Film Review: “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”

 

  • KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
  • Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen
  • Directed by: Wes Ball
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 25 mins
  • 20th Century Studios

 

Originally intended to not be a franchise reboot, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” becomes just that and I’m not so sure it is a good thing. The original rebooted trilogy of films – 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” followed by 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” – were all critically praised, financially successful and each received Oscar nominations involving visual effects. It all ended with a truly satisfactory ending to Caesar’s journey. However, sometimes well enough can’t be left alone and this is at least partly true for “Kingdom.” While it does have an interesting storyline, it starts off sluggishly and ends with more questions than answers.

 

Set many generations in the future after the events involving Caesar, “Kingdom” introduces us to the new ape protagonist, Noa (Owen Teague, “It”). A member of an ape clan that trains eagles, Noa and his friends live in a time when the ruins of human cities have become overtaken by nature and the wisdom of Caesar’s teachings have been almost forgotten. A brutal attack on his clan by a much stronger rival leaves Noa alone, putting him on a quest to bring his friends back home. Along the way he runs into a friendly Orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon, “The Orville”) who reveals to him the lost knowledge of Caesar. They also pick up a lost female human name Mae (Freya Allan, “The Witcher”) who seems different than other humans that predominately wild and dumb. Eventually, Noa discovers that his clan has been enslaved by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), a theatrical ape obsessed with gaining technology he believes is stored in an underground bunker.

“Kingdom” is uninteresting in its initial scenes, resulting in the wish that more editing had occurred in post-production. It almost feels like watching a montage from “Avatar.” Originality what? The story only becomes intriguing once the intrepid Noa begins his quest to save his friends. Raka turns out to be a much more captivating character, albeit a short-lived one. What really draws you in is the tension between Noa and Mae whose agenda begs the question if apes and humans can ever coexist in peace.

 

Overall, “Kingdom” is visually stunning as the technology to create its ape characters only gets better with time. While its ending poses the basis for a new storyline, it doesn’t have the same creative or enthusiastic vibe as the first three films.

 

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” receives ★★★ out of five.

 

 

Film Review: “Late Night With the Devil”

 

  • LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL
  • Starring: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon
  • Directed by: Cameron and Colin Cairnes
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • IFC Films

 

I tend to stay away from so-called horror films. I regard them as mundane with over-the-top scare tactics that are silly and scripts that were probably written in crayon. I still believe that last great horror film was “The Blair Witch Project” for its use of psychological terror, but that’s a discussion for another day. However, the newest entry into the genre, “Late Night with the Devil,” elicited my intrigue because it stars one of Kansas City’s own – David Dastmalchian. Inventive. Creative. Genius. Creepy. Terrifying. Those are all adjectives that can apply to this terrific piece of cinema.

 

The great Michael Ironsides lays the groundwork for the story with a voiceover narration that introduces us to late night talk show host, Jack Delroy (Dastmalchian), who has connections to a mysterious place in the California woods called “The Grove” where the rich and powerful meet and hold secret rituals. We learn that from humble beginnings, Jack’s show, “Night Owls”, becomes a strong contender to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” As the years pass, though, “Night Owls” begins to slide in the ratings. At his lowest point, Jack’s wife, Madeleine (Georginia Haig, “Once Upon a Time”) dies from cancer.

 

After a month-long hiatus, which involved a trip to The Grove, Jack returns to his late-night gig. Desperate to save his show, Jack, in 1977, devises a Halloween show that will feature a teenage girl named Lilly (Ingrid Torelli, “Five Bedrooms”) who is supposedly possessed, and her doctor, June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon, “Saw V”). Jack also brings onboard a questionable psychic and a professional debunker who is skeptic of anything paranormal or supernatural. Things start taking a turn for the worse during the show, but Jack is determined to forge ahead so he can beat Carson.

 

Similar to “The Blair Witch Project,” the premise of “Late Night with the Devil” is that it’s a documentary complete with the “real” footage of the Halloween broadcast of “Night Owls” and other, never-before-seen footage caught by other cameras. Dastmalchian is nothing short of brilliant in the lead as a man so desperate to be number one that he will do anything to achieve it. Jack is not a bad man, but he makes bad choices that Dastmalchian does a superb job in showing how much of a toll it ends up taking on him.

 

The story is like a slow boil and by the time the terror begins you are completely hooked. There are few special effects in the film, which was clearly made on a small budget. What there is could have been toned down a smidge at it does become a little too typical. Nevertheless, “Late Night with the Devil” will leave you on the edge of your seat.

 

Overall, you probably should not watch “Late Night with the Devil” right before you go to bed.

 

“Late Night with the Devil” receives ★★★1/2 out of five.

