The Games We Play
Ready or Not is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and stars Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O'Brien, Henry Czerny, and Andie MacDowell.
In what has been a rather bizarre turn of events, the summer 2019 season for me has been highlighted by a series of short, fun, and bloody horror-thrillers that aim to be nothing more than a good time at the theater. January through May 2019 was more bulked up than usual when it came to new releases that I felt the urge to see and review here on this blog, but then came June, and the new releases slowed down big time: Toy Story 4 ended up being the only true must-see. For those who are reading this wondering why in the hell have I not done a review for the live-action adaptation of The Lion King, it's because of two different reasons.
1.) Disney's non-stop greed has brought about a continued onslaught of everything sacred in their history books; these live-action remakes demanding that you give them your hard-earned money by succumbing to your childhood nostalgia.
2.) I am not a fan of the original Lion King.
So as you can tell by the lack of new reviews throughout this summer season, there's not been a whole lot of action at the theater, adding new meaning to the phrase: "the dog days of summer". Not to worry: the fall 2019 season looks to be offering a fresh batch of worthwhile new releases, so I hope to be getting back into a more consistent routine from here on out.
Now then, moving on to the actual review part of the review. I'm a little hesitant to call Ready or Not a horror movie; there isn't a whole lot going on that can be appropriately considered scary. As the title implies, Ready or Not is a horror-movie version of the game hide-and-seek, where the "seekers" are savage murderers who plan to kill you once they find your hiding spot. Thing is, there's much more to the plot than just watching Samara Weaving outsmart a group of killers. Samara Weaving plays Grace De Lomas. She has just married the filthy rich Alex De Lomas (O'Brien), and, per the De Lomas family tradition, the newly weds must play a game in order for the bride to become fully initiated into the family. Samara draws a card that says hide-and-seek, meaning Grace must go hide while the rest of the family tries to find her. Now, the De Lomas wedding night tradition was first started a long time ago by a man named Justin Le Bail, and Bail had declared that, if the hide-and-seek card was chosen, the family must deliver the bride as a sacrifice before dawn or else they will all die. Grace soon learns what the family intends to do with her, and so, she must evade capture and escape the family estate.
When looking purely at it from a conceptual point of view, Ready or Not is kind of a dumb film. Why did Justin Le Bail curse the De Lomas family such that if they played hide-and-seek above any other game, they would have to offer a sacrifice? The reason that Ready or Not is not a dumb film is because of the way it works from the point of view that's more important: the execution point of view. Ready or Not is described as a satirical outlook on the wealthy, the 1% to be more specific. What the movie wants to drive home is that the super rich are a particular brand of people that are so caught up in their meritorious status that, in the face of danger or some other kind of threat, they will go to whatever lengths necessary to maintain that status. To the wealthy, being wealthy means being like God, like you are on a higher, divine plane that you deserve to stay on your entire life. The great thing is that Ready or Not generates this commentary by being subversive with its story and without having to resort to any sort of shove-it-down-your-throat approach.
- Samara Weaving makes a case for why she could be one of the future's brightest stars, delivering a performance that is equal parts charming, funny, and spine-tingling. The plot likes to throw Grace around like a rag doll: her wedding dress gets ripped to shreds, she busts up one of her hands pretty bad, and she keeps having to find ways to outmaneuver members of this family that want to sacrifice her. Weaving handles it all like a champ: convincing, ghostly facial expressions, grisly shrieks of pain when she gets hurt, and speaking various lines like someone about to have a panic attack. One moment that really sold me on her performance is a scene in which Grace is hiding in the kitchen from the family butler. Grace has a gun she is trying to load with bullets, and as the butler is whistling and making tea on the stove, Grace tries to load the gun, and we get a close-up shot of her eyes, darting in every direction imaginable. Great acting comes in more than just the dialogue being spoken. In this scene, Weaving is playing a character who is making a tough decision (preparing a gun to try and kill someone) in the middle of a perilous situation, so of course she can't quite maintain all her composure. Weaving goes beyond just looking scared and screaming during these kinds of scenes. She adds these extra little details to better encapsulate what someone like Grace would be feeling if they were trapped in a house with several people trying to kill them. Could Samara Weaving be a new Scream Queen? I think Jessica Rothe has a bit of an edge over Weaving at the moment, but I think the potential is definitely there.
