Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Hellboy 2019

This is a much more complex film to review than I thought it would be going in. Firstly, it will draw comparisons to Del Toro's vision of Hellboy, featuring iconic actor Ron Perlman in the lead, and a terrific supporting cast.

This film has none of that.

But that doesn't make it a bad film on it's own. In fact, there are plenty of things to enjoy about this version of Hellboy. The practical effects are wll done and provides a gorier backdrop to the adventures of the demon spawn. It features deeper elements of Mignola's core material, including Hellboy's connection to Arthurian Mythology, vampires, faeries, and plenty of supernatural weirdness. It even features an appearance from The Lobster!

But while there is plenty here that DOES word, there is a lot that does not. Much of it seems to have been developed in post production, including CGI that doesn't feel fully rendered and an incredibly dry and boring performance from character actor Ian McShane and performance that goes all over the place from Milla Jovavich. David Harbour puts a decent enough spin on Hellboy, but it feels a little schozophrenic at times. When he does nail it, though... he really nails it.

In closing, Neal Marshall has a very specific style and feel to his films... and this movie lacks even that. It feels like a film that was taken away from it's primary vision and director and went through a post-production where the studio and it's producers cobbled together THEIR vision of a film that forgot there was source material and relied on too many tropes in the footage that was shot.
Despite all that's essentially "wrong" with the film, I found more to enjoy than there was to dislike and had a good time with it. While it won't hit my top ten of the year, it will be seen again and it's good b- grade monster munching goodness with gore and blood and all the fun stuff I personally enjoy.

Comments? Leave them below.

Monday, April 1, 2019


Being fairly late to the party, most people have likely seen this movie and already formed their own opinions on it. To describe the build-up to the film as divisive (Among the "Geek Chic" sect) is an understatement. Marketing choosing to focus on Brie Larson’s aspirations to make the film “Socially relevant” left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. I count myself among them. Toss in the fact that Marvel Comics have repeatedly tried to boot, reboot, re-issue, and alter modern comics so that Captain Marvel would be the poster child over the past few years, replacing "Spiderman" as the flagship character. My own feelings on the matter are that I look to these films and comics as escapist fun and really don’t enjoy being lectured. So I wasn’t the first person on line to see the film, yet see it I must!
So my kid and I decided to check out a Saturday matinee and kicked our luxury recliners back and munched some popcorn as the credits rolled. What was my reaction.
Wow! There was actually a pretty good movie underneath all that politicized marketing. We had an extremely complex backstory streamlined and carved down to it’s most basic components to give a character with well over thirty years of history a somewhat decent run at the ball. Samuel L Jackson’s “Nick Fury” is on a major solo adventure, made to look 20 years younger with the use of some CGI and practical affects. Lashana Lynch steals the show as Maria Rambeau, Carol Danver’s best friend and the mother to a prominent character in the history of Marvel Comics. And Ben Mendelsohn is at turns charming and menacing as a Skrull commander, Talos. Annette Benning, also, delivers solid as a mentor seen in Danver’s flashbacks with a nice twist to the familiar story of Captain Marvel.
As the film opens, we’re introduced to Vers; she is an elite soldier in the Kree Star Force- a legion of peacekeepers and noble warrior heroes pit in a deadly war with the shape-shifting Skrulls. Six years ago she woke up with no memory of who she truly was and access to the ability to fire photon blasts from her fists. When a Skrull ambush separates her from her unit (led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law)), she awakens while trapped in a Skrull machine designed to probe her memories- and the Skrulls have opened a Pandora’s box of memories that simply do not fit with the story she’s been told. Crash landing on a planet the Skrulls saw her in her memories, Carol finds herself on the backwater planet of Earth where she quickly encounters Agents of Shield. The race is on to unlock the rest of her memories and discover the link she has to a mysterious scientist. The story is sparse and moves quickly- We know very early on that the Kree have lied to Vers, and it isn’t long until she finds out she was once an earth pilot by the name of Carol Danvers. 

