Thursday, December 31, 2015

Exeter (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Exeter

1. This is a B-movie horror film that's better than many horror films that get the full Hollywood treatment. I don't understand why it wasn't more popular.

2. There is a twist to the stereotypical setup. A group of young adults have a party in an abandoned asylum. One of them gets possessed. People die. But the kids have been partying so hard that they are all whacked out on drugs and alcohol and can't quite figure out if what is happening is real or if they're just tripping.

3. The movie is grittier than a lot of horror films. It opens with a heroin overdose and a suicide. It has a heavy metal soundtrack.

4. There is a sly but smart sense of humor in the film. It knows what it is, and it makes fun of itself. In one scene, a cat jumps out at a character, which causes a jump scare. Another character complains that it's so cliche.

5. Most demon-possession movies try to hide the fact that they are just ripping off The Exorcist. This film openly admits it. The characters try to expel a demon by using a DIY exorcism website that just follows that famous scene like a recipe. The characters even refer to Father Merrin.

6. Stephen Lang plays a priest. If you recognize Lang from other movies, you have a big clue as to what his purpose is in this one.

7. The violence and gore is pretty solid and impressive. More people die than I expected.

8. It was directed by Marcus Nispel, who directed the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. This movie has a vague Evil Dead feel.

9. This is an odd film because it knows it should suck, which makes it not suck. It's gory fun that horror fans will appreciate.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Hateful Eight (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film The Hateful Eight

1. This is Quentin Tarantino's eighth film, and it's his most controlled and focused one.

2. Set shortly after the Civil War, the story is about a group of people headed for a town named Red Rock (the state is never mentioned) but who get stranded at a stagecoach lodge during a blizzard. Everybody has their own agendas for being there, and some of those agendas are at cross purposes.

3. The movie is described as a western (Ennio Morricone even wrote the score, which is his first western score in 40 years), but it would be more accurate to say the movie is a actually a mystery. It just happens to be set in the Old West.

4. A lot of the actors have worked with Tarantino before, so everybody kind of fits together like a glove. They know the mix of comic-seriousness that Tarantino goes for, and how to say the dialogue that is just past the line of real life. They all play off of each other very well.

5. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Daisy, a captured murderer on her way to being hanged in Red Rock. Daisy says the least, but she is the most interesting character in the movie, She gets beaten by men over and over, but Daisy not only takes it, she seems to draw strength from it. It's a pretty powerful, paradoxical performance by Leigh.

6. Everybody knows that a Tarantino film is often reminiscent of the old violent grindhouse films of decades past. And while this film does have his trademark violence, especially during the last half, there's not as much as some people will want.

7. Some people may be surprised to see that Tarantino's script contains just as much substance as style. Though he has vast mountainous landscapes at his disposal, the movie takes place almost entirely indoors - in either a cramped carriage or an overstuffed lodge. There is less action and more talking than is usual from him. Sure, the talking is full of racist, sexist, foul language (the last time the n-word was used this much in a movie was, well, Tarantino's last film), but it's all to a point. Or rather, several points.

8. Say what you want about Tarantino, but his love of cinema is obvious in every frame of this film, and he needs to be respected for that. He uses the camera to get the most amazing shots, whether it's of a horse on a mountain, or a coffeepot on a stove. Very few directors have that kind vision.

9. Some people will be disappointed that this is not one of his outrageously wild films. But this is Tarantino as a storyteller, not a renegade, telling a tale that is both epic and personal. He uses a snowbound lodge in the past to examine issues facing America today. And even though the movie is three hours long, every minute of it contains something to see or hear.

The Ridiculous 6 (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie The Ridiculous 6

1. The biggest mystery of 2015 is why Netflix chose to make this movie. This is one of the worst movies of the year.

2. The first time I tried watching this movie, I couldn't finish it. I figured it was because I was sober. But when I watched it under more appropriate circumstances, it didn't get any better. I watched the whole thing, but not because I liked it. I was just daring myself to finish it.

3. The title is a shameless attempt to capitalize on the Quentin Tarantino film The Hateful Eight, but has nothing to do with that movie, except that it's a Western. The plot of the movie (like it matters) is that six dumb guys all discover that they are half brothers, and they try to find $50,000 so they can rescue their father, who is being held by a gang of outlaws.

4. The movie is really a series of jokes. It tries to be one of those movies that is so ridiculous that you can't help laughing.  I laughed about three times.

5.  It has a big cast of recognizable stars: Adam Sandler, Terry Crews, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Nick Nolte, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Jon Turturro, among others. The second biggest mystery of 2015 is why any of them agreed to be in this movie. The only explanation I can think of is that they all sold their soul to Satan to become famous, and now Satan is calling in his favor.

6. I respect it when sexy movie stars take on roles to leave their sex-symbol status behind. But Taylor Lautner destroys his sexy reputation so completely that I will never be able to watch another of his movies without thinking of the scene when a donkey gives him a... well, never mind.

7. Vanilla Ice plays Mark Twain. Mark Twain says "word up." Oh, and one of the characters in the movie is a donkey with explosive diarrhea. This should tell you a lot about the movie.

8. The movie is kind of sexist and racist towards Native Americans. The women have names like Smoking Fox and Never Wears Bra.

9. Recommending this movie to anyone should count as a form of bullying.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Goodnight Mommy (Austria, 2014)

Nine Things About the Film Goodnight Mommy

1.  It's hard to adequately describe what this movie is. Technically, it's a horror movie. But a quiet one. Quiet and cruel.

2. It's got a creepy beginning - two twin brothers greet their mother, who has just gotten home from the hospital. She had facial surgery, and her head is completely wrapped up. Immediately, she begins acting differently from how she was before the surgery. She becomes more bizarre and abusive, and the boys suspect that the woman they live with isn't really their mother.

3. It's impossible to predict where the movie is going, because all three characters lose the ability to act or think rationally, so you have no consistent thread to hold onto.

5. Writer/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala really know how to tell this story, dangling clues in front of you while making you more tense and confused.

6. This is not an exciting, scream-filled movie of blood and body counts. There really isn't even anything to make you jump. This is a slow, insidious horror that builds up inside you until you want to turn your head away, but you can't.

7. If you are bothered by depictions of families that are, um, mean to each other. then you can move along and watch something else.

8. Most of the movie takes place in one house with the three characters. All three actors have a twisted charisma that is used to full effect.

9. This movie won't be to everybody's liking. But it's going to haunt me more than any other film I've seen this year.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Concussion (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film Concussion

1. This is the most important - and dangerous - movie about American culture this year. There's a possibility that participation in America's most popular sport will drop because of this movie.

2. It tells the true story of how Dr. Bennett Omalu, a Pittsburgh forensic pathologist, stumbled onto evidence of brain damage in many NFL football players, which he ended up naming chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It also portrays the NFL's attempts to bury and discredit Omalu for seven years, until the evidence was so overwhelming they couldn't deny it anymore.

3. It was written and directed by Peter Landesman, who is an award-winning journalist (in 2004 he wrote an article about the child sex trade that led to many arrests). Landesman based the script off a 2009 GQ expose written by Jeanne Marie Laskas.

4. The movie comes out strongly against the way football is currently played. It makes bold statements, even suggesting that God doesn't want people playing football.

5. Landesman surely knows how incendiary this topic can be, and the script is very careful to focus a lot on the science behind Omalu's work. I was impressed with the way science is treated in this movie. I even learned things about autopsies.

6. Will Smith deserves a nomination for Best Actor of the year. It's sometimes hard to tell that it's actually him.

7. The movie is part biography, part medical investigation, and part conspiracy drama. It's hard to squeeze everything in. While his personal life is interesting, it unbalances the flow of things a little bit. Some scenes are kind of awkwardly placed.

8. The movie teaches you enough about CTE to make you realize that there's no real fix for it. It made me realize that the NFL's attempts to make changes (such as strengthening the "targeting rule") are clearly for show, and don't really do anything.

9. CTE is fairly well known now, but watching the 13-year process be condensed into one movie gives a new appreciation for what's going on. The movie also shows just how deep the corruption and conspiracy of the NFL's handling of the subject was, Whether you like football or not, this movie is an important critique of one of the defining elements of American culture.

The Last Witch Hunter (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie The Last Witch Hunter

1. This is what I call a WYSIWYG movie - What You See Is What You Get. The trailer gave a pretty accurate idea of what to expect.

2. It's the latest in the long line of 'immortal hunter' genre movies, like "Blade"and "Underworld". In this one, witches live hidden among us regular humans. Vin Diesel is an immortal human, haunted by his past, who hunts down renegade witches that want to end the truce with humans and start a war. Blah blah blah.

3. The movie doesn't spend much energy on making an original or smart story - it's the same thing we've seen over and over.

4. Where the movie succeeds is the visuals. It's shot well and the computer effects are pretty impressive.

5. Elijah Wood plays Vin Diesels's sidekick, a nerdy priest in New York City. I really like Elijah, but this movie was a step down for his career. I'm confused as to why he decided to make this movie.

6. The movie was directed by Breck Eisner. His last film was the pretty decent remake of The Crazies. But Eisner also directed Sahara, one of the biggest financial disasters in Hollywood history.

7. Parts of the movie look and feel like a video game.

8. This movie is aimed at super geeks and teenagers, so if you can relate to one of those groups, you'll enjoy it well enough. Besides, you can't hate a movie that has flaming swords, underground witch clubs, and gummy bear trees.

9. This is not a bad movie. But it's also not a good movie. It's not a waste of time, but it's also not one that you will remember for long.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Danish Girl (Britain, USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film The Danish Girl

1. I have rarely been so conflicted about a movie as I am about this one.

2. If I had to describe the actual movie in one word, it would be "exquisite". If I had eight more words, they would be "one of the best movies of the year". But if I had ten more words, they would be "why did they change so much of the real story?"

3. The movie is a pseudo-biography of Lili Elbe, one of the first known transgender women to undergo sex reassignment surgery.  And that's exactly the problem - it is a pseudo-biography. The movie is not based on Lili's journals or the couple's real story - it's based on a fiction book about Lili.

4. The story is about two married painters, Gerda and Einar Wegener. in 1920's Copenhagen. A series of small, random events slowly leads Einar to realize that he is really a woman. This challenges everything that the two of them know.

5. The movie is amazingly well-balanced in its treatment of the subject of transgender identity. It stays true to what being transgender means, but also respectfully portrays the realistic difficulties that people in the transgender person's life grapple with. Even the people that try to "fix" Lili are not portrayed as villains, just ignorant of a complicated reality.

6. I have come to the conclusion that Eddie Redmayne is one of the best actors on the planet. Not only did he give the best performance of 2014 in The Theory of Everything (he's actually the only reason to watch that movie), he gives the best performance of 2015 in this movie. I understand the criticism that maybe they should have cast an actual transgender woman in the role of Einar/Lili, but I'm not sure I agree with that. Redmayne does a masterful job of reaching the common humanity that exists in everyone.

7. Since both Wegener's were painters, painting is a large element of the movie. And in a work of visual genius, many of the movie's scenes are composed as paintings themselves. Sometimes it's hard to focus on the story because the picture itself is so beautiful.

8.  The ending of the movie is a little overbaked, but the rest of the movie is strong enough to make me overlook that.

9. It's really hard for me to be OK with the fact that they didn't stick to Einar/Lili's real story.  But if you look at the movie as a work of art, and not of history, this is a deeply layered, nuanced meditation on gender roles, identity, love, commitment, loneliness, and confusion. It's about being human.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Big Short (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film The Big Short

1. This movie is based on the book of the same name, and is about the almost impossible levels of corruption and stupidity that caused the world-crippling financial crisis from 2007-2010.

2. The movie is funny, fascinating, and deeply depressing. If you're not cynical about the world yet, you will be after this movie.

3. The story follows a few different groups of people around 2005 who stumble onto signs that big investment banks are selling bonds made of home mortgages that were trash. They decide to bet that the bonds would eventually fail, which would make them rich. 

4. It's a complicated subject that involves a lot of moving parts, distant connections, and economic black magic. The movie does a really good job of explaining the main parts of what happened, and makes things more understandable to regular people. But if you want to know the details of what happened and why, you will either need to already be an expert on the situation, or else do additional research on your own.

5. One of the themes of the movie is that regular people had no idea what was going to happen because they were too distracted by other things and weren't paying attention to their own circumstances. This theme is illustrated by periodic montages of pop culture and media that interrupt the flow of the ever-deepening sense of dread building up in the main story.

6. The cast is a great mix of unknown actors as well as well-known ones. Christian Bale is amazing once again, playing a socially awkward investment manager that trusts his math over other peoples' advice.  Ryan Gosling plays another version of most of his characters, but he's good at it, so that's fine. And Steve Carell continues to show that he is not just a great comedian, but one of the best actors today.

7. The movie was co-written and directed by Adam McKay, who directed Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers. It's pretty obvious that he has a working partnership with Will Ferrell. The Big Short is his first real shot at making a more dramatic movie - and it's the first movie he directed that didn't star Will Ferrell. McKay does an excellent job here, finding humor in a situation that really isn't very funny.

8. The film has a unique visual and narrative style - the camera kind of freewheels through situations and time periods, making the whole thing very kinetic. The characters often break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience; sometimes they tell us whether a scene really happened or was made up for the movie.

9. This is a smart movie that requires a lot of concentration. But the talented cast and the careful script make it easier to follow.  This is a socially important movie if you want to keep informed about what's really going on around you. Just remember, this is a true story, and you already know that there is no happy ending.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (USA, 1015)

Nine Things About the Movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens

1. This triumphant chapter of the Star Wars saga takes place about 30 years after the previous chapter, Return of the Jedi. Jedi was released 32 years ago, so this movie is basically re-joining the story in it's "real" timeline. It's a direct continuation of the original trilogy, but you don't need to see any of the other three prequel films - which I refer to as The Movies That Shall Not Be Named (TMTSNBN).

2. It was directed by J.J. Abrams, who worked in television and as a producer until he directed Mission:Impossible III, and then resurrected the Star Trek movies.  (And I'm thinking that if one guy can bring both Star Wars and Star Trek successfully back to life, maybe we can end the decades-old fight over which series is better. Maybe the two fan-bases can finally unite and co-exist peacefully. Even though Star Wars is clearly superior.)

3. Even though it feels like a Star Wars movie, it's got Abrams's visual style - the dolly shots on both the z- and x- axes, the canted angles, the shaky cam and snap zooms. But he hardly uses any lens flares this time, which is fine.

4. Writer Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote two of the original trilogy's scripts (but none of TMTSNBN), returns for this one. This means the script is sometimes silly, simple, and melodramatic. But that's exactly what Star Wars is - a space opera. It's supposed to be sprawling, adventurous, and chivalric, with epic conflicts between technologically-advanced enemies. It's not supposed to be hard science fiction. This isn't Interstellar.

5. This is the first Star Wars movie to get its original release in 3D, and it's one of the most impressive uses of 3D technology I've seen.

6. There is enough fanservice in this movie to fill a Jawa sandcrawler. This leads to the only real flaw in the film (if you consider it a flaw); the almost overwhelming amount of nostalgia. The story does develop in some new and interesting ways, but it also feels kind of like a reboot of the first two movies. Several elements of the films are outright repeats of the original trilogy.

7. The only thing that really annoyed me in the movie was the "suck the energy out of the sun" thing. That's the kind of moronic crap I expect from a Marvel superhero movie, not a Star Wars movie. But it wasn't a deal-breaker; see Point 4.

8. The young cast is well-picked. This is Daisy Ridley's second film. John Boyega finally gets a lead role like he deserves. Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, who may be the most interesting Star Wars villain ever.

9. The movie may not be perfect, but it strikes a good balance between being new and risky, and being traditional and sacred. It will satisfy fans of the original trilogy, and also bring new viewers into the magic of the Star Wars universe. May the Force be with it.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Magic Mike XXL (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Magic Mike XXL

1. The first Magic Mike movie was directed by Steven Soderbergh, so it was actually a real movie. It wasn't so much about strippers as young aimless men lured into a flashy but shallow business, run by a flashy but shady manager.

2. This movie was not directed by Steven Soderbergh. This was not a real movie. It was more like an idea of a movie that they never finished. With key members of the cast gone.

3. The story is basically a less-believable version of The Wizard of Oz. The boys gather to take a road trip to a far-away, famous stripper convention, and they run across various characters along the way. They also learn that what they were really looking for has been with them all along. Seriously.

4. Both movies were written by the same person, but it didn't seem like it. There were flashes of intelligence and humor here, but nothing like the first movie. This movie didn't really have a heart. Or a brain. Or a point.

5. Along the journey, the men go to a drag bar, and they win an amateur dance-Vogue thing. Then they meet Andie McDowell, an aging southern belle who regrets that the only man she ever had sex with was gay. Then they meed Jada Pinkett Smith, who has this "Eyes Wide Shut" mansion where men exist to make women feel like queens. The guys also take molly and make all new dance routines, based on the men that they really feel like inside. Except the new dances are all kinda stupid.

6.   Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love Donald Glover, and I'll watch anything he's in. But he was an awkward fit for this movie, even if he did play a wannabe rapper named Andre.

7.  The actual stripper convention was very anticlimactic. The final routines were short and dumb. Well, except for the very last one with Channing Tatum and Stephen "Twitch" Boss. That mirror routine was cool, I admit.

8. The movie is fun to watch in that "guilty pleasure" kinda way. But it's not actually good or anything.

9. The movie doesn't have an ending. It just stops. Like this review.

In the Heart of the Sea (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie In The Heart of the Sea

1. The movie is based on the true story of the whaling ship Essex, which was sunk by a whale, and which inspired the famous novel Moby Dick.

2. The movie is gorgeously filmed. It's an epic adventure. It has a great cast. And it is a good movie. But for some reason, it's not a great movie. This is an example of how truly awesome movies need an extra mysterious ingredient - and this movie doesn't have it.

3. The context of the film is set up really well. In 1820, whale oil was in high demand to provide fuel for lanterns and street lights, and you could make a lot of money by getting on a ship and hunting whales. Chris Hemsworth plays the first mate of the Essex, which sets out to get at least 2000 barrels of whale oil.

4. The best part of the movie is seeing how the ships were run, how whales were hunted, and how the oil was harvested from dead whales.

5. Even though it's about a giant whale that destroys a ship, the whale is hardly in the movie. The main story is the relationship among the crew members, especially the friction between the ship's captain (played by Benjamin Walker, who isn't very well known) and Hemsworth's character.

6. The ensemble cast contains a couple of my favorite actors, Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw. Chris Hemsworth is not one of my favorite actors, but he does pretty well, here. At least he's not Thor.

7. The movie's pace greatly decreases in the last 45 minutes, and the melodrama greatly increases. The things the men have to do to survive are fairly ghoulish, and director Ron Howard had a great opportunity to create some real drama and pathos. But he screws it up by treating the situations with dry narration and cameras that cut away exactly when they shouldn't.

8. This may be the most gorgeous movie of the year; it's probably worth seeing just for the cinematography alone. There is some great camera work, and some individual scenes took my breath away.

9. The movie is an old-fashioned adventure, which nobody really makes anymore, and I give Ron Howard credit for making it. It's a great attempt at mixing history and human drama with an epic scope. It's just too bad he couldn't quite pull it off.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Chi-raq (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film Chi-Raq

1. This movie is rude, raw, raunchy, wrong... and right on the money. It's going to be too much for some people, but I personally think it may be the best movie of 2015.

2. It's a retelling of a 2500-year-old Greek play named Lysistrata. Writer/producer/director Spike Lee updates the play and sets it in a gang-run neighborhood of Chicago. Nick Cannon plays Chiraq, who is both a local rapper and the head of the Spartan gang. Wesley Snipes plays Cyclops, the aging leader of their deadly rivals, the Trojan Gang. Samuel L. Jackson plays the narrator Dolmedes (see what they did there?). After a small child is gunned down in the street and nobody wants to come forward to be a witness, the women in the neighborhood have reached their breaking point. They band together and vow not to have sex with any man until the gangs squash their beef for good.

3. The movie is a satire, an indictment, and a plea. It was written by Lee and film professor Kevin Willmot (who lives in Lawrence, KS). They must have dipped their pen in acid to write the script, because this film burns. Beneath the satirical humor, this movie is angry. Very very angry. And everybody is to blame.

4. Lee has been criticized for setting the movie in Chicago (and using the controversial title) when he's not even from there. Some people think the movie makes fun of the gang and violence issues. I understand those criticisms, but I think they are misdirected. The movie starts tightly focused on the street murder of a child in Chicago, but then it spirals outward until it's a glorious mess that sweeps more and more topics into its whirlwind. Chicago is a symbol of a much bigger cluster of issues. Besides, Lee gives a lot of love to Chicago.

5. Artistically, the movie is a masterpiece. It has a rhythm both in movement and speech. As a reference to the original play, most of the dialogue is spoken in rhyme.  You don't have to know the original Lysistrata to see this movie, but if you do, you gain an extra layer of appreciation as you see how Lee translates ancient Greece into modern urban America. In addition, Lee uses colors to great effect, especially the colors of the rival gangs.

6. Nick Cannon blew me away with his portrayal of Chiraq. Before this, everything I'd seen him in made him seem mild and rather family-friendly. But in this movie, he not only leaves his Nickelodeon and "America's Got Talent" fun goofiness behind, he obliterates it.

7. John Cusack's character is based on a real priest in the neighborhood where the movie takes place. His church sermon is not only one of the high points of the film, it gave me a new appreciation of why church and spirituality are so important to the black community.

