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. 

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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

A Dog’s Journey (2019)

A Dog’s Journey (2019)

Directed by: Gail Mancuso. Starring: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Kathryn Prescott. Runtime: 1h, 49 min. Released: May 17, 2019.

Of the dog films adapted from novels by W. Bruce Cameron, and with screenplay credits for him on each of the films, A Dog’s Journey is easily the strongest. 2019’s February release, A Dog’s Way Home, was a dull and annoying adventure and this film’s predecessor, 2016’s A Dog’s Purpose, was just okay, but it spent too much of the film with other owners other than Ethan (Dennis Quaid in both Purpose and Journey) as Bailey (Josh Gad in both films) learned his purpose is Ethan. Not to mention the trailers spoiled the ending.

That’s also a reason I prioritized avoiding the trailer for A Dog’s Journey. Okay, I probably saw the trailer once or twice in April 2019 but that’s the nice thing about waiting a year to watch this – I forgot about the trailers entirely, so this is mostly unspoiled territory. Anyway, this once again concerns the excitable Boss Dog/Bailey/Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey as Ethan and Hannah (recast with Marg Helgenberger) essentially raise their granddaughter, C.J., while her mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin) is off being irresponsible.

Hannah’s son, Henry, is the father but he passed away in a car accident before C.J. was born, and I’m pretty sure Henry is retconned into this film because I do not recall a Henry in A Dog’s Purpose. Gloria is an aspiring musician who thinks the world is out to get her, so in the first 20 minutes she takes her baby daughter away from her grandparents and leaves, because she assumes they want Henry’s settlement money.

With C.J. out of their lives, Ethan asks Bailey to come back in his next life and take care of C.J. like Bailey took care of Ethan. This follows Bailey’s journey as he helps C.J. (first played by Abby Ryder Fortson at age 10; and played by Kathryn Prescott at every other age when she ages many years in a decent guitar strumming transition).

I think this film has a leg up over its predecessor for one strong reason and that’s because, for the most part, the film has a focus that A Dog’s Purpose just did not have. In that film, Bailey died too many times and spent too much time with pet owners that weren’t interesting. Here, Bailey, now reincarnated as a dog named Molly, for the most part spends all her time with C.J. helping her through life. These scenes are sweet and sentimental, especially in the younger scenes when C.J.’s mom is off being a bad person, and in the teenage and young adult scenes when C.J. wants to be a singer-songwriter but is scared to put herself out there. No one believes in her besides best friend Trent (Henry Lau).

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Kathryn Prescott and Henry Lau in A Dog’s Journey. (IMDb)

We get several characters that want to bring her down a peg and that’s when the clichés in the film start to get lathered on and it becomes relentless. The most prominent is the irresponsible mother routine put on by Gloria – Betty Gilpin plays both halves of her character well – and this leads to a like mother-like-daughter thesis as Gloria continuously gets into bad relationships, and C.J. picks one bad guy named Shane (Jake Manley) who is here for the most annoying conflict in the film.

These side characters are where the film feels at its most emotionally manipulative where Bailey tells us with Gad’s inner monologues that he doesn’t like these characters. They’re mostly annoying boyfriends – another called Barry (Kevin Claydon) is only there to be condescending to C.J. – and other characters here to waste running time. If there’s one main fault in this film, it’s the clichés and poor writing in its conflict caused by secondary characters.

This is a smart film to spend most of the film with the central character of C.J., as Prescott delivers a fine performance and is a likable character. The film takes a brief detour as Bailey/Molly spends time with a different owner as a dog named Big Dog to learn that in the next life he has to be Molly’s dog before any other human can claim him. This is the only time that the film loses focus and feels like it could end up on the editing room floor as it’s a five-minute stretch where the scene feels like it’s Big Dog saying, “No Molly? Guess I’ll die now lol.” I swear, I don’t really think that’s exaggerating what happens there. The Big Dog transition is mostly to advance us to another stage in C.J.’s life., but using Big Dog’s chapter and how Molly’s chapter ends to skip forward in C.J.’s life totally felt weak.

Voicing the dog, Josh Gad is good here and he made me chuckle a lot. His voice-work captures the excitability of a dog, and I generally never found his dog observations to be too obvious or stupid, as they got most of the dumb dog observations out of the way in the other W. Bruce Cameron doggie universe films. Gad helps make this entertaining.

