October 28, 2014

The Heart Machine

Zachary Wigon, 2014
Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) finds himself in an online romance with Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil), consisting of nightly Skype calls and communicating via other social networking sites. But Cody soon becomes skeptical of Virginia's actual location, doubting that she's in Berlin like she says she is. He begins to discover that she may in fact be a lot closer to him than she tells him.

Wigon's unique romantic mystery piece is his first full-feature film, employing some talent behind the camera and also some talent in front of the camera with leading roles by Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12) and Sheil (You're Next, House of Cards, Listen up Philip). It zeroes in on a pair of twenty-somethings that are in a digital relationship in the busy bee-hive that is New York City. Wigon's New York is friendly and passive by day, and promiscuous and forward at night. In a sense it's a cautionary tale about not knowing who the person is on the other side of the screen, projecting your ideal self through the filter of the internet. Gallagher is not the purely innocent sap that he played in the great 2012 film Short Term 12. Instead here, he is much more relentless and apprehensive. Some of his moments on screen are very uncomfortable in his few moments of great persistence. He certainly isn't a clear protagonist, and there also isn't really a clear antagonistic force at work either. It's certainly not certain that it would be Virginia. She's duplicitous, but not completely malicious. She's filling a void, protecting herself, but you also get a sense that she's protecting Cody. She values the relationship, and when there are hints of it's demise she grows defensive. You wonder why she uses her real name in her online persona, you would think that she would be able to hide more effectively if she hadn't. After all, it's seems quite easy to do some amateur detective work when you have access to the person's Facebook profile. It's probably the point for Virginia, who wants to hide in some shadow secrecy but perhaps not completely shrouded. Cody is a morally compromised character, like a stalker detective who digs his heels in even deeper when it would be way more appropriate to pull out and move on. Wigon plays with tension quite well, it builds to the point of being unbearable. The Cody and Virginia characters are complex and flawed, very much like any real life dynamic. There is irony in the sense that the online relationship is giving Virginia stability while making Cody grow more instable. Wigon's micro story feels much bigger with it's impressive balance of suspicion and deception. 

October 25, 2014

Top 5 Creepiest Scenes

5. The Road - House (2009)

Viggo Mortensen's "man" character discovers a house with his son (character "boy") that is inhabited by a group of ruthless bandits. What they discover in the house is the most memorable scene from one of the best apocalyptic films ever made.

4. The Blair Witch Project - Basement (1999) 

Heather and Mike have finally made it to a house in the middle of the terrifying woods where they suddenly hear their missing friend Josh's voice calling for help from inside.

3. Insidious - Dream & Table (2011)

Lorraine describes a vivid dream she had that involved Josh and Renai's son. But in moments in the dream comes to life.

2. Se7en - Sloth (1995)

The detectives discover another victim of serial killer John Doe's. But this discovery is arguably the most gruesome of them all.

1. [REC] - Penthouse (2007)

Angela makes her way to the penthouse of the infected apartment building. They find the source of the infection, but probably wish they hadn't. 

October 23, 2014

The Purge

James DeMonaco, 2013
Once a year America participates in The Purge, a 12 hour window in which all crime (including murder) is legal. Home Security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) believes his home will be the safest, most fortified home on the block - until it becomes a target for a group of Purgers looking for a homeless man that his son Charlie (Max Burkholder) welcomed inside to safety.

The Purge is a film constructed off a very provocative high-concept story-line that was probably not put into the right Director's hands. DeMonaco is responsible for the pretty good 1998 thriller The Negotiator, so he has demonstrated some skills of juggling some complicated story. But instead of taking a more satirical approach to this film, DeMonaco goes in more of a horror-thriller direction, probably because the studios figured that would put a lot of teenagers in movie seats. The film attempts to explore concepts of morality, of civil disobedience, but ultimately on a middle-school level.

