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*NOTE: Some films are listed as 2013 but were not given a theatrical release until 2014.
*NOTE: Some films are listed as 2013 but were not given a theatrical release until 2014.
The Invitation (2015)
The Sunshine of Psychological Thrillers
The Invitation is a slowly paced, carefully constructed psychological thriller. Will and his girlfriend are attending a dinner party at his old house, hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband. It's an understandably awkward situation for Will, whose eyes we, the audience, are watching the events through. As the film moves forward, the past is revealed and we come to understand why these characters are where they are. As this happens, questions about the present intentions of the characters become more predominant. As Will becomes more suspicious and paranoid, we do too. The subtle way in which this is done is absolutely brilliant.
There comes a point where The Invitation begins to elevate itself into a devastatingly effective and tragic character study. Instead, the filmmakers decided to give the film a more audience-friendly twist, lowering the final act to the level of a cliché horror show. It almost works, as in the moment it is very satisfying. However, what follows is so terribly executed, it undermines what had been such an intelligent, tense, thought-provoking, mysteriously eerie, paranoid-inducing thriller.
As disappointing as the final act is, the majority of The Invitation makes it worth watching. But, with a warning. The Invitation is to psychological thrillers what Danny Boyle's Sunshine is to science-fiction.
The Hallow (2015)
Best Creature Feature since The Descent
The Hallow begins with an all too familiar premise. A couple have moved into an old house in the middle of nowhere and they are receiving threatening warnings from other folks living in the area about dark forces at work in the forest that surrounds them.
Director Corin Hardy boldly takes this clichéd plot into new territory, blurring the lines between fantasy, body horror and a creature feature.
Story aside, there are quite a few moments during the first 45 minutes where the characters make infuriating decisions. This is quite typical of almost all horror films. Horror film writers need to understand that they can find more creative ways to put their characters in danger rather than have them make stupid decisions to try to heighten the tension. In fact, it doesn't heighten the tension at all. It only makes the characters look dumb, therefore, making it harder for us to relate to and to root for. For instance, how people drive in a panic when being chased. Is driving that fast off-road in a family sedan with a baby in the backseat ever a good idea? Probably not.
Despite these issues, The Hallow is actually an effective and scary film. There is a dreadful atmosphere captured right at the beginning. The director takes a big risk in choosing to show us the dark forces at work and they look truly terrifying. The creature designs and make-up effects artists deserve a lot of credit.
The Hallow may not have the most original plot and the characters make some questionable decisions but it goes beyond what most horror films dare to do. It's a dark, morbid fairy tale and it is actually frightening without having to rely on jump scares.
How to Ruin What Could Have Been A Masterpiece
The Witch was the film I was anticipating most out of all the films slated to be released in 2016. I can not think of a word that means beyond disappointed.
There are many possibilities in the first act that tease subjects the film could go on to explore in-depth. Instead they all lead to dead ends. In a way, the entire film is a tease of bigger ideas that are traded in for a cliché horror ending.
A film like The Witch can choose to be ambiguous or it can give the audience a sense of satisfaction. The Witch tries to do both and in doing this, the ending betrays everything that came before it. Casual audiences may be somewhat satisfied as the end credits begin to roll. However, those of us who love films that demand multiple viewings will feel cheated or, even worse, indifferent. The writer/director takes away any sense of lingering mystery, he takes away any want or need we may have had to watch the film again. It's like watching a painter dump a bucket of water all over a painting we just watched them meticulously paint for hours. It all seems like a complete waste. And it is.
The trailers for The Witch are more frightening than the film itself. However, The Witch's biggest sin is how forgettable it all is in the end. And that is unforgivable.
A Guide through the Dark Side of Entertainment
An exploration through the dark side of entertainment. A feverish introspective nightmare of a character who remains more mysterious by the end of the film than at the beginning. Entertainment drags us along on a slow road trip through the desert with a comedian who loses his self along the way. The line between reality and dreams become completely blurred. The whole film seems like an inside joke the filmmakers refuse to let us in on. Sure, there are funny moments, especially during the first half, but by the end you'll be left with more questions than answers.
It's emotionally heavy, bizarre, heart-breaking, surreal and even somewhat disturbing. What is truly masterful is how, without ever fully understanding who this character is, the film causes us to lose our sense of reality with him. He is explored, with great depth, inwardly without us ever sure of who he is on the outside. Rick Alverson has perfectly re-created the dream logic story telling techniques and beautifully strange cinematography of a David Lynch film. Yet, he does this using his own voice, which is strikingly original. Entertainment is somewhere between a broken character study, an absurdist comedy and modern tragedy.
Entertainment is not for everyone and if you try using your brain while watching it, you may give yourself a migraine. If you try to use your heart to feel your way through, you won't be sure where to put it and may feel depressed afterwards. This film is a trip that you have to allow to wash over you. Let yourself get lost in it's wonderful visuals and be sure to have friends to discuss it with afterwards.
Actually a decent addition to the Vacation series
Vacation is actually a sequel to National Lampoon's Vacation series and should not be considered a reboot. In fact, this actually makes a pretty worthy 4th installment as it's better than Vegas Vacation and anything that came after it.
Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are great leads and work really well together. It has some well-earned laugh-out-loud moments but what shines through what should have been a complete failure is the way in which Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold.
It's far from a great film but it does a good job of mixing the old 80's absurd slapstick comedy and the modern adult shock humour, creating a unique mix that somehow stays grounded. It never succumbs to the cartoon antics of Dumb and Dumber To yet it doesn't take itself so serious that the drama overshadows the comedy. It's not so much that we are getting jokes we've never seen before, what we are getting is genuine characters reacting to ridiculous situations in a very human way.
It's dirty, vulgar, raunchy and completely inappropriate, which is exactly what we need comedy to be right now. Vacation is also surprisingly heart-warming at it's core. In a time when comedies are struggling to stay irrelevant and as politically incorrect as possible, an R-rated family vacation movie is refreshing even if it's far from original.
Deep, Dark and Tense
Sicario is gritty, dark and brutal. It is as intense as action-thrillers get. Like Emily Blunt's character, you just go along for this ride not knowing exactly what is going on or who to trust. All lines between right and wrong are blurred. The more that is revealed, the further we descend into this horrific world and the greater the tension grows. This is one of those rare films where you'll find yourself forgetting to breathe and blink.
Denis Villeneuve has just proved to be the most powerful director working in thrillers today. Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy and now Sicario. There is magic between Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Sicario grabs you from the opening scene, like an invisible hand that reaches inside your rib cage and squeezes. Just when you think it has let go to give you a little break, it suddenly squeezes harder than ever, forcing all the oxygen out of your lungs. It's not exactly a fun experience, it's a shockingly real thrill ride that takes you further than you expect these kinds of films to take you. The original tagline said it best, "The deeper you go, the darker it gets."
The Family Guy of Spy Movies
The Family Guy of Spy movies is here. A sneeze joke, a bat poop joke, awkward unrequited love jokes, a pink-eye joke and fart jokes all within the first 35 minutes. Also, like all of Paul Feig's films, you have Melissa McCarthy being humiliated for over 2 hours. What's new about this one? We get to see Jude Law play an infallible character while Jason Statham completely debases himself in his most embarrassing role to-date. Then there's Peter Serafinowicz as Aldo, a sexual deviant who spends every moment he has on-screen trying to molest McCarthy.
What about the action? There's isn't any shaky camera effects but it's filled with quick cuts and terrible special effects. Even worse, Feig randomly uses slow-motion during action stunts, which becomes annoyingly repetitive and is completely pointless. Unlike the The Wachowskis, Zack Snyder and Matthew Vaughn, who have mastered this effect, making it a part of their style, Paul Feig makes it clear he has no idea what he's doing. Truly, a terrible writer and director with bad taste and no style of his own.
Can Paul Feig degrade women on-screen any further? As bottom of the barrel as the jokes are through-out this atrocity, the only thing that isn't made fun of is McCarthy's weight. Yet, every other aspect about her appearance and personality is targeted for cheap laughs.
So, what can we learn from Spy? You can humiliate a woman in every way possible, even sexual assault, as long as you don't mention her weight. Also, we're all going to need to come together and boycott the new Ghostbusters because Paul Feig should never be allowed to make another film again. Ever.
Listen Up Philip (2014)
Listen Up Philip is a messy character-driven piece in which, oddly enough, the narration is the best part of the film. This is not a film for everyone. The two male leads are pretentious fools that, despite all of their knowledge, lack any true wisdom and consistently make terrible choices. By the end, it's difficult to even feel any pity for them. The female characters, on the other hand, are the saving grace of the story and the actresses are terrific in their roles.
It's far from a typical storyline. Even with the narration, it's hard to say what the plot is, if there is one at all. The film has us enter and exit these characters lives at their most sad, desperate and difficult. Some will find it to be an insightful dark comedy while others will find it to be a pointless, drab drama that is frustrating to watch. The most bothersome aspect is the unsteady hand-held camera work, which comes and goes needlessly.
Listen Up Philip is like only reading the middle chapters of a novel. Fans of Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson and Woody Allen's films may find a lot to enjoy here but if you're not a fan of character studies, this won't be for you.
7 Chinese Brothers (2015)
Another likable loser
Jason Schwartzman is Larry, a pill-popping alcoholic who lacks any ambition whatsoever. When Larry isn't getting fired or looking for a new job he can make a joke of, he spends his time visiting his grandmother in a nursing home and talking to his dog.
Schwartzman seems to be the go-to actor for insightful, comical and somewhat dark character studies. Though he is quite charming in this quirky role, 7 Chinese Brothers isn't really insightful at all. There are a few funny moments here and there but when the film takes a more serious, dramatic turn towards the end, the most unpredictable thing is how inconsequential everything turns out to be.
It's a sad story about a likable loser, like many of the characters Schwartzman plays. When it's revealed why this character is the way he is, it makes sense but it's hard to feel anything for him due to his unwillingness to admit his true feelings and embrace the opportunities given to him.
People Places Things (2015)
Disconnected and Passionless
Jemaine Clement plays a soft-spoken, passive, naive graphic novelist, university teacher and newly single father of two young girls. People, Places, Things is about the struggles of learning to let go and move forward after having your heart broken. That's pretty much it. Jemaine Clement plays his role somewhat passionless. It's hard to tell if it was a lack of dedication on his part or how writer/director James C. Strouse chose to make the character. The heart of the film is the character as a fun father but it doesn't seem like he is comfortable showing his daughters much affection. There is a very clear disconnection between him and the other characters in the film, which kind of leaves us feeling indifferent to him and his situation.
Though the film follows Clement's character, all the female characters act circles around him and steal the show. Regina Hall, Jessica Williams, Stephanie Allynne, Aundrea Gadsby and Gia Gadsby all have much more interesting characters and are outstanding in their roles. It's a shame we didn't get to spend more time with them.
This is suppose to be a heart-felt dramatic comedy but it's not funny and the heart is on auto-pilot, just slowly going through the motions, not fully present. The most insight we get from the main character is through his art, which was clever and needed, as through-out most of the film he seems bored and stale.