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The Bib-iest of Nickels

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

If I am upright and honest about it, I had mostly moved on from Puss in Boots and the Shrek franchise altogether far before the original 2011 film arrived. Although 2001Ďs Shrek was a breath of fresh air that helped DreamWorks Animation become one of the leading studios in animated cinema and 2004Ďs Shrek 2 only improved on that, by 2007Ďs Shrek the Third, I couldnít help but feel like most of the air had been let out from the balloon. The series still had moments to entertain, but it felt like the foundation had settled. The same way I looked forward to and watched Fantastic Beasts because of how much I loved Harry Potter, I knew with Fantastic Beasts what I knew with the Shrek franchise Ė it had peaked, all I could expect now was safe and satiable celebrations of what had come before it (look at Pirates of the Caribbean for another example of seriesí that kind of rest on their laurels).

As a spin-off prequel film, the 2011 film Puss in Boots was alright. I believe that is about the extent of what Iíd say about it Ė maybe, even, very alright. I enjoy the Puss in Boots character enough and I like how it is basically a tongue-in-cheek extension to Antonio Banderasí portrayal of Zorro. The animation is fun and the world itself has always been a sandbox for creative, goofy moments Ė I liked it, but I canít say it left much of an impression on me looking back a decade after the fact.

This film though, man, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, completely changed what I thought about the Shrek franchiseís future and, more so, Puss in Bootsí future as a character.

As you might surmise, Puss in Boots 2 is set after the events of the original film and after the events of the Shrek series (so, it isnít a prequel series anymore, weíre all caught up), and follows Pussí in the afterglow of an illustrious career and his many lifetimeís spent adventuring and exploring the world. This is not his choice, but because he has used up all but one of his nine lives and knows his next life lost will be his last. In spite his disdain for the mundane, Puss decides to hang up his cape and resign himself to a simpler life. That is, until he finds out about a magical Wishing Star that can undo it all and bring his lives back. The film sees Puss align himself with his former love interest Kitty Softpaws and new friend, a kind, but naÔve therapy dog, as they try to reach the Wishing Star.

Of course, the film would not be complete without a villain or two who also wish to lay claim to the Starís powers. For this, we have reimagined versions of ďBigĒ Jack Horner and the Three Bears Crime Family (led by Goldilocks) with unique motives for why they want the wish.

Another antagonist in this film, and certainly, the most formidable, is the Wolf, a wolf in a black hooded cloak that serves as the embodiment of Death himself.

In the film, Puss in Boots is tasked, not only with the physical task of attaining The Wishing Star, but in a plight against himself, including his fears of death and of not being remembered.

What can I say about this film?

Like many of you, I had seen the reviews that had referred to Puss in Boots as DreamWorksí answer to Logan, a peculiar comparison that I understood on a surface level, but didnít know the specifics on yet. I understood the idea of why it would be the answer to Logan. Logan was a film about a superhero who was on his last legs and now, with adventure in his rearview, yearned for the deep personal connections that had always eluded him. Thatís something we have seen long before Logan, but is also something that is very difficult to earn.

Nowadays, it is more popular than ever, which you better believe is why the same director who did Logan is helming the newest Indiana Jones film.

This film earns that. It endears you to a character youíve always loved, but also elevates him and, thus, the film itself. The film is filled to the brim with the same type of humor weíve come to expect from the Shrek series, but injects it with a newfound dramatic depth that hasnít been captured in a DreamWorks film, perhaps ever (barring, maybe, the height of the How to Train Your Dragon series).

The way the film is shot, with a stylized storybook animation (shades of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or DreamWorksí more recent and solid caper film The Bad Guys), how it incorporates fear and intimidation, and the emotions Puss feels, is top-shelf.

I like DreamWorks, I think (I love How to Train Your Dragon).

When I watch The Croods, Trolls, and The Boss Baby, I canít say I am incredibly impressed Ė but I am alright with them. Iím charmed by them in the same way I am charmed by any other average cartoon.

This though, this made me feel like how I did in the early 2000s when Pixar felt indestructible. Do this more.

The main cast of characters are endearing and easy to get behind. The film manages to overcome certain clichťs in spite itself, like, for instance, the naÔve dog character whose comic-relief existence feels like it has already existed in a million other films. You know the type, the laughy, goofy Dory or Donkey, or that one kid from Up Ė Iíll be honest, nowadays, I am tired of this character trope and itís a turnoff. That in mind, I found myself so behind the characters in this film that I found myself rooting for them anyways.

The main-antagonist, which Iím saying is Death himself, is a very memorable and surprisingly intimidating presence throughout the film Ė I actually had goosebumps when I saw him and I believe history will smile down on him for years to come.

As a fan of animation, I loved Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Although I feel like I am still coming down from the Ďhighí I felt from seeing the film and so, I canít necessarily exclaim whether it is the best DreamWorks film ever made yet (for me, its only competition is the Dragonsí trilogy), it easily makes the shortlist. The film is smart, fun, and ambitious, with a small sprinkling of macabre, and thatís just about best case scenario for me.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Watcher

I was excited to write about Watcher in spite of the fact I knew nothing about the film. This is for a few reasons.

Iím always interested in seeing the feature debut of a new director, this one being Chloe Okuno.

Iíve been wanting to see more from actress Maika Monroe. She had breakthrough success in the critically acclaimed film It Follows, and Iíve wanted to see more of her in the genre ever since (I will be writing about her film Significant Other as soon as I can).

Lastly, Iíve built a respect up for the Shudder brand, specifically the films it releases exclusively. Say what you will about the streaming service, but I, for one, consider it worth the price of admission. Whether it be Lucky, The Boy Behind the Door, Random Acts of Violence, or another film in their catalog, a lot of worthwhile horror has come from their niche service.

The film itself is relatively straightforward Ė our main protagonist Julia, played by Maika Monroe, has relocated to Romania with her husband and encounters the usual problems that can come from moving to a new country.

This is, perhaps, a small component of the film, but is actually important in setting the mood and atmosphere of the film, as well as understanding our lead characterís plight. She canít speak the language and finds herself left alone while her husband works long hours at a time. Itís lonely and overwhelming, and can also make filling the hours of day to day life tedious and feed onesí paranoia or insecurities.

Everything changes for her when she finds herself being watched out the window by a neighbor from across the street.

The film does about everything you would expect from such a premise, which makes for a familiar retread of other psychological thrillers weíve seen. The usual red herrings of ďAm I imagining it?Ē and no one believing you, for example. Watcher will no doubt have you thinking about Alfred HitchcockĎs Rear Window, or any other film that sees a lead character looking out the window and finding something awful outside it. Unfortunately, as a result, it doesnít leave room for a lot of excitement or surprises in the film.

On the bright side though, everything it does do, it does very well. Maika Monroe delivers a solid performance as a woman becoming unhinged by her own anxieties (again, in a largely unknown country, largely on her own), and Burn Gorman carries a quiet intensity as the type of man who would enjoy having that power over somebody.

The film does toy around with the idea of it all being in Juliaís head, although it isnít ever enough to make that a believable truth.

The description on the subscription service itself says as much, that someone is in fact watching her from the window, in spite how no one else can ever spot him looking out. The only loose thread is whether or not that person is a serial killer who is mentioned as being at large Ė which the answer to anyone who has ever seen a movie before will be, ďYeah, probably.Ē

I believe this film would have benefited from keeping its cards closer to its chest early on. They even left little logical plot threads available for it. The antagonist explicitly says he takes care of his sick father, but this isnít until much later in the film. Why couldnít it have been suggested that the sick father was the one watching from across the room, perhaps in a wheelchair?

It would have made other moments more interesting, like when our character becomes so invested in her watcher that she begins following him and trying to find information about him. The idea that she was inadvertently becoming the watcher is an interesting idea left malnourished.

I will say that, despite itself, Watcher is an entertaining film I enjoyed watching from start to finish. Once you know the premise, it doesnít subvert expectations in any way, but it does meet them. It doesnít do anything outlandish that will have you scratching your head in confusion, and simply plays out well from beginning, middle, to end. It doesnít have the charm and energy of other Rear Window inspired films like Disturbia, for example, but it does have a more atmospheric, dark style that help make it feel like the other side to the same coin.

I recommend Watcher as an alright psychological thriller and a nice feather in the cap of each person involved.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Smile

I was excited about the film Smile, and I was excited to both watch and write about the film. I will admit, a lot of my anticipation had to do less with the film itself and more with the success it has received at the box office. Most of you donít care about how much dough a film rakes in at the theater, and I respect that, but it does matter. It matters more than a statistic, as it can help us understand why some things are the way they are. It can explain why studios fixate on certain niche genres (Paranormal Activity brought a new craze in found footage horror and, now, the Halloween reboot has brought new life to the slasher genre) and it can tell you the likelihood of your favorite horror flick receiving a sequel.

Smile is a lot of fun to write about because it is a new film. It isnít a sequel or a spin-off, or a remake, but a new intellectual property altogether. As much as I did enjoy the new Scream film and appreciated the attempts on Halloween Ends and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I absolutely love that Smile is the highest grossing horror film for 2022 (second is Jordan PeeleĎs original film Nope, third is Scott DerricksonĎs original film The Black Phone). Thatís what we need to keep the genre moving forward.

Smile is a psychological / supernatural horror film directed by Parker Finn in his feature length directorial debut (his other prior effort Laura Hasnít Slept was the base of this film). The film, roughly speaking, is about a psychiatrist named Rose who witnesses a patient commit suicide in front of her. Beforehand, the patient spoke of an ďentityĒ of some kind that tormented her, often donning a haunting faux smile as it did. Afterward, Rose finds herself succumbing to a similar fate, followed by a human-like figure that seems intent on her demise.

Daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Sosie Bacon (who I last wrote about in the film Charlie Says) stars as the lead with a cast of familiar faces like Kal Penn, Jessie T. Usher, and Kyle Gallner (who was a real frequenter of the horror genre in the late 2000s).

Although Smile is an original film, like its antagonist, it wears a lot of other peoplesí faces. As you might surmise from the premise itself, Smile looks to offer a commentary on trauma and mental illness, akin to what a lot of horror films have done in recent years. The way this film is laid out is a very mainstream approach, akin more to Lights Out than Hereditary, both of which dealt with mental illness in an indirect way, with Hereditary ending up on the weirder (but fantastic) side of things and Lights Out being a more conventional ghost horror film. The way this film is paced and how the story unfolds, it also reminds me vaguely of Leigh Whannellís The Invisible Man, with how the film calls the protagonistsí sanity into question, when we already know the answer.

As a unique take on mental illness, the themes of Smile have already been done and, frankly, done better, but that doesnít mean I didnít appreciate some of what it had to say on the subject.

The concept itself is very similar to It Follows and almost even results in an ďaha!Ē moment because of it. Both films deal with an entity that pursues them and tries to kill them. Both films also deal with how to counteract the cyclical presence in a similar way. All of that in mind, while I would say it was highly influenced, Smile handles the subject in a very different way. Whereas It Follows felt almost like a relic of a bygone era, from a director who felt like a student of eighties horror, this film feels more epic and grandiose, Iíve heard a comparison to The Ring thrown around, and I think thatís appropriate to how the film is paced.

As a film, I liked Smile. In fact, I want to make certain to illustrate that fact. It isnít as good as It Follows or The Invisible Man, and isnít original enough to surpass The Ring, but it is a damn solid horror film.

The story, while familiar, is well paced and thoughtful, and doesnít have any instances in it where I felt it particularly fumbled the material. The film shows how to do a jump scare and how to do it well, and housed a handful of genuinely inspired and creepy moments sprinkled in. The sound work is decent, offering peculiar, not-quite right loops to decent effect. Sosie Bacon also makes for a charismatic lead that helps to elevate the film. Considering the sheer amount of horror films that muck around, one shouldnít overlook a film of Smileís standard.

All in all, I would recommend Smile as a good entry in the horror genre, one that borrows a lot, but makes very good use of the ingredients it takes to create something of its own.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Orphan

Orphan is a film I hadnít thought about since its release back in 2009. The initial reaction I had was neither here nor there, regarding it as a relatively unremarkable horror film. It wasnít anything I couldíve seen myself bashing back when it was first released, but it wasnít a film I wouldíve recommend either. That in mind, I was thirteen years old when I first saw the film, and although I still had my unwavering affection for the genre even then, I believe my opinion has matured and refined itself since then.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, a director whose handiwork can be seen in other horror fare like House of Wax and The Shallows, Orphan was written by David Leslie Johnson from a story by Alex Mace. David Leslie Johnsonís writing credentials include horror fare such as a personal favorite of mine, The Conjuring 2, and the 2011 horror film Red Riding Hood. Amongst the titles, House of Wax stuck out. Before I knew the directors were one in the same, my mind had already established a thin connective-tissue between them Ė they both have that weird cinematography that I only saw shortly after the turn of the millennium.

Calling it a Ďweirdí cinematography is a little too nondescript, but itís difficult to explain. Something about horror in the 2000s felt hyper-produced in some way that I feel found its way in nearly every film released in that period. It isnít a bad thing, mind you. Not always. You can see it in films like the A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th remakes, or My Bloody Valentine, and other than the Elm Street remake, I donít largely dislike any of them.

Orphan comprises itself of a cast including Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and Isabelle Fuhrman. Of whom, I would largely single-out Vera Farmiga, not only because she often is called upon to carry many aspects of this film, but because she is amongst my favorite horror actresses, with solid performances in series like Bates Motel and The Conjuring franchise.

The film centers around a couple who, after the death of their unborn child, adopt a mysterious nine-year-old girl. In On the Clock segments of the Nightmare Shift Podcast, I have opted to dissect summaries beyond that. However, since this is an On the Pulse segment, I have decided I will stay spoiler free on the major reveal of the film. With the newfound convenience of streaming services and the new Orphan: First Kill film, Iím certain many may choose to experience the original film and I feel a lot of its enjoyment hinges on the eventual twist. If you havenít already read up on it, Iíd try to go in as blind as you can.

Orphan had a substantial budget, in-retrospect. The film cost a reported 20 million, which is an awful lot when you think about it. Jordan Peeleís film Us had the same production budget and was released more than a decade afterward Ė likewise, too, this was a starring role for Vera Farmiga prior to Conjuring or Bates Motel success. As a film though, it is shot well and thatís all that matters, small, tidbit attention to details Ė including one shot which has you squint your eyes to see whatís ominously happening from the reflection of a doorknob.

The film opens with a grotesque scene involving Vera Farmigaís character having a still-birth, and itís really maddening and surrealistic, showing the trauma it has left on the character. She is now a recovering alcoholic, whose ďMoment of ClarityĒ came at the expense of her young daughter nearly breaking through the icy lake near their home and drowning while she was intoxicated. All of this may sound frivolous, but it actually isnít.

A lot of Orphan can feel very goofy and everything about it is compounded by its goofy premise, and I believe the filmmakers understood that, but, at the same time, it has an exquisite attention-to-detail. The icy lake, the alcoholism, and her childís near-death event all play an important part in the film, as do many other small character traits throughout. Itís very clever and yet campy at the same time, and I found myself fairly endeared by that.

Something it does do that I absolutely did not care for, however, were fake-out jump scares. Scenes early on that were neither horrorific nor suspenseful, yet the director felt the need to have a sudden jolt or sound-effect rock your eardrums Ė maddening, and another thing that was all too common in 2000s horror.

The characters are as enjoyable as theyíre meant to be, and, also, in turn, as unlikeable as theyíre wanted to be. Obviously, as you can tell, something is afoot with the adopted orphan Ethel, and it finds a way to pit the mother and father against one another, manipulating them and weaponizing their own prior traumas and transgressions to its gain. Thus, a lot of timeís spent with each one of them piecing things together at their own pace, and that pace is not at all synchronized.

The acting is satiable at worst, and, at times, borders on being outright good, with Vera Farmiga being both likable and a strong sympathetic lead, whereas Isabelle Fuhrman delivers a solid performance that she deserves a lot of credit for.

One criticism levied about this film had to do with the supposes cliches and prejudices it had about adoption. The belief that it further fueled bigotries about adoption Ė roughly speaking, it encouraged the worry you might adopt a normal and sweet girl, only to find she is violent and cruel. I understand the criticism, but I also find it flimsy and superfluous. Director Eli Roth had a defense about something similar Ė his film Hostel, and how critics claimed it encourages xenophobia. His defense was, basically, ďThereís Leatherface, but people still go to Texas.Ē I think that applies aptly here. Horror in-general is about the fear of the unknown. The fear of the mysterious country youíve never been to, your fear of country roads in the South, and the fear you carry about a child you adopt of mysterious origins. You may not like what it says about the sum of all parts, but the film isnít making a statement about the whole, but, rather, one isolated example of something. Iíd recommend the documentary film The Imposter after youíve finished this film, honest and truly, itís captivating from beginning to end.

As a film, my opinion about Orphan hasnít changed dramatically. I still donít think of it as a great film by any means. It, however, is decent and enjoyable, largely from start to finish. It is a campy, goofy premise that requires a suspension of disbelief, but it is also wittily written and entertaining. I do believe about 20 to 30 minutes could have been trimmed from its overall runtime, which runs at a whopping 2 hours and 3 minutes, when I feel the concept is more suited for a taut 90-minute length, however, that aside, I consider it a real solid feather in the cap for everyone involved.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Orphan: First Kill
The horror genre is ripe with sequels to films that, in-retrospect, feel like open-and-shut stories. Series that donít in-fact feel like they should be series at all, with films that feel like they have a proper beginning, middle, and end for their main protagonist. Orphan is one such film. Itís a simple, decent horror film that offers everything it needed to about her backstory, lets the horror unfold, and culminates with the classic payoff of good over evil. Regardless of that, Orphan: First Kill exists anyways.

Whatís even more remarkable about that fact is that the original Orphan was released back in 2009, becoming only a modest box office success, all things considered. If you look at a film like Sinister 2, which had half the budget of Orphan, and made 54 million at the box office, compared to Orphanís 78 million, and consider how that disappointing return was enough to put the kibosh on any plans for a third Sinister, itís a real head scratcher that this film was greenlit.

That is the interesting thing about the film industry and how truly nuanced it can be Ė there are a lot of variables to factor in. Home-video and streaming sales can move the needle in major ways, especially with smaller, low-budget fare. Likewise, too, you have to think about the production company involved. A production company like Blumhouse may look at the returns of Sinister and not being able to justify sequels when they could instead produce sequels to more lucrative fare like Insidious or Halloween, but a company like Twisted Pictures, with no other major intellectual properties to pull from, will mine a franchise like Saw again and again. Such is the case with Dark Castle Entertainment, a company with some notable horror fare in their backlog like Thirteen Ghosts, the House of Wax remake, and Splice.

For them, a low-risk, high-reward film like Orphan: First Kill is a no-brainer. Why they decided they needed to wait thirteen years after the fact instead of striking while the iron is hot is unclear, but it is better late than never.

Orphan: First Kill was directed by William Brent Bell. If the name doesnít ring any (Brent) bells to you, I understand. He isnít a coveted name in the horror genre like Mike Flanagan, Jordan Peele, or James Wan, for instance, but he has directed a handful of films youíve likely heard of. In 2006, he co-wrote and directed the horror film Stay Alive, a box office misfire and horribly bashed supernatural horror film about a videogame that can kill you. For me, although I havenít seen Stay Alive since it was released and am certain Iíd be disappointed if I went back and looked, I remember my ten-year-old self having fun with the film. He rode the found-footage craze with the forgettable but largely successful Devil Inside, and even directed both The Boy and its sequel Brahmís: The Boy II. Thus, he is a director many of us may have heard of, one who has found financial success but never once had a film with critical success. For that reason, I can imagine the response to Orphan: First Kill has been a pleasant surprise for him.

The film was released in theaters as well as on Paramount Plus (which is where I watched the film), and although it is set to make a fraction of what its predecessor did Ė currently on-pace to make 10 million dollars off an unconfirmed budget I would imagine as somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 million Ė I imagine that, coupled with the consistent trending status for both it and its predecessor, is enough to make everyone mostly satisfied with the filmís outcome. As far as reviews are concerned, not only is it by far William Brent Bellís most well-received film, coming just shy of a Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, but many critics have gone as far as to claim it is better than the original film.

The film sees Isabelle Fuhrman reprising her role from the previous film, an interesting yet welcome decision in the end. In the original, she is, of course, actually a young girl, whereas now, some years later, is a twenty-five-year-old woman, not with Dwarfism. This meant they had to do a lot of camera trickery and manipulation in-order for her to reprise the role, which I was a little concerned about heading in. Thankfully, Iím happy to report my concerns were largely unfounded.

Series newcomers include Rossif Sutherland, Hiro Kanagawa, and the always welcome, Julia Stiles.

Although the film is a prequel and, as a prequel, has a linear trajectory youíre aware of heading into it, Orphan: First Kill does try to add its own twists and turns to its execution. In other words, it doesnít feel like a generic origin story, per se. In a lot of ways, I feel it is even better taken as its own original, standalone thing as much as your mind can allow.

In the film, Leena Klammer escapes from the Saarne institution and begins her ploy to find passage out from Estonia. While swinging at a playground, she convinces a police officer she is an American named Esther Albright, a name she discovered amongst a longlist of unsolved missing personís cases, and claims she was kidnapped. She is then introduced to her new family, a husband and wife and their rebellious teenage son. A lot of what you might imagine next ensues, but, at the same time, like I said, the film is certain to throw some curveballs in to keep things different.

When I talked about the original Orphan, I mentioned the documentary The Impostor, and I did so on a whim. The documentary is one of my absolute favorites and is one I absolutely recommend. Having now seen First Kill, I realize that a wonderful coincidence has happened. By that, I mean Orphan: First Kill is, in fact, pretty much The Impostor. It isnít directly attributed as so, but the amount of glaring similarities are too large and apparent to claim otherwise. In that true story, a Frenchman convinces a police officer in Spain that he is a missing person from the United States, and, from that, he is introduced into that family and plays them all for fools.

The consequence of having seen that documentary, however, and making the connection as early as I did, also means I had this vague feeling like I had already seen the Orphan 2. In The Impostor, an unsubstantiated, unproven claim is made, and that claim serves as the foundation for the twist in this film.

As a film, Orphan: First Kill is decent, similar to its predecessor. The acting is decent, and like Vera Farmiga before her, Julia Stiles finds herself tasked with carrying a lot of the film Ė alongside Isabelle Fuhrman, of course.

The cinematography has improved, shedding away a lot of the melodrama and very 2000s nature of the original film, opting for a more conventional, understated approach. There arenít as many jumpscares or jolts peppered in, and, in total, I would argue it is a better made film.

Meanwhile, an older Isabelle Fuhrman is more able to convey humor and the sense it is an adult beneath the faÁade.

The storytelling is simpler and leans further into the campier nature of the subject matter, which is for the best. It feels more playful this time around, and by chopping off 24 minutes from the runtime this go around, it feels leaner and more appropriate in its restraint.

As far as whether Orphan 2 is better than Orphan 1 is debatable, however. Personally, although I would attest that the original film did suffer from certain decisions, it did feel wittily written and had an actual emotional weight behind it. It felt like it was everything it needed to be, offering each character a proper story arc. Vera Farmigaís character had depth, and, in general, the characters felt more lived-in. It mayíve not always stuck the landing, but it at least made the leap, something I think canít be said as much for this film.

