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A acid-drenched journey into heavy metal madness
Panos, I have been waiting a long time. After Beyond The Black Rainbow, I made sacrifices to many dark gods and prayed that you'd get lots of money to do a second film as soon as possible. And even though it took you the better part of a decade, you finally delivered the psychedelic midnight masterpiece that was every bit worth the long wait. I thank you from the bottom of my heart as I eagerly await your next cinematic offering to the world. The horns are raised.
Imagine the aesthetics of Enter The Void in a quasi-mythical horror/revenge film. Imagine a completely unhinged Nicholas Cage in it. Sounds great, yeah? Go see immediately. If this isn't the sort of thing you're into - e.g. metal, drugs, bloody horror, evil cults, chainsaw duels - then it's probably not going to be your favorite film of the year. But you might like it anyway - as one of the folks I was with said after the showing, "this scratched an itch I didn't even know I had..." If nothing else, you'll come to respect the purity of vision evident here, because it doesn't deviate from that vision in the slightest and stays true to itself from the first frame to the last.
Overhyped and underwhelming - "you were warned" indeed...
If your idea of a good horror flick is watching unlikable members of a dysfunctional family quietly wrestle through the torturous act of putting up with one another, then you've just found yourself two and a half hours of pure timesucking gold. Sure, there's a weak mix of C-grade made-for-TV tropes that are peppered throughout this dismal wreck to string it together into what technically qualifies as "supernatural horror" - but the film's as scary as a roll of flab, and as predictable as an infomercial. The direction is amateur-hour at best (the original cut was supposedly three hours - what for???), the pacing is torturously uneven, and there's weirdly preachy anti-marijuana messaging (perhaps because there isn't enough THC in this universe to make this watchable). It stinks up every subgenre it touches, and anyone who praises this is either being disingenuous or stupid or both - this is literally the most overhyped piece of garbage since Inception. As an avid horror fan, I can't think of a single reason to recommend this.
Instead, try watching: Society, Drag Me Down To Hell, Lord Of Illusions, Serpent and the Rainbow, The Ninth Gate, The Wicker Man, The Visit...anything but this, really.
A tubby full of peach fuzz
An NPR podcast ran a story a while back, in which the NPR-ish narrator recalls with some embarrassment how he didn't realize that a kooky guy he had been friends with for years was in fact a homeless pathological liar. At first, the listener naturally assumes the story would be about the mechanics of this prodigious feat of deceit. But then it slowly becomes evident that the real story is how much of a gormless doofus the narrator happens to be, and how he had essentially enabled this charade the entire time by ignoring all sorts of obvious warning signs.
The dynamic is kinda the same here. It's also my main gripe with this film, but later on that. In the tradition of modern American workplace criticism etiquette, the turd sandwich must always start with a compliment:
Mark Duplass - aka the actor who plays the titular creep - totally carries the entire film. As far as character acting is concerned, he nails this role. It's hard to be menacing and endearing at the same time, and Duplass pulls it off with a weird grace that keeps the viewer off-balance for most of the film, even when he is not present on screen. Even though you know the general direction the film is veering in, this kooky fella's weird ramblings and edgy antics will keep you guessing throughout!
The other character - played by Partick Brice - is a pasty, out-of-shape, out-of-work camera-beardo. He is not particularly dumb - in fact, he seems to be guardedly on edge from the get-go - but he is bland, unimaginative, and for lack of a better term, just plain ineffective. He is unemployed and alone; he wears a "fitness to productivity office workouts" t-shirt to bed. (Brice totally nails this role.)
Now, when you pair a malleable doofus like that with a vibrant weirdo, all sorts of interesting possibilities open up. Perhaps they would have been explored if these guys had more money. If this cost more than several grand to make, I don't see how or why: the only other person in the film besides the two leads is a voice on the other end of a 30 second phone call, no effects and minimal props, and the whole film could have probably been filmed and edited on an iPad.
With this in mind, the film is actually a dazzling example of squeezing the most out of a shoestring budget. But what at first feels like a realized vision veers into the territory of a squandered opportunity as it nears its disappointingly anticlimactic conclusion, racking up an ever-growing list of plausibility gripes along the way. The cameraman has bizarre recurring dreams, but they're pointless - they don't inform his actions, they don't indicate character development...they hardly even qualify as generic foreshadowing! And even though there's nothing inherently implausible about wanting to keep the law out of certain situations, the writing in that regard has to be one of the lazier efforts in horror at addressing the absence of cops.
So it's pretty dumb, and even though it's technically a horror film, most of the "jump scares" in the film are literally the creepy guy running away from the camera guy and then jumping out at him from the corner like a 9 year old. Boo indeed. But the two leads make this more entertaining than it ought to be, and though it's not particularly scary, it has a wry, improvised sense of humor that had the potential to really knock this one out of the park - if only their ideas about character trajectory were better developed.
