Hell Fest Review: One Helluva Movie!

While at the local showing for the new Halloween-themed flick Hell Fest, I noticed the formatting of the film on the screen was off by several feet. Meaning that the film projected on the wall and not completely on the screen. However, five-minutes into the film I realized it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort to raise from my chair and notify the staff of the issue.

The central idea (or should I say gimmick) of Hell Fest is that it all takes place inside a large haunted house. Six millennial teenagers act as our protagonists and go expecting to have the time of their lives. Only problem? A real-life murderer sneaks into the scare zone, slowly killing off our unsuspecting millennial stereotypes.

Starting with the characters, they’re so blandly clichéd that it’s almost a cliché to even talk about it. These types of cookie cutter characters have been done to death, and films have been satirizing these dull, bimbo idiots even before Wes Craven’s Scream made it cool to do so. They’re so overly sexualized, awkward, and annoying that at no point does it come off as cute. The one benefit to the terrible characters was watching them get killed in some pretty clever ways. One guy gets his head smashed by a test your strength carnival mallet, which I don’t think I have seen in a horror movie thus far. It’s funny, it’s unique, and horror fans will get a kick out of it.

Honestly, if Hell Fest took place anywhere other than a haunted house, I’d be hard pressed to find any redeemable qualities to the film. Thankfully, the costume designer and cinematographer put in overtime making sure the audience absorbed every inkling of horror-themed atmosphere. Everywhere you look there’s another cool costume or interesting prop that really gets me in the spirit of Halloween.

Unfortunately, this novelty wears off.

On a technical basis, Hell Fest was too preoccupied with scaring the cast and not with scaring the viewer. There were far too many reaction shots of the characters being frightened, as if they forgot that we were the ones supposed to be startled. Many moments where somebody jumps out and goes “Boo!”, the camera is focused on the protagonist and not the scare actor, therefore leaving the scene without tension. What’s even worse, we always know exactly where the real killer is going to be, leaving us with a net total of zero scares.

The biggest insult of all was the ending, which was very visibly rushed and ill-thought-out. Without spoiling anything (not that you probably care), there’s hardly a villain vs. hero showdown, and we never see a solid conclusion to the identity of the killer. Really, it felt like Hell Fest was building up to something that it never quite reached because it got bored and gave up.

They attempt to go for the nameless killer trope established in movies like The Strangers, but here it’s much lazier.  And that’s the key word there, lazy. Everything about the direction of Hell Fest just felt like a dull, straight to Netflix horror movie you watch when there’s nothing else on. Instead of earnestly trying to make a decent movie with a good payoff, they distract you with a clever Eighties throwback marketing campaign. Don’t let them trick you into believing this is a nostalgic romp. It’s not.

Hell Fest was essentially a scattershot of excellent Halloween visuals and remarkably poor writing. Those with a passion for the spooky festivities of the season will get the most enjoyment out of Hell Fest, but the rushed third act and lack of resolution is enough to disappoint any moviegoer. Sadly, Hell Fest just didn’t deliver in the scary department.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

The House with a Clock in Its Walls Review

Leave it to director Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno) to make a children’s fantasy film that’s full of bizarre humor and dark imagery. I didn’t even think it was possible to make fun of the disabled in a mainstream movie anymore Yet, Roth made it happen, and somehow the well-timed joke landed a perfect 10 in the process.

This movie begins where most movies are at the 30-minute mark. There’s no introduction to characters or the fantasy world they inhabit. No, we’re thrown right off the deep end without any floaties. Before you know it, our soulless protagonist is learning magic and is knee deep in what this film considers “plot”.

Why is the house alive? How is Jack Black a magical warlock? What is the extent of this magical universe? Who knows and who cares! Pretty much the perfect tagline for this movie.

I’ll attempt to summarize the plot; however it’s been only 24 hours since I’ve seen the film and I already forget several key plot details. Like a distant, hazy dream.

After a car accident kills both his parents, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his mysterious kimono-wearing uncle Johnathan Barnavelt (Jack Black). Lewis quickly learns that Johnathan and his home aren’t as they seem, discovering that his uncle is in fact a wizard. And after Lewis accidentally raises the dead with a powerful spell, he must help his uncle save the world from a malevolent force. Mixed into the plot is a variety of frightening images and intense scenes fused with a whimsical message about family and magic.

The child actor in The Clock deserves an award for worst acting in a motion picture, period. It’s so awkward that scenes meant to be emotional and touching just come off as strange and unintentionally hilarious. In one scene, Owen is crying over the recent death of his parents, and Jack Black attempts to cheer him up by pulling an endless length of handkerchiefs from his pocket. An old magician gag. It’s supposed to be quirky and heartfelt, but the whole scene was just odd.

Yet, that’s kind of the unexpected charm of The Clock, as it teeters between predictable family adventure flick and unforeseen absurdity. Even with the many little idiosyncrasies and plot holes there’s something enjoyable to find in almost every scene. Whether intentional or not.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a good fall themed movie for families with small, brave children that don’t mind some oddball (and slightly offensive) jokes. If you’re laughing at the terrible acting, weird plot, or deliberately goofy scenes, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re laughing and entertained, so I say mission accomplished.

The verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

The Predator Review: An Inconvenient Truth

Apparently, the behavior of a Predator (one of the most iconic movie aliens of all time) doesn’t live up to its own animal kingdom namesake. In actuality, the predator acts more like a bass fisherman than an alien beast on the hunt for humans. Why is Predator on the hunt in the first place, you may ask? Well, because of global warming of course! At least, that’s what I was told by the latest installment to the Predator franchise.

Acting as a sequel to previous films in the series, The Predator features shoulder cannons, thermal scanners, and elaborate costumes and props. Yet, it can’t rise to the charm of previous Predator movies. A bad case of looking the part, but not playing the part.

Take the dialogue between our ragtag group of heroes as an example, which consistently came up shy of clever. Absent is the machismo attitude and testosterone-laced humor that defined the initial 1987 classic. Instead, The Predator gives off more of a carefree, Expendables-type vibe.

Our actors are having fun cracking jokes and messing around, occasionally making fun banter that got laughs from the audience. But when it’s time for characters to get serious, suddenly the holes in the writing start to appear. Point being, this movie isn’t cut out to be a laid-back romp. Where’s the suspense? The tension? The excitement? Three necessary qualities The Predator truly lacks.

The action boasts many scenes of Predator slicing and dicing people, as well as alien guns and technology blowing things up. The Predator seems content in this typical action movie formula, and less demanding moviegoers will be too. There’s plenty of “Ooo… ahh…” moments of Predator destroying things and cheeky comedy between our main cast to get the audience to the end. It will be up to the individual to judge whether it was all worth the time.

Ultimately, this film has no drive to tell a cohesive and well-rounded story. It may not sound like a lot, but it can mean the difference between getting a movie like Predator and one like Alien Vs. Predator 2: Requiem.

Part of the appeal of Predator is in the simplicity of its plot and characters, leaving plenty of time for sci-fi action and suspense. When you strip away the muscle-bound heroes and straightforward plot and substitute it for an overly complex and unfocused narrative, what you’re left with isn’t anything too thrilling for audiences.

The Predator is enough to satisfy two hours of popcorn munching, but not repeated viewings. Especially considering the many better alternatives within the genre and franchise. Most moviegoers will likely leave the theater indifferent, shrugging their shoulders saying, “That was okay.”

“Okay” indeed.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

The Meg Review: 130 Million Dollars Well Spent!

“Tell me, do sharks bleed? You will.”

A semi-accurate quote from one of the most deceiving movies I’ve seen this year, The Meg. A big-budget fantasy thriller disguised as a corny B-movie of the past, The Meg boasts 130 million dollars’ worth of CGI sharks and overly-elaborate science lab equipment.

Yes, to my pleasant surprise The Meg goes beyond the “it’s so bad it’s good” gag and delivers some entertaining performances and general dumb fun. In the end, giving audiences something meatier and more worthwhile than films like Sharknado.

The story unfolds like many terrible shark movies of its kind. Scientists unleashed some prehistoric, gigantic shark and must figure out how to stop it before everyone dies. A simple enough plot only made more difficult with the sheer number of characters involved, including the likes of Jason Statham and Rainn Wilson. Two actors who took this hokey script and ran with it, giving delightfully absurd performances for no apparent reason. After all, it is just a shark movie.

And yet, somehow it all works!

