Steven Spielberg

Nick’s Relatively New Movie Rundown – April 2018

I haven’t been reviewing movies much lately (or at all) because, ya know, life. But I recently got one of those dandy MoviePasses, so I’ll probably be hitting you guys with a little more if I get the sudden motivation. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been watching recently.

Ready Player One (3D IMAX BLASTEROID EDITION)

Holy shit. I loved this movie. I’m a sucker for pop culture nostalgia references, and I’m an even bigger sucker for a certain 1980 film set in the Colorado Rockies, so this was the perfect storm for me. I was a big proponent for the book itself, though it is by no means a literary achievement. Like the book, just let yourself be a kid again when watching this. No one does exciting, childlike action quite like Spielberg, and he’s at his fun, 80’s best here. The soundtrack is a blast, the acting is joyously hamfisted, and holy hell, watch this on the biggest, loudest, most 3D screen you can, because this is what a wallet-breaking theater experience is all about.

Score: 8/10

Isle of Dogs

This is the first movie I have used my MoviePass with, and god damn, I could not have picked a better one. While I really liked Fantastic Mr. Fox, I couldn’t help but feel Wes was holding back a lot to try and appeal to the younger crowd. Being as dark as his comedy usually is, it just didn’t quite feel right watching these foxes not going full Baumbachian-existential-crisis mode. Well, here’s the retry. Dogs is dark, man. Like, not only in tone, but the message delivered, as well. I ate it all up. It’s not only a gorgeous love letter to man’s best friend, but a bitingly nasty take on the world’s political climate. This is a fun watch, and while not a typical Anderson film, it’s enough to satiate long time fans. Put this in the top half of his films.

Score: 9/10

Rampage

Ok. Just listen. If you played this at the arcade like I did when I was a kid, you agree that the story behind the action was weak as fuck, but who cares, right? LET’S DESTROY THIS FUCKING CITY! Enter The Rock in a tiny t-shirt (let’s be real, it’s probably an XL) as a Primatologist *giggle* in his early 90’s, Schwarzeneggery best. This is by no means a good movie in the critical sense. And really, there could have been more destruction. But if you go into the movie expecting exactly what this movie is – a dumb arcade game – you’ll probably leave as I did: satisfied with some mutant animals absolutely annihilating a city.

Score: 6/10

A Quiet Place

Alright, I’m going to blame my experience with this movie on the crowd in the theater – most notably, this Starbucks-sipping basic beezy saying “No, no, no, no don’t, don’t, DON’T” in the most suspenseful of scenes throughout the entire film – but, I’m also going to blame my constant needing to know what other critics think of a film. I don’t always rely on Rotten Tomatoes, especially with horror, but seeing a 95% attached to a straight horror film is still surprising. Was the movie suspenseful, frightening, original, even groundbreaking? Sure. Definitely. Is it meant more to watch at home, away from the buzz of reclining seats, package rustling, popcorn munching, and constant bathroom breaks? For me, absolutely. So, if that shit bothers you like it does me, wait to watch this one at home in the dark. That being said, it’s a cool movie. I’m excited for Krasinski as a filmmaker. He’s definitely got the chops.

Score: 7/10

Alright, that’s it for me here. This probably sounded like an ad for MoviePass. It’s not in the commercial sense, but you should get one. I haven’t been to the theater this much in one month since I was a kid at the dollar theater on Spokane’s Garland Avenue, so at a measly $10 a month, you should probably get one.

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Sloppy Saturdays: Volume 3 – ‘Arachnophobia’

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What is ‘Sloppy Saturdays’?

I realized that I own over 300 movies, many of which I have not watched a second time. Whether on Blu-Ray, DVD, or the legendary LaserDisc, I have a lot of films I need to watch again. So, I’ve decided I should probably go through these and justify why I own them, and perhaps, why you should too. I put them all into a database and will randomly mix them up once a week. Come back every Saturday for a new review. 

-Nick, Editor of CinemAbysmal

 

Sloppy Saturdays – Volume Three

Arachnophobia (1990) – Comedy |Thriller

Directed by: Frank Marshall

Starring: Jeff Daniels and John Goodman

Format I Own: LaserDisc

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Synopsis

Arachnophobia begins like a lot of other movies in the ’90’s: Big city doctor (Jeff Daniels) moves to a small town with the intention of taking over the town’s only medical practice. Little does he know, a spider-bitten corpse from Venezuela was just dropped off and the carcass brought a huge and aggressive, 8-legged freak with him. Somehow, this baseball mitt-sized tarantula mates with a spider in this tiny farm town, and soon all Gremlinsesque hell breaks loose.

