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Most student films could blow this away
26 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I'll make this short as this film has the look, tone, and talent usually seen in an uber-subpar porno film. As another user said it's like a checklist of everything you shouldn't do when making a film. Check the FIVE MINUTE tour of Frigidaire appliances you get at the start of the film (ding ding ding) before you even get a clue that you're not watching an infomercial. The (needless) plot point behind this jaw-dropping opening scene could have been made in about 10 seconds and the acting by the supporting players here is beyond amateurish (well, the real estate person was good). They made this in CA right? Where they have actual actors? WTF?

Then you get to see the writer/director degrade herself for an hour. If she could actually act and could create a character (not caricature) there might have been some point to it, but it's really just a very sadistic brute bullying a not-very-bright young woman for most of it. It's about as masochistically reprehensible as you can get, except I suspect it wasn't made for profit. I think it's earnestness-veering-into-blatant-incompetence gives that away.
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It takes major talent to take a trope/genre like this one and make it sing. Mitton does and in the most unexpected ways.
26 November 2019
I rented The Witch in the Window from the generally positive reviews and my only regret --- when I finally forced myself to play it on the day of expiration --- was that I hadn't bought it.

There seem to be two kinds of horror movie fans out there --- the ones most contempo studio films pander to with timed Jump Scares or Gross-outs and the kind who are more drawn to suspense/mystery/psychothrillers. Andy Mitton's Witch has it's hiking boot firmly planted in the second camp: it draws you in old school style, which is appropriate as this film is a variation on Every Haunted House Movie You've Ever Seen and Urban Legends like Bloody Mary.

Speaking of legends, this film transcends the horror genre in almost exactly the same way Bernard Rose did in 1992's Candyman, minus the mega-budget and SFX. It's strength is in it's story, but more so in the performances, most notably in Witch by principles Alex Draper and Charlie Tacker who play the most naturalistic father-son duo I think I've seen onscreen this year. It's a familiar story.... Draper is the dad-on-the-outs who takes son Tacker to rural Vermont on the pretense of house-flipping a property that both become quickly attached to, and they aren't the only ones attached, of course.

Because of the caliber of Draper and Tacker's acting, and Mitton's unfettered, honest dialogue, we're pulled into (lulled into) the human dimension and plot of Witch way faster than we normally would be in a conventional horror film (those that bother to develop character at all). So, when the shocks come, they hit with an extra wallop because by this time you've almost forgotten you're *watching* a horror film.

By the last third of Witch's brisk 76 minute run-time, events have gone from vaguely creepy to completely nightmarish... and in set-ups that, while similar to other films I've scene, have never been rendered so vividly and with as much shock value. The result is TRUE horror, the kind you only get when a film has you on an emotional level and is made with as much love and care as this one obviously was.

Some have complained about the slightly obtuse ending, but you'd really have to be on your phone to miss what transpires. I don't rate films subjectively to every other film... you can't compare "The Godfather", "Jaws" or "Citizen Kane" --- or even "Halloween" --- to Witch in the Window. It fights it's own corner and if there's one thing it could have done better that it set out to do, I couldn't tell you what that might be.
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Luce (2019)
A think piece in the shell of a thriller, but what a think piece
25 November 2019
"Whichever side you take... you're wrong" - Tagline from the 1994 David Mamet film "Oleanna"

I thought a lot about David Mamet's molotov cocktail of a play while watching Luce unfold. Where Mamet's focus was gender politics, political correctness, and the questionable entitlement of the educated elite, J. C. Lee takes swipes at some of those same institutions as well, adding on racial preconceptions into the bargain.

If you like to sort the characters in a film out in terms of black and white hats, Luce is not for you. As many others have said, there are no easy answers in this film.

Why? Are Lee and Julius Onah, the director, purposely trying to mess with us and frustrate? Actually, the complete opposite. Most people assume they are 100% correct or justified in their actions most of the time, but the truth is, we seldom are.

The "truth" *is* there in Luce, if you look for it, or more likely the "probable truth". But you may have to re-watch it a few times to catch those nuances. That may not cut it for many, but when the ride is filled with such compelling, compulsively engaging performances, I didn't really care.

Kelvin Harrison Jr.'s painful and razor-sharp rendering of the title character is a boy who's been groomed, ever since his adoption by the upper-middle class Edgars (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) at the age of 7, from a war-torn boyhood where he toted a machine gun, to wear many masks: for his parents, his teachers, his friends, his lover. Aside from the revolutionary background, though, is he that different from any savvy ivy-league aspiring teenager? Think about it... being forced to kill for a cause you can barely understand kind of grooms you to be a people-pleaser at an early age, in a very... yes... violent way.

What's delightfully subversive in Lee's script and play, similar to Mamet's, is that his oppressor/persecutor (in the form of Octavia Spencer, who's rarely been as visceral and charged as she is here) is just as guilty of preconceived bias, and by turns so are Mom and Dad, as they alternately question if Luce is the violent radical Spencer claims he is.

Ultimately, Luce seems to be more about the pressures pounded into the young to be everything to everyone... by not only parents and teachers but the media and society at large.... except maybe themselves. And if Luce makes you think about that for even a few minutes, it's done it's job.
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Missing: Any and all conclusions
10 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
It's been a good 3 years since the first Missing 411 film came out. While I remember seeing it, I'm fuzzy on the details, but I do remember that it seemed much tighter and focused than "The Hunted". I know I didn't come away thinking "what a fraud."

One of the biggest problems with 411 2019 is that it violates the golden rule of good documentaries.... For almost the entire running time of the film, the focus is not really on the victims or their families, but on David Paulides and his "profile points" (none of which are very specific or precise... they are really just "commonalities"). It doesn't take you long before you realize that for the first hour, the filmmakers tell you the same story essentially five times, never once coming to any investigative conclusions. This is essentially the same as any amateur sleuth gathering together clues and then throwing up their hands and saying "beats me... but hey... I know it means SOMETHING... look... it fits this formula I just came up with!"

To make matters worse, the last half-hour is filled with "paranormal" stories (and no plausible evidence) that seem to get to the heart of David's real speculation. And this is what makes this "doc" such a fraud.... not the fact that the paranormal stuff isn't presented strongly enough but that Paulides doesn't even have the conviction to state if he believes it or not! It's not chance that this stuff appears in the last reel. It definitely makes you wonder if the priorities were on documenting events or on safe-guarding reputations that may already be a bit shaky.

But all this aside, this is a super-bore of a film. Even if the facts were compelling (they're not), it's so repetitively shot, narrated, and edited that, aside from some gorgeous scenery, you'd be better off watching a travel agent's VHS tape for what you can legitimately take from this film.

I do feel very sorry for the victim's families... hopefully they at least got some of the revenue from this very over-priced direct-to-video scam.
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Get My Gun (2017)
When bad things happen to good movies
18 September 2019
I can honestly say I've never seen anything quite like Brian Darwas' Get My Gun. Frankly, I doubt you have either. I still can't tell you if that's a good thing.

It held me all the way through, but at times very reluctantly, like the proverbial bad car crash cliche. I came out with way more questions than answers. My fear is that the answer to all of them is: "Dude, chill. It's grindhouse."

But is it grindhouse... really?

The problem is that sandwiched between the WTF I Spit On Your Sister Act opening and the almost nonsensical last third of the film is an extremely well-acted, creepy, tense, empathic, richly-textured little movie trapped in a celluloid freak-show of a body.

Darwas and his shooter Mary Perino have created a good looking, technically sharp film that's always intriguing and gritty in its realism --- it's unfortunate the story goes so far off the rails in the end. That's painful in this case, because the heart of the movie (and this is one of those performances where you can't imagine another actor doing a better job) is Kate Hoffman, followed a hairs-breadth by Christy Casey winsomely portraying the Best Friend Anyone Could Ever Hope To Have. They have such amazing, natural, charismatic chemistry I would have been happy to see them make beds and talk trash for 90 minutes as they schlep through a hellishly gross-out day job at a suburban sleazoid notel hotel.

In a nice piece of scripting, Casey takes playful revenge on Hoffman, who previously pulled a similar prank, by leading her to walk in on a dangerous and sadistically disturbed pervert (a creepier than crap William Jousset). Bad things quickly ensue but even during this lurid sequence, Darwas and Hoffman hold the reigns tightly, not sparing us any of the horror, but never exploiting it for tawdry thrills either. This isn't Meir Zarchi territory. The rape scene walks a razor line --- this kind of thing is not easy to achieve, just as the easy interplay between Hoffman and Casey isn't either. A good litmus test of any movie is when it flows so perfectly you never have time to analyze it until afterwards... it has you in it's grip and that control *is* the reason people escape to a movie.

But then Get My Gun pulls a complete 180, after Hoffman, following an enormous amount of self-torture, comes across an ad for an all-paid birth and adoption. This is where Darwas drives off a cliff and the complete change in film tone is not a particularly good decision. I'll spare you all the details and the myriad implausible plot twists, resurrections, and Outer Limits costume changes as many have talked of them. No, they don't make any sense. Some even defy gravity in their absurdity.

Which ultimately leaves you with a very uneasy feeling. Did Darwas want to make a full-tilt whackjob grindhouse pic? Or an intense character study? Or a feminist manifesto? Was the whole movie a disingenuous scam? I wish I had more answers. But maybe wanting those answers automatically disqualifies me for Darwas' target audience. That sucks because, by contrast, a highly lauded film like A Vigilante never contains a rape scene yet Olivia Wilde's character is dredged in degradation start to finish, at least ten times worse. At least Hoffman's character has soul, though make no mistake, it's blood red.
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Downrange (2017)
Not much heart, too many guts in this uneven, underscripted indie
14 September 2019
Warning: Spoilers
In general, the tone of Japanese horror is very different from American horror. It surprised me that Ryuhei Kitamura of Midnight Meat Train had directed this indie that I missed until I noticed it recently on Shudder.

It took me a while to figure out why I was checking my watch only twenty minutes into "Downrange" --- by that time, the screenwriters (Kitamura and Joey O'Brien) are supposed to have given you a reason to not just side with the killer. Unless you're blindsided that this is a sniper movie, or get emotional when paper targets blow up, that's essential. But none of that human homework is really done, and the actors can't be expected to invent good dialogue, unfortunately. For an example of another recent horror movie that *does* bother to do this, and benefits greatly from it, see "Hell Fest".

I don't often say this, but Kitamura seems totally wrong for this project. In addition, to being ultra-heavy on exploding, decomposing flesh, a lot of the dialogue his college-age mains spout seems dorky and awkward. There's *one* moving backstory (well played by Rod Hernandez) but it's explained about half-way into the movie (for a good reason), but by then, it's too little too late.

To be fair, ANY sniper movie is a tough one to write. It's not pure action as it demands a lot of personal interplay, so you can't fake or go light on the character development (there are a plethora of cat-and-mouse action sequences hiding behind a massive SUV that actually get, yeah... BORING). Even when I did start to care for the characters during these times, their dialogue became inane.

Speaking of which, the pace of the script doesn't steadily accelerate as it should in a thriller with this much action, and no amount of camera and drone tricks help. By the time another vehicle meanders into scope of the sniper, the carnage is so OOT it's laughable. Additionally, the makeup effects aren't up to the amount of lens time Kitamura wants to expose. Many look very fake and rubbery (with far too many long close-ups). Why do we need to see that anyway...? Well --- that's one of the style differences in Japanese/US Horror. I still don't get it... I've never been in love with Japanese horror, but I know many people who are. They'd probably love this movie, come to think of it.

Downrange's script also seems to reach for lofty heights when it can't nail the basics of pace and development, which plain annoyed me. When it isn't boring or making us cringe at the number of idiotic choices the characters make, it's piling really tasteless sledgehammer symbolism like the lone African-american menaced by the white wolf, all the most expendable characters seemingly from mixed-ethnic relationships, and even the use of the SUV is a bit overcooked by now (yeah, it's a stretch but we're not talking David Chase Last Episode of Sopranos pithiness, here).

Despite all this, it's worth a look if you're into really graphic, fairly sadistic horror (with a very nihilistic ending that I also saw coming point blank about five minutes before it happened). Overall, this movie's main failure is the script and it's ability to generate any real emotion or suspense except on the most superficial level. Then when it does, the blood and guts just rain down like the pig's blood buckets from Carrie's prom, without any of the needed gravitas or build-up.
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Wolf Creek (2016– )
Gleefully torches the rulebook in Season 2 and all the better for it
14 August 2019
Like a lot of people, I was dubious of how Wolf Creek would play as a series.

Greg McLean's original 2005 breakout indie slasher landed sledgehammer blows of sadism and violence as much as it gave you characters and performances that were a cut above those usually seen in the genre, and while Hostel was released that same year, "Wolf Creek" kept throwing you off your spiked pony as you watched, never delivering *exactly* what you expected. The 2013 sequel was a disappointing parody of itself, more of a warmed-over croc 'o' dundee crap that gave John Jarrett far too much screen time to racist rant without developing his character in any genuine or interesting way.

