Tuesday, May 10, 2022


Sam Raimi, who with 2002’s Spider-Man, set the tone for comic book movies in the new millennium returns to the genre with this sequel to the ho-hum Doctor Strange.  With the original Spider-Man trilogy, Raimi pretty much had carte blanche, and in turn, made three eye-popping spectacles that were brimming with his signature style, camerawork, and humor.  Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is much more of a product of the Marvel machine than an out-and-out Raimi picture.  (I’d say it’s about a 60-40 split between Marvel and Raimi.)  However, there are just enough of his trademark flourishes to make it worth a look for Raimi fans and Marvel die-hards alike.

Following the events of Spider-Man:  No Way Home, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) runs into a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the ability to drop through star-shaped rifts in the multiverse whenever she is frightened.  The grief-stricken Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) wants to exploit her powers so she can live in another dimension where her children are still alive.  Since that would ultimately kill America in the process, Strange says no dice, and the two hop from one plane of reality to another in order to keep her safe.  

Raimi gets points for wasting no time with the set-up.  He just dives right in and gets down to business, which is admirable, especially given the fact that the film has to make so many mentions, concessions, and references to so many other Marvel movies and TV shows before it finally finds its footing.  Once that happens (about halfway through), Raimi is able to conjure up some of that old time Raimi magic.  These moments, when they come, are a lot of fun.  I just wish he was able to really put the pedal to the metal in terms of the more horror-centric elements of the plot.  

Also, for a movie with such an awesome subtitle as “In the Multiverse of Madness”, the multiverse doesn’t seem all that… you know… mad.  Sure, there are some elements that are goofy, one or two horror movie moments, and a couple of neat visuals, but nothing that ever reaches the point of madness.  “In the Multiverse of Weirdness” is more like it.  

Benedict Cumberbatch does another fine job here, although the movie is so crammed with stuff that he never quite gets any big moments of bravado.  Rachel McAdams delivers another solid thankless performance, Benedict Wong has a few amusing moments as Strange’s sorcerer buddy, and Gomes is pretty good all things considered.  I guess the cast members you’ll really remember are the ones that pop up as cameos throughout the film.  Whether or not they’ll make more appearances in later MCU films remains to be seen, but I certainly hope they do.

So, in the end, In the Multiverse of Madness is a big step-up from the previous Strange solo outing, but kind of a big comedown from the awesome No Way Home.  There’s plenty of spectacle and superhero smashing here, and in that respect, it gets the job done.  However, I feel there might be a version of this somewhere in the multiverse in which Raimi was able to really knock it out of the park.

Marvel Cinematic Universe Scorecard: 
Spider-Man:  No Way Home:  ****
Avengers:  Age of Ultron:  ****
The Incredible Hulk:  ****
Iron Man:  ****
Thor:  Ragnarok:  ****
Avengers:  Endgame:  ****
Ant-Man and the Wasp:  ****
Spider-Man:  Homecoming:  ****
Iron Man 3:  ****
Captain America:  Civil War:  *** ½
Ant-Man:  *** ½
Guardians of the Galaxy:  *** ½
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2:  *** ½ 
Avengers:  Infinity War:  *** ½
Black Panther:  *** ½ 
The Avengers:  ***
Captain America:  The First Avenger:  ***
Captain America:  The Winter Soldier:  ***
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness:  ***
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:  ***
Captain Marvel:  ***
Spider-Man:  Far from Home:  ***
Thor:  ***
Thor:  The Dark World:  ***
Iron Man 2:  ***
Doctor Strange:  ** ½ 
Black Widow:  ** ½  
Eternals:  * ½ 

SWEETHEART (2019) ** ½

Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) is Robinson Crusoe’ed on a beautiful desert island.  Since she is resourceful, she is able to make the most of a bad situation and soon proves to be adept at survival.  Eventually, Jenn realizes she isn’t the only inhabitant of the island as there is a hungry fish monster that likes to come out of the water and feed on human flesh.

I’m a sucker for survival pictures (especially ones with monsters in them), so for me the first half of Sweetheart really worked.  The long, dialogue free stretches where Clemons collected her wits, gauged the situation, and made a daily survival routine was endearing and absorbing.  Clemons is particularly fun to watch and has screen presence to spare.  In fact, she has so much presence that the film sort of takes a nosedive about halfway through once more shipwrecked people wind up on the island.  Having to share the spotlight with two more characters (and annoying ones at that) creates less opportunities for her to shine, which is unfortunate.  Thankfully, the new arrivals don’t last too long.  

I guess the inspiration here was A Quiet Place since there are lots of scenes where Clemons must remain perfectly quiet and/or still to avoid detection by the monster.  While these scenes are mostly effective, the fact that the monster is a pretty lame CGI beastie kind of takes some of the fun out of it.  At least director J.D. Dillard keeps things moving along at a snappy pace.  It’s refreshing when a director takes a slim premise and doesn’t try to draw things out too much.  

It's just a shame the climax is weak.  It feels a little bit like Predator Lite, which would’ve been okay if the editing didn’t hack the final fight to nearly incomprehensible pieces.  It’s nothing that derails the film, but I’m sure it would’ve skated by with *** had the editing in the finale been more concise.

TITANE (2021) ****

When she was a young girl, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) was in an automobile accident and wound up with a metal plate in her head.  She grows up to be a dancer at underground nightclubs where she undulates and gyrates around on top of cars.  (It’s kind of like a cross between an auto show and a strip club.)  One night after a show, a car comes and picks her up, and I don’t mean to pick her up, I mean it PICKS HER UP.  

Let me put it to you this way.  We’ve all seen movies where the lead actress goes in and out of a car.  I think this is the first time in motion picture history where a car goes in and out of the lead actress.

Many filmmakers would make that the (ahem) climax of their movie.  That’s just the first act.  Director Julia (Raw) Ducournau is just getting the engine warmed up.  Things get really twisted when Alexia learns she’s PREGNANT with the car’s baby.  Then, it gets REALLY weird.  Oh, and did I mention she’s a serial killer too?!?

If you can’t already tell, Titane is very much my shit.  Because of the autoerotic (heh) aspects, comparisons to David Cronenberg’s Crash are inevitable (as well as his early films that focused on body horror), but there’s also a healthy dose of John Carpenter’s Christine in there for good measure as the shots of the car are done in a similarly creepy manner.  However, Ducournau’s idiosyncratic vision, not to mention her knack for gory set pieces, help make this a truly original flick that can easily stand alongside the work of both Cronenberg and Carpenter.

Some may feel shortchanged when the film changes gears (sorry) once Alexia, who is wanted by the authorities for her various crimes, hides out and tries to lead a “normal” existence.  One of the true surprises of the movie is that the more “normal” it tries to become, the weirder it gets.  It’s here where Titane dovetails into a bizarre domestic drama, and a surprisingly moving one at that.  It is ultimately about unconditional love and acceptance, no matter how misguided or ill-advised.  

Bottom Line:  Come for the car fucking scene (in which Rousselle DOES use her seatbelt, because, you know, safe sex and all), but stay for the family drama (which is just about as jaw dropping as the car fucking).

ANTLERS (2021) **

A meth head (Scott Haze) goes down in an Oregon mine and comes out a monster.  His young son, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) then has to deal with his gruesome papa, so he locks him up and feeds him roadkill.  When dead raccoons fail to slay his hunger, dear old dad breaks out looking for human food.  Lucas’ concerned teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Jesse Plemons) investigate and learn a mythical Native American spirit may be the culprit.  

I was a big fan of Scott Cooper’s previous films, (especially Out of the Furnace and Hostiles), and I was intrigued at the prospect of him tackling a horror flick (particularly one produced by Guillermo del Toro).  However, the sluggish pacing and dour performances keep it from gaining any real momentum.  Cooper, as you would expect, is able to create an abundance of gloomy atmosphere.  Ultimately, there just isn’t enough meat in between the monster noshing to keep your interest.  

It doesn’t help that the monster is crappy.  It starts off looking like a cross between one of those hillbilly cannibals from The Hills Have Eyes remake and E.T. (complete with glowing heart light).  Later, it transforms into a giant crummy looking CGI weredeer.  While the leftovers of the monster’s victims are appropriately gnarly, the attack scenes themselves are often too darkly lit to really maximize their impact.  

You can definitely feel del Toro’s influence as this is one of those modern-day horrific variations on old school folktale.  I just think he would’ve been better suited to the material than Cooper.  While Cooper’s touches are obvious (particularly in the early going), I just don’t think he had the chops necessary when it came to the more horror centric sequences.  The ending is especially weak, unless you’re someone who always wanted to see Slater from Dazed and Confused be impaled by a weredeer.  Because of that, Antlers feels more than a little toothless.  

It would pair perfectly with another lousy Keri Russell vs. Shitty Monster movie, Dark Skies.

Monday, May 2, 2022

HARD BASTARD (1982) ***

Hwang Jang Lee stars as the leader of a troupe of musicians who get revenge on some gangsters who coerced them into paying protection money.  They then head back out on the road as part of a phony medicine show where they run afoul of more gangsters running another collection racket.  When the gangsters prove to be too much for Lee, he turns to a cranky noodle chef to teach him the Kung Fu necessary to get the upper hand.  

Lee was primarily known for playing villains, so it’s cool seeing him as the hero in this action comedy.  It also gave him an opportunity to trade in his traditional period costumes for some snazzy contemporary duds.  Like most of Lee’s movies, the fight scenes are a great showcase for his physical prowess.  Kicks were Lee’s specialty, and Hard Bastard is filled with action sequences where he dispatches his enemies with a variety of flashy legwork.  

Thanks to the fun fight sequences and the funny (well, funnier than usual) comic relief (much of which revolves around things going in or coming out of someone’s butt), Hard Bastard is a real treat for Kung Fu fanatics.  While it lacks some of the WTF aspects that hallmark director Godfrey Ho’s best stuff (this isn’t one of those cut-and-paste Ho flicks, but rather a straightforward action comedy), it is nevertheless entertaining as heck.  Even if you miss some of Ho’s wacky touches, you can still enjoy the overenthusiastic sound effects and crummy dubbing.  (One bad guy sounds like Peter Lorre on helium.)  There may be one or two extraneous subplots (a hothead son tries to help his father who is under the thumb of the gangsters) and/or lovey-dovey scenes, but whenever Lee is kicking the crap out of bad guys, it's a damned good time.  

One amusing aspect of the film is that Lee and his gang are peddling medicine that obviously doesn’t work.  They also clearly refused to pay the necessary permits with the city to hawk their wares in the street.  So, technically, the gangsters have every right to try to throw them out of town.  I also thought it was pretty funny that just about every character calls someone a “bastard”, making it difficult to figure out just who is supposed to be “hard” bastard of the title.

AKA:  Raging Rivals.  AKA:  Hands of Lightning. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022


Sexina (Lauren D’Avella) is the hottest popstar on the planet.  Little do her legions of fans know, she also moonlights as a leather-clad private eye.  When a scientist (Cash Tilton) is kidnapped, Sexina trades her Britney Spears-inspired attire for a biker chick get-up and investigates.  The trail soon leads to a mysterious music mogul (Adam West) with plans for world domination.  

Popstar Private Eye tries to spoof various genres all at once, but it just has too many irons in the fire to make for a truly funny send-up.  Things start off promising enough with a James Bond-inspired credits sequence, complete with a theme song performed by none other than Davy Jones of The Monkees.  Unfortunately, it all goes downhill from there.  Writer/director Erik Sharkey takes obvious jabs at the shallowness of the record industry, and yet the jokes are all so toothless that none of the gags land.  

The premise might’ve worked with some tried-and-true exploitation elements (namely sex and violence), but the flick is way too chaste to be much fun.  With the editing of the occasional obscenity here and a crude sexual reference there, it probably would look right at home on The Disney Channel.  There’s also an extraneous subplot involving Sexina’s number-one fan (Kellie Fernald) trying to win a contest so she can perform a concert for her school that is painfully clunky, and just feels like filler.  

D'Avella does what she can with the weak material.  She looks great in a variety of sexy outfits, and she holds your attention for the most part, even when the jokes are floundering.  West seems like he’s having fun, although his performance is more of a voiceover as the villain is one of those Dr. Claw-type deals.  He only pops up in the flesh in the final minutes of the film, and while his appearance is amusing (he has a soul patch), it’s ultimately too little, too late.  Despite the efforts of D’Avella and West, Popstar Private Eye never really pops.

AKA:  Sexina.  AKA:  Sexina:  Popstar P.I.


A contractor snaps and kills his entire family with a hammer.  He claims he was possessed by a demon after doing work in “that house”.  Before his execution, he confesses to a priest that he salvaged some lumber from “that house” and used it for his work.  He now fears the lumber is haunted and the family who lives in the house he just renovated is in danger.  

As someone who has sat through his share of fake Amityville movies, I must say that Amityville Exorcism is no dumber than many of the legitimate sequels in the official Amityville Horror franchise.  I mean we’ve already had haunted clocks, lamps, and dollhouses in that series.  Cursed scraps of lumber aren’t that much of a stretch.  

Amityville Exorcism was directed by the prolific no-budget wonder Mark Polonia.  If you’re familiar with Polonia’s filmography, you might already know what (not) to expect.  Heck, this isn’t even his first rodeo when it comes to fake Amityville movies, having already made Amityville Death House and Amityville Island (which has got to be the worst fake Amityville flick I’ve seen).  He also has Amityville in Space in production, which, of course, I will see, just because it’s called Amityville in Space.

To his credit, Polonia crams a lot of stuff into the seventy-seven-minute running time.  In addition to the alcoholic father subplot (shades of Amityville 2:  The Possession), there’s also a red specter that looks like the Masque of Red Death, killer dolls, a monster in the swimming pool, irritating POV shots of the ghost, possessions, photoshoots, a swarm of terrible looking CGI flies, a zombie attack, and of course, an exorcism.  All this isn’t very good, but at least it’s not dull, which is usually the kiss of death for these kinds of things.  I just wish the gore was better.  (There’s a scene where a robber gets disemboweled, and his guts look like a balloon animal.)  Either that, or there were some unintentional laughs to be had.  Other than that, Amityville Exorcism is an OK no-budget horror flick.