Film Review: “IF”

 

Version 1.0.0
  • IF
  • Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Cailey Fleming and Steve Carell
  • Directed by:  John Krasinski
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 44 mins
  • Paramount

 

I’m going to admit something here that you may find hard to believe.  Except for the few episodes of “The Office” I have not seen anything directed by John Krasinski.  WHAT?  YOU NEVER SAW “A QUIET PLACE???”  No.  I heard great things but never got around to seeing it.  However, I did see Krasinski’s latest effort from behind the camera and I highly recommend it.

 

Bea (Fleming) is a young girl with a lot on her mind.  Still mourning the passing of her mother she is sent to live with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) while her father (played by writer/director Krasinski) is in the hospital undergoing tests.  Heartbroken and lonely she stumbles onto someone who shares her emotions.  Well, not exactly some “one.”

 

A rare family themed film that will actually appeal to the entire family, “IF” – which stands for “imaginary friend” is a tale that anyone who had an imagination as a child can enjoy.

 

While spying him out of the corner of her eye, Bea follows Blue (voiced by Carell), back to her apartment building and to an apartment on the top floor.  Intrigued she knocks and is introduced  to Cal (Reynolds), a man whose job is to reunite other IF’s with their now grown childhood friends who, for whatever reason, have forgotten them.

Armed with a script that is both funny and touching, the cast deliver strong performances.  Reynolds has always come off as a naturally friendly guy and he brings that quality to Cal.  Fleming is equally good.  Bea is a young girl with young girl feelings and she is allowed to explore and expose all of the emotions a child in her position can face.  As Blue, Carell adds another great animated vocal performance to his resume.  He is joined by an A-list cast of vocal talents including Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Keegan-Michael Key.

 

Overall, the film is a sweet story that will make you laugh and, happily, cry.  With the summer blockbuster season about to begin, “IF” is a true family film that I hope doesn’t get lost at the multiplex.

 

On a scale of zero to five I give “IF” ★★

Film Review: “Faceless After Dark”

Starring: Jenna Kanell, Danny Kang and Danielle Lyn
Directed by: Raymond Wood
Rated: NR
Running Time: 83 minutes
Dark Sky Films

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Has horror even been this meta? “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” “X,” “One Cut of the Dead,” and “Totally Killer” are just a few of the meta horror movies from the past couple of years that I can think of off the top of my head. It’s been an interesting subgenre for decades, but it seems to have crescendoed recently. However, have we ever had an actor or actress in a newly beloved horror film take on their own success through the meta medium? After several film festivals, “Terrifier” began making the rounds in 2018. Since then, and thanks to the highly successful sequel, “Terrifier 2,” Art the Clown is slowly becoming a household slasher name and Jenna Kanell’s career has taken off. I’ve seen Kanell once a year in one film or another and she has this dangerous, yet fun magnetism about her. This is basically what “Faceless After Dark” is.

Bowie (Jenna Kanell) is famous after starring in a film where she dukes it out with a sociopathic killer clown. It leads to more horror film offers, conventions on weekends and an internet buzz that seems inescapable. But it isn’t the boost to her career she was expecting. She doesn’t like the convention circuit, she doesn’t like being typecast as the final girl, she doesn’t like the lack of pay, she doesn’t like that her creative ideas and aspirations are ignored and she definitely doesn’t like the daily parade of older, uglier, fatter and hideous men sliding into her DMs. This frustration builds and builds until one night, a person imitating the sociopathic killer clown from Bowie’s famous film enters her home during another frustrating night of writer’s block. However, she may have just found her inspiration.

“Faceless After Dark ” blurs the lines so much between Kanell/Bowie, we’re unsure about quite a lot as the film progresses. We enjoy watching Bowie getting vengeance, but how much of this is entrenched in Kanell’s beliefs and existence within the artist and audience dynamic? There aren’t too many clues during Bowie’s blood rage to mine out a direct interpretation of Kanell’s attitudes. She might actually be a true sociopath if that was the case, but the film does have a very cathartic nature to it. We may not understand the strife on screen, but we understand how social media, the constant negativity it pours into our lives, and the contemporary world around us becomes more and more of a burden the more we allow our lives to bleed into social media. That’s when the mess of the world feels more tangible than other issues in our life that we can actually handle and change. It’s a human breaking point of needing to lash out when the world feels like it’s lashing you daily.

