Friday, October 7, 2022

Ominous October - Mr. Harrigan's Phone (2022)

Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (2022)
Genre: Horror
Length: PG-13
Rating: 1h 44min
Production/Distribution: Blumhouse Productions, Ryan Murphy Productions, Netflix
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: John Lee Hancock, Stephen King
Actors: Donald Sutherland, Jaeden Martell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Joe Tippett, Cyrus Arnold, Iván Amaro Bullón, Thomas Francis Murphy, Colin O’Brien
Blurb from IMDb: When Mr. Harrigan dies, the teen who befriended and did odd jobs for him, puts his smart phone in his pocket before burial and when the lonely youth leaves his dead friend a message, he is shocked to get a return text.

Selina’s Point of View:
It’s hard to say what I make of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone.
It was a slow burn, mostly narrated. There were some social implications, and it was a bit preachy in parts. It was also very much a Stephen King (Mr. Mercedes, Castle Rock, Firestarter) story. The obligatory bully. The odd protagonist. An ending that borders on unfulfilling. I’ll admit that I suspect there’s a lot more depth in the original story. I haven’t read it, but the way some of the actors chose to play their characters indicated that there might be some insight in the novel that wasn’t utilized for the film.
The structure was also a little off. It felt like a horror story told by someone while drunk. It lingered in areas that didn’t matter and gave less answers than it should have. It also included characters that were completely inconsequential – again, I suspect that’s an adaptation issue.

All that said, I was never bored. I was able to pay attention and I had an investment in the story. I may even buy the short story and give it a read.  
The issues I have lead me to believe that my problem is not with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. I think it’s with this adaptation. I could be wrong. The original story could have the same issues, but I’m guessing the problems come in the translation of page to screen.
Would you like Mr. Harrigan’s Phone? I think that depends completely on why you watch horror films. If you’re watching horror because of the thrill that comes with a quick burst of adrenaline, then you likely won’t enjoy this film. If you tend to prefer story-based horror flicks, ones that are more about examining the nature of humanity and are subtle with their supernaturality, then Mr. Harrigan’s Phone could be up your alley.
Either way, it’s not the kind of movie I want to watch around Halloween. It just doesn’t have that vibe.

Cat’s Point of View:
I may have mentioned it before, but just in case I haven’t – I’m a fan of Stephen King. That being said, I’m all too familiar with the adaptations of his work. Some are definitely more successful than others. Then, too, are the ones that King hasn’t liked, but audiences have really enjoyed – such as The Shining (1980).
Confession time. I haven’t read King’s story that Mr. Harrigan’s Phone was adapted from. Unfortunately, for that reason, I really couldn’t speak to whether or not this interpretation did justice to the written word. I’ve read King’s novels for the most part and haven’t delved into his shorter works yet.
My reaction to Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is purely from my experience with this Netflix Original movie.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that this was the most enjoyable translation from the written word to the screen.

Don’t get me wrong, though, the performances were all on point. It was worth the time spent just to watch (and listen to) Donald Sutherland (American Hangman, The Undoing, Moonfall). I’ve also been impressed with Jaeden Martell’s (The Lodge, Knives Out, Metal Lords) work thus far. They both brought depth to this production.
The production quality was generally fine, as well.
Where I feel that Mr. Harrigan’s Phone falls a bit short was, perhaps, in the production choices regarding length, and the like. They took a short story and padded it out into the screenplay for a nearly 2-hour movie. A good half-hour or more could have been trimmed and the overall experience would have probably worked better. It was hard to stay focused and invested in what was going on. Then again, at the same time, that’s almost ironic given the message of the actual story.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone fell into the ‘it was okay’ category for me. I can’t say that I’ll remember details about it down the road, but I’m not upset that I watched it. Anyone looking for thrilling scares during the Halloween season might look to a different title, however.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 38%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 61%
Metascore – 55%
Metacritic User Score – 6.5
IMDB Score –6.0/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 2.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 3/5
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Ominous October - Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

Streaming Service: Disney +
Movie Name/Year: Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)
Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Length: 1h 43min
Rating: PG
Production/Distribution: Walt Disney Pictures, David Kirschner Productions, Disney+
Director: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Jen D’Angelo, David Kirschner, Blake Harris, Mick Garris
Actors: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Lilia Buckingham, Froy Gutierrez, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones, Tony Hale, Taylor Henderson, Nina Kitchen, Juju Journey Brener
Blurb from IMDb: Two young women accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern day Salem and must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.

Selina’s Point of View:
I loved the original Hocus Pocus (1993). It’s a staple of my childhood. Hell, I watched NCIS (2003 -) simply because of Sean Murray’s (The Double, JAG, Spring Break Lawyer) involvement, at first. As a result, I was all in for this sequel.
There has been some good done with nostalgia sequels. Earlier this year we got Top Gun: Maverick (2022) which is the sequel to Top Gun (1986) which came out almost my entire lifetime ago. I’m not shy about how I feel about Maverick. It was better than the first, and nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise. It’s not the only decent nostalgia sequel, but it’s the best I can name off the top of my head.
I wasn’t expecting anything of that quality from Hocus Pocus 2. The original was meant to be a bit cheesy, after all. What I wanted was something that offered the same feel, with a new setting and story.
I got the new story. Which was not my favorite, but not the worst. That said, the setting felt almost completely the same while the overall feel was downgraded to something far below what the first flick offered. 

It’s as if the writer was trying to follow the recipe of Hocus Pocus so closely, that it didn’t matter what the content of the scenes were. For instance, we started with a flashback to 1653 that was completely unnecessary. I know that it was supposed to make the rest of the story hit harder. I think everything would have landed the same if the whole scene was removed.
As far as I’m concerned, that opening prologue was there just to pad the runtime.
Hocus Pocus 2 failed to capitalize on the nostalgia aspect. There were easter eggs and moment that reoccurred in almost the exact same way as they did in its predecessor, and yet none of it carried the same weight. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it doesn’t feel like a movie at all. It felt like a long intro to a TV series.
I was disappointed.
Even expecting some form of sequelitis, I was still let down. It’d be impressive if it wasn’t so sad.

Cat’s Point of View:
Hocus Pocus (1993) has long been one of my favorite go-to Halloween movies. I tend to watch it nearly every year since it was originally released. Oh, the joy of bouncing around and chanting “amok, amok, amok” in time with the screen. Just thinking about it tends to bring a silly smile to my face.
When I heard that Disney was planning a sequel and the original cast was returning, I began to fervently pray and hope that development hell did not claim the project. Sometimes wishing upon that proverbial Disney star does result in a dream come true – because, after all, here we are discussing Hocus Pocus 2.
Of course, I have to give Bette Midler (The Stepford Wives, The Politician, The Addams Family 2) much thanks, as it’s said that she practically pestered the studio on a regular basis after she realized how much the original film was adored by fans. I was overjoyed that Sarah Jessica Parker (All Roads Lead to Rome, Here and Now, And Just Like That...) and Kathy Najimy (Descendants, Veep, Single All the Way) were on board to also reprise their roles. It wouldn’t be the same without them. I had zero plans to watch any sort of reboot, remake, or sequel that didn’t somehow involve them or have their specific sign-off. I was also happy that Doug Jones (The Strain, The Shape of Water, Star Trek: Discovery) came back to reprise his role, as well.
Sequels are tricky enough as it is, and generally tank more frequently when all regard for the original is thrown out the window. Thankfully, Hocus Pocus 2 did not fall into that trap. In fact, there are many little Easter Egg moments sprinkled throughout that are direct homages to the original Hocus Pocus. A lot of care and thought was put into all the details within this picture.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that so much time has passed since the original story took place. I really enjoyed how this new chapter incorporated updated elements – from the transportation choices of the witch sisters to some of the locations utilized. (I don’t want to give away too, much!)

In addition to bringing the Hocus Pocus-verse into this new century, the production even set up an opportunity for torch-passing that I’m not even mad at. Whitney Peak (Molly's Game, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Home Before Dark) was a great choice for leading the young trio of girls faced with taking down the Sanderson Sisters.
Aside from all of that, I was happy to get a bit more background information about the Sandersons. As with most Disney family movies, there’s a wholesome message or lesson in the subtext of Hocus Pocus 2. Learning the characters’ motivations and how they found their witchy path really helped drive that home. I watched with my daughter, and she was quick to grab onto the concept – and let me tell you, I got a bit misty about it.
Sam Richardson (Superintelligence, Werewolves Within, Senior Year) was also a fun addition to the production. He played my favorite supporting character in The Tomorrow War (2021) and was responsible for probably my favorite scene in that movie. I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve seen him in – and I am looking forward to more projects of his in the future. The explanation of how he tied into the Hocus Pocus story was probably the weakest plot point within the whole story – but, frankly, I didn’t care. I just shrugged it off. I’m thinking most fans will, too.
The Mouse House had a bit of a stroke of genius by releasing Hocus Pocus 2 at the end of September. We have the whole month of October to enjoy it before this Halloween rolls around. I can tell you we’ll probably watch this again more than once before the spooky season is over.
If you had fun with the original Hocus Pocus, this sequel will likely also be a magical experience.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 63%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 54%
Metascore – 55%
Metacritic User Score - 4.4
IMDB Score – 6.2/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 2/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating 4.5/5
P.S. There’s a during credit and after credit scene.
Movie Trailer:

Monday, October 3, 2022

Ominous October - Deadstream (2022)

Streaming Service: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Deadstream (2022)
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Length: 1h 27min
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Winterspectre Entertainment, Jared R Cook Productions, Stonehaven Entertainment, Blue Finch Films Releasing, Koch Films, Mis. Label, VOD Factory, Velvet Spoon, YES TV, Première TV Distribution, Shudder
Director: Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter
Writers: Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter
Actors: Ariel Lee, Cylia Austin-Lacayo, Hayden Gariety, Jason K. Wixom, Jaxon Harker, Joseph Winter, Marty Collins, Melanie Stone, Pat Barnett, Perla Lacayo
IMDb Blurb: A disgraced internet personality attempts to win back his followers by livestreaming one night alone in a haunted house. But when he accidentally pisses off a vengeful spirit, his big comeback event becomes a real-time fight for his life.

Cat’s Point of View:
When we watched the trailers for movies coming out this October, Deadstream caught my attention. I enjoy watching paranormal investigation shows now and again so the premise of Deadstream was right up my alley – and great for the beginning of the spooky season.
In addition to TV and streaming service paranormal content, I have been known to watch a few YouTube streamers’ videos now and again. I get a kick out of urban exploration videos sometimes. 

My point is that Deadstream latched on to this particular corner of paranormal “entertainment” that has a somewhat blurry line with “social influencer” and brought a fresh spin to the haunted house genre.
Let me tell you, this was a wild ride.

I got exactly what I expected from Deadstream, and then some. I laughed, rolled my eyes, and then even covered my eyes in a few places. There were good thrills and face-palm moments. What else would you expect when sending a cowardly guy into a legitimately haunted house alone? I believed everything they were selling me, and it was fabulous.
Deadstream got a phenomenal amount of mileage out of the practical effects and skillful editing. There were very few moments where CGI effects were necessary – and that’s a feat when you’re dealing with ghosts. I’d say a good 90% of the practical effects looked pretty good. 

With a lower-end budget, Deadstream exceeded my expectations. I caught an interview with the writing/directing team, and they revealed that a good number of the ‘creatures’ (or ghosts, as the case may be) were developed and created in the garage of the effects artist during the Covid-19 lockdown. I was impressed.

It was no surprise when the dynamic writing/directing couple of Vanessa Winter (Devil's Got My Back, Studio C, V/H/S/99: To Hell and Back) and Joseph Winter (Abandoned in Space, It Came From the Lab, V/H/S/99: To Hell and Back) explained in the same interview that Deadstream was essentially a love letter to the creature features of the 80s, but with a modern streamer spin. I was really feeling the Evil Dead (1981) or Army of Darkness (1992) vibes. I can’t wait to see their segment in the anthology releasing later this month.
Joseph Winter also gets big kudos from me for taking on the lead role. He went all-in with his portrayal of the embattled streamer, Shawn. I appreciated the depth that they gave to the character beyond the activity shown in the haunted house framework. Melanie Stone (Chasing Shadows, We're Alive: Frontier, Cupid for Christmas) was also a fun addition to the small cast. I won’t give away spoilers, but I nearly jumped out of my skin a few times she appeared on the screen.

There were a lot of jump-scares. For this sort of production, I pretty much went in expecting to be startled every few minutes, so it wasn’t shocking or annoying. It’s just something to keep in mind while watching. I also have to hand it to this production team – for a “found footage” genre movie, Deadstream has steadier camera work than I was expecting…especially when the primary camera was attached to a moving person.  A little shaky-cam was unavoidable in this format, but it really wasn’t as bad as I was worried that it could be. 
I love a good horror comedy, and Deadstream was an absolute delight to kick off Ominous October. Join us this month for our spooky selections!
You can catch Deadstream premiering as a Shudder original starting Thursday, October 6th.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 92%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – 66%
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 7.2/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4.5/5
Trust the Dice: Parental Advisory Rating – R
Movie Trailer: