Horror Film Review: Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island (dir by Jeff Wadlow)


Welcome to Fantasy Island, where your fantasies come true….

Well, some of them do.  Some of them don’t.  Some of them play out ironically and some of them play out literally.  How does the island work?  Who knows?  It seems to be kind of random.  Mr. Rourke (Michael Pena) is your host and he’s got a tragic backstory of his own.  Is he a friend or an enemy?  Is he an angel or is he a devil?  Who knows?  Who cares?  The film doesn’t.

My point here is that Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island does not make much sense.  It’s about a group of people who go to Fantasy Island and each get their own individual fantasy from Mr. Rourke.  Apparently, all you have to do to get a fantasy is fill out a one-page questionnaire and have a conversation with Mr. Rourke.  It sounds like it should be fun but sometimes, people die!

Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q) visits the island so that the love of her life will propose to her and then they can get married and have a child.  Gwen’s lover, Nick (Evan Evagora), died in a fire years ago but suddenly, he’s alive and he’s proposing!  But is a fantasy family the same as a real family?

Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on a girl who tormented her in junior high but is torturing Sloane (Portia Doubleday) really worth giving up her humanity and working with the fearsome Dr. Torture (Ian Roberts)?  Seriously, the dude’s name is really Dr. Torture.

Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell) is a policeman who wants to serve in the army, like his father did.  Patrick’s fantasy leads to him being forced to wander around in the jungle until he gets taken prisoner by a bunch of soldiers, one of whom is his father (Mike Vogel)!  Considering his father is dead, Patrick is initially shocked but then a few minutes later, Patrick’s like, “Cool, whatever”

J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) are brothers who want to “have it all!”  That’s their fantasy.  For them, having it all means a big mansion, sexy models, and a nonstop pool party.  But what if having it all also means getting hunted by a drug cartel led by Devil Face (Kim Coates) and …. wait a minute.  That doesn’t make any sense at all.  If their fantasy was, “I want to be a super rich like Scarface or Escobar,” maybe it would then make sense for a drug cartel to show up but how does “having it all” lead to Kim Coates running around with a machine gun?

Anyway, needless to say, everyone’s fantasy goes differently than how they were expecting.  Eventually, all the fantasies connect because everyone has a Final Destination-style connection.  For some reason, this leads to everyone ending up in an underground cavern, where they’re chased by random killers.  I’m not sure why, to be honest.

Usually, I love incoherent movies but Fantasy Island was just annoying.  The main problem is that the fantasies were all just ripped off from other, better movies.  For instance, Melanie’s fantasy was basically just a sequel to Saw.  J.D. and Brax were in a cheap, Hulu action comedy.  Patrick and Gwen’s fantasies felt as if they were lifted from one of those religious films where someone prays and gets a chance to visit with their dead loved ones.

Now, at this point, I should say that Fantasy Island is based on an old TV show where, every week, different guest stars would visit the island and they would have a fantasy and, I assume, learn a lesson.  I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show but my impression is that the island was always portrayed as being a benevolent force.  People didn’t come to the island and say, “I want this experience” and then end up getting shot in the head.  I imagine that explained why the Island was able to remain open and popular.  In the movie, though, the Island leads to several deaths and you have to wonder why that wouldn’t hurt business.  I mean, if I survived a trip to the movie’s Fantasy Island, I’d probably call my senators and demand that the island by nuked into oblivion.  Both of my senators are Republicans so you know they’d be willing to do it, too.

Anyway, my fantasy was for Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island to be shorter than it was because the movie’s about 30 minutes too long and not really interesting enough to hold your attention during the slow spots.  Unfortunately, my fantasy did not come true.

Film Review: The Mule (dir by Clint Eastwood)


In The Mule, Clint Eastwood plays Earl Stone.

In some ways, Earl is typical of the characters that Eastwood has played during the latter part of his career.  He’s grouchy.  He’s alienated almost everyone who was previously close to him.  He drives an old pickup truck and he has no idea how to text and he seems to literally snarls whenever he sees anyone under the age of 60.  He served in the Korean War and he’s not scared of guns.

In other ways, Earl is not a typical Eastwood character at all.  First off, he’s on the verge of financial ruin.  Earl may not be the first Eastwood character to not know how to responsibly handle money but he is perhaps the first one to be on the verge of homelessness as a result.  (He’s perhaps the first of Eastwood’s modern character to face real-world consequences for his flaws.)  Secondly, Earl often seems to be lost in the 21st century world.  In Gran Torino and Trouble With The Curve, Eastwood played grumpy old men who could still hold their own when it came to dealing with younger people.  But, in The Mule, Earl seems to be defeated by life.  The only thing that he really has going for him is his reputation as a horticulturist and, as the film makes clear, that’s not a skill that’s going to bring in much money.

That all changes when Earl has a chance meeting with Rico (Victor Rasuk), a friend of his granddaughter’s.  Knowing that Earl is desperate for money, Rico tells him that he could make a quick payday by transporting a package for some friends.  After giving it some thought, Earl agrees.  When Earl meets Rico’s friends, everyone is shocked at how old he is.  They’re even more shocked when Earl says that he doesn’t know how to text.  Earl is given a phone and told to answer it whenever it rings but to never use it to call anyone.  A package is put in the back of Earl’s pickup truck.  It’s suggested that Earl not look in the package.

Does Earl know that he’s transporting drugs?  At first, it’s hard to say.  While it seems obvious to us, Earl is from a different time.  Still, once Earl does eventually learn that he’s being used as a drug mule, it doesn’t seem to bother him.  If nothing else, Earl actually seems to get a kick out of being a real-life outlaw.  He continues to make his runs and he continues to make money and, perhaps most importantly, he now has a purpose in life.  In a strange way, the drug runners even become his new family.  (They call him Tata, which is Spanish for grandfather.)  Of course, they’re a family that makes it cleat that they’ll kill Earl if he’s ever late delivering the package but that doesn’t seem to matter to Earl.

Meanwhile, the DEA (represented by Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, and — somewhat inevitably — Michael Pena) are hearing reports about a new drug mule who has been nicknamed Tata.  What they don’t suspect, of course, is that Tata is a 90 year-old man who has no criminal record and who is always very careful to obey all the traffic laws.  Even when Earl is pulled over by the police, he’s such a nice old man that they let him go without bothering to really search his vehicle.  It seems like Earl’s got a perfect thing going but, unfortunately, things are never as good as they seem and eventually, the reality of Earl’s situation intrudes on his fantasy….

It’s been said that The Mule is going to be Eastwood’s final film as an actor and he gives an excellent performance as Earl.  The Mule, which feels, in many ways, like a good-natured companion piece to Gran Torino, features Eastwood at both his most vulnerable and, probably not coincidentally, his most likable and sympathetic.  In this film, Eastwood makes clear that he’s no longer the righteous Dirty Harry or the mythological Man With No Name.  Now, he’s just a man nearing the end of his life and trying to come to terms with the mistakes and the decisions of the past.  Eastwood plays Earl like a man who knows that his time is limited.  Smuggling drugs gives him a chance to feel like he’s alive again but, throughout it all, there’s still a deep sadness.  Earl can use his money to pay his bills and to fix up the local VFW hall but he still can’t buy his family’s forgiveness.  Watching the film, it’s impossible not to feel for Earl.  You’re happy that he found at least a little satisfaction with his criminal career, even though you immediately suspect that things probably aren’t going to turn out well for him.

Admittedly, there is one cringe-worthy scene in which it’s suggested that the 90 year-old Earl has had a threesome with two twenty year-olds (and one gets the feeling that the scene would not have been included if not for the fact that the film’s star was also the director).  For the most part, though, this is a thoughtful film that features a poignant performance from Eastwood and which is directed in a restrained, but empathetic manner.  If this is Eastwood’s swan song as an actor, it’s a good note to go out on.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Mary Queen of Scots, Colette, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, The Favourite, Goosebumps 2, A Simple Favor, The Extinction, The Package, Life Itself, Along Came The Devil, Little Italy, Unfriended: Dark Web, Wonder Park, Castle Rock


It’s time for the weekly trailer round-up!  We’ve got fourteen today so let’s get down to business:

First off, we have the trailer for one of the most anticipated films of the year: Mary, Queen of Scots.  This movie brings together two of last year’s nominees for best actress, with Saoirse Ronan playing the title character and Margot Robbie playing Queen Elizabeth I.  It is set to be released in December for Oscar consideration.

Also getting early Oscar buzz is Keira Knightley for her performance in Colette.  Colette premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year and will be released on September 21st.

Another film that generated buzz at Sundance was The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a teenage girl forced into gay conversation therapy.  The Miseducation of Cameron Post will be released into theaters on August 3rd.

Following the arthouse success of The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos returns with The Favourite.  Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play cousins who compete to be the favorite of Queen Anne.  The Favourite will be released on November 23rd.

The books and the monsters are back but Jack Black is nowhere to be seen in the trailer for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween.  This film will be released on October 12th.

When Blake Lively disappears, her new best friend, Anna Kendrick, teams up with Lively’s husband to find her.  Directed by Paul Feig of Ghostbusters and Bridesmaids fame, A Simple Favor will be released on September 14th.

Everyone’s favorite sidekick, Michael Pena, finally gets the leading role in The Extinction, a sci-fi thriller that will be premiering on Netflix on July 27th.

Also coming to Netflix is The Package, a teen comedy from the creators of Workaholics.  The Package will be delivered on August 10th.

The second film to be directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, Life Itself will be released on September 21st.

According to this trailer, Along Came The Devil is “an exorcism film for a new generation.”  This film will be released on August 10th.

Have you ever wondered what happened to Danny Aiello?  He’s in Little Italy, with Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen.  Little Italy will be released in August.

The internet is still the most dangerous place on Earth in the second trailer for Unfriended: Dark Web.  See for yourself on July 20th.

After a long and troubled production that saw original director Dylan Brown fired for “inappropriate conduct,” the animated film Wonder Park will finally be released on March 15th, 2019.

Finally, here is the long-awaited official trailer for Castle Rock, the new Hulu series from J.J. Abrams and Stephen King.  Castle Rock premieres on July 25th.

 

A Movie A Day #322: CHiPs (2017, directed by Dax Shepard)


Based on the campy 70s cop show that will live on forever in syndication, CHiPs is about two unlikely partners who, after a rough beginning, work together to catch a cop’s killer and capture a gang of armed robbers.

Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepherd) is a flaky former motocross champion who joins the California Highway Patrol to try to impress his estranged wife (Kristen Bell).  Baker pops painkillers like candy, throws up whenever he enters an unfamiliar house, and has a knee that randomly goes out.  Baker can’t shoot, fight, or think but he sure can ride a bike.

Officer Francis Llewelyn “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Pena) is actually an FBI agent named Castillo who has been assigned to work undercover to investigate corruption in the CHP.  Ponch is a sex addict who is obsessed with yoga pants and who keeps accidentally shooting his former partner (Adam Brody).

Both Baker and Ponch are given one identifying characteristic.  Baker’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then apologizes.  Ponch’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then doesn’t apologize.  That is about as deep as things get.

I’m not really sure who this movie is supposed to appeal to.  Michael Pena and Dax Shepard have been good in other productions but they’re both awful here, let down by a script that does not have much to offer beyond tepid bromance and dick jokes.  The humor is too deliberately lowbrow and raunchy to appeal to the people who were fans of the quaintly innocent TV show but it’s also neither meta nor clever enough to appeal to the audience that made hits out of 21 and 22 Jump Street.  I guess the ideal audience for this film would be people who still find gay panic jokes to be hilarious because CHiPs is full of them.  If the last movie you saw was made in 1999 and starred Adam Sandler and David Spade, CHiPs might be right up your alley.

CHiPs is a terrible fucking movie but what really distinguishes it from other terrible movies is the amount of contempt that it seems to have for its source material.  The Jump Street movies might have poked fun at the TV series that inspired them but it was still obvious that the films were being made by fans.  CHiPs can’t even be bothered to use the original’s theme music as anything other than a way to punctuate a few cheap jokes.  Erik Estrada, the original Ponch, does have a cameo but only so he and the new Ponch can talk about eating ass in Spanish.  Otherwise, there is nothing that links the movie to the TV show.  A more accurate title would have been Two Assholes On Motorcycles, except the motorcycles really are not that important to the film.  So, I guess the title would actually just have to be Two Assholes.  That sounds about right to me.

CHiPs proves that not every stupid cop show needs a movie version.  Now, excuse me while I get back to work on my T.J. Hooker spec script…

There Are Three Things You Should Know Before Watching The Trailer for War On Everyone


Okay, before you watch the trailer for War On Everyone, there are three things you should know!

Number one, this is a red band trailer.  That means that, if you watch it at work or in a public place, you will be immediately arrested and deported to Vermont.  That is not something you want to risk because, as we all know, Vermont is an evil, evil place.

Secondly, this is the latest film from the brilliant Irish director, John Michael McDonagh.  McDonagh directed two of the best films in recent cinematic history, The Guard and Calvary!  (He’s also the brother of Martin McDonagh, who directed both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.)  From what I’ve heard, War on Everyone is another McDonagh triumph!

Third, Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard play corrupt cops!  After what happened to his honest cop in End of Watch, can you blame Pena for going bad?

Anyway, here is the red band trailer!  It’s full of cursing and all sorts of fun stuff.