I think what makes a film like The Meg work so well is its refusal to acknowledge how bad the concept is, while also putting in effort to make the film passable as a blockbuster movie. If the film was produced as poorly as something like Sharknado, then audiences would’ve decided to skip it and wait for it’s inevitable Netflix release. But because there was some level of leg work put into something so objectively bad, people were naturally drawn to the stupidity. Resulting in a bizarre blend of high-quality and low-quality effects, bad screenwriting but decent acting, and an uneven plot that was still somehow entertaining.

It isn’t high art, but I’d be lying if I said films like The Happytime Murders, Skyscraper, or The First Purge were any better. Quite the opposite actually. The Meg gives that rush of lame excitement one might find while watching the SyFy Channel on a Tuesday night. Only with enough money put into the movie to pull off all the hilariously bad special effects.

I highly enjoyed watching The Meg and all its 3D glory. And judging from its overwhelming success in the box office (despite negative criticism from hoity-toity critics), I’d say audiences have noticed its humorous charm too.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Deadpool 2 Review

After a rather unexpected turn of events, Wade Wilson (our favorite merc with a mouth Deadpool) finds himself in a life-altering crisis. Following a brief stint with the X-Men, he meets a young and impressionable orphan named Russell (Julian Dennison). When Russell becomes targeted by a mysterious cybernetic supersoldier from the future (Josh Brolin), Deadpool assembles a team of power-challenged heroes to protect Russell and earn some self-respect.

Deadpool 2, much like its predecessor, keeps to the theatricals. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool lets the jokes fly in the best of times, and worst of times. Most of which elicit strong reactions from the audience.

He’s even thrust into the ranks of the X-Men, further allowing the audience to associate him with the X-Men Universe. This encounter is of course brief, as things inevitably go south quick (as humorously depicted in the film).

Deadpool goes as far to create his own superhero squad titled the X-Force. That’s because the name X-Men to him is appallingly sexist. This whole X-Force bit is by far my favorite moment of the film, and really highlights why people love Deadpool in the first place. The humor kept piling on and raising the stakes; and my laughter became more uncontrollable as the joke went on. One moment Terry Crews is slamming into a bus windshield, followed by a guy parachuting into a woodchipper. I typically wouldn’t think something so stupid would be this funny, yet here we are.

Overall, I guess I don’t really have much to say in terms of Deadpool 2‘s diversity from other superhero movies (hence why this review was pushed off for many months). It’s good, it’s funny, but there isn’t much to discuss at this point.

Deadpool was among the first films I ever reviewed; and now three years later – after countless more superhero movies – I feel like a broken record discussing very similar movies on repeat.

All I’ll say it this: being sucked into the strange, macabre, comical world of Wade Wilson is not a hard feat. All the obscure, bizarre references to related (and unrelated) pop culture practically acts as a magnet to mainstream movie-goers. Those who go to see Deadpool 2 will be getting exactly what they expect, and I mean that in the most entertaining way possible.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Happytime Murders Review

What is there to say about The Happytime Murders?

Well, what appeared to be a clever concept for a raunchy adult comedy (of course starring Muppet lookalikes) turned out to be quite the opposite. An unfortunate excuse for Melissa McCarthy and friends to tell bad puppet-related puns. And that’s about it.

The plot, your bare bones buddy cop comedy, stars an ex-officer puppet named Phil Philips (Bill Barretta). After an incident involving the death of a civilian puppet, Philips leaves the force and becomes a private investigator. Now, some twenty years later, an unknown murderer is killing off puppets with ties to Philips. With this in mind, a guilt-ridden Philips decides to take action, teaming up with his old partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve the crime and stop the horrible fluffshed (that’s my joke for the evening, you’re welcome).

There’s approximately thirty seconds of condensed laugh out loud humor in The Happytime Murders, effectively making this film a huge dud. Most of the jokes were dead on arrival, with many scenes dedicated to a single terrible pun. Several sequences of character banter go on for excruciating lengths, and often devolve into “f- you” exchanges and “Says what?” jokes. The kind of low brow humor that passed for comedic genius in fifth grade but everyone grows out of by sixth.

