Friday, February 28, 2020

Quick Review: Us (2019)

As Black History Month comes to a close, I might as well end it in style.  Jordan Peele shocked the World (more than The Shockmaster) with Get Out.  Will his sophomore effort deliver as well?
In 1986, a girl at the Santa Cruz Carnival gets separated from her parents and sees something freaky.
In the present, said girl is now a Mother of 2 (and voice of Maz Kanata).  She's returned to Santa Cruz on Summer Vacation with her family.

Why does she seem more uptight and more worried now that she's back?
What kind of freaky stuff is going on right around the time of their return?  I'll never SPOIL it (much).
Who are the strange people outside of the family's House?
Will this serious Horror Film remind of the Bizarros Episode of Sealab 2021?
Well, it's no SPOILER, since, you know, all of the marketing...

The people appear to be freaky doubles of our Heroes.  What in the what is going on?!?
Is anywhere safe?
Can the creatures be stopped?
Will I actually like a Film with Tim Heidecker in it?

To find out the answers to some of those questions, watch the Film on VOD, Blu-Ray or Laserdisc.
A Film that is quite comparable to Get Out in all of the best ways.  That Film had the benefit of coming out of nowhere.  Who knew that Peele had that in him?  Well, now we know that he does and following it up was *not* going to be easy.  What it does wisely is not try to match that Film beat for beat.  It is its own thing.  If you somehow missed all of the hype behind that Film, you can watch and enjoy this completely on its own.  The Writing is quite good here.  The Pacing is good.  The Direction is good.  The Acting is especially good.  Seeing the Actors get a chance to play their Characters and their evil(ish) doubles is nice.  Lupita especially shines here, as hers is the only one that can talk.  Talk she does too- perhaps a bit too much.  In spite of all of the great set-up, foreshadowing (see below) and Plot so far, the Third Act succumbs to 'Let's explain everything now' Syndrome.  Oh well- nothing is perfect.  You could argue that they did some of this in Get Out, but it definitely feels smoother in that Film, as the set-up is more organic and the reveals are spread out.  It's a small complaint for a Film this good though.  Seeing this makes me optimistic to see what Peele has planned next (not counting the 1,042 things he's listed as a 'Producer' of some kind on)…
A really good Film, even with a less-than-immaculate Third Act.  The whole package is quite good and holds up to scrutiny quite well.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Poor Bastards of Cinema: Us (2019)

I decided to give you two things in one post- all for the price of one.  Oh right- I don't charge for this.
My system is ruined!

 In any event, this is the return of an old segment and a tease of a future review.

In Us, freaky twins of our Leads try to kill them.
The Daughter is pursued by hers and things seem bleak...
...until a random Neighbor complains about her being on his car.
While our Heroine runs, Neighbor is attacked as the Film literally doesn't want to focus on him.
Based on his screams, he's dead as hell now!
The moral: don't yell at kids.  You never know when they will be scissor-wielding monsters.

The More You Know!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Quick Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Another Oscar Winner?  I'm spoiling you, people!  Will this one live up to the hype?  Weiterlesen...
A young boy- nicknamed Jojo- is growing up in Germany during WWII- specifically the tail end of the War.

He's rejected by his peers when he won't kill a rabbit, earning him a nickname and the Film's Title.
After an incident- which I won't SPOIL- his time as a would-be Soldier is over.  His Mother- dual Oscar nominee Johansen- stands by him all the way.
She gets him a job working to spread propaganda in the City, even as things visibly come to more ruin in the background.

This really is a Film that demands that you pay attention to the surroundings more than ever.
Jojo has an imaginary friend to help him make it through his daily life- Hitler.

A reminder- Taika Waititi is actually Jewish (his real name is Taika David Cohen), so I think he gets a pass for playing Fake Hitler.
His life changes even more when he discovers someone living in a hidden room.  Can he turn her in?
Can he live with himself if he doesn't?
Could he life with himself if he did?
As things only get worse for everyone involved, can this Film have a happy ending?