What I Love

I think love might be too strong of a word to describe how I feel about this movie, but I did love it as a kid and it’s definitely got some nostalgic value to it. By no means, though, is it a great movie. The effects are dated, they tried really hard to make it funny, which comes off as unnatural, and it’s hard to have Jeff Daniels carry your movie. Every scene with John Goodman is pretty damn good, but really, there’s not quite enough. The musical score is goofy as all hell, as well. But really, if you saw this as a kid, you’ll probably enjoy it merely for nostalgic reasons like I did.

My Favorite Scene

For almost the entire movie, Marshall and crew dog hard on this couple that really likes food. This guy is the town mortician and is constantly eating Ruffles around the corpses, and at a dinner party, he and his wife take full paper plates of food home. Well, when it’s time for the outbreak of spiders upon the town, one climbs into a disgustingly buttery bowl of popcorn that the portly couple is eating out of while watching Wheel of Fortune. It’s standard ‘it’s funny ’cause he’s fat’ fodder, but I still enjoyed it, especially when the murdering spider crawls out of the mortician’s nose after killing him.

 

What You Might Not Like

I think based on the title, it’s pretty obvious why a lot of people would not be able to handle this film. From the beginning, the spiders are big, they’re aggressive, and their actions play on everyone’s basic fears of spiders that bite. While watching, I admittedly lifted my feet off the floor a few times in momentary fear of some scuttling beings. They hiss, they jump and fly through the air, they have dripping, black fangs and they really couldn’t be more frightening.

How You Can Watch

  • Rent for $2.99 on Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

 

Final Score: 2.5/4

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Similar Films: Gremlins, The Mist, Eight Legged Freaks

Stranger Things

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Stranger Things (2016) – Science Fiction | Horror

Created by: The Duffer Brothers

Starring: David Harbour and Winona Ryder

How I Watched: Netflix

Best Line: “Mouth-breather.”

Stranger Things is technically a television program. What it plays like, however, is the best 7-hour movie that you’ve never seen. For this reason, I have decided to review the series as a film. Stranger Things begins all too familiar. We are immediately reminded of the Spielberg family-scapes of a 1980’s suburbia and given to a not-so-motley crew of nerdy kids that even The Goonies would probably bully. The 80’s worship does not stop there, though. Everyone enjoys a good helping of neon, John Hughes inspired feels and a good Reagan-era pop hit, but Stranger Things takes the decade and molds the story around it.

I was born in the 1980’s. Before I was 5, though, they were over. I can’t really say I know what the decade was actually like, but I’ve always felt a strange kinship to its music, movies and pop culture. So whenever someone makes the creative choice of setting their story in the 80’s, I’m usually intrigued. Donnie Darko did an excellent job making you feel like you were watching something made in the 1980’s and Stranger Things is no different. The music is blissfully extreme in its synth-heavy soundscape, evoking the most insane crescendos in John Carpenter films. The characters’ fashion choices are tamed but convincing, and even a lot of the architecture looks as though it was ripped from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder hold their respective places in 1980’s filmdom. Ryder is excellent as a grieving mother in the series, slowly descending into understandable craziness while she desperately searches for her son. Modine plays a soft-spoken and mysterious doctor in a laboratory on the outskirts of town, and his looming, often creepy presence grows as the show progresses. Perhaps the most impressive character among the show’s adults, though, is that of David Harbour’s Sherriff Jim Hopper. We’ve all seen Harbour before in small parts (TV and film) but this is really a breakout role for him, as he excellently guides the cast through the series’ ups and downs.

The real stars of the series though, are the four geeky kids mentioned earlier. Never have I been more impressed with children acting than I have with Stranger Things. Led by the spectacular Finn Wolfhard as Mike (who has been cast as Richie Tozier in the new 2017 incarnation of IT), these three boys never give up looking for their friend Will who goes missing in the first installment. Will does not get much screen time, but when he does, he steals every frame. The actors playing Dustin and Lucas are excellent as well, battling bullies and difficulties of middle school life as D&D loving dorks. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is also a really cool character and the focus on her storyline grows throughout the series.

