Category: Movies


It all comes down to a single maxim:  Be careful what you wish for.

As often as not, in Fantasy Island’s seven seasons and 152 episodes, audiences never could be quite sure what Ricardo Montalban’s exotic island host Mr. Roarke was up to in his attempts to fulfill the desires of his exclusive guests on the remote Fantasy Island.  Sometimes that meant taking guests back to relive their worst nightmares.  So now that horror film company Blumhouse has their mitts on the franchise, it’s anyone’s guess what is in store.  At a minimum, the trailer for the new movie Fantasy Island looks like an easy to cultivate new horror franchise.  The horror movie industry has demonstrated the darker the franchise, the more big money it makes.  But for every The Conjuring, Saw, Paranormal Activity, Halloween, The Ring, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street series of movies, there’s the nearly successful horror sub-genre that includes a little less dark takes, more often with laughs, like Scream, Scary Movie, Final Destination, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Happy Death Day.  Where will the victims, er, guests of Fantasy Island land?

Michael Peña (Ant Man) steps into the shoes of Montalban as Mr. Roarke.  Don’t look for the sidekick character Tattoo in this reboot–that role seems to have gone to Parisa Fitz-Henley (Luke Cage) as Julia.  Jeff Wadlow, Kick-Ass 2 director, and producer of The Strain and Bates Motel, is directing the picture, billed as a comedy/horror/mystery (putting it in the Scream camp?).  Other cast includes Lucy Hale (Katy Keene, Bionic Woman, Scream 4), Maggie Q (Nikita), Portia Doubleday (Carrie, Mr. ROBOT), Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars), Charlotte McKinney (Flatliners, Baywatch), and Austin Stowell (Colossal). Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, Eight Men Out, Tombstone) is said to be in this, too, but isn’t in the first trailer.

Here’s the first trailer for Fantasy Island:

Continue reading

It was only last year that television viewers got a great look at the potential of theatrical quality, direct-to-Netflix films, via the superb, Academy Award-winning, black and white drama Roma (reviewed here).  Will the next black and white movie produced by the Netflix studios fare similarly?  Mank stars genre actor Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz (if you don’t know “Mank’s” large body of work, you at least likely know of him through his grandson Ben Mankiewicz, host of Turner Classic Movies).  Herman’s fame came from writing scripts for film classics, including The Pride of the Yankees (and he was a contributing writer to The Wizard of Oz), and the off again on again critic’s pick for the best film of all time, Citizen Kane.

Continue reading

Fantasies rarely play out as you would expect.  — Mr. Roarke

You could have guessed from the trailers that Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island would cross the original 1977-1984 series with Black Mirror, but could you have guessed it’s also a sort of mash-up with The Dark Crystal and The Hobbit?  Bloodshot, Kick-Ass 2, and Bates Motel writer Jeff Wadlow directs an unexpected twist on the original series, proving such a reboot that respects the source material and takes advantage of a big movie budget can be successful, even without original show staples like Ricardo Montalban and Hervé Villechaize.  One of the stronger attempts and biggest successes at remaking a classic TV series, Fantasy Island is now streaming on Starz and other platforms.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Not a lot of new movies strike the right balance between horror and comedy, but if you’re looking for a solid Halloween movie to watch with your spouse and older kids, The Babysitter is a good pick, and if you subscribe to Netflix, you don’t need to fork out a rental fee.  Actually a Netflix produced release from only 2017, The Babysitter has a great cast of rising stars, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and it doubles as a coming of age movie.  What it’s not, is a Clive Barker-esque slasher flick, or full of real-world slaughter and shocker scenarios like so many modern horror movies–it’s an easy fantasy to entertain you and the family for ninety minutes.

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol aka McG (Supernatural, Chuck, Terminator: Salvation, Charlie’s Angels), The Babysitter is a day in the life of pre-teen Cole, played by The Christmas Chronicles’ Judah Lewis (an absolute ringer for C. Thomas Howell in E.T. and The Outsiders), a kid who is probably too old to have a babysitter, but he doesn’t mind because she’s a much older and attractive teenage hottie,  played by Samara Weaving.  Weaving is fast becoming a big name in movies, after a string of horror roles including this summer’s Ready Or Not, last year’s series Picnic at Hanging Rock, and before that, Ash vs. Evil Dead (she’s also known for her role in the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and is soon to star in the Bill & Ted sequel and she’s playing Scarlett in Snake Eyes, the next G.I. Joe movie).  Weaving’s character Bee is a great friend to Cole–basically a big sister–who knows his friends are jealous of his relationship with a “hot” high schooler, but his real friend and love interest is the same-aged girl across the street, Melanie, played by young Emily Lind, a kid actor who has been making TV series (Medium, Revenge, Eastwick) and movies (Doctor Sleep, Replicas) for more than a decade.