First Reformed (2017)
Take note, Christian cinema
While so-called Christian cinema seems to be content churning out tepid celluloid reinforcements of their "faith is the answer to everything" mantra - with the storytelling grace of daytime soaps and the charm of a Lisa Frank tramp stamp - veteran angst-channeler Paul Schrader had a different idea for a faith-based film, and the result is a modern pop cinema equivalent of Martin Luther nailing his Theses to the establishment's door.
And this half character study, half Bresson-esque cinematic essay thing he's got going here works...sorta, for the most part. There are a lot of threads set up throughout the film, and though on one level it makes sense that they're only there to fan the flames of the priest's inner turmoils, on another level it almost feels like certain tangents were dismissed...less deliberately than others. (Like, in the diner scene, when the priest wonders if he should have kept quiet then - why? Is this just a silly red herring or the foreshadowing of a plotline that was somehow later abandoned?) My guess is that it mostly had to do with paring the script down to its essence, the removal of unnecessary and cliched dramatic filler - the "Bressonization" of it, if you will.
With that in mind, the ending is easy to interpret as a carefully constructed thematic statement - and not the copout that some reviewers seem to think that it is. Which, to be perfectly honest here, still felt unsatisfying from a regular moviegoing perspective, despite this layer of understanding - like, what, there wasn't a more memorable and visually enthralling way Schrader could have said what he wanted to say at the end? Still, the dry humor throughout and Ethan Hawke giving this role all he's got (and then some) makes the rest of the movie eminently watchable, and not just an exercise in modern polemic.
The only other weak point of the film is that while Ethan Hawke's priest character goes about rampaging through the proverbial temple of the moneylenders with the fire and urgency of the original act, he also does it with the same lack of subtlety. I'm no expert, but as other reviewers have pointed out, much of the theological 'meat' that characterizes the modern debate within Christianity about environmental stewardship obligations seems to be strung on quite thin. But hey, guess what? At least this film is TRYING to have that conversation - which makes this mandatory viewing for any self-professing Christian, especially compared to landfill-stuffer franchises like God's Not Dead and Left Behind. And hey, it's not like Jesus was trying for subtlety when he kicked over everyone's merch tables!
Perhaps such a demographic will be put off by the bile that's consistently poured onto the modern evangelical movement (namely, its petty compromises with greed and evil for the sake of "outreach") by this film at every chance. But to an outside rational observer like me, all that bile is well-deserved - and sorry, but you really don't need to have memorized the Bible frontwards and backwards to voice a valid opinion on that. Again, I'm no man of faith...but if I was, I'd have a real hard time swallowing the fact that my megachurch pastor needs another private jet "to spread the word of God" after watching this film. To paraphrase Ethan Hawke when an antagonist tries to dismiss climate change as a complex issue, "well no, it's actually quite simple."
(A footnote in response to any of the reviewers who claim that the main character's trajectory is not believable because he "doesn't fit a certain demographic" - this is basically Islamophobia masquerading as a gripe about plausibility, and its insidiousness lies in the fact that these reviewers are probably not even aware of their own blatant ethno-religious bias. It's also factually wrong: guess what demographic ACTUALLY poses the biggest terrorist threat to the nation?)
La tortue rouge (2016)
Zootopia vs zoophilia (vs a courgette)
Ok, look, maybe dreamy scenes of languid foreplay between a lady and a fish-being are now mainstream enough to get best picture, but this is the animation category we're talking about - they never let the weird ones win that. This had no chance against something as mainstream as Zootopia. They try to keep the picks geared largely towards children (which means that alcoholism and manslaughter are still on the table, as evidenced by the first 20 minutes of fellow nominee My Life As A Courgette), so the fact that this broke through the lego brick floor and got the nod really vouches for its quality.
Not that there's any adult content here. That's lacking, along with dialogue, or any dramatic tension in the overall story arc. But if your eight year old has the patience to sit through this, you probably did something right as a parent. If this was the kind of thing kids were used to watching all the time, our society would be a more thoughtful, humane place. Don't worry, it's not preachy - it's just a simple fairy tale, and like all good fairy tales, it invites a spectrum of interpretations. (People's interpretations of films like this can reveal quite a bit about their character, as evidenced by some of the other reviews.)
It's also gorgeously animated, so watch it for that, if nothing else.
It seems so obvious in retrospect: make a rape/revenge horror thriller, but then have it be directed by a woman! Gee whiz, it's like someone belonging to the gender routinely victimized by the plot device in question might actually have something relevant to say about it... In this context, it will immediately invite comparisons to Get Out, but the #metoo movement will probably have to wait for something a bit more accessible for its galvanizing cinematic moment - this one plays it unflinchingly close to the brutal and offputting subgenre it belongs to. Not for the squeamish. (Oh, and there are subtitles.)
