Movie Review – The Incantation

incantation

EXPECTATIONS: An amiably old-school horror experience.

REVIEW: Another year, another paranormal horror story. Stories about hauntings and the paranormal have been told for thousands of years and of course, we are not going to see less of them any time soon. But it is not how original the story can be that defines whether it is actually good, it is the execution of said story.

In the case of The Incantation, this is writer/director/actor Jude S. Walko‘s directorial debut. Saddled with a low budget, a fresh-faced cast (bar Dean Cain) and sparse (yet beautiful) locations, will the film exceed its meager resources by providing a scary experience?

IncantationLucyJP1

The Incantation starts off with Lucy Bellerose (Sam Valentine), a social media socialite arriving in Paris – en route to her recently deceased great uncle’s lavish (and of course, creepy) castle in the French countryside. Apparently, she’s to meet her mother there, attend the funeral services and then she will inherit the entire property.

When she arrives, she’s greeted by a chambermaid named Mary (Beatrice Orro), a local vicar (writer/director Jude S. Walko), a charismatic gravedigger named J.P. (Dylan Kellogg) and an imposing and well-spoken insurance salesman named Abel Baddon (Dean Cain). As Lucy explores the property, she begins to uncover some dark family secrets as well as uncover a few skeletons of her own in the closet.

incantation2

Does The Incantation provide a creepy experience? Unfortunately, it’s quite a mixed bag for all involved. But like all mixed bags, there are positives, so let’s start off with those.

The French locations, whether its the castle, the valleys, the catacombs are all fantastic and add a sense of credibility and authenticity to the film, making it easier for the audience to be immersed into the story.

The same goes for the cinematography by Derek Street, which is well-done overall, as it captures the vistas and settings (particularly in scenes involving the young child running through the valleys of long grass) strikingly. Although, the drone cinematography for the scenic wide shots is quite overused.

Speaking of striking, there is Sam Valentine as Lucy Bellerose. She gives a good performance, balancing charisma and fear convincingly while executing the gradual character arc, which show simmering signs of depravity in her nature, quite well. If she comes across better material, she could go on to better things.

maxresdefault

But unfortunately, this is where the better things end as we delve into the negatives. Director Walko tries to go for a slow-burn, old-fashioned type of storytelling, hearkening back to traditional narrative horror tropes that are rarely done today, like the old-fashioned scares like a door closing involuntarily, a sign of light in a dark area or even the sound of a cuckoo clock.

And while the positives mentioned earlier help the story to become more immersive, the attempts at scares become excessive and the script is quite convoluted to the point of tedium. All the goodwill becomes muted and the flaws begin to irk. And by the time the film reaches its conclusion, it becomes hard to muster any

The supporting cast is also quite uninspired. Dean Cain, who’s best known for the TV series Lois and Clark, has played roles of a dark nature before; mostly scumbag-like characters like in the crime-thriller Out of Time and the farcical comedy Rat Race. In the case of The Incantation, he sleepwalks through the part without lending any sense of verve to the part.

Walko himself is quite hard to take seriously, with his stilted line delivery and the same goes for Beatrice Orro and Dylan Kellogg, who plays the love interest as well as the “Basil Exposition” role. In fact, most of the fault lies now with the actors but the script, because the dialogue is both ridiculous and cringing.

MV5BNzhkZDBkMTUtYjZlNC00MDk5LTg4MDQtNjc0OWE1NWI1MTNmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzI5NzMxNjU@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

Some scenes involve shoddy ADR (additional dialogue replacement), especially in one scene where Kellogg’s character (J.P, Jean-Pierre) is talking to a florist and most of the words that the actress delivers, her mouth and the delivery look mismatched.

Overall, The Incantation is a disappointment due to the inconsistent performances, problematic script and distracting production gaffes. But there is potential for something better, thanks to Sam Valentine‘s stellar performance, Derek Street‘s striking cinematography, the beautiful locations and Walko’s impassioned insistence on old-fashioned storytelling. The glass is half-empty or half-full. Pick your poison.

Note: There is a mid-credit scene.

The Incantation will be available OnDemand, DVD and Blu-Ray on 7/31.

IncantationDeanVicar3

Cast: Sam Valentine, Dean Cain, Dylan Kellogg, Beatrice Orro, Jude S. Walko
Director: Jude S. Walko
Screenwriters: Jude S. Walko

Advertisements

Movie Review – Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

MM2_INTL_JETTY_DGTL_1_SHT_OV.indd

EXPECTATIONS: As enjoyably frivolous as the original.

REVIEW: If there was one sequel this year that people did not see coming, it’s Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again. The sequel to the 2008 blockbuster hit has the entire original cast reprising their roles and we have welcome newcomers into the mix like Cher, Andy Garcia and of course, Lily James.

The reaction from the first film is quite interesting due to the fact that the film was not successful despite the polarizing reactions, but it was successful because of them. Numerous complaints were due to the lack of plot, the amateur staging and filmmaking, the vocal performances from the cast (which included Pierce Brosnan, who copped the brunt of it) and its sheer optimism.

But people flocked to the film and saw it for its negative qualities and because the film had ABBA songs in it. British film critic Mark Kermode (who is a huge fan of ABBA) enjoyed the film, despite claiming that it was like seeing A-listers doing drunken karaoke. With the sequel, which has unused ABBA songs, more A-listers and upcoming talents, coming into the picture, will it capture the same lightning in the bottle the original had?

maxresdefault

Five years after the events of Mamma Mia!, on the Greek island of Kalokairi, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is pregnant with her Honey Honey, Sky’s (Dominic Cooper) Chiquitita(?), while running her Super Trouper mother’s (Meryl Streep) villa. Her relationship with Sky has been turbulent for some time, giving her cause to call out SOS, doubting that she can survive without her mother, Donna, who may have Slipped Through Her Fingers.

With Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie’s (Julie Walters) guidance, Sophie says Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! to them to find out more of Donna’s past, including how she fronted The Dynamos, started her villa on the island from its dilapidated state, met each one of Sophie’s dads (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, and Colin Firth), and raised a daughter, without a Dancing Queen mother to guide her.

And When All Is Said and Done, Voulez-vous, Sophie gets an unexpected visit from someone she has never even met: her grandmother, Ruby Sheridan (Cher).

Oh and some singing and dancing ensues…

mamma-mia-press-photo-2018-a-billboard-1548

Since the film is flooding (or in some cases, spewing) with positivity, let’s start off with the good stuff. Director/screenwriter Ol Parker stages the musical numbers with more skill and verve than previous director Phyllida Lloyd (who is credited as producer), as he keeps the camera dynamic and adds stylistic flourishes that give it much-needed pop. The choreography is more intricate, the set designs are more garish and the costumes are more vibrant, lending the film a brimming positivity (or corniness) that is enjoyably reminiscent of 60’s and 70’s musicals.

Parker also does his best to mitigate the negatives that plagued the first film i.e. he delegates the majority of the singer to the young counterparts, rather than the present ones, who were criticized for their lack of singing proficiency, particularly Brosnan. Although he does have a brief, yet effectively melancholic moment where he sings while reminiscing about Donna, that was quite touching.

And this is where the big positive factor that Parker, co-writers Richard Curtis and Catherine Johnson have cooked up. There’s a surprisingly emotional punch, where the film builds a strong connection between the characters and the audience, with themes like family, motherhood, heartbreak, romance, sexism, loss, controlling your own destiny, that gives the film a poignancy that earns its tears. The musical number of My Love, My Life with Streep, Seyfried and James is so well-done and Streep, of course, knocks it out of the park.

O9mmc9wPwEavN7zlyyfmNQ

The newcomers and young established talents all make the most out of their variable screentime. Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan are all convincing and charismatic as the young counterparts of Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and even manage to belt out choice numbers with a lot of pep, particularly Skinner in the Waterloo number.

Jessica Keenan Lynn and Alexa Davies are both a hoot, just like their present counterparts, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). Lynn replicates Baranski’s posh attitude accurately while Davies manages to nail the impulsiveness and acerbic attitude of Walters to a T.

But the obvious standout is Lily James. Underused in critically acclaimed films like Baby Driver and Darkest Hour, she finally gets the leading roles she deserves with her talent like in The Guernsey Literary and the Potato Peel Pie Society and here in Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again. Not only does she convince as being the young counterpart of Donna and she sings and handles the choreography convincingly, she brings much heart and likability to the part that you can’t help but root for her.

fid18261_trid16354

Unfortunately the review needs to Andante, Andante as we go through the negatives. For those that ironically like the first film, it has less of the qualities that people would have laughed at eg. less of the original male cast singing, less of the awkward set-ups of the musical numbers and less of the awkward shot set-ups. And for those who are only willing to see the original cast of the first film will be slightly disappointed with their reduced times on screen.

There is the location that director Parker had to shoot on, which is a film set, rather than Greek island of Skopelos where the original was shot. Since Parker had to rely on such a set, copious amounts of greenscreen had to be used, and it is absolutely dreadful; making the film look like it was set on another planet. And continuing on the tangent of other planets, the entrance, appearance and singing of Cher is out-of-this-world.

So much so, it creates a continuity error from the first film, which states that she was an angry Catholic and dead. But who cares?! It’s Cher and she gives a predictably entertaining performance where she makes fun of herself, ala her performance in the 2003 comedy, Stuck on You.

static.playbill.com

Overall, Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again retains the spirit of the original whilst having a few substantial surprises, the original cast having loads of fun and the newcomers lending a new sense of energy to the proceedings, especially Lily James, who is a pure joy. It’s a sequel that is so well-done, it makes you appreciate the original more in retrospect and considering the times we live in, it could not have arrived at a better time.

2495_d067_00191r_preview

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Andy Garcia, Celia Imrie, Lily James, Alexa Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Pierce Brosnan, Omid Djalili, Josh Dylan, Gerard Monaco, Anna Antoniades, Jeremy Irvine, Panos Mouzourakis, Maria Vacratsis, Naoko Mori, Togo Igawa, Colin Firth, Anastasia Hille, Stellan Skarsgard, Susanne Barklund, Cher, Jonathan Goldsmith, Meryl Streep
Director: Ol Parker
Screenwriters: Catherine Johnson, Richard Curtis, Ol Parker

Movie Review – Ant-Man and the Wasp

AMATW_Theatrical_Poster

EXPECTATIONS: Something as fun as light-footed as the original film, standing out positively in comparison to Avengers: Infinity War.

REVIEW: The superhero film boom continues! After the gloom-and-doom of Avengers: Infinity War, we now have the sequel to the miniature superhero franchise, Ant-Man and the Wasp. Free from the shackles of predetermined disappointment after the absence of original director Edgar Wright from the first film, returning director Peyton Reed and lead actor/co-writer Paul Rudd truly have the reigns to go where they want to go.

With talented franchise newcomers Michelle Pfeiffer, Lawrence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins and others, will the film succeed in being as good as the fun, light-footed original, if not better?

Ant_Man_and_the_Wasp.0

Set years after the events of Captain America: Civil War and before Avengers: Infinity War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is in a deep struggle with the consequences of his choices as both a towering(?) superhero and as a working father.

Approached by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Lang must once again don the Ant-Man suit and fight alongside the Wasp. The urgent mission soon leads to the quest of finding the missing Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is stuck in the quantum realm that Scott ventured in and out of.

But there is more at stake, when a new antagonist by the name of Ava aka Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) comes into the picture, wanting something from Pym that could destroy the chance for the heroes to reunite with Janet again.

Still-of-Evangeline-Lilly-as-the-Wasp-from-Ant-man-and-the-Wasp

Does Ant-Man and the Wasp succeed as a sequel as well as an antidote to the grim feeling that came from Avengers: Infinity War? To stop people from getting antsy in the back, yes, it definitely does.

As sequels usually go, the stories get bigger, the characters become more plentiful, the action becomes more bombastic and of course, the money becomes greener (America-wise). But during the process, the filmmakers would often forget what made the original a success in the first place.

In the case of Ant-Man and the Wasp, it never forgets the novelty and nature of its premise, which is not size, but scale; it never forgets the funny interplay between the ensemble cast and it never forgets that people come to see the man in Ant-Man. Free from the Edgar Wright-size expectations that the original one had, director Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd were free to do their own thing and it really shows.

new-extended-tv-spot-for-ant-man-and-the-wasp-me-eat-people-social

One change in particular was to give the change the gender of the character of Ghost, permitting more female talent into the fray. Hannah John-Kamen, who’s known for her television appearances in Black Mirror and Killjoys, has been given very small roles in blockbuster films like Star Wars Episode VII: Force Awakens, Ready Player One (where she stood out regardless) and Tomb Raider. Finally given something substantial to do, she inhabits the role of Ghost convincingly, showing the torment and pain of the character as well as inhabit the physicality (the fight scenes in particular) with ease.

Evangeline Lilly (who was kept in the sidelines in the first film) is clearly having the time of her life, getting into the action and hi-jinks as The Wasp, and she predictably (in the best of ways), showing that she is clearly the better of the two leads. The Ant-Man films are essentially about a team but Lilly steals the spotlight.

Another change is that it’s not a rehash of the plot of the original. There’s no longer a heist plot in the story, but more of a wild goose chase (complete with a visually striking sequence reminiscent of Fantastic Voyage) and the gadgets are all used to maximum effect. Size counts here and anything that’s large will be small and vice-versa. Action scenes involving a kitchen fight to the introduction of Ghost that involves phasing into matter and a car chase that’s part-Hot Wheels, they are all just a hoot to watch and are very well-executed.

Considering all the plots, the action that happens and the many characters that the film keeps track of, Reed and the five credited scriptwriters (Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barber, Gabriel Ferrari) keep the story on track efficiently, if not cohesively. Some plots like the Ghost subplot could have used more time to develop more, considering the potential drama behind it, but it feels quite perfunctory. But the mixed execution of the drama is easily compensated the comedy.

One particularly funny scene involves the Ant-man suit malfunctioning and his stature changes constantly, which becomes a visual treat as well as shows Rudd’s capable physical comedic chops, shown in films like Role Models and particularly, I Love You Man.

AMATW_Giveaways_1500x580_1

Speaking of comedic chops, Rudd shows that he’s perfectly cast as Ant-man. Given more to do in terms of physical comedy, he succeeds in flying colors. And he fits the role of playing a flawed goofball hero as well as imbuing the character with enough humanity that the audience will still want him to succeed. His scenes with Abby Ryder Fortson (who thankfully is given more to do), who plays his daughter Cassie, certainly show that and are genuinely sweet and funny.

The supporting cast still give their all, with Michael Pena standing out once again (and he does the narration gag again with an amusing twist), Walton Goggins playing an amusing scumbag of a character, Laurence Fishburne doing more here than he does in the entirety of his screentime in the DCEU by providing a good foil to Douglas as well as solidifying the drama as well as he can in the Ghost subplot; and of course Michael Douglas actually has his own adventure subplot in the final act, which was quite satisfying. For those who expect Michelle Pfeiffer to own the spotlight will be disappointed, as she is more of a MacGuffin than an actual character.

Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a load of Marvel goodness, with enjoyably spirited characters, exuberant action scenes, character improvements (from the original) and a fun comedic edge that is sure to be an antidote to high-stakes drama of Avengers: Infinity War as well as make you antsy for the inevitable sequel…?

P.S – There are two credit sequences that one is an amusing stinger and another is one that references the prior films.

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed
Screenwriters: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barber, Gabriel Ferrari

Movie Review – Show Dogs

locandina4895

EXPECTATIONS: Something amusing like the live-action Scooby-Doo films.

REVIEW: “Live-action family movies are somewhat of an endangered species these days as most family entertainment is now animated.” That is a line that is spoken by the director of the film Show Dogs, Raja Gosnell, who has a long pedigree (pun intended) of films that involve canines, as well as family entertainment.

Starting off with Home Alone 3, a film I personally liked since it came out (and includes a young pre-fame Scarlett Johansson), he also made the amusing rom-com Never Been Kissed and the action-comedy Big Momma’s House, a terrible rip-off of Mrs. Doubtfire.

Since then, he venture onto family films like the Scooby-Doo films, which I enjoyed due to the performances of the cast (particularly Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini). Then he did crummy family films like Yours, Mine and Ours, The Smurfs films and Beverly Hills Chihuahua; the latter being the best one out of the three due to one laugh.

And five years after The Smurfs 2, he’s back with a vengeance with another family film. Back in the doghouse with a talented cast in check and familiar territory, will Show Dogs be a funny family film that will bring back the supposed endangered species of live-action family movies?

show-dogs-scene.png

In a world where humans and talking dogs co-exist (although it is confusing as to how much they understand each other), a tough Rottweiler police dog named Max (voiced by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) is ordered to go undercover as a show dog in a prestigious dog show with his human and incompetent partner Frank (Will Arnett) to stop an animal-smuggling scheme that is using the dog show as a front.

Show-Dog-Film-2018

When you watch a comedy and it doesn’t make you laugh, you start to get an itch in your throat and that is the feeling of wanting to laugh but never getting a chance. And for 90 minutes, the itch gets so painful, you start to choke on your own desperation of wanting to laugh. Well Show Dogs is exactly that: an equivalent of a choke chain.

Back to the remark that Gosnell said, it is quite an insulting thing for him to say considering that the Paddington films, Peter Rabbit, the live-action Disney films, Wonder and many more came out recently. It’s even more insulting that in the film, a character remarks that “no one makes talking dog movies anymore” and the film proceeds to provide a compelling reason why that is. And the most insulting thing is the film itself, which is a big contender in being one of the worst films of 2018.

r102_0_2549_1376_w1200_h678_fmax

It was recently revealed that Show Dogs had a scene where Max has to go to his ‘happy place’ when one of the judges touches his testicles against his will. That’s the level of attempted homicide humour the audience is gonna get here. And funnily enough, one of scriptwriters, Max Botkin, said that he didn’t write that joke and the script was re-written by co-writer Marc Hyman and twelve other writers. Which means that FOURTEEN writers wrote this damn thing and this was the best they could come up with!

Actor Omar Chaparro commented in the press notes that “The writer [of Show Dogs] is very clever because he wrote this story to be watched by everyone, not only kids but adults too”. That is the basic demographic of a family film, sir.

There are jokes that reference the careers of the actors like how Arnett references his appearances in The LEGO Movie and Ludacris comments on what he sees as ludicrous (Get it?!); and it comes off as pathetic, unfunny and pandering. And they say it out loud JUST IN CASE THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK AREN’T GETTING IT! Hell, the film references the dog film, Turner and Hooch, starring Tom Hanks. Whom in the target audience of children would even know that film?

Other forms of humour are dog farts, testicle jokes, blatant meta remarks, annoyingly pantomime performances and really bad CGI. Even the storytelling is non-existent, as there is no plot. Just a string of unfunny events that goes on for 90 minutes, that feels like three years.

ShowDogs-FILM-panel

The cast assembled all look mortified to be there, wondering how the hell did they get involved in this thing. Arnett does the typical Will Arnett film performance, which involves talking in a deep voice and keeping his eyes wide open for as long as possible. Omar Chaparro does nothing with his villainous role but play pantomime to a supposedly evil facial expression that involves looking to the corner of your eye.

Lyonne is given nothing to do with a cardboard cutout of a character. The funniest things that she does involving Show Dogs are in the press notes, where she says zingers like “Will Arnett is so well suited to the role because I really believe he works for the FBI” and my personal favourite on her role in the film: “It’s clearly the role I was born for”. Seriously, read the press notes of Show Dogs; they are far funnier, less time-consuming and more enlightening than the film itself.

769341148_5747866290001_5747809905001-vs

The voice cast of Tucci and Cumming, Sparks and RuPaul, they play roles that are clearly cardboard cutouts of personae they’ve played in the past i.e. The Devil Wears Prada, Burlesque and RuPaul respectively. And the most sophisticated casting the filmmakers could come up with is Shaquille O’Neal playing a dreadlocked Buddhist Komondor Karma, who spouts unfunny platitudes.

The budget of the film was $5.5 million so there wasn’t a big paycheck on their parts so what was the reason that the talented cast of Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming and others got to be in this mess? There are at least 15 dog movies and Miss Congeniality on Netflix (which the film is clearly ripping off) and you can watch all of them in the month free trial, rather than spend money to watch that piece of dog excrement that is Show Dogs.

EDIT: The cut of Show Dogs that I saw had that questionable ‘happy place’ dog grooming scene cut down. Unfortunately, the other 90 minutes still remain.

123545

maxresdefault

lhs

This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, RuPaul Voices: Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordin Sparks, Gabriel Iglesias, Shaquille O’Neal, Alan Cumming, Stanley Tucci
Director: Raja Gosnell
Screenwriters: Max Botkin, Marc Hyman