Friday, October 21, 2016

Movie Review: "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" (2005)

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Movie"Diary of a Mad Black Woman"
Director: Darren Grant
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

A woman tries to pick up the pieces of her life after her adulterous husband kicks her out and tries to leave her with nothing after 18 years of marriage.

"Diary of a Mad Black Woman" is directed by Darren Grant and is written by Tyler Perry. It is based on Perry's own play of the same name. It stars Kimberly Elise as Helen, a woman who, after 18 years of marriage, is suddenly kicked out of her lavish mansion home by her adulterous and mentally, sometimes physically abusive husband Charles, played by Steve Harris. After being forced out, she goes to stay with her grandmother Madea, played by Tyler Perry, who also plays Madea's brother Joe and Helen's cousin Brian. Helen then has to find the strength to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and move on with the help of Jesus, and a new man named Orlando, played by Shemar Moore. Of course, a little revenge won't hurt either.

In an effort to see Madea's humble beginnings, we decided to give "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" a try, even though the description for it sounds nothing remotely related to what and who Madea has morphed into in recent years. This movie might just be one of the most melodramatic, ham-fisted films we've ever seen. Everything about it feels so forced, so over the top, and so unnatural. The performances are downright bad at times, and the characters are more like caricatures as they are so unrealistic. The whole premise of the movie is stupid to begin with, and unless the laws in Atlanta, Georgia are completely different than the ones in any other state, the premise is null from the start. Weirdly enough, the only tolerable thing in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" is Tyler Perry as Madea and Joe, who offer up the only comedic relief and have almost all of the moments resembling anything fun in the entire film. Since Tyler Perry wrote the rest of this terrible garbage movie, he can't take much credit for only the good parts since everything that's left after you remove him from the acting equation is utter crap. It's at least partially his fault. This movie is like a really bad daytime soap opera in just about every aspect. It lacks focus, has a completely uneven tone, and has actors who, given the chance, might burst into tears for no apparent reason.

Since the only good moments in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" involve Madea, we can see why she became such a focus of the series. It's odd to see what a shit-storm she rose out of and how utterly out of place she feels trapped in a sea of melodrama with her big, bouncing fake breasts and her penchant for carrying a gun out in the open as her solution for everything. In the end, there is very little that's redeemable about this film. It's too overwrought with contrivances and surrounded by bad....well, be taken seriously as a drama, and it's far too unfunny to be considered a comedy. And minus an extra point for Shemar Moore's bad wig.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 2/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 16%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Halloween Movie Review #21: "Phantasm" (1979)

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Director: Don Coscarelli
Year: 1979
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

After the death of his parents and a family friend, a young boy begins to be haunted by a strange tall man and his small hooded minions.

"Phantasm" is written, directed and produced by Don Coscarelli. This film revolves around a young boy named Mike, played by A. Michael Baldwin, who has dealt with a lot of loss in his young life. Both of his parents have passed away. Now, he lives with his older brother Jody, played by Bill Thornbury, who just lost a close friend and is thinking of leaving Mike with some relatives and heading out on his own. Mike then becomes haunted by the mysterious Tall Man, played by Angus Scrimm, who has a brood of hooded little monsters and floating silver balls that can bore deep holes in their victims' heads. Scrimm has a great presence as The Tall Man and is very unsettling and creepy to see on screen, even though he is just an older guy in a suit. Plus, the funeral home setting helps add to the scare factor.

In some ways, this seems like a simple horror mystery with a couple of sci-fi elements thrown in to add some zest. In other ways, it feels like a surreal and extreme allegory for loss and abandonment. Either way, "Phantasm" does not have a straight-forward narrative and the plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, for some reason, that doesn't stop this film from being wholly enjoyable and even pretty scary at times. We get drawn in by the spectacle of it, as well as its intriguing visual style. Oh, and did we mention the silver balls that drill holes into the heads of their victims!? Yeah, those are so freaking awesome. We are never quite sure if what we are seeing is a dream or reality, but it sure is fun to watch. The performances aren't exceptional, but we don't really watch horror movies for Oscar winning performances. Check this one out if you haven't already seen it, it has just been remastered by none other than J.J. Abrams.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 70%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!
One year ago, we were being scared by"The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)"

Two years ago, we were being scared by: "Demons"

Three years ago, we were being scared by: "A Bay of Blood"

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Movie Review #506: "Max Steel" (2016)

Movie"Max Steel"
Director: Stewart Hendler
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
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Max (Ben Winchell) is a high school aged kid who has moved around a lot in his life. Upon finally returning to his childhood home, he starts displaying special powers as he emits energy from his body. With the help of a robotic alien named Steel (Josh Brener), Max learns to utilize his powers to unravel the mystery of how his father died.

"Max Steel" is directed by Stewart Hendler and is written by comic book writer Christoper Yost. We knew very little about "Max Steel" prior to seeing it. We didn't even see a trailer for this film, but apparently, it is based on a Mattel toy and an accompanying cartoon series. It stars Ben Winchell as Max McGrath, a young teen who has spent his life moving from place to place with his mom Molly, played by Maria Bello. Molly has finally decided to return to their hometown, which is where Max's father Jim, played by Mike Doyle, had a fatal, tragic accident many years before. Once in this house and in this town, Max's body starts going through some changes, and we don't mean puberty. He begins to suddenly emit tachyon energy from his body, which awakens a long-dormant alien named Steel, voiced by Josh Brener, who comes to find Max and helps him utilize that energy. He also helps Max by attaching himself to his body and sucking his energy until he's drained so he doesn't explode. Nothing phallic about that! When their powers are combined, they become Max Steel (so creative!) and can turn Max's natural tachyon energy into the more powerful TURBO ENERGY! as they GO TURBO! together.

What we have here is a cliché ridden superhero origin story made for young kids. It is very by the book in the way it handles Max's evolution from loner teenage to new found superhero. He goes through the expected, awkward learning phase early on where he blows up electronics and other household items accidentally, literally Googles "What am I??????????????????????????" (yes, with that many question marks), and twirls his newly discovered powers in the air while alone looking forlorn on a dock, you know, same ol' same ol'. The plot is revealed through a series of plot devices...oh, sorry, we mean clouded memories that start to reveal information as these details become pertinent to the story when our characters just so happen to remember things at exactly the right times. Of course, Max has to keep running out on his like interest Sophia, played by Ana Villafañe, because he doesn't understand the changes his body is going through and does his best to hide those changes in front of her. Okay, "Max Steel" is clearly a metaphor for puberty. Then, halfway through the film, comes the plucky comic relief in Steel, who is by far the most likable thing about this film. Though he is also the main source of exposition delivery, Steel brings what little fun this goofy, dumb movie has.

"Max Steel" doesn't know what it wants to be. It feels too dark and drab for a movie about a children's toy, and it's too silly and stupid to be a PG-13 rated action superhero movie. We couldn't help but feel that this movie is made up of an amalgam of scenes from other better projects the filmmakers just had to have included to make this feel edgy and interesting, when really, it's just a damn mess and had the opposite effect on us. There are moments which seem to be taken straight from some of our favorite flicks, like the barn scene from "Twister" and many more from "Iron Man." The way they display the hero's face while in his suit looks like low budget version of Marvel's resident snarky-Stark-y himself. Though all of the content here is presented as a mystery, there is absolutely no real mystery to it. We know who the villain is from the second they appear on screen, and we figure out what happened to Max's father long before he does. Though the filmmaker offers one or two twists, they are only a little surprising because of how trite and stupid they are. Add some white bread, bland as rice performances on top of all of these already terrible problems, and you've got recipe for disaster.

In the end, though there are a couple of fleeting moments of mild entertainment, overall, "Max Steel" is a very poorly done, predictable mess that feels like a knockoff of many other better movies, and it's vacuous to boot. Avoid this one at all costs.

My Rating: 2.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 0%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Halloween Movie Review #20: "Holidays" (2016)

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Director: Various
Year: 2016
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

An anthology of short horror films, each focusing on a specific holiday throughout the year. 

Halloween is usually the one specific holiday associated with the horror genre. "Holidays," however, brings this horror to every holiday of the year through a series of short films, each written and directed by different people.

It starts with Valentine's Day, written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. It revolves around a bullied girl's obsessive love for her swim coach. We enjoyed this segment as the bullied girl takes her coach's concern for her being bullied as a sign of affection. The tormenting builds to a head where revenge and a sign of love all happen in one grotesque climax.

From there, we move to the Saint Patrick's Day segment, written and directed by Gary Shore. It combines a teacher's dream of being a mother with some Celtic witchcraft and the legend of Saint Patrick into a weird, slow burning horror. There is some creepy tension throughout this short that culminates in a bizarre finale. This short won't be for everyone, but we sort of enjoyed its interesting take on the holiday.

Next up is Easter, written and directed by Nicolas McCarthy. This story tries to reconcile a little girl's question regarding what rabbits and eggs have to do with the resurrection of Christ. Rather than the simple explanation of Pagan vs.Christian tradition, we get a weirdly disturbing amalgam of the Christ Bunny, which we had hope for but weren't really sure we were going to ever see appear on screen. The visually unsettling nature of this short made it one of our favorites.

We then move to the Mother's Day short, written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith. This film revolves around a young woman who gets pregnant every time she has sex, regardless of whether or not she and her partner use a condom or other birth control. Because of this, she has had quite a few abortions. This woman is then lured to a retreat for women with fertility issues, who then kidnap her as their surrogate. We weren't big fans of this segment. It's pretty expected and not very entertaining or horrific.

We go from Mother's Day right to Father's Day in a segment written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns. A woman finds a recording from her estranged father explaining why he disappeared. This short is a bit of a mystery and tries to play up the slow burning psychological aspect, but it doesn't have much of a payoff. This short had a lot of promise, but is honestly kind of dull.

Next, we jump all the way down to Halloween, the holiday most associated with horror. This segment is written and directed by Kevin Smith and revolves around a group of phone sex workers who take revenge on their sexually abusive boss. This is a fun segment that has a payoff fitting of his crime. Kevin Smith seems to be getting more messed up as his career progresses, and this short film is no different.

From there, we move onto Christmas in a short written and directed by Scott Stewart. It stars Seth Green as a father who wants to get his son a great gift and does the unthinkable to get it. He is then haunted by his actions, but this short has a twist or two before it finishes. Overall, this segment was just okay and it could have been way more powerful than it was.

The final short is all about New Years Eve, which is written by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and is directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. This segment tells the story of a serial killer who uses dating websites to find his victims. His latest date is almost a perfect match on the website. Maybe this killer will find love, maybe he will find more victims, or maybe he will meet a woman that is more than he can handle. This segment is entertaining in a twisted sort of way, and anyone who has seen it knows they're pretty messed up for enjoying it.

In the end, when you have an anthology of shorts, the entire series can be greatly marred by its weakest links, and that's what unfortunately happens in "Holidays." There are some well done segments, but the bad ones are a real struggle to get through. Try and seek the good ones out individually if you can.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 52%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.
One year ago, we were being scared by: "Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers"

Two years ago, we were being scared by: "I Drink Your Blood"

Three years ago, we were being scared by: "Final Destination"

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Movie Review #505: "American Honey" (2016)

Movie"American Honey"
Director: Andrea Arnold
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 43 minutes
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A young woman named Star (Sasha Lane) joins a group of rambunctious traveling magazine salespeople who, like her, are looking for their place and are enjoying life of the road.

"American Honey" is written and directed by Andrea Arnold. It is a slice of life/coming of age character study about a young woman named Star, played by Sasha Lane. When we are first introduced to Star, she is digging through a dumpster trying to find food with two young kids in tow, though we come to realize they are not her kids. She meets and flirts with Jake, played by Shia LaBeouf, at a local K-Mart and is taken in by his apparent love of life (either that or his super sexy rat-tail pony tail). Jake invites Star to join their traveling band of miscreant magazine salespeople made up of a motley crew of underprivileged, impoverished, unattached youth. Unhappy with her current situation, she hits the road, leaving everything she knows behind and bound for a road trip across the southern United States on a journey where she learns about herself, love, and the true meaning of family, friends, and belonging in the world.

Sasha Lane is a newcomer to cinema, but she gives a consummate performance as Star, a woman in her late teens wandering aimlessly through life with a chip on her shoulder and a modest dream of owning a trailer in the country. Star has, by all accounts, had a harsh young life, but she still manages to look forward toward the future in all its grim reality. Some may find Lane's acting unpolished, but this is her breakout role and she has no formal training. We found her to be wholly realistic in her acting abilities and a free-spirited breath of fresh air, not fake or phony. No matter how you feel about Shia LaBeouf and his tumultuous off-screen persona, on screen, he is an excellent fit as the charming Jake. He is the group's top seller, which is mainly due to his ability to lie and manipulate and twist his shtick based on the person who answers the door for him. Star is immediately attracted to him, but it's never completely clear how Jake truly feels about her, if his flirtations are genuine, or if it's more of a performance of pleasant lies to get what he wants. Finally, Riley Keough gives a great performance as Krystal, the boss of the traveling troupe of magazine salespeople. Krystal constantly threatens to take Star's adventure away from her because of her mutual attraction to Jake, who appears to be her ball and chain. Commanding, authoritative, jealous, and clearly guilty of ripping off a van full of underprivileged teens and young adults, she doesn't have much to do in the way of range, but when she appears on screen, Keough is also the perfect fit for such a role.

Character studies aren't always the fastest paced films, but somehow, "American Honey" is engaging enough to breeze by its 2 hour and 43 minute run time. It's a movie that displays the problems these young people face without ever offering a solution to them. It allows the audience to think about such things and discuss them long after the fact. These issues go far beyond Star and her co-workers as the audience gets glimpses of the lives of other children as this bunch travels door-to-door selling magazines, encountering wealthy, over-sexualized suburban girls, as well as the impoverished children of a drug addicted mother who barely have enough food to get through the day. All of this is set around recurring imagery of the American flag, which pops up all the time on their daily road trips. There is no real plot here. It is simply an examination of modern youth culture for a bunch of kids who have had independence thrust upon them, or what the trailer calls a "youthquake." These are people who have been forced to fend for themselves since they were young. They lack maturity and guidance, having the attitude and behavior of children even though some of them are in their late teens. Without such guidance, Star in particular falls prey her jaded naivete on several occasions, and when she is offered gifts, alcohol, and opportunities to sell her magazines in exchange for her company, it really illustrates where her life may be headed if she continues down this path.

"American Honey" might seem pretentious and indulgent to some, permissive at every turn and hard to watch because of its intolerable, rambunctious youth-aged leads. Others will be off-put by Andrea Arnold's shaky camerawork. We think the movie is beautifully shot, capturing the cities and suburbs of the mid-west in all of their glory and poverty. This movie manages to capture life in an honest manner, juxtaposing troubled towns full of broken streets with the lavish, pool-clad mansions filled with every luxury imaginable. In a way, it shows America's problems right next to one another without ever fully intersecting them or explaining why they are so. While we agree that this film is not one for mass consumption, we very much enjoyed its wandering narrative and its never-ending cast of deeply flawed characters just trying to get by in life. Maybe in some small way, we can relate to them and what they have to go through. We never felt bored, annoyed, or angry, only sympathetic, gripped, and intrigued. It's relatively devoid of plot, but if you are a fan of long, realistic, gritty feeling character sketches of people on journeys of self-discovery, take a chance on "American Honey."

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 81%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Halloween Movie Review #19: "The Hills Have Eyes" (1977)

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Movie"The Hills Have Eyes"
Director: Wes Craven
Year: 1977
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

A family en route to California takes a detour down a desert highway to check out an old silver mine one of them inherited. After taking a wrong turn, the car breaks down in the middle of the desert. They quickly realize they are not alone as a family of wild cannibals lives in the nearby hills and are looking to get a bite to eat.

Written and directed by Wes Craven, "The Hills Have Eyes" tells the story of a showdown between two families. One family are simply a group of travelers driving to California, and the other a family of crazy cannibals living in the desert hills near a military bombing test site. Like many horror movies, trouble starts when this family decides to leave the main highway and take a secluded desert road looking for an inherited family property, only to have their car break down. In the spirit of films like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," a nearby family of cannibals attacks its unsuspecting victims.

This is a raw 1970's grindhouse-style horror film. It looks rough and has a very simple concept. It puts the family of victims in an isolated, unfamiliar location where they are forced to fight for their survival. It looks to be done on a micro-budget and is really stripped bare of any amenities other movies have like good lighting or proper sound editing. The film produces some good tension and moments of excitement as the cannibals break into the family's trailer to assault the people who have been left alone as they engage in a close-quarters battle for their lives. There are some grotesque visuals that will unsettle the audience. The casting of the cannibal family is really spot on, especially Michael Berryman, who has a very unique look as Pluto and has become a horror villain legend based on his unique appearance. We wouldn't go as far as saying the performances are anything spectacular, but they are solid enough for such a low budget grindhouse horror.

"The Hills Have Eyes" has enough happening in a very short amount of time to keep horror fans engaged and rooting for this family's survival as we hope they are eventually able to get the upper hand on their cannibalistic assailants. If you like pristine, polished horrors, you can check out the remake of this flick, though we almost always prefer watching gritty types of horror film like this one.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 64%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were being scared by: "The Brood"

Two years ago, we were being scared by: "Fido"

Three years ago, we were being scared by: "Evil Dead 2"

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Movie Review: "Pennies from Heaven" (1981)

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Movie"Pennies from Heaven"
Director: Herbert Ross
Year: 1981
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

A sheet music salesman (Steve Martin) has an unsatisfying sex life at home. While on the road, he has an affair with a school teacher (Bernadette Peters), which sends their lives down a path of no return.

Directed by Herbert Ross, "Pennies From Heaven" is a dramatic romance written by Dennis Potter and is adapted from a British miniseries of the same name. It stars Steve Martin as Arthur, a traveling sheet music salesman barely getting by in life. He is in an unhappy marriage with a sexually frigid woman. He winds up having an affair with a school teacher named Eileen, played by Bernadette Peters, which totally ruins both their lives through a series of events that follow.

We hadn't even heard of "Pennies from Heaven," let alone know what was about before we decided to watch it. We can now tell you first hand that this whole experience sucked. As we mentioned, this film is supposed to be a drama and a musical, yet every time a musical number starts, it is so tonally out of place with the story, it yanks us right out of the narrative. All of the songs are lip-synced by the actors and are so absolutely absurd within the context of the film, you'd swear you were watching a spoof. We sure did. These shifts in tone between the actual movie and the fake musical numbers are jarring to say the least, but it's not just these instances that make this film a complete wreck to watch. There are other instances that seem like an attempt at dark humor, but really aren't at all. So much of it, even in its darker moments, is so silly and nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. We love Steve Martin. He is one of our favorite actors, but he is a terribly mismatch for his part in this movie. It is impossible to take it, or him, seriously. This is not to say that Steve Martin can't do drama because he has proved he can in other, better films, but in this part, there is no dramatic weight to anything. None of the characters feel layered or nuanced, everything feels like a complete joke. We have no idea how it has an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, or why or how critics even begin to enjoy this film.

We have to say we're shocked to see "Pennies from Heaven" received an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay because there's nothing new here. Hell, who knows, maybe this is a film with a story that looked good on paper, but utterly failed in its execution. The whole lip-syncing shtick gets old really quick, the performances feel purposefully stiff and it just doesn't click with us, and the entire thing is too cynical and too silly to be taken seriously. This movie was a flop when it came out, and though it may have been ambitious, but it's probably better off being forgotten.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 2/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 84%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!