Monday, February 27, 2017


“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



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.