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Dark Was the Night (2014)
Could Have Been Great
Directed by a man from Kentucky, a monster/horror film and starring one of my personal favorite underrated actors (Kevin Durand) I was intrigued to check out Dark Was the Night despite the name. It sounds kinda cool but once thought about you half expect it to be directed by Captain Obvious. (Because no crap, it's dark at night)
Bright Was The Day still brings the good stuff for at-least the first 2.5 acts. A nice, slow burn, mysterious story about a Father (Durand) with a painful past trying to prove to himself he's capable of keeping his family safe. Then something screwed up comes to town and gives him the chance to x 5000.
The tension builds in an already paranoid small town when animals start to go missing and freaky hoof prints are found all over the place (No really, but they pull it off nicely). Things feel less dumb horror movie and more J.J. Abrams style Monster Mystery at this point as we slowly unravel the menace along with Sheriff Shields (Durand).
Director Jack Heller does a great job of using atmosphere & slowly delving out creepy hints rather than throwing out empty jump scares. Also working for him is Durand who overcomes a done-a-thousand-times back story and manages to deliver his heartache & intention with sincerity. Plus the dude just looks and acts like a leading man. He's a kick-butt Schwarzenegger type believable hero who can also act. He's usually the best part of everything he's in & it's nice to see him get to keep the cameras attention throughout.
Remember those few episodes of Lost when we didn't know the monster was just a stupid cloud of black smoke? They do almost as good of a job hiding their perpetrator here, just showing us enough to keep us scared. Maybe they knew that once we saw the evil full form, we would lose interest.
Just as things are reaching peak intensity and they create a killer moment for us to chew on everything goes flat. Mainly the special effects kill all the momentum and end our hopes of scary time goodness. The tension is literally sucked out of the film in a single ugly moment. The shock and horror instead comes from just how bad the special effects look and I think the film makers knew it because they go for a really stupid final horror moment that undermines its best character arc and renders it useless. But damn, they started off really nicely.
6.5/10 Dark Was the Night is watchable because of the well crafted pacing by Jack Heller & Kevin Durand. Damn that final act though. This is a film worthy of a re-make with a better budget for better special effects and Cinematography. As long as they could keep the same players! Just give them the money to make this look the way it should.
Inside Out (2015)
Emotional Gut Punches
Good lord, people love Pixar. The theaters in town were packed with poor souls with twenty seven kids, grown men without kids and us taking our 5 year old Daughter to the movies. Whats more intriguing is every kid in a packed audience shutting up from start to finish. Grown people don't even do that. (They should though, you know who you are)
That says something. When Pixar nails it, they really nail it and with Inside Out, they nailed it. It starts off hitting you in the face with emotional Mike Tyson uppercuts and ear bites. It may help that I'm a dad to a little girl but hey, we were all little girls once. Or uh, little kids once.
Watching this little girl go through the tough times of life is heart wrenching. It's a great reminder of how devastatingly the outside world can effect the little ones. The originality displayed in how they crafted her mind to really project the many emotions and layers of a human psyche is truly impressive.
Inside Out really shines when they show the correlation to whats going on in the outside world & how it effects the mind and body. Seeing the Parents efforts truly change the course of a life in mere moments is some heavy stuff. The whole middle act however?
Things become less touching and innovative and lend to a more adventure-ish "gotta get from point A to point B before C happens" race when some of the emotions go haywire and have to find their way back. From here we spend a lot of our time inside the mind and imagination. Things becomes more Magic School Bus than truly breakthrough for a while and hey, that's OK. Magic School Bus was awesome. But things did get a bit average in the middle acts.
The ending brings back the correlation to real world and with it come the tears and emotions. As well as breakthrough ideas and originality. You can't help but watch and wonder the many, many places they could go with this idea. The well of emotions, stages of life, different types of people......it's an endless, genius idea. But what makes Inside Out work isn't this idea alone. We really care about this kid and her parents and we relate to their joy, fear, disgust, anger and sadness.
No really, I had man tears. 8/10
A character piece about the life of one grumpy old, senile man. His issues are laid-out in grandiose & overly sentimental melodramatics. We as an audience are slowly dragged from sad set piece to sad set piece where the conclusions are obvious if only the film would spare us the "drama" and arrive at them already.