It's a shame, because this is a solid first feature for the writer/director. She uses the human body to convey thematic subtext with the surety of a seasoned veteran. Note the way she shows the heroine shedding her consumerist sex object veneer, or the way she objectifies the naked male body when it is prey - in a script-flippy nod to every single slasher film with a "hot girl in shower about to be murdered" scene. Colorful decor, picturesque desert landscape, and a throbbing 80s-style synth soundtrack (obligatory nowadays) come together to form a highly stylized and effective atmosphere. And for those of us who were hoping to watch a horror film, there are some truly icky and viscerally uncomfortable moments.
Ok, here's the part where I lecture fools about realism (and more importantly, double standards):
This is not supposed to be an ultra-realistic survival thriller. This is allegorical rape-revenge horror. There are times when it's not going to be plausible, but like...think of films where a character is left for dead with some ridiculous deadly injury and somehow still manages to get up, fight, escape, etc. That describes like 90% of all movies where people get injured. (Also, that's not how peyote works - or branding, for that matter.)
Also, if you need to ask how she suddenly became Rambo-tough, then remember that by doing so you are making some sexist assumptions about her background - for instance, that she wasn't clever and tough and survivalist-minded to begin with, that she couldn't do any of that stuff because her initial appearance didn't suggest her to be anything more than a spoiled, useless, dumb hole.
Well...that is exactly how the men in the film saw her.
Don't Kill It (2016)
they killed it
This should be on a double bill with Devil's Candy for some sort of "demonic letdowns" movie night. Just like with that film, a harsher rating is deserved here because they started out with some great elements but ultimately failed to deliver the goods.
Demons? Check. Lots of senseless, demon-induced violence? Check. Simple but effective premise? Check. Dolph Lundgren - aka the most underrated actor of our time - as the demon-hunter?!!
...and they STILL managed to ruin it. I guess you have to know how to actually juggle all these hot coals if you are gonna make something entertaining out of them. In cleverer hands, the kill-premise would have been spun out to its full inventiveness (e.g. what happens if multiple parties are responsible for a death, for instance if two people hold the gun and pull the trigger at the same time, or if someone is eaten alive by ants). Here, we just get exasperated Dolph dealing with stupid authorities and townspeople (led by an out-of-place pastor), trapped between one improbable copout plot move-along and the next. There's also a female FBI agent co-lead, who is mediocre in every sense of the word; she helps bring this pointless little venture to its fizzly non-climax. As with most demon horror, the whole point is to NOT let the demon/antichrist/wizard/evil scientist open up an evil gateway to a dimension of pain and terror...but we all know they are gonna get tantalizingly close, and we're gonna see some great climactic demon gate SFX before the good guys pull the plug on the dimensional resonator or upset the blood rune arrangement or whathaveyou. And yeah, they do the demon gate thing, but it has got to be one of the WEAKEST demon gate climaxes in the genre. Instead, it goes for some 'emotional drama' BS angle and fails on every level.
My advice to the filmmakers is to study the classics. If you mention a demon gate, then you better spend like half of your budget making those last 5-10 minutes of the film literally the coolest part of the film. Otherwise you get an F like these idiots.
The Devil's Candy (2015)
The bitter taste of lameness
Honestly, the fact that the dude behind the amazing The Loved Ones started out with such a solid premise - and then proceeded to squander it with an unforgivably lame and worthless anticlimactic last act - means it deserves a way worse scourging than anything half-baked executed with spirit.
This brew contains some heady ingredients: Texas, Satan, art, metal, a haunted house, a fat psycho in a tracksuit... From the unflinching brutality of his other film I mentioned, you'd think this sort of setup would be taken to all sorts of demonic extremes. But all the good ideas fizzle out and go nowhere. The haunted house, for instance - the worst it ever makes our painter protagonist do is lose track of time! The most fleshed out detail in the film is the family dynamic, but even that's vague and one-dimensional. Not to mention annoying. The minor characters are bland and completely forgettable. Even a good sense of place is missing - some locations have little congruity with another.
Eventually, this is all drowned out by the boring and stupidly improbable climactic act. You'd think the entire area has, like, two cops. Or that you can be shot through the torso and still manage to get up ladders and beat people with creative objects.
If this movie wanted to have some family dynamics gluing it together, then it should have gone in a very different direction - and gone there all the way. But it was way too scared to go there it seems. Too bad.
The Terror (2018)
When it comes to grizzled dudes encountering monsters in the arctic - the "ice horror" subgenre - the pickings are about as slim as your chances of finding a meal up in those frozen wastes. In fact, it's pretty much defined by The Thing, and the comparisons will be inevitable.
Luckily for us, that's also where they end. The Terror mixes the, um, horror with equal parts historical naval expedition drama, so it's an odd bird indeed. Naval expedition dramas have narrow demographic appeal and are expensive and hard to make. So anytime someone makes a serious attempt at one, it's usually a labor of love - and it shows in the quality of the work. (I guess we have Ridley Scott's backing to thank for the Terror's high production values.)
As you might imagine, the most monstrous monsters of all will be the humans (we're talking colonial-era British, so that's hardly a shocker), and the most terrible terror of their situation will be the unrelenting hostility of their environment. Yes, there is the actual critter - and it attacks people left and right - but the show is most successful as ice horror when it digs into all the nasty ways the human body degrades from prolonged exposure to arctic conditions, showing you glimpses of all the weird sores, compromised gumlines, and frostbitten extremities in close-up graphic detail.
Bottom line: this show conveys exactly what it needs to convey to be successful - a sense of place and time...one you'll be glad you were born nowhere near to be a part of. (Don't worry, there plenty of claustrophobic space horror out there for all you aspiring astronauts...)
For the fans
You really have to know what to expect with this one. If you're not already a fan, this is not going to make you one, so just walk on. Otherwise, crack open a cold one and roll another number - you're still definitely gonna need it if you want to make it all the way through this ride. Chances are you'll fall asleep halfway through and won't wake up till the morning comes.
Neil Young wanted to make a movie with his band buddies where they all hang out on Neil's ranch dressed up in old-timey clothes, spouting all sorts of cryptic nonsense. Sometimes they take dumps, stylishly filmed with a super-8 or some other analog film camera. On occasion, they rock out. Neil mostly sits in a chair, remarking on the moon, playing a lick here and there, generally looking old. He does this with the usual poise and dignity inherent in his loner persona. He is at his most aged and lonesome when he's singing a solo rendition of Pocahontas, backing himself with a big pipe organ.
The camerawork is terrible (they clearly had tripods and all that stuff, they just chose not to use them). The acting doesn't really qualify as acting, since these dudes are not really pretending to be or do anything other than what you'd imagine them to be doing on any given weekend. The writing? I guess they had some ideas...
The soundtrack has cool moments, except the part where they overdrive the hell out of the harmonica track. Horrible production choice!
Honestly though, I'd still much rather waste an hour of my life hanging out with Neil over here in ranchland than waste even a minute of my life looking at a TV screen. And no, I'm not talking about motion pictures...you know what I mean.
I Can Only Imagine (2018)
As boring and terrible as any sane person would expect
According to some of my fellow user reviewers, this is like "the most powerful movie" ever. Ten stars, can't-miss. Bring a trashbag full of tissues, you'll be wading through a lake of tears after the poignant and life-affirming conclusion. Deserves a hundred foot tall Oscar statue, forged in the fires of Mt. Oscar from pure gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Your diseases will be cured; your taxes will file themselves; you'll meet the (heterosexual) spouse of your dreams.
I would accuse the producers of padding the review section, but sadly this is the work of a force much more insidious and terrifying than cold hard Amazon gift cards.
The force I speak of is religious faith. I would wager my eternal soul on the fact that the producers of this film targeted congregation leaders with a marketing campaign masquerading as religious advocacy, who then in turn told their flocks to go out there and send evil Hollywood a resounding message by packing those theaters.
So yes, if you and your fambly are on a strict diet of Christian cinema, this is probably must-see material - you may not necessarily be condemned to spend the rest of eternity in purgatory if you don't (I wouldn't rule it out though), but you will DEFINITELY make Jesus upset and he won't personally greet you with a batch of hand-baked cookies when you get to heaven.
The rest of us will find it just as dull, nauseatingly contrived, and infuriatingly self-righteous as every other run-of-the-mill Christian film. For starters, who the flab is MercyMe and why does anyone give a darn? The filmmakers act like they're some huge household name akin to, say, Coldplay or Boyz II Men.
I mean, heck, to each their own and all that - I am sure that most of my favorite films will be disturbing, off-putting experiences for all the Ned Flanders dweebs that comprise this film's target demographic.
But like...I am not assaulting this film because it's "faith-based", I'm assaulting it because it's terrible cinema. Soviet propaganda films were no less zealous and ham-fisted with their preaching - and yet, even the second-rate ones are infinitely more entertaining than self-centered dreck like this. Even 50-part Hindu religious epics are more entertaining to watch. Kim Ki-Duk's Buddhist parable Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring is a deeply religious work, but also a poignant gem by any cinematic standards; by comparison, this pap ought to qualify as an infomercial.
So yeah, this is total garbage - as any reasonable, sane person would expect it to be. And no, it's not OK to give this a ten just because it blows a cruciform-shaped dog whistle that only your soul can hear.
You wanna see a quality film that prominently features Christianity? Go watch Mother! - aka the best religious film of 2017.
Too weird for the likes of our square world
Look, I'm gonna throw out some film names here, and if you're into any of them, chances are you'll be into this too:
Nothing But Trouble, Terrorvision, Greasy Strangler, Meet The Feebles, Meet The Hollowheads, Street Trash, Forbidden Zone, Frankenhooker...
Yes, this can unequivocally be described by words like "stupid" or "crude". But that would be missing the point. You like your films extra-bizarre with a heaping of absurdity on the side? This is gen-x anti-corporate cynicism lumped together with a greasy carnie's hallucinatory visions, deep fried in bizarre, drenched in crude browns and greens. The stale, dated jokes don't matter - they're like a weird crust made out of old crushed-up potato chips. A few even manage to land here and there.
Bobcat is maximally obnoxious, and some of the freak characters have literally zero dimension beyond a gag or two. But the SFX are almost as great as Randy Quaid's performance, so it all balances out. Frankly, this is a million miles above most mainstream frat humor both then and now, and a more entertaining piece of cinema than a third of the garbage that actually made it onto the theater screen in the 90s. (The Kilmer/Clooney Batman films immediately spring to mind.)
In short: if you were looking for something like this, you will be very happy to have found it.
Solid, but not without flaws
Firstly, hats off to the fine folks who greenlit a hard sci-fi film with five female protagonists. I don't care how well this film does financially - never doubt yourselves, you absolutely did the right thing. And while it's not the must-see sci-fi masterpiece event of the decade, it is a solid offering that respects its genre.
The plot is straightforward (if not particularly mind-blowing): a Team goes into a Weird Zone in search of Answers, where an Alien Presence seems to have taken hold. Though some of the details are pretty original, this can be regarded as a pastiche of several well-known works - most notable (and least revealing to plot details to mention here) is its Stalker-like atmosphere, or a more colorful version of it.
The filmmakers tell the story well - partly thanks to the wonders of today's CGI - and they don't stupid it up too much. As other reviewers mentioned, it's more dreamy than scary, and more thoughtful than action-packed. Some of the acting was so-so, and I wasn't entirely sold on the way the characters reacted to certain situations, but those are minor issues. It's not epic, and it's not going to give you all the answers you want - which are both good things! - but it will definitely get you thinking about it afterwards.
From Paris with Love (2010)
Ugly offensive garbage
Look, I wasn't expecting much here. I wasn't expecting to think, to feel, to experience something "cinematic" that would warrant a review. I just wanted to be entertained. 6.5 rating, aging Travolta, Besson's name attached...how bad could it be?
And it's watchable...for a while. Travolta cusses, fusses, and murders his way through a loosely plotted first half. (The other guy is functionally useless except as a rare barometer of sanity when he whines about all their rampaging and carnage.) The action scenes are so goofy they could almost be parody.
With some fun plot twists and maybe a bit of courage (not to be a xenophobic, sexist sewage-clogger), this could have gone somewhere satisfying. But the last act completely ruins it, turning it into the kind of film thugs would watch to get pumped up before going out and committing hate crimes.
In actuality, your average American action film viewer in the era of Trump will find this enjoyable. Hence the 6.5 rating. That's the saddest part of all.
Not for the normies
First off, avoid spoilers like the plague if you want to see this right. The state of bafflement you're in for the first half of the film or so is a major aspect of what makes this unique and enjoyable.
This is not for the "general audience" crowd. This is for the midnight freaks who want weirdness and psychedelia, and want it served up extra edgy and disturbing. This is for metalheads, the hyper-intelligent stoners; this is for Gaspar Noe. If you fail to understand what's happening on screen, you will hate it. You may still end up hating it because you may find Aronofsky's vision profoundly disagreeable, offensive, or even blasphemous. In which case you probably don't fit into the "midnight freaks" category anyway, and hence have already been warned.
This film ultimately works because it avoids certain mistakes that weird films - especially allegories - often make. It's not preachy, it's not inconsistent with its own logic, and it has good pacing and a satisfying conclusion (as much as I love you, I'm looking your way for that last one, Holy Mountain). To say that the acting is first-rate is a gross understatement. And for how baffling it appears to be at first, it requires a laughably small amount of shared cultural knowledge (of the broadest kind!) to "get".
So when I read all these fools complaining about not having understood what's going on and hating it because of that, I just have to shake my head because it's more of a reflection on the capacity of today's average moviegoing audience than it is on the film. Pick up a book sometime, you philistines! If anything, it reinforces Aronofsky's grim vision.
Ten stars, two \m/
Come Out and Play (2012)
Come out and ruin a crappy movie
First, let's give a slow golf clap for the quality of sound design - some fine atmospheric synthwork by the auteur here. Totally wasted on this garbage barge, of course...in fact, it would have been way cooler if it was created just to be blasted forth from a lone speaker on some Staten Island garbage barge (as part of an avant-garde art installation with live webcam of seagulls and other birds interacting with the sonic space imposed on them by the incomprehensible forces of modernity and chaos, or something).
Let's just say for the sake of argument that the little exposition provided as to how the kids turned evil is enough to let you fill in your own blanks. Psionic demon rays? Outbreak of a sentient fungus? The island was secretly a pedo resort and all the adults had it coming? (Honestly, this last one would explain why the dude spent the first ten minutes of the film trying REALLY HARD to take his very pregnant wife to this stupid place, which is apparently only accessibly by taking a local's fishboat out to a tiny dot in the sea, and giving the weird fisherman a "deposit" of two grand to borrow it.)
Whatever, let's just get to the killer kids. Because heck, let's admit that the real reason we're all here not for the island scenery but to watch these tourist goobers duke it out with a bunch of murderous rug- brats, all armed to the (milk) teeth with a variety of household and garden implements. Maybe the evil kids have glowing eyes or weird discolored teeth. Hopefully they talk in unison. If the leads are likable enough, there's supposed to be some character hardening before they embrace their transgressively violent and absurd destiny and start dishing out some permanent detention. If they're unlikable people, then they spend an hour or so blundering around from one bad decision to the next before being murdered in some grisly and creative fashion, and then the adorable kids do adorable kid things with their entrails, eyeballs, severed limbs, etc.
But this is where the film really earns its two-star rating. Even though the leads were completely unlikable (both as characters and as actors) and contributed their share to ruining this film, the blame falls squarely on Makinov for turning an otherwise totally workable formula into a plodding and aimless waste of time. Any suspense built by the soundtrack (and the half-decent camera-work) is quickly deflated. The two leads stumble around the island for over an hour without a single good, funny, or otherwise noteworthy line of dialogue between them. The wife's pregnancy is as arbitrary as their decision to go to this stupid island, and their whole dynamic had a weird sexist overtone to it.
The kids fared only a little better - but at least they got to wallow around in some gore and act mildly cryptic, even though none of it means a thing and serves no purpose. Perhaps Makinov has some weird "preteen girls playing with gore" fetish, and that was the sole point of making this film..."pedo island" indeed.
Even the title is ultimately meaningless. Certainly none of the kids ever chant it (in unison!) as they advance towards the frightened couple, clad in weird outfits, torches in pudgy little hands. That's what I would have liked to see in a film of this subgenre with that title. And they do none of that! So really, Makinov, what's the point even?
Get a better writer, Makinov. Like, someone other than Makinov, you knowkinov?
Kill List (2011)
Squandered opportunity at greatness
You've probably read enough about this to ask yourself: is this edgy crime/horror jaunt worth two hours of your life?
Nah. Most likely not. It does a good job of building dread, and the uneven focus on various aspects of the plot throws you off so you're not entirely sure where it's going. The decent acting and hefty amounts of gore keep you entertained enough while you wait for this yarn to unravel, but again...it's just not worth it.
Basically, with too many almosts, all that setup just gets you worked up into thinking it's going somewhere way cooler than its actual destination. Which, by the way, is made pretty obvious from the get-go - if you pay attention. And it's a shame too, because the plot's almost there! They just had to flesh out the background more, give the details a bit more color and personality, utilize the buildup for better dramatic effect, and rewrite the ending so it actually feels like a reveal instead of a copout. Better dialogue audio mixing would be better too.
A vague, general example: one of the protag buddies learns a secret about the other - all is not as it seems! Does the character go anywhere further with his suspicion? Does he learn more weird stuff? Does it inform meaningful choices the character makes down the line? Is it used for a riveting scenes of snooping around or verbal confrontation? Nope. Not really.
Good effort, though! Hope the next movie these folks make learns from this one's mistakes...
The Void (2016)
I love the 80s! - Gordon/Carpenter edition
Films are like food. The great ones are cooked with skill and love, using the right ingredients in correct proportion - so the meal ends up being good and good for you. The junk ones will be mostly fat and salt, deep-fried to a crisp - still tastes great, but you don't wanna make a habit of it. The fu-fu health ones may have fancy ingredients and elaborate technique - but despite the creator's best intentions, they oftentimes just don't taste very good. And so on and so forth.
The Void is like some sort of BBQ where the admittedly dank sauce took like 20 ingredients and 10 hours to simmer...only to end up marinating a bunch of cheap, flavorless meat. They grilled it well, too. But that just wasn't enough. And no, there are no veggies on the side. No sides at all, just a big dripping hunk of sauced-up -
but still flavorless - meat.
Look, these folks clearly watched the hell out of everyone's favorite Stuart Gordon and John Carpenter films. And they tried to do right by them. (It's not like Kung Fury, where the guys stuffed whatever they found in each buffet tray into a blender and dumped a can of mountain dew on top.) There are some lovely nasty moments, and the "look and feel" of the genre they nailed perfectly.
But the writing really drags it down. Which is sad, because if you are gonna make an 80s horror genre film, the first thing you ought to get right is the script - since that's what made so many of those films memorable in the first place. It's not a total failure, but the humor is sparse and lousy, and the characters are pretty wooden and uninspired. And though there's an explanation of sorts for all the evil goings-on, it all feels pretty lazy and derivative, even for a genre film like this.
Watch it if you're really into this sort of thing, or bored.
Animal Passions (2004)
This is probably the most fair and unbiased shot the subject is gonna get in any sort of mainstream-ish setting (or anywhere outside of its community for that matter). At first, it's hard to believe these interviews aren't some sort of spoof, but it only sounds that way because you don't expect these folks to candidly discuss their lifestyle like that. You realize they are doing it not just because they are some combination of unattractive and promiscuous in a rural setting (I am not trying to be a jerk, this is more or less explicitly stated in interviews), but because they deeply believe that what they are doing is true to who they are and to the love they feel - regardless of how other humans may judge them. We also hear from some behavioral experts (human ones, I mean), and it briefly touches upon the history of the practice throughout the ages.
The central question posed by the documentary, however, remains unresolved.
No, it's not about the morality of this practice. The mere invocation of the horrors of modern consumer industrial agriculture ought to settle the question of the comparative evils of the various forms of human dominion over the animal kingdom. No, the question is why does society (still) condemn the practice with such fervor? Apart from some vague musings at the end, and a bit of an explanation through historical context, this question remains woefully under-examined.
But it's all still worth it to hear some guy's wife talk about letting her future husband watch her go at it with a pony on their very first date, and other great dialogue in that vein.
John Wick (2014)
Not even Nick Cage could have saved this
Firstly, I love action! Kung Fu, Gun Fu, car chases, swordfighting, sieges and battles, wholesale destruction of cities and planets - bring it! And it doesn't have to be artsy, brainy, historically accurate, or close to the source material. It just has to keep me entertained from start to finish.
In the entire running time of John Wick, there was only about twenty seconds of anything resembling entertainment. Keanu shoots up a (fake) Orthodox church in one scene. At another point, Dafoe is trying to unscrew his silencer and has to lick his fingers because it's hot. That, I thought, was the best scene in the film.
The rest is an unimaginative, humorless slog through clichés and tropes that got worn out almost two decades ago. A bunch of high- priced assassins dressed like professional card and yo-yo illusionists from Vegas? (The assassins are supposed to abide by a thing - it's like rules, or a code, or...what's that word? Oh yeah - creed.) Flashy cars going really fast, making sharp turns, and getting smashed up? (Whatever happened to car explosions, cheapskates?) Sleazy-suited euro-trash gangsters from some unspecified eastern European country? (Are these guys supposed to be Russian or something? Because they were terrible at it.) A trashy, throbbing nightclub where they party at? Yep, all there - presented like we're supposed to know all about this kind of stuff but still be all excited and into it like it's the first time we've seen it. The worst of both worlds! The dialogue is C- grade at best, but without the charm of over-the-top one-liners and hammy acting. Terrible pacing! We barely made it halfway through the film before we decided to start watching this like Trump watches movies - aka fast forwarding to all the gun battles and car chases.
And you'd think with nothing else going for it, they would have just made the violence the centerpiece of the film! When the eventual outcome is the same (bad guys get killed), you can at least get creative with how that happens! Shoot 'Em Up and Hardcore Henry tried very hard to be innovative in that regard, and it paid off. But in this film, literally 90% of the people die from a shot to the head. Maybe there's some half-hearted gun fu, and an occasional goon gets his from a stab wound or a broken neck. A goon or two gets tossed through a big window. But otherwise it's just headshots. John Wick - or rather, the director - must have played a lot of FPS games online in his formative years. And it shows: I would honestly have rather watched two hours of someone doing that, instead of wasting my time on this film.
Bottom line: avoid at all costs! Makes the guy who directed Jack Reacher look like Orson Wells. Anyone who rates this highly is either a paid shill or simply a philistine who knows nothing about films - not even mindless action. (At the time of writing, this is rated above 7, with over 300,000 votes...so take reviews and ratings with a huge grain of salt, if you don't already.) A sad, wasted opportunity to cast Nick Cage as Wick, and maybe salvage a star or two.
Sobs of sadness...for a lost opportunity
I don't understand - how hard was it to consult an actual linguist? You know, before making a sci-fi movie about one? How hard was it to show the script to some producers and curators of actual sci fi to make sure you don't look like a total dolt?
I am glad to see many folks who hated this movie have placed it alongside Inception as over-hyped pseudo-intellectual garbage, and called it out on its needless reliance on cheap, Lifetime-esque human drama in the same vein as Interstellar. I'll hatefully add A.I. to that list, because it's the first sci-fi movie I remember to feature such blatant maudlinism in a cheap attempt to make a festering pile of vomit seem as profound as an actual, non- metaphorical festering vomit pile on a sheet of acid. "Who is this child?" indeed.
Now that I think of it, the plot device rendering AI's ending so particularly odious - thus imbuing it with the emotional equivalent of claws on a chalkboard - was so laughably implausible by even a (non-American) grade school attendee's standards that it could safely be called "magic". In AI's case, it was magic math. And here too, we have the kernel of a decent sci-fi concept wrapped in a greasy wad of inconsistencies, and globbed together with scum-globs of scientific incompetence. Falls apart on every layer like a moldy onion, and tries to make you pay for it with tears.
I give three stars for "Abbott" and his alien buddies. They did alright, considering the sheer stupidity they were up against, both in the actual movie and behind its creative process.
The Greasy Strangler (2016)
In an alternate universe, Samuel Beckett grew up in some Rust Belt purgatory, hanging out with the guys from Zappa's song "Let's Make The World Turn Black", lighting each other's farts on fire, scraping off boogers onto the windowsill booger collection pile, drinking raisin moonshine and huffing glue, and looking at x-rated magazines that specifically cater to men who prefer overweight women. In that alternate universe, he - or rather, his developmentally-stunted and braincell- depleted alter ego - grew up to write and direct this film.
This is not for the faint of heart. Perhaps the least gross parts of the film involve the actual murders committed by the eponymous Greasy Strangler. Next comes the parade of unorthodox human bodies that dominate this film. Tim and Eric are Greco-Roman demigods by comparison. If you are affected by such things, I suggest you imagine yourself as a sentient gasbag from a Jupiter-like planet in another star system, and filter your perceptions of the human appearance accordingly.
But the most disturbing scenes in the movie - by far! - are those involving the grease. If you are looking for a quick way to never want to eat fried foods ever again, look no further than this film.
So what separates this from something truly tasteless and devoid of all charm - like, say, Kung Fury or Zombeavers? Beyond the grotesque veneer, the idiosyncratic dialogue and its masterful delivery create a unique and surreal world that is not entirely devoid of charm, optimism, and even love. Think The Forbidden Zone, or The Heart She Holler.
This is for the true connoisseur. May you enjoy this film as much as I did, fellow traveler.
Truly lives up to its name
As if the country of Brazil didn't have enough problems with the Zika virus nowadays, they are apparently plagued with being the setting for this abominable film.
Ruinporn Christian propaganda with painfully awkward white-brown race interactions where a trash-picking gang of urchins wade their way through sewage and parkour over their quaint dump-shanty favela while evading swarms of riot gear-clad policemen to solve the mystery of the dump-scavenged wallet. Did I mention the kids all hang out with the local white English-speaking missionaries? Heaps of overt bible-themed symbolism slopped onto this whole salvation quest still don't stop the grail at the end of the rainbow from being filled with a huge wad of cash.
Incidentally, contains some of the most hamfistedly anti-police imagery I've seen in a while. Still quite an awful piece of work.
A brutal and worthwhile cinematic experience
Some displays of racism can be so lurid and outlandish that they actually short-circuit the usual feelings of outrage one ought to have when witnessing such things. (The 1975 film Mandingo immediately comes to mind.) It's not hard to believe people thought and felt this way back in the day, but it's hard to relate to them as actual human beings and not just demented caricatures of humanity's ugly collective past. Thus, it's much harder to actually feel anger towards them.
Aferim! does a fine job of offering you both sides of the coin - the absurdity and the outrage - in one masterful cinematic package. The modern viewer can observe a place as alien as 19th century Wallachia with clinical detachment, smirking as these ignorant bumpkins - a slave-catcher and his teenage son (along with a priest who briefly tags along) - ride across the bucolic countryside and discuss gypsies (and Jews) in the most over-the-top, Borat-esque way imaginable.
But the sentiments expressed and their social consequences are of course very real (in fact, some of the dialogue was taken from "historical record"). After the runaway is captured and his interactions with the father-son duo imbue all three with relate-able human qualities, the underlying dynamic of the film is driven home in the brutal, visceral finale - and the floodgates of outrage and sadness are bludgeoned open, leaving the weight of all you've just witnessed to simmer in your soul for days to come.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Terrible pacing ruins awesome premise
This film could have used a serious shave.
If you aren't blinded by the promise of blood-thirsty troglodytes, you should have your first hint that it's a snooze-fest when you notice the 2.25 HOUR running time. What good cannibal flick plays longer than like 1:40?
And at first, it seems like all the right elements are in place for a true successor to Ravenous (in the frontier-time mountain cannibal film genre, of course). Strong opening, too - you can practically smell the human flesh cooking already! But then the exposition takes like five times as long as it needs to, and we are almost an hour into the film by the time we are actually on the road to hunt down some troglodytes. And then it still takes forever, with lots of well- written but ultimately needless dialogue to fill the space.
To be fair, the trogs are worth the wait. The gore-hounds will be happy to feast (their eyes) on the goings-on in the cannibal cave. And in general, the dialogue and the acting are consistently solid, even in scenes where nothing happens at all. It's also shot in the wild west, so it's hard to screw up the scenery.
But the film is ultimately ruined by the pacing and the editing, which is too bad, because it shows great promise and has a fun concept. If it was 45 minutes shorter, it would be a definite winner.