Boo! A Madea Halloween

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2016

Tyler Perry Studios/Lionsgate

Produced, Written & Directed by Tyler Perry

There’s some words and phrases you’ll never hear me use because I believe that either they’ve been so overused that they no longer have any true meaning or I just despise what they imply. ‘Guilty Pleasure’ is one of those phrases and it make me want to scream when I hear/read somebody use it. I see absolutely no reason at all to be ashamed of what you like to read, watch or listen to. Unless it’s child pornography. That’s a whole ‘nother subject best left for another time. The point I’m trying to make here is that I don’t believe in ‘Guilty Pleasures.” I like what I like and if you don’t like that I like what I like then that’s your little red wagon to pull.

I say that to say this; there’s some’a you black folks who are right now rolling your eyes upon seeing that I’m reviewing BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN and saying to yourself; “How could he go see that movie?” You have my permission to skip this review.

So why did I go see BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN? Simple. I like comedies and I like to laugh. And whatever else you may think of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, they are funny as hell. And I’m of the mindset that true racial equality will never achieved unless black filmmakers can make comedies just as brain-dead stupid (and I mean that in a good way) as white filmmakers. And make no mistake, BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN is simple, silly, brain-dead stupid entertainment. It also made my sides sore from laughing so hard and that is all I ask and require from a comedy: that it makes me laugh.

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Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) is at his wits end when it comes to dealing with his openly disrespectful and rebellious daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) Despite being underage, she’s made plans to sneak out of the house along with her friends Rain, Leah and Aday (Liza Koshy) to go hang out at the local frat house’s annual Halloween party. Brian has to go out of town for the weekend and in desperation (and because he doesn’t want his ex-wife to know he sucks at being an authority figure) he calls his aunt Madea (Tyler Perry) to come look after her.

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Madea really doesn’t appreciate being called away from her favorite Halloween past time; mocking the costumes of the neighborhood kids while her cousin and best friend Bam (Cassi Davis) is busy stealing their trick-or-treat candy. But once Brian dangles the promise of pay in front of her, Madea agrees to take the job. Not only does she bring Bam along but for reasons I’m still not clear on but didn’t care about she brings along Brian’s father/her brother Joe Simmons (Tyler Perry) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) another one of her friends who despite her advanced age demonstrates many times during the movie that she is…ahem…young at heart, let’s say.

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Tiffany manages to sneak out to the party after unsuccessfully trying to scare Madea and her crew with some off the wall story about a Mr. Wilson who supposedly murdered his entire family in the house. (don’t worry, this factors in later on the plot when Madea and the others think that Mr. Wilson has come back from the dead to murder them) This leaves Madea, Bam and Hattie no choice but to go to the frat party themselves to recover the wayward child. Joe ain’t going nowhere. He got himself a phat J to smoke. Now, you might think that the funniest stuff in the movie happens at the frat party and while there are some mild laughs to be had, the real belly busters come later on in the movie when Madea and her cronies believe that there are supernatural entities trying to kill them.

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In between the comedy we get dialog between the characters that I feel is actually Tyler Perry’s editorializing on modern day parenting vs. old school. Madea and Joe openly scoff and deride Brian’s method of being a friend to his child, asserting that their way of rearing children (throwing them off the roof and beating them so badly they have to go to the hospital) is what made their kids the strong and responsible adults they are today. There’s also a scene near the end that grabs us by the neck and yanks us thoroughly out of the comedy and into the drama but being familiar with Perry’s style of making movies I wasn’t as bothered by it as I would be if this had been written and directed by somebody else. You go into a Tyler Perry movie knowing full well what you’re getting and it’s no sense in going to see BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN and then complaining that it’s not a sensitive, intelligent, spiritually uplifting examination of modern African-American life. That’s like going into McDonald’s, ordering filet mignon then pitching a boogie woogie when they tell you they don’t serve that.

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By now, Tyler Perry as Madea can make us laugh without breaking a sweat. Unlike most Madea movies where she’s almost a supporting character in her own movies, she’s front and center from start to finish. But this is more of a family friendly Madea than we’ve seen. In the early movies Madea was a far more thuggish character, prone to snap at any minute and resort to abusive language and physical violence to make her point and if that didn’t work she had no issue with pulling out her Glock to bust a cap in yo’ ass. And while I usually am bored to death with actors playing multiple roles in the same movie it worked here for me because Tyler Perry is actually playing three separate, distinct characters with their own individual body language, way of talking and point of view. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he’s Laurence Olivier but he does a much better job of playing multiple roles in the same scene than most others I’ve seen.

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So should you see BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN ? Only if you want to take a break from all the crap that’s going on in the world today, sit back for 103 minutes and laugh. It’s not High Art, it’s not made to win awards at Oscar time and it certainly will never be included in The National Film Registry. But it is a sincere and honest effort to entertain and on that level it succeeds. Go see and enjoy.

103 minutes

Rated PG-13

P.S. When the credits start to roll, don’t leave. That’s all. Just don’t leave.

Queen of Katwe

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2016

Walt Disney Pictures/ESPN Films/Mirabai Films

Directed by Mira Nair

Produced by John Carls/Lydia Dean Pilcher

Screenplay by William Wheeler

Based on “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” by Tim Crothers

If you’ve been reading my reviews on a regular basis you’ll doubtless have noticed that there are words I use sparingly. That’s because I believe in the power of words and I believe that for them to have the proper impact and for people to sit up and pay attention to them, you have to use them when the situation calls for its use. To use words willy-nilly to describe everything robs them of their power. For instance, the birth of a baby is ‘amazing.’ A ham sandwich is not.

So when I use words like ‘superlative’ ‘uplifting’ and ‘inspirational’ to describe QUEEN OF KATWE you can be sure I don’t use those words lightly. Just go back and look at the reviews I’ve written for movies I’ve seen this year and see if you can find any of those words. I defy you. And that’s because no other movie I’ve seen this year deserves to be described as such. QUEEN OF KATWE is one of the best movies of the year and that people aren’t talking about it more utterly staggers me. Especially since people are screaming at the top of their lungs about the lack of diversity in movies. Here’s a movie with rich, vibrant characters in a setting we rarely see in movies depicted with such depth and detail with a story so improbable that it has to be true and the movie goes virtually unnoticed.

I have to admit I was somewhat confused upon seeing ESPN Films listed in the opening credits as one of the production companies but as the movie went on, I understand why they were involved. QUEEN OF KATWE is a sports story, one that we’ve all seen before. You’ve got your underdog who triumphs against all odds to become a champion. But it’s the protagonist, her environment and her sport of choice that makes this particular sports story unique.

10 year old Phiona Mutesi lives in the slum township of Katwe, outside of Kampala, Uganda. Her widowed mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is struggling to ensure that her children do not fall victim to the street. She’s already lost her eldest daughter, Night (Taryn Kyaze) who has wearied of the unending drudgery of simply trying to make enough money to eat for one more day and taken up with a sleazy hustler with a flashy motorcycle. Phiona and her two brothers are all she has left and she means to see that they have a better life.

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That better life comes in a most unexpected fashion. Curious as to where her brother sneaks off to, she follows him to a youth ministry and meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who coaches soccer and teaches chess. Phiona is intrigued and wants to learn how to play. Robert senses she’s got something special and he isn’t wrong. It turns out that while the rest of his students are truly remarkable, Phiona is quite simply magic. There’s no other way to put it. She can see moves so far in advance that Robert claims only chess masters with years of experience can do what she can do. Robert subsequently fast-talks Phiona and his other students into chess tournaments against students at fancy private schools. The privileged students who come from family with money and position look down their noses at the slum kids. Until the slum kids, led by Phiona’s devastating talent, beat the pants off of anybody fool enough to sit across a chess board from them.

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As Phiona’s reputation continues to grow she competes in more tournaments, even travelling to other countries. And as she is exposed to life outside of Katwe and sees how other people live, it creates yearnings and desires inside of her she never had to deal with before. Although Robert assures her that chess can be the bridge to a new life, Phiona doesn’t see how this can be and it’s going to take her own acceptance of her spiritual strength and awareness of the power of her intelligence in order for her to make changes in the life of her and her family.

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It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a movie driven so well by the characters and such rich characters they are. Usually I single out a movie’s MVP but I honestly can’t do it with this one. Lupita Nyong’o commands the screen every minute that she’s on it and her Harriet is a woman of intense, towering pride and protectiveness. She’s the type of mother that doesn’t say “I love you” to her children. She shows it by putting food in their stomach, clothes on their back and looking out for their safety. And you may say that’s harsh and cruel but Katwe is a harsh and cruel place for adults and children alike.

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But here’s one of the things I like most about QUEEN OF KATWE. Yes, Phiona and her family live in a slum of grim desperation and poverty but the movie neither beats us over the head with it nor sugarcoats the environment. As a result, Katwe and its people are almost like another character in the movie. It’s one of the most vibrant, lively settings I’ve seen in a movie recently and I wanted to know more about the people who live there, that’s how much this movie drew me in.

Madina Nalwanga is utterly charming as Phiona and she, along with the other young actors in the movie are a real treat to watch from start to finish. Keeps your eyes out for Ethan Nazario Lubega as Benjamin as he steals every scene he’s in. A lot of the humor in the movies comes from Benjamin who seems at times to have just a touch of excessive anxiety he has to deal with, poor little guy.

If this movie had been made back in the 1960s (I know it couldn’t have been but just bear with me while I make my point, okay?) Robert Katende would have been played by Sidney Poitier but since it was made today, we get the next best thing in David Oyelowo and believe me when I say that I don’t use the comparison lightly. Oyelowo plays Robert as a charming man of understated determination and total devotion to the kids he teaches. He has many obstacles to overcome to get Phiona and his kids to these tournaments and he does it with an honesty and grace that can’t help but win over everybody he talks to. Including Harriet who smells a scam somewhere in here and in a really touching scene, Robert has to win her over.

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So here’s your homework assignment for the weekend. Set aside time to go see QUEEN OF KATWE. Take the whole family. You might have a little trouble finding it (the theater Patricia and I saw it in only had ONE showing for the entire day.) But trust me, it’s worth it. QUEEN OF KATWE has outstanding performances and a story that we need now more than ever. We’re seeing examples of the worst of humanity fighting like rabid dogs for what they think is their right to lead this country and the people supporting them aren’t much better. So it’s easy to think that humanity is going to hell in a red-hot handbasket. QUEEN OF KATWE will remind you that the world is full of extraordinary people who are good and honest and give you hope that we’re all going to be just fine. I can’t recommend this movie enough.

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2hrs 4 minutes

PG

The Birth of A Nation

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2016

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Screenplay by and Directed by Nate Parker

Based on a story by Nate Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin

Produced by Nate Parker/Kevin Turen/Jason Michael Berman/Aaron L. Gilbert/Preston L. Holmes

“Aren’t you tired of slave movies?” “Why can’t we make anything else except slave movies?” “But I don’t want to see another slave movie.” “When I go to the movies I just want to turn my brain off and be entertained.”

That usually was what I heard from some of my friends of color whenever the subject of THE BIRTH OF A NATION came up. Funny how I never hear any of my Jewish friends complaining when a new movie about The Holocaust is in theaters. Slavery is The Holocaust of the African-American in America and me; I don’t think we can talk about it enough. Slavery is woven into the very fabric of America’s DNA and until and unless we all decide to be honest about that fact and deal with it, we’re always going to have racial issues. But, everybody’s movie choices are their own and if you don’t want to see THE BIRTH OF A NATION, God Bless. There’s always another Kevin Hart comedy or all-black remake of a twenty year old Lifetime thriller that is more to your movie-going taste, I’m sure.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that THE BIRTH OF A NATION is more of a biopic than anything else. If for nothing else the movie should be seen if just to get acquainted with Nat Turner if you don’t know much about him and be encouraged to do more reading about him on your own. Nat Turner led a slave rebellion in the summer of 1831 that caused the deaths of nearly three hundred people, black and white. We do get to the viciously bloody rebellion but before that we spend a lot of time with Nat Turner and grow to understand why he led this rebellion as he is a complicated man who lives in several worlds at once.

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There’s the slave world he lives in and his complicated relationship with his white childhood friend Sam Turner (Armie Hammer) who becomes his master when they grow into adults. As a child, Nat learns how to read thanks to the benevolence of Sam’s mother Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller.) The only book she’ll allow him to read is The Bible and this leads to Nat’s spiritual growth as he becomes a man of faith, living in the world and word of God, preaching to his fellow slaves on his plantation at first. But then, other plantation owners persuade Sam to bring Nat around to preach to their slaves, figuring that he’ll preach them to be good, docile Tobys.

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It has the opposite effect since because he gets to travel to other plantations where the treatment of slaves is truly and horrendously barbaric. Nat’s inner struggle with his faith in the face of such raw brutality and savagery is what sets this movie apart from other movies with similar themes. There’s also a very interesting added layer in that we see slaves who are not that far removed from their African culture and indeed, have integrated tribal rituals and ancestral rites into their Christian beliefs. Nat embodies this as he has visions both Christian and African as if they are both working in his soul. It’s a layer that’s not explored enough for me but it does provide religious fuel for THE BIRTH OF A NATION that powers the engine of Nat Turner’s eventual breaking point and his transformation from man of God to bloody-handed revolutionary leader using The Bible’s words no longer as loving instruments of peace but as swords of war.

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If there’s any flaw with THE BIRTH OF A NATION it’s that we spend too much time with Nat Turner. I was on good footing about his beliefs, his feelings and his thoughts and Nate Parker most likely won’t win an Academy Award for Best Actor but he should. As the adult Nat Turner he’s on screen for most of the movie’s running time to the detriment of the other characters in the movie, I felt. Most of whom we really don’t get to know all that well with the exception of Roger Guenveur Smith as Isiah, a house servant who tries to counsel Nat away from his plan and Jackie Earle Haley as Cobb, a slave catcher. I’ve enjoyed the work of Mr. Smith and Mr. Haley for many years now. They’re actors who guarantee that when they’re on screen, you can’t take your eyes off them. Mark Boone Junior provides what little comedy relief we get in the movie as the boozehound Reverend Walthall. Gabrielle Union is also in there somewhere in what amounts to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo.

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Usually I end my reviews with asking you the question should you see the movie or not. THE BIRTH OF A NATION is a movie I would venture to guess that most of you have made up your mind about already and have either seen it or passed it by so that question is moot. Me, I enjoyed it. Not as light entertainment to waste a couple of hours. I’ve seen enough of those movies this dismal movie year. THE BIRTH OFA NATION is an intelligent, historic biographical drama that I appreciated for not being “just another slave movie.” Yes, the character of Nat Turner is still a controversial one and some may criticize me for characterizing Nat Turner as much an authentic American hero as any other, black or white that you can name. But be mindful that his revolution began with the same spirit as America’s revolution to break from England. He also wanted to be free.

120 Minutes

Rated R

Scream And Scream Again

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1970

American International Pictures

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Produced by Max Rosenberg/Milton Subotsky/Louis M. Heyward

Written by Christopher Wicking

Based on the novel “The Disoriented Man” by Peter Saxon

As the opening credits of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN play out, we’re watching a fit young man jogging through what presumably is a park in London. He sure seems like a healthy bloke which is why it’s a surprise when he suddenly grabs his heart and collapses. He wakes up lying in a hospital bed. A nurse comes into his room and tends to him but refuses to answer his questions. She leaves. The bloke tries to sit up in bed but something’s not quite right. He pulls back the covers to see that one of his legs has been amputated below the knee. Quite understandably he screams bloody murder.

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We will revisit this unlucky chap during the course of the movie’s 95 minute running time and each time we do, he’ll be missing another limb. When Tom Deja and I discussed SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN on a “Better In The Dark” episode we both admitted how we felt guilty watching this movie and laughing at the guy’s plight because after awhile it’s like the blackest of black comedies. Every time the poor bastard goes to sleep, he wakes up missing a limb.

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But we’ve got other things going in the movie. In fact, there are three totally separate stories going on that on the surface seem to be unrelated to each other. In one, Peter Cushing is a highly placed official working for the government of an unidentified European totalitarian county that is clearly supposed to be based on Nazi Germany. One of his junior officers has apparently mastered the Vulcan neck pinch so well that he can kill people with it. He’s moving up the ladder of power, killing the higher-ups as he does so.

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In the second story Dr. Browning (Vincent Price) is a brilliant research physician specializing in limb and organ transplants who is questioned by the police. They’re looking for a serial rapist/killer who apparently has vampiric abilities. Two of Dr. Browning’s assistants have fallen victim to the fiend and needless to say even though the good doctor claims no knowledge at all of how this could be so, the police find him highly suspicious.

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In the third story, Christopher Lee is the chief of an unnamed British intelligence service who finds himself dealing with the political/diplomatic fallout when one of his spy planes has either been shot down or accidentally crashed in a certain unidentified European totalitarian country.

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And while we bounce back and forth between these three seemingly unrelated stories, we keep revisiting that poor bastard in the hospital bed who is trapped in the world’s worst game of Operation!

If you’ve never seen SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (and I highly recommend you seek it out if you never have) when you see it for the first time you can be forgiven for thinking that this movie must have been put together by a film editor who A: Was high as a cooter on crack and booze when he worked on this. B: Was pissed at the studio or C: Just didn’t give a shit about his job. Because since Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price never share a single scene together, the movie plays out for most of its running time as if the film editor took three different movies; one starring Mr. Lee, one starring Mr. Cushing and one starring Mr. Price then haphazardly edited scenes from each of those movies into one. And yeah, you read that right. The three stars of the movie never share a scene together. Mr. Lee and Mr. Price appear on screen together for maybe a minute at the film’s very end.

But here’s the twist: the three separate plots do eventually converge and when they do, you may find yourself nodding your head as I did the first time I saw it and saying; “Okay, that’s a bit of alright.” This is the kind of movie where you shouldn’t even bother trying to play the game of what’s going to happen next or attempt to figure out where the movie is going or how it’s going to end. Trust me; it’s impossible to do that with SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Just sit back and enjoy where it takes you. It’s science fiction, it’s black comedy, its horror, it’s a political/paranoia/conspiracy thriller and it’s Highly Recommended.

95 Minutes

Rated R

The Black Cat

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1934

Universal Pictures

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

Produced by E.M. Asher

Screenplay by Peter Ruric

Story by Edgar G. Ulmer/Peter Ruric 

You want to know how twisted 1934’s THE BLACK CAT is? Besides the Satanism cult, human sacrifice and necrophilia fetishism? Mollyfoggin’ Bela Lugosi is the hero of this movie. Seriously. When you’re a character in a movie and you have to depend on Bela Lugosi to save your ass then you know the situation has gotten so far out of control it ain’t even funny. But then again, considering that the bad guy in THE BLACK CAT is Boris Karloff, maybe it is appropriate that Bela be the one to come to your rescue.

Bela Lugosi actually did play the hero in the 12 chapter cliffhanger “The Return of Chandu” but it’s this movie that I always point to as his best performance in a heroic role and it’s a shame he didn’t get to do it more because Bela Lugosi plays a very sympathetic hero in THE BLACK CAT. But he also is able to project an air of menace that makes even the American couple he befriends shy away from him. He may be the good guy but that doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.

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The American couple caught in the middle of the bizarre hijinks to come is newlyweds Peter and Joan Alison (David Manners and Julie Bishop). They’re on honeymoon in Hungary (was Hungary the honeymoon destination for American newlyweds in 1934?) and share their train compartment with the mysterious Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi.)

During a curiously touching moment where Werdegast lovingly strokes the hair of the sleeping Joan, he’s caught by Peter who sensing the despair in the older man says nothing and instead listens to his story of how he went to war, leaving his wife, who looked very much like Joan behind at home.  Werdegast has spent the last 15 years in a prison camp and is on his way to see his old friend, the brilliant architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Poelzig has built his futuristic Art Deco mansion on the ruins of Fort Marmorus which Poelzig commanded during the war and where Werdegast served.

After leaving the train, Werdegast, his servant and the Alisons share a bus which crashes and they all end up at Poelzig’s mansion. It’s here that the plot really kicks in as Werdegast informs Poelzig that he knows Poelzig betrayed the fort to the Russians and intends to avenge their dead comrades. If that wasn’t enough, Poelzig also stole Werdegast’s wife Karen while Werdegast was a prisoner of war. And it gets way kinkier than that. Karen Werdegast died two years after Poelzig married her, telling her that her husband was dead. Poelzig then raised her daughter, also named Karen (Lucille Lund) until she was of age and then he married her.

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Werdegast informs Poelzig that he will wait until the Alisons have left and then they will settle their score. Poelzig offers his old friend a new game: they’ll play chess for Joan Alison. If Werdegast loses, she’ll become a human sacrifice for Poelzig’s Satanic cult. If Werdegast wins he can take the Alisons and Karen away with him. The two men sit down to play but the game will end in a conclusion far stranger and horrifying than either of them could ever imagine…

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Even though this movie claims to be inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s; “The Black Cat” there’s absolutely nothing of that tale in here. Werdegast has a phobic horror of cats and no matter how many he kills (by my count he kills at least three) Poelzig always seems to have another prowling around. I remember watching this movie when I was a kid on PBS. Thank Odin there was somebody there in Programming who apparently loved Universal horror movies, “Dr. Who” and samurai movies. THE BLACK CAT had a profound effect on me because even though we never see anything truly horrifying, the aberrant behavior demonstrated throughout the film is disturbing enough. There’s a lot of dark, twisted psychological horror here, backed up with outstanding visual design and terrific B&W photography that looks even better in HD. I recently watched this movie on Turner Classic Movies and it was like watching a movie that had been made this year. The soundtrack is also memorable as it’s made up entirely of classic music selections, the most notable being the use of ‘Dies Irae’ during a scene where Poelzig leads Werdegast through the lower levels of his mansion and details the rules of the game they will play.

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If you’ve never seen it before and you call yourself a horror movie fan then you need to see THE BLACK CAT at your earliest opportunity. It stars two true Icons of the genre and it teams them in one of the best horror movies ever made. It doesn’t have blood or gore but it has atmosphere, character and intense psychological fears and terrors that I really will believe will stay with you long after you finished watching it. THE BLACK CAT is a masterpiece of the genre. I’ve provided a link below you can check it out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Deepwater Horizon

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2017

Participant Media/DiBonaventura Pictures/Summit Entertainment/Closest to the Hole Productions/Leverage Entertainment

Directed by Peter Berg

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura/Mark Vahradian/Mark Wahlberg/Stephen Levinson/David Womark

Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan/Matthew Sand

Story by Matthew Sand

Based on “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours” by David Barstow/David Rohde/Stephanie Saul

If Irwin Allen had made DEEPWATER HORIZON he’d have given us an all-star cast made up up of up and coming young actors, a handful of faces familiar from TV and half a dozen Old Time movie stars who had been big back in the day and now were in the twilight of their careers. He’d have saddled them all with various eccentricities and personal problems that would have padded out the movie’s running time until we got to what we paid our money to see: the actual apocalyptic disaster. We would then have spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out who was going to live and who’s going to die.

What does all this have to do with my review? Not a blessed thing. It’s just that my attention wandered during the first hour or so of the movie and when it does while watching a movie my mind just goes off into wherever. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that the movie was boring me. But we get a lot of technobabble in that first hour as the crew members of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig talk shop. The crew talks like people who know the subject they’re talking about intimately and so it’s almost like they have their own language. The movie doesn’t slow down to explain to us, the audience what they’re talking about so a lot of what they were discussing went over my head. But that gives the movie an almost documentary feel as it’s as if we’re eavesdropping on private conversations.

And I don’t mean to make light of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and where eleven crewmen lost their lives. While drilling, pressure control systems failed, causing an uncontrollable blowout, releasing crude oil that in turned caused an explosion. The explosion was so fierce and so huge it was visible 40 miles away. The movie DEEPWATER HORIZON depicts the events leading up to and causing the explosion and the struggle of the rig’s crew to escape.

We see the disaster through the eyes of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) who in one of the better scenes early on the movie gives BP executive Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) an impressive list of everything that’s wrong with the rig. Vidrine’s more concerned that they’re behind schedule and over budget. None of which matters to Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) an Old School oil driller whose mantra is that “BP may own this rig but it belongs to me.” We get some family time with Mike and his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter before he goes to work on that fateful day. And for all of you who constantly whine about spoilers are advised that 90% of the family time scenes we saw in the trailers are in the movie.

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The best part of the movie happens when things go to hell, the rig blows up and everybody is scrambling around trying to escape. On a purely technical level this movie is astonishing. I would hate to think that director Peter Berg (and where the hell is my sequel to “The Rundown,” dammit?) and his production crew went out and actually built an oil rig just to blow it up for a movie but damn if it doesn’t look like that’s exactly what the maniacs did. DEEPWATER HORIZON is one of those movies I look at and I’m honestly surprised that people weren’t actually killed during filming. There’s fire everywhere, mud spraying from every crack, seam and hole and if it isn’t mud it’s oil. And even the water doesn’t provide safety because it’s covered in flaming oil.

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But still, DEEPWATER HORIZON  is unengaging on the emotional level. I never once forgot I was looking at a movie and found myself admiring it more for the CGI special effects and the stunt work than the performances. This brings me back to Irwin Allen. Hokey as it may have been to assign each character in his disaster movies with an eccentricity or personal problem, it was a form of shorthand to get us to know and sympathize with the characters. There’s only three of them we really get to know here in DEEPWATER HORIZON as the rest of the characters are actually pretty thin and after the explosion, they’re covered in oil and mud and we can’t tell them apart anyway. So when they die the emotional impact is blunted because we’re not sure who it was that just died.

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Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in this one as damn well he should because Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in any movie he’s in. That’s The Law. Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson are likeable enough but they’re not trying very hard to stretch their acting talents here. John Malkovich has been playing sarcastic villains for so long he should have the trademark on it (unless Jeremy Irons has beaten him to it)

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So should you see DEEPWATER HORIZON? It’s a completely undemanding movie that’s perfectly acceptable as a time waster if you find find yourself with a couple of hours to kill. It’s not a bad movie at all. Just one that you don’t have to rush out and see. Go see it for the mind blowing spectacle of the special effects as they’re best appreciated on the big screen. They’re the real stars of this movie.

107 Minutes

PG-13