Cinema Dispatch: Willy’s Wonderland

Willy’s Wonderland and all the images you see in this review are owned by Screen Media Films

Directed by Kevin Lewis

You know, Nicolas cage may not be in big Hollywood movies anymore but he’s got a decent eye for the VOD and Indie markets.  He’s worked with guys like Panos Cosmatos, he was in probably the best HP Lovecraft movie in I don’t know how long, and that Brian Taylor movie Parents was an absolute trip and frankly should have gotten much more attention than it did.  Now he’s starring in an unofficial Five Nights at Freddy’s movie which would otherwise looks like an Asylum knock off.  Say what you will about Cage, at least he hasn’t gotten to Carmen Electra, C Thomas Howell, and Danny Trejo levels yet!  Does Nicolas Cage prove once again prove his savviness at picking low budget projects, or was this just an easy paycheck for all involved?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with a mysterious stranger (Nicolas Cage) getting the tires on his car ripped apart on a random country road near a dead end country town.  How much of a dead end is this town?  They don’t just lack any sort of internet service here, they don’t even have the infrastructure to support ATMs which means that Cage can’t just pay for the tires; he has to do this the old fashioned way with a favor and a handshake.  The town Business Guy (Ric Reitz) offers to pay for Cage’s new tires if he spends the night cleaning his janky as heck pizza place called Willy’s Wonderland; a children’s pizzeria with a cast of animatronic characters that love nothing more than to sing their happy songs for the children.  Unfortunately the little pizza shop has a VERY sordid past but that’s about to change as our local Business Guy is hoping to fix it up and get it running again which is all going to start with a little bit of elbow grease and a lots of window cleaner!  Cage silently agrees and is locked inside for some reason, but he doesn’t mind because he’s got a job to do and a bag full of PUNCH COLA to keep him nice and hydrated!  All is not as it seems however as some local kids led by Liv Hawthorne (Emily Tosta) are trying to burn the place to the ground but decide to try and convince Cage to come out first before they do it.  And why would they want to do that?  Well if the creepy animatronics and shady deal with the Business Guy wasn’t enough of a clue, it turns out this place is haunted for some reason and that she has some very grisly experiences with the place, so turning it to ashes will bring some degree of closure for her.  Still, seems like a bad idea to just run into the pizzeria full of haunted and murderous robots no matter how fluffy their fur is and it turns into a fight for survival as the teens try to escape the death trap and Cage continues to clean up stains wherever he finds them!  Will the horrors of this place finally be put to bed with the help of our mysterious stranger?  What exactly is keeping this place standing all these years, and why is Business Guy so gung ho to reopen in the first place?  Will Nicolas Cage clean the floors so well that you could eat off of them!?

“Is there an ostrich behind me?”     “Yes.”     “Is he tracking in mud?”     “Uh… maybe?”     “I hate it when they do that…”
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Cinema Dispatch: Bliss

Bliss and all the images you see in this review are owned by Amazon Studios

Directed by Mike Cahill

So hey!  Either studios are getting bolder in 2021 and are actually releasing stuff, or I’m finally paying attention and now have about two months’ worth of releases to look forward to across my various streaming services!  I’m definitely ready to get back on that movie reviewing horse (even though this review is coming out almost a week after the movie did), and what better film to herald this renewed vigor than a movie literally named after a word for happiness!  So does Amazon’s sci-fi take on a less action heavy Matrix (or a less dreamlike Eternal Sunshine) prove to be as good as the title promises, or is the true bliss the moment you decide to turn the movie off?  Let’s find out!!