Manglehorn is an Indie that knows its an Indie and is closer to "Prince Avalanche" than any of the Directors other works. Al Pacino kills it here but instead of focusing on the solid dramatic acting, Green decided to over-direct this right into "trying to hard to be pretentious" territory.
Manglehorn is trying to re-connect with a long lost love while slowly driving away the things he does have in his life. He's struggling to be happy. Where in that the Director feels the need to have "LSD flashback" type sequences is lost on me.
It's not original nor refreshing to slowly plod an audience around in drab and everyday circumstances, throw some folk music or a harp in the background and call it "subdued" and "special". I don't need Jurassic Park Dinosaurs or anything but I don't need to see him feed his cat 37 times to realize he loves it. I don't need to see him get his mail 32 times before you get to the point of why. I just need Pacino, with something to chew on. I just need his character to fight these demons already. I just need his struggles, his journey and his resolution.
Instead you meandered for 90% of the film and slapped it together at the end with some attempt at an thoughtful ending that landed with about as much intrigue as a happy meal toy. What a wasted Pacino performance. 3/10
Into the Storm (2014)
Was lucky enough to see this at an early screening in Ohio for our youtube channel. Twister was one of my favorite movies ever growing up and as someone who even watches "Night of the Twisters" with Devon Sawa I'm a self professed tornado movie lover so I have been excited for this one! Even if the trailers did look way too obvious with the CGI. Into the Storm starts out awful and makes a huge comeback. The characters are like the bad MTV show version of the Friday Night Lights small town characters. Or a CW show rather. Everyone is annoying and whiny with cardboard cutout issues and almost everyone is a terrible actor. Then the tornado hits. Then stuff gets awesome.
See this movie in the theater! It wont translate as well to blu ray or DVD. When the storm finally hit you can literally feel the air on your legs and the rumble in the seats from how loud these terrors are and it is more of a ride than a movie suddenly. Into the Storm manages to put you inside of the situations it presents. You see what (I would imagine) it would be like to be in a school as it is hit by a tornado. Or in a car. Or outside. It does an amazing job of putting you in harms way.
For tornado lovers? Into the Storm gets way up inside these tornados. Its total tornado porn. You see parts of these things that you didn't even know you wanted to see. Really cool, inventive ideas and one of the coolest death scenes of all time. They don't get too political with a bunch of global warming junk either. This film is all about scaring the crap out of you and having a good time with it.
By the end of the film things get so intense your even able to become emotionally invested in the terrible one dimensional characters you hated so much at the start. Some things you cant fully recover from so as a movie this is an 8/10. As far as fun movie theater experiences go though..... it's a 10.
Will Make Your &$% Numb. In a Fun Way.
Transformers 4: Age of Extinction gets better at a lot of things. Even if it still doesn't actually get anything completely right. Even if it is still full of mostly the same old garbage juice. Dizzying camera moves, slow motion shots, a downright stupid amount of buildings being crushed and the customary young girl belly button shot. Yeah, Age has all that and another hour of other unnecessary super crap that could have been cut out of the nearly 3 hour running time.
BUT! We do get to replace the whiny Shia Labeouf with the likable Mark Wahlberg. Heck, we get a fresh slate with the entire cast. Plug and play characters? Sure! Only this time the fresh crop is way more likable and sympathetic. We aren't talking Oscar nominations here or anything but after three movies of the exact same people doing the exact same things (Think Tyrese running around stating the obvious as toughly as he can pretend to be. For THREE mother loving movies.) I'd rather change my name to Witwicky than see any of that nonsense again.
There are still cringe-worthy lines throughout the script but the difference is this cast seems unload the "what the fluck did he just say?" moments as though they are in a stupid and fun blockbuster movie about toys. Offenders from the previous cast would say the same dumb shnit while trying to look cool. (See previous Tyrese comment). The jokes land a lot more when you don't want to throat punch the people saying them on screen. Hence, Extinction is also the funniest Transformer movie yet. It helps that the humor comes from actual written jokes and not just robots peeing on stuff. (see Transformers 2) Here's a big deal: the Transformers are way cooler in Age of Extinction. Sure, the people who have been into this since childhood aren't going to be completely pleased yet and they probably shouldn't be. But for those "I don't know beans about Transformers" people like me all that matters is the Autobots looks light-years cooler now than they did in the previous films. In every Michael Bay explosion porn that came before I hated just about every Autobot except Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Here we get a killer Samarai-bot, a John Goodman bot and some assassin like bad guy Transformers that use big guns.
Remember the ghetto bots? (refer again to Transformers 2) I'd rather own Jar-Jar Binks as a pet than ever see those craps again. In Extinction the bad guys are cooler and the Autobots don't make you want to jump off a building into a Mortal Kombat like pit full of spikes and skeleton bones. Also, the miniature sesame street looking things are barely in this film thank god. Oh yeah, and another thing? No big deal? Mother loving DINO BOTS. Optimus Prime with a big sword riding a m effin' Dinosaur Autobot .America.
The special effects are by far the best of the series. This thing felt like a total theme park ride at times. (Wait ..you did that on purpose you soulless goon!) Even though it may be for dirty superficial reasons that Bay wants to drop a gargagillion dollars on a single film for this, we can't really complain considering we have been seeing fit to pay the tab for it all these years. For the love of Nike commercials and gold chains you just have to laugh at the sheer fun stupidity of it all. We ask for too much from these movies. If it's a fun ride who gives a crap if it doesn't have anything to say? All that matters in Transformer land is does the fun out-weigh the boring. It passes. Although there is still too much boredom for a movie that is supposed to be this simple.
After nearly three hours Bay's camera movements become nauseating and so do the so-stupid-I-want-to-kick-my-own-face-with-an-iceskate story lines. Seriously someone PLEASE take the pen and the camera from Bay halfway through production because when you don't we end up with conversations about robot souls and I swear to god if we EVER cover the "humans don't like Autobots so they threaten to leave and come back again" thing again I'm gonna tie myself to something heavy and roll off a boat into the middle of the ocean.
Age of Extinction is more of the same, yet the best of the series. We don't have a great movie, just a fun little ride and that is just fine and dandy. Nearly three hours of mother effin' butt numbing dandy. 6.5/10
Sinister is well made, not scary
Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a writer who follows unsolved crime stories and writes books investigating them himself. He had a bestseller ten years ago called "Kentucky Blood" but hasn't had a hit since. So he moves his family into a new home where the family occupying the house had been murdered with the exception of a little girl, who was missing. Desperate for another hit book and buried under pressure from his unknowing and un-patient wife, Ellison works diligently to solve the case of the missing little girl for his new book. After coming across a box of videos in the attic of the family that was murdered he realizes he may be opening a door to something he won't be able to walk away from.
Ethan Hawke delivers a performance we aren't used to in horror films. He plays a character not sure of his own true motives. He wonders whether he is putting his family through this to save a missing child or to prove he can write a great book after his last several have failed. He closes himself off from his family out of obsession with the book yet never goes off the deep end. He is reserved and does a great job showing his inner turmoil using subtle facial expressions and line delivery rather than going off the deep end and overacting. You can sense his fear without being told about it. It's a refreshing performance for a genre not known for its acting. Especially since for the majority of the film he's the only one on screen.
Most of the horror in Sinister comes from the found footage video reels we view alongside Ellison. They document several terrible incidents; one in particular involving a lawn mower that is extremely unsettling. A lot of the other scenes meant to frighten though are much less original and less disturbing. Even with the slow burning suspense of the film; the ending scene comes fast and is slightly disappointing. It always felt as though the scares could have been taken a step further.
Sinister has a nice platform to tell a horror story and a capable actor in a role that fits him perfectly. At times the slow pace is perfectly suspenseful, leading us to believe we are in for an emotionally scarring climax (in a good way). At other times it had me rolling my eyes as plot lines were re-enforced over and over again (We get it, he needs a new bestseller!) and left me wondering if the film had enough time left after an hour and fifteen minutes passed to truly frighten. The footage Ellison finds delivers a lot of extremely eerie sequences but when the horror begins to occur in real time Sinister loses its originality and feels like a different film entirely.
The whole story and feel of the film though is pleasantly creepy and it's ultimately a well-made horror film that unfortunately falls short of being as memorable or frightening as I'd hoped. It may not have been as scary as I would have liked, but it is a good film that happens to be horror. That's rare enough to appreciate a little. 7/10
Not a horror film.
So here we are with The Last House on the Left. Sorry, I meant House at the End of the Street. Whatever. Can we start by having a serious talk with the guy picking movie names? He is really slacking off. We are here with Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and her Mom (Elisabeth Shue) moving from the big city to a small town looking for a new start. Of-course, the house next door was apparently the location of a double murder where a little girl killed her parents and then disappeared herself. The little girl's brother (Max Thieriot) still lives in the home despite the tragedy. The adults hate him because his presence keeps them from bulldozing the house and its drain on the local housing market and the teenagers hate him because his parents were murdered? There really is no explanation for this other than everyone in this town is apparently a jerk. (Just go with it. That's the best were going to get.) Elissa starts to fall for Ryan and also has a hard time understanding the massive hate he gets when her mom and the neighborhood object to their relationship. But whether it for protecting the good or serving the forces of evil, Ryan has secrets of his own and as the two get close things begin to get creepy. (Allegedly)
Minus a few jump scares that I'm not afraid to admit made me drop my popcorn due to some sharp sound editing; this is no horror flick. HATES was advertised as scary business to get the target teenage audience' butts in the seats but is merely a Suspense/Thriller with young leads. With the exception of a single twist that will shock some and slightly nudge others everything is played rather straight. There's not much new to see here and there is certainly nothing to be scared of. Even after the true evil is finally revealed, there just doesn't seem to be much of a threat at any point.
HATES is still indeed, watchable. That's mostly due to Jennifer Lawrence who shines bright amidst all the average. It's impressive how she takes something as boring as a high school girl falling for the "mysterious guy with a past", adds heart and makes it more interesting than it was written. When in danger she's believably strong willed and could be the perfect "Scream Queen" for a horror film deserving of it. Elisabeth Shue played the part of concerned mother well and Max Thieriot didn't detract either. The problems with the film are rather in its constant plot holes and lack of anything interesting, original or more importantly scary for a film that calls itself Horror.
A disturbing tale that doesn't quite hold up
Chained has you uneasy from start to finish. There are no moments of comfort as you wait for the Taxi Driver Bob (D'Onofrio) to bring home another victim or fly off the handle and abuse Rabbit at any moment. All the while we are faced with the hopelessness of Rabbit's situation. From the moment you see he has grown into an adult under the captivity of Bob, you know in your gut there may be no happy ending in site.
The casting choices for Chained are perfect. Especially Vincent D'Onofrio. With deliberately unpredictable movements and strange speech impediments make his character more realistic than you'd ever want him to be and Eamon Farren does a great job putting him-self in an unspeakably horrible situation in a role that had to be difficult to play.
If you are like me, the question you may find yourself asking is why. Why am I watching this poor kid be subjected to such a terrible life? I can only have patience for this amount of ugliness if there is a reason for it. Thankfully Chained mildly succeeds here. There is some method to the madness because they are exploring what makes a person like Bob so sadistic which is strangely fascinating. We see the interactions between these two in an unfathomably horrible situation and the relationship that unfolds through force as if we are a fly on the wall, thankful to go unnoticed. It's hard to watch but it's not ugly just for the sake of being ugly like many other films of its nature and that's what kept my attention throughout. It's torturous but it's not pointless torture porn either.
I get the feeling the ending was meant to be a shocker. It fell flat in that regard and was so off pace with the rest of the film that it leaves you in- different. There are some questions left to be answered which is sure to give you something to debate with your friends afterward. Assuming you don't feel like you need a shower immediately after watching Chained. It's a dark and dungy way to spend a couple of hours but it's not all for naught. There are a lot of interesting characterizations to explore in Chained isn't quite on the level of sensationalism it was shooting for.
Harrelson's great but Rampart goes nowhere
Woody Harrelson plays a corrupt cop named "Date Rape" Dave (and for those of you still reading, we continue) who got the moniker not from doing so but rather for allegedly killing someone who did. He also lives in something one can only call a "situation" in which he married sisters (both at different times) had kids with each, divorced each and now insists that they all live under the same two roofs in homes right next to each-other. This leads to an awkward moment in which his daughter actually asks if their family is incest. Dave is also a cop that really likes to beat people down. Not just anyone mind you, everyone. Because he is not racist, he simply hates everyone.
The whole story focuses on Dave trying to beat a charge of victim abuse when a camera catches him beating the daylights out of a perpetrator that hit his car. All the while we watch Dave womanize, take drugs, smoke about two million cigarettes and try to get his two families to love him despite his disturbing life choices.
Despite the disgusting things his character does Harrelson actually makes you feel bad for him in a few fleeting moments. All the while you know he deserves everything he gets and more but it's hard to hate him when he is watching television with his youngest daughter and cannot stop smiling at the thought of her wanting to be near him. The film is also packed with small roles by big names like Steve Buscemi and Sigourney Weaver who spice up the film but don't really add anything memorable.
Harrelson makes the film watchable with an amazing performance and like a train wreck, is hard to take your eyes off. Unfortunately, Rampart is a gritty character study that is more repetition than self discovery. See Dave womanize, disgust his family, say shocking things, beat someone up, get wasted, freak out, rinse and repeat. He gets deeper into trouble with his family and career with each endeavor and never really learns anything from it. By the films end you realize Rampart suffers the same fate as Dave in that it's not going to change its ways and is ultimately headed nowhere. 5/10
A well made film that shoots itself in the foot
Best friends Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Johnson) are genius pot dealers in Laguna. One of them is more of a "save the universe" type guy and holds a degree in Business and Botany. Yes, pot heads in High Schools everywhere just rejoiced "It's a real thing!" and the other one, suffering from anger issues stemming from tours in Iraq takes care of the "beating the crap out of people when necessary" aspect. Oh yeah, they also share a girlfriend. (Awkward right?), her name is O (Lively). No really it is I swear. Anyways, moving on because we have to, these two guys have made some of the best pot known to man and have made millions from it. (Still can't find their own girlfriend though, just saying). Everything is going great as they take turns with their shared girlfriend (still weird) in their huge beach house when the Mexican drug cartel decides they want to be partners. This actually stands for "We own you now and you know you like it." Ben and Chon don't really feel like being De-decapitated so they decide to make a go of living in a jungle somewhere until Elena (Hayeck) the ruthless lady leader of the cartel has O kidnapped.
So are you over the fact that our two heroes share a girl yet? OK good, because I'm not either. This is one of those films that can only be enjoyed if you can let go of a few things. The whole film is narrated by O in her stoned and lazy version of her "OMG you guys I am so high right now" voice. She is a lot like her role in The Town only without the Boston accent. She is really annoying as a character and it's kind of hard to feel bad for her much less root for her. This is one of the things you have to let go of to enjoy the film. Ben and Chon worked well because they are the exact opposite to one another yet somehow have the respect for each-other to get along despite their constant different point of views. Kill everybody or run away. Ben was almost as annoying as O because he was always whining and psycho-analyzing everything. I found Chon to be my favorite of the three because he seemed to be the only one who just wanted to actually get things done and blow up some stuff while everyone else talked and talked some more.
Villains make films though and despite the awkwardness and UN-likability of some of the lead roles the bad guys were sinister, relentless and kind of funny at times. One interaction between Elena's ruthless right hand man Lado (Del Toro) and out for himself FBI agent Dennis (Travolta) in particular was tense and humorous at the same time. Travolta was surprisingly great in this film as he looked like his old self and I was pleased to see he had a larger part in the film than anticipated. Elena had a well written back story as well as the bad guys, while certainly crude enough to hate were interesting enough to steal the flick.
Savages UN-intentionally gives us no-one to root for and may even get on your nerves for a moment or two with its anything goes mentality. There is no doubt however, that it has some great action sequences, well written dialog (minus a few horrendous lines by O's character), strong acting by a strong cast and is an all-around well-made film all the way up until it's absolutely dreadful crash and burn of an ending. I won't give anything away here but let's just say this ending is a problem. It felt as though the Director had a decent ending for a good film but wanted some attention so badly that he was willing to ruin his own movie to do so. You don't always have to be edgy and cute. Sometimes playing things straight up is what's best.