Capsule Movie Reviews: Week of 5/4/20


Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Andrea Riseborough in “The Grudge” (2020)

Dean Robbins, Allegheny Campus staff

The Grudge (Theatrical; Now on VOD): Universally reviled, the 2020 remake of The Grudge came and went rather quickly. So, I may be in the minority when I say I liked it. Director Nicolas Pesce clearly studied at the School of James Wan because he structures the scares in a similar way. But what Pesce brings to the table is a consistent sense of nihilism and dread. This is likely why almost everyone who saw it hated it. It has an F Cinemascore, which is rare. The film is pretty clear that you can never really get rid of the Grudge. It’s a virus that causes one to be violent towards others and to oneself. At times, it’s terrifying. People are driven to madness by the little girl with the long black hair. 6/10

Underwater (Theatrical; Now on VOD): The biggest problem with Underwater is how it comes and goes like a tide. It is competently made, the actors are (mostly) likable, and the world is interesting. The problem is that Underwater plays out an event with little set-up and little in the way of epilogue. What you see is what you get. Underwater follows a crew of underwater mine workers who accidentally awaken something sinister. The film does not have much to say. The event happens. The movie ends. This is why I left the film a little underwhelmed. Die-hard horror sci-fi fans will find a lot of fun in this one. Yet, it offers little in the way of re-watchability or analysis. It’s disposable. 6/10

The Happiness of the Katakuris (Watched on Prime): Takashi Miike has made a career out of shock. His most famous films are the infamous Audition and Ichi the Killer. In The Happiness of the Katakuris, he throws a bit of a curveball. Encompassing Claymation, musical numbers, giallo murders, and a looming sense of annihilation, The Happiness of the Katakuris is both wholesome and malicious. The film follows a Japanese family running a small bed and breakfast which has seen little to no customers. The customers they do get keep dying. And there’s a volcano. And did I mention there are musical numbers and inexplicable Claymation sequences? The film doesn’t work and that’s kind of the point. The Katakuris are relentlessly, well, happy even after they are confronted with a grisly reality. The ending, evoking The Sound of Music, reflects that. Everything is destroyed and yet they are dancing in the meadows. That’s not a real spoiler as you really have to see this movie to fully get it. And you still won’t get it. 6.5/10

Spotlight on Indie Talent: Rani Deighe Crowe: Throughout the next few weeks, I would like to spotlight some up and coming indie talent. Rani Deighe Crowe is a English professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She has worked in film as well as theater. She has to date made seven short films. But I would like to highlight three that are accessible for free on Vimeo. Beautiful Eyes, her first film and best, is a Burton-esque story of a morbid teen girl who is taken to the hair salon by her mother to get “fixed”. It is a surrealist take on gender roles and expectations. Highly recommended. Two other shorts, Texting: A Love Story and Estragon’s Boot are also available on Vimeo. They are both very low-budget but are often witty and insightful. For me, I plan to keep an eye on what Crowe does in the future. 

Dolittle (Theatrical; Now on VOD): If there is any reason to eat the rich, Dolittle is a top candidate. Universal somehow managed to spend almost $200 million on making a bad TV series pilot. So many mistakes in the production of this film were made. Why hire Stephen Gaghan to direct this film? Gaghan is best known for the serious drama Crash and has never directed a film even close to this before. Why Robert Downey Jr would you give us a Razzie-worthy performance right after Endgame? Most of Downey’s lines are almost incomprehensible as he uses a strange English accent for absolutely no reason. In fact, Downey says all of his lines like he’s drunk and sleepy. Phoned-in wouldn’t be the right word. I’d call it “slept through”. And somehow this film was Downey’s passion project? And somehow it was his idea to be farted on by a dragon as an important scene in the film. Why? Why? Why? The animals themselves aren’t even particularly important to the film. It very well could have been made without them. That’s insane. That’s like saying they could make Marley & Me without the dog. But this is even worse. Universal must have said they wanted to make Marley & Me without the dog and have it be directed by Abel Ferrara. There are so many celebrities voicing the animals but they leave no impression. Selina Gomez plays a giraffe and has approximately three lines. The fact is more interesting than her performance. Even Tom Holland, who likely has the biggest voice role, is barely in the film. I think that RDJ must have called a bunch of celebrity friends and asked them to say a few lines over the phone. So if the animals have no point and RDJ is bad, what is left? Well, there is supposed to be adventure. The adventure in question consists of a few locations, some transport time, two horribly edited action scenes, and absolutely zero puzzle solving or critical thinking involved. One of the action scenes is just a montage of animals breaking into a castle with a voiceover because apparently they couldn’t actually pull off the action scene. Despite the absolute void that is this movie, Universal still managed to spend ALMOST 200 MILLION DOLLARS ON THIS AWFUL FILM. They could have built several libraries, an art museum, fed an entire African country, anything. And what we get is a big pile of nothing. 2.5/10

Like a Boss (Theatrical; Now on VOD): Like a Boss had all of the pieces in place for a funny female-oriented comedy. Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne, and Salma Hayek can be very funny. Pittsburgh native Billy Porter is in this movie! The jokes are funny if you say them back in your head. But in the final product, they just do not work. It could be the boring and shoestring story. It could be the endlessly annoying antagonists (played by Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang who committed an even bigger crime to cinema in another movie this year…). I don’t know. We may never know. It could be because mainstream comedy is dead. Who knows? 4.5/10

Disney History #1: 1932 (Watched on Disney+): When Disney+ launched in November of 2019, I started a project to watch everything in chronological order. Well, nobody told me that was a bad idea, so here we are. Disney+ is missing a lot of early Disney films but it contains the highlights. It starts with Steamboat Mickey (1928), one of the most famous animated shorts ever. But enough has been said about that. From 1928, Disney+ skips to 1932 with three animated shorts. Santa’s Workshop is a fluid and fun little short that would be better with less racism. The art style is clearly late 20s/early 30s and reminds me a bit of Little Orphan Annie. You can see it in the pencil work. 7.5/10. Babes in the Woods is a dull but not bad retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. It’s saved by the joyful life of the animation. 6.5/10. Finally, Flowers and Trees, which was Disney’s first animation in color and is quite impressive for that. I wish the Silly Symphony shorts went better with the music. The music seems more like a score than a rhythm if that makes any sense. 8/10. Stay tuned for next week when we discuss 1933! It’s all uphill from here. 

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Theatrical): I briefly want to mention this documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. For seasoned film fans, there is little new here. However, if you aren’t aware of what goes into the sound design and editing of films, this is definitely worth a watch. It traces the history of sound in film as well as the fields of sound in film such as foley, sound editing, sound mixing, ADR, and more. 6.5/10

Just Mercy (Theatrical; Now on VOD): A few years back, I had the privilege of hearing a keynote lecture by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, working to end racism in the US Justice System. He is a living superhero. He did a TED Talk which I highly recommend. Listening to him speak was surreal. He tells stories of a world that is so awful it is almost unbelievable. A world where falsely accused children are attacked while detained in a prison for adults. A world where men are executed just because of the color of their skin. And so few people are talking about it. But great suffering can cause great people to emerge. Every superhero needs an origin story. That is Just Mercy. It’s a little too long. It’s a little conventional. However, there are few more powerful arguments against the death penalty and the modern US Justice System than Just Mercy. There are moments where you just want to close your eyes and live in a world where things like what’s on the screen don’t exist. Except they do. Just Mercy forces you to look in the eyes of the Other, to feel empathy, to understand dignity. “But simply punishing the broken–walking away from them or hiding them from sight–only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.” 8.5/10

The Turning (Theatrical; Now on VOD): I was very excited for The Turning (2020). The Turning is an adaptation of the novel “The Turning of the Screw”. It was adapted into an incredible The Innocents, which ranks as one of my all-time favorites. The Turning was going to be The Innocents but starring Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, and Brooklynn Prince, all actors I like a lot. But what director Floria Sigismondi has put on the screen is a creative disaster. As an adaptation of the book, it fails. The story is about a woman named Kate who gets a job caring for two rich orphans named Miles and Kate. As the tale goes, it becomes increasingly clear that the children are being influenced by dead former residents of their giant mansion. For sake of spoilers, I will leave it at that. One of the strengths of The Innocents and the book is that Miles and Kate are blissfully unaware of this. They know something is going on but not the full extent of it. In The Turning, Kate is still mostly unaware. However, Miles who is now aged up, is far too aware. The reason for this is that the film is attempting to offer commentary on how role models instill oppressive cultural structures like misogyny. The line between Miles himself and the will of his dead role model is blurred. It doesn’t work in a broader thematic context, which I won’t dive into due to spoilers. Yet for some reason, Sigismondi adds a new plot detail to the story. The sanity of Kate becomes questioned. This alone doesn’t work. If the film wants to talk about rape culture and misogyny, why is it also doubting its main character’s sanity? But a whole subplot surrounding Kate’s mother, black paintings, beds in empty swimming pools, and visions is added on to the film, does not work with the rest of the film, and makes zero sense. I still have absolutely no idea what the ending was supposed to mean. It’s a massive out-of-left-field slap in the face that is completely unrelated to most of the story. And then the credits roll to this quasi-punk rock song that confuses you even more. You could divide this film into five or six parts and have it make some sense. But when put together, they are contradictory. Stay far away from this stinker. 2/10

Color Out of Space (Theatrical; Now on VOD): Color Out of Space is not going to work for most watchers. It’s gross, repulsive, disturbing, weird, over-the-top, surreal, and ghastly. Color Out of Space feels like a wild combination of Annihilation (2018) and Heredity (2018) starring Nicholas Cage. Cage is insane in this film. But when your family is attacked by the mutations of an alien asteroid, what do you expect? Due to the insanity, Color Out of Space is on the verge of implosion at all times. Maybe Cage is too over-the-top. Maybe the story is getting too absurd. But director Richard Stanley knows when to pull back from the cliff. It’s an adrenaline rush and LSD trip of a film about the sometimes terrifying erratic-ism of familial life and what happens when all of your alpacas are mutated into a monstrosity by an unexplained extraterrestrial object. “I live here”. 7/10