Movie Mayhem – Willy’s Wonderland

Willy’s Wonderland — 2021; Directed by Kevin Lewis; Starring Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant and Ric Reitz

I’ve seen some odd and interesting movies over the last few months. With COVID-19 still wrecking havoc on the blockbuster movie schedule, many small, independent films have taken over the cineplexes, a lot of which can only be described as oddly unique. Then there’s Nicolas Cage, who, aside for the occasional voice stint, hasn’t made a major blockbuster film since 2014’s Left Behind, still has over two-dozen films to his name since. Most of these films have gone straight to DVD and/or VOD, but with his reputation, you know no matter what format it ends up in, the film is going to be one wild, crazy ride. Combine these two things together and you get Willy’s Wonderland, a bizarre film that would be wildly hysterical if it didn’t try to take itself so seriously.

Take the synopsis, for instance. Cage plays The Janitor, a silent drifter in a hot product placement Camaro. When he accidentally blows out his tires driving over conveniently-placed spike strips, he agrees to clean a rundown Chuck-E-Cheese-style entertainment center to pay for the cost of fixing his car. Little does he know that the scary animatronic mascots have been possessed by serial killers and are out for blood.

The only thing that makes this synopsis even crazier is Cage being basically mute. Not sure why director Kevin Lewis chose to do that, as it would have been a hoot to see Cage quipping at all these possessed creatures as he takes them out one by one in the only way Cage could. However, even though Cage isn’t given one word of dialogue, he still manages to create an intriguing otherworldly character, infusing the Janitor with his typical unbridled performance that is devoid of fear in all sense of the word. As the creatures haunt the Janitor, Cage plays his role as if this type of supernatural occurrence happens every day, so he might as well just go with the flow.

With his penchant to duct tape all of his wounds, change out his 80s-style Willy’s Wonderland T-shirt every time it gets sprayed with black motor oil goo, and the man’s deliberate insistence to take his self-appointed breaks on time, Cage creates a character with levels of depth you wouldn’t otherwise have believed based on the material he’s given.

So-much-so that if it wasn’t for Cage’s straight-laced, yet crazy performance, the movie would have been a complete dud. The script, written by G.O. Parsons, doesn’t have anything to say beyond killing a bunch of teenage kids that have no reason being in the film. (Remove the kids and you basically have the same movie.) Parsons tries desperately to make them relevant in every scene, but we all know they’re only around so we can see some bloody carnage.

Liv (Emily Tosta) is a survivor of a past attack by these possessed animatronic characters and was taken in by the town sheriff (Beth Grant). We first meet her as she is about to burn down the entertainment center. The sheriff catches her and locks her to a radiator at her home. Why, we’re never quite sure, as she’s quickly freed by her friends, who then return to the center to again burn it down. That’s about as far as the character depth goes for these group of kids. Even Liv’s weird father-daughter bond that grows between her and the Janitor isn’t strong enough to warrant her existence.

Beyond the typical teenage slasher film cliches (character’s getting picked off one-by-one, a pair of sex-crazed kids run off to get their jollies off, the backwood hick townsfolk with a big secret), watching Nicolas Cage go crazy without ever flinching drives the film to it’s slim 88-minute run-time. For all intents and purposes, Willy’s Wonderland would have made a perfect short film — keep the gritty, dirty cinematography, drop the kids and let Nicolas Cage be Nicolas Cage in all of his Nicolas Cage glory. Unfortunately, by stretching the film into a feature, it deadens the aspects that do make it a unique horror film. If you like Cage and a little bit of bizarre horror, catch this one on late night cable when you’re about ready to fall asleep.

My Grade: B-

Bonus Reviews:

Judas and the Black Messiah, based on the true story revolving around Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton and the FBI’s push to arrest him, showcases a ton of parallels to a lot of what’s happening in politics and society today, however, the film has a lot of substance but no depth, leaving the audience a bit cold with a lack of a truly emotional core. Listen to my full (SPOILER) review of Judas and the Black Messiah on Ramblin’ Reviews: B+

Next week, new movies include Nomadland, Flora and Ulysses (Disney+) and I Care A Lot (Netflix). If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.

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Movie Mayhem – Palmer

Palmer — 2021; Directed by Fisher Stevens; Starring Justin Timberlake, Ryder Allen, Alisha Wainwright, Juno Temple and June Squibb

Because a lot of movie theaters are either closed or open in limited capacities, major studios are still delaying the majority of their films in hopes that the mess created over the last year will soon subside. Until that happens, it’s understandable that the majority of new “major” films are currently premiering on-demand or on streaming services. With many people still concerned about COVID-19 or strictly locked down by state governments, television is the only way they can get fresh content. Personally, I have no issues going to the cinemas, but with so little offerings out there, jumping on these streaming services is an appropriate alternative. Since August, when I reviewed Artemis Fowl, I’ve only caught a dozen or so new movies on these services, but you can probably expect to see quite a few more streaming reviews (for the next few months at the very least), starting with Apple TV+’s new film, Palmer.

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Movie Mayhem – Our Friend

Our Friend — 2021; Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite; Starring Casey Affleck, Dakota Johnson, Jason Segel, Isabella Kai and Violet McGraw

Casey Affleck had some big shoes to fill when he followed his brother into acting. But where Ben traveled the blockbuster path after winning an Oscar for Good Will Hunting and become an overnight action star, little brother Casey dug his roots into the independent film market (with only a few big-budget films to his credit). Over the years, Affleck has built a resume of modest, sincere melodramatic roles that show off his incredible pathos. For this reason, I haven’t seen many of Affleck’s films, as they tend not to be of interest to me. But due to the continued pandemic, there still aren’t a lot of films out there right now, so I figured I’d check out his newest film, Our Friend, and I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s earnest look into a man struggling to stay afloat as he witnesses the extreme heartache of cancer.

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Movie Mayhem – The Marksman

The Marksman — 2021; Directed by Robert Lorenz; Starring Liam Neeson, Jacob Perez, Juan Pablo Raba and Katheryn Winnick

Ever since Taken became a surprise hit in January 2008, Liam Neeson has been slowly pigeonholed into the role of revenge-seeking man with a particular set of skills. Since several of the films he made over the next few years, including Unknown, The Grey, and Non-Stop, were also released in January or February and did well at the box office, it makes sense. It almost became an event to see Neeson’s new action-thriller to start the year off right! They’ve tried to replicate this success over the past couple of years but after the dismal attempt to recapture that same magic with Cold Pursuit in 2019, it’s getting harder to get excited for yet another Taken-retread in the early months of the year. That doesn’t bode well for The Marksman, Neeson’s new thriller about a rancher who fights off the cartel to give a young boy a new life.

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Movie Mayhem – Redemption Day

Redemption Day — 2021; Directed by Hicham Hajii; Starring Gary Dourdan, Serinda Swan, Andy Garcia, Brice Bexter, Martin Donovan, and Ernie Hudson

After a mostly dreadful year in movies, all we can hope is that things change as we creep slowly into 2021. In a normal year, January would be a dumping ground for films that couldn’t hack it during the summer or fit comfortably into the holiday season mold (or Oscar-bait contenders expanding into additional theaters). Because there were no Oscar films released over the last few months that weren’t directly sent to streaming services, and for the most part, a lot of theaters across the country are still closed, it doesn’t bode well for the offerings that will come our way over the next few weeks. This is backed up by the first major offering of 2021, Redemption Day, which can’t seem to find a voice it cares about.

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Movie Mayhem – The Best and Worst Movies of 2020

Ah 2020. The year that saw movie theaters close for half the year (and in some states, the majority of the year), production studios shut down for months and product being shipped off to On-Demand and streaming services. Because of that, this year marks the first year that a movie premiering on a streaming service has made my list of Best and Worst movies of the year.

Despite everything that happened over this past year, I was still able to see 39 films in theaters (down from the normal 115-130 movies I normally see). I also saw 15 movies on Disney+, Hulu and Netflix to bring my grand total to 54, 20 of which earned a grade of A- or above. Believe me when I say that there were a lot of stinkers out there this year, but there were also a lot of bright spots as well, and some movies that did make my top 10, like the box office itself, probably wouldn’t have made the list had the insanity that was 2020 not come to pass. With that said, here are my picks for the Best and the Worst of 2020.

You may also listen to the breakdown on my new podcast!

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Chaos Breeds Chaos 2020 Television Awards – Part 3

And now, please enjoy Part 3 of this year’s television awards. (Check out Part 1 and Part 2.)

This season’s most noticeable trend: COVID-19 Finale Alterations

The Blacklist — NBC

Though a lot of shows weren’t impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown (as filming had already been completed on all episodes), many shows had to shorten their seasons anywhere from one to five episodes, depending on their production schedule. While most of these shows, especially sitcoms and procedurals, had the luxury of simply ending their seasons early (without major cliffhangers to satisfy us until next season), some had to change or alter their story arcs to condense the season accordingly, leading to mixed results. The Blacklist had to complete what would end up being their finale with animation that in many ways distracted from what was actually happening (I would like to see them finish this episode once production starts again and then re-air it as it was meant to be seen); New Amsterdam completely removed an episode that introduced a new character due to the nature of the content (which they say will be aired eventually… we’ll see; at least The Resident didn’t shy away from their virus-themed episodes); Prodigal Son condensed a few of their storylines to make sure they could get the finale they wanted and did a fantastic job in delivering the finale they intended without losing any of the show’s integrity; and Supergirl, somehow pulled off a win by throwing some of the footage it filmed for its final episode into episode 19, which then served as its season finale.

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Chaos Breeds Chaos 2020 Television Awards – Part 2

Read on for Part 2 of this year’s Television Chaos awards. (Check out Part 1).

Cutest Creature: The Child, Star Wars: The Mandalorian

The Child (The Mandalorian)

The moment this little creature peeks out of the blanket in his little hover pod, you automatically want one of your own! If that wasn’t enough, during the next episode we get to see him walk, play, eat an entire frog whole like a duck and prove his worth with force power. The puppetry (which we later learn in Disney+’s Disney Gallery: Star Wars: The Mandalorian was performed by five separate puppeteers) was outstanding, giving the little guy the perfect amount of curiosity, emotion and carefree attitude that proved that the Mandalorian had a soft side under the hard exterior of his bounty hunter predilections. From saving his friends from a flamethrower to sipping soup while watching his new father-figure fight, the Child (who was instantly and affectionately dubbed “Baby Yoda”) became a favorite among hardcore and non-hardcore Star Wars fans alike.

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Chaos Breeds Chaos 2020 Television Awards – Part 1

Despite COVID-19 stopping nearly all production in Hollywood for months on end, the show must go on. That’s right, the Emmy’s air this Sunday as normal (well, as normal as it can be), which means it’s time again for my annual TV Awards! (See previous Awards – 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013)

Not only was there plenty of shows to choose from on network TV, new streaming platforms, including Disney+, Quibi and Peacock, made their debuts, adding more content then we could possibly view unless we spent 24/7 on our couches… which, come to think of it, isn’t out of the realm of possibility these days. So, as always, over the next two days we’ll grant awards, good and bad, to over twenty series, compiling several actors, scenes and moments that resonated with me in some form or another over the tumultuous season.

Best New Series: The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian — Disney+

Is it the hype? Is it my bias for everything Star Wars? Or is it simply because The Mandalorian was just that good? I think it may be a little of everything, but that’s why this show became the cherry on top of the 2019-2020 season. The Mandalorian had a lot riding on its shoulders, being the show that would basically make or break the launch of Disney+, and yet, Jon Favreau (together with animated Star Wars vet Dave Filoni) was up to the task, matching (maybe even exceeded) all the hype with terrific direction, an incredible score, streamlined stories that still had enough meat even if they didn’t completely move the story forward, and the most scene-stealing character this side of Boo. Better yet, it did what no other Star Wars property since Empire Strikes Back has been able to do — unite all Star Wars fans for the good by taking the essence of George Lucas’s vision and creating something entirely new and fresh. By mixing the use of old-school practical effects with new world-building computer-based technology, it gave everyone a visually-stunning piece of artwork that no one wanted to see end. At a scant twenty to thirty minutes per episode, The Mandalorian didn’t feel like it was enough to fulfill our weekly Star Wars fix, yet was exactly the amount we needed. If you haven’t guessed yet, I can’t wait for the next season.

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Excerpt From the Novel “Year of the Songbird”

The following is an excerpt from my novel, Year of the Songbird, written in 2012 that I felt extremely relevant to what is currently happening in the world today. The story takes place several years in the future and follows a young blind girl who is lured away from her home with the promise of sight, only to learn about the horrific history of what lead to World War III. I wrote the novel based on the political climate at the time and where I thought things might go if nothing changed.

CAUTION: The following speech/account is made by a character in the novel who is meant to be a hard-core racist, bigoted SOB (one who only became this way after watching what happened to his family during the war for which he speaks). It includes language that may be inappropriate for younger readers, as well as derogatory terms and generalizations that, taken out of context with the entirety of the novel, may feel insensitive to some.


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