SEED OF CHUCKY (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Horror Violence/Gore, Sexual Content and Language

Directed by: Don Mancini

Written by: Don Mancini

Starring: Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Billy Boyd, Redman, Hannah Spearritt, John Waters & Jason Flemyng

1998’s BRIDE OF CHUCKY delivered a refreshingly different tone in the long-running CHILD’S PLAY franchise. The follow-up to BRIDE, 2004’s SEED OF CHUCKY, cranks that over-the-top approach to already silly material up to the friggin’ extreme. SEED takes adds an ultra-meta tongue-in-cheek layer and gross-out sexual humor onto the horror-comedy execution. This results in the fifth CHUCKY flick being quite the unique beast in the series, while occasionally suffering from flaws that don’t work and pacing that drags in spots. There’s something special about a slasher flick that showcases its main killer going through domestic drama.

A big Hollywood movie is in production that features the now-animatronic Chucky (Brad Dourif) and Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly). The infamous plastic couple aren’t the only killer dolls around because Tiffany gave birth to a sharp-toothed offspring at the end of the BRIDE and that doll child is named “Shitface.” After Shitface (Billy Boyd) escapes from an evil ventriloquist (Keith-Lee Castle), he arrives at Hollywood and resurrects his parents. Desperate to inhabit human bodies, Chucky targets rapper Redman (played by Redman himself) and Tiffany eyeballs actress Jennifer Tilly (played by Tilly herself). All the while, poor biologically incorrect Shitface is searching for his gender identity (as son Glen or daughter Glenda) and winds up stuck in the middle of his dysfunctional family’s murder addiction.

SEED OF CHUCKY is the point of the franchise where CHUCKY doesn’t take itself seriously in any way, shape, or form. Sure, BRIDE OF CHUCKY was a rom-com told through a slasher lens, but it still had a semblance of continuity to it and tied itself in with the rest of the franchise. SEED is pretty unclear as to what universe this plot even takes place in, because there are mentions of the cemetery from the last movie and an amulet that was left in Shitface’s possession (somehow). That’s about all the continuity the viewer gets. SEED functions on the viewer not asking to many questions and simply sitting back to enjoy the crazy ride.

Indeed, SEED gets crazy. There’s the constant self-mocking of Jennifer Tilly in her performance as herself and the overly critical Tiffany (who looks up to Tilly as a role model and gets a rude awakening from the actress’s slutty actions). You have to commend Tilly for being willing to make fun of herself in such a ridiculous manner and SEED’s self-degradation towards her hasn’t stunted the actress’s desire to return the role of Tiffany for future roles in the series (popping up as a cameo at the end of CURSE and filling a bigger role in the upcoming CULT). Tilly arguably steals more of the show than Dourif’s expectedly entertaining vocal role of Chucky.

Speaking of which, Dourif is at his funniest as the domesticated version of Chucky. The script revels in the absurdity of placing a slasher killer into everyday family life. That’s what’s so special about the CHUCKY series as a whole. You never see Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Pinhead, or the various incarnations of Ghostface saddled with an angry wife and gender-fluid kid, or dealing with the struggles of dysfunctional family melodrama. You see all of this goofiness with Chucky. Dourif elicits lots of laughs as a result and is especially funny during a later meltdown scene. You see Chucky and Tiffany watching TV in bed together and we see Chucky taking Shitface/Glen/Glenda out on a “hunting” trip that results in one of the weirdest (yet oddly satisfying) cameos in the series. SEED is one hell of a strange slasher flick.

As newcomer Shitface/Glen/Glenda, Billy Boyd (who played Pippin in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) lends his voice to the gender-fluid doll child. Shitface’s decision of choosing between the identities of Glen or Glenda remains strangely relevant in today’s political climate of transgender people being more open, whilst also serving as a deliberate nod towards one of director Ed Wood’s best known bad films. The rest of the supporting cast features Redman mocking himself, John Waters (who’s admittedly an avid fan of the series) plays a paparazzi scumbag, Steve Lawton as Tilly’s lovestruck limo driver, and Hannah Spearritt receives one of the film’s best scenes (a confusing phone call with both Tilly and Tiffany) as Tilly’s publicist.

SEED OF CHUCKY has plenty of solid jokes, but noticeably lacks in the kill department this time around. There’s a body count of about six people and only four of those moments really stick out in memorable ways. While those notable kills are fun, they’re over quicker than expected and don’t really milk the gory fun that BRIDE celebrated. Other kills are regulated to dream sequences and a fake movie scene (featuring a cameo from Jason Flemyng for some unknown reason) and these fake deaths feel like a waste of time. Another big complaint is that SEED almost wears out its welcome around the hour mark. Many funny moments elicit laughs, but a handful of references are tired and stale. One scene (in the finale) contains both a nod to THE SHINING and a lame homage to THE MATRIX that is more stupid than funny.

SEED OF CHUCKY is easily the weirdest installment of the CHUCKY series and will likely remain that way. This slasher sequel is ultra-meta, campy beyond belief, and not meant to be taken seriously in any way, shape, or form. It suffers from dull moments, certain jokes that fall flat, and a distinct lack of great kills. However, SEED also gives us a “family life” look at a slasher killer that elicits laughter from its premise alone and revels in the absurdity. I am glad that the sixth installment (the far better-than-expected CURSE OF CHUCKY) took the series back to an effectively creepy note and established strong continuity that ties everything together, but SEED is ridiculous fun for what it’s worth.

Grade: B-

I GIVE IT A YEAR (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, Language and some Graphic Nudity

Directed by: Dan Mazer

Written by: Dan Mazer

Starring: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver & Jason Flemyng

Romantic comedies are among the most formulaic films ever made. The “will they or won’t they” dynamic has been played out a million times. 99% of these cinematic stories follow a predictable progression of events that ends in an inevitable conclusion of the two mismatched lovers confessing their love and staying together. There’s 1% of rom-coms that attempt to do something different and these are titles that stick out in the overcrowded genre. I GIVE IT A YEAR is one of these gems that sticks out. It’s not free of clichés and not every joke hits its mark, but a delightfully irreverent sense of humor and the subversion of an all-too-familiar formula make for one very entertaining comedy.

I GIVE IT A YEAR begins where most rom-coms end. Hard-working businesswoman Nat (Rose Byrne) and laid-back writer Josh (Rafe Spall) are polar opposites that have fallen head over heels for each other. After dating for only seven months, the couple decide to tie the knot…much to the disbelief of their friends and relatives. Things seem to be lovely for the newlyweds, but cracks soon begin to emerge in their relationship. The already strained marriage is further put to the test when Josh’s old flame Chloe (Anna Faris) reenters his life and Nat starts a partnership with a charismatic client (Simon Baker). Can Nat and Josh survive their first year of marriage?

I GIVE IT A YEAR mixes loads of wildly inappropriate laughs with genuine heart and (mostly) smart writing. The married couple’s struggles are shown with believably awkward humor that will make viewers laugh, cover their eyes in embarrassment, and shift uncomfortably in their seats. Think a very R-rated version of something like MEET THE PARENTS and you have a solid idea of this film’s tone. The storyline frequently cuts back to Nat and Josh in a marriage counselor’s office, which allows for lots of hilarious comedic flashbacks. These bits that would have seemed slightly disconnected in a traditional narrative flow, but they work well in this non-linear approach.

Besides having lots of great funny moments, this film also levels a degree seriousness into the struggling couple’s problems. Not every awkward moment gets a laugh (though there are still plenty of those) because the film reflects on the sadder aspects of a marriage that simply isn’t working and regrets of other (possibly better) relationships that might have been. Besides functioning as a solid rom-com, I GIVE IT A YEAR also serves as a wonderful cautionary tale about rushing into things too soon. This point is hammered on a tad too sappily during a slow 10-minute stretch in the last act, but concludes in a genuinely hilarious finale that deliberately flips rom-com conventions on their heads in unexpected ways.

As far as performances go, everyone here is hilarious and earns more than their fair share of laughs. Rose Byrne (who was great in both NEIGHBORS films) is quiet and reserved as Nat, letting awkward silences and her facial expressions speak far louder than words. Rafe Spall is convincing as a bumbling oaf who’s simply out of his league in a stressful newfound marriage. Anna Faris is refreshingly down to earth as a dorky gal and gets huge laughs when she tries/fails to get involved in a threesome. Simon Baker plays his suave businessman as an overconfident guy with a good heart. Interactions between the four main characters feel natural and these performers bounce off each other in fun ways.

On the supporting side of things, Stephen Merchant receives a few standout scenes as the worst best friend/best man ever. If nothing else, look up Merchant’s wedding scenes on YouTube to catch two of the film’s funniest bits. His delivery and shameless way of saying horrible things (without realizing they’re horrible) is simply brilliant! Also worth mentioning are Minnie Driver and Jason Flemyng as Nat’s sister and brother-in-law. Driver and Flemyng are essentially the British version of Paul Rudd and Leslie Jones in KNOCKED UP, adding great scenes of sheer animosity and beautifully summarizing how marriages work between individuals that seemingly loathe each other on the surface.

I GIVE IT A YEAR isn’t a flawless rom-com. A dull patch in the final third feels more like a formulaic obligation than a necessity, not every joke gets a big laugh, and there are still dusty clichés in the mix. However, those clichés are thrown into unexpected context that flips every predictable rom-com storyline on its head. The script is clever for the most part, the characters are fleshed out, and there are loads of laughs to be had. I was constantly cracking up and many scenes nailed their comedic timing to perfection. I GIVE IT A YEAR is a great date movie for fans of awkward humor, R-rated sex comedies, and hilariously offensive jokes.

Grade: B+

BLACK MIRROR Season 2 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

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Starring: Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson, Lenora Crichlow, Daniel Rigby, Jason Flemyng & Chloe Pirrie

Though it contained only three episodes, BLACK MIRROR’s darker-than-dark first season received enough critical acclaim and popularity to warrant a second outing. In early 2013, Brooker returned to British television screens with three more tales of insanity and futuristic technology run amok. Unlike the first season, which was a trio of greatness, this second season contains two winners and the show’s first real misfire. If you’re looking for more madness and brilliance in equal measure, then you’ll enjoy two episodes of the three. Without further ado, onto the stories themselves…

1. Be Right Back

BE RIGHT BACK: Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) are a loving couple, until Ash is killed in an accident. Desperate for closure, Martha signs up for an experimental software that allows her speak to a computerized imitation of Ash. It’s meant to be a therapeutic coping tool, but Martha soon takes this program to dangerous levels. BE RIGHT BACK is equal parts sad and scary, mostly hinging on Atwell’s performance as an emotionally distraught woman placed in a horrible scenario. As with most BLACK MIRROR episodes, you shouldn’t expect an upbeat message and positive outlook on the world. This cautionary tale’s natural progression builds tension and relies on believable emotions, both of which make up this episode’s tragic core. A

2. White Bear

WHITE BEAR: Season one’s FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS remains my favorite episode of BLACK MIRROR, but WHITE BEAR is a very close runner-up. A woman (Lenora Crichlow) wakes up with no memory and finds the world around her in a chaotic frenzy. Most of the population has been zombified by a scrambled electronic signal and masked psychos are spilling blood on the streets. WHITE BEAR begins as a derivative hodge-podge of clichés and then brilliantly becomes something else entirely. This story becomes absolutely nightmarish when realize the social commentary that Brooker was aiming for and the horrifying implications of the episode’s final minutes (keep watching through the end credits). A+

3. Waldo Moment

THE WALDO MOMENT: Every anthology series is destined to have weak episodes and WALDO MOMENT is BLACK MIRROR’s first so-so installment. This story isn’t bad, but doesn’t fit the tone of the series. Failed comedian Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby) has found success in voicing satirical cartoon bear Waldo. When his producers want to move the character forward onto a bigger show and have Waldo cover the election year, Jamie reluctantly agrees. The public goes nuts for Waldo…more so than for any of the actual politicians. I feel that the only BLACK MIRROR quality in WALDO MOMENT comes from the somewhat predictable (but still effective) ending. The rest of this story plays out like a ham-fisted political drama and is a bit too obvious in its message. Not a bad episode, but not a particularly good one either. B-

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BLACK MIRROR’s second season isn’t as strong as its first, but I say that due to one out-of-place misfire. Fans of Charlie Brooker’s insanity/brilliance are sure to be pleased with the majority of this season and may even find something to enjoy in the weakest episode. WHITE BEAR is among the very best of the series, while BE RIGHT BACK is a haunting new spin on a tragic old tale. WALDO MOMENT is only recommended for purists who won’t feel content unless they’ve seen it. Two out of three isn’t bad!

Grade: A-

TRANSPORTER 2 (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violent Action, Sexual Content, partial Nudity, and brief Language

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Directed by: Louis Leterrier

Written by: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen

Starring: Jason Statham, Alessandro Gassman, Amber Valletta, Kate Nauta, Francois Berleand, Keith David & Jason Flemyng

2002’s THE TRANSPORTER was fun, simple, and stupid popcorn entertainment. TRANSPORTER 2 is wildly over-the-top, ludicrous, and separates itself from the original in many ways. You can tell this second installment had more of a budget behind it and packs plenty of wackiness into its short running time. Though Corey Yuen did not return to direct this sequel, he did help out with the fight choreography and it shows. TRANSPORTER 2 is every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor for reasons that you might not expect.

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After relocating to Miami, Florida, Frank Martin has taken on a different kind of transporting. He’s been hired to babysit Jack, the son of a rich government official. When a trip to the doctor’s office turns into a kidnapping, Frank finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jack’s family believes that Frank took their son and the real criminal mastermind behind Jack’s kidnapping is attempting to kill the bad-ass transporter. However, we all know that Frank Martin doesn’t go down so easily. It’s time for Frank to violently rescue Jack and stop a bigger, more sinister plot before it’s too late.

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As entertaining and well-made as the action in the first TRANSPORTER was, you could tell that movie was made with the most modest of expectations in mind. The plot was a threadbare excuse to pack in as many fights, car chases and explosions as possible and it functioned purely on that adrenaline-pumping level. TRANSPORTER 2 has slightly grander aspirations and more ridiculous notions in mind. This sequel’s plot starts off relatively simple and silly, but quickly morphs into something entirely more complicated (code for even sillier) than the viewer might expect. The visuals appear slick and glossy this around, which makes for an overall better film to look at.

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Jason Statham slips right back into the role of Jason Statham…er, I mean Frank Martin with ease. You get a sense that there’s a soft side to this titular bad-ass. He doesn’t avoid impaling a goon with a table in plain view of a small child, but he genuinely cares about Jack and his family. Frank is the gruff Transporter with a heart of gold. He’s essentially a low-rent, rough around the edges 007 type without an MI-6 behind him. As far as side characters go, Hunter Clary is okay as the kid-in-distress and Amber Valletta is decent enough as his worried mother. The villains are slightly more developed this time around too. Alessandro Gassman is enjoyable evil as the foreign-accented Gianni, but the real scene-stealer is Kate Nauta’s Lola (his second-in-command). She’s a sexy villainess who enjoys being scantily clad in revealing lingerie and firing dual machine guns at anything that moves. Besides being great eye candy, Lola is also a genuine threat to Frank.

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TRANSPORTER 2 is a full-fledged action-packed extravaganza from beginning to end. Galloping at a perfectly paced 87 minutes, the film only takes brief breaks between its stylized mayhem to offer up goofy exposition. Frank Martin continues to demolish the laws of physics by driving upside down through the air to rid his car of a bomb and using a fire hose to wipe out a gang of thugs. The film occasionally becomes eye-rollingly far-fetched in smaller details like bullets that somehow fail to penetrate through a wooden door. This utter desecration of believability becomes a hilarious benefit when a CGI plane hits the ocean at full force and manages to merely continue a fight sequence between an unscathed Frank and still alive Gianni. I actually had to pause the movie because I burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter when that sequence occurred.

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If you liked the first TRANSPORTER, you’ll probably have a great time watching this preposterously plotted sequel. Co-writer Luc Besson fully embraces the ridiculously silly potential in the TRANSPORTER series with this second outing. The tone is wackier this time around and the non-Statham characters are slightly more developed. The action is far more overblown (in a good way) and the script goes into insanely dumb places (also a positive quality in a movie like this). There is no logic to be found here and its absence makes for an unabashedly silly good time! This is my favorite TRANSPORTER film!

Grade: B

STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Disturbing and Violent Images, Sexual Content and Language

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Directed by: Brad Anderson

Written by: Joe Gangemi

(based on the short story THE SYSTEM OF DOCTOR TARR AND PROFESSOR FETHER by Edgar Allan Poe)

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, Brendan Gleeson, David Thewlis, Jason Flemying & Sinead Cusack

The source material for STONEHEARST ASYLUM isn’t Edgar Allan Poe’s most renowned tale. THE SYSTEM OF DOCTOR TARR AND PROFESSOR FETHER is more like a one-note joke that’s spread out for a few pages. Not even Roger Corman (who adapted as much Poe as he could in the 1960’s) bothered to touch this material. It’s 2014, enter screenwriter Joe Gangemi and director Brad Anderson. This filmmaking team have fleshed out a darkly funny little tale into something special. Anderson, who’s been on a bit of a downward spiral with his last efforts (VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, THE CALL), has returned to cover his second creepy movie set in a huge asylum (he’s responsible for 2001’s disturbing SESSION 9). STONEHEARST ASYLUM isn’t perfect due to a couple of issues, but it’s probably my favorite of the genre crop for 2014’s Halloween season.

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The story begins on Christmas Eve 1899 at an isolated sanitarium in Britain. Edward Newgate is an up and coming doctor who only needs clinical experience to move his career forward. He chooses to gain his hands-on knowledge at the countryside Stonehearst Asylum. It is here that he meets the eccentric Dr. Lamb, who employs unorthodox methods in feeding patients delusions and letting them roam free around the asylum. Though uncomfortable with his surroundings, Edward is immediately attracted to a patient named Eliza Graves. Graves suffers from hysteria, but finds solace in music thanks to Lamb’s treatments. During his first night at the hospital, Edward discovers terrible evidence in the basement that suggests that the unusual Stonehearst staff might actually be mental patients who have taken over the Asylum (NOT a spoiler, it happens about 20 minutes into a nearly two-hour movie). Edward must keep his head low, search for clues, and use any clever ideas he has in order to get out of the hospital alive.

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STONEHEARST kicks off with quality right out of the gate in a thick fog-laden atmosphere and an eerie location. This film would be right at home in the 1960’s with Vincent Price and Boris Karloff as headliners (could you imagine how awesome that project would be?). This isn’t a detriment at all. There is plenty of style, glossy visuals, and fantastic sets (I believed this was a real location and wouldn’t be surprised if it actually was) that feels as modern as you can get in a period piece set at the end of the 19th century. The story is also compelling the whole way through. Even if it does rely on a couple of familiar clichés in a few scenes (a guy hiding in a closet while someone’s about to find him), I was hooked from start to finish.

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Besides a great atmosphere and solid story, the cast here is hugely impressive. Jim Sturgess is good as Edward Newgate and Kate Beckinsale is Eliza Graves. The relationship between the two feels a little forced (which is one of my problems with the film). They’re really not the focus here though. The script is packed with such an interesting array of characters that I found myself entranced with each individual for different reasons. Michael Caine plays a side character who doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but raises a few questions as to what kind of man he is. Jason Flemying and Brendan Gleeson also have ever-so-fleeting roles as well that leave enough of an impact to warrant their appearance. David Thewlis steals almost every scene he’s as the ironically named Mickey Finn (meaning drink laced with drug). The best performance here comes from Ben Kingsley. Silas Lamb is not a simple character by any means and Kingsley’s talent lends to the man being a complicated antagonist of sorts. Even if I didn’t agree with his actions, I saw we’re he was coming from and completely understood his motivation. Fleshed out villains offer more to chew on than someone who’s all out evil. Kingsley sells Silas as such.

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Aside from the forced romance between Sturgess and Beckinsale, the plot weaves through one twist too many. Though there’s plenty of unexpected revelations and reveals through this tale that never drags, STONEHEARST ASYLUM needed a better closing scene. I didn’t completely buy what the movie was selling me, but everything else up to that point was so awesome that it didn’t wreck or put a damper on the whole film. STONEHEARST perfectly captures madness in its various forms, which is entirely appropriate and essential given the subject matter. While the lunatics are indeed criminals, the methods being used by the staff aren’t humane either (science and medicine were far from they are today). Add to the mix that some off-centered camera angles and little details (like a cook eating a maggot off a piece of fruit) blend in perfectly to the unsettling tone of the film too.

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A forced relationship and one tiny plot twist too many are the only two flaws that keep STONEHEARST ASYLUM from being a completely ideal film. Everything else considered, this is a really solid horror flick that doesn’t rely on gore (the PG-13 rating is not a distraction here) or quick jump scares to freak out the viewer. Instead, a sophisticated sense of ever-building dread and a complicated story full of interesting characters (boasted by great performances) make this one of the best horror films I’ve sat through in 2014. Those who love Roger Corman’s Poe classics and yearn for a throwback to those films had better check themselves into STONEHEARST ASYLUM for two hours.

Grade: A-

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