Wednesday (Netflix, 2022)

Wednesday (2022, Netflix)

Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is no average teenage girl.  With her pallid complexion, black attire, matching pigtails and a personality overflowing with misanthropy, she’s every parent’s nightmare, except for Morticia and Gomez.  They love their little viper, storm cloud, etc. and would do anything for her, including keeping her out of trouble when she exacts revenge on her brother Pugsley’s high school tormentors.  When Morticia confronts her with the possibility of having attempted murder on her record, Wednesday replies, “Terrible.  Everyone would know I failed to get the job done.”  If you love droll humor, Wednesday (character and series) has plenty more where that’s coming.

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The Menu

The Menu

In the day’s twilight, a group of obnoxious super-rich types take a boat to a remote island for dinner.  This isn’t just any dinner, though.  It’s a $1,750 per head dining experience by Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes).  Among the guests are Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a couple that doesn’t quite fit.  After they arrive, they are welcomed by hostess Elsa (Hong Chau), whose every smile and glance forebodes something devious is afoot.  Then, when everyone is seated, Chef Slowik appears.  With a firm clap and a voice tinged with growing condescension, he announces a progression of courses that bring delight and unease.  Unlike the rest of the clueless patrons, Margot can tell something isn’t right.  Each course, while immaculately prepared, brings recriminations from the Chef.  Then, shockingly and unexpectedly, things turn violent.  What does Chef Slowik have planned for everyone?  Will they survive until the meal’s final course?

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Halloween Ends

In Halloween Kills (the previous entry in this series), Michael Myers escaped certain death when some unwitting firefighters rescued him from Laurie Strode’s burning home.  He then proceeded to lay waste to the entire firefighter squad without breaking a sweat.  While Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Deputy Frank (Will Patton) recovered from their injuries at the hospital, Michael made mincemeat out of a self-styled vigilante mob led by survivors of the original.  Last but not least, Michael shockingly killed Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer).  Ends picks up the story one year later.  Michael has not been seen since the prior year, and the town has shifted back towards normalcy.  (Sorry Haddonfield, IL, your town will never be “normal”.)

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Barbarian is a welcome new member of a group of horror movies that makes you think while it scares you.  This subset of the genre includes movies like Freaky, Get Out and It Follows and doesn’t have an official designation that I’m aware of. I collectively refer to them as “brainy horror”, which is lame, I know.  (Impale me on a spike if you must.)  Like those movies, Barbarian is first and foremost a top-notch horror movie, filled with scares and enough disturbing images to fuel nightmares.  It’s also incredibly devious in how it uses your familiarity with the genre to subvert your expectations at every turn.  Most importantly, it earns its place alongside the other noteworthy brainy horror movies by being a very entertaining film from beginning to end.

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The Invitation

How to make a movie about Dracula feel new, or at least new-ish?  The Invitation addresses this by telling a very familiar story about a very familiar character through the eyes of Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel), an African American toiling away in the States as a waitress.  Her job sucks and with her mother’s recent death, misses having connection to a family.  The answer to her ennui arrives when she completes a DNA test and discovers she’s actually a long-lost relative to the white-as-can-be Alexander family in England.  Her best friend Grace (Courtney Taylor) cautions her not to go, but nobody ever listens to their best friend’s advice in these movies.

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The flying saucer movie has been a staple for over seventy years.  The first movie to feature a UFO, appropriately titled The Flying Saucer, came out in 1950.  Since then, the genre has primarily been about a flying saucer, or flying saucers, showing up on Earth causing problems for hapless humans.  There have been some great ones over the years, including The Day The Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET.  However, this category of science fiction mostly exists to provide cheap thrills.  Oh no, a big-headed alien has just abducted our helpless heroine!  Send in the Army and all of its tanks, jets and men with machine guns!

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The Black Phone

Set in 1978, a child killer nicknamed The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) has been terrorizing a Colorado suburb.  Under the guise of a hapless magician, he snatches kids in broad daylight, spraying an intoxicant into their faces before cramping them into his black van.  A middle-schooler named Finney (Mason Thames) eventually becomes his target and finds himself trapped in a soundproofed basement.  When Finney is alone, a phone on the wall rings.  This is curious as the phone is disconnected.  On the other end is the voice of another boy Finney knew.  Subsequent calls are from the other boys who’ve gone missing, five in all.  Initially they give Finney advice on how to not play The Grabber’s “game”, which has been lethal for them.  They then proceed to coach him on things he can do to try to escape.

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If director Alex Garland had any sense of humor at all, he would have titled the movie “Fear and Loathing in Cotson”.  As it is, Men is about how badly men behave, particularly when they are rejected by women.  Jesse Buckley plays Harper, a woman suffering in a marriage with the violent and emotional James (Paapa Essiedu).  When she says she wants a divorce, he threatens her with committing suicide.  He figures she would prefer to stay married over having to deal with the guilt of his death, but Harper is determined.  James dies suddenly, and it’s unclear whether it was intentional or an accident.  Some time afterwards, Harper decides to take a vacation.  She rents a house in the English countryside.  Once there, Harper meets proprietor Geoffrey, an overly polite English type.  On a walk, she’s stalked by a naked man.  Shortly afterwards, she is confronted by an angry child, an oily vicar, a dismissive policeman and assorted male dullards, all played by Rory Kinnear.   (“The Many Faces of Rory Kinnear” would also have been a better title.)

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Antlers is a micro-budget horror movie that aspires to be much more meaningful than it is.  In a perpetually rainy town in Oregon, a young boy named Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas) is trying to keep his family together while his meth-cooking father is in the throes of something that is turning him into an animal.  Lucas’s teacher Julia (Keri Russell) believes that Lucas’ disheveled state and withdrawn behavior are tell-tale signs child abuse, because she was abused as a child.  Her monosyllabic brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), the town sheriff, warns her not to intervene, but you know how this will turn out.  Graham Greene cameos as former Sheriff Warren who reveals that Lucas’s father was bitten by a Wendigo, a creature based in Native American legend.  From here on out, danger signs go unheeded, people get eaten and the movie’s big confrontation wraps up surprisingly quickly.

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