Monday, October 23, 2017

[Review] Dig Two Graves


The bleak and bizarre Dig Two Graves is a southern gothic horror tale that revolves around one town's treacherous curse. This film is uneven as the ground, but it isn't the worst flick to throw on during a chilly October evening.

When her older brother dies at the local quarry, 14-year-old Jacqueline - nicknamed "Jake" (Samantha Isler) is approached by a mysterious group called the "Moonshiners". They offer to bring her brother back from the dead, but there's one catch--another life must be taken in the process. From there, Jake wrestles with this conundrum and uncovers the dark history of the town.

First of all, this is an impressively shot film, capturing the small-town landscape and geography with ominous and foggy views--stuff that you'd expect from a film called Dig Two Graves. The story, on the other hand, isn't the strongest. For one thing, the tone descends from dead serious to hokey and ridiculous pretty fast. This thing piles on a lot of different elements that don't quite work well together--like over-the-top black magic rituals, humdrum historical flashbacks, and deep family melodrama. It all gets very muddled and overstuffed.

In fact, after its solid beginning, Dig Two Graves constantly feels like it's jumping the shark--or should I say the snake--because there's a HUGE snake in this movie. The story's conclusion attempts to redeem some of the missteps, but by that time, it's already dead and gone.

( 5.5/10 )


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Saturday, October 21, 2017

[Review] Professor Marston & The Wonder Women


This Summer the fantastic Wonder Woman movie dashed into theaters with historical success. And now, this Fall, we get a biopic about the creator of the Wonder Woman comics along with the two women who inspired the iconic character. Of course we don't know how much of this film sticks to real life or how much of it is embellished, but it's a fascinating portrait nonetheless. A superhero origin story of another kind...

Dr. Marston (Luke Evans) is an intense professor who works side-by-side with his brilliant and brash wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), as they practice advanced methods of psychology. When they recruit an almost lamblike student named Olive (Bella Heathcote) to participate in their studies, a juicy and complex love triangle forms. Scandalous!

Sure, Professor Marston & The Wonder Women isn't a superhero film, but it sparks a different type of excitement. It's sharp, observational, intricately layered, and consistently audacious and provocative. The script is well-wrought and the performances are top-notch. Each scene, especially early on, percolates with sexual tension, dances around indiscreet conflicts, and simmers with repressed emotions. It's also very interesting to see how certain details and events in Marston's life translate to themes and images in the comics, especially during a time when "The world won't allow it."

So, is this an engrossing film that you should go see? Yes. Lie detector says: This is true.

( 8/10 )


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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

[Review] The Babysitter


Netflix's The Babysitter is a proud trash-horror flick that I somehow hated and loved at the same time.

Cole (Judah Lewis) is an elementary school kid that often that gets picked on. The only bright spot in his life is his cool, hot, and too-good-to-be-true babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving). That is until one night when Bee invites a bunch of her friends over after bedtime, and Cole witnesses an extremely jarring event that...involves butcher knives and satanic rituals....

Let me be clear, this is not a good movie. It's almost impossible to buy into any of it, but it's also hard to look away. The whole thing feels like you're watching an extended horror version of the "Stacy's Mom" music video. Every single thing in this film is injected with a shot of cheese, a dose of kitsch, and a giddy smirk--from the obnoxious and juvenile characters, to the exaggerated blood splatter and gore, to the horrendous dialogue. Some lines are so bad that they sound like someone's haphazard excuse to incorporate unfunny Facebook statuses and tweets into a movie script.

But as the manic story progresses, it actually becomes really fun to watch Cole utilize his desperation and resourcefulness as he attempts to weasel his way out of this nasty situation. Everyone involved in this film seems to be having a blast. And while The Babysitter isn't the type of film that I'm going to shout about up and down the block, it did help get me into the spooky (and silly) spirit.

( 6.5/10 )


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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

[Review] The Foreigner


The legendary Jackie Chan stars in The Foreigner, a Taken-style thriller that hits most of its marks but leaves you with the feeling that it could've been a lot better.

After his daughter is killed in an explosion orchestrated by a faction of the IRA, Quan (Chan) decides to take matters into his own hands and track down the bombers himself. Oh yeah, and he happens to be a highly skilled and dangerous Special Forces veteran.

While the film lacks the exquisite shots and sly humor of say, John Wick, it's still the type of dark horse story that you pump your fist for. Things begin on the slower side, but it's more of a calm before the storm--you know--just a matter of time until Chan releases his fury in the form of fiery warning pops and gritty fisticuffs. Chan, now 63, is impressively still doing most of his own action stunts, but his dramatic chops are pretty good here too--he's weary, solemn, and relentlessly determined. Pierce Brosnan also checks in with a solid turn as a crooked politician with questionable ties. But unfortunately, the film's subplotting gets way too convoluted, bringing the movie down like a wasted dud while also taking focus away from the film's main draw.

The Foreigner is definitely a brand of rainy Saturday afternoon cable fare, but at least you can count on Jackie Chan to deliver those sweet moments of revenge.

( 6/10 )



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Monday, October 16, 2017

[Review] Happy Death Day


Marked on the calendar as this year's Friday the 13th main attraction, Happy Death Day is an unexpectedly entertaining slasher flick with a swirl of déjà vu icing.

After a wild night, Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in the dorm room of a friendly guy named Carter (Israel Broussard, who kinda reminded me of Craig from Degrassi) and promptly takes the so-called walk of shame back to her sorority house. Later that day, she encounters a mysterious baby-mask-wearing knife-wielder (and you thought you'd escaped The Boss Baby!) and is abruptly murdered. In case things weren't already weird enough, Tree then wakes up right back where she started! From there, she must figure out what the hell is going on--in Live. Die. Repeat. fashion.

Each sequence is more intense and crazier than the previous one. The script, through repetition, snowballs a big amount of laugh-worthy comedy. And because every scenario is slightly different (sometimes jarringly different), the narrative becomes predictably unpredictable, if that makes any sense. The tone evokes a streak of late '90s/early 2000s vibes, and fittingly, the picture is laced with bubblegum colors and filmed with the gloss of a Britney Spears music video. Jessica Rothe gives a really good central performance, especially considering how her character is put through the ringer, and then some.

If you aren't too cynical or nit-picky, Happy Death Day serves up a slice of kitschy horror that you'll have legitimate fun watching. It certainly brings a whole new meaning to "Surprise!"

( 7.5/10 )


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Saturday, October 14, 2017

[Review] Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Back in 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service snuck in as a surprisingly fun blast of mirthful action and witty spy genre tactics. Its sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle aims even higher, but it can't help but fall short of the freshness of its predecessor, despite packing as much spectacle as possible.

After the nifty Kingsman headquarters are completely destroyed, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) travel across the pond to America (Kentucky, specifically) and team up with an allied organization called the Statesman that includes cowboy Channing Tatum (!), in order to take down a criminal enterprise led by a Devil in a Red Dress-ed Julianne Moore (!).

The good news is that the film retains a clever sense of humor, and its SMASH, BOOM, POW brand of action still has a lot of spunk to it. This series has a tendency to get cartoonish, which is actually refreshing, but sometimes this installment goes a little overboard. The plot also feels cluttered and choppy compared to the slick focus of the first one. And is it just me, or has the lead character always been a bit on the bland side? Luckily, the supporting cast is strong. In addition to the aforementioned, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry join the rodeo, and as the trailers suggested, Colin Firth returns as Harry--though not quite as you'd expect. But unfortunately, most of them go underused.

With that said, Kingsman: The Golden Circle does have its charms, and there's a decent amount of enjoyment to be had in this franchise. And honestly, it's difficult for me to fault a movie that opens with a car chase set to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy".

( 7/10 )


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Friday, October 13, 2017

[Review] Super Dark Times


Kevin Phillips' remarkably striking directorial debut - Super Dark Times - is a somber and hectic loss-of-innocence thriller that definitely isn't kidding about its title.

Set in '90s suburbia and steeped in nostalgia and teenage hormones, Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are prototypical best friends in high school (the film opens with them watching a fuzzed-out Spice Channel) - that is, until a shocking and gruesome accident (it'd be a spoiler to go into detail) followed by an impromptu cover-up sends their lives spiraling out of control.

The film is both wondrously and ominously shot, and it captures a pitch-perfect tone, evoking the likes of Stand By Me, Donnie Darko, It Follows, and "Stranger Things". But there isn't anything abstract or supernatural going on here. The ugliness of reality hits hard. Very hard. Anxiety, paranoia, panic, and regret permeates throughout the story, and it all feels as heavy as the sky falling. The narrative has the type of gripping momentum that makes the duration fly by. The cast is of full of newcomers, and they're all sharp with impressively natural and convincing performances.

It's immensely intriguing to see how the whole thing plays out. I was engrossed until the bitter end. Director Kevin Phillips is certainly one to watch, so catch this one on VOD as fast as you can.

( 8/10 )


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Thursday, October 12, 2017

[Review] Wish Upon


Wish Upon is a film that blends teen drama with horror, and unfortunately, it doesn't do anything particularly special with either one. Frankly, it's an ugly travesty.

The story sees high school outcast Clare (played by Joey King) come into possession of an octangular music box that has the power to grant her seven wishes. And you know how it goes with these too-good-to-be-true trinket sort of things: For every granted wish, something nasty occurs in succession. Pretty soon Clare discovers that there's an evil entity living inside the thing.

If this all sounds very familiar, that's because it is. The film itself is a box full of cliches. And the execution of the premise here is so extremely trite, repetitive, and predictable--to the point where you'll be asking "Are we at the seventh wish yet?" There's no scare factor, the casting is bad, the dialogue is awful, and things get ridiculous in the most eye-rolling of ways. But overall, the film's biggest curse is that it's boring. Not even Barb from "Stranger Things" can save this one.

You'd definitely be able to find much more fright, entertainment, and charm in a 24-minute "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" episode. In the end, all I can say is - I wish this were a better movie.

( 3/10 )


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

[Review] Our Souls At Night


Robert Redford and Jane Fonda star in Our Souls At Night, a subdued yet affecting sleeper that you can catch on Netflix.

Louis (Redford) and Addie (Fonda) are two lonely souls, long removed from their respective spouses. One day, Addie randomly knocks on Louis' door and asks if he wants to sleep with her. No--not that kind--but you know, just to lie side-by-side and talk to each other about their lives until they drift off. Eventually, Louis accepts the proposal, with reservations of course.

That's the setup. I know it doesn't like the most ...exciting premise, but it's the type of twilight-years story that isn't often explored in cinema. Ritesh Batra (director of 2014's bittersweet love story The Lunchbox) gives this character study an unhurried but assured touch. The film, fittingly, has a nice calming effect. It moves at a gentle rhythm to a soothing folky soundtrack. It also has a solid sense of a small-town setting (and the "everyone knows everyone" gossip that comes with it). And I've said this before, but I always appreciate a great final line of dialogue in a script, and this film has one.

Our Souls At Night thrives on small and subtle moments, but in the end it feels like a wave of change has taken place. Robert Redford and Jane Fonda both give fantastic performances here. But seriously, would you expect anything less?

( 7/10 )


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Monday, October 9, 2017

[Review] Blade Runner 2049


35 years after Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic Blade Runner, the modern great Denis Villeneuve has taken on the lofty task of delivering a sequel, and he succeeds resoundingly. Not only is Blade Runner 2049 a worthwhile continuation and expansion of this universe, but it's also an astonishingly-realized dystopian epic in its own right.

We follow our Blade Runner (played by a stone-faced Ryan Gosling) through a stark world of creation and destruction, manufactured memories, and where holograms bleed into reality, as he tracks down information about a peculiar replicant. Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, and Harrison Ford (reprising his original role) round out the cast of key players.

Like its main protagonist, this film has the sheer confidence and cool patience to move at its own pace--to do things its own way--and it still manages to command attention. Much is due to the stunning imagery, from the deeply imaginative set designs to the techno-futurist visual effects. Master cinematographer Roger Deakins renders breathtaking frame after breathtaking frame. The picture is so sublime and provocative that you just have to sit back and stare in awe. The soundscape is hypnotic too, as Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer's reverberating post-Yeezus score virtually sends waves into your head and swallows you whole.

I understand that some audiences might have hoped for more action sequences and a shorter runtime (the film clocks in at 163 minutes), but personally, I found the pure artfulness, innovation, and neo-noir vibes of it all to be mesmerizing. Such an atmospheric and desolate story could've risked being emotionally numb, but as Villeneuve proved with last year's excellent Arrival, he's about more than just hollow spectacle. For as much as Blade Runner 2049 explores a bleak vision of society in disarray, it also keeps a sentimental fingerprint on a fruitful world that once was.

* 9/10 *


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Saturday, October 7, 2017

[Review] Landline


In 2014 writer-director Gillian Robespierre delivered the great indie dramedy, Obvious Child. Now, she continues that same spirit with Landline, a '90s-tinged romp about a dysfunctional family.

The story revolves around Dana (Jenny Slate) and her little sister Ali (Abby Quinn) as they begin to bond for the first time, ironically, after they find out their father (played by John Turturro) is having a steamy affair. Dana and Ali attempt to keep it a secret from their mother (Edie Falco), and all the while, they're dealing with some mishaps and crossroads within their own lives.

First off, this thing is hilarious. Like Obvious Child, it dives head-first into some boisterously embarrassing moments and it has a refreshingly open embrace of toilet humor. The script is stuffed with snappy, brash, and sisterly bicker-y dialogue. Here's just one of my favorite exchanges: "You're like a little piece of toilet paper that gets stuck to someone's shoe!" / "Well, you're like the embodiment of constipation!" Jenny Slate again proves to be a pleasant screen presence, embodying her spunky character with laughs, likability, relatability, self-aware flaws, and genuine emotion. And of course, you can never really go wrong with John Turturro or Edie Falco.

And even though this takes place in the '90s, it doesn't try to feel like a film that was made in the '90s. Instead, the decade plays more of a nostalgic backdrop: the alternative rock soundtrack... the once bland and almost rudimentary look of computer desktops... and yes--the reminder of what it's like to call someone on a landline phone (whoa!). The tone is light and zippy, and it does have more of an episodic vibe, like it could be a TV series that fits somewhere between ABC and Showtime.

So while it doesn't hit the high notes of Obvious Child, Landline is still a bittersweet little film that's all about the messy complications of life, and the static that gets in the way.

( 7.5/10 )



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Thursday, October 5, 2017

[Review] Battle of the Sexes


Coming off of her Oscar win for La La Land, Emma Stone gives another terrific performance in Battle of the Sexes, a well-played biopic that serves up some empowerment and liberation.

It's the 70s. Stone portrays tennis star Billie Jean King, an avid champion of equal pay and equal respect for women. She's also hiding a secret. Waiting in the wings is the colorful and controversial Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The guy is hellbent on coming out of retirement to set up a primetime match between the two. When Billie eventually accepts, a clash for the ages ensues, and there's more on the line than a trophy, especially as Bobby ramps up the "male chauvinist pig" angle.

In the spirit of game of tennis, I'll give you six points that make this a worthwhile sports biopic:

1) It's an interesting story that presents themes that are still relevant today.
2) You can tell there was immense attention to detail, and an emphasis on making this thing feel as authentic as possible--even down to the stitching and cuts of the tennis attire.
3) The cast is stellar across the board. Emma Stone does more than just a great impression--she's nuanced and human, while Steve Carell once again proves to be magnificent as he goes into jerky sleazeball mode. Sarah Silverman even shows up in an amusing role as a snappy promoter.
4) The film is impressively-shot, showcasing a series of splendid frames and retro palettes amidst a fittingly grainy filter.
5) It's well-balanced. Light on its feet, but effectively powerful.
6) And finally, there's a lot of smashing fun to be had here, and of course, plenty to root for.

( 8/10 )


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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

[Review] Gerald's Game


Over the past few years, Mike Flanagan has been gaining a prolific reputation in directing really good, under-appreciated horror flicks like 2013's Oculus, and Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil (which both released last year). His latest effort, Gerald's Game, is a Netflix exclusive and a Stephen King adaptation that might get caught in the shadow of this year's sensational IT, however, it's still a thrilling slice of provocative terror.

Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) are an unhappy couple who take a vacation to a secluded lake house, with plans to "spice things up." But when a role-playing sex act goes horribly wrong, Jessie is left handcuffed to a bed where she begins to see surreal visions.

It's a hell of a setup, and the contained story essentially all takes place in one room. And things get weird. Really weird. Not only is this a strenuous tale of survival with a major sense of shackled helplessness, but it also becomes a scathing dissection of a failed marriage, as well as a disturbing reflection on childhood trauma. Jessie's hallucinations yield some trippy yet lifelike conversations with people she knows very well, and of course, some ghoulish imagery creeps in. Carla Gugino gives a great central performance and carries most of the film as her character attempts to fend off death.

Gerald's Game is a well-crafted and thematically-layered genre piece that's worth a watch - that is - if you can make it through its woozy climax.

( 8/10 )


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Saturday, September 30, 2017

[Review] American Made


Tom Cruise puts his aviator shades back on for American Made, a giddy cocaine-fueled crime-comedy of American Dream exploits and foreign policy loopholes.

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a commercial airline pilot living a banal existence. But that changes when he meets Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), a sketchy CIA agent who practically appears like a devil on Barry's shoulder and convinces him to quit his job and rake in the cash by transporting mass amounts of drugs and weapons. And that's exactly what Barry does.

There's a manic energy to the whole thing - think Reagan-era Wolf of Wall Street or War Dogs in the sky. The picture even has a daydreamy haze, as if the endeavor is one big binge of danger. A big greedy blur. And it all comes with a wink of self-awareness. It's definitely no secret that this is effed up stuff. But it's so crazy, that you just have to sit back and laugh at how crazy it actually is. Tom Cruise revels in this role, essentially playing an ecstatic and egotistical sleazebag. There's hardly a scene in the entire film where he isn't grinning ear-to-ear or where his eyes aren't flashing dollar signs.

But like all stories of this nature, what goes up most come down. The highest of highs plummet to the lowest of lows. And well, you know how the deal goes: Crime doesn't pay.

( 8/10 )


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Thursday, September 28, 2017

[Review] Brad's Status


Ben Stiller is at the center of Brad's Status, a low-key character study that scratches at some thoughtful topics within its fairly mundane plot.

Brad is a middle-class man amidst a midlife crisis. He's bitter and jealous of his college buds (played by Mike White, Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, and Jemaine Clement) who are all currently "living the dream" and more financially successful than him. And by "financially successful" I mean multi-multi-multi-millionaires. So Brad's case for making us feel sorry for him isn't really a good one. Anyway, when he embarks on a trip of college tours with his son Troy (Austin Abrams, who nails a certain stage of unenthused growing-pains), he's faced with a question of whose 'wants' are more important.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the dynamic between Brad and Troy. They clash and they bond, then they clash and they bond some more. The script ruminates on different ideas of happiness and fulfillment, generational gaps, and jaded vs optimistic ideals. Ben Stiller goes into serious Ben Stiller mode here, and it's a seriously great performance, even though his character is far from likable. In fact, he's kind of insufferable, incredibly self-absorbed, obnoxiously overthinking, and frankly oblivious to his own privilege. Along the way, we wait for him to become more enlightened or at least get called out on his #firstworldproblems. And those moments do come, and they're deeply satisfying, and they also let us know that the film has a worthwhile point to it.

The ending is abrupt, but it leaves you with some things to ponder. And while the main character still has some learning to do, the film itself isn't too proud or cynical to say "Let's put hope in the youth."

( 7/10 )



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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

[Review] The Little Hours


Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Kate Micucci play a group of horny, conniving, foul-mouthed nuns in The Little Hours, a medieval comedy that tosses its morals (and 14th century dialogue) out the window.

Their banal existence is interrupted when a runaway servant (played by Dave Franco) who has to pretend to be deaf and mute, takes refuge at their convent. And let's just say that revelry and sin ensue while all the characters attempt to keep their dirty secrets from each other.

The film is pretty much just one extended joke, but it's a fairly juicy one. And while it isn't always laugh-out-loud hilarious, the deadpan chops of the fantastic cast are enough to keep the scenario amusing. Crowd favorites John C. Reilly and Nick Offerman even show up for some goofy supporting roles (the image of them dressed in medieval garb was enough to make me chuckle).

But even though The Little Hours is entertaining, it never really rises to greatness. Despite its devious premise and wild third act, the story itself just isn't quite as audacious or fresh enough to leave a memorable impression. In the end, it just kind of peters out.

( 7.5/10 )


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Monday, September 25, 2017

[Review] Stronger


Jake Gyllenhaal gives another tremendous performance in Stronger, an undeniably affecting portrait that focuses on one family's story from the aftermath of 2013's Boston Marathon bombings.

This film revolves around Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal), a man who lost both of his legs in the explosion at the finish line while cheering on his on-and-off-again girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). We follow Jeff as he copes with his life-altering state and as he embarks on his recovery--on physical and emotional levels. All the while, Erin remains by his side, taking on an unsung weight.

It's the type of tragic-to-inspirational biopic that could've ended up being hokey or overly melodramatic in the wrong hands, but the film strays away that route, thanks to director David Gordon Green's commitment to a grittier, blunt, and deeply humane tone. There's a dark reality amidst the surface glory and all the "Boston Strong" chants: The media and public bombards Jeff's life with prickly politics; his family practically uses him as a token; he experiences post-traumatic flashbacks while being honored at a noisy Bruins game; and he quietly battles with alcoholism and depression.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany both give resoundingly convincing performances, and they have plenty of intensely emotional scenes together that are so impressive that it might just place them in the Oscar race. Also great is Miranda Richardson, playing Jeff's brash mother who doesn't quite know how to handle the complications (Melissa Leo in The Fighter came to mind).

When it comes down to it, Stronger is all about love, loss, pain, and hope. Ironically, it's less concerned with the general definitions of strength and heroism, and more concerned with what it means to do the best you can under really shitty circumstances. And it's better for it.

* 8.5/10 *


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Monday, September 18, 2017

[Review] mother!


The always provocative Darren Aronofsky returns with mother!, a sweaty and smothering chamber piece that takes the idea of "unwelcome guests" to the next level, and then some.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a couple living in a big fixer-upper house in the middle of nowhere. I'm not going to say they're happy, because there's a notable disconnect between the two, and not just in age. When a flock of strangers (including Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) start randomly piling into their home, the situation goes from uncomfortable to tumultuous to batshit insane.

This thing thrives on unpredictability and the uncanny. It's the type of film that constantly makes you wonder "What the hell is going on?" The overall craft makes it a total sensory experience. It broods - the drab, dimly lit setting comes off like a dungeon, and every creak and knock is amplified, to the point where even just someone appearing around a corner can create a jolt. It pierces - the claustrophobic soundscape is filled with door bells, smoke alarms, phone rings, and teapot whistles that raise the anxiety. It boils - the nasty tension is so thick and steamy that you could slice through it with a box-cutter. It haunts and confounds - hallucinatory and supernatural elements creep in, conveying the impression that something sinister is going down. The plot births so many visual symbols and character allegories that it essentially becomes a demented "I Spy" puzzle.

I pretty much loved everything up until the third act, which is guaranteed to be divisive and discussion-worthy. What we end up with is a chaotic clusterfuck of biblical proportions and worldly ills. But things get so dense, ham-fisted, and over-the-top that my initial investment in the film began to diminish the deeper that it dove. You know in high school when you had that house party and things got out-of-hand and you just wanted everyone to leave? mother! gives you that exact feeling. And you know when you're having a nightmare and you try to yell but nothing comes out? mother! gives you that exact feeling too. In these ways, the film succeeds, for better or worse.

( 7.5/10 )



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Thursday, September 14, 2017

[Review] Little Evil


Ah, evil kids. From The Omen to Orphan, those little buggers have been a seminal staple in the horror genre. So who better than Eli Craig (director of cult horror comedy Tucker & Dale vs Evil) to take a stab at some comedic ribbing for the devil-children? That's what Netflix's step-horror spoof Little Evil sets out to do, and for the most part, it nails it.

Adam Scott plays Gary, the unlucky stepdad in this picture. He's happily married to the love of his life Samantha (Evangeline Lilly, The Desolation of Smaug), but he's having a difficult time bonding with her anti-social son Lucas (Owen Atlas). Things escalate quickly when the creepy kid starts doing demonic activities and making Gary's life a living hell. While Samantha remains oblivious, Gary attempts to figure out if Lucas (some symbolic names there) is indeed the frickin' antichrist.

The film doesn't exactly flip the tropes on their head, but it playfully works them in while avoiding the overt tackiness of, say, the Scary Movie series. It's fun to identify the references--from The Shining to Poltergeist, as well as the traditional shock techniques--from the abrupt zoom-ins to the screechy music jolts. Adam Scott is perfectly cast here, and it's amusing to see his character go through the ringer (he's buried alive at one point). The batshit plot takes many twists and turns, and it builds to a campy fireball of a climax. But I must say, the film's funniest scene isn't even horror-related. It takes place when Gary enters a support group for stepdads of troubled children, where each member bounces some hilarious stories off of each other (like finding poop in dresser drawers).

Little Evil won't really shatter the world, but it's the type of ridiculously enjoyable horror fare to throw on in-between the spookier, heavier stuff in your Halloween playlist.

( 7.5/10 )


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Monday, September 11, 2017

[Review] IT


If you're like me, the "IT" miniseries traumatized a portion of your childhood. Looking back on it, it really wasn't even that good, but it had a few scenes that stuck. And while it didn't instill a fear of clowns in me personally, it did make me afraid to go to the bathroom by myself and look down the drains. I mean, I got over that eventually. Obviously. Anyway, Andrés Muschietti (Guillermo del Toro protégé and director of Mama) brings Stephen King's iconic scary clown tale and horror portrait of anxiety-ridden Americana to the big screen, and the film delivers splendidly.

It's the summer of '89 in the fictional town of Derry, and children are going missing at an alarming rate. The town's interconnected sewers and creeks--a swirling cycle of waste, evil, and mystery. A tight-knit group of misfits take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of these stranger things.

The film certainly sets off the jump scares, and it doesn't skimp on its grim and bloody R-rating. This thing is stuffed with ominous visuals and grotesque imagery, as it essentially dives into a series of disturbingly nightmarish sequences, skewing the lines of what's real and what isn't as the kids get caught alone in the dark. It's a terrifying tunnel of tricks. A funhouse of fears. A carnival of creepiness.

The youngster cast is so impressive, and they're the ones that really make this thing work, relishing in classic coming-of-age elements, you know--friendship and escapism, encounters with crushes, and spats with nasty bullies. They're strikingly naive with their unfiltered quips and wide-eyed worldviews, yet more keen and in-tune with their immediate surroundings than the adults. As for Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise, he does a swell job in all his teeth-y, drooling glory--his facial expressions slipping from playful and jolly to maniacal and sadistic faster than you can press open a switchblade.

As far as I'm concerned, the film presents pretty much everything you'd hope for in a modern IT re-imagining. It's a well-crafted adaptation that deftly juggles multiple layers and meanings. And overall, this thing proves to be an affecting experience, no matter what incarnation of it you see.

* 8.5/10 *



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Saturday, September 9, 2017

[Review] Band Aid


Starting a rock band always solves all your problems, right? Right??? At least that's the idea in Band Aid, an angst-filled relationship clash with a riffing twist.

Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones, who directs) and Ben (Adam Pilly) are a notoriously unhappy, constantly bickering couple on the verge of calling it quits. But after a therapy session, they decide to pick up some instruments and turn their fights into songs. Along the way, they're joined by their awkward neighbor (Fred Armison) on the drums, while they work through their grief and crank out some jams.

It's clear from the opening's epic showdown that this is a film that runs on snippy back-and-forth dialogue. It piles on the zingers, running the gamut between caustic, clever, and annoying. For a while, the film maladroitly stumbles along like a Duplass-lite dramedy without the messily endearing characters. In fact, Anna and Ben are both a bit on the bland side, and frankly, they're sort of insufferable most of the time (no wonder why they're always arguing with each other!).

But to my surprise, Anna and Ben began to grow on me. As did the film, especially toward the second half when the comedy hits harder and bits of affecting emotion ring in. And you know what? The songs they come up with are actually kinda good. Raw indie-rock with some catchy hooks. Like, can I purchase an album by The Dirty Dishes somewhere (that's their band name)?

Band Aid still can't escape some of its own obnoxiousness, but it ends up transforming into a decent tune.

(7/10)


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Thursday, September 7, 2017

[Review] The Hitman's Bodyguard


Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are the bickering duo in The Hitman's Bodyguard, a padded romp that gets caught up in flurries of mediocre action and never really forms its own identity.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the Hitman, Ryan Reynolds plays the Bodyguard. 25 minutes go by before the two actually meet, which is odd. Really odd. Anyway, the two begrudgingly team up for a fist-throwing, bullet-flying, car-chasing jaunt across Europe, with an end game to take down a Gary Oldman-played Eastern European dictator who might as well be called "Stock Villain."

Of course, the two leads possess enough appeal and charisma to make this thing watchable, and there are plenty of great Samuel L. Jackson lines along the way, like "I am harm's way" and "Tick-Tock, Motherfucker!" And this is exactly why it's an absolute crime that the two don't have more screentime here. Instead, there's a lot of surrounding sub-plotting and humdrum sceneage, as if the film, for some questionable reason, was hellbent on reaching a two-hour runtime. A head-scratching move, for sure.

As for the action, it's packed, but it's all kind of ugly, and not in the *good* ugly way. Between the sloppy editing, the mostly unmemorable fight sequences, and the stunts and effects that often leave much to be desired, it never rises above standard parking lot production, save for a crazy setpiece where Jackson busts Reynolds out of a seedy, hellish torture dungeon.

The Hitman's Bodyguard clearly wants to get the job done, but not much else.

( 6/10 )

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

[Review] Patti Cake$


Actress Danielle Macdonald and director Geremy Jasper burst onto the scene with Patti Cake$. It's a hard-not-to-root-for underdog story and a precious love letter to loving hip-hop.

Meet Patricia (Macdonald) - aka Killa P - aka Patti Cake$, a larger-than-life personality and aspiring rap star who's desperate to get out of her rundown New Jersey town (cue the Springsteen song, but really--there is a Springsteen song in this movie). Along the way, we follow her struggles to get her music career off the ground, all in the face of her haters.

Like its main character, this film is brash, fun, and full of creativity. It flaunts a visual flair that maneuvers between gritty and flashy, stylish and sublime. And as unabashedly silly and purposefully tacky as things can get, there's an irresistible energy and wide-eyed spark to the story, as well as a surprisingly heartfelt emotional core--especially as the narrative explores Patti's messy home life and her complicated relationship with her mother (Bridget Everett).

Macdonald is a revelation, giving a praiseworthy performance. It's a role that could've easily gotten cartoony or overly stereotypical, but she embodies it with a fully dimensional humanity. She feels real. She feels genuine. We believe her when she looks into the mirror and says "You're a boss bitch." And we also believe her when she doubts her self-esteem and wonders if she's a complete failure.

Patti isn't alone though. The film also has a great supporting cast of oddballs, including Patti's best (and only) friend Jheri (Siddhart Dhananjay), who works as a pharmacist by day and a turn-up R&B crooner by night. Then there's the mysterious "Basterd" (Mamoudou Athie), a Death Grips-inspired experimental artist who claims to be an anarchist and the antichrist. When these three form a group together, their misfit dynamic is truly a sight to behold. Even Patti's wheelchair-bound, chain-smoking Nana (played by Cathy Moriarty) lays down some sick vocal samples.

When it comes down to it, Patti Cake$ is all about the dreams in life that are chased and the dreams in life that are crushed. It's a feel-good film with a bittersweet flow. Don't sleep on it.

* 8.5/10 *



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Saturday, September 2, 2017

[Review] Death Note


This decade, director Adam Wingard has helmed some stellar horror hybrids like You're Next and The Guest. But then there was last year's humdrum Blair Witch rebirth, and now this year's Death Note (which can be viewed on Netflix). The film is based on a popular Japanese manga & anime series, which I'm not familiar with, so I can only go by what this film itself conveys. And what I see is an awful piece of work and a horrendous waste of time that falls way short of being both a worthwhile conspiracy thriller and a high-concept genre piece.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a high school student who finds himself on the end of bullying. One day, he finds a mysterious notebook that has a beady-eyed demon (voiced by Willem Dafoe) attached to it. The demon sort of looks like what would happen if the tree creature from A Monster Calls bred with a sea urchin. Anyway, turns out when you write someone's name in this notebook, they'll automatically die! Sometimes in Mortal Kombat fatality fashion, depending on what you specify. When Turner starts taking out society's worst, a stealthy organization zeros in on his trail.

With all its camp, moody teen melodrama, and gruesome kills, this film comes off like a sour and deranged concoction of Final Destination, bargain bin Donnie Darko and "13 Reasons Why". Flaws litter just about every department, and you'd have to reach to find any redeeming qualities. The plot is severely rushed. The dialogue is stilted. Nat Wolff's lead performance is never that convincing or even interesting. Its love story couldn't be any more banal. And sometimes the shifts in tone are so jarring that I almost wondered if I accidentally sat on the TV remote and Netflix switched to something else. It's one of those movies where just when you think it can't get any worse; it does.

I gave it a chance, because Adam Wingard has proven to be an exciting filmmaker, and a couple of my current favorite actors--Shea Whigham and Lakeith Stanfield--show up, but if anything, they just feel frustratingly wasted. This thing is such an overstuffed mess. Like a head exploding. An idea that should've been crumpled up and tossed in the trashcan...then set on fire.

( 3/10 )


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Thursday, August 31, 2017

[Review] Ingrid Goes West


Get your hashtags and emojis ready for Ingrid Goes West. Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen star in this California dreamin' escapade of social media age antics and web celeb obsession.

Meet Ingrid (Plaza), a disturbed and obsessive loner who falls asleep with her smartphone in her arms every night. One day while perusing Instagram, she latches onto Taylor Sloane (Olsen), a social medialite with a huge following. It's not long before Ingrid becomes so infatuated that she packs up and moves to L.A. to seek out and befriend Taylor. Let's just say things get weird.

It's scandalously fascinating to watch this all unfold, with all its shit-hitting-the-fan and flipping of the scripts. Director Matt Spicer and his co-writer David Branson Smith have a firm grasp on the online zeitgeist. And for a film all about vanity and surface-level idolization, it's fitting that all its interpersonal ugliness and societal observation is so beautifully shot. This is a very pretty looking film. From its vibrant colors, to its sunset lighting, to its carefully picked wardrobes--it's practically a moving postcard. A postcard with a lot of baggage beneath it all.

The film can also be taken as a dark character study, as Ingrid blows way past the lines of stalkerism and living vicariously. And as creepy and pathetic as she gets, she remains a sympathetic figure. Tragic, even. Aubrey Plaza, who has been in a few stinkers lately (*cough* Dirty Grandpa), is perfectly cast here--fully sinking into her awkward, offbeat and unhinged element. Elizabeth Olsen is great too, impeccably playing the role of holistic-chic valley girl with a hashtag #perfect life. O'Shea Jackson Jr. (yes, Ice Cube's son) even shows up as an amusing landlord and hardcore Batman fanboy.

Ingrid Goes West is wild, thoroughly entertaining, and rich in substance. And actually, the film's inclusion of "All My Life" by K-Ci & JoJo alone was enough to get my click of approval.

* 8.5/10 *


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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

[Review] What Happened to Monday?


One of Netflix's latest films What Happened to Monday? is a dystopian thriller that quickly goes from intriguing, to mildly entertaining, to frustratingly preposterous, to melodramatic crap.

In the story's future-shock setting--overpopulation, climate change, and famine have led to a global "One Child Only" policy--strictly administered by a crooked Bureau director (Glenn Close).

But one family, thanks to the help of grandpa Willem Dafoe, has bucked the system. That family is seven identical twin sisters (all played by Noomi Rapace), all named after the days of the week. They have a complicate lifestyle: Each one can only go out on their designated day, as they carefully have to comprise a singular identity. But when Monday suddenly goes missing, they must figure out what happened to her, all while avoiding to reveal their secret, which would risk assassination.

Sound kind of silly? Well, it kind of is. But the film seems to take itself pretty seriously, which ends up being a detriment. What it does have going for it is Noomi Rapace's versatile, multi-character performance (although they all obviously possess similarities) and the aesthetic of its futuristic setting. It's packed with technology that doesn't seem too far off--like 3D holographic augmented reality, new age guns, and advanced identification devices and information chips. Scary!

But despite the high-budget look, the film's confused tone always feels just a couple levels above 'straight-to-video' quality. And while the duration does provide some decent chase scenes and shootouts, they don't really touch anything that we've seen on the big screen this year. The final act is where everything really goes wrong, as the story gets overly convoluted and laughably ridiculous--to the point where you might regret taking the plunge into this one.

( 5.5/10 )


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Monday, August 28, 2017

[Review] Good Time


Robert Pattinson gives the best performance of his career in Ben and Josh Safdie's wickedly intense and tenaciously dirty New York City crime-drama, Good Time.

After a botched bank robbery attempt, the hard-living Constantine (Pattinson) and his mentally impaired younger brother Nick (Ben Safdie) are split up during a police chase. When Nick is captured and arrested, Constantine engages in drastic measures to get his brother home.

This thing is jarring, the stakes are high, and it's chalked full of danger. Every maximal scene is designed to get your heart racing. Its crafty visual style is often drenched in neon lights, especially deep red colors that signify caution, alarm, crisis, spilt blood, and pretty much everything bad. The film even evokes the horror genre at times--like the scene where Nick's entire face is wrapped in bandages during a dark hospital stay (1960's Eyes Without a Face came to mind), or the sweaty sequence that takes place in a haunted amusement park ride - after hours. Electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never's caustic score escalates the madness and greatly overwhelms the soundscape.

Robert Pattinson is incredible here (yes, we're way beyond the Twilight era), and it's not only his solid accent work, but everything else as well. He practically disappears into this character--a guy so entangled in doing what he truly believes is right that he's completely lost all sense of good and bad.

Just like its main character, the film digs itself so deep that it has a difficult time hitting a satisfactory conclusion, but sometimes that's what happens at the end of an adrenaline rush.

* 9/10 *


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Saturday, August 26, 2017

[Review] Brigsby Bear


Brigsby Bear is a difficult one to classify, and that's part of what makes it so good. Its post-captive story falls somewhere right in the middle between Room and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt". But its spirit has more in common with surreal comedy oddities like Frank or Swiss Army Man (without the farts). Either way, it's safe to say this is a film that defies expectations.

Meet James (Kyle Mooney). He lives in his parents' basement, and he's obsessed with "Brigsby Bear"--a campy, 80s-tinged sci-fi show that's filled with life lessons and educational tidbits. But wait, the basement isn't a basement--it's a nuclear bunker! And his parents (played by Mark Hamill(!) and Jane Adams) aren't his real parents--they snatched him at birth! And "Brigsby Bear" isn't...well you get the point. It's not long before the police are busting in and taking James to his real family.

Kyle Mooney (who also serves as screenwriter) plays James with a man-childlike naivety and an almost extraterrestrial quality. And let's just say James has a difficult time adjusting to the outside world. This makes for some wonderfully dry humor and moments that aren't just awkward--they're almost unbearably squirmy--like James' uncomfortable sessions with a therapist (Claire Danes), or when he tags along to a party with his sister and gulps his *first beer* and has his first sexual encounter.

But even with the story's amusing follies and off-kilter tone, there's a definite sadness beneath the costume. A fascinating conflict arises as James gets stuck between holding onto his happy, yet delusional Brigsby Bear life - or moving forward and completely erasing it. This also brings about some somber emotions as his sanity is brought into serious questioning.

Brigsby Bear is strange, imaginative, surprisingly heartfelt, and wholly unique. Or as James would say: "It's so dope as shit."

* 8.5/10 *


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Thursday, August 24, 2017

[Review] Wind River


Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen lead the way in the ice-cold backcountry thriller, Wind River. It's a film that also spotlights the troubling lack of reports on missing Native American women.

Amidst a run-down reservation in the frozen tundra of Wyoming, we meet Cory (Renner), a self-proclaimed "predator hunter" (and he isn't lying) who teams up with a tribal police chief (Graham Greene) and an ill-equipped FBI Agent (Olsen) in order to investigate the grisly murder of a young woman found in the middle of nowhere. And to top it of, a big blizzard is on the way.

Like the chilly wind gusts, this film is harsh, unrelenting, and it cuts right through you. Directed by Taylor Sheridan (screenwriter of Sicario and Hell or High Water), it's an expectedly difficult watch--sort of like blend between Winter's Bone and Prisoners--with its brutal imagery, jarring surprises, unsavory characters, insanely intense shootouts, and a coat of darkness that just can't be shaken. Emotional turmoil runs as high as the snowy mountains, especially as we meet the parents (played by Gil Birmingham and Althea Sam) of the diseased woman, and learn of the heavy baggage that Renner's character lugs around.

In Wind River, there isn't a major revelation, shocking twist, or satisfying catharsis. But considering a story like this, going out with a whimper makes sense. Its final sliver of justice....poetic.

( 8/10 )


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

[Review] The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature


After the first Nut Job, I can't imagine that anyone was cracking for a sequel. But here we are with The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature, an animated flick that is about as imaginative as its punny title.

We check back in with Surly (voiced by Will Arnett), a protagonist so forgettable that I didn't even remember that his name was Surly (or that he's purple). Anyway, the peaceful existence of Surly and his small mammal friends is threatened when the egg-shaped Mayor of Oakton City (Bobby Moynihan) lays down plans to build a noisy amusement park in their grassy, tree-filled habitat.

It's a wildly familiar plot, and the execution of it is so humorless and so hollowed of originality. It heavily (and shamelessly) borrows a bunch of generic elements from recent hits like The Secret Life of Pets and Zootopia. And it's as if the writers tried to squeeze the word "nut" into the script as many times as possible. So hilarious! As for the animation - it's fine, but nothing to get excited about it.

The film's message of preserving the environment and resisting government greed is an agreeable one, but the The Nut Job 2 is so trite that it just comes off as a soggy, stepped-on shell of entertainment.

( 3.5/10 )


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Monday, August 21, 2017

[Review] Logan Lucky


Director Steven Soderbergh returns with Logan Lucky, a wacky southern-fried heist comedy that's bolstered by a remarkably stellar cast.

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are the Logan brothers, and they've fallen on hard times in the income department. But with some help from their sister (played by Riley Keough, fantastic) and a prison inmate amusingly named Joe Bang (and amusingly played by Daniel Craig), they form an incredibly elaborate plan to rob a vault during a race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The film runs like a well-oiled machine and it fires on all cylinders. Rebecca Blunt's (whose identity has oddly been called into question) screenplay is full of gloriously deadpan dialogue and hilarious slapstick humor. It's all so intricately schemed as well, and it manages to come together swimmingly. Every plot tube connects. Every little detail pays off. Every setting takes on its own mood. Every character, although not deeply developed, feels lived-in. You can practically smell the grease under Channing Tatum's dirty fingernails. In fact, this is a story that introduces so many quirky individuals that it seems like there could be a whole TV series made out of it. And I would definitely watch.

Logan Lucky is a redneck robbery. A hillbilly heist. An Ocean's 7-Eleven. And it's an absolute hoot.

* 8.5/10 *


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Saturday, August 19, 2017

[Review] 13 Minutes


Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the historical thriller 13 Minutes revolves around the real-life events of one man's attempt to blow up Hitler during a Munich speech in 1939.

That man is Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), a modest carpenter and accordion player from a small German village. The non-linear plot portrays the aftermath of Elser's arrest where he's brutally interrogated, the events leading up to the assassination attempt, and the recollection of his earlier life and romance with a woman named Elsa (Katharina Schüttler).

Of course, the most intense moments come during Elser's intricate and secretive plotting of explosives, and the most harrowing moments come as he endures harsh methods of torture by the hands (and tools) of the Nazis. It's difficult to watch these unflinchingly detailed scenes, which involve a lot of straps and vomiting, and I'll end it there. Unfortunately, the film's overlong flashbacks can't help but feel like underwhelming filler, especially as they break up the narrative's tense momentum. And Elser's character is never quite as deeply developed as we would like.

Still, 13 Minutes is a pretty well-crafted and fascinating portrait that makes you ask What if?

( 7.5/10 )


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

[Review] The Transfiguration


The Transfiguration is a low-key indie drama about adolescence and yes - vampirism. Think Let the Right One In meets The Fits.

Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a quiet young teen growing up in the rough New York housing projects. Oh yeah, and he happens to have flesh-biting and blood-sucking urges. Early on, he meets a girl named Sophie (Chloe Levine), and the two form a sort of outsider bond. Along the way, Sophie learns of Milo's obsession with vampire movies, only she doesn't know just how true his obsession is...

Throughout the film, many vampire flicks are directly mentioned, as Milo and Sophie name their favorites on ponder which ones would be the most "realistic". The referencing is reflective of The Transfiguration itself, and it's also a way of wearing influences on its sleeve--almost as if director Michael O'Shea is going "Yeah, we know you see the similarities..." It's fun, though. And intriguing. For the most part, the meaning of the vampire elements here is kept ambiguous, but the narrative has underlying themes of urban decay, unflinching violence, and a bleak sense of desperation. Eric Ruffin anchors the story with a subtle yet impressively convincing central performance.

So while The Transfiguration can't hide from the familiarity of its predecessors, this gritty coming-of-age horror thing is still a juicy blend of genres that I'll welcome in.

( 7/10 )


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

[Review] Berlin Syndrome


What starts out as a fairly run-of-the-mill romantic excursion, turns into a hostile nightmare in director Cate Shortland's Berlin Syndrome.

While backpacking in Germany, photojournalist Clare (Teresa Palmer, Lights Out) meets a local dude named Andi (Max Riemelt) and the two become smitten with each other. Andi even playfully jokes about locking her in his apartment because he's so obsessed...only it isn't a joke--he actually locks her in his apartment and won't let her leave! Let's just say the guy transcends the word "Creeper."

From there, we witness Clare's intense struggles to get out, whether it's physical attempts or mind games (at best, both at the same time). The handheld camera and gritty cinematography brings us right into Clare's helpless and claustrophobic point-of-view. Sometimes the picture even blurs and refocuses, emphasizing the overall disorientation of the crisis. And of course, as the title suggests, Clare falls into spells of Stockholm Syndrome--turns out, it can happen anywhere!

This film packs some stressful thrills, but unfortunately, a midsection lull diminishes some of the tension, especially as the film approaches a two-hour runtime. This year's other similar captive thriller Hounds of Love is definitely a more succinct, thoughtful, and compellingly-acted viewing. Still, the gripping end of Berlin Syndrome is worth sticking around for.

( 7/10 )


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Monday, August 14, 2017

[Review] Annabelle: Creation


Ah, creepy dolls. You can't live with them, you can't live without them. The same could be said for prequels and spinoffs. Annabelle: Creation comes as a prequel to a spinoff, which is why it's so surprising that it isn't terrible. Sure, the film has its share of problems, and it doesn't really offer up anything new, but it's a serviceable jump-scare flick for those getting anxious for the Fall season.

David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) is the director of this chapter--which sees a grieving couple (played by Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia) who lost their daughter to a tragic accident--convert their rustic house in the country into a foster home for young girls. But of course, things get frightening when the girls uncover that now iconic old, ominous, eerie-eyed doll who goes by Annabelle.

The typical Annabelle antics ensue: strange noises... head turning... popping up in random places... and making the occupants' lives a living hell. The second half of the film ups the ante and throws any sense of subtlety out the window, unleashing crazy poltergeist activity and demonic intrusions--to the point where the film unfortunately seems to become less about the doll and more about all the surrounding stuff. And given Annabelle's infamy and lore within The Conjuring universe, you sort of wish for a more carefully fleshed out backstory. That said, the film's tendency to deviate from focus allows for an awesomely grisly possessed scarecrow scene, which might remind you of Goosebumps.

Annabelle: Creation is all seen-it-before, but every time you see it, it's still pretty scary.

( 7/10 )



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Saturday, August 12, 2017

[Review] Wakefield


Bryan Cranston stars in the noir-ish and voyeuristic domestic drama, Wakefield. Its cynical dissection of marriage and suburban discontent warrants comparisons to stuff like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. As far as quality, it falls somewhere in between (Gone Girl being the better one, of course).

Howard (Cranston) is an agitated family man. After a quarrel with his wife (played by Jennifer Garner), he has a nervous breakdown and abandons her and their two daughters. But that's not all. Instead of packing up and leaving, he secretly stays in the garage attic and spies on them, like some sort of sadistic experiment to see what they'd do if he disappeared. The film could be titled Guy in an Attic.

It's intriguing to see how this all develops. With such a contained story, a lot of it hinges on Cranston's performance and the blunt tone of his voiceover narration. His character is so self-conscious, so observant, so miserable, so vindictive, and so scathingly sarcastic that it becomes comical--in that black comedy sort of way. As we know by now, Cranston does all of these things well, and he's fine with not being the most likable character. Oh yeah, and he grows a gnarly beard throughout.

Unfortunately, a couple extended flashbacks break up the narrative's momentum, rather than presenting any significant depth or insight. And much like Howard's prolonged time in the attic, the film begins to drag in the second half, especially as his self-sabotaging disappearance becomes increasingly pointless. By then, it's just a matter of waiting to see when Howard will reveal himself, or if he's too far gone. In this case, the beginning is much more interesting than the end.

( 7/10 )


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