Alien: Covenant (2017, Directed by Ridley Scott) English 6

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smoltz

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(6-Good Film)

Uneven. Interesting. Intriguing.

The Covenant, a ship full of people searching for a new home find themselves on a detour from hell after the captain stops on a mysterious planet. The Covenant’s crew explore, and the film becomes a sci-fi slasher flick thereafter. Horror films and big-budget spectacle don’t have a great track record. The best horror flicks are often inexpensive sleeper films (this year’s Get Out for example). Ridley Scott’s third venture into his Alien franchise is successful enough as an entertainment. The visuals are incredible, the cast with limited depth of character to work with are fine. Michael Fassbender is given the only truly interesting role (double roles actually) in David and Walter, androids of different models. The film is a bit of a mess thematically, but still intriguing with thoughts of creation and power. That aspect of Alien: Covenant might warrant a second viewing down the road. Otherwise, it’s an ambitious slasher film, complete with a ridiculous, gratuitous sex/murder scene that seems straight out of a Jason flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(368)

Happy Death Day 2U (2019, Directed by Christopher Landon) English 6

Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Suraj Sharma, Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews

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(6-Good Film)

Convoluted. Fun. Free-wheeling.

Early on, there’s a scene where the three returning protagonists-Tree (Rothe), Carter (Broussard), Ryan (Vu)-go to a science lab to search for a demented serial killer. Carter leads the way with a baseball bat. The other two go empty-handed. Looking for a killer is one thing, but going empty-handed is too much. I’m resisting the urge to scream, “Grab a weapon!” at the screen. Then, almost a slasher film miracle. Ryan grabs a mop handle, and I think, “this might be a superior slasher film with characters that make decent decisions.” Sadly, no. Another scene, not long after, Ryan, in the middle of a crowd of people, runs from his masked pursuer to hide in an empty room with no witnesses and no one to help him should the killer find him. Thankfully, Happy Death Day 2U is barely a slasher film. A sequel, this film continues with the time loop conceit (borrowed from Groundhog Day) but takes it to some fun, surprising, adventurous places. Still silly, still tame, and the whodunnit element proves fairly uninteresting, Happy Death Day 2U works more as a young adult adventure flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(361)

Rings (2017, Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez) English 4

Starring Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bonnie Morgan, Aimee Teegarden

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(4-Bad Film)

Dull. Incoherent. Unscary.

Watching a certain videotape prompts some strange entity to call your closest phone, and give you seven days to live. That is unless you get someone else to watch the tape. Unwilling to ensnare anyone else, Julia (Lutz) and her boyfriend, Holt (Roe), investigate, hoping to break the cycle once the mystery has been unraveled. The Ring movies never held up to questions of logic, but they moved past that with creative visuals, strong acting, and genuine horror. The original Japanese version never even bothered with explanations, making it scarier. This newest entry, with none of the cast or crew from the first two American remakes, wants to explain everything. That was a horrible idea. This film is so boring, which is remarkable for a “horror” film. Even the hack-jump scares aren’t exciting since they’re hollow. I know that this is a PG-13 film, and the two main characters aren’t going to die. That takes the thrill out of all of the “danger.” The acting is fine, given that the actors have nothing to work with. I hope D’Onofrio made a lot of money to justify him being in this. To be fair, his scenes in the movie are the only ones even slightly interesting (though still not good).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(358)

Scared Stiff (1953, Directed by George Marshall) English 8

Starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Lizabeth Scott, Carmen Miranda, Dorothy Malone

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Goofy. Entertaining. Fun.

Thinking he killed a man, Larry Todd (Martin) takes it on the lam with a pretty heiress, traveling to her ancestral home on an island said to be haunted. He brings with him his best friend, Myron (Lewis), a hapless and most ridiculous sidekick. I’m no great Jerry Lewis fan. I find him generally annoying, but I love Dean Martin, and this movie was a blast. A decent mystery plot, a haunted mansion, Martin crooning, beautiful leading lady, non-stop jokes, action. It’s all here.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(333)

The Stuff (1985, Directed by Larry Cohen) English 5

Starring Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garret Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello

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(5-Okay Film)

Out-there. Pointed. Over-the-top.

It’s the new sensation. “The Stuff” in marquee letters. But what is “the Stuff?” Some sort of white yogurt substance being advertised like it’s ice cream, but being sold and consumed like a legal form of crack. Industrial saboteur Mo Rutherford (Moriarty) is hired to investigate and destroy the new hot seller, but what he finds is darker than he ever imagined. The Stuff is actually a living organism that slowly takes over the brain of whoever eats it. Okay, so obviously a super-silly movie, that balances over-the-top satire with cheesy eighties horror tastes. While the film is not scary at all, or particularly well-acted, it is highly entertaining and creative.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(330)

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019, Directed by Dan Gilroy) English 8

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Zawe Ashton, Natalia Dyer, Billy Magnussen, Daveed Diggs, Tom Sturridge

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Showy. Chaotic. Piercing.

A collage of art world characters interweave, led by Morf (Gyllenhaal), a harsh but influential critic, Rhodora (Russo), a cutthroat art dealer, Josephina (Ashton), an upstart who proves to be a little more ruthless than she appears at first glance, Gretchen (Collette), a vapid, gossipy curator, and Piers (Malkovich), an artist with integrity, but going through something of an existential crisis. These characters are a blast to watch and had Velvet Buzzsaw abandoned plot, and instead focused on observation, it likely would have had broader appeal. Great art isn’t about broad appeal though, and like many famous paintings, Velvet Buzzsaw turns out to be a vibrant, chaotic work. All hell breaks loose around the midpoint, and Velvet Buzzsaw becomes a wildly different film than what I expected. I’ll leave off details. I believe you owe it to yourself to be surprised by its direction. It’s over the top performances mixed with restrained, rather tame instances of horror.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(322)

 

The Thing (1982, Directed by John Carpenter) English 10

Starring Kurt Russell, T.K Carter, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Peter Maloney, David Clennon, A. Wilford Brimley

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(10-Masterpiece)

Thrilling. Suspenseful. Masterful.

A group of scientists camped out and cut off from civilization in Antarctica discover an alien life form that’s able to multiply, duplicate, and replace human life forms. The men turn on each other as the alien monster picks them off one at a time (just how we horror fans like it). Heavily indebted to films like Alien (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/1978), and obviously The Thing From Another World (1951), I, nevertheless, believe that John Carpenter’s The Thing surpasses its influences. Pacing, payoff, special effects, atmosphere, are all in exceptional form here. All the lovely little gory details are inspired, and the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone (which somehow was nominated for a Razzie?) is terrifying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(320)