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Like a stereotypical, snobby critic, I wanted to dislike Akiva Schaffer’s The Watch. However, I grudgingly admit it was better than expected. So, what made it exceed my low expectations? Oddly enough, Ben Stiller as Evan Trautwig is really what moves the story along.

Although the movie is a little too stupid at times, and too much of a stereotypical “bro” comedy (or whatever disgusting term one wishes to use), I would say Stiller’s performance kept the whole thing a little grounded. Evan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as one might expect, and it seems like Ben Stiller didn’t phone in the performance, which helps in a movie environment that’s oversaturated with Ben Stiller, and maybe even “Ben Stiller-ism.”

I also like that, to some degree, this dumb-ass comedy even deals with real issues. Evan convinces some people from his neighborhood to join his ragtag “watch” organization after his store’s security guard (Joseph A. Nunez) gets murdered. Basically, Evan is instantly at odds with these people, who initially don’t take their roles seriously, threatening to turn the whole operation into a joke.

Yes, Evan ends up caving and behaving like them before long, but reality sort of snaps them out of their stupor in some freaky ways, and their self-assumed, half-assed responsibility transforms into a much bigger problem than expected. I should mention that it also stars Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Erin Moriarty, and R. Lee Ermey.

Genre Confusion

When I first started watching The Watch, I wasn’t quite sure I could write about it for any horror sites. Google and IMDb seemed to suggest it was just a sci-fi comedy. Basically, this ends up being a sci-fi horror monster movie comedy hybrid, so I feel okay calling it something like that. Yes, it ends up being more comedy than horror, but it still counts. In my opinion, Wikipedia gets it right when they define a horror film as “one that seeks to elicit fear in its audience for entertainment purposes.”

In fact, this is all largely a matter of opinion. So if you don’t consider this a horror film because it’s not scary, that’s fine and good, but Gremlins isn’t particularly scary, either. Though I wouldn’t call it a classic, The Watch has some of the madcap vibes you’ll find in plenty of other films branded horror. So it is a comedy-sci-fi horror film, in that order — albeit never on par with the likes of Scream, The Sixth Sense, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. On the bright side, the effects are pretty good in this movie, despite often being CG.

Where the Humor Works

There are plenty of immature moments in The Watch, and I definitely laughed at some of them. Still, I think the best humor in The Watch involves Evan trying to create a serious neighborhood organization while the others just goof around. To anyone who’s ever tried putting something together among incompetents, this should be relatable. They basically make the organization look pathetic.

Once everyone is in costume and gathered, though, it’s obvious that there’s some strange, malevolent presence in their neighborhood, and the four men begin experiencing unusual events. Who is the real killer? Some notorious murderer? One of their neighbors? Will they have the legal authority to submit anyone to an interrogation? You probably won’t ask these questions because this movie is so ridiculous, but you know…they’re hinted at.

Where the Humor Doesn’t Work As Well

Frankly, this is a move where — predictably — some of the characters act too stupidly at times. Not only can that be a problem with the film itself, but it also pairs too well with stereotypes about a Ben Stiller-esque movie. Sure, it never gets as mind-numbingly cringeworthy as A Night at the Museum (which I wish I had watched on a bet, to have won some money), but The Watch goes a little too far in some dumb-ass directions for my liking.

I still laughed at some of the dumb stuff, though, and maybe it’s because I was just in the mood to accept it. Hey, sometimes that’s all it takes! Also, this was the final film of R. Lee Ermey. If you’re a fan of his work, you might feel obligated to watch this for that reason alone.

What are your thoughts on The Watch? Let us know in the comments!

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Movies n TV

Horror Noire, a Film Review

Horror Noire is a horror collection that includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.”

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Horror Noire is a horror collection brought by the combined efforts of AMC+ and Shudder. The collection includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.” Horror Noire boasts Black directors and screenwriters, providing six unique stories.

As this collection explores six stories, I will skip the usual synopsis to assess the genres and ideas explored, albeit limited as needed. Expect to find supernatural horror, creature features, and psychological thrillers. Many short films deal with these genres while exploring Black issues, but this isn’t universal for the collection.

The directors and writers include Zandashé Brown, Robin Givens, Rob Greenlea, Kimani Ray Smith, Steven Barnes, Ezra Clayton Daniels, Tananarive Due, Shernold Edwards, Victor LaValle, and Al Letson.

Woman and man wearing a vote for candidate shirt, scared of something off screne
Image from “Sundown” Directed by Kimani Ray Smith

What I Like

Each story remains unique, holding different strengths and weaknesses that highlight drastically different perspectives. Collections like VHS hold a similar premise to create their collection, but Horror Noire gives more creative freedom to its talent to be independent.

My personal favorite short film is Zandashé Brown’s “Bride Before You.” This period piece unravels a fable set in the Reconstruction Era. The entry feels Fabulistic in approach, which happens to be my preferred niche.

However, the best example of horror goes to Robin Givens’ “Daddy,” providing an existential horror tied directly to the characters involved.

Woman listening to a preacher amidst a crowd
Image from “Fugue State” directed by Rob Greenlea

What I Dislike

As mentioned, all have a particular style and idea. The downside of this approach always remains to keep the viewer interested long enough to find their favorite. If you find several underwhelming choices, this becomes a chore. But I imagine that is rare as the variety makes the options refreshing.

Personally, “Brand of Evil” had an interesting premise, but the execution fell short. On paper, it might have sounded like my favorite, which makes the lackluster execution a bigger letdown.

Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Horror Noire gives power and control to Black creators, providing a formula for a unique collection against others in the space. While the various subjects and approaches mean you aren’t likely to love them all, there should be a short film for everyone.
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Silenced

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Episode six of Netflix’s Dahmer was not, honestly about our title character. Instead, it was about one of his victims, a man named Tony. We’ve actually seen Tony a few times during this series. We just didn’t know it was him.

Rodney Burford in Dahmer

And, well, he wasn’t exactly alive the first time we saw him.

Tony was born into a supportive, loving family. This is good because soon after he was born a viral infection took his hearing. He is black, deaf, and gay in the early 90’s.

Tony has a dream of becoming a model. And he certainly has the looks for it. He is beautiful, body and soul. He has lots of opportunities for romance, but it’s not what he’s looking for. He wants a real relationship. 

Eventually Tony moves to Madison, trying to pursue his dream. He gets a job and starts getting modeling work.

Then, he meets Jeff Dahmer at a bar. 

At first, we can almost believe that it’s going to be alright. Jeff seems happy. He’s taking care of himself. He’s not drinking as much. He even has his dad and stepmom over for dinner. It seems like his life is getting on track. Even better, he’s treating Tony right.

Then, of course, things go bad. 

One thing that has always bothered me as a true crime fan is that we know so much about the killers, but not as much about the victims. Not so much if we don’t know who the killer is, of course. But the names that are part of our pop culture are those of the killers. Dahmer, Manson, Jones, Bundy, Holms. The names we don’t know are Roberta Parks, Beth LaBiancas, Leno LaBiancas, and Tony Hughes. And clearly, we should know them.

If Tony Hughes was half the shining, positive person that the show Dahmer made him out to be, I’m so sad that he isn’t with us anymore. We need so many more people like him. And many of Dahmer’s victims were likely just like him. After all, he was attracted to them for a reason.

This was a significant episode, and I understand why it’s the highest-rated episode of the series. I finished it with a heavy heart, saddened by the loss of a man who should still be with us today. 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Mandrake, a Film Review

Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey, starring Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty.

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Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey. This film boasts a cast that includes Deirdre Mullins, Derbhle Crotty, and Paul Kennedy. It is currently available for subscribers in DirectTV, Shudder, Amazon Prime, or AMC+.

Cathy Madden (Deirdre Mullins) is a probation officer tasked with the most vilified case in her town, Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty). When a child goes missing, all eyes turn to the infamous Bloody Mary. Cathy, always believing in the best of people, tries to protect Mary. But evidence begins to mount, and Cathy finds herself in increasing danger.

Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw
In the forest
Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw

What I Like

Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty add weight to the film in their performances. Cathy proves resilient against the challenges she faces, while Mary can make any actions intimidating.
To not spoil anything, the ending is bittersweet in the best of ways, showing Cathy grow and mend relationships.

The atmosphere around Mary Laidlaw brings about the intimidation that earns the nickname Bloody Mary. It becomes easier to see why a town would fear this woman as we find her motives sinister.

Mandrake Cover Art: A mandrake behind Deirdre Mullins' Cathy Madden
Deirdre Mullins as Cathy Madden

What I Dislike

While there may be external magical elements, I found people obeyed Mary Laidlaw a little too easily for a vilified woman. There wasn’t enough for me to be convinced she intimidated them to action or magically charmed them. Or perhaps the performances felt underwhelmingly passive?

There was an irritating moment where a stalker helped save the day. The assistance is minor, but it still irritates me.

The daytime scenes of the film are bland. Perhaps it’s intentional, but the night scenes are stunning, making the contrast greater. While this film focuses on its night scenes, I couldn’t understand why it looked so bland, and sometimes poor quality, in the day.

Kraken eating a boat icon for Zeth M. Martinez
Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Mandrake can be a frightful enjoyment, especially when set at night where the details work. However, many elements left me wanting more or better. If you’re looking for a witchy tale, I’d say there are better options, but Mandrake can keep you entertained.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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