Slender Man (2018)

   Director: Sylvain White  With: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Taylor Richardson, Annalise Basso, Javier Botet, Alex Fitzalan, & Kevin Chapman.  Release: Aug 10, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 33 min.

Director: Sylvain White
With: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Taylor Richardson, Annalise Basso, Javier Botet, Alex Fitzalan, & Kevin Chapman. 
Release: Aug 10, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 33 min.

 

The “Slender Man” is a mythological monster born out of the wedlock of ghost stories and the internet, told by Creepypasta, the modern-day equivalent to telling ghost stories around a campfire. Created by Eric Knudsen (also known as “Victor Surge”), the well-dressed figure grew a following, with fans of the folktale doctoring older photos to seemingly include him as something long-gestating, as well as spreading his name onto digital platforms such as Reddit, and even going as far as to make a video game. The story surrounding this urban legend monster that scares away social media obsession becomes horrific when it’s legend is given authenticity with that of the two twelve-year-old girls who murdered their friend in the woods, all in the name of the “Slender Man.” 

The well-serviced and well-executed documentary “Beware the Slenderman” from skilled documentarian filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky, tackles that story and examines the real-life terror of folktales possessing our youth to the point of atrocity. Exploring the vast and terrifying potential of the digital media age, bringing urban legends to life, influencing children into a position of committing murder. 

This background pays no dividends in creating a masterful horror film. It actually should be slightly offensive to see a movie depict a make-believe monster in a legitimate fashion four years removed from the tragedy in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It’s a bit shocking to see that a film such as this one has not been dismantled and protested against by twitter activists, but “Slender Man” found its way into theaters, and it's one of the year’s worst. 

This narrative involves teenagers, of course, revitalizing that old cliche of teenagers doing dumb shit, getting in over their heads, discovering the horrific reality of the world they’ve been shielded by, all of these cliches are there once again because who wants originality anymore, right?  Nevertheless, the cast is made up by an ensemble of well-known and unknown teenage actresses, ranging from the inept Jody King to the talented Annalise Basso. Each of them finds themselves in the midst of an inescapable event in which they summoned the infamous child-terror known as “Slender Man,” a tall, creeky, and multi-appendaged figure whose face is empty of emotion. Like that of a mannequin, he shares no sentiment, no expression, a mere white canvas resides on the top of his body as he possesses and torments these teenagers, driving them into madness.  

Is this “Nightmare on Elm Street” recreated? Yes. The film knows that too, even borrowing more from the horror genre’s prominent past, like that of referencing “The Exorcist” by re-creating the bed-ridden imagery of the younger sister, Lizzie (Taylor Richardson), whose hair stylization is reminiscent of a young Linda Blair. You can also find familiar imagery that echoes films such as “Blair Witch," and “The Ring” is perhaps the most noticeable work that "Slender Man" replicates for a digital audience. Though it never becomes as hilariously horrendous as other horror films from earlier this year, looking at you “Truth or Dare," "Slender Man" never becomes worth a viewing experience. 

“Slender Man” becomes worse in that way, unable to manifest any sense of entertainment, mistakingly or otherwise. The visualizing of this legend turned real-life nightmare is atrocious as well, and where this film loses a lot of its merit, cinematographer Luca Del Puppo provides one of the worst framings of his career. Shooting these events with the mindset of a student short film, one that spent all of its money on the VFX of the creature, forgetting about the necessity of lighting, editing equipment, and seemingly constructed a purposefully designed framing that seems as if it had a veil pulled over the lens. It’s murky, overly shadowed, dark, and forgets that the absence of light makes it hard for us to see the characters. 

Then again, the characters might as well as be invisible. The attempts to create resonance for them from screenwriter David Birke (“Elle”) is abysmal. We learn that they like boys, watch POV porn together, and enjoy texting one another. It would be easy to say that this film needed a woman’s touch, but I can imagine that few female filmmakers would stake their careers on a movie such as this one. 

The females to be found on-screen aren’t any better either, each of them has their fair share of moments, even beginning the film with an array of hope that seemingly gives off the idea that the modern folk-tale turned movie may have more to offer than a well-known name. These actresses deserve better too, they're left with characters devoid of personality, like that of the empty cipher stalking them. Their shared quality as actresses seemingly dissipates over time, becoming more and more like your stereotypical scary story for teenagers, and it feels like it resonated with that demographic. 

The wave of teenagers that packed themselves into the back rows of my theater squirmed and jolted in their seats, seemingly enjoying their experience. I wish I could say the same. My near-developed brain would not allow me to mindlessly stare at the visualization of the slandering and faceless creature. Those unfamiliar with this faceless figure will find themselves asking “what’s all the fuss about?” I could say its the forewarnings of digital media's significance in our culture, examining how the ongoing fear-mongering of false tales is gaining prevalence over the broad reach of the interwebs, how it seems to be an unstoppable phenomenon, but it does none of those things. (despite trying to do so) 

If “Slender Man” was meant to forewarn us of these dangers, they did a piss poor job.  

JAWS 3 (1983)

   Director: Joe Alves  With: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr., John Putch, Lea Thompson, & P.H. Moriarty.  Release: July 22, 1983 PG. 1 hr. 39 min. 

Director: Joe Alves
With: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr., John Putch, Lea Thompson, & P.H. Moriarty. 
Release: July 22, 1983
PG. 1 hr. 39 min. 

 

Joe Alves’ “JAWS 3-D” is what you might call a “gimmick film,” a film that struggles to be anything more than a good idea. With a pivotal technical mark on film, reviving the distant interest of 3D filmmaking, “JAWS 3-D” was capable of being something more than a clever idea for a monster shark movie while using an underused style of filmmaking, but it never turned out to be anything more than a dumpster fire of a film. 

The film never takes off, merely stumbling about its overblown runtime, and right from the start, the 3D aspects feel unnecessary and insanely outdated. The black lines outlining the images, the horrendous frozen images that remain expressionless, the shimmering coloring of the unintended 3D frames, and the construction of a 35 foot monster of a shark that is never anything more than a puppet. The shark in Spielberg’s classic was something of a character builder or a producer of tension. The sequel, which provided a bit more of a reliance on the shark, never spotlighted the flaws in its construction. 

Unlike those films, “JAWS 3-D” highlights the cheap manufacturing of a shark that is ridiculously depicted with horrific uses of so-called tension. It’s all a shrouded depiction of what once was a great franchise, as one of the first examples of a studio that lost focus of one of the most pivotal achievements in filmmaking history, building themselves to seem like a group of greedy, leechers, picking off the bones and the fragments of the film that invented the blockbuster genre of modern cinema. 

The story attempts to have a sense of a familiarity with that of it's protagonist being the son of Chief Brody, Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid), who now works at Seaworld, along with his longtime girlfriend, Dr. Kathryn Morgan (Bess Armstrong), who is the lead trainer and biologist of Seaworld. What a great idea to have a deadly shark get loose in something like a waterpark, placing dolphins, killer whales, and, of course, people in danger? I would agree, it's a genuinely thrilling pitch to give Universal Studios, I definitely couldn’t turn it down, but I wish they did. 

It’s a film that shouldn’t have never reached the silver screen, as the plot even brings in the younger brother in Sean Brody (John Putch), the cowboy brother, who has been scared of the water since a child, well that was until an attractive girl talked him to facing his “phobia.” How a phobia was able to be broken so easily, I am not sure. It's one of the many ignorant features to be found in this so-called “screenplay,” despite lacking any sense of belief, or suspense that manifests any remnants of a thrilling time. 

Watching this movie at home today, I was able to laugh out loud at the cringiest of moments, making me feel empathy for the poor souls who were sold this bill of goods in 1983, leaving the theater with a sense of regret and betrayal from a studio that seemingly cooked up a disaster of a film.  

Amongst this array of stupidity you may also discover horrendous audio dubbing, despite the character mouths remaining still, and there is a handful of filmatic travesties to add on top of the misused gimmick, like that of the unintentionally amusing moments that are created because of the sheer lack of focus given to both the characters and the legitimacy of a terrifying great white. 

It all becomes so ridiculous, and luckily it can develop a guilty-pleasure kind of vibe that can become seamlessly entertaining to watch. The audio dubbing, the gimmicky absurdity, the atrocious acting (including Dennis Quaid’s hilarious fake gagging), and the sheer insanity of a story that relies on the dumbest of coincidences to make any sense. 

It’s a sham of a movie, one that relies on someone else’s greatness. Luckily I don’t have to write a lengthy review entailing the ins and outs of a film that at its best is a good drinking game. I can just cut it short, and sum this atrocity of a movie up as nothing more than a cinematic failure. Don't mistake this movie as a misfire, that usually implies it had something worth watching at one point. 
 

Gotti (2018)

   Director: Kevin Connolly  With: John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, William Demeo, & Kelly Preston. Release: June 15, 2018 R. 1 hr. 44 min. 

Director: Kevin Connolly
With: John Travolta, Spencer Lofranco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, William Demeo, & Kelly Preston.
Release: June 15, 2018
R. 1 hr. 44 min. 

 

Critics versus audiences is a subplot kind of narrative that anyone on either side of the argument can become infatuated by, I am at fault for this as much as anyone else. It can become increasingly frustrating to see films that you find immensely powerful to go under the radar of most moviegoers as if they never actually happened. It can be just as difficult to see a movie that you and your friends love that critics trashed with their reviews, or to see a lack of genre films at the Oscars. 

It’s a type of sociological discourse that all of us can seek our teeth into and share some kind of resonation with either side, but it’s never meant to be something that proves one is better than the other. Kevin Connolly’s (“E” from “Entourage”) “Gotti” is a film that struggles to grasp that concept. It’s a film centering around the life of the notorious mobster John Gotti (John Travolta), focusing on his family life, his most infamous moments as a criminal, and his indirect leadership of his community. 

The screenplay, written by Lem Dobbs (“Dark City” & “Haywire”) and Leo Rossi (Budd from “Halloween II”), attempts to paint this picture of him being a people’s man brought down by a group of corrupt government officials. As if he’s someone like Billy the Kid or Robin Hood, but in fact, he’s a criminal using propaganda and a forceful hand to maintain face. He’s like a local dictator residing over his neighborhood’s who does occasional beneficiary things for the community as a part of PR. The film never treats him as a criminal, but rather an outlaw, a folk hero mobster. 

The film seems to be confusing murder with avenging, to be fair most films don’t play up murder as something worth denouncing. Instead, its served up as something spectacular and worth watching. Nonetheless, “Gotti” received a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes which has led to it's rising popularity for its strong negative response from critics. The screenplay I described above is, in part, at fault for that rating. It’s seemingly inconsequential with it's writing, meaning that none of its storytelling has any merit or emotion to its story. It’s a one hour and forty-five-minute sequence of cliche mobster moments, including poor joisy accents and the throwaway lines to make the film seem a lot cooler than it actually is. 

Not to mention, “Gotti” breaks a golden rule of screenwriting in establishing who is telling the story we’re watching or are we observing these events as they happen. “Gotti” begins with John (John Travolta) seemingly speaking to us from beyond the grave, the point of view transfers between him and his son, and it ends with a multitude of news clips from that time. It’s shocking to see such a simple rule broken by professional screenwriters, but they are not the only one at fault for the lousy critical reception of “Gotti.”

Connolly and his cinematographer, Michael Barnett, provide a grim and shadowy look to the film. The lighting struggles to paint anything with visual prominence as if Connolly is trying to shield his movie from us through the obscurity of its poor lighting. The camera doesn’t do anything remarkable either, remaining still and relying on its star to provide the oomph of charisma that the film desperately needs, and Travolta doesn’t shy away from the challenge. 

Though his accent drops in and out of his dialogue, Travolta does deliver more times than not throughout this film in good and bad ways. He provides those unintended laugh out loud moments that are so bad they’re funny, but he also delivers some of the films best moments, specifically a sequence of moments in which we watch this crime family deal with the loss of a child. It’s one of the few moments in the film that has some sense of passion residing in its scenery. 

Travolta’s effort and one good sequence of filmmaking is not enough to craft a good movie though, the sheer lack of focus given to a film that feels as if it was made through a blender of events than actual proper filmmaking tools makes “Gotti” something worth forgettin’ about. The rest of cast surrounding Travolta is either overdoing the whole mob thing or not doing it enough, refusing to embrace the ridiculousness of it all to provide something worth watching. Not to mention the on-the-nose soundtrack played during the most cliche of moments ranging from artists such as Duran Duran, James Brown, Dean Martin, The Escape Club,  and Pitbull. It's all just so ridiculous. 

This film should not be used as a prime example in this ongoing argument of critic versus viewer, “Gotti” is feeding off our desire to feed into that narrative, attempting to cloud its shortcomings by manifesting discourse to camouflage its lack of quality, like a criminal pretending to be a folk hero. It may not be a good movie, but at least it remains consistent with its story in that way.  

Suicide Squad (2016)

   Director: David Ayers With: Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, Aidan Devine, & David Harbour.  Release: Aug 5, 2016.  PG-13. 2 hr. 3 min. 

Director: David Ayers
With: Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, Aidan Devine, & David Harbour. 
Release: Aug 5, 2016. 
PG-13. 2 hr. 3 min. 

 

“Suicide Squad” is the expectational follow-up to a film like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Despite what the shockingly superb, pseudo-musical-like, promotional trailers would have you believe, writer/director David Ayers’ (“Training Day” & “End of Watch”) “Suicide Squad” is the next chapter in this rotten universe of DC comics' adaptation that suffers from the same cons of the previous entree. Along with some additional flaws, “Suicide Squad” is a “swirling ring of trash” of a movie, as the film’s main character, Deadshot (Will Smith), so poetically and ironically illustrated.

While he’s not the expected leader of the show, he is the leader of the group, one that unpurposefully echoes the frustrations of the viewer at times. Speaking on the ridiculousness of a character like Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) being the good guy in this world, or the stupidity of these gang of misfits being utilized in a battle against a sorceress. Yes, this movie loses itself in the midst of montages and the soundtrack heavy short films to introduce us to our villain-turned do-gooder characters. 

The films attempts to mimic the delighted fun quality of better movies like “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” replicating a nostalgic driven soundtrack that is meant to evoke some kind of fair love, or blinded appreciation for a film that is meant to do nothing more than replicate the underhanded affections of past films. Before I get too heavy-handed with my criticism’s for this movie though, understand that “Suicide Squad” is not in the top ten rankings of worst superhero movies, at least it shouldn't be. When you sit through such 90’s ridiculousness as “Spawn” and “Captain America” starring Matt Salinger, you’ve seen the worst of the worst.

“Suicide Squad” doesn’t dip in quality nearly that far, but for a modern day anti-hero blockbuster, it's far off the beaten path of something as unequivocally entertaining as “Deadpool.” It’s the kind of movie that never establishes what it's about. Transfixing itself upon the motif of the villain turned hero, never erecting a narrative that connects point A to point B. 

It bases itself off of the New 52 members of the “Suicide Squad,” a group of murders, bank robbers, hitman, and psychopaths who are recruited by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to create a unofficial task force for the United States Government, one that is meant to serve the purposes of hunting down rogue bounty hunters and cleaning up messes left behind by a corrupt government. They are the unrecognized maids of the government that can become the characters of blame if need be, the perfect scapegoat or patsy for a government trying to match up with meta-humans. 

Ayers sees it differently though, bringing this team together through a series of colorful, roughly edited, and inconsequential sequences of montages, each of them given their unique background music. This group of rule-breakers is brought together to be the last resort in case another “Superman” emerges, one that wants to rule over humanity instead of saving it. This criminal squad consists of: the hitman-marksman known as Deadshot (Will Smith), the crazy-girl in Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the monster known as Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the living inferno El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a haunted sword wielder Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the idiotic Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the useless Slipknot (Adam Beach), and the overly-powerful Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). You can also find their soldier-for-hire leader in Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and the anarchist turned mobster Mister J (Jared Leto) amongst the foreground of the film. 

With this array of characters, and talent, somehow David Ayers seems to confuse storytelling with music video production. Providing a narrative that doesn’t match the level of ability presented in this illustrious group of mediocrity, and forgets the pathos of the characters, a significant defect that seems to have carried over from Snyder’s mistreatment. Confusing a father-hood mentored character like Deadshot (Will Smith) with someone whose soul has been changed by bringing a child into the world, or hindering a breakout performance from Margot Robbie by mishandling the character of Harley Quinn. Confusing a weaponizing of sexuality for an excuse to slut-up a character, not to mention the blatant misuse of a tortured soul dynamic with her and the Joker (Jared Leto), whose mobster mentality seemingly lacks the same intention for chaos previously seen in Ledger’s depiction. 

Though neither adaptation of the character is comically accurate per say, Leto’s rendition of the clown prince of crime feels like a cruel mistreatment in which he sees the Joker as a gangster, which is technically accurate. What separates the Joker from that simplified label is the sheer lunacy of his mind, desiring nothing more than to torture the world around him because it's funny, an inherently fascinating character trait that is seemingly buried beneath the tattoos of this misshapen reinvention of one of DC’s most prominent foes. This is where lines in the sand get drawn, and disliking mutates into hatred. 

The film isn’t all bad though, allowing for some fan serviceable imagery to seep through it's blinded gaze, vignettes of a jester dressed Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and tuxedo-wearing Joker (Jared Leto) dancing away in the spotlight, or the car chase between the Batmobile and the Joker (Jared Leto) in the streets of Gotham City. You can also find a flash cameo, a Bruce Wayne after credits special, and a multitude of easter eggs that make for some moments where the comic book kid inside me cried with passion as if his wildest of dreams had finally breached into fruition. 

Those images would be stripped away like tape ripping off hairs, tenderly ringing with pain as the direction, screenwriting, and performances of this film feel inherently processed. Will Smith portrayal of the hitman for hire feels intrinsically charismatic, the man can’t help but let that shine seep through, but it's unfitting of the stoic character. Margot has something special lurking beneath her performance of the infamous puddin’ lover, but she becomes handcuffed by a screenplay that seems to misidentify both her character and her relationship with the Joker, something that should’ve been the primary focus of the film’s story. 

A few moments worth a giggle and predictable dramatical hefts later, the ensemble surrounding them becomes blatantly forgettable. Two performances become the main squeeze of the film, both of whom are simultaneously crippled by a misinformed screenplay. 

This film is not only torturous from a comics’ fan perspective though, it can become a tough sit through as a film fan as well, one that features the cliche ring in the sky, cinematography that is grimmest in shadow, and a befuddling narrative that limps its way through predictable plot reveals and an expectational blockbuster checklist. 

It’s the kind of a movie that feels like I’m swallowing a double-edged sword, one that slices deep on both sides. Its box office success is something I can come to terms with, but the damage done cannot be reversed. It’s the kind of pain you feel from watching your dreams die, one that involves a cheap rip-off of a comic book storyline that if placed in the right hands, could’ve been one of 2016’s best. What we’re left with is a dumpster fire of a movie, one that betrays it's base of fandom with cheapified service, luckily there is always the next marvel-feature to look forward too.