Monday, December 11, 2017

[Review] The Disaster Artist


"Is it just me, or is this kinda bad?"

Ah, Tommy Wiseau's The Room -- it's been hailed as the best worst movie of all time, reaching cult status and provoking conversational setpieces. To this day, it has frequent midnight showings in theaters across the world, cementing its spot in cinematic history -- so much so that the all-over-the-place James Franco has now made a movie about the making of the movie. It's fittingly called The Disaster Artist, and it's genuinely hysterical.

Franco plays Tommy Wiseau -- when we first meet him he's shouting and climbing up walls during an acting class. That's where he sparks up a complicated friendship with an aspiring star named Greg (Dave Franco), and the two head out to Hollywood. From there, the film dives into story behind The Room -- from script, to tumultuous production, to head-scratching red carpet premiere.

The important thing to note about The Disaster Artist is that it isn't a parody or a spoof -- it's a passionately realized portrait, serving as a fascinating look into the weird world of Wiseau, as well as an amusing behind-the-scenes tribute to the infamous disasterpiece. It strikes a balance between surprisingly somber and relentlessly comical. In fact, it's very very funny. I hooted. I hollered. And it's well-crafted enough to the point where people can probably enjoy it without having seen the material that inspired it. But I'll be real with you -- it is indeed best if you have seen The Room, or at least clips of its most iconic scenes.

A big part of why The Disaster Artist works so well is James Franco's pitch-perfect and deeply dedicated performance as Tommy Wiseau. It's more than just a good impression. He portrays him as earnest, ambitious, shameless, bizarre, mysterious (no one actually knows where he's from, how old he is, how he funded the movie, or what the heck is going on with his accent), oblivious, unintentionally hilarious, sympathetic, and villainous all at once. The supporting cast is solid too, including the likes of Alison Brie, Seth Rogen, Paul Scheer, Nathan Fielder, Hannibal Buress, Jason Mantzoukas, Jacki Weaver, and more. I'll keep the cameos a secret.

What could've been a one-note romp becomes something much more substantial as it espouses themes about dreams, the unconventional and independent spirit, artistic merit, failure and success, and director's intent vs audience reaction (Are they laughing with you or at you?). It also further examines how The Room is the ultimate recipe for an accidental phenomenon, why people have latched onto something so uniquely bad, and why it's achieved such a lasting legacy. One thing's for sure -- The Disaster Artist wouldn't exist without it.

* 8.5/10 *



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Thursday, December 7, 2017

[Review] Roman J. Israel, Esq.


The great Denzel Washington stars in Roman J. Israel, Esq. (there's a lot of punctuation in that title), a steadfast character study and litigation drama that never quite rises above its courtroom constraints.

Roman Israel (Washington) is a devoted defense attorney and activist with a grassroots past. In order to keep his career afloat, he joins a big-time law firm led by one of his former students (played solidly by Colin Farrell). From there, his values are greatly tested when he takes on the messy case of a murdered store clerk.

To no one's surprise, Denzel Washington is excellent here (seriously, would you expect anything less?), playing a character that is as quippy and sharp as he is vulnerable and conflicted. That said, the role is never as hard-hitting as his Oscar-nominated performance in last year's Fences. In fact, I would have liked to known a lot more about this character, but unfortunately the film's oblong pacing, wordy and procedural disposition (there's a lot of typing and talking on the phone), episodic story turns, and lack of narrative momentum hinders us from ever gaining a deeper understanding of Roman Israel beyond the surface.

An intriguing twist pops out of the briefcase in the last act, throwing a major dilemma at our protagonist, but by that time, it just feels too late -- like this is the moment when the film should just be getting started. And the abrupt ending attempts to provoke some emotion, but it comes off more as an unsatisfactory head-scratcher. All of this leads me to believe that this film probably would've worked well as a TV series instead of a two-hour portrait -- just look at "Better Call Saul"!

( 6/10 )


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Monday, December 4, 2017

[Review] Better Watch Out


Ah, nothing like a Christmas horror movie hybrid to ring in the holiday spirit. That's what Better Watch Out does -- it's a gleeful and twisted home alone/home invasion thriller, and I'm not talking about Joe Pesci or Santa.

Set on an unassuming suburban street, strung with Christmas lights and crawling with carolers, one night Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is called upon to babysit a 12-year-old boy named Luke (Levi Miller), who's hopelessly in love with her and planning to impress. Things go awry fast when they start receiving threats from mysterious intruders. And, well -- to avoid spoilers -- I'll leave it at that.

If you can get past some of the awkward humor at the beginning, this turns into a fun, creepy, intense, shocking, and even dark holiday spectacle. Better Watch Out is a film that goes all the way Christmas and all the way horror (that's the way to do it, right?). It also shares some similar traits with the campy teen-horror movie The Babysitter, which debuted on Netflix this year. And speaking of Netflix, Dacre Montgomery (Max's sleazy older brother Billy from "Stranger Things") makes an amusing appearance here.

Anyway, the story delivers its tropes with a winking eye -- from the eerie foreshadowing to the screechy jolts to the jarring jumps -- but it also subverts them with some You're Next-like twists. All the while, it's backed with catchy and well-selected Christmas songs (including "Merry Christmas [I Don't Want to Fight Tonight]" by the Ramones) that contrast the deranged events and the film's deep plunge into an MA-rating (yeah, this isn't very family-friendly). So if you're in the mood for something on the naughtier side this December, make Better Watch Out the one.

( 7/10 )


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Saturday, December 2, 2017

[Review] The Man Who Invented Christmas


We all know the story of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol quite well with its countless renditions and seminal splendor. But what about the conception of the novel itself? That's what this year's The Man Who Invented Christmas gazes into. The film is a cheerful and tidy portrait of the creation of the classic book -- from life, to brain, to pen, to paper, to presses -- and the rest is history.

Dan Stevens (The Guest, Beauty and the Beast) plays Dickens. He's presented as a likable if quirky and sometimes reserved fellow. As he struggles to come up with an idea for his next novel, the plot follows him through the writer's block and sleepless nights, the skepticism and pushback from his peers ("A Christmas ghost story?!"), and of course the glorious bells of inspiration.

This is a film that you watch with a smile on your face, especially if you're a fan of the timeless source material. It's stuffed with pleasantries, it has a delightfully old-fashioned essence to it, and it features a charming performance from Dan Stevens (I wonder if the actual Charles Dickens was this dashing?). It's also quite fascinating to see how the things that unfold in Dickens' real life parallel and influence characters, settings, situations, and themes in the book -- even some of the spookier stuff. And once the ink really starts flowing, the film takes on a bit of a whimsical quality, as the characters begin to appear right alongside Dickens in his writing room, including Scrooge himself (played by Christopher Plummer).

In the end, The Man Who Invented Christmas won't necessarily deliver any new surprises or bring about life-changing epiphanies, but it's still a nice look at a famous story from a different angle, and it'll probably help you get into the Christmas spirit this season.

( 7.5/10 )


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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

[Review] Wonder


With his latest film Wonder, writer-director Stephen Chbosky (best known for The Perks of Being a Wallflower) once again exhibits his compassion for the experience of youth and what it means to find your way in the world, as difficult as it may be. This time he focuses on one of the harshest and most emotionally brutal places on Earth: the hallways of an elementary school.

The story revolves around Auggie (played by Jacob Tremblay, who made waves in the Oscar-nominated Room). He's a Star Wars fan and aspiring astronaut. Oh yeah, and he was born with a facial deformity. 27 surgeries and several years of homeschooling later, he's embarking on the lofty mission of beginning 5th grade at a big school. But it isn't an easy liftoff for him, as he deals with endless stares, name-calling, and bullies (there are some heartbreaking scenes here). We follow him through the ups and downs as makes his mark and opens the eyes and hearts of many.

This is material that could've been majorly sappy, manipulative, and straight-up cheesy -- but it's so watchable, likable, and well-intentioned that it's worth rooting for and embracing. I'm not saying it doesn't get schmaltzy, but it's a good kind of schmaltz -- if you know what I mean. The film also does something interesting with its narrative. Instead of just sticking to Auggie's point-of-view, it switches to the other people in his personal solar system, which adds dimension to these characters and stresses the importance of connections and the ways we impact each other's lives (and vice versa).

The supporting cast is a solid one -- including Julia Roberts as a warm but stern mom, Owen Wilson in cool dad mode (or so he thinks), Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) as a hip and caring teacher, Mandy Patinkin as the school's stoic principle, as well as Auggie's sister (played by Izabela Vidovic) and his on-and-off-again new best friend (Noah Jupe).

When it comes down to it, Wonder understands that everyone is fighting their own battles, whether it's on the inside our outside. And its message is simple, agreeable, and universal: Be kind.

( 7.5/10 )


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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

[Review] Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Three cheers for the ornately titled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Martin McDonagh's film is a darkly comic, potently tragic, and thoroughly entertaining display that features a prominent, tour de force performance from the great Frances McDormand.

The plot revolves around, yes -- three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Igniting the cause is Mildred (McDormand) -- a bold, brash, and relentless mother seeking justice for the rape and murder of her teenage daughter Angela. Mildred slyly uses the billboards to send a message to the local police (greatly played by Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell), and a hostile, ongoing dispute shakes the town.

It's a film that'll make you angry. It'll make you laugh. And it might make you well up. It's so well-written, and the rough-around-the-edges characters are developed with striking personality and vivid dimension. This is a film of jarring surprises and poetically harsh ironies. Each scene crackles with conflict, tension, and sharp and snappy dialogue that usually consists of Mildred certifiably roasting her counterparts. Frances McDormand is phenomenal here. It's a legendary performance in my eyes --  it's as serious as it is hilarious, and as tough as it is emotionally wrenching. John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, and Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea, Lady Bird) round out the superb supporting cast.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a small-town story, but it burns with resonant and relevant themes, sending smoke signals of scathing commentary on abuse of power, racism, predators, hypocrisy, and misplaced priorities. At a time when it seems like some people are more upset about what NFL players do or don't do during the National Anthem than they are about folks spewing hatred and raising Nazi flags, Three Billboards points to a much bigger picture.

* 9/10 *


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Monday, November 27, 2017

[Review] Coco


Pixar's latest gem Coco is a vividly-tuned celebration of music and passion, as well as a magnificent look into the tradition behind Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) -- an annual Mexican holiday in which people pay elaborate tributes to their loved ones that have passed on.

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is the story's main character. He's a young dreamer and aspiring musician. The only problem is -- music is banned in his household, due to a sour note in their family tree. Through a curse, Miguel winds up in the Land of the Dead -- a vast and intricately designed realm where he meets his late family members in all their face-painted, rattling skeletal glory. From there, he embarks on a quest to find his elusive great-great grandfather, whom he believes has the power to send him home with blessings to pursue music.

We get some pretty spectacular views of this world. The film's impressive animation is a feast of sugar skulls for the eyes. The visuals burst with vibrant colors and dazzle with an effervescent glow. The voicework is stellar too, lending an enthusiastic authenticity to the tale with pitch-perfect performances from the likes of Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, and Jaime Camil (the hilarious Rogelio from "Jane the Virgin"). And while the Wizard of Oz-like narrative covers ground similar to 2014's The Book of Life, it still possesses some wonderful storytelling in its own right. The plot is stacked twists and turns and amusing characters. There's a funny bone here, but it becomes quite apparent that everything is connected by the film's dramatic and emotional spine.

There's also a heart-tugging musical sequence that features the film's sweet and catchy headlining song "Remember Me", and it certainly will be remembered. Oh, and that ending. It's a tearjerker -- the kind where it seems like someone is slicing onions right in the movie theater.

Coco is so rich with themes of family, legacy, memories, and yes -- death. But for a film that does approach the subject of death so often, it's incredibly full of life.

* 9/10 *


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Saturday, November 25, 2017

[Review] Mudbound


Netflix's Mudbound is a sweeping and richly-detailed 1940s period piece that trudges into the deeply rooted conflicts and racial tensions under the cloud of a troubling Jim Crow shadow.

Directed by Dee Rees, this particular southern saga digs into a dispute between a black family and a white family who are pitted against each other over neighboring land stretched across the Mississippi delta. The film has quite a literary feel to it, as it pages through chapters and changes perspectives with the guide of multi-character narration.

Of those perspectives are the McAllens (played Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke) and the Jacksons (Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan). Each family has a member returning from war -- Garrett Hedlund as Jamie McAllan, and Jason Mitchell as Ronsel Jackson. It's these two that happen to form a forbidden friendship, and their bond is devastatingly tested amid the lingering effects of shameful history, slavery, and the hatred that still runs throughout town. And then there's Jamie's extremely despicable and racist father (played by Jonathan Banks, "Breaking Bad"). Let me just say: No one would blame you for wanting to punch this guy in the face.

It's a painful, maddening, and moving portrait of an ugly time. Like 12 Years a Slave and The Birth of a Nation before it, this is often a difficult and harrowing watch. How tragic to see a black soldier return from war only to be persecuted by townsfolk, and to see his closest, most confiding friend suffer similar punishments just for associating with him. A lot of the heft here comes from the powerful performances. The cast is more than solid all-around, but it's Hedlund and Mitchell that emerge as standouts, especially as the story shifts most of its focus toward them. I was also very impressed with Mary J. Blige -- she's almost unrecognizable in this heavily dramatic role.

Even though Mudbound takes place nearly 80 years ago, it holds themes that still echo today, reminding us that we've come far -- but not far enough.

( 8/10 )


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Friday, November 24, 2017

[Review] Lady Bird


The great Greta Gerwig makes her directorial debut with the comedy-drama Lady Bird. It stars Saoirse Ronan, who's coming off of her Oscar-nominated performance in Brooklyn. And let me just say: everything about this film is brilliant.

Meet Christine (Ronan), or, excuse me -- "Lady Bird" (that's what she demands to be called). She's a Catholic high school student with a streak of defiance (and I'm not just talking about the pinkish hair dye), aspiring to leave her hometown of Sacramento to attend college somewhere on the East Coast, despite her parents' wishes. The story follows Lady Bird though her senior year and all the complications, uncertainties, and revelations that come with it.

This gem is spunked with a consistently delightful energy, and it's immensely well-written -- the characters are wildly memorable and the dialogue is clever and chuckle-worthy. It's the little details too -- like the Christian homecoming dance scene where you can hear "Crossroads" by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony in the background. And speaking of crossroads, the narrative tackles plenty of familiar coming-of-age conundrums. It actually reminded me a lot of last year's The Edge of Seventeen and even 2013's Enough Said, and that's definitely a compliment. This is a love letter to home, family, friendship, first loves (or so one thinks), and the things we take for granted. The film is especially affecting when it explores Lady Bird's crackling and complex relationship with her mother, who's terrifically played by Laurie Metcalf. The ever-consistent Tracy Letts plays Lady Bird's father, while Lucas Hedges (Oscar nominee from last year's tearjerker Manchester By the Sea) plays her theater boyfriend.

And then of course there's Saoirse Ronan, who's sensational again here, displaying her magnetic versatility. This character is so vibrant, and so chalked with bold personality and dimension. There's that almost intangible element, where she constantly reveals layers and experiences transformation -- but still retains exactly what makes her who she is. That's Christine, er, I mean Lady Bird. Or is it both?

* 9/10 *


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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

[Review] The Florida Project


After making waves with the iPhone-shot indie Tangerine, buzzing director Sean Baker returns with The Florida Project, a spirited and empathetic juxtaposition of childhood wonderment against the backdrop of working-poor struggles within the fractured cracks of America.

The story revolves around the exuberant Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mischievous young friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) as they spend their summer break (with minimal parental guidance) splitting time between two rundown motels -- ironically named The Magic Kingdom and Futureland. The film follows their adventures in mundanity -- spitting on cars, spying on guests, sharing ice cream cones, exploring 'Do Not Enter' rooms, making fart noises...

It's all winsomely captured with an observant, almost documentary-like eye -- the garish pastel colors pop through the Kissimmee humidity and the characters beam with realism, personality, energy, nuance, and life amid their very much lived-in environment. The kids are absolutely terrific here (especially Prince, who becomes the main focus). In fact, their performances are so natural that it doesn't seem like you're watching actors (maybe they aren't, at times). Willem Dafoe is at his very best as the property's cantankerous manager with a tough-loving, caring heart of gold beneath his raspy exterior. Also impressive is Bria Vinaite, who plays Moonee's messy and temperamental mother who just can't quite get it together. Her character isn't meant to be the most likable, and she definitely frustrates at times, but she feels so real -- like someone you might know.

Naturally, this transient film isn't built on structured plot. It constantly meanders, drifts, and shifts attention -- just like the kids at the center, but it remains thoroughly absorbing. It's as enchanting as it is harsh, and it takes a couple of deeply affectionate and heart-wrenching dives in the latter half. The last 10 minutes, in particular, breathtakingly set off fireworks of swirling emotion.

By the end of our stay at The Florida Project, it feels like we know the place pretty well.

* 9/10 *


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Monday, November 20, 2017

[Review] Justice League


You know when a bunch of popular musicians come together to form a band or a project, and the results are almost always disappointing? Uninspired. That's basically what happens in the much-hyped Justice League film. The Justice League unites Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). But despite the fresh collaboration of versatile all-stars, this supergroup ultimately underwhelms as a whole.

It isn't until over halfway through the film when the heros eventually (and reluctantly) team up to save the world from an invading army of extraterrestrial flutterbugs (they kinda look like vampire mothmen), led by the story's heavy and horned main villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds).

For a while, it feels like you're watching chunks from several different movies spliced together. Director Zack Snyder stages the action sequences with a murky backdrop and a jarring overload of CGI -- so much so that the picture seriously looks like cutscenes from a video game. And if things weren't already overstuffed enough, we still have to deal with a few humdrum scenes of Amy Adams wasting away in the nothing-to-do role as Lois Lane, while we wait for the inevitable resurrection of Superman (Henry Cavill), which is handled in a tremendously clumsy manner, by the way.

As for the good, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman carries over the awesomeness and optimistic humanity from this year's earlier, fantastic Wonder Woman movie. Jason Momoa's Aquaman lends a general badassness and cool seafaring aesthetic to the crew. And Ezra Miller (who's been great in everything I've seen him in) as Flash is the film's electric source of comic relief, delivering the script's best lines and zapping a spark of levity and wide-eyed enthusiasm into the brooding tone of the film. Unfortunately, the neglected newcomer Cyborg is as one-dimensional and robotic as his armor.

And given the way these characters are thrusted into battle together, there's never a sense of camaraderie or chemistry between them. It doesn't help that their mission is plagued with clunky pacing. For a film brimming with so many dynamic powers, it's glaringly void of any true momentum. Then there's the bad villain. And I don't mean "bad" in the evil way -- he's just bad. Faceless. Personality-less. Generic. Stock. He might as well have been a walking statue with a temper-tantrum. In turn, when the climactic showdown arrives, it isn't as exhilarating as it should be, and it feels incredibly low on stakes. At least BvS had a maniacal and memorable Jesse Eisenberg calling the shots.

Justice League does possess some redeemable elements and displays glimmers of hope for future DCEU films. But while it might be a step in the right direction, it definitely isn't a leap.

( 5.5/10 )


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Thursday, November 16, 2017

[Review] Murder on the Orient Express


It's no secret that Hollywood is a prime culprit for producing remakes. But even the decision to revisit something like the whodunnit puzzle Murder on the Orient Express is a curious one from the get-go, especially considering that Agatha Christie's famous novel already experienced a pretty great on-screen adaptation with its 1974 version. But here we are...

All aboard the lavish train is the all-star cast of Daisy Ridley (in her first major role outside of The Force Awakens), Leslie Odom Jr., Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Sergei Polunin, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Olivia Coleman, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp (using another unidentifiable accent), and Michelle Pfeiffer. Things get tense when a passenger suddenly turns up stabbed to death, and all the characters in the coach are enlisted as suspects. On the case is Hercule Poirot (played by Kenneth Branagh), who proclaims himself as "Probably the greatest detective in the world." I like how he says "probably." It keeps him honest. Anyway, what unravels is a shifty-eyed murder mystery.

Branagh serves as director too, and to the film's credit, it's winsomely shot and it confidently achieves the old-fashioned mood and aesthetic its heading for. But narrative-wise, it has a difficult time building up much suspense or arriving at a compelling payoff, especially for those that have seen the original. It's an inherent problem, really. And the revamped cast is definitely a proven one, but with so many players involved, they all just kind of get shuffled into the mix, like cards in a deck vying for their moments at the top. Aside from Branagh (and his glorious mustache) standing out by default, Michelle Pfeiffer (who was also fantastic in mother! this year) impresses in the only other memorable role.

2017's Murder on the Orient Express is a faithful and fateful film... maybe a little too much. It's a competent remake, and exactly that. Nothing more. Personally, I wouldn't have minded if this thing had decided to deviate off the tracks.

( 6.5/10 )


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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

[Review] A Bad Moms Christmas


The Bad Moms are ringing again, and this time it's Christmas! Thankfully, this film's fun cast presents just enough spirit to decorate this middling comedy sequel with some joy.

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn return as the threesome of bad moms, and they're ready to
take on the stress of the season and pull off the perfect Christmas for their kids, and maybe even enjoy a little bit of it themselves. "Take Christmas back!" they say. "Put the 'ass' back in Christm-ass..." But things get even crazier when their own bad moms roll into town for the holidays, including the uptight and hard-to-please prude (played by Christine Baranski), the oversharing and overbearing care bear (Cherly Hines), and the freewheeling gambler (Susan Sarandon).

The cast is fully game, and they all bring a lot of life to to the festivities, even if their characters are a bit one-note. The film is stuffed with raunchy, brash, awkward, and self-deprecating humor. Not all of it will kiss your mistletoe, but it definitely has its moments, like the tension-filled dodgeball match at Skyzone, or the amusing scene at Hahn's character's spa when Justin Hartley (also known as Kevin from NBC's hit "This Is Us") comes in for a wax, and things get...close. Very close.

Not to anyone's surprise, but there isn't a whole lot of weight or focus to this thing. Most of the time, A Bad Moms Christmas feels like you're watching a montage-driven sitcom. And it's so overtly formulaic and the territory is so well-worn -- that if you've ever seen a Christmas movie or one about parental drama -- you can practically pin down every single story beat before it even arrives -- like, swifter than Santa.

( 5.5/10 )


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Monday, November 13, 2017

[Review] The Killing of a Sacred Deer


After 2016's bizarro The Lobster, provocative director Yorgos Lanthimos recruits Colin Farrell once again, along with Nicole Kidman (these two also starred together in this year's The Beguiled) for another beastily-titled film called The Killing of a Sacred Deer. It's a darkly comedic and disturbingly dour psychological drama that leaves a punishing, infectious mark.

Farrell plays Dr. Steven Murphy, an esteemed cardiovascular surgeon and family man who lives with his wife (Kidman), daughter (Raffey Cassidy), and son (Sunny Suljic). Everything is fairly normal until the boy of a former patient (played by Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk) begins to infiltrate Murphy's life in obsessively strange ways. And to go any further than that would be spoiler territory.

From the film's opening close-up of open-heart surgery, you know you're in for a doozy. A not for everyone type of flick. But even though it's challenging, it isn't the kind of thing to cause walk-outs. Personally, I was fully intrigued. The narrative perplexes and stuns, practically catching the audience like an actual deer in headlights. The unhinged tone is enough to make your own heart race, especially as the story steadily gets weirder and weirder, and weirder. The picture is shot with a sterile elegance -- the camerawork slowly glides and zooms with Kubrickian-like style, while the unnervingly high-pitched musical score cuts deep like a scalpel. The cast is solid all-around. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman skillfully lock into a coldly deadpan mode, but it's Barry Keoghan who stands out in one of the most clinically creepy on-screen performances in recent memory.

But as The Killing of a Sacred Deer approached its end, I got the impression that there wasn't much meaning to any of it. While The Lobster was a symbolic and substantial examination of dystopian romance, this film is more of a hollow head-scratcher. But whether it's pointless or not -- it still gets under your skin.

( 7.5/10 )


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Saturday, November 11, 2017

[Review] Wheelman


First there was Baby Driver, and now there's Wheelman -- a car chase crime-thriller on Netflix that's well worth the ride.

Frank Grillo plays the getaway driver. After a botched robbery, he receives a phone call from an Unknown number and an ominous voice begins giving him commands. From there, his situation spins out of control as he gets mixed up in a dangerous web of money, mobs, and shootouts.

In an interesting twist, the whole movie essentially takes place within the vehicle. It's like the Tom Hardy-starring Locke, but much more intense -- without being too overwhelming. The route is steadily paced with impeccable speed and timing, and director Jeremy Rush--with a name that's almost too rich to be true--incrementally ups the stakes and infuses a constant sense of unpredictability as the story takes some surprising turns. The car itself practically becomes a narrative catalyst with close-ups of screeching wheels, stops and shifts, flashing lights, and a (keen) use of mirrors. At times the camera even takes a backseat -- quite literally -- as its placed in the backseat of the car. This POV strategy makes it seem as if we're sitting in on the immediate madness.

Frank Grillo is perfectly cast and does an awesome job carrying the story mostly on his own. And the film clocks in at a fittingly swift 80 minutes. It's an exhilarating get in and get out.

( 8/10 )


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Friday, November 10, 2017

[Review] Marjorie Prime


Marjorie Prime is an intimate and low-key sci-fi drama that takes a thought-provoking look at one form of artificial intelligence and its effect on emotions.

Set in the advanced future where 3D computer technology has risen to stunningly sophisticated levels, this story focuses on a woman with dementia named Marjorie (Lois Smith) as she recounts her past with the help of her "Prime", which happens to be a life-like holographic recreation of the younger version of her deceased husband Walter (played by Jon Hamm).

Thematically, it's like Away From Her meets Blade Runner. The film moves at a slower place, and it's definitely on the quiet, non-flashy side, but it pulls you in with its pure elegance, intriguing vision, and deep examination of the memories, love, and loss. The film is actually less concerned with the technology itself or the potential benefits as well the problems and moral conundrums that can arise from such a thing -- and is instead more concerned about what it means to be human.

Unfortunately, some elements get lost in translation along the way, and the narrative focus shifts in frustrating ways. And my guess is that most audiences will find the film to be too confined and talky (it is based on a stageplay) for its own good. Still, Marjorie Prime has strong performances and is a fairly interesting portrayal of the world's ever-changing futurescape.

( 6.5/10 )



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Thursday, November 9, 2017

[Review] The Dark Tower


The Dark Tower is one of many Stephen King properties to hit movie and TV screens this year. And well, it's the unfortunate rubble of the bunch. For the record, I'm not familiar with the source material, but the film itself plays out like a slice of bad YA fiction.

In another realm exists The Dark Tower, a forceful structure that holds the universe together. There, the last Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) are locked in an eternal standoff. Meanwhile, Jake (Tom Taylor), a young dreamer who everyone else thinks is crazy, finds a portal into this place and teams up with Gunslinger in order to prevent the tower from toppling.

This is one of those frustrating genre flicks that manages to feel overstuffed and underdeveloped at the same time. And for all the awkward exposition that's tossed around, everything in this western sci-fi world feels very vague, nondescript, and one-dimensional -- much like the story's main character Jake, who's as indistinct of a protagonist as they come -- with nothing but a blank "chosen one" tag on his head. Idris Elba is great for what he has to work with here, and his character is undoubtedly cool, but his Death in a Suit foil Matthew McConaughey seems remarkably out of place.

Some nice scenery and unique set designs pop up along the way. And there's monsters and demons and people with tearaway flesh and teleporting and prophetic visions, but none of it ever amounts to anything too terribly interesting. There might be a compelling story to tell in here somewhere, but the execution is faulty--making this version an unstable, crumbling dud.

( 4.5/10 )


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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

[Review] Columbus


Columbus, Indiana is where director Kogonada's quaint little film draws its title from. It's a meditative and keen-eyed character study about two drifting, discontent souls.

John Cho plays Jin, a Korean translator who finds himself stuck in Columbus while his renowned architect father is in a coma. There, he meets a local named Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen), whose scholarly dreams are put on hold to take care of her recovering addict mother. The two begin to bond over their shared conflicting emotions about the uncertain structure of their paths.

It's perfectly fitting that this film is shot with a very modernist aesthetic -- its artful frames exquisitely capture the town's prominent architecture and handsome interior design, punctuating the lines and the angles and the symmetry of it all. Cho and Richardson give empathetic and intriguing performances, and the story moves at a gentle pace -- almost serene. But it's so beautiful, so perceptive, and so thoughtful that it sits levels above the dreaded "boring" label. The script ruminates on the complexity of families, relationships, history, physical and mental health, and the roadblocks toward aspirations.

In a striking contrast to its settings, Columbus craftily exhibits that life can't always be carefully measured or planned, despite the blueprints one lays down. In fact, life is anything but symmetrical.

( 8/10 )


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

[Review] Jigsaw


I don't know if anyone was asking for another Saw film, but a new one has been dumped on us whether we like it or not. The only good thing I can say about Jigsaw is that it's short. But even though it clocks in at just 80 minutes, it's still 80 minutes too long.

Basically the same setup as the others -- a group of strangers trapped in a warehouse are forced to endure and escape a series of tortuous "games". As the victims pop up in grisly scenes around town, law enforcement identifies the killings as the work of the infamous John Kramer. But it can't be, can it? He's been dead for 10 years! The film repeats this in case you didn't get it the first time.

Jigsaw never adds any fresh pieces to the already tattered franchise. It's aggressively more of the same, and it's loathsomely repetitive and void of surprises or shock. Any sense of intensity is dwindled to a shrug. You could probably garner more satisfaction from a "Criminal Minds" episode. And despite all the sharp objects and needles, the story feels more pointless than ever. The face-grinder, throat-choker, and laser contraption setpieces might give hardcore fans a brief rush, but I think most filmgoers are either desensitized to or just plain sick of this sort of thing. And a problem that plagues this series is that there's no reason to really give a damn about these characters. Some of the decisions they make are so stupid that they probably deserve to die a brutal death.

Jigsaw is like an actual jigsaw puzzle - in that once you've done it once, you're probably a lot less compelled to want to do it again.

( 4/10 )


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Monday, November 6, 2017

[Review] Thor: Ragnarok


Dropping in as the third solo Thor installment and the I lost count addition to Avengers universe, Thor: Ragnarok is a wildly warping adventure of cosmic revelry.

Suiting up again in the role he was born to play, Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor, and this time around, the God of Thunder finds himself stranded on the other side of the universe without the help of his trusty and powerful hammer. From there, Thor encounters old faces and new on his crazy journey back to Asgard, as he attempts to save his kingdom from mass destruction.

First of all, this film is all over the place. But I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. As long as you can get down with all the dimension-transporting, an incredibly loopy tone, and the film's ever-quirky sense of humor, you're in for a mega fun time. Director Taika Waititi, who has a bunch of indie and international gems under his belt (including What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople), makes an impressive leap to blockbuster fare -- his signature eccentricities come through in the film's spunky and colorful visuals as well as the kooky characters. Jeff Goldblum shows up as an amusingly flamboyant persona called Grandmaster, while Waititi himself voices a rocky fellow named Korg (this guy rules), who's one of the film's biggest sources of comedy. The script is stuffed with witty exchanges, hilarious one-liners, and tons of slapstick with gut-busting timing.

Along the way, this jamboree blasts through trippy, psychedelic, fantastical, godly and mythological worlds, as if a mighty set of hands squeezed elements from Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings and pounded them together into a frenzied fever dream. Speaking of Lord of the Rings, a couple of alums show up here, including Karl Urban and Cate Blanchett -- who superbly plays Thor's long lost evil sister Hela. Also great is Tessa Thompson (Creed) as a warrior with a significant past.

This film doesn't exactly subvert the Marvel formula, but it does what people love about these movies really, really well -- and without taking itself too seriously. Simply put - Thor: Ragnarok is a smash.

* 8.5/10 *


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Saturday, November 4, 2017

[Review] Brawl in Cell Block 99


Even though he's mostly known for his comedic chops, actor Vince Vaughn is no stranger to the darker and serious roles, and that's exactly what he pulls off in the rough-and-tumble Brawl in Cell Block 99 -- a ruthlessly violent crime drama of intense prison life, gritty fisticuffs, and skull-crushing.

Vaughn plays Bradley, a former heavyweight boxer turned heavyweight drug-runner. Oh yeah, and he has a huge tattoo of a cross on the back of his shaved head. Anyway, when an exchange turns deadly, Bradley winds up in prison where he must fight to stay alive -- quite literally.

Shot in a brooding light, this thoroughly engrossing film gets off to a deliberate and strategic start before throwing its haymakers. It's directed by S. Craig Zahler, who helmed last year's cannibal western tale Bone Tomahawk, so you know you're in for some unflinching mayhem, especially as the prison setting practically takes on the form of a dungeonous battleground.

It takes a few moments to get used to seeing Vince Vaughn like this, but he does the hardened tough guy part very well here. It also helps that his character is given dimension beyond the exterior. He's a wisecracker; he has a strict moral compass; and he's very matter-of-fact about his situation and self-aware about his own contradictions. And that's essentially what the film is about -- crime doesn't pay, but some people are driven to it and dig deeper and deeper -- until there's no way out.

( 8/10 )


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Thursday, November 2, 2017

[Review] The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)


Indie stalwart Noah Baumbach is back again with another nuanced family dramedy. It's called The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and the film has made its home on Netflix.

Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel star as siblings who are at very different points in life, but they all have one thing in common -- they're contending for the respect of their (sort of) prestigious artist father (played Dustin Hoffman), while also attempting to escape his shadow.

The script delves into bittersweet family dynamics and explores the interpersonal complexities of strained relationships, and like all Baumbach films -- it's full of chuckle-worthy chunks of dialogue and distinctly-developed characters. Adam Sandler emerges as the stand out -- you heard that right. It's ones of those rare roles where you don't want to smack him in the face. This character feels like a genuine human being, rather than an obnoxious ball of over-the-top schtick.

By design, The Meyerowitz Stories does have more of episodic structure, and it can seem a bit meandering at times. And while the film isn't as thematically pointed as the recent While We're Young, and it doesn't hit the emotional notes or achieve overall charm of Mistress America, Baumbach once again proves that greatly detailed writing and lived-in performances can go a long away.

( 8/10 )


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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

[Review] Only the Brave


Based on the true story of an elite firefighting crew called the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Only the Brave is a high-stakes film that burns with intensity and emotion.

Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, and Taylor Kitsch play the rugged crew of firefighters who bust their butts to ward off treacherous flames in the hilly forests outside of Prescott, Arizona.

The film carries the same gritty, rah-rah spirit that you'd witness in a recent Peter Berg film (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon). Director Joseph Kosinski makes sure to pull us into the heart of the dangers and dilemmas -- the obvious ones, as well as the ones we might not think about.

The special attention to character development here gives the action extra weight. Brolin's character is so full of pride and love for his crew and he's hellbent on saving lives, but deep down there's something about his profession that's eating away at him. Then there's Teller's well-played slacker, who joins the force to steer away from his drug addiction and to support the surprise newborn daughter in his life. A commanding Jeff Bridges even swoops in to deliver one of the film's best lines: "The only place you'll find sympathy here is in the dictionary...somewhere between 'shit' and 'syphilis'." Thankfully, there's a nice amount of humor in the script to balance out the heat.

Only the Brave is all about dirt, sweat, hard work, and camaraderie. It's a hard-hitting tale that is as inspiring as it is devastatingly tragic.

( 8/10 )


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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

[Review] Creep 2


2015's lo-fi horror hit Creep snuck around as an under-the-radar "Have you seen this?" found footage flick. This year, we get the unexpected sequel Creep 2, and well, it definitely ups the creep factor.

Mark Duplass reprises his role as the creep, while newcomer Sara (Desiree Akhavan) -- a struggling documentarian with a focus on the people behind oddball Craigslist ads -- answers to his ad and shows up to his house with a camera at-hand. Sara quickly notices the red flags, but she's determined to stick with it in order to get that crucial footage. And, well... things get weird.

This sequel retains the off-kilter tone of its predecessor, as well as the found-footage aesthetic. If you've been following me, you know that I'm not a huge fan of the found footage subgenre, but the Creep series is a case where the format enhances the story's concept instead of detracting or distracting from it. The picture is a blend of subtle details and shocking scares, and there's an immediate, uneasy sense of realism to it. And despite having a very similar setup to the first one, Creep 2 avoids being too redundant. I'd say it's an improvement, actually. The structure is tighter, there's a bit more suspense and intrigue, and this time it contains some role reversals.

The always great Mark Duplass gives another exceptional turn, deviating from the dramedy roles that we're used to seeing him in. This is a character who initially seems charming and innocent on the outside, but he quickly slips into layers of intense awkwardness, dark hilarity, unhinged sarcasm, and a teetering evil that constantly walks the line between performance art and sociopath. He's the type of weirdo to make an unsuspecting observer ask "Is this guy for real?" Unfortunately, he is...

( 7.5/10 )


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Monday, October 30, 2017

[Review] Geostorm


Yes, I weathered the Geostorm -- an un-natural disaster flick that is more of a shitstorm. A muddled wave of mishmash that is as ridiculous as it is forgettable.

It's set in the near future, also known as 2018, and extreme climate change has caused cataclysmic storms. So the world has turned to a specialized satellite (dubbed "Dutch Boy") to combat the problem, but when the technology starts to malfunction, the designer of the Dutch Boy (played by Gerard Butler) must race against the clock to avoid world-ending catastrophe.

Geostorm is as heavy-handed as basketball-sized hail falling out of the sky, and the constant floods of forced exposition are enough to sink the entire endeavor. This thing essentially takes elements from past disaster flicks like The Core and The Day After Tomorrow, swirls in some wacko conspiracy theories, and smacks them together into a gigantic cloud of CGI nothingness. The choppy tone is never sure if it wants to be uber-serious or draw attention to its own silliness, and what we end up with is a soulless and humorless mind-number. Somewhere out there, Michael Bay is saying "This needs more fireballs." Even the Sharknado filmmakers are probably scoffing at the dull execution.

And for a film revolving around worldly and weatherly destruction, we never really get a feel for the actual atmosphere of the settings. Where is the true sense of chaos? What does the power of this storm actually look like? Where is the human element? Of course, I wasn't expecting deeply developed characters here or anything, but I'd like to see more than just humdrum stand-ins. They might as well have been robots! Hey, now that might be an interesting idea...

( 3.5/10 )


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Saturday, October 28, 2017

[Review] 1922


Tapping further into the harvest of Stephen King deep cuts, the Zak Hilditch-directed 1922 is a dark, old-fashioned murder tale with a twist of horror that has recently cropped up on Netflix.

Set on a southern farm in - yes - 1922, the story revolves around the cold and distant Wilfred (Thomas Jane), who somehow convinces himself that it would be a good idea to kill his wife Arlette (Molly Parker) over property disputes. After he does the deed and does away with the body (with the help of his son), he becomes haunted by guilt and terrorized by Arlette's spirit.

Similar to this year's Gerald's Game (another King adaptation on Netflix), this film falls closer to the psychological drama side -- but as you know -- the essence of a psychological drama often is horror, and there are plenty of horror elements to be found here -- including creepy silhouettes, nasty surprises, and grisly, skin-crawling imagery (along with lots and lots of rats...so many rats). Faith No More's Mike Patton lays down a plucky and sporadic musical score of screechy strings that greatly increases the anxiety and dread.

The film also has a southern gothic literary feel to it, especially with Wilfred chiming in as not only an unreliable narrator - but a morally corrupt man whose life is completely unraveling. And when Winter comes in 1922, things get a lot lonelier and desperate. The snow doesn't cover up the tracks of the past - it just makes them more bitter. As Wilfred says, "In the end, we all get caught."

( 7.5/10 )


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Friday, October 27, 2017

[Review] Friend Request


2015's Unfriended was a surprisingly good social media horror film. The whole thing essentially took place on a computer screen via various apps like Facebook, iChat, YouTube, and Skype. It could've been a cheesy gimmick, but the film utilized its platform more cleverly than I think most gave it credit for, and it presented itself as a sometimes flawed yet relevant cautionary tale of cyber-bullying. This year's unrelated but similar-themed Friend Request is, well... *clicks dislike*

The plot zooms in on Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a popular college student who gets a friend request from a loner classmate with a goth aesthetic named Marina (Liesl Ahlers). After Marina crosses into extreme creeper territory, Laura hits the notorious 'Unfriend' button. Marina then commits suicide, and Laura is haunted by a vengeful, demonic presence -- both on the Internet and in real life.

It's kind of a forced setup, isn't it? The film's terror factor relies solely on jarring jump scares, but they're less well-executed than they are irritating -- like those online prank videos where something loudly appears and nearly gives you a heart-attack. Exactly like that, actually. The story is full of shallow and stereotypical characterizations, and it has a questionably-motivated cruel streak to it. And once Marina's spirit begins attacking all of Laura's friends, this thing becomes nothing more than a haphazard, meaningless game of Final Destination with a few pop-up notifications.

Simply put, Friend Request is a film should've deleted its own account.

( 3/10 )


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Thursday, October 26, 2017

[Review] Paint It Black


A striking directorial debut from Amber Tamblyn, Paint It Black broods as a searing psychological drama that will test your nerves and reward your patience...

The story focuses on the perspective of Josie (Alia Shawkat), an L.A. rocker dealing with the sudden and shocking death of her boyfriend, Michael. Things get even worse when Michael's unhinged mother Meredith (Janet McTeer) contacts her, and a nasty clash erupts between the two.

Even as dark and grimy as it is, this film is exquisitely shot and glowingly artful with its crisp framing, lush colors, and high-contrast lighting. It's akin to the beautiful ugliness and punky edge of Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room (Alia Shawkat appeared in that movie, too). The film also exhibits some highly stylized editing, often breaking into surreal hallucinatory sequences that exude the polish of fashion ads, and other times fading in and out of meditative flashbacks.

The moody narrative is a true slow-burner, reflective of Josie and Meredith's hostile relationship. Tension boils and tempers flare, while Alia Shawkat and Janet McTeer both give greatly anguished performances as deeply opposing characters.

Sometimes Paint It Black drips a bit too slow for its own good, but in the end, it lingers and lingers and lingers...

( 7.5/10 )


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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

[Review] We Are the Flesh


Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter's debut We Are the Flesh is a brutal and uncompromising post-apocalyptic oddity that makes this year's mother! look tame by comparison.

Set in a dystopian city of ruins (think The Road), the story revolves around a sister and brother (played by María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel) as they stumble into a dilapidated building that just so happens to be occupied by an absolute maniac (Noé Hernández). From there, the guy essentially keeps them as prisoners, while controlling, manipulating, and tormenting them in the worst of ways.

This definitely isn't the easiest film to watch. It's full of predatory perversions, unwavering ugliness, and visceral visuals. As the head-scratching and stomach-churning narrative meanders, the camera crookedly weaves through tunnels like a voyeuristic sadist on its last leg, while psychedelic interludes twist in with disorienting edits and abstract warps of colors. I'd be remiss if I didn't say that the film often drifts into pure distastefulness and shock-for-the-sake-of-shock, as if it were checking off boxes for the utmost taboos. So it'll either keep you engrossed or make you want to shut it off and burn it.

We Are the Flesh is its own private hell, encompassing the nastiest of humanity all in one. It's also extremely effective and audaciously crafted. An artful atrocity--one that you can't wait for to end.

( 7/10 )


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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

[Review] Dave Made a Maze


Dave Made A Maze is a low-budget adventure/horror comedy with a fantastical imagination.

The story revolves around Dave (Nick Thune), a starving artist searching for meaning in his life. One day, he decides to build a fort in his living room. But it's more than just the cardboard boxes of its exterior. Theres a big, winding world inside--full of booby traps and dead ends. Dave eventually gets so lost that his friends have to dive in and save him from his own creation.

Bill Watterson's film, fittingly, is a bit mad and sporadically artful itself, and this is immediately clear from the creative paper cutout opening credits sequence, to the quasi-mockumentary setup. The interior design of the cardboard maze is really cool and amazingly elaborate, crafted with walls of royal playing cards, giant piano key sculptures, temples of trash, origami creatures, and more.

Around the bend, the narrative is an ode to unfinished projects, artistic frustrations, scrappy inspiration, tenacious drive, and unappreciated genius. Unfortunately, the script's comedy doesn't always cut it, and the duration begins to drag, but the film's sheer inventiveness and meticulous love is on full display, for Dave Made A Maze is a passion project in its purest, papery form. And yes, it is bigger on the inside.

( 7.5/10 )


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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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