"Incarnate" is the latest from horror factory Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind the "Saw" and "Purge" franchises. I shared my screening with only one other person, an older gentleman who fell asleep about a third of the way through then left before it ended. I wonder which of us enjoyed the movie less. This is a ninety minute eye roll with fewer scares than I have fingers to a hand and hokey "thrills" more deserving of a Direct-to-DVD bargain bin than the big screen. It is so limp and lifeless a film that I can't muster up the give-a-damn to hate it. It has all the impact of wind broken on an elevator: deeply unpleasant but forgotten the moment the doors open and you go about your day.

The premise is familiar. A powerful demon possesses 11-year old Cameron and the Vatican consults Dr. Seth Ember to give it the boot. But in a twist on the typical formula, Ember is not a priest but a man of science. His work is eviction, not exorcism! Demons aren't hellspawn, they're just like any ol' malignant parasitic energy! Rather than compelling the demon with crucifixes and holy water and all that religious mumbo-jumbo, Ember evicts from within by using his aura to "dive" into the victim's mind - you know, with science! - where he punches the demon in the face while he convinces the possessed to reject the demon by jumping through a window.

An updated formula is still a formula though, and despite the pseudoscientific additions there are no surprises as "Incarnate" explains the convoluted logic and arbitrary rules of its poorly conceived "Inception" knockoff over pages and pages of clumsy exposition that both bore and hint at every plot twist and dramatic turn in painfully obvious ways. I may not be able to articulate why Ember's "dives" can only last eight minutes, but I sure as hell knew how the movie would end within twenty.

On the subject of the script, it's amazing to see talented actors struggle with such miserable material. The writing is incredibly bad. Conversations consist of a series of escalating clichés delivered with all the dramatic nuance of an afternoon soap. "That's why I'm the only chance you've got." "I'm the one she wants!" and so forth, endlessly. I actually made a game of guessing a characters' next line. It was a depressingly easy game to win.

I'm willing to give the cast a pass on their performances because the characters aren't written as flesh-and-blood humans. The actors are never given an opportunity to explore their characters beyond a single defining trait or part. Take Ember. He clearly had a falling out with the Catholic Church at some point and more importantly has personal beef with the demon possessing Cameron. But he is written as a generic gruff badass who never shows vulnerability, so Eckhart grunts and grumbles his way into through a bland performance. Mazouz, whose work on "Gotham" is quite good, plays the stereotypical possessed child. He does exactly the things you'd expect and nothing you wouldn't. Boring. "Game of Thrones" veteran Carice van Houten plays Cameron's mother and is reduced to staring at a screen saying very worried-sounding things. Ugh.

At one point "Incarnate" winks at itself, joking that it avoids the spinning heads and vomit that are so typical of the genre. But in directly referencing "The Exorcist," the film drives home how lessor a copy it is, stripped of compelling themes like loss of self, faith and doubt. It portrays possession through digitally-deepened voices and red contact lenses, positively G-rated compared to Regan MacNeil's shocking transformation. Exorcism itself - sorry, eviction - is reduced to a couple of lame action sequences; there is nothing as compelling as the deeply personal struggles of Fathers Merrin and Karras. It's not even scary! I counted a total of three jump scares that were so telegraphed I actually become annoyed waiting for them to hit.

Well, it got my six bucks anyway. After the credits rolled, I processed the movie over pizza and decided to compare my notes with a few reviews by professional critics. The first one I pulled up suggested that a sequel could be really good. As I read, a chill ran down my spine.

Finally, "Incarnate" managed a scare.

Score: 1.5/5

'Twas the month of ol' Christmas and all through the cines,
Twelve* new releases for twelve bucks plus pennies.
The posters were hung by box office with care,
In hopes that some patrons would spend their cash there.

The audience nestled all snug in their seats,
snacking on popcorn and sodas and treats.
While my wife and her husband, your blogger most true,
Wracked brains over choices like which movies to do.

From YouTube the trailers arose with such clatter,
now posted below with my thoughts on the matter.
Watch and enjoy them, maybe comment below
Then it's off to the pictures to enjoy a show!

*As always this covers films nationwide only,
Poor limited-screen runs will likely feel lonely.
But frankly those movies are too hard to track,
So get off my back, man, and cut me some slack!

In Theaters Dec 2


At a Glance: When professionals fail to expel the demon possessing her 11-year old son, a mother turns to an unconventional exorcist who plans to enter his mind and face the evil there.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: Nothing says "happy holidays" quite like a ho-ho-horrible horror movie! If  "The Exorcist" and "Inception" had a shitty, unlovable baby, this would be it. I'll probably still check it out because it has Baby Bruce from "Gotham" and Two-Face from the Nolan Batman films because of my weird fan loyalty to all things Batman. I really like Batman.

In Theaters Dec 9

Office Christmas Party

At a Glance: To save their failing branch, two managers plan to impress a must-land client with an epic office party that, of course, spirals out of control.

Why I'm (Sorta Kinda) Excited: Did you see last year's "Sisters?" It was a pretty standard but entertaining house party movie that also came out around Christmas. Swap the house for an office and this looks like the same thing. More of the same may not be high art but it isn't the worst way to spend ninety minutes. Besides, the cast looks good, I guess.

Miss Sloane

At a Glance: This political thriller pits Elizabeth Sloane, a determined and successful lobbyist, against her most dangerous foe in a battle over gun control legislation.

Why I'm Excited: "Miss Sloane" released a few weeks ago in New York and Los Angeles to generally positive reviews, but Jessica Chastain's performance has received near universal praise. As an added bonus, the movie is enraging gun nuts by merely existing. A game: can you guess which of these zero or half star audience reviewers actually watched the movie? Hint: Probably none!

Nocturnal Animals

At a Glance: A woman receives a manuscript from her long-divorced ex-husband. As she reads the dark and violent novel, she finds herself again confronting their troubled relationship.

Why I'm Excited: This looks like everything I wanted "The Girl on the Train" to be and has a killer cast to boot. Like "Miss Sloane," this got a head start release in NY/LA and has gotten pretty positive reception. I haven't seen a good thriller in theaters since "10 Cloverfield Lane" in March. I'd love for this to break the dry spell.

In Theaters Dec 16

Collateral Beauty

At a Glance: A man grapples with his daughter's tragic death by writing letters to Love, Time, and Death, each of whom answer in person to help him again find meaning.

Why I'm (Naively) Excited: Okay, the trailer plays out like an Oscar-bait version of Scrooge's three ghastly visitors but I admit that it struck a chord with me. That said, despite the phenomenal cast and the director's reasonably solid track record, screenwriter Allan Loeb's filmography can be charitably described as terrible. Mixed signals clouding my judgement on this one.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

At a Glance: Bridging the original and prequel "Star Wars" trilogies, "Rogue One" tells the story of the band of rebels tasked with stealing the plans for the Empire's planet-killing superweapon, the Death Star.

Why I'm (Super Hella) Excited: You're kidding, right? It's a damn "Star Wars" movie. I don't care that there were massive reshoots and rewrites that culminated in an entirely new ending. I don't care that Disney executives were afraid that the movie didn't fit the tone of the franchise. I don't care that idiot losers are pooping themselves online that everything is ruined due to its female protagonist. It's "Star Wars." Day one, nerds.

La La Land

At a Glance: Chasing their dreams in Los Angeles, an aspiring actress and a down-on-his-luck musician meet and fall in love in this homage to the big musicals of old.

Why I'm (Singing I'm So) Excited: Damien Chazelle, the creative mind behind "La La Land," is also responsible for one of my favorite films of 2014: "Whiplash." This has been making the film festival circuit all year and to say the critical reception has been positive would be understatement - raving is probably closer to the mark. This will be a contender when Academy Award voting starts.

In Theaters December 21

Assassin's Creed

At a Glance: A condemned criminal is plucked from death row by a mysterious corporation and forced to participate in an experiment that lets him relive the memories of his ancestor, an Assassin locked in battle against the Templars during the Spanish Inquisition.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: I enjoy the Assassin's Creed games despite the ridiculous premise that you inherit your ancestor's memories through DNA. Even so, this is a video game movie and our first rule is "Never Get Excited About A Video Game Movie." Low expectations can only be met or surpassed!


At a Glance: A ship transporting thousands of colonists to a distant world malfunctions, waking two of the passengers 90 years early.

Why I'm Excited: I love small cast films, and I love the isolating things-aren't-what-they-seem premise that seems to be displayed in the trailer, though I am concerned that the trailer lays too many story beats out.


At a Glance: A koala hosts a singing competition hoping to save his failing theater, drawing entrants who seek to live their dreams and escape from disappointing lives.

Why I'm Excited: "Song Covers: The Movie" may not break any new ground but I trust Illumination Entertainment to deliver warm, family-friendly holiday fare. This is the only animated feature coming out this month and given the studio's track record it's probably safe to say this will be somewhere between fine and good.

In Theaters December 23

Why Him?

At a Glance: A father becomes locked in a holiday rivalry with his daughter's wild boyfriend.

Why I'm Excited: The trailers just don't do anything for me. The humor seems obvious and easy. However! I'm going to keep an open mind because the director, who also did work on the screenplay, is responsible for writing some pretty good comedies like "Meet the Parents" and "I Love You, Man." Trailers are edited separately from movies (hence our refrain to always judge a movie yourself: "Trailers Lie") so I'm hoping for a Christmas miracle.

In Theaters December 25


At a Glance: Based on the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning drama, "Fences" revolves around an African-American man raising his family against the backdrop of 1950s race relations.

Why I'm Excited: There's a lot working in "Fences" favor. The award-winning play's author returned to adapt the film to screen and the film is bolstered by a proven cast in Denzel Washington (also directing) and Viola Davis. Since it's early screenings, "Fences" has gotten a lot of critical attention, nominated for best picture/film at both the Critic's Choice and Satellite Awards. Like "La La Land," expect this to pop again when Oscar nominations are announced next month.

And that's it for 2016! What a year! What are you most excited to see this month?

On the way to the car after our screening of "The Girl on the Train," I peppered my wife, a fan of the novel, with questions. Not about differences between the book and the film, but about how the book had made her feel. What was the its tone? Its most shocking moments? Was it page turner or a slow simmer? I asked because, leaving the theater without the benefit of my own read-through, I had no idea what kind of movie "The Girl on the Train" was supposed to be. Whatever the marketing positioned it as - a "Gone Girl"-like edge-of-your-seat thriller, a twisty-turny whodunit - it isn't. "The Girl on the Train" meanders, weightless, never able to conjure the atmosphere or tension that engrossed readers.

It's not the source's fault. From what I gleaned while interrogating my poor wife, Paula Hawkins' novel is suspenseful and compelling, a missing-person mystery that unfolds through the competing perspectives of the three women tangled together at its center. Rachel, lost in a self-destructive spiral brought on by her now ex-husband's affairs. She relives her old life in pantomime, faithfully taking the train to and from the job she lost a year ago, when the drinking got too bad. She sucks down vodka until the day ends in blackout.

As the days tick by on her aimless commute, Rachel becomes fixated on a young woman, scenes from whose seemingly perfect love life voyeuristic-ally play out from windows and balconies. Broken and obsessed, Rachel invents entire lives for these strangers, naming them and telling herself stories about their perfect happiness together. In a cruel twist of fate, just a few doors down lives Anna, the woman who replaced Rachel in the home she once called hers, married to the man she never got over.

Rachel's dysfunction passes for normal until, to her horror, she spies her mystery woman making love to another man. Her fantasies shattered, wounded by the sting of her own rejection, and thoroughly intoxicated, Rachel decides to confront her but blacks out. She awakens the next morning, bloodied, to find that the woman - Megan - is missing. It's a great set up for a better film than is delivered here. The problem is all in the execution.

Like the book, the film jumps around in time and between the three woman to slowly reveal each piece of the lie-ridden puzzle connecting these characters. Independently, each scene is (more or less) competently constructed but the whole is directionless, structured with no sense of dramatic tension. What are presumably meant as big revelations seem barely shrug worthy. It's a thriller! You should not be asking yourself if you're supposed to be surprised!

Perhaps part of the problem is a lack of rising stakes. Emily Blunt's performance as the deeply disturbed and pitiable Rachel is fantastic (she's rightly been praised in even the most negative reviews), but the character almost never feels threatened. For example, detectives pop up a few times to accuse Rachel of murder and then vanish until the end of the film. The noose never feels like it's tightening; she's never really in danger of prison. Contrast that with Ben Affleck's character in "Gone Girl." Suspicion had consequences. Here it doesn't.

Without the atmosphere or tension of a solid thriller, "The Girl on the Train" is left with drama between its characters. It's hit or miss. Depictions of Rachel's interactions with her ex-husband or his new wife border on stalking and are the strongest, while a side plot involving Rachel and Megan's husband stretches belief. Most of the characters are one-note; their scenes focus on their singular traits on repeat. Anna doesn't trust Rachel. Megan is a troubled sex-fiend. 

"The Girl on the Train" does eventually find its legs near the end, but it's too little too late, managing to be surprising but not very satisfying by the time the credits start to roll. Ironically, the credits are where I got my first and only real shock - that Danny Elfman had composed the film's excellent and very un-Elfman-like score. 

I wanted to like "The Girl on the Train" more than I did. Maybe it fell victim to its own marketing. Maybe my expectations were off. In the end, "The Girl on the Train" may be a good example for those who believe in reading books before seeing their adaptations. The film is not a successful edge-of-your-seat thriller, but fans of the book may not care. Unlike me, they'll know what the twists are and when they're coming and hey, there's something to be said for anticipation. 

Score: 2.5/5

Welcome to the trailer round-up, where we do a quick run-down of each nationwide release hitting theaters and jump to ill-founded conclusions based entirely on their trailers, production news, and cast/crew! Always remember that trailers lie and are rarely indicative of a film's quality, so don't let anything said here stop you from seeing a movie - I certainly won't!

It's the start of Oscar season so you bet your ninny we've got novel adaptations and biopics! This month we have twelve films to preview.

In Theaters October 7

The Girl on the Train

At a Glance: Rachel Watson, life shattered by a messy divorce, finds comfort in alcohol and fantasies about a couple she sees from the train. After a night of heavy drinking, Rachel awakens to learn that the mystery woman has gone missing and that she is the prime suspect.

Why I'm Excited: This is basically "Gone Girl, Gone Harder" right? I liked that movie back in 2014, maybe I'll still like it in 2016! But seriously, reviews have started to come in and this movie is splitting critics with audiences reacting a little more favorably. I've avoided most of the new trailers and all reviews so I can give this a fair shake.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

At a Glance: Another adaptation! Rafe is the new kid in school, and quickly finds that his imagination and personality clash with the rigid, rules-oriented principal. After his cherished sketch book is destroyed, Rafe and friends plan an operation to break every school rule and get back at the overbearing faculty.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: Maybe it's the way the trailer is cut, but this seems like a C-tier Disney Channel Original movie. I freely admit that as a former middle school teacher I may be biased.

The Birth of a Nation

At a Glance: "The Birth of a Nation" is based on the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who became the leader of an armed slave rebellion in 1831.

Why I'm (Conflicted-ly) Excited: I've had this on my radar since it wowed the Sundance Film Festival in January. "The Birth of a Nation" grapples with a dark and powerful chapter of America's history, but at this point is impossible to see without consideration of director and star Nate Parker's own past. His recent inartful response to questions about a resurfaced 1999 rape charge (of which he was acquitted) has sparked backlash and put a cloud over the film's portrayal of a violent sexual assault. Co-star Gabrielle Union, herself a victim of sexual assault, wrote a thoughtful column in which she discusses the allegations but describes the film and the conversation around it as important. In that spirit, I'd like to see it, but it will be harder than usual to separate art from artist.

In Theaters October 14

The Accountant

At a Glance: There's not much plot to be gleaned from the trailer, so here's what IMDB says: "As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise."

Why I'm Excited: The cast, mostly. The trailer avoids spelling the story out, so let's turn to IMDB to make some educated guesses. The director has made some great movies, but the writer has two previous writing credits, both duds, one of which was described by a critic as "obvious Oscar bait" (maybe not his fault; a terrible movie could have a great script). Still, it is the start of Oscar fishing season. I'm holding out hope that this is more.

Max Steel

At a Glance: The first in a coming flood of post-"Lego Movie" toy-to-film adaptations, "Max Steel" follows the adventures of ordinary teen Max as he learns to use his amazing powers with the help of his robot friend Steel.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: You watched the trailer, right? This is a phase one Marvel movie if those were dull, colorless, and lacked a beloved franchise anchor. Uninspired. Generic. Boring. Were the people really clamoring for this?


At a Glance: A group of migrants illegally crossing the United States border are hunted by a murderous vigilante.

Por Eso Que Estoy Excitado: This is nakedly political horror and I love it. The trailer is really well cut, though the movie itself has gotten mixed reviews over its international run. Please note, this is a Mexican film and may only be available in limited release.

In Theaters October 21

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

At a Glance: Jack Reacher returns to unravel a conspiracy inside the government after this former unit leader is charged with treason.

Why I'm Excited:  Reacher is the clear second stringer to Tom Cruise's other, bigger, better franchise, "Mission: Impossible," but still could deliver enough to be worth the price of admission. Cruise may be bat-shit crazy but he's also America's Action Star, undeniably talented and a blast to watch on screen.

Keeping  Up With the Joneses

At a Glance: Jeff and Karen Gaffney are an average suburban couple thrown into the middle of a battle of spies when their new neighbors, the Joneses, turn out to be more than they seem.

Why I'm (Not) Excited:  The trailer covers a lot of ground, none of which feels particularly new or inspired; I've seen it called a cross between "Date Night" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." The cast is good and director Greg Motolla's previous work has been solid ("Superbad," "Adventureland"). Still, comedies are very hit-or-miss and keeping expectations low has historically served me well.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

At a Glance: ::holding a flashlight to face:: A long time ago, in 2014, a film called "Ouija" terrified audiences everywhere with it's shocking twist ending: the realization that they had spent real money to see bad garbage. Two years and $100 million dollars later, it returns to again steal cash from unsuspecting movie-goers who should really know better! OooooOOOOOoooOOOoooohhh!!!

Why I'm (Twist Incoming) Excited: Okay I'm not actually excited, but "Ouija: Origin of Evil" has had a much more stable production history than it's predecessor. The original suffered from problems with its financing, production studios backing out and then rejoining, and the original cut of the film screened so poorly that according to star Olivia Cooke more than half the film was completely re-written and re-shot. There's zero chance this is nearly as bad as that mess.

Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween

At a Glance: Tyler Perry's Madea 9: Ninety Minutes of References to Other, Better Movies

Why I'm (Spookily Not) Excited: Trailers are often guilty of showing a movie's funniest moments. Is this the best of "Boo?" What a depressing thought. They show the same joke twice (punching the clown) and I groaned aloud at the "Saw" reference. But hey, these movies are cheap to make and easily make at least $50 million a pop, so what do I know?

In Theaters October 28


At a Glance: The third film adaptation of Dan Brown's Langdon series, "Inferno" stars Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon, who awakens in a hospital with no memories of a heist he appears to have carried out. As Langdon hunts for clues to unlock the truth, he finds himself on the heels of a global threat.

Why I'm Ambivalent: These movies are popular but I haven't seen any of them. Trailer looks silly in a goofy fun, "National Treasure" sort of way.

American Pastoral

At a Glance: A middle class family is torn apart as their daughter embraces violent political radicalism in the 1960s. This is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Philip Roth and is star Ewan McGregor's directorial debut.

Why I'm Excited: Of all the trailers in this month's round-up, this is probably my favorite. It's very well put together. I hadn't heard of this before and now I'm definitely intrigued. That said, early reviews have not been great; the film has a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes with 8 reviews. But as always, we end our round-up with optimism! Only 8 reviews means there's room for that score to go up, up, UP!

Thanks for checking out this month's movie preview! What are you most looking forward to seeing this October? Sound off in the comments!

There is a character in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" who can bring toys to life and reanimate the dead. The effect is temporary and a crude imitation of life, magical puppetry by which a shell can serve a purpose before disappearing without consequence. I enjoyed my time with Miss Peregrine and her students, but I can't shake the feeling that they (and because so the film itself) are similarly superficial - fantastical and weird but singularly defined by peculiarity to the point of having no meaningful character at all. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Jake, a perfectly ordinary (or is he?) teen who once dreamt of exploring the world but now stocks shelves in a bland Floridian suburb is thrown into emotional crisis after the sudden, violent death of his grandfather, whose stories about a Miss Peregrine's home for incredible children and the monsters that hunted them seem to be wrecking havoc on his psyche. His psychiatrist suggests that a trip to the children's home may help Jack separate fact from fiction and give him closure, so it's off to Wales with Jake and his distant dad, who sees in Jake's journey an opportunity for a vacation of his own.

There Jake is disappointed to find Miss Peregrine's children's home destroyed, the victim of Nazi bombs dropped long ago. But as he explores the ruins, he finds himself being watched by none other than the supposedly long-dead children from his grandfather's stories. These are the peculiars, children with gifts that range from the amazing (starting fire with a touch) and the bizarre (a boy with bees living inside him) to the useless (one boy can project his dreams through his eye for others to see). Think of them as an assortment of the X-Men's C-team backbenchers. They haven't aged a day - and can't - because they live in a time loop courtesy of Miss Peregrine, the pipe-smoking, no-nonsense matron whose powers of time manipulation have safely sealed them away in a single, endlessly repeating day in 1943, a necessary precaution to protect them from the monstrous hollows, grotesque science experiments gone wrong who prey on the eyes of peculiars.

You might wonder at how these children would handle such isolating conditions or the prospect of an unchanging, futureless eternity. I certainly did; it's a necessary but steep sacrifice for basic safety. But aside from one or two lines, "Miss Peregrine's" backs away from this entirely. This may seem a nit-picky complaint about a children's movie, but the film consistently puts interesting or difficult issues on the table and then ignores them completely. Take as another example the strained relationship between Jake and his father (perhaps mirroring that shared by his father and grandfather), highlighted throughout the first half of the film and then abruptly discarded when his father simply disappears from the movie. No growth. No lessons learned. Just gone. The film is ripe for some (any) emotional development, and especially as a PG-13 it's fair to expect exploration of some (or any) of the issues it puts on the table.

But as I said, I did enjoy the movie. At least on its surface, "Miss Peregrine's" is a colorful and fun adventure. I smiled more than a few times and found myself chuckling each time Bronwyn, the diminutive strong-girl of the group, pushed the bigger boys out of the way to get a job done right. It won't matter to kids that most of these characters are paper thin, or that relationships develop not organically on-screen but because the script demands it. But it could have meant more, and that's frustrating.

I'd be remiss not to mention a few stand-out performances. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is a delight; the character's brilliantly realized, from her costume and wild blue-streaked hair to the quiet fury in any one of Green's glares; this is not a lady to mess with. Asa Butterfield's resolutely boring Jake is clearly batting above his average next to Elle Purnell, who ironically imbues light-as-air Emma Bloom with the most weighty performance of any character. And of course, the always wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, whose villainous Dr. Barron has a blast as he chews through scenery, although there is something a icky about the only black character playing the role of threatening menace to a group of innocent white children, especially in light of director Tim Burton's incredibly tone deaf comments on the subject.

All in all, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is a perfectly entertaining family adventure well-timed for the Halloween season. Younger viewers will love the fantastic world as imagined by Burton (he's very much in his wheelhouse) and there are enough thrills to keep older viewers engaged. It isn't deep or moving, but sometimes all you need is fun.

Score: 3.5/5

October is hands down my favorite month. Everything is better once it arrives. It's nicer outside; here in South Carolina, the blistering heat of the south-eastern summer fades into comfortable, crisp cool. Trees blaze with color as they go dormant. The grass crunches under your step; it's a good sound. There's better entertainment, too. On television, your favorite shows are back for new seasons and football is in full swing. In theaters, the forgettable grey smear of the summer dump months gives way to fun, big-budget blockbusters and Oscar contenders. October owns, plain and simple.

Such an excellent month, especially one that ends with a holiday as excellent as Halloween, deserves celebration. I'm sure many of you have pre-Halloween traditions. This year, I'd like to invite you to join our family in ours: Shocktober! Shocktober is a 31-day marathon of spooky (and not so spooky but thematically appropriate) movies, carefully curated to offer a selection that spans decades and cuts across genres to deliver something for everyone. This is our third Shocktober. Even if we don't quite make it to 31 movies, we always have a blast doing this.

Below you'll find our 2016 schedule, complete with notes on where you can stream most of the titles. Details on where you can find digital rentals of each title are available on my super OCD Shocktober spreadsheet, linked here. If you want to participate but are looking to avoid spending any dollars, you can always use sites like Just Watch to find streaming substitutes. Have fun and make this your own!

The Super Spooky 2016 Shocktober Schedule

1 - The Exorcist, 1973 (Netflix)
2 - Tucker and Dale vs Evil, 2010 (Netflix, Hulu)
3 - The Cabin in the Woods, 2012 (Digital Rental)
4 - Carrie, 1976 (Hulu, Amazon Prime)
5 - An American Werewolf in London, 1981 (Amazon Prime)
6 - Plan 9 From Outer Space, 1959 (Hulu)
7 - 28 Days Later, 2002 (HBO Streaming) 
8 - Spring, 2015 (Amazon Prime)
9 - The Monster Squad, 1987 (Digital Rental)
10 - Poltergeist, 1982 (Digital Rental)
11 - Jaws, 1975 (Netflix)
12 - Fido, 2006 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
13 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2007 (Netflix)
14 - Rosemary's Baby, 1968 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
15 - Let the Right One In, 2008 (Amazon Prime)
16 - Housebound, 2014 (Netflix)
17 - The Birds, 1963 (Digital Rental)
18 - Shaun of the Dead, 2004 (Digital Rental)
19 - The Omen, 1976 (Netflix)
20 - Goosebumps, 2015 (Netflix)
21 - Honeymoon, 2014 (Netflix)
22 - It Follows, 2015 (Digital Rental or Amazon with Showtime 7-Day Trial)
23 - The Amityville Horror, 1979 (Hulu)
24 - The Thing, 1982 (Digital Rental)
25 - The Babadook, 2015 (Netflix)
26 - Silence of the Lambs, 1991 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
27 - Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975 (Digital Rental)
28 - Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981 (Digital Rental)
29 - The Witch, 2016 (Amazon Prime)
30 - Halloween, 1978 (Digital Rental)
31 - Hocus Pocus, 1993 (9p on Freeform, or HBO Streaming) 

Will you be doing your own Shocktober? Do you have any fun Halloween movie traditions? Share in the comments below!
As I've fallen in love with film over the past few years, I've found my theatrical viewing history increasingly the subject of scrutiny and a source of controversy by the proverbial workplace water cooler. When you have the misfortune of being the designated "movie guy" in a circle, there's an apparent expectation that you've seen most of everyone else's favorite movies, which can make things awkward when an obvious reference goes sailing over your head. As an example, a coworker chastised me daily for nearly two years after learning I hadn't seen "Office Space" (I still haven't!).

For reasons I can't fully explain, I just didn't watch a lot of movies until a few years ago, so there's a lot I've missed. In fact, I started this blog to chronicle my "continuing adventure...to watch every movie," a tagline which implies there's a lot I haven't seen. Even so, I admit that my big-screen transgressions are particularly egregious. I dread the question "have you seen...?" The answer is inevitably no, leading to a lengthy sermon on how serious my sin is and how and when to make amends.

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem: I have many. And so, gentle reader, I present to you before the eyes of God and Man my first film confession: the thirteen movies I'm most embarrassed to admit having missed, presented in no particular order. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned...


The Godfather
Not really the father I had in mind, but beggars can't be choosers. I've never seen any of the films in this Oscar-winning franchise, but that doesn't stop me from referencing them on a regular basis! I wonder which is the greater sin: missing this or pretending I didn't?


The Breakfast Club
I assume this is a movie about students who learn to respect their differences by discussing their very different morning meal choices. At the end, they share some bacon that is so delicious one kid fist pumps.


This is a symbolic entry that represents the total void that is my horror movie education. Other contenders for this list: Hitchcock's "Psycho" and "The Exorcist." If it's spooky, it was probably 2spooky4me until very recently.


Saving Private Ryan
It's Spielberg, so I'm sure nothing bad happens to anyone in this feel-good flick about a group of plucky soldiers in World War 2. I'm thinking M.A.S.H. but in France. But seriously, when this came out teenage-me was turned off by the hyper-realistic gore that seemed at the time to be its most popular characteristic. It went on to win a ton of awards, but I've never gotten around to revisiting that initial impression.


The NeverEnding Story
I'm not afraid of commitment, but I've never heard anyone describe an enjoyable experience as "never-ending."


Terminator 2: Judgement Day
One of two James Cameron action flicks I could have included (the other being "Aliens"), this is supposed to be one of the greatest action movies of all time. I wouldn't know!


The Shawshank Redemption
I know nothing about this movie, so based on this picture: A little league coach goes to jail after trying to bribe county officials to benefit his team. He befriends the warden and leads the prison softball team, the Shawshanks, to victory.


My wife loves "Clueless," but every time it's on I walk in when some girl is trying to hook up with her step-brother. Maybe it's an indie/art-house film that I just don't get.


Die Hard
Dissertations can be written over whether this is a great Christmas movie or just a great action movie. Those papers will not be written by me. Yippee ki wha..?


After a local boxing champion murders his girlfriend, Rocky punches his way through the ranks in match after match, seeking revenge. After each bout, fueled by bloodlust, he screams her name: "ADRIAN!"

Pulp Fiction
Really, most of Tarantino's films could have gone here. The only ones I've seen are "Kill Bill" and "The Hateful Eight." See those guns? They're pointing at me, and for this, I deserve it.


This might be the original movie people gave me hell for missing. In grade school, this was almost every guy's favorite movie. The idea that anyone hadn't seen it was completely foreign. Well, they may have taken my lunch money, but they never took my freedoooom (to continue not seeing this movie).


Forrest Gump
That's right, I've never seen Forrest run or heard his chocolates-themed philosophy on life.

- - - 

So there you have it, the thirteen most shameful films absent from my movie-watching resumé, bringing this confession to a close. But are you blameless? What movies are you shamed for missing? Confess and seek absolution in the comments below!

Do Donald Trump's sinking poll numbers have you down? Are you a Bernie-or-Buster feeling blue? Are you sick and tired of hearing about her damn e-mails? Why not escape from the partisan bickering of the political theater and settle into the warm, popcorn-scented dark your local film theater to enjoy one or more of these fine* pictures? These are the movies coming soon to a big screen near you!
*Movies not guaranteed to be fine, may in fact thoroughly suck. 

In Theaters August 5

Suicide Squad

At a Glance: Set in the aftermath of "Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice," the third installment in the DC Extended Universe sees the government assemble a team of criminal lunatics and superhuman killers to undertake secret missions of its behalf.

Why I'm Excited (With Eyes Wide Shut): Okay, so the reviews are in and they're bad. But as Levar Burton once said, "You don't have to take my word for it," so I'm going to see it anyway. After the disaster of "Dawn of Justice," I so want DC to right their cinematic ship and produce a good movie with these characters I grew up with. The marketing and trailer has been great; I'll cling to that until the movie breaks my heart this weekend.

Nine Lives

At a Glance: Kevin Spacey plays a bad dad who gets turned into a cat by Christopher Walken and must make amends or be stuck in the furry form forever! Will this family film be fur-ociously funny or cat-astrophe?

Why I'm (Sadistically) Excited: "Nine Lives" looks so terrible I almost have to see it. Sadly for me, my wife won't accompany me (she issued a very stern "we are not wasting money to see that trash") and if I go alone I'll look like a child predator.

The Little Prince

At a Glance: We first previewed "The Little Prince" back in March, when it was set to be released by Paramount Pictures. After a wildly successful European opening, the film was inexplicably dropped  only two weeks before its scheduled US release.  Thanks to Netflix, the mixed-animation adaptation of the classic story is finally reaching audiences this month.

Why I'm Excited: What a strange journey "The Little Prince" has had. This has been one of my most anticipated movies for the year and I'm delighted it's finally here. Critical response has been very positive in the countries, like France, where it saw theatrical release.

In Theaters August 12

Pete's Dragon

At a Glance: In this modern day retelling of Disney's 1977 original, a forest ranger seeks to unravel the mystery of Pete, a boy found after six years living alone in the wilderness, and Elliot, the dragon he claims to have protected him.

Why I'm Excited: This has been an exceptionally strong year for Disney magic. The company's studios have released seven features so far this year; five have received universal acclaim and only one ("Alice Through the Looking Glass") was received negatively. Further, Disney's string of live action remakes have a strong track record themselves. If this history is any indication, "Pete's Dragon" is sure to be a hit.

Sausage Party

At a Glance: Food has feelings in this R-rated animated picture from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. After spending their lives waiting to be chosen by a customer, groceries are thrust into the nightmarish world of the human kitchen. Frank, an uh, frank, sets out to warn his supermarket friends of the horrible truth.

Why I'm (Shamefully) Excited: I must be a thirteen year old at heart, because I laughed like an idiot at the red band trailer for this movie. It's dumb, it's immature, but I'll be damned if sometimes that isn't exactly what the doctor ordered. But is the concept enough for a feature length film or will this feel like a short stretching the joke way too thin?

Florence Foster Jenkins

At a Glance: In October 1944, a music-loving socialite capped her amateur performing career by singing a concert to a sold out Carnegie Hall. Florence Foster Jenkins was wildly popular; her public adored her. They didn't seem to care that she was objectively a terrible, terrible singer. This is her story.

Why I'm So Excited I Could Sing: For years, I've loved the real story behind Florence Foster Jenkins. There's something endearing in the woman who threw herself so completely and so blindly into her passions. There's something sincere and sweet in how her husband helped and protected her love of performing. This biopic has won glowing praise in the British press since it's release several months ago. This is a day one watch for me.

In Theaters August 19


At a Glance: A remake of 1959's Charlton Heston classic, Ben-Hur follows a man as he claws his way from slavery to revenge on the brother who wrongly accused him.

Why I'm (Not?) Excited (Maybe?): I don't know what to make of this. The director's filmography highlight appears to be "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" but the screenplay is co-written by John Ridley, the man behind "12 Years a Slave." The cast seems okay (though nothing near Charlton Heston). But the trailer looks terrible, and this is a remake of one of the most iconic movies of the 1950s - no small bit of work. I'm going to stake out a completely non-committal position on this one.

War Dogs

At a Glance: "War Dogs" is a dramatic comedy inspired by the true story of two American twenty-somethings who in 2007 won a high-dollar Pentagon contract to provide arms to US forces in Afghanistan.

Why I'm Excited: Like "Florence Foster Jenkins," this is another story I'm already familiar with; I've been looking forward to this since I learned it was being adapted. Unlike "Florence," this doesn't have an internal release under its belt to get an early gauge of quality. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill are perfectly capable leads, but the director and writers have more mixed records. But hey, there are no major warning signs and the trailer looks good, so I'm optimistic!

Kubo and the Two Strings

At a Glance: Kubo, son of one of the greatest samurai warriors ever to live, is thrown into an adventure when he accidentally summons an evil spirit from his past.

Why I'm Excited: How incredible to see two stop-motion features released in one month! This may well be my most anticipated film of the month. Laika, the production company behind "Kubo," has a strong record in animated features; previous work includes "Coraline," "The Boxtrolls," and "ParaNorman." The cast is phenomenal, featuring Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, and Matthew McConaughey among others. If anything gives me pause, it's the relative green-ness of the director (this is his feature debut) and the writers, who have one completed film between them.

Hell or High Water

At a Glance: To save their family farm from foreclosure, two brothers stage a series of high risk bank robberies, racing against two Texas Rangers set to hunt them down.

Why I'm Excited: This film wasn't on my radar at all before sitting down to do this post, but now my interest is piqued. The script, written by Taylor Sheridan ("Sicario") was the winner of the 2012 best Black List script, and the film was very positively received at Cannes earlier this year. I'm glad to say there may be more to "Hell or High Water" than I first granted.

In Theaters August 26

Mechanic: Resurrection

At a Glance: Jason Statham returns as Arthur Bishop in this sequel, threatened into completing three assassinations in order to save the woman of his dreams.

Why I'm Eh: I mean, I'm 100% in favor of anything that keeps Jason Statham working, but was anyone really clamoring for this sequel? Ah well, I suppose there's no harm in dumb excitement every once in a while...but even dumb should be done well.

Don't Breathe

At a Glance: Looking to raise enough money to escape a neglectful family with her sister, Rocky and her friends break into the home of a local blind man rumored to keep a safe in his house only to find themselves trapped in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Why I'm Excited: This looks spooky! Early reviews for "Don't Breathe" have been very positive. I tend to shy away from horror flicks unless the premise has a strong hook and this has one. There's virtually no chance I convince my wife to see this with me in theaters, though. 2spooky4her!

Hands of Stone

At a Glance: The second biopic of the month finds inspiration in the relationship between Roberto Duran, a Panamanian boxer and one of the so called "Fabulous Four," and Ray Arcel, his trainer.

Why I'm Excited: Chalk this up to another movie that was nowhere on my radar until a few hours ago. This is a film produced, written, and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, whose previous foreign language films drew awards from the British Independent Film Awards and the New York Times. "Hands of Stone" features Robert De Niro in his only other film appearance this year aside from the widely panned "Dirty Grandpa." It would be nice to see him close the year out by wiping the stain of that film away with a solid performance here.

Welcome to my monthly movie preview! This July studios are serving up fourteen new nationwide releases to a theater near you. Adventure awaits audiences with dogs, giants, aliens, and two flavors of ghost! Here are the highlights.

In Theaters July 1

The Legend of Tarzan

At a Glance: Years after leaving the African jungle behind for Victorian high society, Tarzan returns unknowingly at the center in a game of greed and revenge that puts his beloved Jane in danger.

Why I'm Ambivalent: Any movie about Tarzan is going to rely heavily on special effects, and there are plenty of them on display in its theatrical trailers. But the only thing that's impressed me is how unremarkable the effects on both our vine-swinging hero or the stampeding animal are. After being blown away by "The Jungle Book," I'm not sure I'm looking forward to a film built on effects that live firmly in the uncanny valley.

Why My Wife Is Excited: Shirtless Skarsgård swiftly swinging to save sweetie.


At a Glance: "The BFG" is the latest film adaptation of classic children's books by Roald Dahl. In "The BFG," orphan Sophie meets and befriends a dream-catching giant. But not all his people are so friendly and the two set off on an adventure to stop the bigger people-eaters who want to snack in the human world.

Why I'm Excited: Disney is poised to have one of their best of recent years and all signs point to "The BFG" being another feather in an already impressive 2016 cap. The film's screenplay is the last written by the late Melissa Mathison, who previously worked with director Steven Spielberg on an obscure little piece called "E.T." Starring Oscar-winner Mark Rylance as BFG and Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement as the bone crunching Fleshlumpeater, "The BFG" boasts talented cast and crew that, with a bit of Disney magic, is sure to delight.

The Purge: Election Year

At a Glance: The third installment about the Purge, an annual bloodletting where no crime goes punished, goes political and seems somehow more unsettling in today's climate. In "The Purge: Election Year," a presidential candidate campaigns on ending the national horror and finds herself targeted in a conspiracy to ensure she does not survive to see the election.

Why I'm Excited (but Scared): I haven't seen any of the previous "Purge" movies. I assumed they were mostly gore porn, the least interesting sub-genre in the horror movie umbrella. Still, "The Purge: Election Year" has really piqued my interested with it's visual direction and themes (at least as presented in marketing materials, for what they're worth). And recently, two good friends have insisted the films aren't very gore-porny. I didn't expect to brave theaters to see this, but who knows? Stranger things have happened.

In Theaters July 8

The Secret Life of Pets

At a Glance: Spoiled jack russell terrier Max's life is turned upside down when his owner brings home a new dog: slobbery, sloppy, clumsy Duke. Each plots to rid themselves of the other, but their schemes go awry when they both are scooped up by the city dog catcher. As Max and Duke try to escape, the neighborhood pets band together to save their friends.

Why I'm (Cautiously) Excited: This is the sixth film by Illumination Entertainment, the production company best known for the "Despicable Me" series and its spin-off, "Minions." While these staples earned the studio critical praise, it's non-franchise pictured fared less well. Even so, audiences seem to appreciate "Hop" and "The Lorax" when critics didn't. I wonder at the release timing though. Sandwiched between "Finding Dory," "The BFG," and the next "Ice Age" movie, there will be no shortage of movies for kids and families. Will "The Secret Life of Pets" be good enough to hang with the big kids?

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

At a Glance: Hoping to prevent their reckless immaturity from ruining the big day, brothers Mike and Dave must find dates to attend their sister's destination wedding. A viral ad campaign to find suitable women brings them Tatiana and Alice, party girls whose respectable facade melts away as soon as they reach the beaches of Hawaii.

Why I'm Excited: As shocked as I am to say this about a movie starring Zac Efron, I love this cast. The brains behind "M&DNWD" (as I'm sure it will come to be called) are the same duo responsible for "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and the two "Neighbors" films. Nothing makes me feel better about a comedy than proven comic chops on and off the screen.

In Theaters July 13

The Infiltrator

At a Glance: "The Infiltrator" is an adaptation of the autobiography of Robert Mazur, a US Customs special agent who spent five years undercover as a money launderer gaining access to the secrets of the world's most deadly drug cartels including the empire of the "King of Cocaine," Pablo Escobar.

Why I'm Excited: Movies about cartels have a certain alluring darkness, perhaps because there is almost no limit to how evil they can be depicted as and still be rooted at least in some semblance of fact. It's also nice to see Bryan Cranston continue to take a range of interesting roles. Hopefully this thriller is a further boost to a still rising career.

In Theaters July 15


At a Glance: The highly anticipated girl-power reboot of "Ghostbusters" is finally here! I don't need to explain the story. Who ya gonna call?

Why I'm Excited: A year of frantic internet speculation is about to come to an end: will the new "Ghostbusters" live up to the hype? I for one have faith in our new heroines. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wigg have built solid film resumes at this point, while Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones remain two of the brightest spots in a dimming SNL line-up. Even if the trailers give an obnoxious amount away, I'm optimistic that director Paul Feig has a few surprises up his sleeves.

In Theaters July 22

Star Trek Beyond

At a Glance: The third entry in the rebooted series and the thirteenth (!) "Star Trek" film, "Star Trek Beyond" pits a stranded Enterprise crew against an unknown alien threat.

Why I'm Beaming Up, Scotty: The new films may not have the spirit of exploration that defined the franchise's earlier generations, but no one can deny that they're a heck of a lot of fun. And although the film suffered from some studio infighting that led to the departure of its writer/director, the result was that writing duties were handed over to Simon Pegg. After some of the more eye-roll inducing moments in "Into Darkness," giving a Pegg a fresh crack at the material may be a good move.

Lights Out

At a Glance: "Lights Out" is the feature debut of David Sandberg, based on his 2013 short film by the same name. It centers on a family stalked by a creature which can only be seen in the dark.

Why I'm Excited (Safely Near a Night Light): I remember the short (linked above) making waves when it first hit YouTube. It's one of the creepier YouTube shorts out there, thanks to how it preys on natural fears that many of us experience at some point or another. That said, I worry that the gimmick may run a bit thin when spread out over a full feature length, particularly if it falls back on cliché origin stories for its monster. Still, as a fan of the original I'm keen to support Sandberg in his debut.

Ice Age: Collision Course

At a Glance: "Ice Age: The Fifth One" threatens Pleistocene pals Manny, Diego, and Sid with extinction as meteors bear down on earth. They and their friends band together and undertake an adventure to survive.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: I may be the only person on the planet who missed the first through fourth "Ice Age" films. Perhaps some history with the character would help find some humor in the trailers, which otherwise seem laden with lazy gags.

In Theaters July 27


At a Glance: Video games, social media, and reality television meet with dangerous results in "Nerve," a movie about a student engaged in an online game of truth-or-dare controlled by its anonymous watchers. "Nerve" is an adaptation of the 2012 novel by Jeanne Ryan.

Why I'm (Mildly) Excited: I love the premise and even the trailer but have zero faith the director, whose most noteworthy credits are the later "Paranormal Activity" films. There are some burning embers of hope, though. Writer Jessica Sharzer has done some work on the acclaimed "American Horror Story," and Emma Roberts, who stars as player "Vee," delivered campy fun on FOX's "Scream Queens" last fall.

In Theaters July 29

Bad Moms

At a Glance: Pushed to the breaking point by high standards and no appreciation, Amy and two other stressed-out moms rebel against the impossible expectations of the perfect mothers in her community.

Why I'm (Cautiously) Excited: This movie could really go one of two ways. It could go the way of "Trainwreck," a movie that wrapped raunchy, care-free indulgence around a touching, heart-felt sentiment. Or it could lapse into a movie about irresponsible people doing unlikeable things with no meaningful depth. I laughed at the trailer, but trailers can lie.

Café Society

At a Glance: The story of an on-and-off romance between a New Yorker who comes to Hollywood looking for excitement and falls for his uncle's mistress.

Why I'm Excited: I've never seen a Woody Allen movie, so my interest is in no way based on his merit as a filmmaker. The period interests me and I like the cast. Steve Carrell's continued evolution in his post-"The Office" years is fascinating, and I feel like I owe Jessie Eisenberg another chance since our break up over "Batman v Superman." Same for Kristen Stewart, whom I've unfairly written off despite not seeing her in a film since "Twilight."

Jason Bourne

At a Glance: July ends with a bang as Matt Damon returns to the Bourne series, reclaiming his rightful place from nobody's favorite leading man, poor Jeremy Renner.

Why I'm Excited: This release gives me an excuse to go back and watch the entire Bourne series, which I've never actually seen! Holy moley!

Thank you for reading! Now tell me what you think. What are you most excited to see? Sound off in the comments!

"The Shallows" is not a complicated movie. A woman is bitten by a shark and left stranded on a rocky outcropping that will soon vanish under the rising tide. She plans her escape back to shore while her attacker lurks, waiting. It's a stripped down premise for a thrilling game of cat and mouse that is at its best when at its simplest and which feels less special the bigger it tries to go.

After a brief ride through the Mexican jungle, Blake Lively's med-student-turned-surfer-girl Nancy arrives on the silver sands of an isolated beach called Paradise. Her smiles and warmth mask pain from a terrible loss that has blown her life off course. Here, on the crashing waves of crystal blue water, she hopes to find relief.

Clocking in at a sleek 87 minutes, "The Shallows" wastes no time getting Nancy into the water, but neither is it in any hurry to get to her attack. From the first moment she steps into the surf, our hearts beat a little faster. Somewhere out there, unseen, we know what waits for her. Director Jaume Collet-Serra aggravates those nerves by plunging the camera in and out of the water as Nancy blissfully rides the waves; the upbeat party music that accompanies her above is suddenly and completely drowned by a deep, uneasy silence.

When the attack finally comes, it is sudden and violent. As Nancy is dragged under reddening water, we never see the shark. Instead, the camera is locked close on her face. The pain conveyed is visceral and cringe inducing. By preying on our imaginations, "The Shallows" allows us this horrifying experience without showing its gory detail. It's fantastically effective for a PG-13.

Throughout the film, its best moments are those where it allows our imaginations to run wild. When Nancy fashions makeshift stitches for her legs, the visuals are admittedly grotesque, but it's the choice to stay on Nancy's face that makes you lightheaded. We feel as she feels, thanks to Lively's phenomenal performance and the faith the filmmaker has in us to relate to her.

In fact, it's hard to overstate how important Blake Lively is to the making "The Shallows" work. Her performance evokes a bit of Tom Hanks' from "Cast Away" (even if these movies aren't in the same league): she is on screen for nearly the entire running time, sharing the majority of it not with other actors but with her very own Wilson, here in the form of an injured sea gull. A barebones script offers her few opportunities to establish Nancy and her relationships, and yet we feel we know her anyway.

All of this means that when later the film loses grip of its "less is more" philosophy, it stings of disappointment. As the stakes are raised, the shark transforms from faceless force of nature to a more generic jumpy, chompy, bitey, malevolent creature. As it's attacks on Nancy escalate, the tension slowly deflates. No CGI shark will ever be as scary as one you can't see, and nothing it does will ever be as scary as what you imagine it could do.

Still, "The Shallows" surprises, thrills, and delights more than most and is a more layered film than it's simplicity suggests. Thanks to this film, I'm sure I'll have a moment of reflection the next time I'm standing on a beach, just before shaking it off and running into the sea.

Score: 4 / 5

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to begin by stating that I have two conflicting biases that may affect my opinion of "Warcraft." On the one hand, I've been a fan of the Warcraft video game series for about fourteen years. Whatever this film's target audience is, I'm unquestionably in it. But on the other hand, I'm predisposed against video game movies because throughout cinematic history they have been, without exception, complete garbage. The safest bet you could make is that "Warcraft" would be too.

But it wasn't! I enjoyed "Warcraft" more than I didn't and while I wouldn't say this is a great film, it is a pretty fun one that comes nearer to breaking the game movie curse than any preceding adaptation. "Warcraft's" greatest flaw is an unevenness that pervades its every aspect, a flaw that becomes an asset in the context of the genre's low expectations. "Warcraft" suffers typical video game movie lows but is elevated above its station by highs that suggest a better movie beneath the schlock.

The war in "Warcraft" is fought between the orcs, a hulking warrior race from a distant dying world, and the humans of Azeroth whose lands they seek to claim as their new home. The orcs are led there through a portal created by the sorcerer Gul'dan, whose twisted magic is fueled by stolen life. Gul'dan seeks to subdue and sacrifice the humans beyond to power a second portal strong enough to transport the entire waiting orc horde to Azeroth.

But not all orcs follow blindly. Durotan, chieftain of one of the orc clans, is wary of Gul'dan's magic and rejects the fel that turns the warlock's followers into green-skinned juggernauts. And wisely too, as it turns out Gul'dan's gift is a sort of faustian bargain with a high price. Durotan comes to suspect that Gul'dan's magic is not a source of power, but corruption, and turns to the only ones on Azeroth who might help him save his people: the humans.

For their part, the human forces led by King Llane stage a meager defense against the surprise invasion. Returning bodies marked by the fel draw the attention of a young mage named Khadgar. Alarmed that something more sinister than orcs is at work, he implores the king and his warrior Lothar to summon the kingdom's guardian, his former master Medivh. Together, they seek to unravel the mysteries of the fel and repel the orc invaders before it's too late.

One of "Warcraft's" strengths is that it resists the temptation to take sides in the war between orcs and humans. The war may be fought between the races, but the orcs do not have a monopoly on evil, nor the humans on good. Even if character motivations in "Warcraft" are not terribly complex, the film achieves some depth by having characters on both sides struggle with the film's themes of loyalty, trust, sacrifice and fatherhood. "Warcraft" has a few poignant moments that hint at a beating heart hidden somewhere in the script.

Unfortunately, you can only hear a heartbeat about half the time. Surprisingly, the orc-centric scenes stand the tallest. Durotan is without question the most developed character in the movie, best-written and convincingly brought to life with outstanding visual effects and a terrific performance by Toby Kebbell. Durotan's character arc is complete and satisfying because we see every step as it unfolds. We see him as an expecting father playfully teasing his pregnant mate. We get a sense of his worry as the pair walk into Gul'dan's portal. In one of my favorite scenes, we see his harrowing first moments of fatherhood. It's not much, but these scenes help us get a sense of why Durotan makes the choices he does.

This is contrasted by entirely two-dimensional live action characters, who feel less real than any of the computer-generated orcs. There's no evidence of the care put into making Durotan relatable. Relationships are established by characters simply stating to each other how they are related to each other, then moving on with no elaboration. Without meaningful relationships, there is no reason to invest in the characters. With the exception of Khadgar, whose doughy boyish looks and clumsy nature are endearing, no one is really memorable. Well, I suppose there's Medivh, who is memorable because of terrible miscasting.

Generally speaking, if you split the orc and human scenes of "Warcraft" into separate films, I'd swear they were made by entirely different people. The two halves' tones are wildly different, with orc tending towards heft and the serious and the human scenes more lighthearted and comedy bordering on weightlessness. Nowhere is this more evident than the film's climax, which peaks early with orc drama then collapses into a relentlessly silly fight against a chorus of bad ideas and execution. Even the visual effects in human scenes are bafflingly terrible. They must have blown the budget on the orcs; it's the only way to explain human spell effects and glowing eyes so decidedly B-grade. And a special mention to the worst looking elves in movie history!

Still, I enjoyed "Warcraft." There's almost certainly more here for fans of the series than the uninitiated, but director Duncan Jones has done well enough in his telling of Durotan's story to make up for at least some of the bad choices in those of Lothar and Khagdar. I've never seen a video game movie that left me thinking that a sequel could be better, but here we are: I'm actually not repulsed by the idea of a "Warcraft 2." If they learn from what went well in this installment, it could be the first truly great video game movie.

"Assassin's Creed" is still going to be garbage, though.

Score: 3 / 5 
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