There’s a lot of pondering going on behind Kanell’s eyes, whether it’s while she checks her phone, edits video footage or stares with pure determination into the camera during a strobe light montage of violent imagery. On top of Kanell’s mysteriousness, “Faceless After Dark” makes a few interesting remarks about the slasher genre. The title slasher, whether it be Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees or even Art the Clown, always seems to be given the true love and adoration while the love and adoration for final girls like Bowie/Kanell may be at times genuine, but sometimes sexually motivated and overtly creepy. It’s also interesting that many slashers simply kill to kill, sometimes indiscriminately or, as it was stated for years, because they had sex. We still love those male slashes for it. In “Faceless After Dark,” it’s almost like Bowie needs an emotional excuse instead of indiscriminate slashing. Without that linchpin, we risk not liking her. Odd, isn’t it?

“Faceless After Dark” is a suitable slasher, but is way better as the meta slasher it angles to be. If you don’t know Kanell and the “Terrifier” franchise, I doubt you’d understand a lot of the film and I also doubt you’d be interested in this film in the first place.  Led by Kanell, who may deserve her own slasher series after this, “Faceless After Dark” is a vicious spectacle that will potentially have genre fans questioning their own fandom and what the film ultimately represents.

Film Review: “Unfrosted”

 

  • UNFROSTED
  • Starring: Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan
  • Directed by: Jerry Seinfeld
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • Netflix

 

The year 1963 was a pivotal moment in modern American history. The Cold War ran hot with the Soviet Union and the Civil Rights movement was in full gear. It was also time when Kellogg and Post cereal brands were competing with one another not to be the first to land on the moon, but the first cereal company to create a toaster friendly pastry for breakfast. Decades later, enter comedic legend Jerry Seinfeld with his funny take on that race in his feature film directorial debut, “Unfrosted.”

 

Overflowing with so many cameos that it’s impossible to count them all, “Unfrosted” is loosely based on the true story of how the Post brand announced it had a product called “Country Squares” in development and Kellogg’s hurried response to come up with what became known as “Pop-Tarts.” Seinfeld stars as Bob Cabana, a senior ranking member of the Kellogg’s staff and right-hand man of Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan). Their archnemesis from across the parking lot in Battle Creek, Michigan is none other than Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer). Always placing second behind Kellogg’s, Marjorie is depicted as a ruthless corporate boss willing to do anything to get a leg up on the competition, including stealing company secrets.

 

It’s all quite silly of course as every character is portrayed as being clueless to one degree or another. The writing is tongue-in-cheek with plenty of satire to go around. Seinfeld does a marvelous job of corralling a ton of comedic talent and turning it all into cohesive chaos. He plays off Gaffigan and his other main co-star, Melissa McCarthy, who plays a NASA scientist that joins forces with Cabana, with absolute ease. It looks almost effortless as there are plenty of genuine laughs to be had. I would be remiss if I did not mention the absurdity that Hugh Grant brings as a struggling Shakespearean actor who thinks he is God’s gift to the mascot world with his role as Tony the Tiger.

 

“Unfrosted” can be a bit disjointed and a little too campy for its own good, but its laughable absurdity falls into the same level of genius as “The Death of Stalin” and “What We Do in the Shadows.” Come on, a milk man delivery service is likened to a secret, organized crime ring. Seinfeld’s effort is not Shakespeare, nor does it have some hidden agenda. Overall, “Unfrosted” may be simple but it is coated with plenty of sugary sweet laughs.

 

“Unfrosted” receives ★★1/2 out of five.

Film Review: “The Beekeeper”

 

 

 

  • THE BEEKEEPER
  • Starring: Jason Statham, Jeremy Irons
  • Directed by: David Ayer
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
  • Amazon MGM Studios

 

Jason Statham is one of the best action movie stars that has ever been on the silver screen. However, not all his movies are necessarily the greatest of quality. Unlike 2021’s brilliant “Wrath of Man,” Statham’s newest endeavor “The Beekeeper,” which is now available on streaming services, is perhaps one of his worst. Poorly written, acted, and directed, “The Beekeeper” tastes more like vinegar than honey.

 

Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad) is a retired educator who has developed a friendly relationship with her neighbor, Adam Clay (Jason Statham) who happens to be a beekeeper. A phishing scam robs Eloise of all her money. Despondent, she takes her life, but Adam is initially blamed for it by Eloise’s daughter, FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman). Inexplicably, Raver-Lampman plays the scene with same depth of emotion as a stack of firewood.

 

Of course, since he is being played by Statham, Adam is not all that he appears to be. He is instead a trained killing machine known as a beekeeper. Through his contacts, Adam finds out where the call center is that ripped off Eloise, and countless other victims, and burns it to the ground while kicking butt. Meanwhile, Agent Verona drowns herself in alcohol.

 

Like a terminator, Adam begins killing his way to the top of the beehive, which in this case appears to be Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), a former intelligence chief hired long ago by a powerful political figure to protect her family’s company name and keep her son out of trouble. Wallace calls in favors, including former Navy SEALS, to stop Adam, who often manages to pull a Neo by dodging hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

 

The impetus for “The Beekeeper” is timely as increasing numbers of elderly people are taken advantage of by unscrupulous people, leaving them destitute. While Statham is consistent and Irons is okay as the main villain, the film lacks talent, among other things, to make it an entertaining action flick. The action is too choreographed with graphics thrown up on the screen that reminiscent of something you would have seen in a 1970s TV series.

 

Overall, “The Beekeeper” is flat out boring, even though it does toss out a somewhat surprising twist towards the end. It would be more fun to throw oneself on top of a beehive than to watch “The Beekeeper.”

 

“The Beekeeper” receives a half star out of five.

Film Review: “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”

 

  • THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE
  • Starring: Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson
  • Directed by: Guy Ritchie
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 2 hrs
  • Lionsgate

 

Being a historian, I cringe when a film starts off with the words “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events” flashing across the silver screen before the movie starts. Typically, these films generate a misleading presentation of historical events and therefore distort the perception of what the reality of the situation really was. While British director Guy Ritchie’s new World War II action flick “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” begins with one those aforementioned statements, it’s clear from the start that this work of historical fiction does not take itself too seriously. While based on the 2014 book “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII” by British author Damien Lewis, Ritchie focuses on taking us on a genuine thrill ride with a few laughs mixed as a plethora of Nazis are shot to pieces.

 

In late 1941, Great Britain was nearing a breaking point as Nazi Germany was repeatedly bombing its capital of London and its supplies being cut off by Nazi submarines. Desperate to put an end to the blockade, Brigadier General Colin “M” Gubbins (Cary Elwes), with the secret backing Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear), enlists Major Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) who is played as a bit of troublemaker that has a problem with authority. Gus knows he is the one holding the chips so he can select the members of his small team that is assigned the task of destroying an Italian supply ship at the Spanish island of Fernando Po, which would be a critical blow to Nazi submarines in the Atlantic. However, fearing such a mission might jeopardize Spain’s neutrality, there are those within Churchill’s government and military that are against the mission.

 

With the help of Danish officer Major Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson, “Jack Reacher”) and others, Gus, who is portrayed as having a good time while killing Nazis, goes on an action-packed adventure that is not as dark as some of Ritchie’s previous films like “Snatch” or “Wrath of Man.” “Ministry” is more like the romp that was the two Sherlock Holmes films. Cavill is a delight to watch as he has a talented supporting cast around him, particularly in the form of Ritchson who plays Lassen as a pure killing machine complete with a bow and arrow.

 

One irony is that the main Nazi antagonist is played by German actor Til Schweiger. His character, Heinrich Luhr takes sadistic pleasure in killing Jews. A far cry from his role as the Nazi killer Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz in 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.” His diabolical performance demonstrates his reputation as being arguably the best actor in Germany.

 

Overall, “Ministry,” while far from being historically accurate, does provide some great popcorn entertainment while also shedding some light on a mission that was only declassified after the turn of the century.

 

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” receives ★★★ out of five.

Film Review: “The Fall Guy”

 

  • THE FALL GUY
  • Starring:  Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt
  • Directed by:  David Leitch
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Universal

 

The 1980s were full of some fun and amazing television shows.  “The A-team,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Police Squad.”  Not only were these some of the most entertaining shows around, they also went on to find life as full length films.  This week another show makes the jump to the big screen.  Meet “The Fall Guy.”

 

It’s just another day on the set for Colt Seavers (Gosling).  As the stunt double for action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), he’s up for everything.  Literally.  When he’s not jumping cars or running through fire, he’s crushing on cameraperson Jody (Blunt), who one day dreams of being a director.  As the day’s filming comes to an end Colt is asked to repeat a stunt.  No problem, right?

 

Directed by former stunt man Leitch, who also directed the frantic “Bullet Train,” “The Fall Guy” is almost a movie inside a movie.  Lured back into the business to help Jody, Colt finds himself beaten and battered both on screen and off as he does his best to keep both the film, and himself, alive.

 

When you go see a movie called “The Fall Guy” you expect to see action.  And director Leitch delivers it with both barrels.  Stuntmen have never gotten their due.  Early in the film someone remarks “can you even name a stuntman?”  Off the top of my head:  Yakima Canutt, Dar Robinson, Ted Grossman and Jean Coulter.  That’s four.  You may not know their names but you certainly know their work.  And the sadly nameless stuntmen in this film do their legacy justice.  This is a film that should advertise “we’ll sell you a seat but you’ll just need the edge!”

In between the action is a fun rekindled romance between Colt and Jody, as well as some humorous moments with a dizzy producer (Hannah Waddingham), who’s much craftier then she lets on.  The film is well cast with Gosling as likable as ever.  Blunt is excellent as the tough on the outside/soft on the inside Jody while Taylor-Johnson plays the vapid leading man well.

 

Action packed and full of fun, “The Fall Guy” joins “Hooper” and “The Stunt Man” as a film that highlights the unsung heroes of the cinema.

 

On a scale of zero to five, “The Fall Guy” receives ★★★★

Panic Fest Film Review: “New Life”

Starring: Hayley Erin, Sonya Walger and Tony Admendola
Directed by: John Rosman
Rated: NR
Running Time: 85 minutes
XYZ Films

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

We don’t know who or what she’s running from, but we know it’s serious when we first meet Jessica (Hayley Erin). Jessica, with a splattering of blood on her face, is heading to the Canadian border through the mountainous west. Hot on Jessica’s tail is Elsa (Sonya Walger), an FBI agent who just received a crippling diagnosis that is immediately viewed as a death sentence. Both are resourceful, Jessica is scrappy while Elsa is calculating, but only one is willing to put humanity on the line in this pursuit.

“New Life” isn’t what you’d expect from a first-time writer/director and a group of producers who’ve made nothing but horror films. There are some horror elements, but “New Life” is a slow burning look at humanity from two different lenses. Jessica is relatively young, still views the world optimistically and is simply looking to start anew and live. Elsa, is towards the end of her career, views the world sardonically and is so-focused on her job of catching Jessica, that she ignores helpful advice from her friends, co-workers and doctor. The individual journeys are more entertaining than anything else in the film, even the end of the world possibilities aren’t as weighty, but that’s intentional.

After a slow start, “New Life” gets straight to the point, giving us that personalized view of the world from each character. Elsa is ready to nab Jessica, but she isn’t. She doesn’t want to face what comes next. She’d rather face a crisis that’s existentially awful for everyone, and do it her own way. Jessica faces a recent past that’s already caught up to her, but has decided that her life is still worth living, even if that means death for everyone else. As to what happens when the two finally meets, is the ultimate thrill of “New Life.”

The acting by Erin and Walger is nearly flawless as they play two sides of the same coin. We relate to Jessica so well, even when she isn’t saying anything. We can sense immediately that she’s a good person who has found herself in the middle of an awful situation. We relate to Elsa equally because she’s able to command everything and everyone around her through her words, not her action. Even though Jessica’s the one being chased, it seems like we’re able to be at ease around her, but on high alert with Elsa at first. The great thing about “New Life” though, is that as the movie goes, the ease and tension, flip flop throughout until the final act.

“New Life” is about being human and the ensuing complications. Because we relate so well with Elsa and Jessica, the ending almost serves as an emotional thump to the chest. We don’t know whether to be happy, sad or indifferent. Life isn’t as black and white, even with two characters and those two characters carry the nuance of life with them. For these two alone, “New Life” is a must watch, even if you aren’t into slow burns.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Oddity”

Starring: Carolyn Bracken, Gwilym Lee and Tadhg Murphy
Directed by: Damian Mc Carthy
Rated: NR
Running Time: 98 minutes
Shudder

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

At the 2021 Panic Fest, “Caveat” was one of the many films I missed. It wasn’t until last year that I gave it a watch on Shudder and couldn’t believe I had missed this film, and waited so long to watch it. Looking not to make the same mistake again, I saw that director/writer Damian Mc Carthy’s second film, “Oddity” was coming to this year’s Panic Fest and it’s another high recommendation.

Darcy (Carolyn Bracken) is home alone at her and her husband’s fixer-upper country home. The reconstruction process is so intense, the couple sleep in a tent in the living quarters while repairing it. Well, she at least sleeps alone at night because her husband, Ted (Gwilym Lee) works nights at a mental hospital. Settling in for another lonesome night, Darcy hears a frantic knock at the door to find one of her husband’s former patients warning her in the dead of night, “Someone is in there with you.”

Cut to one year into the future, Darcy is dead, believed to be murdered by that patient, but that story doesn’t sit right with Dani (Carolyn Bracken again), Darcy’s twin sister. However, Dani is blind and takes care of the family’s oddity shop. She serves as a medium for the store, seeing the power and spirits behind every object in the store. Dani, believing something is up, visits Ted’s rural home with one of the most horrifying wooden mannequins you will ever lay eyes on.

In lesser hands, a film like “Oddity” would have failed. The story would have gotten in the way of the spook house scares or the spook house scares would have overwhelmed the developing mystery. Either way, Mc Carthy is a master with this winding thriller. He has an extreme knack for effective and claustrophobic settings. Most of “Oddity” takes place at the rural renovated country home and you never feel comfortable any moment you’re there. Even when the sun is up and the lights are on, you constantly sense that something angry and vengeful is there.

Bracken turns in a fantastic performance as the twins. While we don’t get too much screen time with Darcy, we get plenty of it with Dani. Bracken is able to make Dani menacing even if she can’t see and is at times helpless. Her ferociousness is comedic, relatable and sometimes unnerving. Dani, as a character, is flawless. Complimenting Bracken’s performances is Lee, who plays a healthy skeptic, even if everything happening in the house is beyond any explanation he can think of.

All the haunted house thrills are scattered throughout “Oddity,” so you never feel comfortable, but you’re always being thrilled in some capacity. That’s why I believe the storytelling in “Oddity” shows how much Mc Carthy has grown as a writer since “Caveat.” While “Caveat” was hard to follow at times, “Oddity” is all red meat as it will make you laugh, peek between your fingers, and keep you on the edge of your seat. “Oddity” is sure to end up on some best of lists this year.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Cannibal Mukbang”

Starring: April Consalo, Nate Wise and Clay von Carlowitz
Directed by: Aimee Kuge
Rated: NR
Running Time: 104 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Have you ever seen a film title and it’s way too good to be true? My first thoughts are “Snakes on a Plane” or “The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot.” So, when I saw “Cannibal Mukbang,” I thought, “Here we go. Another film that’s more title than anything.” Welp. “Cannibal Mukbang” is a genre roller coaster that not only pays off, but makes the title seem tame compared to what happens in the film.

When we first meet Mark (Nate Wise), he’s loveable in a sad puppy kind-of-way, but there’s something about him we can’t quite shake throughout the film. Mark’s self-doubt is apparent as he constantly compares himself to his brother, scrutinizes his body as if he was a Youtube comments section, and ignores when he’s lovestruck. Literally. Ash (April Consalo) hits Mark with her car by accident, and it’s love at first sight. Ash’s day job is filming mukbang videos. Mukbang is a South Korean video trend that’s gone global, highlighting people eating massive amounts of food while talking to their fans. Mark doesn’t judge and wants to know more. At night, Ash turns into a predator as she hunts down sexual predators to devour because she has an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Mark doesn’t judge and wants to know more.

What’s ultimately fascinating about “Cannibal Mukbang,” is that this initial sappy love story premise stays a sappy love story even as the blood, gore, human body parts, and sexual innuendo with the blood, gore and human body parts, amplifies. For every moment of hardcore horror, flesh munching and being crazy horny, there are these very human moments of Mark and Ash unveiling their emotional wounds to each other. In a macabre way, it’s understandable that Ash doesn’t want to get too close to someone. If you had a compulsion to eat human flesh, you wouldn’t necessarily be the most extroverted individual. As for Mark, his self esteem is non-existent because he constantly focuses on how someone like Ash could ever fall in love with a “loser” like himself. This is one of those scenarios where you recognize that they’re not necessarily the best thing for each other, but they oddly fit perfectly together.

In her directorial debut, Aimee Kuge has written a near modern exploitation masterpiece. I say masterpiece because she has taken a lot of the plot elements of exploitation films and funneled them into a mainstream dramatic rom-com. If the horror elements didn’t exist, we could only assume that a happy ending is around the corner for Ash and Mark, but because this is a film where picked clean bones keep piling up, we know it’s about to come crashing down in a horrific fashion. In some ways, we’re conflicted because we do like these soft, tender moments between the two while the cannibalism sits on the back burner. For a first film, Kuge’s vision and writing is not only impressive, but it’s reminiscent of other great first time horror directors like Stuart Gordon or Ana Lily Amirpour.

Not only is Kuge a director to keep an eye on as her career advances, but “Cannibal Mukbang” might end up being a word-of-mouth hit. The film brilliantly handles gruesome sexualism with genuine heartfelt love in a way that must be seen to be believed. It’s hard to not get wrapped up with the characters and story to the point you need to devour the movie again and again. “Cannibal Mukbang” has a near perfect list of ingredients, and while it satisfies any hunger you have before entering the film, only time will tell if it’s an acquired taste or a smorgasbord for all.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Infested”

Starring: Theo Christine, Sofia Lesaffre and Jerome Niel
Directed by: Sebastien Vanicek
Rated: NR
Running Time: 106 minutes
Shudder

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

It’s interesting that Panic Fest 2024 is bookended by spider movies. The first being “Sting,” a fun B-movie about an adorable spider that gets bigger and bigger, while menacing an apartment complex. The second is almost a shade similar, but first you need to take out the B-movie fun and replace it with midnight terror. As for the adorable spider, go ahead and replace that with terrifying spiders that come in all shapes and sizes. Now you have the Shudder instant classic, “Infested.”

“Infested” takes place at a rundown, urban French apartment complex. The 14-story building appears to only be maintained by a short, frail Asian woman and inhabited by impoverished young adults. Kaleb (Theo Christine) struggles financially, making very little off the high-end sneakers he sells, while living with his sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko) who is prepping their inherited home to sell. The two are constantly bickering, but their differences percolate while we watch Kaleb buy an illegal spider from one of his shoe supplies. Kaleb is a creepy crawler lover, so he doesn’t suspect much about the spider. He’s going to add it to his growing collection which features a scorpion, centipede, and other multi-legged bugs and creatures. But as soon as he turns his back, the spider escapes. He simply thinks it’s taking refuge in his apartment, but it’s about to turn the apartment complex into it’s new nest. But first it’s got a lot of breeding and growing to do.

“Infested” throws us into a fresh new arachnophobia hell, as the few spiders that are spotted in the background begin to double in number and size. Soon the spiders become emboldened and we see them in all their detailed horror. While our characters bicker amongst themselves over past issues, their current situation is rapidly deteriorating, but they don’t know it until it’s too late. Every moment someone in the apartment complex peers into the dark, sticks their hand in a hole or generally does something they shouldn’t, the jump scares come fast and heavy. It may be my own arachnophobia speak, but every scare is earned and unique. The movie implements the creepy crawling speed and ferociousness with a heart pounding soundtrack. It’s the kind of film that might even scare the biggest of spider lovers.

While the spiders pick off the tenants, a growing sense of French society begins to come into focus. While they could just leave the apartment, the government has barricaded everyone inside, most likely finding out a spider infestation of apocalyptic proportions is happening. But the police quickly reveal their hand, showing they don’t care if everyone dies inside. “Infested” is also a movie about societal failure, and how the poorest of society are forgotten and easily disposable. That theme isn’t a big factor though because most of the time our heroes are attempting to escape the grasp of thousands of eight-legged freaks.

Sebastien Vanicek, the director of “Infested,” has already been tapped for the next “Evil Dead” movie and it’s easy to see why. “Infested” is the kind of film that gets your adrenaline pumping, your heart racing, and your fears running high. It also manages to squeeze in some hearty laughs, even as you know death and terror are right around the corner. If you aren’t seeing “Infested” in a crowded dark theater, not only are you doing yourself a disservice, but you risk feeling the spiders on you as you watch one of the best horrors of the year at home.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Boy Kills World”

Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Famke Jannsen and Jessica Rothe
Directed by:
Rated: R
Running Time: 111 minutes
Roadside Attraction/Lionsgate

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

It’s very hard to pull off an action comedy that’s been punched up with different genres like sci-fi and horror. It’s definitely possible, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost basically pulled it off three times. But there are other films that pull it off by going balls to wall with bone crunching kung-fu fighting, deranged, yet hilarious violence, and creating a world of Looney Toons absurdism. Those are films like “Boy Kills World.”

Boy (Bill Skarsgard) is being trained by a mystery hobo ninja in the woods surrounding a post-Apocalyptic “Hunger Games” matriarchy-run city. Boy, when he’s fully realized his potential and goal as the ultimate weapon, is to beat the Van Der Koy family (Famke Janssen, Michelle Dockery, Brett Gelman and Sharlto Copley) to death with his crackling fists. He thirsts for Van Der Koy blood because his family was murdered at their hands, including his best friend, his little sister, who still talks to him, and dog him like little sisters do, as a guiding spirit. Oh, and because Boy is deaf and mute, and doesn’t remember his voice, his inner voice is H. Jon Benjamin.

While starting a little slow, like a warm-up jog, the film goes full slugfest, shootout bonkers when Boy realizes it’s time to fulfill his goal. While it could be visually taxing to wrap yourself around the the sweat, blood-covered Skarsgard dispensing bad guys with horrific weapons like a cheese grater, with Bob Belcher’s voice, the movie cleverly uses them separately and together throughout the film to let the action remain thrilling and the comedy to remain uproarious. As a viewer, we do end up admiring Boy because his emotional layers are peeled back through Skarsgard’s commanding eyes and his spirit ghost sister that pops up at inopportune times.

As for the action scenes, the majority hit the sweet spot between brutal believability and video game logic where you can kill people with a singular upper cut or have to spend 10 minutes bludgeoning your opponent to death. The film creates several traditional and bizarre set pieces for the Boy to play in, such as a weapons manufacturing warehouse and a candy winter wonderland of death populated by murderous sugary cereal mascots. While never worrying about how goofy the premise is, the film is serious about it’s fighting and choreography. In fact, the final fight scene is mapped out so well and pulled off with such high stakes fun, it’s worthy of “John Wick.”

The film does have some pacing issues here and there, and the plot sometimes gets in the way of the action. That wouldn’t be a problem if the plot was a little bit more straightforward because the twists and turns it makes don’t feel as satisfying. However, if you’re uncertain about what kind of film “Boy Kills World” might be, it’s important to note that Sam Raimi produced it. So even if “Boy Kills World” isn’t on par with a crazy action comedy orgy like “Kung Fu Hustle,” it is the kind of film you could fall in love with and watch over and over again.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Sting”

Starring: Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne and Penelope Mitchell
Directed by: Kiah Roche-Turner
Rated: R
Running Time: 91 minutes
Well Go USA Entertainment

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Very few times can I describe a film with these words: heart-warming, funny and skin crawling. “Sting” is the story of a peculiar preteen girl, Charlotte (Alyla Browne) who makes friends with a spider, at least what we think is a spider. You see, on a snowy, icy night in New York City, a tiny meteorite smashes through a window at an apartment complex. The rock cracks open, revealing the dime sized spider that quickly makes friends with Charlotte. Since we know up front that it’s from space, we know that this isn’t an ordinary spider, but of course no one else knows this. Charlotte doesn’t even seem to mind too much that the spider doubles in size in hours, and suddenly requires more than just apartment lurking bugs to devour.

I’d say the majority of “Sting” hinges on the likability of Charlotte as a character and Browne’s acting abilities. It’s a difficult character to tackle because Charlotte is dealing with the loss of her father and isn’t as emotionally connected as she once was with her mom. It doesn’t help that her stepdad is a little bit aloof when it comes to Charlotte, talking to her but not actually listening to her. So when Browne interacts with her new pet spider, we truly understand why and actually believe it. I actually believed it, especially since I feel like people who own spiders are pets are sociopaths. As for everyone else who encounters the spider, it’s like midnight at the drive-in.

Part of the inherent cheesy fun of “Sting” is watching all the characters come into focus, while figuring out who’s going to be eaten first. There’s a baby, some elderly ladies, an exterminator who hates coming out to the apartment, a yappy dog and plenty of other tenants that could potentially become spider food. It’s the same formula as the a lot of 80s slashers, but instead of a knife wielding maniac, it’s an eight legged monster.

There is a sense that “Sting” is lacking something. It’s lacking a cast of characters we should all care about, but there’s inherently nothing wrong with watching the spider pick them one-by-one. “Sting” is more of a comedy than a horror first, but it’s not consistently fun. What I’m trying to say in so many words is that “Sting” isn’t perfect, nor is it great, but I admire that it seems like everyone knows they’re making a modern creature feature with chuckles and a cast that will put a smile on your face.

Film Review: “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire”

  • GODZZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE
  • Starring: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry
  • Directed by: Adam Wingard
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 3 hrs 25 mins
  • Warner Bros.

 

This will date me, but when I was in grade school the teachers would sometimes give us a free Friday afternoon by showing us black and white films on a 35 mm projector. And sometimes, those films involved Godzilla, which everyone found mesmerizing even though the special effects were cheesy by today’s standards. My fascination with mega monster movies continues to this day. It was reenergized by the 2014 film “Godzilla,” which contained a terrific cast, good character development, and an entertaining story to go along with its visual effects. Several chapters later we have “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” which is the opposite of what I just wrote. With a few of the main characters returning from 2021’s “Godzilla vs Kong,” this newest incarnation is indicative of multiple series that may start out strong but quickly being to limp along with little to no redemptive value.

 

To be succinct, three years after the events of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” Godzilla lives on the Earth’s surface protecting humanity from other, not so nice mega monsters. Conversely, Kong lives in Hollow Earth, which allows for a sort of truce between the two. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) becomes concerned when her adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last known member of the Iwi tribe from Skull Island, begins to have weird dreams and begins drawing three triangles. Meanwhile, the Monarch corporation begins noticing that Godzilla is preparing himself for something that is coming, presumably a big bad mega monster. It all leads to a Temple of Doom type discovery involving a prophecy and an angry, giant orangutan with a glowing crystal thing that controls a mega monster who spews freezing breath.

 

It has reached a point that the Godzilla movies moving forward should just forego having any human characters and just have the mega monsters in them. Kong especially can communicate everything we need and can do it better than the actors and actresses in the film. It would be more entertaining than the complete lack of anything resembling character development or arcs. Stylistically, “The New Empire” is crowd pleasing fun and the battles remind me of the ones I used to watch in black and white long ago. However, it’s not enough to keep this particular film from being almost ridiculous, which is not helped by a main antagonist who is almost laughable compared to Godzilla and Kong.

 

Overall, “Godzilla x Kong” may be good to munch popcorn along to but that’s about it.

 

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” receives out of five.

 

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