Gregg Wittle (Owen Wilson) is your typical upper middle class miserable white dude.  He’s recently divorced, he hates his job, and while he loves his kids they’re pretty much grown now and there seems to be some issues there he doesn’t feel like confronting.  Instead, he spends his time drawing pictures of a better life which may be cathartic for him but because that’s ALL he does at work he ends up getting fired.  Just as well, I mean the place is a dismal office building with all life and personality scrubbed out of it, but in the real world you can’t just get fired and let everything fall to the wayside.  Or can you!?  Drinking his misery away, Gregg meets a woman named Isabel Clemens (Salma Hayek) who recognizes him as someone special and whisks him away on an adventure of homelessness and telekinetic powers!  Why?  Well according to Isabella, this is a fake reality that she built and that nothing here matters!  The people are fake, the boredom is fake, the lousy jobs are all fake, and she’s here to show Mr. Wittle that’s he’s not so Wittle after all!  Seems like an enticing proposition and there is certainly some evidence to support this, but there are also many questions as well that Isabel either has a convenient technobabble excuse for or is outright hesitant to confront, so does Greg dare to hope that his boring meaningless life can be changed in an instant by this benevolent benefactor?  If everything is a simulation though, doesn’t that mean his kids aren’t real either?  How would you even define if they are real if the feelings are genuinely there?  Can we call Morpheus in to explain this?  He’s pretty good at this kind thing.s

“Real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain, and guess who’s got a Taser!” “Whoa.” “Heck YEAH, whoa!”
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Cinema Dispatch: Sightless

Sightless and all the images you see in this review are owned by MarVista Entertainment
Directed by Cooper Karl

Alright, look.  As much as I would LOVE to do nothing more than watch wrestling and play Halo until the world gets back to normal, I need to get back into some regular routines and that’s going to start with reviewing some movies.  Yes, this movie was released last year and I could have watched it on digital, but it just got its Netflix release and frankly I never even HEARD of it until I was looking for something to watch.  Warner Bros is going to do its best to keep me relevant in the coming months with their movies coming straight to HBO Max the same time as they hit theaters, but I’ll be filling the cracks with whatever catches my eye and, perhaps most importantly, whatever I can watch with the BAJILLION streaming services I’m already paying for.  So then!  Does this thriller deserve a second chance at relevance now that it’s graced the front page of Netflix, or is this just more filler for an already bloated catalog of films that no one has heard of?  Let’s find out!!

Ellen Ashland (Madelaine Petsch) is having a rough go of it.  Not only was she attacked by a masked stranger, they sprayed her in the eyes with a chemical that has left her permanently blind and now she has to move to a new apartment to adjust to living a life without vision.  Thankfully she comes from money and her brother not only covers the apartment but also pays for a nurse named Clayton (Alexander Koch) to take care of her and ease the transition.  Ellen is certainly not taking this turn of events with good humor and spends a lot of her time feeling miserable for herself despite the constant efforts by Clayton to get her to open up and embrace her new life, but as the days stretch on she starts to notice strange things around her.  There’s a couple next door that seem to be hiding some awful secrets, she starts to feel and hear things that may or may not be there, and you’d think she’d get at least one Get Well card!  I know that forwarding mail can be a pain, but still!  All of these strange things quickly add up and she finds herself in a situation where she can’t trust anything; least of all her own sense.  Is Ellen stuck with a bad case of paranoia after such a terrible attack and a life changing event?  Is there something in her past that’s coming back to bite her now that she’s in a much more vulnerable situation?  Is it just me, or does this dude look like five hot guys mashed into one; from Tom Welling circa 2003 to that Philosophy Tube guy.

“You can’t see me, so imagine me however you’d like.”     “Okay, I’m picturing Nicolas Cage.”     “I… don’t think I have that acting range.”
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Cinema Dispatch: Top 5 Best Movies of 2020

Now that we’ve got the bad movies out of the way, it’s time for us to focus on what was good because despite EVERYTHING that went oh so wrong this year, there were more than enough highlights to help us get through it all.  With hope (and a lot of hard work) on the horizon, we’ll take one last look at the films that made 2020 more than just a dumpster fire before jumping into 2021 with renewed vigor and a spring in our step (and a few prosecutions against the outgoing administration wouldn’t go amiss either)!  Let’s get started!!

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Honorable Mention: MOVIES IN THEATERS

In the US we got about three months of movies before everything shut down, and while there were some absolutely DREADFUL ones (particularly in January), it was actually shaping up to be a pretty darn good year!  There were movies that looked good and lived up to those expectations like The Gentlemen and Birds of Prey, but we had a LOT of surprises; not in terms of movies that turned out to be five star classics, but movies that SHOULD have been terrible but were actually pretty decent!  I mean think about it, can you imagine a world prior to 2020 where a Sonic the Hedgehog movie WASN’T going to be in everyone’s worst list or that a Vin Diesel vehicle would have decent writing?  Sadly the COVID pandemic cut everything short; not just the big blockbusters we know about like No Time to Die, Black Widow, or Dune, but all the other movies that don’t get months of buildup and turn out to be great regardless.  For years I had been seeing two to three movies a week and while a lot of them weren’t great there were more than enough to make it all worthwhile.  Now that everything is either streaming or pushed back, it’s difficult for me to find that passion to just try and watch everything when I could just as easily watch reruns of It’s Always Sunny or The Simpsons with just as much effort and without spending an extra penny.  Maybe the days of rushing to the theater every other day are gone for good and I won’t be returning to it even after this is all over, but that’s how I saw a lot of the movies I still love to this day and that’s how I saw some pretty darn good movies this year!

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Cinema Dispatch: Top 5 films of 2020 That Need Improvement

It’s certainly been one heck of a year, hasn’t it?  Well it’s finally about to end so you can stop hearing me prattle on about it (we’ll see how 2021 goes), and before we end any year we must take one look back to reflect and see what we can learn.  This year more than most, there’s SO many important lessons to take away, but in my little sphere of film criticism it’s feeling less and less important to rage against the disappointments that were had; especially considering the circumstances that everyone was trying to work around at every turn.  Like last year this will hopefully be more of a CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM list than a merciless spanking of movies I didn’t like, and I decided to post this one first because I’d rather end this year on a good note with the BEST OF list instead and using this space to scream one more time at everything that went wrong in 2020.  Let’s get started!!

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Honorable Mention: ALMOST ALL THE COVID ERA RELEASES

Yeah, let’s just head butt the elephant in the room right off the bat!  With COVID shutting down theaters it was one big game of chicken as studios with more to lose tried to hedge their bets on later releases while those with less confidence were more apt to let them go on streaming services.  Because of that, a lot of the mediocre movies we would have gotten parceled out throughout the year were frontloaded in the summer and a lot of the movies we were most looking forward still haven’t come out yet.  We still haven’t seen the new James Bond movie or Black Widow, but Scoob and Trolls World Tour?  Sure, why not give them twenty bucks to rent it?  Even the bigger movies that eventually limped their way to the home market like Mulan were hardly worth all the fuss, and even the one movie I saw this year with the nerve to sneak out to theaters (I saw it at a drive thru) was New Mutants; a movie destined to fail whenever it came out so why not make it an even bigger joke by releasing it when it’d be dangerous to do so?  We have the vaccine now, but it’s looking like it will be almost another year before things get back to normal, and with Warner Bros getting into fights with production studios over releasing movies on HBO Max it’s not clear if everyone will be on board with calling 2020 films a wash and just letting them come out so the next slate of movies can have their time shine.  There were a few highlights here and there but 2020 was pretty much a nightmare across the board, and while 2021 seems like it will be no less… interesting, hopefully it will be the start of something better for everyone.

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Cinema Dispatch: Happiest Season

Happiest Season and all the images you see in this review are owned by Hulu

Directed by Clea DuVall

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and watched a new movie, hasn’t it?  Okay, at THIS point it’s not exactly a new movie as it’s been out for over a week now, but it’s been harder to keep up with what’s coming out and which films are worth seeking which is a far cry from the very structured way I used to do them when they came out in theaters, but we ten months into this nightmare and we all need to find new ways to work with the new normal.  In any case, I heard murmurings about this about a week before it came out which is usually a good sign to check it out, and the premise at least looked like it had SOMETHING worth talking about to separate it from all the other Christmas movies that come out each year.  Now that I’ve finally seen it, does it live up to the modicum of hype it built for itself, or did Hulu trick me into watching something that otherwise should have been on the Hallmark channel sandwiched between A Shoe Addict’s Christmas and Fir Crazy?  Let’s find out!!

Abbey Holland (Kristen Stewart) is in a wonderful relationship with her girlfriend Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) and after spending the better part of a year together she thinks she’s ready to ask her to marry her!  Fate has other ideas in mind however as it’s Christmas time and on a whim Harper asks her to join her family for Christmas which SEEMS innocuous enough… but just as they’re about to pull into the drive way Harper tells Abbey that her family has NO IDEA she’s a lesbian and that they have to pretend to just be friends.  Seems like a red flag big enough to see from space, but Harper assures her that she’ll tell her parents AFTER Christmas and so Abbey begrudgingly goes along with it.  From there it’s what you’d expect as the family members each have their own eccentricities and barely concealed hatreds for one another which Abbey just sits back and enjoys, but keeping this secret proves to be harder than it looks; especially when Harper’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) tries to set her up with an old boyfriend (Jake McDorman), and her dad (Victor Garber) is a politician which means they are under a microscope whenever they leave the house.  Fortunately there’s a ray of light in this town in the form of Riley (Aubrey Plaza) who was Harper’s first girlfriend and seems to know what Abbey is going through, and if all else fails Abbey’s got a Gay Best FriendTM back home named John (Dan Levy) who’s watching her pets and is always ready to dispense sassy advise when needed!  Can Abbey survive being in this awkward situation, and will her relationship with Harper fall apart in the process?  What is it about her family that has made Harper so paranoid about them finding out she’s a lesbian, and can any of justify what she’s having her girlfriend go through?  Then again, if it’s THIS easy to fool her parents, maybe this is just a warm up to some big heist or something!

“We’re friends!”     “JUST friends!”     “Which is obvious!”     “And a very normal thing to say!”     …     “I think they’re buying it!”
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Cinema Dispatch: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and all the images you see in this review are owned by Amazon Studios

Directed by Jason Woliner

Remember when Borat was a thing?  I mean EVERYTHING feels longer ago these days, but that movie was a genuine phenomenon for a while there and launched Sacha Baron Cohen into stardom.  Fourteen years later, he finally returns to the character and gives us the sequel that… well we REALLY haven’t been waiting for since Bruno was kind of the sequel already, but perhaps the sequel that we NEED right now considering everything that’s going on in the world.  Will this movie be VERY NICE like the first one, or will it get old faster than when everyone was doing Borat impressions?  Let’s find out!!

Fourteen years after the first film came out, we find Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) imprisoned in his country of Kazakhstan for bringing shame and ridicule to its people after being part of such a silly movie.  His chance at redemption comes however when the Kazakhstani government decides to send a gift to the Great Leader Donald Trump and gives Borat the opportunity to deliver it to his best buddy Michael Pence while recording his journey.  With his gray suit, well-trimmed mustache, and a heart full of dreams, he heads to America to await the President’s gift and then deliver it to DC.  However, things go awry when the box arrives and inside he finds NOT Kazakhastan’s prized monkey named Johnny to gift to The Donald, but instead his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) and a bunch of monkey bones.  It seems that she wanted to join him on his journey and also got very hungry during the trip, so now Borat must find some other way to appease the Orange Leader.  Upon realizing that the Cheeto in Chief likes young women, he decides to clean Tutar up and give her as a gift so she can become a princess like Melania Trump which Tutar is all for considering the alternative is to live her life in a cage; as is the Kazakhstani custom for women who are not married yet, and at fifteen years old she’s already over the hill!  Will Borat make good on his promise to deliver his daughter to Mike Pence so his country can finally stop being the laughingstock of the world?  What will Tutar learn about herself now that she’s in the land of the free and the home of the Whopper?  Just how many douchebags did he beat off with a stick to get the shots he needed!?

“WAIT! YOU STILL NEED TO HEAR ABOUT ‘MY WIFE’!!”
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Cinema Dispatch: The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time and all the images you see in this review are owned by Netflix

Directed by Antonio Campos

It looks like Warner Bros non-stop protestations that movies and movie theaters are back has failed to materialize as the world is still ravaged by a pandemic and studios are still shy about putting anything out to overwhelmingly empty theaters.  I guess it means we’re going back to the Netflix well once again which is perfectly fine as we ALL need to do our part to keep people safe, and they’ve been putting out a steady stream of original movies so I’m pretty much spoiled for choice until the world decides to reopen again.  So with the breadth of Netflix’s catalog in front of me, which one do I choose?  Well it was either Cuties or the new movie with Robert Pattinson, and as much as I hear good things about Cuties (and hear bad things from the absolute WORST people about it), I had to stick with my main man Robbie P and see what he’s up to!  Does this movie satiate the listless masses for another week of perpetual lockdown, or does the dour tone of this movie hit a bit TOO close to home right now?  Let’s find out!!

Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) is your typical sweet kid from the country with a definite chip on his shoulder.  He has a strong sense of right and wrong, but given enough of a push he can be convinced to take serious action against those who slighted him and his family.  Perhaps he got that mean streak in him when he was a kid (Michael Banks) and his father (Bill Skarsgård) used to do the same thing.  Perhaps it has to do with his mother (Haley Bennett) who died of cancer when he was young and the… interesting actions his father took during that time.  Still, he doesn’t have much to complain about considering he lives with his loving grandma (Kristin Griffith) and… let’s go with half-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) and leave it at that.  To get into the specifics there is something I’ll leave the movie to explain, but needless to say that things are pretty good for him, and as long as they aren’t surrounded by a bunch of terrible people to set Arvin off, things will go just fine for them!  Well I hate to break it to you, but there are some bad people in this little town and Arvin is stuck right in the middle; between the devils all around him and the devils within himself.  Does the world push Arvin to take drastic measures to restore order in the face of injustice, and can one man survive in a world full of bad people?  What will Arvin lose of himself in this story of pain, loss, and vengeance, and is there any sort of light at the end of the tunnel once he’s found the justice he seeks?  This sounds like a superhero origin story, though PROBABLY not the one that Holland usually plays.

“I’M BATMAN!!”     “Wait, I thought I was Batman?”
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Cinema Dispatch: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music and all the images you see in this review are owned by United Artists Releasing

Directed by Dean Parisot

There haven’t been many rays of sunshine during the last few months of lock-down, but one of them was the first trailer for Bill & Ted Face the Music.  I remember hearing that Reeves and Winter were trying to make this movie back when I was in COLLEGE which at this point that was a depressingly long time ago, but after years of starts and stops, hype and silence, and Keanu Reeves regaining his A-List star clout (as well as becoming everyone’s Favorite Person Ever), the duo have finally returned to give us one more adventure with the Wyld Stallyns.  Is it a beautiful trip down memory lane for all the fans that loved this franchise, or is it too little too late for all the years of anticipation?  Let’s find out!!