A major sticking point with this film is that it would have served itself better and stood up on it's own had fewer audiences seen the previous Marvel films. Audiences familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy already know that twenty years down the line the Kree are not seen as "heroes" or "protectors", but rather a militant force at odds with much of the universe. The film attempts to subvert the audience expectations of the previous movies, but at the cost of diminishing some of the mystique and tension within those films. Nick Fury, seen as a serious and dedicated head of Shield, is shown to be a much more jovial and less intense character than he's ever been shown to be in the films or television series. Jackson pulls it off believably enough and shows us a few peeks at the man he would become, but the nurturing approach he takes to Danvers is a far cry different than the callous and often confrontation approach with the rest of the Avengers; IE Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Bruce Banner. 
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a film-making duo known for Mississippi Grind. They navigate the complex history of Danvers and create a story of personal growth and an exploration of what it means to make a choice. Carol’s story (In the film) is a good one- marred by two performances that threatened to drag the film down on several occasions. The first is the performance of Brie Larson, who we are repeatedly told is very “funny” and needs to “stop joking” around so much. Her humor was largely lost on me, though this may not actually be the fault of the film itself. Much of her delivery reminded me of my wife’s show “The Gilmore Girls” and the performance of the Rory character. My wife would crack up laughing at her comments, and I largely never understood the comedic elements that she saw. My son, who largely shares her sense of humor, was also laughing. So this just may be a case of my not “getting” the humor. In large part, Larson is an actress I've never been particularly impressed with. She's often that character I couldn't care less about in a movie.
The other performance was Jude Law’s “Yon Rogg”, a Kree soldier. Jude has never been more smarmy and forced than he was in this film. He was so forced and awful that every scene he is in is nearly a waste of time.He threatens to chew up the scenery at every turn, his hunger for melodrama and sudden bursts of anger a thing of such awkward energy that it defies both logic and reason. 

Still, be it as it may the film is a largely middle of the road Marvel film. It doesn't drag like Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 3, but it never reaches the heights of a Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy.
7 out of 10.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Escape Room / Glass

Fear not, faceless reader- for I am still maintaining my blog as I reset my personal and professional priorities. The last few years have seen some great changes for your ranting typist with a penchant for the over statement, but I’m still here and still watching, reading, and experiencing things that I feel the need to rant about.
No, my dear faceless readers, I am not going to turn to politics, religion, or any sort of deep introspection on how we can improve our lives. I have facebook, twitter, and all sorts of other social media for that nonsense which is really none of your concern and of absolutely no interest to anyone but me and the few who get ornery about such things.
This is about entertainment! And with that, let’s get to it.
It happens more often than not, but this film truly captures the “Well, it wasn’t bad” emotional release I find myself having after many experiences. What elevates the film is that there is some great set design, some spectacular effects, and some truly bland and unimpressive performances. And it’s not the performers that are at fault as much as the script and the direction seems to be to give off as bland a performance as possible. One actress manages to deliver an impressive physical performance, but ultimately falls a little flat. It fails to really capture the emotion needed.
We open “In Media Res”, as a lone man drops into the final room of the puzzle before rewinding the story by a couple of days earlier. Six strangers are invited to participate in an “Escape Room” contest with a $50K prize for the one who is able to solve it. We are introduced to our three primary characters with a prologue sequence, setting up that the other three will not matter or play any important role with the climax of the film. So we know the shy physics nerd, the ruthless stock salesmen, and the alcoholic stock-boy are in for the long haul and we have no real reason to care about the gaming nerd, the Iraqi Veteran, or the blue-collar Miner. And the film sets off the place the right colors in the parameters of the coded box. The mystery plays out- and we are asked to question the motives of Dr. Wootan Yu. And the fact that this is the name of our villain just speaks volumes to the stupidity of the script itself.  With that note, the mystery is fairly obvious- from the very beginning.
But the film is stylistic enough that it’s never really “bad” to watch as much as it’s visually appealing and entertaining throughout. The actors are trying to put more into their performances, but it feels as though the director is holding each of them back with an almost iron grip. As though he’s afraid their charisma may overshadow the spectacular settings or the traps themselves, and it hurts to see that limitation. Tyler Labine feels especially comatose given previous works I’ve seen.
6.5 with a mild recommendation. You won’t be sorry you’ve seen it but it won’t crack a top ten list.
And in this corner we have M. Night Shyamalan’s finale to the trilogy set up more then a decade earlier with “UNBREAKABLE”, shocked with a continuation from “SPLIT”, and set this viewer on pins and needles with anticipation. And I’m going to go on record as saying that M. Night did NOT disappoint!
Regularly excoriated for being self-indulgent and paced at the pouring speed of molasses, the film has seen some brutal reactions from critics and audiences alike. But this is the third part of a trilogy and it acts as the finale to the previous Acts. And it’s a story he wanted to tell- and in the telling, he held me in complete anticipation for the results that were fairly well telegraphed throughout the film but ultimately placed in a way which would turn the story in on itself. Because “Glass” is not just some comic book villain we’re here to jeer and hiss at- he is a world-class mastermind and architect that takes more than a few matters into account and has such a sense of fragility that he necessarily removes his own ego from the equation. It ultimately forces a deep thinker to ask: “What makes a villain?”
8.5 out of 10. I recommend, but with the added advice that you not expect this to be a Superhero Blockbuster film. Nor should you come and expect the breaking down of the tropes one might see in a “Watchmen” or “V for Vendetta” piece, geared to undermine the philosophical views that elevate heroism and exceptionalism. This film takes those to task for the corrupting influences that they truly are. Enjoy this film for what it is, and not what people have come to expect in Superhero movies today.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

