Tag Archives: movie reviews

Uncommon Aliens for Your Queue

 

Rejoice! Under the Skin releases this week for home consumption. This hypnotic, low-key SciFi thriller – the latest from filmmaker to watch Jonathan Glazer – follows Scarlett Johansson around Glasgow in a van. Light on dialogue and void of exposition, Under the Skin demands your attention, but it delivers an enigmatic, breathtaking, utterly unique vision of an alien invasion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMUwA7ekIgc

For a decidedly different take, do yourself a favor and look up Attack the Block, first time director Joe Cornish’s SciFi examination of gang violence in a London ‘hood. When something drops from the sky to interrupt a group of teens’ first mugging, the kids turn their pack mentality against the interstellar invaders. Cornish’s perceptive, funny screenplay strikes the right balance between exploring the tensions of urban decay and exploiting the thrills of an alien invasion. His efforts are bolstered by a spot-on cast effortlessly wielding the exuberance, loyalty, and dumb-assedness of youth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3tOFejxPH0

Countdown: Best Horror Comedies

It’s time again for our celebration of under seen  horror, Fright Club! Join us Friday, 11:30 at the Drexel Theater in  Bexley for fun, prizes, and Tucker and Dale Versus Evil! In honor of this outstanding, hilarious piece of bloody chaos, we are counting down the 5 best horror comedies of all time.

 

5. Dead Snow

You had us at “Nazi zombies.” A fun twist on cabin-in-the-woods horror, this film sees a handful of college kids heading to a remote mountain cabin for some winter sport fun and maybe a little lovin’. Dead Snow boasts some of the tongue-in-cheek, referential comedy of the outstanding flick Cabin in the Woods, but with a great deal more actual horror. It’s grisly, bloody, hilarious fun.

4. Cabin in the Woods

Joss Whedon co-writes Drew Goddard’s celebratory homage, and their nimble screenplay and wickedly clever direction allow a spot-on cast to entertain holy hell out of you. Insightful, scary, hilarious and brimming with a love of the genre, Cabin in the Woods is one for the ages.

 

3. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun offers such a witty observation of both a generation and a genre, so well told and acted, that it is an absolute joy, even if you’re not a fan of zombie movies. As social satire, it is as sharp as they come. It also manages to hit the bull’s eye as a splatter horror film, an ode to Romero, a buddy picture, and an authentic romantic comedy. And it’s more than just a remarkable achievement; it’s a fresh, vivid explosion of entertainment. It’s just a great movie.

 

2. American Psycho

A giddy hatchet to the head of the abiding culture of the Eighties, American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

1. Zombieland

Zombieland is quite possibly the perfect movie. Just when Shaun of the Dead convinced us that those Limey Brits had created the best-ever zombie romantic comedy, it turns out they’d only created the most British zombie one. The Yank counterpart is even better, and with this amount of artillery, it’s certainly a more American vision. It is a gloriously filmed piece of action horror cinema, owned outright by Woody Harrelson. His gun toting, Twinkie loving, Willie Nelson singing, Dale Earnhart number wearing redneck ranks among the greatest horror heroes ever.

Praising Caesar

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by Hope Madden

You can officially forget Dr. Zaius. In fact, if you think Rupert Wyatt’s impressive Rise of the Planet of the Apes from 2011 was the best that particular series could possibly do, you can forget that, too. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an evolution to a far superior breed of film artistically, visually and emotionally.

The devastating truths of prejudice, bias, fear and powerlust are the foundational planks of any great piece of political theater, dating back to Shakespeare (fittingly) and before. Director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield), along with his team of writers, respects this. It is respect for the content that elevated the previous installment so far above franchise efforts as well as audience expectations.

With that respect and those expectations now established, Reeves picks up Wyatt’s themes and expands them with breathtaking expertise. The Simian Flu – the virus that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis) and other lab apes exceeding intelligence – proved catastrophic to the human population. Ten years after the outbreak and the “incident on the Golden Gate Bridge”, the apes are thriving in their own society in a forest beyond the city. Meanwhile, what’s left of the city’s human population struggles to survive.

Wisely, Reeves doesn’t pick sides, and in leaving judgment behind we’re able to see this thrilling Man V Ape escapade for its larger historical and human relevance.

These elements coursing beneath the surface of his film help to explain its profound impact, but it’s what’s layered on top that thrills.