- For some odd reason, Ready or Not has an ongoing subplot regarding Alex's brother Daniel, whom we are told is a heavy drinker that has an awkward interest in Grace. The later stages of the plot are heavily influenced by Daniel, and it feels completely forced and unnecessary. Daniel acts strangely throughout the whole movie and is nothing more than a glorified side character, so I am unsure as to what the screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murray was hoping to achieve by giving significant scenes to a character that does basically nothing up until said significant scenes. It would be like if Dak Ralter, Luke Skywalker's co-pilot during the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, was given the exact same amount of screen-time leading up to the battle, but instead of getting killed in battle, Dak would have a brief lightsaber duel with Darth Vader first. Why is this particular character altering the plot's primary chain of events? Because I have no idea. There's only so much you can do with your characters in a 90-95 minute span, but this was not the course of action to take.
All in all, Ready or Not is a fun little horror-thriller that is far more enjoyably goofy than it is legitimately scary. Samara Weaving steals the show with a knockout performance that ought to help establish her as one of cinema's new aspiring actresses, and the movie has a neat and thoughtful criticism on the super rich, providing said criticism with a darkly humorous bite. The writing decisions made with Daniel De Lomas late in the movie are awkward and take away some from the film's story-telling, but this is still the kind of summer-time movie that you can watch and feel rewarded by. It's honestly the best of both worlds: the movie is fun, bloody, and short, and it provides some nice food for thought. That's not a bad way to spend part of your day at a theater, if you ask me, especially in the waning days of summer.
Kaiju is an artifact designed for space travel.
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is directed by Kensho Yamashita and stars Megumi Odaka, Jun Hashizume, Zenkichi Yoneyama, Akira Emoto, and Towako Yoshikawa.
Upon re-watching Godzilla vs. Biollante some months back, I was at least somewhat convinced that that film was the worst the Heisei Godzilla series had to offer. I have come to rescind that statement, because, oh boy: if Godzilla vs. Biollante was a chore to watch, then Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is a chore and then some to sit through. I suppose the one thing Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla has over Godzilla vs. Biollante is that the former is never straight-up boring, but when speaking in terms of pure technical prowess, Godzilla vs. Biollante takes the cake. After bringing many of the classic Showa series kaiju up to speed, the Heisei series would ride off into the sunset with two films, each featuring a new monster for Godzilla to take on. The first of these monsters is an outer space version of Godzilla with the impressively un-creative name of SpaceGodzilla, and if you were thinking that Godzilla gets to travel to outer space to go toe-to-toe with this new monster, I'm sorry to say that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is unwilling to give us such a luxury, despite the fact that Godzilla has already fought in space before. It's also worth noting that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla continues the process of having the demise of one monster plant the seeds for the birth of a new monster. The end of Mecha-King Ghidorah brought about the rise of the new MechaGodzilla, and the end of MechaGodzilla gave way to the new giant mecha, M.O.G.U.E.R.A. So how did SpaceGodzilla come into existence, you ask? Well, it turns out that Godzilla cells from Biollante and Mothra somehow made their way to a black hole and were exposed to radiation, thus generating a space monster that is practically identical to Godzilla.
That's just scratching the surface of how bizarre and crowded the plot is for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. The human side of the story concerns three members of the United Nations G-Force: Koji Shinjo (Hashizume), Kiyoshi Sato (Yoneyama), and Akira Yuki (Emoto). The three travel to Birth Island to execute Project T: a plan to stop Godzilla from attacking cities by controlling his mind with telepathic powers. The plan goes awry when SpaceGodzilla arrives on the island, attacking Godzilla and imprisoning Godzilla's offspring: Little Godzilla (again, impressively un-creative). SpaceGodzilla then departs to go and lay waste to Japan, with Godzilla in hot pursuit. Godzilla isn't alone in his fight, however: the Japan Self-Defense Forces send their new mecha M.O.G.U.E.R.A. to assist.
So you've got a couple human characters and a handful of monsters. Sounds like a typical day at the office for Toho, except that the film flies by at an almost breakneck pace, and the script by writer Hiroshi Kashiwabara crams in so much extra material that it's next to near impossible for any of the film's story-lines to breathe. The whole Project T bit eventually morphs into an in-your-face message about how, "all living creatures have feelings", which serves as a continuation of the environmental messaging from 1992's Godzilla vs. Mothra. Speaking of Mothra, the twin faires (aka The Cosmos) like to show up every now and then to provide encouragement for our recurring psychic character Miki Saegusa (Odaka), and it's about as pointless as poor Little Godzilla, who does nothing but walk around and look cute until SpaceGodzilla shows up and takes him out of the movie entirely. I truly don't know the reasoning behind why all these later Heisei Godzilla series insist on having a baby Godzilla be present. At least Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II made the baby Godzilla feel somewhat integral to the plot, while Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla simply uses a baby Godzilla as a means to put another monster into the movie, no matter how useless said monster is. But anyway, we've got Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, a baby Godzilla, telepathic powers, and a pro-animal, pro-environment message all to worry about, and it all adds up to one cluttered monster movie.
- The good news about Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is that, once SpaceGodzilla shows up on Earth, the monsters pretty much take over the movie, which isn't too long of a wait. The monster fights and special effects though are all over the place: shots of Godzilla using his atomic breath or SpaceGodzilla using his lightning(?) blasts make for some fairly entertaining monster action. Unfortunately, there's next to nothing in the ways of choreography: Godzilla and SpaceGodzilla just stand still and keep blasting each other, while M.O.G.U.E.R.A flies around and launches a few attacks every now and then. The only part of the monster fights with some sense of choreography is when M.O.G.U.E.R.A runs towards SpaceGodzilla and uses a drill attack, and then back off once SpaceGodzilla retaliates. By the way, the M.O.G.U.E.R.A mecha in the film is an updated version of the same robot character that first appeared in the 1957 film The Mysterians. Anyway, the special effects during the monster fights are standard fare for a 1990's Godzilla film, but there's also the occasional ugly green screen shot, particularly during some scenes of Little Godzilla walking around and the Cosmos coming down to speak with Miki in the form of a tiny Mothra. Some shots of the giant SpaceGodzilla crystal flying through space are a bit of an eyesore as well. With the monsters taking over the movie at a relatively early point though, it means that there is plenty of building smashing, colorful lights, and kabooms to satisfy. I wouldn't go as far as to call the monster action enthralling, but it's what you came for, and it's what the movie gives you plenty of.
- Much like the English dubbing, the screenplay for a Godzilla film almost always leaves a few holes to address (although the dubbing is more like a gigantic sinkhole). What hurts this Godzilla movie most of all however is its pacing, in which the absolute bare minimum is done in order to get from Important Plot Point A to Important Plot Point B. No better example than this: there's a scene where Miki is kidnapped by the Yakuza and literally a few minutes later, Shinjo, Sato, and Yuki are attempting to rescue her. Travel time and distance are complete non-factors here: SpaceGodzilla is probably the galaxy's fastest space traveler, and M.O.G.U.E.R.A proves to be quite the space traveler himself, since he can fly out to space, intercept SpaceGodzilla, have a fight, get badly injured, and then return back to Earth all in one perfect run. I know I'm digging too deep into something that doesn't deserve to be nitpicked, but the movie is trying to do so much in so little time, there isn't anything to latch on to and absorb, and thus, the pacing feels wildly off. Kensho Yamashita and Hiroshi Kashiwabara stated they wanted to make the film more lighthearted and to put more emphasis on character development. That sounds nice and all, except that the movie seems to be doing anything and everything to try and get to the monster action, so the whole character development part kind of fizzles out. There's also not much room in the ways of humor, so I am unsure exactly as to where Yamashita and Kashiwabara thought the film was more lighthearted. The movie falls way short of its most ambitious goals, which is a disappointment, because this maybe could have been one of the best Godzilla films ever if Yamashita and Kashiwabara had achieved what they set out to do.
It's a bit much to call Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla a disaster; the movie succeeds at being entertaining from first frame to last frame, with plenty of kaiju action that no Godzilla fan in his or her right mind can complain. Everything else though? Not so great: The special effects are a mixed bag, the story is bloated by Godzilla movie standards, and the pacing is incredibly off. It isn't anywhere near as bad as the likes of Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla's Revenge, but Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla unfortunately takes the crown for worst Godzilla film of the Heisei series. SpaceGodzilla is an okay monster; I like the look of the giant crystals on its shoulders and the alligator-like face that gives him enough distinction from Godzilla. Under the right circumstances, I think this is a monster that Toho could sell. The story we have here from Yamashita and Kashiwabara however, isn't the one to make SpaceGodzilla work. It tries to be a story about telepathy, about how animals have souls, and about Godzilla facing off against an extraterrestrial version of himself. It's never straight-up boring, but watching Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla tends to be a bit of an arduous chore, kind of like a long flight through outer space. If only NASA had SpaceGodzilla's speed.
Recommend? No, but the movie can make for some entertaining monster action.
The Intruder is directed by Deon Taylor and stars Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Dennis Quaid.
If there are any trashy thrillers yet to be released in 2019, it's hard to imagine how any one of them could top The Intruder: a movie whose appeal solely relies on the concept that, "Dennis Quaid is a psycho who comes after a married couple." On paper, psycho Dennis Quaid is a fairly amusing concept, but the fact of the matter is that this concept only goes so far on its own: we don't want to watch Quaid just act as a mindless serial killer; you've got to have the pieces around Quaid to make the concept work. In the case of The Intruder however, the presence of psycho Dennis Quaid is its one and only asset. Everything else in The Intruder amounts to a steaming hot pile of garbage, and thus, you've got yourself a near dumpster fire of a film, only to be remembered because of the commitment of its most recognizable star.
The film tells the story of married couple Scott (Ealy) and Annie (Good) Howard. The two purchase a home out in Napa Valley from the home's long-time owner, Charlie Peck (Quaid). Charlie tells Scott and Annie his wife passed away from cancer two years ago, and that he will be moving down to Florida to live with his daughter. Scott and Annie seem to easily adjust to their new home, except for the fact that Charlie insists on showing up at the house again and again. Charlie explains that his move to Florida got delayed, but it soon becomes clear that Charlie has a different agenda in mind: he refuses to give up the house and will go to whatever lengths necessary to take it back from Scott and Annie.
It's one thing to have an over-the-top Dennis Quaid. It's another thing though to put him in a movie with this kind of ridiculous plot: one that seems incompatible with a title such as The Intruder. I guess in a literal sense, The Intruder is the most appropriate title this movie could have: Charlie Peck is intruding on a property that no longer belongs to him. What's problematic though is that the movie, for at least half the running time, treats Charlie like he's that annoying neighbor who won't leave you alone, as opposed to a clearly deranged psychopath that is secretly plotting to kill or kidnap you. To be fair, The Intruder gives you details illustrating that Charlie has always been a psychopath, but they're so paltry that, had it not been for the title, you wouldn't have any clue of his true motives until around the last half hour of the film.