Jarrett returns in the first series of the TV spin-off playing usual cat-and-mouse games with Lucy Fry, doing the misunderstood-damaged-teenage-ninja heroine to good effect (complete with happy panting Dingo), though almost every aspect of the revenge story-line was cribbed from every expected source from Star Wars to Game of Thrones. It was hard to get especially excited about it. But McLean was definitely back on point in S1, even finally giving Jarrett's chuckling psycho a backstory and (almost) three dimensions. The acting was steadfast throughout and the only tiring point was the portrayal of all Aussie Outback men as druggies, rapists, and thugs who assault women physically, verbally, or both from noon through night.

Season 2 is well worth the wait. I bought the first episode, then quickly bought the rest and binged it all in about two days... it was that fresh, ingenious, and unexpected. Unlike many series, Wolf Creek pretty much trashes the first season insofar as it barely acknowledges it's occurrence (other than a scant reference to a "detective" in the final episode that made me wonder if there was a link between the character of Brian and cop Sullivan Hill --- don't think so).

Two follows a luxury busload of tourists who should rightly be as dull and lifeless as most slasher film targets are, but they're not. Almost all thirteen characters are well filled out and given abundantly rich backgrounds and good dialogue, which pay off in subsequent episodes. I'm not giving anything away (and I wouldn't recommend even watching the trailer for season 2) as once again, as in the 2005 film, nothing really plays out as you expect. What I especially liked is how McLean has peppered the S2 cast with a number of potential adversaries which at least *challenge* Mick in various physical and psychological ways and so prevent Jarrett's character from becoming a bit too Michael Myers-esque (though the plausibility of the ending, as in S1, is highly ripe). A very interesting angle which the large cast in S2 primes is the conflict between the characters which simmers, then boils over as their futures grow more and more grim. McLean's writing team gleefully plays with the idea of otherwise "civilized" mobile-phone junkies who Express Their Feelings With Great Empathy devolving into a pack of rabid Everymutts for Themselves.

That said, Season 2 still has the boundary of Wolf Creek's somewhat limiting premise well within view. There is only so far it can go, but it expends that latitude to it's limit. You'll find it near impossible to turn off.
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Hostel (2011)
Despite everything it isn't, it's definitely provocative
29 May 2019
Manish Gupta's Hostel from 2011 is an often insane, grindhouse-shredder that gleefully, unapologetically swerves all over the cinematic map, making stops at other films (from many other countries) in both subject and tone.

As Karan, Vatsal Sheth recalls the titular hero of The Story of Ricky, Lam Ngai Kai's ultra-campy Japanese pulp marital arts/Manga freakout (1991) --- he's got a lethal death-stare, seemingly limitless composure in the face of monumental threats and aggression and he kicks more than a little ass when pushed past the breaking point.

But Karan's not fighting an evil prison warden and his regime of futuro-torturers. His problems come in the form of a gang of marauding thugs who, Gupta would have us believe, run the college hostels (dorms) as gangsters terrorize a ghetto, with full backing of the administration, government, and supposedly parents. That sounds far-fetched, but after reading enough about Gupta and why he made this film, I do believe he's not exaggerating.

Bullying is not new. It's been around since the first caveman ripped the first chunk of meat out of his neighbor's hand just because he could. What's fascinating about Hostel (at least from the viewpoint of an American) is how the culture seems to dictate how "visible" bullying can be without raising flags, and how society reacts and tolerates it. You can see it as early on in film as Tom Brown's Schooldays (1940, based on the 1857 novel), to Renee Dalder's classic teensploitation splatterwork Massacre At Central High from 1976 (which the second half of Gupta's film resembles) to the myriad shootings depicted in art films like Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Tim Sutton's oblique Dark Night. For anyone who seriously asks why there are so many Columbine clones in the news monthly... well, it's all here.

Gupta's film is shocking because of how public the humiliation is and how widely accepted it is. Exactly WHY that is would be very fascinating, and perhaps Indians have a better understanding of the answers to those questions. Other factors such as economics and shame play heavily into this as well. Most Americans will look at this film and say "why doesn't Karan just leave?" and Karan is asked that question and he replies that he has no choice. He can't afford a place to live and his parents are dead. This is obviously a fact of life in India that most (relatively rich) Americans could not hope to grasp.

Once you get past that shock and settle into the film, it takes you to more than a few places you don't expect. A very dark, early example of this is when Karan is literally being beaten to a pulp by 20 of the head bully's goons and the hostel director interrupts it to chide the goons on their beating technique, so Karan won't end up in the hospital. Then another encounter with a "real" gangster takes a very funny and unexpected turn.

In between all this we get a love story that's very throwback Bollywood in tone and style (cheesy love songs and all) but almost a relief from the film's near-constant montage of sadism. Probably the most disturbing aspect of Hostel is the Massacre at Central High-esque theme of the bullied becoming the bullies, and as a result the second half of the film is even harder to endure (in a good way) than the first.

Gupta should be highly commended for making this film. His passion fills each frame and is joyous to behold in it's courage. As a technical piece of film-making, it's got a lot of problems, mostly in pacing and length, the supporting actors who are so-so and mostly stiff in their line readings --- but that could be a play on the classic Bollywood style as are some of the "on purpose" audio clicks you hear on the soundtrack (as you'd hear in a worn grind-house print where the reels change). It flys it's freak-flag high... you can't help admire it for that. And it definitely has something to say and something to make you think about.
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The Prodigy (2019)
Aside from a couple interesting VFX tricks, zzzzzzzz......
25 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
All good horror is, I think, rooted in what could genuinely happen. Think about it, even The Babadook with it's life size puppets and ruthless anonymous evil entity was just an effective frame for a very real, disturbing prospect --- losing your own child.

The trailer for The Prodigy leads you to believe it's a Bad Seed movie, and will engage you in some decent horror and play on some legitimate fears.

Don't believe it. In fact, it's tough to believe anything in this film except that all holds are apparently unbarred once you tack on a tired reincarnation plot structure that slowly rots over The Prodigy like a bag of unwanted Halloween taffy apples.

I don't think I'm giving anything away here. Most of you will get the gist in the film's first five minutes. You'll know exactly where it's going and along the way you'll get to see some pretty tasteless, unpleasantly graphic stuff. Yes, it's only a movie --- but so was Cannibal Holocaust or Salo, and I'm not lining up to see either of those again soon, even if the first is drive-in detritus and the other an art-house social statement.

Let's face it, when you stoop to seeing a child commit these kinds of heinous torture/murder acts, there's something wrong with your head, much less your script. You've written yourself into a corner, or... more likely... there is no intention other than cheap shock, as you also get in a number of really out-there obscene non-sequiters by this child actor (forgot his name, don't really care, it's up there somewhere) who really just does the demon robo-kid routine --- emotionless flat affect = evil.

If you're into supernatural schlock it's offensive but passable as a time waster. Anyone looking for anything scary in the real-world realm should just skip this one. Even The Good Son gave us a more engaging and plausible story and looks like Citizen Kane in comparison.
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A Vigilante (2018)
Powerful stuff but as a piece of cinema it's more aptly titled "A Mess"
14 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Sarah Dagger-Nickson's debut full-length feature appears at first to be so rich in possibilities, namely exploring the lacerating effects on an abuse survivor's mental state and the challenges of coping with the after effects of violence and it's perpetuating cycle. Add to that the concept of a for-hire crusading, powerful woman righting wrongs on all domestic abusers (yes, she does go after neglectful mothers too, it turns out). You can see why any number of talented actresses (and Olivia Wilde is surely one) would want to tear into something so juicy, complex, and fraught with likely untidy ends.

What's jaw-dropping about "A Vigilante" is that it never tries for anything but a standard B- or C-tier genre tone like "Death Wish" in the film's first half. This is a film that aims for character study but still wants to grub about in quick-and-dirty revenge-action muck. Oh yes, Wilde does more than her share of teeth-gnashing and bed-clawing, crying and screaming her lungs out, but Dagger-Nickson either couldn't be bothered with writing any supporting characters for Wilde's Sadie to play off of who could elicit anything more revealing about her character than tacit thankful "My Heroine" platitudes and grateful tears. It is true that many survivors of abuse are emotionally shutdown, and Sadie surely is in the first part of this film, at least in a coherent expository way --- but it doesn't make for a very compelling or engaging story.

There are scenes that seem either misplaced or make next to no sense... like when Sadie walks into a bar and is almost immediately beset by a gang rape in the parking lot. It's possible that she knew about the bar's rep and went in to set them up, I guess. And then literally right in the middle of this film, we finally get Sadie's own story in what appears at times to be a flashback, at other times not --- again Dagger's almost entirely visual script doesn't yield many cogent clues.

I think what both disappointed and offended me most was how the last half of the film devolves into a (very leaden paced) slasher film (!), with Sadie attempting to stalk and kill her abuser only to have him bind her up, beat her mercilessly, then stomp on her arm with his hiking boots.

You can only guess how this ends... and that's the problem. It also degrades the seriousness of the abuse issue by turning what might have been an introspective, challenging thriller into a cross between a damsel-in-distress torture-porn and a bogeyman movie.

I recently rewatched Talia Lugacy's daring and twisted 2007 rape-revenge film "Descent" again (after giving it a pretty harsh review first-time out) and had to reconsider my comments, especially in light of "A Vigilante". "Decent" documents an abused woman's devolution into vigilantism as well, but also comments (even if it's with only a shot of Rosario Dawson's devastated face at the end) on what such a course of action might *really* emotionally provoke in a 3-D person. Even a plot-centric exposition that added conflict to "A Vigilante", such as Sadie's for-pay beat-downs being potentially exposed, would have made for more suspense.

I have no idea why Dagger-Nickson made this film. Is it a parable for empowerment or dangerous wish fulfillment? I'm not convinced she knows.

While the film doesn't really *exploit* it's inherent violence against the abusers for kicks, it doesn't offer us anything interesting or unpredictable in it's place either. It's a long, unpleasant slog at 90 minutes, coming off as a raging, shrieking battle-cry with nothing at it's core. Dagger-Nickson uses several lengthy sequences of Wilde pummeling her work out bag, obviously much going on behind her increasingly frustrated and enraged face.

Unfortunately, we get only that much from this director's film... a lot of anger, but not much coherence or narrative satisfaction. It's got a lot to say, I think, if only someone could figure out what that was and put a voice to it, either visually or audibly. And, in my universe anyway, that makes it a failure as a film.
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Hell Fest (2018)
You'll expect jump scares and get a few, but you don't expect the genuine suspense
9 February 2019
Theme park based horror films have been around for a while, and the only one I can recall being remotely creepy was Tobe Hooper's The FunHouse back in the '80s. It's a tough thing to pull off as the nature of the plot is already so saturated in fake frights that when then real ones come around, they seldom provide much shock value. Until Gregory Plotkin's "Hell Fest," that is.

Plotkin, a seasoned cutter (most notably for Jordan Peele's innovative if not completely fresh Get Out) is no studio schlep. He understands suspense and how to build it effectively. Most of the standard schlock is turned on it's head here... odd and difficult to pull off considering it's basically a slasher film. It's Old School in ways most younger directors couldn't comprehend. Plot points are dashed around like bread crumbs and arc gracefully through the entire length of the film... not just relating to story but characters, as well.

Another anomaly for the genre... you actually like and root for these characters, yet that's not accomplished through brilliant dialogue, but by the naturalistic, flawed, vulnerable aspects these actors embody so genuinely (most notably Amy Forsyth, who brings nearly as much heft to what should be a Damsel in Distress role as Jamie Lee Curtis did in Halloween '78). You can actually picture these kids having lives outside of the world of Hell Fest because they allude to their foibles instead of merely reverting to hysterical meltdowns. It's a nice ensemble cast.

As many people have mentioned, the sound design in Hell Fest is particularly fresh, subtle, and very disturbing (the Dolby Atmos mix is one of the first uses of the technology that I've heard that doesn't draw attention to itself yet almost makes the movie).

Every time you think you know what will happen... it sort of does, yet doesn't. Plotkin consistently confounds you, giving his generic masked killer stronger undertones of sadism than anything else, preferring to toy with his victims long before he butchers them. Lots of these scares you see coming... for minutes.... and they STILL work. It's the old Hitchcock "bomb under the table" scenario... it's much more terrifying because you see it coming and our heroes don't.

Why Hell Fest hasn't gotten more notice (outside of a really terrific notice from Mike Mazzanti of Film Stage is both mystifying and depressing. It's definitely a genre film, and you have to love horror to really get into. But for those of you who enjoy being played like a broken down piano in a crumbling hall of mirrors, you won't regret taking this ride.
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A gussied-up freak show masquerading as an art house horror pic. Pass.
23 July 2017
For an hour and a half thriller, Killing Ground is a real slog, and it's not until you reach it's last act that you realize why. It also probably explains why the movie has gotten some real raves (and some real pans).

On the surface, it tries in vain to put a fresh face on the Psycho Hillbilly From Hell movie. Killing Ground plays with time quite a bit in the first half of the film, sometimes to good effect in building suspense. Sometimes this backfires and convolutes scenes, as when the same character appears in two scenes back to back at different points in time. Hey, I love when filmmakers mix things up, but it's also a fragile ethos. When it backfires, it just draws attention to itself.

A lot of Killing Ground is like this. I found myself pondering film- critic-type questions (not a good sign) between checking my watch, such as "What is this film trying to achieve and what's it doing differently?" The answers are "I doubt if the filmmakers really know" and "Not much".

If you strip away all the stylized artifice, the competent acting, the technically good filmmaking, what do we really have here? Well, you basically have a slicker "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" slanted to tweak the emotions of the Middle Class (add yuppie heroes, add tykes in danger) or "Wolf Creek" with some really stupid villains (sorry, sadistic does not equal interesting).

None of the characters in Killing Ground are really very interesting, if you get down to it. Maybe that's not important to you, and with a strict thriller, it's not a requirement. Are the human characters in Evil Dead very interesting? Hell no. But with Sam Raimi bringing the freshness, who cares? Even Eden Lake (which has a very similar plot) brought villains with a slightly fresher edge.

Does Killing Ground just stink? No, it's a competent if not overly manipulative knock-off posing as an arty thriller. And that's just a little to ingenuous for me.
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An almost painfully real life horror film
10 May 2017
Full disc: I love Lindsey Burdge.

She has a natural charm and straightforward honesty in all her performances that consistently transcend what's on the page. And even with "The Sideways Light"'s minuscule budget (it looks like one of those films made in borrowed houses owned by crew family members), what's on the page isn't easy to shake or disregard.

It was hard to resist comparing this film's real-life horror scenario involving the insidious disease Dementia with Mike Testin's contrived psycho horror show "Dementia" from 2015. "The Sideways Light" (despite the somewhat misleading trailer) doesn't rely on horror movie tropes for it's scares. Instead, it's Burdge coming home to babysit her spiraling grandmother (played with a frightening lucidity by Jeanne Evans) and having no idea what she's getting herself into.

Nana follows Lily (Burdge) around incessantly, alternating between jarring savant-like awareness and incoherent gibberish. She refuses to leave the house, thereby trapping her granddaughter with her to the point where Lily begins to fear for her own sanity. And that's basically it. Through it all Lily dives for normalcy by attempting to spark an affair with sexy barkeep Aiden (Matthew Newton) and her increasingly wheedling attempts to get relief from her brother Sam (Mark Reeb) who keeps pushing for the idea of simply putting Nana into a home.

But Lily can't do it, for a variety of reasons, and it's almost impossible to not put yourself in her shoes. This is due to mostly to the strength of the performances, yet Jennifer Harlow's direction is primarily the means by which the screws of psychological torture are tightened. It's a well-modulated, realistically paced thriller that's creepy for all too real reasons.
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37 (2016)
Beyond its myriad inaccuracies it's just a terrible film
23 December 2016
I won't repeat all the justifiably outraged comments this film deserves by distorting not only the basic facts of the Genovese murder but also perpetrating misguided fiction. If you decide to make a movie based on any *real* case, at least do basic research. Even before "The Witness" (an amazing film) was released it was well-known that the Times had fluffed the apathy angle to stoke sales.

No, what makes Puk Grasten's film irredeemable is it's utter lack of a story or any compelling (strike that --- NON-repellent), even interesting characters. These fantasy "neighbors" are all given stereotypical bad-sitcom dilemmas and we watch them yell, kick, scream, and drag for the longest 85-minute run-time I've endured this year. None of the subplots has any bearing on the crime (you could be watching a really dull Law and Order) and Grasten falls back on primitive symbolism such as the innocent all-seeing nature of the child vs. jaded self-absorbed adulthood.

Maybe "37" is what it appears to be --- a glib, inauthentic, attention-seeking morality-play payday. But if "37" *is* a sincere attempt at making a meaningful or engaging film, its dismal failure doesn't make it any less a waste of anyone's time.
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Always Shine (2016)
Cat gut
6 December 2016
If you see Always Shine for any reason, see it for its two lead performances. Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin Fitzgerald appear to be on verge of spontaneous combustion --- at each other but mostly at themselves --- for the hour-and-a-half run time of Sophia Takal's sophomore feature (penned by her fiancé Lawrence Michael Levine).

Always Shine is one of the most compellingly shot and edited indie features I've seen recently, using jump-cuts and flash-forwards in consistent intriguing ways. It opens with Beth (Fitzgerald) reciting a "please don't hurt me" slasher-film script into the lens for an audition and immediately follows with Anna (Davis) giving a polar-opposite speech that is more, well... unrehearsed. It's a clever set-up and tells you everything you need to know about these two young women in about eight minutes: Both are actresses. Beth is confident with her looks and charm, but not much else, and Anna is so insecure that every twitch Davis delivers is almost too painful to study for long.

Both are grappling for a tow-hold on the Hollywood feature film success ladder but only Beth has achieved a moderate level of success even though it's obvious Anna is the more talented of the two. It's a shame they can't be one person --- they'd be perfect. And that's where Always Shine gets really interesting as the two head off for a weekend of "healing" at Anna's aunts house in (gorgeous as always) Big Sur.

Watching Davis and Fitzgerald come *just shy* of ripping each other to shreds --- with paper cuts not razor blades is far more interesting than watching most actresses pull hair and scream. A fierce layer of male complicity runs underneath each woman's self-loathing and that's a nice touch, carefully derailing the "crazy chicks" cliché the film could have collapsed into under less skillful hands.

Audiences looking for an easy-out are going to be a bit put off by the last third of the film, which doesn't chart any new territory plot-wise and can be confusing for the more literal-minded, yet it strangely works for the most part. Ultimately, Takal seems to be saying that the image in the mirror is only going to be as ugly as you make it and subsequently even harder to ignore. Always Shine is many things, but slight and superficial it's not.
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Don't Breathe (2016)
Don't Believe... oh sorry, I meant Don't Breathe
15 November 2016
Thrillers require a steadily escalating suspension of disbelief throughout. Once that spell is broken, all bets are off. I mean face it folks, most horror movies are essentially ludicrous. Most are chock full of convenient coincidences. Don't Breathe, however, Fede Alvarez's sophomore feature after his needless and uninspired remake of Evil Dead stands to break more than a few records in this arena, and not any to be proud of.

Look, Don't Breathe doesn't completely suck. It could have made a very cool short film. The main premise is three utterly unlikable wastes of space go for the score of a lifetime by targeting a solitary Gulf War vet in his creepy house in --- of course --- the middle of a huge apparently abandoned ghetto. The camera work is very John Carpenter, lots of nice low tracking shots that are very engrossing and fluid.

The film's main problems are the characters and the dialogue, which as in Evil Dead, borders on sub-literate. This does nothing to make us root for anyone but the "bad guy" whom the script tries to turn into an utter madman in the last third of the film with a series of ridiculous clichéd plot-twists and lifts from other psycho serial killer movies.

The scares are further sabotaged by one of the "heros" (ha ha) who seems to have more lives than Michael Myers in the entire Halloween franchise and many other yes... plot holes. There are so many plot holes in fact, that you can go to Rotten Tomatoes and find that same complaint among almost all of the negative reviews, of which there are shockingly few, although I think most of the "positive" reviews are really only so-so, as mine is. It's also a bad sign when most of the message board posts are either "WTF?" or legions of horror fanboys defending one of the few horror entries this year that doesn't outright stink.

The fact is that the general standards for horror are becoming as sloppy as many things are in our world today. You deliver one or two scares... you try for that C- and you're done, right? Sorry, it doesn't cut it for a full-length feature.
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The Dog Lover (2016)
Yes it has an agenda. It's also pretty well made.
10 October 2016
If The Dog Lover is trying to hide its agenda it's not doing too good a job of it. It's a slightly creepy film to watch because it does nothing short of attack government funded protection agencies for going after dog breeders in general. Are all dog breeders evil? Is every group that disagrees with your views 100% evil? Not likely but who really knows for sure outside of their own experience. Are protection agencies spotless in their record of protecting animals? I don't know that either.

There are a lot of *suspicious* facts surrounding this movie, from the funding by a very well known opponent to Animal Cruelty bills to the fact that the ASPCA monitored "some" of the animal action in this film (haven't seen that one before and it gives me pause).

It is interesting how viciously this film has been attacked in the mainstream media with very little convincing non-hysterical justification beyond its controversial message. The acting is on the whole very good and the script does a damn good job at presenting a plausible scenario for mismanagement by government funded agencies.

If you go into this film with a closed mind it's only going to enrage you. It actually made me consider the other side of this issue. Did it convince me that all animal breeding is bad? No. Did it turn me against the ASPCA? Definitely not.

I do believe that all zealotry --- for any side --- is unwise and this movie did confirm that belief. I'd want to know more about both sides of this argument before I'd support either one, but as a piece of compelling storytelling, it works. It held my interest and made me want to know more.

Keep in mind when you read any hyper emotional review of this film that what you're being asked to do is simply think for yourself. I can think of worse ways to spend your time and money. Yes, you're probably giving money to the breeders if you rent or buy this film, but I'd be shocked if this film paid for itself, frankly. And the protection agencies have more than enough support to wage a counter attack. I'd love to hear their side of the issue as well. I'm waiting.
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Still waters sometimes run very deep
29 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I wasn't at all prepared for this home-grown, strangely moving indie from PA. I found it on DirecTV and these low-budget films are many times a real crap shoot. Two things made me give it a try: 1) An opportunity to see Anthony Michael Hall in more than a cursory walk- on role (a nicely nuanced performance) and 2) The obvious devotion that director Chad Scheifele has to this project. He made a short film of the same title 6 years ago, penned a book, and he's now made a full length feature. As a writer myself, I understand the attachment to something you've poured a lot of yourself into. Scheifele obviously thinks it's been worth the effort. It is.

Let's clear the air about a few things first. This isn't a John Hughesy movie, despite Hall's ghostly presence as a security cop on a high school campus. It's not full of a lot of slick airbrushed teen models spouting witty catch phrases (no offense; I love JH). The script is thoughtful, spare, and not afraid to use silence, which I really liked a lot. It also doesn't appear to be (and I may be wrong) one of those Christian Coalition sponsored movies that attempts to push a Christian Message down your throat. Excepting the occasional mentions of God and Jesus, it never really takes that coarse of a path.

Tyler (Mason Dye) is the new kid in town and from the start it's obvious that he's the one taking care of his mom (Amy Carlson), an alcoholic, pill-popper who couldn't find her car keys if they were glued to her face. Tyler's only other friend at school besides good- girl Paige (Katherine McNamara) is the enigmatic, hostile Indrid Wardin (nice anagram, BTW). Indrid takes Tyler under his wing in a move that at first seems altruistic, but eventually reveals more sinister undertones. It's obvious Indrid's a man on a mission and it's not one with any sort of happy ending.

While this type of plot twist is nothing new, Scheifele doesn't really villainize Indrid the way you'd expect, nor does he wreath Tyler in a golden glow. These are both troubled boys and it doesn't take a PhD to figure out why they're screwed up. Natural Selection's themes are very basic and some might say even over-simplified, but the script and performances are so unadorned that it sells itself in it's genuineness.

Ryan Munzert's Indrid is definitely the dark spark here, but Mason Dye's introverted Tyler is in a way just as intriguing, a boiling pot ready to silently explode at any moment. Scheifele's direction and his competent crew's work isn't showy and doesn't draw attention to itself, but it matches the muted mood perfectly.

There's a lot to relate to here for most people with the patience to look for it. And it's a relief to know that a labor of love, about love --- love at it's purest, basest level --- can be made and made well.
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Joshy (2016)
You'll laugh, you'll cry. You'll remember it for Middleditch
28 September 2016
I haven't been more pleased with a modest indie this year as I was with the daringly (and misleadingly) named Joshy, starring some very bright funny young comic actors, including Silicon Valley's hero Thomas Middleditch.

It's not a stretch to say that Middleditch holds Mike Judge's usual- spot-on-brilliance together on the HBO series, yet it's tempting to relegate him to playing a very good "young tech type". Jeff Baena's Joshy doesn't exactly discard that perception of Middleditch but it's a fantastic vehicle for the actor's emotional range.

But this film isn't a one man show. It's a brilliant ensemble cast of (mostly) guys, drawn together after disparate periods apart from each other to support Josh (Middleditch) who's suffered a pre-marital setback that redefines Awkward. It's such a clever device that I won't reveal it, though it comes in the first five minutes of the film.

Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, and Bret Gelman kill with rapid-fire, naturally delivered one-liners that perfectly capture their age, maturity-level (or lack thereof), time and place (Ojai, CA -- very now), and most importantly their relation to each other as well as their biases, fears, and prejudices. It's been said the key to all drama is conflict and it works even better for comedy here. All the guys in this film have a lot going on, much more than they'd disclose about what they're really thinking, about Josh's horrific plight and about each other. It's also refreshing to see a film about guys being guys in Tech Culture 2016 without resorting to some half-baked Big Bang Theory clone. Even better, the indestructible Jenny Slate and Aubrey Plaza join in to kick the feminine factor through the solar-paned roof. Joe Swanberg even shows up in a hilarious cameo, inadvertently toting his wife and kids to this weekend-long drug and booze-filled orgython.

Most impressively, Joshy could even give the tired Mumblecore genre, where "nothing and everything happens" a good name again after some recent major-league misfires ("Results"). The flow of events in Joshy is, like its so-appalling-its-almost-funny McGuffin, so organically developed and executed that it almost seems plausible.

And just when you think there may really be *no* point, Middleditch slam-dunks an extremely cathartic last act monologue that is pain-filled and hypnotic.

I really did not expect this from the director of Life After Beth or I Heart Huckabees. It only makes Joshy all the more sweeter.
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The Witness (I) (2015)
Incredibly absorbing deep-dive into one man's emotional obsession
27 September 2016
I saw this new doc at a double play with The Lovers and The Despot and the two films couldn't be more different. In scale, the two subjects don't match at all: one woman's senseless 50-year-old slaying against a couple of South Korean filmmakers captive to the whims of Kim Jong Il. Yet The Lovers and The Despot put me to sleep.

The Witness, by contrast, kept me riveted. My jaw dropped, my eyes wet, I got very angry --- everything you want from a good documentary. I'm old enough to remember the murder of Kitty Genovese or at least the aftermath. You know, the woman who screamed for help and was murdered over a 35 minute period while her neighbors did nothing to assist her?

Or did they? And that's where The Witness really goes in for the choke. What you thought you knew for certain may not be true, just as what Kitty's brother Bill assumed was fact and based many of his voluntary (and involuntary) life decisions upon for the rest of his life.

Filmmaker James Solomon holds back nothing while holding his subjects in nothing but the utmost respect. This is largely in credit to Bill Genovese who displays incredible honesty, tolerance, and courage as he uncovers holes, detours, and details in his sister's senseless murder and it's subsequent reporting and media blitz that are shocking and very disturbing.

But you're never invited to pity Solomon, and you won't. The Witness takes a very grim and depressing event and turns it inside out by placing you as close to the action as possible, then gently daring you to not look away. You won't.
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Compelling story but not compelling storytelling
27 September 2016
This film is a shining example of a concept that many filmmakers grapple with today: simply presenting an intriguing story, then stepping back and turning on a camera does not assure a successful film. This failure of execution is of particular death to a documentary because the whole point is connection with the audience on an emotional level, thereby creating engagement and usually suspense --- suspense often much more cogent because it's not fiction. Talented doc-makers can achieve this with virtually any subject: food, talking-head philosophers, even type-settings ("Helvetica").

You'd think a doc about two filmmakers, Choi and Shin, kidnapped separately, then reunited and held against their will by a deranged dictator would be a snap to pull off.

But The Lovers and The Despot largely fails to achieve more than minimal engagement (unless, I guess, if you've never heard of the Kim dynasty or North Korea) because it rarely scratches the surface of the event itself or even the Koreas most of us know only from news footage. The film's pacing is extremely problematic in its sluggishness. It seems improbable to NOT know the basic premise even before going into this film: Struggle, abduction, pretend submission, veiled surveillance of the enemy, and escape. Yet it's forty minutes into the film before we exit act one and Choi is taken.

Yes, the Kims and particularly Kim Jong Il are huge mysteries. You could argue they are way more fascinating than Shin and Choi (who come off many times as shallow and facile. I doubt this, but when asked what films she is proud of Choi says "the ones that win awards"). Do we learn much about Choi's time --- FIVE YEARS --- with the dictator? No. It sounds for the most part as if she were left alone. I'm not discounting or minimizing Choi and Shin's ordeal. I'm attempting to relay how ineffective and downright boring much of this film is because the director, Paul Courtenay Hyu gives us so little information via interviews to engage with. For example, Shin obviously suffered after being sent to SIX camps after attempting escapes. How? No one knows or bothers to tell us.

I'm sure this film will have more resonance with viewers who have first-hand experience with totalitarianism. But that's not engaging with the film itself, it's engaging with the issue. We never get inside Choi or Shin's heads except to sympathize with their truly horrific ordeal of separation and that's a real shame. I feel this is largely the director's fault and the editing doesn't freshen anything either. For the most part the cutting is what you'd expect from a standard Behind The Scenes bonus feature, matching bits of Shin's film to the narrative in a numbing predictable way.

It's too bad but not too surprising to find many to this day don't believe Choi and Shin's story. This film doesn't go far in convincing anyone that it's beyond fiction, and that's the real tragedy since I do believe it's fact.
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Fast forward button mandatory
19 July 2016
I finally broke down and watched the 1971 film a few days ago. I'm old enough where I remember these films (but was too young to see them... I SWEAR they were "R"s on release), which mostly played back to back at the drive-ins and also remember the relentless parodies in the early days of SNL.

Shockingly, the 1971 film isn't horrible, it's really kind of good. It has heart and the basic structure of a good old schlocky Walking Tall semi-grindhouse picture. It's wildly dated, yet it's hard not to feel a touch of admiration at the spirit shown by Laughlin and Taylor (Taylor even acts fairly well in the '71 film), even when the filmmakers are so obviously out of their depths in virtually every technical department. "Billy Jack" has the weirdly contagious feel of an improvised film, which it sounds like it almost was.

By contrast, The Trial of Billy Jack is every bit as bad as you've heard it is... a completely unwatchable vanity picture and an monumentally poor one at that. Since the core cast and the Christinas (helming the "script") stayed the same, one can only determine the bulk of the failure lies with the director, and that's "director" in title-only. Don't think for a minute that anyone had control of this chaotic jaw-dropping idiotic free-for-all.

From camping Billy up as a Christ figure, complete with Jesus and Judas in a test in the desert, to bad Kung Fu parodies with wack "effects" that could have been made by shining a Lite Bright into the lens (now you know I'm old) to Laughlin and Taylor having basically the same exchange 50 times ("Damn it Billy, when are you going to learn?" "Aw shucks Jean, what choice do I have?") to Laughlin's over-the-top mind-numbing "gloating" before he "gets physical" with the baddies... all in slow motion.... they literally stand still waiting to be pulverized... to the simply god-awful 3 hour run time (of which 2 hours could easily have been cut) you can't get a better example of how NOT to make a movie.

This was no labor of love.... just one of insanity. Your pet guinea pig could make a more coherent film, and one you'd be able to sit through without that required fast-forward button.
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Self-indulgent, boring... nothing you'd expect from Linklater
25 June 2016
I've been a fan of Linklater since Slacker and in film after film he's proved that you do not need a linear plot to create a satisfying and revelatory movie experience. That is, if you have characters that are richly crafted matched with actors giving indelible performances. Sadly (and I do mean that sincerely) "Everybody Wants Some!!" painfully exhibits none of those two saving graces. It's as needless as those two exclamation points in the title and as alluring as running into an old high school friend who wants to drag you to his house and show you old home movies for two hours.

I think I understand what Linklater was going for here, but it's still not an excuse for the snoozefest he delivers. I *believe* he was trying for something almost anthropological. That is, studying a very specific type of American male (high-school star jock) in a specific time and place (early '80s Texas) who come to terms with the competitive nature of college (in general, but college sports, specifically). Obviously this comes from Linklater's own experience but that alone doesn't make it interesting.

The fact that it shares many similarities with Dazed and Confused is only going to mystify and irritate most people, especially fans of that earlier film, which was a much more involving and true-to-life portrayal than anything you see in this film. If you'll remember, Dazed had an encapsulated version of Everybody Wants Some embedded into it --- namely Pink's (Jason London) disenfranchisement of the whole high-school sports scene. If you look closely at the mostly unknown cast, you'll notice more than a few similarities between the two character line-ups in behaviors and physical appearance. But Dazed is a rich film. The characters were anything but types (and they did not chant "catch phrases" as one reviewer states... the film's fans created those) and each had many dimensions. None (even Ben Affleck's character) were straight heroes or villains. By contrast, Everybody Wants Some's cast of jocks and jock-babes rarely give us anything we don't expect or transcend any of the rampant stereotypes.

For long stretches... I mean *LONG*... all you get are continuous party scenes that, while well-directed, still don't deliver anything that will keep your interest. There is little conflict, and nothing but the scantest surface interactions between the cast, none of whom give anything but the most vanilla performances. This isn't the first time Linklater's used a cast of unknowns (Dazed and particularly Slacker were exactly that) but Everybody Wants Some's crew is distinctly lacking in both style and charisma.

I don't think I've been as disappointed by any movie this year. And as other reviewers have said, the overwhelming positive critical reception this unstructured mess is receiving is disturbing, to say the least. Yes, Boyhood was amazing on so many levels and easily Linklater's most masterful film, firing on all his strengths. EWS consistently plays to all his weakest.

The more I think about it, EWS's aims are closer to Slacker than Dazed. Slacker was just that... a virtual anthropological snapshot of Austin Texas college life circa 1988-1989. Only Slacker's cast continually gave the audience thoughtful, crazy, disturbing, and provoking words and actions. By contrast, EWS is about as soulful as a kegger. A fun time in the moment, but nothing you'll remember after that. And that might be a very good thing.

** One footnote: If you have a surround sound set-up, you'll notice this film makes the same mistake as many others recently by putting primary audio in the rear channels, making the party scenes virtually impossible to hear unless you just jack the center channel through the roof. Maybe this is something related to Dolby Atmos. Whatever it is, it's irritating as hell. Nothing sinks a film faster than bad sound.
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L.A. Slasher (2015)
It's utter ineptitude is both stunning and disturbing
16 December 2015
The promotional blurb for "LA Slasher" calls it a "biting, social satire of reality TV and the glorification of those who are famous for being famous."

Unfortunately this film is so poorly made, acted, cut, and designed as to render it a complete waste of time. It's such a train wreck, you can't possibly even decipher what's happening on screen for its 90 minute runtime, which seems like five hours, at least.

There is no real story. Basically an anonymous white-suited masked psycho (voiced by Andy Dick, no less, which doesn't exactly raise the credibility factor) targets and then systematically slaughters airhead Twitter-made celebrities. Not in itself a worthless concept. If "LA Slasher" were made with even borderline competence it could be a poisonously fun black comedy.

The real problem here lies in the script, which is incoherent. A good first third of the film is spent introducing a slew of forgettable, woodenly-acted victims, but no story arc really exists. When they're killed, there's no pay off since you don't care about them. And Dick's slasher is either sniggeringly annoying (and unfunny) or downright vile ("Die you f**kin bitch" and variations thereof are his and the screenwriters idea of witty repartee).

Let's talk about the technical aspects for a moment. Even the opening credits are so badly created that they are almost out of frame in the HD cut I watched. Some of the set designs range from dirty warehouse to scummy hotel room to someone's living room. Even the Heiress and the Socialite live in places that are so badly dressed they look as if they were shot in the back of an abandoned flea market storage warehouse. Mischa Barton is one of many actors who stand around looking vaguely comatose, not knowing their lines or not caring to know them.

All of this amounts to a very depressing, pointless pile of garbage that's ultimately as empty and spiritless as the "problems" the movie's title antagonist sets out to "solve." At one point there was a "detective" (see the credits here on IMDb) so it seems a dramatic arc of some sort was written and even filmed, but apparently this film's aim is to appear as dumb as the targets it poorly lampoons. The best thing for "LA Slasher" to do is off itself. So many people will thank it.
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Take my pawn. Take my king. Just end it.... Please!
14 December 2015
Let me start off by saying that I'm not a Tobey hater. He's no Olivier but when there's something to bring, he brings it. That something, unfortunately, is nowhere to be found in Ed Zwick's leadenly-directed "Pawn Sacrifice" and Stephen Knight's pointless, uninsightful, and often downright boring script.

My main problem with the film is that Knight establishes virtually no empathy for Bobby Fischer, even in the early scenes. His dad ran out on the family, Mom is a doting but loving mess, and Bobby, though very intelligent obviously has some mental issues, bordering on psychotic paranoia. Why this is, however, is never explored and neither the script nor Maguire's performance lets us into his head even for a second.

I expected Pawn Sacrifice to show us something we didn't already know about the famous Game 6 with Boris Spasky, perhaps how all the political sturm and drang unhinged the already volatile personalities at center stage. It doesn't. It's really just a series of Maguire's increasingly deranged demands and violent freak-outs that become more and more tedious to endure.

Edward Zwick, who usually directs light, comedic, *very* commercial fare is a horrible choice for a director, but it's par for the clueless course of Universal's dumb-em-down blockbuster mill lately (It's almost where I have to restrain myself from fleeing the theater when I see or hear the logo and cue anymore). You can see the script doctoring right in the credits (3 writers on story alone? Really?) and on the screen. In an incredibly crass and dumb script-o-tronic device, Bobby loses his virginity to a hooker (natch) who then turns into one of his most knowledgeable and ardent fans. See everyone? Bobby's appeal crosses ALL gender, race, and social boundaries! Yippee! What a bunch of worn-out pap.

There is also no suspense built in the matches themselves as we very rarely, if ever, get a close look at the board. Presumably though, we are too stupid to understand the game of chess, so why bother? Why bother indeed. Maybe a Stand and Deliver checkers tournament is in the works right now. Edward James Almos, where are you when we need you?
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