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    HOST (2020):

    Six friends who are self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic decide to invite a medium to their weekly Zoom call to help them perform a seance. When one of the friends decide to make up a story about a schoolmate that hung himself, they inadvertently summon a demonic presence.

    While this film was on my radar, I kept putting it off for a couple of reasons. First, I don't know if I need movies starting to drop COVID-19 in as plot points. We've all been dealing with the pandemic to some extent or another, but I don't necessarily want it to infiltrate my escapism, as well. The second was that the plot sounded awfully similar to Unfriended, the haunted Facebook movie from a few years ago. I quite liked Unfriended. It wasn't amazing but it was very watchable and had a good time with it. I just didn't know if I needed a second movie treading such similar ground. Obviously I pulled the trigger or I wouldn't be writing this review, but the two things that pushed it over the edge was that it actually has gotten pretty good reviews and it's runtime makes for a very minimal commitment by the viewer. And it's the runtime that helps the movie out the most.

    Clocking in at a scant 56 minutes, the movie easily clears the hurdle of most "found footage" films that this film's format emulates: how do the filmmakers pad out the first half of the film to hit that 90-minute running time and have it make sense that people would still be filming what is going on. The solution is usually a rather uneventful first 70 minutes followed by an intense final act. Since the film is less than an hour long, the movie slides through the introduction of the characters and the set-up rather easily, letting us get to know the characters a bit before the creepy goings-on begin. Unfortunately, due to the runtime there isn't a whole lot of character development beyond "this is the one that takes it seriously", "this is the character that is easily frightened", and "the one that thinks it's all a joke", but beyond only a few moments of attitude between the mostly female cast, the characters are all rather likable. Unlike Unfriended, you don't really want to see any of these people get hurt. And since the runtime is so short there's no subplots to muddy the waters. This is all about set-up building to payoff. Short and simple. But also unlike most found footage movies, this one doesn't hold back on the carnage.

    The demonic force that has been accidentally summoned has no qualms about unleashing its wrath. Some of the scare gags will give flashbacks to other found footage movies, mostly the first Paranormal Activity, but the scares are executed so well, that it was hard not to get sucked in, even though I knew exactly what the film was doing. I didn't love all of the jump scares as a couple were a little too obvious--it doubles up on one in short span that really sticks out like a sore thumb--but there are a couple of moments that really left me surprised.

    If found footage isn't your jam, this movie probably won't change your mind, but if you do like them, this is a little gem and a pretty nice way to spend an hour.

    Grade: B


      Deep Rising (1998): Boat captain John Finnegan's motto is "if the money's there, we do not care". With such a dubious life philosophy, it shouldn't surprise him that he's rented out his boat and crew to a group of well-armed mercenaries whose target is a state-of-the-art cruise ship that caters only to the richest, most elite clientele. What does surprise him is that when his boat gets critically damaged and he and his sidekick have to board the luxury liner with their mercenary customers, he finds the boat destroyed and empty. And then the very hungry, tentacle monsters appear...

      Listen, I'm not going to tell anybody that this is a great movie, because it isn't. The characters are all pretty much stereotypes. From boat captain Finnegan as the wisecracking everyman, to his long-suffering and funny sidekick, the beautiful female con artist with a heart of gold, the sneaky double-crossing business man and the overly testosterone-fueled so-manly-it-hurts mercenaries, there isn't a lot of depth. Couple this with a pretty by the numbers monster movie plot and some CGI that looked dated when it was first released and you can be sure that you don't have a "hidden masterpiece of the genre" on your hands.

      But what it does have is a great sense of fun, cool monster action and charismatic actors in their roles. And I absolutely love this movie.

      Director Stephen Sommers, who also wrote the script, does a balancing act that is so difficult to accomplish: make a movie that knows that it's supposed to be fun, but doesn't wink-and-nudge the audience with an "so-bad-it's-good" meta-awareness. It knows it's monster movie fun, but it takes that fun seriously. It's earnest and sincere in it's goofiness. Yup, there's dumb action movie moments like if you shoot the elevator buttons with a shotgun, it'll automatically open the elevator doors, right? But hey, once you've bought into the fact that if a tentacle monster can come out of the toilet and tries to pull you down into said toilet, you'll pop like a blood-filled water balloon, the shotgun/elevator door thing isn't that big of a deal.

      And back to those actors a bit. This movie--and some of the lines--could easily be groan-inducing (okay, most of it is still very cheesy), but with such charismatic actors like Treat Williams (very underrated, in my opinion), Famke Janssen, Wes Studi, Kevin J. O'Connor, Cliff Curtis, and others, it works way much better than it should.

      So, yup, silly monster movie fun, but perfect for lazy Sunday afternoons.

      Grade: Your Mileage May Vary


        Diggstown (1992): Another entry in my "Not a great movie, but I absolutely love it" list. James Woods plays a con man just out of prison who's set his sights on hustling the richest man in Diggstown. He sets the con up with his friend, Fitz (played by Oliver Platt), that an old retired boxer, "Honey" Ray Palmer (Louis Gossett, Jr.) can take on any ten men from Diggstown in a 24 hour period. What follows is almost exactly what you'd expect from the set-up. Boxing, cheating, double-crossing, and melodramatic early '90s slo-mo. It's nothing new and the characters' motivations are about as deep as a July rain puddle, but it's a fun if empty watch, like the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy.

        Grade: C+ on cinematic merits; A+ on Dad Movie Rewatchability Scale.