I’m being critical of A Dog’s Journey, but I think this is a good film. It has a strong heart and humour, something A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Way Home especially have lacked. It still packs on the sentimentality but I was honestly interested in watching C.J. navigate through her relationships – well, the only one that matters – and see if she’ll get on the stage and share her songs. The redemption for certain characters is also heartwarming and Dennis Quaid’s strong in a supporting role (though, heavy old person make-up on him and Marg Helgenberger distracts big time at one point).

Most importantly, I don’t think feels that emotionally manipulative, where A Dog’s Purpose felt like it because of how many times the dog dies. Here, it hits the emotional beats well because it takes its time creating a strong central relationship (“When are you guys going to lick each other already?” asks Bailey/Molly/Max) and when there are tears because of A Dog’s Journey, they feel earned because it’s for the human characters and moments, not just because of the pups.

Score: 63/100

Harriet (2019)

Harriet (2019)

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons. Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn. Runtime: 2h 5 min. Released: November 1, 2019.

Harriet tells the story of Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo), who escapes slavery and becomes an American hero, freeing slaves and changing history. One thing the film gets right is in the depiction of Harriet as an American hero, an important figure who inspired and is integral to America’s history. That is felt throughout the film. However, she deserves so much better.

The best part of the film is easily Cynthia Erivo’s performance as Tubman. Her brief singing scenes are lovely and there’s power in her performance, especially in the first hour of the film as she walks 100 miles to freedom to Philadelphia. Tubman freeing herself is the most compelling part of the film; but what she does after is more important, starting with arriving in Philadelphia and meeting William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.), who gives Harriet her freedom. Harriet then stays with Marie Buchanan (Janelle Monáe). When Harriet arrives, Marie (kindly) suggests Harriet take a bath because she’s “stinking like a barnyard animal.” This is one of the film’s better moments as Harriet uses it as a teaching moment, as Marie was born free. “I guess you never had the stink of fear, of running for your life.”

This is one of the only memorable lines about slavery that holds power. It’s a glossy, action movie look at slavery that, had I not seen the Universal logo before the film, I’d have assumed this was a Disney depiction of it. That’s how safe the screenplay, written by Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons who does a solid job directing, feels at times. It feels Disney in every way except for its use of racial slurs. I don’t think Tubman deserves a by-the-numbers biopic like this. Erivo’s performance makes the character transcend the generic screenplay, as she makes it worth the watch, and as a film that teaches about Harriet Tubman, it does its job.

I didn’t know much about Tubman before this – I think the most I knew about her was that she was part of the Underground Railroad because of that Black History Month episode of That’s So Raven. Speaking of a show where the main character has visions, Harriet Tubman had visions where she’d zone out (or even have fits of narcolepsy) where she’d receive messages from God of what the proper path was. I wish I had known this about Tubman before watching because it distracted at times, as some aspects of it felt a bit unbelievable in a biopic. Still, it seems like an accurate portrayal so I couldn’t really knock that.

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Cynthia Erivo in Harriet. (IMDb)

The villains of the film are where this is so weak for me. They just feel like very safe caricatures that are easy to hate, including the main one Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn), who grew up with Harriet but becomes the master of the plantation when his father dies. By the way, Gideon wants to sell Harriet which puts the film into motion because Harriet prays for Gideon’s father’s death and that night he dies. He’s such a goofy caricature of racism, and it’s more annoying to learn he’s a fictional character because he’s just awful.

The film then introduces slave catchers with Walter (Henry Hunter Hall) and the big bad named Abraham (Willie Raysor). Gideon hires them to bring Harriet back when she’s spotted on her first trip back to the plantation trying to bring people back to Philadelphia.

The scenes where Harriet tries to bring people back to Philadelphia to freedom has some thrills. For my enjoyment, though, this started to fall apart for me when Harriet is inducted into the Underground Railroad to free the slaves in an official capacity. Besides Harriet’s own walk to freedom, this is the most interesting part of her as a person but it feels dumbed down into an action movie. Right after she’s inducted it goes into a montage of her freeing slaves (“the bravest conductors steal slaves directly from the plantation right under the overseer’s nose,” explains William Still) to the tune of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” This is a fun scene because of the song – it’s such a banger and I loved hearing it in another film other than Cellular – but I would have liked more about the Railroad than just that when it’s such an integral part to her history.

