Film Review: Scream (Spyglass Media Group/Paramount Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

I went into the new Scream relaunch/reboot (requel?) admittedly not expecting much at all. But to my surprise, it was actually a much more enjoyable ride than I had imagined; far from a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but an improvement over its past two disastrous predecessors combined nonetheless (they couldn’t just seriously throw a “5” at the end of the title though?! Come on, stop taking yourself so seriously Hollywood).

In this round (which directly follows the events of 2011’s Scream 4), a new group of Woodsboro teens, many with their own unique connections to the original town killings, become the targets of yet another Ghostface killer (or killers?), with estranged sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) at the center of it all. When Sam and her new boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) enlist the help of former sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette), it quickly leads to more faces from the original reuniting and coming to the rescue, including Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Even Skeet Ulrich is somehow able to make a brief return as Billy Loomis, but I won’t elaborate any further to avoid spoiling anything.

Long time fans of the series should appreciate all the sly references to the original (as well as other Wes Craven films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street) thrown in, while younger generations should appreciate the more modernized take. The acting isn’t always the greatest, and the gore is at times excessively over the top and unnecessary, but again, this is far from Shakespeare here.

All in all, what directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin have assembled here is a fairly spot-on homage to Craven’s original work (“For Wes” is promptly displayed over the end credits), and at times I found myself so lost in the plot, I honestly felt like I was that kid sitting in the theater with my friends back in the ’90s all over again. This ship finally seems to be steering in the right direction again; let’s hope those calling the shots keep it that way.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Film Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios)

By: Jesse Striewski

Aside from Batman, Spider-Man has always been one of the few superhero characters that I don’t mind watching on screen. But as just a casual fan, these newer films with Tom Holland as the titular hero have been much harder to enjoy than the early 2000’s films starring Toby Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi.

I’ll try to sum up No Way Home (what’s with all of the “home” references in the title of every one of the Holland flicks, anyway?) as simplified as possible for fellow outsiders such as myself; Spider-Man/Peter Parker is basically hated by the world for the events in the last entry, Far From Home, and enlists the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to erase everyone’s memory of it. In doing so, it allows other previous foes from other dimensions into his world.

It does allow for some exciting moments, and it was interesting to see some of the actors and characters from the Raimi films appear on the big screen again, such as Maguire, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, and Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. But eventually it just became as clunky as all of the other ridiculous superhero films these days that I could care less about (like the Avengers or Wonder Woman), and the plot was far too similar to the 2018 animated feature Into the Spider-Verse. And I get there are people really into these movies, but it’s lost on me how they possibly maintain the time and energy to know all of the ins and outs of all these countless characters and storylines (I’d be exhausted if I tried).

I also made the mistake of taking my kid to see it in 3-D, which is the most absurd and shameless gimmick by Hollywood these days, and not only completely pointless for most films (such as this one), it has completely taken away any magic from the concept entirely. But look, it’s not that No Way Home is a bad film per se (it was still better than that new Matrix film, something so disappointing I elected not to even review it at all), it’s just not what someone like me is looking for from a Spider-Man movie. I think I’ll just stick to the simplicity of those old Raimi films next time I’m in the mood for one.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Home Sweet Home Alone (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

When the original Home Alone was released in 1990, it caught lightning in a bottle, and to this day the film remains a holiday classic (if you get a chance, take a look at the 30th anniversary piece I did for Rewind It Magazine just last year). Since then, numerous sequels have tried with varying results to recapture that magic of the first film, largely missing the mark in most cases. Home Sweet Home Alone, the latest retread of this all too familiar storyline, is definitely no exception to it.

Despite a promising cast lead by the young Archie Yates of Jojo Rabbit, this sixth entry never really finds its footing. The thin plot is based around two parents (played by Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) on the brink of financial ruin who, after listing their house for sale, discover they possess a rare doll worth a small fortune. When the doll comes up missing, they believe the child (Yates) of one of the parties that recently viewed their home, stole said doll from their house. This of course leads them to the kid’s place, who by now has been left home alone and must defend himself from the intruders.

What ensues feels so forced and devoid of any real humor, it’s almost too painful to watch. Even small throwbacks to the original film, such as the brief return of Devin Ratray as Buzz McCallister, do little to liven things up here. Somehow even the last film, 2012’s Home Alone: The Holiday Heist (which was made for TV), had more heart than this one (the one thing I will give it though, it’s still better than Home Alone 3, forever the lowest point of the franchise).They say you can’t go home again, and this latest installment to an all-too tired series, pretty much proves it.

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Columbia Pictures/Sony Releasing)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s exceptionally rare for a sequel or reboot to an already beloved, established franchise like Ghostbusters to come close to comparing to its the source material. But Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the long-awaited third follow up to the first two films, both breathes life back into the series, and redeems the entire franchise after that painfully embarrassing reboot in 2016, which I hope we all can agree by now was a mistake no matter who was cast in it.

Produced by original director Ivan Reitman and directed by his son, Jason, Afterlife does its best to wrap up and explain many questions fans might have about the original characters’ whereabouts, as well as introduce a host of new, yet surprisingly likable ones.

The plot is no huge stretch of the imagination; the daughter (Carrie Coon) of recently deceased Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (originally portrayed by the late Harold Ramis) is forced to pick up the pieces of her father’s past life and move into his decrepit old farm house. Meanwhile, her genius daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and rebellious teenaged son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) slowly uncover their grandfather’s mysterious past, and the small town’s ghostly secrets, all with the help of some newfound friends (played by Paul Rudd, Celeste O’Connor, and Logan Kim, respectively). What ensues is all-out escapism entertainment that allows viewers to get completely lost in.

Along the way there’s numerous references and throwbacks to the original films that’s every die hard fan’s dream come true. And yes, there’s appearances from series alumni Bill Murrary, Dan Aykroyd, Erine Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver, and of course a beautifully constructed tribute to the late Ramis (and I’m pretty sure this is all already public knowledge by now, so technically those aren’t spoilers!). Blink and you might miss some of the many subtle throwbacks weaved within the ongoing proceedings, too (like a ghost from the old animated series that I actually had the action figure of when I was still young!).

I’ve heard rumbles from other critics that the film panders to fans. But what would you rather have, another heap of total garbage like the last misfire of a film, or something with some actual heart like Afterlife?! This is the film that fans have deserved for decades now, and the one I’ve personally been waiting for since I was a kid sitting wide-eyed in the movie theater during Ghostbusters II all those years ago. Check the bonehead mentality at the door, and just enjoy what has been put together for us here.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Film Review: Last Night in Soho (Universal Pictures)

By: Shawn McKee

Last Night in Soho is one of the most visually impressive films I’ve seen in a while. Its vibrant cinematography, sweeping camera movements, and gorgeous colors effectively recreate London during the Swinging Sixties. Though set in present day, the movie shifts back to a different time and place through multiple dreamlike segments, while presenting the mysterious and tragic downfall of an ambitious singer caught up in the glitz and glamour of a bygone era.

We don’t see movies like this too often, an entirely original concept with a large budget and backing of a major studio (Universal). It’s not related to any franchise or pre-existing property. As a psychological horror film, it’s also not associated with the Blumhouse “horror” assembly line or A24 cerebral art house fare. The story was conceived by British writer/director Edgar Wright. And how much you enjoy his film is based on how willing you are to get immersed in its world.

Like any worthwhile art, Last Night in Soho is inundated with symbolism. There’s a lot going on in every scene. On the surface, the serpentine story unfolds as a full-length Twilight Zone episode. It’s unlike anything Wright has ever done before, and if you know his versatile body of work, you can appreciate how far he’s come.

Wright is known for the comedy horror film Shaun of the Dead and its equally farcical action counterpart Hot Fuzz, featuring the dream team of British comic actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Both films are notable for their striking wit, over-the-top violence, and fast-paced editing, for starters. Wright then went on to make the superbly crafted and hilarious Scott Pilgrim vs. the World based on the comic series of the same name. His unique brand of fast-paced British humor was established early on with the TV sitcom Spaced, also starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

For movie lovers and film buffs alike, Wright remains the gift that keeps on giving. Even with a misfire such a Baby Driver, in my opinion, his artistic talent is clear. His films can also be bombastic and tend to go haywire in the third act. I was expecting as much in Soho. I can’t say that it doesn’t fall into the same trap, but what I witnessed overall was any cinephile’s dream. The abundance of clever camera shots that masterfully blend its real world and dream world segments together must be seen to be believed.

In a time of unending corporate factory filmmaking, Soho stands on its own. The characters are appealing, the suspense is brooding, and the payoff is well earned. It’s an unlikely film from an unlikely director, made with the careful precision as love letter to 1960’s cinema and music. The soundtrack thunders along with songs of the era and even more recent songs reimagined as sixties tracks. But Wright also doesn’t shy away from reality as he demystifies nostalgia to present a nightmarish underbelly that existed during that time. Through it all, the movie is a tour de force of sight and sound with excellent performances of its two female leads.

The plot involves an aspiring fashion designer named Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), who gets accepted into the London College of Fashion. After some friction with her inconsiderate dorm roommate, Ellie rents a room from an elderly landlady named Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). The room, however, turns out to be haunted, and Ellie vividly dreams of a mysterious singing beauty from the 1960s named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). The dreams grow more intense as time goes on, and Ellie finds herself engrossed in a murder mystery that she’s unable to separate herself from.

By sheer quality alone, Soho should be destined to become a classic. Its enthralling visuals, carefully selected period music, and topnotch storytelling form an exciting two-hour tale of macabre. It might just be one of Wright’s best films. There were some moments that tested my patience, but the abundance of imagination on display won me over. I walked into the movie knowing nothing about it beyond being an Edgar Wright film. The gamble paid off, and I was pleasantly surprised. Movies like this breathe life back into cinema, making that trip to the theater well worth it in the end.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Film Review: 13 Fanboy (Voorhees Films)

By: Jesse Striewski

Although I was lucky enough to speak with two of the key factors of 13 Fanboy on behalf of Rewind It Magazine last year – Actress Dee Wallace, and Director/Writer/Actress Deborah Voorhees – I still only had a vague understanding of what to expect from the film. But almost immediately after sitting down to watch it, I completely understood what the filmmakers were trying to achieve with this one, which was to simply bring back the basic, root elements to a horror movie.

Without giving away too many details, 13 Fanboy follows fictional versions of real-life horror film stars (mostly alumni from the Friday the 13th series) such as Kane Hodder, Judie Aronson, Lar Park Lincoln, C.J. Graham, and Tracie Savage (among others) and newcomer Hayley Greenbauer, as they are stalked (and in some cases, slaughtered) by an obsessive fan with plenty of ‘whodunit’ -ness done in perfect fashion (Corey Feldman also makes a notable appearance as a sleazy producer). Extremely meta in its delivery, it’s part Scream, part Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and for the most part, all fun (something hard to come by in the genre these days).

The gore is there, but it’s not over-the-top/unnecessarily violent. And although it might lack the big budget of such Hollywood blockbusters as the the recent Halloween Kills, it more than makes up for it with heart and atmosphere. And there’s almost no effort to weave in comedy, which can be “okay” if done correctly, but often overused in horror films these days. In short, 13 Fanboy is the perfect late night fright flick to watch in the dark with your significant other (or even by yourself), especially this time of year.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Film Review: Halloween Kills (Miramax/Blumhouse Productions/Universal Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