One night while Bee is babysitting Cole, Melanie convinces him to stay up late and spy on what Bee and her friends are doing in the house after he falls asleep.  When Cole sneaks down to take a peek, he quickly learns that Bee and a group of teen friends (played by Robbie Amell (The X-Files, The Flash), Bella Thorne (Scream, Amityville: The Awakening), Andrew Bachelor (Angie Tribeca, The Mindy Project), and Hana Mae Lee (Pitch Perfect, Jem and the Holograms)) are conducting a ritual human sacrifice.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

A stroll through the spy units in movies like the 007s of James Bond, the Kingsmen of Kingsman: The Secret Service, the spies of Mission: Impossible, the dueling and partnering international agents of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and even the heroine of Atomic Blonde all provide an avenue for fans of the spy genre to see how an actor could also portray a spy of another franchise.  An example of this is Pierce Brosnan’s run on Remington Steele as prep for his destined role as James Bond.  How would Colin Firth look as a Bond, or Charlize Theron?  A similar comparison can be found in the new film, Men in Black: International, and its new novelization by author R.S Belcher.

How would Chris Hemsworth, formerly Captain Kirk’s dad in the first Star Trek reboot movie, but now engrained in the psyche of moviegoers everywhere forever as Thor, especially after his character change-up in Thor: Ragnarok, which tweaked the character with the humor that the actor seems to infuse into his other films and public appearances.  As Men in Black’s London division Agent H, Hemsworth is this character–they are indistinguishable.  It makes sense–it’s how good casting works–but it will be impossible to read the character and not think of the actor’s persona, charm, and smile as you read it.  You may try, but the character of H seems to be one that only Hemsworth could play.  Not so much directly written for Tessa Thompson is the new Agent M.  The character is a solidly conceived rookie in a wild, fun, and faithful follow-on for the Men in Black franchise.  But even with roles in Veronica Mars, Heroes, Creed, and Valkyrie in the Marvel movies, she doesn’t have that same star power–yet.  But the novelization is quite a vehicle for that Hemsworth persona, and his fans will love the book as much as they loved the film.  How would Hemsworth appear in an Ian Fleming novel?  You’ll find out here in this new novel of the British spy genre.

Credit is due to the underlying screenplay written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, but the novelization of Men in Black: International also has some of the finest alien supporting characters of the series, and the story is every bit as consistently full of fun and futuristic science fiction as the first and third movies (far surpassing the second entry in the franchise).  The alien Pawn character Pawny is right up there with Michael Stuhlbarg’s Griffin.  Pawny is lovable and loyal, a bit like Dobby from the Harry Potter movies.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Is he a superhero?

A character who gives of himself to save lives, repeatedly, using his unusual mental and physical abilities–that’s pretty much our definition of superhero.  If The Punisher is a superhero, if Batman would be a superhero without the costume, then you have the The Equalizer Denzel Washington is back again, in the sequel to the surprise 2014 reboot of the 1980s television series, and if you missed Washington as this character in 2014, it’s time to catch up, as The Equalizer 2 makes its way to several steaming platforms, including Vudu and Amazon Prime, and it’s now showing on Starz.

And what a sequel!  It is another one of those rare films that surpasses its predecessor.  More intrigue, more action, and even without the origin story from the first movie, The Equalizer 2 proves audiences don’t need it to jump into a finally crafted story of spies and revenge.  Washington is back as Robert McCall, and he’s The Saint, Ethan Hunt, James Bond, and The Shadow all rolled up into one.  This time he’s started a new life in Boston, and learns about the city through his job as a Lyft driver.  Diehard film fans really only need to see the one other name on the marquee with Washington to know what they’re in for: Antoine Fuqua.  Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, The Magnificent Seven) directs the film like he does all his others, like he has something to prove.  The Equalizer 2 is worthy of its popular and critically acclaimed star, and Fuqua adds to the character with a spectacular setting for the film’s finale: a hurricane pummeling the coast of Massachusetts.

If you’re looking forward to the new Star Wars television series The Mandalorian, you have another reason to catch The Equalizer 2, as the series star Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Great Wall) plays a former team member of McCall in his CIA days.  The subplots may even be better than the main story, and in one McCall mentors a young neighbor played by Ashton Sanders (Moonlight).  Other supporting roles are filled by some familiar faces, including returning actors Melissa Leo (Homicide, Oblivion, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and Bill Pullman (Deceived, Independence Day, Spaceballs), plus the always versatile Sakina Jaffrey (Heroes, Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Robot).

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s one thing to make a film about a notably B-level filmmaker and arrive at a success like the 1994 acclaimed black and white biopic Ed Wood.  But when you try the same thing about one of the best films ever made, you’re practically set up for failure.  It would take some kind of miracle to take Jack Fincher’s clunky, meandering script for the new Netflix film Mank and make it work.  A hodgepodge of character study and Hollywood quotes, plucking half-truths and grand real-life names of Hollywood’s past, Mank misfires from poor directing decisions and camera work, a lack of understanding or attention to re-creating the magic of black and white film in the color era.  What could have been a love letter to one of America’s greatest celebrated films paints a picture of a screenwriter who, rightly or wrongly, comes off as an unlikeable drunk who couldn’t possibly deserve our attention.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Everything’s connected.  Everything’s vulnerable.

The visionary behind the groundbreaking 1997 science fiction film Gattaca has at last delivered his next worthy sci-fi follow-up.  The direct-to-Netflix movie Anon is equal parts future crime and noir detective thriller.  It stars Clive Owen (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Children of Men, Sin City) and Colm Feore (Thor, The Chronicles of Riddick, Paycheck) as police detectives in a near-future Earth where smart phone and computer technology has merged with the mind.  Technology and science have evolved to allow humans to instantly identify and search their minds and a database shared with everyone as they move through their day–as if Google Glass tech was inside a contact lens wired to the brain.  Written, produced, and directed by Andrew Niccol, writer/director of Gattaca and writer of The Truman Show, Anon features a police detective nicely synthesizing Rick Deckard, Frank Bullitt, and Dirty Harry Callahan.  Only an actor as unique as Clive Owen could pull that off.

With a world similar to Gattaca–but a colder, stark, and concrete-filled version of a rigid, totalitarian future close to that of the Prime side in the world of the Starz series Counterpart–telling lies has become a thing of the past.  The detectives must track down an unidentifiable woman, the anonymous hacker of the title played by Amanda Seyfried (Veronica Mars, Ted 2, Mamma Mia!), sought as the criminal behind a string of murders.  This hacker can erase memories and replace real thoughts with replaced images, and we see the best example of this as Owen’s detective pursues the hacker in a busy subway.  Oddly, this dystopia doesn’t feel as horrible as that of Mad Max: Fury Road, or Blade Runner, or Terminator.  It’s just not that far removed from the wired life of today.  Which should be enough of a cautionary warning.

Stark but slick and cool like The Adjustment Bureau, not only the visuals of Anon but the music is haunting and cold, thanks to an inspired score from Christophe Beck (Ant-Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  Surreal camera angles and the use of shadow firmly plant the audience in this future thanks to cinematographer Amir Mokri, and you can credit production designer Philip Ivey (District 9, Elysium) and art director Aleksandra Marinkovich (Crimson Peak, Kick-Ass 2, Total Recall) for a stunning, new vision that leaves behind tech noir for something fresh and different.

Continue reading

This weekend the new adventure comedy Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle hits theaters, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan.   Before Jumanji, fans of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart will want to check out their earlier team-up in Central Intelligence, a hilarious action comedy that hit theaters last year.  It’s streaming and available now on home video.

Laugh out loud funny, Johnson plays Bob, a rogue CIA operative who was a bullied kid in school, assisted in an embarrassing moment back in school by the most popular, “most likely to succeed” kid, C.J., played by Kevin Hart.  Hart doesn’t end up governor as predicted by his schoolmates, but settles into a typical office job as an accountant.  As their 20th class reunion approaches, Bob, no longer the butt of jokes but a chiseled special ops machine, enlists C.J. for his accounting knowledge to help him flush out a traitor in the agency.

The CIA agent in charge, played by Amy Ryan, tries to convince C.J. that Bob isn’t who he claims to be–that he is in fact the traitor and his evaluations recently revealed a man on the edge, and he killed his partner.  The hijinks commence once C.J. must decide whether “he’s in” or not, as an awkward and over-the-top Bob is completely embracing a partnership with someone he has grown to believe is the ultimate cool guy.  Johnson and Hart are both at the top of their game here–Hart playing his rattled and jittery straight man routine and Johnson as the opposite of his image, uncomfortably sensitive, proud of his fanny pack, fanboying about unicorns and dropping Twilight references-and he’s a big hugger.

Continue reading

pena-shepard Warner Bros. has finally released the first trailer to the comedy reboot of the classic 1977-1983 television series CHiPs.  The original drama series, starring the suave Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as California Highway Patrol officers Ponch and Jon, didn’t have the comedy you’re going to see in this reboot.  No, this is an all-out, Rated R, Deadpool-level humor comedy.  Think the movie remake of 21 Jump Street and you’ll get the vibe.

And it’s so, so wrong.

But it also looks like it could be pretty funny, if you’re not bothered by wall-to-wall crotch jokes.  The big win is Ant-Man’s Michael Peña as an undercover FBI agent pretending to be Ponch.  Hollywood is finally recognizing Peña as a charismatic rising star.  Comedic actor Dax Shepard is Jon, and real-life wife Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) also plays his wife in CHiPs.  The couple is most recognizable these days from their long-running series of Samsung appliance commercials.  Shepard wrote and directed the movie.

chips-poster

The film is peppered with actors you might find in serious police procedurals, which should lend something weighty to the humor.  They include Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Law & Order, The Wire), Vincent D’Onofrio (Emerald City, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Men in Black), Richard T. Jones (Judging Amy, Godzilla, Super 8, Hot Pursuit), Wilmer Valderrama (Awake, That ’70s Show), and Jane Kaczmarek (St. Elsewhere, Law & Order).

Check out this first trailer for Dax Shepard’s CHiPs:

Continue reading