I legitimately liked the first hour but tonally it feels different after “Sinnerman” plays. It inserts a last bit of energy into the film before it just becomes too goofy for the rest of it. The story still seems accurate to Harriet, but the dialogue just feels so rough, where Harriet has a vision of someone’s death and then someone narrates in a letter that they’ve “gone to meet that good friend of the slave, the Angel of Death.” I won’t rant about this line, but Walter says that “we’re gonna need a bigger cart” when there are too many slaves and they don’t have a big enough cart. A character can’t say that without it being a reference to Jaws, and the fact that this line is in a serious film about Harriet Tubman 100-plus years before Spielberg’s Jaws is something I very much dislike. Sure, it’s a harmless line, but when the first half of the film feels like a serious, but filtered, depiction of slavery and then it starts to feel more like an action movie and there’s a line like this, it starts to feel like the film just gives up and that’s disappointing.

Score: 50/100

Stuber (2019)

Stuber (2019)

Directed by: Michael Dowse. Starring: Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani, Mia Sorvino. Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: July 12, 2019.

Six months after detective Vic Manning’s (Dave Bautista) partner Sara Morris (Karen Gillan) dies in the field of duty at the hands of a drug lord named Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais), he finally gets his chance at payback because of a shipment coming in that involves Tedjo.

The only problem is that Manning’s just had laser eye surgery and he can’t see. He has to enlist the help of Uber driver Stu (Kumaill Nanjiani, naturally nicknamed Stuber) to drive him around, which puts Stu into crazy situations. The premise is fine as Vic essentially kidnaps an Uber driver even though all he wants to do is go see his best friend Becca (Betty Gilpin) to tell her how he feels.

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Kumail Nanjiani in Stuber. (IMDb)

The chemistry between Nanjiani and Dave Bautista is the charming part about this film. They’re trapped in this co-dependent relationship for a day since Vic can’t see and Stu is willing to do just about anything for a five-star rating since he’s just been getting bad review after bad review. It’s believable when they fight and it’s somewhat amusing. I also like that the excuse for Vic needing an Uber driver is because of the vision. I thought it just might be simply because he gets his licence suspended – but the type of character Vic is, he wouldn’t let a suspended licence stop him from driving if it means getting Tedjo.

Some action scenes are good in Stuber and some scenes are funny, too, but there is just nothing memorable about this film. The only thing that’s memorably amusing is a male stripper, Felix (Steve Howey) tells Stu that he needs to tell Becca how he feels. The film is just disappointing because it’s only fine and it’s terribly predictable. There’s not a lot you’ll regret watching here, but nothing will wow you, either. Iko Uwais is a highlight because of his fighting skills and his parkour (utilized mostly at the beginning) but the star of The Raid: Redemption is wasted in yet another mediocre American film.

Score: 50/100

A Dog’s Way Home (2019)

A Dog’s Way Home (2019)

Released: January 11, 2019. Directed by: Charles Martin Smith. Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard (voice), Jonah Hauer-King, Ashley Judd. Runtime: 1h 36 min.

I like movies about animals, but apparently not when they’re based on books by W. Bruce Cameron (A Dog’s Purpose). His latest film, A Dog’s Way Home is a familiar dog film that plays it completely safe and follows Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard), a pup who gets rescued from under a house and is taken in by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and his military veteran mom Terri (Ashley Judd). Lucas heads a cause to save kittens from under a broken-down house across the street because the property owner wants to demolish it.

For some reason, the property owner is adamant that there are no kittens under the house and asks Terri to have her son stay out of his business, or they’ll go to war. Being the vet that she is, Terri asks “What do you know about war?” The dialogue doesn’t get stronger from there. After this feud, events lead to Bella being 400 miles away and trying to find her way back home to Lucas.

The structure isn’t what’s wrong with the movie. The film is just weakest when Lucas and Olivia are out of the picture and it’s only Bella, which is saying a lot because Lucas and Olivia are dull.

Bella’s a cute pit-bull mix – her breed’s important for the film’s conflict – but Bryce Dallas Howard’s voice-over is weak. She acts as the dog’s thought process and thinks through the innocence of a dog – she names all the games like “Go Home” (Bella tries to do this the entire film and is bad at it) and in one of the film’s only chuckle-worthy moments she calls a veteran’s wheelchair a “small car” – but her dialogue is super boring and dull. The thoughts are just obvious, so when it’s just her doing voice-over and the dog is looking super pouty, it’s painful.

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Shelby the Dog in A Dog’s Way Home. (IMDb)

That’s at fault of the writers, Cathryn Michon and the book’s author and co scriptwriter W. Bruce Cameron, but Dallas Howard offers little effort to make it sound interesting. It’s monotone and the emotions sound basic, and it just doesn’t sound like a dog, either. I think Josh Gad’s voice works for A Dog’s Purpose because he’s hyperactive and sounds like a dog, but Dallas Howard sounds like what it is: An actress recording lines in a studio for the dog. I know that’s what Gad is doing, too, but he sells it.

The repetitive monologues about her having to find Lucas grow tiresome quickly, as they’re usually a lazy transition to get the film back to its main goal. There’s only one moment in the film that feels genuine when she discusses getting back to Lucas. She says it about another dog, saying, “He’s found his Lucas, but I’m still looking for mine.” If there were more heartwarming moments like that, I would have enjoyed this more.

The structure of the film is okay, as Bella meets different characters on her journey home like a bad CGI cougar called Big Kitten. The humans she meets are fine, too – the only notable ones are Gavin (Barry Watson) and Taylor (Motell Gyn Foster), who come into player during a rare scene of action that makes this feel like the family adventure it’s supposed to be.

The film’s conflict doesn’t work well, as the animal control officer villain feels more like a simplistic version of Beethoven than anything. This film is also painfully boring. I read about the dog Shelby that was rescued from a Tennessee animal shelter to portray Bella in this film. Her story sounds intriguing and it sounds like it would have made a much better film than this forgettable doggie picture. And if Shelby does get a movie about her, maybe sitting through this would have been worth it. But probably not.

Score: 38/100

Trolls World Tour (2020)

Trolls World Tour (2020)

Directed by: Walt Dohrn, David P. Smith (co-director). Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: April 10, 2020.

The Trolls are back in a new adventure, as the queen of hard-rock, Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) aims to unite all the trolls under one music: rock. When Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake), of the Pop trolls, learn of Barb’s plan, they set out to stop her.

First, they learn about the origins of their land and how all trolls had six strings to represent the kinds of music at the present at the beginning of their world. Those are Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, Pop and Rock. These types of music are represented by strings, and that’s Barb’s objective: Go on a world tour from town to town, pillage, and collect these strings and play a righteous tune on her guitar that would unite them all under her vision. The premise literally sounds like she’s Thanos who watched Tenacious D: In the Pick of Destiny too many times.

The story is more interesting than the first film where the trolls learned to be comfortable with your differences and you don’t always have to be happy to be a troll. Here, the same tune is played as they learn (again) that their differences are what makes them united and makes them individuals. Unfortunately for adults in the audience, that message is obvious long before the summarizing message for the kids at the end of the film.

There’s a better secondary message of listening to others and their points of views and opinions. That’s shown through Princess Poppy who always gets an idea in her head, sticks to it, and fails to listen to her friends like Branch. Kendrick and Timberlake are both still solid as the two main characters, but, like the adventure, it feels like they’re going through the motions. The listening aspect is the only character work that feels like there’s effort given to it, as most of the returning characters feel stunted in growth because they learned most of these lessons in the first film.

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Rachel Bloom and (spoiler) as Queen Barb and King Thrash in Trolls World Tour (IMDb)

Trolls World Tour is also more obnoxious than I remember the first film being. Much of that comes from Queen Barb. Her music is solid, but as a villain she’s so irritating. Her rock posse roll around in a convoy copy and pasted from that of Mad Max: Fury Road (complete with a drummer instead of flame guitarist). Barb shreds a version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” specific to the film’s message in this scene, and it’s legitimately fun, but her actual dialogue is cringeworthy. The only tolerable thing about her scenes is the musician voicing King Thrash (I won’t spoil), but it would be nice if he had more to do than just hum “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

The voice talent for the new characters is impressive. The most interesting casting choice is Sam Rockwell as Hickory, a centaur-type troll that Poppy, Branch and Biggie (James Corden) meet in the country town. He helps them escape prison after they show the country citizens pop music through an obnoxious mash-up that would make Kendrick’s character in Pitch Perfect beg them to stop.

The juxtapositions between the music is bizarre, as they enter the town when Queen Delta Dawn (Kelly Clarkson) is singing an original called “Born to Die.” Poppy comments on the melancholy song that feels out-of-place in a colourful film: “They must not know that music is supposed to make you happy, that’s awful.” There is some clever commentary like that here, but it’s few and far between. Clarkson is a solid casting choice, but the fact that she barely has any actual dialogue is strange. She’s just called to sing an original song on the soundtrack basically, and I think that shows the priority here is making a soundtrack that bops, and not an enjoyable film.

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Jamie Dornan as Chaz in Trolls World Tour (IMDb)

My favourite part of this film are bounty hunters that Queen Barb hires to find Poppy, but they are so underutilized. The hunters include a smooth jazz specialist named Chaz (Jamie Dornan), a reggae group called the Reggaeton (led by J Balvin), a K-pop gang and the yodelers. They get some screen time but I was much more interested with them as the villains than Barb, and how they branched off from the main strings of music and made their own tunes.

There’s much more time focused on a mediocre solo journey of self-discovery with Cooper (Ron Funchess). It leads back into the story, and I’m a Funchess fan, but there are no laughs on his quest. In fact: For a well-animated, colourful, free-spirited movie, where cotton candy seems like the main food group, there are more eyerolls than chuckles here. You’ll tap your feet to the music, especially when the film unleashes the “funk,” but the humour leaves a lot to be desired. That’s the major problem with Trolls World Tour, it has bursts of creativity but so much of this just feels like a passionless product.

Score: 40/100

Arctic (2019)

Arctic (2019)

Directed by: Joe Penna. Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir. Runtime: 1h 38 min. Released: February 1, 2019.

A man named Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) is stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash and is thrust into a rescue situation when a helicopter crashes and he nurses a character named Young Woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) back to health and figures their best chance for survival is trekking into the unknown terrain.

The direction by Joe Penna is solid and the cinematography by Tómas Örn Tómasson is fantastic as he captures the dire weather well. Before I discuss anything else, survival films are tricky for me. I either think they’re amazing (Life of Pi, Cast Away) or boring as hell (127 Hours). For me, there’s rarely an in-between. Arctic falls convincingly into the boring as hell category. Not a lot happens in the film and we have to figure out what Overgård is doing as the screenplay by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison rarely explains things. That’s fine, as there’s limited dialogue, but it doesn’t help develop its characters.

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Mads Mikkelsen in Arctic. (IMDb)

There’s very little dialogue here, but Mikkelsen gives a strong performance with few words because he can emote so well. It’s quiet, reflective and effective. Still, just not a lot happens here as we start with Overgård already stranded in the Arctic as the film only seems to have the budget for the one helicopter crash when Young Woman comes into play. Before they set off into the cold, I was waiting for Overgård to do something. He was just wallowing in self-pity and then he’d see a polar bear from afar and I thought, “Ooooh, this could be interesting.” Then the polar bear just walked on and nothing happened. This well-acted bore does that a lot – seems to promise action, but nothing happens.

The film’s an example of strong filmmaking, but not one to be watched for entertainment. There are two bursts of action in this film that kept me from napping, but the little dialogue just made it hard for me to become emotionally invested in these characters that I never knew. I know man vs. nature isn’t always entertaining, but this one is just hard to get through and the somewhat anti-climactic ending is frustrating. It sure is a pretty film to look at, but its contents did little for me.

Score: 50/100

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

Directed by: Johannes Roberts. Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: August 16, 2019.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged follows a quartet of girls who go diving in underwater city. As they’re exploring, they learn they’re trapped with a group of evolved sharks in the claustrophobic labyrinth of caves.

Uncaged follows in the footsteps of the original film in terms of its characters, as their development isn’t the greatest. Mia (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) basically gets picked on at school for some reason… She seems nice enough so the being picked on aspect seems random.

There’s not much empathy from her new stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx), but their chemistry becomes fine enough as the film swims along. Basically they’re given tickets by their parents (Mia’s father Grant is played by John Corbett; Sasha’s mom Jennifer is played by Nia Long) and then they ditch that to go to the caves with Sasha’s friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone). They know about these caves because Grant leads the exploration of the underwater city.

The cast in the film is fine, but we just don’t get to know these characters, especially Alexa and Nicole. To be fair, we don’t really get to know Mia or Sasha that well, either, but their sisterly bond works for the film, it’s just very much akin to 2017’s 47 Meters Down.

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John Corbett, Sophie Nélisse and Brianne Tju in  47 Meters Down: Uncaged. (IMDb)

By the way, the firt film was made for $5 million and intended to go straight-to-DVD and this film is made for $12 million and was always intended to be a theatrical release. Some scenes in Uncaged are  hard to see because of how dark everything is, and there’s even a scene that’s very similar in set-up to the first film involving a red flashlight, but the shark visuals seem stronger.

The set design and production design is also fantastic as it looks believable that this could be a long-abandoned underwater city instead of just a movie a claustrophobic movie set for a mediocre shark movie. The set-up improves in this film as the characters aren’t confined to one area (in the first film Mandy Moore’s jut in a cage) and can move around the city, but the film still feels claustrophobic. The characters are truly uncaged, but a better pun would be calling this 47 Meters Down: Uncaved.

The potential here isn’t truly uncaged yet, however. The formula for the film works but the first hour has its share of boring moments as they’re setting up its premise. The film improves when a way out of the city seems imminent and then all the shit hits the fan, so at least there’s an action-packed finale as the film is kind-of exciting for 30 minutes. There’s not much here in terms of memorable horror, either, just a decent finale and some tense scenes. I enjoyed this by the end of it, but it’s still mediocre.

Score: 50/100

21 Bridges (2019)

21 Bridges (2019)

Directed by: Brian Kirk. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons. Runtime: 1h 39 min. Released: November 22, 2019.

An embattled NYPD detective, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is thrust into leading a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers and uncovers a massive conspiracy. 21 Bridges is a movie that I expected to enjoy given the talent involved – Chadwick Boseman stars and Joe and Anthony Russo are on as producers, as well. Boseman plays his character well as someone who lives in the shadow of his father, a cop who died when Andre was a kid. Andre is characterized as having a happy trigger finger and being the one who shoots first and never asks questions because they’re already in a body bag.

Boseman is easily the best part of this, and it’s interesting for the story that the trigger-happy detective leads the charge against a pair of cop killers. Everyone is out for blood as the stress is high, as Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) puts Davis on the case. It’s interesting as Davis picks tonight to be a good cop and ask questions first as everyone else becomes trigger happy trying to catch Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephan James). Sienna Miller is also solid as Detective Frankie Burns who teams up with Davis.

21 Bridges, article
Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch in 21 Bridges. (IMDb)

Instead of really enjoying this, though, most of the film’s developments felt obvious to me and it all felt predictable. The action itself is fine and some of the manhunt scenes are thrilling. It’s just an old-fashioned cop movie, but it doesn’t do enough with its premise. The sound design isn’t good, either, as gunfire constantly drowns out dialogue. The score also misses in a lot of scenes because half the time the music just doesn’t fit the scene. It’s a big booming orchestra when Andre is just looking through the crime scene and then a similarly dramatic score during the big action scenes. It feels awkward.

The premise of the film works well and the fact that they shut down Brooklyn and all its 21 bridges is a good idea for a lockdown sort-of film, but they waste the premise on a standard story. The villains are okay, here. Basically, Ray and Michael learn about a shipment of cocaine and find way more than they thought there would be. They’re both trained military, and Michael has a strong backstory. As the film starts to tell its conspiracy, it’s all terribly predictable. I do think some of the action is good, but the writing showed its cards so often I couldn’t enjoy it.

Score: 40/100

Greta (2019)

Greta (2019)

Greta. Directed by: Neil Jordan. Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe. Runtime: 1h 38 min. Released: March 1, 2019.

Greta benefits most from very strong performances by stars Chloë Grace Moretz and French acting legend Isabelle Huppert. Frances McCullen (Moretz), a waitress in New York City, finds a purse on a subway train one day and returns it to the owner, a lonely piano teacher and widow, the titular Greta (Huppert). They start a friendship from there as Greta Hideg’s deadly agenda is slowly revealed.

I think the most interesting thing about Greta is that, while it’s a stalker story, it sets itself apart in a few ways. A large amount of stalker stories are sexual in nature. Here, it’s more of a mother-daughter obsession. Greta’s lost her daughter and Frances has lost her mom, so Greta gets it in her mind that it’s a natural fit. Frances also says at one point that “I’m like chewing gum, I tend to stick around.” It’s a defining piece of dialogue in their relationship because Greta takes it seriously.

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Isabelle Huppert in Greta. (IMDb)

The characters are also well-written, from Frances’ general naivety to Greta’s loneliness and manipulation. Frances also has a roommate, Erica Penn, played well by Maika Monroe. My main complaint with Greta is the pacing is slow, making it feel longer because of it and it’s only 98 minutes long. Frances trying to figure out what Greta wants with her is an intriguing road to follow.

I liked that this film also took a less traditional approach to the stalker story in structure, as well, as the film’s second half has a slower pace in limited settings. The writing by Neil Jordan and Ray Wright is strong enough, and it features good foreshadowing in some scenes. The last 20 minutes or so are rewarding, and the strong acting keeps things interesting. Moretz captures the anxiety of the situation well, as does Monroe, and Huppert looks like she’s having a blast playing this batshit crazy character.

Score: 63/100