Saturday, October 22, 2022

Black Adam


The DCEU has struggled to make the same sort of impact as the MCU has managed. They have a deep bench of characters to draw on, but the folks behind the scenes have not managed to find a tone, story-line or believable connections between the characters. The Justice League movie, turned into an awkward amalgam of stories and the resurrected Snyder Cut, while having some promise , still felt bloated and not much has been done with it since. "The Flash" movie has been hobbled with the problems surrounding the star, and the only emotionally satisfying film that they produced was the surprisingly lighthearted "Shazam!". "Black Adam" is a project that Dwayne Johnson was committed to and the decision was made to separate it from it's roots in the "Shazam!" sequel and make it it's own thing.

This is a film that feels very much in the style of the "Aquaman" movie. It is a CGI heavy, action film filled with creative imagery but so much background exposition that it feels more convoluted than it really is. Teth Adam is the slave infused with the powers of the gods, who was almost immediately put into a prison for 5000 years. It takes us a while to discover the dark back story that fuels his rage and makes him a danger to the rest of the world when he is released, using the same command that brings forth "Shazam!". The imaginary history of the Kingdom of Kahndaq forms the background of an origin story which takes up a chunk of the first part of the film. No one bothers to create a backstory for the other superheroes in the film. I'm not familiar with the Justice Society of America, or the two leaders of that group that appear in this film Dr. Fate and Hawkman. I got their character pretty quickly without those introductions and then we get two additional younger characters to fill out the team that is supposed to confront this character that apparently Amanda Waller knows about before he was even revived. She seems to be in charge of the Justice Society, I guess it is the counterpart to the Suicide Squad.

I enjoyed the superheroes relationship, in large part because Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge sell it pretty well. There are occasional humorous bits with the character Atom Smasher, who feels like an Ant-Man substitute. The character of Cyclone is not as interesting as her powers are, and she is underused in the film which is too bad because there is potential there that is just wasted. The non-empowered humans are only important occasionally, with Anon, the skateboarding juvenile protagonist being both charming and annoying. For every moment that we want to root for him, he has a sense of self awareness that just feels cartoonish, which doesn't quite work here. Anon's Mother and Uncle are instigators, but after saving the Uncle, his character disappears from the film for most of the rest of the story. 

Dwayne Johnson does have to carry the movie however and he succeeds well. This may be the most stoic I've seen him in a film. I don't remember his trademark arched eyebrow showing up at all, and he is stingy with his smile, using it mostly in sarcastic moments rather than in any warmth. Clearly his physique and face are the acting tools he is using in this film, and sometimes he gets a little lost in all the CGI. The goal of keeping him as an anti-hero is largely met, although the finish of the film with a threat and a challenge from Waller feels like piling on. Most of that though pays off in the mid credit sequence that is trying to tie the films together and set up a future confrontation.

Black Adm is perfectly acceptable but it does seem to be more standard than groundbreaking. I'm not sure that it is the gamechanger that Johnson and the folks in charge of the DCEU want it to be. Frankly, I'm more excited by the "Shazam!" sequel which got pushed back then I am at the prospect of a second film in this series. It will happen I am sure because even though comic book fatigue may be a real thing, they seem to be the only kinds of films with the reliability that theaters need.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

10 Year Lookback Memory Test

So I had this idea a while back, and I thought I would follow through on it, unlike so many ideas I have. I went back through the site, and picked out two films for each of the last ten years, that my memory barely contained. I was looking for movies that I recalled as enjoying and those that I did not care for, with the proviso that I have not really seen the films again since that viewing in a theater.  Without looking at what I wrote, I selected the films and designated them "Worthy" or "Worthless". 

Now it's time to look back and see if my memory has completely failed me, or if I was right all along. There are links to each of the reviews and I invite you to tell me that I have lost it, or that I should not worry too much about early onset memory loss. Have fun. 