In utterly stunning 3D, Reeves fills the expanse of his screen with fascinating and startling images, action sequences and set pieces at once familiar and unlike anything else unspooling this summer. Once again, you forget that half the drama before you erupts between CGI images and trained animals – the image is that true, the drama that compelling.

Dawn is as convincing on every front, even when it has no business succeeding. It is so loud, brutal, and committed to its premise that you cannot but surrender to the chaos. Equally successful as summer blockbuster and political allegory, the film is as well written in both arenas as any you will find.

Darker, more intense and deeply satisfying, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes a good thing and makes it better.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

This Queue Is Mean..and Funny!

The underappreciated and underseen comedy Bad Words gets a fresh chance at an audience, releasing today on DVD. In his directorial debut, Jason Bateman plays a terrible man but an excellent speller in a squeamishly hilarious film that won’t cater to predictability or common decency. Bateman’s direction – like his film – is lean and mean. Bad Words is not for the sensitive or easily offended, but for the rest of us, it’s a refreshing piece of nastiness.

 

Need more jocularity at the expense of children? Why not dust off that ol’ Yule Tide classic Bad Santa? Madman Terry Zwigoff directs the most irreverent, mean and hilarious holiday film of all time,thanks in large part to flawless performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Cloris Leachman, Tony Cox, John Ritter, and of course Brett Kelly as Thurman Murman (“That’s your name?”). This screenplay bends to no one, but the film is an absolute classic of wrong, wrong comedy.

Countdown: Guilty Pleasures of the Eighties

Hope is hosting a Girls Night Out event at Studio Movie Grill Arena Grand this Wednesday with a celebration of that great Eighties guilty pleasure, Footloose. That’s right, the epic about a town that has outlawed dancing! Well not if Kevin Bacon and his wifebeater have anything to say about it! Let’s hear it for the boy!

In case you have a hankerin’ for other of the great cheese decade’s guilty pleasures, we’ve put together a countdown of some of our favorites.

 

5. Monster Squad (1987)

Who remembers this one? A bunch of pre-adolescent monster movie nerds uncover a plot by Dracula and his minions to find an amulet (it’s always an amulet) and take over the world. Very Goonies-esque, with its band of misfits on a parent-free adventure, but less annoying, and with more monsters – always a plus!

4. Better Off Dead (1985)

The greatest offbeat Eighties heartthrob John Cusack stars as a dumped teen Lane Myers, who just wants to kill himself. Instead, he is bullied into a ski-off and stalked by his newspaperboy. It’s a ridiculous little comedy that both lampoons and celebrates its genre while throwing as many utterly bizarre sight gags at the screen as its 97 minute running time can handle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWTouGjZt6A

3. RoboCop (1987)

Paul Verhoeven infuses a weird sense of humor into one of the greatEighties exploitation features, about a dystopian Detroit and the part man/part machine/part repressed memories cop who will rid the city of crime. It’s an outstanding premise, brought to gloriously over-the-top life by Peter Weller as the titanium-and-kevlar crime fighter and Kurtwood Smith, always outstanding in a badass role.

2. Dirty Dancing (1987)

No way this movie should have worked as well as it did. Credit surprisingly insightful humor and a charmingly awkward performance by Jennifer Grey –  not to mention Patrick Swayze’s smooth moves – for a good girl/bad boy romance that overcomes some of its predictable trappings and many of its dialog pitfalls to leave us with a giddy fun mash note to romance.

1. The Lost Boys (1987)

The mullets, the pseudo-goth soundtrack, the Coreys – director Joel Schumacher’s only watchable film represents the very height of all things 80s. He spins a yarn of Santa Carla, a town with a perpetual coastal carnival and the nation’s highest murder rate. A roving band of cycle-riding vampires haunts the carnival and accounts for the carnage. While hottie Michael (Jason Patric) is being seduced into the demon brethren, younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) teams up with local goofballs the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to stake all bloodsuckers. The film is mediocre at best, but anything that screams 1987 quite this loudly is just too garishly compelling to ignore.

Pass the Reese’s Pieces

Earth to Echo

by Hope Madden

Homey, middle class subdivisions. Kids on bikes. Spooky government types with flashlights and potentially evil aims. An adorable extra terrestrial who needs a friend. Lord, that sounds familiar.

E.T. gets a superficial but harmless reboot in Earth to Echo, the tale of three best buds spending their last night together before a neighborhood construction project sends their families in different directions. Rather than waste what little time they have left, they take off on a grand adventure that will test their bonds and see a couple of unpredicted additions to their group of pals.