I think what impressed me most about Stranger Things was its ability to take so liberally from those projects that inspired it, and make it its own original story. At times, you’ll feel you’ve seen certain scenes before, whether it’s the bike chase scene in E.T., an alternate universe in Poltergeist or Under the Skin, telekinetic abilities in Stephen King stories like Carrie, a synth-heavy montage in a Carpenter flick…the list goes on and on. Once you watch it yourself, you’ll probably even discover nods yourself that I never would have thought of. It’s really incredible how well the Duffers acknowledge their influences in this.

It’s hard to put into words how much I really loved Stranger Things. It’s become so easy to just sit for hours and “binge” on shows featured on Netflix. But when a project like this comes out and there are only eight nearly hour-long episodes, it really becomes a feature film. A couple “episodes” in, you’re going to be facing a tough choice, just like I did: “I know it’s late, but this is so damn good. I need to finish this.” I suggest you do just that before someone ruins Stranger Things for you.

Final Score: 4/4

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Similar Films: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, The Goonies, Poltergeist

Midnight Special 

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Midnight Special (2015) – Drama | Science Fiction 

Directed by: Jeff Nichols 

Starring: Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton 

How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video

Jeff Nichols makes a habit out of taking his viewers into a different dimension. Take Shelter lifted Michael Shannon into an otherworldly acting status and Mud further solidified this decade’s Matthew McConaughey dominance. In both of those films, it was easy to get completely absorbed into the stories. His characters, often seemingly simple people, can be frustrating, yet immensely likable. Shannon is fighting paranoid schizophrenia in Take Shelter, stricken with visions of an imminent worldwide storm threatening his family’s safety. In Mud, McConaughey quite literally takes shelter in the forest on an island in Arkansas. While both stories stay grounded, there are times in each which border on the unbelievable. I don’t want to say this film is unbelievable, but Nichols definitely has jumped into another genre with this effort.

Midnight Special tells the story of a young child with extraordinary powers and his father (played brilliantly by Nichols alum, Michael Shannon) who does everything he can to protect his son from all those who threaten his existence. From the beginning, the film is exciting, unnerving and incredibly mysterious as it ramps up toward the heart of the movie. There’s a creepy religious cult, car chases, shit crashing to earth from space and some breathtaking CGI that is refreshingly done right in today’s world of graphic overabundance. While it might not reach the emotional levels that Nichols’ previous two offers do, Midnight Special has earned its place in the world of modern Science Fiction.

The film’s ensemble is one of the most impressive elements of Midnight Special. Joel Edgerton shines as Shannon’s old friend, driving and protecting the father and son throughout the film. Adam Driver is not a huge part of the movie, yet provides some of the little humor that pops up. Kirsten Dunst makes an appearance, which seems questionable at first, until I remembered when she rocked the hell out of the transcendent Melancholia. This is not quite the emotional rollercoaster that Melancholia is, but it’s easy to compare elements of the two. I get annoyed by child actors quite often, but Jaeden Lieberher does a great job as Alton, the film’s focus as the young boy with supernatural abilities. Whenever I see Sam Shepard’s name in the credits, I know I’m in for a treat. He does not let down in Midnight Special, as the leader of the cult. His character is unsettling, and walks the tightrope that begs both empathy and hate.

As I mentioned previously, Jeff Nichols has a knack for creating his own worlds. Like Steven Spielberg, you know when you’re watching one of his movies. David Wingo (who has worked with Nichols on all three of his features) and his music in the film, oppressively drones at your emotions, only ramping up when the action does. The beginning of Midnight Special is strange, but delivers an important sense of wonder, much like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not much is said for quite a while and we as the viewers are left wondering where the story might move next. Little by little, the story comes together and is pieced together much like a 1980’s sci-fi flick (ala Spielberg) would be. Nichols ultimately abandons his typical penchant for leaving us suspended by the time the film comes to an end, but it still leaves enough to probably require a second viewing.

Midnight Special is the ultimate display of just how much Nichols is capable of with the appropriate budget. With more than three times the amount of money he was given to make Take Shelter, Nichols created a golden Science Fiction film that does not forget to keep the human element an active part of the story. While I feel it does not quite reach the level of Take Shelter and MudMidnight Special is a spectacular visual treat that lovingly takes from exciting sci-fi of yesteryear. If you haven’t yet experienced Jeff Nichols’ cinematic worlds, do yourself a huge favor and soak all of these in.

Final Score: 3.5/4

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Similar Films: Melancholia, Take Shelter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind