I’m really glad we have Taras David Butrej to cover the horror movies at Drunk Monkeys. He makes his way through the bulk of the new releases, and I’m grateful someone has the attention span for it. I used to, but I don’t anymore. That makes a little sad, because that was not the case for a very long time.
A lot of my childhood, teen years, and early flickers of legally legitimate adulthood were spent on horror movies. I watched everything. This meant working my way through the classics, but it also meant watching movies like Little Witches and the second C.H.U.D. masterpiece. I loved them. When I worked for a horror movie website from 2006 to 2007, I watched movies that I believe will prevent me in the future from ever being able to look a Pope in the eye. Dolla Morte springs to mind, and I hope very sincerely that Bill Zebub is currently a prison bride.
But I still loved it all. Generally speaking, the worst of the worst were at least entertaining. If you could gather like-minded friends, some drugs, and a case of rotgut, all the better.
And then something just kind of fell by the wayside, as far as my love for the genre went. I am far less willing to take risks on titles I know little-to-nothing about. If Netflix doesn’t think I would rate a horror title higher than a three, I’m probably not going to watch it. I could seriously live the rest of my fucking life without ever seeing another stupid, joylessly derivative zombie movie. The haunted houses I still explore in my dreams are often scarier than the ones I see in film.
This isn’t some kind of shitting-all-over-the-genre exercise. I’m not trying to whine. I’m not even going to claim that horror movies were better when I was younger. The genre is still producing knockout titles like The Babadook. I don’t even want to go so far as to say I’ve outgrown horror. I can still watch it, and I can still enjoy the versatility and creativity that exists within the genre. It would just appear that as I am getting more open-minded about other types of films, I am becoming more close-minded with one of the most beloved, long-lasting elements of my relationship with film.
Speaking of stupid zombie bullshit, I didn’t see Warm Bodies for almost two years. I wish I had seen it sooner. It was a funny, inventive, and surprisingly sweet. But I’ve been tired of zombie movies for at least a few years now. I am getting pretty close to smug about how dismissive I can be of that entire subgenre, and that’s pretty childish and pathetic.
It doesn’t seem to be something I can change. I used to keep up with almost everything that was released and labeled a horror movie. That hasn’t been the case for ages, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. That bothers me a little, but not enough to do anything about it.
I’ll still watch horror. I’ll still hope for movies that creep me out long after the credits roll, or at least a movie that was pretty entertaining. I will be a little sarcastic about how such movies are becoming fewer and farther between. There will also be some envy for the fact that Taras still seems to have a blast finding classics, and skewering movies that are ripping off movies that by all rights should be buried in the New Mexico desert.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): B-
In the end, I can’t decide if Age of Ultron feels like a placeholder to everyone who made the movie, or if that’s just a perception I am having. It’s true that most of us are waiting for Civil War and Infinity War, which will dramatically change and then end the current Avengers scene as we know it. It is sometimes hard to shake the notion that Age of Ultron is merely meant to keep us busy, until those movies come out over the next few years.
But having now seen Age of Ultron twice, I don’t think Joss Whedon or anyone else who worked on the latest MCU epic is thinking placeholder. I also think Age of Ultron, while not perfect by any means, is something of an extraordinary achievement. Superhero sequels tend to suffer from overstimulation. Too many stories, too many characters, and the feverish desire by filmmakers and executives alike to make everything bigger and louder than anything that came before. Age of Ultron has a degree of those ambitions, but Whedon manages the small miracle of keeping everything more or less reigned in. Only occasionally does the showdown between The Avengers and Ultron (as is often the case, James Spader runs off with the whole show) bubble with action, dialog, and characters. For the most part, Whedon and cast members like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany (absolutely nailing it as MCU newcomer The Vision), and the rest keeps things from spiraling out of control. Considering the sheer volume of heroes, villains, plot points, action sequences, and hints of what we can expect in future films, this achievement is pretty impressive. Age of Ultron doesn’t have the novelty the first film, nor does it possess a sense of finality that we will experience with the upcoming Infinity War films. It is simply another chapter in the series that is well-executed more often than not.
Some people will not be able to shake off that placeholder notion. Others are already bored, and since these movies really can’t get much better, they’re ready to move on. And then some have serious gripes with the developments of characters like Black Widow. Personally, as far as she goes, I couldn’t be happier with where she’s going. She has rapidly become one of the best-rounded members of the team. I truly do not believe that the events of Age of Ultron change her for the worse, or create something that her whole existence is now based around.
Perhaps the best way to look at Age of Ultron is to see it as an episode of a larger series. It is a middle-of-the-road movie in the franchise, but Whedon and company endeavor to make it feel like it’s more than that. For the most part, they succeed.
The New Centurions (1972): B-
The current social climate will perhaps make it difficult for some to watch any movies dealing with cops. I would ask those to consider The New Centurions, one of the least glamorous police dramas to come out of the clustered frenzy of cop movies that were released during the 1970s. If anything, The New Centurions is too bleak, depicting a young policeman (the consistently great Stacy Keach) joining the force, and very nearly being destroyed by the physical and emotional tolls of the job.
The New Centurions starts off grim, and doesn’t really get much more optimistic from there. Director Richard Fleischer (son of legendary animator Max Fleischer) had an extremely diverse career as a director. He keeps this somber film at a steady pace, although the movie eventually sags under the weight of its own misery. The lack of any structured plot also drags things down at times. Nonetheless, grittiness that makes Dirty Harry look downright chirpy, combined with performances from Keach, Jane Alexander, and George C. Scott (as he often was, phenomenal) makes The New Centurions worthy of an opportunity to receive more appreciation for managing to be singular during a crowded era of similar films.
Danny Collins (2015): B+
Danny Collins doesn’t offer anything significant in the plot department. The story is that of an aging rock singer who makes sudden, dramatic changes to life, after receiving a letter from John Lennon that he should have received in his younger days of wine, roses, and integrity. What makes Danny Collins considerably better than its very unremarkable story are the performances. Bobby Cannavale, Annette Benning, Jennifer Garner, and particular Christopher Plummer as a cast at least implies a room full of people who can make the most of meandering material.
At the center of this cast is Al Pacino, and between this and The Humbling, it is clear that Pacino is far from washed up. His film output over the past decade and change has been dicey, with lots of solid performances in otherwise dismal films. Danny Collins isn’t going to dominate an awards show, but it does show detractors of Pacino’s that one of the greatest actors of our time remains in control of his talents. He is still capable of elevating mediocre stories (although first-time director Dan Fogelman does fine with the material), and it is only a matter of time before he connects to a film that settles doubts of his abilities for good. Danny Collins is an effortlessly pleasing step in the right direction.
The Voices (2015): B+
If you’re still not convinced that Ryan Reynolds is the best casting choice possible for Deadpool, The Voices may well change your mind. Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) brilliantly handles the extremely dark humor script from Michael R. Perry, in which a man tries to navigate the fun-filled theme park world of being completely beyond-the-fringes-of-bat-country insane. Unfortunately, when your dog and cat wage a war of words for your soul (both animals feature distinctive voices from Reynolds himself), staying on an even keel can get tricky.
As a guy who is just trying to be the best darn Jerry Hickfang he can be, Ryan Reynolds takes full advantage of the opportunity to move away from rom-com leading man, and step right into a full-tilt boogie of schizophrenia. Satrapi maintains the film’s mild touches of surrealism and satire, but she also gives Reynolds plenty of room to go off the deep end, and stay there. Reynolds plays nicely to the overall atmosphere of the film, and never goes off on his own. There is an odd level of restraint, even as he struggles with whether or not to kill his new girlfriend (Anna Kendrick), his office crush (Gemma Arterton), or his shrink (Jacki Weaver).
There are also glimmers in Reynolds’ eye, during those moments when Jerry really loses it, which make it clear that Reynolds can manage to be quite funny within fairly horrifying scenarios.
The Italian Job (1969): A-
No one can reasonably claim that the original The Italian Job isn’t very distinctly the product of its time. Yet the energy Peter Collinson’s direction, Troy Kennedy Martin’s ridiculously cool caper story, and the performances of people like Michael Caine gives The Italian Job legs that make it easy for the movie to stand up nicely. Some will have a hard time getting behind a pace that is a few steps below a snail in 2015. Others will love the cars, the flawless handling of the large-scale story, and Michael Caine’s still-relevant blueprint for confident, charming leading men. Movies that want to relate a certain self-assuredness in their energy could do worse things than study The Italian Job.