More Assembling Required

Avengers: Age of Ultron

by Hope Madden

Glorious ridiculousness thrives in Joss Whedon’s Marvel universe, a place so vivid, witty, emotional, exuberantly paced and generally epic that you’re too busy trying to keep up to notice how overpopulated it is.

Here’s what matters: the band is back together! But is it a reunion tour or a retirement tour? Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr. – duh) looks like he might be ready to hang it up, hoping there is a bigger, better, more certain solution for Earth’s safety. Meanwhile, there’s a romance abloom, and it’s not between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans). Damn it!

The mad scientists of the group (Stark and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner) keep toying with AI, even though their experiments sometimes develop a God-complex and snarky personality (thanks to a wonderfully realized turn from James Spader, who relishes Whedon’s quotation-happy dialog).

Spader’s Ultron adopts some freaky twins from another segment of the Marvel universe, there’s a birth of sorts, and more fight sequences, tossed vehicles, imploded buildings, and general chaos than can safely fit on a normal sized screen. That’s why they went IMAX, baby.

As with its predecessor and the best of the individual Avenger flicks, this adventure is loaded with visual style, but the film is at its best when it lets its characters become personalities. Whedon’s writing is so far superior to that of other superhero scribes – more naturally comedic and rich with opportunities for his cast to create characters – that the film cannot help but entertain. And beyond the funny one-liners, this Avengers explores some dark corners to undercover questionable moralities.

Still, there is a lot of icing on this cake. The film throws extra screen time and added layers toward some of the less-appreciated Avengers, nearly doubles the size of the team, and throws in so many super hero cameos it feels less like Age of Ultron and more like Avengers and Friends. There is so much going on that, to a certain degree, not much happens.

It’s huge, fast, colorful and fun. It’s smartly written and capably, enjoyable performed. It lacks the resonance and visual articulation of Captain America: The Winter Solder, and even when Ultron sings bitterly of Pinocchio, no villain in the Marvel universe has been able to hold a candle to Loki.

The thing is, it’s just cool to hang with these guys. Maybe it’s not their best album, but the live show is always fun.





Fright Club: Best Horror 2010 – 2015

It’s official. Our flux capacitor is running out of power, our time travels are coming to a close. We’ve highlighted the best horror films of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the first decade of the 2000s, and now it’s time to bring things up to the present with the best in horror from 2010 – 2015. Who would have thought that list would be so hard to put together?

What do we wish we didn’t have to leave off? Indies like The Woman, Kill List, The Snowtown Murders; major releases like Evil Dead and The Woman in Black; foreign language gems like Big Bad Wolves, The Last Circus, We Are What We Are and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. All of this convinces us that we are in the midst of a horror movie rennaissance – hooray!

So what did make the cut? Here you go:

5. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off when.

But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.

Cabin is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.

4. The Conjuring (2013)

Yes, this is an old fashioned ghost story, built from the ground up to push buttons of childhood terror. But don’t expect a long, slow burn. Director James Wan expertly balances suspense with quick, satisfying bursts of visual terror.

Wan cut his teeth – and Cary Elwes’s bones – with 2004’s corporeal horror Saw. He’s since turned his attention to something more spectral, and his skill with supernatural cinema only strengthens with each film.

Ghost stories are hard to pull off, though, especially in the age of instant gratification. Few modern moviegoers have the patience for atmospheric dread, so filmmakers now turn to CGI to ramp up thrills. The results range from the visceral fun of The Woman in Black to the needless disappointment of Mama.

But Wan understands the power of a flesh and blood villain in a way that other directors don’t seem to. He proved this with the creepy fun of Insidious, and surpasses those scares with his newest effort.

Wan’s expert timing and clear joy when wielding spectral menace help him and his impressive cast overcome the handful of weaknesses in the script by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes. Claustrophobic when it needs to be and full of fun house moments, The Conjuring will scare you while you’re in the theater and stick with you after. At the very least, you’ll keep your feet tucked safely under the covers.

3. Let Me In (2010)

With Hollywood’s 2010 reboot of the near-perfect 2008 Swedish film, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road) are both terrific, and give the film a touching, vulnerable soul.

Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value. Incredibly, he even manages to build on the climactic “revenge” scene that was damn-near flawless the first time.

2. The Babadook (2014)

Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror.

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

It’s a simple premise, and writer/director Jennifer Kent spins her tale with straightforward efficiency. There is no need for cheap theatrics, camera tricks or convoluted backstories, because Kent is drilling down into something deeply, frighteningly human.

Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

1. It Follows (2015)

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in years. He’s crafted a coming of age tale that mines for primal terror. Moments after a sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay discovers that she is cursed. He has passed on some kind of entity – a demonic menace that will follow her until it either kills her or she passes it on to someone else the same way she got it.

Yes, it’s the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted another cautionary tale about premarital sex. Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB podcast.

Love Is Magic


by George Wolf

Alright, I’ll give you about 75 minutes, give me a series of frenetic vignettes that might seem silly, but end up pulling each other along to paint a charming picture of that crazy little thing called love.

Doable? Oh yeah, make it animated, and dialogue free.

Veteran animator Bill Plympton does it with Cheatin’, one couple’s story of passion, jealousy, magic and bumper cars.

Long, lovely Ella catches the eye of every man just by walking down the street, and beefcake-y Jake is the town stud muffin. So naturally, when a mishap at the county fair brings them together, passions ignite.

Cold water comes in the form of a jealous other woman, who hatches a scheme to convince Jake that Ella has been unfaithful. He eases his pain with a bevy of nameless babes, which leads Ella to fight for her true love..with help, of course, from a magician who can transform Ella into the souls of Jake’s new conquests.

It’s nonsensical fun with a solidly romantic heart beating underneath. The trials of Jake and Ella begin to personify all the joy and pain of love itself and why, for the right person, it’s all worth it in the end.

Plympton’s unique animation style can require some adjustment time if your unfamiliar, but soon the strangely elongated torsos and morphing elements win you over with inspired creativity. The pastel-laden set pieces give way to simple charcoal drawings and back again, all moving with a fluidity that becomes downright gleeful.

I mean, if Jake and Ella can make it, there’s hope for all of us.




Catch Bill Plympton in person at a special Q&A session after the 7pm screening of Cheatin’ on April 27th at the Gateway Film Center.




29 and Holding

The Age of Adaline

by Hope Madden

An impeccably dressed Nicholas Sparks rip off, The Age of Adaline follows a woman trapped forever at the age of 29. Vampire? If only!

No, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) is victim of cosmic forces and bad driving, rendering her ageless – as explained to us by the Twilight Zone-style voiceover.

Voiceover narration is the single laziest storytelling crutch in screenwriting, by the way.

Then the world changes around Adaline, but the classy lady leads a mostly solitary life, always afraid to let someone in on her secret. Or is she just a commitment phobe?

Lively impressed in her turn in Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010), but hasn’t shown a glimmer of that ability since. Here she’s suitably proper, timelessly classy. You might even mistake this for a strong performance until she shares the screen with the great Ellen Burstyn, playing Adaline’s aging daughter Flemming. Performing together, it’s clear one of these people is acting while the other is posing.

Give her credit, Lively poses well and director Lee Toland Krieger knows how to frame her while she does it. His whole film is as pretty as Adaline, and also like her, it’s surprisingly restrained. Though it certainly splashes the same emotional manipulation onscreen you’d expect from a romantic drama of the Sparks ilk, it doesn’t wallow.

The crisis Adaline faces is true love. Of course it is. Can she tell new unabashedly perfect beau Ellis (Michiel Huisman) of her unusual ailment? What about those shadowy, lurking government types who want to test her or take samples or something?

Thank God for Harrison Ford, who jumps in with an admirable attempt to salvage the star crossed lovers’ drama. He struggles with this dialog, and when was the last time you saw a well-rounded male character in a Sparks-esque romance? Still, he does what he can and is a very welcome presence.

The film is co-written by J. Mills Goodloe, co-scriptor of Sparks’s organ transplant love affair The Best of Me. This is better than that, so congratulations Mr. Goodloe.

The film will find an audience. It’s pretty, and capably made for emotionally manipulative romance. But you should see Ex Machina instead.

In Fact, It’s a Little Bit Frightening

Kung Fu Killer

by Hope Madden

Do you love Hong Kong action movies? Director Teddy Chan does. To prove it, he’s created a love letter to the genre with his latest film KUNG FU KILLER.

Someone is murdering martial arts masters, beating each with his own specialty. Does the noble (yet righteously imprisoned) master Hanhou Mo (Donnie Yen) hold the key to finding the culprit before he kills again? And even if he does, can he be trusted?

The film’s a pretty traditional police procedural – spring Hanhou Mo from prison and he’ll help you catch your killer – but really it’s an excuse for hand to hand combat, then blade to blade combat, sometimes on rooftop, sometimes in boats, sometimes on giant skeletons of some kind, sometimes in traffic…

To enjoy this film you will have to open yourself up to it. It helps if you can also overlook the poor police work…and the acting…and the writing. But let’s be honest, that’s hardly the point of this exercise. One guy is killing masters in each discrete martial arts skill – weapons, boxing, grappling, etc. – and working his way toward the one man who has mastered them all, Hanhou Mo.

Is it true what evil Fung Yu-Sau (Baoqiang Wang) says, that martial arts is meant to kill? Can Hanhou Mo do as his beloved asks and restrain his fists? Oh Hanhou Mo, why must you be so damn noble?!

Chan celebrates his genre, peppering scenes with loving odes and fun cameos. Yen – veteran of every facet of martial arts and Hong Kong filmmaking – may not be much of an actor, but he’s fun to watch in this mash note of a movie. His Hanhou Mo is as elegant and restrained as Wang’s Fung Yu-Sau is disheveled and explosive, making them an intriguing set of oppositions in battle.

Chen’s camera is the real star, though, capturing the flashing swords and flailing limbs like surgical instruments or ballet moves. He throws in enough retro reaction shots to overjoy longtime fans – clearly the audience for the film – but finds his own visual flair.

KUNG FU KILLER is not a great movie. But it knows what it is, and with one goal in mind it delivers the goods.


Ms. Roboto

Ex Machina

by George Wolf

What an irresistible treat Ex Machina is – smart, seductive and wickedly funny, boasting glorious visuals, stirring performances and big ideas guaranteed to linger like a dream you just can’t shake.

It is the directorial debut from veteran writer Alex Garland, and instantly marks him as one of the most promising dual threats in film.

Computer whiz Caleb (Domhnall Gleason) gets congrats all around after word gets out that he’s “won” a contest at work. The firm’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), has picked Caleb as the lucky one who will get a look inside the reclusive genius’s world and assist on a top secret project.

The wide-eyed Caleb is still adjusting to the wonders of Nathan’s ultra secure compound when he learns just why he’s there. Nathan has reached a critical point in his quest to create artificial intelligence, and he needs Caleb to decide if the enchanting machine named Ava (Alicia Vikander) can truly pass for a human.

The ever-versatile Isaac is mesmerizing as Nathan, crafting him as a walking, talking, drinking God complex in bare feet. You know from their first meeting that Nathan has more in store for Caleb than he is letting on, but Isaac never lets that knowledge detract from your curiosity about his character. The slow reveal of his tour de force performance dares you to look away.

Gleason gives Caleb a perfect mix of naïveté and good intentions, while Vikander (A Royal Affair) is a true wonder as Ava. Living in the space between woman and machine, Vikander pulls it off with nary a hint of caricature.

Garland, as he did with 28 Days Later and Sunshine, creates an intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction tale, steeped in classic themes but freshly painted from a modern perspective. You’ll be reminded of the classics Frankenstein, Eyes Without a Face and Blade Runner, as well as recent entries such as The Skin I Live In and Under the Skin, while never doubting that Garland’s is an original voice.

In many ways, he’s expanding on his script adaptation for the underrated Never Let Me Go, continuing to explore just what it is that makes us human, but not ignoring the large, complicated part that sexuality plays in that equation.

Sci Fi and horror films have long provided glimpses into a particular generation through the fears and anxieties that manifest on screen. Anchored in science, sex and creation (sound familiar?), Ex Machina is an insightful, deliciously fun time capsule we need to open right now.







Fright Club: Best Horror 2000 – 2009

We have a new winner! Prior to this time travel cataloging exercise, we embraced the misunderstanding that the 1970s offered the best in horror. Nope. Pruning our list of the horror films released between 2000 and 2009 to just five proved honestly impossible. It was so hard! Too hard, actually, so we cheated: we are going to give a quick nod to the top 5 that didn’t make the list, and then we’re going to make #5 a tie. It had to be done!

So, our apologies, love and respect to the five best films that did not make this list: Eden Lake (2008), Frailty (2001), The Orphanage (2007), Martyrs (2008), and Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004).

No, onto the tie!

TIE! 5. Wolf Creek (2005)

Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, writer/director Greg McLean’s happy backpackers find themselves immobile outside Wolf Creek National Park when their car stops running. As luck would have it, friendly bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) drives up offering a tow back to his camp, where he promises to fix the vehicle.

If this sounds predictable and obvious to you, rest assured that McLean has plans to burst every cliché in the genre, and he succeeds on almost every level.

His first triumph is in the acting. Jarratt’s killer is an amiable sadist who is so real it’s jarring. You find yourself hoping he’s an actor.

A horror film this realistic is not only hard to watch, but a bit hard to justify. What makes an audience interested in observing human suffering so meticulously recreated? This is where, like a true artist, McLean finally succeeds. What is as unsettling as the film itself is that its content is somehow satisfying.

TIE! 5. 28 Days Later (2002)

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table. What follows is the eerie image of an abandoned, desolate London as Jim wanders hither and yon hollering for anybody. In the church, we get our first glimpse of what Jim is now up against, and dude, run!

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But Danny Boyle single handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they weren’t dead, 2) therefore, they could move really quickly. Like Romero, though, director Danny Boyle’s real worry is not just the infected, it’s the living.

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

4. The Ring (2002)

The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of fledgling director Gore Verbinski. His film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.

This is basically the story of bad mom/worse journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) investigating the urban legend of a video tape that kills viewers exactly seven days after viewing.

The tape itself is the key. Had it held images less surreal, less Bunuel, the whole film would have collapsed. But the tape was freaky. And so were the blue-green grimaces on the dead! And that horse thing on the ferry!

And Samara – from plump-cheeked cherub to ghastly figure crawling from your TV…yikes.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!

3. The Loved Ones (2009)

Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés, maneuvering between gritty drama and neon colored carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.

Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.

The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, deeply disturbed piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.

2. The Descent (2005)

A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of girlfriends who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.

Writer/director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) must be commended for sidestepping the obvious trap of exploiting the characters for their sexuality – I’m not saying he avoids this entirely, but for a horror director he is fantastically restrained. He also manages to use the characters’ vulnerability without patronizing or stereotyping.

He makes even better use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers, but Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier. For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

1. Let the Right One In (2008)

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flicks in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.

Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

This is a coming of age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.

The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Truth and Consequences

True Story

by George Wolf

If you see the names James Franco and Jonah Hill together on a marquee and think “comedy,” you’re not alone. But remember, they have Oscar nominations for dramatic turns, and True Story pits them against one another in a deadly serious game of wits.

The film is based on the memoir of the same name by Michael Finkel, a former journalist with the New York Times. After playing loose with some facts in his Times expose on modern day slavery, Finkel was fired in disgrace. After heading back home to Montana and his wife Jill (Felicity Jomes), a strange call from a fellow reporter turned Finkel’s life upside down.

A man named Christian Longo, a fugitive wanted for the murder of his wife and 3 children, was captured in Mexico and found to be using Finkel’s identity.

Finkel follows the story and begins a relationship with the accused killer, each man viewing the other with curiosity and hopes for exploitation. Finkel sees the twist of fate as his ticket back to the big time while Longo wants his new friend to tell his side of the tragic events.

True Story marks the feature debut for director and co-writer Rupert Goold, a veteran of both stage and TV work. He displays a fine sense for big screen visuals, creating effective atmospherics for the frequent jail and courtroom settings, and contrasting them nicely with Finkel’s home base in Montana.

As Longo, Franco gives a finely nuanced performance that keeps you off balance, making it easier to understand how quickly his character forms a bond with Finkel. Hill is not far behind, giving depth to Finkel’s disgrace, and nice subtly to the unintended consequences of his quest for redemption.

Jones is the wild card here. For too long, you’re wondering what her role truly is, and then Jill’s face to face meeting with Longo instantly becomes the film’s emotional high point. The irony is, it is a meeting that didn’t really happen, and that underscores the pesky trouble of True Story.

The film is the sum of interesting parts and often skillfully told, perhaps to its own detriment. The gripping payoff you’re expecting never comes, and you realize sometimes fiction is just more compelling.






Secret of Their Lack of Success

Revenge of the Mekons

by Hope Madden

Is there a more punk rock concept than anarchy?

The answer is no, and that is what makes The Mekons the most punk rock band ever, regardless of the fact that their music is more of a folk/honkytonk/punk blend.

Born of Britain’s punk scene in ’77, the band consisted of an art college collective who, characteristically, had no musical ability at all. Naturally, they were immediately signed to a label.

Now, nearly 40 years later, the band is still together, still recording, still touring, regardless of the fact that they’ve been repeatedly dropped by labels and have never achieved even a moderate level of success.

Joe Angio’s documentary Revenge of the Mekons enjoyable catalogs the band’s journey from talentless punks with a philosophy to brilliantly listenable artists with integrity and the same philosophy.

The film marks the evolution of a band that constantly reinvents itself, each new direction a natural progression from the last while also being a fascinating surprise. They find the “voice of the people” foundation in wildly varying styles of music and, rather than abandoning their previous style, they marry it with the next. The result is always fresh because the Mekon’s natural style is, as founder Jon Langford calls it, “bloody minded.” Whatever genre they adopt, it naturally changes. Just like, as the film points out, when the Ramones started recording they were trying to sound like the Beach Boys.

But it’s the band’s almost comical indifference to financial or popular success that sets the film apart. Says Ed Roche of the Mekon’s label Touch and Go Records, “Every critic loves the Mekons. Unfortunately, they get free records.”

Rock docs almost invariably follow the same format: humble beginnings, meteoric rise, trouble handling success, crash and maybe the glimmer of a resurgence, depending on the film and subject. To spend 95 minutes cataloging all the ways a band manages to avoid success is fascinating – it’s like the story of Anvil, except that the Mekons aren’t even trying to succeed.

What they are doing is focusing solely on their own artistry, which can be a pretentious thing to watch for a feature length running time, but the band does not possess an ounce of pretentiousness. They are what they are. They do what they do. Like them or don’t, it doesn’t matter to them.

How punk rock is that?


Curse of the Digital Native


by Hope Madden

Director Levon Gabriadze, with serious help from screenwriter Nelson Greaves, has managed the unmanageable. His entire film Unfriended is seen from a laptop screen, yet never gets visually dull and never feels limited by the gimmick.

More than that, his film is immersed in the digital-native culture without seeming forced or hokey. Without ever feeling like a stunt – a story in service of a device rather than vice versa – Unfriended tells a cautionary tale that’s topical, current and smart.

Five high school friends mindlessly Skype on the anniversary of their friend Laura’s suicide. Laura had been the victim of cyberbullying, and not only is her humiliation still available online, so is her suicide. Such is the horrifyingly public world of today’s teen.

The gang can’t seem to get rid of an anonymous 6th in their hangout, and little by little the presence evolves from annoying to aggravating to terrifying.

Greaves’s script is smart. There are flashes of other films – The Den, Paranormal Activity 4 and others – but Unfriended never feels stale. Greaves’s language is so unsettlingly familiar, and he makes some important points without even approaching a preachy tone.

It’s a set of familiar ideas – vengeance, guilt, betrayal, cowardice – wrapped in a very shiny new package, and it’s the wrapping that could have really gone wrong, but Gabriadze succeeds in filling the screen with enough to look at, enough virtual action to keep your attention.

He builds tensions through a truth or dare style game that provokes the friends to turn on each other, but the film has more empathy for the characters than the run of the mill slasher. The five actors manage to flesh out dimensional characters with the slightest material to work with, and each feels realistically flawed yet sympathetic.

It’s a fascinating choice because the whole film flirts with the ugly “they aren’t bad kids” excuse you hear every time a 7th grader is filmed being gang raped or an autistic child’s bullying goes viral.

These five don’t think they’re bad people. They certain seem like nice enough, likeable enough teens – to everyone except that creepy lurker on their screen.