Weekly Review

This week has been absolutely insane what with playing catch-up to all the big awards films I missed on my holiday, cracking out a Top Ten of 2014 List, a 50 Most Anticipated Films of 2015 list, Oscar Nominations Predictions, Oscar Nominations Reactions, Seattle Critics Film Awards and drafting reviews of Michael Mann‘s horrible Blackhat, the cute and quaint Paddington and the actually funny Kevin Hart brom-com The Wedding Ringer. Somehow, I managed to sneak in seven screeners at home and one at a second-run theater to pad out the list of 2014 films I’ve consumed in preparation for the 100 Best Movies of 2014 – to be release later today.Not to forecast too strongly but it’s unlikely that more than two of the below will make the cut… This week on Weekly Review.

MR. TURNER (2014)

Timothy Spall
puts in a mighty performance as secretly emotional romanticist painter J.M.W. Turner. He grunts, mumbles and grumbles like an out-of-shape lumberjack hacking through a ball of phlegm. The movie itself, unlike Spall’s crusty and terse Turner, is long-winded, meandering and sometimes out of shape. Fatally British director Mike Leigh‘s shots are gorgeously composed like classical paintings, with DP Dick Pope (that’s Dick Poop to the Academy) casting light upon them to resemble the very romanticism period his subject matter paints his brush strokes in. The picture is affable -at least more so than its gruffalo subject – if not with too many flourishes of boring. Much like an entire exhibit of Romantic-era paintings. (C+)


Angelina Jolie
fails to settle into the moment in her clunky Louis Zamperini biopic. The first scene – a critical dogfight – should be ungodly tense, instead the stakes are bled dry by a prevailing sense of inconsequential schmaltz. “Don’t forget, it’s just a movie!” By refusing to tell the story chronologically, Jolie has snuffed the natural tension of events and quelled our investment in the characters before they arrive at pivotal, empathy-rich moments. With a notably better movie just simple steps away – one with better editing (anything other than that dreadful flash-back/flash-forward), a lack of inexplicably useless alterations to Zamp’s true tale and some actual storytelling prowess – Unbroken is an undeniable failure, most of all for its wasted potential. If you want the story of Zamperini, do yourself a favor and read the book as Jolie skimps mightily on the goods – often skipping entirely over critical scenes – and can only proffer this truly inspiring saga glazed over with a cloying religious-tinged icing and sans a lick of nuance or tension. Chariots of Fire this most certainly is not. (D)

CAKE (2014)

Majorly better than the petri dish of Hallmark moments I went in expecting, Cake is a victory not only for Jennifer Aniston‘s majorly biting performance but for its subtle examination of a life lived in angry anguish. Leaving tooth-marks in everything she touches, Aniston’s Claire lives in chronic pain, lashing out at the word around her and pushing those closest to her away. Daniel Barnz seeps into and out of the story like a fly on the wall, allowing us to take in his subject with all her scuzziness intact, not trying to paint a pretty picture so much as replicate the after effects of a fatal accident. The product may not be remarkably new but its certainly potent and a big stepping stone for Aniston’s dramatic future. (C+)


Far more fun than it has any right to be, The Maze Runner is a jambalaya of The Hungers GamesLabyrinth, The Goonies and “Lord of the Flies” with mecha-spiders and a prevailing sense of mystery to make the whole thing exciting. The film, based on the first in the popular YA series from James Dashner, sets up a series how a series is supposed to be set up: slowly and with a careful amount of reveals. Kitchen sinking this is not. Rather than yet another retread origin story to preface the event we’re all waiting for anyways, The Maze Runner launches right into the action, rarely stopping to explain itself along the way. For a product that could have been a total mess, The Maze Runner manages to stay fresh and intriguing even in a sub-genre critically overloaded with bunk. (B-)


Paul Thomas Anderson
‘s latest may prove a touch of disdain for his audience as he makes no effort to surface the runways of Inherent Vice with any narrative tarmac. He’s happy letting us bump along a long and rocky road to get to his warm, gooey center. Though full of genuinely inspired moments of shot-framing perfection, Inherent Vice fails to grasp a through line and with a running time that’s just shy of two-and-a-half hours, he lets down those looking for any clarity through all the pot smoke. Joaquin Phoenix is strong in the role though I can’t help but wonder if original cast member Robert Downey Jr. could have been able to elevate the stoned PI character to higher heights. All in all, another case of PTA not being able to deliver the full, meaty package worthy of his talent. (C+)

SELMA (2014)

A rousing historical tour de force, Selma is an accomplishment of art and nonfiction coming to head; the product of historical accuracy colliding with a massively stirring lead performance from David Oyelowo and confident, assured direction from Ava DuVernay. Selma documents the events leading up to the Selma to Birmingham march in hopes of true voter equality, starting with Martin Luther King’s receiving of the Nobel Peace Prize. Though DuVernay’s picture isn’t always as taut as it should be – and there are some serious second act lulls – Selma thrives on the soaring energy of Oyelowo, who captures the powerful energy of the good Reverend MLK with earth-shaking force. Of biopics this year, DuVernay’s is a massive step above the humdrum The Imitiaton Game, and Oyelowo is a good step above Benedict Cumberbatch on almost all levels. It’s a damn shame that history once again couldn’t reflect the change that Selma and Selma sought. (B+)

BIG EYES (2014)

Tim Burton‘s talents depend entirely upon his current quirk level setting. Aside from the crisp, all-ducks-in-a-row 1950s/60s setting and an abstract grocery store scene, Big Eyes harkens back to a very different Burton – one without a drapery of strange and a Johnny Depp mascot prancing around. A Burton that attempted to engage emotionally with his audience. And although Big Eyes seems (finally) to come from the right place, its subject – Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) – is an infinitely frustrating lead character that all but unravels our interest in her story. Christoph Waltz imbues his devilish character with just the right amount of paranoid charm but it’s hard to get wrapped up in the narrative when you’re always yelling at the screen for your “hero” to actually act. (C)


Laura Poitras
‘ portrait of Edward Snowden and his NSA whistle blowing is earth-quaking stuff. The clear front runner for Best Documentary at the 2015 Academy Awards, Citizenfour is a triumph because of its varied ability to get inside the story. Documentarian Laura Poitras not only offers a complete overview of all the facts but gets under the skin of the issue by closely tracking the emotional transformation of the controversial figure at the center of her film. A must-see for any and all American citizens, Citizenfour is an intellectually-driven descent into the madness of post 9/11 politics and the hazy hero-status of a new breed of revolutionary. (B)

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Having just tied a tidy little bow on 2014 with our Top Ten Movies of the Year article, there is still always that sense that you missed something. Still in the midst of compiling that infamous Top 100 list, we took to scourging through some of those that slunk under the radar for one reason or another as well as a controversial new release and the first (surprisingly good) 2015 of the year. So buckle up because where Weekly Review‘s going, we don’t need roads (primarily because it’s a website.) 



Up at 30,000 feet and on those marginally-larger-than-domestic-flights screens, the more down-the-middle the film, the better. So I thought I’d knock out a 2014 family film that had most people shrugging and saying, “Eh, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.” So I guess this one’s on me and them both. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is just about as bad as I thought it would be. It’s almost as bad as its terrible, horrible, no good, very bad name. Utterly stifling the comedic talent of Steve Carrell, this “comedy for the whole family” has as few little snickers as it does laugh out loud moments. In fact, I don’t remember laughing once. It’s comedy by committee, paying a blind eye to the many, many missteps it takes along the way. It’s a mess of stale, cliched physical comedy with a hackneyed message so elementary and diluted that it’s hard to not scoff. (D) 



An enviable collection of comedians align for This Is Where I Leave You, a dark dramedy about a family assembled to sit Shiva after their father passes away. Rose Bryne joins Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll with Kathryn Hahn, Timothy Oliphant, Connie Britton andsam shepard Jane Fonda rounding out the cast. Working from a script from Jonathan Trooper – who adapted from his own novel – the variable Shawn Levy is in his element, gently parsing clever comedic beats into the earnest atmosphere of familial woes. It never quite goes the distance – particularly with Fey’s character arc – and some of the bits land awkwardly but as far as general release dramedies go, you could fare far worse. Also, Adam Driver. (C+)



Time travel movies are easy plot-hole kerfuffle territory and Predestination has its fair share of gapers and yet, it’s kind of magnificent. Surely the first act could have been handled with more grace and, frankly, felt less mandatory than it does but once you start to piece together the puzzle (something that happened for me far before the movie found it necessary to make every plain-faced obvious) the experience begins to unfold into something explicitly rewarding. Add an understated performance from Ethan Hawke and an uncommon intelligence and you have a product that’s well worth a watch, gapers and all. (B-)



Somehow, The Interview has become one of the most important, talked about movies of the year and for good reason. It became a battleground for freedom; the metaphorical doorstep to international censorship the likes of which even Mitt Romney was willing to speak against. It’s a damn shame that the actual movie – the one behind all this “we’ll nuke ya” drama – isn’t very good. In it, James Franco is on fire but in all the wrong kinds of ways. Like a self-immolating junker ten feet too far from an extinguisher. His melon-headed character is obnoxious and petty and occupies so much of the breathing room of the film that it’s unable to show any other signs of life. As a big fan of the Seth Rogan-Evan Goldberg fast-food combo, I thoroughly expected myself to jeer through the dumbness of another This is the End. Instead, I just got honey-potted. (D+)

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Weekly Review 67: ALICE, SNIPER, THEOREM

Weekly Review

In the few moments of downtime, I’ve managed to churn and burn through a shortlist of 2014 Must Sees including Still Alice – for which Julianne Moore will win an Oscar – American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s dutifully told biopic on prolific sniper Chris Kyle – and Terry Gilliam‘s weirdo-fest The Zero Theorem. So hurry, hurry, super scurry, cuz it’s Weekly Review.


A rather down-the-middle illness drama, Still Alice offers Julianne Moore the opportunity to showboat her skillz and saunter away with an Oscar. Her performance is the stuff of typical award fare – resilient with flourishes of weepy breakdowns – even when the film itself is cloyingly melodramatic, not above the pay grade of made-for-TV cinema. Not bad so much as bland and conventional, Still Alice takes on Alzheimer’s disease with a unwavering chin and occasionally delicate grace, supplying a fair share of sympathy for its characters and their situations even when it admittedly takes too many swings at its audience’s tear ducts. A cut above Hallmark, but not by a wide margin. (C)


Watching a screener of American Sniper on my XBox One was a dangerous game of brinkmanship. All that separated me from an online melee of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was a simple press of the home button. After all, Clint Eastwood‘s passable but derivative biopic is essentially watching a professional play Call of Duty. Played masterfully by a bulked-up Bradley Cooper, Chris Kyle’s whole mantra could be boiled down to a call of duty – he joins the war effort because 9/11 and… ‘Murica! – but Eastwood fails to get into the nitty gritty of what makes the man tick. While a biopic that thoughtfully examined and picked apart Kyle’s hero status would have been infinitely more interesting, Eastwood’s latest is at the very least a powerful starring vehicle for Cooper. (C+)


Terry Gilliam
‘s films have always been an acid trip but The Zero Theorem walks us deep into an unrelenting, unforgiving K-hole and lets go. Named for the formula which computer scientist cum tortured protagonist  Qohen Leth (a shaved bald Christoph Waltz) seeks desperately to solve, The Zero Theorem postulates a dystopian future that’s brimming with window dressings and a few spectacular bits of CGI cinematography that’s undeniably short on substantive DNA. The should-be timely piece adds up to Gilliam’s wandering take on technology but exactly what he’s trying to say gets as jumbled up as the film’s neural nets, blood red jumpsuits and Matt Damons in snowy, wall-street wigs. (C-)

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Weekly Review

It’s been a long week – a final homestretch towards officially calling 2014 – that capped off in a very long flight, so this weekly is as stuffed as ever. After screenings of Into the Woods (review to follow) and Top Five, I watched a few films at home that I’d been meaning to get around to and a few that I had only heard of when the studio reached out to see if I wanted to review them. Included in this category is Tayla Lavie‘s excellent Zero Motivation. A 22 hour flight afforded me the chance to take in Expendables 3, Let’s Be Cops and The Hundred-Foot Journey (none of which I’d seen) as well as rewatches of Guardians of the Galaxy and Edge of Tomorrow (both of which I enjoyed almost as much the second time.) So let’s boogie down and Weekly Review.


An Israeli take on Joseph Conrad‘s seminal novel “Catch 22”, Zero Motivation looks at the hijinks of a female unit inside a Tzahal military base. Directed with zany aplomb by female Israeli director Tayla Lavie, this chaptered saga of woman in uniform vs. ennui is characterized by a soaring sense of voice and sees stars Dana Ivgy and Nelly Tagar face down the clock as they Minesweep their way through their deafeningly dull military assignment – paperwork. A dark comedy with as many barbs as points, Zero Motivation  is a delicious and original vision, percolating with purpose. (B+)

LET’S BE COPS (2014)

I was expecting some horrendous abortion of a comedy with Let’s Be Cops after Fox canned our press screening back in August but what I encountered was an earnest, though underwritten, nugget of an idea. Though as untimely as can be – has there ever been a worse time to glorify copwork? – Cops potential is never fully realized even when it’s defined by an almost boundless sense of commitment from its leads. Riffing on the buddy cop subgenre, this perfectly affable comedy throwback may be short of laugh out loud moments but it kept afloat by the goodwill and easy chemistry of stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. With a smarter edit. a more joke-heavy script and better timing, this could have actually been something special. (C-)


One of 2014’s best horror films, It Follows imagines a STD unlike any other, one that claims the life of its victims not by whacking blood cells but by pathogenic haunting. You see, whomever the curse is passed onto is “followed” by a mysterious supernatural being sans discrimination. Like the leisurely-trotting slasher baddies of yore, the titular “it” is a beast of slow-footed intention, always marching towards its victim with its idle cadence. Director David Robert Mitchell deals in wild abstractions while still managing a very real grip on reality, allowing his characters to live on a plane of existence parallel to ours, rightfully ripe with many of the same headaches. Teenage angst and sexual frustration are equally important to the doubtlessly endeavored antagonist in It Follows making a horror film that’s largely inspired by the genre’s past and yet not quite like anything else before it. (A-)

BELLE (2014)

A pretty costume drama dealing with ugly subject matter, Belle tells the true story of a mixed-race daughter of an aristocrat, with enviable fortunes and unenviable skin tone. Even with wealth beyond measure to her name, Dido Elizabeth Belle deals with upper-class racism like 1.) not being able to dine with her family when guests were present 2.) dealing with a handsy Draco Malfoy 3.) carriage rides. My greatest issue with the film is the territory left unexplored. For instance, the dichotomy of being too “low” to dine with the aristocrats but too “high” to dine with the maid staff. Or further exploring that dynamic between those employees of fellow race and her. Alas, Belle deals its Dark Equality Rising card with cliche, overly perfumed turns between fine performances and brusque costumery. (C)

WILD (2014)

Wild tells the true story of Cheryl Strayed, a wildly unprepared woman who embarks on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) in search of her salvation. Following her mother passes away, a bout with freebased heroine and a nether-region looseness even a porn star wouldn’t envy, Strayed has alienated her way to middle-class pariah status and seeks a kind of fool’s gold redemption out amongst the wilderness. Her transformation is Kafkaesque in nature, with nightmarish reality checks that make us cringe and an sense of her own evils floating just outside the screen. Busy editing keeps us engaged as does Jean-MarcVallée’s adroit eye for drama, even when the Malicky whisperings almost get out of hand, but it’s a fine performance from Reese Witherspoon that anchors it all together and makes it great. Humming with spirit and sure to leave even the grumpiest humbuggers somewhat inspired, Wild is a powerful tale of reclaiming the soul. (B)


Somewhat entertaining although completely and totally lacking in art, The Expendables 3 represents the most base of PG-13 action fare. With a cast of names that would have been awesome in the 80s, this star-studded third take on New Year’s Eve for dudes is a bloodless, often ball-less affair with weightless violence and fair measures of dumb fun. A committed Wesley Snipes, a batshit Antonio Banderas and a scenery-smacking Mel Gibson try to make matters worthwhile as Sly Stallone grunts and bellows amidst a sea of washed up wash-boarders like Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren. Mindless and frustratingly soulless – though still just the kind of mind-numbing inflight entertainment it purports itself as – at least this third Expendables film shows off Terry Crews‘ absolutely inhuman muscle mass. (D+)


Lasse Hallström,  he of the reckless sentiment, takes on food porn in The Hundred-Foot Journey, a foodie movie more interested in relationships than it is in cuisine. The director of two too many Nicholas Sparks adaptation finds romance amidst good eats as hungry Indian cook Hassan (Manish Dayal) scales the great wall of Michelin stars while courting sous chef compatriot Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), all the while battling off the fervor of rival restaurateur Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren.) It’s hokey, predictable and totally unbelievable – essentially Ratatouille without the rat – but its not without its flavorful perks. As far as comfort food, it’s as easy to consume as mac and cheese, even if it does contain the equivalent artistry and is as easy on the eyes – and just as old fashion – as its headlining British actress.  (C)

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Weekly Review

It’s an insanely busy time of year as I’m rushing to see the remainder of 2014 flicks, preparing for a Top Ten Horror Films of the year and bustling to get ready for a trip around the world. Last week in theaters meant two big blockbuster with colons screenings, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Exodus: Gods and Kings. I enjoyed one more than I thought I would and one quite a bit less. This paved the way for our long awaited release of Ranking Ridley where we put the films of Mr. Ridley Scott to list form. At home, a few heavies, a horror and a pair of wonderful new hits made up the heart and soul of this installment of Weekly Review.



Adam Robitel‘s found footage horror begins in convincing manner with a graduate’s students dissertation taking her to the home of Alezheimer’s patient Deborah Logan. Logan’s, played by the ably creepy Jill Larson, affliction is causing her to do some unorthodox things but when she starts peeling off her skin and speaking in tongues, those studying her are left to assume that there’s something more than meets the eye going on. Released to almost no fanfare (and unceremoniously dumped on Netflix) Logan may not be all that original but it’s wildly effective at deliciously blending body horror with surprisingly eerie FX. (B-)



With the recent passings of Mike Nichols and Robin Williams, The Birdcage seemed ripe for a watch and what a joy that experience was. Uproarious and tender, this Williams-Nathan Lane starrer is a LGBT film ahead of its time – if you ignore the fact that the son is supposed to be sheepish about his parent’s orientation but comes across as heavily pigheaded. Nonetheless, The Birdcage‘s warm center shines through, offering a poignant piece that’s equally emotionally and explosively funny. (B+)



My recent obsession with Sarah Koenig‘s Serial Podcast had me craving some more true crime and The Thin Blue Line is a real doozie. While I’m filled with doubt as to what the ultimate result of Serial may be (I fear, like the rest of the listeners, that it will all have been for naught) Errol Morris‘ groundbreaking film proved a precedent for documentary-style investigative journalism inflicting a real impact on judicial proceedings. Morris’ film is so effective at discrediting the jailing of a man wrongfully convicted of a life sentence for murdering a police officer that he was RELEASED FROM PRISON 12 years after his incarceration. Though dated, Blue Line is a cornerstone for the importance of the documentaries and a must-see for anyone who’s a fan of true crime. (A-)



A trio of 80’s Stockholm misfit band together to ignite a punk group even though they have no talent to speak of. Lukas Moodysson adapts the story with the help of his wife Coco Moodysson from graphic novel “Never Goodnight” and what is lost in translation is made up for by a seething sense of fun. The young performers are always on their mark, adding pathos to the sense of timeless adolescence captured on film. Screened at last year’s TIFF Special Presentation section, We Are the Best! has won over the hearts of critics and audiences who’ve heard the punk gospel and the reason couldn’t be more clear. It’s wholly lovable. (B)



Check your expectations at the door, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is some kind of wonderful lightning in a bottle. How Ana Lily Amirpour takes familiar elements from vampire romance and morphs them into something wholly novel is sight unseen. This slow-moving Iranian art film makes way for a non-stop display of impeccably gorgeous celluloid, black-and-white images dancing against a grainy hi-fi score that’s in part Sergio Leone spaghetti Western and equally a rave scene. It’s eerie and beautiful, creepy and delicate, like Winding Refn taking on Jim Jarmusch. Quite unlike anything else you’ll see this year, Girl also holds the honor of being one of the most important, forward-looking flicks of the year. Who would have expected vampires to ever mean so much (B+)

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Weekly Review

It’s been a week or two (ok fine, two and a half) since I’ve updated things ’round these parts after all the holiday hubbub so there’s quite a bit on today’s dockets. In theaters, things have ratcheted down to a much more steady cadence of one or two flicks a week in theaters. Last week, I caught screenings of Horrible Bosses 2 (I found it quite funny), Foxcatcher (review written but embargoed for now) and A Most Violent Year (ditto on the embargo.) I also missed screenings of Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes and Wild which was kind of a bummer but oh well, I’ll catch them later and be spared the pressure of writing up full reviews. At home, I continued to count my way through all 21 of Ridley Scott’s films in preparation for tonight’s screening of Exodus: Gods and Kings (fingers crossed that that’s actually half-way decent) among more horror movies as I build my way towards a Top Ten Horror Movies of 2014 (I can sense your glee from here.) So strap in for another shot to the heart of Weekly Review.


What a conversation starter this one could be at the haunted house queue next Halloween. Being a bit of a dedicated haunted house aficionado, the dramatic tension that exists in The Houses October Built is is one any person who’s second-guessed an interactive horror experience can reason with: but what if they actually kill me? I went to one haunt this Halloween season in which I had to sign and fingerprint a waiver that basically said everything was hunky-dory if I, welp, died. This found footage flick is basically what if that basic premise went wrong. I won’t spoil anything beyond that, just know that it’s a rather calamitous and eerie ride. (B-)


Keeping in the great tradition of New Zealand horror comedy, Housebound is an irreverent splatter fest with chewy characters living through absurdist situations. When the criminally angsty Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is put under house arrest with her “delusional” mother, she starts to realize that maybe there is truth to her mum’s belief that the house is indeed haunted. This NZed debut from Gerard Johnstone is stuffed with sardonic wit, mocking the tropes of horror movies past, while offering enough new wacky twists and turns to make it a fiery, often dazzling watch. Fans of Peter Jackson‘s early work and/or Cabin in the Woods will find much to love in this underground horror comedy gem. (B)

V/H/S: VIRAL (2014)

The third edition to this wearing anthological franchise, Viral represents everything wrong with the whole V/H/S brand. First off, they have no idea what they’re doing with their overarching tie-in story – a fact self-evident from the overabundant and incredibly hackneyed use of it here. It’s a utter mess that detracts from the shorts themselves and an artifice that needs to be axed entirely going forward – ABCs of Death doesn’t bother with it and is all the more successful for it. Having said that, the shorts themselves are all fairly effective. Nacho Vigalondo‘s “Parallel Monsters” is an esoteric trip to another dimension, Gregg Bishop‘s “Dante the Great” is like a Skinemax version of an Are You Afraid of the Dark episode and Marchel Sarmineto‘s “Vicious Circles” is a stupidly entertaining zombie gore-fest. But that egg in which it’s all encased in just so unforgivably bad. (C-)

ABCS OF DEATH 2 (2014)

A marked improvement over the original A-to-Z horror anthology, The ABCS Of Death 2 makes great use of more than half of the alphabet. Directors from E.L. Katz to Rodney Ascher each take on a letter and massage them into some half-relevant short and the percentage of hits to duds is super impressive. Amateur, Capital Punishment, Deloused, Falling, Knel, Masticate, Questionnaire, Roullette, Split, Vacation, Xylophone, and Zygote each offer a diverse look at how to approach a short – from mucky animation to grotesque physical horror and violent psychological mind games, making a true collection of weird, offbeat horror shorts definitely worth digesting. (B-)


Marshall Curry
was a man without much of a point. He kind of hobbled through his early life before going in search of a sense of himself that lands him smack dab in the middle of the Libyan Revolution. Curry’s doc, Point and Shoot, was the winner of the Best Documentary Award at this year’s Tribeca Film and it’s not hard to see why. You don’t often witness a documentarian insert himself into the action like Curry does and witnessing his struggle with his fluctuating identity is an experience of great unease. Unsure if he’s a filmmaker or a revolutionary, Curry’s command over his camera is shaky at best but he gets shots in and amongst the action unlike those on the sidelines. (B-)


Werner Herzog‘s true account of an American pilot shot down over Laos at the onset of the Vietnam War wastes no time getting down to business. In a jiffy, Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is in the hands of hostile forces, imprisoned in bamboo shackles and forced to work with a selection of other POWs (with excellent performances from fellow inmates Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn) in order to plan an escape through unforgiving jungles. No one takes on the plight of man amidst nature quite like Herzog and his shot at one man’s survival instinct is unabashed, commanding and unsentimental. Not to mention the absolutely gorgeous cinematography. (A-)

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Weekly Review

The amount of films I’ve seen this week is sheer insanity. In the theater, I only had a screening of Dumb and Dumber To (one I seemed to cull more enjoyment from than many others) but the real work was put in at home. After digesting a viewing of The Graduate (one of my all time favorites), I continued to dive head first into dissecting the films of Ridley Scott. In my pursuit to see and revisit each and all of his films to produce a ranking prior to the release of Exodus: Gods and Kings, I tapped into a whopping six Scott flicks. Additionally, I did a little DIY horror marathon in anticipation of an end of year list that will now go unmentioned. As you can likely tell, it seemed like Halloween all over again the way the horror was a’flowin’. So strap in for a horror-y dose of Weekly Review.


A blind ex-military man is a fresh arrival at a retirement community spinning from a string of unexplained animal attacks. Werewolfness ensues. Late Phases premiered this year at SXSW (I missed it) to middling reviews as the first English language film from Spanish director Adrián García Bogliano is a little too jokey and yet not quite campy enough to really capture love from either side of the isle. Putting in an performance more devoted than the script deserves, Ethan Embry plays a hardened man who inexplicably puts the pieces to Phases‘ werewolf plot together like boxed cake. What rises above the paint-by-numbers kill-fest is Embry’s hard but tender relationship with his son, though that goes underdeveloped as well. The practical effects are appreciated, if not a touch juvenile, making this a mostly miffed effort. (C-)


All Cheerleaders Die
is an interesting concept – a satirical supernatural battle of the sexes – but its choppy execution leaves it high and dry. A higher-budgeted remake of directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson own 2001 film, Cheerleaders is an aggressively jarring film, offering scenes that are genuinely great and following them up with a bevy of truly embarrassing ones. Perhaps the most pronounced problem of the film is McKee and Sivertson’s apparent misunderstanding of satire, as their flick falls back on the very tropes it tries so openly to mock time and time again. (D+)


Bryan Bertino
‘s long awaited follow up to The Strangers is desperately in need of a plot. Mockingbird follows three narratives – a couple, a young woman and a chubby social pariah made to dress up as a clown – as a mysterious and malicious group forces them to videotape their each and every move under threat of death. Mockingbird is great at building atmosphere but for all the building, there is no blueprint apparent. Rather, Bertino subjects us to one long-con that pays its tab in chump change, offering a “twist” surprise that wouldn’t look amiss in a Shamalayan film. Bertino’s proven his talent for conjuring moodiness, he now just needs to prove an ability to summon up an actual plot. (C-)

THE DEN (2014)

Yet another found footage-based horror flick (with even more to come), The Den is an effectively told cautionary tale about online identity and personal security filled with just enough nasty scares and gruesome bits to legitimize a committed watch. In “The Den”, an online chatroulette-like social network, Liz witnesses what appears to be a real murder. Melanie Papalia stars as said young woman, a socialite with a hazy research grant that lands in her over her head amongst a group of nasty internet guerillas set on terrorizing her and those closest to her. First time director Zachary Donohue starts off a bit rocky but as the film moves into its second and third act, Donohue’s confidence and originality grows, making for a rather solid, if not entirely original, horror debut. (C+)


Blair Erickson‘s film starts with actual news footage (one clip features President Bill Clinton) dishing the goods on the US government’s involvement with administering doses of highly effective mind-altering drugs on test subjects. From a historical perspective, it’s gnarly stuff. As a film, it works in fits and starts. Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s 1920 short story “From Beyond,” Banshee Chapter stars Katia Winter as a journalist who teams up with a Hunter S. Thompson-esque character (Ted Levine), to uncover the mystery behind a formula known as DMT-19. Though the acting from Winter and Levine is sturdy, the plot feels oddly hollow, hitting familiar horror beats along the way. Adaptation or no, Erickson misses out on the novelty of telling a politically motivated tale within the horror genre. Shame. (C)


Where The Den, Mockingbird and Exists all commit the cardinal sin of less-than-compelling characters, The Borderlands shines because director Elliot Gouldner rightly realizes that even in found footage movies, you need great characters. The Borderlands has plenty. Robin Hill and Gordon Kennedy star opposite each other as two Vatican investigators sussing out the legitimacy of a miracle claim and both bring life and complexity to their characters. Hill (who worked on other great horror flicks Kill List and Sightseers) is full of zingers while Kennedy brings a dark compassion to his bent-out-of-shape believer. Though the first couple acts feel a lot like just another haunting done found footage style, the claustrophobic last act is a thrill ride into hell itself. (B)

EXISTS (2014)

A total jumbalaya of found footage cliches, Exists is a profoundly uninspired effort. Helmed by Eduardo Sánchez of Blair Witch Project fame and fortune, Exists follows a group of thoroughly uninteresting teenagers on your typical cabin in the woods venture when they come across Bigfoot. Chases and death follows. What Exists fails to understand is that in order for proceedings to be compelling, we have to at least have some semblance of connection to the characters or else their fate holds little to no value. As such, Sánchez squanders half-decent makeup and a chance to reclaim good standing in the horror film community with this tasteless dud of a risk-adverse experiment. (D)

WER (2014)

A surprisingly well-made foray into supernatural realism, Wer hues closer to reality than you would expect of your average werewolf saga. Partially thanks to the perfect casting of Brian Scott O’ConnorWilliam Brent Bell‘s fourth film is also likely his best. Where most werewolf flicks take a hairy wrong turn, Bell uses a human rights plot and minimal special effects to breathe new life into familar territory. Not scary so much as it is smart, Wer is a strong example of frugality done right. (B-)

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Weekly Review

Another fairly lax week at the theater held screenings of Interstellar and Big Hero 6 – both of which I had high hopes for (the former far more than the later) and was fairly disappointed by both. At home, I had some time to catch up with a few new screeners (bringing my cume of 2014 films to a whopping 198), none of which impressed me more than the Swedish avalanche drama currently making the rounds in limited release. As far as films opening this week, it’d probably be the one I’d most recommend. Chris sat down with Michel Hazanavicius and Berenice Bejo to chat The Artist and their upcoming film The Search. It’s a great interview so be sure to give it a look. Otherwise, let’s boogie down with some Weekly Reviews.


A mild improvement over Rob Zombie‘s debut effort House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects is an unreservedly more cinematic sequel. Moving outside the circle of abject grossness stuffed in leaky caves and dark tool sheds, Zombie moves his marks into the desert to cook up some sun-baked horror the aesthetic likes of Natural Born Killers. There’s a semblance of social commentary churning within Devil’s Rejects but it’s too half-baked to ever truly make heads or tails of. Nevertheless, it signaled the development of a filmmaker that has since descended into lesser material. All in all though, an interesting, if repetitive, watch and one worthy of seeking out (next Halloween) for genre fans that have passed it over. (C+)


An oddball little indie film ensemble piece, Me and You and Everyone We Know is like a successful version of this year’s Men, Women and Children (overbearingly long title accounted for.) John Hawkes plays a shoe salesman whose wife has just flown the coup and is surrounded by a menagerie of strange cityfolk all with their own quirks, secrets and peculiarities. Miranda July‘s debut showcases comedy consistent in its gentle biting nature – more a thing of misunderstood awkwardness than anything – but it’s got a genial heart to match. July’s strange little piece packs an undeniable heartbeat and isn’t suffocated by its girthy cast of characters, even though it’s all rather weird. (B-)


One of the more decisive films of 2014 (many loved it) is also one of the hardest to really feel anything towards. Jason Schwartzman plays a misanthropic writer who rages and alienates his way through New York City until he meets novelist idol Ike Zimmer (Jonathan Pryce). The two swirl in a whirlpool of self-pity, self-importance, intellectual superiority and ultimately regret, eventually driving one another towards that most extreme state of NYC misanthropy. Schwartzman’s Philip may be hard to care for because of how much of a douchebag he is but he’s also not a very interesting character. Wallowing arrogance is only arresting in short bursts and Philip long outstays his chilly welcome. (C)


To call Force Majeure a dramedy would be to misrepresent what it is, but I can’t think of another term to describe the hazy mixture of deeply uncomfortable comedy and shrill, sometimes even heart-breaking, dramatics. Ruben Östlund‘s Swedish vacation film follows a family of four as they holiday in the stunning French Alps until a life-threatening event changes the course of their vacation and their relationships. As the familial tension mounts, you’ll find yourself quietly cackling one moment and alarmingly affected the next. A great display of foreign cinema taking greater risks than we’re used to stateside, Force Majeure studies the effects of a near-miss on the rocky ethos of a nuclear family and does it all while threading a narrow thematic needle. (B)

LOW DOWN (2014)

John Hawkes
plays a talented jazz musician who moonlights as a heroine slinger and deadbeat Dad to competent daughter Amy-Jo (Elle Fanning). Like jazz, Low Down wanders almost aimlessly, riffing here and there on the strong father-daughter relationship at its center and amidst themes of the cyclical nature of co-dependence, but is still without a strong narrative center point. If Llewyn Davis is a tone poem about a time and a scene, Low Down is a k-hole of the destructive spiral of musicianship and drugs. Not entirely without worth (the acting from Fanning, Hawkes, Glenn Close and Lena Headey is rock solid), Jeff Preiss‘ biopic of esteemed pianist Joe Albany is a narrative desperately in need of a through line. (C-)

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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)

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) 


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+)


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-)


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-)


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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Weekly Review 60: BLIZZARD, STRETCH

Weekly Review

Taking a break from the horror to settle into some 2014 On Demand fare, I looked to make up some ground with a couple new limited release arrivals. Seeing that I did a lot of what is colloquially known as raging this weekend, I didn’t quite get as many down as I had anticipated but with a packed week of screenings, there was no shortage of films to be had. After a public reading from Chuck Palahniuk on Monday (something I would highly recommend), I settled into screenings of the action packed but one-note John Wick followed up by the pitiful Ouija (which also landed with a thud with audiences, who rewarded it a lowly “C” CinemaScore) and unleashed reviews for what may be the year’s best, Birdman, the limited release but worthy of seeking out, The Heart Machine as well as local Seattleite Lynn Shelton‘s ultimately disappointing Laggies. Chris also piped in with his thoughts on the morally confused Dear White People, a film whose heart is in the right place but the execution is just a wide miss. So, all-in-all, a very busy week and time for some Weekly Reviews


Gregg Araki
delivers this somber piece of caged domesticity in odd fashion. First off, the piece introduces us to its central conundrum: Kat’s (Shailene Woodley) mom has gone missing. The tension is slow played, the disappearance surprisingly never suspect. But then again, Eve she was always a bit of a drinker, always a bit of a loosey goosey. She’d saunter around the house in provocative lingerie when Kat’s boyfriend would visit. Always with a glass of wine in hand. She was a minx trying to prove her worth through her sexuality, a role that Eva Green has come to embody again and again. And like always, Green absolutely owns it. When she up and disappears, Kat assumes she just picked up and left while others in town suspect more devious misdeeds. Throughout the film, there’s an awkward amount of sexuality energy in the young Kat that’s unleashed upon those that she encounters -as if she herself is growing into her cougarish mother – a metamorphosis from child to sexual being. But her budding sexual symbolism ends up seeming just as weird and unsexy as barely sprouting boobs. White Bird in a Blizzard packs a potent ending and a trio of fine performances but I’m still not convinced that there’s not a superior cut to the picture lying around somewhere, one that would actually piece all the disparate parts together into a more satisfying whole. (C+)

STRETCH (2014)

A bonkers, adrenaline-fueled, nonstop shit show, Stretch has no intention to play it safe. It features gun fights, cocaine baggies, wanksters, hookers, butt plugs (plural) and Jason Mantzoukas. Patrick Wilson plays a down-on-his-luck limo driver who’s up to his eyes in debt with a local mob syndicate claiming they need payment by the end of the night. This lands Stretch (which is both his nickname and the kind of vehicle he drives) in the outlandish arms of client Roger Karos. Karos, played brilliantly by Chris Pine, is an eccentric Richard Branson-meets-Russell Brand billionaire type. Pine’s nonsensical mumbling and shining eyes make him just as much of a pirate as Jack Sparrow and his performance is off-the-walls and absolutely hilarious. To see Pine outside of his regular wheelhouse is to see him thrive. Joe Carnagan broke the mold when he made Stretch and it would of been a thing of beauty to behold in theaters (I’m guessing the multiple butt plugs deemed it theater unfriendly?) and though everything’s a little quirky, a lot oddball and totally full of shit, it’s the kind of shit I’m willing to eat up. With a smile on my face no less. (B)

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