Catch Keanu while it’s still in theaters

What I like about Key and Peele is their admiration for movies. They don’t just parody specific movies (see: the Gremlins 2 sketch), but sometimes they target entire types of movies at a time (see: the fun house villain sketch). Any comedy duo who casts character-actors like Clint Howard, while paying unusual attention to lighting and cinematography, aren’t just trying to prove they’re literate in movies, but they’re gunning to make movies of their own. I’m sure Keanu is only one of many to come.

Rell (Jordan Peele) has just been dumped by his girlfriend. When we first see him he’s moping beside a bong and a couple of posters for New Jack City and Heat. His best friend Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) is a suburbanite who drives around in a mini-van while listening to George Michael on repeat. Clarence is on his way to cheer Rell up, but it turns out he doesn’t need to anymore. Rell has adopted a stray kitten he calls Keanu. Now all is well in his world.

What Rell and Clarence don’t know is Keanu has just escaped from a shootout at a Mexican cartel operation. The two super-assassins responsible for the shootout are also played by Key and Peele, barely recognizable beneath the makeup effects and wigs. These guys also want the kitten, but when a local gang tries to trash the house of a dumb drug dealer (Will Forte), they accidentally target Rell’s house. Then the leader of the gang, played by Method Man, takes a liking to the kitty, too. So when Rell and Clarence go to get Keanu back, the gang mistakes them for the assassins and… well, this sounds like a routine comedy, doesn’t it?

That’s the thing: it is a routine comedy, but not the low-effort kind we’re used to today. This is the kind Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder could have starred in: a simple vehicle for complex talent. That’s how good Key and Peele are at what they do. Each time the movie starts to lose its footing on the slippery slope of situation comedy, they completely save it with their performances. There’s an unlikely scene in which the boys must perform a wall-flip in order to prove they’re the assassins who shot up the drug operation earlier in the movie. In most comedies the flip itself would be the joke. The joke here is Clarence’s face when he accidentally nails it.

So do you like Key and Peele’s TV show? If you do, then you’ll like this movie. You can say the same thing about Monty Python films, but otherwise it’s pretty rare for sketch performers to make the leap to feature length movies so well. I think it’s because most of them just see it as a promotion while Key and Peele have been grooming themselves for the position for years.

Yeah, it’s absurd to believe a street gang could ever mistake these two for bad-ass murderers and I certainly would have objected if they weren’t so funny. I usually dislike comedies that rely on such tired bullshit, but I’m not entirely sure that Key and Peele aren’t parodying that stuff, too.

Alien 3: The Assembly Cut is a very different movie

For years I’ve heard about the so-called Assembly Cut of Alien 3, but didn’t expect much from it. I wouldn’t say I hated Alien 3 (although I would certainly say that of Alien Resurrection), I just think Aliens’ version of Ripley is probably my favorite movie character in history. I don’t know why I find her so endearing, I just do. But in Alien 3 she just seems… off.

Those who claim Alien 3 was only disappointing because its critics were expecting more Aliens are missing the point. A lot of us loved the first sequel because it was so different from the original. Right out of the gate Alien 3 makes the mistake of treading the same water. It’s also important to remember Alien clones were a dime a dozen those days—something younger fans (or anyone who didn’t have 90s-era Cinemax) might not know. The whole “we’re trapped in a spaceship/military complex/prison with an alien” thing was played to death by ’92. I just think it was perfectly understandable for audiences to expect something a little fresher from a series which had yet to repeat itself at that point.

So even though the extended cut of Aliens is the definitive edition as far as I’m concerned, I never checked out The Assembly Cut. I just assumed Alien 3’s problems ran much deeper than its editing. Now that the entire Alien Anthology Blu-ray set is $25 for Amazon Prime members it’s time to check it out. (I think I paid at least that much just to get the extended cut of Aliens on plain ol’ DVD several years ago… I guess the streaming age is driving down the cost of Blu-rays and I couldn’t be happier.)

My most recent viewing of Alien 3’s theatrical cut was around twenty years ago, but I remember it well enough. The first forty minutes of The Assembly Cut feel like a completely different animal. For one, Ripley washes up on a beach after her escape pod crash lands on the penal colony known as Fury 161, although in the original she was pulled out of the wreckage itself. (The alien gestated in a dog if I recall correctly.)

Charles Dance’s character, whose best scenes were apparently cut from the previous version, is out for a stroll on the beach when he discovers Ripley’s unconscious body. I might have been opposed to the idea that Ripley hops in bed with this guy so early on, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t completely believable. It’s less about “We want you to believe these characters are suddenly in love,” and more like, “Sometimes, adults fuck.” It’s not nearly as clunky as I expected a “Ripley gets laid” scene to be. The chemistry these two characters share reminds me of Ripley’s interactions with Corporal Hicks in Aliens. That so much of it was cut from the theatrical version betrays just how bad the studio heads were gunning to show the alien as soon as possible.

There are various other improvements I don’t want to spoil. I’ll just point out the alien’s entrance is much spookier than the one we got before.

Although there were so many lame alien clones at the time, The Assembly Cut makes it clear Fincher could have made the first truly skilled knock-off. Unfortunately, the special effects suck as bad as they did in ’92 and Ripley’s reaction to learning of Newt’s death still underwhelms. I was hoping the silly crucifixion imagery at the end of the movie was gone, and although that shot is improved in a way, it’s still stupid and pretentious. Other than that, The Assembly Cut is a decent end to the trilogy.

(Which reminds me: anyone want my Alien Resurrection disc? No? Okay, I’ll just use it as a coaster.)

I beat the hell out of DOOM 2016

So how much did I like the new DOOM? I think the following image speaks for itself…

I already did my first impressions on launch day, but considering I haven’t been this obsessed with completing every single aspect of a game since Perfect Dark (that was sixteen years ago, believe it or not) I think it’s safe to say I loved this game. There really isn’t much more to say about the campaign. It’s so good it reminded me of playing Half-Life and Deus Ex for the first time. 

* * *
Now it’s time for a big but.
I thought the multiplayer was okay, but after getting around level 20, it’s basically dead to me. I didn’t get my hopes up to begin with, but I can think of several games which had better afterthought-multiplayer modes and they didn’t even need a separate company to do it. The lack of free-for-all deathmatch, however, isn’t just disappointing, it’s mind-boggling.
As for SnapMap, it seems awesome at first, but then you quickly discover its limitations. Want to make a proper DOOM map? Well, considering you’re limited to a dozen enemies, fat chance. The only way to get more enemies into the game is jumping through hoops with the (admittedly impressive) logic system. I spent a few hours trying to make a map and wasn’t at all happy with it. What I ended up submitting (in order to get the Shareware achievement) was so bad it’s embarrassing. The modular design just isn’t cutting it.
If id doesn’t open up proper modding for the new DOOM (and I’ve read more than a few persuasive arguments suggesting they won’t) I’ll more likely go back to the old games before I pick this one up again. Whatever happens though, I look forward to the sequel. What a ride.

Friendly reminder: The Nice Guys opens today

The Nice Guys review
Look, kids. This is what summer blockbusters used to look like. I like the Captain America movies as much as the next guy, but this is the film I was most hyped to see this year. 

The Nice Guys was supposed to open later this year, but Warner Bros. moved it forward to give its original date to Central Intelligence, which appears to be just another routine comedy for Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. Now The Nice Guys is opening against Neighbors 2 and The Angry Birds Movie. You can tell producer Joel Silver and the cast of the film are pissed about the scheduling. See the video below.
Ryan Gosling plays a shitty private detective who has rare bouts of intuition. Like Saul Goodman, his client list consists of confused elderly people. Russell Crowe plays a guy who beats people up for money, usually creeps, and he’s just been paid to kick Gosling’s ass. 
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how our two heroes meet. Soon they’ll discover their cases overlap, at which point they team up and scour 1970s Los Angeles for leads. Gosling’s impressionable young daughter, who might be a little smarter than her dad, tags along for the ride. She’s not incidental to the plot, either.
My favorite characters, other than the ones played by Gosling and Crowe, are Keith David and Beau Knapp’s henchmen. These nuts would have stolen the show if not for the perfectly cast leads. David is just one of those guys I love seeing in movies and his presence here makes it all the more legitimate as a throwback film. Knapp, who I’m not entirely familiar with, is a presumably coked-up idiot who has a hilariously evil laugh.
But back to Gosling and Crowe. Holy shit, what a brilliant team. This is as close as you can get to Lethal Weapon’s Gibson and Glover, and 48 Hrs.’ Murphy and Nolte. That’s not entirely serendipitous, either. Joel Silver produced both of those films and screenwriter/director Shane Black wrote all of the Lethal Weapons
We can finally forgive Black for Lethal Weapon 4. The Nice Guys more than makes up for it. I don’t think it quite lived up to the hope I had for it, but my hope was unrealistically high. It’s fast, it’s funny, and Gossling’s comedic performance dances dangerously but successfully on the edge of “taking it too far.” Seriously, I’m in awe of how close he comes to going over the top without actually doing it.
So I wouldn’t say the trailer showed the best parts of The Nice Guys, but it definitely revealed too much. It’s a shame they couldn’t have saved a few more of those moments for the picture itself. It’s worth the price of the ticket anyway. 

The Witch is available to rent

minor spoilers in the trailer… you’ve been warned

By the time I convinced myself to go see The Witch, the movie had quietly disappeared from local theaters in spite of earning more than thirty times its initial budget. I hadn’t seen any trailers. Hadn’t read much about the movie online. I just knew I wanted to see it because writers in horror magazines and blogs kept using it as a measuring stick. So when it finally turned up on VOD this week I went into it the best way possible: completely blind.

I assumed it’d probably be about a group of friends getting lost in the woods. I expected at least one scene in which the characters complain they’re not getting a cell phone signal. In other words, I wasn’t expecting much.

I wasn’t prepared for a good ol’ fashioned 17th century witch film, completely lacking in MTV editing and superficial bullshit. This is a horror movie for adults. To call it a horror movie—as if it has anything in common with shit like The Forrest or the needless Cabin Fever remake— is downright misleading.

I love movies about witches, whether there’s an actual witch or it’s just hysteria. (See: my review for Mark of the Devil.) The latter is typically much more terrifying than the former, but The Witch gives us the best of both worlds. It has as much in common with horror movies like Rosemary’s Baby as it does with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Slow but atmospheric, it builds upon the horrors experienced by a Christian family who have been forced to live in the wilderness after they’re outcast from their New England community.

And when I say “horrors,” the word alone just doesn’t do it justice.

Katherine, played by Kate Dickie (Catelyn Stark’s sister in Game of Thrones), is the mother of five children. She spends almost the entirety of the movie mourning the loss of one of those children and the grief is only going to be compounded from there on out. Dickie’s acting is subtle for the most part and believably grand when necessary. William, the father of the family, is played by Ralph Ineson (also from Game of Thrones) and he’s responsible for the sin which got his family thrown out of the village in the first place. He seems like a good man who has to do some borderline terrible things for (and to) his family. The film wisely keeps his former indiscretion vague so as not to let us pass judgment on him too early. Whereas his wife sobs herself to sleep whenever the unbelievably rough times get rougher, William quietly turns to prayer and chopping wood.

Their children include a newborn baby, boy and girl twins who spend their days playing with a goat, and Thomasin, the oldest, who doesn’t seem to be aware her younger brother Caleb is developing sexual feelings for her now that she’s becoming a woman. Because their father is a lousy hunter, Caleb and Thomasin secretly decide to go hunting one night despite the trouble they’ll get into when they return. It’s then they stumble upon the witch’s hut, which isn’t far from their own home, and I wouldn’t dream of telling you what happens next. Just know it’s pretty fucked up.

Hell, the entire movie is pretty fucked up.

My favorite thing about The Witch, which has plenty to like anyway, is the writing itself seems possessed by demons. Going off the rails usually isn’t a good thing and you have to be an extremely talented writer to hang on when you do. I just get this feeling that first time director Robert Eggers felt himself veering dangerously off course, but instead of correcting himself, he said “fuck it” and turned off of the intended road as hard as he could.

The unpredictability of the film, and the ease at which it subverts our expectations, isn’t contrived in the least and there’s never a “gotcha!” moment. When Eggers finished the script he probably surprised himself as much as he surprises us. It’s frustrating to think so much of the intended market isn’t getting it while the moviegoers who would appreciate it the most are probably dismissing it as “just another horror film.” Nonetheless, I have no doubt this will be a movie horror circles talk about for decades.

I can’t imagine there being a better horror film this year. (We’ve been getting so many good ones lately, though.)

Godzilla Resurgence trailer

I know I said I was done watching movie trailers, but come on, it’s friggin’ Godzilla.
So it’s an all-new Toho reboot, which means we’ll (probably) have two concurrent franchises for the next few years. I haven’t seen a proper Toho version since Godzilla 2000 and I had no idea there have been five of ’em since then. Then again, these movies have a tendency to blur together sometimes.