I can’t honestly say I was impressed at all with the last Halloween film released in 2018; not only was it derivative and borrowed heavily from previous entries that it supposedly ignores (it was essentially a redux of 1998’s H2O), it asked us to accept far too many idiotic and implausible situations and concepts; from giving Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) a daughter other than Jamie Llyod from parts 4-6, to the fact we’re supposed to believe that Michael Myers is somehow remembered as a great notorious figure (sure, we know who he is as an audience, but if we’re supposed to ignore the events from all of the sequels actually happened, wouldn’t he just be some guy who killed a few people decades ago, and not as revered of a murderer?). And then there was that ridiculous plot twist with the doctor assuming the role of Michael Myers for a second (don’t even get me started on that).

For a brief moment, I was actually intrigued and lost within the onset of Halloween Kills; the flashback sequences tackling aspects from that fateful Halloween in 1978 were admittedly interesting at first. If the whole film could have just somehow stayed in that reality, maybe something could have been salvaged here. But things quickly become a joke, and the updated treatment of the late Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis in these flashbacks are some of the most insulting scenes ever put on screen.

And despite having the returning Curtis paired with other series alumni from earlier films such as Charles Cyphers as Leigh Brackett, Nancy Stephens as Marion Chambers, and Kyle Richards as Lindsey Wallace, it does zero to add to this dying series. Even having Anthony Michael Hall portray the character of Tommy Doyle from the first film was as out of place as it gets, and by the time it gets to the point of him leading an angry lynch mob through a hospital, chanting “Evil dies tonight,” it felt as though I was watching a parody of the Halloween films, similar to the likes of Sharknado. There’s no drama left for any of the characters to have, just mean-spirited intentions spewing awful dialogue.

The worst is how certain elements are treated; Myers is now an even more ruthless killing machine than ever, torturing his victims mercilessly in some of the most brutal fashions imaginable (at one point he repeatedly stabs a victim with multiple knives even after killing them). Any sense of suspense is taken away in place of more blood and gore in hopes of appealing to the lowest common denominator (and yet that’s somehow supposed to be better for us to see on screen than the gratuitous nudity once so prevalent in these films that has been replaced by by mindless bloodshed?!). The reason The Shape was so menacing to begin with in the original films was not because of the quantity of outrageous kills on the screen, but the motivation behind it.

But judging by the audience reaction on opening night, small details like these are trivial matters to them at best, and do not matter to them one bit. Where there should be screams during kills, there was plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’ instead. Even the most mundane situations were enough to invoke unfounded laughter (a woman picks up a wine bottle to defend herself?! What a hilarious concept!). But it quickly became clear I’m very much alone in not accepting these trashy new dumbed down incarnations.

The flimmakers could have actually done something different with the material here. Hell, it would have been better had they even took the route of 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch (the best film in the entire series in my opinion, yes, even more than the original) and introduced an entirely new concept, instead of beating this dead horse of a storyline into the ground for so long. But director David Gordon Green has taken this franchise into unforgivable territory ALMOST as atrocious as the Rob Zombie remake films. But until we stop embracing regurgitated garbage being spoon feed to us like this, they will continue churning out soulless entries as long as we continue accepting them. We deserve better than this. Yes, evil really should die, along with this entire franchise (and yet, we still have at least one more film to endure next year).

Rating: 1/5 Stars

Film Review: Cry Macho (Warner Bros. Pictures/Malpaso Productions)

By: Jesse Striewski

Legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood returns to the big screen in this neo-western that’s short on the action, yet heavy on the drama. Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash, this live screen adaptation moves with an extremely slow pace, but does offer some escapist payoff to those willing to give it a chance.

Set in 1979, Eastwood plays former rodeo star Mike Milo, who is sent to Mexico by his ex-boss Howard Polk (played by Dwight Yoakam) to retrieve his troubled teenaged son (Eduardo Minett), who is surviving in the underworld of cock-fighting with a rooster dubbed “Macho.”

The two (or three, if we’re counting Macho) quickly bond on the road while trying to make their way back to Texas, encountering difficulties from the police, and henchmen hired by Rafael’s vengeful mother (Fernanda Urrejola) to stop them. But along the way, they also find the “good” in people, are taken in by a kind and giving single mother, and discover things about each other, and about life in general.

Much of the acting is sub-par, and asking audiences to still accept 91-year-old Eastwood as a horse-ridding, grizzly brawler type is a bit much (even with the action toned down and tailored for him). But I couldn’t help but feel as I was watching Cry Macho that Eastwood was taking his final bow, and I was saying goodbye to an entire era. Far from his best work, yet I’ll take mediocre Eastwood, over no Eastwood any day.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy (Warner Bros. Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

Last week, the world got its first look at the long-awaited sequel to the classic 1996 Looney Tunes basketball film, Space Jam. Despite receiving mostly negative feedback in large part to the film’s overuse of advertising and product placement (and beloved character Pepe Le Pew being the latest unfortunate victim thanks to woke cancel culture), Space Jam: A New Legacy is a shining example of pure family-fueled escapist entertainment, reminiscent of long-forgotten, more simple times.

The plot is fairly cut and dry; a fictionalized version of basketball star LeBron James and son Dom (Cedric Joe) find themselves trapped inside a virtual reality world ran by an evil, artificially intelligent life form known as Al-G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle). The father and son are quickly pitted against each other in a do-or-die basketball match. James naturally enlists the help of Bugs Bunny and co. to win his son and freedom back.

James does his best in place of Michael Jordan as the lead from the first film, but his acting isn’t quite as on par as his gaming skills (his animated scenes are slightly better than the actual live ones). Many of the jokes are even centered around his “legacy” compared to Jordan’s (the cameo by actor Michael B. Jordan in place of Air Jordan is one of the more amusing gags in the entire flick).

And similar to 2018’s Ready Player One, it’s loaded with a plethora of pop culture references and cameos. Blink and you might miss appearances from The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, The Jetson’s, and the Gremlins on top of more in-your-face and obvious spots from various characters from the universes of Batman, Harry Potter, and The Matrix, among many others.

Will Space Jam: A New Legacy win any awards? Highly doubtful. Will it be studied for artistic greatness, or social commentary? Not likely. Yet it just might put some smiles on a few faces, and add a little bit of light to a world currently filled with so much darkness, which we could all honestly use a bit more of right now.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been nearly sixty years since the last time two of the silver screen’s greatest titans ever faced off against one another. Godzilla vs. Kong no doubt delivers on the over-the-top, larger than life, escapist entertainment in the best way possible.

A little Sc-Fi heavy at times, the plot focuses on a now-captive King Kong being released to more or less save humanity from a seemingly hostile Godzilla, who’s really just peeved by the creation of a Mechagodzilla by the evil Apex Cybernetics. Meanwhile, an Apex employee and conspiracy theorist named Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) who is hell bent on exposing the truth, teams up with a couple of kids (one of them once again being Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame, joined this time by Julian Dennisen) to get the job done. This aspect gives the film a very real, ’80s-adventure feel to it in the same vein as E.T., where the kids must ultimately save the day from under the adults who only know about half of the actual story.

The other portion of the main storyline involves an expedition to “Hollow Earth” with Kong lead by a couple of doctors (portrayed by Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall) to find some magical “power source.” And if you think that all sounds somewhat nerdy, you’re absolutely right, though there is a somewhat touching relationship between Kong and a young girl (played by Kaylee Hottle) that helps add a much-needed dramatic element to the film.

In short, Godzilla vs. Kong is far from flawless. But as far as modern action films go (which I’m truthfully not too big on, especially the countless superhero flicks churned out these days), it’s at the head of it’s class. It is without a doubt the ideal type of flick to take the fam out to, sit in a dark theater, and just forget about the rest of the world for a night.

Rating: 4/5 Stars