The Boy — a review

Hello? Creepy doll? You up there? If so, you can stay there, little buddy!

Hello? Creepy doll? You up there? If so, you can stay there, little buddy!

Full disclosure time here: I’ve had a mad (simply mad, I tell you!) crush on actress Lauren Cohan since I first laid eyes on her during the second season of The Walking Dead. And although her presence on that zombie soap opera isn’t enough to keep me watching it, I still keep an eye out for her whenever she shows up in other projects, such as the straight to video opus Death Race 2. 2016’s The Boy is her first starring film role, and it was actually released in theaters! Whoa, looks like this girl is definitely going places.

In The Boy, Cohan stars as Greta, a young woman who has been hired to baby-sit a kid for a wealthy old couple who live in a spacious mansion in England. Weird stuff happens right at the start when Greta, showing up at the mansion for the first time, removes her boots and leaves them at the front door–only to have them vanish when she goes to retrieve them later. But it really gets weird when Greta realizes that the “boy” that she has been hired to take care of is nothing but a life-sized doll of an eight year old lad with creepy alabaster skin and eyes that have a thousand yard stare.

Hmm, that zombie-killing gig is looking better by the moment, here....

Hmm, that zombie-killing gig is looking better by the moment, here….

Greta is given a list of things that must be done for Brahms (aka the creepy little doll). This list, which includes playing selected pieces of music very loudly, must be strictly adhered to, reminding me of the rules that the characters in Gremlins had to follow in order to guarantee nothing went wrong–and of course they ignored those rules right off the bat. Greta does the same thing. Once the old couple are gone, leaving her alone in the mansion, Greta just tosses the doll aside and kicks back and relaxes. Big mistake, for once she ignores the rules, that’s when the really creepy stuff happens.

I enjoyed this one. It has a nice, Gothic atmosphere, and slowly builds up its terrors, as opposed to diving straight in teeth-first. The Boy is basically a mystery/thriller that unravels its plot with care, including the twist near the end. Cohan acquits herself very nicely here, effortlessly carrying the movie as the only person on screen for long stretches of its running time. The Boy may not be the greatest film ever made (it has its share of plot holes), but for what it is, it’s entertaining enough to enjoy on a rainy weekend afternoon. –SF

Captain America: Civil War — a review

Darn it, we were at the wrong gate! Our plane's on the other side of the airport! Avengers, run like heck!

Darn it, we were at the wrong gate! Our plane’s on the other side of the airport! Avengers, run like heck!

Released in 2014, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spectacular mix of comic book fun and spy movie paranoia that managed to not only update the title character to the 21st century, but also made a major change to the overall status quo of the Marvel cinematic universe. That’s a pretty tall order for any one film, making The Winter Soldier one of my all-time favorite Marvel superhero movies. But what about the sequel, CA: Civil War? Does it measure up to Winter Soldier? Yep, Civil War does measure up, and even manages to surpass Winter Soldier, which was a feat that I was not expecting but was pleasantly surprised to see.

The start of Civil War sees Cap leading a team of Avengers tracking down mercenaries led by Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in an African city. They find their targets, but in the battle, many innocent people inadvertently become targets as well. While that threat may have been eliminated, it raises a hue and cry across the world that the Avengers have become just as dangerous as their foes. The secretary of state (William Hurt, reprising his General Ross character from The Incredible Hulk) spells it out to the Avengers that, either they accept government oversight, or they’ll be forced to retire.

Cap isn’t too keen on accepting government oversight, while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), feeling guilty after meeting a mother who lost her son during one of Avengers’ skirmishes, is all for it. But Cap takes action when his best bud Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) gets blamed for a terrorist attack. Ignoring orders to let others capture Bucky, Cap decides to go rogue and get the answers from Bucky himself. This leads to the “Civil War” of the title, where the heroes that make up the Avengers split up behind either Captain America or Iron Man. While this is definitely the third Captain America film, the number of heroes within it makes it feel more like the third Avengers movie–one that’s much better and far more enjoyable than the limp and unimaginative Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Missing your shield, Cap?

Missing your shield, Cap?

Despite the large cast, the Russo Brothers (who also directed The Winter Soldier) do a marvelous job at giving everybody a moment to shine. The Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is much more sympathetic here than she was in Age of Ultron. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also has a stronger presence, proving that the Russos would be the perfect choice to direct her standalone movie (whenever the hell Marvel feels like doing it).

The fight scenes in Civil War are so good they’re staggering, and as with the fights in Winter Soldier, here they also advance the plot while providing some great eye candy. The introduction of Spider-Man to the Marvel cinematic universe (he was previously unavailable due to rights issues) is very well done, with the filmmakers wisely avoiding the origin story and having him be an already established hero in his own right. Tom Holland does a great job playing him as the high school kid he always should have been. Seeing him here in Civil War makes me really look forward to Spidey’s standalone movie. Captain America: Civil War is another great chapter in the ongoing saga of the Marvel cinematic universe, serving the greater storytelling saga all without losing its own identity as being an enjoyable film in its own right. Don’t miss it. –SF

10 Cloverfield Lane — a review

There was a woman here before you. Her name was Roseanne. We do not speak of her....

There was a woman here before you. Her name was Roseanne. We do not speak of her….

While he was busy directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams also found the time to produce a sequel (of sorts) to Cloverfield, the found footage movie that he produced back in 2008 (and was directed by Matt Reeves, who would go on to direct the superb Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes) about a giant monster attacking New York City. Much like the original film, which was shrouded in secrecy, the marketing for the sequel was a mystery wrapped in an enigma stuffed in a riddle. It wasn’t even officially announced until less than two months before its release, and the cast (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr.) weren’t even told the name of the movie they were working on during filming.

The title is 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the film, directed by first timer Dan Trachtenberg, is fantastic. First and foremost, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a found footage film. The original Cloverfield was very enjoyable in how it creatively used its found footage format, but that whole sub-genre, which first started with The Blair Witch Project, has been so overused since then that it’s become something to actively avoid whenever a new found footage flick is trudged out. Just by telling its story in the traditional format, 10 Cloverfield Lane scores some major brownie points right out of the gate.

We're working on getting out of this oppressive bunker...tomorrow. Right now, we've got stuff to do.

We’re working on getting out of this oppressive bunker…tomorrow. Right now, we’ve got stuff to do.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (2012’s The Thing) stars as a young woman named Michelle who’s on the run from a broken marriage. Ignoring her husband’s pleas over the phone (played by Bradley Cooper in a voiceover performance) to just come back home, she races off into the night, where she gets into a car wreck. When she wakes up, it’s not in a hospital, but an underground bunker that’s run by Howard, an imposing man (very well-played by Goodman) who informs her that the world above has come under some kind of an attack, and that they are far safer staying in the bunker, which is tricked out with all the amenities they would need.

But what makes 10 Cloverfield Lane so good is the annoying little fear that Michelle has that everything that Howard has told her is a lie, that he abducted Michelle just to keep her as his slave in the bunker. Is Howard the real monster here? That’s the central mystery, and the writers have done a great job in setting it up and letting it unfold in layers over the course of the film. Winstead is marvelous here as Michelle; her character is filled with a firm, quiet resolve and she plays it magnificently. There are far too many twists and turns in the plot for me to talk about this film more in detail, just know that 10 Cloverfield Lane is an mesmerizing thriller that will keep you glued to the screen for all of its running time. Don’t miss it. –SF