Freddy Vs. Jason



New Line Cinema/Crystal Lake Entertainment

Directed by Ronny Yu

Produced by Sean S. Cunningham/Robert Shaye

Written by Damian Shannon/Mark Swift

Based on characters created by Wes Craven & Victor Miller

It’s not supposed to be so much daggone fun to watch people getting killed in the most graphic and horrendous ways imaginable. It’s not supposed to be intoxicating to see so much blood gushing in all directions. But intoxicating fun is exactly what FREDDY VS. JASON is from start to finish. It’s a manic gorefest that hits the ground running right from the start and doesn’t stop. If you were to pause the movie for a minute and actually try to make logical sense of the events of the movie, you’d stop watching. But because the energy level of the movie is so high and you’ve got one wickedly brutal murder coming so fast on the heels of the previous one that the blood hardly has had time to dry, you don’t care. Well, let me put it this way: I didn’t care.

FREDDY VS. JASON is in the tradition of those great Universal movies in which they would team up their monsters. Movies such as “Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man” “House of Frankenstein” and “House of Dracula” threw together The Frankenstein Monster, Dracula and the Wolfman scheming, plotting and battling each other. In this one it’s Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) who does most of the plotting but once Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) gets an idea of what’s going on, Jason comes back hard in his own fashion. After all, when you’re unkillable and indestructible you don’t have to be a strategic genius.

Freddy Kruger has lost much of his power due to the fact that over time, the adults of Springwood have suppressed any and all information about him. So the current generation of teenagers living in the town has never even heard his name and has no idea he exists. This leaves Freddy stranded in a sort of limbo between Hell and The Dreamworld. But he can cross between the two realms and he does so to find a pawn that he can use to regain his power. Freddy finds Jason Voohees in a state of suspended animation dreaming of slaughtering misbehaving teenagers and of his beloved mother. Freddy uses those dreams to manipulate Jason into resurrecting himself (how does he keep doing that?) Freddy then sends Jason after the Springwood teenagers, figuring that the killings will be attributed to him and the resultant fear and terror will feed him power.


Not a bad plan at all as far as plans go, right? But the problem is that Jason Voorhees is like the living incarnation of that Rolling Stones song “Start Me Up.” Once you get him started, he’ll never stop. Jason proceeds to decimate the teenage population of Springwood and Freddy realizes that if Jason does kill off all the kids that then he’ll be right back in the same predicament he was in at the start of the movie. So now Freddy has a vested investment in stopping his pawn. At the same time, a heroic band of teens have learned about Freddy and figure that the only way to stop him is for one of them to go into The Dreamworld and bring him back into the real world and force Jason to battle Freddy. As you might have surmised by now, this movie’s plot is built upon a lot of plans that go horrendously wrong.

But you want to know what’s really important: do Freddy and Jason fight? Yes, they do throw down not once but twice. The first fight is in The Dreamworld where Freddy has home court advantage and the second takes place in the real world. At Camp Crystal Lake, no less which is Jason’s turf. The battles have all the sophistication of a WWE wrestling match but they’re just as entertaining. Freddy and Jason hack and slash at each other with machete and razor-blade glove, rip limbs off of each other, send each other flying through the air with kicks and punches that could stun an elephant and get back up for more mayhem.


The acting is this one isn’t anything to brag about and forget about characterization. 99% of the cast is dead by the end of the movie anyway. The cast is there for only one reason, to be killed by either Freddy or Jason and they do their jobs admirably. But the three standouts would have to be Monica Keena as Lori, Our Heroine. Kelly Rowland as Our Heroine’s Best Friend and Jason Ritter (John Ritter’s son) as Our Heroine’s Boyfriend. Somebody really needs to work on getting Kelly Rowland into more movies. I’ve only seen her in this and “The Seat Filler” and both times I was struck dumb at how gorgeous she is on screen. And she throws herself into every scene she’s in with sheer gusto. She demonstrates a gift for comedy in the scene where she’s persuaded by her friends (some friends!) to give Jason mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Robert Englund in particular appears to be having the time of his life as Freddy. Not that Englund didn’t give it everything he had in all of his performances as Freddy. One thing Mr. Englund can never be accused of is phoning it in. But he seems to be taking a particular relish in playing Freddy as the behind-the-scenes manipulator/puppet master working the other characters in the movie. There isn’t much one can say about Ken Kirzinger’s performance as Jason because one really doesn’t need to perform as Jason. One simply needs to be big and intimidating and on that level, Mr. Kirzinger delivers.

