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Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Self-indulgent, boring... nothing you'd expect from Linklater
I've been a fan of Linklater since Slacker and in film after film he's proved that you do not need a linear plot to create a satisfying and revelatory movie experience. That is, if you have characters that are richly crafted matched with actors giving indelible performances. Sadly (and I do mean that sincerely) "Everybody Wants Some!!" painfully exhibits none of those two saving graces. It's as needless as those two exclamation points in the title and as alluring as running into an old high school friend who wants to drag you to his house and show you old home movies for two hours.
I think I understand what Linklater was going for here, but it's still not an excuse for the snoozefest he delivers. I *believe* he was trying for something almost anthropological. That is, studying a very specific type of American male (high-school star jock) in a specific time and place (early '80s Texas) who come to terms with the competitive nature of college (in general, but college sports, specifically). Obviously this comes from Linklater's own experience but that alone doesn't make it interesting.
The fact that it shares many similarities with Dazed and Confused is only going to mystify and irritate most people, especially fans of that earlier film, which was a much more involving and true-to-life portrayal than anything you see in this film. If you'll remember, Dazed had an encapsulated version of Everybody Wants Some embedded into it --- namely Pink's (Jason London) disenfranchisement of the whole high-school sports scene. If you look closely at the mostly unknown cast, you'll notice more than a few similarities between the two character line-ups in behaviors and physical appearance. But Dazed is a rich film. The characters were anything but types (and they did not chant "catch phrases" as one reviewer states... the film's fans created those) and each had many dimensions. None (even Ben Affleck's character) were straight heroes or villains. By contrast, Everybody Wants Some's cast of jocks and jock-babes rarely give us anything we don't expect or transcend any of the rampant stereotypes.
For long stretches... I mean *LONG*... all you get are continuous party scenes that, while well-directed, still don't deliver anything that will keep your interest. There is little conflict, and nothing but the scantest surface interactions between the cast, none of whom give anything but the most vanilla performances. This isn't the first time Linklater's used a cast of unknowns (Dazed and particularly Slacker were exactly that) but Everybody Wants Some's crew is distinctly lacking in both style and charisma.
I don't think I've been as disappointed by any movie this year. And as other reviewers have said, the overwhelming positive critical reception this unstructured mess is receiving is disturbing, to say the least. Yes, Boyhood was amazing on so many levels and easily Linklater's most masterful film, firing on all his strengths. EWS consistently plays to all his weakest.
The more I think about it, EWS's aims are closer to Slacker than Dazed. Slacker was just that... a virtual anthropological snapshot of Austin Texas college life circa 1988-1989. Only Slacker's cast continually gave the audience thoughtful, crazy, disturbing, and provoking words and actions. By contrast, EWS is about as soulful as a kegger. A fun time in the moment, but nothing you'll remember after that. And that might be a very good thing.
** One footnote: If you have a surround sound set-up, you'll notice this film makes the same mistake as many others recently by putting primary audio in the rear channels, making the party scenes virtually impossible to hear unless you just jack the center channel through the roof. Maybe this is something related to Dolby Atmos. Whatever it is, it's irritating as hell. Nothing sinks a film faster than bad sound.
L.A. Slasher (2015)
It's utter ineptitude is both stunning and disturbing
The promotional blurb for "LA Slasher" calls it a "biting, social satire of reality TV and the glorification of those who are famous for being famous."
Unfortunately this film is so poorly made, acted, cut, and designed as to render it a complete waste of time. It's such a train wreck, you can't possibly even decipher what's happening on screen for its 90 minute runtime, which seems like five hours, at least.
There is no real story. Basically an anonymous white-suited masked psycho (voiced by Andy Dick, no less, which doesn't exactly raise the credibility factor) targets and then systematically slaughters airhead Twitter-made celebrities. Not in itself a worthless concept. If "LA Slasher" were made with even borderline competence it could be a poisonously fun black comedy.
The real problem here lies in the script, which is incoherent. A good first third of the film is spent introducing a slew of forgettable, woodenly-acted victims, but no story arc really exists. When they're killed, there's no pay off since you don't care about them. And Dick's slasher is either sniggeringly annoying (and unfunny) or downright vile ("Die you f**kin bitch" and variations thereof are his and the screenwriters idea of witty repartee).
Let's talk about the technical aspects for a moment. Even the opening credits are so badly created that they are almost out of frame in the HD cut I watched. Some of the set designs range from dirty warehouse to scummy hotel room to someone's living room. Even the Heiress and the Socialite live in places that are so badly dressed they look as if they were shot in the back of an abandoned flea market storage warehouse. Mischa Barton is one of many actors who stand around looking vaguely comatose, not knowing their lines or not caring to know them.
All of this amounts to a very depressing, pointless pile of garbage that's ultimately as empty and spiritless as the "problems" the movie's title antagonist sets out to "solve." At one point there was a "detective" (see the credits here on IMDb) so it seems a dramatic arc of some sort was written and even filmed, but apparently this film's aim is to appear as dumb as the targets it poorly lampoons. The best thing for "LA Slasher" to do is off itself. So many people will thank it.
Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
Take my pawn. Take my king. Just end it.... Please!
Let me start off by saying that I'm not a Tobey hater. He's no Olivier but when there's something to bring, he brings it. That something, unfortunately, is nowhere to be found in Ed Zwick's leadenly-directed "Pawn Sacrifice" and Stephen Knight's pointless, uninsightful, and often downright boring script.
My main problem with the film is that Knight establishes virtually no empathy for Bobby Fischer, even in the early scenes. His dad ran out on the family, Mom is a doting but loving mess, and Bobby, though very intelligent obviously has some mental issues, bordering on psychotic paranoia. Why this is, however, is never explored and neither the script nor Maguire's performance lets us into his head even for a second.
I expected Pawn Sacrifice to show us something we didn't already know about the famous Game 6 with Boris Spasky, perhaps how all the political sturm and drang unhinged the already volatile personalities at center stage. It doesn't. It's really just a series of Maguire's increasingly deranged demands and violent freak-outs that become more and more tedious to endure.
Edward Zwick, who usually directs light, comedic, *very* commercial fare is a horrible choice for a director, but it's par for the clueless course of Universal's dumb-em-down blockbuster mill lately (It's almost where I have to restrain myself from fleeing the theater when I see or hear the logo and cue anymore). You can see the script doctoring right in the credits (3 writers on story alone? Really?) and on the screen. In an incredibly crass and dumb script-o-tronic device, Bobby loses his virginity to a hooker (natch) who then turns into one of his most knowledgeable and ardent fans. See everyone? Bobby's appeal crosses ALL gender, race, and social boundaries! Yippee! What a bunch of worn-out pap.
There is also no suspense built in the matches themselves as we very rarely, if ever, get a close look at the board. Presumably though, we are too stupid to understand the game of chess, so why bother? Why bother indeed. Maybe a Stand and Deliver checkers tournament is in the works right now. Edward James Almos, where are you when we need you?
One Eyed Girl (2014)
It's been done before and much better than this
I have to agree with one of the other reviewers that there isn't much, if anything, to recommend this by-the-books cult drama.
We have a chemically-dependent, terminally depressed young shrink (played convincingly enough by Mark Leonard Winter) whose young patient's suicide drives him over the edge, leading him into a cult-like EST-ish back-to-nature group led by Father Jay (Steve le Marquand).
Father Jay's group is all about getting "clear" (sound familiar?) and uses various punishing physical and mental techniques to supposedly "heal the soul".
So... is there anything you've heard so far that leads you to believe this is unlike any other cult you've heard about before?
Nope, didn't think so. And there isn't. I guess this might be shocking material for those who've never heard of brainwashing or even Charlie Manson, but it's snooze-inducing for those of us who have.
It's a pity because this isn't a poorly made film. The acting is decent. It just revolves around a non-story that's ordinary and non-compelling, to be kind. It's only 103 minutes, but it feels like a century. What a complete waste of everyone's time, including ours.
If you can't figure this one out in twenty minutes, you might be the one with dementia
I had high hopes for this one, based on the casting alone. Gene Jones was pretty terrific in Ti West's so-so "The Sacrament," and Kristina Klebe knocked a small but vital role out of the park in Zack Parker's stark and disturbing "Proxy".
Jones plays a Vietnam Vet who's had a stroke and Klebe is the home health care nurse assigned to his case. But it's painfully obvious that this nurse has a special fascination with, well, pain, as in seeing it inflicted.
The concept of a helpless person being tormented by a sinister "care giver" is not exactly a new one. By itself, it's squirm-inducing and one of the best examples I remember seeing is the Spanish 1986 thriller In a Glass Cage about a paralyzed Nazi pedophile tortured by one of his former victims. These films aren't pleasant to sit through, in general, so they require a pretty damn good story and good performances to chew on.
It's a shame that DP Mike Testin's first directorial outing has such a clunker of a script (written by Meredith Berg - whose only others credits are a short and "Lana Steele: Makeup Spy"). It takes no brains at all to figure out who Nurse Michelle (Klebe) is, why she's at George's house and even how she found him --- all in about 20 minutes. There is virtually no suspense or any tension for the rest of the film.
While Jones gives the role his all, and is very convincing playing a basically unlikable character (in all fairness, I did admire how the script never backed down and soft-pedaled his PTSD raging), Klebe's performance is so unhinged and over-the-top (she twists the head off a Barbie in a check-out line, if you can believe that --- why not just hang a sign around her neck with a prescription for Thorazine attached?) that it borders on comic. I really don't think she had much to play. If so, it wasn't apparent from what got to the screen.
What is obviously in Berg's resume is the Nancy Drew style sleuthing that George's granddaughter Shelby (Hassie Harrison) gets up to, but this isn't handled with any suspense or flair either. It's very TV-like in pace and dialog. Harrison does well, but she isn't given much depth to portray either.
The lack of suspense is really what kills this one. Mark it Do Not Resuscitate and move on.
Bound to Vengeance (2015)
Get in the Van
Every once in a while a small film comes along that you think will be just another pointless schlep up the same genre cliff, peaking at a dead end. Instead, it takes every expected detour, tosses it out the window, spits in your face and floors it, driving you straight off that well-worn cliff. And you love every minute of it.
That's "Bound to Vengeance" in a nutshell and the "to" in the title is important.
Jose Manuel Cravioto (whose previous directorial efforts consisted mostly of well-received shorts and docs) along with writers Rock Shaink and Keith Kjornes (who also acts here), have crafted a savage, viscerally memorable road trip. It's one that our protagonist Eve (Tina Ivlev, in a lithely nuanced performance) takes very willingly, even obsessively, after she clocks her scumbag white-slaver jailer Phil (Richard Tyson) with a brick and then makes him an offer he can't refuse: disclose the locations of the other girls (of whom he has Polaroids) who've been imprisoned as Eve just was --- or get shot in the face. And this is the catch: if you can get past the basic implausibility of someone who has just been starved, raped, and tortured for weeks deciding it's way more appealing to save other people than herself, then "Bound to Vengeance" has you, and good luck shaking or turning it off. And happily, there is a reason for Eve's zeal, but you won't understand that unless you watch the film, into the end credits.
Then again, happily and amazingly, EVERYTHING in this film makes sense. The script is really THAT tight and that's odd for a white slavery flick. It's going to give you a lot of story and character development that are foreign in most of these types of films. It's not a white slavery film in the strictest sense of the word --- it isn't lurid or snuffy, it takes no pleasure in the degradation of women. It's quick, gritty, and violent and it appears to delight in its dark look, which (though nicely photographed) gives every frame the impression of being dredged in motor oil --- and that's a compliment. This kind of film SHOULD look that way. It doesn't treat this issue lightly or as a convenient vehicle for exploitational entertainment.
Another offbeat element of BTV is the performance by the main perv Phil. Phil is not likable, he's a huge dirt-bag, but Tyson brings lots of interesting layers to the character, keeping you guessing, wondering, wanting to know more about him. As he says, he's just the zoo-keeper. There are bigger guys in charge. Or are there? You never really know until the final half of the film.
And to round out our attachment to Eve (and break up and lighten the oppressive mood), we get snippets of her back-story in home movies shot from a phone, which become vitally important to the story in the end, as well as making Ivlev's character even more riveting.
It's hard to predict what genre fans will make of this film. But, love it or hate it, I bet you won't forget the ride.
The Falling (2014)
An introspective, claustrophobic tale of teen malaise, late '60s Britain style
Carol Morley's second feature achieves something rather spectacular, given that it's one of those indolent period pieces featuring two drastically different girlhood friends in Britain, circa 1969, both attending a strict repressive girl's school.
It's notable in that, while containing no one action that sets the screen ablaze, it manages to keep you mesmerized for virtually its entire run-time. The themes of the story and the shooting style bear favorable, heavy influence from both Peter Weir's gorgeous Aussie fever-dream "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and Lindsey Anderson's prep-school-in-revolt landmark "If....".
It also helps to have two young actresses of the astonishing caliber of Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh to play the lead roles. Williams, as Lydia, carries the emotional load of the piece wonderfully, as the smart-tongued sardonic underachiever with a nightmare home-life and a curiously-stunted sexuality (her older brother only half-teasingly refers to her as "Crazy Face"). Of course, her best friend Abbie (Pugh) is a beautiful blonde bombshell who succeeds at everything she tries, yet still carries an enormous amount of self-destructive baggage.
When Abbie gets knocked up ("I don't understand it.... we did the Catholic thing... he PULLED OUT!"), her Sexcapades get even more daring until finally she begins collapsing at school. Shortly after, Lydia begins to experience the same symptoms and it soon becomes a contagion that has the student body literally swooning in the halls, with balletic abandon.
Sounds rather stupid, doesn't it? Well, it isn't, thanks to the gravitas Morley imbues both her characters with as well as the mystery beneath which cuts with razor-like precision at the issues of repression, conformism, and parental abandonment. Add to that a career-making turn by Maxine Peake as Lydia's agoraphobic, terminally-depressed mother and you have a film that enraptures more by what it doesn't tell you, than what it does.
A butter-knife blunt satire that almost consumes itself
Literally everything in #Horror is larger than life, from the over-stylized Candy Crush social media mock-up app that regularly splatters the screen with likes and corpses, to the impossible-to-read hyper-cut opening credits, to the manic overwrought performances from the entire cast.
You can read the film as blunted, over-the-top satire, which it only rarely achieves. Alternately, you can view it as a throwback to the old-fashioned not-so-good anonymous slasher films of the early '80s where the only one you really could cheer for was the killer. Only in this case, you'd be rooting for a child mass-murderer, which lends a discomfiting air to the entire outing, making satire the only tolerable path to choose. Unlike other teen torture porn (like Megan is Missing, for example) the deaths aren't drawn out. They're quick and for the most part forgettable. In the case of #Horror, that's probably a good thing.
#Horror takes place in a chic glass cage in snowy Connecticut (Tim Hutton's house, actually, who plays an outraged parent who may or may not be taking his career as a plastic surgeon in slightly more creative directions). Blonde, vapid Sophia (Bridget McGarry) and her five besties are having a sleepover in said mansion. All the usual slasher-movie archetypes are there --- good girl Sam (Sadie Seelert), glamorous Ava (Blue Lindeberg), Bulemia girl Georgie (Emma Adler), Anorexia girl Francesca (Mina Sundwall) --- and well-known cyber-bully champion Cat (Haley Murphy), whose clueless but well-meaning dad is played by Hutton.
Only thing is, ALL these girls are really bullies, and one of the few things #Horror doesn't hyperbolize is the way preteen girls mercilessly torment each other, at least a quintet this disturbed and on doses of psychoactive drugs that would render an elephant comatose. The performances aren't very riveting (note the Acting Coach in the end credits) but their cruelty often is. It's often more disturbing than the actual bloodshed.
#Horror does have some virtuoso pictorial moments --- the outlandish modern art that decks the house (quite good, actually, but nothing you'd want to actually LIVE with) lends a sinister atmosphere and the bevy of grotesque masks lying around add a nice level of depravity. Watching the girls stage a mock floor show with them provides one of the few indelible moments.
But the real moments of tenseness come when what's on screen approaches reality. Timothy Hutton looks like he's having a blast when he confronts the callous quintet while brandishing a butcher knife, and the warped priorities of the adults aren't so far away from reality that you don't wince a little. Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch for Sophie's mom Alex (a scene-shredding Chloe Sevigny) to let the girls loose on millions of dollars of jewelry but her own self-indulgent, lethargic attitudes aren't far from the authentic mark. You sense that the parents are the real psychotics in Subkoff's absurdity play.
Contrary to a lot of the reviews that completely trash #Horror, the film is eerily subversive in its own way, when it's not bludgeoning you to death with its supposed "seriousness." If you're a horror fan, frankly I'd skip it. It's not scary in any traditional, expected way. But it's strangely satisfying when it does on occasion reach its lofty ambitions.
I saw this at a double feature with the reserved, though equally absurdist Carol Morley film "The Falling," and it was an interesting juxtaposition. Both films tackle young girls, angst, and peer-pressure in offhand, often genre-busting ways, especially when you compare 1969 to 2015 in terms of the tools of self-destruction that are available.
Session 9 (2001)
The Weak and the Wounded
If you could rate a movie on atmosphere alone, Session 9 would just about tip the scales. And if anyone deserved to stumble upon the creepier than crap location that is the dilapidated Danvers Mental Hospital (parts of which still exist just miles from our house), it's Brad Anderson. He's got a almost instinctual feel for building suspense slowly, out of elements that seem about as terrifying as your lawnmower. The fact that he could make the intrinsically creaky Halle Berry 911 vehicle "The Call" work is proof of that alone. And "Transsiberian"...well, don't even get me started.
Session 9 is not a traditional horror film, but more of a psychological one. It's also a finite dissection of group dynamics among a group of five Asbestos-removal workers whose stressed-out boss Gordon (Peter Mullan) over-commits the team to gutting the behemoth skeleton that was Danvers in one week.
What Session 9 is really superb at is relaying the claustrophobia and paranoia that creep up the backs of all five protagonists, inciting infighting, general bitchiness, and eventually a fraying of sanity.
There's also a nicely parallel subplot that only exists in a room full of abandoned reel tapes of old "sessions" from the mental hospital, recordings that Stephen Gevedon's amateur law student can't get enough of, and which, together with the freakiest bunch of art direction (thanks to Roger Danchik) in the form of manically-rendered wall collages, really gets under your skin.
David Caruso is the wild card surprise in this crumbling house of cards. You never know quite what to make of his character. Is he a suck-up, a saboteur, or just the friend Gordon needs? It's a really smoothed-out virtuoso turn.
But then again, the whole movie is like that. You won't shake it, or the mood of it, for days.
The Babadook (2014)
Blowing down the house
There is very little more horrific than real life, and Jennifer Kent's first feature, The Babadook, proves it.
Amelia (Essie Davis, in a tour-de-force performance) would have a hard time of it even without seven-year-old Samuel (Noah Wiseman) to constantly keep from trouble. And Sam's not exactly some mischievous little scamp --- he plays with dart guns at school, assaults other kids, and throws around firecrackers like confetti. He makes the titular terror from "We Need to Talk About Kevin" look like a total pussy.
And Amelia's not exactly mother-of-the-year. You can practically see the monster within her many times in the early part of the film, gnashing to escape the prison her deceased husband's confined her to, after he died in a car crash while taking Amelia to the hospital to deliver Sam. This is a risky, potent set-up that Kent could have only realized solo (with her Kickstarter and other funding, of course). Both mom and son are so pitifully unlikable (and realistic) that no big studio would come near this concept.
Yet Kent makes it work constantly, due to the strength she imbues in every frame --- from the acting, to the at times beautiful chiaroscuro lighting, to the creepy sound mix, ominous visuals (which are just puppets, but damn good ones), and camera tricks that would make Hitchcock and Welles look twice. it really is a fantastically made film for any budget.
But it's the emotional tension that Davis and Wiseman bring in truckloads that keeps you riveted, more than any cardboard bogeyman. The Babadook contains some really disturbing sequences, not the least of which is brought to life by superb graphics designer Alex Juhasz's ghoulish "children's book" that features mom strangling son to death just before slashing her own throat. Yes, it's that strong and that effective, at times recalling Friedkin's The Exorcist in it's shock value.
As many other reviewers have noted, The Babadook is much more richly dimensioned than a cheapo monster movie. It's got enough allegory and symbolism to keep a Sociology class busy for a semester. It'll more than keep you hypnotized for ninety odd minutes.