2012LockoutHouse at the End of the Street
201347 RoninCarrie Remake
2014Begin AgainThe Other Woman
2015SPYTaken 3
2016Pete's DragonAllied
2017A Monster CallsPower Rangers
2018TagThe Predator
2019Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkThe Dead Don't Die
2020BeckyThe Rhythm Section

Halloween Ends


We are Fourteen Films into this Franchise, and you would think that the screenwriter and director David Gordon Green would do his best to get it right, given that this purports to be the finale. I'm afraid he doesn't, and in fact is so off the mark that it is irritating. "Halloween Ends" probably won't be the end of these films, but it should be. The desire to keep using the tropes that John Carpenter practically invented is not going to disappear, but it is clear that knowing the language of these films is not the same as being able to speak it.

I had skipped the last film, "Halloween Kills" until this week, when I watched it for the Lookback Podcast I was planning. Had I seen it before, I probably would have skipped this movie and the lookback as well, because it is not good. There would be no rescue with the current film, it is much like it's predecessor, an attempt to approach the concept of the film from a different perspective, and failing miserably in the process. At least the first in this trilogy kept the focus on Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. "Ends" attempts to turn this into an origin story for an alt Boogeyman, but does so without any grace or sense of feeling for the very subject it wants to be exploring, "evil".

There is a smashingly effective prologue that does get us emotionally invested. The character of Corey Cunningham starts off as a tragic but sympathetic figure, who could have been integrated into the story in some interesting ways but instead is turned into a PTSD knockoff of a central figure in the film series. The phrase "evil eye" is taken a little too literally by writers Green, Logan, Bernier and McBride and the movie switches from the nature of evil to a contagion film like "It Follows" or "Smile". Both of those films never quite explain why the horror is passed on, but they still are more convincing than what happens in this story. Let's just say, four years of hibernation in a sewer, dining on rats, is not a convincing way to turn someone into a Mesmer. 

I was initially taken by Cory and his budding relationship with Allyson, Laurie's grand-daughter, but both characters start acting out of the framework that has been created for them. It is as if another story is intruding on the promising character development and taking the plot in a direction that will lead to mayhem but be completely unsatisfying. Jamie Lee is forced to bounce back and forth between the character she was in the 2018 film, and the one she was in the original. Sometimes she is in denial and sometimes she is a realist. How she becomes a crystal ball, able to tell what is happening when no one else seems to know is not very clear. I like Will Patton as an actor, and I like his character, but he was supposed to be dead in the 2018 film and he lingers around the periphery of this story just to give us some hope for Laurie, he is wasted in this film.

There is no logic to the way secondary characters react to Laurie either. Some are sympathetic and still view her as a hero, while others seem to blame her for what happened for no reason at all. This feels like a thread from "Kills" but one that is not very strong and not essential to the plot. Like Patton's Frank, it is also unclear how some of these people are alive after the first two movies. Two characters are picked at random for "Michael 2.0" to kill, and they are stalked in an amazing house that feels like it should be in the Hollywood Hills rather than in rural Haddonfield. The connection to Allyson seems important early on, but now it feels like a deliberate premediated act rather than a random Michael Myers slaughter. The inconsistencies in the story and characters just get infuriating after a while.

There is a lot of exposition provided by Laurie, supposedly writing her book out loud, and it sounds like it is trying to make a profound point but it is mostly gibberish, which demeans the character and antagonizes the audience even more. The best that can be said for this film is that there are some murders that are kind of interesting, but not memorable enough to make the story worth telling, much less having anything to say about evil. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022



What is it that happens when you get all the parts you need for a great movie, and it just won't come together? Did the director fit things together incorrectly, did the actors blow it and not commit to the parts? Maybe the score just doesn't fit with the tone. A chef can tell you that having the right ingredients is not all you need for a perfect dish, and "Amsterdam" is a good example of that metaphor being correct. If you look at all the parts separately, it sounds like it is going to be great. Somewhere in the process of assembling it, something went wrong. The film is not bad, it's just not good.

I frequently use comparisons in my reasoning about a film because the things that I make comparison to should be familiar to the reader and help them understand the points I am trying to make. When people say "you shouldn't compare things", I get their point, a thing should be judged on what it is, the problem is that you can't always figure out what something is without a comparable product. So allow me to make a comparison for you now that I think will help. "Amsterdam" feels like a Wes Anderson film without looking like a Wes Anderson film. There are kooky characters, outrageous scenarios, humorous quips and asides, and a great collection of actors, but there is not the same frenetic energy, warm color palate, and quirky visual detail to distract you from potential flaws in the storytelling. This movie wants to be embraced as an eccentric  comedy, but it is just not warm and fuzzy enough, and it is trying too hard to be those things. 

Writer/Director David O. Russell is a talented film maker, but his script here attempts to turn a historical incident into a major threat, although the incident was viewed by many as a hoax, cocktail plotting, and a big laugh. If the real people involved were anything like the characters in this film, we'd have even less to have worried about because of incompetence. If we overlook the real events, and just accept that this is a story inspired by those events, I suppose it would be more palatable, so I will do that. The premise now becomes that "Jules and Jim" prevented the overthrow of the U.S. government by fascist industrialists who admired Mussolini and Hitler. I suppose this might seem relevant to anyone who took the nutjobs of January 6 seriously, but otherwise it is an indulgence to make us laugh. 

The thing I find so disappointing is that I did laugh at things happening in the film, but they had little to do with the plot. Christian Bale spends half his time making puns and quips that are entertaining enough, but they can't compete with the visual jokes that come from his glass eye. When it starts looking around independently of what the character is doing, it was hysterical. John David Washington has no real flair for comedy in this film, undermining what goodwill might have followed from "BlacKkKlansman". Margot Robbie feels like she is reprising Harley Quinn, just less obviously. All of them seem on screen to think what they are doing is a hoot, although much of the time it is just spinning wheels going nowhere. Robert DeNiro's deliberate manner and clipped way of delivering his lines as General Dillenbeck, also emphasizes how the movie wants us to see humor in things that are not particularly funny.

I enjoyed the movie as a minor work by some talented film makers, but they all seem to be putting in energy that is not paying off in the way they want it to. It's hard to say what does not work, but I can say that some of it did, just not enough for me to encourage anyone to add this to their list. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Greatest Beer Run Ever Video Review

This is the video review for the film. It is also located on the KAMAD Vlog. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Mummy and The Bride of Frankenstein Fathom Events Universal Monsters


Ninety plus years later and these films continue to work. Sure they are a little creaky around the edges and the story telling and acting feels like it is from a different time, but there is still horror to be had and fantastic moments to revel in. 

The Universal Monsters are the classic horror films that so many fans of scary movies were initiated with. As a seven year old you maybe hid your face under a blanket as you peeked out at Bela Lugosi in the TV screen, or maybe you had a nightmare featuring Frankenstein's Monster tossing you into the lake. The iconic images of those films are the default icons of horror fans, even more that Ghostface and Jason. 

The first film on the program was "The Mummy" from 1932. Boris Karloff had become a star the year before with the original "Frankenstein" and as a result, he was top billed and promoted as the feature attraction ion this film. Imhotep is not the image of the Mummy that most people will remember. Later films featured the fully bandaged leg dragging mummy strangling people, but in this movie, that incarnation of the creature is only briefly viewed, never walking and we don't see it do anything more than drive a man mad. When Karloff shows up late as Ardeth Bay, his make up is more subtle but no less creepy. Even 90 years later, the light effects on his eyes work at creating a sense of evil and power, despite being a primitive special effect.

Production design on the film sets was pretty effective, conveying a sense of being in an Egyptian Museum or Tomb. while it is really just the back lot. The pool that reflects the history of Imhotep looks great when the foggy clouds roll over it but once the scene begins, it looks like a TV set, twenty years before TV sets became widely available. The plot however is nicely visualized and we get some great exposition with only a slight amount of narration by Karloff. 

During the five minute break between the films, we got a countdown clock and a slide show of lobby cards, posters and Behind the Scene photographs of the film. It was a nice little treat.

The second feature on this Special Halloween screening is the beloved "Bride of Frankenstein". This is the James Whale Masterpiece that made the creature the most sympathetic character on the screen. There is some effective editing of material from the original into the flashback exposition and that reminds us just enough of what had happened in the previous film.  The most delightful part of the opening however is the imagined conversation between Lord Byron, Shelly and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly. Elsa Lancaster gets to appear in the film without the bride make-up in this sequence, and her story is the one that casts the spell for us. The flourish that Lord Byron provides is amusing and it frames the story as a real moment of  theatricality. 