freddy-vs-jason (1)

So should you see FREDDY VS. JASON? Absolutely. It’s without a doubt an extremely well made movie, one of the best in the series. Everybody throws themselves into it with a great deal of enthusiasm that more than makes up for any plot holes and director Ronny Yu knows how to keep the story moving with not so much as slowing down for a minute. And there’s a lot of neat little callbacks to elements from both the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. I love a horror movie (or any movie for that matter) that knows exactly what it’s supposed to be and succeeds at being that. Enjoy.

Oh, and P.S.: while this movie is the last of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, when I re-watch the series every October I leave “New Nightmare” for last for reasons I’ll go into in my review of that movie. But I recommend that you do that also.

97 Minutes

Rated R

A Walk In The Woods



Route One Films/Wildwood Enterprises/Broad Green Pictures

Directed by Ken Kwapis

Produced by Robert Redford/Bill Holderman/Chip Diggins

Screenplay by Rick Kerb/Bill Holderman

Based on “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson

I suppose I must be getting old. I remember the day when a new Robert Redford movie was considered a major theatrical event. And a movie teaming him up with Nick Nolte? Hey, that’s news right there. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention because it sure seems as if this movie almost snuck right by me. I vaguely remember seeing a trailer for it sometime during the summer but let’s face it, with all the trailers they show you before a summer movie (I swear that the showing of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” I attended, there was an even dozen trailers) it’s easy to forget.

But no matter. The main point is, I saw it. Did I like it? Well before we get into that, allow me to quote myself from my review of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Ahem. Here goes; “I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out in the evening or the afternoon to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.”

Okay? Because A WALK IN THE WOODS is a movie specifically geared toward that age group. Now I’m not saying that younger movie goers wouldn’t appreciate or like this movie if they gave it a chance but there’s a whole lot of things going on here that you can relate to better when you’re 50 or 60 than you can when you’re 20 or 30, is all.

Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has built up an impressive career as a writer of humorous travel books while living in England for about 20 years. He returns to America and lives quite well and peacefully with his wife Cynthia (Emma Thompson). While attending a funeral we’re shown that despite his age, Bill is still somewhat socially inept and uncomfortable around people. Maybe that’s why he suddenly takes it into his head to hike The Appalachian Trail. It goes for 2,200 miles through 14 states and is famous for the many hikers who attempt to hike the entirety of the trail. Only around 10% of those who start out actually finish. Bill intends to finish. He also wants to go by himself but Cynthia puts both feet down. The only way Bill is going to go is if he takes somebody along.


Enter Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) an old friend who offers to come along. Bill hasn’t talked to him in years. Not because he’s mad at him or anything like that. They just simply drifted apart. But apparently, thanks to a scrapbook he’s kept all these years and luridly wild stories Stephen is more than happy to share with Cynthia, he and Bill had a pretty adventurous partnership for a while there.

Bill and Stephen set out on their last great adventure together and it soon becomes apparent to Bill (and hilariously to us) that Stephen isn’t as good a shape to go on this hike as he said he was. He’s got bad knees and his breathing sounds as if his lungs are made out of burlap. And if that wasn’t enough, Bill finds a pint of bourbon hidden in Stephen’s backpack and wonders if he’s got a boozer on his hands that is going to hinder his finishing the hike. Not that Bill is a model companion either. He’s got his own dysfunctional emotional issues that distance him from people and it says something about the man that he doesn’t seem interested in finding out why.


Despite all that heavy stuff, this is very much a buddy comedy and I can see why Robert Redford bought the rights to this book as this would have been the perfect third film for him to co-star with Paul Newman, forming a sort of unofficial trilogy. But sadly, Mr. Newman passed away in 2008. However, Nick Nolte makes a more than amiable and acceptable co-star. Indeed, he shamelessly steals every scene he can get away with and once again reminds us that he is as adept at comedy as he is at drama.

This photo provided by Broad Green Pictures shows, Robert Redford, left, as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz taking in the view along the Appalachian Trail in the film,

This photo provided by Broad Green Pictures shows, Robert Redford, left, as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz taking in the view along the Appalachian Trail in the film, “A Walk in the Woods.” The movie releases in U.S. theaters on Sept. 2, 2015. (Frank Masi, SMPSP/Broad Green Pictures via AP)

I can’t really say that there’s a compelling story here or even much suspense in wondering if Bill and Stephen will finish their hike. Mainly we get truly beautiful and astonishing views of the Appalachian Trail as the two men walk. Along the way they meet some interesting and eccentric characters such as Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) who is convinced that everybody else in the world is dumb and boring except for her. Mary Steenburgen shows up as a hotel manager who sends Bill clear signals that she’d like to provide him with the sort of room service the other guests don’t get. Stephen has a laundromat love affair with the plus-sized Beulah (Susan McPhail) that is definitely more than he bargained for. Nick Offerman also shows up for what is little more than a cameo but he does more with that than most actors do with 30 minutes worth of screen time.

So should you see A WALK IN THE WOODS? If you’re a fan of Robert Redford and/or Nick Nolte, absolutely. They have a wonderful rapport and chemistry that makes me wish they’d done some work together when they were younger. The story is a light one and designed to do nothing more than require you spend some time with two old friends reconnecting with each other and themselves. It’s fun to watch and that’s good enough for me.

Rated R: Be advised that the R rating is for language alone. The “F” word gets a mighty healthy workout in this one.

104 Minutes

Crazy As Hell



Humble Journey Films/Loose Screw Films

Directed by Eriq La Salle

Produced by Butch Robinson/Michael Huens

Written by Jeremy Leven based on his novel: “Satan, His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.”

See, the problem isn’t finding black characters in horror movies. There have been black characters in horror movies going all the way back to 1940’s “Son of Ingagi” which was the first horror movie featuring an all-black cast and written by that true pioneer of African-American film; Spencer Williams. And Mantan Moreland, best known for playing Charlie Chan’s chauffeur Birmingham Brown starred in a number of horror comedies that were more comedy than horror, but just go along with me for minute, okay?

And during the Blaxploitation Era we had the “Blacula” movies, “J.D.’s Revenge” “Abby” (which actually was yanked from theaters due to Warner Brothers filing a suit against the movie, claiming it was a blatant copy of “The Exorcist.”) “Ganja & Hess” “Sugar Hill” (which is actually just as much a superhero origin movie as it is a horror movie) and “Doctor Black, Mister Hyde” as well as many, many others.

As for the modern era there have been several superior horror movies featuring African-Americans such as “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Tales From The Hood” all worthy examples of the genre and well worth seeking out. So, no…black characters in horror movies aren’t hard to find. But for every one where the black character is the lead or the hero there’s a half dozen others where the black character is merely window dressing.  They’re usually the best friend of the hero/heroine as a sort of visual shorthand to let the audience know that our lead character is cool and hip because they have a black BFF. Or they are simply a sacrificial lamb that gets killed off halfway through the movie.

No, the problem is finding good horror movies with black characters and I’m pleased to have discovered one that has been around for a long time and that I’ve heard about but never had a chance to see until recently. CRAZY AS HELL turned out to be a real surprise for me and the longer I watched it, the more I liked the vibe I was getting from it. And while I don’t think it’s as good as “Angel Heart” or “Shutter Island” two movies it shares much in common with, CRAZY AS HELL is more than worth your time.

Superstar pop psychiatrist Ty Adams (Michael Beach) reports to his new job at Sedah State Mental Hospital. Adams is going to be put in charge of the facility for thirty days while a documentary crew records everything he does in his private time and in his therapy sessions with his patients. The head of the documentary crew, Parker (John C. McGinley) assures Adams of complete co-operation but it soon becomes apparent that Parker is deliberately filming encounters Adams has with the staff and patients that don’t exactly put him in a flattering or even professional light. And the faculty’s administrator, Dr. Delazo (Ronny Cox) doesn’t trust Adams or his methods as Adams believes in totally medication free treatment for his patients. Delazo also quiet accurately puts his finger on the fact that Adams is arrogantly overconfident with a rampaging ego that will not permit him to admit when he is wrong or admit defeat. None of these traits being exactly desirable in a man who is supposed to be putting his patients first.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Adams is given a new patient to treat. One who checked himself into the ha-hacienda voluntarily and insists on Adams being his doctor. The patient (Eriq La Salle) claims his name is Satan and his profession is The Father of Lies. Naturally Adams thinks he’s fulla felgercarb. But the more time he spends with Satan, the less certain he is about him. Satan knows things about Adams and the other patients that it isn’t possible for him to know. And is just a coincidence that at the same time Satan appears at the nuthouse, Adams begins to hallucinate about his wife and daughter? The same wife and daughter he refuses to talk about? Could it be that the wife and daughter are connected with “incident” in New York Dr. Delazo makes cryptic reference’s to?


The fun of watching CRAZY AS HELL is mostly in us, along with Dr. Adams is trying to figure out if this crazy guy is actually Satan or a just a really perceptive and smart guy playing a game with Adams. And for every piece of evidence that Adams finds that says he’s actually The Devil, there’s another piece that says he isn’t. It’s a movie that maintains that suspense right up until the end and there are not a lot of movies of this type I can say it about. It truly did keep me guessing.

Eriq La Salle effortlessly steals the movie both as an actor and as a director. He plays Satan with a scary seductiveness that walks a fine line between being funny and frightening. He finds the exact right note to play this character and never makes a wrong step. His direction his sharp, tight and keeps the story movie along at an even clip and again, he walks a fine line in keeping our interest while not letting us get too far ahead of Adams. He’ll drop us just enough to make us think we know more than Adams and then by the time we get to the end credits we realize we didn’t know a thing more than what he wanted us to know.


Ronny Cox supplies more than able backup here and Sinbad shows up as a hospital orderly who is constantly getting the high hat from Adams. And keep your eyes open for Tia Texada who plays Lupa, who works in the facility’s cafeteria. She has a small role but Moly Hoses, does she make the most of her short screen time. Trust me when I say that if you see the movie you’ll know exactly what I mean.

So should you see CRAZY AS HELL? Absolutely. It’s a terrific example of a type of horror filmmaking that doesn’t need buckets of blood, pornographic violence or fake out jump scares to do its job. CRAZY AS HELL is a type of horror that sneaks up on you and before you know it, it’s got you. Highly recommended.

Rated R

113 Minutes

Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted



BadAzz MoFo

Written, Directed and Produced by David F. Walker

We live in a time where people are in absolute terror of being labeled or having labels put on anything. Especially creative folk. Ask a writer what she writes and she may very well look at you as if you’re something that dropped from the south end of a northbound horse while replying; “I refuse to put a label on my work.” Ask a musician what type of music he plays and he looks at you like you tried to shank his momma as he answers; “I don’t like to put a label on my work. Labels are limiting.”

Now, you may ask what does that have to do with my reviewing the highly entertaining and informative Blaxploitation documentary MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED? To be honest, absolutely nothing. It was a thought that occurred to me while watching the movie’s various interviews with the icons of Blaxploitation: Ron O’Neal. Jim Brown. The late great Jim Kelly and William Marshall. Gloria Hendry. Fred Williamson. Antonio Fargas. Robert Hooks. Rudy Ray Moore. Glynn Turman. The question is put to each of them what is Blaxploitation and each and every one had a different interpretation of what the Blaxploitation genre meant to them on a personal and professional level. Maybe the problem with labels is not the label itself but that people can never agree on one solid definition of what the label means?

Yeah, my brain ran to thoughts such as that while watching the movie and that’s a good thing because I enjoy watching a movie that makes me think. Especially when it’s about a subject I love such as Blaxploitation. That period of American Cinema isn’t just history for me. It’s very much an alive and vital genre as I vividly recall seeing most Blaxploitation movie double and triple features on Manhattan’s infamous 42end street during the decade Blaxploitation dominated movie theaters. (Roughly 1970 to 1979) And it’s a genre that still has a massive influence on my writing.


MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED runs only 92 minutes and covers a lot of ground in that relatively short running time. But writer/director David  F. Walker through his interviews manages to give us a fairly comprehensive overview of the psychological, financial and artistic aspects of the genre. And it’s an overview given by the men and women who were actually there and working during that time. And they speak quite frankly and honestly about how it was and what was going on. There are some truly eye-opening moments in those interviews such as when Jim Brown and Fred Williamson break it down financially exactly why Hollywood needs black actors far more than the black actors need Hollywood. Or when Jim Kelly talks about how Hollywood studios gladly sacrifice truckloads of money just as long as they can continue to promote the image of blacks that they want to promote.