With that being said, the concept is still interesting enough to maintain your attention. It will probably have you vicariously living through the characters to a certain extent, playing out what you would do if The Purge were actually a real-life thing. But it's certainly a conflicting film. It probably could have been a much bigger film, with more of a macro feel. Instead they put all of the weight onto the Sandin home. If they spent some time outside of the McMansion, it could have painted a more elaborate picture really displaying the grand scale of the nationwide event. There also should have been a clock ticking throughout the film. It would have contributed to the tension, and would also let you keep your bearings. By the time the home is infiltrated, hysteria ensues and you never really have a sense of whether its late night or early hours of the morning. But nothing is more obnoxious about the film than the end credits with the medicre narrative playing out. "They are calling this the best Purge ever! There are bodies everywhere". Ugh. At least hire a better writer there. Or just have no spoken words. That would have been less irritating. The Purge somehow manages to cushion it's imperfections with it's alluring storyline. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014
The Russo brothers (who are more known for a variety of comedic television work) add to the installment of Marvel comic book-adapted action films, making this one the 37th - counting all of them going back to a 1944 version of Captain America when Marvel Comics was called Timely Comics. Fortunately for modern-moviegoers, you are treated to seamless big-budget special effects that blend in so well to the scene that you never really raise an eyebrow. Just like the Iron Man films, the technology shown in the films now clearly exceeds that of the real world with things like hologram technology or advanced weaponry and it's just sort of become something that is now embedded in the Marvel franchise and you just accept it because it's all become a part of the franchise. When the elevator descends to the annals of the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and you see hundreds of advanced machines, you once again accept it because in this universe we have a guy like Tony Stark who can invent lots of amazing things for the military or even a chest repulsor transmitter for his own body. And while a lot of the other Marvel films involve some cross-pollination of the many characters, this one for the most part focuses on Steve Rogers and his Captain America character.

The film examines Captain America's struggles to adapt to the modern society after being frozen for decades. It also explores the patriotic elements associated with the whole Captain America image. Regret, lost love, loyalty, trust, dedication. It's an elaborate film, employing multiple antagonists such as covert-assassin The Winter Soldier, HYDRA front-man Alexander Pierce, as well as the other loyal HYDRA members helping to initiate a genocidal Helicarrier that will wipe out millions of people. The two hour plus running time allows enough time to balance the multiple story threads with the chaotic urban destruction. The Avengers franchise should be quite good for some time as long as the same cast stays committed to their respective roles.

October 19, 2014


Richard Linklater, 1991
Most of the great modern filmmakers have that one particular film early in their career. Typically a more primitive representation of their abilities, it showcases some of their ideas and thoughts but not in such an organized or refined fashion. Of course you need experience to evolve. Kevin Smith has Clerks. Steven Soderburgh has Sex, Lies, and Videotape. David Lynch has Eraserhead. While all of the aforementioned films have varying levels of quality associated with them, they all display a certain root quality to each director. Linklater’s Slacker is probably more messy than all of those, but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Linklater is a man who has a lot to say, and before he made the Before films where he had an Ethan Hawke-led Jesse vessel to deliver it, it came off as a lot of disorganized stoner talk and philosophical ranting. All in the setting of a pre-Hipster Austin Texas. When you get a good look at this 1990’s Austin, you understand the inevitable influx of hipsterdom to the city that would come in the later years. The amateurish quality to the film is certainly revealed when you even see a finger at the top of the frame in one of the scenes. But there is something there, some qualities that you will see in Dazed and Confused and even in School of Rock. What separates these characters from Linklater's future characters is certainly a sense of purpose, or at least principle.

In a way it’s a film that questions a lot of things. Authority in it’s many forms. Uncle Sam, parents, the police, the boss. An examination of the aimless Gen X population. Drifters, couch surfers. People with a lack of conviction to virtually everything in their lives. Habitual moochers in the same vein as the Freegan movement. All laid out with Linklater’s signature tracking shots, only this time focused on people with fanny packs and acid washed jeans.

October 18, 2014


Gareth Edwards, 2014
Edwards decides to take on the ambitious task of rebooting the 60 year old Godzilla franchise, 16 years after the previous (and awful) Roland Emmerich version. Edwards can seemingly only go up from there, and was coming off the more subtle (and pretty good) 2010 aptly-named monster-film Monsters. He certainly demonstrated some abilities in pacing and build up of tension in that film, which he certainly put to use here. He makes a few good decisions right off the bat, first off with not casting Matthew Broderick (whoever the casting agent that thought it would be a good idea to put him in big budget action film should've probably changed careers, and probably did). He instead takes a chance on lesser-known actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson to play hero Ford Brody, who comes off as sort of a Logan Lerman-type without the charm. The studios continue to force Elizabeth Olsen upon audiences, who is quite unremarkable as Ford’s wife Elle. There is some veteran actingat work, with Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn in supporting roles. None of them really get the opportunity to shine, at least not as much as Bryan Cranston. Cranston is the stand-out performance of the film, and unfortunately when he departs a lot of the momentum goes with him. Cranston is responsible for a good portion of the films build-up, and by the time that the film reaches the destructive climax it feels it drags on until the very end. There must have been a CGI-quota for high rise toppling. Maybe the special effects team was under contract for 28 destroyed skyscrapers, and they weren’t going to stop until every one of them have been toppled by either Godzilla himself or the insipid grasshopper beasts. Maybe beasts like Godzilla or King Kong are better left preserved in history. They certainly had their place in time. There is a certain unwillingness to preserve certain films, and instead of going in a more inventive direction we continue to reboot everything to the point of exhaustion. Maybe there is a certain magic to those gritty black and white versions. Maybe they don’t need multi-million dollar CGI makeovers. After all, by the time our great-grandchildren are in their thirties... is there going to be 25 Godzilla films that were made?

October 11, 2014

Blue Ruin

Jeremy Saulnier, 2014
When homeless and broken Dwight (Macon Blair) receives news of a convicted killer's release, a killer who had killed people very close to him years before, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

Blue Ruin is a product of the world of crowd-funding, with the production costs funded by a Kickstarter campaign. A very nice looking film, albeit being a dark revenge piece about vigilante justice. Served by a man with nothing to lose. Blair plays that man, soliciting sympathy within minutes of being introduced to his Dwight character. He spends the first few minutes of the film simply gathering things to eat, picking garbage at a neighborhood carnival in coastal Delaware. As soon as he hears the news of Wade Cleland's release, he begins acting out a game-plan that was likely a worse case scenario for Dwight. It almost seems like if Wade was never released, Dwight would continue stumbling through the days like a lifeless zombie. He soon finds a sense of mild purpose, justice for his parents' cold-blooded slaying. What follows is a chain of events that is similar in tone to Jeff Nichol's Shotgun Stories in the sense that it explores family feuding, familial loyalty and unforgiving retribution.

One moderate criticism about the film is the source of anger for protagonist Dwight. His parents were murdered years back. Of course that would be enough to make anyone deeply angry, looking for some form of justice outside of the conventional prison system, which clearly went easy on Wade. But Dwight has basically shut himself off to the world, almost as if when his parents died he gave up on everything without ever attempting to move on with his life (like his sister). Would someone choose this path after their parents were killed? Not that anyone would take their parents' murder mildly, but at some point they would lick their wounds and move on with their life, right? Dwight turns out to be the anti-Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t use the tragedy as a motivator to rid the streets of crime. Instead once the killer is imprisoned he goes into complete isolation, taking a vow of silence. Living out of his car, dumpster diving. He doesn’t actually attempt to execute any reparation until the killer is released from prison early. Perhaps his story would have been more realistic if it were his wife and child that had been killed. The film could have flashed back to the happy moments in his life in his suburban home with the white picket fence, only to be stripped from him after a home invasion gone awry. That being said, the story isn't COMPLETELY unbelievable. It's actually quite the opposite. Just a well-made/complete revenge thriller.

October 8, 2014


Michael Mann, 1995
A group of elusive professional robbers have met their match when there is a unexpected slip-up on a job and they find themselves suddenly in the sights of hot-headed homicide detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino).

Michael Mann's action thriller pits DeNiro vs. Pacino (one of three films that the two co-starred in together) to satisfy any movie-lovers dream. Set in the backdrop of the concrete jungle of 1990's Los Angeles, much of the film consists of night shots littered with thousands of squared lit windows as one of the many police helicopters present in the city drift through the sky. When present in the day hours, you are probably looking at a contemporary structure that seems to be holding on to the side of a southern California cliff. If you aren't there, you're in a bank or close to money which at that point you are probably muffling your ears from the sounds of automatic rifle fire. Much of the film is the robbing crew on the move, with Vincent's men hot on their tail. The best of the best. Not many bank robbers are pulling architectural plans before a job, and not many detectives are meeting criminals at a club at 2AM for a ambiguous tip that may or may not even pay off. Dedication on all fronts. It's that cat and mouse concept that keeps the film compelling, although there are so many layers to this great picture to follow. Heat is home to one of the great bank robbery scenes of all time, and if you haven't seen this film you've probably heard about it. It's a lengthly action drama that's not without some over-dramatization, some over-acting by the wavering Pacino (although he provides some of the most memorable quotes on film that are forever in your brain), and some questionable plot-holes here and there. But you're willing to let the imperfections go. Even if you've seen this film a few times and you revisit it years later, you are bound to find something new.

The Trip

Michael Winterbottom, 2011
Steve Coogan (playing himself) reaches out to friend Rob Brydon to see if he is interested in going on a foodie road trip with him after his girlfriend backs out. Soon the two find themselves sitting across from each other at various restaurants across the English countryside eating lavish meals while engaging in dueling impressions with each other.

Steve Coogan is a rather confusing actor. He seems to get a lot of acting work, seems to pop up quite often in the comedy genre, but it’s a bit perplexing as to why. He doesn’t necessarily have a large personality, not a lot of on screen charisma. He is very typically British, possessing a rather dry sense of humor. People seem to either be into Coogan, or just not. Before you see The Trip, you must evaluate your current opinion of Coogan. If you are lukewarm on him, are you ready to sit at a table with him for 90 minutes? Are you ready to be stuck in a car with him, in a hotel room with him? Because he isn’t going to put a whole lot out there. His overall demeanor is very much like the gloomy skies they find themselves traveling in. Perhaps that is what’s a bit challenging with him. In this film, which is a sort of meta & reflective look at his own acting career, his cell phone is constantly ringing (when he has decent reception) offering him roles that he doesn't feel so enthusiastic about. His career challenges are coupled with a broken heart caused by a breakup with girlfriend Mischa. But it’s hard to get on board with Coogan. He just doesn’t really seem like very enjoyable person to be around. It’s even a bit surprising that more charismatic/outgoing/extroverted friend Rob is on board for a road trip with old buddy Steve. Rob is away from his family, children. It’s nice to have a break, but it’s not like it’s all that exciting for him. Perhaps it just comes down to long-standing loyalty. One of the more inconceivable elements of the film is the constant gravitational pull that Coogan seems to have with women. How are they attracted to a man that is constantly sulking? Is it the name recognition? Or is it just a English thing? Overall the film is basically tolerable, with some nice food porn and a great Michael Caine impression by Rob Brydon.

October 7, 2014


John Michael McDonagh, 2014
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is taking confessions at his small-town church when a voice tells him that he plans on killing him in a week, revenge for the sexual abuse that the mysterious man was subjected to as a child.

The small-town Irish setting is gloomy, lonely. The visual aesthetic spills over to the overall tone of the film. The town consists of quiet encounters of it’s inhabitants during the day, and the consumption of spirits at the local bar come nighttime. Father James lost his wife years before he entered the priesthood, and you get a sense that it’s a grief that he carries with him through his daily life. He’s surrounded by many morally compromised people in his small Irish community. Adulterers, abusers, drunks, sex addicts, the greedy. They all float around him as if he’s some kind of central force that they can descend upon every Sunday to clear their conscience. When his daughter comes to visit him, it’s a reminder of his past life and his inability to completely escape the memories. After all Father is an enduring figure. Willing to drink a beer with his congregation members, but reluctant to consume whiskey (for an unspoken reason, presumably justified). When he hears the familiar voice through the grated window of the confession booth, he struggles to understand why he would be chosen to be the human sacrifice for some unknown priest’s sins. He has put in good time becoming a good man. But he is forced to spend the following week reflecting on his life, on humanity in general. He ultimately realizes that he is no different than the people of his community. They all breathe the same air, have the same blood in their veins. It’s all taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to show up on that beach the following week.