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The King of Staten Island (2020)
Davidson shines in his first big onscreen comedy lead with Apatow's trademark of hilarity with heart.
THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND (2020) *** 1/2 Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Ricky Velez, Lou Wilson, Moises Arias, Maude Apatow, Kevin Corrigan, Steve Buscemi. Director Judd Apatow delivers the goods with his patented way of mixing humor and heart with Davidson (who collaborated on the script with him and Dave Sirus) as a slacker facing the moment of truth to become something in his life whatever that entails including aspirations of being a tattoo artist while his mother (Tomei) begins a new relationship long after the loss of his firefighter father, whose memory hangs like a cloud over them both. Davidson shines in his first big role onscreen outside of SNL and has potential to be an even bigger comedy star in the making.
The Final Girls (2015)
Meta comedy/horror valentine to '80s slasher flicks gets all the deep cuts right.
THE FINAL GIRLS (2015) *** Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middledtich, Adam Devine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, Reg Rob, Lauren Gros, Daniel Norris. Meta comedy horror flick that's a valentine to '80s slasher flicks with Farmiga as a young woman still grieving the death of her actress mother Akerman who attends a horror film double feature where she and her friends are literally thrown into the movie unspooling allowing her to intermingle with her late parent while attempting to save her from the masked madman offing the cast in the process. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson gets all the right moves down pact with classic horror tropes and its SCREAM-inspired screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller crams just enough violence, sexual overtones and unexpected poignancy in the mix of this fun/scary salute to slasher pics.
Eaten Alive (1976)
Hooper's grindhouse fixture is a hoot and head-scratcher too boot
EATEN ALIVE (1976) **1/2 Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Stuart Whitman, Roberta Collins, Kyle Richards, Robert Englund, Crystin Sinclaire, Janus Blythe. Out-there horror flick from Tobe Hooper and fellow TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE cohort Kim Henkel (who co-scripted with Alvin L. Fast and Mardi Rustam) with psychopathic creepy Brand as an unlikely hotelier in the seamy wilds of rural East Texas (he makes Norman Bates look stable), wielding a ginormous scythe and housing in the nearby swamp his pet man-eating crocodile he feeds it his unsuspecting guests who cross him when he's not busy ranting to himself and dusting magazines (!) Featuring a genre-hound's wet dream of a cast including a post-Morticia Addams Jones as a cathouse madam (!!), TCM alum Burns and equally creepy DePalma fave Finley as a feuding couple, and the outrageously mis-cast (and future Freddy Krueger) Englund as an over-the-top would-be Southern fried stud (!!!!) A grind house fixture for sure with a few good chills and kills.
The Rental (2020)
Familiar yet receptive.
THE RENTAL (2020) *** Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss, Anthony Molinari. Actor Dave Franco makes a fine directorial debut (and co-wrote the screenplay with fellow filmmaker Joe Swanberg and Mike Demski) in this horror film about two young couples on a weekend vacation for a celebration that eventually downward spirals when they learn their rental is being spied upon. While relying on genre tropes (fog, wide shots to see something just on the horizon lurking, a pet in peril etc.) the story takes its time from a complex character study into full on terror with surprising restraint in say gore or exploitation. Familiar yet receptive.
A cunning black comedy cum horror story - one of the best films of this decade. Excellent all around.
PARASITE (2019) **** Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo, Woo-sik Choie, So-dam Park, Jeong-eun Lee, Hye-jin Jan, Myeong-hoon Park, Ji-so Jung, Hyun-jun Jung. Superb South Korean film from brilliant filmmaker Bong Joon Ho who weaves a tight wire thin fable of family, class distinction and diabolical cunning in this black comic/horror drama about the near destitute Kim family who deceive an upper-class family, The Parks, by infiltrating themselves into their domestic bliss posing as highly-skilled caregivers that ultimately leads to a plot of Greek tragedy proportions. Well acted by one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled and a Hitchcockian bar set for suspense and eventual dread. One of the best films of the decade which would go on to win 4 Oscars for Best Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay (co-written by Jin Won Han with Ho) and Best International Film.
Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (2020) ***
Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Smara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Hal Landon, Jr., Beck Bennett, Kid Cudi, Amy Stoch, Holland Taylor, Jilian Bell (cameo: Dave Grohl) Loveable airheads Bill & Ted (Reeves & Winter's dynamic duo reprised) literally do just that - in this funny as hell mix of nostalgia and futuristic things to come when they are taken to the task of their sonic promise to restore time & space while reuniting humanity in harmony becomes a truly heinous odyssey to complete their life's mission with literally hours to doomsday. Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon's trippy and at times even poignant screenplay let their creations have a field day intermingling with various versions of themselves while Weaving and Lundy-Paine as their equally sweet and silly offspring steal the show in uniting an all-star band of reknowns. Most. Excellent.
After Midnight (2019)
Slow-burn horror domestic drama
AFTER MIDNIGHT (2019) **1/2 Jeremy Gardner, Brea Grant, Henry Zebrowski, Justi Benson, Ashley Song, Nicola Masciotra, Taylor Zaudtke, Keith Arbuthnot. Slow-burn horror domestic drama about a young couple's relationship on the outs with Gardner - who wrote and co-directed with Christian Stella - facing isolation and his mind in a downward spiral, as well as dealing with 'something' arriving every titular moment trying to get in his home. A great premise but at times meanders but a few fine moments of dread; you'll never be able to listen to Lisa Loeb's "Stay (I Missed You)" ever again the same way.
All of them riches; decent remake to a horror classic
SUSPIRIA (2018) ***1/2 Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Grace Moretz, Angela Winkler, Alek Wek, Elena Fokina, Mia Goth, Malgorzata Bela, Ingrid Caven, Sylvie Testud (cameo: Jessica Harper) Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino's Herculean task of re-imagining Dario Argento's contemporary horror classic is in many ways better than its predecessor in some ways - namely the plot where a new dance student (Johnson) auditions for a prestigious German dance school for girls run by mysterious Swinton (in her prime having a field day in three roles) who is indeed a witch fronting a sinister coven. Eerie, shocking and at times beautiful (largely thanks to the cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom) with sprinkles of graphic violence for gorehounds to rejoice in. David Kajganich's screenplay - shrewdly incorporating the original's setting circa 1977 and amidst the war torn nation's history of regret - keeps things at an even keel with a few turns of the screw nicely. Personal note: had no idea Harper was involved and was so glad for her sweet presence again.
Korean zombie horror told with skill, aplomb & utter poignancy
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) **** Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, Su-an Kim, Eui-sung Kim, Woo-sik Choi, Sohee, Soo-jung Ye, Myung-shin Park, Gwi-hwa Choi. Relentless zombie horror film from Korean filmmaker Sang-ho Yeon (who co-scripted with Joo-Suk Park) where an outbreak occurs while a train is en route from Seoul to the titular town with an atypical cast of characters (harried father with daughter in tow; pregnant woman; baseball team; dickhead CEO) that is given flesh and blood turns by its talented cast (you root for everyone amidst the horrific carnage unfolding). The claustrophobia mixed with sudden dread is altogether palpable and incredibly poignant.
Moss gives a sterling turn; One of the year's best films.
SHIRLEY (2020) ***1/2 Elisabeth Moss, Odessa Young, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman, Victoria Pedretti, Robert Wuhl, Paul O' Brien, Orlagh Cassidy. Moss gives a sterling turn as famed horror writer Shirley Jackson in this captivating biopic. While attempting to juggle her declining mental health with the arduous task of creating a new work of fiction her husband and partner-in-crime Stanley Hyman (Stuhlbarg willingly giving good thrust-and-parry) decides to take in a young couple to help them out (Lerman and equally good Young), resulting in a Whose Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?-type relationship. Based on Susan Scarf Merrell's novel novice filmmaker Josephine Decker and screenwriter Sarah Gubbins adapts with aplomb the intricacies of the creative writing process, the delicate balance of friendship and ultimately the complexity of love. One of the year's best films.
A twisty turn tumble down the rabbit hole of torture porn
MARTYRS (2008) *** Morjana Alaoui, Mylene Jampanoi, Catherine Begin. A twisty turn tumble down the rabbit hole of torture porn in this disturbing and visceral tale of two young women attempting vengeance against years of torment ends up a tables turn into a grim, and bleak change of events. Filmmaker Pascal Laugier holds no punches with the graphic,brutal violence at hand nor does Alaoui in a true Final Girl turn for the ages.
Eden Lake (2008)
Violent and unsettling.
EDEN LAKE (2008) *** Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbinder, Jack O'Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Tom Gill, James Gandhi. Filmmaker James Watkins makes a stunning debut in this horror film about a young couple (Reilly and Fassbinder) who go on a weekend holiday at the titular tranquil spot only to discover a nightmare in the form of a pack of young thugs who terrorize them. Parts STRAW DOGS and LORD OF THE FLIES the film's reliance on dread is a pulse-pounder up to its bleak ending. Reilly taps into her inner Final Girl with aplomb. Violent and unsettling.
THE RAFT plus LIFEBOAT meets JAWS
BENEATH (2013) **1/2 Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Jon Orsini, Griffin Newman, Mackenzie Rosman, Mark Margolis. Filmmaker Larry Fessenden cooks up a creature feature stew that's part THE RAFT from CREEPSHOW 2 plus LIFEBOAT meets JAWS when six teenagers go on a weekend outing post-high school graduation at a lake that offers more than a tranquil retreat - a gigantic catfish like monster. What follows is a metaphor of what true colors will show when facing stress, pressure and stilted relationships at best. While Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith's screenplay strains with its character assassinations one-by-one (pretty much you're rooting for the creature to eat them all), Fessenden's lean and mean direction keeps things swimmingly eerie.
Uncut Gems (2019)
Sandler give the best performance of his career - a true game-changer
UNCUT GEMS (2019) ***1/2 Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Kevin Garnett (as himself), Voices of Tilda Swinton & Natasha Lyonne. Sandler give the best performance of his career - a true game-changer - as a street-smart, wheeling-dealing jewelry merchant in NYC up to his neck in gambling debts while attempting a big score with a rare gem for auction. The Safdie Brothers, Benny & Josh (who co-scripted with Ronald Bronstein) deliver a pressure-cooker tension that never lets up.
You Should Have Left (2020)
Bacon & Koepp reunite for a nifty yet somewhat familiar chiller
YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020) *** Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Tiiu Essex, Colin Blumenau. Disgraced attorney Bacon (sublimely perfect) and his actress wife Seyfried (never better) take their daughter (sweet newcomer Essex who recalls both Dakota Fanning and Drew Barrymore) on a much needed retreat to a very inviting, but sinister, house in Wales where things begin to unravel with indiscretion. Filmmaker David Koepp - adapting the novel by Daniel Kehlmann - reunites with his STIR OF ECHOES star Bacon as if they never left each other, complimenting its lead with a complex turn and its helmsman some cunning work at hand. The film does echo of the aforementioned chiller, as well as THE SHINING, 1408 and THE SIXTH SENSE so while its very familiar the outcome is not so much.
Disturbing domestic horror with overtones of Poe ; excellent debut by James and superb acting by its trio of women
RELIC (2020) ***1/2 Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Jeremy Stanford, Chris Bunton. Disturbing domestic horror with overtones of Poe - a woman and her daughter (Mortimer and Heathcote, both excellent) are informed by authorities that her mother has been missing, prompting them to visit her home to search for her. What follows is a bleak, sad and ultimately terrifying discovery of possession, a family curse and an apt metaphor of one's home for one losing their mind. Newcomer filmmaker Natalie Erika James - who co-scripted with Christian White - vividly captures the haunting of a family and the devastating outcome in the process with able support by veteran actress Nevin as the matriarch unravelling. Beautifully shot by Charlie Sarroff and an epic sound design by Robert Mckenzie underscores the pinpricks of good flesh expertly.
Energetic yet incidental zombie flick echoes more of Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE than George A. Romero's DEAD series
YUMMY (2020) **1/2 Maaike Neuville, Bart Hollanders, Benjamin Ramon, Clara Cleymans, Annick Christiaens, Eric Godon. Graphic horror film from Belgium with a game cast about the accidental release of a patient infected with a deadly virus turning its victims into blood-thirsty ravenous zombies in a dodgy hospital. While filmmaker Lars Damoiseaux - who co-scripted with Eveline Hagenbeek - pulls out all the stops in a seeming check-list of genre tropes: buxom Final Girl, punishments for sex, cars that don't work etc. it is highly inventive with echoes more of Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE than George A. Romero's DEAD series altogether.
The Hunt (2020)
Part pitch black comedy cum horror film part political satire; Gilpin is the secret ingredient
THE HUNT (2020) *** Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Amy Madigan. Part pitch black comedy cum horror film part political satire with a dozen strangers finding themselves being hunted down without any idea why and who among the reasons of a diabolical revenge plot. Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof's screenplay has larger aspirations with its pinprickings of every social strata in 'merica however the characters are more or less caricatures and with names like 'yoga pants' obviously not interested in developing their backstories. Gilpin is the wild-card as the shrewd final girl and her battle to the death with the event's villainous Swank is one of the best recent cinematic fights ever. (Dir: Craig Zobel)
The Lodge (2019)
Keough gives blood however the film not so much
THE LODGE (2019) **1/2 Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, , Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Danny Keough. Atmospheric psychological horror flick with Keough as the survivor of a cult about to become a stepmother who vacations with her impending children in a secluded cabin in the woods when things begin to twist and turn much to her detriment. While filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (who co-scripted with Severin Fiala) manage to supply some feeling of true dread the buildup ultimately is somewhat a disappointment. Keough gives blood in her performance of a woman slowly unhinging and the gorgeously foreboding cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis underscores the fears she experiences. Sure it's wonderful to see THE THING referenced but it is always a slippery slope whenever a film nods overbearingly so to a vastly superior film; nice try.
