December 22, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan, 2016
Any New Englander is going to feel a sense of familiarity to Manchester by the Sea. It's a movie filled with characters constantly battling the cold temperatures, something we are all used to dealing with in the Northeast. But these characters, while possibly making the mistake of dressing a little too lightly, are tough people. They have endured. There is a sense of resilience. These are working class people who are dealing with the difficulties of ordinary life. Loss of a loved one, past mistakes, struggling to make that next dollar.

Casey Affleck is a proper casting choice for the Lee Chandler character because he's not a very external actor. Lee is not a very external character. Lee bottles things up. He carries the weight of his past on his back. The only release for him is the occasional bar-fight that can be provoked by something as simple as accidentally bumping into him. So it's safe to say he's a man on edge. He becomes a profoundly sympathetic character when more of his past is revealed during the films constant flashbacks. There's just so much nuance to his character, along with the other characters in this film. Kyle Chandler, who plays Lee's brother Joe, brings the same level of consistency that he always brings. Chandler is really one of those actors that is always just dependable. Michelle Williams continues to prove how unbelievably good she is. She has this ability to pull a reaction out of you with little dialogue. She's all in with her supporting performance as Randi Chandler. The standout scene with her being an alleyway confrontation with Lee that dares you to not tear up.

This is a movie where you can't point fingers. Everyone is struggling in some way or another, just like normal folk do. There is a defining turning point in the tone of this film that you never fully recover from, even after the end credits. That's why it takes such an emotional toll on you. Because this is a real movie, maybe too real. You aren't spoon-fed a Hollywood ending here. This film ends just like life goes on. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't, sometimes it's neither. Sometimes things just keep on keeping on. You just continue to exist in the world, with no choice but to carry the entirety of your history with you.

Train to Busan

Sang-ho Yeon, 2016
When we saw how fast the zombies were moving in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, we realized that one specific tweak changed the genre drastically. This was a different universe than Romero's where you could quite easily dodge the walking dead. These were frenetic terrors hellbent on attacking you. They jumped through glass. The crowds moved swiftly. So some future films followed suit and these were now placed in the category of fast zombies. Zombies that could run. REC, the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland. There are zombie purists who discount this change to the genre. They believe that zombies should inherently be slow moving. I am not one of these people.

Jump to 2013's World War Z and we not only have fast zombies but there is another level of intensity to them. Perhaps it's the massive numbers that are moving quickly. Rapid virus transfer. Inhuman biting actions. These things pile on top of each other, go airborne, take down helicopters. Terrifying.

Korean film Train to Busan captures a similar ferocity that World War Z had. The only difference is much of the movie is set inside a train. So the movie itself becomes this hybrid offspring of World War Z meets Snowpiercer. Like Snakes on a Plane, but Zombies on a Train. Complete terror that is unleashed in a tight space.

There are so many memorable moments in this film. The image of when they reanimate and you can hear the bones breaking and they get into these contorted positions, damn its freaky. I don't think i will ever get the image out of my head of the zombie running down the train platform with the broken arm that is sticking straight up the air. Busan is without a doubt one of the best zombie films to come out in the past 10 years. Maybe even the best. Yeon manages to get you invested in the characters with their vastly different personalities. You are really rooting for the couple or so to make it out in one piece. Then there are others that you are begging to receive some comeuppance. One guy in particular, Yeon creates this one character (corporate POS Yong-Suk) that is just so completely selfish that you are eagerly waiting for some karmic balance. The film itself is an interesting concept, the world around you completely falling apart while you are stuck on a high speed train that is also falling apart but on a more micro scale. The special effects are remarkable. These are really rabid-like zombies. There's no 10 minute break from death to reawakening. This virus spreads very rapidly. It's a matter of seconds. Train to Busan is a solid offering to the zombie genre that I believe history will be very kind to. Hopefully now that it's receiving international distribution (currently through streaming services) it will get many more eyes on it.

December 13, 2016


Nic Mathieu, 2016
At first glance Spectral looks as if it's another one of the many 2016 Netflix original offerings that may just slip between the cracks, because of the dozens of films queued up that you feel you will never get through. But actually it was originally produced by Universal Pictures and was pulled from schedule presumably due to fears that it wouldn't perform well at the box office. Netflix stepped in and purchased the distribution rights, giving them the ability to release it in their system. Which is a nice save, because it could have been just another film that sat and collected dust and never saw the light of day. It's more than that, and worth a look if you are a fan of the sci-fi genre. If you are a fan of the sci-fi genre, it means that you are also willing to go into a movie like this with a grain of salt. Because Spectral, while pretty entertaining, definitely fits into a formulaic molding. You need to go into this knowing that you aren't getting a Blade Runner. Hell, you aren't even getting a Starship Troopers which is a better version of a Sci-Fi action movie where soldiers attempt to overcome a seemingly undefeatable enemy force. I read somewhere that it was to be marketed as a "supernatural Black Hawk Down". Which is actually a pretty accurate quick description to throw on it. Black Hawk Down had a group of soldiers attempting to rescue two lieutenants in a completely explosive landscape. The landscape is similar here, as well-trained soldiers attempt to reveal what is behind this mysterious enemy that is taking down scores of their men in the battlefield. Early speculation has them believing it's some kind of enemy cloaking device.

While the production design doesn't feel cheap, there are elements of the story that certainly do. Spectral falls victim to some of the typical action-genre tropes. One glaring annoyance is when engineer Clyne (James Badge Dale) determines that the creatures must be made from Bose-Einstein concentrate because of their chemical properties. Well, they need to fight them with plasma cannons and it just so happens that they have everything they need to equip themselves with these weapons right in the bunker that they have hunkered down in. There are a lot of convienent things that are done with the various forms of technology they have. Because of this, at first the enemy force seems undefeatable but that quickly changes in the second half of the film when it seems like Clyne just needs to sit down and stare into space for about 30 seconds and then he can figure everything out.

The Wailing

Hong-jin Na, 2016
Some people will probably say the Wailing is like a Korean Exorcist but they shouldn't. That marginalizes what is one of the better horror films to come out in the past ten years. What is true is that there are elements of possession in this film that center around a young girl. But it's a bigger story. A story that involves an entire community. A demonic force that has taken hold of a Korean village. The desperation of the affected family is totally compelling and completely gripping.

Asian cinema has an ability to really focus on the dynamics of a family. This is probably because of the cultural differences between the Eastern world and the Western world. The Eastern world tends to hold their family more dearly, less of a focus on oneself. Grandparents tend to be around much more than they are in Western culture, as also shown in this film where the grandmother plays a very active role in Hyo-Jin's life.

This is a film where the mystery and uncertainty builds all the way to the end. The Wailing doesn't rely on cheap jump scares. It relies on character development and pursuit. Pursuit of a bunch of things. Justice, answers, remedy. By the end you certainly get what you need as a viewer. Hopefully this film gets some of the attention it deserves in foreign cinema this year.

December 5, 2016

Don't Breathe

Fede Alvarez, 2016
Don't Breathe has the problems that so many of the horror thrillers have that are churned out these days. Starting off with an unrealistic grouping of people. You have beautiful girl Rocky (Jane Levy) who is supposed to be trailer trash but doesn't look like the product of any trailer park anyone's ever seen before. You have straight clean cut Alex (Dylan Minnette) who it just so happens that his father works at the alarm company so he has the master key to every customers house they rob. Then you have dirtbag kid Money (Daniel Zovatto) with the vulgar mouth who is the romantic interest of the trailer girl. The chemistry on screen matches the believability of the couple. Zovatto was really great in last year's It Follows, but is awfully miscast here. Certainly not his fault. The Money character is just downright annoying and one dimensional.

