Under Wraps (1997)

Under Wraps. Released (premiered): October 25, 1997. Directed by: Greg Beeman. Starring: Adam Wylie, Mario Yedidia, Clara Bryant. Runtime: 1h 35 min.

When people think Disney Channel Original Movie, ones like “Halloweentown” or “High School Musical” stand out. But today, I’m reviewing the true original DCOM, “Under Wraps,” the first to premiere on the network as the re-branded Disney Channel Original Movie.

A local museum curator and grump, Mr. Kubat (Ed Lauter), dies and Marshall (Mario Yedida), Gilbert (Adam Wylie) and Amy (Clara Bryant) decide to see what weird stuff the old guy had in his basement. They find more than they bargained for when there’s a mummy named Harold (Bill Fagerbakke, Patrick Star on “Spongebob Squarepants”) chilling in his sarcophagus.

As far as these DCOM Halloween movies go, they’re rarely scary. They just have spooky monsters and usually make for decent Halloween movies. “Under Wraps” is easily the least scary of them all. But that’s not this film’s intention (or usually any of the DCOM Halloween movie intentions). This mummy is just funny and entertaining. There’s some good fish-out-of-water humour and slapstick comedy that made me think of Jim Carrey. The makeup is decent for Harold, too.

Some of the humour’s childish, but again, that’s understandable for a Halloween TV movie made for kids. I’m still a kid at heart so there’s some okay enjoyment to be had here. Certain sub-plots aren’t always interesting. For example: Marshall’s Mom (Corinne Bohrer, and that’s literally the character name) is dating a new guy named Ted (also played by Bill Fagerbakke) and Marshall isn’t coping with it well after his parent’s divorce.

It’s not super interesting while watching but it was probably put in because it would be relatable for any kids watching it that may not be handling divorce well. It handles it fine in that respect and the attempt at developing a character is welcome, as they don’t try with anyone else.

Basically, Marshall likes horror movies; Gilbert’s spooked of his own shadow; and Amy is… Well, she’s not well-developed and she’s there for an eventual schoolyard crush, and her mom (character name simply Amy’s Mom) is selling Kubat’s house so she’s their way into the basement to find Harold.

The friendship with Marshall and Harold is a highlight. The main plot of the film other than just three kids hanging out with a mummy is they have to get him back into his sarcophagus before Halloween ends. If they don’t, he’ll turn to dust and his soul would be lost, as a horror shop owner named Bruce (Ken Hudson Campbell) tells the kids. He’s a horror shop owner but also an exposition fairy.

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Bill Fagerbakke in “Under Wraps.”

The villain and the main conflict is weak and there’s a dumb twist that’s too silly to not talk about. It’s really the stuff you’d see in a TV movie like this, so SPOILER WARNING! Basically, the Kubat guy is still alive. He faked his death because he was going to go to jail for tax evasion. He’s trying to sell the sarcophagus but wants Harold because a real-life mummy is real valuable. Of course, the kids don’t want Harold being sold to one of his shady buyers. They really dress Kubat as a gangster interested in arts and culture when they show he’s the villain. END OF SPOILERS!

The acting’s fine for the kids, and when Marshall fake cries it’s the only bad moment. If they’re doing random hijinks, they’re completely passable. The teleplay by Don Rhyme is fine for what it is, but character development, plot structure and the conflict is shaky at best. The mummy makes up for it by being funny most of the time, and without him being so amusing this would have been a lot worse.

I think the best writing is a movie-within-a-movie called “Warthead IV” that Marshall adores. The monster looks like the Toxic Avenger and there’s some funny, cheesy overacting. But when the monster crashes through a window and puts the Movie Dad (Tom Virtue, Steven Stevens on TV’s “Even Stevens”) near a spinning knife in the garbage disposal is the closest this comes to horror. It’s campy and looks like a fun movie, and I would watch it. It’s one of the better moments of the film.

Score: 60/100

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Sinkhole de mayo! Slaughterhouse Rulez (2019), The Hole in the Ground (2019)

Note: I wanted to post a couple shorter reviews today (well, the review of “The Hole in the Ground” is the usual length but “Slaughterhouse Rulez” is much shorter) because both of these horror films have sinkholes in them. So, there’s that!

Slaughterhouse Rulez. Released: May 17, 2019. Directed by: Crispian Mills. Starring: Finn Cole, Asa Butterfield, Simon Pegg. Runtime: 1h 44 min.

Note about this post. My reviews usually always have me talking a bit about the plot, so there are some (minor) spoilers, so you’ve been warned. 

This is one helluva forgettable horror comedy mashup. Honestly, I watched this in April so that’s a reason, but I’m convinced I forgot everything about this within a week.

Basically, there’s a guy named Don Wallace (Finn Cole) who’s accepted to a prestigious British boarding school called Slaughterhouse School. That’s the first red flag. A headmaster named The Bat (Michael Sheen) instructs that the forest near the school is a restricted area. If you needed a reason to make this feel like “Harry Potter,warning students not to go into a restricted forest is one of them.

It’s restricted because of the fracking going back on there. A fracking company has created a giant sinkhole. When they dig too deep, they release some horrors onto the academy. The big problem of “Slaughterhouse Rulez” is that it doesn’t get into any horror until an hour in besides foreshadowing like school rumours. The horror is mediocre at best when it arrives, but this holds little entertainment value.

It wastes a lot of time on a weird academy hierarchy that Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield) aptly explains to Wallace. The popular Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield) is the apple of Don’s eye, but a popular guy named Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries), who I think is dating Clemsie, won’t allow that. Again, if there’s anything you need to compare this to Harry Potter, it’s this Clegg jackass who is basically a more irritating version of Draco Malfoy.

The film also wastes a lot of time on professor Meredith Houseman (Simon Pegg). There’s nothing wrong, usually, with dedicating a lot of time to Simon Pegg, but when his character is mostly just trying to keep his relationship afloat with Audrey (Margot Robbie with little screen time), it just gets pointless. The film just wastes Pegg. Nick Frost has a couple of laughs in a bit role, but he’s still wasted. And wasting those talents is what is most unforgivable here.

Score: 40/100

The Hole in the Ground. Released: March 1, 2019. Directed by: Lee Cronin. Starring: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen. Runtime: 1h 30 min.

“The Hole in the Ground” follows Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) who is just moving to the Irish countryside with her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). Deep in the woods behind their home, they find a gigantic sinkhole with no real reason of being there.

Soon after finding it, Chris starts displaying bizarre behaviour and she thinks it has something to do with the sinkhole. Some of Chris’ bizarre behaviour, as seen in the trailer, is him crawling around on all fours and eating a spider. Bizarre, sure, but even more-so when you consider he’s terrified of spiders at the beginning of the film. You never know, he could just be getting over his fear in a unique way. Or something’s wrong with him.

It’s a Creepy Kid horror film, so it’s surely the latter. Even at 90 minutes, the film is very slow burn. I think that’s a given nowadays for the studio A24. Though, this was an A24 acquisition after production, but it just happens to suit its usual pacing for horror films well. It puts emphasis on a creepy atmosphere. This is one of the creepiest atmospheres for a Creepy Kid movie I’ve seen since “Home Alone.” I’m joking, Macaulay, though you’re hella creepy in “The Good Son.” Writer-director Lee Cronin, and co-writer Stephen Shields, do an admirable job with the atmosphere.

The Creepy Kid tropes are all here, but there aren’t a lot of friends for Sarah to confide in that this might not be Christopher. However, there’s an old kook in the woods the townsfolk have nicknamed Walkie Talkie, birthname Noreen Brady (Kati Outinen) who claims her late son James just changed and was convinced he was an imposter. Her husband Des (James Cosmo, “Game of Thrones”) has some great lines when he tells Sarah that it was something only a mother would notice. Her describes her noticing things as “pebbles until it becomes a landslide.”

The film’s unique for a Creepy Kid horror film and the atmosphere is strong, but it’s rather boring throughout because not a lot happens. A highlight during the first hour is an unsettling talent show. You have to get through about an hour of often boring creepiness for 20 minutes of action. The finale is unique and is the first time the film promises to be really scary because of a fear of the unknown. Some of the lore here is also rather interesting.

The last 20-plus minutes, atmosphere and the acting are really the only strong aspects here, and that’s not enough for me to ever re-visit this. One good thing can be said about the atmosphere, because if it were not so strong, I probably would have fell asleep halfway through. As for the acting, Seána Kerslake is good as Sarah who’s just really curious to know what the heck’s happened to her son. Her anxiety is strong and she holds a strong head through it all.

James Quinn Markey does a great job of being convincing enough that he could be Christopher. And I almost felt bad for him when Sarah literally runs away from him, even though he’s getting up to creepy shit the entire time. One plus for the acting is that I didn’t find him irritating, which is a big plus in my book for these films. Kudos, kid, you’re not annoying.

Score: 60/100

Crawl (2019)

Released: July 12, 2019. Directed by: Alexandre Aja. Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Ross Anderson. Runtime: 1h 27 min.

In Florida, a Category 5 hurricane has just hit. Haley (Kaya Scodelario) goes to check on the well-being of her estranged father, Dave (Barry Pepper). She finds him unconscious in the crawlspace of their childhood home but cannot get him out because she realizes they’re trapped in there with alligators, and the crawlspace is going to flood… Cue the thrills.

Tornadoes and sharks (“Sharknado”). Hurricanes and heists (“The Hurricane Heist”). Even clowns and tornadoes (“Clownado,” yes, it’s a real movie). It’s all the rage these days to mesh these things together in campy B-movies. “Crawl” is already one step ahead of the rest by not naming itself “Gatorcane.”

“Crawl” is a smarter title because I love dual meanings. I’d assumed it was called Crawl because gators crawl around. But when watching this, I realized it’s also called that because a lot of it takes place in a crawlspace. I smiled because dumb stuff like that makes me happy.

This film is unique is in the way that it doesn’t want to be a B-movie like “Sharknado.”. The film takes its stakes seriously, but it finds a way to be very fun. The premise also feels fresh. I wasn’t expecting a one-location thrill ride for most of the film. The threat of flooding adds stakes and claustrophobia, too.

Writing duo and brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen utilize the sets well for the characters. They know when to have some great, tense set pieces inside the house, and when to take scenes onto the streets, where we catch up with some looters. Alexandre Aja brings great direction to these scenes and the film in general.

The combination of a hurricane and alligators is plausible here. There’s a believable reason as to why the gators are in the crawlspace. The house has been left alone for awhile as it’s been in escrow and the gators found their way in from the swamp. When Dave comes back to the house, the gators are already there. This just happens to be during a hurricane.

Haley passes an alligator farm on the way to the house so if you would have told me the hurricane destroyed a gate and they escaped, I would have believed that, too. I’m pretty sure these gators join the party later, anyway. The gators themselves look very fine, by the way. They definitely look believable enough on the $13 million budget.

The film does a great job of balancing thrills of a disaster movie for fans of those films and it will also satisfy the fans looking for a fun summer season creature feature. I know you’re here for the gators or the hurricane, but we should talk about the humans. Scodelario and Pepper play their roles well and the estranged father/daughter dynamic is strong. Their chemistry also strengthens as the film moves along. There’s also a coach dynamic which offers standoffish tension in the relationship.

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Kaya Scodelario in “Crawl.” (IMDb)

Haley is a competitive swimmer and Dave’s coached her throughout her career. Her being a swimmer also gives her a very particular set of skills for this situation (skills that make her a nightmare for gators like them), and that’s the most convenient thing about the film. The idea of her out-swimming the gators isn’t super plausible, but it’s interesting. I mean if Michael Phelps, the fastest man in a pool, can almost beat a great white shark, surely this unknown competitive swimmer has a fighting chance at outrunning Florida’s meanest gator community, right? Right? Tune in Sunday at 8 p.m. on Gator Week to find out!

There are some strong character beats and dialogue about her being an apex predator and needing to have a better mentality to win is fascinating. This aspect brings out some solid one-liners and the coach pep talks made me feel amped up. I really wanted to punch some gators. In one scene they talk about their relationship. It’s a surprisingly lovely character moment. Before it gets too sappy, Dave says, “We’re gonna beat these lizard-brained shits.”

I think that’s the right mentality for the film: Have enough character development that we care about these people and give us some nice moments, but then straighten out the priorities and get right back into kick-ass gator action. It’s in the character building that the film threatens to be boring when it gets too dialogue heavy. There aren’t many scenes like that, and the horror set pieces are diverse enough and the obstacles introduced entertaining enough to make up for it.

It’s also important that we don’t care too much about the stars because we want to see them get munched on. It wouldn’t be fun if they got out of this without looking like they just survived Hell in a Cell (Brawl-space in a Crawlspace?) with a bunch of gators. Don’t fret, though, because any audience appetites for bloody action will be satisfied with the poor expendable characters. More importantly, the gator’s appetites are satisfied, too. And that’s really what makes the world go ‘round.

Score: 75/100

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo: Last Blood. Directed by: Adrian Grunberg. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega. Runtime: 1h 29 min. Released: September 20, 2019.

Spoiler warning! If you want to know as little as possible about the movie, come read this after you watch it. You’ve been politely warned.

“Rambo: Last Blood” is one heck of a mixed bag. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now living on a horse ranch in Arizona, dealing with old age and PTSD and living with his adopted family; his old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter, Gabriella (Yvette Monreal). Rambo’s like a father figure to her.

The first 20 minutes of the film feels like dull melodrama. Rambo shows off the underground tunnels (truly built for an action-packed finale) on his ranch and bonds while horseback riding with Gabriela. Then, Gabriela says she knows her father is living in Mexico and wants to go see him. Rambo and Maria basically say he’s a schmuck, but she goes anyway.

What happens next is basically the plot of Taken but with Rambo. Rambo immediately goes over the border and learns Gabriela has been kidnapped by a Mexican cartel involved in human trafficking led by the Martinez brothers, Victor (Óscar Jaenada) and Hugo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who are just awfully stereotypical characters.

The scenes in Mexico feel more like melodrama, especially when Gabriela tries to reconnect with her Dad and he says he never cared about her. It’s an odd scene. A journalist in Mexico, Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega) is an ally to Rambo and adds exposition for the cartel. She’s not an interesting character – but besides Rambo, none of the characters are great.

It’s also a shallow story you could tell someone about beat-for-beat in less than two minutes. To make matters worse, the first hour is just entirely boring with only a couple of scenes of brutal violence to keep Rambo fans interested.

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Sylvester Stallone in “Rambo: Last Blood.” (IMDb)

I’ve only seen “First Blood” and the 2008 “Rambo,” but the story is so generic it only feels like a Rambo film in name, not in spirit. Any character could lead this film, but Sylvester Stallone is kick-ass in action scenes and mediocre in dramatic scenes. There’s one decent scene that’s believable in terms of emotion, but most of the other emotional aspects of the film don’t ring true.

Even at a compact 89 minutes, “Last Blood” is slow to get going. It feels slower still because I didn’t care about Gabriela’s arc, and she’s the core drive for Rambo. Their chemistry is okay, but the dialogue trying to get her to stay isn’t very strong. A lot of the dialogue feels awkward overall.

The non-stop action of the story doesn’t come until 70 minutes into the film, when Rambo sets up traps in his tunnels before luring the cartel back to his home in Arizona. The last 20 minutes plays out like an R-rated version of “Home Alone” and it’s bloody awesome. It’s gory and brutal and fun in its cartoonish way. It’s like Looney Tunes, but I love Looney Tunes and “Home Alone.Keep in mind, these scenes are a hard so there are no Macaulay Culkin cameos, here.

The shame about this film is that it’s all build-up to an action-packed finale that only lasts 20 minutes. If I could look at movies just for their finales, this would get a recommendation from me because it’s a decent time if you just like brutal action. There’s just too much crap to get through to honestly make it worth it.

Score: 50/100

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

 

Released: November 9, 2018. Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones. Runtime: 1h, 26 min.

When I went to see “Overlord” in November, I overheard a mom saying to her kid “Are you excited for your first movie?” Knowing how cool it is to see your first movie at a theatre, I was bummed he was seeing something as mediocre as “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” for his first movie at the theatre.

“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is the third adaption of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! where Benedict Cumberbatch voices the titular Grinch in a version that doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the story.

This time, The Grinch isn’t particularly feared and is just seen as meaner than the average Who. He still doesn’t like Christmas, so when the Who’s bring in a gigantic Christmas tree, he hatches a plan to put an end to their happiness: Steal Christmas.

Illumination Entertainment’s animation style fits Seuss’s style, especially his inventions which the animation brings to life well. I like their vision of Whoville, but the animation is the only good part of the film, even though it makes Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) look like a Martian with her pigtails sticking up in the air, and the character design’s similar to “Despicable Me.”

As for the story, there’s just not enough plot for a feature film. It’s just told with very little creativity, and there are no Jim Carrey kind-of antics to distract from the lack of story.

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Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (IMDb)

Cumberbatch is fine as the Grinch, but he’s not terribly memorable. Nothing about this film is memorable, and the main source of laughs come from the Grinch’s cheery neighbour (Keenan Thompson) and the Grinch’s dog Max and an overweight reindeer, and the Grinch trolling the citizens of Whoville made me smile, but those moments were the only times I did.

Pharrell Williams’ monotone narration also does not help matters of entertainment. Since you already know which direction is going, I was getting antsy for the Grinch just to steal Christmas, but it feels like it takes forever to get there. There just aren’t many interesting characters to watch in this one, as the Grinch and Cindy Lou’s interactions are extremely limited until he makes his Christmas heist.

Even then, it’s a bit of a cliche way for Cindy Lou to meet him – setting up a Rube Goldberg trap to try to catch Santa Claus so she can ask him for something selfless.

We know about the Grinch’s loneliness and we know that he steals Christmas and that his heart grows three sizes, but this version doesn’t delve into any kind of new backstory or anything interesting, for that matter. And it was just kind of weird seeing a version where the people aren’t afraid of the Grinch. But for this version, the filmmakers just unfortunately don’t do anything to make it memorable.

Score: 50/100

 

The Meg (2018)

Released: August 10, 2018. Directed by: Jon Turteltaub. Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson. Runtime: 1h 53 min.

The Meg is one of those movies that is just fun to review, almost like a stamina test for how long you can go without using a shark pun.

Jason Statham plays Jonas, a deep-sea rescue team member who goes back in the water to save a submersible stranded at the very bottom of the Marianas Trench.

The Mana One has made a discovery of an unknown ecosystem underneath the assumed bottom of the trench, which is a cold cloud that separates an ecosystem from the rest of the ocean. The characters stranded in the submersible are attacked by a 75-foot shark… *Jason Statham voice* The Megalodon!

There’s a lot of action right from that rescue in the visually cool underwater area, and it gets wilder after the Meg escapes. The degrees of the cloud shouldn’t let it escape, but the Meg, uh, finds a way.

I like that the filmmakers go back to the prehistoric age to find a foe that can challenge Jason Statham. It’s like they know no bad guy or modern shark can match him. “Meg versus man isn’t a fight, it’s a slaughter,” Statham says about the Megalodon.

Secretly, the Megalodon thinks the same thing about facing Statham. He’s just watched all The Transporter films and he’s ready. He even started to watch The Transporter Refueled but turned it off after 20 minutes when he realized it was a reboot. The Meg knows his tricks and won’t be charmed by his British accent.