2018 Blog In Review

As we wind down 2018, I’m approaching a major turning point in my life.
I’m not the man I was in 2017. I started the year in a deep depression with suicidal iterations. I took time off work and attended a day program for mental health and worked through several problems over the course of several weeks, balanced my medication, and ultimately saw where a lot of my issues were coming from. The fact of the matter is that I was 42 and my body was going through major changes with the onset of diabetes, the continuing struggle with my weight, rising blood pressure, and my mind forcing me to relive the traumas of my youth. The social landscape was tense, with people placing their politics before their families and their relationships.
Things have to change.
I focused my energy into a few creative endeavors and am still exploring those. But I guess I should just rip the bandage off this bad boy and settle something for casual readers.
In the interest of FULL DISCLOSURE- My local theatre reviews will actually be fewer and further between. There is very little to interest, challenge, or amaze me. Two years ago, the local theaters experimented with more cutting edge shows and didn’t find the financial success that they hoped for. As a result, all of the theaters are going back to the much more traditional favorites to please their wallets and bore me to tears. So that doesn’t leave me with too many options and a quick glance at the upcoming schedules are disappointing.
And with a slight bow, I will be surprised if I even attend a quarter of the shows I attended last year. I genuinely enjoy live performances, but I’m struggling to find a reason to see a show these days. I’ve seen Rocky Horror so many times that I’m honestly just tired of the show in general. I attended twice this year, once because there was a secret event taking place and the second time in order to see the final performances of my two friends. Even now, I get choked up knowing that I’ll never see them perform those roles on stage again.
The best show of the year that I had seen was Evil Dead: The Musical, in San Jose. Gory, fun, and hilarious! It’s productions like that which still drive me to have some interest in live theater despite recent feelings. Triassic Park: A Dinosaur Musical, was a fun and wild ride with some catchy tunes and terrific performances. It was one of the few experiments in cutting edge attempts to bring something new to the coast, and it flatly topped the list for the shear balls it showed. (get it? Well, not if you didn’t see the show… nevermind.) “Terms of Use” touched the cutting edge of science fiction on the live stage, interweaving use of digital effects to tell it’s story of a virtual reality experiment gone wrong. And, finally, the surprise encounter for me was “Boxcar”. Written as a political thriller with a focus on humanizing the victims of an illegal border crossing gone awry, the play felt much more in tune with a few Horror tropes along the lines of SAW and Cube.
I didn’t get to near as many books as I wanted to. The second book in Brian Keene’s barbarian king story, Throne of the Bastards, was a fun throwback to the style and tone of Robert E Howard’s “Conan” series. Mary SanGiovanni scored a win with a smaller novel “Savage Woods”. It was definitely a year of Cosmic Horror as she also started a podcast and continues to explore the theories on fear which drive that sub-genre.
Speaking of “Cosmic Horror”- Here is a brief glimpse to my year’s top films.
10. Annihilation
Starring Natalie Portman and based on a series of novels, this film is a surreal and trippy experience. A bit of a cross between “The Thing” and “Altered States”; It also has a definitive Lovecraftian element as the characters are shown the full scope of what it is they just don’t know or understand. There is a great emptiness in that knowledge.
9: Aquaman
Eking in just under the wire, Aquaman was the perfect film for the DCEU. And, in keeping with the year’s bizarre exploration of Lovecraftian Myth; the film actually explores an alternative take on the macabre author’s fears. The offspring of a human and a deep dwelling denizen of the sea, Arthur Curry is every bit the antithesis to the fear and xenophobia of Lovcraft.
8. Avengers: Infinity War
No Lovecraft here, just balls to the wall superheroes doing superhero things.
7. Upgrade