What the film lacks in originality and depth, it sometimes makes up for with loose energy, naturalistic performances and good humor. Newcomer David Green collects a talented cast of mostly unseasoned youngsters to carry his tale. He curbs sentimentality nicely, and builds a giddy momentum appropriate for a “kids on a secret mission” storyline.

The screenplay by Henry Gayden offers some very humorous lines to a group who works to establish specific, believable characters. Reese Hartwig, in particular, gives the nerdy friend cliché a funny, nuanced turn, but the film boasts impressive performances all around.

Echo, though – the alien at the center of the kids’ adventure – never gets the chance to become a character at all, which seriously diminishes the overall impact of the drama and adventure. It’s one of many underdeveloped plotlines and characters, symptomatic of a storytelling style too slight to fit its content.

No one knows how to dig below the surface – not the director, the writer, or the young cast. As likeable as everything about the film is, it offers such a superficial treatment of the ideas it conveys that it rarely feels like a film. Instead, it presents a workmanlike restringing of dozens of reliable, familiar images and ideas from better films.

Worse still, it distances itself from an honest emotional impact. Yes, Spielberg was heavy-handed with sentimentality. But is there really a need for E.T.- lite?

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

Truly Biting Commentary: Our Luis Suarez Countdown

It looks like poor Luis Suarez will have to keep up on FIFA action like the rest of us, what with his 9 match, 4 month ban from the sport after biting yet another opponent. If he misses the game, he can always catch it on the tube, but what if he misses biting people? What then?

Well, he and his predilections inspired this week’s countdown. Maybe it will help.

Jaws (1975)

An obvious inspiration to the man-hungry forward, Jaws is one of those films we’ve seen dozens and dozens of times, and yet, we cannot flip past it. If it’s on, it stays on. Although now, that face Quint makes as he’s straddling those monstrous mandibles makes us think of soccer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuZvLXqxzD8

 

Teeth (2007)

A film about being bitten when you are really not expecting it, Teeth may actually make Suarez’s victims feel a little better. There are worse times to feel chompers than during soccer action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-qd-k0Vg7s

 

Cape Fear (1991)

In 1991, Martin Scorsese dusted off a chilling old Robert Mitchum movie and put a simmer under a modern version of the tale. And while every moment leading up to this scene brings chills to the viewer, the  moment Scorsese turns thriller to horror and unleashes Robert DeNiro’s unholiness occurs when Max Cady’s date suddenly recognizes the unfathomable danger she’s in as he takes a bite out of her face.

Top Gun (1986)

If there’s one moment in Top Gun that shines brighter and weirder than all the rest, it’s not the volleyball scene, not the “need for speed” chant, not even the barroom sing-a-long. Tony Scott’s ode to male bonding unfurls its freak flag the moment Ice Man bites the air at Mav.

Tyson (2008)

Documentarian James Toback gets Tyson to speak candidly about the little piece of cannibalism that managed to shock the hell out of all of us, Evander Holyfield in particular. The fact that he had any ability to surprise or horrify us after his rape conviction – another topic covered, although maybe not as honestly – is impressive, in its own tragic way.

Wet and Hot All Over Again

They Came Together

by Hope Madden

The non-threateningly attractive, amiable Paul Rudd is an easy guy to like. Maybe even to fall in love with…unless he’s a corporate drone working for the ultra-behemoth conglomerate that’s about to put your quirky, independent candy store out of business! Then he’s just a dreamy boy you could fall in love with but you won’t, damn it! You just won’t!

Director David Wain likes him, though. He likes him well enough to cast him as the lead in every single one of his films, including his latest, They Came Together.

For the provocatively titled newest effort, Wain collaborates with co-writer Michael Showalter, who helped him pen another Rudd vehicle, the cultish gem Wet Hot American Summer. Where that film lampooned summer camp films, the latest effort sends up New York City rom/coms.

Both films are endearingly silly, insightful, packed with genuine talent, and loaded with laughs. Rudd is joined this time around by reliably funny Amy Poehler as maybe the love of his life, if they can get past that candy store thing and a couple dozen other hurdles.

Wain is not just after the big, obvious genre clichés, either – though not one is safe. He’s equally adept at uncovering small, overlooked crutches of the romantic comedy and skewering those, as well. So what went so wrong?

Nothing feels fresh, for starters. So many films have poked fun at romantic comedy clichés that the satire is stale. The humor is broad when it needs to be, targeted at times, and often very funny, but utterly and immediately forgettable.

Just as problematic is that the 83 minute running time feels bloated. Jokes are repeated so incessantly that they lose potency, and Wain’s film has trouble mocking the tired and familiar without feeling a little spent itself. It plays like extended sketch comedy, some of which is spot-on, though too much of it is filler.

With laughs to be had, sight gags galore, priceless cameos, an enviable cast and a quick run time, it’s hardly the worst way to spend a little time in the air conditioning. You know, since Wet  Hot American Summer doesn’t stream on Netflix.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

Think Seriously About Skipping This

Think Like a Man Too

by Hope Madden

The single most surprising thing about 2012’s Think Like a Man may have been that I did not hate it. The film identifies five potential couples, highlights relationship flaws, then advises the women on how to re-train and trap their men.

Gross.

And yet, as the misguided, sexist, illogical “comedy” unfurled, I began to believe that Kevin Hart could perhaps save any bad film by virtue of his inexhaustible humor.

This theory has been put to the test, as it appears the poor man is destined never to get a script for anything other than a bad movie: Ride Along, About Last Night, Grudge Match – good Lord, Grudge Match!

So, while Hart proves his own talent time and again, he’s also proven that no one human man can possibly save every bad movie director Tim Story wants to make. Case in point: Think Like a Man Too.

We check back in on all the happy couples of the previous installment as they meet in Vegas for one duo’s nuptials. But first, they will divide on gender lines for bachelor/bachelorette parties.

Nothing says fresh like a bachelor party movie set in Vegas.

Actually, stale is an excellent word to describe this lifeless retread. Story regurgitates every overused image and idea from about a dozen movies and a lengthy Vegas ad campaign. Do you think there’s an ultra-luxurious suite? How about some glamorous poolside action? Gambling antics? Rain Man mentions?

Don’t tell me there are strippers?!!

Why, yes, you can expect drunken debauchery (though nothing too raunchy that it can’t be forgiven) that leads to a race to make the ceremony.

I swear to God, it wouldn’t have surprised me to find out there was a tiger in the bathroom.

You know what might have been interesting? An Omaha wedding.

Instead, we get more and more and excruciatingly more of the same, shoveled shamelessly at us in the hopes that Hart can somehow make it funny.

Well, he can’t. The man is not superhuman. And that means there’s nothing at all to distract you from everything that is wrong with this film – which is everything.

 

Verdict-1-5-Stars

 

 

An Invitation to Lose Yourself

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

by Hope Madden

Sam Fleischner intends to take you somewhere, and though you may have been there before, it was never like this.

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors shadows Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez), an autistic middle school student, on a day he decides to follow an interesting pair of shoes rather than going home after school. This is, in a nutshell, the entire story. Ricky ends up on the New York City subway, and no one else is aware. As he spends days on end circling the city underground, we’re treated to the character study of a character we can’t really hope to understand. And yet, almost magically, it works.

Though Fleischner has only one other directing credit, he’s logged some serious hours over the years as a cinematographer, a skill he puts to good use here. Rockaway Beach and NYC’s subway system provide not just backdrop, but become full characters in the film. Fleischner lenses the local flavors, color and sound in a way that is equal parts fascinating and terrifying, allowing us to experience them in just the way Ricky does.

Meanwhile, above ground, Ricky’s overworked, undocumented mother – played with an authentic mixture of relentlessness, stoicism and anger by Andrea Suarez Paz – searches helplessly.

A confluence of factors adds to the raising dread the film effectively develops, until you worry you’re trapped in a nightmare. It’s an absorbing hundred minutes or so, without a hint of hyperbole or a single false note – an honesty built mostly on Sandchez-Velez’s performance.

The actor, making his screen debut, offers none of the dramatic flair associated with recent onscreen depictions of autism, possibly because he carries an Asperger’s diagnosis himself. The subdued sorrow he brings to the performance is heartbreaking.

But you will need to be patient because Fleischner certainly is. Nothing is rushed, but everything matters: the newspapers littering the trains, the ads behind Ricky’s head, bumper stickers stuck randomly throughout the tunnels and trains. The film is asking us to lose ourselves the way Ricky has, but to notice things, too, just as he does.

It’s a rewarding and frightening experience. In fact, the quiet brilliance of Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is that it is so honestly observed that it feels universal.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars