I Don’t Want to Go Out – Week of August 1

Damn, a lot of stuff is coming out for home enjoyment this week – much of it is not at all enjoyable, though, so there’s that. What should you watch? Let us help you make that call.

Click the title for a full review. And as always, please use this information for good, not evil.

The Lovers

Verdict-4-0-Stars

Colossal

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Wakefield

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Sleight

Verdict-2-5-Stars

The Circle

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Going in Style

Verdict-2-0-Stars

The Ottoman Lieutenant

Verdict-2-0-Stars

Don’t Knock Twice

Verdict-2-0-Stars

 

The Screening Room Podcast: Spies and Spirits

Click HERE to joins us in the Screening Room to break down Atomic Blonde, A Ghost Story, The Emoji Movie, It Stains the Sands Red and what’s new in home entertainment!

Talk to the Hand

The Emoji Movie

by George Wolf

I don’t pretend to understand the emoji game, but I do know that getting Patrick Stewart to voice the poop seems like a classy way to go.

But the star of The Emoji Movie is Gene (T.J. Miller), a young “meh” emoji ready for his first day on the job in teenager Alex’s smartphone.

Gene wants to emote more feelings than just “meh,” so things don’t go well, and he’s quickly labeled as a malfunction and targeted for deletion. With the help of a “high five” fixated on his glory days (James Corden), Gene runs for his life in search of the legendary hacker “Jailbreak” (Anna Faris) who might be able to get them all to freedom in a valhalla known as the cloud.

Director/co-writer Tony Leondis (Lilo & Stitch 2, Igor) pinches the secret world from Toy Story with the run through technology of Inside Out to present an adventure just clever enough to remind you how much potential was disregarded. The idea is timely and probably inevitable, but never developed much beyond pleasant time-waster status.

It’s rarely more than amusing, the visuals can’t rise above average, and the “be true to yourself” mantra is entirely generic.

There is a big dance number, though, which inexplicably doesn’t involve Stewart.

Poop.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Missed Connections

Landline

by Hope Madden

Jenny Slate is the perfect mix of raunchy and sweet to anchor an indie dramedy. Co-writer/director Gillian Robespierre tested that theory in 2014 with the character study and edgy rom/com Obvious Child.

Following on those proven results, Robespierre re-tests her theory with the 1995 family saga Landline.

Slate plays Dana, the older, almost-married sister in an upscale Manhattan family. But she and her ever-since-college beau Ben (Jay Duplass) are maybe not everything Dana hoped they’d be.

Her own entanglements with infidelity happen to exactly coincide with a discovery younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) makes of their father’s (John Turturro) erotic poetry, written for someone who is definitely not their mother (Edie Falco).

Things begin to fall apart. Ali’s lived-in resentment toward her overbearing mother is tested and turned instead toward her sweet, laid back father. Meanwhile Dana embraces recklessness and begins hanging out with her boundary-pushing teenage sister, drinking during the day and sneaking away for clandestine sexual encounters with Nate (pitch-perfect Finn Wittrock).

So, crumbling family dynamics in a well-to-do Manhattan family. Not exactly as edgy as a romantic comedy written around an abortion.

Still, between its loving nostalgia for the pre-cellphone days of the mid-Nineties and its truly game cast, Landline keeps you interested and entertained.

Falco and Turturro are unfortunately underused. Both are spectacular talents, and their well-worn relationship offers each the opportunity to create moments of sudden, honest, everyday heartbreak.

The characteristically effervescent Slate charms, and her off kilter chemistry with Quinn serves the film well. They’re irritated and protective, bitching and admiring all in the same breath. They often feel unsure of their own feelings toward each other, which reads as very authentic.

Quinn is the real heartbeat of the film. Equally vulnerable and mean, she’s less the cinematic equivalent of a conflicted adolescent than she is a conflicted adolescent, and the film takes on a sharp focus whenever she’s onscreen.

Unfortunately, that’s not all the time, and Robespierre – writing again with Elisabeth Holm – loses focus too easily. Landline, for all its insightful moments and clever lines, feels a bit unwieldy and murky.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Fright Club: Amputees in Horror

If you watch much of horror, there’s something you might notice. People lose a lot of limbs in these movies. Naturally, we decided to look into this. We spent some time with the tragic (or maybe deserving) amputees of Audition and American Mary and others, but there turned out to be so many badasses who only get cooler once the limb is missing that we decided to hang out with them.

Thanks to the B Movie Bros for joining us for the podcast to talk through the list. Listen in HERE.

6. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) – The Bad Batch (2017)

Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour creates another unusual heroine with this one. Arlen’s a vane bit of white trash deemed part of “the bad batch.” Shortly into her investigation of her new home, she learns that at least one of the neighborhood communities is less welcoming – if better fed – than the other.

No crybaby, though, Arlen faces life as a double amputee with a lot of nerve and eventually some hallucinogenic drugs. What she does more than anything is refuse to conform and instead paves her own path.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVfpKaftzv4

5. Alonzo (Lon Chaney) – The Unknown (1927)

When Tod Browning makes a movie about side show freaks, color us excited. In this unseemly tale, the great silent monster Lon Chaney is The Amazing Alonzo, an armless knife thrower/sharp shooter/guitar player/smoker in a circus. He has eyes for his show partner Nanon (Joan Crawford, pre-wire hanger), but the circus strongman is hot for her.

So, it all sounds a tad like Browning’s infamous Freaks. But Nanon spurns the strongman because she can’t stand to be groped by men’s hands – which makes it seem like Alonzo is a shoe-in, except that he is not what he appears to be.

Camera trickery, an actual circus performer, and Chaney’s convincing performance work together to create a believable side show character in Alonzo. Browning couples this unsettling performance with an air of seediness and some bizarre plot twists to leave a lasting impression.

4. Candyman (Tony Todd) – Candyman (1992)

Oh my God, that voice! Yes, Candyman is a bad dude, but isn’t he kind of dreamy?

Like a vampire, the villain of Cabrini Green needed to be both repellant and seductive for this storyline to work, and Todd more than managed both. With those bees in his mouth and that hook for a hand, he is effortlessly terrifying. But it’s Todd’s presence, his somehow soothing promise of pain and eternity, that makes the seduction of grad school researcher Helen (Virginia Madsen) realistic.

Todd would go on to love again in the Candyman sequel Farewell to the Flesh, proving that you do not need two working hands to wreak bloody havoc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XROa2ZOqh8Q

3. Mia (Jane Levy) – Evil Dead (2013)

With the helpful pen of Oscar winner Diablo Cody (uncredited), Fede Alvarez turns all the particulars of the Evil Dead franchise on end. You can tick off so many familiar characters, moments and bits of dialog, but you can’t predict what will happen.

One of the best revisions is the character of Mia: the first to go and yet the sole survivor. She’s the damaged one, and the female who’s there without a male counterpart, which means (by horror standards), she’s the one most likely to be a number in the body count. But because of what she has endured in her life she’s able to make seriously tough decisions to survive – like tearing off her own damn arm. Nice!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxrbNDDWass

2. Cherry (Rose McGowan) – Planet Terror (2007)

Losing a leg – in most horror movies, this would spell doom for a character. Not in Robert Rodriguez’s half of Grindhouse, though. Indeed, for Rose McGowan’s Cherry Baby, an amputated limb turns her to the film’s most daring badass.

A machine gun for a leg! How awesome is that?! McGowan strikes the right blend of hard knock and vulnerability to keep the character interesting – beyond the whole leg of death thing. I mean, you’d hardly call her boring.

The entire film is a whole lot of throw-back fun – gory, lewd, funny, gross (so, so gross). It’s so much fun that even a lengthy Tarantino cameo doesn’t spoil things. And it makes the point that people who’ve been struck by physical disabilities can still be total badasses – not to mention hot as F.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmMApNy48Sc

1. Ash (Bruce Campbell) – Evil Dead 2 (1987)

What?! Like you didn’t know he’d be #1. Hell, he’s the entire reason we did this list.

When his hand turns evil, Ash does what he needs to do. Of course he does – he’s already dismembered nearly everyone who’s ever meant anything to him, what loyalty does he owe his own hand at this point?

Plus, if Cherry Baby was cool with a machine gun leg, how awesome is Ash with a chainsaw for an arm?!

Super cool. Groovy, even.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awxz-8XR938

Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blonde in Me

Atomic Blonde

by Hope Madden

Charlize Theron is a convincing badass. (You saw Fury Road, right?) She cuts an imposing figure and gives (and takes) a beating with panache.

Director David Leitch understands action, having cut his teeth as a stunt double before moving on to choreographing and coordinating action for the last decade. With the help of a wicked soundtrack and about a million costume changes, he also makes 1989 seem cool – which is a real feat.

Together, Theron and Leitch take on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Coldest City, under the far more rockin’ title Atomic Blonde.

It’s Berlin in ’89. The wall’s about to come down, the Cold War’s coming to an end, but there’s this pesky double agent issue to contend with, and a list of coverts that has fallen into the wrong hands. MI6 sends in one lethal operative, Lorraine Broughton (Theron), to check in with their embedded agent Percival (James McAvoy) and work things out.

What to expect: intrigue, Bowie songs, boots – so many boots! – and a great deal of Charlize Theron beating up on people. Mayhem of the coolest sort.

From the opening car crash through half a dozen other expertly choreographed set pieces to the action pièce de résistance, Theron and Leitch make magic happen. Each sequence outshines the one before, leading up to a lengthy, multi-villain escapade shot as if in one extremely lengthy take. (It isn’t, but the look is convincing and the execution thrilling.)

Theron delivers. Reliable as ever, McAvoy is once again that guy you don’t know whether to love or hate – probably because he always looks like he’s smiling and crying simultaneously. He makes for a wild and dicey counterpoint to Theron’s sleek, ultra cool presence.

Precise and percussive, the action propels this film. Leitch’s cadence outside these sequences sometimes stalls, and not every casting choice works out.

Sofia Boutella, saddled with an underdeveloped character who makes idiotic choices, suffers badly in the role. Other supporting characters, though – including the always welcome Toby Jones and John Goodman – take better advantage of their limited time onscreen.

The storyline itself is equal parts convoluted and obvious, with far too many conveniences to hold up as a real spy thriller. But unplug, soak up that Berlin vibe and appreciate the action and you’ll do fine.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Spirit in the Material World

A Ghost Story

by George Wolf

Before some empty misnomers such as “prestige horror” are bandied about, let’s be clear: this is not a horror movie.

But what A Ghost Story is not hardly matters when what it is remains this beautiful. Writer/director David Lowery has crafted a poetic, moving testament to the certainty of time, the inevitability of death and the timeless search for connection.

Opening with a telling quote from Virginia Woolf’s short story “A Haunted House,” Lowery shows us Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a loving couple at odds over whether to move from their current house. She wants to, he doesn’t.

A car accident tragically takes his life, and as her life must move on, his spirit rises to wander as the silent, white-sheeted embodiment of any number of homemade Halloween costumes.

The irony of such a childlike image representing themes so vast and existential seems silly, but only for a few moments, until Lowery’s stationary camera and long, elegant takes wrap you in a strangely hypnotic trance.

After the curious detour of Pete’s Dragon last year, Lowery returns to the dreamlike imagery that drove his richly rewarding Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and evokes the best of Terrence Malick. Here, the Malick comparisons may be even more apt as A Ghost Story‘s narrative is loose and abstract, with long stretches of little to no dialogue.

Both Affleck and Mara (also Lowery’s leads from Bodies Saints) are deeply affecting, though a big part of the film’s conscience is instead revealed through the monologue of a random one-scene character. That’s fitting, for what makes this film so eerily touching is not what it tells but what it shows, and our ache for the couple comes in part from their staying out of our reach.

As the ghost travels through time and circumstance, it’s easy to see Woolf’s short story as a major inspiration for Lowery – right up to the sudden and glorious finale that’s sure to fuel plenty of conversation. Restless spirits amid the slow, silent march of mortality may sound like a horror show, but A Ghost Story is anchored by a loving hope that might bring a tear to the eye.

Verdict-4-5-Stars

 

 

 

Fright Club: Best German Horror Movies

How is it even possible that we’ve recorded 109 Fright Club podcasts and we have not covered German horror yet?! It’s high time we remedy that situation, and we do so with the help of Fright Clubber #1, John Dean.

German has an incredible history in this genre, from some of the earliest and most memorable horror films through the contemporary indie gems that will become the next generation of classics. We talk through the five best – and a bunch of others you should really see.

5. Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010)

Why does this film work?

Michael (Michael Fruith) arrives in Berlin to visit his recently-ex girlfriend. She’s not home. While he waits in her apartment, Berlin falls prey to the zombipocalypse.

It’s actually the rage virus, and it’s how well Rammbock plays like the Berlin equivalent of 28 Days Later or Quarantine that helps it excel.

Michael finds himself trapped inside his ex’s apartment building, scheming survival tricks with the plumber hiding out with him. The team work, strategy, human kindness and pathos all combine with really solid acting and more than a few well-choreographed action bits to help this film more than transcend familiar tropes.

You love these guys. You believe in them, and the idea that they won’t make it through this is dreadful. Director/co-writer Marvin Kren, blessed with a stellar cast, works your sympathies and your nerves.

4. Der Samurai (2014)

Writer/director Till Kleinert’s atmospheric Der Samurai blends Grimm Brother ideas with Samurai legend to tell a story that borders on the familiar but manages always to surprise.

Jakob, an unintimidating police officer in a remote German berg, has been charged with eliminating the wolf that’s frightening villagers. Moved by compassion or longing, Jakob can’t quite make himself accomplish his task – a fact that villagers and his commanding officer find predictably soft. But a chance encounter with a wild-eyed stranger wearing a dress and carrying a samurai sword clarifies that the wolf is probably not the villagers’ – or Jakob’s – biggest problem.

Pit Bukowski cuts a peculiar but creepy figure as the Samurai – kind of a cross between Iggy Pop and Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs’s Buffalo Bill). His raw sexuality offers the perfect counterpoint to the repressed Jakob (Michel Diercks).

Kleinert’s sneaky camera builds tension in every scene, and the film’s magnificent sound design echoes with Jakob’s isolation as well as that of the village itself. And though much of the imagery is connected in a way to familiar fairy tales or horror movies, the understated approach gives it all a naturalism that is unsettling.

It’s a beautiful film about embracing or forever suppressing your inner monster, but this is no ordinary Jekyll and Hyde retread. Kleinert’s vision is steeped in sexuality and sexual identity, giving it a fascinating relevance often missing in this style of horror film.

3. Goodnight Mommy (2014)

There is something eerily beautiful about Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s rural Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh).

During one languid summer, twin brothers Lukas and Elias await their mother’s return from the hospital. They spend their time bouncing on a trampoline, floating in a pond, or exploring the fields and woods around the house. But when their mom comes home, bandaged from the cosmetic surgery she underwent, the brothers fear more has changed than just her face.

Franz and Fiala owe a great debt to an older American film, but to name it would be to give far too much away, and the less you know about Goodnight Mommy, the better.

Inside this elegantly filmed environment, where sun dappled fields lead to leafy forests, the filmmakers mine a kind of primal childhood fear. There’s a subtle lack of compassion that works the nerves beautifully, because it’s hard to feel too badly for the boys or for their mother. You don’t wish harm on any of them, but at the same time, their flaws make all three a bit terrifying.

The filmmakers’ graceful storytelling leads you down one path before utterly upending everything you think you know. They never spoon feed you information, depending instead on your astute observation – a refreshing approach in this genre.

Performances by young brothers Lukas and Elias Schwarz compel interest, while Susanne Wuest’s cagey turn as the boys’ mother propels the mystery. It’s a hypnotic, bucolic adventure as visually arresting as it is utterly creepy.

The film is going to go where you don’t expect it to go, even if you expect you’ve uncovered its secrets.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hisSd7qyY40

2. Funny Games (1997)

A family pulls into their vacation lake home, and are quickly bothered by two young men in white gloves. Things, to put it mildly, deteriorate.

Writer/director Michael Haneke begins this nerve wracking exercise by treading tensions created through etiquette, toying with subtle social mores and yet building dread so deftly, so authentically, that you begin to clench your teeth long before the first act of true violence.

His teen thugs’ calm, bemused sadism leaves you both indignant and terrified as they put the family through a series of horrifying games. And several times, they (and Haneke) remind us that we are participating in this ugliness, too, as we’ve tuned in to see the family suffer. Sure, we root for the innocent to prevail, but we came into this with the specific intention of seeing harm come to them. So, the villains rather insist that we play, too.

Once Haneke’s establishes that he’ll break the 4th wall, the director chooses – in a particularly famous scene that will likely determine your overall view of the film – to play games with us as well.

But it is the villains who sell the premise. With actors Arno Frisch and Frank Giering, the bored sadism that wafts from these kids is seriously unsettling, as, in turn, is the film.

1. Nosferatu (1922)

Best vampire ever. Not the seductive, European aristocrat, cloaked and mysterious, oh no. With Count Orlock, filmmaker F. W. Murnau explores something more repellent, casting an actor who resembles an albino naked mole rat.

Given that Murnau equates the film’s vampire-related deaths with the plague, this vermin-like image fits well. But more than that, thanks to a peculiarly perfect performance by Max Schreck, Murnau mines the carnality of the vampire myth for revulsion and fear rather than eroticism.

Famously, the film was meant to be the first Dracula movie, but Murnau could not work out an agreement with Bram Stoker’s estate (who later sued, and all copies of the film were nearly lost). He changed a handful of things in an attempt to avoid the eventual lawsuit and filmed anyway. Names are changed (Harker is now Hutter, Dracula is Orlock, etc.), and details are altered, but the story remains largely – well, criminally – the same.

The genius move is the spindly, bald hunchback for a vampire – why, he’s almost a European Monty Burns! Murnau’s mastery behind the camera – particularly his ability to capture the vampire’s shadow – made the film a breathtaking horror show at the time. But don’t discount this as dusty history.

Sure, the silent film style of acting appears nothing short of quaint today, and the Dracula tale has been told too, too often at this point. But Max Schreck is a freak, and in his bony, clawlike hands, Count Orlock remains the greatest vampire ever undone by a sinless maiden.

I Don’t Want to Go Out – Week of July 25

It is too damn hot to leave the house. You got your Cheetos or Pop Tarts and your beverage of choice – what to watch? Brand-spankin’ zombie movie? Captain America melting hearts? ScarJo’s conflicted cyborg? Glen Baby Glen Ross? We have the answers!

Click the title for a full review. And as always, please use this information for good, not evil.

Gifted

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Ghost in the Shell

Verdict-3-0-Stars

It Stains the Sands Red

Verdict-3-0-Stars

The Boss Baby

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Quack Addicts

by Hope Madden

We were starting to think we had new pets. We had one already – a cat named Zappa. She’d been with us forever, rescued from Cat Welfare years ago when we were apartment dwellers and couldn’t have a dog. At the time, we felt like our 2-year-old son Riley needed a buddy.

A million years later, we still didn’t have a dog because Zappa was a 16-year old deaf, toothless cat who refused to eat anything but scrambled eggs and lunchmeat and really wasn’t adaptable enough for a sibling.

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Since she was allergic to fleas, however, Zappa never went outdoors, so an outside pet or two would be OK.

But the heartbreak of outdoor pets, especially those that choose you rather than those you purchase, is that sometimes they waddle around in your pool and eat your store-bought feed and then fly away, never to return.

Like our ducks.

A mallard couple began hanging around our street in Grandview one spring.

They’d show up in the morning, loiter all afternoon, then fly away at night. There were sightings all over the neighborhood, and then, little by little, the waddling twosome zeroed in on a single yard for passing their daylight hours. Ours.

We have a small front yard far from any known body of water, so we hadn’t a clue s to why the ducks kept returning. We tried not to disturb them too much – made sure we entered and exited by way of the back door, scattered some birdseed for them. They seemed to appreciate it day after day, week after week, and we got used to seeing them.

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The female would hide between two little bushes, and the male would sit in the middle of our front yard. We took it that he was guarding her, and we hoped she was making a nest.

We had become too attached. In fact, my husband, George, went the wild bird store to find out what was the best kind of feed for Gary and Fiona.

Yes, our son gave them names.

Once you name them, you’re doomed.

They seemed to like us, too. I think their favorite was George, who would approach them gently, shaking his jug of wild duck feed, and Gary would waddle right up to him.

George was utterly smitten.

In fact, I came home from work once to find a blue Scooby-Doo wading pool in my small front yard. Some might consider it unusual for a grown man whose only child was in high school to buy a toddler’s pool; others might find the thing an eyesore.

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Nonetheless, there it was, and Fiona seemed pleased. So much so, the couple threw a few pool parties. We began to see a second female, Simone, who would show up to splash around.

We became mildly famous in the neighborhood- like those people who string too many Christmas lights, causing mild traffic jams.

We occasionally found children in our front yard trying to pet or catch Gary. We shooed them away, sometimes unpleasantly. As it turns out, we liked Gary and Fiona better than the neighbor kids.

I came home one day to find a teenage girl sitting in my front lawn, trying to coax Gary onto her lap. Her embarrassed boyfriend waited on the sidewalk. When he saw me, he said nervously, “My girlfriend likes your ducks.”

I told him thanks, but they weren’t my ducks. They just hung out in my yard. Like his girlfriend.

Shockingly oblivious and absorbed in her commune with nature, she asked me where I’d gotten them. I said again that they weren’t mine, to which she replied, “So I could just take on?”

“Get out of my yard, kids.”

I was nicer than George, though, who found this menacing neighbor boy chasing Gary around the yard. George shouted and then chased him down the street. It was outstanding.

We even received a complaint from a concerned citizen who told us we had no business keeping wild animals. Of course, we weren’t keeping them at all. They didn’t live with us; they were just well-liked squatters.

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Then, they flew off one evening never to return.

For weeks George would listen for their quacking in the morning when he got up for work, but all we had left was a half-empty Scooby-Doo pool in the front yard and a half-full jug of duck feed on the back porch – and the memory of the heartbreakers who decided suburban life was not for them.

But we’re keeping an eye on this possum we’ve seen hanging around the garbage cans.

Maybe he could love us.

We’re thinking of calling him Craig.