Likewise, too, Orphan: First Kill does suffer from that thing prequels do, where it tries to ham-fist a lot of connections to small tidbits of the original film. For instance, now we know backstory on the black-light paintings she does, and other little things we didnít really need explanations for.

Did I like Orphan: First Kill more than the 2009 film? Personally, I largely preferred the original. Orphan simply had weightier ambitions than its sequel. Orphan did okay with heavy subject-matter, whereas Orphan: First Kill stays in its lane. The original film always had an unintentional campiness behind it, a certain so close, yet so far away grasp at hitting the mark, Orphan: First Kill turns into the skid, delivering intentional campiness and making an okay film as a result.

Orphan: First Kill is a decent film and a serviceable sequel to the 2009 sleeper hit, which is about everything you could ask for.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Beyond the Resonator

Although Full Moon Features is, to be frank, not what it once was Ė I find myself coming back to it every now and again. I have a lot of films in Full Moon Featuresí archives I want to write more about (including Puppet Master, Trancers, and Subspecies, to name a few), but not many of them are from the modern era.

I will confess Ė I have watched more of the Evil Bong films than I am proud to admit (they are at nine of them now, if you didnít know), but I donít see myself ever sitting down and writing about them at length. Instead, I write about a new Full Moon Feature when I feel it warrants being written about.

Making movies is difficult.

However, Ö if Patrick Brice can make Creep for a sack of potatoes and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead can make The Endless and Resolution with a smaller budget than what Full Moon Features procured from their Indiegogo campaign for Killjoyís Psycho Circus (which I backed, by the way), then Full Moon Features can be tried as an adult like everybody else.

I long for the early days of From Beyond or Re-Animator, or even the later years of Head of the Family and The Creeps, back when it was still fun.

When Miskatonic U: The Resonator was released, I offered a mostly unimpressed review of the film. However, I did remark that it was one of the best films Full Moon Features had released in somewhere around a decade, taken as a modest and mostly generic throwback to the good old days of when Stuart Gordon was alive and adapted Lovecraft.

Although Miskatonic U: The Resonator may not have set the world ablaze (and, really, that isnít what I expect out of a Full Moon Features these days, or ever, actually), the last moments of the film suggested an interesting future for the new series (meeting Herbert West, a la Re-Animator).

Beyond the Resonator is the name of the sequel and it is a fairly short and tidy film Ė clocking out at 48:25 in total (with six minutes shared on a recap of the last film, an introduction that vaguely reminded me of the introductions from Sam Raimiís Spider-Man Trilogy, and credits). In other words, Beyond the Resonator is just over 40 minutes Ė so barely feature length, depending on who you ask.

Iím cool with that.

I wonít act like I am the most in the know these days when it comes to the latest outings of Full Moon Features, but I would think I am among the key demographic of each film. That in mind, I wrote a review of the first film and thought I kept an eye out for anything about a sequel, only to one day notice a second (and third) film had not only entered production but were now available on the Tubi streaming service.

Thatís likely for the best, as, unfortunately, Beyond the Resonator is a bit of a mess overall.

At the end of the first film, students at Miskatonic University build ďThe ResonatorĒ, and are now dealt consequences for that decision. Meanwhile, however, Herbert West has entered the fray. Herbertís story is the most entertaining and noteworthy aspect about the film.

The actor Josh Cole is faced with the tall order of trying to match the performance of Jeffrey Combs from Re-Animator, and while he canít and doesnít, he is satiable overall. At first, he feels a little more like a cosplay of Herbert West, with a wardrobe that doesnít feel lived in and a portrayal that feels like an impression, but he grew on me as the film progressed.

The scenes with Herbert West, however, leave a lot to be desired. The film has a more modern twist to it, but it is essentially a remake of the first half or so of Re-Animator, with the only difference being that it comes off more like a fan film with ambition.

Every scene that doesnít involve Herbert West, I struggled to care about, and I canít say I was made to care much about Westís story either Ė again, itís a rehash that adds nothing new to the character or classic story.

The score by Richard Band is decent. I usually like Richardís contribution to Full Moon Features and consider it among the biggest highlights of the entire catalog. Theyíre simple, classical, and feel fun.

Unfortunately, the cinematography has taken a real nosedive since the early days of Full Moon Features, with visuals so bright they look uncanny and fake, like everything was shot under the heat of a million light bulbs (or at a popular YouTubersí house). Aesthetics are very important. Imagine a scene in a morgue: darkly lit, the only light shown is from the stab of a flashlight or the bleeding in of moonlight from a nearby window. Or downstairs in a basement? The classic flicker of a light bulb about to die out? In this film, everything looks clean and sanitized.

The acting is mostly mediocre. I say that with the understanding that it will have less to do with the actors involved and more to do with what is asked of them and what theyíre allowed to do.

Character developments are under cooked and frivolous, and theyíre forgotten about as soon as they are introduced. Attempts at drama fall flat because of this. This is the reason why the scenes carrying the plot from the last film fail Ė they expect me to care about something they havenít made me care about.

Scenes that couldíve been fun (in the same Re-Animator rehashed kind of way as the rest) are reduced to clips in a montage. Anyone remember Herbert stealing a body out from a morgue? Thatís in here, but only as a brief summary. Likewise, there is a characterís death wedged into the montage that left me scratching my head in confusion.

Sloppy is a good word for Beyond the Resonator.

I respect the idea of wanting to pay homage to Stuart Gordon, but it doesnít at all feel like it came from the same company that helped make the actual films some forty years prior (and it isnít, technically, that was Empire, this is Full Moon, but I digress).

It irks me a bit, really. I want to like the film. I like the general idea. The same way I like the general idea of Full Moon Features in general. I can imagine this film as good. I can see a scenario where they combine the elements of From Beyond and Re-Animator and make a fun, enjoyable film. I can imagine how Full Moon Features manages to finally create a cohesive Full Moon Universe out of it. Imagine one day a great, great grandson of Toulon arrives with a trunk of Puppet Master characters? You think Herbert West might be at all interested in the serum that brings them to life? There are possibilities for a lot of fun to be had and Iím all for it.

This though, this isnít it.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Subspecies

I canít say Subspecies made a large impression on me as a kid discovering Full Moon Features for the first time.

In retrospect, Iíd argue that the best of Full Moon Featuresí catalog usually comes from original, standalone features, rather than their various different franchises. Re-Animator (which I know did have sequels, but they werenít from Full Moon or Empire) is one of them. Dolls, Head of the Family, or The Creeps are ones I would also single out.

All the same, Full Moon wouldnít be Full Moon without seriesí like Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Killjoy, Trancers, Evil Bong, Subspecies and Gingerdead Man (for better and for worse).

For me, Subspecies and Trancers always felt like they were the black sheep of the Full Moon franchises.

They arenít that different, if taken as standalone movies, but itís the fact they become enduring franchises that did it. In the early days, Full Moon Features went into some weird places. It is actually one of the most endearing qualities of their filmography. Trancers by itself, or Subspecies by itself, would feel at home with the rest of the catalog. The fact that both received half a dozen entries (if pairing the four Subspecies films with their spin-offs Vampire Journal and both Decadent Evils), however, is enough to raise a few eyebrows though.

I can wrap my head around a dozen Evil Bong movies, simply because I know Charles Band uses it as a vehicle to peddle stoner-themed merchandise, and that same train of thought applies to other brands he keeps on with.

But whatís the appeal of Subspecies?

I revisited Subspecies with an open mind.

The film was directed by Ted Nicolaou, a director whose handiwork can be seen throughout Full Moon Featuresí filmography Ė beyond the rest of the Subspecies main series, Ted still directs movies for Full Moon today, with a background that dates all the way back to Charles Bandís former company Empire.

There are a lot of little things to love about the film Ė it was shot on location in Romania and utilized stop motion and rod puppet techniques as a way to achieve the unique look and feel desired for the titular creatures.

The idea of a Gothic, old fashioned vampire film plays to the wheelhouse of Full Moon as well. The aesthetic of films like The Pit and the Pendulum and Castle Freak feels like it can seamlessly be applied to such a concept.

Ironically, Charles Band actually owns a castle in Italy that was used for them but not Subspecies.

In Subspecies, a vampire named Radu Vladislas murders his father in order to claim possession of the Bloodstone, a stone that claims to drip the blood of the saints. On the human side, three college women come to Romania to gather research on a study theyíre conducting on the city of Prejmer and the superstition surrounding it. As the women find themselves in Raduís cross-hairs, his brother Stefan seeks to stop him.

Straightaway, I will say that Subspecies may be a little bit of an acquired taste as a film.

The film is ripe, and I do mean ripe, with cliches. They are absolutely spilling out of this film. The cinematography is chilly and glib, filled with all the classic parlor tricks, and the score is ghastly and melancholic, amounting to what I can only describe as ďvery Dracula-yĒ. If you are buying what theyíre selling, which is neither unique nor wholly original, itís a charming throwback. I personally particularly liked the score of the film and would consider it among the best parts of the film, even if I recognize it as cliched and derivative.

The special effects leave a little to be desired. I am always happy when I am able to write that a film uses puppetry and stop-motion effects, but it isnít always as good in theory as it is in practice. The creatures, which are more or less minions for Radu to lead, unfortunately, add little to nothing to the film, and, in fact, Iíd argue their execution even sullies the film because of how off they look in certain scenes in the film (the opening scene when theyíre introduced being a prime example).

The acting isnít the best. The delivery is stilted at the best of times and the dialogue, too, can feel self-important or melodramatic. In its own way, this does fit the tone of the film Ė reminding me a little of an old Hammer horror.

It isnít without its Full Moon sensibilities, also. The brother Stefan strikes a romance with one of the lead women in the film, but it is unearned and under cooked. After one conversation, acquaintances of Stefan are claiming how he has Ďfallen in love with a mortalí and all this, and it comes off like weíre missing crucial bits of why they feel that way. Full Moon likes doing this a lot, but usually it isnít as noticeable because the film is campier. Something else Full Moon likes is full-frontal nudity. This film has it, and it does so in a way that feels so arbitrary that it actually lends a bit of unintentional humor to the film.

By the end, I would summarize my thoughts on the first Subspecies film by saying I appreciate it, but I donít particularly care for it. The music is thematic and atmospheric, as is the actual cinematography (there are some actual good shots in the film), but somewhere between the acting and the story itself, it makes for a humdrum, even tedious experience. It is over in an hour and a half, but it does not fly by. Still, it is competently made and I appreciate Full Moon Features trying to make something, maybe, a little more grandiose.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Speak No Evil

Speak No Evil is a film I had on my radar, but one I was apprehensive to pursue for a simple reason Ė that is an awful title for a horror film in 2022. Speak No Evil? Really? It might as well forego any and all streaming services and ship copies directly to the dump bin of your nearest supermarket, or maybe shove it someplace really deep in the archives of Tubi TVĎs horror movie section.

Thatís an awful name, but it isnít an awful film. And, in its defense, after having seen the film, I can at least say the name is appropriate to the filmís subject matter.

I stumbled upon Speak No Evil on the Shudder streaming service, a service I am very fond of and would highly recommend. The film was directed by Danish director Christian Tafdrup, whose prior credentials include an interesting-sounding drama film called Parents but no other genre films yet. The film was shot in Denmark and the Netherlands, but is mostly shot in English. The script was co-written between Christian and his brother Mads. As far as cast goes, the film didnít have anybody I recognized, with most of the cast primarily relegated to dramas in Denmark, a niche Iím not exactly privy to.

As a film, Speak No Evil is relatively straightforward. A Danish couple and their daughter are invited to a Dutch couplesí house for a weekend holiday, and decide to take them up on it. They arrive, and, well, whether you know what happens or not, what you do know is that it is a horror film called Speak No Evil, and so, chances are, a happy holiday weekend isnít what awaits them.

This is a slow burn psychological thriller film, which I feel might be important in keeping your expectations about the film in check. Prior to watching, I hadnít seen even as much as a trailer for the film, but I had seen comparisons of the film to one other film and short, sentence-long reviews of the film.

The film I had seen compared to was The Strangers, an alright slasher film that has since developed a cult-following among many of you. In my findings, the comparison itself has less to do with the actual film and how the story unfolds, and more to do with the feeling it tries to leave you with. One of the best quotes from The Strangers is the classic line Ė ďBecause you were home.Ē The statement resonates as terrifying because it suggests a pointless cruelty to what is happening on-screen. It creates the sentiment that, if you didnít answer the door, they wouldíve simply went down the block and conducted business as usual over there instead. Itís the same appeal John CarpenterĎs original Halloween film had, where Laurie Strode is only some other victim to Michael Myers, not his sister, nothing special at all. Thatís the feeling Speak No Evil has Ė an unnecessary meanness that happens simply because the world is unnecessarily mean.

As a film though, it isnít like The Strangers, particularly. Instead, it is more comparable, I think, to something like Mark DuplassĎ film Creep. In Creep, a man is filming for another person, and you know that other person is dangerous. You donít know for sure, but you pretty much know. And so, you spend the whole film waiting for the other shoe to drop and for crazy dangerous people to do what crazy dangerous people do. Thatís, more or less, what Speak No Evil is.

For better and for worse, the cat is already out of the bag for Speak No Evil in that respect. Thus, it is more about being perturbed by the ride itself and having the curtain peeled back on exactly what evil is being tucked away.

The criticism I have seen thrown around most about this film is this Ė our protagonists are pushovers. I had heard this criticism a lot, and I kept telling myself I wouldnít allow myself to be bothered by it as I watched or that the criticism was off-base and unwarranted. I will be damned though Ė our protagonists are pushovers!

Of course though, thatís really a major idea of the whole film. In a way, Speak No Evil is a satirical work, a social-commentary on the way we accommodate others or go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. Itís realistic, too, isnít it? We can all imagine a person in our lives thatíd eat expensive, burnt steak instead of sending it back. No one wants to be that guy! Or, staying someplace you donít want to be, because you donít want to offend. Or, Ö or, Ö lots of things. Itís realistic, but this film will have you yelling at your screen every now and again, pleading with the characters to grow a backbone.

By the time Speak No Evil ends, it leaves you with a melancholy feeling of dread more so than any other emotion. It isnít a gratuitously violent film. All of the particularly violent acts are brief, but itís the way theyíre contextualized and the tone of the film that make them feel especially cold and depraved (Michael Haneke did this really well in the film Funny Games).

Pound for pound, Speak No Evil doesnít have a whole lot we havenít already seen. The filmís acting is solid, whereas the scenes early on, while standard, are immersive enough. A lot of itís watching the couplesí interact, and itís mostly all about building to the close, without anything particularly remarkable happening beforehand. In terms of characterization and story, itís all familiar ingredients, but done in a squirmy, melancholic way that makes it feel a little like youíre tasting it on an airplane (and I mean that in a good way, I think). Itís an icy, squirmy film that shows a very different way of looking at the horror genre than whatís most usually spotlighted.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Shiver

Shiver is a film I went into blindly, stumbling on it while browsing the free Tubi streaming service. It is a tactic I donít deploy often, because it so often leads to a negative review here on the Nightmare Shift. The fact is, a lot of films are made and not all of them are created equal. I believe I am very in touch with the horror genre, and so, it isnít very often I stumble across a good film I hadnít had at least heard some prior mention of. In spite of that, while I donít always do it, I try to make sure to do it as often as I can. Sometimes you will discover a new gem amidst the rubble, and if I can spotlight that film, I consider it a privilege.

Another reason I wanted to watch it is because of the involvement of Danielle Harris and my desire to sift through her horror filmography for the Nightmare Shift. I like Danielle Harris and, in a lot of ways, I believe the Halloween franchise doesnít always appreciate her for helping to keep the torch lit with the sequels (no disrespect to Judy Greer, but I would have loved her to have played Laurie Strodeís daughter in the reboot series).

Julian Richards directs a script written by Robert Weinbach based on a novel of the same name by Brian Harper.

Richards is a lesser known director, but he has a handful of horror movies you might have heard of Ė The Last Horror Movie, for example. His 1997 film Darklands was apparently the first homegrown Welsh horror film. Pretty cool.

This thriller film about a low self-esteemed woman who finds herself the target of a heinous serial killer.

As a film, Shiver is not your usual run-of-the-mill dumpster dive into the archives of obscurity. I know Iíve seen a lot of them, and Iím certain many of you have too. Iíve seen the mutated hillbillies that run around cornfields, chainsaws in-hand, cease and desist letter in the mail. Iíve seen a hundred-dozen ripoffs of Friday the 13th, which in itself was a cash-in on Halloween, and I know I will see many more before it is all said and finished.

Shiver isnít that, but, instead, it is kind of just absolutely bonkers altogether. At first, I thought I knew what to expect from it. Our antagonist is one of those artsy serial killers, you know the kind. Weíve seen them a lot in films, and other than in special circumstances like, say, Hannibal, they usually play out about the same way each time. This character is fairly familiar in that respect, but what happens in the film is all kinds of absurdity. This is the type of film that doesnít ask you for suspension of disbelief, it demands it lest you want your fragile mind to shatter before its goofy plot.

I didnít immediately recognize in the film, but John Jarratt is the serial killer. You may have seen him in the Wolf Creek films. His character in this film is similar to that.

The character is animated, for lack of a better word for it. I can never exactly say for certain whether I believe he is doing a good job in the role or if he is doing a bad job, and itís peculiar for the line between the two to feel as thin as it does. I can never tell whether I feel he is going all in on the role or if it feels a performance, it is definitely campy, however. Itís a little like he goes so over the top that he came back around again.

Shiver feels like it has a lot to say, but doesnít actually seem to know how to say it in a real, organic way. For instance, you know how I briefed earlier how Danielle Harrisí character had low self-esteem? This is a reoccurring theme in the film. Whether it be when she is verbally cut down by her mother, or when she struggles to ask her boss for a raise.

However, the film doesnít handle it smoothly, and when it wants to highlight that aspect of the character, it does so in a way that always feels abrupt and ham-fist. This can be seen really noticeably during a phone-call conversation between her and her mother where it feels like the whole purpose is to wedge as much exposition and backstory into the conversation as possible.

This all calls back to the antagonist Ė our serial killer is a misogynistic, power-hungry murderer, desperate for the type of control that has never afforded to him in his normal life.

Thereís a yin-and-yang here, of one controlling person with an ego and one person who has been beaten down and needs to claim control. It makes sense and I can see what theyíre going for, but they never seem to present it in a way that feels cohesive or coherent.

I want to make you understand how absurd this film is, but I canít do so without outright saying a lot of what happens. This is a film with car chases and the type of police shenanigans you would expect out of a corny comic book film. Again, suspension of disbelief. You will need it.

The third-quarter of the film is the best of the film. This is when all the other white noise quiets down. There is no shenanigans or police procedural subplots happening in the background, itís simply the protagonist and the antagonist. It isnít exactly anything we havenít seen, but this is when both characters are allowed to do the legwork in their development. John Jarratt is allowed to be horror movie crazy and Danielle Harrisí character survives, looking for an opportunity to arise. There are some little flashes that show the perverse thoughts in the antagonistsí mind, and he is allowed to become fifty shades of awful. This is, for the most part, what I think the whole film shouldíve been. This couldíve worked.

Unfortunately, that isnít what the film is, and after that brief quarter is over, the film goes ahead and finds a way to double-up on its own absurdity.

In the end, Shiver doesnít pay dividends for my blind foray into the unknown. I wanted to like it. I can imagine a film with Jarratt and Harris that I would have liked. There are even scenes in the film I could imagine elongated and making a better film. However, that wasnít the film we received. This film is chalk full of head scratching moments and I canít recommend it.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

The Crow

On December 28th, 1997, the WCW World Heavyweight Champion ďHollywoodĒ Hulk Hogan went head-to-head with ďThe IconĒ Sting at Starrcade.

For those of you that arenít wrestling fans, this match was a big deal. Hulk Hogan had turned heel (became a bad guy) for the first major stint in his career, forming the New World Order and wreaking havoc throughout World Championship Wrestling. The company man Sting who once dawned bleach blond hair and a excitable ďsurferĒ gimmick had changed. For an entire year, Sting didnít speak a word, hanging out in the rafters in a dark getup, white face paint and a leather trench coat. Now, at Starrcade, it was time for the dark avenger Sting to save WCW Ė a battle of good versus evil.

What I remember most about that encounter (which wasnít exactly the best match) were the entrances each wrestler made for it (wrestling fan or not, look up Stingís entrance at 1997ís Starrcade Ė the opening monologue, the music, the atmosphere). It is one of my favorite moments as a wrestling fan.

What does this have to do with The Crow film?

In a lot of ways, that moment at Starrcade helped bolster the legacy of The Crow film (at least for me). In Stingís pursuit of becoming an icon (from borrowing more than a few things from James OíBarr), The Crow became iconic as well.

Obviously, that isnít all that made The Crow such a storied moment in cinema history Ė during production, Brandon Lee was fatally wounded during a scene involving a firearm.

This was a tragic moment.

The outcome was a lot more than changing perception about a mere film. Brandon Leeís fiancťe Eliza Hutton lost her future husband, and his friends and family found themselves without him.

That in mind, The Crow now had a certain mystique to it. A new wrinkle, if you will. I would compare it, perhaps, to Heath LedgerĎs death shortly before the release of The Dark Knight. It became less about The Crow as a film and more about it as a moment or even a memoriam for Brandon Lee.

What about the film? All of this chatter about The Crowís legacy, what about the actual film?

Directed by Alex Proyas in his sophomore effort (he went onto direct Dark City, an apt successor, I think), The Crow is, roughly speaking, a classic story of revenge.

A musician named Eric Draven and his fiancťe Shelly are murdered by a group of thugs on Devilís Night (a night in Detroit associated with serious vandalism and arson). After, Eric Draven returns from death and seeks revenge on the men responsible, guided by a black crow.

I was worried about revisiting The Crow again. As a child, I loved the film. Then, in my later years, I reflected on it as a decent, but dated superhero film. I was worried it wouldnít meet the expectation I had of it. Thankfully, I believe The Crow is a great film.

The cinematography is dark and gritty in a way that feels unkempt and filthy. ďGrittyĒ superhero cinema isnít exactly out of the ordinary these days, what, with Nolanís The Dark Knight trilogy (which I enjoyed a lot), but, as a consequence of Nolanís films, I feel a lot of films havenít been able to capture what The Crow does. Whether it is the newer Fantastic Four or the Snyder films (which I also enjoy), a lot of films feel like they try to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. They look like a super-expensive high-production, but also try to have that edgy, unkemptness to them. What comes from it is something less gritty and more dreary.

The Crow is not that. Although certain scenes do show their age, I would argue it has so much style and kinetic energy behind every shot that I honestly wouldnít even acknowledge it if I hadnít had the preconceived notion about it. In some ways, I would equate it less to the newer Batmanís and more to Tim Burtonís Batman Returns meets David Fincher Ė specifically Fight Club or Seven.

As a film, The Crow is more about style than substance, I believe. The villains arenít particularly layered Ė theyíre baddies that need stopped. However, the story is romantic and infectious, the atmosphere is lurid yet Gothically beautiful, and it truly flies by.

Brandon Leeís performance is the most bittersweet aspect of the film. If I had even a inkling of doubt about him Ė it went away revisiting this film. The man was charismatic as all hell and blew me away with his performance throughout. Every scene he is in, not only is he commanding, but he feels fun, fun-ny even, without ever feeling tonally dissonant from the subject matter. This is a feat that the later sequels showed is a difficult task (and is exactly the reason why Bill Skarsgard is, at least in theory, the best candidate to don the face paint). I loved his performance and it is so sad to think of what he could have done next. Likewise, too, the lightning and how he is shown, and his makeup is ace (compare it to the next film and see what I mean).

This is Brandon Leeís show, through and through, but I will also say everyone across the board plays their part well. Rochelle Davis as the young girl Sarah who had a father-daughter relationship almost with Eric, and the Detective played by Ernie Hudson, who helps ground the film.

If I had any criticism at all about the film Ė the last half hour is a little messy. Ernie Hudsonís characterís involvement feels brushed aside and undercooked, whereas the end with Eric confronting Top Dollar is a little anticlimactic / underwhelming. I have never looked to see for certain, but I could see this partly explained away by the circumstances surrounding the filmís production.

Overall though, still love The Crow. The film is nicely shot with a terrific atmosphere, and it is heightened by a fantastic leading man and a classic, complete (no sequels, spin-offs, follow-ups, truly necessary) story. I highly recommend it.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

The Crow: City of Angels

In 1994, The Crow set the world ablaze in the outline of a blackbird, raking in a lot of dough and a lot of series potential. Thus, it was only natural that a sequel would be commissioned in a timely fashion. In 1996, The Crow: City of Angels was released.

The film is mostly a standalone film that can be seen without prior knowledge of the original, but it is also a sequel if you squint hard enough. The film is set a billion years after the first film, or however long it took the little girl from the original film to become the adult actress Mia Kirshner Ė and, uh, other than that and the basic premise, thatís really it.

In this, Ashe Corven (Corven, get it?) and his son Danny are murdered by a drug kingpin named Judah Earl. Ashe comes back, and through the guidance of Sarah and The Crow, begins to pursuit of vengeance.

I really wanted to like this film. I canít write this review under the guise of ignorance, however. I donít write this review after my first time watching The Crow: City of Angels. I had already seen the film. However, it had been awhile. When I last watched the film, I remembered it modestly. I didnít love it, but I didnít hold a lot of resentment for it either. I remembered it as a decent, unmemorable sequel to a real classic.

However, upon watching it as an adult, and as someone who likes to think he has become more skilled at articulating whether he liked or disliked something and why he felt that way, The Crow: City of Angels is a lot worse than I remembered.

The cinematography and aesthetic of this film is a real disappointment. I can almost see what they had in mind, I think. They didnít want to copy-and-paste the visuals of the original film, and instead, they went for a more yellowish tint. Unfortunately, not only does it look very unappealing to the eye, it makes a lot of the film itself appear dated as a result. An example can be seen merely by watching the crow itself fly around the city. In the original film, it didnít look exactly perfect, but, because of the dark-colored backdrop, it didnít stand out as much. In this film, every shortcoming is propped up against an ugly almost-sepia color, and not only does it turn a bright light on the finer details or lack thereof, it does a disservice to the film overall.

In some ways, I believe it could be argued that the original film looked like a music video. I made a comparison to David Fincherís Fight Club and Seven, but I also thought of the grimy music videos he directed for bands like Perfect Circle. When I say that though, I mean that in the best of ways. Shots arenít wasted. The camerawork is inspired and stylistic. I feel the same can be applied to this film, but in the worst of ways. Everything feels sloppy and disheveled, messy and nonsensical. Unsurprisingly, this was Tim PopeĎs first and final film, but he has had a very successful career making music videos. (In his defense, Tim Pope also claims the studio hurt the finished product. This makes sense when you consider this was the studio that not only helped introduce us to Brandon Lee, but also played a not insignificant part in taking him away.)

It doesnít help that Vincent Perez is not up to the task to replace Brandon Lee as The Crow. A lot of this isnít his fault, however. There are certain scenes I could have imagined as cool or being straight out of the original film. In one scene at a peep show, the curtain raises, unveiling a scantily clad woman, and a paying customer watching from behind a thin layer of glass. As his time runs out and the curtain lowers, he scrambles for coins and buys more time. The curtain raises Ė The Crow looks back at him. It is an obvious scene, but a fun idea for certain! And yet, it doesnít land. Thereís something off about it.

Sometimes, too, scenes can feel like an impression of the original, attempting humor but falling flat, feeling out-of-character or inconsistent with the rest of the film. It took a specific method for humor to show through in the first film, it took Brandon LeeĎs charisma, and the right way of framing it all. This film doesnít have that.

In fact, a lot of this film feels that way Ė off. The Crowís face paint looks unfinished, the dynamic between Ashe and Sarah feels weird, the emotional trauma feels under cooked, and the final moments (which is admittedly a lot like the first filmís) feel corny and more than a little absurd.

All in all, The Crow: City of Angels was the last theatrical release of The Crow series and, that makes a lot of sense to me. Itís a drastically inferior sequel in every way imaginable, and where the original film flew by, this film feels like a plodding slog to sit through. I, unfortunately, do not recommend it.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Grimcutty

It is October 10th and, this year, horror fans find themselves treated to one of the best holiday seasons weíve ever had. Original horror film Smile is number one at the box office, experiencing fantastic holds and nearing 100 million worldwide (a feat weíve been lucky enough to experience more than a couple times this year), and Damien Leoneís indie horror sequel Terrifier 2 is receiving a little love as well. Hellraiser is receiving the most well received film in its long-running franchise since the original 1987 film. The second season of Chucky is underway and Laurie Strode is about to duke it out with Michael Myers one last time for Halloween Ends. And, with all that, here I am, watching Grimcutty.

I donít fault myself Ė reviewing original, lesser known films is good. This is a belief I have always harbored and something I try to embrace on everyday NickelbibĎing. Although I donít have a huge following, I would like to use whatever platform I do have to spotlight as many lesser known, creative people as I can.

This, as any horror fanatic knows, can be a double-edged sword in the horror genre. Every time you find a good film, that film is oftentimes followed by half a dozen bad ones. They can be made quick and cheap, hence why so many horror films flood the market (and why horror helped carry the theater industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, thank you very much).

Grimcutty arrived today on Hulu, dropped unceremoniously on a Monday, days after the Hellraiser reboots grand premiere. The film is about an internet meme gone awry and the conflict that arises from it Think Slenderman or Momo, right? This creepy image has went viral and, now, apparently, children are cutting themselves for clout (or something).

The characterís appearance is a little on the goofier side, but Iíd argue is authentic to what a lot of the characters from Creepypastas, etc., that take the internet by storm.

With that, we are all set. The film, directed by John Ross, engrosses us in the life of a married couple and their two children. The film unfolds in a way that makes me think Kirk Cameron is vaguely involved. What I mean is, it feels vaguely like a propaganda film, presenting the irrational fears certain groups of people have about internet and technology. The film sees its out-of-touch adult characters trying to protect their children from the evils hiding in the dark underbellies of social media.

Iím not saying there arenít evils hiding in the dark underbellies of social media. Things like the dark web and strange kidnappings, all that, theyíve been touched upon in films like The Den, for instance. The internet houses some real horrors and I believe they offer some real fodder for the genre to work with. This though, this feels more like in the seventies when parents would keep their kids from listening to Led Zeppelin because they thought you could hear the devil when you played it in reverse.

Hysteria is real though. Sometimes, too, it doesnít make a lot of sense when it is put under the microscope or in hindsight. When I was eleven, my mom and I watched Eli Rothís film Hostel. She made me cover my eyes when they showed a womanís breasts, but had no problem letting me see a womanís eye melted down with a blow torch.

The issue with this film, however, is that it doesnít feel aware of how out of touch it is (even if events in the film suggest it is). Instead, it feels like a cringe-inducing exercise in the horrors of Lifetime cinema.

The film is finely acted and finely shot (certain actors felt like they were doing an over-the-top, again, Lifetime-y performance Ė but it does appear thatís at least somewhat on purpose).

Scares are far and in-between, largely kept to seeing Grimcutty at a distance and nothing more, and like his name, Grimcutty is fairly goofy looking. The camerawork is satiable though. This is a film that had a budget (albeit small) and could look to things like a proper camera setup, lighting, and production value. As far as scenes are concerned, there isnít a whole lot to write about.

The character arenít interesting, but I could have imagined actresses Sarah Wolfkind and Tate Moore making for believable, enjoyable leads in a film where they had more time to show their chemistry and develop their characters. The mystery surrounding the antagonist is under-cooked and means behind how he came to exist / what he is are practically nonexistent.

The most interesting wrinkle in the film is a twist that is revealed about midway through (however, if you read the description provided by Hulu, that twist is completely spoiled), which I liked and thought was an interesting bait-and-switch. Unfortunately, I believe the film failed to stick the landing for the idea.

Overall, as much as I want to focus on the positive for this film Ė Grimcutty is ripe with cliches and makes for a fairly antiquated, even at times goofy watch from start to finish. May everyone involved learn from it and find something more becoming of their own capabilities in the next go around.




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The Lion King (remake)

Whether a remake or re-imagining is necessary often boils down to one or two key variables, whether such a film is in demand and whether that film can be improved on. I talked about it with my review of Aladdin recently, but Iíve had a mixed reaction to Disneyís newfound interest in ďlive-action/hyper-realistic animatedĒ reinterpretations of the many classics in their library. I thoroughly enjoyed The Jungle Book and I believe it checked both of those boxes well, whereas, while I found enjoyment in Aladdin, I donít believe it earned its keep in the same fashion. Like that film, the 2019 film The Lion King had no trouble checking off the first box. The film was able to procure over 1.6 billion dollars at the worldwide box-office and surpassed Frozen as (technically) the highest-grossing animated film of all-time and the second highest-grossing film of 2019 (the release of Frozen 2 and Star Wars: Episode 8 pending). However, judging by the mixed-reception from critics, itís clear thereís a disparity that needs resolving in-order to answer whether The Lion King checks off the second box.

The musical film sees Jon Favreau (director of The Jungle Book) in the directorís chair with a screenplay written by Jeff Nathanson, which is curious considering how little differences can be seen from the originalís screenplay and his, but I digress. I was excited when I saw Jon FavreauĎs name attached to the film, and I was excited when I heard the cast was comprised of names like Donald Glover, John Oliver, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofo, and James Earl Jones (reprising his role as Mufasa), among others, and was optimistic heading into the film itself. The visuals while epic-scale and majestic, admittedly, had me uneasy from the trailers. One consequence from such hyper-realism is that it risks absolving characters of their facial features and other ways of instilling personality, and personality was one of the key ingredients to what made the original film so beloved.

The Lion King tells the tale in about the same way as youíd heard it in the original Ė Mufasa is the strong and respected King and Scar is his frailer and jealous brother. Scar devises a plan to rid himself of Mufasa and take the throne for himself. The wrench in that plan is Mufasaís son Simba who manages to survive Scarís heinous attack and seeks refuge outside the Pride where he meets a bubbly warthog and a colorful meerkat, and so on and so fourth. Some Hamlet there, a little White Lion here, and presto! Itís DisneyĎs first completely original animated film brought back to the screen like youíve never seen it before! And, make no mistake, Iím happy about that. I loved The Lion King as a kid and have no doubt Iíll be reviewing the original film on Mashers Club before you know it.

This film changes very little from the source material, which can either be to its benefit or detriment, depending on how you decide to look at it. I understand the appeal of remaking classic films and donít think itís nearly as egregious as some do. Much like how people like to see their favorite play on stage with a new cast of actors and actresses, I can understand the appeal of wanting to see a new interpretation of The Lion King on the big-screen. This isnít to say I wouldnít prefer a new idea brought on the screen, but that I can understand the logic of both the producer who creates it and the theatergoer who supports it.

This isnít a new interpretation, however, with every scene feeling copy-and-pasted from the original, and whatís not from the original, simply put, feels like unneeded flack. As a compromise, everything canít help but feel a little watered down and diluted, with every scene feeling like a lesser recreation. The film does manage to capture a sense of epic scale that mightíve been missing from the original, but, yet, even that has me longing for how effortless the classic felt. The film has a very sassy, flamboyant Timon played by Billy Eichner, which Iím neither here nor there on, and it does offer slight spins on classic songs and new, forgettable songs of its own. The fear I had about a loss of emotional depth in favor of realism was realized, and, in-fact, the whole film has a certain disconnect I could never shake-off. What Iím seeing isnít bad, and, in-fact, had the original film not existed, might even be really good. But, since that film does exist, I canít help but feel the workman-like execution at work.

The difference between this film and that film is that the original feels like itís made from scratch and this film feels store-bought. They mightíve followed the same recipe, but something was lost in translation. It could have been the energy or the brisk nature, or it couldíve been something more abstract, like the loss of heart (I couldnít feel the love tonight). Whatever the reason, while Disney doesnít fail with The Lion King and, thereby, doesnít fail by the way of The List, The Lion King probably succeeds. At the end though, it changes so very little, and yet takes a great animated film and makes it into a good one.




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Alita: Battle Angel

It has become a tale as old as time in Hollywood, studio bigwigs stumble across an untapped prospect that was successful in a different country or, perhaps, in a different medium, and decide they want to adapt it on the big-screen. This isnít inherently a bad idea and it isnít something I think should be discouraged, instead, itís an idea that makes a lot of sense. The world is filled with talented storytellers and not only will this bring attention and new awareness to the source material, it allows the narrative to unravel in new perspectives and in-front of eyes that other-wise might never have experienced something like Alita: Battle Angel.

It isnít a perfect marriage and where a lot of lingering issues arise is from consolidating what a mainstream studio wants and what a film actually is. The Ghost in the Shell drew criticism of racism and white-washing for casting Scarlett Johansson. Whether it, in-fact, was racism and white-washing is a subject for debate. Personally, I think a lot of reason why it was ever green-lit and brought to the big-screen is because of Scarlettís involvement in-general. They brought Scarlett on because they thought her established popularity in films like Lucy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would help sell a property that was otherwise unknown stateside. As many of you know, that didnít work. Similar to adaptations of your favorite video-games, it appears the United States (and Japan, to be fair) havenít cracked the code on the right formula to approach adapting manga and anime for the mainstream moviegoers.

Alita: Battle Angel was a different beast. The 2019 cyberpunk action film adapts the 1990s manga series Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro in a high-budget film directed by Robert Rodriguez with a screenplay written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis. The film was also produced by Cameron, a name that I wouldnít be surprised to find was very important for how this film was able to be made with its price-tag and the lesser known Rosa Salazar in the lead role. The film was originally announced in 2003, but had been in development hell since 2003, especially with James Cameron striking gold with Avatar, and in a way, itís no small miracle the film came to exist at all.

The film was released early 2019 to mixed reviews from critics and a positive and vocal acclaim from genre fans and casual-viewers alike. Unfortunately, calling the film a successful undertaking is more a story of the almost was, than a reflection of what actually happened. The film brought in 400 dollars at the worldwide box-office, which, on first glance, is good. Damn good, in-fact. The film had a warm reaction on both fronts, especially from moviegoers, and for an adaptation of a 20-something year old manga to make nearly half-a-billion dollars is certainly a cause for celebration. That is, until you realize the production budget for Alita: Battle Angel was a whopping 170 million dollars (accounting for the 30 million they received in tax-incentive) and the marketing budget would have no doubt ballooned costs closer to 250 million.

The film brought in about 85 million in the United States, a total that isnít ideal for such an expensive film. Although the foreign market is no doubt more present than ever in the industry, the domestic market remains the most lucrative among them. The film went onto make over 130 million in China (the second biggest market), a healthy return that comes with an asterisk when you consider the studio will only receive about 30 million of that (or 25% of the market share), an enormous difference from what it would have been if they would have made that money in the United States. A lot of analysts and publications have thrown around numbers for what Alita needed to be considered a success, but all of them have a wide-margin for error because of how each different territory reacts. The only certainty we do know is that Alita: Battle Angel did not make enough from its worldwide box-office to break-even and justify a sequel.

This isnít the end of the world, and, in-fact, thereís an important lesson we can take from this if we want to see it. Alita more than doubled what Ghost in the Shell wanted, all while achieving something genre fans actually enjoyed. It shows there is a market for these films that will show up in droves if they feel the film is worth their time of day. Maybe Disney (Fox) will look at these numbers, look at the home-video sales and streaming sales and so on, and decide thereís a future for Alita, after all. Albeit, without such a hefty price-tag attached. I think the lesson to learn is that thereís mileage here if companies are willing to do it right, but, maybe, that mileage begins by learning to walk before you run.

The story is set 300 years after the Earth was nearly decimated by an interplanetary war, as scientist Dr. Dyson Ido uncovers a disembodied female cyborg with a brain still intact. Dr. Ido equips the brain to a new cyborg body and names her after his deceased daughter ďAlita,Ē establishing a fatherly bond with her. Soon, Alita discovers the ugly-side of the world around her, where cyborgs are stripped for parts and the dreary, desolate city corrupts even the best of them. This can be seen front-and-center with Hugo, a boy Alita befriends and becomes smitten with, that is desperate to ascend to the wealthy sky city of Zalem no matter the cost. This includes selling stolen parts to a man named Vector, owner of a tournament where winners can procure entry into the city of Zalem by laying Motorball, a battle royale racing sport played by cyborg gladiators. When Alita follows Dr. Ido, she discovers his involvement as a bounty hunter and comes face-to-face with a cyborg serial-killer named Grewishka. The film sees her doing anything she can to stop him and uncovering the darker inner-workings that happen within their world.

Itís definitely a busy film to say the least, jam-packed with lore and world-building action. Although the characters can vary between over-the-top archetypes or can sometimes feel as though theyíre meant as fodder for Alita, the ones that matter deliver most. Christoph Waltz delivers as a protective man in-search of what was lost in a broken world and Rosa Salazar is charming and likable as the bad-ass warrior.

The action-scenes are fun and kinetic, making for a special-effects extravaganza with ďblink and you miss itĒ attention to detail.

If you were to break it down to the basic meat and potatoes of Alita: Battle Angel, I wonít deny there are complaints to be made about the film. It suffers from certain aspects often found in origin stories, where it has, as said, archetype characters meant mostly to be conquered by the unproven protagonist. Ed Skreinís character in the film fits the bill in that respect. Many might interpret Alitaís story as muddied, as well, merely because of how much is wedged in the film. It isnít an unfair opinion to have. Thereís so much stuffed into this film that the breezy, speedy pace was more a necessity than a style choice, with the film still clocking out beyond the two-hour mark. Itís easy to say this film glosses over certain developments or feel as though it isnít as self-contained as ideal.

However, that doesnít change the fact that itís a two-hour film that never drags and is never dull, opting instead to engorge itself with as much as it can, having to fight to keep it from bursting out the seams. It might make the argument of why Alita isnít necessarily a great film, but the fact that itís bleak, yet colorful visuals and engrossing world are entertaining from start to finish make it a film thatís difficult to resist.

Itís a film that leaves you wanting more, direct and transparent about its intentions at launching a string of films, and that is a lot of the reason why I spent so much of this review talking about its box-office prospects (that, and you know, my pointless obsession). This feels like the first chapter in the Battle Angel, and itís unfortunate we wonít be able to see where she goes next. As far as whether this is the first ďgoodĒ live-action adaptation of a manga or animated, I wonít be so bold as to dismiss every film I havenít seen. What I will say though, is that Alita: Battle Angel is a fast-paced action science-fiction film I recommend and would love to see followed up on.




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Happiest Season

The holiday season is upon us, and, per tradition, that means, so too, are our favorite features of the season. So, dust off that one Rudolph film where everyoneís creepy looking and ready that Hanukkah flick where Adam Sandler is even more animated but no less juvenile, because it is that time of the year!

I used to love Christmas as a kid, so much so I even dressed as Santa Claus one Halloween year, but in my adult life, disdain has been a more apt description. It is wonderful as a kid, but, in adulthood, how commercial and manufactured it is starts to feel more prevalent and more apparent.

No more is it waiting for Christmas day to unwrap presents, and, now, itís more about checking off an arbitrary list of names, making certain no one feels you donít like them. Itís a thoughtful idea, coupled in with societyís worst materialistic impulses. Seeing your extended family again can be either good or bad, dependent on your relationship with them. Hoping that racist family member wonít show up that year, or that uncle does not drink too much. For some people, it can be a great time to see loved ones, other times, it is not.

Sometimes though, you feel each year is an introduction to the new developments in your life that they had not been a part of, and whether they approve or disapprove, well, that could make or break your holiday season Ė or have even further reach.

Happiest Season arrived at the Hulu streaming service on November 25th of this year, foregoing a theatrical release on-account of the current Covid-19 pandemic. Helmed by Clea DuVall, the film comprises itself of familiar faces like Kristen Stewart, Makenzie Davis, Allison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Dan Levy, among others, with a script written Duvall and Mary Holland respectively.

The romantic comedy has a straightforward concept, although it is a stone left oft unturned by yuletide fables Ė a woman named Harper heads to Pittsburgh in order to be with her family for the holidays, bringing her girlfriend Abby for the occasion. Problem is, Harper has not yet ďcome outĒ to her family members, uncertain of how to tell them and worried what they might think. As they arrive, we are treated to a more in depth look at the deceptively innocent dysfunctions plaguing the family members.

The father hopes to run for mayor, which means he tries to steer them away from controversy, trying to fit them into a neat Christmas gift packaging in spite of whether it is right for them or not. The mother encourages this behavior, strengthening it through her own compulsions and fixations as well. Meanwhile, Harperís sister feels like she is used as a chess-piece, posed a traditional mother with upright family values, and shows resentment toward Harper because of it. Their third sister, well, no one cares about the third sister (and thatís the problem for her).

The film sees Abby do her best to adjust to the predicament she is in. She is not the girlfriend, but is, instead, the friend who needs someplace to spend the holidays. As she struggles to play the role Harper has cast for her, she finds more out about Harper and her past, and seeds of doubt sprout for their relationship together.

I did not know whether I would enjoy this film when I first started it on Hulu. As prefaced, it bolstered familiar names and faces which were to its benefit. Kristen Stewart is a charming actress who has had impressive turns in dramas like Clouds of Sils Maria and Camp X-Ray, and I believe is at the precipice of becoming a great actress, whereas I enjoyed Allison Brie in Community and Makenzie Davis more recently in the Shudder horror film Always Shine. Of course, it is a Christmas romantic-comedy, which is hardly the place where dramatic range gets stretched, that said, I was thoroughly charmed by the film.

Kristen Stewart is incredibly charming in the film, and alongside Dan Levyís performance as her ďgay friend,Ē a trope I have always disliked in features because of how over-the-top it comes off, they offer a fun enthusiasm and surprisingly dramatic depth to the film. Dan Levyís character offers tongue-in-cheek commentary, at first, merely as a framing device, then, evolving into a proper wraparound subplot.

The film is not an emotional juggernaut, which I think is to its benefit. Depending on certain variables, this could have been an entirely different film. There is weight to it, for certain, but it does have a glossy, whimsy backing it, as well. Harperís mother and father are both conservative in nature, but they arenít exactly devout church members ready to condemn the homosexuals to a fiery damnation either, which could have made this a far less good-natured film. Instances where Harper and Abby show affection to each other and duck for cover when a family member comes by feels playful and fun, but only because we know that the consequences wonít likely be too harsh. I like that, honestly.

Happiest Season is aware of other, more serious aftermaths, as well, as established through Dan Levyís character explaining what happened when he revealed his sexuality to his father. However, thatís not the story they told.

Instead, whatís received is a pleasantly sweet, playful comedy about two individuals who love each other and have to navigate the Grinchís that may have a problem with that.

The film overall may be a little too sugary in retrospect, with answers arriving too easily and predicaments resolving themselves in a fashion too neat and tidy, which is a plight had by most seasonal films. Some subplots feel like I could have taken or left them, like how theyíre all mean to the third sister for no reason, and the payoff to that feels like mostly unnecessary comedic relief.

All in all though, it is a warm and fuzzy, light heart film, thatís even capable of a handful of chuckles. Plus, as a bonus, it offers a playful, fun lesbian romantic comedy, and you donít see those very often. Diversity is good. It is even better when it amounts to an entertaining film. Iíd recommend it.




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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

Although many moviegoers are likely still riding the high that is being able to see our favorite web-crawler in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whether it be his most recent showing in Avengers: Infinity War or awaiting Spider-Man: Far From Home, however, with that said, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a film worth seeing for all true believers, as well as fans of animation alike. Even if it may not be blowing up the box-office the same way as its live-action counterpart, a better way to look at the film is to compare it with the rest of the Sony Pictures Animation catalog, which includes the highly successful Hotel Transylvania and Smurf franchises.

Say what you will about those films, Hotel Transylvania has managed to improve on itself with each installment, starting out with a 358 million worldwide gross for its first film, and surpassing half a billion-dollars in its third. A 350 million worldwide total appears to be in reach for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and with that, I have no doubt weíll be seeing more animated superhero fare in the near future. This also builds credibility for the Sony Pictures Animation, which hasnít had a truly well-received film since Arthur Christmas, usually appealing strictly to a young-audience and adhering to a very conventional formula. Critics have raved about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Iíve even heard some refer to it as the best Spider-Man film ever made. Is this an example of overzealous enthusiasm (which isnít a bad thing!), for instance, I heard the same thing about Spider-Man: Homecoming, and while it was a fun film, I didnít think it was better than the first couple of Sam Raimi films, or is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse truly up to snuff?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a 2018 computer-animated superhero film following Miles Morales, a young-boy in New York City that finds himself bit by a radioactive spider and given superpowers. The kicker here, however, is that he is one of many different Spider-Men, and together, they team up to thwart the dastardly deeds of Kingpin. If that summary oozed bombastic comic-book vibrancy, then the film will as well. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Rothman respectively, the filmís animation fully embraces the comic-book aesthetic and the heritage of the character.

In the early-days of the superhero genre, it was customary for the films to try and pay homage to their comic-book counterparts, whether it be the original Spider-Man Trilogy, or, for instance, Ang Leeís Hulk. Although certain films ended up regarded as classics, I think it can be argued they never implemented their source-materialís visual-appeal as seamlessly as accomplished in this film. Although the film has a budget on the lighter side of animation affair, it has enough creativity and pzazz to showcase its own unique identity, embracing a frenetic and even striking look that adds a lot to the overall film. Granted, I will admit that background characters and certain scenery might potentially be dizzying to some viewers, a comparison I made at the theater is that some of the background animation reminded me of watching a 3-D film without the glasses on. I read after the fact the directors held the believe that seeing the film in 3-D was imperative to the viewing experience, but I didnít get the memo.

The story-line is fun and filled with humor, referencing Sam Raimiís Trilogy, and showing us an array of different characters, like Noir Spider-Man or Spider Gwen. Shameik Moore brings Miles Morales to life as a likable lead, walking the fine-line between mimicking the classic Peter Parker tropes and adding an extra flavor to it, meanwhile, Jake Johnson does well as the worn-down Spider-Man we all know. Kingpin doesnít do anything very noteworthy, more-or-less acting as a thread in the filmís conflict thatís punchable, but the dynamic of the alternative universesí is enough to carry the story alone.

I think film critics and moviegoers alike oftentimes have the ability to be overzealous with their acclaim. For the most part, I appreciate this. I appreciate it and think itís wonderful when anyone finds something to be passionate about and, more importantly, positive about. Thatís why I wouldnít say Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is overrated or that those individuals are wrong about the film. I simply think my recommendation for those heading into this film is that they should expect a fun and zany film, and not, perhaps, the best Spider-Man film ever brought to film. Although this film is brimming with charm and loveable characters, and although this film has sentiment and heart to spare, I donít think it carries nearly the narrative, dramatic or cinematic merit of the character at its height. This film is more comparable, not only because itís an animated film, but in thematic tone to Big Hero 6 than a live-action counterpart.

Although the twists and turns are familiar tropes and nothing you wouldnít expect (like Big Hero 6), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse consistently keeps you entertained and oblivious to its faults, amounting to a fun culmination to any comic-book fanís movie-night.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

I was looking forward to writing my thoughts about Halloween 4 on Nickelbib. I have talked about some of the Halloween films over the years, but I have barely scratched the surface overall.

Iíve talked about how much I enjoyed the Rob Zombie remake as a flawed, but enjoyable reinterpretation of the source material, and how satiable I thought the 2018 Halloween reboot was, in spite retreading largely familiar territory. Although I found both Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends largely disappointing, I still am grateful to have had a new trilogy to the fabled franchise that helped entice a new era of slasher films. With that in mind, it will likely be awhile until we receive a new Halloween film (although, nothing stays dead forever in horror), and so, I thought I would start playing catch up and share my thoughts on other films in the series.

Released in 1988, Halloween 4 is a return to form (shape?) for the series in some respects. Or, at least, a return to form in the sense that it sees the return of its main-antagonist Michael Myers. The original plan for the Halloween series was for it to be an anthology. Michael was dead come Halloween II, which is why Halloween III saw the infamous Silver Shamrock story. Since then, Halloween III has been reappraised by many and even has a small cult following, but, at the time, it was seen a little like shooting the golden William Shatner mask-wearing goose. Thus, six years later, Michael Myers has hereby been resurrected.

Unfortunately, the same couldnít be said for Jamie Lee Curtis or director John Carpenter. Instead, Dwight Little is at the reins (director of that Phantom of the Opera flick with Robert Englund) and actor Danielle Harris portrays Jamie Lloyd, daughter of the deceased (in this timeline) Laurie Strode. As you might surmise, Halloween 4 sees Michael Myers return, having evidently survived the aftermath of Halloween II, and target Laurieís daughter Jamie. It is a simple, straightforward slasher film, and, at the end of the day, thatís likely what the Halloween series is best at (the waters muddy when they become too concerned in the specifics and finer details behind it all).

As a budding horror fan, once upon a time, I loved this fourth film. In fact, I would even say I had a deeper nostalgic attachment to it than the original Carpenter film, simply because I had seen it as many times as I had.

As an adult, I donít think about it the same way I once did. For starters, I realize now that Danielle Harrisí Jamie Lloyd character isnít the main character of the film. I mean, she is, but she isnít. She certainly doesnít have the most character development or the largest on-screen presence of the film. The character is more like the object of Michael Myersí obsession, but, not, in fact, a new Laurie Strode. The film is more like what would have happened if, in the original Halloween, Michael Myers was after Tommy Doyle and Laurie Strode was trying to keep him from being killed.

Ellie Cornell, as Rachel Carruthers, is more appropriately the final girl of this film. She is Jamieís watchful protector, meanwhile Donald Pleasance is back once again as Dr. Sam Loomis.

In retrospect, Halloween 4 is decent enough as a film.

A lot of what I recalled fondly about the film before, as an adult, I no longer appreciate in the same way I did. Every now and again, Jamie will make callbacks to the original film, like donning a clown outfit, or feeling Michaelís presence over her, but, as an adult, it comes off less nuanced or subtle than I remembered. It is less an intelligent depiction of the circle of violence and more a fan-serviced, cheesy way of reminding us of a better film.

The editing is peculiar, like how youíll have children teasing Jamie for having a dead mother (I know children can be cruel, but the scene feels inauthentic), and then, immediately after, having a flashback of that moment weíd only just witnessed. (Oh, and blond Michael MyersÖ.)

Donald Pleasance is good in the film. In fact, as far as I am concerned, everyone is good in the film, acting-wise. Harrisí portrayal is decent for a child actor and Carruthers makes for a solid enough female lead. However, the film itself simply doesnít have a lot to say for itself. Pleasance remains good as Dr. Loomis, but, even he feels like he has lost some a lot of his shine since the original duology. He feels more cartoony, like a caricature of what he was. The type of person who wants to keep away bloodshed Ė but, then, will incite a mob in spite knowing full well that teenagers are roaming the streets donning Michael Myers getups.

I think a lot of onesí enjoyment of Halloween 4 depends on your suspension of disbelief and your willingness to check your brain at the door. In ways, it can feel like a direct-to-video sequel of the original film. A high-quality direct-to-video sequel, but a direct-to-video sequel, nonetheless. Oh, this oneís her daughter! Oh, she wearing the Ö just like Michael wore that! Oh, they have the doctor in it! And, it feels like it plays the hits, but doesnít really offer anything else beyond that.

All that in mind, it isnít all bad and I donít want to harp on it too much as I do retain a special place in my heart for the film. It is Halloween, for all intents and purposes, benefited by its distinct sound and the allure the series had (especially up to 1988).

Still, as a film, pound for pound, Halloween 4 is only an alright slasher film with alright slasher film moments in it. And sometimes thatís enough.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Allegoria

Released on August 1st, 2022, I had no prior information or expectation of Allegoria. In the spirit of dumpster diving, I hadnít even bothered watching a trailer for the film. All I knew about the film was that it was released on the Shudder streaming service, a safe haven for worthwhile horror films like Lucky, Random Acts of Violence, and The Boy Behind the Door, to name a few.

The opening credits offer personality, abrasive yet stylish. I always like it when a film doesnít skimp out on some kind of first impression. Scout Compton is in this film. Sheís the actress who played Laurie Strode in Rob Zombieís Halloween duology. I havenít seen her in a while.

The film begins by introduces us to a theater coach whoís more than a little theatrical. He monologues for a times, the amount of spit I watched him divulge is only matched by his spewing of self-indulgent garble at his students.

His speech carries a level of self-seriousness that nearly cycles back and becomes campy as a result Ė he asks for them to him their monster, to allow the hot breath of a thousand rapists and murderers to embody them. Everything changes when he calls upon a woman from amongst his onlookers and asks her to take the stage.

Something I hadnít known about Allegoria prior, and something that also isnít readily apparent in a lot of the descriptions Iíd read about the film, is that it isnít a story in the conventional sense. Instead, it is an anthology of sorts Ė a series of horror short stories with a theme around art. The tortured artist gone mad shtick has been done to death but is one I approached with an open mind.

Although I made comments in jest about the first segment, I didnít mind it overall. The cinematography is of a decent production and the acting itself, although pretentious, was amicable and even gripping in its execution. By the end, it was a modest short film, a straightforward concept with a predictable, but enjoyable aftermath. The monologuing may have gone a little longer than it needed, but, in the end, it feels like a basic horror flash fiction brought to life on the screen, and I donít mind that at all.

The second segment is okay. The basic premise is that it is a short horror segment about a painter, and I donít feel the need to break it down any more than that. This is a segment I think you can likely predict early on. And, I donít mean that you can predict the segment early into watching it, I mean that, in an anthology about artists, I bet you would predict this story is included. This is because youíve read this story before. Youíve watched films with this story already. Hell, youíve even played videogames with this story in it. This a story you already know the beginning, middle, and conclusion of. As a short film, it doesnít offer anything new to the concept and doesnít head anywhere you wouldnít expect. It just is, take it or leave it. But, I will say the creature that appears in this is a neat visual.

This film was directed by a director who goes by the name Spider One. As it turns out, he is the younger brother of Rob Zombie (which makes me wonder if he mayíve met Scout Compton through him, which I thinkís a neat, little tidbit), and more notably, is the lead-singer of Powerman 5000. I dug deeper, what I had assumed was a small-time, indie rock-band was actually fairly successful, you might know them! I know I have heard their song When Worlds Collide about a million times in my life from playing WWE: SmackDown vs. RAW as a kid. When I went to look at his directorial credits on IMDB, I found out that Allegoria is actually his feature length debut Ė but that comes with an asterisk. I noticed at least one of the short films from Allegoria was filmed in 2020, so this is actually less a single film and more like a compilation of prior works from him.

As a fan of short films, I am absolutely all for it. All Hallowsí Eve was the film that introduced me to Damien Leone, the director who went onto direct Terrifier, and I know The Mortuary Collection made me excited to see what was instore for Ryan Spindell. At the same time, when you have a compilation of otherwise unrelated short films, it can sometimes make the whole feel disjointed or uneven. This especially happens when you try to make a wraparound narrative that connects them all. Allegoria doesnít do that. Instead, it merely heads from one short film to the next, with only a black screen and a pause in-between. Personally, as I find wraparounds often feel forced or unnecessary, Iím in favor of that as well.

The third segment is an interesting idea and an okay execution. Basically, an author births a slasher villain into existence through his writings and the villain stops by to make a few edits to the draft. It isnít anything to go out of your way for, but, like the rest of them, it isnít anything egregious or bad.

The fourth segment is the one with Scout Compton. Iíve singled her out a couple times now, which is solely based on her being the only actor I recognize amongst them all, so you might argue this is the segment I was looking forward to. During the segment, the characters make a small remark about a film they saw in the theaters, making a clear direct reference to the third segmentís villain, which I thought was a nice touch. Incidentally, it is my favorite amongst the ones weíve seen. In this segment, a woman and a man meet in the manís apartment after a night out, and, well, really, there isnít a way to describe this one without spoiling it. Like the rest of them, it isnít anything we havenít already seen in some way, somewhere else. The outcome is easy to predict, and it can be argued that, even at only about ten minutes, the dialogue drags a little longer than it should, but returning to the comparison I made early about a basic horror flash fiction brought to life, I enjoyed it. It has a memorable, satisfying payoff.

The fifth and final segment is, in a lot of ways, the lynchpin that brings all the stories together into a more cohesive, final product. Whereas I said earlier several of the short films were filmed separately and then, retroactively, grouped together, that doesnít adequately describe Allegoria. This short film effectively loops back around and connects with both the first and second segment, albeit in rather superficial ways. The segment is the longest amongst the series and is, honestly, my least favorite amongst them. The story is all about a special string of keys that can bring about a certain, drastic reaction. The dialogue is long-winded and largely uninteresting, one of the characters sings a song about how if she was an insect, sheíd be a spider, ignoring that spiders are arachnids, not insect, which is a useless nitpick, but I couldnít leave it. Like the whole lot of them, the outcome of events are largely predictable and rather familiar, the only difference though is that it feels more drawn out and like it doubles-down on the worst qualities of each of them Ė that being too much dialogue, a predictable story, and coming off a wee bit too pretentious.

As far as Allegoria is concerned altogether as an anthology film Ė itís okay. Spider One is satisfactory as a director and the acting, execution, and all that, is satisfactory, but mostly not very gripping or unique. The best way I could describe it is to say Ė think of a great anthology film series and think of each great story of that anthology, usually every one of them has at least one short film that feels passable, but unnoteworthy. Like a stocking stuffer on Christmas morning, theyíre appreciated, but there is a reason theyíre in the stocking and not under the tree, so to speak. All of Allegoriaís stories feel like that. None of them are outright bad, but none of them standout in a way thatíll make you revisit the film or remember it. Theyíre a series of appetizers, which ultimately, could be filling, arenít something Iíd particularly recommend.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Barbarian

Barbarian is a film I was excited for, in spite of not knowing anything about it. The film was directed by Zach Cregger in his sophomore directorial effort. His last film, a stupid fun comedy film called Miss March, received a single digit Rotten Tomatoes percentage, but this horror film received nearly perfect marks across the board. Ironically, itís the prior film (and his involvement with Trevor Moore and friends) that made me excited for him.

As a teenager, I always loved Whitest Kids Uí Know, a sketch comedy series that may have been a little more miss than hit (but that didnít stop me from loving it) and I was excited for whatíd happen next with them.

It isnít unheard of in the realm of horror for a comedian to hit pay dirt. Jordan Peele directed the fantastic horror thrillers Get Out and Us, respectively, and David Gordon Green did the new Halloween trilogy (which I didnít care for much, personally).

Barbarian has an interesting premise for a film, but it is also a film I would recommend heading into as blindly as you can. I am at a point now that I donít watch trailers for anything anymore if I can help it. My philosophy is that I will most likely watch it anyways, especially when it is a film as hyped as Barbarian was, so why delude the experience? The best description I can provide for Barbarian is to say that it is about a young woman who arrives at a rental house and discovers she was double-booked with somebody else. They agree to stay with each other for the night, and hereafter, the film Barbarian happens.

Your immediate impression is one of anxiety for the woman. When Zach Cregger wrote the film, he claimed one of his inspirations was a book that encouraged women to trust their intuition in scenarios involving red-flags and suspicious characters. Obviously and unfortunately, if a man arrives at a rental building and realizes he double-booked with a woman, the scenario is largely different. The first question for any woman is whether the man is dangerous or has ill intent.

As the film progresses and you become acquainted with the male character, you are left to your imagination. The film knows you are suspicious of him. Weíve seen this film. And youíre left waiting for the other shoe to drop and how. Is it a bait-and-switch? What if sheís the bad guy!? Barbarian happens.

The film largely follows Georgina Campbell, an actress who is largely new to the genre, but has a bright future should she decide to pursue it further. She is likable, charismatic, and is, in my opinion, one of the main highlights of the film. The other cast members involved are more associated with horror and may draw your attention. Bill Skarsgard (of IT fame) and Justin Long (from Sam RaimiĎs Drag Me To Hell and a lesser known horror flick Iíd recommend called After.Life) are both heavily featured as well.

As a film, Barbarian goes down smoothly. The premise itself is deceptively simple, allowing oneself to easily insert themselves in the scenario, and then, it unravels in an entertaining, enigmatic fashion.

Like I said, I believe the film is best served with as little context as you can have for it. However, what I can tell you is that it is smartly written and detail-oriented. Although the film is very different from Get Out and Us (and yet, also of a similar wheelhouse), the director finds himself able to blend comedy with his horror without detracting from either element, much like Jordan Peele. Whereas Peele called to mind John Carpenter, Cregger feels like he makes good use of pages from Wes CravenĎs playbook.

Itís a simple film Ė mostly. It is a lot of what makes Barbarian an easy recommendation. Although there are political and social elements to be found in the film (and horror in itself has always been political), they are largely complimentary to the film itself. Justin Longís sleazy character certainly feels timely with the #MeToo movement and youíll find small commentaries on gentrification as well, but theyíre all sprinkled in and feel in service to the story and its characters and not unwarranted or wedged in in a way that feels like a sloppy Ted Talk. It is a straight-up horror film and, as I said, it goes down easy because of it. I would absolutely recommend it.




The Bib-iest of Nickels

Puppet Master: Doktor Death

After the eleventh film in the Puppet Master mainline series, Full Moon Features has begun applying itself to making spin-off sequels Ė first seen with 2020Ďs Blade: The Iron Cross.

In theory, I can see where they are coming from. Although the obvious would be to simply stop making Puppet Master movies and recognize that the well ran dry in the nineties, separating oneself from the main series makes sense. The budget restraints Full Moon now faces likely makes it difficult to animate the puppets every go around, especially Six Shooter, so it must be nice to narrow in on one puppet instead. Plus, it makes it so they arenít beholden to a strict lore (not that Puppet Master exactly follows its own continuity).

This time around, we have Puppet Master: Doktor Death.

For many who have seen at least a couple Puppet Master films (or those brave enough to have seen all of them, like myself), youíd be forgiven for not really remembering Dr. Death. The character was only seen in one prior film Ė Retro Puppet Master (Puppet Master 7), where he was introduced as a puppet carrying the soul of a medical student who once helped Andre Toulon.

The film is directed by Dave Parker, whose directorial resume, you might be familiar with. He directed The Hills Run Red, a slasher that rocked a budget of 4.5 million and a screenplay written by the co-writer of The Crow film (Iíve seen the film, but I could not tell you a single thing about it). In terms of Full Moon fare, Parker also directed The Dead Hate the Living.

Story wise, the newest Puppet Master follows a young woman who begins her job as one of the caregivers of a nursing home called Shady Oaks. On her first day, they are cleaning out the rooms of one of the deceased patients and stumble on an old trunk housing the Dr. Death puppet. As you might surmise, havoc ensues once he is unleashed.

Something I appreciated about the film was that it wasnít as complicated as more recent Puppet Master films. In the early days, Puppet Master was more-or-less a slasher film, but by Puppet Master III (my favorite Puppet Master), our antagonists became protagonists Ė at times, abiding by whoever controlled them, at others, outright having consciences and seeking out their own sense of vigilante justice. ĎPint-sized heroes,Ē that was what I remember them called in one of the summaries from their box-art over a decade ago. I appreciated that they tried something new, and, at times, it worked, but, nowadays, theyíve really lost the plot, so to speak.

All the backtracking and muddying, the idea of a simple film with Dr. Death wreaking havoc was a breath of fresh air in my book.

For that reason, I would argue that Puppet Master: Doktor Death is the most palatable mainline Puppet Master film since the turn of the millennium.

The music feels classical and like that of a bygone era, and you know what, the final parts of the film feel like the culmination of a genuinely decent stupid fun slasher film. It feels like a genuine effort was made to create something creepy and memorable at the end.

There is a scene toward the end of Doctor Death inside a person, puppeteering them by yanking at their insides. I liked that. Weíve had more than a dozen Puppet Master films ham-fisting exposition, just do weird things like that for an hour and weíll all be better for it.

Unfortunately, as a film, it doesnít do that.

Puppet Master: Doktor Death is short, even by Full Moon standards. The average Full Moon feature usually clocks out shy of an hour and a half, but Doktor Deathís house call only takes fifty nine minutes (and thatís including the usual two minute opening credits).

The characters are sleazy, which is par for the course for a Full Moon film, but they never align in that fun, B-movie way. They bare the clothes, but not the soul (Ö kidding). One of the worst offenses these types of films can have with me is when it feels like theyíre struggling to find something for the characters to do. Why is that? Itís only an hour and youíre making a film! Do something! I know movie has to movie, introduce the characters and dynamic, but make it fun while you do it! Instead, everything only feels off and disconnected, like an hour long film that still feels the need to pad itself out. The characters never align or feel the organic chemistry the film wants them to have, and certain choices keeps the production feeling of a low-quality.

For instance, if you have a film that isnít an hour long, you do not need to have flashbacks to pat yourself on the back for a twist. Trust the viewer to pick up on your subtle cues.

Overall, there is fun to be had with Puppet Master: Doktor Death. I say that, trying to look at the positives as much as I can. That last fifteen or so minutes couldíve belonged to one of the better Puppet Masterís, the rest of it though doesnít clear even the lowest bar needed to warrant a recommendation.