To find out, stream it or rent it via Redbox (which I did).
A fun, but also serious and heartfelt Film.  Jojo is a great focal point character for this whole thing.  He isn't evil, but he's surrounded by evil people.  He's good at heart, but has no way to be like that in a Nazi-ruled Country.  He will eventually do the right thing, which isn't always easy.  What the Film does really well is give every character some humanity to varying degrees.  A Nazi Lieutenant can do a nice thing...even if he's a Nazi.  To be fair and balanced here, the Film has some issues with balancing all of the Characters.  Many characters- like Rockwell and Wilson's- seem very important at first, but then drop in and out of the story.  I get that they aren't the lead, but it feels like parts are missing.  That's a pretty minor nitpick though.  The Film has some good humor.  The Film has some good drama.  The Film has some real sad moments.  Films like this *can* be a bit exploitational with your emotions- I'm looking at you, Life is Beautiful- and it usually works in the Oscar Season.  Thankfully, this managed to not *cheat* or do lazy bits to get emotional reactions.  Instead, it earns them through good setup, good Writing (it earned that Oscar!) and good Acting.  Given how far behind I am on Books to read, it is telling that the Film is so good that it makes me want to read the Book its based on.  Jojo Rabbit is a good Film with a good message.  It has the right mix of humor, drama and sadness.  Just one last visual reminder for how the people involved in the Film feel about actual Nazis...
Having not seen *most* of the other big Oscar Films, I can't tell you if this is the best.  I can tell you that is good and you should see it though.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Quick Review: Annabelle Comes Home

As it is also Women in Horror Month, I might as well give them some love too.  To that end, a threequel with a mostly-Female Cast and Monster...
The Conjuring Timeline continues to get muddier as we see an extended bit from the Scene in the original Conjuring...and then jump to a year after that.

So the 7th Film takes place between the 1st and 2nd?  Is this the Fast & Furious Franchise now...
The Parents leave the Daughter alone with a Babysitter, who, of course, brings her friend over.  Yes, this is the last time they appear for about an hour...

While the young pair are away, the friend falls to temptation and frees Annabelle...
So here's where the Film gets...odd.

It basically turns into an Anthology Film...only it is happening concurrently in the same House.  The actions are all disconnected from each other and could easily be shot at different times.

It comes down to The Bride, which is a 'haunted dress' and not the Kill Bill Character...
The Ferryman, a ghost who kills you/steals your soul if you don't have coins...and constantly drops coins...I guess.

This is confusing for several reasons, the least of which that this is NOT the Annabelle Sequel made by the guy behind Lights Out (that was Creation).
The final- main- creature is a Hellhound, who acts like a werewolf and attacks from smoke.

This Film has a $25-30 million Budget and can't afford more than that?  Lame.
Can the Film (and its Leads) get together and survive the night?  Will I continue to find the Doll not scary?  Does anyone read this third thing?

To find out, watch the Film.  I saw it on HBO, but, you know, you do you.
A decent, but underwhelming adventure.  As noted, this Film's placement in the Series is confusing.  So they got Annabelle in one Film and then nothing happened...until this Film said that a bunch of ghosts/demons broke out between Conjuring Films.  Oh, does that bear no mention?  What about their Daughter's friends?  What about any of these artifacts that are apparently notable?  10 years from now, they will have introduced like 7 more Films, 4 more Demons and covered every random moment of their lives.  At that point, they'll have four more adventures retconned into every few months of their lives and you'll wonder when they ever slept!  Joking aside, the Film is kind of a weird experiment.  It's an 'Annabelle' Film, but it is mostly about 'Here's this new thing.'  Besides the ones mentioned, there's also a TV that shows the possible future, a magic typewriter, an evil wind-up monkey (that doesn't do anything), an evil board game and a random suit of Samurai Armor.  Is this just a 'throw it all out there and see what sticks' thing?  Will I be watching Magic TV: A Conjuring Film in 2021?  Also with all of these haunted objects, this is just a setup for all of those Amityville Sequels with evil mirrors, lamps and such, right?  The Film has an odd pace, but does eventually get somewhere.  Sadly, that somewhere is a series of disjointed adventures that feel like parts cut from some sort of Conjuring Anthology Show.  I hear the 2nd Film is actually good, so maybe I shouldn't have skipped that.  In the meantime, a quick reminder of what the *actual* face of evil is...
A weird, but endearing mess of a Film.  If you are new to Horror, it will thrill.  If you're a jaded viewer, it's just alright.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Quick Review: Disney's The Black Cauldron

As long as we're in Black History Month, I might as well keep the tangential theme going.  Is this overlooked (and over-edited) Disney Film worth revisiting via Disney Plus?  Let's see...
In a nice, fantasy Kingdom, an evil Horned King seeks an object of great power.

