Fear Street 1666

From its genuinely creepy start to its slam bang finish this is a deeply satisfying and fun horror film that nicely closes out the Fear Street trilogy.

Continuing the series time hopping trend, this film opens in 1666 when The town of Shadyside was little more than a Pilgrim settlement filled with sexual repression and suspicions of witchcraft. This film tells the story of Sarah Fier the witch who has cursed the town of Shadyside and is the cause of all the horror we’ve seen in the previous two films.

This is a fun and effective setting. It shifts gears from the kinetic energy of the first two. Tension is built effectively. There’s some grotesque moments as a blight descends on the crops and livestock in the village. And animosities grow between people until they boil over.

The village is made up of actors from the previous two films, so all the faces are familiar. It’s nice to see these performers back even after some of them may have died in previous installments.

One thing I appreciate about horror is that young actresses are given leading roles in which they get to play something other than the girlfriend. Some times they’re just underwear clad victims but often they get real parts of substance. In the Fear Street films mostly unknown young actors and actresses are given great parts, and they tackle them wonderfully. Kiana Madeira is especially impressive in the dual roles of Sarah and Deena. Olivia Scott Welch was good in the previous but us really good here as Sarah’s best friend and potentially more.

What was most effective for me was the story and how it played out over all three films. The mystery was deepened and finally paid off here. I will enjoy watching these movies again come Halloween and picking up all the clues and pieces I missed. The planting and pay off really is superb here. Plot threads and hints that seemed innocuous in previous come together and prove their importance here. I was delightfully surprised throughout as revelations came to light.

Looking back over the three films, they do feel a bit rushed. They are chalk full of story enough for two movies each at least, but that does keep the pace moving and keep the story flowing. All in all these movies are just a lot of fun. They’re fun horror. They aren’t too scary, they aren’t too intense. They are violent and bloody, but not too bad. I realize that recommending horror movies is like recommending hot sauce. Everyone has different taste and what one considers fiery hot is mild to someone else. I watch a lot of horror, so take my recommendation like you would a hot sauce recommendation.

Good storytelling, great performances, a breakneck pace, and a really satisfying conclusion make this one of my favorite series in recent memory. It won’t be for everyone, but it might just be the right amount of fun for you.

This movie is my cup of tea. The Fear Street series is my cup of tea. 1666 – A- Fear Street -A-

Space Jam: A New Legacy

This is one of the worst products I’ve seen, and I call it a product instead of a movie because it serves as less of a narrative film and more of a corporate ad for other products Warner Bros. Has on offer.

Space Jam follows NBA superstar LeBron James and his fictional son Dom played by Cedric Joe. Dom wants to make video games, but LeBron wants him to buckle down and practice basketball. When LeBron criticizes an computer algorithm’s idea, that computer algorithm, played by Don Cheadle, abducts LeBron and Dom and forces them to play basketball to determine the fate of humanity.

It is such a stupid plot. I mean seriously, this is insultingly dumb. But it’s a kids movie. I’m going to look at it as a kid might look at it. Would this have entertained ten year old me?

It would not have entertained me, but it would have distracted me. There are so many flashing lights, kinetic movement, and chaotic edits that it would have held my attention for its full runtime.

The problems with the movie would have been apparent to me even as a kid. The biggest problem being that the movie is overstuffed to the point that it becomes just a melange of color and noise. No element stands out. It’s just a blur.

And it’s a blur to the point that the Looney Tunes, the charming hilarious characters that I grew up on, the reason I turned on this movie in the first place, they end up as little more than background noise. They are stripped of their personalities and characteristics. Bugs Bunny isn’t a wise cracking scamp. He’s just a generic animated bunny. Daffy Duck is sidelined. Granny is changed into a Kung fu Matrix ripoff, and Tasmanian Devil isn’t even in the movie! Even if he is, his appearance is so brief that he doesn’t make an impact.

The father son dynamic is generic and predictable. And LeBron James is terrible in this movie. Even ten year old me would have cringed hard at his performance. Which is a shame because he can be really good. He’s fantastic in Trainwreck, but here he sounds like a robot trying to mimic human speech and emotion.

The story takes a break about thirty minutes in for an extended Warner Bros. Commercial. LeBron and Bugs travel the Warner-verse to assemble a basketball team. This really just amounts to a series of cameos from various intellectual properties that Warner’s happens to own like Harry Potter, Batman, Superman, Game if Thrones, and The Matrix. These aren’t funny. They’re just there to play a big game of “remember this?” it’s cynically playing on our nostalgia in order to trick us into thinking we’re having a good time.

Now, ten year old me would have really enjoyed seeing Daffy Duck dressed as Superman, but ten year old me wouldn’t have understood Grannie in the Matrix. The Matrix is a 22 year old R rated film, how many kids today are going to understand the parody? It’s not a clever enough parody to entertain the adults and it’s such an old reference that it plays about as well as curdled milk. The whole movie feels this way. It’s not made for kids, but it’s not good enough to entertain adults. They’re just hoping nostalgia will carry them through.

I’ve gone on long enough. If it’s not clear this thing is crap. It’s total garbage. Don’t waste your time on it. Don’t waste your kids brain power with it. It’s a soulless cynical attempt to forklift the money out of your wallet.

Don’t watch this. It’s not my cup of tea. F

The fact that Don Cheadle is in this crap a few weeks after No Sudden move is a scathing indictment of how Hollywood works. A good movie gets quietly dumped on a streaming service, while this piece of crap gets a billion dollar ad campaign. Poor Don Cheadle has to walk the line between both.

Gunpowder Milkshake

This film combines a fantastic aesthetic, fun action, and loads of charm to elevate this female action extravaganza.

Karen Gillan stars as Sam a super assassin with abandonment issues who works for a seedy organization called The Firm. In the opening moments a job goes wrong and she’s sent on an easy mission to make amends with the big bosses.

This easy job turns out to be very complicated when a kidnapped daughter touches a nerve in Sam and sends her down a path of violent redemption as she tries to protect the little girl.

The film is going to be hit with comparisons to John Wick. These comparisons are not unfounded. Both feature super assassins, a shady world that exists right underneath our own, and excessive gun play. This movie is more than just lady John Wick though.

For starters it has a sense of humor and a playfulness that John Wick lacks. Gillan’s character is put in some pretty outrageous situations in which she has to fight off goons. There’s a great bit where henchmen are trying to tough while high on laughing gas. Gillan has to fight with limited use of her arms. And a mini gun inside a minivan makes for a very fun moment.

It also has a lot of heart. Sam is a wounded woman trying to come to terms with her mother abandoning her when she was young. The story of mother and daughter reconciliation told through massive slow mo violence is fun.

The big sell for me is the insane amount of charisma on display from the cast. Gillan brings a steely eyed glint that belies her deeper wounds. She has a deadpan charm that carries the film well. Lena Headey gets to be something other than the villainous queen in game of thrones. Angela Basset, Michele Yeoh, and Carla Gugino play three very weird librarians. And Ralph Ineson is wonderful as the villain. He has an impossibly deep grisly voice. He gives a speech about being a stranger in his own house that could have gone on for an hour. I just love listening to him talk.

The storytelling is however a little muddy and unclear. We are thrown into the action, and never really given a chance to find our bearings. There are times when it felt to me like I was watching the sequel instead of a stand-alone piece. The ending doesn’t feel entirely satisfying which makes me wonder if they’re going for a sequel. I wouldn’t mind. I would definitely spend another two hours with these characters.

All in all it has Great style, a beautiful color palette, good action, a sense of humor, and charm all hanging on a pretty thin storyline. For me that was enough. It was a really fun ride, and I would check it out again.

It was my cup of tea. A-

Black Widow

Florence Pugh and some great fight choreography help make this mashup of spy thriller and family story feel very different from most Marvel movies in a the most refreshing way.

The movie takes place somewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, but don’t worry too much about that. The movie doesn’t. It follows Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanov, aka the girl Avenger played once again by Scarlett Johansson, as she tracks down the secret spy program that turned her into a killing machine all those years ago.

But before that we meet her surrogate family. When she was a kid she was sent to Ohio on an undercover mission as part of a typical suburban family. This includes as a mom and dad played by Rachel Weisz and David Harbour, and a kid sister played as an adult by the ever-wonderful Florence Pugh. After their mission this makeshift family was torn apart which damaged everyone to various degrees.

Years later Natasha has to reunite this family in order to bring down the evil organization that causes them so much trauma.

There’s a lot to like here. David Harbour is a delight as an aging super soldier obsessed with his glory days and the nemesis he never got to face, Captain America.

Florence Pugh I’d stellar as the snarky younger sister picking at her big sister as they go on their super heroics. She also brings a real emotional to the pain and trauma her characters endured.

Scarlett Johansson is wonderful carrying the film. She can of course ha she the action, but it’s her emotional reserve and the slow thawing of her icy edges that make the character something special.