- It's not all bad: Dennis Quaid's performance gives the movie some value as an unintentional comedy. It's not so much that Quaid doesn't fit the role; it's the poor direction given to him by Deon Taylor, who seems to believe that acting psychotic means Quaid twitching and giving as many goofy smirks as humanly possible. And this is not smirking that would remind you of Norman Bates's "she wouldn't harm a fly" smile. No, this is the kind of smirking you would likely see from a adolescent teenage boy watching a porno for the first time in his life. It's supposed to be scary (at least I think it is), but it only gets funnier the more times you see it. Nonetheless, Quaid is trying to do whatever he can to breathe some life into the film, so the effort is definitely there. Quaid alone makes the film entirely watchable, and who knows? You might actually have a good time with it.
- We can rip the screenplay by David Loughery to shreds, because it's about as brainless as you can possibly imagine. Entire subplots and other important details that the movie draws attention to are discarded completely at one point or another. Scott getting in trouble with Annie because he goes out to a bar to have some drinks with his clients? Nah, we can just do away with that as if it never happened. How about Scott being paranoid around guns? Well, the ending of the movie suggests this is a lie. The Intruder suffers from short-term memory loss, only worrying about the here and now and not anything like foreshadowing or character development. If it doesn't benefit what's happening in the plot RIGHT NOW, it's not important. If that weren't enough, the script is also doing whatever it takes to pad the movie up to its 102 minute run time. Entire scenes of Charlie visiting the house or scenes of Scott and Annie having sex could be cut out of the movie entirely, and it would do absolutely nothing to alter the plot. This exact same story could be told in 85ish minutes with the same piss poor level of execution. It's an all-around terrible script that holds nothing creative or insightful.
- Believe it or not, but the screenplay isn't the worst thing about The Intruder, although there certainly is an argument to be made for why it is. The worst thing about The Intruder is its utter incompetence in regards to building suspense. The only thing that comes close to resembling suspense in The Intruder is the curiosity of when Charlie Peck is finally going to snap. Everything that tries to build up to that conversion to pure insanity only fuels the movie's unintentional hilarity. Uh-oh! Annie spots Charlie outside mowing the grass! What's gonna happen the next time Charlie sees Annie's lawn in poor condition? Oh no! Charlie brought over some pies! Then he brings over a pizza! Is he going to start cooking for Scott and Annie? All these scenes of Charlie visiting the house only show him acting courteous or helping Annie with mundane, everyday tasks, none of which are designed in a way to help improve the fear of Charlie being a psychotic killer. It's essentially the same scene being recycled over and over again, only each time, Scott starts to get a little more suspicious, while Annie continues to act as hospitable as can be, completely oblivious to the weirdness behind Charlie's frequent visits. When the movie decides to finally have Charlie snap, nothing has been done to make his character at least remotely scary, which should still be at least somewhat possible, despite the fact that Charlie is being played by an over-the-top Dennis Quaid. Yes, the plot is fairly predictable and has been done before in other movies. That doesn't mean the journey from Point A to Point Z has to take all the same twists and turns. It's all about the "how", not the "what".
If it weren't for Dennis Quaid and his over-the-top performance, The Intruder would likely have just come into theaters, make a few quick bucks and change, and then slink off slowly into the $5 DVD Bargain Bin. It's a garbage film: a terrible screenplay, idiotic characters, and a complete inability to build suspense. However, it's a perfectly watchable garbage film, and it's all thanks to Mr. Quaid and his ability to give the film the silliness it needs to give you at least a few good laughs. These type of domestic thrillers sneak into theaters at least once or twice every year, and I don't think you'll find a more perfectly trashy domestic thriller in 2019 than The Intruder. A concept like psychotic Dennis Quaid could work with the right group of people. Quaid is perfectly talented enough to play a villain role like this one. For the sake of unintentional hilarity though, it couldn't have ended up much better than this.
Recommend? It's good for a few laughs on a boring, slow day.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: