Box Office Failures Week: Aloha (2015)

Beyond the fact that this movie only made back $26 million on a $52 million dollar budget, Aloha was hit with the issue of whitewashing, as Emma Stone’s character is supposed to be one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter Hawaiian, yet is — you know — played by Emma Stone.

Oh Cameron Crowe. You started with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and then, well…

I know, I know. There are plenty of people who adore Jerry Maguire. Some people enjoy Almost Famous. But even less are down with Vanilla Sky. And then, still less like Elizabethtown. Dwindling returns.

This is a big ensemble movie about Hawaii and the air force and it’s kind of, sort of the future and all manner of Hollywood celebrities are in it and it commits a bigger sin than this giant run-on sentence. That sin is that it’s incredibly boring.

Military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is the nexus that this revolves around and most of the movie is about how he’s the wrong guy for every woman, from his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and the space-loving Captain Allison Ng (Stone). Bill Murray shows up as a billionaire who is trying to get into space. Everyone loves space in this movie, which I would too, because it presents Hawaii as perhaps the most ennui-inducing land that has ever been.

John Krasinski, Danny McBride and Alec Baldwin all got roped into this as well. Becca made it approximately twenty minutes into the ride while I stayed buckled in and made it to the close of the film, which is meant to draw deep emotion and motivated me to eject the DVD and try to not snap it in half before I brought it back to the Redbox machine, where this virus of monotony will infect another unknowing subject.

That said — I’ve seen stacks of this movie at Dollar Tree, so if you need some insulation or would like to ruin someone’s life, it makes for a fine and inexpensive gift.

Francesca (2015)

Fifteen years ago, Francesca disappeared, leaving her father, the well-known storyteller, poet and dramatist Vittorio Visconti behind. Ever since, the community has been haunted by a killer who wants to clean the city of the impure and the damned. The police are baffled and now, it seems like Francesca has finally returned.

The Onetti Brothers have made a career of emulating the field of giallo. With films like Deep SleepWhat the Waters Left Behind and Abrakadabra, they’ve copied the look and feel of early 70’s Italian detective horror, yet transplanted to Argentina in 2015. Hell — they even got the gloves and bottles of J&B right. Luciano Onetti co-wrote the script, directed the film, handled the cinematography and even wrote the sctore, while Nicolas wrote the script and produced.

Any movie that starts with a small girl killing a bird with a long needle and then jamming it into her infant brother’s eye is one that’s going to cause you to sit up and take notice (or, if you’re a normal person, turn off such lunacy).

This movie feels like a relic unearthed from 1972, a giallo that may not be at the level of Argento or Martino, but still can stand on its own.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Amityville Playhouse (2015)

Look, if you can’t have a house in Amityville, have a theater. And if you can’t shoot in Amityville, shoot your movie in Canada and the UK. After evil monkeys, lamps, lumber and furniture, what else can become part of the dark side and get possessed, you know?

Spencer Banks, who plays Reverend Simon Randall, played a character named Simon Randall on the British 1970 children’s series Timeslip. His co-star on that show, Cheryl Burfield, is his wife in this movie and Lesley Scoble, who plays Karen, was Alpha 17 on that very same programme. Yes, I did spell it the British way.

Following the death of her parents, Fawn Harriman inherits a theatre in Amityville. She takes three victims — I mean friends — to spend the weekend there to check the place out. A homeless girl shows up, as does one of her high school teachers, who wants to warn her of the evil inside the playhouse. You know, every playhouse I’ve ever been in has been said to be haunted.

Director John R. Walker will show up in the upcoming Amityville: Evil Never Dies, which is pretty meta. Even more meta, he’ll be playing the Peter Sommers character he’s also played in GhoulMeathook Massacre 4 and another movie he’s directed that has a great title, Ouijageist.

This isn’t the worst Amityville movie I’ve seen. It’s pretty competently made, which is a major step above and beyond a lot of these films. I don’t know if that’s a good review or I have desert island syndrome, where everything looks better than some of these movies.

Amityville Death House (2015)

Mark Polonia also made Empire of the Apes, so it stands to wonder why he waited so long to make a cash-in on the Amityville series. I mean, this is the man who also made SharkensteinBigfoot vs. Zombies and multiple Camp Blood movies. Just so you know what you’re getting into — these are shot on video films intended for DVD distribution to maniacs like me in Walmart (or today, on Amazon Prime).

For the eleventh overall Amityville movie, a young woman and her friends — on their way back from helping with hurricane relief efforts in Florida, keeping it topical — stop in the town of Amityville to check in on a sick grandmother.

That’s when they run into an ancient witch and her spells, which turn one of them into a spider. This is more about a curse on the townsfolk than 112 Ocean Avenue. But hey — Eric Roberts turns up as The Dark Lord. What does Roberts do, show up in rural Pennsylvania and put out a beacon to tell directors that he’s available for work?

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

Sinister 2 (2015)

Sinister 2 is a rare breed — a sequel that I enjoy more than the film that proceeded it. Ciaran Foy directed it from a script that was co-written by the original film’s writer and director, Scott Derrickson. James Ransome is the only character that returns as Deputy So & So.

The movie starts with one of those Super 8 films from the original, as a family is hung like scarecrows before being burned alive. It’s a nightmare in the mind of nine-year-old Dylan, who is on the run from his abusive father, along with his mom (Shannyn Sossamon, A Knight’s Tale) and twin brother Zach.

Each night, Dylan is visited by a gang of ghostly children led by Milo. They make him watch all manner of horrifying movies where alligators devour families and rats eat their way through parents’ stomachs.

The deputy is now a private detective on the trail of the murders from the first film, including the Oswalt family. He figures out that an abandoned farmhouse is the first of the homes infected, so he heads out to burn it to the ground, before learning that Dylan and his family are living inside it.

The deputy falls for Dylan’s mom and also is given a ham radio that once belonged to occult investigator Professor Jonas, who has disappeared. The radio came from a Norweigan family that was killed in 1973. There’s a recording of the family where a young girl yells about Bughuul.

That boogieman is now targeting Zach, not Dylan, using his jealousy and the abusive nature of his father to destroy the family. When his birth father kidnaps them all, he takes advantage and crucifies them in a cornfield, setting his father ablaze. Only after the deputy destroys the haunted camera does the carnage stop, with Bughuul arriving to destroy the young boy.

If only the film ended there. The jump scare at the end where Bughuul appears in the deputy’s motel room feels out of character and a cheap way to milk a sequel out of this idea, but hey — what do you expect?

That said, this movie has even more haunted Super 8 films — well, these ones are shot on 16mm stock — and some pretty decent attempts at frightening its audience. It’s also pretty much a cover version of Children of the Corn. I prefer how the original film was more enigmatic about Bughuul and his motivations, but this movie really amps up the intensity. I saw it at a drive-in, which is quite possibly the best way to see an escapist horror film, right?

The Final Girls (2015)

Hey! Remember when I watched Isn’t It Romantic?

This is the same director making the same movie, except instead of learning lessons from a romantic comedy, people are learning lessons from a slasher film.

After another failed audition, Max Cartwright’s mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) worries that she’ll only be known for appearing in the 1986 slasher favorite Camp Bloodbath. Sadly, she dies soon after in a car accident.

A few years later, at a double feature of the film and its sequel, a fire breaks out and Max (now Taissa Farmiga, the sister of Vera) and her friends escape by slicing the screen with a machete. They then enter the world of Camp Bloodbath, where they must escape Billy Murphy, the twisted serial killer who carries a not unlike Jason Vorhees machete.

There’s a great cast — Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development is in it, as well as Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley and Adam DeVine from Workaholics.

Writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller based the characters in this film on some of their favorite slasher films. Nancy (also played by Akerland) is inspired by Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2 and her name comes from A Nightmare On Elm Street‘s Nancy Thompson. And Tina was based on P.J. Soles’ character Lynda van der Klok in Halloween and Jodi Draigie’s Morgan from The House on Sorority Row.

Perhaps even more interesting, Miller wrote this movie to deal with the death of his father Jason Miller, who starred as Father Karras in The Exorcist. And even cooler than that is that Joshua John Miller played Homer in Near Dark, Tim in River’s Edge and also showed up in Teen Witch.

Creed (2015)

Since 2013’s Fruitville Station, Ryan Coogler has seen plenty of artistic and financial success, with films like Black Panther and this one. He’s had a fruitful partnership with Michael B. Jordan, who plays Adonis Creed, the son of original Rocky nemesis, Apollo Creed. It was released on the fortieth anniversary of the original film and earned Sylvester Stallone a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, his first Oscar notice since that very same original movie.

Adonis Johnson is in a Los Angeles youth home after yet another fight when the wife of his father, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) takes him in. Much like his father — who he never met — he dreams of being a fighter. However, because Apollo died in the ring thirty years ago, his adoptive mother opposes him ever putting on the gloves.

After being turned down at the Delphi Boxing Academy, which is managed by the son of Apollo’s trainer Tony “Duke” Evers, our hero sets out for Philadelphia and asks Rocky to become his trainer. This is when we learn a very important part of the mythos — the results of the secret fight at the end of Rocky III were that Apollo beat Rocky in their rubber match.

Now known as Hollywood Donnie, Adonis gets a fight team made up of several of Rocky’s friends and a love interest in Bianca. Word gets out that he’s the son of Apollo Creed and that sets up a match with world light heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (real-life boxer Tony Bellew), who is about to go to prison. Donnie will be his final challenger, as long as he changes his name to Adonis Creed.

By all rights, this movie should not work. Yet impossibly it does, beyond expectations. It’s incredibly emotional, particularly after watching every Rocky Balboa movie over the last few weeks. Seeing the once strong and proud boxer battle against not just non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but the loss of not just Adrian — as shown in Rocky Balboa — but now Paulie as well and his son moving away is almost too much to bear.

I love that Stallone was willing to take a back seat for this film, both in the writing and directing, as well as being the star. It’s probably the most perfect film in the series since the first one. The world that’s been built, from the past to today, feels authentic.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Originally conceived it as a novel and sequel to Django UnchainedThe Hateful Eight marks both a major change in Tarantino’s career — it’s the last he’d make for The Weinstein Company, as he ended his relationship with them following allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein — while yearning back for the days of 70 mm films, as this was released as a limited edition roadshow in theaters that could still show it before it made its way to modern theaters. It’s also the first of his films to be re-edited as a longer miniseries for Netflix.

Tarantino was inspired by the TV Westerns that he had grown up watching, particularly episodes where bad guys would come to town and take the heroes hostage, saying “What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.”

Bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson) is on his way to Red Rock with three dead men when he hitches a ride from a stagecoach driven by O.B. Jackson (James Parks). Inside is John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he is also taking to Red Rock for hanging. The two men know one another, as they bonded over Warren’s personal letter from President Abraham Lincoln. Another man, militiaman Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), joins them as he’s also traveling to Red Rock to become the town’s new sheriff.

However, the trip runs into a massive snowstorm, so they decide to visit Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they learn that Minnie (Dana Gourrier, Cora from Django Unchained) has gone to visit her mother. The stagecoach lodge is filled with all manner of scum and villainy — Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), who claims to be traveling home to visit his mother; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a British hangman who ends up being English Pete Hicox, making him Archie Hicox’s — from Inglorious Basterds — great-great grandfather; and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), who is on his way to bury his son.

Ruth doesn’t trust anyone, so he takes everyone’s guns but Warren. The group all has stew together, with Mannix realizing that Warren’s letter from Lincoln is fake, which angers Ruth. He feels lied to while Warren explains that it allows him to move amongst white people more easily. Then, he gives Smithers a gun, hoping he reaches for it after he explains how he tortured, assaulted and killed the man’s son in revenge for Smithers’ executions of black soldiers at the Battle of Baton Rouge.

While Warren shoots Smithers, everyone misses the coffee being poisoned. Jackson and Ruth both drank it and start throwing up huge amounts of blood before Daisy kills her captor with his own gun. There’s a flashback where she sings the traditional Australian folk ballad “Jim Jones at Botany Bay” on a vintage Martin guitar that had been loaned to the production by the Martin Guitar Museum. Somehow, no one told Kurt Russell that the guitar needed to be switched out before he was to destroy it, so the entire set was freaked out that an irreplaceable guitar was destroyed. Needless to say, the museum no longer loans out its guitars.

Warren disarms Daisy, leaving her shackled to the dead body of Ruth, while holding everyone but Mannix at gunpoint. He quickly deduces what’s happening — Minnie hates Mexicans and would never hire one, much less leave them in charge. Bob has to have killed her, so he kills the man, When he moves to kill Daisy, Gage admits that he was the one who poisoned the coffee. Then, someone in the cellar shoots Warren directly between the legs and all hell breaks loose. Mobray pulls a gun and shoots Mannix, who fires back on him. 

That’s when we learn that Mobray Bob, Mobray, Gage and Daisy’s brother Jody (Channing Tatum) had come to the lodge in disguise and killed everyone but Smithers, telling him that they would spare him if he stays quiet (Zoe Bell and Lee Horsely make appearances here). Mannix and Warren may be wounded, but they still have the advantage. Luring Jody out of hiding by threatening Daisy, he comes up from the cellar only to be shot and killed. 

What follows is a long Mexican standoff between Warren and Mannix with the dying Mobray, Gage and Daisy, who continually attempts to manipulate Mannix into taking the money and killing Warren.

The Hateful Eight is at once a return to the Western film while also a look back to Reservoir Dogs, in that no one is innocent and everyone pays for it with their lives. While so many of Tarantino’s films afterward had promises of somewhat happy endings, none of that is in store for anyone in this movie.

Accompanying all of the bloodshed is a new score by Ennio Morricone, the first Western that the Italian composer had scored in 34 years. Tarantino had previously used Morricone’s music in Kill Bill, Death Proof, Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds. There are also three unused songs from Morricone’s score for John Carpenter’s The Thing and “Regan’s Theme” from Exorcist II: The Heretic.

Despite saying that he would never work with Tarantino after his displeasure with how his music was used in Django Unchained, Morricone came around and worked with him. Perhaps that’s because he liked the script, but Morricone was also given complete freedom to score the film, which he saw as an adventure instead of a Western. After a little over a month, Morricone gave Tarantino five pieces of music, which he could use in the movie however he wanted.

In addition to fifty minutes of Morricone’s music, the film also features the songs “Apple Blossom” by The White Stripes, “Now You’re All Alone” by David Hess from The Last House on the Left and “There Won’t Be Many Coming Home” by Roy Orbison from The Fastest Guitar Alive.

At once a rumination of both The Thing and Reservoir DogsThe Hateful Eight may not be my favorite Tarantino film, but it’s hard to deny that it’s a great film, filled with ambiguity and bereft of morals.

Seeds of Yesterday (2015)

After four V.C. Andrews movies — and the original Flowers in the Attic — nothing should surprise you. Any happy ending that the Dollanganger family finds will always be ruined in the very next film.

Thirteen years later, Cathy and Chris are invited to Foxworth Hall, the same place they spent their childhood imprisoned within. Bart is now the owner and has fixed it up while walking away from his family, even changing his last name. He might love his mother, but he has a near unhinged hatred for his uncle and stepfather.

Meanwhile, his brother Jory and his wife, Melodie are about to have twins. What would make this even worse? That’s right — Bart wants to get with his brother’s wife. And don’t worry — he still hates his adopted sister Cindy.

At Bart’s birthday party — no one over 21 should have a birthday party and even fewer should throw on for themselves — Jory and Cindy perform a ballet that ends up with Jory paralyzed because V.C. Andrews. Everyone thinks Bart is behind this, but he denies it. And Melodie starts to lament that her husband will never dance — vertically or horizontally — again.

So much happens in this movie — Jory tries to drown himself in a pool, Bart keeps winning back Melodie and then rejecting her, Bart catches his sister Cindy in bed with her new boyfriend and flies into a tantrum — this is movie is packed with more melodrama than the first three, which I felt wasn’t possible.

Even after Melodie gives birth to twins, she’s lost her will to live and abandons the family. And oh yeah — Bart gets with Cindy and still rejects her.

Maybe a new house will fix things, thinks Chris. They even hire a nanny named Toni that they hope Jory will get with. Nope — Bart seduces and dumps her as well. He then tops all of his behavior by trying to drown one of the twins during her baptism. It takes the accidental out of nowhere death of Chris to bring the family back together.

Jory recovers, marries Tony and they raise the twins and a child of their own together. Bart becomes a TV preacher and marries his adopted sister. Only Cathy remains behind, sitting in the attic window, eventually dying of a broken heart.

This is the end of the line for this crazy family. By the end, we’d seen everybody go through hell, such as dance accidents, incestual unions and getting hit by cars. If anything, this movie should teach you to never have sex within your bloodline and to always put out road flares when you’re changing a tire.

BONUS: You can listen to the podcast where we discuss this movie.

If There Be Thorns (2015)

Let’s say you slept with your brother, watched your husband die, then set your childhood prison on fire, which sent your mother to the looney bin and your grandmother to hell. What would you do next?

This part of the Dollanganger series is set in the 1970’s. It looks like it — cinematographer James Liston utilized vintage anamorphic lenses to create more depth and atmosphere, just like the films of that era.

Six years later, Cathy and Chris have escaped to California with her sons, Jory and Bart, who feels constantly in the shadow of his older brother. One day, a woman in black moves next door and invites the boys over for tea. She’s rich but her only family is her butler, John Amos. Then, she asks if she may have a photo of the boys.

Jory decides to never come back, but Bart keeps coming back. She gives him gifts, like a pet snake and a journal that belonged to his great-grandfather, Malcolm. Their relationship must remain a secret, because she is really his grandmother Corinne (Heather Graham, the only actor to return from the previous movies, despite rumors that her part was going to be taken over by Goldie Hawn).

Malcolm’s journal is bonkers, filled with hateful rants about women being whores, so of course, Jory loves it. After all, of the two people who could be his dad, one is his mom’s brother and the other was a maniacal ballet dancer who put glass in people’s shoes.

Cathy starts to hide beds in her attic, convinced that her children will be taken from her once everyone learns about all the incest. Chris is worried, but that’s forgotten when they adopt Cindy, a girl from Cathy’s ballet class who died from cancer.

Bart disappears and is found in the woods with an infected cut. This all leads to his grandmother dropping the bomb on him that his mom and stepfather are siblings. He reacts pretty much like how you expect — like a complete maniac, even listening to John Amos about how he needs to escape the sins of his family. For some reason, this means killing the family dog. And then Corinne reveals that Bart’s real dad is her husband and seriously, my head is spinning so I can only wonder how this kid is keeping it all together.

Actually, he’s not doing well at all, trying to drown his adopted sister, which lands him in the attic, where he starts talking a whole lot like his insane grandmother from the previous two films.  That’s when everyone finds out that mom is living right next door.

The hits keep on coming — Cindy sees her mother while dancing and falls, losing the ability to ever do the carioca again. Jory’s grandmother tries to expose the incest and steals her grandson. And then John Amos knocks out Corinne and Cindy, throws them in a barn and tries to burn them alive to finally ends the family’s cycle of abomination. Luckily, that makes mom and daughter love one another again. It doesn’t save her from a burning building, but it still seems like everything ends up pretty happy.

Except, you know, this is a V.C. Andrews story. Bart still has the journal and has started dressing like his grandfather. Looks like there’s one more movie to get through.

Bonus: We discussed this movie on our podcast.