For a while they are burglarizing homes and staying under a $10K theshold - so that if they get caught they can't be charged with grand larceny. Then they hear about a house owned by a blind man that is rumored to have $300,000 in cash. This money was obtained through a settlement after his daughter was killed in a car accident. They look at this job as their big opportunity, the one that they have been waiting for. The last job. With this money Rocky and Money can go to California together. it's their ticket out of Detroit.

So they descend upon the house. But I had forgotten to mention that the blind man is a decorated army vet. But of course the trio doesn't care. It's not like being in the Army prepares you for any type of combat situation; oh WAIT that's exactly what it does. Oh yeah, and when you are blind all of your other senses are heightened. To the films credit, some of the moments inside the house are tense. Reminiscent of Hitchcock's work. The concept of burglarizing a blind man's home and him putting up a fight is actually quite original and intriguing. Alvarez should get some credit for good direction but some criticism for such a weak script. First off, you are supposed to believe that the only reason Alex is really helping them is because he has a crush on Rocky. Otherwise, there is no single reason he would get involved. He's a normal middle class kid who would have no reason to get mixed up with the other two. This makes Alex less greedy than them, and when things start to turn south he bails on the blind man's house. But he hears gunshots and comes back. How many times are we going to let the hero return to the house in horror movies? It's not much different than running up the stairs. Oh yeah, that happens here too. If you were in a blind man's house and you were trying to disorient him to escape, instead of running couldn't you just throw things all around and confuse him? What also needs to be mentioned is this house is located in a completely abandoned section of Detroit which conveniently creates a situation where there is no police presence. So this takes care of that constant gun shots being fired problem that might draw attention.

Don't Breathe is a disappointment. Last year's It Follows taught us that some creative horror films can come out of nowhere where new things can be done. After seeing all of the positive reviews related to this film I thought this could have been this years It Follows. Boy was I mistaken.

There is a reveal about 3/4 of the way through the film that I have to acknowledge. But this is borderline spoiler material so read on at your own risk.

A Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Christopher Landon, 2015
The zombie comedy / zomedy genre is a growing one and thats a good thing. If it weren't for these variations on the genre we would just have a stale template with slightly different tones in six new cinematic installments every year. Edgar Wright's 2004 Shaun of the Dead could easily be regarded as the harbinger of this new generation of zomedy films and is the reigning jewel. Romero's decades of contributions certainly had comedic elements in it, but they were all still rooted in serious tone where people feared what was going on around them. One of the distinctive attributes with the Zomedy genre is the oblivious nature to it. The people aren't distracted by the collapse of civilization. There's more of a silly video game fun-ness involved.

Scouts Guide is more like Zombieland than some of the other Zomedies in it's sandbox model and conspicuous stylism. But it's much sloppier than Zombieland. In fact, it's quite the mess. But there is one thing that saves Scout's Guide from pure spoil. It's the unique scenarios that it creates. These scenarios excuse the movie to a certain degree. Cat zombies, Zombies on trampolines, stripper zombies, zombie Britney Spears fan. Absolutely ridiculous, yes. But absolutely entertaining and undeniably funny. If someone can sit there and watch a zombie mumbling Britney Spears lyrics and not at least chuckle, I'm not sure what will make them laugh. These scenarios make you laugh and make you laugh a little again the next day just thinking about them. You will want your friends to see them too so you can laugh together. Scout's Guide isn't breaking any ground by any means but it's a junk-food Zomedy delight.

November 27, 2016

The Imitation Game

Morten Tyldem, 2014
Just when you think that maybe the World War II period drama can't be approached differently on film, you see a movie like the Imitation Game come along. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as tortured genius Alan Turing, the film focuses on his attempt to crack the Enigma code - the encryption language used by the German forces for all war communications. The British feel that if they can decrypt the code, they could win the war by anticipating all battle plans. Tyldem interestingly depicts Turing at three different stages of his life. So the story of Turing is told without linear narrative. It examines Turing in middle school at a British prep school. During this time he is bullied by his peers and is a social outcast. He has a very intimate friendship with his one friend whom shares the skill of cryptography, allowing them to secretly communicate with each other. It shows Turing in the main plot thread, when he working with a team of highly intelligent peers trying to crack the code. The third period is later in Turing's life - 1951 to be exact when a suspicious police officer starts to dig after discovering Turing's military records have been completely destroyed.

Those hoping to get recieve a history lesson with this film will be disappointed and not well serviced. There is an ample amount of artistic licence used with the Enigma story. In fact, only 41% of the story is actually factual as charted in detail on Information is Beautiful. If you can get past that, this is a surprisingly exceptional film. There is such a remarkable balance and pacing. The way that they depict Turing is as a distant, cold, arrogant genius that appears to be on the spectrum. Not exactly the hero that is easy to get behind. But by using his tortured childhood, along with the fact that he is forced to remain a closeted homosexual in his adult life - you are forced to feel sympathy for him. It's upsetting to be reminded of how horribly ostracized someone could be simply for their sexual orientation back then. Imitation keeps you in it's grip the entire length of the film. Of course you know how the war turns out, and you can make some assumptions as to how the film will play out in terms of their success in decipehring the code. But it's the execution of it all that makes it so excellent. The commanding officers breathing down their neck creates the ticking clock that maintains tension. The consistently rising death toll from the Hitler regime as he blasts his way through Western Europe raises the stakes to an ultimate high. And you just sit there on the edge of your seat waiting for a breakthrough. 

Hell or High Water

David Mackenzie, 2016
There was the period in time in the first half of the 20th century where the Western genre dominated movie screens. Many viewers could vicariously live the life of a Ranger; preserving justice and maintaining order the small dust-ridden towns. In 2016, we look back on the genre with nostalgia but that plot model is certainly passe. Those are generations gone. The prosperity isn't so obvious. The future doesn't show as much promise. The modern day America is built for a different type of Western that meet the screen.

Hell or High Water is a Southern Gothic / Neo-Western set in West Texas that is constantly looking back. Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is looking back on his long career that is about to end, much to his dismay. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is the future; but even he is looks to the past. He looks around the town filled with run down strip malls and recognizes it as a place his family owned before it was taken from them. The town doesn't stop with the run down strip malls. The sidewalks are empty, there's an obvious sense of desperation. 

In the middle of the forlorn town are brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) who have decided to rob banks to come up with the money to save their family ranch from foreclosure. Very ironic; stealing the money and giving it back to the very people who you took it from - just in a different setting altogether. This is a concept that comes up a few times in the film, with some peripheral characters understanding and even supporting the brothers' actions. There's not much certainty in High Water though. You never feel certain that you are witnessing what will be a successful bank robbery. The brothers are impulsive and not always on the same page. But watching them is tense and riveting. Watching Marcus' skillful but relaxed pursuit is compelling in its own right, watching a tired expert just work on instinct. Not surprising at all if Jeff Bridges gets an Oscar nod for his performance here. Somehow he is able to bring an original and fresh character to the screen this late in his career. While actors like Pacino are bringing caricatures, Bridges is still bringing new characters. High Water is a slow burn that exudes something solid and impactful. Solid filmmaking, solid writing, solid performances. It offers characters are not black and white by any means, and instead are all intricate in their own ways. 

