A twisty turn tumble down the rabbit hole of torture porn
MARTYRS (2008) *** Morjana Alaoui, Mylene Jampanoi, Catherine Begin. A twisty turn tumble down the rabbit hole of torture porn in this disturbing and visceral tale of two young women attempting vengeance against years of torment ends up a tables turn into a grim, and bleak change of events. Filmmaker Pascal Laugier holds no punches with the graphic,brutal violence at hand nor does Alaoui in a true Final Girl turn for the ages.
EDEN LAKE (2008) *** Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbinder, Jack O'Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Tom Gill, James Gandhi. Filmmaker James Watkins makes a stunning debut in this horror film about a young couple (Reilly and Fassbinder) who go on a weekend holiday at the titular tranquil spot only to discover a nightmare in the form of a pack of young thugs who terrorize them. Parts STRAW DOGS and LORD OF THE FLIES the film's reliance on dread is a pulse-pounder up to its bleak ending. Reilly taps into her inner Final Girl with aplomb. Violent and unsettling.
BENEATH (2013) **1/2 Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy, Jon Orsini, Griffin Newman, Mackenzie Rosman, Mark Margolis. Filmmaker Larry Fessenden cooks up a creature feature stew that's part THE RAFT from CREEPSHOW 2 plus LIFEBOAT meets JAWS when six teenagers go on a weekend outing post-high school graduation at a lake that offers more than a tranquil retreat - a gigantic catfish like monster. What follows is a metaphor of what true colors will show when facing stress, pressure and stilted relationships at best. While Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith's screenplay strains with its character assassinations one-by-one (pretty much you're rooting for the creature to eat them all), Fessenden's lean and mean direction keeps things swimmingly eerie.
Sandler give the best performance of his career - a true game-changer
UNCUT GEMS (2019) ***1/2 Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Kevin Garnett (as himself), Voices of Tilda Swinton & Natasha Lyonne. Sandler give the best performance of his career - a true game-changer - as a street-smart, wheeling-dealing jewelry merchant in NYC up to his neck in gambling debts while attempting a big score with a rare gem for auction. The Safdie Brothers, Benny & Josh (who co-scripted with Ronald Bronstein) deliver a pressure-cooker tension that never lets up.
Bacon & Koepp reunite for a nifty yet somewhat familiar chiller
YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020) *** Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Tiiu Essex, Colin Blumenau. Disgraced attorney Bacon (sublimely perfect) and his actress wife Seyfried (never better) take their daughter (sweet newcomer Essex who recalls both Dakota Fanning and Drew Barrymore) on a much needed retreat to a very inviting, but sinister, house in Wales where things begin to unravel with indiscretion. Filmmaker David Koepp - adapting the novel by Daniel Kehlmann - reunites with his STIR OF ECHOES star Bacon as if they never left each other, complimenting its lead with a complex turn and its helmsman some cunning work at hand. The film does echo of the aforementioned chiller, as well as THE SHINING, 1408 and THE SIXTH SENSE so while its very familiar the outcome is not so much.
Disturbing domestic horror with overtones of Poe ; excellent debut by James and superb acting by its trio of women
RELIC (2020) ***1/2 Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Jeremy Stanford, Chris Bunton. Disturbing domestic horror with overtones of Poe - a woman and her daughter (Mortimer and Heathcote, both excellent) are informed by authorities that her mother has been missing, prompting them to visit her home to search for her. What follows is a bleak, sad and ultimately terrifying discovery of possession, a family curse and an apt metaphor of one's home for one losing their mind. Newcomer filmmaker Natalie Erika James - who co-scripted with Christian White - vividly captures the haunting of a family and the devastating outcome in the process with able support by veteran actress Nevin as the matriarch unravelling. Beautifully shot by Charlie Sarroff and an epic sound design by Robert Mckenzie underscores the pinpricks of good flesh expertly.
Energetic yet incidental zombie flick echoes more of Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE than George A. Romero's DEAD series
YUMMY (2020) **1/2 Maaike Neuville, Bart Hollanders, Benjamin Ramon, Clara Cleymans, Annick Christiaens, Eric Godon. Graphic horror film from Belgium with a game cast about the accidental release of a patient infected with a deadly virus turning its victims into blood-thirsty ravenous zombies in a dodgy hospital. While filmmaker Lars Damoiseaux - who co-scripted with Eveline Hagenbeek - pulls out all the stops in a seeming check-list of genre tropes: buxom Final Girl, punishments for sex, cars that don't work etc. it is highly inventive with echoes more of Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE than George A. Romero's DEAD series altogether.