Look at the title of the Film and then guess what it is.
Taran must make the transition from Assistant Pigkeeper to Hero to stop this evil being.

It's a shame that there aren't more overt Heroes around, who may or may not have been cut from this Tale when it was condensed from 2 Books to one Cartoon.
He is rescued by a Princess, who joins him on his journey to find the keep the King from finding it.

I don't want to backseat adventure here, but it seems like everyone is safer if NOBODY finds it, right?
Can they save the day if the Horned King can revive his Deathless Army?
More importantly, will we ever see the whole Film?  Katzenberg made them cut 12 minutes (out of 92 minutes) and we only have some frames that may or may not be official.
Oh well, Disney can always just try to rebrand it in a few years (like they already did) instead...
A good story, that has some clearly-missing parts.  As noted, the Film was cut after it was deemed 'too dark' at Screenings.  Granted- it is quite dark.  The problem comes down to some people in charge not wanting to let the Studio and its work grow with its audience.  Instead, they wanted to just keep grabbing the younger generation every time.  Granted- they are a massive empire, but could they have become more?  I guess we'll never know.  The actual Film is quite good on its own merits, to be fair.  Even with the cuts, you have an unlikely Hero, some good companions and everyone gets a bit of an arc.  Plus the 3 Witches from Macbeth got a new gig- it has been awhile.  Wait- is it bad luck to write Macbeth in a Review?!?!?  The dark Tone is nicely-balanced by how fun all of the Characters are.  There are probably some issues if you happen to love the Books, since, as noted, alot of condensing happens.  All in all though, it was nice to see the Film is full HD on the Streaming Service...even if there is no Blu-Ray of the Film.  Weird, right?  Oh well, I can always enjoy the lowest-fidelity option of all without Disney...
A good Film with some surprisingly-dark elements to it.  It doesn't feel like a 'Disney Film' should and is more interesting for it.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

'Black' History Month: Shut Up and Dance (Black Mirror)

If nothing else, it will validate all of those people who put stickers and/or band-aids on their webcams.  This is...
In a normal (British) City, Kenny is a seemingly-normal guy.  He works at a place that looks McDonalds and Subway had a baby.

How and why does he end up robbing a bank?

Well, to answer that, we need to go back to the previous day...
A series of events leads to him having some personal stuff being possibly exposed to the World.

He doesn't take it well.  I mean, who would?
The situation continues to escalate as he gets deeper and deeper into whatever the mystery men or women behind his blackmail have in mind.

Will he find an escape?  Will he find redemption?  To find out, stream it on Netflix.
A pretty nihilistic look at modern technology and how people can use it.  I suppose that's a good summary for Black Mirror as a whole, no?  This one definitely feels extra mean.  The people have clearly done bad things, some seemingly worse than others.  The people behind making them do what they do are definitely bad.  The only innocent people here are the ones caught in the middle.  It does a good job of making you empathize for people being put in a bad situation, even if it was due to their own actions.  They clearly aren't 100% bad people.  That said, they did things that got them put into this situation in the first place.  Do you root for them?  When you find out everything about them, can you still?  It's an interesting moral quandary and the kind of thing that Black Mirror does quite well.  The technological aspect, as noted, feels real enough to be genuinely-scary.  With all that said, it won't be everyone's favorite.  That said, take a look at this image shared on Reddit (with the text and circles added by me) highlighting all of the Easter Eggs in this quick shot from near the end...
A bleak, but compelling narrative.  It feels close enough to real life to truly be scary...and depressing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Lost in Translation?: Blacula (Again)

I had more than one of these, so I might as well use both.

After all, there are two Blacula Films, so...

This time, the Poster comes to us from France (or at least a French-speaking region)…

This one features an admittedly-odd framing with him in the middle surrounded by random shapes.
I also can't see the 'odd shape of color and silhouette' effect without thinking of Saved by the Bell!

I appreciate how much Blacula doing his version of Jazz Hands is featured too.

Here's the original...
As you can see, it is a bit washed out and features the tell-tale signs of being a scan of someone's poster (the crease and holes from displaying it).  I liked to think that I brought it back to life...or death, I guess in this case.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Mondo 'Black History' Trivia: Eartha Kitt's Final Batman Episode (and its Historical Significance)

Well, I've already connected the Show to the Sharon Tate/La Bianca Murders, so I might as well connect it to Politics...

For the third Season of Batman, Julie Newmar had left, but Catwoman had more appearances to make.  Enter Eartha Kitt...
 She last appeared in a 2-Part Episode (without a Cliffhanger, weirdly enough) alongside The Joker.

To add extra intrigue, the 2nd Episode featured Pierre Salinger, a former Press Secretary for JFK and LBJ.  There's a reason I mention this...
The Episode aired on January 4, 1968.
This Month would be very notable for Kitt besides just this appearance, however...

She appeared at a White House Luncheon and spoke to the First Lady (Lady Bird Johnson).  She spoke candidly about the War in Vietnam saying "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot."

Furthermore, she took a question about Vietnam during a Q&A later and said the following...

"The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don't have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons – and I know what it's like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson – we raise children and send them to war."

This didn't end well for Mrs. Kitt as she was blacklisted for nearly a Decade!  She even had a secret file on her courtesy of the CIA (which branded her a 'sadistic nymphomaniac')!

Granted- the Show wouldn't get a 4th Season on NBC, so this would be her final appearance regardless of the controversy.  

Even so, her candid and honest comments led to this being the last time anyone saw her for a while...

There's alot more history to that Show where a paunchy guy in a cape punched people in silly wigs, huh?  Bam!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Quick Review: Dolemite is my Name

A Biopic about Rudy Ray Moore was apparently a big project for Eddie Murphy.  Was it worth the time and effort?
 In Los Angeles, a 40-plus year-old Moore was trying to break out.  He had tried Music, Dance and now he was on Comedy.
Taking inspiration from an unlikely source, he creates a new persona- Dolemite!

Fun Fact: Dolomite is a real Element.  Did Moore take the name from that?  Probably not.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Moore keeps pushing, turning his act into a series of successful Albums before getting a new goal- Film.
He goes about getting help from a variety of unique sources, including a provocative Playwright, an auteur Actor (to Direct) and all of his friends.
Can they make their dreams come true?  Can they succeed and break into an industry?
I mean, it is a Biopic, so there can't be any real surprises if you know the history.

Regardless, check out this surreal journey through the mind of an impassioned (and brilliant?) mad man.
A surprisingly-interesting Film.  My experience with Rudy Ray Moore and his Films is...interesting.  I've only *personally* seen The Human Tornado, since I got it as a gift.  I got my friend to watch his last Film- Shaolin Dolemite- and it's a weird mess, apparently.  So, bear that in mind, when I talk about how interesting I found the actual story here.  Embellished or not, the Film has a compelling one to tell.  The Story is framed as one where Moore is always told what he can't do and he makes sure that he can!  He won't let anything stop him- whether it is the fact that he's overweight or can't do kung-fu- and that is sort of endearing.  That doesn't make his Films good, of course, but it does make him a sort of inspiration.  He overcomes alot here to do well, so good for him.  Murphy truly seems to become Moore, so I can see why all the hype was surrounding his performance.  I'm not going to say whether or not he should have gotten an Oscar nod, but he was good.  The Film is a celebration of people that achieve their goals- whether they are good ones or not.  I'm sure if Mr. Moore was alive to see it, he'd be happy...
A fun, inspirational Film about a man who made Films.  You don't have to like the Films- just admire the man's drive!