Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween Review – A Pretty Slappy Sequel

Category : Movie Reviews

Goosebumps 2 lacks the charm and inventiveness of its predecessor, but still has a reasonable amount of spoopy entertainment value to offer.R.L. Stine’s beloved 1990s children’s horror book series makes its way back to the big screen in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, a sequel to the live-action film adaptation of Stine’s novels that came out in 2015. While Jack Black starred as a fictional version of Stine in that movie, Sony didn’t even confirm the actor’s return for the followup until a few weeks before its release. Similarly, neither the director, writer, nor supporting cast of the (generally well-received) first Goosebumps film worked on the second installment. While Haunted Halloween certainly suffers for it, the sequel isn’t an entirely hollow continuation of the franchise either. Goosebumps 2 lacks the charm and inventiveness of its predecessor, but still has a reasonable amount of spoopy entertainment value to offer.Goosebumps 2 picks up in the small town of Wardenclyffe, New York, as its residents prepare for the fast-approaching Halloween Night festivities. Meanwhile, in the Quinn household, high school senior Sarah (Madison Iseman) is trying to finish her college application and her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is struggling with his science class project – a miniature replica of an experimental wireless transmission station in Wardenclyffe that was built and designed by Nikola Tesla, but never finished (aka. the Tesla Tower). The Quinns are joined by Sonny’s best friend Sam Carter (Caleel Harris), who is staying over at their house while his parents are away for the Halloween holiday.After some prodding from Sam, Sonny agrees to take a break from his project and clear out an abandoned local house, as part of the duo’s ongoing efforts to launch a (successful) junk cleanup business. While there, however, the pair stumble upon an incomplete manuscript for a Goosebumps novel, unaware that the building was once owned by R.L. Stine himself. Not knowing any better, Sam and Sonny unlock the book and inadvertently unleash the Goosebumps villain Slappy the Dummy back into the real world. While the living ventriloquist dummy seems (sorta) friendly at first, it’s not long before he reveals his true evil plan, with only Sam, Sonny and Sarah to stand in his way.If the original Goosebumps movie was a throwback to the popular family-friendly spooky adventures of the 1990s (think Hocus Pocus), then Haunted Halloween is closer to being the 2018 equivalent of a direct-to cable scary movie for kids from the ’90s – that is, noticeably cheaper and more generic, yet otherwise harmless and playful in its own right. The Goosebumps 2 script by Rob Lieber (Peter Rabbit) likewise carries over the first movie’s imaginative premise and conceit (e.g. Stine’s Goosebumps novel manuscripts are really enchanted objects which contain and prevent his “demons” from entering the real world) and includes references to its story, yet never really tries to build on its concepts, much less its themes and lore. Instead, Haunted Halloween offers helpful, if unchallenging, life lessons for kids and a serviceable narrative that doesn’t exactly push the envelope for the larger Goosebumps brand.At the same time, Goosebumps 2 is perhaps more successful than its predecessor when it comes to being genuinely menacing and scary for the juice box crowd, yet still light-hearted enough to avoid traumatizing them (hence, “spoopy”). Much of the credit for that goes to director Ari Sandel (The DUFF), who does a commendable job of combining suspenseful and creepy storytelling with comedic moments here, much like Stine did so well in his original Goosebumps novels. Haunted Halloween, as indicated earlier, feels like a lower-budgeted affair than the first Goosebumps, yet Sandel and his creative team – including, DP Barry Peterson (Game Night) and production designer Rusty Smith (Get Out) – still manage to deliver a movie that’s a proper cut above a comparable TV film, in terms of overall craftsmanship. That also goes for the CGI and creature effects in the sequel’s first half (more on the second half later).The actual setting of Haunted Halloween is mostly populated by stock types, be they the film’s young heroes or the local bullies that Sonny and Sam have to deal with (not to mention, Sarah’s dishonest would-be boyfriend). While their characters are fairly two-dimensional in the Goosebumps sequel, Harris, Iseman and Ray nevertheless have the same affable screen presence that’s allowed them to stand out in films and TV shows past and, thus, make their protagonists all the easier to root for. That also goes for the adult supporting players here, as Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) and Ken Jeong (Community) mostly channel their famous small screen personas as Sarah and Sonny’s adorkable mother Kathy and their eccentric neighbor Mr. Chu, respectively. As for Black as R.L. Stine: his own role in Goosebumps 2 is pretty superfluous, which is disappointing considering the energy that he brought to the proceedings as the first Goosebumps’ co-protagonist (not to mention, his vocal performance as Slappy, which Black didn’t reprise in the sequel).All in all, Haunted Halloween is a passable if derivative sequel – but not because the Goosebumps books themselves are incapable of sustaining multiple films. Rather, the problem is that the sequel recycles too much from the first movie and struggles to make creative use of the fresh elements (like the real-world Tesla Tower) that it brings into the mix here. It’s too bad, seeing as Goosebumps 2 had a wealth of different monsters and horror genres in Stine’s source novels to draw from, yet elected to continue simplifying the author’s mythology by making Slappy the big bad (again) and skimping on giving the other creatures much in the way of personality. As a result, the second half of the movie plays out as a watered down version of what happened in the original Goosebumps, albeit with lower production values and emotional impact.Still, Goosebumps 2 should go over best with its young target demographic and provide them with enough silly scares and fun adventure to keep them engaged for its brisk runtime. Moreover, much like your average comic book movie these days, Haunted Halloween delivers its fair share of Goosebumps easter eggs and nods to the real Stine’s source material (right down to a Stan Lee-esque cameo from Stine himself), to further serve the property’s youngest fans. As for those who prefer their family-friendly fantasies with Jack Black starring front and center – The House with a Clock in Its Walls is still playing in theaters and ought to fulfill your own needs for some spoopy entertainment this Halloween season.TRAILERGoosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 90 minutes long and is rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language.Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


Bad Times At The El Royale Review: Goddard's Noir Film Is A Good Time

Category : Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale is a deliciously entertaining, if sometimes slow, love letter to film noir from director Drew Goddard elevated by the cast.Bad Times at the El Royale is the second feature-length effort both written and directed by Drew Goddard, who got his start and rose to fame in TV – on projects including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias and Lost. Goddard made his directorial debut with the meta horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods in 2012, which he additionally co-wrote with Joss Whedon. The film proved to be both a solid entry in the horror lexicon, as well as a deconstruction of the genre’s most famous tropes, all wrapped up in a cleverly executed movie. While Goddard has spent much of the time since Cabin in the Woods writing for film and TV – Matt Damon’s The Martian and Marvel’s Daredevil – he now returns with another feature he wrote and directed. Bad Times at the El Royale is a deliciously entertaining, if sometimes slow, love letter to film noir from director Drew Goddard elevated by the cast.Bad Times at the El Royale takes place over the course of one night at the motel called the El Royale that sits on the border between Nevada and California. When struggling singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) arrives looking for a room, she runs across vacuum cleaner salesman Laramie Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and priest Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges). Though Laramie tells Darlene and Father Flynn that the El Royale was once a bustling and successful getaway, it’s clear from the motel’s only concierge – the young Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) – that the lodge’s heydays are long past. Further, few of those who arrive at the El Royale on this fateful night are who they appear to be, including Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) and her sister Rose Summerspring (Cailee Spaeny).However, the motel itself isn’t what it appears to be either, as one of the guests discovers a secret hallway that allows the El Royale’s concierge to watch and listen to what goes on in each of the rooms without the knowledge of those inside. Over the course of the night, with the movie broken down into different perspectives and vignettes that put the focus on each of the rooms and its inhabitants, the guests of the El Royale cross paths with each other as they attempt to keep their own intentions secret. Then, everything is made more complicated by charismatic cult leader Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), who arrives at the El Royale looking for something that was taken from him. As the various paths of the characters intersect and come to a head while staying at the El Royale, it remains to be seen who – if any of them – will live through the night to see the light of the next day.Goddard follows up his directorial debut with another clever deconstruction of a classic film genre, this time tackling that of film noir and more modern neo-noir movies. Set against the backdrop of 1960s America, a time in which politics were particularly heightened due to the ongoing Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement, Bad Times at the El Royale taps into the era to great effect. Though the movie is firmly rooted in the ’60s, with elements of espionage and political intrigue, it also deftly mirrors the politics of today. In fact, one particular line in the script so perfectly captures the cyclical nature of the power men wield in America that it’s difficult not to cheer on the character delivering it (a stunningly compelling Erivo as Darlene). Altogether, Goddard has written and directed a feat of genre film that’s both a love letter to noir and a subversion of expectations about whom to which the story of Bad Times truly belongs.The structure of Bad Times at the El Royale additionally draws inspiration from classic films, with the two-hour and 20 minute movie shifting perspective between the various inhabitants of the motel as it focuses on each room. The shifting perspectives allows for viewers to see certain scenes through the eyes of two – or sometimes more – characters, upending what the audience knows at any given time about the guests. Along with the main narrative focused on one night at the El Royale, Bad Times includes brief vignettes to formative moments in each of the characters’ journeys, sometimes providing key information about how they arrived at the motel. These vignettes are necessary to adding depth to the characters, and in some cases setting up particular plot beats just before they happen, but the broken up nature of the film’s structure sometimes slows down the pace. Coupled with Goddard’s tendency to write long, character-focused scenes, Bad Times at the El Royale occasionally drags, causing the viewer to really feel the movie’s longer runtime – but these moments are few and far between.To be certain, the cast of Bad Times will keep audiences captivated even when the action and drama of the film slow down to a crawl. Hollywood veterans Bridges and Hamm are perhaps the most widely recognizable members of the cast, and they offer undoubtedly solid turns in their particular roles, bringing the necessary amount of gravitas and charm, respectively, to the film. Further, Hemsworth is a standout, walking a line between menace and charisma as the cult leader Billy Lee in a way that’s both horrifying and delightful. Johnson and Spaeny are also compelling as sisters, while Pullman brings a surprising amount of depth to the concierge. However, Bad Times at the El Royale is truly Erivo’s movie. Though the actress may not be well known in Hollywood, she’s a veteran of the stage with a Tony Award for her role in The Color Purple musical. Now, Erivo brings her extensive talents to the big screen – including her singing voice – in order to elevate an already talented cast as the truly enthralling Darlene.Ultimately, all aspects of Bad Times at the El Royale – the script, the cast, the directing – comes together for a twisty, exciting mystery-thriller. Goddard has returned with an entertaining and well-crafted follow-up to The Cabin in the Woods, proving himself to have a uniquely exceptional voice with Bad Times at the El Royale. Further, Goddard’s talent behind the camera helps each member of the ensemble cast to stand out in their own way, though Erivo still stands above the rest, and lends her voice to an already solid soundtrack for an incredibly compelling musical element to Bad Times. Though some scenes of the movie are on the slower side, Goddard knows how to build tension, causing the moments when that tension releases to be that much more deliciously entertaining.As a result, Bad Times as the El Royale is a must-see for fans of Goddard’s work, particularly The Cabin in the Woods, and will no doubt entertain those who were already intrigued by the film’s marketing. Because of the twisty nature of the movie, it may be best for audience members to go into Bad Times knowing as little possible – and, afterward, to not to think too hard on the political bread crumbs that are sprinkled throughout the movie but are never truly capitalized or explored too much. Altogether, Goddard has crafted a fun and compelling noir-style thriller that may not interest everyone, but will undoubtedly meet or exceed the expectations of those who are even only remotely interested in seeing Bad Times at the El Royale, making it certainly worth checking out.TrailerBad Times at the El Royale is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 140 minutes and is rated R for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity.Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!


