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The Neon Demon (2016)
The Neon Demon (2016)
Director Nicolas Winding Refn returns to the big screen with his lesbian cannibal necrophiliac thriller The Neon Demon that got one of Cannes infamous "boos" (which realistically means nothing). There's also this whole thing about the modeling industry too. Elle Fanning plays Jesse, a 16 year old aspiring model in LA, gets signed by an agency for her natural beauty and youth. However, as she quickly rises through the ranks, other models start to become jealous and will stop at nothing to steal her beauty and youth in a world that's literally eat or be eaten. Refn can certainly stage some elaborate visuals because the entire movie is eye candy. There's a color scheme reminiscent of Suspiria, some hypnotically beautiful visual set pieces all put alongside an awesome 80's-style synth score. Refn makes a clear distinction from the high society of the modeling industry and Jesse's real life living in a run-down motel with a sleazy owner. While the modeling world has all the fantastic visuals, the real world is portrayed in a gritty way that shows that living the high life in LA might not really be as great as one might think. The actual plot is difficult to follow at points since the story sometimes takes a backseat to the visuals, but it's interesting enough and even pretty disturbing at times that it'll keep you engaged. There's a slew of crazy scenes involving cannibalism and necrophilia that more hardcore viewers might enjoy, just don't go in expecting another Cannibal Holocaust. The disturbing parts are more subtle and slow than your usual gorefest. The ending especially will either shock you or infuriate you. The Neon Demon is going to divide its audience based on if they're willing to stomach the more difficult scenes, but it's a visually stunning, often disturbing and poignant satire of the modeling industry in Los Angeles.
The Shallows (2016)
The Shallows (2016)
It's been a pretty dismal summer movie season with more unwanted sequels than one could imagine (who really wanted Now You See Me 2?), so it's a bit of a breath of fresh air when a fun and simple shark thriller rolls into theaters, and a surprisingly decent one at that. The Shallows is about Nancy, played by Blake Lively, a med school student and recreational surfer who travels to a secluded beach in Mexico where her late mother once surfed when she was a baby. Her alone time is ruined when she gets too far from the shore and a shark attacks her, forcing her to take refuge on a rock. Stranded two hundred yards from the shore, Nancy has to outwit the shark and try to get back to her dad and sister before becoming shark bait. In a year filled with pretentious sequels coming 15 years too late, watching a good old-fashioned non-pretentious thriller will come to a relief to many. It never takes itself too seriously, although never venturing into camp territory, and it stays suspenseful for its brief 87 minute running time. There's even a little bit of good gore thrown in there too. The Shallows is more of a survival thriller than Blake Lively vs. The Shark, so it's more suspenseful than brutal and intense. Luckily, Blake Lively gives a great performance as Nancy, a resourceful and insanely likable heroine. She's the only face on screen for about 80 minutes of the film, so it's good that she made her presence likable. The Shallows is a pure popcorn thriller: suspenseful, taut and fun.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Three years after he blew the doors off cinemas across the country with one of the biggest modern horror movies, The Conjuring, James Wan comes back with a true sequel to The Conjuring, aptly titled The Conjuring 2. Often, horror sequels try to get too big or too flashy and end up being far inferior to their predecessors. The Conjuring 2 is certainly bigger and flashier, but James Wan has some gift for taking a generic storyline and making it scary as hell. The Conjuring 2 takes place six years after the original film in Enfield, London. It's based on the Enfield Haunting, one of the most well-documented paranormal cases of all time and was labeled "England's Amityville." In this haunting the Hodgson family, a single mother and her four children, are being tormented by a spirit and call on several paranormal investigators to help them, including Ed and Lorraine Warren. The case quickly turns into a media circus with allegations that the haunting may be a hoax, and the Warrens have to decide if the kids are playing an elaborate prank or if the Hodgsons are living in a very real nightmare. Being a horror sequel, or really just a movie sequel in general, it's expected that this movie is going to up the stakes and flashy imagery compared to the original film. The Conjuring 2 is no different. There really isn't a scene that's as brilliant as the hide-and-clap game with Lili Taylor from the first Conjuring. However, at a staggering 134 minutes, James Wan packs in a ton of surprisingly durable scares. After a great opening sequence, Wan gives us about 5 minutes to