Tag Archives: Madd at the Movies

Lone Ranger

Lightyear

by George Wolf

Exploring new life in the Toy Story universe comes with benefits – and drawbacks.

Sure, you inherit the goodwill earned by four of Pixar’s best feature films. But then, those films cast a mighty long shadow.

Lightyear taps into the warm fuzzies early, by letting us know why Andy wanted a Buzz action figure so badly that Christmas back in ’95. It’s because he loved the movie so much. This movie.

But honestly, for the first sixty minutes, you can’t imagine why.

Space Ranger Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) blames himself for marooning his settlement on a distant planet. A return to hyperspeed could bring everyone home, so Buzz is determined to keep testing until he gets it right.

Trouble is, each test flight sends him into a time dialator where 4 minutes up in space turns into 4 years back at base. So before Buzz knows it decades have passed, and he must take an untested team (Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules) and a robotic cat (Peter Sohn) into battle against Emperor Zurg’s forces for control of the precious hyperspeed fuel source.

That’s all fine, but that’s all it is. Director and co-writer Angus MacLane (Finding Dory) can’t find any way to make the toy’s story come to life.

Until Buzz comes face to face with Zurg (James Brolin).

Zurg has a big surprise for all of us, one that might as well send the film into hyperspeed.

Almost in an instant, the cinematography from Jeremy Lasky and Ian Megibben adds depth and wonder (that spacewalk – goosebumps!), MacLane quickens the pace while recalling both 2001 and Aliens, and backstories from earlier in the film pay off with gentle lessons on bloodlines, destiny, and what makes a life’s mission matter.

Stay for the credits and beyond to get two bonus scenes that bring a chuckle or two. But just make sure you sit tight for the final half hour. That’s when Lightyear delivers the kind of action and pizazz that just might make a kid change his Christmas list.

In This Housing Market?

Abandoned

by Hope Madden

Competently made and utterly unremarkable, Spencer Squire’s Abandoned still somehow managed to draw a top-notch cast. Huh.

Emma Roberts is Sara, a new mom battling post-partum depression. Her doting husband Alex (John Gallagher Jr.) thinks a change of scenery will help. Naturally, they purchase a beautiful, rustic farmhouse that was once the site of a massive family murder.

Will there be a creepy neighbor with intel on the crime? There will indeed, blessedly in the form of the always amazing Michael Shannon. Why he’s in this film is anybody’s guess (until you dig deeper into the credits), but he’s a welcome, fascinating presence.

Sara spends lonesome days alone with her baby while veterinarian Alex tends to the surrounding farms’ livestock. These follow sleepless nights, where creaking, stomping, and the laughter of children keep her awake.

Writers Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott conflate psychosis, post-partum depression and paranoia with a reasonable suspicion of a haunting. Is Sara overwrought from depression? Is the slain of the house trying to terrorize her? Is she actually just dangerously unstable from way back?

Options aplenty, none of them explored or particularly well established.

It’s a lot of weight on Roberts, who’s proven in films like The Blackcoat’s Daughter that an unbalanced horror heroine is well within her wheelhouse. Here she just seems lost.

Gallagher is wasted in yet another Good Guy Jim (Newsroom reference) role. But the supporting cast is excellent, beginning with Shannon. Kate Arrington (Shannon’s real-life wife who was so stellar in Knives and Skin) is perfection as the eager but judgy real estate agent.

Paul Schneider appears in an intriguing if underdeveloped role, one that appears to throw the entire film in a fascinating new direction. Sadly, Abandoned quickly reestablishes itself as the predictably middling supernatural thriller you knew it was from its opening minutes.

Madness Rein

Mad God

by Hope Madden

You may not know Phil Tippett by name, but you’ve certainly seen his work. The monsters of his imagination were on the Dejarik board in Star Wars. They roamed Jurassic Park. They wrought havoc in Starship Troopers.

Now Tippett’s demons take center stage in his stop motion head trip 30 years in the making, Mad God.

It’s like a Bosch painting and a Tool video accusing each other of being too lighthearted.

Dense with grotesquerie and craftsmanship, the animated tale follows a lone figure across and through a noxious landscape bubbling with creatures large and small. Our hero has a map to aid him and a gas mask to protect him. His journey brings him in contact with violence of both the sadistic and thoughtless sort.

Mad God delivers a nightmare vision like little else, overwhelming in its detail and scope. Tippett plumbs cycles of mindless cruelty. Then, just when you think his film speaks of war and commerce, the commerce of war, he turns focus.

We enter a hospital, witness a medical harvesting. And then suddenly, we turn to a series demonstrating ways in which history and societies have been built on sadistic entertainment.

Suddenly, a sequence full of day-glo colors and relative gaiety feels momentarily like a respite. Nope.

Mad World revels in Tippett’s vulgar, potent fantasy without belaboring a clear plotline. The world itself resembles, at least at first, a post-apocalyptic wasteland you might recognize. Tippett peoples this somewhat familiar landscape with figures and images that also feel reminiscent: a doll’s befouled face, a fiendish surgeon, a cloaked figure.

Certain sequences and score sections recall Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd: The Wall, while others bring to mind Shane Acker’s underseen 2009 animation, 9. Rather than pull you through these images with a clear destination, Tippett meanders.

Mad God asks you to take in the chaos, the slurry of misery in its tactile, malevolent nightmare and find, if not hope — you will not find hope — then maybe sympathy.

Fright Club: They Had Sex with What?!?

Horror flirts with taboo, teases decency, and sometimes comes right out and has sex with a monster. Most often this is a violation of the flesh, but we’re most interested in films and characters that are pretty OK with it. Most of those movies are gloriously bonkers. We count down our favs in episode 225:

5. The Shape of Water (2017)

An unforgettable Sally Hawkins—an actor who has never hit a false note in her long and underappreciated career—gets her chance to lead a big, big show. She plays Elisa, a mute woman on the janitorial team for a research institute in Cold War-era Baltimore.

Enter one night a malevolent man (Michael Shannon), and a mysterious container. Color Elisa intrigued.

In its own way, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a tragic romance. But what if it weren’t? Tragic, I mean. What if beauty loved the beast?

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is an overt romantic. So many of his films—CronosThe Devil’s BackboneCrimson Peak—swim in romance, but he’s never made as dreamily romantic or hypnotically sensual a film as The Shape of Water.

4. Spring (2014)

Evan (a spot-on Lou Taylor Pucci) has hit a rough patch. After nursing his ailing mother for two years, Evan finds himself in a bar fight just hours after her funeral. With grief dogging him and the cops looking to bring him in, he grabs his passport and heads to the first international location available: Italy.

It’s a wise setup, and an earnest Pucci delivers the tender, open performance the film requires. He’s matched by the mysterious Nadia Hilker as Louise, the beautiful stranger who captivates Evan.

At its core, Spring is a love story that animates the fear of commitment in a way few others do. The film’s entire aesthetic animates the idea of the natural world’s overwhelming beauty and danger. It’s a vision that’s equally suited to a sweeping romance or a monster movie, and since you’ll have a hard time determining which of those labels best fits Spring, it’s a good look.

3. The Untamed (2016)

Sexual frustration leads to a lot of bad choices, but sexual satisfaction may be the real monster in Amat Escalante’s wild scifi/horror flick.

Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) is one of the sexually frustrated. Veronica (Simone Bucio) is not. Angel (Jesus Meza) is making bad choices. But there was this meteor, and it landed out by this isolated farm. What if the answer to all their problems is there?

Taking direct inspiration from Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, Escalante reframes the taboo-defying frenzy of unbridled sexuality. Where Zulawski’s surreal, antiseptic environment suggested absurdism, Escalante grounds the fantasy in profoundly ordinary and relatable human drama. The result is horrifying.

2. Possession (1981)

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government (or are they?) agencies, and curious sexual appetites. 

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job – a mysterious position with some kind of lab.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob.

Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying bit of filmmaking that mocks the idiocy, even insanity of obsession and boasts a handful of weirdly excellent performances. And sex with a bloody mollusk-like monster.

1. Titane (2021)

Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning Titane is alive with alternating color palettes, pulsating sounds and endless shocks of body horrific visuals. The sudden bursts of violence are downright pedestrian alongside the parade of boldly squirm-inducing clashes of flesh, bone and other.

But as she did with her first feature, Raw, Ducournau finds humanity clawing out from the inhumane. Truly unforgettable performances from Vincent Lindon and Agathe Russell provide intimate examples of the extremes that even the most damaged souls are capable of in the search to care and be cared for.

It may not be shy about homages and influences, but Titane is indeed its own ferocious animal. Open the cage look the F out.

With Teeth

Jurassic World: Dominion

by Hope Madden

Trite. Insipid. Derivative. Safe.

Oh, that’s harsh. I may still be mad that the Jurassic franchise ruined J.A. Bayona for me. But no matter the hot garbage that was Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I vowed to keep my hopes high for Jurassic World: Dominion.

I mean, Laura Dern’s back. And Sam Neill. And Jeff Goldblum! What’s not to love?

Too much. There is unquestionably too much not to love.

Colin Trevorrow returns to helm the franchise he rebooted with the surprisingly popular 4th installment, 2015’s Jurassic World. It was fun. It had problems (it really embraced outdated ideas of gender roles and romance, for instance), but it was a decent slice of nostalgia wrapped in excellent FX.

Then came the abomination of Fallen Kingdom. So, now Trevorrow is back to rein in the franchise with the one thing that can save it: the cast we loved from Spielberg’s ’93 original.

Dern, Neill and Goldblum – as Ellie, Grant and Malcolm — are more interested in these giant hybrid locusts than in dinosaurs, though. Whereas Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) want to save their daughter.

Essentially, no one gives a shit about dinosaurs in this one.

See, that’s how zombie franchises derail. Filmmakers think we pay money to see their people on a big screen. People we can see in any movie. Hell, we can see people by turning our heads away from the screen.

Dinosaurs, please!

They’re here, and they look cool, but they’re filler. Trevorrow, co-writing with Emily Carmichael and Derek Connolly, stuffs the script with so much needless human backstory and drama that the dinosaur danger offers little more than set dressing.

In its place, loads and loads of traditional family values, Spielberg nods and nostalgia. The tone is insincere at best. Rather than feeling inspired by Spielberg, Jurassic World Dominion comes off as a hollow, cynical facsimile. It’s as authentic as a theme park ride.

Scream Queen

All About Evil

by Hope Madden

Creepy twins! Librarians! Drag queens! These are a few of my favorite things…

The long-lost 2010 cult-film-in-the-making All About Evil brings all this and more to its Shudder debut this week. What’s it about?

The business of show!

Natasha Lyonne is Deborah Tennis, anxious librarian. Deb inherits her dad’s beloved single-screen San Francisco theater and vows to keep it afloat, no matter how. Her plan of action: make grisly, hyper-realistic horror shorts with literary puns for titles.

You’d be surprised how well it works.

Writer/director Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ, who co-stars) surrounds Lyonne with some underground heavy-hitters including Mink Stole and Cassandra Peterson. Between that and the Herschel Gordon Lewis love, All About Evil is a mash note to camp.

Performances and writing fall right in line. It’s community theater bad, but in the best way. Lyonne is in her element, hamming her arc from mousy literary type to vampy directress with Gloria Swanson skill. She’s even more fun when she’s directing her fine crew (Jack Donner, Noah Segan, and Nikita and Jade Ramsey – all so fun).

The underlying story that we need to stop assuming every troubled, white high school boy is a danger to society has not aged well. But Grannell also hits on timeless lessons about cell phone use during a movie (never OK!) and Elvira’s hotness (eternal!).

All About Evil offers clever midnight-movie fun from start to finish. The filmmaker is clearly a devotee of cult and kitsch, a love that brightens every frame of the film. Plus, the film memorabilia! Come for the movie posters, stay for more movie posters, enjoy some madcap campy mayhem in between.

Chillier than Casual Friday

Nude Tuesday

by Hope Madden

“It’s rude not to be nude on Nude Tuesday.”

It’s with this kind of casually dropped line and its sincere acceptance that co-writer/director Armagan Ballantyne laughingly challenges status quo and self-help in equal measure.

It’s nothing if not an odd film.

Ballantyne writes with star Jackie van Beek (What We Do in the Shadows) and Ronny Chieng. Ballantyne and van Beek composed the script, which is written entirely in a very Nordic-sounding gibberish language. Chieng wrote the subtitles.

This makes you wonder, was the English language version available to the actors, or did Chieng figure out what they were saying later? And why?

Either way, the actors convince. You’ll immediately forget that this is not a real language (which means you’ll cease to marvel at its delivery, and that’s a crime).

Van Beek is Laura, whose marriage to Bruno (Damon Herriman) has been unsatisfying for a while. His mum has noticed, so she bought them a trip to a retreat run by the charismatic Bjorg (Jemaine Clement).

The duo will try new things, learn about themselves, slowly unveil the buried troubles in their relationship, and work toward that day of days: Nude Tuesday.

Before we get there, though, Ballantyne runs through an absurd comedy of manners. Van Beek’s awkward, do-what’s-expected delivery is perfect, and Herriman’s over-eager approach creates a funny balance.

Clement’s simpleton narcissism delivers the most consistent laughter in a film that’s cleverly delightful if not bust-a-gut funny.

The cast wields the language impressively. Still, the creative decision is a head-scratcher. The fictional language doesn’t impede enjoyment of the film, but it doesn’t heighten it, either. Because of the subtitles, it doesn’t do anything at all. Would we be able to follow along without captions? And if not, why put the cast through learning the false dialog and the audience through reading the real deal?

It’s a conundrum, but not one worth a lot of energy. Nude Tuesday delivers a charming coming-of-middle-age comedy (and a lot more nudity than you probably need).

Tumors of Tomorrow

Crimes of the Future

by Hope Madden

Not everyone is going to enjoy Crimes of the Future, David Cronenberg’s latest and perhaps most Cronenberg film. But Cronenberg fans will find plenty to enjoy.

Well, enjoy might not be the right word.

In a dreary world where “surgery is the new sex,” two performance artists (Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux) turn one’s mutant organs into art.

If that doesn’t sound like a Cronenberg movie, nothing does.

Saul Tenser (Mortensen) has evolutionary derangement, a common problem these days. The human body has started simply sprouting new organs, Tenser more than most. But he and his partner Caprice (Seydoux) expel them from his body, which is okey dokey with the New Vice squad and the New Organ Register’s office, run by a couple of people passionate about new organs: Timlin (Kristen Stewart) and Wippet (Don McKellar).

From there, Crimes of the Future turns into a kind of science fiction detective thriller. In the cons column, it moves at times too slowly and there is one uncharacteristically weak kill sequence. In the pros, it’s unusually funny for the filmmaker. Also, there is still no one who delivers visceral, physical horror quite like David Cronenberg.

The king of corporeal horror hasn’t really made a horror film since 1988. He’s made moody, disturbing indies (Naked Lunch, Crash, eXistenZ, Spider) before producing two massively successful mainstream(ish) films: 2005’s A History of Violence and 2007’s Eastern Promises. Both earned Oscar nominations. Both were brilliant.

Cronenberg had a little more trouble finding his footing after that, never reaching the same degree of commercial or critical success and essentially retiring in 2014.

But more than 30 years after his last horror flick, Dead Ringers—one preoccupied with organ mutations, sex and surgery—Cronenberg returns to the ground that was most fertile in his early career. Literally, his latest effort concerns organ mutations, sex and surgery.

Crimes of the Future—like Crash and Videodrome—is specifically, grotesquely sexual. It plays like an ecological fable, though the theme, as stated by Lang Daughtery (Scott Speedman) remains the same: “It’s time for human evolution to synch up with modern technology.”

Turns out, it’s a theme that hasn’t outstayed its welcome. But it often feels like the movie is more about the filmmaker himself than it is about his thematic preoccupations. Indeed, Crimes of the Future is so Cronenberg it’s almost meta.

The film references, directly or indirectly, The Brood, Dead Ringers, The Fly, Naked Lunch, Crash, and most frequently and obviously, Videodrome. Like his main character, Cronenberg has long been an “artist of the inner landscape.” And after several decades of excising that tendency from his work, Cronenberg has come full circle to accept what was inside him all along.

Rebel Without a Pulse

Unhuman

by Hope Madden

No one ever said high school was easy.

Since the day Hollywood realized that teens spent a lot of money on movies, films have depicted high school angst. Often enough those movies offer suggestions, simple enough remedies to the woes inside those hallowed halls.

A makeover, perhaps? Saturday detention? Karate lessons?

Director Marcus Dunstan’s darkly comedic Unhuman thinks maybe an apocalyptic field trip could do the trick.

A high school science class and one teacher who’s no better than the worst of the teens set off on an extra-credit adventure. And before you know it, you’re eyeball deep in a zombie flick, redneck menace film and John Hughes movie all rolled into one.

Briannae Tju (TV’s I Know What You Did Last Summer) plays Ever, who keeps her head down, her mouth shut and tries not to make waves. She and bestie Tamra (Ali Gallo) are having a moment—it’s that moment when the cool kids want only one of you for their clique and you pretend you aren’t both aware of it.

But suddenly, after a bus crash, scary radio broadcast and a throat-biting murderous attack, Ever and Tamra must team up with those cool kids and whoever else escaped the bus to survive the field trip.

Expect more than you bargain for, including solid performances from Tju, Gallo, Benjamin Wadsworth and a busload of actors finding ways to color outside the lines.

This is the same writing team that launched into the horror scene with Project Greenlight winner Feast. Unhuman shares an irreverent tone with that early work.

Dunstan, co-writing with longtime partner Patrick Melton, sees a darling simplicity in old-school teen movies. At one point, Randall (Wadsworth) tells us, “It’s a microcosm for life. High school doesn’t end. It spreads.”

The filmmakers sell that kind of 80s influence well, but don’t assume Melton and Dunstan buy it.

There’s real cynicism lying under the viscera, although the surface-level laughs and shocks help Unhuman masquerade as simple bloody levity.