Tag Archives: reboots

Bro Down

Black Christmas

by Hope Madden

In the history of cinema, the number of bad, misogynistic horror movies is too high to count. I literally cannot count that high. So, even though Black Christmas is not a good horror movie, it’s somehow comforting to know there is now at least one bad feminist horror flick.

Co-writer/director Sophia Takal (writing alongside April Wolfe) puts a new spin on Bob Clark’s seasonal classic. (Well, Clark also directed A Christmas Story, but I’m talking about his 1974 original Black Christmas.)

Christmas break is upon the Hawthorn College campus and students are slowly trickling home. Any sorority sisters left at school will wish they’d made other plans.

Clark’s bloodier yuletide gem remains relevant because it’s a pre-slasher slasher, meaning that it doesn’t entirely follow the formula because there was no formula for slashers in 1974. Many consider Black Christmas to be the first of that sub-genre, so it subverts expectations because, when it was made, there were none. Fun!

The second reason people return to it annually is the creepy ass phone calls that still somehow manage to be chilling.

Takal definitely frustrates with phones, although not to nearly the same chilling effect. But she does manage to give the formula a switch-up.

Imogen Poots leads the cast as Riley, and we know Riley is the film’s hero because she has the most to overcome. Poots is a reliable performer, though she struggles to give Riley much character. Still, you see flashes of her talent, especially in an infuriating conversation with campus police.

Aleyse Shannon leaves a more interesting impression as activist/bestie Kris, and Cary Elwes makes a welcome, oily visit as the professor you really, really hate.

Unlike the ’74 original or the unwatchable 2006 reboot, Takal’s Black Christmas is PG13, so don’t expect any real scares or envelope-pushing violence. Where Takal takes chances is with the message that rape culture has to be burned to the ground.

The film is a blunt instrument, but there are moments in the dialog that are both cathartic and funny. Female characters are treated with sincere scrutiny and empathy (except in the film’s prologue, which is just disappointing).

And yet, the leap in logic between “let’s go to the cops” and “here’s my supernatural theory” is so grand, so bold, so ludicrous that you almost have to admire it. It absolutely sinks the movie, but there’s something applause worthy in the wrong-headedness of it.

The plot ends up killing Black Christmas, which is too bad. Takal threads some audacious take downs of bro culture throughout a film with a lot of insight. It’s just not a very good movie.

Boy, Oh Boy


by Hope Madden

It has been 15 years since Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman first brought Mike Mignola’s cat loving, iron fisted, soft hearted son of Satan to the big screen. You’ve got to feel for any filmmaker tasked with following in del Toro’s steps, especially when the film in question is a monster movie brimming with innocence and wonder. That is really his wheelhouse.

But Neil Marshall is no slouch. His first film out the gate back in 2002, Dog Soldiers, offered a wickedly funny war movie with werewolves. This gem he followed in 2005 with what may be contemporary horror’s scariest monster movie, The Descent.

Since then? Nothing to write home about. But that means he’s due for a comeback, eh? And Hellboy’s ready for a reboot. Right?

No to both.

The first difference you’ll note, maybe 15 words into the film with the first of many f-bombs, is that Neil Marshall’s Hellboy is rated R.

It’s also a horror movie, make no mistake. Hellboy is lousy with limb severing, blood gushing, intestine spilling action.

Also, it’s just lousy.

Hellboy (Stranger Things’s David Harbour, who does an admirable job) struggles against a prophesy and a lifetime in the shadows to decide his destiny for himself. Milla Jovovich is a witch. There is a boar monster, a scrappy teen medium, a were-cheetah and some seriously sketchy CGI.

Yikes, this movie looks bad.

There are those who will complain about Marshall’s gleeful gorefest, but not me. Demons ripping the flesh from the faces of innocents? Others may be hiding their eyes from the carnage, but what they’re mercifully missing is digital animation on par with Disney’s The Haunted Mansion (the 2003 film or the amusement park ride, take your pick).

Aside from two creepy images—one of Jovovich’s Blood Queen in flowing red robes beneath a shadowy, skeletal tree; the second a quick sideways glance into Baba Yaga’s pantry—Marshall’s vision is weak.

His storytelling is not much stronger. Working from a script by Andrew Cosby, the film opens with exposition, repeats that exact exposition midway through Act 2, and halts at least three additional times for one character to stand still and articulate a big block of story for us.

Often that character is dead and attached to the mouth of a young girl via a long, gurgly, worm-like body, which probably the most laughable element of the film.


Sometimes, Reboots Are Better

Pet Sematary

by Hope Madden

There is a lot of love out there for Mary Lambert’s 1989 hit Pet Sematary.

Why, again? Was it the wooden lead performances? The adorably sinister villain? Massive Headwound Harry? Come on—there was a lot wrong with that movie and only two things were really right: The Ramones and Zelda.

Zelda was creepy AF.

Fear not! Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes) were obviously also affected by Zelda because she (Alyssa Levine) delivers again. On all other items, the directing duo improve.

Except The Ramones, but they are here in spirit.

Jason Clarke leads things as Louis, big city doc transplanted to quiet, rural Maine. Apparently he and his family—Rachel (Amy Seimetz), Ellie (Jeté Laurence), Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) and Church the Cat—didn’t ask a lot of questions about that 80-acre lot they bought. Lotta nasty stuff out back.

John Lithgow takes over for the tough to replace Fred Gwynne and his over-the-top Mainer accent. Lithgow’s more subdued Grumpy Old Man neighbor falls victim again to the pull of that “sour ground” out back when his beloved little Ellie’s cat gets hit by one of those semis speeding down the nearby road.

The film really tests your ability to suspend disbelief, but it also layers a lot of history and creepiness in tidy fashion. The superior performances alone make the reboot a stronger film, although familiarity means it has to try a little harder to actually scare you.

One help is a change screenwriters Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler make to the story. It’s a big alteration and not everyone will be thrilled, but it limits the laughability once things turn ugly. The film also lessons spiritual guide Pascow’s (Obssa Ahmed) screen time and gives his presence a spookier, less comedic feel. There’s a new ending, too—meaner and more of a gut punch. Nice.

The movie looks good, and Clarke (playing a grieving father for the second time this weekend, after his WWII drama The Aftermath) anchors the events with a thoughtful, believable performance that helps Pet Sematary overcome some of its more nonsensical moments.

It is not a classic, but it delivers the goods.

I still missed The Ramones.

Monster Squad

The Predator

by Hope Madden

Shane Black loves him some Eighties, doesn’t he? The over-the-top machismo, the sentimentality, the tasteless and insensitive one-liners—the writer/director revels in every opportunity to splash those (and some blood and entrails) on the screen as he reboots The Predator.

This is the sixth installment, if you count the Alien vs. Predator films, so Black has his hands full finding a fresh perspective. First things first: a damaged, hyper-masculine male lead who uses humor to mask his pain. Enter Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan).

A US Army sniper, McKenna and his men are in Mexico after some baddies and some hostages when a predator ship crashes. McKenna faces off with the nasty before making off with some of his gear. Then he’s in a bar/post office in Mexico. Then he’s in custody.

How did he go from A to B to C? Nevermind that! There are predator dogs this time!

There are a lot of those odd gaps in action logic, but since when is narrative clarity the point of a Predator movie (or a Shane Black movie, for that matter)? In many ways, Black is the ideal candidate to reawaken the sport-hunting franchise.

He clearly loves it, and he should, having played the small role of Hawkins in the 1987 original. Black takes pointed but affectionate shots at the source material and celebrates much of what made it (and most of Schwarzenegger’s 80s output) so fun.

Holbrook is a serviceable lead that Black quickly surrounds with a team of soldiers (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane). What kind of bunch are they? Rag and tag!

Olivia Munn jumps in as a scientist who drops f-bombs, Jacob Tremblay is inarguably cute, and Sterling K. Brown (characteristically mesmerizing) plays the villainous military dude.

The story touches on humanity’s path to extinction, as well as our own evolution. That last part leads to some questionably respectful commentary on folks on the Autism spectrum. (Folks with Tourette’s can expect the same level of respect you might find in an Eighties action film. Or a Norm MacDonald interview.)

The FX are good. Not War for the Planet of the Apes good, but way better than the Aquaman trailer that rolled pre-film. The action is fun and sometimes imaginative, but the rest of the film is largely lacking in imagination.

There’s a lot of coasting going on in The Predator. A lot of boxes being checked—sometimes checked with flair, but they’re still the same old boxes.

Ride or Die


by Hope Madden

How many of you remember that, in 70s cop shows, cars blew up all the time?

Without that knowledge, one of two running jokes in CHIPS will make no sense. The other one – well, you’ll understand it, it’s just not funny.

Neither is much of anything else in writer/director/star/seemingly good guy Dax Shepard’s big screen tribute to the cop show of a bygone era.

Shepard plays Jon to Michael Peña’s Ponch, and the two have to overcome their intimacy issues and crack some case about dirty cops.

Peña’s a talented actor (and a hard worker – the 41-year-old has 83 acting credits). He’s also versatile, easily handling drama or comedy. What he’s not is a lead.

Neither is Shepard. Both actors are likeable enough, amusing enough, but not compelling enough to keep your interest for 100 minutes.

Shepard’s script doesn’t do them many favors, either. The convoluted story offers opportunities for cool motorcycle tricks, and who needs a reasonable plot for a 70s TV spoof? But the laughs aren’t there, the nostalgia doesn’t work, and the film lacks the self-referential humor and off-handed fondness for the source material that made films like 21 Jump Street so much fun.

Kristin Bell is underused but fun as Jon’s unlikeable ex-wife and Vincent D’Onofrio remains a welcome presence in any film. But the rest of the supporting cast gets little opportunity to make a mark.

It’s hard to hate CHIPS. Like its leads, the film is blandly appealing but seriously in need of something bolder to hold your attention.


Choose Nostalgia

T2 Trainspotting

by Christie Robb

Choose life. Choose a movie. Choose a sequel, a prequel, a reboot, a franchise. Choose a revival. Choose familiarity. Choose nostalgia.

Watching the sequel to Trainspotting was like watching the new Gilmore Girls—only with more violence and heroin.

Is it social media that makes us feel we need to keep endlessly up to date on everyone? Is living in a chaotic world leading to an increased desire for tidy endings? Is it just the same kind of curiosity that makes folks RSVP to class reunions? Who needs reasons when you’ve got Trainspotting?

T2 takes place 20 years after Mark Renton steals £16,000 of communal drug sale profits from his friends and splits, vowing to live the life of a grown up. He experiences a minor coronary episode on a treadmill, which serves as the catalyst for a midlife crisis. And this crisis doesn’t take him on the path to buy a convertible, or to a hair plug consultation, or make him vow to consume a daily probiotic. Because the plot demands it, Mark is drawn back home to Edinburgh-to a bunch of people who feel that, to some degree or another, he ruined their lives.

In the original movie, Simon “Sickboy” Williamson states his theory of life, “Well, at one point you’ve got it. Then you lose it.” T2 isn’t bad. But it’s not great either. It’s lost some of the magic that the first movie had. But then it’s probably supposed to have.

It’s a movie about middle age, about looking back at who you were in your twenties and assessing what you’ve done or haven’t. Set against the backdrop of a gentrifying Edinburgh, we are presented with a familiar plot. Scenes from the first movie are rehashed. Renton delivers a new “Choose Life” monologue to a bored 20-year-old, which largely pans internet culture, shrilly condemning the choices of a stereotypical member of the younger generation in the same way he condemned the spirit-crushing lifestyle of clichéd older folks 20 years before.

Sometimes key scenes from the old movie are even played as flashbacks or projected on top of an existing new scene. The music too, is recycled. As if the characters stopped listening to anything new at 25.

Sure, it’s delightful to see all the cast members together again (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller) under the helm of original Trainspotting director Danny Boyle (who went on to win the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire). But the enjoyment is not unlike seeing a fading star in concert, or asking for a tour of your childhood home, or meeting up with an old flame for a drink.

It’s nice for a bit, but maybe not quite as good as in the old days.




Day 12: Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Plenty of filmmakers remade or reimagined George Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder. Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Night of the Living Dead sequel with high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley) who seems like a real person. Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed, and genuinely terrifying.

Plus, one truly good guy, one effective change-of-heart character, an excellent slimeball, and solid performances all around keep you invested in the characters.

You’ve got to kind of make up your own mind about the zombie-baby, though.

And who hates Nicole? I do. I hate Nicole.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!

They’re Back


by Hope Madden

Thirty three years ago, Steven Spielberg unleashed two tales of supernatural contact in anonymous, suburban neighborhoods. Things went better for Elliott.

Between producer Spielberg’s sense of awe and director Tobe Hooper’s capacity for imaginative terror, the original Poltergeist far exceeded expectations, and though several sequences have not aged well, it remains a potent horror show.

A generation later, we return to Glen Echo Circle, now the victim of a downturned economy, as are the Bowens. Sam Rockwell and Rosemary DeWitt play the parents unwillingly relocating their three kids to the neighborhood to accommodate their now-more-modest means. Their son Griffin (Kyle Catlett) doesn’t like his room because of the creepy tree outside, but little Maddie (adorable Kennedi Clements) is already making friends.

This is a tough film to remake. The original combined superficial thrills with primal fears and offered the giddy mix of Spielberg’s wonder and Hooper’s twisted vision. Wisely, director Gil Kenan started with a solid cast.

Rockwell is always a good bet and DeWitt is fast becoming the go-to for authenticity in the suburban mom role. Jared Hess offers a little panache as the medium who cleans houses, and the supporting performers turn in respectable work.

Kenan can’t seem to decide whether or not to embrace the original’s more iconic moments, and his revisions feel more like obligation than inspiration. What his version lacks is a big punch. He’s hampered by audience expectation – we kind of know what’s coming, after all – but that doesn’t excuse his lack of imagination.

The director proved a savvy storyteller with his Oscar-nominated animated nightmare Monster House, a film that was surprisingly terrifying for a kids’ movie. That kind of exuberance could have infected this production, but the sequel lacks energy.

Poltergeist is not a bad movie, just disappointing. A lot of reboots are, but there are some that feel like one filmmaker’s love letter to a movie. Films like The Ring, The Crazies, Dawn of the Dead, and more recently, Evil Dead work as reboots because they inhabited an old story but found a new voice. Kenan doesn’t find his. The result is entertaining and forgettable.