Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hookman @ Western Stage 2X4

Hookman: At the Western Stage 2X4 BASH

Lauren Yee’s “The Hookman” begins with UCONN student named Lexi (A magnetic Niki Moon) on a Winter Break cut tragically short with the accidental death of her best friend. She is haunted by the image of the dreaded “hookman” of Urban Legend and finds herself in an existential crisis as the madman seems to be stalking her and her college friends. The darkly comic script is often vicious in cutting dialogue. Our main character is not the sympathetic “final girl” most often portrayed in these stories as she is incredibly self-obsessed, arrogant, and dismissive of others. It’s really only her fear of the Hookman himself that humanizes her throughout the existential crisis of the play.

The play features some warning with regards to the adult content; stark and uneasy conversations regarding rape and social politics, drug use, alcoholism, and  sexuality. We explore the deeper changes of an individual when they leave their home and embark on a new life in a distant college, the changes that take place when she returns home, and that early rejection of who one “used to be” as if it were trade up of who they “want to be”. There are some gore effects, but the play seems hesitant to play on the horror aspects of these moments and quickly hides any real effects and barely embraces the blood the story seems to be relying on.

Performances are extremely good with the stand out manic energy of Chelsea Palmer (as Chloe) driving some hilarious moments of conversational confusion. Micaela David delivers a natural performance as Jess that slowly builds throughout the course of the play, delivering a stunning duo performance with Moon on a specific monologue/duologue(?) that I won’t spoil here. It is bloody marvelous, however. And the Hookman himself is an imposing presence, prancing with psychotic glee as he stalks the cast.

4 out of 5.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Void

The Void

Sometimes the niche is incredibly small. A sliver of an audience or a grain, but the niche still exists and it still wants to be served. There are only so many jump scares a film can have before you go numb, only so many CGI effects before you stop feeling the impact, and sometimes the brain is starved for something “different” and also a little familiar. The Void is a perfect thirst quencher for the classic horror of the 80’s, with practical effects and intense atmosphere in place of far too loud bells and whistles of today’s modern horror.

A small town Sheriff picks up an injured man on the side of the road and delivers him to a nearby hospital with a skeleton crew staff, including the Sheriff’s wife as one of two nurses. And the ball quickly starts to roll- one of the staff transforms into “something” and starts to attack. The hospital is surrounded by mysterious hooded figures. A strange horn calls the cult out. Secrets are brought to light and a mysterious pair of hunters arrive with bad intentions for the Sheriff’s new prisoner. The remaining survivors must find a way to band together in order to survive.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a film that’s really breaking new ground. It has elements of familiar films delivered in a loving tribute to those elements of horror and remains its own thing in the process. The familiar siege narrative as the cultists surround the building, the body transformation and gore reminiscent of John Carpenter, the eerie setting and pacing of a Fulci masterpiece, and the film never resorts to a series of cheap scares as it wraps you in a slimy film of Lovecraftian madness. Reality warps and twists and perceptions are played with before the film builds toa  satisfying climax.

9 out of 10 and a definite must see for horror fans.

Monday, February 27, 2017

GET OUT is a WHOLE NUTHA' LEVEL! (also, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER)

“Get Out!”

“This is a whole nother level!” Jordan Peele's former partner, Keegan-Michael Key, had a character on Mad TV who would meet other celebrities and talk about how what they were doing was a “whole nudda’ level!” with increasing volume, pitch, and intensity. It was a funny bit. And now it seems Jordan Peele has taken things to a “Ho Nuh Le’el!!!” himself. After appearances in a number of films and his own successful Comedy Central show with partner Key, Jordan Peele took the horror world by storm when he announced the arrival of “Get Out” this past fall. And, good lord, does he hit that next level!

Photographer “Chris” (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) are heading out to visit her parents for an annual weekend gathering. Naturally, Chris is concerned with possible racial tension between he and her family when he reminds her that he is, in fact, black. She is, in fact, white. He is afraid the affluent family may not be entirely comfortable with the racial differences of the couple. But there’s nothing to fear here, she assures him. And the family seems all too interested in setting the young man’s mind at ease. Dad would have gladly voted Obama for a third term and everyone wants Chris to know that they are very cool with him being black. Their friends, nearly all white and affluent, are also perfectly fine with his being black.  Many are uncomfortably admiring his blackness, not only as an exotic state but one of utmost importance. Everyone seems very glad that Chris is black and they constantly ask about his experiences as a black man in America.