Part pitch black comedy cum horror film part political satire; Gilpin is the secret ingredient
THE HUNT (2020) *** Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Amy Madigan. Part pitch black comedy cum horror film part political satire with a dozen strangers finding themselves being hunted down without any idea why and who among the reasons of a diabolical revenge plot. Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof's screenplay has larger aspirations with its pinprickings of every social strata in 'merica however the characters are more or less caricatures and with names like 'yoga pants' obviously not interested in developing their backstories. Gilpin is the wild-card as the shrewd final girl and her battle to the death with the event's villainous Swank is one of the best recent cinematic fights ever. (Dir: Craig Zobel)
THE LODGE (2019) **1/2 Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, , Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Danny Keough. Atmospheric psychological horror flick with Keough as the survivor of a cult about to become a stepmother who vacations with her impending children in a secluded cabin in the woods when things begin to twist and turn much to her detriment. While filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (who co-scripted with Severin Fiala) manage to supply some feeling of true dread the buildup ultimately is somewhat a disappointment. Keough gives blood in her performance of a woman slowly unhinging and the gorgeously foreboding cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis underscores the fears she experiences. Sure it's wonderful to see THE THING referenced but it is always a slippery slope whenever a film nods overbearingly so to a vastly superior film; nice try.
More twists than a bagful of pretzels; Evans is a hoot and de Armas steals everyone's thunder
KNIVES OUT (2019) ***1/2 Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmett Walsh, Marlene Forte, (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) Filmmaker Rian Johson's mystery black comedy about the investigation of the apparent suicide of the affluent patriarch of a squabbling, self-entitled brood resulting in a twisty-turny parable of the wants and have nots with societal ills underpinning with deliciously outrageous plot points sprinkled along the way. A game ensemble cast acts the hell out of a shopworn parlor drama with aplomb particularly Evans as the black sheep of the family and kind-hearted but very implicated caregiver de Armas.
Downward spiral into madness - exlempeary acting by Dafoe & Pattinson
THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019) **** Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman. Filmmaker Robert Eggers' exploration of madness is depicted in this psychological horror film about two lighthouse keepers (Pattinson and Dafoe giving blood turns) at a remote New England isle in the 1890s. While basically descending into insanity with cabin fever setting in the duo explore their pasts, experience surreal dreams and even homoerotic trespasses all with deft aplomb and unnerving uncanny results. Shot in stark black and white, cinematographer Jarin Blaschke paints a dank, gritty landscape while Mark Korven's clarion blast of a score impends doom on the horizon. Easily one of the best films about insanity ala Edgar Allan Poe's unfinished story "The Light-House" - which actually was re-written by Robert Bloch - (loosely based screenplay by Eggers and his brother Max).
Moss gives a stellar turn in Whannell's intriguing re-imagining of a horror classic
THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) *** Elizabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman. Filmmaker Leigh Whannell's unique re-imagining of the classic horror film updates it with Moss as a victimized woman whose attempt to leave her abusive relationship with wealthy optics genius Jackson-Cohen results in his suicide but eventually it's known to her that, instead, he has developed a method of becoming invisible to stalk her. Moments of true tension are cunningly employed thanks to the clever cinematography of Stefan Duscio and Benjamin Wallfisch's taut score but it is truly Moss' stellar turn as Cecilia Kass who manages to walk the tightrope of sanity while proving her sustainable urgency in bettering herself.
Cage & Stanley bring the crazy goods to his awesome Lovecraft adaptation
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019) ***1/2 Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Tommy Chong, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hillard, Josh C. Waller, Q'orianka Kilcher. Filmmaker Richard Stanley's opus rendering of HP Lovecraft's short story thriller 'The Color Out Of Space' features an atypical gonzo turn by Cage as the paterfamilias of a family in a secluded woodland home that is infiltrated by a meteorite that unleashes a cosmic force hellbent on destroying them and infecting their environs in the process. Filmed with a lavish, gorgeous color palette (natch) by cinematographer Steve Annis and a scorching score by Steve Annis underpins with eerie elegance. The combo CGI and practical visual effects are stunning and opulently ethereal and grotesque simultaneously.
THE WRETCHED (2020) **1/2 John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley, Gabriela Quezada Bloomgarden, Richard Ellis, Blane Crockarell, Judah Abner Paul, Ja'layah Washington. Affectively creepy yet disjointed horror film about a teenager (amiable enough Howard), summering with his dad in the throes of an impeding divorce, who discovers some supernatural occurrences with the next door neighbors. While the atmosphere is more or less on target the direction and screenplay by Brett & Drew T. Pierce is somewhat slipshod (namely um not truly introducing characters correctly within the framework of a film). Otherwise entertaining enough.
Filmmaker Noah Baumbach's frank and smart observations of divorce; Driver, Johansson & Dern at the top of their games
MARRIAGE STORY (2019) ***1/2 Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson, Julie Hagerty, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Wallace Shawn. Poignant and sharply realized dramedy about a young couple going through the pains of divorce with clear-eyed intensity and powerful insight to the way things collapse while attempting to remain civil and in love. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach's frank and smart observations of conversation, actions and complications are evenly balanced largely thanks to his excellent cast particularly the leads Driver and Johansson as a seemingly perfect couple dissolving with piercing moments and memorable dialogue. Dern is equally at the top of her game as an attorney whose viewpoints are en pointe and painfully acute.
Epic 'take' on WWI masterfully executed by Mendes & Deakins
1917 (2019) ***1/2 Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch. Filmmaker Sam Mendes (who collaborated on the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) makes an impressive mark in his Lean like take on the War Picture with the First World War as the setting for two green British soldiers tasked with a grave order - deliver the message to hold off a battle that the enemy has set them up for massive failure. With its one-take gimmick (i.e. the film never breaks action thru its run time), master cinematographer Roger Deakins takes on the Herculean challenge with grave aplomb in making the impossible, possible, not unlike the task set for its young charges.
THE IRISHMAN (2019) *** Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jack Huston, Kathrine Narducci, Jess Plemons, Domenick Lombardozzi, Paul Herman, Gary Basaraba, Marin Ireland, Lucy Gallina, Welker White, Louis Canelmi, Bo Dietl, Sebastian Maniscalo, Aleksa Palladino, Steven Van Zandt, Jim Norton. OldFellas could've been the working title of this Martin Scorsese smorgasbord of wise guys, feds and the assorted sociopaths all under the umbrella of a semi-biography of hit man Frank Sheeran (De Niro, like a lion in winter) who crosses paths with Teamsters Union lead Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino equally regal and on top of his game), with the tightrope act of loyalties with bestie Russell Bufalino (Pesci coaxed out of quasi-retirment and equally prime). Yes Scorsese is still a master craftsman with his cinematic eyes, touchstones of past films and a who's who of Mount Olympus screen actors the film is a scoch bloated in its 3 plus hours running time (um, the fish in the car scene goes on way too long) but is allowed his panache for the art of turning an unlikable character into being flawed and tragic.
Grande Finale Is Missing Something In Spite of Ridley & Driver
STAR WARS: EPISODE IX - THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) *** Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Greg Grunberg, Shirley Henderson, Billie Lourd, Dominic Monaghan, (cameo: Harrison Ford) The final chapter in the Star Wars saga concludes with the Resistance attempting to stop the unlikely return of the deceased Emperor, with Rey and Kylo Ren both finding new strengths within the Force. While returning to the fold, director JJ Abrams still keeps George Lucas' legacy intact, there seems to be a slightly unsatisfying overall feel (i.e. only Ridley and Driver make the acting seamless and poignant) through out.
Hanks is a natural choice as Mr. Rogers with aplomb and nostalgia
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) ***1/2 Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni, Wendy Makkena, Tammy Blanchard. Typecast (but for a good reason) Hanks as TV icon Fred Rogers does a decent impression of the beloved children's programming host who, while being profiled by jaded journalist Rhys, befriends the psychically wounded writer and cementing a friendship in the process. Filmmaker Marielle Heller wonderfully recreates The Land Of Make-Believe with uncanny precision resulting in a nostalgic retro return to the past for a figure (and his compassion) both sorely missed. HE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) ***1/2 Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni, Wendy Makkena, Tammy Blanchard. Typecast (but for a good reason) Hanks as TV icon Fred Rogers does a decent impression of the beloved children's programming host who, while being profiled by jaded journalist Rhys, befriends the psychically wounded writer and cementing a friendship in the process. Filmmaker Marielle Heller wonderfully recreates The Land Of Make-Believe with uncanny precision resulting in a nostalgic retro return to the past for a figure (and his compassion) both sorely missed.
Phoenix' chameleon charm and shades of Scorsese darken the origin story of the iconic comics villain
JOKER (2019) *** Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Josh Pais, Marc Maron. Interesting but slightly bloated origin story of the arch criminal villain of The DC universe with Phoenix at the top of his game as the much-put-upon Arthur Fleck in Gotham City circa 1981 who reaches his breaking point and a moment of clarity of what his true significant purpose is in life with deadly consequences ensuing. While director Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver) attempts to get in touch with his inner Scorsese by paralleling his worldview ala Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin (going full meta in even employing De Niro as talk-show host Murray Franklin) with far too many touchstones to count. Phoenix's chameleon-like physicality (shedding over 50 pounds) to give the slightly anemic/skeletal protagonist its spine by tapping into his own Christian Bale ala THE MECHANIC and his eerie, off-settling helpless cackle becomes instantly iconic in the canon of actors who've portrayed this homicidal harlequin.
Family Matters Vengeance; brutal final act is worth the price of admission alone.
RAMBO: LAST BLOOD (2019) **1/2 Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Yvette Monreal, Sheila Shah, Oscar Jaenada, Joaquin Cosio, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza. John Rambo returns with vengeance in store for the Mexican cartel that has kidnapped his beloved niece (Monreal) for their sordid prostitution ring. Stallone manages to remain low-key until the final, bloody and brutal act of justifiable homicides and while his screenplay with Matthew Cirulnik and Dan Gordon rely on the sympathies of a broken avenger and the tight direction by Adrian Grunberg there still feels like something is missing in spite of the overhanded 'family matters' subtext thru out.
Despite a strong turn by the reliable Pitt and awesome visuals the space saga is a void
AD ASTRA (2019) **1/2 Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Kimberly Elise, Loren Dean, Donnie Keshawarz, Sean Blakemore, Bobby Nish, LisaGay Hamilton, John Finn, John Ortiz, Natasha Lyonne, Liv Tyler. Somewhat listless and dull space drama with Pitt (always good, and expectedly solid here; the film's strongest asset ) as an astronaut sent with the task to voyage to Mars to seek out a possibility of a link-up with his long-lost fellow explorer father (Jones), whose mission decades ago adds a new wrinkle to Earth's future. While the visuals are on par with say Kubrick, but filmmaker James Gray (who co-wrote the bone dry screenplay with Ethan Gross) keeps things at a near monotone level with little action, suspense or even humor. The narration that echoes Pitt's film with Terrence Malick, THE TREE OF LIFE even becomes a chore.
DEPRAVED (2019) *** David Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloe Levine, Owen Campbell, Addison Timlin. Indie maverick filmmaker Larry Fessenden tackles Mary Shelley's classic horror tale 'Frankenstein' by updating it for the 21st century involving a PTSD suffering doctor (Call) who creates a living creature (Breaux) out of dead bodies and state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals which proves the old adage 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should' with a fine mix of dread and pathos. The leads all excel echoing even James Whale's classic chiller and by far this is Fessenden's finest hour.
Bittersweet and heartfelt docubio on one of the greatest entertainers of our time; one of the year's best films.
LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (2019) **** Reverent and well-executed biographical documentary on the pioneering rock star Linda Ronstadt depicting her career as a female entertainer who made an indelible impression in her field beginning in the 1960s as a folk rock singer to a quartet then inevitably a solo career the likes the world had never witnessed with a string of hits, platinum selling albums, concert tours, and her forays into Mexican music and standards that solidified her as a performer whose soulful and passionate voice that has recently been side-lined with her contracting Parkinson's Disease. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman incorporates talking head tributes from her friends/peers like Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Don Henley with vintage footage of her singing with deep impact. One of the year's best films.
IT CHAPTER TWO (2019) *** Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey (Cameos - Stephen King and Peter Bogdanovich) Follow up sequel to the remake of the Stephen King chiller with The Losers' Club re-uniting reluctantly 27 years later to their hometown of Derry, Maine to kill-off once and for all the demon clown Pennywise who has reawakened slaking his thirst on anyone within its reach, and all the more better for the seven friends who attempted to extinguish it's existence. Director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman reteam to deliver the shivery goods if it is a tad padded (nearly 3 hours long) with the young cast as well and their older alter egos (all well served overall).