Episode 50–The Devil (and my agent) made me do it.

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 Episode 50 –The Devil (and my agent) made me do it. ***Spoilers***

Netflix, Netflix, Netflix … whaat WERE you thinking? You gave Episode 50 was two and a half stars! Nooooooooooo!

episode 50  EPISODE 50, a 2011 release, has 2.5 stars from the Netflix fairy.

This 2011 “offering,” written and directed by Joe and Tess Smalley begins benignly enough with yet another “found footage” paranormal premise. This time it’s for a paranormal reality (think Ghost Hunters) show–only these guys are out to show us the smoke, mirrors and faulty wiring that panic folks into thinking their places are haunted. These dudes (and one dewy-eyed dudette) are out to shine a light on superstition and vivid imaginations.

Their purpose is to put this poppycock silliness to rest so that “real science” will get more attention.

When a dying rich guy who fears going to hell offers them the chance to investigate the West Virginia Lunatic Asylum, the site of several unexplained and gruesome deaths, they see “Season Finale” or “Episode 50!!” So they load up the van and head for West Virginey–visions of Emmys dancing in their heads.

Trouble (along with a ghost in the window) arises when they encounter a rival group called “ASK” (don’t ask) a trio of God-fearing folks from UCLA.

ASK is convinced that the Devil is real. So of course the two groups start circling each other like the Sharks and the Jets until the dewy eyed dudette calls a halt while her counter-part in the ASK group, a rather mousy medium looks panicked at the thought of picking up whatever signals the asylum is beaming. They agree to work together–or rather the TV show crew will work and the church people will take notes.

The rest of Episode 50 devolves from the formatted “Ghost Hunters” to a plot mess more complicated than three seasons of “Dark Shadows.”

Towards the middle of the film we’re treated to music supporting the “found footage” and ghosts start staggering, crawling on the ceiling, and locking people in rooms that just happen to contain the files that help the investigators to figure out that it’s just one bad guy-ghost (a serial-murderer, what a surprise!) who is holding all the spirits there and not allowing them to “go into the light children.” There’s a gate to hell and it’s not even at the hospital; it’s in an old prison. And so off they go to the old pokey. Right.

My favorite line was “I never pay attention to crap like ‘The Exorcist.'” Oh reeeally?

You mean that ole’ black magic movie? This masterpiece ends with a show-down–mano vs cloven hoof as the “Devil’ (the Devil looks like a bare-chested guy with a mean set of horns) guarding an old gate with flames, etc. The big bad Devil is vanquished by the skeptic TV guy wielding a crucifix (after the church guy dies heroically). Priceless. Netflix—how about half a star?

The House at the End of the Street: resting on a tired plot

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The House at the End of the Street: resting on a tired plot–A Review  ***Major Spoiler Alert!***

House I doubt it will be long before The House at the End of the Street sinks into the depths of Netflix one point five stardom.Directed by Mark Tonderal (Hush) with story by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3 and U-571) and screenplay by David Loucka (Dream House) The House at the End of the Street offers a worthy cast headed by Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Shue and Gil Bellows.

The House at the End of the Street shows its cards in the first scene where it’s night and a woman hears a bump.

She rises from her bed and we see a figure and a mop of blond hair covering the face of whoever made the bump. One determined blue eye peers out from the mop as a hand takes a long sharp knife from the kitchen. Right before the woman encounters the business end of the knife, we see the mad determined gleam in the blue eye. Despite the efforts of all involved, we also see part of a face that could use just a smidge more estrogen. The woman says, “Carrie Anne? What are you . . .” We assume Carrie Anne, from her toned bicep, must be working out. Then it’s shower curtains as Carrie Anne’s knife meets the woman’s kidney.

Soon, the woman’s waiting-in-bed husband becomes victim number two. Okay let’s jump ahead.

A woman (Elizabeth Shue) and her daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) move into  The House at the End of the Street.Sitting in a rustic area with trees and a hint of wilderness, this prime real estate is a steal because of property values dropping in the neighborhood.

The crime of the notorious Carrie Ann, previous tenant of The House at the End of the Street, refuses to be forgotten.

They never found her, you see. Now her brother (Max Theriot) lives there alone. The woman and her daughter are at odds. There’s been a divorce and rather than the absent rock musician father, the woman, a doctor, has custody of the daughter. Of course there’s lots of fighting and predictably, the misunderstood neighborhood boy living alone becomes the center of it all. The girl can’t resist the tortured blue eyes of her studly handsome neighbor, who wasn’t around when the murders happened. He went to live with an aunt when he was seven, you see. Now, all he wants to do is fix the place up and sell it, he tells her.

He doesn’t tell her about his sister, Carrie Anne. By the way, Carrie Anne is tied up in the cellar!

They were twins, and he feels responsible for her. Unfortunately, crazy Carrie Anne manages to get away and he ends up chasing her down and killing her. In the meantime, the neighbor girl decides to seduce the tortured but cute neighbor, much to the distress of her mother and annoyance of various high school bullies, who make it their business to drive him out by harassing him. Poor soul, he’s all alone now that Carrie Anne’s gone. Or is she?

***Read no more if  you plan to see The House at the End of the Street and don’t like spoilers.***

I kept waiting for something to surprise me in this pre-fab project.

The lack of originality had me shaking my head as we discover that those neighborhood punks had the right idea. Lonely boy finds another girl to be his crazy sister and it’s official: he was Carrie Anne when the murders occurred. It turns out that his mom and dad were so angry when the real Carrie Anne fell off her swing and died, that they forced him to take her place. Fed up dealing with puberty as a girl, he killed them. Understandable. Predictably, neighbor girl figures his secret out and she and mom have to fight him off. The movie ends with him on Thorazine as he stares glassy-blue-eyed at a jigsaw puzzle.

Young Mr. Theriot is playing Norman Bates in a TV production, Bates Hotel. Ah good plan.

For the life of me, I’ll never understand how projects like this are made and released while more worthy scripts are met with indifference. The plot and characters were indifferently written and trite. The actors, including Mr. Theriot will appear in more deserving projects. And if the writers and director do another one of these clunkers, I hope the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock haunts them, hopefully inspiring more original fare.

 

Skull Island: A Review

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Skull Island: Grumble in the Jungle      a review      ***spoilers!!!***

Skull Island is a new twist on King Kong. I’ll just say it: If I were Kong, I’d sue for defamation of character. This King Kong remake is the second film by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer). Screenwriters, Dan Gilroy (Night Crawler, The Bourne Legacy) and Max Borenstein (2014’s Godzilla) wrote the script. Unfortunately, this Kong is not the 1930’s beast beguiled by beauty or the misfit ape competing with Jeff Bridges for Dwan (Jessica Lange). Skull Island‘s Kong is not the monster intrigued by Naomi Watts’ soft shoe. On Skull Island, Kong, who walks upright like Chuck Norris, is Clint Eastwood’s get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon of Grand Torino.

Cover image Skull Island

IMDB Skull Island image

When old enough, I often stayed up late to watch the 1933 version on Saturday nights.

Despite the wooden acting, the surreal jungle and Kong’s terrifying entrance always pulled me in. The sexual undercurrents of Kong’s attachment to Dwan is all I remember of the eighties version. Later, I found Peter Jackson’s effort moderately entertaining, especially the Jurassic Park dinos. However, I enjoyed it more on DVD; the huge bugs weren’t nearly as gross.

On Skull Island, it isn’t Kong who loses his freedom; there’s no tragic fall. Instead, humanity might fall.

Waiting within the earth are monsters that can wipe us out. Skull Island begins with a WWII dogfight. Planes weave and dive above a sandy shore. When two crash, pilots, an American and a Japanese, struggle out of the wreckage. As they fight, something huge rises on the other side of a cliff; it’s Kong.

Then the scene fades into 1973. The Viet Nam War is ending and Skull Island beckons.

Monster hunters Randa and Brooks (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) plan a trip to a mysterious island. Randa believes that someday, monsters will emerge from the earth and kill us all if we’re not ready. And oh, yes, they’ll need a military escort.

In Viet Nam, Lt. Colonel Preston (Samuel L. Jackson), who hates to lose, prepares to leave for Skull Island.

A mission to a dangerous island could take the sting out of defeat. Along with tracking specialist Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photographer, Weaver (Brie Larson), Preston and his men board a ship. Later, they’re on their way to Skull Island. Nearing the island’s mysterious clouds, the explorers pile into helicopters to scout.  In a few days, more helicopters will meet them.

Ala Apocalypse Now, ‘70’s music blasting, helicopters drop bombs on Skull Island.

Testing the depth of the island, they discover Randa’s “monster.”  Predictably, it’s Kong, who reacts with a “who left the screen door open” glower. Unprovoked, Preston attacks and bullets fly. Kong bats the choppers away like giant flies. When they all crash, soldiers die.

Outraged, Preston vows revenge. He and his surviving men will pursue Kong on foot.

Conrad’s group (Weaver, researchers, etc.) looks for the rendezvous site. This means wandering through arid terrain that pales in comparison to the dreamy jungle of the original or the bug infested nightmare of Jackson’s movie. Suddenly, the American pilot (John C. Reilly) of the opening scene appears. A chatty eccentric, the pilot introduces them to the locals. The locals are a National Geographic tribe of mutes who taught him how to avoid the island beasties.

Don’t mess with Kong, the pilot warns. On Skull Island, Kong fights the monsters.

It’s all a misunderstanding, you see. Like Walt, the old man in Grand Torino, Kong defends the neighborhood by removing the undesirables. While Preston seeks revenge, Conrad’s group, including the pilot, scramble for safety. Flesh-eating wildlife dine on several before the rest are rescued. Of course, Preston’s plans do not go well, especially for Preston. Thankfully, Kong lives to grumble another day.

Despite its A-list actors, I was glad to leave Skull Island. I didn’t care who got eaten.

And the monsters? I’ve read several reviews of this movie. Many describe them as innovative and scary. Maybe it’s just me; I couldn’t connect to the story enough to be scared. I missed the sticky hot jungle. Dinosaurs belong on Kong’s Skull Island, not a weird buffalo, giant daddy-long-legs or skeletal things that looked like dead possums. Plus, I want a huge wall hiding terrible things.

There was one thing I liked. I’ve always wondered where Kong came from, meaning: did he have a family?

Was there a Mrs. Kong, a Kong clan? Skull Island takes us to the Kong family plot. Sadly, Kong, we’re told, is the last one. Is this the last of Kong? I hope not. If not, lose the daddy-long-legs and bring back T-Rex or even Godilla. Bring back the stop-motion charm of Faye Wray’s lovesick ape. Most of all bring back the mystery; bring back the wonder.

Get Out: How a Popcorn Movie Became Food for Thought

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Get Out: How a Popcorn Movie Became Food for Thought    A Review   ***Some Spoilers***

 

Get Out cover from IMDB page for Get Out

From IMDB page for Jordan Peele’s film, Get Out

Get Out is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele (Keye and Peele) who also wrote the screenplay. Starring English actor, Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, Get Out is a horror movie satire focused on racism. Borrowing elements from films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, Get Out skewers the pretensions of “white wine sipping” liberals by using the generational conflict between Boomers and Millennials.

Get Out is also about identity and the importance of belonging.

It opens on a dark street lined with large houses behind well-trimmed hedges. We hear the tinny sounds of a song from the early twentieth century as a young black man emerges from the shadows. Looking over his shoulder, his phone to his ear, he asks, “Why meet here?” Like the music, the man is out of place; he knows it’s time to Get Out of the neighborhood.  And so do we as a white sports car pulls up. He turns away as a figure exits the car, knocks him out and loads him into the hatchback.

The music changes to something edgy. There’s danger ahead.

Next, we’re in a bakery. We see a tray of donuts as a young woman named Rose (Allison Williams) makes her choice. She and her lover, Chris, a successful photographer, are taking a weekend trip to meet Rose’s parents. Between kisses, Chris and Rose discuss her parents. “Do they know I’m black,” he asks. She tells him no, but as old-fashioned liberals, they’ll make him feel welcome. Rod, (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent and Chris’s best friend, warns him not to go — something doesn’t feel right.

But Chris goes and welcome him they do.

Waiting on the steps of their comfortable New England home on well-tended acres, Dean, the neurosurgeon dad (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), Rose’s psychiatrist mom, greet Chris warmly. But soon, we know that Rod is right; it’s time to get out. when Chris sees the Stepford Wives behavior of the two black employees. After the veneer of geniality cracks when Rose’s obnoxious brother challenges Chris to a fight, Missy insists on hypnotizing Chris and gives him a command that can render him helpless.

The next day, despite Rose’s protests, Missy’s club, a collection of creepy old people, (see Rosemary’s Baby) meets in the garden.

The only black club member is young, wears clothes that scream nerd and has a way of talking at odds with his race and age. Chris thinks he knows him. He’s the man kidnapped in the opening sequence. When inquisitive club members (one squeezes his bicep) treat Chris like a prize Pekinese, it’s time to leave. And what about Rose, nurturing, supportive Rose? Or is she? Chris isn’t sure and neither are we. But Rod is; when Chris calls him, he urges Chris to get the hell out of white wine-land. Then, things go south during a bingo game.

Recalling the kidney auction in the movie, Coma, the game ends when a blind photographer who envies Chris’s talent, wins Chris.

The story kicks into full scare mode with Rod’s rescue plans and Chris’s efforts to get out. Missy’s command leaves Chris unable to resist the horror movie science of those who intend for Chris to no longer be Chris. His predicament reminded me of The Skeleton Key.

When he presents his “sex slave” theory to a trio of black cops, Rod’s pride in being a TSA professional suffers.

Stung by their reaction, Rod takes matters into his own hands. Friendship and betrayal come into play and the movie becomes a gore fest. The ending is cathartic and satisfying because we care what happens to Chris. The plot of Get Out is full of holes, most having to do with risks taken by the villains, but the racial satire aspect gives this film an unexpected bite it wouldn’t have if Chris were white, and Daniel Kaluuya’s ability to draw us in keeps us invested. His friendly, open face allows us to see his pain when it dawns on him that the woman he trusts and loves may have betrayed him.

As the parents, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are good actors doing their best to round their flat characters.

Allison Williams is effective as the enigmatic Rose, but it was hard for me to buy her transitions in the end sequence. Lil Rel Howery as Rod is a welcome comedy contrast to the creep factor. His energy gives the film a needed boost.

I enjoyed this movie, but I wondered about the title, Get Out.

Is the message, “Get Out” meant for Chris or for Boomers (and those older) who refuse to leave the stage and join the audience? As for me, I’m already seated, popcorn in hand, looking forward to the new cast and the next story.