The Witches

★★1/2

I remember seeing Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” on VHS at the sleepover birthday party of a trio of triplets who lived down the road from me. I was 9 at the time. For those of us who weren’t enticed away by the boys’ Sega Game Gear, the picture made quite an impression. Numerous kids bailed on the movie for other reasons – leaving the room crying, upset and terrified. (One of these cats had a similar incident caused by the Rodent of Unusual Size while watching “The Princess Bride.” Perhaps I should’ve hung with a heartier crowd?)

“The Witches” is PG, but it’s an intense PG. There’s imagery therein we weren’t accustomed to seeing. (Go figure – the dude behind “Performance,” “Don’t Look Now” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth” made a kid’s flick that rattled?) I stuck with the “The Witches.” It didn’t freak me out … it intrigued me. I dug the puppets created by Jim Henson (who executive produced) and his team. I was enraptured by Anjelica Huston’s creepy performance.

Fast forward 30 years and now we’ve got Robert Zemeckis’ spin on “The Witches,” currently available for streaming on HBO Max. Zemeckis made some seminal flicks of my and every other ‘80s kids’ youth in the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” He’s lost a step or twelve since then getting sucked down a motion capture-fueled technological wormhole. (See “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol” … or better yet, don’t. Tom Hanks’ dead CG eyes will haunt your nightmares.) Sadly, “The Witches” isn’t a return to form – and strangely it’s technology that often hobbles the flick. (A horrendously rendered CG cat that would make your Nintendo 64 blush from embarrassment is my least favorite element of this enterprise. These technicians seriously fuck up fur texture and then add insult to injury by making the cat wet and brutally botch the water effects.)

“The Witches” tells the tale of Hero Boy (Jahzir Bruno), a young lad who loses his folks in a car accident. He goes to live with his Grandma (Octavia Spencer – easily the best part of this movie and almost anything she appears in. Also, how in the hell is she playing anybody’s grandmother?!!! She was born in 1972! Get with it, Hollywood! Keep employing Spencer, but maybe try slotting her as the lead of a romantic comedy or something?). The boy is shy, sad and reserved at first. Grandma breaks down his walls with her big heart and by dancing to a coupla choice mid-to-late ‘60s and early ‘70s soul needle drops (foremost among them is the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There”).

Just as things start going well for the duo, a coven of witches rear their ugly heads nearby. Grandma, Hero Boy and his pet mouse Daisy (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth) flee to a beachside resort hotel managed by Mr. Stringer (Stanley Tucci) to hide. As luck would have it, the witches (fronted by Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch) are staying there too and have nefarious intentions of turning the world’s children into mice via potion-dosed chocolate bars since kids stink to high hell to them otherwise.

A murderers’ row of talent assembled to make “The Witches.” Zemeckis directed. He co-wrote with Kenya Barris (“Black-ish,” “Girls Trip”) and Guillermo goddamned del Toro! It was produced by del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. I wonder what this movie would’ve played like had del Toro directed it? As is, it kinda reads like Great Value brand Tim Burton. I would love to see the Burton of yore tackle this material.

In spite of all the talent behind and in front of the camera, “The Witches” is a mixed bag. The acting for the most part is only so-so aside from Spencer. Bruno’s a cute kid, but not an especially adept actor. His performance improves once a transformation takes place and he’s providing voiceover only. Hathaway goes BIG and is admittedly entertaining at times. The first iteration of her character kinda reminded me of my high school/college sweetheart. She didn’t have Heath Ledger Joker mouth as Hathaway’s Grand High Witch does, but their faces kinda resemble one another and the poofy blonde wig sealed it. Hathaway’s performance and wigs getter bigger as the movie proceeds. She employs an accent that sounds like a mixture of Melania Trump and Swedish Chef from “The Muppets.” I often had trouble understanding her, which I’m sure is played for humor – mostly it just frustrated me. Tucci is almost entirely wasted. How does a movie waste a talent such as Tucci?!!! I’m assuming he’s here primarily as a favor to Hathaway after having worked with her on “The Devil Wears Prada.”

This complaint was likely lodged against the 1990 version too, but I’m uncertain who this version of “The Witches” was made for – it’s too scary for children and too childish for adults. It often plays like one of those “Stuart Little” movies from the late ‘90s/early aughts and mostly seems like an excuse to make fat jokes at the expense of children and mice alike.

Tremors: Shrieker Island

★★★1/2

To say I have a lengthy history with the “Tremors” franchise would be an understatement. I’d often watch the original installment after school on stations such as USA or TNT. Mostly I’d tune in for the famed scene in which Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) let loose on a Graboid with an entire arsenal for breaking through their basement rec room wall or the concluding critter kill where Val (Kevin Bacon) tricks one of those varmints into drilling its way through a cliff face plummeting to its demise.

The movie gained greater respect in my eyes when I spotted its one-sheet on the bedroom wall of Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee) in Kevin Smith’s sophomore feature “Mallrats.” (The movies shared a studio in Universal and producer in the late, great Jim Jacks.) Fictional or not, Brodie was a teenage hero of mine and if “Tremors” was good enough for him it sure as shit was good enough for me. (Fun Fact: “Mallrats” celebrated its 25th anniversary on the day I wrote this piece.)

Fast forward a bunch of years – I’m now married, have a home, have a job, have a dog, have responsibilities. My love of “Tremors” hasn’t faded an iota. My wife Jamie is a devotee to boot. We’ll drop whatever we’re doing and tune into “Tremors” when it’s on premium cable. Everybody has cable movies – hers are “Jurassic Park,” “Apollo 13” and “The American President”; mine are “Tombstone,” “The Rock” and anything starring Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme as I’m on the precipice of passing out. “Tremors” is OUR cable movie. We both delight in the way McEntire closes her eyes when firing two six shooters simultaneously or the way Melvin (Bobby Jacoby) screams, “Burt, you asshole! There’s no bullets in this gun!”

The sad fact of the matter is most of the “Tremors” sequels suck worse than Nickelback. “Tremors: Shrieker Island,” now available on DVD, VOD and for streaming on Netflix, is the seventh installment of the franchise … and believe it or not it’s the second best of the bunch. The only other one I’d recommend is 2015’s “Tremors: Bloodlines.”

Gross once again returns to the role of Burt Gummer. He’s the only cast member to have been in every entry to date. Despite having 125 acting credits, I don’t really know Gross from anything other than “Tremors” and “Family Ties,” and I’d assert Gummer is far more iconic than Steven Keaton. (It warmed my heart to see the Chicago-born Gross switch from an Atlanta Hawks ball cap to a Chicago Cubs one in 2018’s “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” and maintain the change here.)

When we happen upon Burt he’s living a life of seclusion on a Thai island looking like an aged version of Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” Scientists (embodied by Jon Heder, Caroline Langrishe and Jackie Cruz) on a nearby island need assistance when their fellow inhabitants – a group of hunters fronted by the bastardly Bill (badass genre character actor Richard Brake) and his sharpshooter sidekick Anna (Cassie Clare) – generically engineer Graboid game. Burt, the best in the Graboid dispatching biz, reluctantly agrees to aid them despite personal grievances and general malaise.

The plot’s thin and the dialogue is often eye-rollingly bad, but “Shrieker Island” is one blast of a B-movie. The flick’s co-written and directed by Don Michael Paul, who helmed the previous two “Tremors” installments as well as an onslaught of different Universal 1440 Entertainment DTV sequels, i.e. “Jarhead 2: Field of Fire,” “Kindergarten Cop 2,” “Death Race 4: Beyond Anarchy,” “The Scorpion King: Book of Souls,” “Jarhead: Law of Return” and “Bulletproof 2.” He also wrote the awesome and entirely underrated “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” way back in 1991. Paul brings fun and style to the proceedings. He apes all sorts of other movies entertainingly – this picture’s carrying a big ol’ torch for “Predator.”

The cast generally comes to play. Gross can do Gummer in his sleep at this point, but by no means sleepwalks through the film. Heder is a welcome presence – he’s likable and not annoying – which says something as I generally haven’t dug the dude outside of his breakout role in “Napoleon Dynamite.” Brake’s a hoot here – he’s like a scuzzy Richard Branson blended with Lance Henriksen’s “Hard Target” baddie. Langrishe, Cruz and Clare are all lovely and acquit themselves well in their roles.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – with “Tremors: Shrieker Island” and this man … it’s both.

Alec at the Movies: The Kid Detective/Honest Thief

★★★1/2

I did something I haven’t done in a hot minute yesterday. I took in a double bill … at the movie theater. Lucky me, double the COVID! Jokes aside, don’t go the movies if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. If you do go – please wear a mask, socially distance and follow all posted safety protocols. With no further ado, here’s what I saw!

The Kid Detective

I didn’t hear about this one until a week ago while I was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (more COVID!). Imagine “Encyclopedia Brown” (if you read the Donald J. Sobol children’s books or remember the HBO series from the late ‘80s/early ’90s) only grown up, burnt out and having developed an alcohol dependency and you’ve got “The Kid Detective” in a nutshell.

Adam Brody is the titular “Kid Detective” AKA Abe Applebaum. He was a celebrated child sleuth (played in his earlier years by Jesse Noah Gruman) who solved mysteries ranging from who stole the proceeds from the high school’s bake sale to who’d been robbing the local ice cream parlor. For his troubles he was awarded the Key to the City and free cones for life. The bloom is off the rose when his assistant – the Mayor’s daughter, Gracie Gulliver (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato) – disappears and Abe’s unable to help bring her home. He carries this burden into adulthood.

Abe, now 32, maintains the same office he did as a youngster. He has a new assistant, the uber goth, Lucy (Sarah Sutherland, Kiefer’s daughter!). Abe’s folks (Wendy Crewson (it’s always good to see the Mom from “The Good Son” and the First Lady from “Air Force One”) and Jonathan Whittaker) are worried about their son’s drinking and financial stability. The tides appear to be turning for Abe when teenaged Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) hires him to solve the murder of her high school sweetheart.

“The Kid Detective” is the feature directorial debut of “The Dirties” screenwriter Evan Morgan and it’s an auspicious beginning to what I can only hope will be a very fruitful career. This movie is assured, Canadian and Shane Black-ish as shit. It goes darker than it likely earns in the late goings, but it doesn’t stumble much as a result. Sharply written and strongly performed – I could see this becoming a cult sensation in time through streaming and cable rotations. Brody is an actor I’ve always liked and admired all the way back to his early days on Fox’s “The O.C.” He had a bit of a comeback last year with a solid turn in the horror-comedy “Ready or Not.” “The Kid Detective” is a real showcase for his talents that I hope leads to bigger and better roles and projects in the months and years to come … he’s earned ‘em.

4/5

Honest Thief

You’re either into “Liam Neeson:  Man of Action” or you ain’t. “Honest Thief” isn’t gonna waiver your favor one way or another. It lacks the visual dynamism of his collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop,” “Run All Night”). It lacks the humor and slickness of “The A-Team” and the heart and substance of “The Grey” – two flicks on which Neeson teamed with writer/director Joe Carnahan. It’s gonna make me an outlier, but I preferred “Honest Thief” to any of the “Taken” movies and actually enjoy those pictures in descending order. What “Honest Thief” has is Neeson doing the damned thing … and often, that’s enough.

Neeson stars as Tom Carter AKA the In-and-Out Bandit (Wet Bandits was already taken and this has nothing to do with burgers Animal Style or otherwise). Carter’s managed to earn his nickname by stealing $9 million from small-town banks without physically harming anyone or leaving clues leading to his identity. After meeting grad student/storage facility employee Annie (Kate Walsh), Carter turns his back on a life of crime. She’s charming and funny (referring to her gig as “paid study hall”) – he’s smitten.

After a year together, Carter wants to make an honest (pun intended) go of it with Annie and attempts to turn himself in to two senior FBI Agents – Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) and Baker (Robert Patrick) – over the telephone. He offers them all of the money – he hasn’t spent a cent of it – in exchange for leniency. The veterans thinking Carter’s a quack hand the case off to junior Agents Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos). The youngbloods see a clear-cut opportunity for profit forcing Carter to unleash his “very particular set of skills.”

“Honest Thief” is co-written and directed by “Ozark” co-creator Mark Williams. It’s only the second feature he’s made after directing the 2017 Gerard Butler-fronted family drama “A Family Man,” which I’d never heard of prior to doing research for this review. Williams’ script and style are both pretty rote. It’s fair to say his cast elevates the material. Neeson and Walsh have palpably charming chemistry. Donovan adds personality to the role of dogged investigator by toting a dog named Tazzie with him everywhere he goes. Courtney plays an evil prick with aplomb. Ramos conveys guilt and regret well enough that he’s hugely sympathetic. Patrick isn’t present long, but makes anything better by being there.

“Honest Thief” is a simple story told simply. You’ve been there. You’ve done that. It was just nice to see a potboiler programmer mounted by professionals on the big screen while I still have the opportunity to do so.

3/5

The Opening Act

★★★1/2

Comedian and actor Steve Byrne makes his feature screenwriting and directorial debut with “The Opening Act,” now available on VOD and in select theaters. Byrne, best known for co-creating and starring on the TBS sitcom “Sullivan & Son,” makes a smooth transition to becoming a full-fledged filmmaker.

Will Chu (Jimmy O. Yang) is a nice kid trying to make a name for himself in Steubenville, Ohio’s standup comedy scene. By day he works as an insurance claims adjuster for his unkind and unfair boss, Barry (Bill Burr); by night he’s doing bringer shows. (One of Will’s “bringers” affords Dan Lauria a nice little cameo – he was the Sullivan of “Sullivan & Son.”) Will’s presented a real opportunity by more established comedian Quinn (Ken Jeong, funny in a limited role), when he’s asked to MC for up-and-coming comedian Chris (Alex Moffat of “Saturday Night Live”) and the famed but fading Billy G. (Cedric the Entertainer) in Pittsburgh. Will asks Barry for a Friday off to accommodate the gig – Barry flatly denies the request – prompting Will to quit. Will leaves his girlfriend, Jen (Debby Ryan), behind for the weekend and heads to Pittsburgh for his make or break moment.

“The Opening Act” feels much more authentic than “Punchline” (no comedians are shown using lockers) and hews closer to Judd Apatow’s “Funny People,” though it’s far less polished and far shorter (90 minutes as opposed to 153). It’s a hangout movie first and foremost. And it works because you’ll root for Yang’s Will, who may possibly be too nice of a guy for the comedy world. Yang is an actor I’ve always liked – his Jian-Yang was hilarious on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” I cared about the safety of his real-life hero Dun Meng in Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day” and gave “Fantasy Island” one star more than I probably should’ve earlier this year due to the sight of Yang and Ryan Hansen feeding hand grenades into a pitching machine. “The Opening Act” is a showcase for Yang and he makes the most of it.

Ably supporting Yang are Moffat and Cedric the Entertainer. Moffat’s Chris is a hard-partying womanizer who attempts to tempt Will to cheat on Jen with a groupie. (Ryan’s Jen is certainly portrayed as kind, supportive and attractive with limited screen time. I wish she were better developed to further cement why Will wouldn’t stray from her other than his inherent decency.) Chris is unsuccessful in this pursuit, but looks out for Will in other respects such as bringing him along for a spot on a morning radio show. Cedric the Entertainer’s Billy G. is a comedian Will grew up idolizing. He’s terse with the young man when he botches his introduction, but is kind and supportive enough to later have lunches with him during which he offers advice and encouragement.

Having a comedian such as Byrne write and direct an inside look into the comedy world lends the proceedings an air of authenticity. Having comedians such as Neal Brennan (playing an eccentric club owner named Chip), Whitney Cummings, Felipe Esparza, Russell Peters, Tom Segura and Roy Wood Jr. on hand doesn’t hurt matters either. Byrne must be easy to work with as “Sullivan & Son” producers Peter Billingsley (Ralphie!) and Vince Vaughn produced this as well. The resulting product is an easy watch too – it’s good-natured and more charming than it is funny. I liked it well enough that I’ll be on the lookout for whatever Byrne does next.

Heartland Horror: The Color Rose/Darkness in Tenement 45/La Dosis

★★1/2

For a long time I had a fickle relationship with horror flicks. I only selectively dug ‘em until I got to college and my buddy, Evansville, Ind.-based filmmaker Jakob Bilinski, taught me the ways of terror. He’s my Sensei of Shock. His enthusiasm for the genre is contagious and I’ve been a fairly hardcore devotee ever since.

It’s almost 20 years later and I’m fairly confident I know what comprises an engaging bit of genre entertainment. This brings me to the Heartland Horror section of the Heartland International Film Festival. I watched three selections from their programming – “The Color Rose,” “Darkness in Tenement 45” and “La Dosis.” I wasn’t granted access to “Hum” and had already seen “Host” on Shudder (seriously, check this one out – it’s one of 2020’s best films). While I found admirable traits in each of the three selections I viewed for this piece, I could make a strong argument that none of these films are quote, unquote “horror” – thrillers, sure – but horror, I think not. There are two “F’s” that are integral to the horror genre in my humble opinion – fun and frights. You gotta have fun and you’ve gotta have frights – if you don’t have at least one of the two … you don’t have shit … or at the very least, you don’t have horror.

The Color Rose:

This was the slickest of the entries I watched. It was also the most fun and felt the most like a horror flick. I dug that it opened with a good-ish Nirvana cover at the very least. Actress-turned-director Courtney Paige makes her feature directorial debut with this story of seven high school girls who start a gang/cult called the Sinners at their Christian school with each of them representing one of the seven deadly sins. They are Grace/Lust (Kaitlyn Bernard), Aubrey/Pride (Brenna Llewellyn), Tori/Wrath (Brenna Coates – Is Brenna that common of a name?!!!), Katie/Greed (Keilani Elizabeth Rose), Stacey/Envy (Jasmine Randhawa), Molly/Gluttony (Carly Fawcett) and Robyn/Sloth (Natalie Malaika). When one of their ranks breaks from the pack and starts ratting them out for their misdeeds, they decide discipline is in order. Things grow more complicated from there on in a fashion that’s reminiscent of “Heathers” and “The Craft” … but not nearly as interesting.

I don’t feel great slagging on a movie that’s directed by a woman, co-written by women (Paige alongside Erin Hazlehurst and Madison Smith) and stars a bunch of mostly promising young actresses. We need more of this in genre filmmaking. I wish the kills had been more graphic and staged with more panache. (This is likely the result of budgetary issues.) The proceedings would feel more like a horror flick this way and less like a Lifetime movie. I also didn’t dig that they incessantly ripped on Fawcett’s appearance as Molly … she’s plenty attractive and the assertion that she’s not may give certain audience members self-esteem issues. There are certainly enjoyable elements of the flick. It’s cool that it goes by more than one title (it’s also known as “The Sinners”), which is a badge of honor for any good piece of exploitation. It was fun to see Lochlyn Munro (most fondly remembered as Cliff from “Dead Man on Campus” – “My name is Cliff, brother of Joe. I got me some crack. I want me some hoes!”) and Michael Eklund (who I just saw and reviewed in “Welcome to Sudden Death”) as a pair of crooked big city cops. There’s also a doozy of a twist I didn’t see coming … kudos on that humdinger.

2.5/5

Darkness in Tenement 45:

The number 45 is plenty scary in and of itself these days. So is the prospect of a deadly virus plaguing and eliminating humanity. Despite these ingredients being cooked into “Darkness in Tenement 45,” the flick was sort of a snooze for me. This movie is slower than Philip Rivers running a football, which is a cardinal sin for a feature running a mere 95 minutes. The picture sports one outstanding performance (Casey Kramer – bringing BIG TIME Nurse Ratched energy to the role of Martha) and one achingly atrocious one (I don’t like harping on child actors, but Nicolas Aleksandr Bolton is capital “B” bad as Tomás.). Writer/director Nicole Groton has said his character and performance were inspired by Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth.” If that’s true, she should’ve done a better job of guiding a 14-year-old boy through the role and its complexities. He’s a young enough and good-looking enough kid that I hope and think he’ll bounce back. “Darkness” is Groton’s feature directorial debut. She did a lot right. She did some wrong. She shows talent and promise … these traits will likely be better realized with more money and experience. I hope just hope next time out she makes a movie as cool as this one’s poster.

2.5/5

La Dosis

This Argentinian import is certainly the most assured of these three entries. It takes place almost entirely in a hospital, which is just about the scariest place you can be in 2020. The picture focuses on experienced nurse Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi). Marcos is good at his gig, he gets along with fellow nurse Noelia (Lorena Vega), works long hours and genuinely cares about his patients. Perhaps he cares too much? He will put patients down if he senses their suffering is too grand. A new nurse comes along. His name is Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers). He too is not above putting patients out of their “misery,” but what’s his reasoning?

This too is a feature directorial debut. Writer/director Martin Kraut acquits himself well. The picture is well-acted and sharply shot. I was especially impressed by Portaluppi’s performance. It’s not every day you see a man of his size headline a picture, but it’s refreshing and realistic. In spite of his heft, Portaluppi is a handsome fella with a face that conveys just how dogged, determined and tired his Marcos is.

Part of me wishes “La Dosis” had gone bigger, badder and more grandiose … think Brian De Palma. It’s more character study than horror or thriller. (I think my wife was most terrified by Marcos’ frequent meal of cold, canned peas … spooky!) I don’t know if it says more about me or these movies, but I found this one kinda slow too – and it’s only 93 minutes. Perhaps it’s time I talk to my physician about a Ritalin prescription?

3/5

This year’s Heartland Film Festival will be a combination of drive-in and virtual screenings. For a complete schedule and to buy tickets, click here.

Hubie Halloween

★★★

A lot of folks saw the trailer for Adam Sandler’s most recent Netflix offering, “Hubie Halloween,” heard the voice he was employing and assumed he was promptly getting revenge for the Academy Award nomination he didn’t receive for last year’s “Uncut Gems,” both of which were certainly warranted. I’m happy to report the accent plays better in the movie and the flick itself is not only one of the best of Sandler’s Netflix slate – it’s the best straight-up comedy he’s made in recent memory.

Sandler stars as Hubie Dubois, the laughingstock of Salem, Mass. Hubie’s one helluva a nice guy, but he’s in his 50s, still lives with his mother (June Squibb), rides a bicycle to his job working a deli counter where he’s bullied by a high schooler (Karan Brar), is a virgin and is too shy to ask out Violet Valentine (Julie Bowen – cool to see her and Sandler back together so many years after “Happy Gilmore”), the girl he’s had a crush on since the second grade. To add insult to injury, Hubie’s also tormented by Mr. Landolfa (Ray Liotta), the Hennessey’s (Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows – sporting the most intentionally hilarious bad hairpiece I’ve ever seen) and an 11-year-old by the name of O’Doyle (Tyler Crumley) … why’s that name so familiar? Hell, even the town’s priest Father Dave (Michael Chiklis) picks on him.

Hubie, as the descendant of someone who stood up for witches in Salem … and paid the ultimate price for doing so … feels it’s his place to protect the town on Halloween. He’s happy to team with local police (embodied by a mulleted Kevin James and Kenan Thompson), but they want nothing to do with him. Armed with his Swiss Army knife of a thermos, Hubie takes to the streets. Salem faces more threats than normal as a patient has escaped from a nearby mental health facility and Hubie’s new neighbor, Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi), shares a name with a man whose name appeared on a headstone with a birth year dating back to the 1600s … Lambert may or may not also be a werewolf.

“Hubie Halloween” is directed by Steven Brill, who made two Sandler flicks I’m not a fan of (“Little Nicky,” “Mr. Deeds”), but also helmed Sandler’s recent, awesome standup special “100% Fresh” and made his directorial debut with the surprisingly subversive Disney kid pic “Heavyweights.” “Hubie Halloween” is a marked improvement over Brill and Sandler’s previous filmic collaborations, but I suspect this has more to do with Tim Herlihy co-scripting with Sandler. Herlihy was Sandler’s college roommate, a staff writer at “Saturday Night Live” and co-wrote each of the star’s best comedies alongside him – among them are “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” “The Wedding Singer” and “Big Daddy.” The two reteamed for “Grown Ups 2” back in 2013 and I’ll be damned if that wasn’t a vast improvement over its predecessor and felt somewhat reminiscent of Sandler’s mid-to-late ‘90s heyday.

You already know whether “Hubie Halloween” is for you or not. This is a 102 minute movie wherein Sandler’s essentially playing an adult version of Canteen Boy and opens the picture by projectile vomiting soup from the side of his bike. My biggest takeaways are as follows. It’s worlds better than I thought it’d be given the trailer. Sandler’s nepotism pays dividends for once (Sadie and Sunny Sandler – Adam’s daughters, play two of Bowen’s character’s three kids (the other is Noah Schnapp from “Stranger Things”) – fare better than their mother, Jackie (who I ripped on hardcore in my “The Wrong Missy” review and who has admittedly improved here albeit in a diminished role). The movie has a message that’s very much worth telling and hearing right now – that no matter how mean or ugly someone is to you if you can respond with kindness you’ve already won. Mostly, I left the movie desperately wanting Squibb’s character’s wardrobe.

Vampires vs. the Bronx

★★★★

I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty butthurt when I fired up “Vampires vs. the Bronx” on Netflix only to discover it’s PG-13. PG-13 horror?!!! Yeah, that’s gonna be a no from me, dawg. All that said I’m glad I stuck with it. The movie’s good enough that my dog ass tired wife who said she was gonna dip after a coupla minutes stayed up, stayed put and stayed engaged throughout the entire thing. This flick fits a lot of charm into its compact 85 minute package.

“Vampires” focuses primarily on three tween boys and the borough they call home. There’s Miguel Martinez AKA Lil Mayor (Jaden Michael), a community-minded kid who comes across like a Baby Barack Obama. There’s Bobby Carter (Gerald W. Jones III) who ran afoul of Father Jackson (Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith, yeah, Meth’s playing a priest … lulz) for fighting and got himself thrown out of school. He’s now trying to resist the pull of street life in the form of Henny (Jeremie Harris). There’s Luis Acosta (Gregory Diaz IV), who’s back in the old hood from Tampa, Fla. to visit his Tia Maria (Socorro Santiago). Luis is the nerd of the group. He’s cleverly introduced reading a copy of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” and is referred to as “Puerto Rican Harry Potter” by a gangbanger. The rest of the neighborhood is comprised of familiar faces such as Zoe Saldaña and Chris Redd (“Saturday Night Live”).

Miguel’s current project is saving the bodega run by Tony (Joel ‘The Kid Mero’ Martinez of “Desus & Mero”). Tony opened his doors and heart to the boys giving them a safe space to do homework and play video games. Many businesses in the neighborhood have been bought up by the shadowy Murnau Properties (a cool nod to “Nosferatu” director, F.W. Murnau) fronted by the pompadoured Frank Polidori (prolific character actor Shea Whigham – a performer my wife and I are so fond of that whenever he pops up in something (which is often) we exclaim in unison, “Shea!!!,” or one of us simply mutters, “Goddamn, Shea Whigham.”). Polidori is a familiar, the human face of the vampire-owned Murnau, and they have their sights set on the bodega.

“Vampires” feels like a hodgepodge of “The Lost Boys,” “The Monster Squad” and “Attack the Block” and is much more comedic than horrific (it’s produced by “SNL” mastermind Lorne Michaels), but it also has a lot on its mind. The movie is undeniably a condemnation of gentrification and the white supremacy that’s inherent to such practices. These blonde, lily-white vampires figure they can buy up the Bronx, set up shop and feed on its residents because no one cares about them … they’re nobodies. It’s also telling that when the boys run into Vivian (Canadian actress Sarah Gadon of “Cosmopolis” and “Enemy”), a seemingly kind white lady who’s new to the neighborhood, and she assures them that she won’t call the cops they retort with, “That’s what someone who’s about to call the cops would say.”

It’s refreshing to see a flick fronted by three kids of color where they’re not only decent – they’re smart, funny, compassionate and civic-minded. Kudos to co-writer/director Oz Rodriguez (a segment director on “SNL”), his co-scripter Blaise Hemingway and these talented child actors for producing content that will empower and represent underserved youngsters out there. Kids between the ages of 8 and 14 will lap this up like a suckhead would Type O Positive … kids at heart will too. This is essentially the woke version of an ‘80s Amblin movie. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” may lack blood and guts, but much like the Wolfman, it’s got nards.

Scare Me

★★★★

“Scare Me” (now available for streaming on Shudder) isn’t the movie I was expecting it to be, but that’s not an entirely bad thing. Despite being on Shudder, the picture is not really a horror flick and hews far more towards humor. Truth be told, “Scare Me” could easily be a play and in many respects feels like an improv show.

Fred (Josh Ruben – a writer, director, producer and performer on “CollegeHumor Originals”) has left the city, gone upstate and rented a cabin in order to focus on his writing (a multigenerational werewolf action-horror saga) after a bad breakup. While out for a run he meets Fanny (Aya Cash of “You’re the Worst” and “The Boys”). She too is a writer … one of the successful variety … her zombie novel “Venus” has been hailed as the greatest piece of horror fiction ever written and sold a metric butt ton of copies. Fanny too is on a writing retreat and renting a nearby cabin … a bigger, nicer one.

Later that evening the power goes out. Fanny seeks solace in Fred’s smaller shack. They make a fire and talk craft. Fanny chastises Fred’s clichéd concept. Ultimately the gauntlet’s thrown down to, “Scare me!” The duo takes turns telling their best terrifying tales.

Normally, this is when the movie would turn into an anthology picture with different actors and locations being employed. Not here. Ruben and Cash employ various accents and facial expressions in acting their stories out soup to nuts. If their characters load or fire a gun sound effects are creatively overlaid to convey as much.

The duo becomes a trio when they order a pizza and it’s delivered by Carlo (“Saturday Night Live” vet Chris Redd). He’s a BIG fan of “Venus” and of Fanny herself. He too has tales to tell (something about, “baby scabies”). He puts off his next delivery – they eat, drink, do blow … hell, there’s even a musical number.

Ruben not only acts in “Scare Me” he also wrote, directed and produced it. The fingerprints of his sketch comedy background are all over it – thematically, structurally, performatively. He kills the accents, expressions and body language. (Humorously enough, Ruben’s real life next project is “Werewolves Within.” How’s that for meta?) Cash comes across well too. Her Fanny is smart, snarky and strong. As good as Ruben and Cash are (and they’re very, very good), the movie gets a real shot in the arm when Redd appears. Those who’ve seen “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” know if you put Redd in something it’ll automatically pop. I can simply look at his face and its exaggerated expressions and I’ll laugh. The dude’s just preternaturally funny AF. (He’s actually in another movie I’m reviewing this weekend. Stay tuned!)

“Scare Me” is a deconstruction of horror fiction and flicks that has a lot to say about gender politics, toxic masculinity and the Bechdel Test. Initially, I felt like I was sold a false bill of goods, but much like the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try sometime you find/You get what you need.”

2067

★★★

I’m not certain a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick in which Earth grows increasingly less inhabitable, society’s crumbling and people can’t breathe is what we need right now, but “2067,” available in theaters and on VOD Friday, Oct. 2, is here regardless. And in spite of being of bit of a bummer, it’s a nifty albeit flawed genre exercise that makes the most of its meager budget.

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Ethan Whyte (I kept thinking of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candy and his dessert whenever the character’s surname was shown or uttered). Ethan was orphaned as a child. He’s subsequently taken under the wing of Jude (Ryan Kwanten). The two now work underground doing maintenance on an unstable nuclear reactor in a world ravaged by climate change and deforestation. Oxygen is practically nonexistent with most everyone employing masks and breathing artificial air. Many folks grow sick from not having the real thing – one of them is Ethan’s wife, Xanthe (Sana’a Shaik).

Scientists led by Regina (Deborah Mailman) receive a transmission from 400 years in the future stating, “Send Ethan Whyte.” Apparently, Earth has become habitable again. Ethan must then weigh whether he’s willing to leave his wife behind in order to save her and the rest of the world. He reluctantly agrees and is slingshotted through the space-time continuum. Steampunk grunginess is replaced by lush jungle overgrowth. What initially feels like a sci-fi-tinged “Cast Away” gives way to something more strongly resembling “Hell in the Pacific” when someone else joins Ethan in the future.

I have conflicted feelings about Smit-McPhee as an actor. I think I dug him more as a child performer in films such as “The Road” and “Let Me In.” I may also prefer him in supporting roles as opposed to lead ones like in “Dolemite Is My Name” from last year. He brings a similar energy to “2067” that he brought to “Slow West” a handful of years back – that is being a waifish whiney wimp. In spite of this, he performs admirably enough.

It was nice to see Kwanten again after not having seen him in much of anything since “True Blood” concluded. He’s not as fun here as he was there, but he has some interesting notes to play with which he excels. It’s curious that this is an Australian film, Kwanten is an Australian actor, everyone else employs an Australian accent and Kwanten opts for an American accent.

Shaik and Mailman aren’t given nearly as much to do as their male counterparts. Shaik’s Xanthe serves more as motivation than as a fully fleshed out character. The thrust of Mailman’s performance is derived primarily through the silver wig she employs.

“2067” is the screenwriting and directorial debut of special effects artist Seth Larney. Its look is more impressive than its words, but it’s a promising start to what could be a fruitful career. I’m certainly interested in seeing whatever Larney does next. Dialogue and themes are somewhat circuitously repetitive rendering the whole enterprise draggy. The sets are well appointed; the effects impressive. With as visually striking as “2067” is, I’m somewhat surprised it didn’t resonate with me more deeply. Perhaps it’s too emo? Perhaps I’m struggling with time travel fatigue after having watched “Tenet” and all three of the “Bill & Ted” movies within the last month? Either way, “2067” is a trip worth taking – it may just behoove you to do so sometime in the future … hopefully a brighter one.

Death of Me

★★1/2

You’re gonna have to bear with me on this review. I watched “Death of Me,” available theatrically and on VOD beginning Friday, Oct. 2, almost a week ago and was kinda drunk while doing so. This may actually be appropriate for the picture, as it’s a trippy fever dream of a flick.

“Death of Me” stars everyone’s favorite Hemsworth brother (Luke!) and Maggie Q as vacationing couple Neil and Christine. He’s a travel writer and they’re winding down their trip to a Thai island. On their last night in country they’re out drinking and having a good time. Faster than you can say Roofie Coolada, the duo is drugged.

They wake up the following morning with no recollection of the previous evening, their passports are missing and there’s a video recording of Neil strangling Christine to death. Strange, as she’s very much alive, but probably wishes she weren’t due to a massive hangover.

The couple seek passage on a ferry, but are denied due to lack of passports. To make matters worse, the boat takes off with their luggage. It’s safe to say they’re up shit creek without a paddle and are stuck like a coupla Chuck’s. They’re left with no choice but to stay on the island and get to the bottom of what transpired the night before. The rest plays out in a manner that’s likely gonna give the Tourism Authority of Thailand fits.

Q and Hemsworth acquit themselves fairly well with their performances, but it’s her picture more than his. It’s mildly amusing to see Q in this so soon after “Fantasy Island.” It’s like the working vacation stage of her career has kicked into high gear. Who does this lady think she is? Adam Sandler or one of the multitude of buddies he keeps employed? Hemsworth has a somewhat strange screen presence. He looks a bit like his brothers. My wife thought he looked like Matt Damon. I thought he looked like Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year.” He’s simultaneously fit and flab. I get why he’s to the Hemsworth’s what Daniel is to the Baldwin’s (to further the analogy Chris is akin to Alec; Liam is like a hybrid of Stephen and William), but he’s good enough here that I’d be curious to see him in more stuff.

“Death of Me” is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Ari Margolis, James Morley III (co-writer of the 1999 Ice-T/Erika Eleniak modern day pirate picture “Final Voyage”!) and David Tish. I’m not exceedingly familiar with Bousman’s filmography having only seen his 2010 remake of “Mother’s Day” (a movie I engaged with even if I felt gross for doing so) prior to this. I always meant to see “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” but never got around to it. I saw James Wan’s “Saw,” but didn’t dig it so I never checked out the Bousman-directed sequels “Saw II,” “Saw III” or “Saw IV.” Despite not liking “Saw,” I’m very much interested in seeing Bousman’s upcoming “Saw” spinoff, “Spiral,” but this has more to do with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson’s involvement than anything else. That said Bousman and his crew do a commendable job of capturing the island’s beauty as well as the grisliness that transpires.

The movie’s a bit of a mess, but is appropriately disturbing and/or disquieting when it wants to be. It’s often disorienting (that could be the booze and my memory talking), but I get the impression it’s meant to be. You likely know if a bouillabaisse of “The Wicker Man,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and any number of vacation horror flicks is up your alley or not. Just know this hews closer qualitatively to the Nic Cage “Wicker Man” as opposed to the Christopher Lee one.