4 star(s), 39 minutes, Shudder
Yes, “The Runner” is essentially a longform music video meant to accompany the release of new music by electro-darkwave artists Boy Harsher (Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller), but rarely do the artists themselves invest so much of their own time, energy and imagination.
Matthews and Muller co-wrote and co-directed “The Runner,” which I would challenge anyone to summarize in a way that’s both concise and accurate.
From my cheap seats, I walked away with the following: “The Runner” is about a succubus or a demon or a shapeshifter who absorbs the bodies of her victims at times as both sustenance and fuel. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there is a wrong answer here.
“The Runner” exists both to promote Boy Harsher as a band and to provide some gory good visual entertainment while listening to their new songs. To that end, there is one gruesome and noteworthy kill, as well as a solid extended sequence when the ‘Runner’ enters a dive bar/pool hall and exacts a bloody toll.
Highly recommended, especially for longtime fans and anyone who digs dark electronica.
Cobra Kai: Season III
4 star(s), 326 minutes, streaming and DVD
If you would have told me back in 1984 that Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence would still be a thing some 38 years later, I would have swept your leg and Ki-ya’d you in the chest.
Imagine my surprise that not only are Ralph Macchio and William Zabka still trending with their forever feud, but that “Cobra Kai,” the ridiculously good series that leapt from YouTube to Netflix, is everything that’s right and powerful about nostalgia because it has taken a classic film and turned into a generational phenomenon through great writing, well-thought-out plot pivots and a belief that you don’t just have to repeat what’s been done before in order to be successful.
The stakes couldn’t be higher in “Season III,” which opens shortly after the holy hell epic brawl that ended Season 2. In short, Miguel is paralyzed and in a coma; Robby is on the run and expelled from school; and Sam is suffering from PTSD. Not only that, but John Kreese (Martin Kove) is about to make a play to usurp Johnny’s hold on his dojo just as Daniel is struggling to salvage his reputation and maintain his place as the valley’s most well-known auto dealer.
The 10-episode season is perfectly paced and packed with huge reveals, none bigger than Episode 9’s “Feel the Night,” which features a very welcome return of a character from the original “The Karate Kid.”
“Cobra Kai” has become one of my most favorite television series of all time. If you haven’t checked it out yet, now is the time since Season 4 debuted on Netflix to start the new year.
Halloween Kills: Extended Cut
4 star(s), 105 minutes, streaming, 4K-Ultra HD, Blu-Ray and DVD
I stand by my comments from last October when I proclaimed “Halloween Kills,” the twelfth film in this undying franchise, as the second best of all. It’s brutal, more brutal than even Rob Zombie’s bizarre reimagining, but it also provides ample fan service and nostalgia that feels earned and long overdue.
Last Night in Soho
3 star(s), 116 minutes, streaming, 4K-UHD, Blu-Ray and DVD
It’s tough when you wait and wait and wait to see a new movie by one of your favorite directors and that movie takes its sweet time finding its footing and suddenly you’re having to fight to maintain interest long enough for the plot to coalesce.
Such is the way with Edgar Wright’s ambitious but ultimately not-as-satisfying as you want “Last Night in Soho,” which benefits from two outstanding performances by leads Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy.
What Wright gets right, from the impeccable set design that wholly transports viewers back to London in the mid-1960s to the period fashion and musical performances, he really nails just as you have come to expect from his innumerable talents. But the central mystery, presented as a spin on the classic Italian giallo genre, feels almost slight, especially once you become accustomed to the gimmick that Wright deploys as a means to toggle between the past and present reality.
While not his best, by far, “Last Night in Soho” still deserves to be seen and appreciated, if only for the fact that Wright remains as ambitious and fearless as any director working today.
3 star(s), 85 minutes, Shudder
“Slapface,” the latest exclusive to debut on Shudder, is a confounding yet entertaining mashup that tries to keep one foot firmly rooted in the harsh reality of grief and failed parental responsibility while exploring a delirious and dangerous fantasy with the other where a young, possibly sociopathic boy befriends an ancient witch and must decide whether to be a force for evil or for good.
3 star(s), 100 minutes, streaming
It’s hard to keep track of all the new movies arriving straight-to-DVD or streaming today that star Bruce Willis, and sadly few to any of those new flicks rival Willis’ heyday as the reigning king of wisecracks and gunfights. “American Siege” gives Willis a chance to actually act instead of just pitting him as an army-of-one against an armed-to-the-teeth militia that has taken a small-town doctor hostage as retribution for an accidental death. And for most of its runtime, “American Siege” is an enjoyable slice of B-movie mayhem, but it sure does make you long for the days when Willis cheerfully proclaiming, ‘Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker’ was the height of action cinema.
2 star(s), 94 minutes, streaming
If you decide to check out “The Unhealer,” an interesting if uneven supernatural thriller about a charlatan who might actually have the gift of healing, do so for the sight of an unhinged Lance Henriksen chewing scenery as only he can. But once Henriksen’s character touches a young man long bullied and tormented, and that contact somehow bestows mystical powers to the teen, who in turn seeks vengeance using his newfound abilities, “The Unhealer” becomes repetitive and redundant, yet another attempt to squeeze fresh juice out a long-since dried piece of pulp.
2 star(s), 80 minutes, streaming
Writer-director Sean Nichols Lynch’s sophomore feature, “Red Snow,” tries to spin something fresh out of vampire cinema with decidedly mixed results. It’s the tale of a romance novelist who writes erotic vampire fiction without the first-hand knowledge of what it means to be a vampire, until one shows up wounded at her door. Lynch’s script leaves a lot of gaping holes crying out to be filled with backstory. And for long stretches, “Red Snow” is simply content to toggle back and forth between captor and captive while teasing the threat of a group of vampire hunters closing in on their prey.
Last Radio Call
2 star(s), 76 minutes, streaming
Isaac Rodriguez’s “Last Radio Call” is a new found-footage hybrid that likely will feel familiar to viewers. It’s the story of a police officer who disappeared one night while investigating a disturbance at an abandoned hospital. The only clues to what happened are found in the officer’s bodycam footage, which his widow uses to try and piece together the truth. There are moments to appreciate, and several creepy sequences to keep viewers unnerved, but ultimately “Last Radio Call” falls short of being a must-see new title.
1 star(s), 124 minutes, Streaming, 4K-UHD, Blu-Ray and DVD
Now I understand why there wasn’t an advance screening for film critics.
As angry as I felt following the end credits of the latest “Scream” film (see below), I’m pretty sure I was even more mad at the conclusion of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” if only because viewing this abomination confirmed my worst fear, namely that early buzz and reaction was spot-on in savaging Jason Reitman’s overly nostalgic return to the world of ghost traps, proton packs and Gozer the Gozerian.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is an affront to longtime fans of the 1984 original, and it actually makes you reconsider your aversion to the lacking first sequel, “Ghostbusters II,” but the real crime here is that Reitman and Co. fail at every opportunity to present any new ideas and instead just beat the dead horse and holler in frustration at the dry well.
This could have, should have, been so much better.
The setup holds such promise: Decades after a giant marshmallow almost destroyed New York City and paved the way for an interdimensional takeover of our world by an angry other god, the daughter and grandchildren of Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis) arrive in a small blip of a town in rural Oklahoma to take care of his estate after his sudden death.
Spengler had seemingly abandoned his ghost-busting friends and his unaware family to live alone as a recluse, which remains a sore spot for his daughter Callie (Carrie Coon, completely miscast), grandson Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and granddaughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), who is a spitting image of Ramis in thick glasses and unruly hair.
There hasn’t been a ghost sighting in years, but all that’s about to change, of course, once Trevor and Phoebe discover the secrets that Spengler left behind.
Before you get all jittery with excitement at the possibility of watching the birth of a new batch of ghostbusters, be forewarned.
Reitman, a very capable director of human drama (“Tully,” “Young Adult”), inexplicably rushes and races through all the magical moments of discovery and wonder that could have been, and instead takes what likely seemed like a safe bet in calling back to the original film with an endless stream of cameos, Easter eggs and uninspired shenanigans (most of those centered on an also woefully miscast Paul Rudd as a small-town science teacher) as the movie lurches and lumbers toward its inevitable third act that’s undone by too much CGI and not enough heart.
The decision too to try and wring tears of joy and cathartic grieving from longtime fans by reuniting the original team feels ugly and wrong, like taking a bite of soured food that looked too good to be true on the plate. More than that, it’s just insulting.
A lot of people that I know and respect actually liked “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” and while I understand that need for comfort in this crazy hellscape of a world in which we’re living, this is not the movie that we deserved and it’s certainly not the return to greatness that we were hoodwinked into expecting.
Now in festivals:
3.5 star(s), 70 minutes
For anyone who loves movies, who welcomes the opportunity to be transported someplace else, especially someplace unfamiliar and dangerous and yet intoxicating, there is a thrill that comes with seeing young talent begin to stretch their wings and flex their creative muscles.
First-time filmmaker Avalon Fast, all of 21 years old, has given film fans just that with her debut, “Honeycomb,” which had its world premiere last month at the Slamdance Film Festival.
“Honeycomb” is raw, unfiltered and brimming with big ideas and powerful observations. The actors on screen aren’t professionals; I suspect that many of them are actually Fast’s friends. But for all its technical shortcomings, none of which detract from the viewing experience, it’s impossible to ignore Fast’s talents, both as a writer and a visual artist.
The story, as much as there is one, concerns a group of young women on summer break who decide to leave the structure, rules and expectations of conventional society behind. They find the perfect spot for their new all-girls community in the form of a remote, uninhabited, but perfectly habitable, cabin far from the town where they live.
If this was a fairy tale, the cabin would be a stand-in for the witch’s hut that exists deep in the dark wood where few brave souls venture.
Once there, the girls enact a new set of guidelines for their new lives as self-sufficient outliers. The rules are simple, yet brutal. Discipline is doled out on a quid pro quo basis. The few boys allowed to visit quickly feel the shift in power dynamics, but this is not their story.
“Honeycomb” is a fascinating visual poem that casually asks questions about why we allow ourselves to be so contained by rules that we didn’t help conceive. It’s a story of primal witchcraft that feeds off the electricity of a shared hive mind without giving in to the rigors of structure.
You can’t stream it, yet, but hopefully soon “Honeycomb” will be available for all to see.
1 star(s), 114 minutes, In theaters
It’s been 24 days since I sat through an advance screening of the fifth film in the “Scream” franchise, which is stupidly titled “Scream,” just like the first film, and I’m still mad.
More than that, I’m honestly confused as to how this new entry has a 7.1/10 IMDb rating and a 78% critical rating and an 82% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Seriously, what the fuck movie did all those people watch? Because it sure as hell wasn’t the overlong, unfunny, unscary, uninteresting and completely redundant movie that I watched.
I mean, for real. How is this abomination getting any favorable press at all?
It opens with YET ANOTHER rehash of the original and iconic ‘what’s your favorite scary movie’ kill sequence.
It then pivots to a new group of high school students in Woodsboro, California, who just so happen to each conform to their respective stereotype from the first film’s core group of students, right down to a horror movie expert and a final girl with past baggage.
It brings back multiple characters from earlier installments, including Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, and acts like this is some huge moment in horror history when these people have appeared in basically every sequel made to date.
It includes so many – so fucking many – shout outs to the late Wes Craven that you might think he just died or something. He didn’t. We lost his particular brand of genre cinema brilliance in 2015.
It features an extended ghost cameo that never really earns the respect that it clearly wants, or makes the kind of seismic impact on the plot that you hoped. And no, I’m not talking ABOUT Ghostface. I’m talking about an actual ghost of a character who died in the very first film.
The only positive thing about this fifth “Scream” is that it provides more people the opportunity to get to know the creative talent behind Radio Silence, filmmakers Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Chad Villella. These guys are actually really, really good. They killed it with “Ready or Not,” “V/H/S” and “Southbound.” I can’t begrudge them for trying their hand at a franchise slasher.
The problem here isn’t just that this “Scream” is redundant. Most slasher sequels are wholly redundant. But we’re living in an age that just saw “Halloween Kills,” the 12th entry in that franchise, become the most popular film in the series, and also one of the best. The reason why is because a new director and new writer (David Gordon Green and Danny McBride) came up with an original idea about how to logically continue a movie that came out 43 years ago, and then they made it into a trilogy that’s proven thus far to be brutal and awesome and everything that a “Halloween” fan could want.
Could the same thing have happened with “Scream”? Maybe, sure. But it didn’t, and now I honestly say I’ve had quite enough of “Scream” to last me the rest of my life.
2.5 star(s), 122 minutes, In theaters and streaming
When he’s not busy destroying childhood memories by ruining classic comic book material, writer/director Simon Kinberg also dabbles in writing action and science-fiction movies that are either hit-or-miss (see ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ and ‘Jumper’). And sometimes, he also directs.
His second feature, “The 355,” is admirable and often entertaining, but it doesn’t do nearly as much to advance female-centric action flicks as it likely wishes despite assembling a wickedly good cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Bingbing Fan, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o.
There are several top-notch set pieces sprinkled throughout “The 355,” which plays off the code word given to the first female spy ever identified during the American Revolution, and fans of James Bond, Jason Bourne and that type of hand-to-hand, tech-geek, cloak-and-dagger-style action will likely thoroughly enjoy.
Maybe I’m jaded by having seen other, lesser known but superior female action properties, but I wanted more, a lot more, and yet I was content with what I received.
Not to be Overlooked:
Shawscope Volume One: Limited Edition Box: For every 10-year-old kid who grew up watching classic kung-fu cinema courtesy of Shaw Brothers Studios in the 1970s every Saturday on TV, Arrow Video has gifted the world with its fantastic and massive “Shawscope Volume One” boxed set. This compendium of 10 discs features 12 classic Shaw Brothers originals, from “King Boxer,” aka “Five Fingers of Death,” to “Five Shaolin Masters” and “Five Venoms.” This is one deluxe set that deserves to be on your collector’s shelf.
Also Available as of Jan. 25
“Roommate Wanted,” “Evil at the Door,” “The Curse of La Patasola,” “Red Angel,” “Liar Liar: 25th Anniversary Edition,” “Shock,” “Old Strangers,” “The Legend of La Llorona,” “Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror,” “Ema,” “Billions: Season Five,” “King Car,” “Monsters in the Closet,” “An Exquisite Meal”