what “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes” is going for.

A little while ago I reviewed “Strawberry Manson,” a film that I would almost consider to be a cousin of “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes.” There is this indie vibe that radiates throughout the film, despite the fact some scenes are so impressive they could be in any modern-day blockbuster. The relation between the two films appears to be one of ambiguity. Both films have a distinct message, but it’s so layered under popping visuals and a thick atmosphere. Layering it on the original message allows the story to branch off into different notions and ideas. Both films are a head trip, providing some sustenance throughout their brief runtimes while ultimately leaving a curious viewer hungry for more. The only problem is, I’m not sure I could watch either movie ever again.

There’s plenty of fine or even great movies I’ve only watched once. I thought “Walk the Line” was an impressive biography about one of country music’s greatest acts, but I have no interest in rewatching it. So, while rewatchability isn’t a defining factor of whether something is good or not, it does beg the question why something so curious and unique doesn’t elicit an emotion that makes me yearn for a second or third helping. I equate this to the “Infomercials” that Adult Swim airs. The line between “surprisingly rewatchable” and “once is enough” is so thin in these surreal ideas, the scale could tip either way because of the slightest thing. For me, the movie is mystical, but also kind of straightforward in that you either get it or you don’t so you won’t have to worry about watching it again to see what you missed. In that regard, “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes,” is worthy of a gander, especially since you’ll know right away if you’re in tune with it’s funky vibes or turned off by its puzzling madness.

Panic Fest Film Review: “The Outwaters”

Starring: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Bosolis and Scott Shamell
Directed by: Robbie Banfitch
Rated: NR
Running Time: 100 minutes

According to the San Francisco Gate, 1-2 people die every year In the Mojave Desert, specifically because it’s home to Death Valley. The iconic national park is known for its unforgivable heat, a record of 134 degrees in 1913, and being the driest and having the lowest elevation on the North American continent. It seems like every fact involving Death Valley, or even the Mojave Desert, is dreadful in its own unique way. But a new reason to avoid these three million acres will be found on three video camera memory cards.

The first memory card in “The Outwaters” shows us four people who aren’t necessarily brave enough to venture into Death Valley for fun, but more or less, have a legitimate reason. Robbie (Banfitch) is directing a music video for musician Michelle (Michelle May). In tow are his brother and a make-up artist, with the men in one tent and the women in another. They aren’t ignoring any warning signs or ominous news reports before they head off into the hottest place in the world. In fact, nothing would lead them to believe they are in danger, until night falls on their first night in the desert.

In the dead of night, a booming, rattling noise is heard. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly. It awakens everyone, but no one can see the cause. Is it a nearby vehicle? Is it the distant sound of thunder from a storm? Is it otherworldly? After some tense moments, they ease their nerves by settling on the idea that it’s distant thunder, but the idea seems false. We see it on their faces as they go back into their tents. Soon though, that’s not the only disturbing thing to happen and when the proverbial shit hits the fan, it’s sudden and frightening.

“The Outwaters” spends a decent amount of time setting everything up like pieces on a chess board. While I assume most people will be checking their phones during this, the set-up is crafty in that it feels realistic, natural and ultimately foreboding. It’s like a warm sip of cocoa before being shoved into an ice-cold lake. The second half of the film can only be described as bloody, trippy and ultimately nightmarish.

What made “The Blair Witch Project” a jumping off point for those in horror in 1999, is seen once again in “The Outwaters.” Banfitch (who writes, directs, stars, edits and probably did damn near everything else) pulls out all the stops to lull us into safety before throwing us in the hellish fires of his final act, which are equally unexplainable and hard to watch. The simplicity of the shots is never grotesque, but the ideas they convey take our minds to some morbid places about what is potentially happening to Robbie and the others.

As I’ve noted before and very recently, the found footage genre is a difficult one, with very few finding a unique and different way to tell the story, but “The Outwaters” almost feels like a rebirth, making you forget about the clichés of the genre as well as some other nagging questions that arise when you watch a found footage film. For instance, why does Robbie keep filming? In the darkness of the desert, it’s the only light he has to see with and if he turns it off, what demons/monsters/aliens are waiting to pounce? We feel for him as he cries and moans with every new moment he captures on his digital handheld. Eventually it feels like “The Outwaters” transcends the found-footage genre as it becomes viler and more repulsive. This is definitely the closest we’ll ever get to someone’s nightmare coming to life on-screen.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Masking Threshold”

Starring: Ethan Haslam, Johannes Grenzfurthner and Jason Scott Sadofsky
Directed by: Johannes Grenzfurthner
Rated: NR
Running Time: 90 minutes

What would be a good horror for Zoomers, the generation born in the very late 90s and early 2000s? Certain movies are able to tap into something in each generation, whether it be nuclear fears from generations who lived basically from the 50s to 80s or utilizing the internet to drum up interest like the “Blair Witch Project” did for my generation. I think “Masking Threshold” may be the kind of film that Zoomers will take notice of because it’s not your typical spook house genre film, instead focusing on the inherent narcissism that social media and self-filming can create.

The nameless protagonist, physically played by writer and director Grenzfurthner and voiced by Haslam, tells viewers that he’s an IT engineer who is going to buckle down at home and begin experimenting with sounds because he has suffered from severe tinnitus for three years. His tinnitus comes in waves, sometimes with the sounds boring into his skull like a jackhammer. He’s done his research, citing different studies and sources that have investigated the reasons behind tinnitus. Unfortunately for him, all those studies and sources have no answer and that’s why he’s looking to find his own answers.

He creates a makeshift lab in his basement, where he runs simple experiments, making notes, logging information and testing if the tinnitus is affected by any specific things. The tests, at the beginning, are ultimately harmless, but this is a film playing at a horror movie festival and you know something is going to go wrong. Is his tinnitus mad science? Is he simply being haunted? UFOs? What is it? Our lead, who explains a lot of his life in the first half of the film, is a geeky gay man whose narcissistic viewpoints have actually protected him from the torment he’s endured in life. So not only is he a minority, but is probably a minority within his own group of friends because of his perception that he’s smarter than everyone else in the room. To be fair though, he is smart. A lot of this background information and inward look at his self-obsessed nature comes in the form of video diaries that he’s uploading to Youtube, as well as his reactions to comments on social media about his experiments.

“Masking Threshold” is a first-person journey into madness. Grenzfurthner’s direction has this macabre confidence as it leads you to a paranoid isolation in hell. The film casually prepares you for the horrors that will unfold with close-ups of our protagonist doing mundane, yet kind of gross things like cleaning his ear wax, chewing loudly or other things. Maybe that’s not gross for everyone, but I find those things to be visually and audibly like nails on a chalkboard. It’s just the first of many crazy things our protagonist will subject us to in his quest for audible sanity, ironically enough.

It’s hard not to think about the pandemic during a film like this because of the isolation and depression that is accompanied with the film’s lead. In a lot of ways, we’re shown the causes of what finally happens in the finale of the film, but we’re never really given a direct link to which cause. If anything, it’s like a snowball rolling down a mountain, gradually getting bigger and picking up steam. Our protagonist’s psyche is fragile from years of crippling tinnitus and viewers are taken down a path to reveal the final nails in his mind’s coffin.

“Masking Threshold” is clever in that we’re sympathetic towards the plight of our protagonist. We understand that he’s a part of marginalized communities and is dealing with a paralyzing condition. Those moves are intentional because that sympathy will be tested and eventually spit on. If there were ever a film warning people about the perils of bathing in their own conceited echo chambers, “Masking Threshold” hits the nail on the head with a worst-case scenario that can only be created when one travels down a demented wormhole that continually feeds a broken and obsessed mind. I guarantee you’ve never seen a film quite like this before.

 

 

 

Film Review: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

 

 

  • DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
  • Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen and Xochiti Gomez
  • Directed by:  Sam Raimi
  • Rated:  PG-13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Walt Disney Pictures

 

Let me preface this review by stating that, while I have seen a majority of the MCU films, I have not seen “Doctor Strange” or the “WandaVision” series.  I say this because “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is the first film I’ve watched from the MCU where I think having seen previous adventures would have been helpful in discerning the story.  That being said, I found “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” both dark and intriguing.

 

Time has passed since Spider-man found his way into the Multiverse.  We are quickly drawn into a horrible scene involving our hero (an excellent Cumberbatch) trying to save a young girl (Gomez) from a pretty scary creature.  Try as he might, he cannot get the upper hand.  WHOA!  Thank goodness it was only a dream.  Right?

 

Full of everything that makes the MCU one of the best made, and received, film series in history, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a roller-coaster ride of action and emotion.  The girl in the dream, with the great character name of America Chavez, has been searching for her family, jumping from Multiverse to Multiverse without incident.  Everyone in these films has a superpower of some sort and America’s is being able to move through the Multiverse without incident.  There are 862 Multiverses, she tells Doctor Strange, all of them very similar.  And different.  When the Scarlet Witch (Olsen) pops by on a mission of her own, things get a little hectic for our heroes.

The one thing I dislike about reviewing a film like this is that, as much as you’d like to, it would be a betrayal to the reader to spoil key scenes or characters that arise.  That being said, if you’ve seen the television spots for this film, you know at least one new face shows up in the MCU.

 

The script is an excellent combination of action and humor, with Cumberbatch in great form as the pompous Doctor.  Olsen is equally strong in a role that shouldn’t play as sympathetic but, thanks to her performance, does.  And young Miss Gomez holds her own on screen against these two talented performers.

 

So great to see Sam Raimi, the director of the first Spider-man series with Tobey Maquire, back at the helm of a superhero film and he puts his trademark eye for pacing and character development on full display. 

 

All in all, even without a lot of background on the good Doctor, I found “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” amazingly good. 

Panic Fest Film Review: “Malibu Horror Story”

Starring: Dylan Sprayberry, Robert Bailey Jr. and Valentia de Angelis
Directed by: Scott Slone
Rated: NR
Running Time: 93 minutes

If I had to pick a genre that’s hard to create something new in, it would definitely be the found footage genre. From “Cannibal Holocaust” to “Paranormal Activity,” there’s a lot of genre busting films that manage to take the basics of the genre and elevate them to a new brand or style of horror. But this seems to be a genre that’s more miss than hit in my opinion. For every “V/H/S,” there’s at least a dozen bad ones like “The Amityville Haunting” or every “Paranormal Activity” film with a number after it. So that brings us to 2022. I’m not gonna lie, “Malibu Horror Story” isn’t necessarily a good title for a found footage horror film, but never judge a film by its title or genre.

We open with four paranormal investigators in a reclusive cave amongst the mountains north of Malibu, California. They’re in this desolate location to film their latest episode and investigate what happened to four teenagers back in 2012. For more backstory on the teens, the film shows the investigators showing off what work on the episode has already been completed. From that point, we dive from found footage of the investigators into their show which features newspaper clippings, interviews with law enforcement and of course the found footage left behind by the teenagers. To the general public, the found footage only revealed that the teenagers were dirtbags. The search for the teens pretty much ended when the found footage showed the teens doing drugs and partying more than it actually show what happened to them. So, you could say it’s technically a found footage film within a found footage film or within a fake paranormal investigator show all wrapped around a conventional claustrophobic film. Either way, without getting too deep in the thick of it or confusing you, “Malibu Horror Story” structures the story like a puzzle so that we can comfortably sit back and let the mayhem and story unfold as the pieces fall into place.

The set-up and premise are actually quite clever in that it never becomes too confusing and it manages to give us enough exposition to explain things while making us thirsty for more of the mythos behind the cave and the potential Native American curse that is about to show our paranormal investigators what happens when they meddle in something they shouldn’t, much like those dirtbag teenagers. The film has some effective scares once the monster/entity/ghost/thing makes its appearance. Of course, you have to wonder why the teens continued forth once things were clearly going awry, much in the same way the paranormal investigators find out they’re someplace they shouldn’t be.

When characters keep filming, I always wonder if that’s the urge filmmakers or voyeurs get in that situation because if I was in their shoes, I’d be using the camera as a blunt weapon to escape instead of making sure I frame the monster right. I’m not the first to make an observation like that, nor will I certainly be the last. While “Malibu Horror Story” breaks the mold of found footage storytelling, it can’t help but rely on tropes to get us from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. “Malibu Horror Story” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it manages to add a few neat spokes to it.

Panic Fest Film Review: “The Sadness”

Starring: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei and Ying-Ru Chen
Directed by: Rob Jabbaz
Rated: NR
Running Time: 100 minutes

This wouldn’t be the first time, nor will it be the last time, that I say that I ultimately enjoyed a movie I can’t really recommend. For perspective, I’ve said that about films like “Swiss Army Man,” “Vortex” and damn near anything with Troma’s name on it. Even then, I still talk about those movies as interesting films to watch in the hopes that someone amongst my group of friends who don’t watch the insane amount of films that I and other critics watch will give it a peruse and see what I see. I don’t think that will happen with “The Sadness.”

As if the zombie genre wasn’t already slightly depressing enough with its themes of the world ending and the trashiness of society, a film like “The Sadness” comes along and spits on all of them before flipping the bird. “The Sadness” begins with a couple, Kat (Lei) and Jim (Zhu) talking before their individual days at work. It’s through this early morning, post cuddling conversation that we learn about the Alvin virus, a virus that’s clearly an allegory for COVID-19. But unlike COVID-19, the Alvin virus has an alarming chance to mutate into rabies on crack. Which it does. Once it does, the couple is already split up heading off to work and now with everything descending into chaos, they have to work their way across Taiwan’s capital to reunite, but nothing is ever that simple.

The zombie virus in “the Sadness” turns everything up to 11, as the people who become zombified don’t simply walk around slowly and munch on brains. This virus makes people act upon their most primal urges, whether it be sadistic violence or even more sadistic sex. So, if you get squeamish over sexual violence, appendages being torn off, knives entering orifices’ or a blood orgy of severed limbs and viscera, this movie is probably one huge trigger warning that will have you running to the nearest exit and trash can to throw up in. But at my screening, every person sat in their seat horrified and mesmerized with the occasional “oh my god” and “what the fuck” splattered amongst us.

While the brutality clocks in at over an hour and a half, the film manages to squeeze in every bit of plot and mayhem without sacrificing the other or making the audience members, who have the stomach for it, check their phone for a time. The actors, who deliver some of the vilest lines seen outside of a snuff film, gnaw on the scenery with such ferocity I wouldn’t be surprised if people began having nightmares about their black, red tinted haunting eyes and blood-soaked grins. It’s very clear from the get-go that director/writer Jabbaz isn’t concerned about whether or not he’ll work again.

Like any good zombie film, “The Sadness” does have a message, albeit one deep in bitter nihilism. Having just exited a pandemic, “The Sadness” does reflect on humanity’s collective response to a virus as well as some jabs at the rising autocracies around the world that took advantage of the unthinkable. That being said, “The Sadness” seems to have its eye on future pandemics and how well humanity can come together to overcome the next mutated strain of a disease we have yet to encounter. If “The Sadness” is a representation of our past, present and future, I think it’s clear we are all fucked.

Film Review: “Wyrmwood: Apocalypse”

Starring: Luke McKenzie, Shantae Barnes-Cowan and Jake Ryan
Directed by: Kiah Roache-Turner
Rated: NR
Running Time: 88 minutes
XYZ Films

Unlike one of it’s clear influences, “Wyrmwood: Apocalypse” could care less if you haven’t seen 2014’s “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.” For the unaware, “Road of the Dead” was a “Mad Max” with zombies. But unlike “The Road Warrior,” Apocalypse keeps it’s foot on the gas and doesn’t bother reminding you who have the characters are. So as a refresher, in the world of “Wyrmwood,” zombie breath and blood are a fuel source for vehicles and other technological weaponry. It’s the kind of idea, at least on paper, that is absolutely stupid, but thanks to a gung-ho cast and plenty of zombie scenery chewing, it manages to become a modern B-movie worthy of any backwoods drive-in. But that’s “Road of the Dead,” how does its successor hold up?

Apocalypse” is about Rhys (McKenzie), an apocalyptic scavenger that bounty hunts the living and dead for his bosses, the evil remnants of the government’s military police. Rhys is handed a hefty bounty in the from of Brooke (Bianca Bradley), our zombie hybrid femme fatale from “Road of the Dead.” Brooke, we come to find out, killed Rhys’ brother making this bounty extra important for our lead. Lest I forget to explain, since the movie doesn’t, the zombie hybrids are able to tame their zombie side by drinking blood, which allows them a variety of odd zombie powers or, I guess you could say, powers that are made-up and needed when our heroes are in a predicament. Rhys has a bounty hunter’s change of heart when he encounters another hybrid, just like Brooke, by the name of Grace (Tasia Zalar).

The exposition, while thick and sometimes unnecessarily complicated in the first half of the film, is forgivable considering the richness of the film’s backdrop coupled with some spectacularly low-budget action sequences. For instance, Rhys home/compound feels like something you’d see in the video game “Fallout 4” while the ultimate battle between good and evil, the zombie hybrid alliance and the bloodthirsty military industrial complex, feels like Immortan Joe and Furiosa using Weyland-Yutani Corp. weaponry and science. If some of these pop-culture references are going over your head, you may not have as much fun as I did watching the final act bedlam of “Apocalypse” because writer/director Roache-Turner isn’t shy about his influences or leaning heavily into them.

“Apocalypse” feels nostalgic in the sense that it’s a mish-mash of 80s action, sci-fi and horror, all bathed in neon lights and shiny red gore.  If blood, guts, mayhem, carnage and the crunch of smashing vehicles is your thing, you’ll be smiling ear to ear during this. The world-building feels endless and lacking at the same time. Sometimes the small details are explained while the bigger details are glossed over, something I wish they flipped, but maybe that’s my own expectations for a sequel in general. That feeling doesn’t go away by the end, when it becomes obvious that “Apocalypse” may be the middle of an expected trilogy. Regardless of my nitpicks or hesitations, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be the first in line for a third “Wyrmwood ” so that I can quench my own thirst for high octane vioelcne and apocalyptic theatrics by over-the-top characters.

Film Review: “Infinite Storm”

Starring: Naomi Watts, Billy Howle and Denis O’Hare
Directed by: Małgorzata Szumowska
Rated: R
Running Time: 104 minutes
Bleecker Street

I’m not very vocal about my side gig as a film and pop-culture critic. I’ve found that once people find out, they expect me to have watched every movie they’ve watched or for me to have fallen in line with critical consensus or mainstream opinions about said film. That’s a different topic altogether, but I also encounter the problem of having to divulge more information than most people on whether or not I like a film. And sometimes I just like something or don’t like something. It’s nice not having to think too hard about why I feel a certain way and instead just letting those emotions be. But in film criticism, I have to dig into why I felt the way I feel after a movie. So why did a well-shot, breathtaking film like “Infinite Storm” not resonate with me?

The film begins with Pam Bales (Watts) scaling Mount Washington in New Hampshire in mid-October. Visually, we see that she’s experienced and smart. She leaves notes about her whereabouts on her car windshield as she sets out alone into the wilderness, with extra clothes, food and supplies to keep her warm, safe and well-fed if something awful arises. It’s gray and chilly looking when she sets out, but by the time she starts to get towards the peak, the conditions have turned into a white out blizzard. While she isn’t concerned, the concerns begin to arise when she finds footprints in the snow that lead to a non-verbal man half dead in the snow.

“John” (Howle) isn’t his name, but Pam refers to him by that in the hopes of eliciting some kind of response or reaction. None follow. So in the midst of the blinding snow, Pam now finds herself having to lug along the equivalent of a corpse back down the treacherous mountain she just scaled. This all sounds fascinating and at times was, but none of it clicked when all was said and done. So I go back to the problem I have as a film critic, trying to pinpoint what it was that this movie failed to do for me. I wish I could just move on and say that it didn’t work for me, but alas I’m the one having to convince you on what you should be spending your time and money on.

In an attempt to figure it out, I read the article that this movie is based on. The descriptions of the unforgiving Mount Washington in the article are reflected well in “Infinite Storm,” but I never get a feeling for who Pam is, from the movie and article. I do get way more out of who “John” is from the article, whereas the film merely hints at it. Interestingly enough, the film focuses on the emotions of Pam while the article is more of a gut punch reveal about “John”. So who is “Infinite Storm” about? The film is about Pam, which isn’t a knock, she’s an individual who was in an extreme situation and acted with bravery. The article, while written from Pam’s experiences, feels like it’s more about life and emotions in general, depicted through “John.” In fact, the ending is drastically different between real-life and the film. I don’t want to say I have some kind of psychic level of intuition, but maybe the film shouldn’t have tinkered with what actually happened. I understand the need to make Pam the focus of the film, but I also understand the morals in this story and the moral necessity is about “John,” not about Pam. Unfortunately, there is no context unless you read the article and watch the film. So if you just watch the film, you miss a lot of context and what context you do get is a brief 10 minutes at the end of the film that feels more like an incomplete epilogue.

“Infinite Storm,” while visually engaging, never makes us care about the characters. Not even the based on a true story attachment at the beginning of the film ever makes us feel like elements of the story aren’t contrived. The elements appear to be manufactured as opposed to the actual harrowing journey. For instance, “John” disappears after falling into a stream, yet miraculously appears later seemingly unharmed. The article tells no such tall tale like this. The basis of “Infinite Storm” may be true, but its emotional core appears to be built on false pretenses.

Film Review: “The Lost City”

 

  • THE LOST CITY
  • Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe
  • Directed by:  Aaron Nee and Adam Nee
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 52 mins
  • Paramount

 

 

Fun.  That’s the first thing I thought of as the credits rolled on “The Lost City.”  This movie was Fun!

 

Following the death of her husband, romance/adventure author Loretta (Bullock) is struggling to finish her next book.  She has the action.  She has the romance.  But she just can’t find an ending.  However, when Loretta finds HERSELF in peril, the story almost writes itself.

 

I have to admit that when I sat down I was expecting a watered-down retelling of “Romancing the Stone.”  Nope.  “The Lost City” is a film with great characters, rich locations and, darn it, here’s that word again…fun.  I had no idea that Sandra Bullock was such an amazing physical comedienne.  Whether traipsing through the jungle in a spangled jumpsuit or caught in the middle of a high-speed chase while tied to a chair, she effortlessly uses the situation to the audience’s benefit.  She is joined by Tatum, who longs to be thought of as more than Ash, the cover model of Loretta’s novels.  Radcliffe is also well cast as the villain of the piece, who is searching for a long-lost treasure.  You may even spot a very familiar face who is enlisted to help track down the missing Loretta.

The is witty and adds a few surprises to the normal tropes found in a film like this.  The pace is fast, but never hurried and the locations are lush and exotic.  The musical score, by Pinar Toprak, helps set the mood and keep the story moving.

 

To sum it all up, “The Lost City” is a fun way to usher in the spring movie season.

 

 

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