It Takes Evil to Write Evil. “Shirley” reviewed! (Neon / Digital Screener)


Backdropped inside the mid-1960’s of Bennington, Vermont, famed horror fiction writer, Shirley Jackson, and her husband, Stanley Hyman, a folk literary professor at the Bennington College, welcome a young newlywed couple, Fred & Rose, in their home, but the stay isn’t for social purposes as Fred stands to be the assistant professor aiming to achieve greater success under professor Hyman and Rose becomes the happy wife whose reluctantly willing to help with household chores as the surly Shirley flounders in a writer’s rut, sour around polite company, lethargic for most of the day, and at war with her cheating husband, but Shirley finds inspiration when taking a fascination to Rose, merging her with a news story of a missing local girl that leaves Shirley entranced, catatonic, and inhibited from writing her novel. Once disdained by Rose’s very presence, Shirley exploits Rose’s eager ambitions and trustworthy attributes by befriending her as an endless flood of literary muse offerings that breathe life into Shirley’s next masterpiece.

“Shirley” is a biopic allegory of half-truths and a tale of a grim waltz between common civility and the yearning, paralyzing pursuit of opus mastering from the “Madeline’s Madeline” director, Josephine Decker. From the creator of the “I Love Dick” television series, writer, Sarah Gubbins, who adapted the screenplay from the author of “Shirley: A Novel,” Susan Scarf Merrell, provides a textural interpretation of renowned horror and mystery fiction writer Shirley Jackson during the bitter final years of her and Stanley Hyman’s unusual, yet threadbare functional, relationship. “Shirley,” in itself, is like one of Jackson’s terrifically terrifying horror stories woven together with anecdotal fragments of Shirley’s flailing existence with the new energy of a fictional young couple to drain the life from for her own benefit and is cinematically arranged the story like a perverse thriller of intellectual capitalism. The Los Angeles Media Fund (“Dark Crimes,” “The Bye Bye Man”) and the biographical drama producing powerhouse, Killer Films (“Notorious Bettie Page,” “Infamous”) serve as the production companies behind “Shirley.”

Hot off her success in the gender-dystopian television series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and in Leigh Whannell’s vision of a Universal monster classic, “The Invisible Man,” Elisabeth Moss embodies the titular role of Shirley Jackson with a fluid performance of a corkscrew soul. Moss aims to make Shirley as a detestable gorgon with nihilistic and agoraphobic intellect and a narcissistic view of her work she considers to be the holy grail. Moss is methodic and calculating in her character’s icy social skill set and floats half-seen above the water’s surface like an alligator hunting, ready to snap when a warm blooded meal doesn’t expect a thing. Shirley Jackson is only as interesting as her philandering other half, Stanley Hyman, who has a whole separate cache of quirks and callous intentions, though parading in a much more vibrant, lively, and gregarious manner. “The Shape of Water’s” Michael Sthulbarg has pitch perfect execution of Hyman’s managing tugboat who pulls and escorts this cruise liner-sized ego to port with an unorthodox show of a manipulation and affable disingenuous blend working tirelessly that ship to anchor after a long voyage on rough, stagnant seas. Fred and Rose enter like a parallelogram, a four-side rectangular where two sides pair together equally in length, of innocents wondering into a den of a pair of hungry lions. Then, the parallelogram flips and skews to form an twisted mirror of itself that has turned the sweet and loving Fred and Rose into a pair of awaken fragments of Shirley and Stanley. We don’t get to experience much of Logan Lerman as the assistant professor who shadows in Hyman’s overshadowing dominance, but we’re rather engrossed by Odessa Young’s onscreen reciprocity with Elizabeth Moss. Rose falls short of being the epitome of youthful innocence with a fast and loose shotgun marriage to Fred because of her pregnancy and her rendezvousing sexual appetite with Fred, but Rose’s delicate curiosity and naïve gives way for Shirley, Stanley, and even Fred to tread all over her. Young fully grasps Rose’s disadvantage in the viper’s pit that sizes her up for a great fall.

“Shirley” doesn’t bask in the spotlight of the biopic-ee’s celebrated work, like “The Lottery” or “The Haunting of Hill House,” even if it name drops the former; instead, Josephine Decker’s film is cut from the Susan Scarf Merrell cloth that disconnects and desensitizes intellect from moral conduct. Distinct lines are drawn between the couples Shirley and Stanley, whose dynamic teeters on alcohol, smokes, and a banter based on a fraction of love less, and Fred and Rose, who are teased with the taste of the good life, bow and scrape for the attention of their hosts. As the scrupulous infatuations begin to blur the lines and Fred and Rose become infected by Shirley and Stanley’s inceptive wicked cynicism, a metamorphosis occurs as the naïve newlyweds are now the bitterly tireless unable to cop with their shortcoming whereas Shirley and Stanley remain unaffected, if not, better off than from when they started, leeching the purity from the impressionable youngsters like a pair of scholarly vampires. Decker’s airy, dreamlike touch evokes another level of the already Freudian bombarded “Shirley” that’s laden with heavily schemed psychoanalytic foreplay and undercurrent human reaction to a string of unconventional occurrences.

Become the fly trapped in a web of deceits with “Shirley” heading to Hulu, VOD, virtual cinemas, and select drive-in movie theaters come June 5th, 2020 distributed from Neon. The rated R, 107 minutes quasi-biopic is presented a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, a digital screener doesn’t allow me to critique the A/V quality. However, composer Tamar-kali’s subdued score lingers on the right side of brooding without feeling overly dreadful and with feeling more horrifically intrusive, complimenting Shirley’s aggressive mind rape of Rose’s psyche. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor was there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Unlike the sullen, reality bending state as the titular persona, “Shirley” is an entertainingly cathartic glimpse into the worst side of erudition plagued upon those lesser informed that builds lustrous works of horror on the backs of perfidy.

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When EVIL Becomes Obsolete, Its Time for an…”Upgrade” reviewed!


In the near future where assistive technology serves as the cultural way of life, a very manual Grey Trace still clings to being self-independent while his loving wife, Asha, laps up and embraces new and innovative tech. When an fatal shooting strikes down Asha and cripples Grey to an automated wheelchair, Grey is forced into a depressive world he no longer recognizes. Desperate to find his wife’s killers, he accepts experimental computer chip implant known as STEM to send the signals from his brain to his extremities; however, that is not all STEM can do. The smart technology can also scan, record, and reactive to all of Grey’s experiences, be a voice of knowledge, and enact super human abilities that will aid in Grey’s vengeance, but without much control over his own body, how much will Grey continue to use the smart device that becomes smarter every minute.

In a cinematic age when remakes, re-imaginings, and sequels really do rule supreme, a breath of innovation and compelling storytelling in Leigh Whannell’s 2018 science fiction, action-noir “Upgrade” is a technological advance that’s feels lightyears ahead in comparison. The “Saw” and “Insidious” writer, who indulges in all of horror’s gracious qualities, tackles the future with a synergetic and brutal vengeance film on indie-budget proportions; however, “Upgrade” feels no where near being low budget in a futuristic world that includes monochromatic self-driving cars, bio-weaponized forearms and hands, and a robotic protein shake slingers for those meal replacement pick-me-ups. With the assistance from Blumhouse Tilt, a Blumhouse production sublabel that seeks to release projects onto multi-platforms, Whannell gained freedom to script, in every sense of the world, his own vision of cyborg horror and crime thriller.

Logan Marshall-Green stars as Grey Trace, an analog man living comfortably in a digital world. Trace is a dying bred as the technology ecosystem slowly creeps into all that earned by hard work, even in his small classic car restoration business. The “Prometheus” star tackles a unique physicality aspect of an action film that involves the robotic responses of hand-to-hand combat while also being the emotional punching bag of pelted heartache and turmoil. Portraying his character as a man’s man, Marshall-Green has to find humility in not only unable to self-serve himself as a cripple, but then also rely on the one thing he withdrew himself from for help….a machine. “Upgrade” primarily focuses on Trace to even having the camera affix to his character during fight sequences, but though most of the narrative is through Trace’s vindictive narrative, a cascading effect of his destruction brings one of his nemesis’s into reactive defense. Fisk, Benedict Hardie from the upcoming remake of “The Invisible Man” that’s also directed by Whannell, is a mysterious soldier of fortune whose backstory, that salivates at the tip of the tongue to be told, is only sampled at best with his cybernetic implants or why he was even chosen to be a deadly, robotic killing machine. Perhaps Fisk’s backstory, and those of his fellow veteran comrades, are another misrepresentation or the maltreatment of veterans by conglomerate, privately owned tech and weapon companies that lean more toward involuntary experimentation rather over anything else that’s an allegory of owning a person, a piece of property, as we also see with STEM attached to Grey Trace’s spinal cord. “Upgrade” rounds out with performances from Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson (“Haunt”), Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”), Kai Bradley, and Simon Maiden as the voice of STEM.

Shot in urban Melbourne that’s quasi-reflective of the gritty streets of Chicago, Leigh Whannell aimed for a fatalistic mystery that breaks down relationship barriers and sustains a punitive jurisdiction of grime. Whannell surely achieves the desired affect that goes from a classy futuristic society to the bottom barrel of human existences that have been tainted by the dark side of tech including addiction and dangers of being fully aware as a sanctioned being. “Upgrade” capitalizes on every inch of its capital to enlarge the quality of a miniature budget and utilizes local talent, who, aside from Logan Marshall-Green, never wane from their unnatural American English accents, to offer heartfelt human performances despite their mechanical transitions. “Upgrade” isn’t “Robocop” or “Nemesis,” but rather more “Terminator” where organic and inorganic don’t exactly coincide to benefit as a single entity. Unlike the autonomous killing machine portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “STEM” acts like a computer virus working off commands, coding, and complex algorithms to infiltrate and deploy executions to subverse the man over the machine and Whannell’s concept brilliantly contextualizes that dynamic without having too much exposition to divulge and is easily computed without having to be deciphered from binary code.

Coming November 18th is Second Sight Film’s limited edition Blu-ray release of “Upgrade” presented in full HD, 1080p, and clocks in at 100 minutes under a region B UK coding. Unfortunately, a screener disc was provided for review and so I will not be critiquing the video or audio quality at this time so this review is solely about the film only. A static menu including chapters were available on the disc as well as bonus features including a commentary by writer-director Leigh Whannell, a new Second Sights’ interview with the director about his envisioning and how it came to fruition, more new interviews with producer Kylie Du Fresne, cinematographer Stefan Duscio, editor Andy Canny, and fight choreographer Chris Weir. All the interviews showcase depth with the material to their respective roles and opinions about “Upgrade.” Don’t think it necessary to refer filmmaker Leigh Whannell as the “Saw” guy now that “Upgrade” has completely overshadowed the franchise in a single sitting entertained with action, gore, and a heart-rendering story. Surely to be Whannell’s break out film from the horror genre.

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Returning Home to Unroot Evil! “Insidious: The Last Key” review!


Hot off the Quinn Brenner case, parapsychologist Elise Rainier receives a phone call from Ted Garza regarding paranormal activity at his house in Four Keys, New Mexico. The location happens to be the childhood home of Elise, where her father viciously abused Elise to stop her supernatural gifts and also where her mother was brutally murdered by a fearsome and hatred-energized demon known as KeyFace. Reluctant to return where memories revel in persistent and continuous nightmares, Elise and her two eager assistances, Tucker and Specs, take the case to aid the Garza’s request for a cleanse and to conclude the haunting and scarring chapter in Elise’s life, but the demon yearns power by luring Elise back to where it all began. With the help of her brother and two nieces, Elise’s family and friends aim to be a force against pure and undiluted evil hidden in the further.

Full disclosure….Insidious: Chapters 2 and 3 is not in my well versed cache of watched movies. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmospheric hit that is James Wan’s 2011 “Insidious” film starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and the incredible Lin Shaye, but since that time, neither of the sequels have wandered into my unsystematic path. Except now. “Insidious: The Last Key” is the latest installment to the “Insidious” franchise and universe that’s directed by Adam Robitel, screenwriter of “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” and written by franchise writer Leigh Whannell. In the grand scheme of chronological viewing, catching “The Last Key” first won’t divert and confuse too much from those on a methodical storyline timeline. Robitel’s chapter is a sequel to the prequel, “Insidious: Chapter 3,” and aside from an Easter egg here and there, there’s little reference and nothing substantial bonding to the next two films that are in sequential order.

Lin Shaye returns to reprise her role as parapsychologist Elise Rainier for the fourth time, picking up her character’s telepathic shtick like it was yesterday. Shaye’s one of acting talents that just flourishes like wild fire no matter what the type of role or movie she’s in or even affiliated with. Her ability to adapt and to get down and dirty with her characters proves why we love her thespian range from bust-a-gut comedies like “There’s Something About Mary” to indie horrors like “Dead End.” The now 74-year-old actress is more red hot now than ever as Elise Rainier whose even more popularized by her co-stars, writer, Leigh Whannell and and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker, whom like Shaye have reprised their roles for a fourth time. The comedic duo lighten up the dark toned premise, offering up dad jokes and snickering hairdos to offset to jump scares and gnarly KeyFace. Spencer Locke (“Resident Evil: Extinction”), Caitlin Gerard (“Smiley”), and the original 1971 Willard, Bruce Davison, play the supporting cast of Rainiers long lost, reunited family members caught in the middle of her quest for conclusion. Rounding out the cast is Kirk Acevedo (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), Tessa Ferrer, Josh Stewart (“The Collector”), and contortionist, and Doug Jones’ Spanish rival, Javier Botet as KeyFace.

“Insidious: The Last Key” works on many positive levels: has a solid premise with Elise burning to finish the nightmare she had unleashed many years ago, subplots involving Ted Garza’s role and Elise’s abusive father, a dysfunctional family relationship between all the Rainiers, and some serious eye-popping scares throughout. The further also opens up more and becomes a vast area for exploration into all the creatures, ghosts, and demons that lurk in the otherworldly dimension, setting up future sequels and/or spinoffs. What doesn’t work as well is the rather anemic and lackluster climatic finale that took KeyFace from an extremely high frightfully monstrous pedastal, continuously building up the character to be the most powerful antagonist Elise has yet to encounter, and have the rug pulled right from under it’s horrid feet by squandering it formidability, flattening it with the single uppercut swing of a… lantern.

Adam Robitel’s “Insidious: The Last Key” finds a home on a Blu-ray plus Digital HD combo release by Sony Pictures and Universal Home Entertainment. The release is presented in high definition 1080p with a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image quality just tops out with overly spooky cool blue hue that’s gloomy, dark, and ominous, all the attributes perfect for a supernatural thriller, while managing to sharply define the details on the actors and their surroundings. The English 5.1 DTS-HD track stings where jump scares are prevalent and appropriate. Dialogue has clarity with mild ambiance supporting the localized and conventional horror audible moments while brawny LFE bursts on-screen in a bombardment of scare tactics whenever KeyFace suddenly shows face. Bonus features include an alternate ending (complete with cheesy one-liner from Lin Shaye), eight deleted scenes, a look into the “Insidious” universe, going into The Further, Lin Shaye becoming parapsychologist Elise Rainier, and a segment entitled “Meet the New Demon – Unlocking the Keys” to KeyFace. Perhaps not the epitome of the franchise, but “Insidious: The Last Key” absolutely fits into the franchise’s ever expanding universe and unlocks more of the spine-tingling backstory to one of horror’s contemporary and unremitting heroines ready to confront evil.

“Insidious: The Last Key” purchase at Amazon!

Evil Wants You to Say it’s Name! “The Bye Bye Man” review!


Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.

“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.

“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.

Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.

The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.

Say Buy to “The Bye Bye Man” at Amazon.com!

Wan Conjures Evil! The Conjuring trailer is HERE!

James Wan

James Wan

When I see the name James Wan, I think Saw and thats about all that comes to mind. But I do know of, have seen of, and have enjoyed much of Wan’s work. Dead Silence was a solid sophomore film while Insidious gave Wan a second look by not only fans but by studios as well, proof is in the Insidious sequel. Death Sentence strays away from his horror roots yet still delivers a dark and gritty atmosphere and one of my favorite Kevin Bacon movies. Also, Wan is part of the R-rated, low-budget group of filmmakers called the “Spat Pack” which has pretty much dissolved now, but this group consists of Eli Roth, Alexander Aja, Rob Zombie, Darren Lynn Bousman, Neil Marshall, Greg McLean, Robert Rodriguez, and Leigh Whannell.

Today, Wan’s latest venture has been given a trailer and was released to us. The Conjuring which tells the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who were hired to help a family against a terrorizing dark spirit in their farmhouse. Sounds simple enough, right? The trailer itself leaves a good taste in your mouth and doesn’t market itself as your run of the mill haunted house film. I, for one, am excited about The Conjuring and movies about hauntings are low on the totem poll for this guy. Lili Taylor, whom I haven’t seen in a movie since…well…1999’s remake of The Haunting, stars along side her on screen husband Ron Livingston (Office Space) and paranormal investigators played by Vera Farmiga (Orhpan) and Patrick Wilson (Insidious).

A scene from Insidious

A scene from Insidious

I’d like to say a little something about the spirit in the trailer; though too early to tell how the film will play out, the trailer makes the spirit seem playful yet personally dark. The trailer builds the suspense with long, still, and quiet scenes – which makes every scene on high tension terms.

Warner Brothers is behind James Wan and his film which is penned by Chad and Carey Hayes – the duo behind the remake of House of Wax so we have quite of bit of Vincent Price homagers behind The Conjuring. July 19th is the release date and I’m holding this film in high regard. Can’t wait! #theconjuring http://theconjuring.warnerbros.com/