Statham’s good in a movie that’s purely summer fun. I liked his character arc of everyone assuming he’s the one who leaves people behind, and he has a good chemistry with oceanographer Suyin (Bingbing Li). Her daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) is adorable and gets a few chuckles.

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Jason Statham in The Meg. (IMDb)

The giant shark looks good and its colour is based off a great white, just one that’s been bulking up at the gym. Visually, the film’s decent, and we can see most of the action underwater. It feels long at nearly two hours and most of the action is stuff you’ve seen before but with a giant shark.

It’s not paced amazingly, but it has a charm about it and the characters learn quickly that a bigger boat isn’t going to help them because they’ll need a cruise ship. Their better weapon is their knowledge of Shark Week.

The deep-sea rescue missions are tense, and the action scenes pack a memorable bite. (I got 437 words in before a shark pun!) This just knows it’s a shark movie on steroids and embraces it, and it works. Some of the writing’s clever, too, as characters monologue with their backs turned to the ocean and you just totally expect them to get mauled like that certain someone in Deep Blue Sea.

Besides the action, it has some good character moments and a good cast of characters. Rainn Wilson (The Office) joins the party as billionaire Jack Morris who funds the Mana One. It’s nice that Dwight Schrute’s beet farm and bed and breakfast really took off. I’m sure he made all his money and then realized “marine biology beats beets” and switched fields. Jokes aside, he’s good as the dick-ish Morris.

Everyone in the cast has something to do for the most part. Though, when they’re gone, there’s so many characters that it doesn’t really matter. They’re all pretty good, from Ruby Rose playing Jaxx (her characters are so edgy I’m surprised they haven’t all been named Jaxx), to Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as The Wall.

You know you can’t take a movie completely seriously when there’s a character called The Wall. Come to think of it, it’s a missed opportunity that this isn’t The Wall vs. The Meg, because that sounds like the main event.

Score: 70/100

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Released: May 5, 2006. Directed by: J.J. Abrams. Starring: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

I don’t remember a lot of films I saw in theatres when I was a kid but I remember seeing Mission: Impossible III. It might be because this is the first film I remember seeing that started at the mid-way point in the story, when Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatens to kill Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) fiancé Julia (Michelle Monaghan).

The stakes are immediately the highest they’ve felt in the series, as I never felt like they were consistently high in Mission: Impossible or Mission: Impossible II. This was also the first time I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman and the sadism of his character is memorable and threatening.

It’s also just a good film in general and not only because of my nostalgia for it. J.J. Abrams directs the action well and the stunts are great, especially when Ethan leaps off a skyscraper in Shanghai onto another one. Anyway, Davian is the most memorable villain of the series upp to this point. Davian’s a sadistic arms dealer after something called the Rabbit’s Foot.

We don’t really know what it is and that vagueness isn’t great. Though, Davian’s willing to pay $875 million for it, so it’s a pretty big deal. Davian’s just interested in power and tormenting Ethan. In the first film, IMF director Kittredge says to find something that’s personally important to Ethan “and squeeze.” A villain finally takes that advice, as evidenced by the film’s opening scene.

The action scenes are good, and the film’s first big set piece of trying to rescue Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), after she went to investigate Davian, sets the film’s events up perfectly. At the beginning of the film, Ethan’s settled down with Julia, played well by Michelle Monaghan, and he’s training IMF agents to be ready for the field instead of being in the field himself. But he trained Farris and that’s one of the reasons that Hunt goes back out in the field. This time, the characters are interesting enough that the very personal conflicts feel well-written.

Tom Cruise also runs a lot more in this one. He has such a great chemistry with Monaghan as Julia, as well as his IMF team including franchise mainstay Ving Rhames as Luther and Maggie Q as Zhen. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a team member named Declan, but he’s easily the most forgettable of all the IMF agents that have come and gone in the franchise.

Score: 80/100