The biggest loser here would have to be Melissa McCarthy, as The Happytime Murders surely won’t be winning her any new fans. It’s likely one of her least funny movies to date. Every unbearable scene was only exacerbated by her presence, with most of her attempts at comedy coming off as forced and misguided. She isn’t wholly to blame for the lack of inventive humor (Who could you really ask to make these lines funny?), but she sure doesn’t help the situation either.

To the film’s credit, the puppets are integrated well among the humans, and I can tell there was a lot of effort put into its execution. However, good intentions can only get you so far. Thirty minutes, to be exact.

Where The Happytime Murders fails massively is in its lazy writing. The most blatant and impactful error is that the plot never drives the humor. Instead, the filmmakers relied on the humor to drive the plot. As mentioned earlier, several scenes are left utterly pointless because they only exist to make one really bad pun. When the joke inevitably flops, the audience is left twiddling their fingers waiting for it to end.

Being directed by Brian Henson (son of the famed puppeteer Jim Henson), there should’ve been a more imaginative vision brought to this movie. A nice idea with some talented people behind it, The Happytime Murders had potential to be an entertainingly oddball flick. To my dismay, this puppet project died quicker than The Muppets. tv show remake.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

BlacKkKlansman Review

I’ve recently had the pleasure of sitting down to watch Spike Lee’s latest hard-hitting film, BlacKkKlansman. Crammed into a nearly sold-out cinema full of anxious moviegoers, I underwent one of the more pleasant theater experiences of my recent memory. Not only for how respectful and participatory the audience was, but also because of how fascinating the film turned out to be.

Surprisingly based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman stars the unlikely protagonist Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black police officer in early 1970’s United States. Eager to make a name for himself as the first African American in the department, Stallworth concocts a plan to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. His plan? Well, join them of course.

To go through with his ridiculous plan, he enlists in the help of his more seasoned colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). With a black man communicating by phone and a Jewish man physically playing the part, they miraculously fool the blockheaded KKK, yet still run a high risk of blowing the undercover investigation.

Together, Ron and Flip discover a serious threat by the Klan that could result in the deaths of several civil rights leaders, and it seems they’re the only ones who can stop it.

BlacKkKlansman doesn’t hit you over the head with its unique style in the way a Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino film might do to a mainstream moviegoer. Rather, it establishes an oddly laid-back, humorous, Blaxploitation-esque mood, with finely-paced camerawork and a reliance on brass instruments for the soundtrack. Those with the eye for it will notice the stylistic choices that differ from typical modern films of this nature.

Much of the humor in the movie derived from how profane and exaggerated the racial insults were, including many tongue-in-cheek references to modern day politics. This brand of comedy works well in this situation, primarily because the clever writing and acting give way to dedicated performances and believable deliveries. Reaction shots of David Duke (Topher Grace) acting like an ignoramus often got big laughs from the audience, and Adam Driver and companies’ insults were so over the top the audience couldn’t help but laugh.

But as we learn very early on, BlacKkKlansman isn’t all fun and games. We open the film with a monologue by Dr. Kenneth Beauregard (Alec Baldwin) explaining the science behind white supremacy. While this scene is inherently funny due to the goofy way Baldwin portrays this so-called scientist, there’s a dark undertone that lingers throughout the rest of the picture.

It re-emerges again later in a particularly poignant scene where the KKK watch a special showing of the historic blockbuster Birth of a Nation; all while a couple miles away an elderly civil rights activist shares his gruesome experiences with the Black Panthers. The camera switches back and forth between the black and white romanticisation of the Klan and the horrifying realities of racism. Very chilling.

In the same vein, we’re given an interesting array of prejudice, and the many shapes and sizes it comes packaged in. There’re outright bigoted ruffians with a chip on their shoulder that you can point at and say, “That’s the bad guy!”. Then you have more finely dressed, seemingly sophisticated types whose hate boils just beneath the surface. The kind of individual you’d bump into on the street and are none the wiser to their personal beliefs.

Those with a facade of sophistication are more capable of perpetuating those hateful views through subtle displays of racism and political sleight of hand, and the ruffians are more apt to act violently on them. It’s a vicious cycle that grows deep, and Spike Lee conveys it with tenacity and conviction.

And just about when the credits were ready to roll, we’re instead greeted by graphic imagery from the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally of 2017. It’s a grim, horrifying display, and a departure from the stories’ pre-established mood. The message couldn’t have been hit home harder.

Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint