Monday, February 22, 2016

[Review] The Witch

"Does this not look like witchcraft?"

The horror film The Witch has been garnering buzz for a while due to its positive reactions on the festival circuit. Now that it's officially been cast into theaters, is it worthy of praise? The answer is a wicked yes. Some people might be disappointed by the film's lack of *jump* scares. But you have to ask yourself this: What scares you more in real life: A temporary jolt, or a sinister sickness that infiltrates and haunts every single aspect of all the things you hold dear?

Set in the 1600s (a number of years before the Salem Witch Trials), a husband and wife (played by Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie--both from "Game of Thrones") along with their five children leave a colonial plantation in order to start a fresh life by building a farm out in the wilderness. Early on, the newborn baby of the bunch gets mysteriously abducted by an unknown entity, and the family struggles to maintain their sanity and safety.

It's a slow burn that manifests a creepy atmosphere and eventually delivers some hellacious shocks that seem to pile on like lumbers of firewood at the end--just when you think it's over. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the eldest daughter at the center of story, and she gives a greatly convincing performance. Throughout the majority of the time, the mother is a complete mess after the baby goes missing, and the father is essentially incompetent with everything he does (he injures his eye while shooting a shotgun at one point), so there's really no sense of protection for any of the characters, whether it's from outer forces or... themselves. This aspect significantly elevates the dread and helplessness.

This is an utterly ominous, harrowing, and absolutely terrifying film if you fully submit yourself to its brooding madness. It's a stressful exercise in evil or innocence, real or unreal, supernatural or paranoia. Does the darkness lurk from outside or within? Fittingly, the constantly grey sky coats the scenes with a layer of gloomy murk (the sun doesn't exist in this film). There are tons of foreboding views of the dense forest, and obscured camera angles hint at some disturbing practices of Satanic rituals deep in the woods. Of course, everything is ramped up by a tense and screechy musical score.

Don't go into The Witch expecting the typical contemporary Hollywood horror flick. Go in expecting a fright that will leave you short of breath long after the film cuts to black.

* 8.5/10 *

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

[Review] Zoolander 2

I don't know about you, but a 15-years-later Zoolander sequel is something I've never really felt like I wanted to see. While the first film has sort of become a cult dumb-comedy with its wacky and hyperbolic riff on the modeling and fashion world, this new one is just bad and reeks of try-hard.

After a previous fallout, Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) reunite, but they seem to have lost their mojo, falling by the wayside of a new "era" of supermodels. In a way, this is indicative of the film itself--it's a too little too late, past-its-prime dud that has fallen by the wayside of other, much better comedies. Anyway, Zoolander is in search of his son, the "World's most beautiful people" (Justin Bieber is one of them) are being mysteriously assassinated, and Zoolander's rival (played by Will Ferrell) has been released from prison.

This is a silly, but mostly unfunny mess of a film, as well as an endeavor to include as many celebrity spots as possible. Nothing here works very well in today's climate of comedy. In other words, you probably won't laugh much (personally, I didn't laugh once), which makes this whole thing pretty useless. When a comedy isn't even humorous enough to warrant the label of a comedy, you know things have gone wrong. This is a wannabe, and it's an annoying bore. The cameos don't add anything interesting either. They're just kind of there. If you're curious about them, you'd be better off just looking at the list of them on the Zoolander 2 Wikipedia page in order to save some time.

The creativity levels are at a lazy low here, and it wouldn't be far off to say that the newly released Deadpool is much more successful at a lot of the things that Zoolander 2 attempts to do. I'm not going to completely stray you away from seeing this movie if you're a diehard Zoolander fan, but YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.


Monday, February 15, 2016

[Review] Deadpool

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the vulgar and ultra violent Deadpool slashes its way into theaters with resounding success. I'm not willing to call it an "anti superhero movie", but much like its main character--it's sarcastic, self-aware and it relentlessly pokes fun at pop superhero tropes.

The snark is immediate from the opening credits, as "PRODUCED BY ASSHATS," "DIRECTED BY AN OVERPAID TOOL," and "ALSO STARRING A BRITISH VILLAIN," wiz across the screen. There, we meet Wade Wilson, who we will come to know as Deadpool. Fully cloaked in a dark red & black suit (so you can't see the blood stains) this blade and quip slinger likes to break the fourth wall (or the 16th wall?). Early on, he even questions how the hell Ryan Reynolds got a leading role in a 2016 blockbuster. Anyway, I'd like to keep the premise details to a very minimum because it seems best to go into this blindly.

Ryan Reynolds fits this role well, and I'm not just talking about his physical shape. His slightly higher pitched and almost immature-sounding voice lends to the filthy tone and adult cartoon-like nature of the film. The raunch here is clever and laugh-worthy, as opposed to something like last month's detestable Dirty Grandpa. The timeline ditches being linear and jumps back and forth between present and past at a relatively sporadic rate (but not confusing like X-Men). It works, because there's a nice balance of arcs and climaxes in both the early stages and the conclusion.

At its narrative heart, Deadpool is still a fairly routine origin story about a masked comic book hero, not unlike many of the others we've seen on the big screen recently (it feels pretty familiar to last year's Ant-Man at times). It's just a whole lot more unfiltered and self-deprecating in its tactics. This film is bound to entertain the millions of people that are already on board with these Marvel franchises, and it also might be refreshing for the people who are getting burnt out on them.

Deadpool is brash, funny, dark, action-packed, and horrifying all at once. And yes, its claim of being a love story isn't totally untrue.


Monday, February 8, 2016

[Review] Hail, Caesar!

After releasing the good but utterly drab Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers follow that up with some movie-within-a-movie action in the lighter and farcical romp Hail, Caesar!. The film shines with a bill of stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill.

Eddie Manix (Brolin) is a Hollywood studio executive, and the process of filming their coveted "prestige" epic (Hail, Caesar!), starring Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is underway. Things hit a snag when Whitlock is drugged, kidnapped, and held for ransom. The rest of the story revolves around Manix trying to find out who the hell is behind this and how to go about getting their star back.

This film is decidedly goofy. Aside from the Coen's usual witty dialogue and penchant for irony, they mine for humor in small situations--facial expressions, awkward silences, squeaky shoes... The scenes of filming movie scenes play out like blooper reel content, and we wouldn't want it any other way. It even contains sequences in which you might initially wonder why they're there, as they ruffle the cohesiveness and come off as filler. However, that filler is funny. Hilarious, even. No one is going to complain about a singing sailor Channing Tatum musical tap-dance number. The outskirting threads eventually connect toward the film's conclusion, but just barely.

The aesthetic strongly delves into that signature golden age of Hollywood feel, with its polished period detail and performance panache. And the themes tap into post-war Blacklist overtones, tabloid mishaps, and the strangeness of acting itself when you really think about it. The Coens, along with cinematographer Roger Deakins have always been great at framing and staging the picture. Here, they even make a bland and repetitive production studio lot look exquisite.

In the end, Hail, Caesar! seems like more of a run-around, rather than a lead-up to something more substantial (and that's okay), and it probably will go down as a minor Coen Bros film. But it's enjoyable nonetheless. A film about the Hollywood studio system should entertain, and that it does.


Friday, February 5, 2016

[Review] The Boy

Horror cinema is no stranger to creepy dolls. In fact, the infamous Annabelle from The Conjuring got her own spin-off not too long ago. The Boy arrived during the heart of January, which is usually never a good sign for a horror film unless it's on the festival circuit.

Greta (Lauren Cohan, who most people probably know as Maggie from "The Walking Dead") takes a nanny job at an old mansion hidden away in an English village. Little does she know, the child she's supposed to take care of is actually a life-sized frickin' doll. Its name is Brahms and his pale face and hollow gaze scream death. Greta laughs it off at first until she realizes the boy's parents are dead serious. They even give her directions about getting the boy dressed daily and reading to him at night.

"The whole thing is just creepy," Greta says to her friend on the phone. And we couldn't agree more. Eventually, the doll begins showing signs of life. The good news is that Greta now realizes the parents apparently aren't completely delusional. The bad news is that now she's holed up with a doll who has a mind of its own--excuse me, *his* own. Of course, there's a backstory behind it all, which you'll find out later. I won't spoil anything, but unfortunately the story takes a very dull path, and a filler subplot pretty much derails the whole thing for a while. When it snaps back into focus, the payoff/twist is disturbing but not really worth the wait.

Despite an eerie darkly-lit mood, and a mansion setting that you wouldn't want to be alone in, The Boy is low on scares and it feels like it's running through the motions the entire time. The false jumps, the phantom phone calls, the dreams--we've seen it all countless times before and better utilized in better horror films. Even Annabelle, which wasn't great, provides some scarier sequences than this. So, The Boy renders itself as the dreaded 'disposable' word. It's never insufferable, but there are just so many other films of this nature that you'd be better off spending your time on instead.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

[Review] Dirty Grandpa

Even though "Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro stars in DIRTY GRANDPA" was an amusing trailer tag, this film is just too sticky and cringeworthy to get behind. To put it kindly, it's straight up trash.

Dirty Grandpa gets off to a loathsome start and never lets up. Opening during Jason's (Zac Efron) grandma's funeral, a couple jokes about 'dogs fucking' fly that practically beg the audience "Please think this is funny!" When we're introduced to the dirty grandpa aka Dick (De Niro), he seems innocent enough, but in the very next scene Jason catches him furiously jerking off to porn without any regard to his surroundings. After this tee-off, the film is essentially a contest to get Robert De Niro to say the the sleaziest things possible (he checks the boxes for racism, misogyny, and homophobia within a few seconds) and perform the creepiest (and rapiest) endeavors.

It's almost as if the writers had a group of 12-year-olds compile as many innuendoes, puns, and potty jokes about balls and vaginas as they could and then turned it into a movie script (I mean, there are HUNDREDS of them here). The film doesn't seem to have a solid target audience either. It's way too raunchy and appalling for old-time De Niro fans, too eye-rollingly stupid for millennials (even the college bros will probably be turned off by this one), and the 12-year-olds that made the movie won't be allowed to see it without an accompanying adult (now that might actually be funny). Instead, it seems to be aimed toward criminal perverts that you wouldn't want to be alone with in the same theater.

We know that Zac Efron has some surprisingly good comic timing (as he demonstrated in Neighbors), but in Dirty Grandpa he actually seems like a piece of cardboard with abs. Then there's Aubrey Plaza, who is usually wonderfully endearing with her offbeat and awkward chops, but she's nearly unbearable here. A movie this bad still isn't going to tarnish De Niro's legacy, but it'll definitely make us question his later career choices. The character has somewhat of an arc eventually but it kind of just comes out of nowhere, so it feels incredibly forced--not really upending anything that came before.

I wouldn't recommend going to see this. But if you do, be sure to take a shower right after.