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Our Life in Make Believe (2014)
Road movie par excellence
This is a really good indie road movie. While it is not rich in story, the film's on-the-road atmosphere is very authentic. Christopher James Lang did a good job directing this film on location at various places in Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The film's characters are likeable and feel like genuine real-life people. Amanda Todisco is especially good in the lead and it is surprising that this was her first feature film. It is also of note that the soundtrack is very well-compiled and features excellent americana songs by a number of talented independent artists and bands that are not widely known but make great music. It surprises me that a film as good as this and which is already a couple of years old is still so obscure. At the time of writing, OUR LIFE IN MAKE BELIEVE has a meager 59 votes on IMDb and no comments at all. That's often just the way it is with independent films. If you want to check the film out, I discovered it on Amazon Prime.
A Bonus Feature to 'The Shining'
This is not "the greatest documentary about 'The Shining' ever made" as the film poster wants you to believe. I don't think a feature-length documentary about the making of the Shining exists yet. The best one so far is the short 'Making The Shining'  made parallel to the film by Stanley Kubrick's daughter, Vivian.
'Staircases to Nowhere' is only of interest to hardcore fans of 'The Shining' as it is merely a bunch of interview clips thrown together. The documentary doesn't have a real beginning or an end, there is no common theme and it ultimately leads nowhere. It's no different than the majority of bonus materials that can often be found on DVDs and Blu-rays. The people who worked on the project just reminisce what it was like to work with Kubrick and the actors. If you're a fan of 'The Shining' you will probably already have heard many of the anecdotes that are being retold here.
The film is divided into a number of chapters in which certain aspects of the making of Kubrick's film are being discussed. I found the chapters about the fire at the studio and Kubrick's post-premiere alteration of the film's ending the most interesting ones, even though most of it has been told before in one way or another.
The Dilemma (2011)
An unconventional ensemble dramedy
I enjoyed this film quite a bit. Of course it's far from perfect but it is pretty good the way it is. The movie poster is so misleading because it only shows Vince Vaughn and Kevin James but this is not your typical lighthearted Vaughn/James comedy vehicle but actually an ensemble dramedy with some dark humor. Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder are just as important in this film as Vaughn and James, so they should be on the poster. I suspect many people expected a very different, more comedic movie and rated it low because it didn't meet those expectations. The ratings should be higher if you ask me. Give this movie a try if you can enjoy unconventional comedy/drama hybrids.
In a Valley of Violence (2016)
Ti West's foray into the western genre is a complete success!
'In a Valley of Violence' is a movie that absolutely deserves its title as it is indeed violent. With this gritty western-that was shot on real film-director Ti West, who has been making a name for himself in the horror genre with 2009's indie hit 'The House of the Devil' and 2011's 'The Innkeepers,' tried out a completely different genre than what we are used to seeing from him. It's obvious that West is a film aficionado who has seen a lot of movies, studied them and uses his knowledge very skillfully to create something new and refreshing much like Quentin Tarantino does. Still, I couldn't estimate how he would do in the western genre as most of the projects he was associated with up to this point were horror-related. What can I say, West knows his westerns! That is very obvious when you watch 'In a Valley of Violence' and know a couple of movies from the genre. It's as if West combined all of the best elements from 1960s westerns like 'For a Handful of Dollars,' 'Once Upon a Time in the West' or 'The Wild Bunch' and paired them with the sort of graphic violence that is usually found in horror movies, and it works very well. I'd say it's rare that a genre director's first attempt at a different genre turns out so well as it did here.
The movie's plot about a mysterious stranger who passes through a town ruled by a gang of misfits who kill his best friend and leave the stranger for dead is one of the classic western themes. The twist here is that the best friend is a super cool dog who can do spectacular tricks ("He bites."). Of course the stranger, who is portrayed splendidly by Ethan Hawke, isn't dead and comes back to take revenge on the hoodlums who did him wrong. The performances from the whole cast are excellent! Ethan Hawke is great in the lead role and James Ransone ('Sinister') is equally convincing in the role of Gilly, the main antagonist. John Travolta portrays the town's marshal, who also happens to be Gilly's father, and it's one of Travolta's finest performances in recent memory. The charming Taissa Farmiga ('The Final Girls') and Karen Gillan ('Oculus') are also very good in their roles as managers of the local hotel. Taissa's character is fascinated by the stranger and helps him achieve his revenge. The direction and cinematography are excellent, as is the film score by Jeff Grace, who has composed and performed the scores for the majority of Ti West's movies, is reminiscent of Ennio Morricone and completes the gritty western experience of 'In a Valley of Violence.' The score combines elements of some of the most familiar themes found in spaghetti westerns and it sounds like it could be straight out of a classic Clint Eastwood movie.
I think 'In a Valley of Violence' is Ti West's most accomplished movie yet. I loved 'In the House of the Devil' and especially 'The Innkeepers,' but the latter only grew on me with multiple viewings. 'In a Valley of Violence' convinced me from the beginning an I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. I highly recommend this movie to fans of violent westerns!
Evil Dead (2013)
An evocative and downright violent reimagining of the Evil Dead
I love this movie! I've already seen it a couple of times and I like it even more with each viewing. The cast is great, the story is original and the gore is unbelievable. I wouldn't even call it a remake of the original 'Evil Dead' as nothing more but the basic premise of friends staying at a secluded cabin in the woods and being haunted by a demonic entity was kept. Yes, there are a couple of scenes that are reminiscent of Sam Raimi's 'Evil Dead' movies but they only reference them rather than directly copy from them. Jane Levy probably is the best actress they could have gotten who could pull a demanding role like this off. Her performance here is unbelievable. Kudos to charming Jane for acting the hell out of her role!
In addition to that, the look of the movie is absolutely amazing! It already looked insanely good on Blu-ray. Probably the best looking Blu-ray I've ever seen! That's why I picked it as the first movie to watch in 4K (it's on Amazon) as I very much expected it to look astonishing. I was not let down! Other than the majority of current 4K releases that are usually upscaled from 2K masters, 'Evil Dead' was filmed and mastered completely in 4K and it looks superb. Have I mentioned that It love this movie? Groovy!
Adventures in Babysitting (2016)
I've got the babysitting blues...
I expected this one to be horrible but still decided to watch it because the original 'Adventures in Babysitting' starring Elisabeth Shue has been one of my favorite '80s comedies for many years. Surprisingly, this new take on the story is not too bad for a Disney Channel remake.
The lead actresses Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson have great on- screen presence and they did try to make something original and not just copy from the classic movie. The filmmakers modernized the story and changed a lot of things like adding new characters and sub-plots, which can be a good thing but is not always a good thing in the case of this movie. Admittedly, a mere remake of the original movie probably wouldn't work today. It just has that certain '80s charm that couldn't be recaptured nowadays. It's a time capsule. So changes and updates were necessary.
Even though this remake tries to be different and modern, it doesn't always succeed. For instance, the fun blues number from the original was replaced with a rather ridiculous hip hop song. I certainly would have preferred to hear the "Babysitting Blues" instead, which was done by blues man Albert Collins in the original movie with Elisabeth Shue singing lead. Sabrina Carpenter certainly has enough charisma to deliver a performance as charming as Elisabeth Shue's. Maybe they could have gotten a contemporary blues rock musician like Jack White to take on Albert Collin's role. That would have been something! Oh well, the blues is probably considered to old-fashioned for the young audience Disney is aiming at.
Being original with a remake is always commendable but they overdid it a bit with 'Adventures in Babysitting.' They shouldn't have dropped or changed some of the most memorable scenes from the original movie that are its heart and soul. They made the movie the classic it is today. This remake can't capture the greatness of the original because you don't even recognize it anymore. Too much was changed. It is still worth a watch, though.
A rather decent horror anthology with one stand-out segment
'Holidays' is an anthology horror movie that is composed of eight segments, most of which are decent. Anthony Scott Burns' 'Father's Day' is the best of the bunch if you ask me. It creates a chilling atmosphere that is somewhat reminiscent of 'Carnival of Souls' (1962). I think it even has potential to be expanded into a feature film. Kevin Smith's 'Halloween,' on the other hand, is rather disappointing. Why didn't the guy just cut the cord of the vibrator instead of his private parts? Anyway, this is how I rate the segments:
1. Valentine's Day – good, 2. St. Patrick's Day – average, 3. Easter – bellow average, 4. Mother's Day – bad, 5. Father's Day – very good, 6. Halloween – bad, 7. Christmas – average, 8. New Year's Eve – good
M – Masterpiece!
'M' is brilliant! This film was so way ahead of its time that it still holds up today and doesn't feel dated one bit but rather modern. The only thing that seems a bit odd by today's standards is the complete lack of incidental music and the fact that many scenes don't include sound effects and are virtually silent. You have to remember, though, that this film was made right at the transition from silent film to sound film, so the concept of sound in films was still rather new and director Fritz Lang used the technology to its full potential in 'M.'
Lang's direction is magnificent, especially if you take into consideration that this film was made in 1930. The camera angles, tracking shots and zoom shots Lang used here were groundbreaking back then and they are still marvelous today. The three main characters of the film are played by Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke and Gustaf Gründgens and all three of them are fantastic in their respective roles. Lorre's acting is intense, especially in the finale. That performance is something else!
Into the Storm (2014)
A disaster film that is far from a disaster of a film
I've been on a bit of an Alycia Debnam-Carey trip lately and went through all of the films she's done so far, which are not very many as she is mainly known for her television work at this point, like 'Fear the Walking Dead,' where I first noticed her. If it wasn't for Alycia being part of the cast, I probably would never have watched 'Into the Storm.' I had heard about the movie back when it came out but had no inclination to watch it as I thought it would be nothing more than another mediocre disaster film, a notion which the generally negative reviews and bad ratings for the movie strongly support.
As I only wanted to see Alycia and how she was doing in her role, I had no expectations whatsoever of 'Into the Storm' and was very pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be an entertaining, action-packed thrill-ride of a tornado disaster film very similar to 1996's 'Twister' but with more impressive visual effects due to the drastic advances in computer-generated imagery since then. Most of the CGI looks absolutely stunning and rather realistic and is the definitive selling point of the movie as the bare-bones script doesn't offer much character development or any real surprises in the progression of the plot. It's simply a very typical setting for a disaster film with a straightforward plot: Small groups of strangers meet through the circumstances of a disaster and have to fight to survive while they bond a little bit in the rare quiet moments. For instance, Donnie (Max Deacon), an introverted nerd-like character, gets stuck with Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), the pretty girl he has had a crush on for a long time. You can probably guess how their chance meeting turns out in the end as this is a very commonly used but still effective plot device.
As I said, this movie delivers just what you'd expect from a disaster film. Still, 'Into the Storm' received generally negative reviews, which is not surprising as these types of movies are always panned by critics for no apparent reason. After all, director Steven Quale certainly didn't set out to make 'Citizen Kane' or something but an entertaining action flick. I don't think there even is such a thing as a critically acclaimed disaster film except for maybe 'Titanic' (1997). Critics hate disaster films! Even the best movies of its genre like 'The Day After Tomorrow' (2004) weren't received very well at all by critics. That's just the way it is. So don't let negative reviews and low ratings put you off!
Despite the fact that the adult main characters of the movie, portrayed by Sarah Wayne Callies ('The Walking Dead'), Richard Armitage ('The Hobbit') and Matt Walsh ('Ted'), are the protagonists, the teenage characters are really the ones who shine. Nathan Kress' character is the most elaborate in the script. He has some of the best lines and his portrayal of the character is energetic and simply fun to watch. Max Deacon is pretty good, too. He has a quite convincing crying scene. On the other hand, lead actress Sarah Wayne Callies' character is not fleshed-out enough to carry the movie on her own and Richard Armitage's dad-character remains stiff and somewhat distant throughout. Matt Walsh is great, though, as Pete, the daredevil documentary filmmaker who seemingly has no scruples but is actually a loyal friend.
While the main characters are likable, many of the minor characters remain bland as they don't have enough screen time to amount to anything. The notable exception are the two Jackass-type dumbasses Donk and Reevis (Kyle Davis and Jon Reep), who voluntarily risk their lives driving into the tornadoes with their pickup truck and a quad bike just to shoot YouTube videos and get more views on their channel. This dumb-and-dumber-like duo doesn't really serve a purpose in the plot but is hilarious to watch.
So, while the 'Into the Storm' is certainly not perfect in every aspect, there is a lot to like about it. To get back to the sole reason why I initially watched the movie, Alycia is fine in her role but she doesn't have very much screen time. She looks very pretty, though, so she does obviously serve the purpose of eye candy and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. After all, she shows a lot of potential in many of the roles she has taken on over the past few years and she's just really breaking out as an actress in Hollywood. When she gets the right role, she might turn into a major star. She certainly possesses the right qualities.
The Rocketeer (1991)
The Rocketeer rocks!
Despite being produced by Walt Disney Pictures, this is not really a movie for kids. It is actually quite violent for a Disney movie and primarily aimed at a male audience. Presumably, the Disney tag was one of the reasons why the movie failed to become a box office success back in 1991 as people mistook it for a kids' movie.
'The Rocketeer' is far from that! In fact, it is a very entertaining and fun adventure movie reminiscent of the Indiana Jones trilogy with its Nazi themes, the television spin off 'The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones'—in which this movie's director, Joe Johnston, was involved, too—and also of the old James Bond movies from the 1960s and 1970s with their exaggeratedly quirky villains. Coincidentally or maybe intentionally, the movie's main villain is portrayed by Timothy Dalton, who took on the role of James Bond two times and is excellent here as the charming but fanatical antagonist.
While the screenplay could have been better, the great actors and especially the fantastic, action-packed and visually striking finale make up for what the plot is lacking in direction. Joe Johnston is a capable director with a distinct style that is present in virtually all of the movies he has directed, including 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011), which is similar to this movie in a number of aspects.
The cast of 'The Rocketeer' is simply superb and includes a number of very fine character actors and some big names, too. I mean, look at that excellent cast list: Alan Arkin, Paul Sorvino, Terry O'Quinn, Jon Polito, Ed Lauter, William Sanderson, Margo Martindale... These actors have been in like every movie ever made! Billy Campbell is decent in the lead role, even though he is not the greatest actor around, but he carries this movie quite well. It makes you wonder why his film career never really took off afterward. He is familiar of course, mostly from television, but he is not a big name. The beautiful and classy Jennifer Connelly is the icing on the cake of the cast. She is a very good actress and an absolute delight to watch. What a mighty fine lady!
Seven Minutes in Heaven (1985)
A forgotten 1980s coming-of-age comedy starring Jennifer Connelly
This is one of those movies that is largely forgotten nowadays. 'Seven Minutes in Heaven' is the only feature film that Linda Feferman ever directed and it was in competition for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival 1986. It didn't win that award but it did receive the 'Special Jury Recognition for Youth Comedy' at the festival that year.
Admittedly, the plot of 'Seven Minutes in Heaven' is average at best and typical for a comedy of the era, but it is still a decent coming-of-age movie thanks to its rather strong main cast of genuine teenage actors. Jennifer Connelly is as sweet as always and Maddie Corman is equally delightful. Byron Thames is also great in the role of the somewhat quirky guy. I wonder why he didn't get more roles in 1980s comedies after this one. It's nice to see Marshall Bell, an accomplished and widely recognized character actor, in a small supporting role.
By the way, 'Seven Minutes in Heaven' was released on DVD in 2010 as part of the Warner Archive Collection. The picture quality of the transfer used for that DVD is surprisingly good for an archival release of a rather obscure movie made in 1985.
A fun movie with great music. Perfect for repeated viewings.
I never saw this movie when I was a kid but I knew about it of course and had it on my watchlist for many years. Now I have finally watched it. What can I say, I enjoyed it. Jim Henson's 'Labyrinth' has a very unique look from today's perspective. They really don't make movies like this anymore, with puppetry, practical effects and handcrafted sets. Today it would be all CGI and it probably wouldn't have that certain charm that these kinds of movies from the 1980s have. Apart from the great look, the movie has two fine actors to offer. Jennifer Connelly is a joy to watch, as usual, and David Bowie is delightfully shifty as the Goblin King. Furthermore, the songs that Bowie wrote and performed for the soundtrack are all excellent. I don't know what's not to like about the movie. It's adventurous, very funny and touching and deservedly considered a classic.
'Backcountry' is an impressive, shockingly realistic survival film that features brilliant camera work, fantastic practical effects, great acting performances and, to top it off, a superb ambient/industrial/country-esque score by Frères Lumières (Vince Nudo and Dan Watchorn). What's even more impressive is that a sophisticated movie like this is a debut film. Yes, indeed. This is actor-turned-writer/director Adam MacDonald's first directorial effort. I'd say it's a true success! Nevertheless, I do understand why people may find it boring as there is not much going on plot-wise and the black bear that graces some of the movie posters doesn't appear till the last third or so. 'Backcountry' is a realistic depiction of a hiking trip gone horribly wrong and I like the movie for it's realism. Christian Bielz's great cinematography makes you feel like you're there, especially in the scenes where Jenn, played by Missy Peregrym, is chased by the bear and the shaky camera really gives the viewer that impression of running away. It's quite effective and thrilling. Adam MacDonald is a director to keep an eye on.
Don't Breathe (2016)
Typical genre fare
I'm not sure why 'Don't Breathe' is praised so much. This movie is nothing special really if you're familiar with the genre. It doesn't have anything to offer that wasn't done before and often done better. Even though the movie is entertaining, it is far from groundbreaking. It's not even very thrilling and there's hardly any horror in it. It's just an average genre movie with an average plot and average acting. So what's the deal with the exuberantly positive ratings?
I'm pretty disappointed because Fede Alvarez's previous movie, 'Evil Dead' (2013), is one of my all-time favorite horror movies and one of the greatest horror remakes ever made if you ask me. I see little of that excellent filmmaking Alvarez displayed in 'Evil Dead' in this movie. It's really a shame and I hope that I will enjoy Alvarez's next movie more than 'Don't Breathe.'
Only God Forgives (2013)
A surreal, gritty and excessively violent art-house experience!
Very recently, I watched Nicolas Winding Refn's most recent work 'The Neon Demon' (2016) and, while I was quite impressed with its cast, its visual look and its score, I don't think it's the masterpiece many audience reviews make it out to be. I don't quite agree with the generally negative professional reviews either because the movie certainly has style, but it lacks a real plot that goes somewhere and it becomes ridiculously gory and repellent at the end, which is not consistent with the otherwise slow-paced, surreal style of the rest of the movie.
That being said, I had seen Refn's 'Drive' (2011) before and liked it quite a bit, so, despite the overly negative reviews and ratings it has received over the past few years, I gave 'Only God Forgives' a shot as I had never gotten around to watching it since its release in 2013. Actually, I hadn't gotten around to finishing watching it as I had in fact seen the first 20 minutes or so back when it came out, but for some reason I had stopped it and never picked up where I had left off. I don't really know why but the generally negative consent of the critics had a lot to do with that I guess. Nevertheless, now that I have seen the whole movie, I am baffled that it is regarded so lowly. It's my favorite Refn movie I have seen so far.
The plot of 'Only God Forgives' is a very straightforward story about revenge and its consequences, which is simplistic on the surface yet conveys a deeper meaning. The movie is also characterized by its surrealism and its excessive violence, which is not for the faint of heart. It's like art-house Tarantino! Aside from violence, unlike in Tarantion's movies, there is not much dialogue in 'Only God Forgives' but what is there often contains black humor, which I like a lot. The restaurant scene with Ryan Golsing's character, his mother and his girlfriend is such a black-humored scene. Ryan Gosling's stare in that scene is brilliant. Although he doesn't say much in the whole movie, I think Gosling is perfectly cast because of his piercing stare. Vithaya Pansringarm is also perfect as the main villain. He is terrifying but also quite funny in a number of karaoke scenes.
Other than 'The Neon Demon', where I think the over-the-top gore at the end is out of place, this movie is relentlessly brutal and gory from the beginning and it works really well in my opinion because this style is kept throughout the movie. There are many elements in 'Only God Forgives' that you can also find in 'The Neon Demon' like the use of colors and shadows, surrealism, slow-paced cinematography, limited dialogue, and a moody electro-score by Cliff Martinez, but it doesn't all come together so fluently in the latter movie. The slow pacing of 'Only God Forgives' coupled with Martinez' score is very effective in building up to the unavoidable confrontations between the characters in the movie, which there are plenty of and they all end very violently. The slow buildup to the various brutal showdowns reminds me of late 1960s westerns like Sergio Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in the West' (1968) or Sam Peckinpah's 'The Wild Bunch' (1969). The similarities don't end with slow pacing and violent showdowns, though. Just as in those gritty westerns, there are no good characters in Refn's 'Only God Forgives.' They are all bad or evil in one way or another.
In conclusion, I think this is a very well-made movie that for some reason doesn't appeal to the majority of critics and viewers alike. It's surreal and excessively violent but also fun in a way. I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed the movie after reading some of the negative reviews and watching the half-baked 'The Neon Demon.' This is my favorite of Refn's movies I have seen.
The Neon Demon (2016)
Visually impressive but without much substance and ultimately grotesque
Featuring a capable cast with the superb Elle Fanning in the lead and a fascinating score by Cliff Martinez, Nicolas Winding Refn's 'The Neon Demon' is a visually striking art film that is very good in the beginning, but in the end, relies too much on shock moments to be taken seriously, which in turn diminishes much of its expressiveness.
The movie starts out great with Elle Fanning's character making her way in the glamorous but shallow modeling world of L.A. where she meets some shifty characters. As the movie progresses, we get to see more and more surreal scenes accompanied by Cliff Martinez' excellent electro-score. The first half of the movie is all good filmmaking if you ask me, at times reminiscent of David Lynch, Dario Argento and Roman Polanski, but somewhere in the middle, the movie begins to drag because the plot lacks narrative structure and there are too many scenes that introduce potentially interesting plot lines that are never elaborated later on.
After about 90 minutes, the movie takes a kind of U-turn, changing from a slow-burning psychological drama into a nasty gore-fest that could be straight out of the mind of a lunatic. The movie's decent into full- on madness begins with Jena Malone having an experience of lesbian necrophilia in a morgue and ends with Abbey Lee eating Elle Fanning's eyeball that Bella Heathcote just puked up. Yes, that's just as crazy as it sounds. Even though Refn obviously tries to make a certain statement with the way he ended 'The Neon Demon,' one can't deny that this final succession of weird and weirder scenes is primarily there to shock the audience, and it absolutely doesn't fit in with the rest of the movie. Don't get me wrong, I like my share of insane horror movies, but it's almost never a good idea to start a movie a certain way, keep up its style for a long period of time, and only at the very end completely break with that style. It's almost like the screen is screaming "F*** you!" at the audience.
All in the all, 'The Neon Demon' is a visually striking if narratively underwhelming social commentary on the dog eat dog modeling world of today that keeps up a great style for most of its running time but ultimately discards it in favor of shock schlock.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
A genuinely creepy horror movie that re-imagines established conventions
I'm impressed! 'The Conjuring 2' is a great movie! Although I had read good reviews beforehand, I was still a bit anxious if it could keep up the high standard that was set by the first part back in 2013. After the relatively weak 'Insidious 2' that was James Wan's most disappointing directorial effort to date in my opinion—which is quite surprising as it came out the same year as the 'The Conjuring'—I must admit I did have some doubts. Still, 'Furious 7' was a good movie and it directly precedes 'The Conjuring 2' in Wan's filmography as director, so I was looking forward to seeing it. In fact, most of Wan's directing is quite impressive and there is hardly a movie he directed that I would call a true failure. Before seeing 'The Conjuring 2,' the two Wan movies that I rated highest were 'Saw' (2004) and 'Death Sentence' (2007). That has changed now. I think 'The Conjuring 2' is his most impressive directorial effort to date.
It is better than the first part—which was already good—and one of only a few horror movies I have seen in recent years that I would call genuinely creepy. It's quite an achievement to make a horror movie that runs for a whopping 134 minutes that doesn't have any lengths in it and never gets boring. James Wan did that and much more. 'The Conjuring 2' harks back to a number of classics in the horror genre like 'Poltergeist' (1982), 'The Amityville Horror' (1979), 'The Exorcist' (1973), and 'The Sixth Sense' (1999), but does not actually copy them. Wan merely uses a number of the most effective scare tactics that were introduced in those movies but adapts them in his own unique way so that they appeal to a modern audience that has already seen everything. Because of the established settings and well-known scary elements you'd expect to see in this kind of horror movie, 'The Conjuring 2' feels very familiar and I had a sense of déjà vu at certain points in the movie.
Nevertheless, the movie does never feel clichéd because Wan is a very creative director who takes inspiration from classic horror movies but never dully imitates them like so many modern-day horror movies do. It's obvious that James Wan knows the horror genre very well and he knows how to effectively re-imagine its conventions and play with established tactics. The first half of the movie is especially eerie with its very effective use of shadows and sounds. I found the sound design done by Eliot Connors and Peter Staubli to be exceptional: Creaking doors, squeaky floors, pattering rain, low ringing bells in the night and all that make for a really spine-chilling atmosphere. Moreover, James Wan's direction is pretty much flawless and Don Burgess' cinematography is impressive. There are a couple of tracking shots in the movie that simply look amazing. The whole cast led by the delightful Vera Farmiga is great, too.
What I really love is when directors have an eye for small details in their movies and truly care about seemingly unimportant scenes that don't contribute to the plot but are still crucial as to how an audience perceives a movie. James Wan is such a director. In 'The Conjuring 2,' there is one scene in which Patrick Wilson's character Ed Warren brings a copy of Elvis' 'Blue Hawaii' soundtrack album to the Hodgson house because it was mentioned earlier that the kids' father took his Elvis collection with him when he left the family and the kids loved to listen to it. He puts the record on the turntable and everyone who knows Elvis' music will expect to get to hear the classic song 'Can't Help Falling in Love' now... but the turntable is broken! "What a bummer," I think, but then Patrick Wilson grabs an acoustic guitar that just stands there in the corner, sits down on the edge of an armchair, and delivers a pretty good impromptu take on the song with the kids chiming in at the end. "Great," I think, "but it would have been nice to hear at least a bit of Elvis' original version when they show the record and its cover so prominently in the movie. Oh well." Because of all the creepy stuff that is then going on in the movie, I completely forget about the song, and when Ed stores the Crooked Man music box away after the finale, and I hear those familiar, haunting lines "like a river flows, surely to the sea" from afar, I'm just as surprised as Ed. Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) put a copy of 'Blue Hawaii' on the turntable and the movie ends with her and Ed dancing to "Can't Help Falling in Love." I have heard this fantastic song hundreds of times but it's like hearing a familiar song in a completely new way when it's used so skillfully in a movie. A great way to end a great movie. Actually, I would have expected the movie to end differently with some kind of creepy shot suggesting that evil still lurks around the corner, but James Wan is not a director who bothers with those clichés.
So, to put it in a nutshell, this is a very well-made movie that no horror fan should miss.
Queen of Earth (2015)
A woman on the brink of insanity
'Queen of Earth' is a decent indie movie. Nothing spectacular, but certainly worth a watch if you like slow-burning psychological dramas.
The movie is about Catherine (Elisabeth Moss), a woman on the brink of insanity, who spends a week at a lakeside vacation house with her estranged best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston). Through flashbacks, we get to see the rather joyful person Catherine was merely a year ago, who stands in stark contrast to the basket case she has become after some unfortunate events in her life.
Elisabeth Moss stands out in the lead role. Her acting is very expressive. I also like that the director chose to shoot on 16 mm film. It gives the movie that certain ominous look of horror movies from days gone by, even though it is not a horror movie, and I wouldn't classify it as a thriller either.
'Queen of Earth' is a psychological drama in the vein of Roman Polanski's 'Repulsion' (1965) and 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968) or Sebastián Silva's more recent 'Magic Magic' (2013), albeit without the tangible "horror" elements of those movies and much more rooted in the ordinary world. This is a movie about the horrors of the everyday as it were.
The Haunting (1963)
Not effective as a 'horror' movie
I really wanted to like 'The Haunting' because I am a sucker for horror movies with a slow buildup and I had read good things about this one beforehand, but it honestly didn't do anything for me and I'm very surprised about that myself considering its status as one of the greats of the genre.
This movie feels dated and I'd be surprised if it could really scare a modern-day viewer in any way at all. There is nothing ghostly going on here except for some late night banging on doors and walls plus some freaky noises. That's about it and that's not enough for a 'horror' movie that runs for almost two hours. Well, maybe if the acting were exceptionally inspired, but it isn't. While the acting from the whole cast is not all bad, it also doesn't stand out, and the dialogues between the characters are mostly bland.
I didn't care for any of the characters at all. They are all so unappealing and they act so weirdly, especially the main character, Eleanor Lance, who is one of the most annoying and psychotic persons I have ever seen on screen, and I don't mean that in a good way. She's just distracting and kept me from fully appreciating the good things about this movie that are certainly there.
You see, from a technical standpoint, the movie is very well-made. There are many shots to be marveled at, such as a tracking shot up a spiral staircase or inventive shots of doors getting pushed in and such. I can certainly see that 'The Haunting' inspired many movies that followed and I appreciate it for that, but it's just not an effective horror movie for me.
Pressure Point (1962)
An overlooked gem of a psychological drama
I had 'Pressure Point' on my watchlist for a few years, and now that it is available in HD, I finally watched it. With the great Sidney Poitier and Bobby Darin in the lead roles and the inimitable Peter Falk in a small supporting role, my expectations of this movie were quite high. Those expectations were not only met but exceeded.
'Pressure Point' is a great psychological drama about a mentally disturbed, racist inmate, who is excellently portrayed by Bobby Darin, and also a sociological study of America in the early 1940s and the political climate at the time. Sidney Poitier plays a psychologist who tries to free his patient from his Nazi ideologies in order to re-integrate him into society. The movie includes a number of surreal elements in the scenes in which the patient talks about his troubled childhood with an alcoholic, vicious father and a helpless, needy mother, which are used to great effect. Barry Gordon is fantastic as the patient in his younger days. Hubert Cornfield's direction is very good and there are many stylish looking shots filmed from interesting angles (for instance from the perspective of a sink or from the ceiling), and also some longer tracking shots. I was very impressed with the unusually stylish look for this type of movie. Ernest Gold's jazzy score is also worthy of note.
'Pressure Point' seems to be quite an obscure movie these days and I really wonder why it has been so overlooked for decades. It's a hidden gem that is very well directed and includes excellent performances from the whole cast, especially Sidney Poitier, Bobby Darin and Barry Gordon. The movie certainly deserves much more recognition.
"I leave without a sound. Disappear without a trace... I'm going southbound."
'Southbound' is a well-made horror anthology movie in the tradition of the great ones from the 1980s like 'Creepshow' . I especially like the third segment, 'The Accident,' which takes place in the dead of night on a deserted road and in an abandoned hospital, and involves a man on a business trip, who accidentally runs over a young woman with his car. He calls 911 and then tries to save the victims life with some shady people on the cell phone guiding him through performing surgery on her. It's a very creepy and creative little story. Most of the seemingly supernatural occurrences that are shown in the movie are never explained and, while that may be frustrating to some, it is one of the elements that helps to create an ominous atmosphere. Also, the way the altogether five segments are interwoven and seamlessly merge into one another is clever. 'Southbound' definitely brings something fresh to the horror genre, which is often said to be stagnating. This movie proves otherwise.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Psychological horror at its best!
I haven't seen 'Rosemary's Baby' in well over a decade and have just finished watching it again. I had forgotten what an awesome horror thriller Roman Polanski has created here. It definitely is one of the prime examples of its genre. Sure, its buildup is rather slow by today's standards but that's just what I like to see in a good psychological horror movie. It's by no means a blood and gore movie, which many people identify with the horror genre, but rather a movie that creates the thrill and horror in your head, much like Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' (1980) does.
On the outside, 'Rosemary's Baby' comes in the disguise of a drama and there is very little graphic horror to be found in it, except for one scene in which you get a glimpse of Satan himself, but that's pretty much it. The movie rather relies on good character development and captivating lines of well-written dialogue delivered by a cast of actors who really know how to occupy the screen. Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are perfectly cast as Rosemary's odd next-door neighbors, as is Mia Farrow in the role of the seemingly fragile Rosemary, who she plays marvelously and with great depth.
The movie sticks very closely to Rosemary and we as the audience experience the unfolding of the story from her perspective. That is one of the reasons why this movie is very relatable. Gradually, Rosemary finds more clues which indicate that some kind of witchery must be going on around her. Or is it just her mind playing tricks on her? Up until the fantastic finale, in which Sidney Blackmer really shines as the leader of the coven, vigorously screaming "Hail Satan!" from the top of his lungs, she is never quite sure, and we aren't either. That's what creates a very ominous atmosphere and makes this movie so captivating. 'Rosemary's Baby' has no need to show much to be frightening. In fact, we never even get to see the titular baby. It's all just in your head.
The Shallows (2016)
Blake Lively Saves The Shallows!
Blake Lively's performance in 'The Shallows' is very engaging. The movie is basically a one-woman show. Blake gives everything she has to make her fight for survival look realistic and she really does it great. Her performance elevates the movie above the usual mediocrity one is used to seeing in these kinds of survival movies these days. She's not only easy on the eyes in her surfer outfit, but she also acts realistically and makes you feel the character's pain.
I thought it was a pretty decent and relatively realistic shark attack movie – up until the finale that is. Just before the final fight against the shark, there is an under-water scene involving glowing jellyfish, which just seems completely unrealistic and out of place to me. That scene is something for a sci-fi movie. Then there is the final fight in which the shark is killed in the most ridiculous and unrealistic way imaginable. The payoff in this otherwise decent movie is just laughable and something I would have expected seeing in a Sharknado installment or something.
It's too bad that the movie doesn't hold up until the very end, but it is still a rather decent survival movie. Watch it for Blake Lively's great performance, if nothing else.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
An exceptionally moody motion picture!
I've just finished watching 'Carnvial of Souls' for the very first time and I've already made up my mind that it's an absolute masterpiece. This movie manages to be incredibly atmospheric on a shoestring budget of just a couple thousand dollars and achieves something that most of today's movies don't even manage on a multi- million dollar budget: To completely draw the viewer in and mesmerize them.
This movie proves that you don't necessarily need tons of practical and special effects, big action sequences or an overly complex plot to make a good movie, but merely a group of dedicated people with a vision and the expertise to realize it. Herk Harvey, John Clifford, Candace Hilligoss and their colleagues probably didn't realize what exactly they were creating at the time, but they all had lots of talent and expertise as is evident in the final movie. It's a piece of art.
The cinematography and direction of 'Carnival of Souls' are phenomenal, Gene Moore's organ score is haunting, and the acting is surprisingly captivating, especially Candace Hilligoss in the lead role. Her facial expressions in the scene where she's playing the organ as if possessed are chilling. The grand finale at Saltair is something that is burnt into my mind now. Such beautiful and haunting images. A brilliant movie!
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
A fine college comedy, but not Dazed
This movie is good but it doesn't compare to 'Dazed and Confused' and I'm not sure why Linklater thought it was a good idea to market it as a "spiritual sequel" to that movie. 'Everybody Wants Some!!' doesn't have that much in common with 'Dazed.' It's a funny college comedy but not much more than that. The soundtrack is great and there are a number of interesting characters, but it all almost seems like a persiflage or parody of 'Dazed.' This movie certainly lacks the realism of 'Dazed,' which makes the latter movie so brilliant in my opinion. 'Everybody Wants Some!!' is a fine comedy but it's nowhere near the masterpiece that 'Dazed and Confused' is. I think it's pretty much impossible to recreate the brilliance of that movie.