It Feels the Same
It: Chapter Two (2019): Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until a devastating phone call brings them back.
Two years after the wild success of It, one of the most successful horror films of all-time, a film which brought about the Stephen King Renaissance we're currently in, Pennywise and the Losers Club return in It: Chapter Two. And…… I'm not sure what happened between the first (which I loved) and second film, but this time around the formula feels... forced and uninspired. While there is absolutely nothing that can replace the feeling of watching big budget horror unfold before my eyes, which clearly I LIVE for, (please give us more of this, Hollywood) It: Chapter Two is missing the magic that made its predecessor work so unexpectedly well. Maybe it's the fact that we've seen 14 Stephen King adaptations since 2017. Maybe it's the fact that It: Chapter Two does the exact same thing as its predecessor, only 27 years later. Or, maybe it's just the fact that its predecessor caught irreplicable lightning in a bottle. Whatever the case may be, while I did enjoy It: Chapter Two, it failed to live up to the (admittedly) lofty expectations set by its predecessor and becomes nothing more than a (rare) big budget horror film that's…. Fine.
One thing I love about this film that is undeniable: it is wonderful to watch AAA list stars like Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader wander through horror setpieces. Yes, the best part of this film is the fact that it is a big budget horror film, and the dark ages of the 2000s and most of the 2010s are still so recent that it still feels invigorating to watch it unfold before you. We, as a society, need more big budget horror, stat. Let's see a solid psychological horror with Amy Adams at the helm. (No, Nocturnal Animals doesn't count.) Or a film where Tom Hanks plays a creepy serial killer. (We can dream, right?) Watching James McAvoy navigate a funhouse (the scene from the trailers) was an absolute delight to watch, as was watching Chastain interact with a superficially kind old lady. The horror setpieces are grand and pragmatic, and their orchestrater, Pennywise the DANCING Clown, is as menacing as ever. Once again Pennywise is a terrifying and unstoppable villain, played manically by Bill Skarsgard, only this time he's treated as an established entity versus an unknown one. Which, unfortunately, detracts from the overall film.
I'm really trying to put my finger on why this film doesn't work as well as the original did. I just rewatched the original one night prior to seeing It: Chapter Two, and once again I loved it. The setpieces all served the easily translatable narrative about overcoming your fears, with a relatable and identifiable core of misfits. The effects were huge yet delightfully cheesy. But here, the Losers Club feels recycled and reused. Rehashed in a narrative that feels almost identical to its predecessor. It just feels….. lazy and uneventful. I'm all for the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" narrative, but you have to give us at least some originality. This time, Pennywise is a character you know and either love or loathe. The backstory to how he came to be is utterly ridiculous. (I know, the source material this franchise has to go off of is pretty ridiculous, but still.) So, you're left simply loving (or loathing) Pennywise because… he's Pennywise the DANCING Clown. He's no longer this new and unknown figure, he's just this ominous, sentient being our heroes have to kill. Maybe this sequel never had the chance to give us a "fresh take" on Pennywise. Maybe my expectations were too lofty to begin with. But just doing the exact same thing again left me unfulfilled.
I think that's the biggest loss of this franchise. Because of the million Stephen King properties between the 2017 It and now, combined with the fact that this film essentially picks up the original 27 years later and does the same thing again, It: Chapter Two feels like nothing more than a rehash and, at times, lazy sequel to its 2017 counterpart. While it is wild to watch Jessica Chastain go through a horror setpiece, and every member of the Losers club puts in a great performance respectively, the magic of the original is all but gone. Which just leaves us with a bloated, big budget horror film. And, while we do still need (a lot) more of those…. I was hoping for so much more.
My Number: 5/10
Crazy, outlandish, masterful horror
Us (2019): A family's serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgängers begins to terrorize them.
This movie is WILD. Us is an insane step inside Jordan Peele's crazy mind. While Get Out was the film Jordan Peele (apparently) made so that we would all accept him as a legitimate filmmaker, Us is the end result of a studio giving the man that made Get Out a blank check to do whatever he wants. And I LOVE it. It has resonated with me far longer than the average studio film, with a chaotic story, amazing filmmaking and a TERRIFIC performance from Lupita N'Yongo.
That said, there are a few things that are harder-to-swallow. Jordan Peele's mind is a bit of an insatiable one. There are several moments in this film that feel entirely too self-indulgent. As if Peele is saying, “Hey! Really made you think there, didn't I?” Nowhere is this felt more than the forced twist ending. While it was unexpected, it felt somewhat unnecessary and rather forced. I think I may ultimately be in the minority on this one, but I felt like this twist ending was there primarily just to have a twist ending. To give us, the viewers, something to talk about as we exited the theater. It painfully detracted from an otherwise brilliant screenplay.
And yes, the rest of this film's screenplay is brilliant, in its unabashed outlandishness. While Jordan Peele wrote a much more safe and systemic (and still brilliant) screenplay in Get Out, his sequel feels more like the film he wanted to make. There's a lot of passion behind this script, both behind the camera and in front of it. The film's core characters are great, led by Lupita N'yongo, SOMEHOW in her first led role after her groundbreaking, Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave. Only took her 4 years, right? N'yongo CARRIES this film with two polarizing yet mesmerizing performances. It breaches all acting norms: a performance that's both subtle and over-the-top, all dependent on the individual scene. The year is still very young, but this may be one of the best I see throughout all of 2019. Her performance is so powerful that it's kind of easy to forget that both Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss are fantastic as well. They will likely be mostly overlooked ion what is certainly Lupita N'yongo's (second) career-defining performance.
And it's all surrounded by some truly amazing filmmaking from Jordan Peele. The master auteur puts on a clinic in crafting meaningfully suspenseful sequences that are equally scary and resonating. This film, while weirder than Get Out, is also more terrifying, delivering some breathtaking jump scares that are not just in the film for the sole purpose of scaring you. If you're not a fan of the horror genre, be forewarned: this film is legitimately scary. It'll resonate with you too: I saw the film Thursday and I'm still dissecting individual scenes. This film is every bit as captivating as its spiritual successor was, well worth the watch as it stretches across genres with a crazy, supernatural story and wonderful filmmaking. It proves that Get Out was not just "lightning in a bottle" and firmly establishes Jordan Peele as one of the greatest masters of suspense Hollywood has ever seen. Make it a date night and check out the latest from the wild mind of Jordan Peele. You'll thank me later.
My Number: 8/10
A suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse
Halloween (2018): Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.
Jason Blum can do no wrong. The CEO of Blumhouse Productions, executive producer of 2018’s Halloween, and one of the biggest names in Hollywood you've probably never heard of, Blum and his team at Blumhouse have been behind some of the most successful horror films of the last decade+, for better or worse. Paranormal Activity. Inisidous. Sinister. Split. The Purge. Happy Death Day. And, of course, Get Out. Now, the famous executive and his studio is back for the unimaginitevely titled Halloween, a direct sequel to John Carpenter's 1978 classic by the same name. (Seriously, though, this movie’s good and all, but could we have at least seen a different title? There have 5 films in this franchise called either Halloween or Halloween II....) And, like much of Blumhouse Productions catalog, it's a shockingly well executed film that hits all the right notes at all the right times. So let's dive in, shall we?
I'll cut right to the heart of this film: (don't worry, I'll be here all night) the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers is one of the more interesting dynamics I've seen in a modern horror film. Director/writer David Gordon Green spends less time going for the cheap jump scares and more time developing the characters of Strode and Myers, which makes the climactic third act as tense and effective as it is. And tenseness is something of an understatement for the third act, as the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads comes to a head and the scares that are usually cheap become freakishly effective. The decision to have Jamie Lee Curtis double as a producer for the film pays dividends: Curtis had an undeniably major role in painting the picture of her character. Laurie Strode is a traumatized mom and grandmother, struggling to maintain her relationship with her family, while dealing with her own PTSD. And she plays off the classic villain incredibly well.
However, the supporting cast is one of the weakest parts of this film. Strode’s daughter, played by Judy Greer, has a rather shallow and undeveloped arc with a laughable conclusion, while Strode's granddaughter, played by newcomer Andi Matichack, does a good job with the material she's given…..if only that material was actually worthwhile. And don't get me started on Dr. Sartain. (Haluk Bilginer) Yes, it's a horror movie, but compared to some other previous Blumhouse Productions installments, like Get Out, most of the supporting cast is nothing more than meager plot devices with a good moment here and there. Also, I do have to commend the fact that this film features three heroines more than capable of handling themselves, and the film never even makes a thing about it which is even better. Absolutely love.
But, at the end of the day, this is great horror film. It has some good scares, and compared to a lot of modern horror films, has some great character development and suspense between its two leads. For me, it doesn't land quite as well as 2017’s It did, in part because a voiceless, faceless villain is in itself limiting, but it still gets the job done. Ultimately, isn't that all you want out of a horror film?
The Critique: featuring a suspenseful dynamic between its heroine and villain, Halloween features effective suspense and good scares, despite a weak supporting cast
The Recommendation: if you're a horror fan, or a fan of the original film, it's well worth a watch. Even the casual horror fan may find something to like here. However, if you're looking for a gateway into the genre….. this ain't it. (Try Get Out instead)
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
It'll haunt you to your core
Hereditary (2018): When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter's family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry.
Wow. What a film. So before I even start talking about Hereditary, do yourself a favor: if you have even passing interest in horror, drop everything and go see it right now. This film is EASILY the best horror film since 2015's classic It Follows, with the same levels of fear and terror attached to it all while being significantly more daring and creative in its storytelling. It Follows made its scares on the viewer being able to see the monster methodically and deliberately walking towards its main characters, while Hereditary does basically the exact opposite. Rather, Hereditary takes a The Blair Witch Project-esque route and has its supernatural being be implied and, for the most part, off-screen. This is a significantly harder kind of scary to pull off, (the big pop scare from It Follows is still etched into my very soul) but first time director/writer Ari Aster (OSCAR! Is this seriously his first film? Well done, A24) delivers the kind of "haunt you to your bones" kind of scary that many horror fans, including yours truly, have been yearning for. So, I'll say again: if you have even a mild interest in the genre, go see it now, and deal with the consequences later. I mean, it's worth it, right?
So let's talk about Toni Collette. The veteran actress is erratic and irrational as lead character Annie Graham. She goes all-in for this role and delivers an unforgettable performance that is as meticulous as it is insane. This is by far the best performance I've seen in 2018 so far, and probably the best performance I've seen in a horror movie from a veteran actor, ever. The recognizability of the Oscar nominated actress brings with it a certain level of expectations for the role, but the raw audacity of her performance blows all those expectations out of the water. The looks on Annie Graham's face at several points in this film is etched into my very soul, and we all have Toni Collette to thank for that. (If you've seen the film, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about too.) Newcommer Milly Shapiro (another great find for A24) is haunting as daughter Charlie, (kudos to the makeup team on this one too) and Alex Wolff delivers the performance of his young career (previously seen in the massively underrated My Friend Dahmer) as son Peter. But the real hero here is first time feature director/writer Ari Aster. (Which is still impossible to comprehend for me, Oscar. I don't believe you.)
The craft here is simply masterful to watch, and the story is as daring as it is creative. This story has proved to be decisive among audiences - the film currently boasts a D+ on CinemaScore, somehow - but I believe the truly great works of cinema often are divisive when they're immediately released. (Let's not forget The Blair Witch Project, now considered a pioneer in the horror genre, was criticized upon release as well.) The scares here are not the mainstream "in-your-face pop scare!" kind. There's very little "slow pan right where a demonic creature is standing, then disappears to build tension" kind of cheap shots. You actually hardly ever see the monster, so for those of you that are skittish at the idea of jump scares, you can rest easy (somewhat) knowing that there are very few of them here. (I wrote a piece on the current norms of the horror industry centering around Unfriended - which is now getting a sequel, proving my point further - which Hereditary does everything it can to break.) No, the scares here are the thoughtful, resonating kind. The kind that keeps you up at night looking at the ceiling in a restless trance rather than staring at the door. The ones that you affiliate directly with the movie, versus just creating some demonic presence in your mind that is whatever you want it to be. These, are the best kinds of scary.
The story here is brilliant, but not necessarily designed for mainstream audiences. There were people laughing towards the end at some points in my screening, and the people sitting next to me couldn't help but comment about how much they hated the thing when it was all said and done. (Hence that D+ CinemaScore) My only complaint about it (and really about the film in general) is the fact that Ari Aster felt the need to overexplain things a few times. (I'm guessing this was a mandate from A24 when they realized they had one of the best films they've ever released on their hands and wanted to market the crap out of it to as mainstream an audience as they could.) There are a few cumbersome voiceovers that are basically just describing what you're seeing at that moment that were distracting and unnecessary, and of course we had to get the stereotypical "Character A finds a book and reads aloud the thing that's going on for the audience to understand" sequence. Also, the film has a lot of technology in it, and it's unfortunate that given how innovative this film is in other aspects that Aster didn't do much from an editing standpoint to show the technology to the audience in a creative way, but that's a rather trivial complaint. This film is absolutely brilliant - the best I've seen so far this year - and if you have even a minor soft spot for horror it's well worth the watch as.....yes. This is the best horror film I've seen in at least a decade. Move over, It Follows.
The Critique: Lead by a brilliant performance from Toni Collette, Hereditary is the best film of 2018 so far and the best horror film of the decade with its unorthodox "haunt you in your bones" style.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for horror fans if you haven't seen it already.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
The Strongest 1/10 a Movie can ever Receive
The Room (2003): Johnny is a successful banker who lives happily in a San Francisco townhouse with his fiancée, Lisa. One day, inexplicably, she gets bored with him and decides to seduce his best friend, Mark. From there, nothing will be the same again.
Look at that IMDB description. LOOK AT IT. Doesn't that make you want to drop everything and see it? It's so engaging! I just love how they felt the need to add the word "inexplicably" in that description. It's completely unnecessary, but it's still.....mysteriously beautiful. Actually, that's a great way to describe The Room: completely unnecessary, yet mysteriously beautiful. This film is routinely referred to as "the best worst movie ever made," and I can see why. It's TERRIBLE, in every facet, but you will be rolling on the floor laughing at just how bad it is. I figured I would take a minute to talk about this film with The Disaster Artist going nationwide this week, because that's as good an excuse as any to talk about this cult classic. It's no wonder this film is a favorite among certain circles. This movie is a GREAT party watch, which has led to many theaters having sold-out midnight screenings of it to this day. If you've never done one of those and you like The Room......oh boy do you need to change that. I was lucky enough to see this film for the first time in a midnight screening, and it is honestly one of the best movie watching experiences I have ever had. You haven't seen The Room until you see it like this. No wonder people see it in the theater dozens of times. But how does one analyze it? How has this film lived on and garnered so much attention to the point that there's an Oscar-worthy making of film coming out about it right now? These are some really good questions that I don't know the answer to right now. Let me go out and toss a football to myself and get back to you beautiful people.
Ok I know that was a frisbee and not a football but just go with it, ok? Whatever. I don't care.
So now that I'm back from tossing my frisbee I MEAN FOOTBALL, let's talk about The Room! I have seen some pretty terrible movies in my life. Heck for my 10,000/100,000 view specials I reviewed Manos: The Hands of Fate and Night of the Lepus respectively. But those movies are so bad they're unwatchable. This film, however, is an absolute blast to watch. Why is that? It's hard to find a rational explanation for why The Room is a significantly better a viewing experience than something like Night of the Lepus. Why does The Room garner massive midnight screenings while Birdemic (to list another of the historically awful films out there) does not? I think it starts with the allure and (to this day) shroud of mystery that surrounds the director, writer, producer, financier, and lead actor of The Room, the legendary Tommy Wiseau.
So do me a solid and look at that picture real quick. That is Tommy Wiseau's official headshot on IMDB. You can spend hours and hours on IMDB and not find a more ugly picture of an actor anywhere. Even John Reynolds, the....uhhhh..... actor that was allegedly high on LSD during the entire filming of Manos: The Hands of Fate just doesn't have a picture of himself on IMDB! And yet there's Wiseau's horrifically disheveled face. Right there for the world to see. We know criminally little about Wiseau and where he came from, but legend has it that he spent five million dollars of his own money to self-finance The Room. How did he get that money? Why did he come to Hollywood and try and be an actor when he had enough money to finance his own movie? He has to be well off if he has five million dollars lying around to blow. How did he look at this and say, "Sure. This looks good. Let's release it to the world!" Who knows. We may never know. This man is so mysterious that his Wikipedia page has to quote a Howard Stern interview he did this year in which he says he can speak French and is Catholic for his "Personal Life" section. In an age where we know absolutely everything about every major star, and tabloid journalists follow actors around like hawks scouring for the latest scandal, the ability of Tommy Wiseau to still, to this day, remain a complete mystery is unprecedented. It tears me apart, man! I just want to know more about him!
It also helps, in building the allure of Wiseau, that for me personally, his performance in The Room is, simply put, the worst performance I have ever seen in a movie. Everything about this performance is awful. He switches tone with his character on a dime for no explicable reason! One second he's furious at Lisa, the next it's "Oh hi, Mark!" in a playful, excited tone. When a kid he's supposedly a mentor to tells him he's in love with his fiance, (did you know Lisa is soon to be his wife?) he responds with, "Go on." He yells at himself in a very unconvincing way, then suddenly says "Oh hi, Mark!" And his laugh. His laugh is so. Just so. Freaking. Bad. It is the best worst laugh in the history of Hollywood cinema. ALSO. He also has no control over his hands and other extremities. Also this. Ricky Bobby would be proud.
The other actors in this film aren't that great, but dear GOD they look like superstars next to Wiseau. And yet.....I still love this performance. There's just something so lovable about Tommy Wiseau. He's terrible, but he's still trying to live his dream in this movie, and that's something I can respect. Heck that's something a lot of people can't say. He's just really, REALLY bad at it in a great way.
Outside of Tommy Wiseau, there are just a lot of problems with this movie. Problems with the script, (what about Lisa's mom having breast cancer? Or that drug deal that goes south with Denny?) problems with the set, (throws spoons in the air) and problems with character actions, (and they enter and exit and play football and enter and exit.....) to name a few. But you already knew that. You wait for these moments and the famous moments of the script because even though they're terrible......they're still awesome in a mysteriously beautiful way. Miiiiiiiiinus the soft-core porn sections littered throughout the film. Those are just baaaaaaaaaaaad. This film comes in at 99 minutes long, but it really feels like at least 20 minutes of that is just soft porn. Oh ya! Also, also.... some of this film isn't even in focus! Oh! And the audio gets de-synced a few times! Wiseau and company failed in SPECTACULAR fashion in every facet of filmmaking with The Room. It's really quite amazing how thoroughly someone can fail at something, but you won't care. You'll be laughing along every step of the way. Despite its epic failure, Tommy Wiseau and his lovable cast of misfits managed to craft a movie that is a timeless classic. A movie that still brings people together almost 15 years later. I have to give this film a 1/10 because yes. It is terrible. But there's no doubt this is the strongest 1/10 I can ever hand out. Now I sure do hope that Lisa's mom is doing ok.....
The Critique: The best worst movie ever made, The Room is a lovable, timeless classic that still brings people together 15 years later to marvel at how much someone can so completely and utterly fail in every aspect of filmmaking.
The Recommendation: It gets a 1/10, but I will still call this movie an absolute must see for everyone. Because it is. Somehow.
The Verdict: 1/10 Lovably horrific
A shockingly good horror comedy
Happy Death Day (2017): A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity.
Whoa, where did this movie come from? When you see as many movies as I do, it's hard to miss trailers for upcoming films. When I saw the trailer for Happy Death Day, I did not have very high expectations. It looked like one gimmick (the Groundhog Day trope of reliving a day over and over again) with a lot of jokes that appealed to frat bros, and that was about it. But wow did this movie deliver! While yes, it is just a gimmick, and while yes there are a lot of jokes that appealed to frat bros, (I mean, c'mon.... obvious hazing in the middle of the quad where a dude faints and we're supposed to laugh at it? Good one, guys.) but there's still a lot to like here. Look. It's a stupid movie. I'm not gonna say otherwise. But it's a stupid movie that I had an absolute blast watching. If you have a soft spot for horror, or for the slasher genre, then do I have a movie for you!
So, let's start with the good. The film is anchored by Jessica Rothe (making her feature debut as a lead) as Tree. Tree? That's the name we're going with for the main character? ...... sure. Silly name aside, (though if your real name is Tree then I salute you) Rothe is excellent here in the lead role, as she might as well be a real-life sorority sister. And her character is great! Tree is not your standard damsel-in-distress. She is definitely a power lead that can take anything sent her way. Heck, she isn't even all that likable. But you can't help but love her and feel for her as she experiences all these traumatic events/deaths over and over again. Equally charming is another relative newcomer, Israel Broussard. He plays Carter, aka the guy Tree (still can't get over that name) wakes up to every morning. I found myself rooting for him by the end of the movie, and that doesn't often happen. But I couldn't help myself! They just have such a nice chemistry! I know the movie is playing me like a fiddle but I don't care! There are a lot of problems with the story, which we'll get to, but it still hit all the right notes at exactly the right time. And I knew it was, too, but it didn't matter! There's even a surprisingly emotional moment right in the middle of it that caught me off guard, but it still worked. And I did not see the final twist coming, believe it or not. It was a good twist! There are definitely some plot holes with this twist, but who cares? You're not here to analyze, you're here to have fun! Like I did! I had an absolute blast watching this movie, and nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise. There's not a whole lot else going on with this movie. The editing was alright, but nothing that would blow your mind, and the set design/score/cinematography were all b-movie level. Which is totally fine for this film. Oh! Costumes! Most of them were whatever, but can we talk about how creepy that pig mask is? What a great costume choice. The killer overall is pretty awesome, as they're a faceless, voiceless terror, and it's pretty darn creepy.
That said...... there are a lot of problems with this movie, besides the frat bro jokes and the fact the lead character's name is Tree. It's hard to talk about without throwing in spoilers, but there's about 20 minutes of this film that's just straight fluff right around the start of the third act. Which is a problem when the film is only 96 minutes long. I don't want to go into it any more than I have to, but let's just say the film sets up a certain character arc, and it makes a big deal about said character arc just to go, "NOPE! JUST KIDDING." Which made those 20 minutes feel like a complete waste of time. And then by the end it got pretty ridiculous, too. Like "roll your eyes and laugh" kind of ridiculous. But I think that was intentional so I won't fault the movie too much for that. Also, this film's rules are kind of confusing. As in there are no rules. Tree keeps reliving the same day over and over but each time she wakes up she's a bit weaker for some reason, and then we never understand why she's given the ability to relive this day in the first place. Because that's not an important question or anything, right? Also, when the villain is revealed.... it's a good twist, but was that person really capable of some of the crazy deaths we saw? I say no, but who cares. Those deaths were certainly over-the-top so what does it matter. Ultimately, Happy Death Day is a shockingly enjoyable horror comedy that's well worth a watch, however it falls apart the second you try and analyze it. So just go see it, have a good time, and leave it at that.
The Critique: A surprisingly good horror comedy, Happy Death Day plays its gimmick just well enough to be enjoyable, despite leaving a lot of plot holes along the way.
The Recommendation: If you like horror or slasher films, this one is well worth your time. If not? This may be a good one to see to jump into-it's still kind of mild when it comes to both the horror aspect and slasher aspect.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
Creative to a fault
Mother! (2017): A couple's relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.
Mother! is a tough film for me to review. For those who don't know, the purpose of this blog and my reviews has always been to try and provide a casual moviegoers critique on the latest Hollywood film. Now, admittedly that becomes increasingly difficult to do when you've reviewed about 350 films in just over 4 years, (wow I didn't know I could be that committed to anything!) but with a film like Mother! I feel both sides pulling me in opposite directions. The critic (and I still use that word loosely) in me sees this film and thinks....."Wow. That was another spectacular Darren Aronofsky film. I wonder what it meant? I need to sit here and do nothing but think about this film for the foreseeable and ultimately write my review at 1 AM in the morning when I can't sleep and try and figure out what happened with this film and I will LIKE IT!" (With that bit of aggression at the end too, of course. Also I'm tooooootally not doing that last part) While the casual film-goer in me keeps it simple and is saying....."WHAT THE F*** DID I JUST WATCH?" So which part of me do I listen to? The critic? Or the fan? Why don't we go on this journey together and see who wins, shall we?
First off, let's have the "critic" talk about the good. I love how this film is shot. Yes, we're leading with cinematography here. The entire film is shot from Jennifer Lawrence's perspective, which leads to a discombobulating and disorienting experience when the film kicks it up to eleven, but it's a unique and interesting way to shoot a film, especially one like this. It's as if Aronofsky saw Hardcore Henry and said....I see what you're doing, now let me just make it, well, infinitely better to the point that it would be considered laughable that I just compared these two films. Hey, you never know....he could've said that! In addition to shooting this film from Lawrence's POV, most of the film is shot with headshots and over the shoulders. (A la Les Mis, but also better) That's probably 90% of the film's cinematography. The entire film is also shot inside a single location. That means the film needed to nail the set design, and nail it they did. Thanks to some great sound as well, the house almost feels like a character in and of itself in this film. All of this is like ingredients in a wonderful recipe that makes the film feel INCREDIBLY claustrophobic. At least early on. The tension is there, particularly in the first and second acts, and until the third act I was on the edge of my seat loving every second of this film. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Domhnall Gleeson are all fantastic. But then the third act happened and this film got WEIRD.
Aaaaaaand that's where the casual moviegoer takes over. This is not my first rodeo with a Darren Aronofsky film. His films are out there. But Mother! is out there even for him. Aronofsky turns this film up to a 15 in the third act and abandons all semblance of sanity and unfortunately loses me in the process. He abandons the feeling of claustrophobia for over-the-top, borderline unnecessary shock value, and went for an uber meta ending that is certainly up for interpretation, I'll give him that, but.....what? What are you trying to do here, man? People say this ending is beautiful because of its ambiguity. It's up to you to decipher it, and there are already a lot of opinions out there for sure about the statement Aronofsky is trying to make here. Because of this I think this film is destined for cult status, which is familiar territory for this director. But for me? I don't mind having to figure things out in a movie, but there's a limit for me and we found said limit here.
Ok, so this part I'm writing in the morning after thinking about this film for most of the night. Mother! is a weird film. It's certainly not for everyone, however if you're the kind of person who's fed up with the constant barrage of Hollywood sequels and reboots and are looking for something unique, creative, and new that a big studio actually put some money behind.....Mother! is for you. I would strongly advise watching some of Aronofsky's previous work if you haven't already before jumping into this one, but it's definitely the most unique film in cinemas right now, and not a bad way to spend a Friday night by any means. Oh! And make sure you've seen The Fountain before you watch this film, because Mother! definitely operates on Fountain rules.
The Critique: The most unique and creative film in cinemas right now, Mother! features beautiful cinematography and great set design, but ultimately falls short of greatness thanks to an incomprehensible final act.
The Recommendation: Here it is. Aronofsky fans will probably love this film like its predecessors, but everyone else? Start with another of his films before moving up to this one. But if you like creativity it is worth seeing!
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 6.5/10 Almost Good
Tried to find a middle ground there but if anything the critic won out there
Oscar Talk: I think there's a chance this film gets a few shout-outs from the Academy when January rolls around. There's potential here for Hollywood's favorite poster child, Jennifer Lawrence, to receive another nomination for acting, but I'm not sure if that's gonna happen or not. Also look for potential nominations in set design and cinematography!
It Floats Too
It (2017): A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.
I LOVE this movie. One of the most anticipated horror films of the past few years, It is a big-budget horror movie that is a remake (I know......another one) of a 1990 TV movie bearing the same name. But, believe it or not, the film lives up to the hype. Personally, I have not seen the original, but that allows me to look at this film in a vacuum and not compare it to the original in any way. But after seeing this version I am going to change that very soon, because if it's anywhere near as good as this film is I will have an absolute blast watching it. The short summary is It is one of my favorite movies of the year, and is well worth the time of anyone who even kind of likes horror films. Sure there's some studio tomfoolery here, and sure it's yet another remake of an existing property, but somehow this film overcomes its major potential shortcomings and becomes a surprisingly strong film in its own right. So, without further ado, let's dive into what makes It so great!
What makes It one of my favorite movies of the year? There are several reasons behind this, but the top one is without a doubt Pennywise the DANCING Clown. Played brilliantly by Bill Skarsgård, (this will probably be one of my top performances of the year, by the way) Pennywise is a menacing and terrifying villain, stealing every single scene he's in. (Or may be in) The delivery of the character from Skarsgård is fantastic....he is completely unpredictable, and from his small mannerisms with his body to his emphasis on certain words, (it's not Pennywise the Dancing Clown, it's Pennywise the DANCING Clown) this really is one of the best villains I've seen on screen in a long time. Skarsgård has said in interviews about playing the character that Heath Ledger's legendary performance of The Joker was one of his biggest inspirations for Pennywise, and looking back at it I can certainly see why. Pennywise is easily worth the cost of admission alone, but there are several other reasons for why I like this movie so much.
Besides Pennywise, the big thing this movie has going for it is character development. So many horror films nowadays do not take the time to slow done and flesh out its characters: they're mostly about going from one pop scare to the next. But It is 135 minutes long, and much of this time is spent developing each member of The Loser's Club. There are 7 members of this club, and yet it feels like each and every one of them is given their moment to shine. I kind of expected Finn Wolfhard, coming off his huge success with Stranger Things, to steal the show here, (he kind of does) but for the most part everyone is given equal screen time. Director Andy Muschietti and co. did a great job ensuring that every one of The Loser's Club has their individual encounter with Pennywise, and that really helps ensure they each have believable incentives for banding together. Seriously though.....this film does a better job fleshing out its characters than The Hobbit franchise did, and there Peter Jackson had 9 hours of film to do it! Ughhhhhh why did The Hobbit get broken into 3 films.....? Anyway, back on track. This movie also does a great job with its visual effects. While there were a few swings-and-misses in this department, I really think overall (and for a horror film) the effects were fantastic. Finally, I loved the score! Benjamin Wallfisch did a great job creating the perfect score for this movie. Too many horror films nowadays forget that having a good score makes your horror film that much scarier, but Wallfisch's score certainly adds to the ambiance as a whole.
That said, this film does have a few problems. First and foremost.....you remember how I complimented the film for taking the time to flesh out The Loser's Club? You know who loses a lot of screen time because of this? Pennywise. I know, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one, but Pennywise is undoubtedly the best part of the film, so I wish he had received more screen time. Also, this film has a very rushed side story about a bully separate to Pennywise that doesn't really go anywhere. I'm guessing it's from the original novel and they wanted to keep it around, but it doesn't seem to do much other than give the film an unnecessary second villain that isn't even on the same planet as Pennywise. Finally, sequel-baiting! I guess this was inevitable, since this film's studio is Warner Brothers, but of course we have to bait the unavoidable sequel that will likely turn into three films after WB stumbles into an absurd amount of money with this film. The last few moments of this film just made me shake my head as we have to, yet again, put up with a studio trying to make as much money as possible. (Can you say a WB horror cinematic universe? Because knowing WB they're certainly going to try!) Fortunately, though, the sequel-baiting wasn't enough to deter the film as a whole for me. In conclusion, despite a few missteps, It delivers on the scares and is the best horror film I've seen since 2014's It Follows. Go see it if you even remotely like horror flicks!
The Critique: Anchored by an incredible performance from Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, It is one of the best horror films in recent years, combining great character development and terrifying scares.
The Recommendation: A must-see for anyone with an inkling for horror films. And a great date movie! Right......?
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Oscar Talk: Yes, it's time for one of the first Oscar Talks of 2017! I only include this because I how the Academy remembers this performance from Bill Skarsgård come January. Best Supporting Actor can sometimes be a weak category and if it is this year Skarsgård should have a great case for being included. We'll see!
That's our Xenomorph origin? Really?
Alien: Covenant (2017): The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
Yes! Finally! An Alien move with Xenomorphs actually in it! We've been waiting 20 years for the Alien franchise to finally bring back, you know, the alien, and that wait is over. (Shush.....not including the AVP franchise) I was a giddy little schoolboy while that Xenomorph was on screen. It was AWESOME. The problem with this film, however, is when you really start to think about it. Ridley Scott has been given complete creative control over his Alien franchise, and raised a lot of questions in his first installment, Prometheus. I still don't really know what was going on in that film. While this film does actually answer more questions than it poses, some of those answers are going to leave fans of the franchise (such as myself) wishing for more. The lore-building here SUCKS. But hey. There are freaking Xenomorphs this time around. And the film looks absolutely gorgeous. And the acting is awesome. Basically, your mileage will vary with this film. If you're coming in just wanting a monster movie, you will enjoy the crap out of this while you're not sitting around waiting patiently for everything to be explained to you. But if you're coming for the fact that this is a freaking Alien movie, and you want to know more about the origins of the Xenomorphs.....well you're gonna be disappointed.
So! Let's start out with the good. Let's talk cinematography. Dariusz Wolski is one of the best cinematographers in the business, and he does an absolutely marvelous job here. This film is absolutely gorgeous. I'd recommend seeing this film in the theater for the cinematography alone, as it's easily the best of 2017 so far. The set design is great as well. I don't know where they went to film this but Ridley Scott and company did a great job making this look like a foreign world and maintaining the overall grandeur of its predecessor Prometheus, which was definitely the strongest part of that film as well. The sound crew had a lot to do with this as well. This film overall has a strong showing from the technical departments, to the point that it may get a nomination or two from the Academy despite its early release. The acting here was outstanding as well. Katherine Waterston, man. Where has she come from? She is the hero this franchise needed, a worthy successor to Sigourney Weaver. While we may never get a resolution to Ripley's character because Ridley Scott doesn't feel like returning to that part of the lore, they definitely stumbled on a new actress to build the franchise around in Daniels. She has a great story arc and is just overall a total badass. You know who else is great in this film? Danny McBride. Ya. I'm just as surprised as you are. But he shows off his dramatic side in this film and was great! And, of course, there's Michael Fassbender. His duel portrayal as David/Walter is chilling. Though his characters do get to an absolutely TERRIBLE resolution. I guess that leads into the bad!
So, let's first hit that point. So for the first and second act Michael Fassbender's characters are awesome. They get some one on one interactions that are great. But then their characters get the worst resolution ever. Anyone who has ever watched a movie will see this coming from a mile away, and yet for some reason Ridley Scott builds it up and when he pulls back the curtain he seems to think that we're all gonna be like, "Whoa! Didn't see that coming!" Well, I did. As did everyone else in the theater. Then there's the contributions to the lore. I know only people that care about this franchise will be upset about this, but I'm one of those people, okay? The contributions to the lore here are so freaking lackluster man. I was so disappointed! I won't spoil, but it appears that I'm in the majority here thinking that these contributions and resolutions and the answer to "Where did the Xenomorph come from?" are weak, and bring down the overall franchise. Ridley Scott clearly wants nothing to do with the lore of Alien: Resurrection, but if you're going to give the legendary Xenomorph a backstory it's gotta be strong. Unfortunately this is anything but strong.
However outside those two things, there really isn't much to fault with this film. Which is why your mileage will vary. If those two faults don't bother you, you're gonna have a good time and I highly recommend this film. You can certainly watch it without watching Prometheus, and given what this film does to the Prometheus story line, I would actually recommend it. (Ya, this film basically made the entirety of Prometheus irrelevant. That happened) And there are freaking Xenomorphs, man! They get to wreak havoc like the perfect organisms that they are! If only they were given the backstory they deserved.
The Critique: Despite great execution from the technical and acting departments, Alien: Covenant delivers a hilariously lackluster backstory for the legendary Xenomorph, which will ultimately leave fans of the franchise disappointed.
The Recommendation: If you like monster movies but haven't watched an Alien film since James Cameron's Aliens, this might be the film to jump back in on.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average
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.
KILLER SHARKS ARE KILLER DUDE
The Shallows (2016): A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.
Ok. I'm gonna see how fast I can write this review because I just want to word vomit for a bit. Have you seen Sharknado? I have. It falls into the "so bad it's good" category. Well, The Shallows falls into that category too. But, despite it's total and utter RIDICULOUSNESS, I had a blast watching this short film. I was honestly yelling at the screen as some crazy things happened on the screen in front of me. But, at the end of the day, I think my biggest takeaway from this film is that there is a dead shark out there that had a seriously love interest in Blake Lively. Seriously. If you had some different music underneath this film you would think something VERY different than what we saw here Because this shark just refused to leave Blake Lively alone. I mean c'mon shark! There are other fish in the sea!. Ok I'm not gonna lie: that line is the main reason I wanted to write this review. I just had that thought about how this shark is in love with Blake Lively throughout this film and realized nobody is talking about that. Seriously. What the f is this.
Oh. Right. I should probably talk a bit about this film. Ok. So Blake Lively is asked to hold her own in this film, and she does. She's not particularly great, but the film does ask quite a bit of her. (Takes a sip of beer) The real star though, (beside's the shark's love affair) is the bird. There's a bird in this film, and he is totally rad. Oh. Look at me using surfer terms. I know....there's so much content in this review, right? Let's see.....what else.....oh! Yes. The editing. There's actually some good editing here. This helps the film not seem as cheap as a film like Sharknado. Now of course no one is going to remember this film come Oscar season, and believe me they should not, but the editing went a long way to help make this film seem more.....professional, and not something that you would see WHY IS NOBODY ACKNOWLEDGING WHEN SOMEONE IS SINGING IN A MUSICAL-oh sorry got off topic. That's not something you would see in a film that airs on Syfy. The editing, that is.