Bill S Preston Esq and Ted Theodore Logan (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) have spent their entire lives trying to write the song that unites the world which apparently was NOT God Gave Rock And Roll To You.  Apparently someone else wrote that song and the Wyld Stallyns haven’t come up with a better one since then despite releasing several albums over the years; some of which were decent but they fell off the charts pretty quickly and have been scraping by for some time now.  At least they have loving families that support them as Bill is still married to Princess Joanna (Jayma Mays) and they have a daughter Thea (Samara Weaving) while Ted is still married to Princess Elizabeth (Erinn Hayes) and they have a daughter Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), but the strain is starting to get to them and they might just give up music altogether.  Right as they’re discussing the end of their career, a time machine shows up in the driveway and out steps Kelly (Kristen Schaal) who is the daughter of Rufus from the previous films, and she takes them to the future where they high council of… I guess the ENTIRE EARTH informs them that their song to save the world is not only to usher in an enlightened age but to fix some horrific distortion in space and time that if they DON’T fix will end all of reality as they know it.  Oh, and they have less than two hours to do it, starting… now!  Without much time left to get their act together, Bill & Ted figure the best way to get the song that saves the future is to go INTO the future and the song after it’s already written by their future selves, and while that’s going on Billie & Thea are given a time machine from Kelly to try and muster up a band who will be talented enough to play the song once Bill & Ted get it.  Will these two loveable has-beens find a way to save the future before time and reality folds in on itself?  Will Billie & Thea turn out to be as good at traveling through space and time as their fathers were, and discover what destiny has in store for them as well?  You know, we could really use a Bill & Ted miracle right now, so what are the chances that this is the MOVIE that will unite the world and save reality as we know it?

“We humbly accept these seven Oscars, the Noble Peace Prize, and the Grammy for Best New Artist!”     “We had to go all the way back to 1977, but we got it!”     “Take THAT, Starland Vocal Band!”
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Cinema Dispatch: The New Mutants

The New Mutants and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Studios

Directed by Josh Boone

I was going to the movies multiple times a week for YEARS before this pandemic hit, and one of the things I kept seeing over and again was trailers for this movie. Every few months there’d be another one but with a different release date on it, and it got so ridiculously long that I vowed to be there opening day to see what kind of nonsense they were trying to cover up in post-production. Then the world came to an end and wouldn’t you know it? One of the first movies to go to theaters AND NOWHERE ELSE happened to be this one. All was not lost however as it turns out there’s a drive in theater nearby (the ONLY place I’ll go to see a movie right now) and they actually had this movie on their schedule, and so I was able to go out and keep that promise I made to myself all those years ago without having to take an unnecessary risk of CATCHING A POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING DISEASE in the process! So with all that buildup, with all the shakeups at the studio, and with all the world events that have broken the world between the first teaser trailer to now, does the movie manage to be any good? Did all the extra time working on it prove to be a fruitful endeavor, or are they hoping that the threat of getting sick would be enough for them to sneak this out without anybody noticing? Let’s find out!!

Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) finds herself stuck inside of a hospital of some sorts with a bunch of other young people under the watchful eyes of Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) who informs her that her family is dead and that she’s here because she PROBABLY caused it. Why? Well because she’s a mutant of course, and so is everyone else here! We’ve got Sam (Charlie Heaton) who can go fast and make things explode, Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) who… has some sort of teleportation and sword fighting powers, Roberto (Henry Zaga) who’s the most dudebro dude ever and also might have fire powers, and Rahne (Massie Williams) who is… well she’s just a werewolf. I didn’t realize that fell under MUTANT powers, but I guess you can call anything a mutant power if you try hard enough. In any case, they’re all stuck in here with the discount Nurse Ratched who’s trying to get them to learn to control their powers through… group therapy sessions I guess, and clearly has some sinister motivations for keeping them all there that they’re vaguely aware of but none too concerned about. Dani, still trying to figure out exactly what happened to her father and not even knowing what her own super power is, tries to make the most of this very bizarre situation which only gets more disturbing once everyone starts having terrifying dreams or something relating to their past traumas which is certainly not making the overall dingy atmosphere of this place any more cheery. What exactly are Dani’s powers and are they in any way connected to the strange goings on at the hospital? What does Dr. Reyes have planned for them once she’s deemed them to be “better”, and is it somehow worse than having stay here? Are they actually stuck in some sort of Groundhog’s Day time loop which is why it feels like this movie’s been around for a hundred years!?

Nope. Nope. There we go!
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