Whether you see it as sci-fi, vigilante action, or deep diving body horror, “Upgrade” hit the right notes and left me gobsmacked at the end of the year.
6. Halloween (2018)
Not so much for exposing the emotional scars of PTSD, living with trauma, and trying to overcome a brutal past- this movie just brought back Michael Meyers and had him hack and slash his way through the Halloween season.
5. Mandy
And we’re back to tripping balls with this one. A deliberately paced film that shows us everything our main protagonist has to lose before he loses it. That makes his bid for vengeance so much more fulfilling and extremely twisted. Nicholas Cage at his best.
4: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers latest venture was rumored to be an anthology series, but was released as a stand alone film through Netflix. Poignant, amusing, at times depressing as all heck; I honestly feel cheated to not have seen some of these vignettes on the big screen. They were filmed for the big screen and had such wide and crisp shots that it staggers the mind to limit them to a home screen.
3. A Quiet Place
A parents worst fears… I can’t even begin to describe this film. See it.
2. Isle of Dogs
Directed by Wes Anderson, an obvious love letter to the love of pets, and filled with the idiosyncratic characters of most Anderson films; Isle of Dogs is pure loving schmaltz… which would normally not wind up nearly this high on my list. But what the film isn’t being recognized for is the loving tribute to Akira Kurosawa. The film was paced more evenly with the style of the Master, rather than Anderson’s awkward moments and performance filled emptiness. Each shot is beautifully crafted artwork, each scene demands movement. I’m not the dog lover my wife is, but the emotional connections and driving character arcs kept me more than engaged and I wept at the end.
1. The Endless
No film has ever truly managed to capture the fear, absurdity, and utter helplessness one should feel when faced with the Cosmic Terror that they are insignificant and foolish at best. The Endless captures those feelings beautifully with a twisted tale about two brothers returning to visit the UFO death cult they abandoned nearly ten years previously. This one is a must-see.
  • - -
There are some glaring absences in my top ten- but for a full listing of films I rated 4 and above, you should probably check out my account. I also maintained a list of all the 2018 distributed horror films I had a chance to see, topping the list at a whopping 52. Well, maybe not that impressive when compared with some but I have limited means and limited time. All of this is under the username redcapjack, of course- give it a follow and I’ll likely follow you back when I check my connections once in a blue moon. I do read other peoples reviews and follow others- Ian West is one of my favorites, so check him out if you get a chance.
I do find it necessary to speak about one film, however- Hereditary. One of the most gruesome and emotionally crippling films it’s been my “pleasure” to view in a long time, if I were creating a top ten list of the year based solely on craft and mission this movie would definitely be near the top. But the truth is that I had a rough time coping with this film during the experience and then the feeling afterward made me feel as though I had seen something I shouldn’t have. My top ten list encompasses the craft, the enjoyment, and the experience on the whole. Unfortunately, “Hereditary” probably worked far TOO well and deserves an extremely honorable mention without actually making the grade. It landed at 26 overall and #12 on my Horror List.
My least favorite film sported an interesting and captivating role from Cory Feldman, but offered little else to justify such a performance. “Corbin Nash” was a lackluster wannabe to the Vampire Hunting Vampires sub-sub-SUB Genre of horror films. Theatrically, the Dark Web was an experience made a little better by the company I kept but was ultimately one of the more ridiculous concepts. It found some promise with a scene that utilized the phenomena of “SWATing” to some effect. But the film ultimately failed to do much beyond that one scene.
So with a fairly brutal year out of the way, let’s look toward 2019 as a year for new experiences. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Happy Holidays! New Reviews! (Bumblebee, Aquaman, Anna the the Apocalypse)

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all the other Holiday stuff for other faiths, lifestyles, and all such and sundry. I've been super busy with side projects, playing Santa Claus, and overcoming the usual set of obstacles. I'm trying to play "Catch up" on some of the films I've missed, but there were also some new releases that I really wanted to look at for the blog. 

At the beginning of the year, I had a shortlist of films I was looking forward to and a shortlist of films that I didn’t expect much out of. With the Justice League having fallen mostly flat and with expectations low, I placed Aquaman on the list with barely a shrug. Despite the fact that James Wan was at the helm, I didn’t think there was much the acclaimed horror director could do with such a one note hero in a film universe that had largely fallen flat. And, ironically scheduled to be released the same weekend, Bumblebee would be the first in a Transformers spin-off film to support that franchise. There was no WAY that film could manage to overcome five previously horrendous movies and manage to support it’s own premise to support a character incapable of speech itself. 

But I also had a chance to see one of my most anticipated films of the year, so keep on reading to see my review of "Anna and the Apocalypse".... 
So my plans to watch any film this past weekend were being thwarted at nearly every turn. The family wasn’t in the mood, I didn’t want to really go by myself, and the list kept on compiling until a frustrating Sunday afternoon found me purchasing tickets for Aquaman the following day and a whimsical purchase of Bumblebee that night. My wife, unlike myself, actually enjoyed some of the previous Transformer’s films. She also heard it was more of a “Girl and her Horse”-style narrative, so she was interested in seeing how such a feet would be accomplished and if it could remain true to the high octane action of giant robots fighting and transforming.
It took the film less than two minutes to cement itself as THE best live-action Transformers film in the entire series, which saw the movie opening up on the Cybertron of my distant childhood. Live action versions of the Transformers were doing battle on a big screen, including a discernible Shockwave, Soundwave, Prowl, Arcee, Ratchet, and Optimus Prime when Bumblebee came roaring onto the scene with a ferociousness that belied his size. Lasers, combat, and a powerful delivery on the nature of Bee’s mission set the tone of real stakes and challenge before the film shifts toward earth and the combat training of John Cena’s character, Agent Burner. He and his squad are caught in the middle of a brutal fight between Bee and one of his pursuers, Blitzwing. Indifferent to the humans around them, Blitzwing is a brutal machine intent on ripping the secrets of the Autobots plans from the Bee’s chest. In the struggle, Bee loses his voicebox, his power is dangerously low, and he is barely able to transform into an innocent car and avoid detection.
Fast forward some time later and we find a young girl, Charlee (Hailee Steinfeld), a young girl coping with the loss of her father and the new family unit of her mother, a new boyfriend, and a pubescent pest of a brother. She’s not popular, she’s not conventional, and she isn’t going to get the chip off her shoulder with a power of positivity lecture from the people in her life. In her struggle to find a sense of individuality and personal freedom, she winds up getting a broken down VW Bug that turns out to be our titular character.
Biff! Bam! Boom! We’re off to the races!
I mean, we get a couple of great performances and a bit of 80’s nostalgia (maybe a touch too much) and the film just hammers down on the relationship between Bee and Charlee, with Bee learning about the people of earth and their potential and fragility as a race. We get Charlee learning to care about more than just her grief. Both are set to overcome personal obstacles, including a dogged pursuer in the form of Cena’s Agent Burner. What could have been a typical “Mr. McGhee”-like performance from the ex-wrestler is nuanced with levity and a certain attention to detail that exposes him as a truly honorable man.
8 out of 10.
Which brings us to the next morning….
How do I put this one into words?
There are only so many times you can hit the same point repeatedly about a film, and I think my low expectations were well document when I started this week’s blog. So let me cut to the quick of it- I was wrong.