I’ll occasionally have discussions with young black fans of films that are very dismissive and even disgusted with Blaxploitation. They see it as not being very far removed from the mammies and coons and minstrels of earlier Hollywood years. This documentary is made for them. It’s impossible to seriously study Blaxploitation and not also study how the genre related to the racial/political climate in America at that time. One is bound up in the other and if you explore one then you begin to understand the other.

And then when you throw in the dynamic that in the late 1960s Hollywood was dying as an industry and Blaxploitation saved it…well, that’s another whole bag of chips we done opened that we got to chew on if we’re gonna talk about the subject honestly. Sure, many of the images in those movies were hideously negative but some were uplifting and positive as well. Blaxploitation was just as much about empowerment and control as it was about making a profit and entertaining working folks on a Friday or Saturday night.


But I’m not here to make the movie’s case. It does that very well on its own. My only job is to recommend it to you and I do so very highly. MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED can be seen uncut, in its entirety and for free on Vimeo. If you’re a fan of Blaxploitation or don’t know a thing about it, either way you’ll enjoy yourself. Peace.


Mr. Holmes



AI Film/BBC Films/FilmNation Entertainment/Archer Gray productions/See-Saw Films/Miramax/Roadside Attractions

Directed by Bill Condon

Produced by Anne Carey/Iain Canning/Emile Sherman

Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher

Based on “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin

Sherlock Holmes is a character that reminds me of Batman in a lot of ways and not just because they’re both extraordinary detectives. Like Batman, Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in movies and on television in variety of settings and styles. There have been comedy versions of Holmes; my favorite being 1988’s “Without A Clue” in which it’s actually Dr. Watson (played by Ben Kingsley) who is a genius detective and hires a bumbling, alcoholic actor (Michael Caine) to play the role of Sherlock Holmes in public. Contemporary versions set in modern day starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. The animated series “Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century” where Holmes is brought back to life via cellular regeneration and resumes his career aided by a robot Dr. Watson and Inspector Beth Lestrade of New Scotland Yard. And there’s what I like to call the “Lethal Weapon” version of Sherlock Homes which stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. It’s a version that’s less concerned with straight-up deduction and more with martial arts, gunplay and pyrotechnics.

And that’s only a very few of the many ways Sherlock Holmes has been interpreted in film. But to my knowledge, MR. HOLMES is the only movie which deals with and portrays Holmes as an old man suffering from senility and having a hard time dealing with losing his most precious and valued asset: his intellect.

At the age of 93 in 1947 Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has long since retired to Sussex to become a beekeeper. Besides his beloved bees, his only companions are his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker). Due to his deteriorating health and mental condition Holmes has begrudgingly engaged the woman’s services but she knows that what he actually needs is a full-time nurse and is making arraignments to take a position elsewhere.


This isn’t welcomed by Roger who takes a liking to the old man. And in return, Holmes, impressed by the young man’s intelligence and curiosity, teaches him how to take care of the bees. Holmes is not taking very well to getting old. He is acutely aware that one thing that has defined him his entire life is going away and he has nothing to replace it with. He cannot even remember exactly why he retired but he does have tantalizing memories of his last case and instinctively feels that he must have done something terribly wrong during that case. Watson did write an account of that case but Holmes was never happy with that version and Holmes himself must take up pen to write the story of his last case and hopefully piece together what actually happened. He’s assisted in this by young Roger who becomes a new Watson during this final investigation of Sherlock Holmes.


We get to see Ian McKellen as the Holmes of that last case in flashbacks and it’s the Holmes we all know and love with a mind that makes a barber’s razor look dull. And maybe it’s just me but he looks and sounds like a dead ringer for the late Sir John Gielgud in some of those flashback scenes. Holmes is retained by a man names Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) who believes that his wife (Hattie Morahan) has become mentally unbalanced after suffering two miscarriages and believes she is communicating with the spirits of her miscarried children. Kelton thinks his wife has fallen under the influence of a fake medium and wants Holmes to confirm his fears.


We also get a second series of flashbacks to a trip Holmes has just come back from to Japan to meet an admirer of his named Matsuda Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) who helps Holmes obtain a prickly ash plant that Holmes thinks will help cure his ailing memory. But that isn’t Umezaki’s only reason for wanting to meet Holmes. His father disappeared at around the same time of the Kelmot case and the only clue Umezaki has as to why his father disappeared is a note he wrote to his son placed inside a collected volume of Sherlock Holmes stories and sent to Umezaki when he was a boy.

Is that long ago disappearance of Umezaki connected with the Kelmot case? Why did Dr.Watson hide a perfumed leather woman’s glove inside a secret compartment of his desk? These and other questions are answered but not in the way I expected and it was both surprising and remarkably poignant when the mysteries are at last all solved.

Ian McKellen does a magnificent job as Sherlock Holmes. He’s lost much of his towering arrogance as he is now unsure of his mental state. But he is still recognizably Holmes as in scenes where Roger challenges him to deduce where his mother has been all day and in a tense moment where Holmes has to quickly put together the correct sequence of events of how a terrible accident took place before his beloved bees are destroyed.

Milo Parker holds his own well in his scenes with McKellen and there is something overwhelmingly touching and affectionate as we watch a real and genuine friendship develop between a man at the end of his life and a boy just starting out on his. Laura Linney is the real surprise here as my wife and I didn’t even realize it was her playing Mrs. Munro until we saw her name in the end credits, that’s how well she disappears into her character. The production values, costuming and set designs are rich enough that you’ll swear you’re looking at a Mechant Ivory production, that’s how good they are.

Holmes and roger

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes then my all means, go and see MR. HOLMES. It’s a solidly elegant character study as well as an engaging mystery. And I feel it’s quite fitting that for his final case Sherlock Holmes must investigate and at last solve what has always been a total mystery to him; the nature of his own humanity.

104 Minutes

Rated PG

Fantastic Four



20th Century Fox/Marvel Entertainment/Constantin Film/Marv Film/TSG Entertainment

Directed by Josh Trank

Produced by Simon Kinberg/Matthew Vaughn/Hutch Parker/Robert Kulzar/Gregory Goodman

Screenplay by Jeremy Slater/Simon Kinberg/Josh Trank

Based on “Fantastic Four” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

At the end of the day I don’t blame Josh Trank at all for the failure of FANTASTIC FOUR, which looks destined to go down in history as the “Heaven’s Gate” of superhero movies. And maybe like “Heaven’s Gate”, twenty years from now future critics and movie lovers will be kinder to this movie than we are now because there is a lot of promise in this movie that sadly was never utilized or developed. And just in case you still can’t get past my first sentence let me repeat so you don’t think I’ve finally overdosed on Benzedrine and caffeine: I don’t blame Josh Trank at all for the failure of FANTASTIC FOUR.

I blame whoever hired him based on Trank’s previous movie; “Chronicle” which received rave reviews from critics and audiences. I myself am not a fan of the movie. It’s one of the darkest, most depressing and downright miserable superhero movies ever made. I’ve seen it exactly twice and have no desire to see it again as it’s simply too mean-spirited for me. It was made by a director who plainly does not believe in heroism or superheroes.  A director who fully embraces the hyper-violent, misogynist, racist and downright cruel world-view of mainstream comic books today and their fans who continually demand that their comics and their heroes be even darker, more destructive, more uncaring and more violent.

So Trank delivered the sort of movie that he only knows how to make. And I think it was way too soon in his career to entrust him with such a property, especially since the concept of The Fantastic Four is the exact opposite of Trank’s “Chronicle”. The Fantastic Four is about a family of scientific adventurers who gain superpowers by accident and decide to use those powers to help mankind and expand the knowledge and boundaries of The Marvel Universe by going on adventures that are…well, Fantastic. Trank needed a few more years to build up the directorial muscles needed to carry a movie like this and he needed a more positive world view which this movie definitely did not have. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way:


Teenage supergenius Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is invited to come study and live in The Baxter Building, a research institute for prodigies. Reed has been working on teleporting living matter ever since he was in grammar school, aided by his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). The institute’s director, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) believes that Reed can help with the institute’s Quantum Gate project and allow them to cross dimensional barriers and explore alternate universes. Reed eagerly accepts and becomes friends with Dr. Storm’s charismatic and brilliant children; Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) Dr. Storm reaches out to his estranged protégé, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) who designed the Quantum Gate and persuades him to return to the project.

The team gets the gate to work but is dismayed when the institute’s supervisor/government liaison Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) informs them that the project is now to be turned over to the military. Reed, Victor and Johnny decide to beat them to it and in the movie’s biggest WTF moment, Reed calls up Ben and invites him to come along for the ride as if they’re going to hop in his ’57 Chevy and go on down to Atlantic City for the weekend.

The experiment seems to go well at first as the four materialize on “Planet Zero” and discover it is a world containing some form of living energy. Things quickly go from sugar to shit as Victor falls into a chasm and has to be left behind. Reed, Johnny and Ben barely return safely but the transport machine explodes, irradiating their cells with the Planet Zero energy. Sue gets irradiated also as she was in the control room when they return. The effects of the radiation give them superpowers beyond their wildest dreams. Reed’s muscular/skeletal system is now elastic. Sue can become invisible and generate impenetrable force fields of energy. Johnny can transform into fire and fly. Ben is encased in a rocky hide that gives him super-strength and indestructability.

Now, this is the part where the movie is supposed to take off and soar. But it doesn’t. FANTASTIC FOUR actually goes wildly off the rails once our main characters gain their powers. For the first hour of the movie it’s actually a quite watchable, engaging sci-fi character study about a group of gifted people attempting to do something nobody else has done and I strongly get the feeling that this is indeed the movie Josh Trank wanted to make.

But once the superpowers come into play the plot holes appear, so big you could drop a Fantasticar into them. It’s as if Trank suddenly realizes that holy shit, this is a superhero movie so he’s got to have fights and explosions and he’s got to hurry up and provide them because the damn movie is only a 100 minutes long.  Victor Von Doom is brought back to Earth just in time to provide the obligatory menace to Earth and to wrap up the story in a most unsatisfying manner that leaves you sitting there wondering just what the hell happened.


And what is done to Ben Grimm once he’s transformed into The Thing and is conscripted into government service is utterly and totally reprehensible. Given the tone and atmosphere of the movie, I understand why his character was skewed in that direction but that don’t mean I gotta like it. I do like how it sets up a scene later on in the movie where Reed and Ben have a heart-to-heart about what has happened to Ben. It’s the most emotional scene in the movie for me and perfectly captures the anguish of Ben’s plight and we feel why Ben hates Reed.

I gotta say that in some cases the performances were about what I expected. While I like Kate Mara and appreciate the fact that she’s a competent, professional actress, she never really seems to stretch herself. Can you name a Kate Mara performance that stands out in your memory? She stays on one even note for the entire movie. She picks a lane and stays in it from start to finish.


But Miles Teller is even more disappointing. He’s more Peter Parker than Reed Richards. Nobody is ever gonna call this cat “Mr. Fantastic” and mean it. Michael B. Jordan plays Johnny Storm as a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie who is clearly the only one happy to have superpowers and he manages to infuse the movie with some light moments that provide a laugh or two. Amazingly enough, most of his funnier scenes are with Toby Kebbell, who’s supposed to be the bad guy. We get scenes where Johnny and Victor are kidding and snapping on each other with dialog that should be between Johnny and Ben.

And the last five minutes of the movie…y’know how much I hate using the term ‘rip-off’ but there’s no way around it. It plays as if some Suit at Fox saw the ending of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and hurriedly demanded an ending for FANTASTIC FOUR that plays exactly like it. Because that’s what we get.


So has everything you’ve heard about FANTASTIC FOUR true? Well, yes and no. Is it a bad movie? Absolutely. But it’s not a worthless one and it was made by and stars people who cared about what they were doing. They just didn’t have any idea of what the material they were working with was about. I felt a sincerity from the movie and I don’t get the sense that Trank, his crew and his actors consciously set out to make a bad movie. But they did make one that has no sense of wonder, no excitement, no heart, very little overall entertainment value and worse of all, no fun. And that’s just as bad.

100 Minutes






Escape Artists/Fuqua Films/The Weinstein Company/WanDa Pictures/Riche Productions

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Todd Black/Jason Blumenthal/Steve Tisch/Peter Riche/Alan Riche/Antoine Fuqua/Jerry Ye

Written by Kurt Sutter

Previous to seeing SOUTHPAW for myself I got slightly involved in a Facebook conversation about the movie. A poster said that while he liked the movie he thought it was far too cliché. See, I dunno about that. Presumably one goes to see a boxing movie (or western or science fiction movie) with certain expectations that one is going to see elements unique to that genre. Is it cliché to have horses and six shooters in a western? No. You go see a western and you’re waiting for that stuff. It’s part of the fun of seeing a genre movie. SOUTHPAW is about the rise and fall of a boxer who suffers an emotionally crippling personal loss and it destroys his whole world. He then has to walk the long hard road of redemption to recover what he’s lost

Is this new or daring or innovative? Absolutely not. I bet that you can name at least a dozen boxing movies with that very same plot. Hell, Warner Brothers used to crank ‘em out by the truckload back in the 1930s and 40s. But as so often occurs in movies of this type, it’s the execution we pay attention to and look for. And how well is SOUTHPAW executed?

Pretty damn well, actually. Jake Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, Light Heavyweight Champion of The World. Life is very sweet for Billy. He’s got a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) a brainy daughter (Oona Laurence) and owns a mansion and a yacht. His wife Maureen persuades him to quite while he’s still at the top. She’s worried that Billy’s highly unusual style of boxing is going to brain damage him. And it’s one hell of a style that consists of Billy letting his opponents pound him into hamburger before he decides to uncork and put them out with one punch. And it could just be me (and it usually is) but I got the distinct impression that Billy didn’t have all 52 cards in his deck even before he became a boxer.


Then comes the devastating personal loss that sends Billy right off the rails. He turns to drink and drugs. He becomes unstable and downright dangerous in the ring. His license is suspended and to pay off debts he is forced to sell everything he owns. His daughter is taken from him and put in the care of Child Protective Services officer Angela Rivera (Naomie Harris).

So there we have the fall. The rise comes in the form of Titus “Tick” Willis (Forest Whitaker) an ex-boxer himself who now runs a gym where he trains disadvantaged ghetto kids in the sweet science. Tick trained the only boxer who ever beat Billy and now Billy wants Tick to train him. And so begins the road to redemption.


In a way, there’s a certain satisfaction in our knowing how this movie is going to play out. We know we’re going to get emotional scenes between the boxer and the daughter where they have to work through their mutual pain. We know we’re going to get scenes where the grumpy trainer lays down the rules to the boxer. We know we’re going to have the sleazy fight promoter tempting the boxer with one last shot at the title.


I admire Jake Gyllenhaal a lot as an actor. He doesn’t believe in repeating himself and he’s got one of the most eclectic filmography of any modern day actor. He bulked up impressively for his role as Billy Hope and even though he mumbles most of his lines, I understood why he was doing that and just went with it. His supporting cast isn’t much help except for Forest Whitaker. At least with him, Jake Gyllenhaal has somebody to play with. The roles Rachel McAdams and Naomie Harris are little more than extended cameos. And if the person who insists on keeping on telling Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson that he can act is somehow reading this then would you please stop telling him that?

Antoine Fuqua has long been one of my favorite directors and his filmography is just as eclectic as Gyllenhaal’s. And he’s probably the most underrated director working in Hollywood today. He can do major action stuff like “Olympus Has Fallen” and “Shooter” gritty urban cop thrillers like “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “Training Day” And now with SOUTHPAW he can add both a boxing film and family drama to his resume. How does he direct boxing matches? Well, the fights in SOUTHPAW are pretty much the same you see in most boxing movies from Hollywood. Guys punch each other so hard it sounds like sides of beef being whacked with baseball bats and you figure that their knuckles have to be exploding. If guys in real life boxing matches fought like boxers in the movies, somebody would be dead by the third round. But just go with it because it’s the emotional payoff that counts and SOUTHPAW delivers. It won’t be revered as a classic of the genre in years to come but it’s a well-made film. One full of sincerity and heart. It’s got love, pain, guts and at the end, a man stepping into the ring to prove to himself that he has pride and purpose on this planet and for a boxing movie, that’s just about all you need.

124 Minutes

Rated R