8. The movie will not be appreciated by everyone. Some people will be turned off by the explicitness of the topic. Some people will not get the satire. Some people will not be prepared for the amount of concentration it takes to understand it. Some people will get overly defensive. The easily offended should find something else to watch.

9. This is the Spike Lee that I love. It's his best and ballsiest movie since his classics Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. It's confrontational, relevant, smart, funny, and heartbreaking. For a movie with so much absurd comedy, I found myself with tears in my eyes more than once. The movie transcends itself and lights the American powder-keg. People will be talking about this movie for a long time.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Krampus (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Krampus

1.This poisoned holiday card is my new all time favorite Christmas movie.

2. This is a weird little indie movie that somehow got big-budget Hollywood backing. It's based on the old German legend of Krampus, a horned creature that shows up at Christmas time to kidnap and kill bad children.

3. It is about a family getting together for the holidays, and they all hate each other. When a boy loses his faith in a happy life, the neighborhood is assaulted with a blizzard... and some pretty nasty things in the blizzard.

4. The movie is hard to categorize. It starts out as an acidic, mean-spirited comedy and dark cultural satire. But it increasingly adds horror elements, so it ends up being very different than it started. It's an odd combination, and some people won't like it just because they aren't sure what it is that they are watching. If you want a full-on horror movie, you may be disappointed. But that's not what it's trying to be, and it makes that clear from the very first scene.

5. It was written and directed by Michael Dougherty. Dougherty also wrote and directed my favorite Halloween movie, Trick 'r Treat, which has a similar feel and style to this one.

6. Some of the horror sequences are confusingly edited, which makes me suspect they were cut down so the movie could go from being rated 'R' to 'PG-13'. This is annoying, but the movie doesn't lose its punch. So while this movie may not be rated 'R' it is NOT for little kids. Some children will be terrified by the events of this film. Some adults may object to a few scenes.

7. There is an underlying theme of sacrifice in the film, including the sacrifice of innocence.

8. I was worried about how the movie was going to end, but Dougherty doesn't betray what he built up. The conclusion of the film was very satisfying.

9. This movie takes everything you love about Christmas and twists them inside out. It corrupts all that is sacred about the holiday. It's a beautifully whimsical, horrific fairy tale that exposes the human darkness and false happiness of the most wonderful time of the year.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Creed (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Creed

1. The 2006 film Rocky Balboa brought the saga of the legendary movie boxer to a classy and satisfying ending - nothing else was needed. But nine years later, here comes Creed, the seventh movie in the series. Of course, lots of things could have gone wrong here... but nothing does. This is a movie worthy of the series, while also sending things off into a new direction. As Sylvester Stallone reportedly said, "this is Creed 1, not Rocky 7".

3. The movie is about Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo when Apollo apparently cheated on his wife sometime around Rocky IV (the timeline doesn't quite match up with Adonis's age, but I can run with it). He grows up in a life of privilege, but gives it up to become a boxer because he loves to fight. He convinces Rocky to be his trainer.

4. The movie stands on its own, but fits well into the existing Rocky universe. There are many references to the other films in the series, which gives an extra resonance to things (if you listen closely, you can even hear Rocky say his famous catchphrase.)

5. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis, and he is just about perfect for the role. I've been a huge fan of him ever since he blew me away in Fruitvale Station, and he's honestly one of the reasons I decided to watch this - I trusted he (as well as the director) wouldn't make a bad movie. And I was right.

6. The movie was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who also wrote and directed Fruitvale Station. This is only his second movie, but he has already proven himself a talented filmmaker that can bring life to existing material, while remaining respectful to its roots.

7. There are many moments in this film that mirror the original Rocky, and it's interesting to watch from that perspective. The struggle of Adonis to both accept and escape his last name is a compelling story. At the same time, Rocky lives in the shadow of his own fame, and he ends up identifying with his dead wife's struggles, too. There are several emotional moments for each character, and they all ring true.

8. The big fight at the movie's climax brought all the same emotions back to me that I felt way back when I watched the original Rocky. On the other end of the spectrum, there is an extremely bittersweet scene on the famous steps that made me feel the unique pain of passing time.

9. This is a classy, smart, and emotional movie. Fans of the series will be impressed with the way the saga is handled. For people that have never seen the originals, they can jump in on one of the greatest sports movie franchises in history. If Coogler and Jordan can keep this quality up, I'll gladly start watching Creed movies instead of Rocky movies.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Beasts of No Nation (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film Beasts of No Nation

1. This is a uniquely painful film about the real-life phenomenon of child soldiers. It takes place in West Africa, and tells the story of an 8-year-old boy named Agu. His village is caught up in the middle of a civil war, and he ends up alone in the jungle, until a small group of guerrilla fighters find him. Agu is raised, trained, and brainwashed to fight for a cause that he is too young to understand.

2.  The movie is basically about the complete destruction of a happy kid... and the emergence of a traumatized child war criminal. While it's easy to condemn what's done to the boy in this movie, you also come to understand the context in which this happens. It's harder to know where to place the blame than you might think.

3. While this movie is not specifically a true story, it is based on real events. It comes from the book of the same name, written by a 23-year-old man who works in real life with rehabilitating child soldiers. .

4. The film is beautiful to watch, which is a big contrast to its subject. The movie has some graphic scenes, but doesn't show all the violence and degradation that it could have. They leave a good amount to your imagination.

5. The movie was written, directed, and filmed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Fukunaga also wrote and directed 2009's remarkable movie Sin Nombre, but is probably most famous for directing the first season of the HBO series True Detective.

6. The kid that plays Agu, Abraham Atta, gives one of the best acting performances of the year. It's impossible to describe his charisma and his range of emotional reactions. Atta was accidentally discovered by the filmmakers because he was skipping school and playing soccer when the director walked by, looking for child actors.

7. Idris Elba plays the rebel leader. He's a great actor and I've been a fan of him ever since The Wire was on HBO in 2002. He needs more substantial leading roles. I hope the rumor of him playing the next James Bond comes true.

8. This is a non-Hollywood, independent film, which means that usually hardly anybody would see it. But Netflix bought the rights to distribute the film, and put it on their website as well as in a few theaters. A lot more people can now watch it. And they should.

9. This is a profoundly depressing, beautiful, horrifying story that vividly illustrates a part of contemporary world events that us Westerners don't hear much about. Don't watch this movie if you want to stay in a good mood. But watch it sometime. It's important. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hallow (Britain/Ireland, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie "The Hallow"

1. Normally, I would say bad things about a movie like this. I would say that the story is unoriginal (a family moves into a house in the woods, and things in the woods aren't happy). I would say the movie steals pieces from multiple films (I lost count at six) and mixes genres. I would say it shoehorns in half-baked metaphors about environmentalism and the power of a mother's love. That's what I would normally say.

2. But I can't say bad things about this movie. Instead, I have to say that this is one of the best horror films of 2015.

3. The movie is based on old dark Irish mythology. Writer/director Corin Hardy takes a risky move with it by mixing in elements of "Evil Dead", "The Fly", "The Thing", "Straw Dogs", and "Aliens", among others. Hardy obviously loves these genres, and he has the skill to show these references in a plain and unapologetic way, but which doesn't insult the original films. This is something his contemporaries like James Wan and Leigh Wannell haven't figured out, which is why "The Conjuring" and "Annabelle" are just patchwork quilts of disappointment.

4. The visual mood and atmosphere is dark and beautiful, ethereal and off-putting. It fits the subject perfectly.

5. The camera seems to have a mind of its own, sometimes focusing momentarily on mundane things like someone putting down kitchen cutlery, or tapping fingers. This adds to the feeling that something isn't right, but you can't figure out what.

6. The movie not entirely serious - since it's partly an homage to other horror films, Hardy can pull off a little tongue-in-cheek attitude. The flaming scythe should be added to the collection of iconic horror weapons.

7. The movie is kind of violent, but it's not super bloody. It's more... gooey.

8. Hardy tries to update the mythology with a sort-of-scientific explanation. It muddles things up a little bit, and wasn't really necessary, but it is an intriguing idea.

9. What Hardy has managed to do with this movie is take elements of other movies and forge them into a tool that taps into the deep primal fear that exists in every person and which inspires all those other films. It doesn't matter that the movie is kind of predictable - it gets you anyway.

    Thursday, October 22, 2015

    Half of a Yellow Sun [Nigeria, 2013]

    Nine Things About the Film "Half of a Yellow Sun"

    1. This movie is basically two short films with the same characters. The first half is a melodramatic romance. The second half is a historical war drama.

    2. It's about two upper class, educated Nigerian sisters in the early 1960's and how they shock their traditional parents by shacking up with men that won't help their careers. These romantic choices help determine the roles they play in the Nigerian Civil War at the end of the 1960's.

    3. The plot of the first hour is kind of boring as a story, but it's interesting as a character study. The older sister, Olanna, lives with a professor named Odenigbo that likes to imagine himself as a revolutionary. The younger sister, Kainene, runs the family business while sleeping with an English writer named Richard. There is drama, and cheating, and scandal, in both families.

    4. While the first hour is a soap opera, it's also helpful in setting up the second hour. The opening scene of the movie shows Nigeria gaining independence from Britain in 1960, which sets lots of other things in motion. In between the family drama, you learn more about how Nigeria works - the geography, the class system, the prejudice and tribal politics.

    5. Almost exactly halfway through the movie, the ethnic, economic, and cultural conflicts brewing in the background suddenly become the main story. Odenigbo's tribe, the Igbo people, don't trust the northern government. They carve out a little piece of the country and attempt to secede, declaring themselves the country of Biafra, independent of Nigeria. Everything comes unglued (in real life, over a million people died in this war that lasted about 30 months).

    6. The movie attempts to explore topics such as nationalism, tribalism, identity, and what white Westerners are doing in their country. But since half the movie is spent on cheating spouses and relationship politics, there isn't much time for these more complicated ideas.

    7. Thandie Newton is a really good actress that has never landed the big role she deserves (I still remember her from Beloved). She does well in this movie, and I was glad to see her again. Chiwetel Ejiofor is another great actor, and he plays Odenigbo with a good mixture of intelligence, stupidity and dumb loyalty (the same year this movie was made, Ejiofor also starred in 12 Years a Slave).

    8. The movie was filmed in Nigeria, which brings an authentic feel to the events portrayed. But it was strangely shot - it's beautiful, but sometimes looks like a stage play.

    9. This isn't a great film, but it's a good one. It's entertaining, educational, and is an example of Africans telling their own history. This two-hour movie taught me more about the world's largest continent than I ever learned in school.

    Friday, October 16, 2015

    The Houses October Built (USA, 2014)

    Nine Things About The Houses October Built

    1. I've seen some really bad found-footage horror films, but this movie is one of the worst I've ever seen. It is proof that just because you have a video camera at home and have an idea for a movie, that doesn't mean you should actually make it.

    2. The idea of the movie isn't bad. It's supposed to be about a group of 5 people who are tired of the regular haunted house attractions that pop up before Halloween, and they go on a cross-country quest in their RV for a rumored real one that doesn't fake the things that happen inside.

    3. Unfortunately, most of the movie is either pointless conversation between the characters (who sometimes read poems), or sloppy camera footage inside real haunted house attractions. I suspect that the script must have been written when the writer (and star of the movie), Zack Andrews, was stoned.

    4. Nobody tries to explain why they need six video cameras (with infinite batteries and storage space) strapped to the inside and outside of their RV. How many times are they going to want to watch something from the position of their tire? Or what you can see behind the vehicle?

    5. I think one of the main characters was supposed to be a serial killer, but nobody ever really seemed bothered that the dude brought girls to the RV at night, and then he wore their clothes the next morning after the girl disappeared. They were too busy discussing where they should go next while rolling up joints.

    6. While walking toward one of their nightly haunted houses, one of characters said something to the effect that it looked like it was made by bored teenagers. Which is funny, because I had just thought the same thing about the movie.  I think most of the budget was spent on those rubber masks you can buy from Halloween stores starting about Labor Day.

    7. Some of the footage inside the haunted houses had some chilling and unsettling moments. I think. It's too bad the person holding the camera was usually screaming and waving the camera around, so you mostly just saw blurs of light and plastic or plywood walls.

    8. For some reason, a couple of the monsters in one of the haunted houses appeared again halfway across the country an another house. I'm not sure if this meant supernatural trickery was happening, or if the filmmakers just couldn't afford another mask.

    9. This could have been an interesting movie. But once again, the no-budget found footage gimmick, combined with a rambling script that never answered any of the questions it made you ask, turned this film into something more boring than watching pumpkin seeds dry.

    Sunday, October 4, 2015

    The Martian (USA, 2015)

    Nine Things About the Film The Martian

    1. This is probably the science fiction film with the most actual science that I've ever seen.

    2. Based on a book by the same name, it's about a crew exploring Mars. When a huge dust storm hits, one of the crew members, Mark, is punched in the gut by piece of equipment and the crew leaves him for dead. Of course, he's not dead.

    3. The movie goes back and forth between Mark's efforts to survive on Mars, and NASA's efforts to save him - and everybody can only use science and math. That's it. That's the whole plot. There's no violence, or aliens, or space battles (although technically there is one space pirate).

    4. NASA consulted closely on this film to make it as accurate as possible, including the surface of Mars. So it's also kind of a commercial for NASA. But that's OK. Anything that encourages scientific education is fine with me.

    5. There are two big scientific inaccuracies in the film - a storm on Mars couldn't be that strong, and the lack of atmosphere means Mark would have died of cancer. Additionally, I'm personally really suspicious of the "Iron Man maneuver". However, I think these are acceptable fudges, because they make the movie possible, and it is worth being made. The really cool things Mark does are basically real, even the way he makes water.

    6. It's nice to see an accurate portrayal of a mission like this, that relies on the delicate interplay of many different specialties, such as physics, chemistry, botany, and math. Nobody gets to be a superhero, but anybody can cause a mission to fail.

    7. The cast is not only talented, but diverse. It's really great to see males and females of various races all being smart together. It's a subtle message that subjects in science, math, and engineering are for anyone who wants to study them (by the way, am I the only person that thinks Donald Glover is a really good actor and deserves much bigger roles than what he gets?).

    8. Director Ridley Scott said he thinks the theme of the movie is that nobody is really alone. Which is funny, because I saw the exact opposite theme.

    9. This movie is a rarity in Hollywood - it's entertainment mixed with actual learning. If you need action, or flashy special effects and interstellar drama, you're going to be disappointed. But with a story this compelling and realistic, I wouldn't be surprised to see a boost in science and math majors as a result of this movie.

    Saturday, October 3, 2015

    Unfriended (USA, 2015)

    Nine Things About the Movie Unfriended

    1. This is not a great movie, but is much better than I expected. It's an innovative take on the tired "found footage" gimmick so popular in horror films today, and is an impressive attempt at a new type of storytelling.

    2.  It was produced by Timur Bekmambetov, who is best known for directing the Russian fantasy/horror classics "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" a decade ago.

    3. The entire movie takes place in real time, on one computer screen. All the acting is done through video chats and instant messaging. For people not used to seeing the ability of young people to casually and expertly multi-task using modern technology - or who find it annoying - the movie will be a big turn-off. But that very ability is the ironic hinge of the entire movie.

    4.  The story is about five friends talking online one evening, who are joined by a mysterious sixth person connected to the one-year anniversary of the suicide of one of their classmates.

    5. The smart thing for the kids to do would be to turn off their computers about 10 minutes into the movie. But of course they won't do that. They can't. Computers and phones are their interface with the world, and they attempt to negotiate the intrusions of the stranger in terms of that reality.

    6. In an impressive feat of authenticity, the movie uses real programs like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Google, and even LiveLeak, instead of generic imitations that you usually find in movies.

    7. The supernatural aspects of the film are stupid and boring. But I think this movie is just pretending to be a horror film. It's not actually about a spirit looking for revenge. It's about the horrific ramifications that can follow from careless and thoughtless actions.

    8. The movie uses the horror genre as an entrance to explore other issues such as cyber-bullying, technology as an authentic extension of real life, the self-destructive nature of high school relationships, and the self-centered stupidity of the teenage years as a whole. In this context, the movie is actually kind of compelling.

    9. If you want an actual horror film, watch something else. If you don't understand modern technology, watch something else. At it's heart, this is a Generation-Y teen movie that explores themes going all the way back to Rebel Without a Cause. But what makes this movie different (and more relevant) than those other teen films is the exploration of how fleeting teenage mood swings are no longer quickly felt and forgotten; they are too easily turned into permanent public records that can literally come back to haunt you.

    Sunday, September 27, 2015

    Black Mass (USA, 2014)

    Nine Things About the Movie Black Mass

    1. This movie depicts the bizarre true story of the infamous Boston mobster/FBI informant Whitey Bulger in the late 1970's, and how he manipulated everything and everybody around him to eliminate his mafia rivals and control most of Boston's organized crime.

    2. This movie is unusual for an organized-crime film because there's not very much action. There are a few violent scenes, but the story revolves around more themes than just "kill my enemies and get more power".

    3. The movie is actually about layers of loyalty, and what decisions people make when different layers overlap and conflict with each other.

    4. The cast is great and the movie is well-acted, but there are quite a few interweaving stories, so even the great actors (like Benedict Cumberbatch) don't always get a lot of screen time.

    5. Johnny Depp is pretty mesmerizing as Whitey Bulger. He almost vibrates with suppressed tension and rage in every scene, and you get the deep, uneasy feeling that no matter how calm Bulger is, whenever someone approaches him, they enter a minefield set by a psychopath.

    6. There is a really interesting running commentary in the film about snitching. In Bulger's world, snitching is worthy of death, even if you're snitching on the enemy. And yet Bulger is OK with becoming an FBI informant because it serves his own agenda. So the movie is also about rationalizing your actions, even if technically you're a hypocrite.

    7. It took me awhile to figure out why the title of the movie is "Black Mass", but it actually made sense when I thought about it after seeing the movie.

    8. The movie is also a very illuminating perspective on corruption, and the old saying "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, but these actions can have simultaneously different reasons and results, depending on which way you look at it - and who you're being loyal to at the time.

    9. If you want another version of Goodfellas, this is not the movie you are looking for. And it's not the best crime drama ever made. But it is an intelligent and absorbing reflection on the issues and psychology that underlie the violent gangster news headlines.

    Saturday, September 26, 2015

    The Green Inferno (USA, 2015)

    Nine Things About the Movie The Green Inferno

    1. Horror director Eli Roth made this movie as a tribute to the cannibal genre of Italian horror films of the late 1970's and early 1980's.

    2. By making this movie rated R, the movie gave up the ability to really go for the guts (so to speak), so it's weak sauce compared to the grindhouse classics that inspired it, like "Cannibal Holocaust" and "Cannibal Ferox" (those two films didn't even bother getting a rating, so their violently cruel scenes are still infamous and remarkable, even 40 years later).

    3. This movie is about a group of annoying, over-privileged college students who take a trip to Peru to protest the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the natives that live there. The plane crashes, and the students meet some natives that torture and eat them, I guess because Amazon natives hate all white people.

    4. It seems like Roth knew that making a full-on cannibalistic massacre of white people would not be successful, so he tried to justify the violence by stapling it to the end of a different movie about saving the rainforest. This way, Roth is apparently trying to use the movie to make a satirical statement about social activism or the inescapable cruelty of the modern world. But all the activists are clueless morons manipulated by cynical masterminds, so the message is muddled, and none of it matters anyway once the cannibals show up.

    5. The violence is fairly extreme for an American horror movie, but there's really not that much of it; the cannibals don't meet the students until the movie is half over. The movie is not scary at all. It's actually part comedy, in that Eli Roth way. This isn't always a good thing - the stoned cannibal scene is kind of gruesomely humorous, but it also completely takes away any sense of menace or dread the movie had built up.

    6. There are some memorable lines in the movie, like "I can smell them cooking my friend!" and "It's good they ate Josh first. He should last them almost a week."

    7. The script is not very smooth, and the movie seems like it had story lines cut out of it - there are scenes and characters that feel like they were supposed to be part of something bigger. That's the only explanation I have for the diarrhea scene.

    8. The end of the movie doesn't make any sense except to set things up for a sequel. Or else it was Roth's way to deny charges that the movie is racist (I'll let you decide for yourself whether the movie is actually, or intentionally, racist).

    9. This is dumb, gory fun, and if you didn't know that cannibal movies used to be a thing, you may be impressed. But it's also kind of boring. And if you're a fan of the original genre, this movie will be pretty tame. It might make you miss the old days when filmmakers didn't care about political correctness or getting the highest box office.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2015

    Creep (USA, 2014)

    Nine Things About the Movie Creep

    1. This is a found-footage horror film. People have been making found-footage horror films for almost 40 years, but for some reason film-makers still think they work.

    2. This is not only one of the worst found-footage horror films I've ever seen, it's one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It's not even "so bad it's good". It's just a piece of crap.

    3. It's about a guy named Aaron that answers a Craigslist ad to go film a guy named Josef for 8 hours. Josef says he's dying of cancer and wants to make a movie for his unborn son (in the only honest moment of the movie, they at least admit they're copying the Michael Keaton film My Life).

    4. From Josef's very first scene, you know he's the title of the movie. There are absolutely no surprises (or scares) in the whole thing. There are a few lame attempts at jump scares, but I didn't realize I was supposed to jump until after it was over.

    5. It was written by two guys named Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice. It stars Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice. It was directed by Patrick Brice. I never want to see a movie with either one of them ever again.

    6.  The movie was originally going to be called Peachfuzz, but they changed it because they didn't want to confuse the audience. If you are one of the unfortunate people that saw this movie, you will understand why it was going to be called that. Personally, I think Peachfuzz is a better title because it gives a better idea of how stupid the movie is.

    7. Any adult that calls feet "tootsies" and taking a bath "tubby time" is automatically not my friend. Neither is anyone that can be knocked unconscious with a little bit of Benadryl in their whiskey. Neither is anyone that carries their camera everywhere except to where they're going to be killed.

    8.  My friend and I had a fun time adding our own dialogue to the movie, and laughing when the characters actually said it.

    9. OK, I'll be honest - I guess if you've never seen a horror movie before, this might be a little scary. But if you have seen any horror movie in your life, then just do yourself a favor and go do laundry instead. Nothing serious or threatening or creepy ever occurs. The only thing that really happens here is that you waste 80 minutes of your life.

    Sunday, August 30, 2015

    Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (USA, 2015)

                                 Nine Things About the Movie                                 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

    1. This is the fifth Mission:Impossible movie. It's mildly entertaining and fun to watch, but I think it's time they officially changed the name of the franchise to Movie:Impossible. They have seriously left reality behind.

    2. For being the fifth movie about super-spies, there's barely a plot; it can be summarized in two sentences. The CIA has shut down the IMF because they always make a mess of things. Ethan Hunt goes rogue to find a dude that belongs to a mysterious new group of bad guys called The Syndicate. If you haven't seen any of the other films, don't worry. You can just jump right in.

    3. The movie has become a caricature of what the series used to be. It's almost half comedy. It is melodramatic and overacted. There are cheese-ball lines like when the CIA director says, "Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny."

    4. The movie tries to build up suspense, but the main actors do all the dangerous missions, so you know that nothing is going to happen to them. Actually, now that I think about it, not very many people die at all in this movie. And when they do, there's no blood.

    5. The technology is as fun as it is impossible. Saxophones turn into sniper rifles. Police batons turn into sniper rifles. Opera programs turn into computer screens. Holographic keys open any lock. Tablets remotely control Russian airplane doors and reboot super-secret security bases. And catwalk hand railings turn into sniper rifles.

    6. There are more plot holes than bullet holes in this movie. And that's a lot of holes. But the movie avoids confronting all of its problems by just never stopping. It goes from one mission to the next, and everybody betrays everybody else so many times that you really don't have time to pause and reflect on the fact that it's all completely illogical, inconsistent, and, well, impossible.

    7. Rebecca Ferguson is a new actress, but she's one of the best parts of the movie. She's both sultry and kick-ass as the double/triple/whatever agent Ilsa. Just ignore the sexist undercurrents of her character and the way she is filmed.

    8. There are only one or two good chase scenes in the movie. But there are a lot of gadgets that beep, and many things flash red or green.

    9. The cast of the movie seems like they had fun making the movie, and that shows on screen. In the end, that's what it is - harmless fun.  It manages to stay just above boring, a flashy but empty distraction from real life.

    Saturday, August 29, 2015

    The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (USA, 2006)

                         Nine Things About the Film                                  The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

    1. This is the film version of the super-depressing cult novel by J.T. Leroy (the bizarre story of the author is a completely different topic). While the book consists of 10 distinct but connected short stories, the movie sews them all together into a more-or-less coherent story.

    2. This low-budget, independent movie follows the childhood of a boy named Jeremiah, and how he is repeatedly abused and dehumanized in just about every way, by just about every adult in his life, as his mentally unstable mother wrecks their world.

    3. The movie should come with a trigger warning for child abuse.

    4. It was directed by Asia Argento, the daughter of the super-famous Italian movie-maker Dario. Asia stars in the movie as the mother, Sarah (although for most of the movie I thought Uma Thurman was playing the role).

    5. The acting in this movie is amazing. Argento is furiously effective as the crazy drug addict prostitute who is unable to stop emotionally abusing her son. And Jimmy Bennett gave a heart-stopping performance as the 7-year-old Jeremiah (Bennett has gone on to have a real acting career, but he deserves more recognition).

    6. There are cameos and small roles by a number of actors who are famous in their own circles; Jeremy Sisto, Ben Foster, and Michael Pitt (more hardcore indie film fans will recognize Kip Pardue and John Robinson). Peter Fonda is great as Jimmy's grandfather, the abusive head of a religious cult. Fans of Jeremy Renner may be surprised to know that way before he became a superhero, he was a child molester in this movie. Winona Ryder has a great few minutes playing an insensitive social worker.

    7. The movie follows Jeremiah's mental confusion and developmental problems with more guts than most movies about child abuse. One of the emotional climaxes of the movie is a very disturbing encounter with trailer-park-trash Marilyn Manson.

    8. By the time the movie spirals into a gender-bending, poison-filled psychological implosion, you see that Jeremiah's dehumanization is a symptom of a more wide-spread sickness of society in general (in a super-meta literary technique, Jeremiah himself is a symbol of the Bible verse that inspired the title of the book and movie).

    9. The movie is hard to watch, but it's also almost impossible to turn away. An underground classic with a surprising cast, this is one of the best films I've seen about the mutilation of innocence, and the tragic ways that kids can adapt to almost anything.

    Friday, August 28, 2015

    Martyrs (France, 2008)

    Nine Things About the Film Martyrs

    1. One of the best horror movies ever made, this film is considered part of the French New Extremity movement. It's a masterpiece that takes no prisoners, and is on almost every critic's list of most disturbing horror films.

    2. This movie is savage in every sense of the word. It's also extremely divisive - people love it or hate it.

    3. The movie combines supernatural horror, psychological horror... and the absolute pinnacle of torture porn.

    4. The movie starts with a traumatized girl running screaming through the streets. That's the happiest part of the whole movie.

    5. Without giving too much away, the main plot is about a girl named Lucie who survived extreme child abuse. She becomes best friends with a girl named Anna, who wants to help Lucie heal. Things don't go the way Anna planned.

    6. There are hardly any men in the movie. The few male characters that do appear are not nice. But it is noted several times in the movie that this is not about rape. There is no sexual abuse in the entire film.

    7. The movie directly challenges religion and faith at the deepest, most fundamental level. This makes a lot of people uncomfortable, if not downright angry.

    8.  The sadism in this movie is something only the French can approach. America doesn't have the guts to make a movie like this (even though they tried).

    9. If you are wondering whether you should watch this movie or not, that means you probably shouldn't. It's not a film for casual or beginning horror fans. It's a philosophically devastating, existential atom bomb that calls into question the very purpose of existence.

    Sunday, August 23, 2015

    Sinister 2 (USA, 2015)

    Nine Things About the Film Sinister 2

    1. This feverish experience is one of the best horror films of the year.

    2. You don't have to see the first movie to see this one, but I highly recommend it. The context of the film won't make a lot of sense without it. And part of the intensity of this movie is because you know the secret, but the people in the movie don't.

    3. It follows Deputy So & So after the events of the first film. Obsessed with stopping Bughuul, he comes across a woman with two sons who have unkowingly attracted the pagan deity. While the mother deals with her ex-husband, dead kids appear to one of the boys and show him snuff films in the basement (if the snuff films in the first movie bothered you, you should know that these are worse).

    4. As with the first movie, the use of sound in this film is an experience in itself, expertly cutting together music and effects to heighten the hallucinatory nature of what's going on.

    5. In a super rare occurrence for a horror film, there is actually a second plot line. I mean, this is like a real movie. While some will be annoyed by the extra story because it takes away from the supernatural stuff, it's a great development that makes the characters real people, so that you actually care what happens to them. It's also a grim reminder that some things in real life are just as scary as a ghost.

    6. The movie quickly but cleverly uses an obscure, but actually real, phenomenon known as "numbers stations" to give a greater scope to Bughuul's actions.

    7. There are some good jump scares in the movie. But the filmmakers know the difference between a "scary movie" and a "horror movie". By making the film rated R, they gave up some viewers that would have seen it if it were PG-13. They use that harder rating to their full advantage, making this an actual horror film. This movie is NOT for kids.

    8. There is a quick, easy-to-miss conversation between two characters that bring up the idea of "aesthetic observation of violence." If you want to get all meta, you can apply that concept to the movie you're watching, and get some uncomfortable insights into the nature of horror itself.

    9. If you like your horror movies to be the flash-bang generic type, like "The Conjuring", then this film may not be your thing. But if you want your horror movies to mean something, to stick with you, and even make you genuinely uncomfortable, then you owe it to both yourself and the horror genre to watch this film.

    Saturday, August 22, 2015

    Sinister (USA, 2012)

    Nine Things About the Movie Sinister

    1. This is one of those "a family moves into a house where a murder occurred and they live to regret it" movies.

    2. It's about a true-crime writer that finds a box of home movies in his new attic. The home movies are actually snuff films.

    3. The beginning title scene is one of the creepiest movie openings I've ever seen.

    4. The movie is pretty predictable, but it's not boring. It goes from one creepy scene to the next without many breaks.

    5. The tension is broken because it gets a little silly at times. The dad follows horror-movie logic. However, there are attempts to logically explain why he does what he does. It doesn't always work, but it's nice to see.

    6. Given the rather upsetting subject matter of the film, there isn't much actual blood or gore.

    7. The home movies are the most disturbing parts of the film. The "Lawn Work" home movie shows the least, but upset me the most.

    8. The movie uses the regular ripoffs of "Poltergeist", "The Amityville Horror" and "The Shining". But it gives everything a fresh coat of paint.

    9. The soundtrack and sound effects are really well done. The movie provides a great case study for people who pay attention to sound design.

    "The Look of Silence" (Denmark, 2015)

    Nine Things About the Film The Look of Silence

    1. In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by a part of the military, which resulted in the murder of about a million people. This act of genocide was pretty much ignored by the world (including Indonesia itself), and became the subject of Joshua Oppenheimer's brain-melting 2012 documentary, The Act of Killing.  In that movie, the killers (who are still in power today) were interviewed. They freely spoke of the tortures and murders they committed. They even re-enacted their crimes, sometimes in the style of a Hollywood movie.

    2. The Look of Silence is not really a sequel to The Act of Killing. It's more like the other half of it. The main subject of this documentary is Adi Runkun, a village eye doctor who met Oppenheimer during the filming of his movie. Runkun saw some of Oppenheimer's interviews and realized that a couple of the killers were talking about how they tortured and murdered his older brother. So Runkun decided to give free eye exams to his brother's killers, and then confront them with what they did. Oppenheimer agreed to film the "interviews", and the killers allowed it because they still trusted him (this film was completed before The Act of Killing was released in theaters).

    3. This film does not have the surreal, reality-warping shock value of The Art of Killing. Instead, it goes in the opposite direction. It zooms all the way in to look at one family still dealing with the aftereffects of genocide, 50 years later. It's a somber meditation on different kinds of silence: denial, fear, victim-hood, history, and being surrounded by murderers.

    4. Most of the Indonesian cast and crew are listed as "Anonymous" in the credits, because they are afraid they will be killed if people know they helped make this movie.

    5. Runkun risked his life to do these confrontations (he had to move after he finished the movie). It's amazing to watch him approach the killers and their families. It's just as agonizing to watch him learn that things are closer to him than he thought.

    6. The movie kind of eats at you like an acid mist. It starts out being slow moving, maybe even a little irritating. And then about halfway through, you realize the movie has melted through your skin and is disintegrating your bones.

    7. Oppenheimer turns the rules of documentary film-making upside down. He doesn't pretend he's not there. The people in the film don't ignore him or the camera. Some of the people being interviewed talk directly to him, even though he's not in the shot. And while the conversations are natural, the physical set-up of some of the scenes is very obviously staged. Oppenheimer transforms documentaries into art.

    8. Although the movie is made up almost entirely of conversations, there are several scenes that have burned themselves into my mind and will probably never leave.

    9. This film sounds totally fake, but it's not. It's an extraordinary achievement, and will change the way you see the world. It deserves any award it wins. It's also utterly depressing and can make you lose faith in humanity. After it was over, I just wanted to be by myself and not talk to anyone.

    Sunday, August 16, 2015

    Straight Outta Compton (USA, 2015)

    Nine Things About the Movie Straight Outta Compton

    1.This movie is an interesting, intelligent - and kind of revisionist - history of the rise and fall of revolutionary hip-hop group N.W.A., and the way they punched America in the face.

    2. The movie starts in 1986, when five young men in Compton, California, form a loose group to develop and play what they call "reality rap" to play in local clubs. When music manager Jerry Heller discovers them, he helps to make them famous.

    3. The movie is really about the clash of two ruthless cultures: urban black street life and the music business. It does a great job of weaving American music history, contemporary culture, and interpersonal relationships together. It is not preachy, nor is it angry. It's a real movie.

    4. The five main actors are pretty unknown, but they do a great job handling such iconic characters. I was especially impressed by Jason Mitchell, who played Eazy-E.  And to be honest, I wasn't expecting much out of O'Shea Jackson, Jr., but he surprised me by how well he played his own real-life father.

    5. Considering how much of the group's history and lifestyle is common knowledge, it is fascinating (and disappointing) to see it being re-written right in front of our eyes. This movie is also an attempt to romanticize and make a new hero-myth out of a legitimately controversial group.

    6. The group was well-known for their song "Fuck the Police", which became kind of an anthem for disaffected urban youth. It serves a prominent role in the movie. But they were also just as well-known for their horrific attitudes towards women - they really helped solidify sexist rape culture in hip-hop. The movie does not play the song "One Less Bitch", which is about gang-raping and killing women.

    7.  Dr. Dre, who co-produced the movie, is receiving a fair amount of criticism for using the movie to erase the history of his own troubles with women. Perhaps the most infamous incident - when he picked up journalist Dee Barnes by the hair and repeatedly bashed her face into a wall - was not even mentioned.

    8. The concert scene in Detroit, when the group was arrested after playing "Fuck the Police", is a nice piece of cinema, and portrays the group as unofficial heroes of free speech. It also never happened.

    9. If you can separate the story from the history, and focus on the movie itself, this is a great film. It's a unique American epic, and shows that some of the issues America faced in the late 1980's haven't progressed very far. There is enough historical authenticity to be educational as well as entertaining. Just keep in mind that in the end, this movie is focused on entertainment.