However, it's important to remember that this movie, like Sharknado, is totally and utterly ridiculous. But you know what? I respect that. I can respect a film that knows it's ridiculous and embraces this fact. It's a thin line, for sure, but this film like, (you guessed it) Sharknado definitely rides that line. But, there's really not much else to talk about. Remember I mostly wrote this review for that lame joke about the shark in this film being hopelessly in love with Blake Lively and is just struggling to express himself. I mean if you watch this film with that mindset it is a very different experience. At the end of the day, I think this film is a perfect Friday night candidate to watch with your friends after a couple of drinks. You'll have just as much fun watching it as you did Sharknado. Surely this film will find itself on Netflix in a few months like its shark brethren and when it does.....you know what to do.
The Critique: A ridiculous film that thankfully owns it, The Shallows is the definition of a film that is so bad it's good.
The Recommendation: A perfect candidate to load up on Netflix with your friends after you've had a couple of drinks in a few months.
The Verdict: A very high 3/10 Bad.
Boom. Done. 15 minutes later. I ainnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn't havin' that.
http://www.southernfriedscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/funny-shark-memes.png (shark meme)
One Note Played Really Well
Lights Out (2016): When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
Ah! It feels GOOD to be review a horror film again! It's been too long, internet. So, for those who don't know, I freaking love this genre. It's probably my favorite genre out there, but nowadays so many horror films have lost their way. I wrote a discussion of the genre, which you can find here, so I won't delve too much into it, but I will say 2016 has not been great to the genre so far. (Though I have not seen The Conjuring 2 yet) But we do have a Blair Witch sequel coming! I know I will be celebrating that come September. But we didn't come here to talk about other horror films, right? How is Lights Out? It's actually not half bad.
So let's talk about what the film does right. It's very short, coming in at just 81 minutes, but in between the scares there's actually a surprisingly good story underneath. This is by far the biggest selling point for Lights Out: the VAST majority of horror films have stories that you can't remember the next day nor do you have any interest in remembering, but Lights Out's story was actually engaging! It built up some serious stakes for the main characters, all of which were well acted. But kudos to writer Eric Heisserer, who wrote what is quite possibly the best story from a horror film I have seen in a LONG time. Now that doesn't mean the story was perfect, but a good story is miles ahead of what we're used to in the horror genre. Additionally, gotta give credit to the lighting department. Obviously with a premise surrounding a supernatural being that can only be seen in the dark you have to have some good lighting cues, but Lights Out definitely delivered in this department. After all check out the shot above for proof. I also have to give credit to the sound design. There were several points, (and some of the scariest moments of the film I might add) where you could hear footsteps coming from all around you in the theater, and that's not something that a lot of horror films do. After all one of the reasons you go watch a film in a theater is because of the fantastic sound systems so why not take advantage of it, right?
However there were definitely things holding this film back, most notably in the scares department. Once again we have a horror film filled with nothing but jump scares. Sure, they played this card really well, particularly with the lighting department, but remember when I put It Follows in my top 10 best films of 2015? Ya I did that because that film was scary as hell without using jump scares. With the exception of the footsteps, which was gimmicky at best, Lights Out is nothing but this, and by the end of the film I was just sitting there arms crossed waiting for the jump scares to come to an end. C'mon guys! Especially with an engaging story like this I KNOW you can do better. Also, and I might be splitting hairs here, but I will always bring up when a film sets rules for the evil creature then doesn't follow them. Which happens towards the tail end of the final act. But again, splitting hairs I know. The primary complaint I have with this film is it was simply just not all that creative in the scares department. You knew when almost every jump scare was coming and thus it wasn't all that scary. Fortunately an excellent story holds it up, and its originality and brief run-time kept me engaged throughout. If you're a fan of the horror genre like me, Lights Out is definitely a film that should not be missed.
The Critique: While it's sadly just one jump scare after another, an excellent and surprisingly engrossing story carries this film from start to finish.
The Recommendation: Definitely one that shouldn't be missed if you're a horror fan, and I think in time it might even serve as a good introduction to the genre as well.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
These Movies Just Get better and better!
The Purge: Election Year (2016): Years after sparing the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Barnes has become head of security for Senator Charlie Roan, a Presidential candidate targeted for death on Purge night due to her vow to eliminate the Purge.
Most of you may not know this, but The Purge franchise has been something of a "guilty pleasure" for me for years. I've always had a soft spot for slasher films, but I really didn't care for the first Purge, which came out in 2013. But I was intrigued by the idea of The Purge, and so when I found out they were making a sequel right away in 2014, I was interested. The Purge: Anarchy was exactly what I was hoping for: witnessing The Purge on the streets of LA. Sure, it was completely void of substance. This one is too. But man are these movies fun to watch, and I didn't think I'd be saying it but this film is the best Purge yet. So let's get our purge on, shall we?
So there really isn't anything this film gets wrong, minus the fact that of course it is devoid of substance, but is it? There are some striking similarities between the world of this film and our current world, and that was a little jarring. There's no doubt that director James DoMonaco and company made a concerted effort to make this film.....smarter than the other two, but I did my best to turn my brain off and enjoy the craziness that is this film. And crazy it is. This film follows the classic "bigger, better, and more badass" approach that most sequels follow, and I had absolutely no problem with that. The action was more gruesome, the "seeing other people purging" was more frequent and amazing, and I actually kind of dug how this film was shot. Kudos to cinematographer Jacques Jouffret for really bringing his style to this one, which he didn't really in the previous two Purge films. The way the tense standoffs were shot in particular was amazing.
I know you're hearing me say that word a lot, but it really does sum up this film: amazing. Sure, it's not for everyone. Sure it's not going to make my best films of 2016 list. But it's definitely my favorite film of the year to this point. Oh! And as if the slasher porn wasn't enough, there are some great performances in here as well! Lost star Elizabeth Mitchell is a WELCOME addition to this franchise (and will likely show up again in the inevitable fourthquel) and Frank Grillo is excellent as well. But the real stars here are all the extras. There are a TON of extras in this film and they absolutely slash their way to the best performances I've seen from extras since 2015's It Follows. And the best part of all of this? These films don't build off each other AT ALL. So, if you've been debating whether to check this franchise out or not, The Purge: Election Year is as good a place to start as any. Check it out and happy purging!
The Critique: The Purge is a rare case of a franchise getting better with age. Despite little depth to its story, The Purge: Election Year is a wonderful gem of a slasher flick with some startling ties to reality.
The Recommendation: Definitely NOT for the family. But, jokes aside, if you like slasher films and haven't checked out The Purge franchise yet.....change that now.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
Beware the Crimson Peak
Crimson Peak (2015): In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds - and remembers.
This is why I should never hype myself up for a film. Because I'm inevitably going to be disappointed. Crimson Peak is a tale of two stories. On one hand, this film is visually stunning. I know I probably throw that statement around more than I should, but if anything should be taken away from this movie, it's that director Guillermo del Toro is, quite simply, the best director in Hollywood when it comes to using the latest technology to create a stylized film. What I mean by that is that while the effects of this film aren't the "most realistic" or anything, they are used by him better than anyone in the business right now. The cinematography here, combined with the visual effects make for one hell of a visually stimulating experience. And boy does Toro know how to build a set. But more on that later. The problem here is.....the story sucks! It just sucks. This story is del Toro's worst story since.....well.....ever. This just might be the worst story del Toro has ever written. And while it is beautifully acted by the three main characters in Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska, (and not-so-beautifully-acted by Charlie Hunnam) even Jessica Chastain can't save this terrible story. So let's jump into it, shall we?
You know how this works by now. Let's talk about the positives. As I said, this film looks visually stunning. While the style choice of the main "ghost" of the film didn't really agree with me, I can appreciate the reasoning behind the choice del Torro went with there. Yes, it's a mise en scene thing. Which is awesome mind you, given how vastly underused mise en scene is today, but it made the ghost look a little....silly. Anyway, moving on. The house looks spectacular. Can we get a film just about this house? Because when we get exterior shots of it it looks absolutely huge, but we hardly get to see any of it. There were clearly a lot more rooms that we didn't explore and I want to explore them! Dear Guillermo del Toro, can we please get a sequel just about the house? Pwetty pwease? Additionally, holy crap did the costume department show up. The costumes in this film are absolutely stunning, and definitely well worth a nomination. Although that and set design may be the only things this film is nominated for. But costumes? Definitely a 10/10. Well done there, guys. Finally, we have the acting. Mia Wasikowska was....good. That's really all I can say about her. She's asked to do a lot, and she delivers it, but she doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. As for Tom Hiddleston.....boy did I miss Benedict Cumberbatch. He definitely would've been a better fit here. That said, Hiddleston was still ok. Loki would've been better, but if this film confirmed anything for me, it's that Hiddleston is too good at playing Loki. Because that's all I saw. But then there's Jessica Chastain. Holy crap there's Jessica Chastain. Guys, you need to realize this. Chastain is on a freaking roll. She is having the best year of any actress OR actor BY FAR. She is doing a huge variety of roles, and she's nailing all of them. Chastain is mysterious, intriguing, and terrifying. She takes this otherwise EXTREMELY lackluster story and, combined with the visuals, holds it up with her bare hands. Her final encounter with Mia's character is easily the best scene of this film, and the only point where the film tries to be scary in a way that isn't just a standard pop scare. And I really feel like she improv'd most of this scene. She and the visuals are absolutely worth the price of admission, but for those of you who think this film is really scary don't worry! It's not. And that's just one of many problems I have with this film.
See that? I did a transition! Well, you know what? Let's finish the acting thought, because Charlie Hunnam is terrible in this film. Look Toro, I understand you really liked Hunnam in Pacific Rim. I did too! He was awesome! But there are some people who just can't do 19th century dialogue, and Hunnam is absolutely one of them. His delivery was laughable at best and cringe-worthy at worst, and you absolutely should've seen that in his audition. Nice "oops" moment there. Anyway, back to that "flawless" transition. So this film is officially labeled as a horror film. Least that's what I thought it was going to be labeled as. All the trailers made it look like it's going to be this super-scary film. Well.....it's not. All the scary bits were given away in the trailers, and those are just lazy pop-scares! C'MON DEL TORO! Y U NO INNOVATE? Some of you may remember that article I wrote on the rut the horror genre is in today earlier this year. (If you haven't, check it out here!) I was really hoping that Del Toro was going to bring some innovation back to the genre and deliver something scary that didn't involve the incredibly overused pop-scare. Something like what It Follows did! But nope! We get like 5 scary scenes total as is, and all of them are just pop scares. Well, that's ok, it's a Steven King-esque thriller then, right. Like The Shinning or something! Gripping story, right? WRONG! This story sucks! It is ridiculously predictable. About 15 minutes into this 119 minute film I predicted the ending. Which I very rarely do, because it ruins the fun. And from that point forward I was praying to the movie gods that that wasn't going to be the ending. They didn't listen. If you're going to be a thriller, then you need to keep your viewers on the edge of their seats. They need to be, you know, thrilled. But God is this film so predictable! And some of the lines are just....so.....bad! Even Jessica Chastain can't save it. Well, that's ok, long as the film is scary right? Oh, wait.....it's not....
In conclusion, Crimson Peak is my biggest disappointment of 2015 so far. Plain and simple. I had such high hopes for this film! I even included it in my Films to Watch for This Oscar Season article I wrote a few months back! I believed in you, Crimson Peak! But what I got was a visually stunning mess. A visually stunning mess I want to see a sequel of, no doubt, but still a mess.. But Guillermo del Toro, why couldn't you hold this film to the same standard as your previous films? I loved Pacific Rim. I loved Pan's Labyrinth. I loved Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Maybe I just hold del Toro and his films to a higher standard. Because I know he can do better than this. Unfortunately, Crimson Peak is not the horror film we need. It is a painfully average mess.
The Critique: While Jessica Chastain and the incredible set design attempt to carry this film, it cannot save Crimson Peak from an incredibly lackluster story. It is my biggest disappointment of 2015 so far.
The Recommendation: Still worth a watch if you're a del Toro fan. Or love stylistic horror films. Or want to see why I love Jessica Chastain so much. Just....don't be as hyped about the film as I was going into it.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average.
Oscar Talk: Set Design and Costumes/Makeup should be almost sure-things. Everything else though is unlikely. Which sucks because I wanted this to get a Best Picture nomination! Oh how naive I was.....
PS! On a totally unrelated note, it is a sad day for me. I've written a ton of reviews on this blog over the past 3 years. (Holy crap 3 years) And my trusty Macbook Pro keyboard has been the keyboard that's been there for all of them. Well, today, with this review, I retire this lovely keyboard. Tomorrow, I will receive my beautiful new mechanical RGB keyboard, (the Corsair K95 RGB if anyone's interested) and while I am extremely excited to enter the world of mechanical bliss, I have certainly appreciated this surprisingly awesome keyboard. That'll do, Macbook Pro keyboard. That'll do.
The Most Original Horror Film In Years
It Follows (2015): A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual encounter.
David Robert Mitchell. Remember this name, because it will be a household name very soon. David Robert Mitchell is a young director who now has two great films under his belt. The first is the Myth of the American Sleepover. Released in 2010, this film is a great "teenager coming of age" film. With a love story under his belt, it only made sense that Mitchell would have his next film be a horror film, right? Well, to say he knocks it out of the park is something of an understatement. This film is easily the most original and well executed horror film to grace the genre since 2012's Cabin in the Woods. Only difference? It Follows is absolutely terrifying, whereas Cabin in the Woods is just somewhat creepy in a humorous way. On paper, this premise shouldn't be all that scary. After all the paranormal thing that follows the main character is limited by several rules that the film (amazingly) follows. It can't run, it can't go through walls, and it can't just appear right in front of you out of thin air. It just walks. Slowly. Deliberately. Right at you. And it's terrifying
So, how is this movie as scary as it is? The cinematography. This is some of the best uses of one-shots I've ever seen. The film successfully uses the famous one-shot that so many moviegoers crave to create an incredible amount of tension and terror. But it's not just the cinematography. See....here's the problem with the horror genre. It's very rare to get an original premise that's also well executed. Oftentimes you get either a poorly executed original premise, (2014's Clown-an original take on the demon possession story since he lives inside a clown suit, but God was Andy Powers, the lead actor, terrible) or a well executed stale premise. (2013's The Conjuring-great film, but how many supernatural-demon-posses-someone films have we gotten in the last 10 years?) It's very rare that you get both. You got both with The Cabin in the Woods. And you get both here. Maika Monroe is phenomenal here as the lead. She is asked to do a lot, as a huge part of this film is just her, and she nails it. This film lives or dies on her performance. And it definitely lives. The young supporting cast is also excellent. But I must really compliment the extras who play the creature that follows. These extras are molded into being incredibly creepy people, and were a large part of why this film is as scary as it is.
There really isn't a whole lot this film does wrong. Um.....I felt the ending was not as strong as the rest of the film. It felt incomplete and thus in today's Hollywood incomplete means sequel bait, but I'm honestly ok with that. However, the sequel better be as good as the original, and also bring something new to the table. Otherwise the inevitable It Follows 2 will fall into the vast amount of worthless sequel cash-grabs within the horror genre. Remember how good the original Paranormal Activity was? Or the original Insidious? I know. I can't either because of all the crappy sequels. How many Saws have their been? Seven? Do we really get excited for a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film? Stop it, guys. Everybody says Hollywood is running out of ideas, but nowhere is this worse than in the horror and comedy genres. But I have hope. As long as there are directors like James Wan and David Robert Mitchell around making horror films, there's still hope. I can't wait to see what Mitchell does next.
The Critique: an original and well executed premise. The best film to come out of the horror genre in a loooooong time.
The Recommendation: everyone who loves this genre owes it to themselves to watch this film. And everyone else? Get some friends, some beer, and some herbal refreshments, (if you're in a place where that's legal, of course) and watch this film. You will have a grand ol' time.
The Verdict: 9/10 Damn Near Perfect
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966): Um....f*ck it. Here's IMDB: A family gets lost on the road and stumbles upon a hidden, underground, devil-worshiping cult led by the fearsome Master and his servant Torgo. SO MUCH INTRIGUE RIGHT?
First of all, thank you for reading. Damn. 10,000 views. If you told me back when I started this thing in September 2013 that I'd hit 10,000 views I would've just laughed. See I started this thing just for my own personal amusement. I just wanted to remind myself of these movies so that I could have a conversation about these movies whenever I needed to with people. Just be like hey! I saw that movie once! Let me see what I said about it! And whip out my phone. Since I was just writing for myself basically, I didn't hold back with what has come to define Enter the Movies: my incredibly weird and unusual writing style. Now, it's here to stay. However, over time, people started approaching me saying that they liked my reviews. I was surprised, because I didn't think anyone even knew that they existed, much less enjoyed them. Now, an article from the local paper (thank you Madeline Rafi!) and an endorsement from a local athlete (thank you Nikki Newman!) later, as well as a lot of support from Reddit, my blog has become...well, a thing. So thank you everyone Thank you. I now do this for you. To entertain you. If I put a smile on your face, then I did my job. That said, let's celebrate by watching the "movie" Manos: The Hands of Fate! Because that sounds like a good idea....should get the smile part done at least....
Supposedly made on a bet between friends, Manos: The Hands of Fate has reached cult status, but not in a good way. This movie.....where do I even begin? Seriously. Let's talk about Grown Ups 2 really quick. That was the worst movie of 2013 due to bad acting and a terrible story, as well as horrid directing. However even in this movie there is a level of competency with the making of the film, as the editing, cinematography, and sound are at least decent. There's a certain level of competency you expect in any movie, right? After all if it's made it to the big screen it should be at least, well....made properly. This movie, however, fails on every aspect of movie making. In my junior year of high school, I made a 20 minute(ish) movie called What Is Justice? I'm not trying to self-promote, because after all there is only one copy, but my movie, hastily made in about 2 hours on Movie Maker software with stock Movie Maker sounds, is better than this piece of sh*t. A f*cking gorilla could make a better movie than this. Every aspect of filmmaking is completely nonexistent here. From random illogical editing cuts, to incredibly distracting music, to the fact that this movie is shot ENTIRELY in hand-cam fashion, to the fact that ALL of the actor's voices were dubbed in post-production by THREE people, this movie is the worst movie ever made. Done. How did no one step up and tell the director, insurance salesman Harold P. Warren, that this was a bad idea? Oh wait, was Harold P. Warren also the lead actor, writer, and producer? .........yep. That'll do it. He had no one around him to tell him that it was a bad idea. That just allowing this movie to exist was a bad idea.