Aquaman may be the best of the DCEU films to date, surpassing even Wonderwoman with its bombastic titular character and the entire premise which takes us to a whole new alien world located far beneath our own world’s ocean depths. Atlantis isn’t just a singular city, either. We quickly learn that the kingdom, technologically advanced and arrogant in their consumption of power, has sunk below the sea due to its own hubris and the people have been forever changed by it. Many are now incapable of breathing the air above, some of the people have evolved beyond their human form, and others devolved. And all of the story is foreshadowed in a brief glimpse of HP Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” as it sits upon the table.
A child born of two worlds, Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) is the half-blood elder Prince to the crown of Atlantis. Distrusted by both the surface and the deep, his only purpose is to do what he feels is “right” by people. An early exchange shows us the heart of a man willing to stand despite the odds, but who is quickly able to soften when the situation changes. He has a lot of love in his heart and a lot of courage, but he is far from perfect and he is haunted by the choices of others.
When his younger half brother decides to unite the undersea kingdom to declare war on the surface, Arthur is approached to take his “rightful” place by people who do not truly believe in him. He has his own doubts, but the war and the lives at risk are enough to lure Aquaman to the deep where he must finally face his brother and find out what kind of man he will really be.
Jason Mamoa sets the perfect tone for the film, envisioning Aquaman as a blue-collar “everyman” who happens to have great powers and ferocious skills. But, while often joked about in pop culture, Aquaman’s greatest power is the one least considered when examining the cinematic adventures of a superhero. Arthur Curry can talk with fish- a skill we originally believe is probably the most common amongst Atlanteans, but which we find is actually an extremely rare gift.
And that’s what Aquaman is- an extremely rare gift from the production studio that previously brought us Batman Vs. Superman and The Justice League.
9 out of 10. 

Anna and the Apocalypse
So we take this High School senior on the cusp of graduation. She wants to see the world, but her janitor father wants her to go to University. She wants to travel Australia, but her artistic best friend harbors romantic interests. She wants to leave her home town, but she’s also recovering from a poor romantic moment with the school bully. Anna is the prototypical “John Hughes”-style lead in a small town high school populated with the average teens who populate those classic films.
The world of Anna is filled with Disney Channel-influenced musical numbers, teens lamenting or celebrating their self-induced technological separations, romantic entanglements, energetic declarations of “change” or “making a difference” and so on, so forth, and all of it coming to a crashing halt when the dead rise through a zombie virus that spreads like a plague. Everything the characters were declaring, avoiding, or confronting becomes almost meaningless when the blood starts to splatter and heads begin to (literally) roll.
Anna (Ella Hunt) and her best friend John (Malcomb Cumming) are just turning over new leaves, kickstarting their lives through a jaunty song as they fail to see the carnage in the world around them. Bodies literally drop just behind them, unseen and unheard, before the two are finally confronted by one of the undead and are forced to take action. They soon join erstwhile school reporter and American transplant, Steph (Sarah Swire) and videographer Chris (Christopher Leveaux), who are hiding in the local bowling alley. Meanwhile, the many of the teens friends and families are trapped at the local High School with Anna’s father(Mark Benton) and the school’s recently promoted Headmaster Savage (Paul Kaye).
As civilization falls apart, Anna must take control of her life and rely on her friends to survive. As the film continues, the music adjusts to the tonal shift and retains a darker edge without sacrificing it’s pop-rock roots. Songs reminiscent of anthemic hard rock themes and morose electronic new wave echo through the characters journey. A symbolic journey of growth and change where some will survive and some will remain trapped in the town forever. It’s not often easy to wed horror and musical without sacrificing the latter to a camp comedy, but Anna steps into the occasional comedic dip only to reveal deeper horrors and real emotional depth.
9  out of ten.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Overlord, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and The Endless

Nazi Zombies!!!! WOOOT!!!!
Okay, that’s the silly fanboy horror geek in me. Two of the most “guilt-free” monsters ever created are the zombies and the Nazis. Bring them together and you have a guilt-free experience of blood, guts, and full bore adrenaline body horror and nasty nasty NASTY blood and guts GORE!!!! BRING IT ON!!!!
Testosterone pumping, the movie starts and I’m all in…. We’re on a plane, we’re headed into Nazi territory, they’re shooting the plane, they’re jumping, and it’s chaos and madness and war war WAR!!!! And as they make their way through a night-enshrouded wilderness, hunted by Nazis, desperate to aid to mission that will secure Allied victory… my wife leans over to me and whispers “This is boring.”
Boring?!?!!! I shake my head in wonder and point to a screen where a landmine is blowing apart a poor American soldier, where there are hanging corpses in the trees, and where the German Nazi Forces are stalking the dark wilderness outside a small town in France. The mission depends on taking out that communications tower hidden in the bowels of the church where a scientist is performing experiments that will revive dead flesh.
Led by a demolitions expert (Wyatt Russell – Son of Kurt and Goldie), the rag tag soldiers are few in number and ill-trained to boot. French translator Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), sniper Tibbet (John Magaro) and photographer Morton Chase (Iain De Caestecker) must trust a village woman (Mathilde Ollivier) to lead them through the forest, to the village, and then plan their strategy while hiding in her home near the church. But it isn’t long before they learn about the mysterious experiments taking place and are left battling something far more insidious than just the Third Reich.
No, friends… this movie is NOT boring, despite the eye-rolling protestations of my wife. And even she perked up when the soldiers finally learn what the experiments really mean and what dangers it represents.
A solid 8 out of 10.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
This Coen Brothers oddity hit Netflix, skipping a  theatrical run and leaving me to feel a little cheated as a result. But, at the same time, I can’t say that this would have necessarily been one of their usual hits with fans. With a series of six Western Vignettes, the Coen’s spin a bit of an awkward film with strange characters that is consistently entertaining but not precisely on the mainstream. They draw some amazing performances from a number of well-known character actors; including John Lithgow, Liam Neeson, James Franco, and others.
The film is often very dark, very bleak, and also very funny. It hits several comedic points, especially in the opening vignette about a traveling balladeer turned gunslinger. He’s an open, congenial, happy and cold hearted killer of men. Punctuated with acts of terrible violence, the light-hearted nature of the first vignette sets the tone for the rest of the series as we go from one unfortunate character to the next. Every moment was exquisitely planned to bring a depth of emotion and builds to the final vignette featuring five strangers traveling by stage-coach, a ride filled with dread and uncertainty.
Artfully shot with some amazing cinematography, I feel that the film would have looked amazing on the large screen and the sweeping landscapes felt far too small for the television. And this is probably the largest critique I can make regarding this feature- it’s too small for Netflix. Like a few other releases in recent months, the direct to streaming platform may be fine for convenience but ultimately harms the movie-going experience on the whole. I don’t just want to be entertained with a story, I want to sit in a theater and be amazed and transported. I want to have an experience. But this isn’t the fault of the film itself, but rather it’s distribution.
9.5 out of 10.
The Endless
After escaping from a cult nearly a decade prior, two brothers return after receiving a strange video. They come to find the cult is still living in a barren stretch of mountain desert inhabited by meth-farms, drug dealers, and other strange inhabitants. The brothers are welcomed warmly by the cult, fed, and they experience a kind of homecoming and acceptance that they never saw in the outside world. As one of the brothers begins to feel tempted for a permanent return, the other brother continues to distrust and question the strange atmosphere and behavior that he’s seeing.
That’s it. That’s the movie- that’s the absolute MOST you should know before seeing the film. What happens next is a strange story inspired by the madness of Lovecraft and the weirdness of Kafka. The world is not what we think, things are certainly not as they seem, and every trope one would expect is abandoned for a story designed to ask questions and never force an easy answer. This movie is just so fucking WEIRD, man! And the characters react perfectly to their increasingly bizarre situation, driving the narrative to an exciting conclusion.
10 out of 10.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody and Suspiria

Bohemian Rhapsody
I’ve said it a thousand times if I’ve said it a million times; “Freddy Mercury is the GREATEST front man that ever lived!”
My mom wrote in one of my baby books that my favorite song was “Another one Bites the Dust”, so we are going back past my first memories to the womb and back a little further. Queen has been a staple sound in my life, digging deeper than I believe anyone even realizes. I read some Scholastic Biographies of the band, so I know that the Brian May gets that unique guitar sound by using a metal pick. I know that Freddie was an immigrant. I knew that their drummer was going to be a dentist before Queen found the success it reached, and I knew that each member of the band brought a distinct and different sound to their experience. Whether it be a hard rock classic, a disco beat, or an epic blend of rock and opera, the band has been paving the roads since their initial success and beyond the death of Mercury himself.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a dramatic retelling of the bands rise to fame and Mercury’s tumultuous life. In order to get the spirit and soul of the story right, the movie plays with a few time jumps and dramatic moments so that they can fit the bands experiences into a dramatic structure. In other words- While not an entirely “fictionalized” account, this movie doesn’t come close to telling the complete story. Some events are played up, other moments played way down, and still other moments totally shuffled out of time itself. (We Will Rock You was written in ’77, I believe.)
But, like the focus of the story itself, Rhapsody doesn’t let the truth get in the way of being an entertaining celebration of life, love, and music. And Rami Malek brings Freddie to life once more, recreating the moments that were so incredibly important to the band itself. Their struggle to get the titular song played on the radio, their experimentations with sound, and their critical performance at LIVE-AID, which is the penultimate performance and one of the most legendary rock performances of all time.
I’ve never been much of a “reviewer” so much as a writer who speaks from his heart about the things he loves- and there was a smile on my face through most of the film. Tears in my eyes obscured some of the details, a quick jump to the restroom saw me miss out on a moment somewhere, but all in all the film hit all the right notes (Pun intended.).
8 out of 10
Dario Argento’s original film is, frankly, one of my favorite films in the Italian Horror sub-genre. It’s brutal, bloody, deliberately paced, exquisitely designed with a stunning color palate, and has an amazing score by Goblin. So I’ve been very eager to see the remake, released this past week in our local art-house theater. I was there early on a Saturday afternoon with Remo D himself, though I did miss the first five or ten minutes due to events outside of my control.
Dakota Johnson stars as Susie, a new dancer entering a West Berlin Dance Studio amidst the crisis of the 1977 plane hijacking of dissident terrorists. She is unaware that the Studio is run by a coven of witches, but it is soon apparent that things are horribly amiss. Where the film works is when it chooses to focus on the actual horror story- A witches coven caught between two paths. Tilda Swinton stars (most notably) as Mme. Blanc, a witch who is seeking to replace the mysterious Mother Markos as leader of the coven. All of which serves to execute a subtle examination of power, corruption, and guilt.
All of which is dragged out with a taffy stretching exercise that examines the shame of an aging psychologist. He becomes embroiled with the Coven when his patient(Chloe Grace Moretz) goes missing and he tried to impress the dangers of the coven on another dancer (Mia Goth). And if we had only played with a few moments, that would be well enough. But we spend far too much time traveling back and forth between East and West Berlin, listening to the hostage crisis play over television and radio, watching the doctor lament his long lost wife to Nazi occupation, and what basically felt like an entirely separate film that continually interrupted the flow of the primary narrative.
From an artistic perspective, the director very likely achieved their vision of what they wanted the film to be. With several stunning moments, I want to like the film far more than I actually did.
7 out of 10.