The character actors in the movie steal every scene they are in, Uno O'Conner screams her way to immortality, Dwight Frye is creepy and funny as Karl, the murderer who supplies the body parts for the experiment, and of course, Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Pretorius outshines the two romantic leads who we never get a chance to care much about. 

Karloff is the star, and even under the heavy make-up he gives a performance for the ages. Although the monster does speak a few words, the performance is largely silent and Karloff conveys fright, anger and pathos with his whole body, and he is never relying on the iconic voice that would make him an actor in demand for his whole life. You lovers of Dr. Seuss will know what I am talking about. The sequence that was parodied by Mel Brooks in Young Frankenstein, with the blind man making friend with the monster is a master class in acting by Karloff. Everyone in the audience is going to sympathize with the creature after this sequence in spite of all the murder that came before. 

If there is a co-star the equal of Karloff in this film it is the production designers. They make miniature castles and mansions so appealing on screen. The laboratory is filled with equipment that is invented for this film and some items that did exist in the real world are adapted to the moment. The photography uses shadows and light to make each moment visually special. The sparks fly and the wind blows and the faces gleam in the carefully placed lighting. The whole creation scene is just spectacular. It is a shame that the title character has so little screen time, but as story efficiency goes, the climax of the movie does not draw things out and it is incredibly satisfying. 

Saturday, October 1, 2022



October has arrived, and with it, the start of the spooky season on-screen. We get a pretty good one to lead off in "Smile". Basically, this is a contagion story, like "The Ring" or "IT Follows". Some mysterious force is passing along a curse that is leading to the death of those who end up in it's path. For ninety percent of the film, it sticks to this concept and the horror is based on creeping psychological moments and disturbing deaths that follow those moments. It is only in the last few minutes that it turns into a creature feature and loses track of what was working so well up to then.

The cast is made up of familiar faces from television, and they all do a credible job selling their moments. Sosie Bacon comes across as a sincere therapist who has the job of trying to help a disturbed young woman who is having bizarre  paranoid vision. Her early calm demeanor and sympathetic face make what happens in the course of the film more horrifying. We know that this is a good person who is having something terrible take over her life. The fact that what happens is largely depicted as her own psyche falling to pieces is what makes the story compelling. It is a trope in these kinds of movies, that the victims come across as disturbed, which is why their explanations of supernatural origin are dismissed. You would think that a psychology professional would be able to get around that and speak to others in a way that is more rational and convincing. When the patient is yourself, it is not so easy.

There are a few death scenes that account for part of the horror in the film. The initial suicide is plenty disturbing, although the medical professional's call for help should have been responded to quicker, the slow execution of the moment makes it visually compelling. Other deaths are mostly suggested and displayed in brief forms. The truth is that this film gets most of it's horror impulse from jump scares, scattered throughout the movie. The jump scare is a cheap tactic but when it works, the impact on the audience can be quite chilling. There were two that worked on me, and one of them gave me the kind of shiver deep down that we really want from a horror film. 

An important component of the plot is that the witness to the death must be traumatized by it for the contagion to take hold. We know from early on that Dr. Cotter, the character played by Bacon, witnessed her own Mother's suicide after having been neglected as a child. She is in essence suffering from a survivor's form of PTSD. The interactions with her sister and fiance are good opportunities for us to have insight into how the long term suffering is masking the current crisis. We know also, that she has had a failed relationship in the past because of these issues. The best parts of the movie deal with the tender way she is trying to hold it together in the current situation, and how she is failing at doing so. 

Because it is a movie and not just a play, we are going to get some visual representations of those inner thoughts, and that is a tip off from early on that we cannot trust the things that we are seeing. Sometimes they are presented as nightmares, or daydreams, but there are a couple of extended points that are fake outs and undermine the audience's ability to identify with the character. In the climax, we get a visualization of the traumatic id that turns the end of the movie into a monster story rather than a psychological thriller. It's a pretty good visualization but it feels unnecessary and I thought it detracted from the ultimate finishing moment.

In spite of a few missteps, the movie largely succeeds at being frightening, thoughtful and entertaining. There were some nice scary moments and the film takes the time to let the pressure build. I'd say it is a reasonably good start to the Halloween onslaught of  horror. Enjoy your goosebumps this month.