It's a stark look at race relations in the modern era. These people aren’t looking to lynch Chris or use the dreaded “N” word… what they are is far scarier and far more accurate a portrayal of racism in the modern era. And horror does what it supposed to do as it peels back the layers to reveal a darkness within that we are often too frightened to look at ourselves. This is horror at it’s absolute best! It’s a whole nother level. It’s a brilliant exploration with some complex performances, especially from Kaluuya and Williams, who carry the film on their respective shoulders. From the horror and dread, Peele knows how to turn that screw and then release the valve at the right moments with uncomfortable levity and downright hilarious dialogue from Chris’ best friend, played by Lil Rel howery.

9.5 in this PERFECT exploration of racial tension through the horror lens. If you love horror, see this movie. If race relations concern you, see this movie. If you love brilliant direction and fine performances, SEE THIS MOVIE!!! Look, just see this movie… it is the best thing I’ve seen so far from 2017 and it’s going to take a whole lot to rattle this ones standing.


*Streaming Review: Netflix

I am Not a Serial Killer

Based on the first in a series of books by author Dan Wells, this film stars Max Records as protagonist teen, John Wayne Cleaver. He’s a young man who lives and works with his mother and aunt in their mortuary business. He’s got trouble at school, doesn’t have too many friends, and he’s a sociopath well on his way to being a serial killer. But John doesn’t want that and so he follows a strict set of rules in order to maintain a sense of “normalcy”, which includes maintaining friendships, social interaction (including a terrific performance from Christopher Lloyd as Johns neighbor, a sickly man devoted to his wife while living out his final days), regular meetings with his therapist, avoiding patterns of stalking, and complimenting peope he has a desire to kill. And all seems balanced, such as it is, until his small town is beset by a series of strange and grisly murders.  

John is intrigued that there may be someone just like him in his too-small village and goes about trying to solve the case and piece together the clues, which upsets his pattern of rules and sends him on a spiral that could cost him the fragile humanity he struggles to maintain. The twists and turns are constant and the film constantly reminds us that Johns hold on humanity is fragile at best.

9 out of 10 and a definite “must see” for genre fans.

*EDIT: I incorrectly identified Jordan Peele's partner, Keegan-Michael Key due to misreading a photograph on IMDB. The review has been corrected.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

JW2, C4W, and IATPTTLITH.... (Three movie reviews, identified by acronyms)

John Wick: Chapter 2

Keanu Reeves returns as the dark killer-for-hire, John Wick in this sequel to the surprise hit from a few years back. Picking up after the events of the first film, Reeves finishes his tornado of vengeance and declares a peace when he finds his missing car. Upon returning home, an old acquaintance arrives and requests a service from Wick. Having once performed a favor for Wick, John owes this man a blood debt and is pressed into service as an initial refusal brings disaster to our title character. 

Reeves in intense in this film and the action is brutal. But the world-building atmosphere of John Wick 2 is the main selling point with some terrific supporting performances from Ian McShane, Common, and Ruby Rose. The World of John Wick is one of intrigue, espionage, and a far reaching criminal empire with tendrils that reach throughout the world. I was kind of thrilled to see an appearance from Italian action star, Franco Nero... but most audiences will be most thrilled with the appearance of Lawrence Fishburne is a surprising turn. 

Having never seen the first film in the series, I was going in a little cold and a little hesitant. Nothing about the first film’s advertising gave me a reason to believe there may be something in it for me… but JW2 is everything I love from an action film! The shots are well choreographed, stunts framed well, and a total lack of shaky cam made for one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a while. The frenetic pacing was dependent on the actors and the story rather than the film techniques or cheap tricks to hide the fantastic stunt work on display.

8.5 out of 10. 

 
“A Cure For Wellness”

Gore Verbinsky returns to the horror genre with this mind-bending tale. The film centers around a treatment center in Sweden where the rich and ailing travel for long term treatments. Dane Dehaan stars as Lockhart, a young executive sent to retrieve the company’s CEO from the center. Once there, he finds that the patients seem entirely satisfied to remain and convincing the CEO to leave may be a difficult proposition. Things become further complicated when a car crash forces Lockhart to remain in the center where he experiences the Center’s treatment plan as prescribed by the mysterious Dr. Volmer.

Of course we know nothing is quite what it seems. Lockhart meets a number of patients at the center who raise the young executives suspicion. An elderly woman obsessed with mysteries, a successful pair of venture capitalists who seem far too happy to remain far from their business, the suspicious townspeople, and a young girl who seems to be a “special case” for Dr.Volmer. When the treatment begins to result in strange delusions, Lockhart races to piece together the mystery of the Center.

Well, “races” is a subjective term here… Verbinsky is entirely too indulgent with his direction for the film and the story seems to stretch far beyond it’s capacity. At nearly two and a half hours, the film could easily shed around thirty minutes or more and maintain a much smoother narrative structure. As it is, the films momentum often sputters to a stop just when things are getting good. Dehaan is a fantastic actor, but he is often saddled with too many scenes that establish a lack of sympathy we should have for him.

With allusions to Lovecraft and the gothic style of classic Hammer Films, “A Cure For Wellness” can be an enjoyable ride for fans of the genre.

6 out of 10. Moderate recommendation.


“I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House”

A Netflix Original premiere, “I Am…” is a quiet film with a small premise. A young nurse(Lilly, played by Ruth Wilson) is hired to care for an aging writer (Paula Prentiss) suffering from dementia.  As she spends time in the lonely house, she is struck with a sense of something being present at various points in time. We are warned that Lilly is 28 years old and she will not see 29. We are told that a house with death in it can never be bought or sold, only “borrowed” from it’s ghosts. As strange occurrences keep happening, Lily is led toward a deeper mystery when she is mistakenly referred to as “Polly” by her patient.

“I Am” is a haunting film with plenty of atmosphere and a perfect use of sound and lighting effects to tell what is a very simple story. It’s minimalism works for it and it’s classical writing is both familiar and mesmerizing. A slow burn drama that sizzles to a brief and satisfying explosion that echoes into an uncomfortable finale.

7 out of 10 and a recommend.

Monday, February 6, 2017

RINGS...

RINGS

The third film in a series, Rings continues to the story begun in The Ring- When a person watches the haunted video tape they will receive a phone call stating that they will die in “seven days”. The caller is Samara, a mysterious young girl who was murdered years ago and is currently haunting the video. SPOILER ALERT: The first film establishes that one can rid themselves of the curse by making a copy and passing it on to another before the seven days are up.

The third film picks up a little over a decade later when a college professor comes across the tape and starts the curse into motion on a new scale. Rather than seeing the tape as a “curse,” the professor decides to experiment with the idea of life after death and engages in a mass experiment with the student body. One person watches the tape, another person tails behind them, going on in a pyramid scheme that encourages the students to refer to themselves as “The Sevens”. And the tape eventually finds it’s way to the eyes of Holt, whose girlfriend will do anything to save him. And anything inludes watching the tape….

So here’s what I find interesting: the film continues to push the narrative of the first, but Samara’s presence shouldn’t be the only point in spreading this curse. There should be an endgame and this film finally addresses the possibility of that endpoint when our lead is unable to create a new duplicate. More images have appeared in the video code, images meant for her alone. And those images send her and Holt on another journey of their own…

“Rings” is not a reinvention of the wheel and makes a few stumbling missteps along the way, but it is largely an enjoyable film. There’s been a pretty big backlash from the horror community and reviews, panning the film on a number of faults. I, however, had a nice time watching the film and enjoyed myself immensely. While it won’t crack my top ten of the year, I can definitely see myself purchasing the blu-ray when it’s released.

6.5 out of 10 and a mild recommend. See it in the theaters.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sadako vs. Kayako: Shudder Exclusive

Sadako vs. Kayako

Let’s go back to the year 1998 and the release of “Ringu”, a movie that would revolutionize horror cinema and would bring a new aesthetic to American cinema for years to come. The movie, loosely based on a novel of the same name, tells the story of a cursed videotape containing the essence of an evil young woman named Sadako. On the tail end of Ringu comes another Japanese Horror film, Ju-On: The Grudge. This film tells the story of a vengeful ghost linked to a cursed home. Both films left an indelible mark on horror cinema so it really was only a matter of time until someone saw a cash grab in pitting the two monsters against one another. I guess you could say it was a “grudge” match in the “Ring”! HAHAHA!!!

Shut up, that was funny.

The curses for both characters are modified for this film, reducing the days for Sadako’s appearance to only two days and otherwiside diminishing both Kayako and her son, Toshio, to bit supporting parts as a pair of cursed girls try to pool their resources and force the two ghosts to do battle. The final hope is that the two spirits will destroy one another.

Ultimately, the film doesn’t succeed nearly as much as the iconic images from the source materials. Sadako is somewhat reduced by showing a little too much and her spooking movements are somewhat overly exaggerated and look a little silly. Kayako is just as frightening as usual with her death croak, but the amount of cgi used to create her crawl felt a little overproduced. The movies lighting is a little dark at times, but this isn’t a surprise when you watch enough J-Horror.

With that said, the film isn’t a total waste of time. It’s a fun popcorn b-picture with enough scary moments to keep the heart pumping. Some of the characters, like the casually dismissive psychi and his blind assistant, are amusing in a Japanese Anime-trope way.

4.5 out of 10 and a very low priority rental.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SPLIT: An amazing performance from James McAvoy

SPLIT

Miss Patricia, Dennis, Barry, and Hedwig; These are just a few of the characters portrayed by James McAvoy in the latest thriller from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. And the actor delivers an incredible performance as a man suffering through DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and revealing a number of different characteristics with each separate character. Officially, DID is considered an unproven condition- more an extension of a defensive mechanism for schizophrenics who have encountered traumatic events in their lives. The film, however, stands on the conceit of the condition as a separate thing with some strong research to back it up- but it’s really McAvoy’s performance that conveys the urgency of what each character represents to the needs of the “host” body. Dennis protects with an urgent need for cleanliness and order, Miss Patricia provides the matronly comfort and devotion to an unspecified “faith” complete with quotations, while Hedwig remains an innocent child far from the responsibility of adulthood. Each other character receives some degree of purpose, but the film primarily centers around those three, and collectively the personalities often refer to themselves as “The Horde”.

And things spiral out of control when “Dennis” commits to an action that finds him kidnapping three teenage girls and keeping them in a cellar. The girls are to be fed to a “Beast” in the manner of a sacred meal. Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), the archetypical loner, engages McAvoy in a dangerous game of cat and mouse when she attempts to persuade Hedwig to help her in escaping. But the clock is ticking because the Beast is on the move. Casey’s character is riddled with a history we get a glimpses of through flashback, where a fateful hunting trip with her father and uncle leads to revelations.

M. Night Shyamalan has seen his share of success and failure in recent years. After his huge success in “The 6th Sense”, Shyamalan followed up with “Unbreakable” and then signed with Disney for a multi-film deal that brought us “The Village” and “Signs”. Often relying on a sudden twist near the end of the story, Shyamalan’s films are often metaphorical explorations of grief, loss, and purpose. I’m not a huge fan of the director’s work, but I do recognize the ability of the man to craft a good film. This movie seems to be a very personal exploration of his own recent failings and a stripping down of the frills the director is often criticized for. He plays on the audiences expectations.

For the second horror film of the year, Split gives us a pretty good chiller and introduces an engaging antagonist in the several divided personalities of The Horde. Stay past the initial credits for a small stinger at the end which will be sure to thrill many Shyamalan fans.

7.5 out of 10 and a must see for 2017.

*POST NOTE*

I am aware of some controversy surrounding the film and its depiction of mental illness and transgenderism- speaking from a place where I have no personal perspective of life as a transgender, I’m not going to tell people whether they should be offended or not. Instead, I will speak to my opinion and my reading of the film itself: The film does not accurately reflect the life choices or personality traits of those who are transgender nor those who may suffer from DID. This is a speculative work of fiction that utilizes a mental illness to portray the divided personalities that reside within the body of a man who has suffered many traumatic events. It reflects the strength he receives and the twisted means in which he learns to cope with those events in his life. They are representations of IDEALS which the hosts subconscious feels will keep him safe from harm.