Matchstick Men

Ridley Scott, 2003
As someone who suffers with much milder form of OCD than Nicholas Cage's Roy character struggles with, Matchstick Men intrigued me. For anyone that struggles with the condition, it's an interference in your everyday life and can vary in severity of how debilitating it can be. The version of OCD that Roy struggles with is an all consuming form that consists of severe phobias and compulsions. An obsession with cleanliness. Nervous ticks with his eyes. Having to count to three before opening the door. Food phobias that cause him to basically just eat tuna out of the can on a daily basis. Cage pulls off this role very well; as he is able to exert some of the classic Nicholas Cage-iness with the Roy character. Matchstick Men is basically an examination of mental illness fitted into a con artist film molding. Much of the film is Roy and partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) working together. Cage and Rockwell play off each other well. You can also check off another film that Rockwell dances in. Has he done this in every film he has acted in? Matchstick Men is a pretty solid offering. Nicholas Cage bringing his distinctive energy. Sam Rockwell also bringing his distinctive energy. Ridley Scott bringing skillful direction, fueled by a really good script.

November 16, 2016

Swiss Army Man

Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinart, 2016
There hasn't been a movie made quite like Swiss Army Man, and theres a good chance there wont be another. Surely nobody has seen a movie about a morose castaway that befriends a farting corpse. Perhaps the best way to describe this film is to say its like Cast Away on mushrooms. The movie is almost entirely Paul Dano's Hank character interacting with deceased Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe. Hank is on a small deserted island and has lost all hope. He's about to commit suicide and end it all for good when he sees Manny's body wash ashore. So desperate for human contact of any kind, he decides to scrap his plans for suicide and finds inspiration in silent Manny.

What follows is one of the most quirky films made in some time. A zombie bromance story. An imaginary friend movie. It's for the most part an incredibly quirky comedy, but there is certainly some heart in this film. Hank's character is truly tragic. Like the trash he discovers in the forest, he is a person disregarded by society - even before he was stranded. He is able to discover so much about himself through Manny. In a sense he is forced to rediscover everything that makes someone human, as Manny has no memory of his past life and Hank needs to start from square one. An unsettling revelation in the final moments of the film wrap things up quite nicely. Swiss Army Man has a place somewhere but it's definitely in a category of it's own.


Denis Villeneuve, 2016
Denis Villeneuve is without a doubt one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. His filmography spans through different genres. Abudction thriller in Prisoners. Psychological thriller in Enemy. Dark family drama in Incendies. Drug action thriller in Sicario. They are films with a particular distinction, a noticeable intensity. They all carry a certain weight to them. They all feel like they were in the hands of a confident, capable filmmaker. 

Arrival is his first real dab into sci-fi genre, a taste of maybe what we can expect when his take on Blade Runner is released in 2017. Arrival is an adaptation of a Ted Chiang short story that got tossed around by the studios quite a bit before finally getting some life. Starring Amy Adams, it is rooted in an alien invasion film but has some real family-oriented emotion to it. Its what a film would look like if Contact and Independence Day had a baby. The visual elements are fresh and inventive. It refuses to dumb itself down. If it were to dumb itself down it would certainly feel much more like Independence day. And Arrival probably won't fill theaters like an Independence Day would. Its not that kind of movie. Its a thinking mans Sci-Fi. Like they should be. The way that the film plays with time and a non-linear format is really remarkable. There are moments of pure tension in this film. When the crew first enters the alien spacecraft and as they approach the glass wall the score kicks in with an incredibly loud humming that feels like Han Zimmer's Inception score. What a great decision it was to cast Adams. She possesses the perfect amount of vulnerability and curiosity needed for the Louise character. Villeneuve continues to create mystique around spider-like creatures in his films but instead of eight legged beings they are instead seven legged heptapods. The film explores questions about humanity, how we perceive the unknown as threats, how time can interact with our universe. 

It's probably the second best film Villeneuve has done. Incendies will continue to hold the number one spot for me personally but this is a movie that needs to be seen by cinephiles. The sci-fi genre doesnt typically get a lot of best picture love so this one probably will not get that time of recognition but its just another remarkable piece in Villeneuve's already impressive filmography.

What We Become

Bo Mikkelsen, 2016
There is a certain template to most of the zombie films that are churned out these days. Outbreak occurs, main characters are shocked and are forced to react, some of them die, some survive and attempt to start a new life. Every now and then a film comes along that tries to do something a little different here and there, but there is a generic mold to most of them that they follow.

But here's the thing; I don't mind. Like a slice of good cheeseburger, I just need it to be satisfying and do not mind if it's predictable. I don't need constant variety by adding shaved fennel or truffle oil. Just give me a good burger and I will eat it and like it. As long is it goes down easy.

What we Become is like this. A Danish zombie film that knows what it is and doesn't attempt to reinvent the genre by making bold leaps. A sudden viral outbreak occurs; a small town reacts. The military attempts to suppress the outbreak by forcing local residents to stay in their homes which have been wrapped in plastic sheets. The residents are left wondering what is actually occuing outside their homes. Some of them are showing signs of the sickness. Some of them pass from the virus. They reanimate and chaos ensues. Just a rather satisfying zombie film that goes down easy. Not much else to say. It certainly doesn't have a big budget feel by any means. Most of the budget seems to go to the makeup department like it often does with the genre.

November 11, 2016

The Invitation

Karyn Kusama, 2016
Do you know that feeling when you go to a restaurant and you are totally hungry and eager for some food. You sit down and order your food, only to wait another 1 hour and 20 minutes to actually be served? Well, in a sense that's what this film is like. The table is set early, as a group of friends gather for a dinner party. They haven't seen each other in 2 years. You slowly are served little tiny pieces of backstory. There was a divorce between main character Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and Eden (Tammy Blanchard). You soon find out why, and its important to hold back details here because it's an easy film to spoil. But she has changed to say the least. Will doesn't like this change. Because she appears to be numb, to be drugged up somehow or in some kind of trance. So after the figurative table is set, you are now waiting to see why they are there at this party. And you wait, and then there is some more waiting, and then you wait some more. Finally there is a payoff in this film, but it just comes too late. There is clearly not enough story here to create an elaborate film. There's the Hitchcockian method of skillfully building tension and then releasing it masterfully. Then there's this more elementary method of relying too much on that very tension and then not offering up enough when it is released. When the big revelation comes toward the end, there's not a whole lot of shock. Then the film just becomes gratuitous. Frustrating. None of the characters other than Will are really believable characters. Nobody you would encounter in real life. In any real life situation everyone would have walked out and left after they were forced to watch the awkward cult video. Perhaps its the weak script. Perhaps its the inconsistent casting choices. Marshall Green and Michiel Huisman offer good performances but the rest of the cast is just kind of blah. I think the script and inferior direction is to blame here. But there is one redeeming factor in this film.  There is a detail in the end of the film that is quite clever. Clever enough that you could say that this is one of the rare Bad Movies with Good Endings

November 8, 2016

Captain Fantastic

Matt Ross, 2016
Captain Fantastic is one of those films that seemed to slip between the cracks over the course of 2016. Which is strange because on paper it looks like an interesting movie. Viggo Mortensen stars as father of six kids who live remotely in the Pacific Northwest forests and struggles to maintain order within his family after his wife suddenly passes away. It feels like an easy sell. And makes you wonder why this film didn't really generate a lot of buzz over the course of the year. Perhaps because it's so indie-feeling. Some of those quirky indies, if they aren't directed by Wes Anderson, struggle to float to the surface among the many bigger budget films that distract from these smaller ones over the course of the year. Mortensen is becoming one of those actors that, like Clive Owen, are so consistent that you know you are going to get a good performance from them in any film. He's able to bring an energy to his Ben character that makes it hard to picture anyone else in his place.

Theres a certain degree of hypnosis pretty quickly when a Sigur Ros tune starts playing in the background and you are treated to some superb cinematography with some beautiful lighting. Basically a showcase of their forest spread. Giving you the indication that they have been there, roots are pretty deep, comfort is there. Some of this daydreamy vision that exists in the film is reminiscent of The Spectacular Now, which also had a lot of ambition and heart but not all of it landed like it does with this film. Some of the quirkiness is reminiscent of a Wes Anderson piece, particular the way Anderson approaches some normally morbid subject matter. In fact this film could be regarded as the 2016 Wes Anderson movie that he didn't do. The forest world that's constructed is reminiscent of the The Kings of Summer, another indie that slipped by a few years back and should have received more praise.

This is a film that should be seen. There are things that are done here that haven't been the same way before. Brutally honest moments at a dinner table. Umcomfortable moments at a funeral that haven't been seen since Harold and Maude. The way the film deals with death late in the film has an intrepid black comedy approach that is heartbreaking but also emotionally rewarding.

November 6, 2016

Trophy Kids

Chris Bell, 2013
We have all probably been the uncomfortable witnesses to that parent at the middle school sporting event. The one that is way too invested in whats really supposed to be an innocent exhibition match for young people to learn the fundamentals of athletic competition. But there is that very small percentage of parents that have way too much emotion invested. Trophy Kids is their story. Or at least the story of four different parents in four different sports. Golf, Basketball, Tennis and Football to be exact. Chris Bell, documentary filmmaker been known for 2008's Bigger Stronger Faster, directed this film that really puts you uncomfortably close to these overbearing parents. Bell eases his way into it as well. At first you might consider the parents to not be so bad, you can see the passion but nothing too outrageous yet. But the layers of the onion are unpeeled, and by the end of the film you don't really have any good feelings about any of them.

The documentary focuses on four parents in four different sports. Golf, basketball, tennis and football. Each parents has their own disciplinary style. 3/4 are very aggressive and verbally demanding, classic authoritarian. The fourth (tennis mom) is more new agey, spiritual, more subtle. But they are all striving for one singular goal: for their kids to become superstar athletes like Tiger Woods or the Williams sisters.

This is clearly an environment built on a foundation of unreasonable expectations. These poor kids are missing out on basic kid stuff; playing with their friends or having girlfriends or boyfriends. Instead, they are forced to train for long hours. You are undoubtedly witnessing child abuse. Long, calculated, child abuse. These parents are despicable. They are narcissistic. They should be ashamed. Hopefully they will be. Hopefully they will look back on this film years from now and completely regret all of the unreasonable things that they said to their poor children. Its another film where you are impressed with the access and the unfiltered nature of it. Why would they be okay with this film being released portraying them in this light? It's this factor that makes this film a success. That Bell managed to be present with his cameras, and was able to capture this behavior in a natural setting. With natural emotions laid out. 

October 31, 2016


Neil Jordan, 2013
Next to the zombie genre, the next sub-genre of horror movies could certainly be vampire movies. Although lacking in offerings over the last five or so years (Twilight fatigue perhaps?), its a category sure to continue contributing to the world of film. I will start right off the bat by saying I believe the best vampire film of all time is Let the Right One In, and I don't even have to think about it. There are things done in that film that I still think about from time to time, and it has one of the best movie endings ever made. It is a horror film full of confidence, not afraid to break the vampire conventions. It's unique, bold, darkly beautiful. It examines eternal life fully, negative aspects and all. Something that Interview with a Vampire wasn't able to fully do. But Byzantium is actually more like Let the Right One In in the sense that it gives a more broad examination as well, while also breaking some of the stale vampire conventions that dull the genre.

You could argue that its a character study; mostly focusing on Eleanor's (Saoirse Ronan) struggles. She never had a choice when it came to becoming what she is. Spared by death but cursed by eternal life, she is lonely in her perpetual existence. Eager to share her story with anyone interested in hearing it, not able to keep it bottled inside of her, most people aren't able to comprehend. And of course when she meets an elderly man who is able to understand what she is, he looks at it as more of a swift exit for him and an offering for her. Byzantium has a stylistic aesthetic that is also similar to Jim Jarmusch's 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive in the sense that it follows two floating bloodsuckers through a decaying modern landscape. But Byzantium manages to make the story more compelling. While Lovers is more of a draining (no pun intended) bought of depression that you are forced to endure for 2 hours, Eleanor's struggles are more compelling and the backstory is ripe with intrigue.

One of the best parts of Byzantium is it doesn't struggle to offer you a complete story. It literally gives you a modern day storyline with flashbacks going back to 200 years prior, and still manages to wrap things up with a good sense of closure and a satisfying ending while maintaining balance. And that is by definition a good movie.

The Confirmation

Bob Nelson, 2016
There are many angles in which the Father / Son movie dynamic can be approached in film. In real life it's a complicated relationship. Living up to the expectations of each other, letting each other down, reflections of oneself in your own offspring. Being hard on your self, being hard on your son. Martial troubles that trickle down to the rest of the family.

In The Confirmation, you step into the lives of Walt (Clive Owen) and Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) long after any familial conflict. They are now in a state of reconstruction. Walt and ex Bonnie (Maria Bello) have been divorced for a while, long enough for her to remarry. This is presumably because of Walt's drinking, which reveals itself pretty early on in a conversation between the two when she pleads with him not to drink while taking Anthony for the weekend.

Walt is down on his luck. He's in that sort of purgatory state of existence where he can't seem to get out of his own way. Truck won't start, phones not ringing with construction work. Rent is late, no money to pay the rent. All he really has is this weekend with Anthony. Bad turns to worse when Walt discovers that his antique wooden toolbox has been stolen from the back of his truck while in a local tavern. The film soons morphs into a modern day take on The Bicycle Thief as Walt and Anthony spend most of their weekend together searching for clues. They are forced to approach the (what would be considered) more deplorable people in town that would do that kind of thing (steal toolboxes). Interestingly enough these people don't come off as criminals but more as characters. There is certainly an effort to humanize these types of people in this film. And there is a lot at stake for Walt. With an eviction notice on his apartment door, he desperately needs money right away and not taking the carpentry job on Monday is out of the question.

The Confirmation works largely because of great casting choices. Clive Owen's Walt character solicits sympathy, as the character really needs to. You want Walt to find his tools. You want the relationship between Walt and Anthony to flourish. Walt doesn't take on a victim mentality at all. Not only does he bear the weight of his own mistakes, he bears the weight of his generations mistakes one apologizing to Anthony for leaving his generation with a infrastructural mess to clean up. One should come to expect nothing but an impressive nuanced performance from Owen, who is quietly one of the best working actors in modern cinema. Bello succeeds in her Bonnie role, as she balances the perfect amount of firmness and fairness. Anthony's character works because of its authenticity. He so accurately nails that whole kid being happy with the nothing moments as long as you are with your father. Sitting in front of the TV watching boring black-and-white repeats is enough. Riding shotty in an old pick up truck is enough. The Confirmation is an endearing film that has some appreciation for film history but also has heart in it's own story.

October 21, 2016

The Shallows

Jaume Collet-Serra, 2016
The shark attack genre is a genre completely saturated with ridiculous premises and generous usage of CGI. Oddly enough at the top of the genre is Jaws, but it's the gold standard. There's a big drop off from there. Nothing has really come close to topping Spielberg's masterpiece that caused an entire generation of kids to be afraid of the ocean. While there is one great Jaws film and three forgettable sequels, there are 4 probably forgettable (wouldn't know, haven't seen them nor do I plan on seeing) Sharknado movies. And then we have Shark Night, Ghost Shark, Shark in Venice, and what feels like a thousand other B-Movies. What separates Jaws from the others is the craftiness of suspense-building, playing with multiple senses and not just throwing visual carnage at your face. Often these movies just take a shark and exaggerate all of the natural behaviors, ultimately making it a bloodthirsty beast that just so happens to look like a shark and live in the water.

The shark in The Shallows is no exception. The shark appears after Nancy (Blake Lively) approaches a dead whale while surfing nearby. This in turn causes the shark to become agitated and eager to defend it's feeding site. Your bullshit detectors should go off here, because one would assume that the shark would just be happy enough with the giant floating meal that is already right there for the taking rather than chase after a much smaller meal that would be more difficult to obtain.

Nancy is able to escape the attack and finds a short term refuge on top of a rock. The film then becomes a limited storytelling piece of Nancy trying to figure out how to get to shore with very little resources and one heck of a shark bite on her leg. She conveniently has a medical school past that helps her in dressing the wound. For what it is, it's not a completely horrible film that wastes 90 minutes of your life. Lively is totally serviceable with her Nancy character and does the best that can probably be done with the character. The cinematography is rather good, along with the editing. The Shallows is not breaking any new ground, but to cut it some slack, it's not really supposed to. Like a slice of decent pizza, it goes down easy enough.

October 15, 2016

Vikings (Seasons 1-4)

Michael Hirst, 2013-2016
Vikings is probably what Kurt Sutter wished The Bastard Executioner could be. Being quite obvious that Sutter wanted to make his version of Game of Thrones, Vikings has the period aesthetic of Thrones while also managing to possess the volatile relationships and sometimes calculated deception of Sutter's owns Sons of Anarchy series. Vikings own set of characters often generates memories of the Sons characters, most notably the similarities between Ragnar and Jax Teller. I'm certainly not the only one who sees this. But Sutter is not involved with Vikings at all. Who knows if he is even aware of it. In 2016 Game of Thrones continues to get all of the love when it comes to the Fantasy Drama genre, but hopefully Vikings will continue to build an audience because it's pretty great.

Vikings creates an immersive world, at the center of it is the anti-hero Ragnar Lothbrook. Ragnar has big ambitions, an urge to explore the world around him and make his mark in the pages of history. It's this very hunger that made the Vikings important people. Their ability to travel and and make broad impacts on what was considered a small world at the time. They were able to make that world bigger.

Vikings is the first scripted series created by The History Channel, and hopefully it inspires them to continue to create original scripted content rather then mediocre scripted cheap reality shows (*cough* Pawn Stars). And while Vikings is certainly unique and original on it's own, it's probably always going to be compared to Game of Thrones on some level because they exist at the same time. To be fair, there are certainly similarities between the two. Gratuitous violence. Seemingly endless battle. Sudden twists. Successes and failures. Deception. But where Vikings takes a turn is it's focus on the duality of Paganistic religious faith and the spread of Christianity. The evolution of military technology. Of course the biggest difference is Vikings is rooted in some real historical context and Thrones is pure fiction.

September 20, 2016


John Crowley, 2015
Brooklyn is an adaptation of the best-selling novel written by Colm Tóibín. Set in the Post WW2 1950's and shown through the eyes of Irish immigrant Eilis (Saoirse Ronan - Hanna, Grand Budapest Hotel), it shows an America that like today shows a country ripe with oppurtunity. Modern day New York City is filled with Irish ancestry but there was a period of time where the Irish/Italian ancestral lines weren't so embedded. Eilis is sort of thrown into this America. A priest sponsors her trip to America with the intention that she will find more oppurtunity and fulfillment there. Staying in her native Ireland means probably working a low-wage job and becoming a slave to the dreary monotony that seems to resonate through her small town. She would likely marry the neighborhood boy that wins the approval of her bitter mother. She would then take care of her mother until she died, and then inherit her home and stay there for the rest of her life. So she boards a ship with many other immigrants, a total fish out of water.

It's here that Crowley is able to capture some real emotion that lands on the screen. Much credit is due to Ronan who is able to display the unbearable homesickness, stranger anxiety, the grieving over a deceased loved one. She is able to balance the wide spectrum of emotions so remarkably, alwhile also showing a blossoming love with Italian man Tony (Emory Cohen). Ronan continues to impress, showing she is one of the more impressive leading performers working today. This film might break your personal record for most goosebumps felt. Brooklyn is a look at a bygone era. Where people looked out for each other more than they seem to do today. People weren't walking with phones in their hand looking down at a black mirror and instead used that free hand to hold a fellow person up. Brooklyn is also just another great example of how New York City is the best movie setting for romantic storytelling. Sorry Paris.

August 31, 2016

Inside Llewyn Davis

Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013
The Coen Brothers could quite possibly have the most diverse filmography in movie history. Their body of work is divisive. But one undeniable fact is if you polled anyone on the street who is a true fan of film and asked them what their favorites of all time are, it's almost a certainty that there is going to be a Coen Brothers film on there somewhere in the top 20. They approach widely different topics and you are never quite sure how specific that approach is going to be.

So of course it's intriguing when you hear that they are making a movie about a struggling folk singer named Llewyn Davis. And Llewyn is certainly struggling; freezing his way through the Greenwich Village streets lacking the proper winter attire. He is a man that is stagnant, can't seem to get to that next level in his career. Can't seem to manage his relationships properly, therefore having many displeased people in his periphery. It's a dreary character study. A man sort of ahead of his time. He's working before the big folk explosion in 1961. People haven't really been exposed to Bob Dylan yet. The big question is can Llewyn even survive long enough to make it there. He of course has no clue. While the odds seem more and more insurmountable, he spends a good portion of the film even wondering why he keeps at it. Is it worth it? What's the point? It's this quest for survival that adds the heart to the story. While Llewyn isn't a largely likeable character, you are rooting for him.

But his stagnation continues to be draining on you as you watch. The universe is using him as a punching bag. He doesn't seem to even draw luck from it. So he wakes up daily, stuck in the bondage of desperation. In a sense the film resembles Groundhog Day. Like there is the possibility that if Llewyn could transcend on some level, make some attempt to personally evolve, that there would some kind of epiphany. But he doesn't do himself many favors. He doesn't treat people as well as he could. He has a lot of pride, too much pride. He refuses to work a normal job, although it's exactly the type of thing that could help him upgrade his current situation. He's all in on the music. That alone is admirable.

There's a segment in the film when Llewyn is hitchhiking. It's a segment I can't seem to get out of my head. It so resembles some kind of purgatory. The sound, the visual elements at work. Man, only the Coen Brothers could create a landscape like this in the middle of a film. The fog on the highway, the hypnotic repetition of the painted lines.

Llewyn is certainly not a feel-good film. If anything it's a feel-sorry film. But it's memorable and unique, qualities of all of the good Coen Brothers movies.

August 21, 2016

Bone Tomahawk

S. Craig Zahler, 2015
Bone Tomahawk is going to appeal to viewers that aren't necessarily into the Western genre. It's a pleasant surprise, the great writing grabbing you right away and not letting loose until the end. The violence is going to surprise you. The gore is going to startle you. The performances are going to inspire you.

There are things that were done in this film to the human body that I didn't necessarily want to see at any point in my cinematic journeys, but regardless of seeing said cannibalistic atrocities - this film was an absolute thrill. These are the best films; the ones that sneak up on you. The ones that you weren't bombarded with marketing day in and day out. Everywhere you looked: billboards, television commercials. This is a pure indie shot on a $1.8M budget and somehow managing to cast Kurt Russell, David Arquette, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and an UNRECOGNIZABLE Richard Jenkins. Jenkins was really the exceptional performance in this film. It took about 20 minutes of screen-time to recognize him. There's not much to the story, really. A group of a men set out to rescue a local man's wife and a sheriff's deputy from a tribe of "savages". A template for a lot of standard Western fare, but boy is Tomahawk different.

Zahler does a fantastic job of getting you to despise the brutal tribe that attacked the small town of Bright Hope. You are begging for vengeance, praying for a positive outcome. And when you finally confront the unforgiving Troglodytes, they make the film almost feel like a Western Mad Max or something. There are so many movies that have been made that have these disturbing moments in them. Irreversible, Requiem for a Dream, Human Centipede, Funny Games. They take you so far that you don't want to revisit them again. There's nothing beneficial to go back to. But Bone Tomahawk is interesting, because some of the images shown are on par with some of those barbarous moments in the aforementioned movies. But Bone Tomahawk is a movie that I will almost certainly want to revisit at some point in the future.

Midnight Special

Jeff Nichols, 2016
Jeff Nichols is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. Rooted in this sort of gritty, southern gothic headspace - he is able to convey images through the eyes of the everyman and sometimes figures struggling at poverty level America.

Viewers got a taste of the supernatural in his 2011 film Take Shelter. By going down that avenue he separated himself from his prior film Shotgun Stories, which was really just a straight drama picture. The supernatural elements in Take Shelter were so well used, and the ending was one of the best endings in modern cinema.

Midnight Special is interesting, because it's a really great film but probably my least favorite of his filmography. For me personally, I would probably rank Nichols films:

1. Take Shelter
2. Mud
3. Shotgun Stories
4. Midnight Special

There are a lot of things to appreciate with this movie. The unique supernatural elements, that in a sense resemble character "11" in 2016's Stranger Things on Netflix. And actually, the two can compared to each other even more with the alternate dimension concepts that both pieces of work experiment with. But Nichols is confident in his film-making, not willing to slow things down or worse - dumb things down for the viewer. There is some decision making with the picture that is bold, and really does pay off at the end of the day. The decision to not show a cliche car chase scene, and instead, focus on the aftermath as the car descends upon it. Some sudden shifts in the story without waiting for the audience to catch up. Midnight operates that way. It is what it is, Nichols probably doesn't care if you don't approve of some of his methods of storytelling. And while the end may be a bit confusing, it's something that is still lingering with me days after viewing.

August 19, 2016

The Limey

Steven Soderbergh, 1999
There’s a reason that film schools study The Limey. Its taking a simple premise and building a sophisticated visual construct around that premise. Something that amateur filmmakers wouldn’t be capable of doing. But someone like Soderbergh can. Soderbergh is one of the more prolific directors working, maybe the most. And I will admit right off the bat, I consider him to be a bit overrated. I am not a fan of all of Soderbergh’s films. While everyone raves about Out of Sight, I am not one of those people. I didn’t care for it. I thought Contagion was dull. I thought Gina Carrano’s distractingly bad acting killed Haywire, which felt too much like Out of Sight for me at times. In fact, in memory the two movies blend together for me in my mind. Girlfriend Experience felt empty and forgettable. And the Ocean’s sequels just lacked that same allurement that the first one had. But then there’s the original Ocean’s Eleven. One of the best remakes ever made. I saw it three times in the theater back in 2001. Side Effects was a really well crafted film, was really able to display some of Channing Tatum’s acting chops while giving Rooney Mara another avenue to display her natural abilities. Behind the Candelabra was an HBO release but that should have had a wide theatrical release. It’s unforgettable. That’s the thing with Soderbergh. You can rattle off a few of the films of his that you really care for and any director would kill to have those films in their filmography. He’s not out there to please everybody with every film. He takes risks and jumps around to vastly different material and that’s admirable.

You can really just boil down the plot of The Limey to a father wanting some closure for his daughter’s death. And Soderbergh is able to build this captivating, tense stylistic film around that premise. Precise editing, great performances, a hypnotic score with haunting piano, this sort of yellowish haze that seems to pour over the screen. It has remarks about social hierarchy and the whole wealthy class on the mountaintop. The complicated nature of a father and daughter relationship. There's even a subtle indictments of Hollywood and celebrity culture. In a sense the Limey is what Pierre Morel’s Taken would be in the hands of an auteur rather than an action director.

August 13, 2016


Bill Paxton, 2001
Bill Paxton is an actor who wouldn't make a good straight up villain because of his charm / likeability factor. That is why his "Dad Meiks" character succeeds in this 2001 directorial debut (screenplay by by Brent Hanley) by Paxton.

Almost immediately you like the Dad character. Hard-working, eats dinner with his boys every night and warmly sends them off to bed before retiring himself. It's when he is awoken by a vision that it all changes. He tells his boys how God will be making a kill list for him, demons that he must rid the world of. Your suspicion of Dad grows, and you find yourself finding a certain comfort in Fenton's character, who is seemingly the only sane character left. His impressionable younger brother Adam is going to do anything his father wishes so there's virtually no hope for him to snap out of it.

What transpires is a dark southern gothic story with some real twists. The way that the film shifts your vision of who is good and bad is impressively executed. It's a good opportunity to see some of McConaughey's early acting chops which are evident in the film. He's kind of in his wheelhouse as the Texas-based drifter type that mutters slowly and thought-out. But overall it's a unique film that grabs you, and there's definitely some black comedy elements at work even if they are a bit buried beneath the surface. Paxton is really so perfect for the role as the eccentric father who really feels like he's God hand and doing something important. A straight up scary guy would never work. And it's his ability to be the benign father early on and get you invested in him as the good guy that is the springboard for all of the alternating that continues throughout the film.

August 8, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

Dan Trachtenberg, 2016
Everyone has probably at some point imagined what their emergency plan would be if some catastrophic event were to occur. Perhaps there's a bomb shelter in town. Or perhaps you have that rural family member that is as close to off the grid as it gets.

There is this whole sub-culture of doomsday preppers. They are meticulously building emergency shelters, often underground. It's part of our whole post 9/11 zombie-obsessed culture. Planning for the worst. Some would say it's overcautious, even paranoid. There's a stigma associated with the prepper type. Far right wing, reclusive, lacking certain social skills. What's interesting is that while we often let our imagination run wild when it comes to what we would do in an emergency situation, we probably don't envision ourselves buddying up to the doomsday prepper in order to survive.

Howard (John Goodman) is exactly this type of person. Building his underground bunker for years leading up to this "chemical attack", his efforts finally feel justified when something finally occurs. A doomsday preppers wet dream. And Howard is exactly the socially awkward type of person that you would picture a prepper type to be. Paranoid, controlling, impatient, unpredictable. When Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens from her state of unconsciousness after a car accident, Howard doesn't exactly help her feel comfortable. She is chained to the wall, so she might as well assume she's being held captive.

It's a limited storytelling movie for sure. Most of the film takes place in Howard's underground bunker. There is impressive production design here too. Every little nook and cranny of the shelter is decorated. The wallpaper makes it feel kind of homey, and the back-lit glass behind the kitchen sink almost makes you feel like you aren't 20' below grade. And although you don't see the threat above ground, you know it's there from the constant loud noises that suddenly erupt.

It's a satisfying film for sure. You spend a good portion of the film wondering yourself if Howard is a good guy or not. You feel locked in there with Michelle, dealing with that same uncomfortable uncertainty. But of course there's all these things going on above you as well, so it makes you wonder even if Howard is a bad guy you have to weight it out. It's probably still better putting up with the bad guy if it means you aren't falling victim to the chemical attack above you or whatever it is.

A lot of people probably go into this movie having seen Cloverfield (2008) and assuming that it's connected to this film. But it's not really. Producer JJ Abrams has said that it exists in the same universe. But it's probably better to just disregard any connection, because they are really just two completely different films. The only similarity is the extra-terrestrial presence. But that's all. And don't worry, that's no spoiler. 

July 31, 2016

Mountain Men

Cameron Labine, 2016
The relationship between siblings can be complicated and volatile over the course of a lifetime. When we are children, we spend so much time together because we all live under the same roof and will take what we can get in terms of company. Whether we are sharing a bunk-bed with that particular sibling or they live across the hall, we have a live-in playmate that may have different interests but for the most part we overlook the difference at that age and will be flexible for the other person. Then we get older, we grow apart. Sometimes years go by before we see each other. Sometimes it takes more than the holidays to bring everyone together. Sometimes its a wedding or, in this particular story, a death in the family.

Toph (Tyler Labine) and Cooper (Chace Crawford) have lost touch over the years. Coop has built some success on his own, living in New York disconnected from the family. Toph is more of a burn-out, living in his hometown. He is quick to say he's a professional DJ but the only actual income he has is from selling weed to the local pot-heads. Their mother gets remarried shortly after their father's death. While at the wedding Toph manages to convince Coop to venture to the family cabin to evict a squatter rumored to be residing there.

The get stranded in the snow-covered mountains and have to rely on each other (and their fathers wisdom) to return to safety. Mountain Men manages to capture some of the nuances of brothers. Abrupt fighting. Preying on weakness. Bringing up embarrassing memories of childhood. Part of the built-in authenticity of the film is probably due to the fact that director Cameron Labine is real-life brother of star Tyler Labine (also the stand-out role in the film). Mountain Men succeeds because it focuses more on the brother dynamic and less on trying to be a purely unique film. It's a predictable movie, and that's okay. The chemistry between Labine and Crawford feels real and that's enough to make it an entertaining watch. Crawford's Coop character is clearly the more introverted type and it contrasts well with Toph's goofy but likeable personality. The funniest most memorable shot of the entire film is the sudden jump to the cabin burning down. That's something that I will be laughing about inside for some time. Mountain Men is a nice little film, a fun watch.

The Last Days on Mars

Ruairi Robinson, 2013
On paper, The Last Days on Mars is a movie that I probably should have liked more than I did. A group of space explorers, led by Vincent Campbell (Liev Schreiber), stumbles upon an organic microbe on Mars that infects the astronauts and basically turns them into space zombies. Just the idea of space zombies is great. Not done a lot, a variation from the saturated horror sub-genre.

But Last Days is a film that's just lacking. Definitely not from a production standpoint. It's always amazing how, even bad space movies, always seem to have really elaborate production design. The spaceship and it's surrounding areas looks and feels authentic. You never are thinking that it's just a group of actors in space-suits sweating their asses off in a desert in Jordan (where it was actually filmed). You discover that their clock has basically run out on their mission, leaving them with an experience but with nothing really tangible in terms of a monumental discovery. This displeases them, particularly Kim (Olivia Williams). She was clearly hoping to be one of the explorers to really find something to bring back to planet earth. Something that would give them immortal status in the science world. When Marko (Goran Kostic) discovers microscopic life in the lab, he secretly dips out to get more samples. At this point the film really has you locked in, eagerly awaiting to see what is in the petri dish.

But the film becomes a far cry from Alien. Weak script is really to blame. This is a group of scientists, and nothing that ever really comes out of their mouth feels very scientific. When Vincent is lowering himself into a sinkhole, he sees some stalagmites. You would think his assessment of the organic matter would solicit some intelligent response, but instead he says something along the lines of "whatever it is, it's alive". Oh wow. Even Avatar managed to provide significantly more sophisticated dialogue when you were in that alien world. The film never manages to carve out it's own niche. It just becomes another horror film of the scary thing picking everyone off without any twists and turns. The film does manage to weave together an interesting conclusion. This is definitely a film that could be added to a list called "Bad movies that could have good sequels".

July 26, 2016

The Wave

Roar Uthaug, 2015
The Wave does something that a lot of American disaster movies rarely do. It develops the characters to the point where you have a genuine investment in them. In this sense, the Wave doesn’t pile on the budget on CGI effects of landmarks getting destroyed by Mother Nature. The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon, Volcano. They all leave you remembering some of the visual elements involved but don’t leave you remembering any of the characters really. The Wave is more generous. Because of its restraint, and it’s carefully executed construction, it gives you more walking away from it. It gives you some really memorable visual elements but also provides some characters that you will remember as well. And with the synergy of both, the actual disaster has more of an emotional impact and less of a simple feast for the eyes popcorn fodder. 

We discover quite quickly that main character Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is in a transition in his life. About to leave a geology position that he is very personally invested in to take on a high paying gig with the oil industry. You realize that he is doing this as a sacrifice for his family, to try and give them an upgrade. Likely a giant sacrifice for him that he still struggles with. He finds himself not able to easily walk away from his position, and he couldn’t started the move at worse timing (or best depending on how you would like to frame it). In a perfect situation, Kristian leaves during a really boring period where there is no activity on the computer monitors. But up until the very last minute of him about to get on the ferry boat out of town, there is activity in the mountain. And he physically cannot turn his back on it. This makes sense, someone so passionate about their job, not being able to turn their back on something they spent so many years obsessing over. Even with the conflict that it puts him in with his own family, as shown when he leaves his kids in the car to embark on a helicopter survey of the mountain. He is a man who thinks of work first, and family second. Like a lot of fathers and husbands of course, but not many have the same type of position as Kristian. But it’s a juggling act for Kristian. He undeniably loves his family very much. It’s an internal conflict for him, never really able to balance it effectively.

The big event doesn’t occur until close to the halfway point of the film. The ten minute clock ticking is a terrifyingly short window to find a safe place. When things unfold at this point, it’s completely tense and gripping. There are lots of interesting things going on at this point too. The things they are doing with water and light are so remarkable here. Some imagery that I can still easily bring up in my mind, and probably will for some time to come.

A unique and thorough production, The Wave is one of the best disaster films to be released in the past 10 years or so without question.

July 18, 2016

Killer Joe

William Friedkin, 2012
Two years before Matthew McConaughey wowed audiences with his Rust Cohle character in HBO's True Detective, he got some reps playing the morally obscure man of law enforcement in title character Killer Joe. Joe is a Dallas police officer who moonlights as a hit-man.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is in debt to some shady characters and he has reached the end of his rope with time to pay them back. He hires Joe to kill his mother to collect a $50,000 life insurance policy which would be split among himself, his father, and his sister after paying Joe off.

Killer Joe is a film filled with despicable figures. There is really only one redeeming person, that being sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Dottie is sort of written off by her other family members because she is of inferior intellect so she therefore gets some special treatment. But Dottie is surrounded by chaos. Their father (Hayden Church) is a heavy drinker / low-life. Brother Chris is just an untrustworthy dirtbag. Their mother is virtually out of the picture. Joe comes into the situation and it's interesting because while is slightly above them in terms of the social hierarchy, he is not too far above them in the sense that he gravitates to Dottie for companionship. You get a sense that Joe, while he may be a capable hitman, really doesn't have much going on in his own personal life.

It all ends up being a tornado of malevolent deception, with Dottie unfortunately too close to it all. It's an enticing story not because you are so concerned with the characters well-being but you just want to see how it all plays out. It's pretty clear early on that it's not going to work out well for everyone involved in the whole assassination scheme. One of the things I had heard prior to seeing this film was "you'll never look at fried chicken the same again". I had to bring that up, because they were so right. You won't.

Green Room

Jeremy Saulnier, 2016
Jeremy Saulnier certainly creates an environment that viewers would not have any interest spending time in in real life. A rural white supremacist rock club where blaring punk rock is played to crowds of aggressive skinheads. But that’s one of the best things about cinema; that it can transport you to places you would otherwise never visit. And he transports you in the company of a group of young punk kids that are struggling to make ends meat, living out of their van. Scraping by, taking any gig willing to pay a meager wage. They find themselves driving into the backwoods of Oregon to take an ambiguous gig given to them by a shady promoter. After their set one of the bandmates forgets a cell phone in the green room. Upon opening the door to the green room, Pat (Anton Yelchin) quickly discovers there is a woman’s dead body on the floor. Realizing that a murder has just taken place, he panics and attempts to call for help. They are soon trapped inside this claustrophobic green room, as the club owner and his aides attempt to cover up the whole situation.

Saulnier carefully plays with stylism and tension in this limited storytelling thriller. Basically the entire film takes place in this rock club, which is a glorified industrial corrugated metal shed in Bigfoot country. Saulnier is committed to his environment his builds; the Neo-Nazi imagery is strewn across every nook and cranny in the building. Stickers, graffiti, Sharpie doodles. The tension sets in from the second they get out of their rinky dink van and are quickly escorted inside the building. What follows is a violent display of a group of rather innocent punk kids trying to escape the worst gig of their short-lived music career. Outside the building, club owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart playing one of the most unexpected roles of his career) attempts to delicately clean up the situation rather than kicking the doors down and massacring them. But you realize that Darcy is totally capable of this. The fact that he doesn’t do this almost makes him more frightening.

The movie ends and you will be happy to leave this horrible universe you spend 95 minutes in. But Saulnier creates some unforgettable images, very much like he did in his last film Blue Ruin. He finds new ways to shed blood. People will probably remember this film as being one of Anton Yelchin’s last projects, as he tragically died in 2016 after the film was released. He was good in this film, although he was guilty of doing something Stewart also did a little too much of, whispering. I don’t know if it was the audio track or just the hardware I was viewing the film on. At times it was so difficult to hear the dialogue. Yelchin was often mumbling to the others. Patrick Stewart spent a lot of time whispering orders to his cohorts, and it was also very difficult to make out what he was saying when he was on the other side of the metal green room door. But the technical complaints aside, this is a film that should be seen. And surprisingly, even with such disturbing imagery, it’s a film that I will want to rewatch sometime soon.

July 13, 2016

Cold in July

Jim Mickle, 2014
Any fan of Dexter probably believes that Michael C. Hall has paid his dues enough to give his future work a shot. Even those (I among one of them) who gave up in the final season on the mostly great series. That wasn’t his fault. Dexter showed he is a guy who has range, constantly having to shift from the unassuming blue collar guy to the struggling-to-keep-restrained serial killer. And although in tone Cold in July is a dark film, it’s quite a departure from his work on Dexter. His character Dane is an everyman character, mullet and all, living in Texas as a picture framer working out of a mom and pop storefront. Awoken in the middle of the night by an intruder in his home, he impulsively takes action to protect his family and finds that his life is immediately turned upside down. What transpires is an attempt to return his life to it’s normalcy, but he soon finds that the disruption in the routine has shaken things up to a point that he can’t help but venture into the depths of the mystery surrounding that intruder.

This pursuit leads him to the company of two men, Russel (Sam Shepard) and Jim-Bob (Don Johnson), men who are living the complete opposite life as himself but men that he can’t seem to distance himself from. And while there are moments where your eyebrow is raised, wondering why Dane doesn’t just move on with his life and let sleeping dogs lie - it sort of makes sense. It sort of makes sense that he is hungry for some disruption from the routine. And also a sense of closure on everything. Cold in July is an ultimately satisfying film, not without it’s flaws. You are introduced to Russel quite abruptly without much explanation, you really have to do the quick work yourself to realize who he is. But the movie is well shot, sounds good (especially with the period-fitting synthwave soundtrack). And the chemistry between the three men are enough to fuel your engagement. When does Sam Shepard NOT deliver?

June 29, 2016


James Cameron, 1984
The Terminator franchise is as culturally familiar to America as the Rocky franchise. The whole concept of artificial intelligence taking over the Earth and eliminating the human race feels very visceral, and scarily possible. The unfortunate part of this franchise is, while it’s such a rich story with much to draw from, it’s been repeatedly put in the wrong hands and the many Terminator movies are just wildly inconsistent. The best of all of them is undoubtedly Terminator 2: Judgement Day. But without this original right here there wouldn’t ever be a T2. 

Of course visiting this film in 2016 is going to involve looking past some of the primitive production elements. The periodic battle scenes of humans vs machines in the future feel like very obvious set pieces. There’s that distinctively 1980’s electrical light effect that we all remember so well from Back to the Future and any other sci-fi type film that was released in that era. 

But Cameron captures some of the energy that would be present in it’s successor. The relentlessness of the pursuit. The unbearably high stakes that Sarah Connor discovers she’s a part of. The coldly-menacing determination of the Terminator cyborg to eradicate Sarah so she cannot bear the offspring that would eventually give the machines their challenge. The Terminator manages to do a lot with the limited resources available in that period. The explosions, the gunfire. It’s an important movie. It is a cinematic piece that sort of has it’s place in time. The 90’s action films had a level of male bravado and big guns that sort of faded away over time. Now it becomes more of a nostalgia thing to revisit. Of course there’s humorous aspects of that as well. Like when the Terminator is shooting his way through the police station, taking out anyone in his path. You would think that the officers would quickly realize that The Terminator doesn’t exactly fall when shot. Instead of fleeing they all jump out at him firing like they are going to be the one who gets him. Even many years after this movie had been made, this still feels groundbreaking.