Here, let me give you an example of how bad this movie is. So, this is meant to be a horror movie. So Warren and the female lead, played by Diane Mahree, are looking at a very "creepy" picture. They are having a conversation, with the distracting music behind their conversation, when all of the sudden, without warning, there's a cut to their character's daughter holding a (clearly untrained) dog. Everything stops as we watch this girl struggle to keep the dog from jumping out of her lap. And the music stopped. So, basically, we go from a very loud conversation and just overall noise to silence in.....instantly. Because f*ck you. Seriously, this movie deserves to be the blunt end of a would you rather question. It's so bad that it's not even funny bad. It's below that! It's like this.....there are good movies, and there are bad movies. Then there's 50 feet of crap. And then there's Manos: The Hands of Fate. (Thank you to my inspiration, Hollywood writer Aaron Sorkin, for that reference.) Here, I'll get the would you rather questions going. Would you rather watch Manos: The Hands of Fate, or sit through an hour-long sermon courtesy of the Westboro Baptist Church? Spoiler: if you pick Manos, you're wrong. At least Westboro will give you a good laugh. This is comparable to hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. Or dying. The one saving grace of this movie is that it is disgustingly short. While most of the time I would criticize a movie coming in at 74 minutes, here it is welcome, even though those 74 minutes CRAWLED by. I had to take breaks to finish this. I'm not even kidding. I HAD TO TAKE BREAKS TO COMPLETE THIS. AOEIFAJWEOIFJABNADFLKADAKLDALKDSF I DON'T EVEN WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE ANYMORE. NO YOU CAN'T MAKE ME. I DON'T WANNA I DON'T WANNA....
Ok I'll say one more thing. The only thing even remotely memorable about this sh*t show of a movie is the character Torgo. He is played by John Reynolds, who supposedly did LSD before his scenes in this movie and as a result was constantly twitching uncontrollably throughout his performance. All it did was lead to a few good laughs. We got to laughably bad a few times, guys! Whoo! Oh ya, and his death scene is hilarious, as he is seemingly massaged to death by a bunch of women. Spoiler? F*ck you. The biggest crime of this movie is that not everybody is dead by the end of it. Bite me.
The Critique: The worst movie ever made.
The Recommendation: A MUST SEE FOR EVERYONE. FEEL MY PAIN PLEASE.
The Verdict: 0.1/10 That 0.1 is for Torgo. #TORGOCOMEBACK2014
The Conjuring (2013): Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren are recruited by the Perron family to help them get rid of an evil living in their house.
Ok first of all HOLY SHIT. This movie is really, really, REALLY scary. Definitely one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. Honestly since my repertoire for scary movies is rather shallow, it is certainly the scariest movie I personally have ever seen. First off, I should say that in my mind, the rule of comedies also applies to horror movies. As long as the movie accomplishes what it sets out to do, which of course is to scare the crap out of me, I should be ready to forgive some of its faults. And there are quite a few here. So let's dive into it shall we?
So, acting. Director James Wan (also directed Insidious 1 and 2, as well as the original Saw) does something that you don't see too often in horror movies: he has recognizable actors play these roles. Patrick Wilson, (Insidious 1 and 2) Vera Farminga, (Source Code and The Departed) Ron Livingston, (Office Space) and Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under) all star and take this movie and it's subject matter very seriously, and ultimately allow themselves to be totally engrossed into their roles. Simply put, these are some of the best acting performances I've seen in a horror movie. Vera Farminga and Lili Taylor in particular are outstanding, and they really got me engaged in the final act of the movie. Well done to Wan for deciding to remove the Paranormal Activity factor of having nobodies play the characters to make it seem like it's real events. Which has never worked for me personally.
Story. Well, I was genuinely surprised at how good the story was. Sure there were holes, for example if you want to know why the birds are doing what they are doing you are going to be disappointed, but at the apex of the movie I was completely sucked into it and wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters, despite the fact that the creepiness and scariness of the movie was also at its apex by this point. Also there were absurdities everywhere at the apex too that would probably bother me more on repeat viewings but on the first viewing I was able to get past them. Obviously I'm not going to share them because most are major spoiler points but still, if you do watch this movie you'll probably be shaking your head at them too. But still a very enjoyable 112 minutes, even if I wanted it to be over as quickly as possible due to the fact that it is TERRIFYING. Also there's an entire second storyline involving an incredibly creepy doll that was very scary, but made very little sense to me in terms of what was going on in the primary storyline. However I would not be surprised if we see a movie by Wan dealing with this doll because Jebus was it creepy!
Finally, I should mention that Wan shoots this movie in an interesting and rather unique style. He did things with the camera, such as starting a shot upside down and then flipping it, or having a long single take scene showing the horrors of what was going on in different levels of the house, that were really effective. This gave the movie a bit of a supernatural feel. And the long one-shoots were absolutely genius. They gave you a second to think that you were safe from the horrors happening in the cellar just to go upstairs to a haunted closet and be right in the middle of more terror. Honestly I'm rather surprised Wan didn't shoot in this style for Insidious. Maybe he decided it wouldn't work in Insidious? I don't know. But it definitely worked here. So ya in conclusion, what we have here is one of the best horror films of recent years. Go see it if you haven't already and like horror. Even if you don't bring a girl over and watch this. It's not scary via gratuitous amounts of blood. Rather it's scary via the paranormal, which means she will be more willing to watch it. A sure way to cuddle guys. So watch it!
The Critique: well-paced, well-acted, and as scary as scary can be. One hell of a horror flick.
The Recommendation: guys if you want a cuddle session then this should be number one on your list. Also a must-see for all horror fans.
The Verdict: 8.5/10 between great and awesome
Carrie (2013): A retelling of the 1970's version (by the same name) based off a Stephen King novel tells the story of Carrie White, a young woman gifted with psychic powers and trying to fit in. However, her overly-religious mother and classmates have different ideas, and all hell breaks loose because of it.
Ok so first thing I'm going to say: I have not seen the original version of this movie. One of the biggest complaints about this movie from the critics is that it is far too similar to the original. To the point that critics are questioning the very existence of this film. But I can't comment on the similarities/differences because I haven't seen the original. Which as I understand is a very good movie and one of the better must-sees for those dealing with bullies (or for those who are ones themselves) and obviously it was good enough to warrant a re-make so....this point will not factor into my final say.
Ok now that that point has been made let's assume you haven't seen either one. So....Carrie. I feel like Stephen King-based movies need to have their own genre, because after 40+ years of Stephen King novels-turned movies, all the ones I have seen (which is a fair amount) all feel the same. Which is sometimes good, and sometimes not. Here? Not so much. What I am saying is that this movie felt outdated while I watched it in the theater today. Which is somewhat impressive when you think about it. But there were just things happening in this that felt like they were bigger issues in the 70's than now, despite a modern setting, and thus I didn't buy at all. Like the people who were bullying Carrie had no motivation to do so (initially) whatsoever. And they quickly evolve their bullying to criminally illegal levels in the span of a few weeks. I mean talk about escalating quickly. As I sit here and write this I'm thinking to myself that this is not as big of a deal as I initially thought, but while I was in the movie, I was just thinking to myself....really? Also the whole part where everyone besides for exactly two(2) students were in on picking on Carrie was ridiculous as well. We are talking like a hundred plus students all picking on someone for no real reason whatsoever besides for the whole concept of a group mentality. There was one person who started it (who was a freaking psychopath in the movie and so freaking evil) and everybody followed her because somehow she was the most popular girl in school. I can buy group mentality taking over for a scene or two, but it can't count as the primary motivation for a hundred people for an entire movie. It just feels like a crutch as opposed to a smart tool used to forward the plot.
But here's the thing: it's a double-edge sword, because the fact that everyone picks on her allows for me to buy her actions in the third act. AKA it DOES forward the plot! Which I can't really talk about without spoiling. Even though it's in the trailers. But because this movie is so unknown (there was virtually no publicity to this movie whatsoever) I feel like it is a spoiler, so I'm going to avoid it. But it is a fucked up third act. The fact that I added the word fuck there tells you just how messed up it is. Just saying.
Another issue I have: Julianne Moore is a talented actress, but she just couldn't get me to buy into her character. I just didn't buy that someone would be as religious yet inherently ridiculous/radical with her beliefs to even be alive at that age much less somehow have had a child. They do explain the origin of Carrie but I still didn't buy it one bit. I mean she (Moore's character) takes one look at a guy and cuts herself how the hell did they even get into the same room consensually?
So far I've hated on character motivations. Probably too much. But when it comes to the fact that it's a Stephen King story I'm allowed to analyze it! Especially as long as The Shawshank Redemption exists. Also can I just say that I feel like a much better movie with a very similar premise is already out there in the form of Chronicle? I would recommend watching Chronicle before watching Carrie. I know Chronicle came out after the original (obviously) but it really hits on the bullying theme just as much if not more so than Carrie. It even has Alex Russell in it! Carrie, that is. He's the incredibly evil popular kid's even more evil boyfriend. A total 180 from being the voice of reason for Dane DeHaan in Chronicle. But there is one thing this movie has....ready for my big plug for Chloe Grace Moretz? Ready or not, here it comes...
So the actress who plays Carrie is Chloe Grace Moretz. If you don't recognize the name, (which is a damn shame if true) she's most popular for playing Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, as well as Isabelle in Martin Scorsese's Hugo. She is my favorite up-and-coming actress (I call all child actors up-and-comers, no matter how good they are) but she just needs that one movie that allows her to push her career to the next level. Emma Watson got that in the form of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She was given the opportunity to truly flesh out a character in spectacular fashion, and it has elevated her career into being the current big thing. But I'm still waiting for it from Chloe. She's still the next big thing. But seriously....you need to get on the Chloe Grace Moretz bandwagon. She is without a doubt the best part of this movie, single-handily bringing me back into the movie in the second act. This is when, like in Kick-Ass 2, this movie briefly becomes a high school drama movie, and I was shocked at how much she was able to suck me back into it. And they asked her to do a lot in this movie, like being comfortable in exposing herself in various scenes. You don't see anything, but she still looked very comfortable in her skin, despite the part where she's 16. I bet I felt more uncomfortable watching them than she did filming them. After this movie I'm sold on what I want from Chloe next: a Mean Girls-type high school drama movie. And if Hollywood didn't notice how good she is at that after Kick-Ass 2 they will with Carrie. They better because I want to see this girl in movies twenty years from now. She needs her Perks of Being a Wallflower type movie. Please make it happen Hollywood!!!! Ok Chloe Grace Moretz plug done.
There really isn't anything else to talk about here. The movie looked good. The telekinesis moments looked good for the most part (there were a few that looked fake) and the story had me occupied enough but I mean c'mon...when the best part of a thriller/horror movie is the high school drama portion of it, you are not going to get a good movie. Go watch Chronicle first before you check this one out.
The Critique: Chloe Grace Moretz dazzles, but it's not enough to get past the overall lack of direction in this movie. But still, an average journey. Better than other recent horror remakes....but that's damning with feint praise.
The Recommendation: still a good case study into bullying and bending a person to their breaking point, but now that Chronicle exists and it's so incredibly similar/better....watch that first. But still a decent ride. And a must-see for Moretz fans. (Hey that's me!)
Where to See It: Just wait until this one comes out on DVD and Redbox/Netflix it. It won't take long for this to be on the instant queue.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average.
Oscar Talk; Special Effects maybe. Otherwise I would be shocked to see it anywhere else. But the fanboy within will be rooting for Chloe to get nominated for Best Actress. Absolutely won't happen but I can dream right?
Cloverfield (2008): Four friends are suddenly thrown into a battle for survival against a Godzilla-like creature in New York City.
Ok before we start this review I'm just going to say....if you somehow haven't seen this movie, stop reading this review. Now. Make every effort you can to go and watch this 80 minute movie ASAP. It's worth every single second. Once you've done that, come back and read this review.
Back now? Awesome. Here we go. I'm assuming you've seen the movie now as I talk about it. Just a warning.
It's a shame that The Dark Knight had to come out this year because if it hadn't this would without a doubt be my best movie of 2008. Well it's not really a shame because after all The Dark Knight is amazing, but it is because this movie is SO GOOD. Let's start with the shaky cam. Ok anyone who has read my reviews in the past knows that I HATE SHAKY CAM. It's a ridiculously disorienting ploy used by filmmakers to build tension within a movie, except in this movie. In this movie, it WORKS. Like a charm. Why? Because I feel that throughout this movie (until the third act) it is actually a pretty realistic take on how people would react if Godzilla (we are just going to call the creature Godzilla because it's a clear representation of that) showed up in NYC. As a result of this, I feel like the shaky cam is used to evoke realism, because after all the movie is in FIRST PERSON (which we'll get to) and when you running for your life with a camera on your shoulder, it's going to be not steady. WHOA NEWSFLASH. And I feel like there is a good balance between the shaky cam and actually catching what's going on around the characters to the point that I didn't feel disoriented at all. Honestly I can't envision what this movie would be like if it wasn't in first person. So to sum it up instead of using first person as a crutch to build tension, I feel that the first person is used to evoke realism. Which is why it works for me.
The story is simple...a group of mid 20 year olds are getting together to wish one of their friends luck in heading overseas for a job. But Godzilla has other plans. The movie starts this plot very abruptly after about 20 minutes of good set-up between the characters who are involved in the remainder of the movie. In the following 60 minutes, many spectacular scenes occur while our characters fight for their lives against this monster, and a single camera catches it all. One of the things that this movie nails is the cameraman, Hud. He is a well fleshed out and well-written character, which is saying something since you only see him for about a single minute of the film. But the idea of making him the comedic relief for the movie makes him very likeable as a person and not just known as the camera guy. And given the fact that in the hour with Godzilla there's just four people total that we see, they needed to be sure that they nailed Hud.
Another positive in this movie is the reveal of the monster initially. The horrible 90's Godzilla remake could've really taken notes from Cloverfield on the initial reveal of the monster. Fog? Really? A huge Godzilla creature is going to be concealed by a bit of fog? C'mon. Instead....let's hide him with distance and the limits of a single camera from twenty blocks away. That works. Another thing this movie does that works is create a setting of intimacy. Godzilla attacking NYC you'd think that it would be this wide-scale battle taking place, right? Not here. They make you aware that it's going on while simultaneously not letting you see it actually take place until its RIGHT in your face. This also adds an element of fear into the mix, which is further emphasized with the subway sequence. Oh the subway sequence! Definitely the best scene of the movie. I still remember the first time I watched that scene in theaters. I was TERRIFIED. Absolutely terrified. Now it's only a ten minute scene so if you get scarred easily don't avoid this because of this one fact. Really this movie submerges you into it even more because of this scene. The use of first-person is BRILLIANT. This movie would be a shadow of its self without it. And it looks like it really is shot in first person in part thanks to brilliant editing and cinematography.
It's not perfect though. Despite having the name of J.J. Abrams attached to this, it is still an Indie movie, and while the actors for the most part are good (with Hud leading the way) they do fail at times to sell you on their motivations. Like I can understand why Rob is searching for Beth. That one I was sold on, but I wasn't sold on Marlena's character. Her whole story was a bit of a failure in my opinion. The only other thing I didn't buy was the final ten minutes. That got a little too Hollywood for me. That's it. Those are my only two complaints for this whole movie.
The Critique: a near flawless movie, this movie lives off of its intimacy and humor, meshed brilliantly with the fear and chaos created by a giant monster attacking NYC. One of the best monster movies of recent memory.
The Recommendation: literally a must-watch for anyone. End of story.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn near perfect
You're Next (2013) A return to the classic horror genre of old puts 10 members of a seemingly perfect family in a house for their parents anniversary and then adds brutal and gruesome murders into the equation mixed well with pitch black humor.
So this movie kinda surprised me. It is an indie movie. I knew that coming in and it became apparent very quickly with the overall editing and directing of the movie. The opening 30 mins or so felt like it was entirely shot with a small handheld camera, and with tight headshots of the actors, it was a little disorienting. This included the initial chaos sequence which was filled with shaky-cam times a thousand. GAH FREAKING SHAKY CAM! I hate this crutch that so many film makers use to create more tension/chaos. All it does for me is make me not be able to tell where anything is. Fortunately Adam Wingard stops using it after that, but man handheld camera+shaky cam=have to turn away from the screen its so disorienting. Additionally at the beginning the actors looked very uncomfortable with their characters and the situation. In other words, there was some pretty bad acting before the meat of the story began.
However, once the chaos did begin the actors became more comfortable in their roles and the movie became a suspense-filled horror movie. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the next hour and even found myself yelling at the TV as characters would be on the verge of getting killed saying things like OMG DUDE HE'S RIGHT THERE! or whatever. In other words, I had a tremendous amount of fun during the chaos. There was a great mesh of humor and horror to keep the movie scary, but containing a light-hearted tone throughout. Definitely more so than supernatural horrors of recent memory like Insidious and Sinister. Honestly the movie I couldn't help but think of as I was watching this was Cabin in the Woods with this mix. Also the survivalist character of this movie, played by Sharni Vinson, (it's not a spoiler because you don't know who that is!!!) is a freaking badass. Sorry Kristen Connolly, but she's got you beat. Finally the kills are the calling card of the movie. Some of them are freaking gruesome. Like a blender! I learned that a blender can be a lethal weapon when it needs to be. If you feel that's a spoiler, I'm sorry. But there are a lot of kills just as crazy as that one that I haven't talked about. So there's that.
I don't want to talk to much about this (even less so than usual) because part of the joy of this movie is going into it not knowing what's going to happen. I would've liked to have known more about the villains of this movie, as they are just kind of generic bad guys that we didn't know anything about by the end. Also one of the character's story arc is awful. I will go into that at the end of the review in a spoiler section. But still, this movie is a lot of fun. No life lesson or overarching theme, but it's short, at 90 minutes, and fast-paced after the set-up, with several twists that I didn't see coming to keep me guessing despite its overall formulaic story. If you like horror and haven't seen this yet, make it a priority.
The Critique: a great horror film filled with twists and turns and enough humor to keep it fun and lighthearted, despite it's gruesome violence.
The Recommendation: horror buffs need to be sure to add this one to their library. Also guys this is a good cuddling movie if your girl can stand blood. It's definitely not scary enough that she'll be mad afterwards. HINT HINT
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
THIS PARAGRAPH HAS MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!!
Ok so here's my biggest problem with this movie. The survivalist, as I said, is amazing. She starts out as this seemingly innocent college TA and then it turns out she has a past that allows her to be the survivalist. I bought this part 100%. But at the end when the whole whodunit plot is finally revealed to be her bf (the whole I want my parents inheritance so I'm going to hire people to kill everyone behind this was very generic and I didn't buy it for a second, by the way) she freaking kills him, despite him being unarmed and begging for forgiveness, and offering her a lot of money. This puts her on the same level as the villains of the movie. There was no redeeming of her character because she was shot the second she stabs him by a cop, who then also proceeds to die! So every single person involved in this movie dies. I know that's how most horror movies go, but this one didn't have to go there. Up until she killed her bf, everything from her had been out of self-defense. She just killed him for revenge. And when he asked her why as he died, she simply responded with, "Why the fuck not?" I did not like that at all given the character we saw before the chaos began. So that's my biggest complaint. Obviously not too big cause I still gave the movie a 7 but I did feel that it needed to be brought up. Ok now it's time to find my happy place.
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