Knives Out (2019)
More twists than a bagful of pretzels; Evans is a hoot and de Armas steals everyone's thunder
KNIVES OUT (2019) ***1/2 Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmett Walsh, Marlene Forte, (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) Filmmaker Rian Johson's mystery black comedy about the investigation of the apparent suicide of the affluent patriarch of a squabbling, self-entitled brood resulting in a twisty-turny parable of the wants and have nots with societal ills underpinning with deliciously outrageous plot points sprinkled along the way. A game ensemble cast acts the hell out of a shopworn parlor drama with aplomb particularly Evans as the black sheep of the family and kind-hearted but very implicated caregiver de Armas.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Downward spiral into madness - exlempeary acting by Dafoe & Pattinson
THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019) **** Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman. Filmmaker Robert Eggers' exploration of madness is depicted in this psychological horror film about two lighthouse keepers (Pattinson and Dafoe giving blood turns) at a remote New England isle in the 1890s. While basically descending into insanity with cabin fever setting in the duo explore their pasts, experience surreal dreams and even homoerotic trespasses all with deft aplomb and unnerving uncanny results. Shot in stark black and white, cinematographer Jarin Blaschke paints a dank, gritty landscape while Mark Korven's clarion blast of a score impends doom on the horizon. Easily one of the best films about insanity ala Edgar Allan Poe's unfinished story "The Light-House" - which actually was re-written by Robert Bloch - (loosely based screenplay by Eggers and his brother Max).
The Invisible Man (2020)
Moss gives a stellar turn in Whannell's intriguing re-imagining of a horror classic
THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) *** Elizabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman. Filmmaker Leigh Whannell's unique re-imagining of the classic horror film updates it with Moss as a victimized woman whose attempt to leave her abusive relationship with wealthy optics genius Jackson-Cohen results in his suicide but eventually it's known to her that, instead, he has developed a method of becoming invisible to stalk her. Moments of true tension are cunningly employed thanks to the clever cinematography of Stefan Duscio and Benjamin Wallfisch's taut score but it is truly Moss' stellar turn as Cecilia Kass who manages to walk the tightrope of sanity while proving her sustainable urgency in bettering herself.
Color Out of Space (2019)
Cage & Stanley bring the crazy goods to his awesome Lovecraft adaptation
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019) ***1/2 Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Tommy Chong, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hillard, Josh C. Waller, Q'orianka Kilcher. Filmmaker Richard Stanley's opus rendering of HP Lovecraft's short story thriller 'The Color Out Of Space' features an atypical gonzo turn by Cage as the paterfamilias of a family in a secluded woodland home that is infiltrated by a meteorite that unleashes a cosmic force hellbent on destroying them and infecting their environs in the process. Filmed with a lavish, gorgeous color palette (natch) by cinematographer Steve Annis and a scorching score by Steve Annis underpins with eerie elegance. The combo CGI and practical visual effects are stunning and opulently ethereal and grotesque simultaneously.
The Wretched (2019)
Affectively creepy yet disjointed horror film
THE WRETCHED (2020) **1/2 John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley, Gabriela Quezada Bloomgarden, Richard Ellis, Blane Crockarell, Judah Abner Paul, Ja'layah Washington. Affectively creepy yet disjointed horror film about a teenager (amiable enough Howard), summering with his dad in the throes of an impeding divorce, who discovers some supernatural occurrences with the next door neighbors. While the atmosphere is more or less on target the direction and screenplay by Brett & Drew T. Pierce is somewhat slipshod (namely um not truly introducing characters correctly within the framework of a film). Otherwise entertaining enough.
Marriage Story (2019)
Filmmaker Noah Baumbach's frank and smart observations of divorce; Driver, Johansson & Dern at the top of their games
MARRIAGE STORY (2019) ***1/2 Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson, Julie Hagerty, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Wallace Shawn. Poignant and sharply realized dramedy about a young couple going through the pains of divorce with clear-eyed intensity and powerful insight to the way things collapse while attempting to remain civil and in love. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach's frank and smart observations of conversation, actions and complications are evenly balanced largely thanks to his excellent cast particularly the leads Driver and Johansson as a seemingly perfect couple dissolving with piercing moments and memorable dialogue. Dern is equally at the top of her game as an attorney whose viewpoints are en pointe and painfully acute.