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Weekly Review

Halloween is upon us (and by the time you’re reading this, will have already passed) so the time for horror is taking its spot in the rear view. Sayonara! Nevertheless, I popped on a slew of horrors at home, including a double Nosferatu showing; both the 1922 original and the “what if this was how it was made?” docu-fictionalization Shadow of the Vampire. No Halloween is complete without the obligatory Evil Dead 2 watch, so the wonderful caws and coos of Bruce Campbell graced my household as I turned a pumpkin into Nosferatu. This week had only one (!!!) screening, a rare thing in this rat-racing line of work but thankfully it was one for the books, Nightcrawler. Easily among my favorite of the year, Nightcrawler showcases Jake Gyllenhaal in a role that deserves all the awards. Hopefully he actually gets nommed on. At home, I had the chance to watch one of the worst movies of the entire year, which we’ll get to in just a wee moment. So strap in and let’s Weekly Reviews.

HORNS (2014)

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You pretty much just need to learn the name of the lead character of Horns – Ignatius Perrish – to understand the egotistical, sloppy dreck that is this film shit show. Laughably dumb all the way through, Horns is a wildly ill-conceived movie that doesn’t apparently understand what movies are and how they function. Overtly reaching for metaphors and widely missing over and over again, Horns is one long, confused religious parable about who knows what; a masterpiece of allegorical shittiness, a master’s class on how not to make a movie. Daniel Radcliffe gives it his all as a shifty man on trial in the court of public opinion for allegedly murdering his girlfriend but the abortion of a screenplay leaves him very little room to act in any convincing manner or emote without making us want to laugh. All in all, I’ll chalk this one up to a director way, way in over their head, a screenplay dripping with no-no’s and actors confused into thinking that their onscreen work was important and not just a joke, which is all this ghastly film ultimately is. (F) 

THE ABCS OF DEATH (2012)

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A freakish collection of short entries to the time-honored horror genre, The ABCs of Death is anthology filmmaking epitomized. The good and the bad come mixed, with some absolutely dreadful entries – F for Fart (coming from Japan, naturally) – stirred up with some rather smart and effective ones – D for Dogfight is von Trier-lite, L for Libido is monstrously unsettling, N for Nupitals is worth a laugh, and X for XXL might just be the best of the bunch. Filmmakers at the forefront of the genre like Adam Wingard, Ti West, Ben Wheatley and the always unsettling Srdjan Spasojevic make appearances against newcomers like cartoonist Kaare Andrews and claymation man Lee Hardcastle. There’s segments that’ll have you hanging your head in your hands in disbelief and those that will ramp up the energy and inject enough life to keep at the two-plus hour engagement. Calling it a mixed effort is really the only way to sum it up but, for me personally, there’s enough to enjoy to make the venture somewhat worthwhile. (C+)

BEGIN AGAIN (2014)

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Feel good gobbledygook caked in flaky melodrama, Begin Again is essentially an American remake of Once – from the same director – with a little less music, bigger cast names and a larger production budget. It’s fluffy and light and airy, the cinematic equivalent of popcorn, and just about as nourishing. There isn’t much to dislike, so long as you’re willing to swallow hokey, whimsy and the miracle of TRUE LOVE! It sounds as though I hated this film (I didn’t) but I can’t deny the soapiness had me smiling in places. Stupid soapy smiles. HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME SMILE SOAPY SMILES JOHN CARNEY?! Mark Ruffalo is as charming as always as a drunken, down-on-his-luck record guy, Keira Knightley is as effortlessly rapturous as ever as his songwriting savior, and even “rockstar” Adam Levine is tolerable as clean-cut d-bag heartbreaker. It’s just that the combination feels as inorganic, staged and slick as a Maroon 5 song. (C-)

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)

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An effectively horrifying descent into the green inferno, Cannibal Holocaust is a film that’s difficult to recommend on any rational level, and equally as hard to “enjoy,” but it’s an avante garde film who’s unblinking devotion to its contrarian cause I can’t help but respect. It also basically gave birth to the found footage subgenre – later popularized with Blair Witch. Cannibal Holocaust follows a group of sinful documentarians who enter the Amazon to track down some of the last remaining vestiges of untouched civilization in two warring cannibalistic tribes: the Ya̧nomamö and the Shamatari. The violence is shaking and brutally graphic, with accusations at the time of release that actual local tribesmen and women were murdered onscreen. The footage is so convincing, it took a three year examination to prove otherwise. While the film was later vindicated, Ruggero Deodato off the hook for murder and bans on the flick largely lifted, the absolutely stomach-churning cruelty to animals on-screen was never in doubt: it is all staggeringly real. Turtles are flayed, monkeys decapitated, a lemur cruelly stabbed to death. Any animal lover will close their eyes (I did) but their squeals still pierce your mind. At least now I understand the need for PETA. While Cannibal Holocaust enters the realm of film I would hesitate to recommend to even the most seasoned of stomach, it’s nonetheless an extremely well made and entirely thought-provoking film. (B-)

SNOW ON THA BLUFF (2011)

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What did I just watch? How much of it is reality, how much is fiction? These are the kinds of questions Snow on Tha Bluff will inspire. The film starts jarringly when a hustler (Curtis Snow) bamboozles a trio of privileged college students, duping them into thinking he’ll sell them “two eight balls and ten rolls” and then robbing them at gunpoint. He snatches the co-ed’s camera and decides to let it roll on to capture his life dealing in Atlanta. The film doesn’t let up from there. Drive by’s, robberies, slinging drugs and the cold-blooded murder of “characters” – clearly stand-ins for real life people – make up just a part of this fascinating look into a cultural on the brink of collapse. Filmed guerrilla style, it’s almost impossible to parse out what is real and what is artifice and you’re left with the sinking feeling that even if nothing is real in the sense we’re thinking of, this is as close to reality as we’re gonna get. After the film’s release, Snow was arrested of charges depicted on camera, if that gives you any sense of the reality of the flick. It’s all one big tragic mess, a peek into a civilization rotting from the inside out. The thug life is as much a cause of self-perpetuation as it is of societal construction and we’re there to witness the cycle first-hand. A scene where Snow splices up crack rocks with a razor blade as his four year old plays with a balloon nearby, detailing how he experienced this exact same scene when he was a child, is perhaps the most real moment of the film. There’s no doubt Snow is a shaken man. Snow on Tha Bluff is that rare piece of cinema that – while occasionally willing to descent to moments that feel operatic and stagey, even in all its lo-fi presentation – is most effective at getting the cogs to churn in your mind, leaving you racing with questions that spill out into the real world. (B-)

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