JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence throughout, some Language and brief Nudity

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Written by: Derek Kolstad

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane & Lance Reddick

Loads of people seem to gush over 2014’s JOHN WICK. As for me, I think it’s a fun little action movie that’s equal parts silly and cool. Any sequel to any action flick promises to up the stakes and be bigger, bolder, cooler, and more adrenaline-pumping. JOHN WICK: CHAPER 2 has crazy action scenes and further develops its elaborate underworld of guns, hotels, and hired killers. However, the film also encounters pacing issues and goofiness that hinder it as a whole. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is an entertaining romp. Nothing more, nothing less.

The plot picks up four days after the events of the previous film. Former assassin turned bloody avenger John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just recovered his stolen car from a Russian-run chop shop and intends on living out the rest of his days in peace. John’s renewed retirement comes to an abrupt end when he’s visited by mob boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) who wants John to make good on a past deal. With the prospect of one last job until he’s out for good, John Wick returns to kill a target and soon finds himself hunted by pretty much everyone. Lots of bullets, hand-to-hand combat, and craziness follows.

First things first, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 succeeds at what it set out to do. There’s plenty of kick-ass action and the stakes are ridiculously high. At one point, John Wick has pretty much an entire nation of assassins chasing him and decides to become a one man army. It’s friggin’ nuts to watch. The cinematography is slick and the execution of the action is stylish. I cannot express how nice it is to actually see what the hell is happening in an action movie, as opposed to constant shaky-cam that moviegoers are usually bombarded with in lesser modern action efforts. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 is just as enjoyable as the first film, meaning that it still suffers from some problems.

CHAPTER 2’s second half is where things really pick up, but its first hour is frequently dull. It’s as if the movie suddenly shifted tones after the previous film’s conclusion to briefly become a brooding hour-long thriller about a reluctant assassin. Great films have been made about similar subject matter, but CHAPTER 2 has long stretches that feature nothing more than John Wick repeating himself to different characters and suiting up for his would-be final hit. Like I said though, the second half is infinitely more enjoyable as the body count reaches crazy levels and bullets begin to fly every which way.

CHAPTER 2’s cast has a few returning faces from the previous film, while also throwing new characters into the mix. Keanu Reeves is just as wooden as he was last time, becoming comically hollow when he tries to express the tragic emotional state of his character (having still lost his wife and her puppy). Still, Keanu knows how to kick ass, execute well-choreographed confrontations (ranging from hand-to-hand, vehicular mayhem, and gun-fu), and perform really cool stunts. Ian McShane is still enjoyable as a hotel owner who abides by a strict set of rules for the killers who inhabit his grounds.

Unfortunately, CHAPTER 2’s interesting new characters are underused or totally wasted throughout the proceedings. This time around, John faces off against a smarmy mob boss and Riccardo Scamarcio’s antagonist pretty much has underlings attack John and taunts him, making for a bit of an underwhelming main baddie. However, the final scene between himself and John further ups the stakes for a potential CHAPTER 3 (ending on a fun cliffhanger). Common plays a vengeance-seeking bodyguard who is sadly regulated to about three scenes, while Laurence Fishburne is having a blast in the cameo-like role of a hobo crime king. Also, Ruby Rose is bad-ass as a mute assassin who has a history with John, though she only appears for three scenes too.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 encounters flaws in wasted potential and uneven pacing. I wish some of the more creative baddies had a bigger presence and the film’s first half is distractingly slow to sit through. However, the action remains fun, while the style reeks of being cool for the sake of being cool. I didn’t go into JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 expecting an action masterpiece and this sequel is on the exact same level of the original, meaning that it’s a fun time for those who want a kick-ass action flick and not much logic. If you liked the first film, you’ll probably like this one too!

Grade: B

2001 MANIACS (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence and Gruesome Images, Sexuality/Nudity and Language

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Directed by: Tim Sullivan

Written by: Tim Sullivan & Chris Kobin

Starring: Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Giuseppe Andrews, Jay Gillespie, Matthew Carey, Peter Stormare, Marla Malcolm, Gina Marie Heekin, Brian Gross & Mushond Lee

2001 MANIACS is one of those rare horror remakes that is miles better than the original. Based on Herschell Gordon Lewis’s TWO THOUSAND MANIACS!, Tim Sullivan’s remake is a much more tongue-in-cheek effort that ultimately comes off as a hilariously un-PC horror-comedy. Driven by a constant combination of horror and humor, 2001 MANIACS has so much to like within its fast-paced 87 minutes. This should be taken precisely as the kind of film it was intended to be: a silly slasher flick with lots of laughs and gallons of gore.

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Anderson Lee and his two best friends have taken to the road for Spring Break. On the way to Daytona Beach, the trio of hapless frat guys take a wrong turn. Instead of leading them to a beach filled with babes, this misguided detour has landed the group in the old-fashioned Pleasant Valley. It seems that the boys have arrived just in time for a big celebration. However, they aren’t the only guests of honor, because two more guys and three gals arrive shortly after. Taking the extremely old-fashioned Southern charm and friendly townsfolk as a good sign, the group of “guests” decide to stick around for the Guts and Glory Jubilee. After all, there’s a delicious barbecue at the end of the festival. What our “guests” don’t know is that they are the menu!

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2001 MANIACS knows exactly what it wants to be. This is a deliberately over-the-top horror-comedy that’s full of un-PC humor and cheesy gore. The former is definitely the driving force of what makes this slasher work so well. Throughout the years, we’ve seen so many dull and dreary slasher films that hit the same clichés and don’t have the decency to have fun with them. 2001 MANIACS utilizes a lot of the crazy situations that might be brought on by a group of modern college kids running headlong into old-school Confederate cannibals. What’s especially funny is that director/co-writer Tim Sullivan includes three people who the Confederates would have hated from the get-go. We get a black biker, his Asian girlfriend, and a gay guy thrown into the pool of victims. The interactions between the town full of insane Southerners and these three particular characters are hysterical to watch. The Mayor’s reaction to finding out that his son may be attracted to the gay guy is especially hilarious. It sounds like 2001 MANIACS might be offensive from that description, but it should be made clear that Tim Sullivan is exploiting every redneck joke he gets an opportunity to. From kissing cousins and bestiality to jokes about racial tensions and sex, nobody is safe from the crude and very funny comedic jabs.

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However, the laughs only make up half the film as the gore is especially glorious. Using mostly practical effects, 2001 MANIACS certainly doesn’t skimp on the blood or creative kills. Part of the fun is to guess how each character will meet their untimely demise. A couple of pieces of foreshadowing come back in a big way. We get severed limbs, popped out eyeballs, impalements, and many other acts of wanton violence. None of it is meant to be taken seriously at all as each death is accompanied by a few bad puns. The protagonists/victims are nothing to write home about. These are your average slasher stereotypes. There’s the jock, the black guy (who doesn’t meet the typical dying-first cliché), the nerd, the slut, the horn-dog, the gay guy, the final girl, etc. These characters were here to die and served their purpose well. The antagonists are quite a different story. These Confederate cannibals are colorful individuals and each seem to have an identity (as brief as their screen time might be). Robert Englund is especially enjoyable as the sinister Mayor Buckman.

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2001 MANIACS might not be the greatest horror-comedy or slasher ever, but it’s a gory blast of fun from beginning to end. The story is silly and the protagonists are stupid, but these factors lend to the enjoyment. Tim Sullivan crafted both a remake that’s far superior to its source material and a wholly enjoyable horror-comedy. This is the kind of film that knows exactly what it wants to be. Everyone seems to have had fun making it and that radiates off the screen. If you’re in the mood for a crazy, gory and stupid good time, then 2001 MANIACS is probably right up your alley.

Grade: B

CLOWN (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence and Gore, and for Language

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Directed by: Jon Watts

Written by: Christopher D. Ford & Jon Watts

Starring: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Eli Roth & Elizabeth Whitmere

Clowns are scary. That’s a natural fact of life that’s easily exploited in horror films. CLOWN is a gory feature-length version of a fake trailer that Eli Roth filmed a few years ago. The idea is that if you have the name Eli Roth attached to your horror project, an effective fake trailer and a scary ass clown, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a built-in audience. CLOWN has been making waves as an anticipated horror flick for the past year and has finally received a home video release in the UK. If you have the means to import a copy and are a less discerning slasher fan, then you’re probably going to really enjoy CLOWN. Otherwise, this coulrophobic (fear of clowns) horror film is not likely worth your time.

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Kent McCoy’s son is having a birthday party and the clown has backed out at the last-minute. In a desperate effort to save his son from the disappointment of not having a scary-ass clown at his birthday party, Ken goes through the contents of a shady looking trunk and finds a clown costume. Donning the goofy wig, outfit, and red nose, Ken saves his son’s birthday…but has awoken something evil by wearing the costume. It turns out that the clown outfit isn’t actually an outfit but rather the skin of an ancient child-eating demon and Ken has begun to transform into that horrifying monster. It’s up to Ken’s wife and a crazed axe-wielding Peter Stormare to put a stop to Ken before too many innocent children are devoured.

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To its credit, CLOWN has a pretty cool first hour. There seems to be a new wave of body horror afoot involving characters going through grisly transformations (e.g. CONTRACTED, STARRY EYES) and CLOWN seems to be the latest in the line of these. Pretty gnarly things occur when Kent tries to remove his costume (including half of his nose being ripped off) as well as nasty scenes during his actual transformation. I was surprised by how well made the first hour of this film actually was. There seem to be real attempts to make this story into something shocking and creepy, both of which work to a certain extent. I felt bad for Kent as he suffers the ultimate “no good deed goes unpunished” scenario. He tried to save his son’s birthday and winds up turning into a monstrous clown as a result.

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The last 40 minutes almost manage to entirely undo everything that worked so well in the first hour by turning CLOWN into a standard slasher flick lacking any memorable qualities. A showdown that stretches through three different locations (including a Chuck E. Cheese ripe for plenty of pizza-eating kids to wind up as meals) is lackluster and overly predictable. At one point, it seemed like the film was going to go in a totally unexpected (and darker) direction that I would have loved. Instead, things play out in fairly by-the-numbers fashion. When two side characters (Kent’s wife and a woefully wasted Peter Stormare) become the main focus of the action, it felt like CLOWN had turned into just another slasher flick with nothing fresh or fun about it (despite the idea of a guy turning into a cannibalistic clown). Special effects range from neat practical work on the killer clown to cheesy rubber body parts during kills and occasional weak CGI. For a slasher flick, the kills are also overly familiar and uninspired.

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To be totally honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from CLOWN. Despite many high-profile horror websites hyping this film up, I was pretty much just expecting a so-so slasher with a killer clown. Instead, I received a pretty cool body-horror story in the first hour that quickly devolved into a cheesy body-count flick in the last 40 minutes. I’m terrified of clowns in real life, but CLOWN is pretty underwhelming and by-the-numbers movie. Horror fans who love every slasher flick ever made will probably dig this. However, CLOWN wound up as a purely middle-of-the-road experience for me.

Grade: C

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sci-Fi Terror and Violence

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: David Koepp

(based on the novel THE LOST WORLD by Michael Crichton)

Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard & Peter Stormare

Following the massive success of JURASSIC PARK, there were immediate talks of sequels. So Michael Crichton wrote a sequel novel (a first in his career) and faster than you could say cash-in, there was a script ready (by David Koepp, co-writer of the first film) and Spielberg was helming the entire project. In 1997, after four years of anticipation, audiences were treated to a middle-of-the-road sequel. What exactly makes this second installment so mediocre? Perhaps, it’s that there are many repetitive scenes that were done far better in the first film. One might argue that it could be the silly excuse for a story and hollow characters. Maybe, just maybe, it was the need to be overly excessive and unnecessarily dark in tone. At the end of the day, a combination of iffy factors make for an iffy movie and that’s definitely the case with THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK.

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Years have passed since the disaster of John Hammond’s prehistoric theme park. Chaos theorist Ian Malcolm is still recovering from the traumatic experience of being chased by man-eating dinosaurs. Imagine his surprise when he’s unwillingly recruited by the now disgraced Hammond to investigate a second island filled with dinosaurs. This mysterious second island was meant to be a natural preserve for the dino-clones. Ian and a ragtag group of researchers find their already dangerous expedition to the second island becoming even more dangerous thanks to a group of hunters led by Hammond’s evil nephew, Peter. Soon tensions between the groups rise and their expedition becomes a struggle to survive from more vicious dinosaurs.

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A comparison between LOST WORLD and JURASSIC PARK is inevitable, seeing as the second novel wouldn’t even exist without the success of the first movie. This sequel feels like a cash-in. The story is a piss-poor flimsy excuse for more people to get eaten by dinosaurs. Hollow characters don’t help either. Jeff Goldblum was an annoying asshole in the first movie, but that’s who his character was. Here, he feels like he’s forcing comic relief lines and seems distracted by the big paycheck on his mind. Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn are equally as wooden. There’s also the godawful inclusion of an annoying kid character. While the first film had children in peril, those young actors were convincing in their roles and smartly written. The annoying addition of Ian’s smart-aleck, easily frightened child adds nothing but frustration to this film. A scene where she eliminates a Velicoraptor through gymnastics is beyond stupid.

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As the movie moves from set-piece to set-piece, there are a few neat moments to be had. The tone is far darker than in the original, which lends to more grisly deaths. My favorite of which being Peter Stormare’s ill-fated scumbag coming face to face with a pack of pissed off Compys (small carnivorous scavengers). These little beasties are arguably the best part of the entire film, but only pop up for a handful of scenes. The special effects bringing the dinosaurs to life somehow look less impressive than the first film, but do the job just fine. There’s still some entertainment value to be found in dinosaurs eating people, but the overlong running time (slightly longer than the first movie) drags to a crawl in the final third.

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Spielberg regarded the T-Rex as the show-stealer of the original, so it seems like he was having a blast in this sequel. More time is devoted to the T-Rex than any other dinosaur. Velociraptors are noticeably absent aside from a brief 10 minute patch of film. While the Compys are a cool new dinosaur, other fresh-faced prehistoric reptiles (including a Stegosaurus) pretty much exist for a brief minute or two and then vanish entirely. The main problem with THE LOST WORLD comes in it feeling so derivative and repetitive with an unnecessary amount of excess. In the original, a scumbag with disregard for the monster in from of him was killed by a scary-as-hell Dilophosaurus. In this sequel, that moment happens twice with Compys and a baby T-Rex. In the first, there was an exciting car chase between three people and a T-Rex. In the sequel, there’s a similar chase on foot where the amount of people running is upped purely for a higher body count. The list of scenes goes on and on. It’s almost as if Spielberg, Koepp, and Crichton tried to clone the original film with more violent sensibilities. The end result is a lackluster, overly familiar disappointment.

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More dinosaurs, bloodier deaths, and a T-Rex running through the streets of San Diego does not a good sequel make. There is some dumb fun to be found in THE LOST WORLD purely for seeing deserving dumbasses meet their doom at the jaws of dinosaurs, but a boring story and wooden protagonists make this a drag for the most part. When you’re simply counting the seconds until the movie to ends during a would-be exciting climax, there’s a serious problem with your so-called adventure. THE LOST WORLD is a middle-of-the-road monster movie when taken on its own. That doesn’t stop this sequel from being a massive disappointment when viewed after its incredible predecessor.

Grade: C

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Fantasy Horror Violence and Gore, brief Sexuality/Nudity and Language

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Directed by: Tommy Wirkola

Written by: Tommy Wirkola

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Thomas Mann, Peter Stormare & Derek Mears

When a new spin is put on timeless fairy tales, it’s usually geared for family audiences or teenagers. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is quite a different story! This is a hugely entertaining, gory, and R-rated take on a classic children’s story. Tommy Wirkola burst onto the filmmaking scene with the Nazi zombie horror-comedy DEAD SNOW. That film was a victim of being far too derivative and forced, but Wirkola has since shown significant growth in his writing and directing abilities. While it’s far from perfect (actually suffering from a reversal of a problem in DEAD SNOW), HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is more than serviceable entertainment for guys and gals who want a bloody action-packed fantasy that never takes itself too seriously.

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The movie begins like the original fairy tale with young Hansel and Gretel being abandoned by their father in a shadowy forest. The siblings are wandering lost in the woods and stumble upon a cottage made of candy. They are taken prisoner by a menacing witch and manage to slay the old hag. The film then cuts to a grown Hansel and Gretel who have gained a reputation as witch hunters for hire. The siblings are hired to investigate a series of child disappearances in the small town of Augsburg. These mysterious missing kids may have something to do with a grand plan at work that involves black magic, old secrets and more than a few bloodthirsty witches for the sibling duo to take down.

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HANSEL & GRETEL is a ton of fun. It’s not meant to be high art and more than succeeds at being a B-movie blast of over-the-top violence, impressive effects and a clever story. I enjoyed the hell out of this flick! Besides reveling in the campy nature of its silly premise, the story is actually really creative (albeit predictable in areas). Tommy Wirkola brings a lot of imagination to the table. This is boosted by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as the titular heroes. Peter Stormare briefly pops up as the town’s corrupt Sheriff and Famke Janssen is excellent in the role of the main villainess. Plenty of cool action scenes abound as well, most of which get downright messy with gore.

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WITCH HUNTERS is a massive improvement over DEAD SNOW, but Tommy Wirkola makes a mistake that’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from his 2009 Nazi zombie flick. DEAD SNOW took far too long to get into its crazy action and overstayed its welcome by a solid 20 minutes. HANSEL & GRETEL launches right into its insane ideas (not a bad thing), but comes off as way too rushed by the end. Running at under 90 minutes (credits included), HANSEL & GRETEL feels like it was a half fleshed-out feature. There’s a lot of imagination at work, but there could have been significantly more time spent in developing ideas and certain plot points fully. It almost sounds like an odd thing to complain about, but WITCH HUNTERS is about 20 minutes too short.

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Apparently, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS has received a bit of a cult following behind it (deservedly so) and there’s supposedly a sequel on the horizon. I wouldn’t mind seeing a second installment in this potential gory fairy tale franchise. This is actually a case where the sequel might be able to out-do the already solid original on every possible level, providing more time is spent on another creative screenplay that’s packed full of cool action scenes and goofy humor. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is a nice step above Wirkola’s previous horror-comedy effort aided by lots of humor, a clever story, well-shot action scenes, awesome effects, and likable characters. This is a most unusual and pleasant surprise.

Grade: B

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