The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: May 29, 2020.

In Los Angeles, a personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), working for music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), follows her dreams of being a producer when she meets singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and gives him the impression she’s an established producer with connections.

That’s the best I could come up with as far as a synopsis for this film goes, as for much of it felt kind-of plotless until Maggie met David. A lot of it is a personal assistant working for a superstar who’s struggling with her age, and then it leans into romantic drama when Maggie meets David.

Their relationship felt like the heart of the film as Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s chemistry was strong. Johnson plays the role as well as she usually does, and there’s nothing really new in her performance, but Johnson is why this worked for me at times. Harrison Jr. is good, too, there’s just nothing special about his performance, except the fact that his singing is solid and enjoyable.

About Tracee Ellis Ross, I haven’t seen enough of her to really create an opinion yet, but I wasn’t a big fan of this performance and that was mostly because I didn’t like the character – she’s a prima donna that’s too often unlikable, but her singing is fine. I liked her once we got to know her more, and a main plot point of her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) pressuring her to take a Las Vegas residency was fine. It was interesting because Maggie wants her to take risks and encourage her not to play it safe, and safe would be the residency doing the same thing every night.

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Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note.

I did like the dynamic occasionally between Maggie and Grace, and I really liked the sub-plot of Maggie working on one of Grace’s old albums to make it have a new sound. That was the most interesting part about Maggie’s character to me – her music knowledge. She’s like an encyclopedia, as Grace calls her, and her knowledge of music and her passion for it is inspiring and Johnson plays that side well. She’s a dreamer and she’s following her ambitions; but it still feels one-note and isn’t enough to create a truly great character.

About Grace’s old music: Everyone loves her music, but they don’t want anything new. It’s explained that her last album sold poorly and that’s why her manager Jack – Ice Cube is fine but has so little to do – is adamant about the residency. The logic of no one wanting new music just doesn’t make sense to me, here. Grace Davis is still doing tours and has her billboards up all over, she still seems like a big deal, still selling out venues. Why wouldn’t these fans buy a new album? Part of the story is finding that passion to want to release new music again, but I couldn’t buy that her album wouldn’t sell well when we’re shown that she is such a big deal.

It’s interesting learning a bit more about the role of a music producer, and I enjoyed all the musical aspects of this. The drama of this is just so flat and just lifeless at times, as this just goes through the motions and never really gets going, and I couldn’t really even tell where the story was going for much of the film. That’s not to say that this is due to an unpredictably to the film – more so that it just felt so unfocused and was trying to do a lot of things at once, while also feeling like nothing of substance was happening. This is made worse by the fact that this feels overlong at 113 minutes, and if this were 90 minutes and more focused, it would be much more enjoyable.

I say that because after the classic break-up conflict, the film finally hits its stride in the last 25-30 minutes. It felt lively as it hit the emotional heart of its story, and finally found its voice. The message of fixing regrets and showing that risks are integral to following your dreams was fine. The third act finally had a couple (predictable) surprises up its sleeve and the film felt like it finally clicked. I just wasn’t emotionally invested at that point, and it’s a shame it couldn’t find its stride or voice like 45 minutes sooner, because it all felt too little too late.

Score: 50/100

Force of Nature (2020)

Force of Nature (2020)

Directed by: Michael Polish. Starring: Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson. Runtime: 1h 31 min. Released: June 30, 2020.

Force of Nature feels like the writer of the film, Cory M. Miller, watched 2018’s The Hurricane Heist and said, “Yeah, I’d like to write something like that, but worse.” At least in The Hurricane Heist there’s an aspect of it where it doesn’t take itself seriously at all and it could be fun to mock with friends, but Force of Nature is much too boring for those purposes.

The basic premise makes sense but the story feels haphazardly put together. During a hurricane in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a gang of thieves – led by John the Baptist (David Zayas) – target a building for a heist. They encounter trouble, however, when Officer Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) and his new partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo) are on evacuation duty and try to get a disgruntled ex-cop, Ray (Mel Gibson), his daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth), an elderly recluse called Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos) and Griffin (William Catlett) to leave the building and go to the storm shelter. Then, when John the Baptist and his crew come in, all hell breaks loose.

There are a lot of working parts about Force of Nature that try to come together but never mesh, and that’s with all the attempts at actually creating characters with backstories. It also makes the film feel like it takes itself way too seriously at times. Cardillo is developed as a character with a dark-ish past that everyone knows and Ray immediately doesn’t trust him because of Cardillo’s history. Cardillo has a lot of demons and we meet him sitting on the shower floor with a gun in his mouth. This type of characterization is fine in a drama, but the writing’s not strong enough to create a believable person. I get it, he has demons, but he’s a bit of a boring dickhead.

Ray is also just angry because his health is bad and Mel Gibson is just on one level the entire film – pissed off. The other attempt at serious character development is with Griffin, and his development feels relevant politically as he’s a black man who has problem with police because of run-ins with the past. He also has a killer lion or jaguar – I couldn’t tell, we only see it in a split second shot of it – whom he’s trained to attack cops in uniform. There’s also a layer with Bergkamp who’s a German who must learn to be tolerate others. This all just feels out-of-place for a dumb action movie with a hurricane and a heist. It is a dumb action movie and the attempt at characterization is fine, but the writing is so flat they don’t really ever come alive. It also just feels too serious, and the dialogue is wooden and any attempts at emotional scenes come off as laughable.

The heist is boring as hell, too, and the twist for it is dumb. Major spoilers, but basically John the Baptist is a criminal but also an art enthusiast who has caught wind of an art collection in the building owned by Bergkamp, whose father was a Nazi so he has a bunch of paintings from his Nazi days. This film really feels like if The Hurricane Heist, any action movie with an apartment building as the main setting (it’s too bad to compare this specifically to The Raid: Redemption) and The Monuments Men had a weird baby and this is the product that no one wants. And, while John is an art enthusiast and knows the value of these paintings, he doesn’t mind shooting someone in the back of the head so their brains fly all over a priceless painting. End spoilers.

He gets very little characterization – other than that these people are big into heists in Puerto Rico – and he’s supposed to be threatening just because he doesn’t mind killing his own men if they’re expendable, half the time for no reason. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he killed as many of his own guys as our heroes killed.

The hurricane itself feels inconsequential to the story, really just a framing device designed to get the cops to the same building where the gang is stealing from, and the hurricane also cuts off communication between Cardillo and Jess and their precinct. The hurricane also looks super ugly, and not much of a factor other than some flooding and filming in the pouring rain. In The Hurricane Heist the hurricane was because it was just a stupidly fun mix and at least there were action scenes in the hurricane, and in Crawl at least the hurricane served a purpose in getting the gators to the house. I mean, I guess the hurricane does get the cops to the building, but it never feels like an important factor. The same bad film could be made without the presence of a hurricane, and that could allow more action with more tenants in the building.

Score: 25/100

PODCAST – The DCOM Team, Episode 3: The Even Stevens Movie (2003)

PODCAST – The DCOM Team, Episode 3: The Even Stevens Movie (2003)

I’m back with a new episode of my Disney Channel Original Movie podcast with my friend Bobby newly named The DCOM Team (changed from Popcorn Flicks). I’m going to try to post these episodes every couple of weeks or so, but it’s been more like a month between episodes to start… Anyway, on this episode we review The Even Stevens Movie because today is Shia LaBeouf’s birthday.

Also, we were originally going to have discussions of The Even Stevens Movie and one of his other DCOM’s, Tru Confessions, on the same episode but both conversations were long enough on their own so I’m just separating the episodes. To let you know, as well, there will be spoilers!

I’ve added the podcast to the bottom, and to download it, just go here.

Justice League Dark (2017)

Justice League Dark (2017)

Directed by: Jay Oliva. Starring: Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara. Runtime: 1h 15 min. Released: February 7, 2017.

Beings with supernatural powers join together to fight supernatural villains. This supernatural team includes John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), and Jason Blood, also known as the demon Etrigan (Ray Chase).

The film opens with average people committing acts of violence because they see other people as demons, starting with a woman who runs over a bunch of them in the middle of a street, and my main question was why so many people were in the middle of the street. The Justice League don’t know what to make of it and Batman (Jason O’Mara), who is the only original JL member prominent throughout the film, is led to Constantine because whatever villainous plot is afoot deals with dark magic.

I don’t really love these DC Animated Movies (this film is a part of the DC Animated Movie Universe), but I think they’re always fine for their fans. I liked the premise of this one, though, because I think it gives something different than just the standard Justice League bit with the introduction of demons, but it still never got going for me.

Constantine’s introduction at a poker game in Vegas was a high point as Etrigan came out to save the day when Constantine forced Jason to summon him, as the situation escalated. Constantine never really left much of an impression after that because I didn’t think he ever did anything that interesting, but I like the character in the live-action film Constantine. I was way more interested in the world this film created, with the mythical House of Mystery and all that.

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Constantine, Boston Brand, Zatanna and Batman in Justice League Dark. (IMDb)

I found the side characters more interesting, too, like Zatanna who is a powerful magician and has something they call true magic (which Constantine also has), as well as Jason Blood and the backstory of how he got tethered to Etrigan and how that comes into the story. I also liked the ghost character Boston Brand (Nicholas Turturro), and the background of his death, though he’s described as a womanizer but we don’t get much of that when he’s actually dead. Also, I thought Boston’s “background” scene felt was too heavy-handed for an exposition scene and Jason Blood’s exposition scene for his background was handled way better.

Swamp Thing (Roger Cross) was also fun for a performance that was too brief for my liking. I liked this world because of the dark magic, and it’s well-animated, but I never had that much fun with it because it all still feels so standard even if it’s more unique than the regular Justice League. The villain, however, when (s)he was actually revealed was pretty good. I did like the whole premise about why average citizens are randomly seeing demons everywhere, too.

However, there’s just nothing memorable about this action and one scene in particular just feels like filler for the sake of it, but it’s needed because this is only 75 minutes long. I thought the finale was best when some of the other actual Justice League members came into play, like Superman (Jerry O’Connell) and Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson). The writing’s fine, it’s not remarkable in any way but there are some good one-liners (“your ass is grass Constantine, and we’re the mower”).

The only memorable thing about any of the action is when someone anonymously summons a demon in a bathroom and all the toilets explode and a huge shit demon comes out. “Shit really hits the fan, eh?” asks Boston when he sees it, and this is Boston’s only good zinger. The demon’s gross, but the visual and idea of it won’t leave my mind anytime soon.

Score: 50/100

Scoob! (2020)

Scoob! (2020)

Directed by: Tony Cervone. Starring: Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: May 15, 2020.

In Scoob!, we see how Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) meet when they’re kids. Then they meet the rest of the gang – Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez). It’s not much of a prequel story as this happens for about 10 minutes, but they investigate a local haunted house and this is when it feels like classic Scooby-Doo. Enjoy this while it lasts, as 10 years pass and Shaggy and Scooby find themselves in a generic superhero story to stop the evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) from unleashing a dogpocalypse onto the world.

Usually, the Mystery Gang will simply help local townsfolk with a mystery, solve their spooky problem and then get called meddling kids. Here, as the plot shows it won’t please long-time Scooby fans, the Mystery Gang join forces with superheroes, not even solve a mystery and instead try to save the world, and then get called meddling kids.

This film is intended to be the first in a shared Hanna Barbera universe as Warner Bros. shoves lesser known HB characters into a Scooby-Doo film, as they join forces with Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) from the Hanna Barbera show Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. The villain of this film is also Dick Dastardly of Wacky Races fame. I’m a ‘90s kid so I’m only vaguely familiar with Dastardly, and I don’t care about them. The voice acting is strong as these characters, though, and it could intrigue long-time Hanna Barbera fans to see these smaller characters on the supposed-to-be-big-screen.

However, this all makes Scoob! feel like a product more than something truly creative, as this shares the same mistake with 2017’s The Mummy as Warner Bros. puts a focus on jumping straight into a cinematic universe instead of first making a strong Scooby-Doo film. As a film for kids who might be seeing Scooby for the first time, this would be fine, but it would be a shame to make them think that this captures any of the spirit of Scooby-Doo because it does not. It’s just a film with colourful (and great) animation with non-stop action so their attention span never wanders.

It’s also strange that Fred, Daphne and Velma are turned into side characters. They get little to do and Fred never once tells anyone to split up, and Velma never says “jinkies” and she never loses her glasses. Okay, that’s false, she loses them in an image during the credits as director Tony Cervone and writers tease a real Scooby-Doo mystery, but we don’t get to enjoy it. To tease us like that after the nonsense of this film is honestly a cruel joke.

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Frank Welker and Will Forte as Scooby and Shaggy in Scoob!

As for the voice casting, Frank Welker reprises the role of Scooby-Doo and he’s great, but it’s strange that Scooby talks in complete sentences and is able to have conversations with Shaggy. Will Forte is fine as Shaggy and I like him as an actor, but he isn’t Shaggy. Matthew Lillard is my Shaggy. He started playing the character in the 2002 live-action film Scooby-Doo and has been voicing Shaggy in the television shows and films since 2010, so hearing Forte give it the old college try is kind-of a bummer.

The rest of the core cast is good in their own right in other films, but Zac Efron feels flat as Fred as he’s just playing himself and he’s such a big star that it kind-of distracts. Amanda Seyfried, though, feels like she actually fits Daphne but she has little to do. My biggest issue is Gina Rodriguez as Velma and that’s because she doesn’t even make an effort to make Velma sound like Velma. She doesn’t sound nerdy and she just showed up, did her regular voice and it just does not fit the character at all. This trio also barely has any laughs, but most of the humour in the film doesn’t work.

It feels so dated to the mid-2000’s, strange since Shaggy and Scooby sing a rendition of “Shallow” from A Star is Born to Simon Cowell (yep) that shows this is at least 2018. The music choices are kind-of odd as the film opens to Tupac’s “California Love” and then Shaggy shuffles through five songs about loneliness to show he needs a friend. That loneliness bit feels forced, but Shaggy and Scooby’s friendship is the core of this film and that’s played okay.

However, since this does not feel like my Shaggy and Scooby (the only time I really had fun with them is when they pretend to be restaurant workers at the bowling alley), I couldn’t love their friendship. I cared more about Dastardly’s super cute robots (reminiscent of the minions from Despicable Me and just for the merchandise) who have replaced Dastardly’s usual sidekick Muttley.

While this film surely ups the ante of a normal Scooby-Doo story to make it feel cinematic, it totally forgets that the Mystery Gang is simply a group of twenty-somethings who solve goofy and creepy mysteries that have no implications on the fate of the world. I’ve highlighted the good parts but this film is more frustrating when it flashes its clever side because there’s so much here that is uninspired.

Score: 38/100

Filmcraziest Interviews – Jess Bartlett and Elise Martin on their short film, Dearly Departed (2018)

Filmcraziest Interviews – Jess Bartlett and Elise Martin on their short film, Dearly Departed (2018)

I was able to chat with a couple filmmakers from the United Kingdom about their haunted house musical comedy Dearly Departed, which has just wrapped up its festival circuit and is available to watch on Vimeo. My review of the film can be found here.

I talked with them separately but I think both interviews are equally fun! First, I talked with Jess Bartlett who co-wrote, produced and is credited hairstylist on the short film. Second, I talked with Elise Martin who is the director and co-writer of the film and the interview with Elise starts around the 38:50 mark.

You can listen directly below or follow this link to download the audio file/podcast with the two interviews. I’m also hoping to make these interviews a regular thing on my site, so if any independent filmmakers are reading and would like an interview, e-mail me at danielprinn@msn.com.

Anyway, enjoy the interviews and thanks for listening!

Burn (2019)

Burn (2019)

Directed by: Mike Gan. Starring: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Josh Hutcherson, Suki Waterhouse. Runtime: 1h 28 min. Released: August 23, 2019.

I really enjoy hostage situation movies but Burn is truly one of the strangest ones that I’ve seen. When a desperate man, Billy (Josh Hutcherson), in need of cash holds a gas station at gun point, a lonely and unstable gas station attendant, Melinda (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), tired of being overshadowed by her prettier co-worker Sheila (Suki Waterhouse), sees this as an opportunity to make a connection with the robber.

The best thing about Burn is that it has a unique premise. It just doesn’t know what to do with it as Melinda comes across as way too unstable. She’ll make many audience members uncomfortable and that’s the point so Cobham-Hervey plays it well. You just know when a woman wants to go with the robber when he’s holding the place at gunpoint, something’s not right there.

There’s sympathy for her there, too, because she doesn’t know when someone legitimately likes her or if they’re just pretending. A lot of the time, though, the character’s just awkward. Her fascination with fire and burning herself to feel something is kind-of interesting. Edgy, but interesting.

Suki Waterhouse is okay in a completely opposite kind-of personality as the confident and bubbly gas station attendant who gets hit on by men whose attention she does not want. As for the robber, I like Josh Hutcherson just fine but he doesn’t work as the robber here. Josh Hutcherson in a Canadian tuxedo robbing a gas station isn’t exactly intimidating.

To be fair, his character isn’t a career criminal or anything, he’s just a guy in need of cash to pay off some angry people. That’s where the plot tries to bring outside people to the gas station but the pacing of the film doesn’t work as it’s mainly a two-person show between Billy and Melinda. They don’t have much chemistry as neither want to be there, but that dynamic works well for this. It’s just a boring film that never really elevates past a simply sort-of interesting premise.

Score: 40/100

 

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Directed by: Elise Martin. Starring: Betty Denville, Sean Kilty, William Paul. Runtime: 13 min. Released: May 8, 2020 (on Vimeo).

Note: Since this was a short film/indie film request, I won’t be giving this a score, as hopefully the review will just speak for itself.

The zombie horror-comedy musical Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films of 2018, so when I heard about the short film Dearly Departed, a 13-minute haunted house musical that blends comedy and romance, I knew that was right up my alley.

The film follows Vera (Betty Denville), an ordinary girl who happens to be living in a house full of spirits, and must learn to balance her relationships with her alive boyfriend, Fred (Ashton Spear), and the home’s ghosts, Billy (Sean Kilty), Kirk (William Paul) and Cara (Olivia Warren). Since it’s only 13 minutes long, I’ll avoid specific spoilers, but I enjoyed trying to guess what direction the film would go in, like if the ghosts would try to break up Vera and Fred or not. How they feel about the relationship is explored, but writers Jess Bartlett (also credited as producer and hairstylist) and Elise Martin (who also directs) take this in a fun direction.

It’s interesting watching Fred throw a wrench into this unique household dynamic by immediately suggesting Vera find a new home. He questions why she needs all this space, gesturing to empty chairs that we know are occupied by the abode’s ghosts. There’s not enough time to explain exactly why Fred, a realtor, is so insistent on getting her out of this home, but it drives the main conflict as he tries to get her out of the old and into the new.

Obviously, Vera doesn’t want to leave her friends, and the ghosts don’t want her to leave, either. “This house ain’t a home if we’re trapped here on our own,” the ghosts sing at one point. The home as a setting is perfect for the film’s vibe. Its vintage style is kind-of spooky because it could plausibly be haunted, perfect for a haunted house comedy that doesn’t flirt with horror but has a dark side.

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Sean Kilty, Olivia Warren and William Paul in Dearly Departed.

The concept for this film is strong and it’s a delightful musical, and I haven’t even talked about the music. There are three original songs nestled into the 13-minute runtime that drive the story. The first song, “My Heart,” is a peppy and hopeful song of new love, reminiscent of fairy tales like Cinderella, complemented by lighting and birds tweeting outside. The other songs give it a run for its money, too, and while everything complements each other, from the cast to the direction, the music is the glue.

It brings it all together because a musical is only as strong as its music, and that’s what makes Dearly Departed a winner. Kudos to Robbie Cavanagh and Demi Marriner for creating these catchy tunes. I loved the riffs and the lyrics worked well, letting the story flow and there’s a nice sense of the characters from the songs. I benefitted from multiple viewings to really listen to the music when it relates specifically to the story.

Impressively, this was made as a graduate project for University (with the help of a Kickstarter campaign), but it feels like it’s made by a professional team. Elise Martin’s solid direction helps with that, as does Elliott Howarth’s cinematography. There are some great shots here and I like the aesthetic, and the VFX work (by Nicholas Bendle and Harry Clarke) is strong, too. Martin directs the musical moments well, and the dialogue here still flows well when the characters aren’t singing.

I said earlier that Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films from last year, and I go back to the “Turning My Life Around” scene quite often whenever I need a smile. I can see myself going back to this film for a similar reason. Truthfully, my third watch of this was because I just needed a smile and I’m happy to report it worked.

The film is available now to watch on Vimeo here.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)

Directed by: Kevin Smith. Starring: Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Ben Affleck. Runtime: 1h 45 min. Released: October 15, 2019.

Kevin Smith’s latest film, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, is my most disappointing film of 2019. Packaged as a commentary on Hollywood and how they’re out of ideas because it’s all reboots, this is an essentially worse redo of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, as Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) try to stop production on a Bluntman and Chronic reboot. It follows the same structure but this time, there’s more “youth and diversity” as Jay’s daughter, Millennium Falcon (Harley-Quinn Smith), and her friends Soapy (Treshelle Edmonds), Shan Yu (Alice Wen) and Jihad (Aparna Brielle) tag along.

I’ll start with what I thought was tolerable and that’s the set-up with Jay and Millennium Falcon’s relationship. I find Harley-Quinn Smith boring as an actress but her character is the only thing that made me feel anything in this film. She’s also the only time I ever laughed at one of the main character’s lines. Smith’s commentary is smart, but I thought it got in the way, especially as he tries to relate a theme of fatherhood back to reboots, and that the fact that when you have kids, “they’re like your reboot.” It made a nice moment feel hollow.

From the get-go, the film mentions that the reboot they’re going to stop will be terrible. That makes this self-aware to a fault as I can’t tell if Smith actually intended to make this a terrible film. I also can’t tell if Smith has lost his touch or has just over-committed to proving a point that Hollywood has no creativity, by making a film bereft of creativity and skill. If that was the goal, it’s a successful film. I just hate it.

It’s a shame because I’m a Kevin Smith fan (I’ve only missed “Dogma”) but for every clever joke or moment here, there are 20 terrible forced moments at humour. This is the first film with this set of characters in the “View Askewniverse” where its humour feels forced. It tries hard to be funny, and still falls flat on its face. It’s surprising because Mewes and Smith himself are still fine, but this just doesn’t have the magic of his other films.

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Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (IMDb).

Smith prioritizes making fun of himself as a director and he’s a good sport about it. I like Smith as a person and that’s why it sucks that I hate this film. The only big laugh in this film is when someone acts out aggressively against Smith and a crowd member goes, “Oh, she must have paid to see Yoga Hosers.” It’s damn true because I didn’t pay to see that film and I still wanted my money back. Smith knows he’s made some stinkers and Reboot is now one of them.

This is also more fan service and advertisement for his better films than a real movie. It also just feels like Kevin Smith flexing his pop culture knowledge. It’s impressive, Kevin, now stop. He just focuses so much on the commentary that he forgets most attempts at story or characters. The “funny” merely settles for cameos (Ben Affleck’s works best), pop culture references and low-hanging fruit.

The laughs all miss so badly it felt like Smith was taking a handful of Hater Tots, grinding them in my eyes and asking me, “She’s named Millennium Falcon because that’s the name of Han’s ship! Do you get it? Jason Lee says ‘Hollywood’s not even making squeekquels anymore.’ Do you get it? It’s funny because he was in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. What if I do a cute music cue as I smile at Jason Lee when we do this joke? Will that make it funny?” It’s just so in your face that I felt like if I laughed, the movie would pause and Kevin Smith would get down on his jorts thanking me for laughing at one of his jokes. It’s exhausting.

Score: 38/100

Scarecrows (1988)

Scarecrows (1988)

Directed by: William Wesley. Starring: Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan. Runtime: 1h 23 min. Released: August 28, 1988.

I reviewed this film as part of the May Scavenger Hunt on Letterboxd, and you can find the original list here if you want to play along. The prompt for this film was No. 24, to “watch a film reference in The Cabin in the Woods. This review contains some spoilers.

I like B-horror movies as much as the next horror fan, so long as it has a point. Scarecrows isn’t one of those films with a point. A group of mercenary type criminals hijack a plane from a military base, kidnapping a pilot (David Campbell) and his daughter (Victoria Christian), forcing them to fly Mexico. En route, there’s a double cross where one of the thieves, Bert (B.J. Turner), takes the $3.5 million in cash, jumps out of the plane, and parachutes into a graveyard surrounded by a lone house and scarecrows.

Bert’s action doesn’t make sense as it’s poorly planned out, but as a concept to get these characters into the path of these scarecrows, it is not bad in set-up. Scarecrows are genuinely creepy – I would never be caught dead in a cornfield with one or even three scarecrows in the middle of the night – but this film makes scarecrows boring. The kills are simplistic and gory enough; but most of the gore comes from what these scarecrows do after the fact. Mild spoilers, but the people these scarecrows bring back from the dead are sort-of creepy. The scarecrows themselves? Hard meh. This isn’t that eventful when the mercenaries are being hunted and when they figure out how to kill these scarecrows, they’re not threatening because it’s such an easy defeat.

The rules for the scarecrows are also not well-established and how they hunt these characters. The scarecrows can imitate voices to lure these mercenaries into traps. They can also bring things back to life. They also magically disperse the money over the property so they are in little “follow the trail of money” piles. They can do so many supernatural things that it seems that director William Wesley just adds a new power when it’s interesting for the story. There’s a lack of planning that feels evident, especially when main mercenary, Curry (Michael David Simms), learns that the scarecrows are murderous. Curry jumps to the conclusion – a gigantic leap that literally can’t be measured – to the fact that these three scarecrows are actually the Fowler brothers, the owners of the home, reincarnated as scarecrows. Up to that point, we had not heard a single thing about them (unless I nodded off, which, sure, is possible) and it feels like a lazy, almost throwaway explanation for the scarecrows. It doesn’t go to any other lengths in explaining powers or Curry’s throwaway theory that maybe they’re meant to be here. There’s no rhyme or reason to this world and it’s annoying. I know I’m taking a stupid scarecrow movie a little seriously, but if the world is this small, I’d appreciate some attention to detail for it. 

Scarecrows, article
Victoria Christian, Kristina Sanborn and David Campbell in Scarecrows. (IMDb)

Other than this film being boring, the dialogue is weak. Most of the dialogue and action has the mercenaries being separated and shouting at each other over their radios and asking where everyone is. About to be killed by a scarecrow? “Where are ya, man? Where are ya? I can’t find you!” This is always to someone on the other end not answering. There’s also a weird choice made with Bert when he’s alone on the ground. His lips never move so they either filmed his action with the idea in mind that they’d just put a voice-over inner monologue later where he takes us through his thought process, or they just realized the action was so boring that it needed voice-over to tell us what he was doing. Either way, it’s strange and awkward. The dialogue elsewhere is just bad, too, as Jack (Richard Vidan) theorizes that “this place is possessed by demonic demons.” It’s not evident why they brought on three writers credited with additional dialogue, because they did not do their jobs well.

There’s little effort given to these people and they are not that likable. The dynamics of the group feel basic at best, and it’s not that exciting watching them try to recoup their money. The premise sounds like Predator but with scarecrows, and it brings the mercenaries and the large, jungle-esque property, but it only shows the scarecrows occasionally, and the sense of foreboding when we see the crosses without their scarecrow companions is creepier than when we see the scarecrows attack. The only merciless thing about this is the actual movie clocks in at about 75 minutes. We’re in and out quickly; but the trip still feels too long.

Score: 38/100