get acquainted with the Hodgsons before already scaring us silly with the first night at the Enfield house. There's tons of agonizingly long tracking shots that ratchet up the tension for an incredibly long time. What's great is that not all of these shots end with a jump scare. Be warned though because if there is a jump scare, it's perfect. There's not a single cheap jump in this movie. The "scare scenes" themselves are very long; once one of those great tracking shots is done, you'll go to another person for an equally scary scene. Because there's so much suspense and so many scares in the movie, the 134 minute running time never feels too long. It feels just right, although the scares might be exhausting by the end of the movie. Wan also has a knack for making an old scare new again. He can somehow make a tired jump scare scary again, but at the same time, it's not quite as fresh as it was the first time. That's what holds back The Conjuring 2 from surpassing the original film. The Conjuring 2 does have some heart though. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are great as the married ghostbusters, and the Hodgson family is a likable group of people to hang out with for two and half hours. Madison Wolfe steals the show as Janet, who gets put through the wringer throughout the whole movie. Even if it doesn't reach the heights of its predecessor, The Conjuring 2 is an incredibly scary thrill ride that'll be hard to top this summer. I do have to admit that I did scream very loudly once.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
This seems to be the year of superheroes vs superheroes with DC and Marvel releasing their tentpoles, Batman v Superman and Civil War, and now Fox has released one for the X-Men with the lackluster X- Men: Apocalypse. In Apocalypse, the world's first and most powerful mutant, aptly named Apocalypse, has woken up from a slumber after thousands of years to find that society is not revering him as a god as they used to. Apocalypse throws a tantrum and assembles a team of four mutants to destroy modern civilization and create a new world order. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, Mystique and Professor X assemble a new team of young mutants to save mankind. It seemed like having God and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse be the villains would make the movie at least somewhat interesting, but, really they don't do anything for a majority of the 144 minute running time. For most of Apocalypse's story, he's just assembling his team while the Horsemen he's already recruited just sit around while he convinces another mutant to join the group. That's not only an issue with the Horsemen, unfortunately. Almost all of the other mutants, Mystique, Professor X, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, etc, wait around until something bad happens. There's a ton of interesting characters in this film that aren't given anything interesting to do. Almost all of the mutants spend the entire movie feeling sorry for themselves, and there's really no good action until the very end. Even the final fight scene gets underwhelming at certain points. At times, I felt like I was watching a bad Roland Emmerich disaster flick. One positive is that Evan Peters steals every scene as Quicksilver, giving a great personality to the character. He was the one thing I wholeheartedly enjoyed about the movie. X-Men: Apocalypse has a couple moments of visual flair, some decent action and clear ambition, but its muddled plot and bland characterizations make it a disappointing misstep.
Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
I might have been the only one in the world that wanted a sequel to 2010's criminally underrated Alice in Wonderland, but whether you wanted it or not, here's the sequel. Alice Through the Looking Glass takes place a few years after the first movie after Alice has finished her voyage around the world. When she returns, an old friend from Underland leads Alice through a mirror which leads her back to Underland. She learns that her best friend, the Mad Hatter, has lost his "muchness." The Hatter found the first hat he ever made where his family was killed by the Jabberwocky, and he thinks that his family is still alive, but no one believes him, including Alice. The White Queen devises a plan for Alice to steal a device called the Chronosphere which will allow her to travel back in time and save the Hatter's family. All the characters come back from the first movie, although a lot of them are in smaller roles, but the real standout is newcomer Sacha Baron Cohen as Time. He and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen were surprisingly funny throughout the film and made for some memorable villains. Mia Wasikowska also had a reliably good performance as Alice. Through the Looking Glass doesn't have the thorough world-building that Alice in Wonderland had, but the plot is easier to follow in this one. Along with some breathtaking visuals, Alice Through the Looking Glass should please fans of first film with a fun and exciting return to Underland.
The Taking (2014)
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Alzheimer's is a terrifying and devastating disease that would put any horror movie to shame by itself, unless, of course, it also causes someone to be possessed by a demon. The Taking of Deborah Logan is a sort of cross between the mockumentary "lost in the woods" style of The Blair Witch Project and the haunted house security cameras of Paranormal Activity to make a frequently scary and engrossing little gem. The Taking of Deborah Logan follows, you guessed it, three filmmakers who are making a documentary, but this time it's about Alzheimer's. They got to the home of the proper and elderly Deborah Logan to film her life with the disease while her daughter, Sarah Logan, also gives commentary on how Deborah's condition has affected her. As weeks pass and Deborah's mental state deteriorates, the four believe that something else might have latched onto her dwindling mind. The film starts out giving some backstory to both Deborah and Sarah with small explanations of the disease along the way. It does make the dynamic between the two more compelling especially towards the end of the movie when Deborah is completely possessed. Although, this movie does fall victim to one little pet peeve of mine. Something that comes up in a couple of found footage movies that makes no logical sense to me is that, why would the footage be edited to include music or any extra effects that aren't on camera? In The Taking, they added little animations illustrating the disease or parts of a documentary they were watching. Why would they take the time to edit all of that in there when, by the time the movie is over, it's obviously not going to be a documentary anymore? There's also the fact that there are obvious sound effects whenever there's a jump scare. Speaking of jump scares, something I enjoyed immensely about The Taking were several scenes in which you'd expect an obvious jump scare and instead the scene just relied on its atmosphere. Those scenes are far scarier than any of the jump scenes, and although I like a good jump scare, they need to be earned. Jill Larson is incredible as Deborah Logan and is definitely one of the better "spooky old ladies" I've seen in a horror movie. The absorbing plot also distinguishes this from being just another possession flick. The Taking of Deborah Logan is a fun and creepy Netflix gem and a must-watch for found footage fans.
The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)
The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)
I typically don't see a movie solely for its cast, but I couldn't pass up a movie with Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Chris Hemsworth. Winter's War certainly isn't the best thing these actors have done in their careers, but it's still a fairly entertaining twist on the Snow White tale. The Huntsman acts as a prequel and sequel to 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman, which I regrettably hadn't seen before I watched this, and it follows an escalating battle between the Ice Queen, Freya, and her sister, Ravenna. Freya's former Huntsman, Eric and, fellow warrior, Sara, who were raised to protect Freya, have to conceal their forbidden love while combat Ravenna's intentions to take back Snow White's kingdom. Despite the campy writing and plot inconsistencies, I still found quite a bit to enjoy about Winter's War. Watching Charlize Theron be a badass as the Evil Queen was ridiculously entertaining. There's also the beautiful cinematography, costumes, visual effects and *ahem* Chris Hemsworth that made the movie visually stunning. The campy writing also isn't so bad that it goes into cheese territory. It's fairly self aware and fun while not taking itself overly seriously. The plot is a bit more of a fantasy romance with some action in it, but Jessica Chastain and Chris Hemsworth give their characters some life so that you do want to see them succeed by the time the movie is over. The Huntsman: Winter's War is fairly slight entertainment, but it's got a great cast, characters, stunning visuals and a lot of fun.
The Darkness (2016)
The Darkness (2016)
Sometimes, a bad horror movie can have some redeeming quality to make it at least watchable for its runtime even if you'll forget about it the next day. Then, about once a year, the stars align, Wes Craven rolls in his grave, and a movie like The Darkness limps into theaters, a horror flick that's so inept at everything it tries to accomplish that it only triggers catcalls from the audience. In The Darkness, the whitest family I've ever seen goes on a family trip to the Grand Canyon, and by some ridiculous series of events, the son brings back five rocks that have Native American demons inside them. The family is now haunted by some incredibly convoluted curse, and demon stuff happens. I can't even say anything specific because nothing really scary happens to this family. Every single scare is just a door opening, the faucet turning on, a dog nonchalantly walking down a hallway, or handprints appearing on the wall. There aren't any scares because every time something that resembles a shock comes along that thing isn't scary! It's a faucet! The only thing that came out of the faucet was a little bit of water, they didn't even try to put blood or black crap coming out of it or anything! And then in an effort to save this god forsaken atrocity, they try to put some stupid family drama in the plot that's referenced once and never mentioned again. The daughter has bullimia? Who cares, put black handprints on her! Mom has a drinking problem? Might as well have the faucet turn back on! Not to mention there are several characters that enter the plot for two scenes and then mysteriously disappear. I've never seen a horror movie so incompetent at every single basic aspect of filmmaking. I can't pinpoint one exact reason why I hate this movie so much other than the sole reason that it exists. I could name about fifty other movies that I've given bad reviews that I would rather watch than this train wreck. I think I can now give every other horror movie the benefit that it's not as bad as The Darkness.
