The Best Horror Film of 2016?
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016): In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their seance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.
WOW I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. So for those who don't know, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a sequel (or prequel) to a TERRIBLE horror film that came out in 2014 simply called Ouija. That film was a walking embodiment of everything wrong with this genre, and I fully assumed this would just be more lame jump scares because that's so original! I honestly had no plans to see this because of how bad the original was, but I wanted to see a movie on Halloween weekend and it was either this or Inferno, so naturally I choose Ouija over the probably not-great puzzle thriller that gave away its entire plot in the previews. Boy am I glad I made that decision. While this filim is by no means in the relm of something like 2015's legendary It Follows, it is certainly the scariest (and best) horror film of 2016.
So why is it so good? It focuses on being as creepy as possible. There's not a lot of jump scares, (though they are here) and when your film isn't full of that it makes the jump scares that much better. No what really sets this film apart is the cinematography. This film is wonderfully shot, from tense close ups to what filmmakers call "deep focus" wide shots, (where two individuals-one close up and one far away-are both in focus) in addition to your more traditional (and haunting) wide shots. What happens to Doris (masterfully played by child actor Lulu Wilson) in this film is terrifying to watch, and it only gets scarier as the film goes on. I mean look at the shot I used for this review! Creepy, right? Her story without a doubt holds it all together, but there is certainly some strong writing to make you actually kind of care about this family. There was clearly a lot of love and care that went into making this film, which we witness right from the opening credits as we see the traditional Universal Pictures intro that was used in the 1960's. (Appropriate here since the film takes place in that time period) The set design is great, particularly outside the main house, and even the main house is laid out pretty well despite being just your standard "horror movie house" set.
The film isn't perfect, though. My biggest trope against it is that it took about 40 minutes or so to really get into the meat of the film. That's where the best part of this film is also its worst part: yes, there's a lot of character development in the first 40 minutes, but all the scares we see during this opening act are very standard and underwhelming. There was also an attempt to recreate the legendary use of "Tiptoe Through the Tullips" from Insidious towards the end of the film that was creepy, but clearly copying from Insidious. That might not be a criticism because I couldn't help but smile and enjoy myself while it was happening, but I just wanted to point it out. At the end of the day, though, Ouija: Origin of Evil just might be the most suprising film of the year. I had a blast watching this, especially once it picked up, and I quickly realized that I cared about everyone involved thanks to the character development early on. The film is beautifully shot, features great set design and editing, has a great script, and is well acted by Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser, and Henry Thomas. (Who, by the way, was the child star of ET and has had quite the career. Check out his IMDB page) If you're into horror films, I would strongly recommend checking this one out. You may not find a better horror film this year.
The Critique: Great cinematography, editing, set design, writing, and acting all come together to produce possibly the best horror film of 2016 and definitely one of the biggest surprises of the year.
The Recommendation: An EASY must-see for all horror fans out there, and even a great one for those who merely flirt with the genre.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great.
There's a lot of running in this movie
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016): Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.
First off, full disclosure time. One of my bigger inspirations for this blog was my (now deceased) Uncle Bob Brockschmidt. We watched a lot of movies together over the years, and the very last one I saw with him was 2012's Jack Reacher. Well now the sequel is out, and so it was with mixed emotion that I went and saw this film. Well, I know what he would've thought: this film: not good. This sequel leaves a looooot to be desired, and short of a post-conclusion epilogue that was surprisingly emotional, I was pretty bored throughout the 118 minute film. So, let's jump into this lackluster sequel, shall we?
First off, the good. There were 2 things I liked about this film. One, the flashbacks looked pretty cool. I noted there was some nice editing and cinematography to show the flashbacks, but that might have also been amplified by the fact that everything else was so dull. I also liked the surprising epilogue. I can't really say anything about this part without spoiling it, because it is literally the only part of this film worth remembering, but the story line between Tom Cruse and Danika Yarosh was concluded in a surprisingly effective way. But this might have also had to do with the fact that the rest of this film is so bad.
So! What's the biggest problem with this film? The writing sucks. While it's relatively well shot (mostly because they simply didn't use much shaky cam) the sequences are just totally devoid of any actual drama. They're ridiculous! This film basically goes from one scene to the next and is full of QUICK! HE'S OVER THERE! (runs) GOT YOU. TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU KNOW (tells them everything they know) it's just very.....ordinary and cliche. Oh! Speaking of cliche. Cobie Smulders character is sadly not much more than eye candy. Which is CRIMINAL given how much of this film she's in. But she's never given a true moment to shine, and thus is nothing more than "the girl." Who of course at one point has to be in her bra for some reason. And a bath robe. While Smulders acts the crap out of this film, the writing sinks her character. Ultimately, this film never really had much of a chance to succeed, but dismal writing didn't do the film any favors. Sure Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, but you need more than that for a film to actually be good. Don't bother seeing this, unless you are a DIE HARD Cruise fan.
The Critique: Lackluster in almost every way, this unwarranted Jack Reacher sequel is sunk due to bad writing and boring action sequences.
The Recommendation: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE. Even if you are a die-hard Cruise fan I would still say it's not worth it.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad
The Classic Definition of "It's Fine"
The Magnificent Seven (2016): Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.
Man I wanted to like this film so much more than I did. One of Hollywood's great classics is remade here in yet another cash-grab of 2016. But, as usual, I try and ignore the cash-grab aspect of this film, and instead try and focus on the film itself. Doing this with a film like Ghostbusters made it one of my favorites of 2016 to this point, and I was really hoping it was going to correlate here. After all this film puts director Antoine Fuqua and actors Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke on screen together for the first time since 2001's classic Training Day, and it even added the oozingly charismatic Chris Pratt into the mix and let one of Hollywood's best villains, Peter Sarsgaard be, you guessed it, the villain. They even put the rapidly rising Haley Bennett in as the film's only female star! How kind of them to remember to include a woman in this film! Siiiiigh....when will Hollywood learn that it needs more women in its films? Not today clearly. Oh well. Anyway, let's get to analyzing!
First off, what does this film get right? Well, no doubt the best part of it is the story line involving Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington. There were a select few scenes involving these two, and there's no doubt they were the best parts of the film. Hawke's character even has something of a character arc that makes his story very engaging. Washington and Pratt also work very well together. I'm sure someone in Hollywood has already scene the potential cash cow that would be an action film featuring Pratt and Washington as the leads. Also, the big action sequences are fun. How this film is rated PG-13 is beyond me, (there's a fair amount of blood for PG-13) but if you go into The Magnificent Seven looking for a mindless Western popcorn flick, that's what you're gonna find. I was just disappointed that there wasn't anything more.
The is the biggest problem with The Magnificent Seven. It isn't anything more than a big mindless Western popcorn flick. It was trying to be. You can tell this film is trying to be about something, but there's just too much silly banter between the characters for it to achieve this. This struggle to find its identity really brings down the overall film, and the silly banter really takes away any opportunity for character development outside of Washington and Hawke. This silly banter even took away some of Pratt's charisma. (Though it pales in comparison to Jurassic World so it's not that bad.) The one other actor that didn't suffer from silly banter was Byung-hun Lee, but that was more or less because he didn't really say much at all. At the end of the day, The Magnificent Seven fails to get out of the shadow of feeling like a cash-grab, and this unfortunately sinks the ship. While it's certainly a fun film to take a break from the impending "important" films that define Oscar season, it is just another reminder of how disappointing 2016 has been for the big-budget blockbuster film.
The Critique: While fun during the action sequences, The Magnificent Seven fails to capture the magic of it's previous reboots due largely to lazy writing.
The Recommendation: While the action sequences make this film worth checking out, I don't think it's worth checking out before it's available to stream. Grab some beer (or wine) and a few friends, and have a good time.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
I guess you could say this film wasn't.........wait for it......magnificent.
https://i.imgur.com/APPpwzy.jpg (Yeah meme)
Almost So BAd It's Good
The Girl on the Train (2016): A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation that promises to send shockwaves throughout her life.
Hey guys! I'm back with another awesome flash review. Today I'm talking about The Girl on the Train, which, spoiler, is not a great film. Did you see Gone Girl? If you did, you saw The Girl on the Train. I know a lot of people have been saying that to this point, but they are more than justified. Even the way this film is shot feels like Gone Girl, and when you have a story that's already this similar as a filmmaker you should be doing everything you can to get out of the shadow of Gone Girl. But hey, monetary decisions over creativity, right? Despite lukewarm reviews, this film has grossed nearly $80 million at the box office, and it's still in theaters. While it likely won't reach Gone Girl's $160 million, it will probably reach the $100 million threshold, despite its poor critical reception.
First off, don't see this film. It's a good date night film to stream next year, but there are far better films in theaters right now than this, including Magnificent Seven and The Birth of a Nation. The story is riddled with plot holes, and the final whodonit can be seen from miles away. It's a 112 minute film, but I solved the mystery about 25 minutes in, and when you can solve the mystery that early, there's a lot of sitting around and waiting for things to happen. However, while I was waiting for these things to happen, I did notice that Emily Blunt is, yet again, really good in this. She does everything she can to carry this film on her own, because Haley Bennett is not in this film nearly enough to be truly memorable, and all the guys are nothing more than hunks to look at. Sadly, I thought Rebecca Ferguson, who exploded onto the scene with 2015's excellent MI: Ghost Protocol, was far outmatched by her female co-stars, but to be fair she really wasn't given much to work with from the writing department. Oh well. At least the Mission: Impossible crew was smart enough to see they had a great star on their hands and are bringing her back for the next film. You know what? I want to talk about Emily Blunt some more now.
The star of this show is Emily Blunt. She's asked to do a fair amount of acting, and once again she kills it. She has taken on some extremely strenuous roles between this and Sicario, and even the physically demanding role that was 2014's Edge of Tomorrow, and to me this role has cemented her place as one of Hollywood's best female stars. While this role won't net her an Oscar or anything, (heck it may not even find itself in my 3rd Annual Awesome Actors Awards list) but it is a great performance in a high-grossing film, which is what Hollywood is looking for right now. 2018's Marry Poppins Returns cannot come soon enough. (Check out this IMDB page and tell me you are not ridiculously excited for this film)
Unfortunately, though, not even Emily Blunt is enough to save this train wreck. (See what I did there? I'll be here all night) The biggest problem with this "thriller" is that it's simply not thrilling. When I go into a film like this, I try not to solve the mystery before it's solved. I do like to discover the mystery along with the film. But, this film simply made it's mystery so glaringly obvious that I couldn't help but figure out whodunit. I find it funny that the marketing crew used the caption "Based on the thriller that shocked the world." THERE ISN'T ANYTHING SHOCKING ABOUT THIS FILM. Heck the finale of Gone Girl was infinitely more shocking than this, and the highlight of The Accountant (featuring J.K. Simmons backstory) was also more engaging. Yes Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett are excellent, but you need a heck of a lot more than that to make a movie good. This film's story is extremely lackluster, and there is nothing from any other aspect of movie making that stands out in this film that kept my interest. Sadly, this film is nothing more than a bad swing and a miss.
The Critique: Despite stellar performances from Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train makes no effort to be a forgetful copycat of Gone Girl, and thus falls flat on its face.
The Recommendation: Stream it on date night if you have to watch it. Otherwise, your time is better spent elsewhere.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad
Well, I must admit I was distracted a bit by IMDB throughout this flash review so this one came in at 35 minutes to write. Here's to a better performance next time, right?
One of 2016's Most underrated Films
The Birth of a Nation (2016): Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising.
I'm late to the party, so at this point and I can already say that The Birth of a Nation is a bust. It has had a dismal showing at the box office due to several controversies surrounding the film. Now, some of these controversies are warranted, particularly surrounding director/writer/producer/lead Nate Parker, but much of it is not, because when you shut out the noise and just look at this film on its own.....you have a really good film. And since the Academy has a sketchy past themselves when it comes to holding directors accountable for their past actions, (they did give Best Director in 2003 to Roman Polanski even though he can't step foot in the US without being arrested for charges very similar to Nate Parker's) I find their lack of interest in this film to be..... somewhat shallow. Oh well. Hopefully Moonlight saves us from a 3rd year of #OscarsSoWhite, because to this point the Academy has done everything it can to ignore this film.
But enough about controversy, how is the actual film? The Birth of a Nation is heavy-handed and overbearing, but I actually found it's display of slavery to be more powerful than Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. I think the primary reason for this is that (for the most part) the whites in this film are not all simply terrible for being terrible. You see a character like Armie Hammer try and justify his treatment of his slaves, and you witness his decent into oblivion (and his ultimate demise) as he sells pieces of his soul demeaning his slaves to stay afloat. It also makes the scenes at awful plantations that much more powerful. There's a force feeding scene in this film that was extremely hard to watch, and must have been equally difficult to film, but it is a POWERFUL scene. While there is an unfortunately shallow character (that also doesn't age for 25 years) in Jackie Earle Haley's slave catcher, who exists solely to die at the end at the hands of our hero during the uprising, other than that I really thought this film did an extremely good job showing us slavery in the south.
Now of course the main highlight of this film is Nat Turner's (played by Parker) evolution into the leader of this famous uprising. The crew did a good job here, but it's certainly far from perfect. Once Samuel Turner (played by Hammer) starts taking Nat around to various plantations to preach the gospel, you can see Nat's constant internal battle with what Bible verses he should be preaching to the crowd. Should he preach civility and obediance? Or revolution and violence? I was very moved as his sermons became more emotional (and extreme) as the film progressed, but by the end as Nat is trying to justify the uprising I struggled to identify with him. I think this was one of the other missteps of the film. Right up to the beginning of the uprising, Parker portrays Nat Turner as completely virtuous, even as he begins contemplating murdering his master and many other whites. That said, I still found myself moved as the uprising took place, and even though the final confrontation was a little cliché, I still admittingly had some goosebumps.
The final thing I have to mention, (and I think a major reason I had goosebumps in the final confrontation) was the score. This film brought us back to the old days of cinema, as it heavily featured an emotionally moving score from Henry Jackman. This composer has actually been one of the better composers of recent years, but his problem is that the films he's composed for are part of the new era of cinema that feels that the score of a film is nothing more than background music. Have no idea what I'm talking about? Check this out. Well, Nate Parker was smart enough to feature Jackman's resounding and emotional score, and it has led to what is easily my favorite film score this year to this point.
At the end of the day, I think The Birth of a Nation is a worthwhile film to see. It tells a story of one of the most overlooked events of pre-Civil War slavery, and it tells it well. Yes there are problems, but this is still a good (almost great) film and one that is definitely worth showing in American History classrooms. Check it out.
The Critique: While not perfect and heavy-handed, The Birth of a Nation features a well-told narrative surrounding one of American Slavery's most overlooked events.
The Recommendation: I think anyone with an interest in American History should put this one on their list of films to see, and I really wish more people (overall) would go see it. (Author's note: I wonder how this film will affect the state of indie films. This film was given the biggest distribution contract ever for a Sundance film from Fox Searchlight pictures back in January, and it has struggled to even make this contract back. I hope it doesn't deter future indie films from receiving the contracts from distributors that they deserve.)
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Almost Great
A Mixed Bag
The Accountant (2016): As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.
I'm baaaaaaaaack! After almost a month off as I dealt with my personal life, I'm back and getting ready for the Oscar season by reviewing a film that will almost certainly have nothing to do with the Oscars come February! YES. Who need Birth of a Nation when you can see The Accountant, right? Well, I figured I should come back on the movie scene by reviewing a film that I had actually been kind of looking forward to for a while. I was initially really excited for this after seeing the debut trailer. This trailer is one of my favorites for the year, but I quickly became cautious with this film because Warner Brothers marketed the crap out of it. Often times, when a film is marketed as much as Warner Brothers marketed this, it means that the film is not great and the distributor is trying to hype up opening weekend sales because chances are the sales will drop drastically after the word gets out. Additionally, Warner Brothers is on some kind of cold streak, and sadly that (mostly) continues here. Actually, this film is decent. But decent for Warner Brothers is Best Picture worthy in their book. But for me decent is disappointing because I was hoping for so much more. So, once again, let's jump into it, shall we?
First off, let's talk about the best part of the film. The huge marketing campaign has focused around #WhoIsTheAccountant. Warner Brothers was wise to focus on this aspect of the film, because it is the best part of the film. The first 45 minutes or so of the 128 minute film are by far the most interesting as we discover, with the people around him I might add, who the accountant really is. The film does a good job only giving us bits and pieces of his past through periodic flashbacks, but this is where it's first fault lies. The film is constantly trying to one-up itself. Each new revelation HAS to be bigger than the last one. This torpedoed the film in its final act, as the last big "twist" is totally ridiculous and unbelievable, and contrasts with everything else we had seen in the film to that point. The film also stumbles in its delivery of two major story lines. The FBI story line is completely ridiculous and frustratingly wastes JK Simmons, (which is criminal-you cannot waste one of the most talented character-actors ever like this) and the talented Anna Kendrick is wasted in a role that can simply be described as, "the girl who falls for the guy." Heavy sigh.
While these faults are pretty glaring, there are other silver linings in this film. For one, it is quite funny. I think a few times I laughed at times I wasn't supposed to, but there are a few good lines scattered about to keep you entertained. Ben Affleck is pretty good too. Not great, but good. Don't worry, though. His Oscar contender is still coming later this year in Live by Night. JK Simmons, despite his limited role, steals the show because of course he does. Despite a weak storyline, the one scene where he's asked to do some actual acting he kills it and single-handily makes this scene my favorite scene of the film. And everyone else's favorite scene from the film in the theater. Trust me. If you do go see it, you'll know what scene I'm talking about. Ultimately, though, the biggest fault of this film is that it's safe. It is a very ordinary film that I found myself asking "is that it?" when the credits rolled. The main story line is fine, but by no means super captivating, and if you're film's main story line isn't captivating, you aren't going to make it very far. Even more so when there is nothing of note to say in terms of cinematography, editing, or costumes. Even the score and musical selections are forgettable, and that's one thing that Warner Brothers usually goes all out in. I would say your money is better spent on something else. Netflix it when that day comes.
The Critique: Despite some captivating intrigue early on, The Accountant ultimately flops because of an unquenchable need to try and one-up itself. And because it wasted JK Simmons. Not happy about that, guys.
The Recommendation: Netflix it.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
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