I liked that the movie is structured more like a Mission Impossible spy film than a superhero action extravaganza.

I loved the fight choreography. The action is fast paced and often thrilling. the movement is balletic at times. Huge credit goes to the stunt performers.

I realized something about these Marvel movies that I don’t like even though I could never articulate it. They never give their characters clear moments of choice. When two paths are laid out before them and they are forced to choose a or b.

Toward the end of the movie two characters are in a jet. One says “we have to go back for them!” Then they do. There is no choice they just do. They don’t have a moment that tests them as characters in which they can choose between saving themselves and saving others. They automatically go back to save the others. The characters in Marvel movies are never challenged in that way. They never have to make a choice that shakes their fundamental selves, their beliefs, or their goals.

Now this isn’t the worst problem in the world. It doesn’t kill the movies. James Bond isn’t fundamentally challenged at the end of his adventures. But it can lead to a flat character arc or a story feeling like it’s stakes don’t really matter. If everything is a foregone conclusion, what’s the point?

So the movie isn’t perfect, but I still had a lot of fun with it. I loved the performances and the action. It was a good summer action movie that doesn’t feel too beholden to the Marvel formula. It’s worth your two hours. Check it out.

It was my cup of tea. B+

Is anyone else tired of post credit scenes? They’re either entirely inconsequential or they’re so consequential they should just be included in the body of the film itself.

My real issue is that they make the movie feel like a commercial for the next movie or tv show or product that we need to buy.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

A gory and well executed follow up just premiered on Netflix. It has strong characters a deep lore, and wild bloody horror violence. If that sounds like your cup of tea then you might have as much as I did.

Picking up immediately following the first film, this sequel follows Deena and her brother Josh trying to lift the witch’s curse that has laid over their town of Shadyside for hundreds of years. They seek out the sole survivor of the witch’s last attack which happened in the summer of ‘78.

The survivor is played by Gillian Anderson. She is a traumatized recluse who reluctantly tells her story to these desperate kids. The film flashes back to her story of that fateful summer night at summer camp.

One thing I really appreciate about both of these movies is the strong character work. These movies do a great job of making me genuinely care about these people. Sadie Sink is very charming as the rebellious Ziggy. Newcomer Emily Rudd is great as Cindy, the good girl trying to hide her past. Ted Sutherland does a nice job as a kid struggling to carry a legacy. I like these characters. I love the performers.

They’re a lot more active than the classic slasher film victims. They are trying to solve the mystery of the curse. They are trying to survive. They are fighting off evil forces. They aren’t just running around in their underwear waiting to get killed.

Speaking of getting killed, good grief people get killed in this movie!!!!! The violence is gruesome, brutal, and gnarly. The killers weapon of choice in this film is an axe, and yeesh the things an axe can do to a person are on full display here. This movie doesn’t cut away when the murderer swings his axe. The movie shows us in full detail exactly where the axe lands and what it does. Technically the special effects on display are fantastic. As for audience enjoyment, your mileage may vary. If you’re squeamish you won’t appreciate this. I had a good time with it. The violence ups the danger because we know that none of these characters are safe.

I liked this one more. It has more scares in it. It has more genuine tension buildup. It has a nice escalation to the finale. It also deepens the method behind this evil witch and her curse. I find myself drawn into this story more and more. I’m excited to find out how it concludes next week.

This installment doesn’t have the same stylization or wild filmmaking energy as the first. It settles in for a more classically styled horror extravaganza. It has solid editing and camera work, but doesn’t over indulge in the neon soaked quick cuts of the first film.

My other issue is the tone. Some of the film feels like it was written for kids. The inter town conflict can feel a little over the top in an after school special kind of way, and this young adult feeling can clash with the sex, drugs, and violence of the rest of the film. it’s not a huge issue or a deal breaker. It just threw me off a few times.

Overall I think this is a stronger follow up to the first and a great lead into the final part of the trilogy coming out next week. Again, why are they releasing these in July and not during October? I don’t know. But I am enjoying it.

It is my cup of tea. A-

Fear Street: 1994

The first in a planned Netflix trilogy of horror movies this film has great style and a way over the top filmmaking aesthetic that is a lot of fun if not ever truly scary.

Set in the fictional town of Shadyside in 1994, the film follows a group of teens who inadvertently incur the wrath of a witch that has cursed their town for centuries.

Even as I wrote that description dozens of plot holes come to mind regarding this story. Hopefully some of these inconsistencies make sense in the two follow ups coming out soon. As it is this is a movie that makes sense in the moment but falls apart with too much time to think about it.

Regardless, there’s a lot to like here. For a start the young actors are all solid performers. I especially enjoy Kiana Madeira as Deena the troubled teen trying to get over her ex. And Julia Rehwald as Kate. I enjoy everyone in this movie. They are fully committing to their parts and are very charming company. I genuinely cared very much for these characters as they endure their perils.

My favorite part about the film though is how over the top the film making is. The movie is full of wild color. Dark shadows, Dutch angles, match cuts, and just crazy editing rhythms. I mean this director is going for it. He is has all the tools in the toolbox , and he is using all of them. And he’s spilling some glow paints in the toolbox too just for good measure. I really like the look of the film and the wild energy behind the camera. It’s a fun movie to watch.

Is it scary? No. It uses a lot of cheap jump cuts. It never effectively builds up the tension to a peak and then shatters our nerves with one good moment. Instead this feels more like an adventure with serial killers in crazy masks. I actually think this works to the films advantage though. If you have some friends over to watch a Halloween movie this one will work for a wide audience. It’s not going to terrify your more sensitive friends. It’s not going to satisfy the most hardcore horror head, but it will keep everyone’s attention. There’s a little gore, a little supernatural, a little slasher, and a little undead. Something for everyone. What’s most important is that it’s fun. I was entertained throughout.

My big issue is that it sacrifices an ending for the sequel setup. This movie nailed the ending, but at the last minute it pulls the rug out from under us to setup the sequels that are coming in the next two weeks. I hate when movies do this, but I’m going to withhold judgement until I see the sequels if it pays off, I’ll forgive this ending, if not I’m going to come back here and rewrite a scathing indictment of this ending.

All in all, it’s a fun movie that sets up a fun world. I enjoyed this one, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next two.

It’s my cup of tea. B+

No Sudden Move

Don Cheadle stars in this very cool very twisty turns crime thriller that has a good sense of humor and a few too many twists and turns for its own good.

Don Cheadle plays Curt Goynes a man just released from prison after a heist gone wrong. He returns to Detroit in 1954 and takes on a job that should be easy. He and two other small timers Ronald, played by Benicio del Toro and Charley played by Kieran Culkin are tasked with stealing a document from a safe. The job goes wrong but n a very interesting way, and the criminals climb through the layers of crime in the city which leads them to an expected place.

There’s so much to love about this movie starting with the cast. Aside from the three I’ve already mentioned, we have great turns from Ray Liotta as a gangster, David Harbour as a nebbish accountant, a fat Brendan Fraser as a mid level mob enforcer, and Jon Hamm as a federal agent. Not to mention Amy Seimetz as a 50’s housewife struggling to keep it together and Julia Fox as a put upon gangsters wife. Every character is wonderfully drawn with interesting quirks and shading to their personas. This is as much a character piece as it is a thriller.

The film plays loose with perspective. We move from Curt to Ronald to Ray Liotta, to David Harbour. Using this shifting perspective the film creates a web that shows us the full picture of events rather than limiting us to one characters POV. It helps clarify the rather intricate plot twists that occur.

For my money there are too many twists and double crosses. Movies like this always zig when you expect them to zag, but this movie zigs then zags then loops back around to zig and zag again. There are so many double crosses in the end that I lost track. I think this reaction will dissipate upon rewatching the film. It’ll all make sense the second time around, but this time around it was distracting.

The other aspect of the film I really didn’t like is the cinematography. Steven Soderbergh shot the film (he is credited under the false name of Peter Andrew’s). I’ve never liked his cinematography. I don’t like the way Soderbergh lights interior scenes. Characters always appear too dark especially when next to bright windows. His films just look muddy and underexposed to my eye. In this film he uses an extreme wide angle lens that distorts the image in an unsettling manner. Will this bother anyone else? Probably not, but I couldn’t stand it.

As a story it’s fascinating. The characters are richly drawn and vividly brought to life. I really enjoyed this one aside from my gripes. It’s currently streaming on HBO Max. It’s definitely worth checking out especially if you’re a fan of crime films.

It’s my cup of tea B+

F9: The Fast Saga

There’s a scene in the show The Office in which the character Kevin Pours a massive jar of M&M’s into his mouth. That’s what it feels like watching this movie. This movie jams so much crap down the audience’s throats that it just becomes painful and boring.

I have a mixed history with the Fast and Furious franchise. The first is a mediocre action movie. The second is completely forgettable. I actually like the third movie. It tells a simple and coherent story with style. The fourth is a moody boring muddle with crappy cgi. The fifth is a lot of fun. It’s a silly car heist movie with great stunt work. The sixth is silly escapism. The seventh is the pinnacle. This movie is the height of the franchise for me. It blends the absurdity and the sincerity of the series beautifully. The eighth movie is crap. I dislike it so much. It has a stupid incoherent plot and is obsessed with its own world building.

I say all this to establish my credentials as someone who likes the series as a whole. I also don’t hate dumb fun. It’s my favorite kind of fun. When I say this movie sucks, it’s because the movie sucks. Let’s get into why.

The film opens with the story of how Dom’s father died I’m race car crash. We then cut to Don and Letty, played by Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez living a quiet life on a remote farm. She is chafing against their quiet retirement. Adventure comes calling when a former ally sends a message that his plane carrying a super weapon has been shot down. The team reassembles to find the super weapon. It turns Dom’s long lost brother from the flashbacks is working for the man who has kidnapped the villain from the last movie to find the weapon. Meanwhile, Dom discovers that his brother killed their dad. Then they discover that Han, who died either movies ago or two movies ago depending on how you look at the series absurd chronology isn’t actually dead, he’s just been hiding from his family for many years because the former ally used his death to hide the super weapon from someone. At which point Han rescues the daughter of the scientists who made the weapon and Dom’s brother discovers that she is the key to using the weapon, so he gets himself captured by the heroes using a super powers magnet car in order to kidnap the girl and set off a satellite that will destroy the world?

Do you feel like a jar of M&M’s is being poured into your mouth? This movie doesn’t tell a story so much as jam ten or twelve disparate plots together and call it a movie. Dom and Letty living a quiet life yet yearning for adventure? That’s a story. Dom reconciling with his brother? That’s a story. Han faking his death to protect a little girl? That’s a story. Instead of choosing one story to tell the film makers violently smash them all together without any apparent regard for narrative cohesion. It’s a pain to sit through because no element is given time to matter.

Okay but the plots aren’t really the point in these movies is it? It’s about the action. These movies are famous for their amazing action. This movie doesn’t have much of it. There’s an early chase through the jungle with an entire military trying to kill our heroes. Bullets fly, explosions go off, none of it matters. The chase takes them through a mine field. That’s a great location for a car chase. What do they do with that location? They just drive faster and make it through unscathed. A few extra explosions go off, but that’s it.

There’s a scene they’re proud of, it’s in all the trailers, in which Dom Tarzans his car across an impossible ravine. This should be really fun and silly action. I wanted to like this, but it doesn’t work. The impossibility of the stunt, the fact there is no build up to the moment, the fact that it works with complete ease robs the moment of tension or interest.

Justin Lin directed this film. He’s usually a very good action director, but he sucks here. Fistfights are shot in darkness and incomprehensible closeups, so everything just looks like dark blurs. The set-pieces are all wasted like the mine field or the Tarzan car. The worst is just the incompetence on display in the final act.

Dom is in an armored van sliding down a mountain. He looks up and sees a drone coming to shoot him. Cut to the drone. Cut to Dom. He looks down at a small dark object in his hand. Cut to the drone preparing to fire. Cut to Dom doing something with the object then throwing it off screen. He jumps back inside the van. Cut to the drone shooting the van. Cut to the front of the van as an explosion goes off underneath it. The explosion causes the van to roll and land on its wheels on the road. At which point Dom takes the wheel and drives off. I smacked myself in the forehead so hard after this sequence that I’m sure the whole theater heard it.

So what the hell happened in the scene? from what I could piece together after the fact, Dom saw the drone coming he threw a grenade under the front of the van. The grenade blew up sending the van into a roll that helped the van land on its wheels. The grenade did not damage the van in anyway. The drone was just there as an added threat I guess? A closeup of the grenade would have helped us understand what it was he was doing. A shot of the grenade landing under the van would have explained what the explosion was and that it was intentional. A shot of the drone shooting at and narrowly missing Dom would have gone a long way to establish its threat. Without these connective shots were no longer telling a story we’re just stringing together a series of shots and explosions. The scene is so incompetently shot and edited that the dumb isn’t fun. It’s just annoying.

Is this one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen? Yes. The movie cost over $200 million dollars, but couldn’t even assemble a cohesive action scene let alone narrative. The actors give bad performances. The action is bad. The story is a mess. And the worst part is that I was bored throughout the movie! Don’t go see this movie. Don’t reward it’s incompetent story telling. If you’re considering making a return to the theater go see any of the other movies out right now. This one isn’t worth it.

Not my cup of tea. F