Uma Thurman pre-Bride and Ethan Hawke pre-stuck doing every Blumhouse movie star in a high-concept thriller about the human eugenics controversy. Gattaca takes place in the near future where "designer babies" are a social norm where parents can choose the most desirable traits of their unborn babies (athletic, tall, intelligent, etc.), and people with undesirable genetics are discriminated against. One man, Vincent, has dreams of space travel, but because of his inferior genetics, he is relegated to being the janitor at the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. A chance of a lifetime comes his way when an employee at Gattaca offers to allow Vincent to assume his identity for a trip Titan. However, the murder of the mission director and a blooming romance with another employee threaten to reveal Vincent's true identity. Gattaca deftly blends its more dramatic moments with unique sci-fi thrills to give a smart little thriller. Although, because of its lofty ambitions and concept, the plot has to force some things to just work out so that it can keep moving forward. A couple of these instances could have been more thoroughly explained in a short scene since the running time isn't terribly long anyway. Another tiny issue is that the reveal of the murderer is pretty anticlimactic. With all the buildup, you'd expect a big surprise, but when it's revealed, it's quickly acknowledged and then forgotten about. The best thing about Gattaca, though, is its incredible writing. There's a lot of quotable lines that I'm sure have led to its status as a cult flick. Along with its ambitious ideas and engrossing plot, Gattaca is a taut, memorable cult sci-fi thriller.
Money Monster (2016)
Money Monster (2016)
Last year's The Big Short told the real-life story of the people that profited from the stock market crash in the late 2000's. It was funny, biting and just a little infuriating. Money Monster, on the other hand, goes for a simpler approach with a real-time hostage thriller. Money Monster stars George Clooney as financial TV host Lee Gates (an obvious riff on Jim Cramer from Mad Money) who is airing his latest edition of his show, you guessed it, Money Monster. Just 24 hours before, IBIS Global Capital's stock inexplicably crashed due to a glitch in a trading algorithm. A viewer of Gates' show, Kyle Budwell, loses all of his money due to a bad tip from Gates saying that IBIS' stock is "safer than your bank account." Halfway through Gates' show, Kyle gets onto the set and threatens Gates at gunpoint, forcing him to put on a bomb vest. Kyle wants answers, and if he doesn't get them, he'll blow up Gates before killing himself. Julia Roberts also stars as the show's director who attempts to get everyone out of the bomb threat from behind the scenes. Money Monster conjures up some great thrills from a reliably game cast, especially Jack O'Connell who plays 99%'er Kyle. There's also quite a bit of dark humor to give the more intense parts some edge while still not detracting from the movie's tone. It's a simple, timely and contained thriller that should give adults some respite from the myriad of PG-13 fare that is in the theaters so often.
New Nightmare (1994)
New Nightmare (1994)
I've heard this called the best Nightmare on Elm Street sequel and some have even called it better than the original Nightmare film. I can't say it's any of those things, but New Nightmare is one of the better movie in one of my favorite horror movie franchises and a refreshing entry after the abysmal Freddy's Dead. New Nightmare departs from Springwood, Ohio and instead takes place in the "real" world. Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy in the original film, is now a married mother, and she is contacted by Wes Craven to be in the definitive final Nightmare on Elm Street film. However, Heather has been having increasingly terrifying nightmares and phone calls that sound suspiciously like the films' iconic villain, Freddy Krueger. Her son's disturbing behavior also leads her to believe that the script that Wes is writing may not be just another movie. Arguably the best part about New Nightmare is all the nods and winks to the original film sprinkled in there. The phone gag from the first one is in there (which I admit still scared the crap out of me), and a majority of the deaths are reminiscent of other deaths in the series, particularly Tina's infamous death from the first movie and the motorcycle kill from The Dream Child. Wes Craven and Robert Englund also make cameo appearances in the film, although their subplots just sort of fizzle out towards the end. I also wasn't a big fan of Freddy trying to get a hold of Heather's son. The "creepy kid" scenes didn't really unsettle me and instead came off as hammy. But Wes obviously had a lot of fun with New Nightmare and ended the series with a clever take on the slasher film that would be replicated in the future with flops like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Personally, the criminally underrated The Dream Master will always be my favorite Nightmare sequel, but New Nightmare is a fun and sporadically scary slasher flick.
Social media and bullying are scary enough to be the perfect backdrop of a challenging horror film. Last year's Unfriended took that idea, mixed it with a revenge story and an inventive use of storytelling to create a stirring horror film about the effects of cyberbullying. Then there's #Horror, a failed satire of social media that feels more like a slap on the wrist than the provoking it was trying to be. #Horror follows six preteen girls who live in the high society of money, success and comfort. One night, their compulsive addiction to social media turns a moment of cyberbullying into a night of chaos. The movie is exactly as preachy as that synopsis sounds and just as annoying as the middle schoolers in it. What #Horror never quite figures out is if it's trying to be an allegory for the dangers of social media, an actual horror film, or a lesson on why pre teen girls are bitches. Those themes never mix with each other in a cohesive way and instead battle each other throughout the whole movie. One moment will have smart phone animations barraging the screen, the next scene will have some random act of bullying, and then the movie remembers it's supposed to be a horror film and for two seconds, you see the girls being filmed by someone. I mean, the movie is called #Horror. There should be a little more horror than a couple of shots in the first hour and then a few poorly filmed kill scenes at the end. What Unfriended did right was not let up on the social media aspect of the film during its scarier moments. #Horror just sends mixed messages about what movie it's trying to be. Director Tara Subkoff presents timely themes and a glimmer of potential from her confident direction. Unfortunately, instead of being provocative and subversive, #Horror just ends up being annoying and pretentious.
The market for international artsy horror flicks has been surprisingly lucrative in the past few years, with acclaimed films like The Babadook and Goodnight Mommy and even the American productions It Follows and The Witch. But probably the most imaginative and gory one of them all is the Turkish export, Baskin, an ultra-violent and bizarre descent into Hell with a capital "H." In Baskin, a police squad is called to an abandoned building in a neighborhood surrounded by rumors and hearsay. When they enter the building, they unwittingly stumble upon a black mass intent on sending the lawmakers straight to Hell. The narrative of Baskin is a bit of a mess. At times, it's difficult to figure out how certain things connect to each other or what they represent, and I saw the ending coming from a mile away. However, the blurring between reality and fantasy is one of my favorite staples of the horror genre. I love horror movies where you're not completely sure what's real and what's not, and this one illustrated the descent into Hell in a beautifully brutal fashion. The visual aspect of Baskin certainly gives the movie an art-film quality. Director Can Evrenol makes everything from a car crash to a man's intestines being ripped out look stunning. Even if the film's internal logic is difficult to follow and the ending is predictable, Baskin is a nightmarish and inventive Turkish horror film that will give gorehounds a more cerebral torture fest than most.
Mike Flanagan is a director to keep his eye on, especially with the long-delayed Before I Wake. His knack for taking familiar horror tropes and adding a little twist to them has allowed him to make some of the best psychological horror films of the past few years in Oculus, Absentia and now Hush. Hush takes the ever-popular home invasion trope and adds an interesting surprise to the plot: the main character is deaf. This makes for some incredibly intense sequences where someone who can hear could easily get out of the situation, and she has to rely only her sight and touch to survive the night. Even if the home invasion plot doesn't offer much new, there are some incredibly original sequences that arise due to her disability. Also, the intruder cut the lights to the house, so she can hardly use her eyesight to help her anyway. The deaf woman, Maddie, is an author, so she has to come up with several different endings to her books and decide on the right one. She does this several times in the movie when trying to figure out how to get out alive including one part that provides one of the best shocks in the movie. Mike Flanagan creates a home invasion thriller that distinguishes itself from the pack by being both original and brutally effective.
The Boss (2016)
The Boss (2016)
To start off, if you don't like Melissa McCarthy, just don't go see The Boss. It's not some surprise role where she showcases her broad dramatic acting talent that will be loved and adored the world over. It's a Melissa McCarthy comedy, and I look for two things in comedies: a relatively likable atmosphere and, ya know, comedy. Funny comedy. The Boss has just enough of both of those to recommend to a comedy fan even if it's not as strong as McCarthy's work with Paul Feig. In The Boss, business tycoon Michelle Darnell is sent to prison for insider trading, and after she's released from prison five months later, Michelle is ready to rebuild her fortune at any cost. She is taken in by an old employee, Claire Rawlins, whose to- die-for brownies present the perfect opportunity to build another dynasty. With the help of Claire, her daughter and her girl scout troop, Michelle starts the brownie making business, but Michelle learns that people she screwed over in the past aren't so quick to forgive and forget. Melissa McCarthy has a knack for making the most despicable characters actually seem someone likable (maybe that's just because I can relate to an arrogant power-hungry business tycoon?), so you never outright hate Michelle Darnell. She grew up moving around several foster families, so it's hard not to show some sympathy towards her character and why she ended up so narcissistic. Although some of the jokes fall flat, there are two more jokes to make up for it, and there's some hilariously memorable lines in The Boss. Although it's not as consistently funny as some of her other work, The Boss should please Melissa McCarthy fans until Ghostbusters this summer.