The Oath Review: Barinholtz & Haddish vs The Thanksgiving From Hell

Category : Movie Reviews

The Oath is a clumsy, but ambitious directorial debut for Barinholtz and provides a blisteringly satirical examination of the modern political divide.Comedian/actor Ike Barinholtz tries his hand at directing a feature-length film for the first time on The Oath, an original movie that he also wrote and produced. The Oath was further backed by three of the same producers who worked on the Oscar-winning Get Out and this summer’s critical darling BlackKkKlansman, which is all the more noteworthy since Barinholtz’s project (like those films) unfolds as a “social thriller” that combines bleak humor with pointed sociopolitical satire. Barinholtz’s own entry in that growing subgenre isn’t as strong as either of those movies, but it’s a notable debut all the same and very much has its finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. The Oath is a clumsy, but ambitious directorial debut for Barinholtz and provides a blisteringly satirical examination of the modern political divide.The events of The Oath are set in motion when the U.S. government announces plans for The Patriot’s Oath, an oath of loyalty to the country’s President that its citizens are encouraged, but not required, to sign. Those who agree to “The Oath” are offered a tax deduction as incentive, with the deadline to sign set to expire ten months after the initial announcement – more specifically, on the day after the next Thanksgiving, aka. Black Friday. Suffice it to say, liberal political news junkie Chris (Barinholtz) and his equally progressive wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) aren’t interested and refuse to even consider taking “The Oath” from the get-go.As the deadline looms closer and the government begins to deploy officers from the Citizens Protection Unit or CPU (an off-shoot of the Department of Homeland Security) to counter the growing numbers of protests against “The Oath”, more people start to cave in and sign, rather than risk bringing harm to themselves and their loved ones. Chris nevertheless refuses to budge on the issue, even knowing that it will lead to increased tension (that is, even more tension than there already is) between himself and the rest of his family over Thanksgiving dinner. However, not even Chris is prepared for just how intense this year’s holiday get-together will become.Barinholtz’s script for The Oath starts off as a Twilight Zone-esque social satire before then evolving into a dark comedy about a family gathered for Thanksgiving during its second act and, ultimately, turning into a single-location thriller in its final third. For the large part, though, the film succeeds in transitioning organically from one subgenre to another and avoids feeling episodic in its overarching structure. The Oath is similarly effective in establishing its ominous yet off-kilter tone from the very beginning, thus allowing it to smoothly alternate from being awkwardly funny to comically horrifying throughout the remainder of its narrative. It’s a challenging tightrope walk but, for the most part, Barinholtz and his collaborators succeed in keeping their balance and avoid giving viewers emotional whiplash in the process.From a technical perspective, The Oath likewise does a commendable job of bringing its low-budget proceedings to life in a cinematically engaging fashion. While Barinholtz’s film lacks the slick technical flourishes that films like Get Out and BlacKkKlansman brought to the table, it certainly has an idiosyncratic style of its own – one that includes comedically foreboding (and gigantic) intertitles, as well as dramatic music cues by composer Bret “Epic” Mazur that are equally silly-scary in their presentation. The film’s cinematography by DP Cary Lalonde (a first assistant camera on The Cabin in the Woods and multiple X-Men movies) makes similar use of tight camera angles in order to create an increasingly suffocating atmosphere as its plot grows darker and darker. Together, these elements only further enhance the bitter satirical flavor that The Oath is clearly going for.Although Barinholtz stretches his wings further as a storyteller than an actor here, he nevertheless delivers a respectable funny-dramatic turn as Chris, a passionate fellow who all too often fails to maintain his composure when it comes to talking politics. The Oath also does a nice job of quietly calling attention to how Chris (as a white man) enjoys social privileges that his black wife does not and, thus, is more inclined to shoot his mouth off in the same situations where Kai knows she has to keep a level head for her and her family’s sake. As a result, Haddish gets to show off more of her dramatic range as an actor here, while at the same time putting her well-established comedy chops to appropriate use whenever the scene calls for it. While Barinholtz and Haddish are The Oath’s main attraction for related reasons, its supporting cast members (which includes Carrie Brownstein, Chris Ellis, Nora Dunn, Meredith Hagner and Barinholtz’s real-life brother Jon) all get their moments to shine as the members of Chris’ family and/or their significant others.Unfortunately, The Oath’s first half ends up being noticeably stronger overall than its second. More specifically, the film starts to run into problems after Chris and Kai’s (hellish) Thanksgiving dinner is interrupted by a pair of CPU agents – namely, the reasonable Agent Peter (John Cho) and the borderline unhinged Agent Mason (Billy Magnussen). Ultimately, The Oath writes itself into a bit of a corner and fails to resolve its various plot/character threads and larger themes without resorting to some ham-fisted plot twists and turns along the way. The movie thankfully avoids going completely off the rails, but its subtext and the social commentary that it was going for winds up muddled nonetheless – resulting in a conclusion that feels too convenient, given everything that came before it.Even with these missteps, however, Barinholtz manages to stick the landing with The Oath and, thusly, get his movie-making career started on a respectable note. Since The Oath spends more of its energy on examining contemporary political discourse and less on making overt references to real-world politicians (though, of course, there are parallels between the film’s universe and our own), it may even provide some catharsis for those moviegoers who are in the mood for some openly political entertainment. At the same time, it should be noted that Barinholtz’s satire doesn’t at all shy away from exploring uncomfortable social exchanges and familial interactions (see again, those Get Out and BlacKkKlansman comparisons). In that regard, those who are interested in seeing The Oath might want to approach it as a test run for their own Thanksgiving get-together later this year.TRAILERThe Oath is now playing in select U.S. theaters and will expand nationwide on October 19. It is 93 minutes long and is rated R for language throughout, violence and some drug use.Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!