Saw a Takashi Miike picture called The Great Yokai War. "Yokai" is a Japanese term for monsters from folklore, as opposed to the more familiar kaiju. It's a kids' picture, about a young boy from Tokyo sent out to live in the countryside with his older sister and his intermittently senile grandfather. When a vengeful spirit appears, the boy gets caught up in a war between warring groups of yokai and must find his courage to become the "Kirin Rider", the hero who will set everything to rights. It's not a bad picture - nothing deep, but an amusing story. Some of the yokai are really trippy, Japanese folklore can get pretty "out there", apparently.

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Somehow, The Huntsman: Winter's War was overlooked by me. My wife will be happy to have another Chris Hemsworth movie.

Odd and often disappointing crop of recent watches (and one "I saw some of it while working on other things and even that was too much"):

Dark Places (2015): The film should’ve been a slam-dunk. It has a stellar cast (Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Chloe Grace Moretz, Chistina Hendricks.....) and it came out just after the hype for Gone Girl (DP was the author's earlier, more horrific novel) . I knew when they started shifting release dates that I should wait for home viewing. Despite strong acting, it does not duplicate effectively what worked about the novel (creepy mystery with social commentary) and it can't overcome the novel’s worst element, an utterly absurd, convoluted ending. As a bonus, the director thought it would be good to shoot in darkness because, you know, it’s called Dark Places. As a result, it’s frequently hard to determine what, if anything, might be happening.

Girlfriends (1978): Filmed in 1975, it spent some years in post-production because they ran out of money. This foundational indie film features strong acting and an interesting look at a life in a particular time and place.

The Magician (1926): This strange old horror movie/melodrama features excellent location shooting around mid-1920’s Europe and the prototype of Universal's Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. Indeed, its much-discussed influence on classic horror movies includes a shot that was virtually duplicated in Bride of Frankenstein. Predictable, but with good cinematography and some amusing comic relief.

The Nativity Story (2006):I suppose it was inevitable we'd eventually see it some Christmas season. My wife nailed it by saying it’s one of the school/church “bathrobes and blankets” Living Nativity Scenes but with a really big budget.

Sleepover (2004): Fortunately, I did not have to see all of it. This really bad movie had a strong following for awhile among tween girls, and apparently that has not entirely faded. Dumb plot and problematic takeaway messages, even given its intended audience. Steve Carell as a bumbling private security cop provides some laughs, but even he's only good in context.

Oops! We already watched it.

Richard Willis said:

Somehow, The Huntsman: Winter's War was overlooked by me. My wife will be happy to have another Chris Hemsworth movie.

ROOTS: We finished watching the original mini-series over the weekend. I had completely forgotten one of the stars who was in the last part. Tracy's reaction: "No! Don't ruin Burl Ives for me just before Christmas!"

IN BRUGES: My wife and I were very impressed with this movie, which is heavy on characterization and dialogue. She said, "I forgot there are movies where actors get to act!" (I may have pushed the action movies a little too much.)

VAN HELSING; This should have been a great movie, and a franchise starter. It stars Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Underworld's Selene (Kate Beckinsale), features a lot of Universal's monsters (Dracula, werewolves, Frankenstein's monster, Igor), has a lickety-split plot and great special effects. But it is mind-numbingly by-the-numbers and both Jackman and Beckinsale look like they're there for the check. The only character who really appears to be acting is the guy who plays Dracula, and even there he was more a collection of cliches and tics than a real character. There's a scene where a character watches some dead people's spirits disappear into heaven (which is in the clouds) and smiles a bittersweet smile. Bleah.

VAN HELSING: was made by the same people who helmed the much superior MUMMY, the one with Brendan Fraser. This was their next chapter, so to speak. But they had too many monsters and not enough time to showcase them all properly. If Hugh Jackman was looking for another franchise, it wasn't this!

OTOH, it was the impetus for those great UNIVERSAL MONSTERS DVD box sets, so Thank You for that!

Three Identical Strangers (2018)

This doc has to be seen to be believed. I remember the first part of the story from the media in the 1980s. I did not know how dark the story turned...

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