The Big Short (2015)
The Big Short (2015)
The financial crisis of 2008 and the men who pulled the strings behind it is a story too crazy to make up, and that's exactly the premise of The Big Short, a lesson in the Great Recession of the United States and a black comedy about the people that caused it. The Big Short starts in 2005 with hedge fund manager Michael Burry who discovers that the U.S. housing market is extremely unstable. Predicting that the market will collapse sometime in 2007. Burry realizes he can profit from the crash by betting against the housing market. His idea is laughed off by major investment and commercial banks, but they accept his proposal, believing the market is stable. From there, Burry's idea is heard by several hedge fund managers and traders, and their profits increase as the housing market crashes. The documentary-style camera-work and dark comedy make this dense subject easily accessible to almost everyone. The film's funnier moments come when some random anachronistic celebrity comes to explain financial terms to the audience, with the best being Selena Gomez. Even with all the black humor in the movie, The Big Short can't help but make you angry at the real-world villains that it's portraying, which is exactly what the movie wants. The Big Short is both hilarious and angering, and while it's obviously not a documentary, it does offer one of the best on-screen presentations of the 2008 financial crisis that is thought-provoking yet accessible.
Jennifer Lawrence made a name for herself by starring in The Hunger Games, and she's easily one of the most recognizable actresses in Hollywood. But what does she do now that The Hunger Games has ended? Her first post-HG project is reteaming with David O. Russell, director of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hussle, which netted her one Academy Award win and two nominations (including Joy). Although Joy wasn't as well-received as their other pairings, it still gives Jennifer Lawrence a movie to carry on her own without a franchise title to support her. Joy is a biographical film about the life of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop, because evidently she needed a biopic. She grew up in a home where everyone around her had a dead-end job, and her grandmother was the only source of optimism for Joy. By the time she's 30, Joy is a divorced mother of two, working a dead-end job, her parents are divorced but still live with Joy, and her ex-husband lives in her basement. To add insult to injury, her sister constantly humiliates Joy in front of her children. The rest of the film is Joy overcoming these obstacles to become an overnight success with her first invention, the Miracle Mop, and selling the product on QVC. It is one of those inspirational bio-dramas we get a few times a year, but it never feels overly sappy or fake. The real issue is the film's first half which drug on about 20 minutes too long hammering in how much the characters' lives suck. Once Joy makes the prototype for the Miracle Mop and starts her business, the movie's quality picks up immensely. You actually start caring about the characters rather than just saying "Wow, their lives suck." The ensemble cast, which includes Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, does typically great work and salvages the movie's slower parts. Joy is definitely one of those movies that you really go see for the cast, but it's often fun to watch Joy's race to the top even if it takes a long time for her to start.
Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale (2006)
I'm not a huge James Bond fan, but I like a good spy thriller, and Daniel Craig's Bond movies have been some of the best in the past few years. I went back to his first Bond outing, Casino Royale, which is arguably Craig's best. In Casino Royale, James Bond has been armed with a license to kill and goes out on his first mission as 007 where he must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker. This movie serves as a reboot of the Bond franchise and shows a new story arc for Craig's Bond, so we see a more vulnerable and less experienced James Bond. There are still some ridiculously fantastic action sequences to behold, but it's obvious that he's not nearly as sharp as he will come to be. The action scenes aren't even the best part of the movie though. The second act takes place almost entirely around a poker table, changing from a spy movie to a more contained thriller. It's suspenseful and incredibly well acted. Casino Royale gives one of the more memorable Bond movies that I've ever seen and set up Craig for a great run in the role.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
I'm not a huge comic book movie fan, but I have liked the past few comic book movies I've seen (Deadpool, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy...), and I just so happened to find yet another one that I like. Personally, I'm getting ready for Civil War next month by watching The Winter Soldier, and if the next Captain American movie is as good as this one, there's nothing to worry about. In The Winter Soldier, Steve Rodgers is trying to adjust to the modern world until a conspiracy involving SHIELD comes to light, but Cap also has to team up with Black Widow to battle another threat: The Winter Soldier. To me, Captain America has always been the most interesting Avenger because of how he was forced to leave behind his old life and friends, especially his old lover Peggy Carter, and adjust to life in the 21st century. It allows him to be more than just a roided-up superhero with a cool shield, and his struggle with readjustment is explored well in this movie. He also has to deal with a myriad of other significant issues like SHIELD and the Winter Soldier. The political conspiracy plot in particular adds a lot of suspense and twists to the story to make it consistently thrilling while the Winter Soldier provides a lot of great action sequences. His character is mysterious throughout the film, and he's definitely one of the better Marvel movie villains. Captain America: The Winter Soldier should certainly please even the most casual comic book movie viewer with its intense action, great plot and witty writing. I think I might need to binge watch all the MCU movies before Infinity War comes out next year.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
First, this isn't a sequel to Cloverfield nor does it take place in the same universe as Cloverfield, so if you go see this, don't get mad that the Clover monster isn't ripping through the city again. Now that that's out of the way, this is going to be a completely spoiler-free review, unless you don't want to know about, um, character names. But seriously, the less you know about this movie, the better, so I'm not going to give anything away that wasn't in any of the trailers. In 10 Cloverfield Lane, a woman, Michelle, gets in a car accident and wakes up in an underground bunker. Her captor, Howard claims to have saved her life and that everyone outside the bunker is dead. Another man is also in the bunker, named Emmet, and tensions arise between the three as Howard becomes increasingly suspicious, and Emmet and Michelle mount an escape plan. While Cloverfield, was an intense, in-your-face monster flick, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a completely different beast altogether. Instead of the vast area of New York City, this movie takes place in the confines of a doomsday bunker, so the scares come from paranoia and suspense than a giant monster attacking the city. All three cast members are excellent in their roles, especially John Goodman as Howard. His awesomely creepy performance makes this one of his most memorable roles. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Galleger Jr. are incredible as well. You may recognize her as Wendy from Final Destination 3. Winstead's character definitely isn't a damsel in distress here; Michelle is crafty and smart like Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street. John Galleger Jr. also provides some witty comic relief while also seeming a bit suspicious himself. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a restrained, suspenseful and well-crafted psychological thriller that calls to mind both Misery and The Twilight Zone, and if this anthology series continues, it'll be hard to match the standards set by this and its predecessor.
The Other Side of the Door (2016)
The Other Side of the Door (2016)
I wasn't aware of the existence of this until about a week and a half ago, but I guess it helps watching a movie without any expectations or bias. Although it's not groundbreaking horror, The Other Side of the Door is an still efficient ghost story. The film follows a couple, Maria and Michael, who live in harmony in India until a car accident kills their son, Oliver. Desperate for closure, Maria learns of a ritual where she can speak to her son one last time. She travels to an ancient temple where a mysterious door acts as a portal between the world of the living and the dead. Her only warning is to not open the door, but, in typical horror movie fashion, Maria opens the door. Oliver's soul is brought back to the world of the living, but something else is trying to reclaim his soul. In terms of scares, The Other Side of the Door is inconsistent at best. There are a couple of genuinely scary scenes, but there are a few more that just cop out on a jump scare. One really great and scary thing about the movie is the demon trying to reclaim Oliver's soul. It's creepy as hell and is reminiscent of Sadako or Kayako. Another thing that salvages the film and makes it watchable is its great story. Maria's story of depression and desperation gives the plot an emotional edge while the Hindu themes and symbolism make it unique for an American film. The movie had a similar vibe to The Grudge in that it used another country's culture to create a disturbing atmosphere for its characters. The ending is actually great and pretty shocking, too. It's not the best "American goes to a foreign country and s*** goes down" horror movie, but The Other Side of the Door is a decently scary ghost movie with a great story.
The Witch (2015)
Ever since seeing the trailer a few months ago, I've been dying to see The Witch. It calls to mind recent art-house horror movies like The Babadook and Goodnight Mommy, but The Witch is far scarier than those movies. It's a grim, perverse, and disturbing tale of religious paranoia among a crumbling family that will surely be remembered alongside the likes of Rosemary's Baby and The Omen. The Witch takes place in 17th century in Puritan-era New England. A family is excommunicated from their village and settles on the edge of a vast forest. Soon thereafter, their baby goes missing into the woods, and the family is torn apart by accusations of witchcraft, black magic and possession. From the first ten minutes, The Witch has a morose atmosphere and starts out with an incredibly disturbing scene. The initial shock is carried through the next few scenes which are dialog-heavy and slower, causing the dread to continue to the next horror. The terror never lets up and only amplifies as the plot progresses until the final 20 minutes are agonizing to watch. I could only vaguely tell you how the movie ended because I was watching through my fingers. It's perversely scary. The acting is fantastic from the entire cast, especially from the child actors. They're given heavy stuff to work with and pull it off with unsettling results. Along with amazing cinematography and an ominous score, it'll be difficult to find a better horror movie than The Witch this year. It'll leave you shaking.
I guess if Ant-Man and of all people can get his own movie (and a pretty good one at that), then Deadpool can finally get his own movie. Luckily, Fox bounced back from its monumental flop Fantastic Four last August with the pretty decent R-rated comic book flick Deadpool. In Deadpool, Wade Wilson is a mercenary in New York City when he meets a woman named Vanessa at a local bar. They hook up, and a year later, Wade pops the question with a ring pop which she accepts. Wade then collapses and is later diagnosed with terminal cancer. One night at the bar, he meets a recruiter from a secret program who offers an experimental treatment for his cancer. Wade declines and leaves, but he later reconsiders the offer and leaves Vanessa in the middle of the night to receive the treatment. The procedure involves getting tortured for weeks on end until a mutation occurs, and Wade is severely disfigured in the process, although his cancer is cured, and he's practically immortal. Wade escapes the facility that looks exactly like the torture chamber in Hostel and vows revenge on the person who did this to him. Oh, and somehow he's aware that he's in a movie. For all its intents and purposes, Deadpool is a very fun and sometimes funny movie, although not all the jokes hit, and it gets a little exhausting towards the end. The ridiculous, over-the-top violence also makes the movie unnaturally entertaining for a comic book flick. Hopefully more R- rated superhero movies are made in the future. Deadpool's ability to break the fourth wall also makes the film more interesting, but it causes the plot to suffer somewhat. A lot of the backstory is told by Deadpool in flashbacks, causing the film to jump around in time a lot. Deadpool may not be the crowning achievement of comic book movies, but it's entertaining enough to watch in the theater. I'm sure it'll be the perfect movie for 12 year old boys' slumber parties after their parents have gone to sleep.
The Boy (2016)
The Boy (2016)
Not since last year's generic exorcism flick The Vatican Tapes have I had such low expectations for a movie. Its January release date, unflattering trailer, and awful director (William Brent Bell, director of The Devil Inside and Stay Alive) seemed to be a recipe for disaster. Maybe it's because my expectations were so low, but The Boy is actually a halfway-decent January thriller. The Boy is about an American woman, Greta, who becomes a nanny for a boy named Brahms whose parents will be away for a few months. What Greta comes to find out is that Brahms is actually a life-sized porcelain doll that is used to replace the real Brahms who died in a fire when he was 8. A list of rules is created for Greta to follow, and increasingly disturbing events start happening when she does not follow those rules. The enormous manor that she resides in calls to mind the mansion from The Innocents, creating an interesting setting for the film. As the film progresses, Greta does begin following the rules and treats the doll like a real boy, and it is pretty creepy seeing how the doll can mentally control her in that way. The plot itself is rather thing, specifically during the second act. There is an abusive husband sub-plot thrown into the film like last year's disappointing Sinister 2, but instead of being ridiculously over- the-top like that movie, the side plot actually does serve some relevance in The Boy and is believable enough. It provides a reason for why Greta becomes so attached to Brahms. The big twist at the end will divide viewers, but I thought it served the rest of the movie well. It is revealed that Brahms actually survived the fire and has been living in the walls ever since the incident, and the parents committed suicide and left Greta for Brahms. The fact that he's always in the walls listening and watching everything creates a creepy atmosphere. The Boy certainly won't blow anyone's minds, but it is a decent thriller that should give you an excuse to go out to the cinema in January.
The Forest (2016)
The Forest (2016)
Japan's Aokigahara "Suicide Forest" by itself is a creepy and gruesome place because of its reputation as one of the most notorious suicide spots in the world as well as its historic association with demons in Japanese mythology. Its inherently scary atmosphere is perfect for a good horror movie, but The Forest mostly squanders its promise by degrading it to a hot spot for cheap jump scares. The Forest stars Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer in a dual role as twins Jess and Sara. Jess has disappeared into the forest, and Sara travels to Japan to go into the forest to look for her, unaware of the demons that lurk in the forest. The film has a pretty interesting premise and could have worked if executed correctly. 2014's As Above, So Below took an intrinsically creepy setting, the Paris catacombs, and used an unsettling atmosphere and good scares to make one of the better horror films of that year. The Forest does not use its setting to its advantage. Any atmosphere created by the forest is frittered away by a dull jump scare. Despite all the loud noises and sudden shocks, the scares are just boring. That could have been helped by a good story, but once Sara actually reaches the forest, the plot just sort of stops. The last half of the movie is just her running through the forest while demons pop out from behind the trees. It's not until the end that the plot decides to move forward any more, but by the time the big twist happens, you don't really care. The Forest has a committed performance from Natalie Dormer and glimmers of an interesting movie but mostly wastes them on predictable jump scares and a bland story.