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Reviews

The Ugly Truth
(2009)

Light entertainment. Unfortunately they cut the parts that would have made it great.
If you're looking for a breezy, predictable romcom that pokes fun at gender stereotypes, "The Ugly Truth" will fill the slot. It's basically a watered-down rehash of the classic "When Harry Met Sally" gender war romcom (right down to the orgasm at a restaurant scene) with nothing really new. Unfortunately the angle that would have given it a fresh spin ended up on the cutting room floor. I'll get to that in a sec. First let's summarize the story.

Abby (Katherine Heigl) is an uptight, prudish tv producer who is forced to work with a loud-mouthed, misogynistic talk show host named Mike (Gerard Butler). Each presents an extreme stereotype of the sexes: Abby is a control freak who expects her man to be straight out of the Hallmark Channel while Mike treats women like he's ordering at the McDonald's drive thru. The plot revolves around a bet: Mike tells Abby that if she follows his neanderthal advice, she can snare her perfect dream man.

So there's an interesting sort of role reversal, where the prudish female is taking lessons from the neanderthal bro in order to achieve her ideal Hallmark romance. That itself was a great start, but this clever spirit of the film got lost when they cut a few critical scenes (I guess because those scenes focused on character development and didn't have enough zingers).

The scenes that were cut showed exactly how hopelessly neurotic Abby is and why she keeps scaring men off. And they focused on the important, yet mostly lost, subplot of how fake Abby must become in order to snare her man. 4 or 5 scenes were cut, and rather than understanding the degree of Abby's "Pygmalion" transformation, we the audience are rushed through the process. Also cut are some scenes that show Mike to be more sensitive/human, giving his character depth which is otherwise lacking. The result of these cuts is, instead of this film showing more of a complex gender-role-reversal switcheroo, it simply falls back on the black & white stereotypes of men being neanderthals and women being prudes. Nothing exceptionally clever, but still entertaining enough.

So in the end, yes, I can understand why the watered down message could offend some. What we get is mostly the male perspective of Mike, reducing Abby's role to being his clueless sidekick. And the rest is predictable.

The angle of them on a tv set with a producer/talent relationship is interesting, but it's nothing really new if you've done your romcom homework. On that account I would sooner recommend "Groundhog Day" which has the identical setup--Bill Murray playing the narcissistic tv talent with Andie McDowell playing his more sensible-minded producer--except that Groundhog Day rightfully focuses on the narcissist coming down to earth, not the other way around which we see here.

A final note worth mentioning. I've heard it said that any movie that ends with a hot air balloon is insulting to the viewer's intelligence. There is indeed a hot air balloon in this one. So be prepared...

Easy A
(2010)

The smartest high school teen comedy I've ever seen.
There's a rare comedy zone that exists above pratfalls & cheap gags, above situational laughs, somewhere near satire but not quite that obvious. It's a peculiar zone, sort of like the classic "Edward Scissorhands" where the filmmakers are clearly showing you an exaggerated reality, but not so exaggerated that you lose touch with its relevance. And through this wacky prism we see our own lives with a hilarious spin if the actors can pull off the right deadpan delivery. Very few movies hit this zone, movies like "Catch-22" (1970), "Dr Strangelove" (1964), "Joe Vs. the Volcano" (1990) or "Punch Drunk Love" (2002). And here, I'm happy to announce in the most unlikely genre (high school teen comedy) we have a great addition to the list: "Easy A".

If I lost you with my opening paragraph don't worry, all I'm saying is that this movie is really funny. Emma Stone plays "Olive Pendergast", a 17-year old girl at a California high school who, after years of being a faceless nobody, suddenly gets thrust into the spotlight when strange rumors of her sexual promiscuity spread like wildfire. The "Easy A" in the title is a reference to the parallel story of "The Scarlet Letter", the 1850 novel about a woman accused of adultery and forced to wear a demeaning "A" for her sins. But here we see a cool, modern take on the situation with Olive proudly and spitefully wearing her penance in front of the entire school of her accusers.

And that's what makes this such a fun & hilarious flick. It's that, the whole time, Olive is almost like the puppetmaster and controller of the crazy events that happen as things quickly escalate. Emma Stone is perfect for the role with her sarcastic wit and deadpan apathy even though her life is rapidly going into the trash can. Thus the chain of events becomes like what I described in the opening paragraph: an exaggerated reality delivered with deadpan precision. If you've ever seen a Bill Murray flick ("Groundhog Day"), that's how Emma's character comes across.

Throw into the mix some really witty zingers, some hilariously bizarre characters and a healthy buffet of references to classic 80s teen comedies (movie buffs, you can make a game of trying to catch them all), and you've got a great experience. The whole presentation is like a 80s John Hughes film on steroids. John Hughes would populate his high schools with instantly recognizable archetypes (the jock, the nerd, etc), and here we have the same approach but way off the deep end. Instead of being antagonized by the jocks, Emma's character must match wits with the Jesus freaks who sit around with a guitar singing bad religious diddies (another parallel with the antagonists in "The Scarlet Letter").

From beginning to end, "Easy A" is very well written, clever, poignant and just plain hilarious. And on top of it all, it delivers a powerful message that every teen, as well as most adults, should remember regarding how to navigate this crazy judgmental society we live in. As you're watching this, you realize that the microcosm of high school applies to our entire civilization. Whatever age you are, definitely give this flick a go.

Subspecies
(1991)

The best 70s horror flick of the 90s
I watched this entire movie from start to finish, thinking it was from around 1978. Everything about it screamed late-70s B-movie horror, from hairstyles (Charlie's Angels anyone?) to wardrobe (particularly the way the girl's blouse happens to get slashed in just the right spots for some unnecessary but much appreciated nip slips), to tons of brooding footage of authentic Transylvanian castles (very remeniscent of Herzog's 1979 "Nosferatu") to the iconic Angus Scrimm (for all of 20 seconds) to, ESPECIALLY the awesomely horrible stop motion clay creatures who, I swear, look like they stepped right off the set of Jason and the Argonauts. Imagine my utter confusion at the end credits when the copyright date scrolled up: 1990.

Dude.

Seriously. I don't know if they intended it to be so 70s or if the low budget turned it into a happy surprise, but this is one of the best 70s horror schlocks I've ever seen! If you dig 70s low budget horror, films like Rollin's "Lips of Blood" (1975) or Coscarelli's "Phantasm" (1979) or possibly even the serious masterpiece "The Wicker Man" (1973), then you must check out this flick asap.

I purposely left the plot for last because, as any good horror connoisseur knows, who cares about the stupid plot. Here we have something about 3 nubile young college chicks who go to Transylvania to do a report on traditional folklore whilst passively ogling the local studmuffin "Stefan" who looks like he just walked off the set of General Hospital. Oh wait, actually he did. Somehow they get wrapped up in an ancient blood feud between 2 sibling vampires and the rest is, well, the rest.

In case you're wondering, the titular "subspecies" refers to some cheesalicious little red men who, like much of the movie, are nonessential if not totally unnecessary BUT THOROUGHLY AWESOME. Fun fact: the original subspecies were played by actual actors in rubber suits, the filmmakers felt they looked too ridiculous so they opted for the clay/puppet creatures we see here. And might I say, that was the best cinematic decision since Coscarelli's murderous silver tennis balls in Phantasm.

On a serious note, the villain "Radu" is one of the best vampire depictions since the original Nosferatu. In fact he seemed to be strongly based on that incarnation but with some wacky makeup that made him look like a cross between Nosferatu and Heath Ledger's Joker, or possibly even the late great Brandon Lee in The Crow. He also gave the part a very disturbing yet oddly charismatic personality, as in the 2 aforementioned greats.

Will this film give you nightmares? Probably not, unless you're spooked by E.T. Is it worth watching: definitely. I rate it a 7, docking it some points for false advertising: although top-billed, the legendary Angus Scrimm only appears for about 10 seconds. Other than that, if you go into this flick expecting some good 70s B-movie entertainment, you won't be disappointed. Bellbottoms are optional.

The Tenth Man
(1988)

Great story, great acting, but feels like an 80s made-for-tv movie (which it is)
"The Tenth Man" is a screen adaptation of the powerful novel by Graham Green. Set in 1940s France at the time of the Nazi occupation and its aftermath, it tells the story of a man who does something despicable to save himself and later comes face to face with those whom he wronged. It's a great story with excellent acting by Anthony Hopkins and Kristen Scott Thomas, and well worth watching. However, you should bear in mind that this was a made-for-tv movie in 1988 for the Hallmark Channel.

This means its presentation suffers from a lot of dated clichés, such as a saccharine Hallmark Channel musical score that often detracts from the powerful acting, bright lighting & sets which give it a slightly cheap look, and it also feels a bit rushed in pace, not giving the dramatic moments enough time to sink in. But if you can overlook these small flaws, the story and acting will sweep you away.

Though set during WW2, this is not a war movie, there isn't much violence, and when there is violence it's handled in a safe PG-13 way. This is mostly a sentimental film that focuses on the characters' feelings more than action and plot twists. The plot does get twisty toward the end, bordering on crime thriller, but really this movie is more for people who enjoy slow, nostalgic films with themes of regret, forgiveness, morality and a dash of romance.

I would compare this film to "Somewhere in Time" (1980) though the stories are nothing alike; they both share the same sentimental vibe, a bit syrupy in presentation but with first class acting and a great story.

Beastly
(2011)

Beauty and the.... Now thats what I call a Beast
This is one of the cleverest adaptations of a classic fable since "The Nutty Professor" (Jekyll & Hyde). Here in "Beastly" we have an adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast" set in contemporary New York and revolving around the image-obsessed youth of a fashionable High School in the trendy urban district. I know, right? Awesome premise. The execution may not be quite as awesome, but ultimately I think it's a great flick to watch when you're in the mood for a creative morality play.

What makes it work is the depiction of the "Beast". I won't ruin it for you (if the movie posters haven't already), but here, unlike other tellings of the tale which portray the Beast as a majestic animal, we get a Beast who is not only "ugly" in terms of scars and bad skin, but more importantly he is made to look like an outcast. He doesn't look like a literal beast/monster, but instead he looks very human but the kind of human who would make you cross the street to avoid.

In that respect it turns the microscope on ourselves because we the audience are repulsed without any justification. I thought this was a fantastic starting point.

The rest of the film may feel sort of like a predictable teen romance, without much tension or or peril, but it keeps our attention and gives us thoughts which we can apply directly to our lives, unlike typical enchanted fairytales which we approach as pure fantasy.

Beyond the predictable, there's one character who really livened things up and I wish there were more of him: "Will" played by Neil Patrick Harris (yes! Doogie Howser M.D.). Will plays the role of the Beast's sarcastic, wisecracking teacher. This gives the story an element of humor and wisdom at the same time, as Will is sort of the Beast's "Mr. Miagi".

"Beastly" is mostly family-friendly (PG-13 due to some violence and a bit of crude language, though I don't remember hearing any outright profanity). So don't expect a harsh, gritty drama. This film is definitely on the lighter side. Movies I would compare this to include: Penelope (2006) starring Christina Ricci as a girl with a pig snout, or maybe something like Practical Magic (1998) starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as two witches looking for love in a small town. If you like breezy supernatural romances, definitely check this out.

P.S. I Love You
(2007)

If you're going to invest 126 mins of your time you should be prepared for a few things...
Is it a "romantic comedy" as the DVD box advertises? Dear lord no. Is it a hard hitting drama about love, death and loss? At times it flirts with the idea, but ultimately... no. Is it a sappy Hallmark Channel melodrama of the week? Sort of. But the A-list actors and impressive cinematography seem to demand more respect than that. So what is it?

Ultimately "PS I Love You" is a decent way to spend 126 minutes of your time if you're in the mood for light romantic fare. The story is about a 30-year old woman (Hilary Swank) attempting to navigate the troubled waters of being a young widow after her perfect husband dies. Complicating matters, she begins receiving mysterious letters that had been apparently penned by her dying husband to be sent to her in regular installments, sort of leading her on an adventure of rediscovery. Yes, the plot is excellent, based on the novel by Cecelia Ahern. But as you may have guessed by my opening points, the execution is a bit uneven and ultimately disappointing, given the tremendous potential here.

Hilary Swank definitely delivers with both breezy scenes as well as powerful, emotional scenes. But the film felt like it didn't want to showcase her dramatic talents as much as it wanted to keep things light-hearted and uncomplicated. I would have loved to see this film directed by someone like maybe Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Cider House Rules, Safe Haven, Dear John) who really shines at these sorts of emotionally charged yet uplifting stories. Instead, directed by Richard LaGravenese who doesn't have much experience with feature length romance, "PS I Love You" doesn't really have a strong identity. Watch it for the story, not for the presentation.

One thing I definitely could have done without is the presence of Lisa Kudrow recycling her typecast role: a ditzy, 2-dimensional airhead with a bit of a mean streak, probably intended to make her edgy. Set against the excellent calibre of Hilary Swank and Kathy Bates (both of whom play deep, emotionally complex characters), Lisa Kudrow's "Phoebe from Friends" character is way out of place and unnecessary. Her bizarre speech about how she's entitled to objectify men because they objectify her is way, way, wayy out of left field and should have ended up on the cutting room floor.

Yeogo goedam II
(1999)

Fantastic film, nothing like Whispering Corridors and not a horror flick.
"Memento Mori" (1999) is loosely associated with the first in the quadrilogy "Whispering Corridors" (1998), but aside from being set in an all girl's school and centering around the harsh social stigmas and stresses of Korean education... with a ghost or two thrown in... it has nothing to do with its predecessor. Not only is the story completely unrelated but more notably the cinematic style and approach is totally different. While "Whispering Corridors" was a plot-driven thriller with suspense and a few scares, "Memento Mori" is more of an art house film with a poetic quality that may be hard to follow at first, but it's ultimately a very impressive film.

The story is about a girl who mysteriously dies at school, evidently having fallen or been pushed off the roof. What follows is a very cryptic piecing together of the puzzle. It happens in disjoint flashbacks, dream/fantasy sequences and frequent wtf departures from reality, so you better be prepared to be confused. However, even if you don't grasp the entirety of what's being told (and if you're struggling to keep up with subtitles), the film masterfully conveys enough of a mood that you feel what's happening even if you don't grasp every plot element.

The presentation is very stylistic with interesting camera angles and perspectives, often using hyper closeups on seemingly trivial items. But this is precisely what gives it a poetic quality. The visuals are crystal clear even on my 480p DVD player, so even though this hasn't been released on blu-ray, it's very pleasing to the eye. So if you were less than impressed by the grainy, murky DVD release of "Whispering Corridors" this will wake you up.

It's definitely not a horror flick. In case you missed that in my title I want to repeat it again because anyone expecting jumps & scares will be very disappointed. Although there's a creepy, menacing vibe throughout the whole film, it's more along the lines of "The Others" or "The Sixth Sense" or (the original) "Wicker Man".

Oh, I have to mention the acting is incredible. Unlike "Whispering Corridors" where many of the characters were (deliberately) two-dimensional, "Memento Mori" presents characters who are extremely complex and hard to figure out. There's no clearcut good guy/bad guy approach; it's truly a mystery as we piece together who's who. "Memento Mori" demands your full attention as it doesn't always spell everything out for you. But if you like a challenge, don't miss this one.

Step Brothers
(2008)

Literally crying with laughter at the end
Tears streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard. I have never cried this hard, not even after Old Yeller. As the other reviews have covered, "Step Brothers" is unashamedly dumb. But it's not stupid-dumb like slipping on a banana peel. It's smart-dumb as with the satirical scenes of Will Ferrell's horrible singing and the deadpan reactions of absolute rapturous amazement from the crowd. It's this sort of straight-faced silliness that characterizes the whole film, and if you enjoy this sort of comedy you won't be let down.

Comic absurdism is really hard to pull off. Probably the first and most notable master was the late great Leslie Nielsen ("Airplane", "Naked Gun", "Police Squad in Color") and the entire troupe of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker who introduced us to this concept of surreal, straight-faced humor. The Z-A-Z team took it to the realm of utter silliness (with great success), and here in "Step Brothers" some 25 years later we see that concept refined to subtle perfection.

The deliberately paper-thin plot of "Step Brothers" is that two overgrown infants, each pushing 40 years old but still living with their parents in an emotionally-stunted if not cereberally-stunted existence, find themselves forced to live together as one big happy family. At first I was skeptical of this premise, expecting the characters to be sad, pathetic and annoying, but they took it in a different direction. Both Ferrell and Reilly act as if they're truly 14 year old punks, basically Beavis & Butthead in the flesh. By instantly immersing us in this absurd premise, the entire film takes on a hilarious tongue-in-cheek vibe, not quite "Airplane" but getting darn close.

If you enjoy that sort of comedy--ironic deadpan humor such as with "The Office" or "Spinal Tap" but with the silly factor amped up to 11 (while the straight-faced factor remains a solid brick wall) then you'll really enjoy "Step Brothers".

A final note for those who noticed it's a Judd Apatow production and were wondering if there's a lot of gross-out sexual humor, I would say this flick is low-to-medium on the Apatowometer. There's a ton of foul language but it's hilariously delivered the way a pair of teenage boys sound when they learn their first swear words. There are 1 or 2 sexual gags but they are handled so over-the-top (and fully clothed) that it's not gross. Warning: if you watch the unrated extended cut, there's a gag showing Will Ferrell's nut sack. And although there aren't any fart jokes, there's 1 extremely long, painful, tuneful fart (as if they were saving all the fart jokes for that 1 gag) which I'm ashamed to admit had me in stitches. So I'd say keep this one away from the young kids but don't freak out if you catch them sneaking a peek.

Togetherness
(2015)

They had me at "A modern day warrior, mean, mean stride..."
If you recognize the quote in my title, then run don't walk to your nearest tv and watch this show (particularly episode 3 "Insanity" where the song is featured in the greatest air-drumming scene since Wayne's World). If you don't recognize the song, that's ok, check out the show anyway and become a fan of the greatest rock band in Canadian history and I'm NOT talking about Nickelback.

Where was I? Who cares, let's stay on the subject of music. Often overlooked in light of the show's dramatic and comedic charms is the incredibly awesome soundtrack to this series. It's not any 1 particular genre, and in fact it straddles the entire spectrum from 80s rock (Rush, Skid Row, Fleetwood Mac) to pop (The Cure, The Proclaimers "500 Miles") to classic country (LOVED the "Devil Went Down to Georgia" dueling dance in episode 4 "Houston We Have a Problem"!) to fresh new beats I didn't recognize, and a particularly memorable season closer that ended with the powerful song (which I had never heard before but emphatically recommend) "The Wilhelm Scream" by James Blake.

I'm dwelling on the awesome soundtrack because, in my thousands of reviews on imdb (yes, I'm that pathetic), I've noticed a direct correlation between the awesomeness of a film/show and its soundtrack. From Oscar-winning "Amadeus" to cult-cheese "Zardoz", a killer soundtrack is the mark of a great production, and "Togetherness" definitely fits the bill.

Now about the show itself. The other reviews covered that admirably, so I won't waste your time. I'll just say the 4 main characters are each very memorable, quirky, lovable and at times detestable. These 4 characters are "Alex" (Steve Zissis), a self-proclaimed chubby-balding-comical-sidekick who is a failed actor looking for serious roles even though he only gets cast as "hemorrhoid #2" in a Preparation-H commercial; his love-hate buddy "Tina" (Amanda Peet), a super hot, super cocky, grown up "mean girl" who is an utter failure in all her relationships; her sister "Michelle" (Melanie Lynskey) who is stuck in a lustless marriage and dreams of wild extramarital adventures even though the closest she gets is awkwardly flirting with adolescents outside the 7-Eleven; and finally her lustless husband "Brett" (writer/director Mark Duplass) as a really quirky, complex, vegan, borderline autistic character who is incapable of being anything other than himself which amounts to having the personality of a Roy Rogers wagon wheel coffee table.

Throw all 4 of these weirdos together in cramped quarters (temporarily living under the same roof due to various personal disasters) and you have a bona fide awesome comedy about the tragedy of real life.

I bought this blu-ray set on a whim (and because there's someone on ebay selling new sets for around $5 bucks, hurry while they last) even though I had no interest in the genre, but I was instantly hooked and ended up binge watching the entire 1st season in 1 night. Sadly, the show was cancelled after 2 seasons, and even sadlier, Season 2 will probably never be released on blu-ray. And SADLIEST OF ALL, we'll never get Season 3 with an air drumming scene of Rush "YYZ". Oh well, thank your lucky stars we got this.

Catwoman
(2004)

Meowch
As of the day I'm typing this, imdb rates "Catwoman" 3.3 out of 10. Let's put this in perspective. "Electrocuting an Elephant", a 1903 film starring an arrogant, smiling Thomas Edison as he cooks a 13,000 lb elephant to death to show of the power of "his" new invention electricity, rates 2.9. This means audiences are just slightly more inclined to watch "Catwoman" than graphic animal torture.

If you can get past that, knowing that this film probably isn't Citizen Kane (or even Citizen Stupid), you can still enjoy this horrible flick. Why is it horrible? I'm sure imdb has a 1,000,000,000 word limit to these reviews so I won't go into it. But all sarcasm aside, I still had fun watching this movie, and in case you decide to watch it (rather than watching pachydermal persecution) here are some tips.

1. The first 30 minutes of this flick is a romcom. Seriously. We are introduced to the character "Patience Phillips" (Halle Berry) who is a clumsy, somewhat neurotic loon who looks like she failed the audition to be on the HBO series "Girls". Believe it or not, I thought this was a great angle. For real, who has ever blended action-crime-adventure with romcom? Love it or hate it, props for the attempt.

2. Utterly wtf plot elements. Be prepared for scenes that are so incongruous and absurd that you wonder if the screenplay was written by an ex porn screenwriter. For example, Catwoman decides to go window shopping and happens to visit the same building where a totally random jewelry heist is taking place. Another example: Catwoman decides to ride on a ferris wheel (don't ask. part of the romcom) and suddenly the ferris wheel has a random malfunction, turning it into a spinning vortex of death. Other examples: every fight/chase scene is set in a cool, stylish, abandoned industrial manufacturing plant (even if they're in downtown Soho?). It's like the director insisted on having big generators, turbines and swinging metal things in every scene. Alice in Wonderland meets Repo Man.

At times the dialogue is so bizarre that, midway through the flick, I started imagining what the movie would be like if it starred Leslie Nielsen from Airplane ("Surely you can't be serious!" "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."). Deadpan comedy gold. It was around that point that I realized, possibly in a mind-numbed delirium, that Catwoman is a work of utter genius. All of these insane "plot holes" were deliberate, and this has to be the cheekiest, most satirical outright parody of the superhero genre since the original 1960s Batman tv show.

I really think that's the case. I really do.

Then again, an argument can be made that this film damaged so many of my brain cells that I've lost the ability to reason.

L'illusionniste
(2010)

Forced sentimentality but yes, it looks great
You probably noticed that almost every review praises this film's impressive visuals but gives it mediocre to mostly meh marks on the story. I'm going to focus on the story since nobody else has really covered why it fails (and I wish I had been warned).

"L'illusioniste" is loosely based on a screenplay written, but never produced, by legendary French comedian Jacques Tati in 1956. It tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck magician who meets a young girl and spends every last sou trying to keep her happy. But although Tati's version was full of cleverness and wit to keep things fresh, here Chomet's adaptation is pure sentimentality. After a while it gets tired and bland, as we wonder how many more scenes we can endure of the haggard old man being down on his luck, exploited and just plain sad.

I'll quote Tati's biographer, David Bellos, who was considerably more brutal than me: "The film is a disaster ... The great disappointment for me and I think for all viewers is that what Chomet does with the material is... well, nothing. The story he tells is no more than the sketchily sentimental plotline of L'Illusionniste. It's really very sad. All that artistry, all that effort, and all that money... for this."

I wouldn't call this film "a disaster," but I agree with the rest. Tati's vision is presented here as a melancholy pity party for the main character. The result is a string of clichés which, if not for the glorious animation, would have prompted me to fast forward to the end. Oddly, my favorite scenes were the ones where the story departed from sappy sentimentality and picked away at the darker side of failure: a clown's alcoholism and suicidal impulses, a ventriloquist's spiral into depression after he sells his dummy. These are the scenes where sentimentality took a break and gave us some tension and food for thought.

But then we're immediately back to the magician working 3 different jobs to afford fancy clothes for the girl, back to his perpetual slouching, droopy eyes and sad face.

Creative Control
(2015)

Move over, Rick Springfield, this is "Jessie's Girl" on steroids
Right up front, to save you the 5 mins of reading my review (if not the 97 mins of this movie) let me say this is an artsy flick. So if the phrase "artsy flick" scares you then you probably won't enjoy this movie. But at the same time it's not annoyingly artsy; it isn't like Andy Worhol's 8 hour movie consisting of 1 still camera shot of the Empire State Building. So don't run away screaming just yet.

I'll get to the actual review in a sec. But first let me throw out a few directors' names which might give you an idea of what to expect if you decide to watch this movie. Jim Jarmusch. Krzysztof Kieslowski. Béla Tarr. Darren Aronofsky. And a director whom I suspect was overtly alluded to in this film because one of the main characters, a photographer/director, happens to be named "Wim", uh Wim Wenders. If you're a fan of any of these directors then read on. If you've never heard of them that's ok, maybe this film will inspire you to check them out.

"Creative Control" is broadly a science fiction story. But don't expect spaceships, robots and sexy blue aliens. Instead, much like Wim Wenders's "Until the End of the World" or "Million Dollar Hotel" or "Promised Land", this movie is set in an ambiguously familiar future--it could be 5 years from now or it could be 50 years--with the idea of presenting a story that is NOT in the present, so it immediately immerses us in a fantasy setting, even though these are real people in real situations like you & I might be experiencing today. It's set in a contemporary looking New York City, except that iphones are totally clear and computers look like sheets of plexiglass. The plot is about a futuristic device, "Augmented Reality glasses", which give the wearer access to real-time technological tools in everyday life.

For example, the minute you look at someone, their face is instantly mapped into a database, and that database can be used to create artificial characters who are projected into your living space. Ah, do you see where this is going? Yes--you can create virtual characters who look exactly like people you know.

The main character, "David" (played by writer/director Benjamin Dickinson himself) gets his hands on a pair of these magic glasses and he proceeds to do exactly what you or I would probably do; that is, he creates a fantasy character who looks exactly like the chick he secretly has a crush on. And this chick ("Sophia") happens to be--if you caught the reference in my title--his best friend's girlfriend. As he gets deeper into this fantasyscape, which blends into his real life because he can see her and interact with her whenever he puts on the glasses, David rapidly loses his sense of reality. And it doesn't help that he's taking a cocktail of mind-altering medication as if they're m&ms.

If you find this concept interesting then you'll grasp the beauty of this flick, no need for spaceships and sexy blue aliens. This film presents us with the very real social problem we are facing today: what happens when we become addicted to technology in a way that redefines our lives and relationships? As such, this "scifi" is not as far-fetched as you may think, and that's what gives it power. If you're paying attention, this movie can really get under your skin.

That's all I'll say about the story. But I wanted to touch on some technical merits of this film. First of all, the soundtrack is fantastic. It features a lot of classical pieces as well as modern beats, and all of the pieces are powerful and moving. Similarly the cinematography and camera work is very polished and professional, with lots of smooth, long shots reminiscent of Orson Welles or Hitchcock's meticulous attention to detail. "Creative Control" is in black & white but there are some very significant elements of color which will make you smack your forehead and say "ah now I understand why the movie is in black & white." And lastly I have to say the acting is terrific with every character presenting a very memorable personality. Love it or hate it, you have to admit that this is a very carefully planned film.

If my wordy review didn't scare you off, I think you should give this movie a shot. Even though not a lot happens, there's a lot going on. Huh? Watch the movie and maybe that'll make sense.

Nineteen Eighty-Four
(1984)

Here's why this is the most powerful dystopian scifi flick ever.
First off, don't worry, I'm not one of those literary snobs who will dwell on George Orwell's novel. This is a movie forum, so let's talk about movies. That said, yes, like many of you I was forced to read Orwell's "1984" in high school. But this film is a work of art unto itself. And even if you haven't read the original book or forgot it after some 10+ years, this is a notable film. Real quick, let's go over the plot...

"1984" is a tale written in 1948 predicting a nightmarish totalitarian society where the government controls every aspect of existence: not just everyday life but the recording of history and, most disturbingly, the memories and emotions we contain in our own heads. It follows the story of our hero Mr. Smith (John Hurt) who falls into an secret, illicit love affair with Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) in a society where love and individuality are swiftly and brutally extinguished.

This dystopian scenario has been visited in many excellent science fiction stories as far back as the invention of science fiction. Noteworthy films that hit this subject include the excellent "Brazil" (1985), "Rollerball" (1975), Orson Welles's "The Trial" (1962) or if you prefer your fare on the more syrupy sweet sarcastic side, check out Paul Veerhoven's "Starship Troopers" (1997). This leads me to why "1984" is a breed apart. It's because it's the only one that approaches the subject without satire or bizarre dark comedy.

Don't get me wrong, dark humor is a great way to approach the subject, because how else can we stomach something so disturbing? But that's precisely why this film's straightforward approach is worth seeing. Artistically speaking, sarcasm distances us from the subject material. It makes us feel as if we're watching a fantastical tale through a prism of cynical comedy. But that same prism removes us from the impending reality of the story. When the credits roll, we can say to ourselves "Good thing that doesn't describe me!"

But here in "1984" there is no comedy. There is no sarcasm or satire. There is just a straightforward presentation of a future where the government controls society. And, as of the year I'm writing this review (2019), this isn't a joke so maybe we shouldn't treat it as one. With that in mind, this film is the only one of the dystopian classics that presents it in a very believable, cautionary way. As far fetched as it may seem, what we see on the screen is very real whether we're talking about Hitler-era censorship, or present day China, or the future of Western civilization under the autocratic rule of leaders who seek to foister their narratives on the minds of all their subjects. "1984" puts us in the middle of the crisis, without any sarcastic winks or humorous nudges. It is an unsettling, yet oddly empowering, feeling to watch this film and realize that we aren't quite there yet, though rapidly approaching it with every totalitarian leader we empower.

What makes this film rewarding to watch (and not simply depressing) is the fascinating interaction between Mr Smith and the antagonist O'Brien (Richard Burton). This is 100% due to Burton's excellent portrayal of not just a faceless tyrannical enemy but actually a human nemesis. Ultimately he shows us that the human race isn't fighting against some computerized zombie state but rather, we are fighting against human nature itself.

If this review didn't bore you, in other words, if you enjoy being challenged by wordy, heady, philosophical concepts rather than flicks that make you spill your popcorn, then check this movie out asap. It doesn't have a lot of eye catching action & special effects, but the images themselves are deeply poetic, and the performances (especially in the final act) are so powerful they don't need any fluff. They don't make em like this anymore, but I hope the latest crop of young filmmakers are taking notice and learning. This is a story that needs to be told to every generation.

The Invisible
(2007)

"I see live people"
"The Invisible" is a supernatural thriller prominently advertised as being from the producers of "The Sixth Sense" and featuring a dark, creepy image on the movie poster as well as superlative marketing catchphrases like "gripping, suspense-filled mystery" and "mind bending race against time" and "I laughed I cried I pooped my pants". Ok maybe I made up one of those.

But if you decide to see this movie, IMMEDIATELY FORGET ALL THAT.

This is a great flick, but not for reasons you may have been led to believe. It is indeed a supernatural story, but I would group it with the "sensitive" supernatural flicks such as "Charlie St Cloud" (2010), "Safe Haven" (2013) or "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). I'm joking with one of those.

Let me spell it out: this is not a creepy flick. It will not make you spill your popcorn. You will not have nightmares. So what's the point? The point is a very complex, intricate, subtle commentary that things (and people) are not what they seem.

The Invisible (2007) is a remake of the Swedish film Den Osynlige (2002) which itself is an adaptation of the novel by Swedish author Mats Wahl. I haven't seen the original Swedish film, but I've seen clips of it on youtube, and it seems like this version is visually a very close, almost scene-for-scene, adaptation into English but with a few subtle changes. The story is about a teenage kid who suddenly gets himself killed, or something like that, and wanders around in ghostly limbo observing the people he knew whilst simultaneously trying to figure out his own murder. Note: in the original book, it begins with him in class suddenly realizing he's a ghost with no memory of his death, so the book takes on a more "mystery" flair of unraveling the plot whereas the films depict the story in a straightforward chronological order.

Although there is disturbing violence in the beginning, the rest of the film is more of a philosophical and emotional trip. If that sounds boring to you then don't bother with this movie and I hope I saved you 102 minutes of your life (minus the 2 minutes it took to read my review). But if you are in the mood of a soul-searching exposé of appearances vs. truth (note, the bulk of this film focuses on the sentimental relationship between the victim and his killer, if you can wrap your head around that) then this is a flick for you to check out.

The acting is what makes it work. 3 characters make up the bulk of the story: "Nick" (Justin Chatwin), his mother "Diane" (Academy Award winning actress Marcia Gay Harden) and, for my money the show stealer "Annie" (Russian-American actress Margarita Levieva) whose performance of the alternately detestable and lovable villain is the key to this film. I have never seen a film where a character, such as Annie, can make me hate and empathize with someone so much. Well maybe F. Murray Abraham as Mozart's nemesis in "Amadeus". For real, if you are ready to be challenged then check this flick out.

Underworld: Blood Wars
(2016)

Kate Beckinsale black hair with blonde ombré. Nuff said.
Seriously. If my title isn't enough for you to rush out and watch this film then nothing is. I'm a dude which means my haircare knowledge extends from Head N Shoulders to baseball cap, but in that climactic scene when Kate appears with her new 'do, I swear I went full tilt hairdresser and renewed my subscription to Cosmo. The point being, Underworld is, has, and always shall be, about the eye candy.

Whether "eye candy" comes in the form of slick vinyl body suits, strappy skin-showing mesh, or guns the size of your head, "Underworld: Blood Wars" delivers. But that's not all it delivers. Here in the final Beckinsale chapter of the franchise (according to her), we see a welcome return to the twisty turny plot intrigue that defined the original. Sure it begins with the same ole same ole: Selene (Kate) is being hunted by Lycans, Vampires and everyone short of a mob of duck hunters in Iowa. We think this is just going to be another mindless action romp except with A-list fashion designers. But stick around past the halfway mark when things get interesting, loyalties criss-cross, and this film becomes worthy of being the final Underworld chapter.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The plot is about Selene on the run because both Lycans and vampires want to find the location of her daughter from part 4 "Awakening". With an interesting spin though, we realize in the first scene that Selene herself doesn't even know where her daughter is. Thus everyone is chasing her for nothing, and Selene herself doesn't even see the point in running. This is a subtle shift in Selene's character where, in earlier films, she was driven by a strong desire to fight. But here in the final chapter, she is at her most nihilistic: faithless, apathetic and downright suicidal. It adds tremendous depth to her character as we see that she's no longer a stereotypical superhero driven by truth, justice and the American way; but rather, she is reaching rock bottom and wondering what's the point in all these movies.

If that angle appeals to you, I think you'll really dig this flick. Like I said it's subtle, but once you realize what's going on in Selene's head, her character arc takes on an interesting new dimension. I can't help but think of the cool 90s trilogy "The Prophecy" where the archangel Gabriel (Christopher Walken) undergoes a profound evolution from start to finish. Here in Underworld we see Selene undergo a similar transformation as she comes to grips with her own personal story.

Rounding out the tale we have a pair of truly badass adversaries. On the Lycan side is Marius, an intelligent, strategic villain who keeps you guessing as to whether he's a cruel monster or actually someone with a logical, efficient solution to the endless conflict. No one even seems to know where he came from, but that's part of the surprise. On the vampire side is Semira, the coldest, most sinister and sexiest vampire since Ingrid Pitt played Elizabeth Bathory (or for you real old schoolers, how about Amanda Donohoe in "Lair of the White Worm"? homina homina). Thus the film presents one of the greatest 3-way conflicts since The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

That, for my money, was enough to justify watching this flick. But when you throw into the mix the wardrobe and hair departments, I mean... *mic drop*

*picks up mic* Um, in other words, check it out.

Good
(2008)

Wait... a Nazi/war movie without any violence??
If you're looking for a war flick with a lot of action, artillery and things blowing up, you might want to move on. "Good" is a slow moving, subtle, intellectual film that may bore many filmgoers, but if you're looking for more than the typical Hollywood action/war flick then definitely check this one out.

A reasonably faithful adaptation of the famous 1981 play (using much of the same dialogue, scenes and characterizations), this film is about an honest, moral, "good" family man who gets passively caught up in the pro-Nazi movement. All the while, he denies culpability and defends his moral fiber by writing off the movement as a passing phase that's no big deal, but gradually his involvement deepens to the point that he's materially assisting in the worst atrocities that humans have ever committed against one another. For this, the film is deliberately slow because that's the point it's making: that the conversion from "good" to "evil" is not a sudden snap like getting bitten by a vampire and turning into one overnight. Rather, it's a very imperceptible shift that's akin to starting a temp job in the mail room and slowly working your way up the ladder to the executive board before you've realized that you've sold your soul to the corporation. Far more than a war flick or even a historical piece, "Good" is a powerful, realistic explanation of human nature and how good people can do bad things. And it doesn't matter how moral we may feel about ourselves and our life choices, I guarantee that each of us is at some level guilty of the same insidious hypocrisy shown here. If you accept this and take a sober look at your own life, then this film may make you a better person.

Viggo Mortensen plays "Halder", a college professor who hates the Nazi party but reluctantly agrees to write a paper for them because he needs the money. Perfectly acceptable choice, right? Well, this leads to another choice which is equally understandable. Then another and another. His Jewish best friend "Maurice" (Jason Isaacs) is the voice of reason, warning him quite forcefully about the seduction of the Nazi party, but like a worsening drug addict, Halder insists that he's doing nothing wrong and he's in control of his moral fiber. At the same time there's another seduction going on: a pretty young student of his (Jodie Whittaker) is slowly drawing Halder away from his wife & family. The story keeps building momentum, and as an added surreal element, Halder begins having hallucinations of strangers singing different Mahler pieces.

The acting is fantastic, not just Viggo's performance but particularly Jason Isaac's portrayal of the friend. The two of them have some great dialogues, and the dynamic of their relationship is really interesting to watch as it changes. This also leads to a very powerful climax at the end of the film.

"Good" is one of those films that will sit in your mind for a long time afterwards. I can't think of too many movies that compare, but the pacing and slow buildup to a stunning conclusion remind me of the classics "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold" (1965), or even "Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). If you're looking for other unusual spins on the holocaust, look for the Czech film "Protektor" (2009) or the Italian feel-good holocaust flick (huh?) "Life is Beautiful" (1997). And if you really want your mind blown about human nature, Naziism and the power of authority to turn normal people into killers, go to YouTube and watch the 1962 documentary "The Stanley Milgram Experiment".

An American Werewolf in London
(1981)

Like many 80s classics, a paper thin plot launched into cult status by quirky humor and great acting
Ya gotta love films whose entire plot is summed up in the title. That's all you really need to know as far as the story goes. The question is: can a film hold your attention for 1hr 37mins with a paper thin storyline? The answer is 'yes'.

I'm not even talking about the blood, guts, scares & effects, which were groundbreaking at the time but by today's standards are sorta meh, but for the same reasons we might watch a predictable Bogart-Hepburn comedy, "An American Werewolf in London" is a worthwhile watch.

Jenny Agutter playing the role of Nurse Alex easily raises the classiness of this flick a few notches (much the same way she & Michael York raised "Logan's Run" from campy scifi schlock to serious science fiction). Even minor characters such as the townsfolk in the creepy Welsh village added tremendous value to this production. The main actor himself, David Naughton, whom I've never seen elsewhere, does a good job and reminds me a lot of a young Robert Downey Jr. And rounding out the troupe we have the world's most loveable rotting corpse played by Griffin Dunne. His scenes were my favorites because they highlighted a comedic, human, oddly casual feeling that we rarely get in movies where people get ripped to ribbons by terrifying creatures.

That's the real value of this flick: its personality. The fun banter between characters (whether living or dead) and the absolutely surreal tongue-in-cheek handling of the macabre is a truly original flavor, presented as only 80s icon John Landis could pull off (Trading Places, The Blues Brothers, Coming to America).

A fun bit of trivia I learned from the Making Of feature is that there's a scene that's set in a movie theater, and it was originally scripted to happen with a cartoon kiddie flick on the screen. But by the time they had gotten to filming, the location had become a porno theater. So Landis and his crew scrambled to throw together a porno flick that they could show on screen in the background. It's definitely one of the funniest, if not most bizarre, combinations of horror and porn. Like this movie, you just gotta see it.

Micmacs à tire-larigot
(2009)

Amélie minus Amélie, plus a lot more of the other stuff
For this review I'll assume you've seen Amélie which, if you haven't, you should see this instant before even finishing this sentence.

Ok you're still here (or you're back). As we saw in Amélie, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet gave us a visual feast displaying his original quirky style that can best be described as "cinematic OCD". Everything about a particular shot is meticulously designed: lighting, camera angles & movements, settings, props, action, dialogue and even music are carefully choreographed down to the most microscopic detail, prompting you to wonder if, in a parallel universe, Jeunet would be one of those guys you read about in the Guinness Book for having collected the toenail clippings of 5 generations of Kennedys. This style lends itself to great comedy, almost like a Rube Goldberg drawing that depicts some fantastic, enormous mechanical device whose purpose is to dispense toilet paper. We immediately smirk at the fact that someone purposely went to all this trouble to deliver something totally absurd. In "Amélie" (and in his 2 prior masterpieces "Delicatessen" and my favorite "City of Lost Children") Jeunet mixed this wacky, absurdist style with a really compelling, human story that was fleshed out with great character moments to contrast the absurdity. However, here in "Micmacs" the balance is tipped very heavily toward the absurd but without the human element that gave us such satisfaction in his earlier works.

I'll give you an example with the opening scene. The very first thing we are shown is a man being blown up whilst trying to diffuse a landmine. The scene is played from a distance without any context, and it rapidly cuts to a quirky, surrealistic reaction, which makes us play off the entire event as a joke. Dark humor, the same way we see someone in Pulp Fiction get their brains blasted all over the back seat of a car and the next minute we are laughing at the bizarre squabbling between Travolta & Jackson. This is a great way of presenting dark comedy; however it cannot carry an entire 1hr 47 mins. Eventually we need a human story or at least a challenging plot to give us the backbone.

I purposely avoided mentioning the plot until now because the plot is truly not the focus of this film. The story is about a man who is trying to exact revenge on the 2 sleazy weapons dealers who ruined his life, and to do this he enlists the help of a team of bizarre circus-performer-type outcasts whom he meets at a junk yard. That's really the entire plot for 1hr 47min, straightforward, with a few wacky surprises here & there but nonetheless very linear. And the problem is, much like with the 1st scene, Jeunet doesn't invest any time in trying to set up a human connection between the audience and the main character.

As a quick aside, I want to point out that Jeunet had originally cast Jamel Debbouze (the loveable grocery boy in Amélie) as the main character, but according to Wikipedia "artistic and financial disagreements" prompted Jamel to quit the production after 3 weeks. His replacement Dany Boon plays the role very emotionlessly which is kinda interesting in its own way, but as I keep saying, after 1hr 47min you realize that the film has failed to make a human (emotional) connection with you.

Ok that's the bad. Here's the good (and believe it or not I DO recommend this film, but I'm just trying to temper your expectations if you are a rabid Jeunet fan like me). The technical artistry is unparalleled. The amount of work, planning, rehearsal, and sheer vision that went into each shot must have been enormous. In the Making of Micmacs featurette we get a taste of that, and we realize how much attention was paid to the tiniest detail like what postage stickers would go on a box that appears on screen for only 0.75 sec. So if you're into cinema for sheer art's sake, don't miss this flick. You can check my review history to see how many hundreds of films I waste my time watching, and I can honestly say that I can't think of another film that comes close to this level of pinpoint precision.

In addition to the amazing composition & choreography of each shot, we get Jeunet's signature surrealist style which puts us in a timeless state of mind. Even though the story happens in contemporary Paris, it's a very nostalgic look, making us feel like we're in a different world altogether. If you watch movies to escape from the reality of life then this flick is definitely for you.

I enjoyed this film, but you can probably tell that I didn't enjoy it as much as Jeunet's prior films, particularly his first 3 ending with Amélie. If you're new to Jeunet you might want to start there rather than diving straight into this barrage of quirkiness. The title itself translates as "Non-stop shenanigans" and that's exactly what we get.

Maniacts
(2001)

Good film but NOTHING like the poster and description
It's hard not to have your attention grabbed by the poster for this film, a disturbing closeup of a demented face in "scream" pose with highly unsettling wire thingees going in and out of the face's nostrils, mouth and eyeballs. The marketing wizard who came up with that image needs to apply for a job at Asylum Films (the low budget studio that brought us such masterpieces as "Sharknado" and "Sharknado 2: The Second One"). This film, "Maniacts" is actually a love story/road movie along the lines of Tom Tykwer's "Heaven", David Lynch's "Wild at Heart", or--this is a stretch but--possibly the Wim Wenders epic "Until the End of the World".

If you're not familiar with those flicks then I'll try to explain. The story presents an odd romance between 2 fugitives on the run, taking us through episodic events that are seemingly unrelated (sort of like a modern Alice in Wonderland) but ultimately bringing the story to a powerful conclusion. Yes, there are bits of action, violence and terror in the beginning, but these are handled with a very tongue-in-cheek attitude, and this soon evolves into a slower-paced drama as we follow the journey of these 2 oddballs in love.

Joe & Beth are convicted serial killers locked up in a torturous mental institution worse than anything we saw in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". This part of the film is a bit disturbing but that's offset by the satirical, comedic presentation which I really enjoyed. Joe is a bit of a simpleton, almost like the dumb loveable brute Lenny in "Of Mice and Men" while Beth is the brains of the outfit. Their initial meeting and acquaintance is really fun and entertaining, and their chemistry is phenomenal. Stellar acting by both, and sadly I must mention that the actress who played Beth (Kelly Waymire) died 2 years after this production with it being her final feature film. Real shame because if this movie was any indication, she was a very talented actress with extreme diversity.

The title "Maniacts" refers to 5 acts, or chapters, depicting their story. Intertitles introduce each one, such as "Art is a Maniact", "Love is a Maniact", "Faith is a Maniact", and so on. (Note: I may have miscounted, but I'm assuming that there were 5 because that's the standard Shakespearean dramatic structure, as well as the way your 10th grade English teacher probably taught you to compose an essay). The point being, there is an interesting structure holding this film together even though the different episodes may seem random at first.

I see that other reviewers really liked the direction the story took and the ending it gives us. Me personally, I didn't really like the way things were wrapped up because things shifted very suddenly toward the end, but that's just a personal opinion, not an artistic criticism. The cheeky vibe of the first 30 minutes evolves into something more serious, sentimental and dramatic, which was handled well, but it can be a bit hard to digest if you're not expecting it. I feel like the film could have been at least 30 mins longer so that the final events could slowly emerge rather than suddenly hitting us. But maybe if I watch it a 2nd time with that in mind (or maybe if you watch it forewarned) it'll be a better viewing experience.

Also be forewarned that this is a "low budget" production, meaning there's no Hollywood gloss. But that doesn't mean that it looks cheap. It's actually very well done within the constraints, and I imagine if this were ever remastered in Blu-ray HD (as I type this in 2019, eighteen years after the film's release, the only available copies are VHS and DVD, both at full-screen 4:3) it might be a real treat for the eyes especially when they get to the natural desert landscapes of Santa Fe where it was filmed. But alas, this is probably the best we'll get so you'll have to lower your viewing standards a bit. If that doesn't scare you off then this is definitely a worthwhile watch.

In any case, do NOT judge this book by its cover. It's not horror, it's not really a thriller or an action flick or even a comedy, even though all those elements figure in. Think road movie romance with a dark, violent setting & quirky characters, and proceed from there. One thing I'm sure everyone can agree on: if they ever reissue this on home media, I hope they change that damn cover!

I Am Omega
(2007)

Early Asylum flick is a bit too good to be good (huh??)
If you're unfamiliar with the force of nature that is Asylum, get acquainted fast. But maybe not with this film, for reasons I'll explain in a sec. First let me dedicate 1 paragraph to what Asylum is.

Asylum Films is a low budget indie film studio whose original purpose in life was to make cheap knockoffs of major Hollywood blockbusters. Early Asylum films like "The Da Vinci Treasure", "Transmorphers" and "I Am Omega" were churned out on the heels of their more famous archetypes and named very similarly so that inattentive dads & moms might grab them off the video shelf by accident, much to the family's viewing displeasure. It was a brilliant idea, and now 20 years after the company started, they're churning faster than a bunch of Keebler elves on crack. In recent years, Asylum has blossomed into producing epically awesome original stories such as the SHARKNADO series and the MEGA(animal#1) VS. GIANT(animal#2) series, and this is where Asylum really found its footing in hilarious tongue-in-cheek spoofery of bad action flicks.

Which leads me to the reason why I wouldn't recommend "I Am Omega" as your first Asylum experience (although I do recommend it). It's not bad enough to be awesome. Instead it's just a straightforward enjoyable, brainless action flick loosely ripped off of "I Am Legend" and I.A.L.'s predecessor "The Omega Man". Note: I did catch a few cheeky nods to the originals, such as a framed picture of Will Smith's german shepherd in one scene. But for the most part, this film isn't quite the campy spoof that the later Asylum films would give us.

As a standalone action flick about post apocalyptic zombies, this film holds its own. The lead actor is thoroughly likeable (with a striking resemblance to the late great Brandon Lee from "The Crow"), and he has some awesome martial arts moves in the fight scenes. He also has 1 or 2 surprisingly powerful dramatic moments with Oscar worthy acting, such as the scene where he goes out into the desert by himself and loses his mind. His overall portrayal of the "last man on earth" is really well done, especially regarding his social awkwardness and anxiety when he does meet other humans.

In other words, if I didn't know up front that this was an Asylum flick, I would be pretty impressed at its value as a regular action story.

Check it out, but like I said, it might be better if you start elsewhere with your Asylum journey (and quite a rabbit hole it is... hey, they should do "Alice In Wonderworld"). Maybe jump right in with Sharknado, then come back here and I think you'll appreciate this flick even more.

One Missed Call
(2008)

No missed clichés
I'll make it fast. One Missed Call = every horror cliché in the book. Once you realize this you can shut off your brain and have an entertaining ride for 87 mins.

Shadowy figures go swoosh past the camera. Creepy dead people appear and then a bus goes by and they're gone. Whenever someone slowly opens a door you can bet $5 there'll be a fake scare in your future. Anyone who goes chasing after a pet cat will die. And the victims are telegraphed more blatantly than if they had a black Sims plumbob over their heads. All the same, this can still be a fun flick in the same way a rollercoaster can be a fun ride even though you know exactly where the rails go (hint: usually down).

"One Missed Call" is a polished remake of the Japanese "Chakushin ari" (2003) which I never saw. The story is about a bizarre chain of phone calls where the victims receive a voicemail from themselves from the future, time stamped at the moment they die. Somehow this ties in with a parallel story of 2 creepy girls and a spooky nurse. Don't ask me how; apparently my brain had auto-shutoff midway so I didn't quite grasp the connection, but I still had fun watching all the wacky ectoplasmic hijinks.

Just do like I did, shut off your brain and enjoy the show. It's well produced with decent effects, great spooky makeup, and good acting although you gotta wonder... why do these idiots keep answering their phones??

Also there's a bizarre recurring theme of centipedes (cgi) which is supposed to creep us out, but I think centipedes are cute af, so whenever a centipede appeared I was like... Dawwwwwwrrr! koochiekooochiekoo!! :D

A Guy Named Rick
(2013)

Nice little minimalist romcom about the end of the world
Here's hoping you caught the clever irony in my title. I spent all of 4 seconds coming up with it. Yes this is a story about the impending end of the world, but in lieu of robot zombies from outer space or apocalyptic tidal waves, it cheekily focuses on the simplistic story of a guy (named Rick) who is trying to fall in love.

If I lost you already I'll spell out the premise. God is disgusted with the direction of humankind and decrees that unless he can have his faith in humans renewed he's going to vaporize the planet. In order to have his faith renewed he spells out a simple task. Rick must fall in love within 2 months.

It sounds like a madcap premise full of wacky supernatural antics, along the lines of other comedies about gods & devils such as "Bruce Almighty", "Bedazzled" or the one that started them all, "Oh God!" but this film takes a surprisingly different approach which may feel like a let-down at first, but ultimately I think it works. The approach is that, after setting up the premise in the 1st scene, the movie downshifts into a very mundane, minimalistic story about a guy trying to fall in love. No bells, no whistles. He's just trying to fall in love. However we have the impending threat of the end of days hanging over his shoulder so that adds a surreal sense of urgency to his plan.

It's important that you swallow this approach. If you're expecting a lot of crazy hijinks involving the parting of the Red Seas and such, you'll be sorely disappointed. The film is extremely minimalistic (of course shot on a low budget, probably 1% the budget of those Hollywood blockbusters I mentioned), and at times it feels like it could easily be adapted into a great stage play. That's how minimal it is. The script & characters carry the entire production. There are some nice witty zingers in the script, and of course God himself (played by writer/director Joe Benedetto) has a hilarious, sarcastic, deadpan New Yorker portrayal of the almighty, somewhat reminiscent of Raymond in Everyone Loves Raymond. Our hero Rick is played by Jonathan Michael Weber in the vein of a hopelessly superficial playboy who needs to come to grips with his heart, not his private parts. Along the way, Rick is helped by his pseudo guardian angel Serena (Victoria Gilette) who is sort of like Rick's wingman, and the 2 of them have some great banter that keeps the story fresh. The target of Rick's affections is Candace (Ashley C Williams) who plays a brainiac who is way out of Rick's league. The rest of the film is rounded out with a steady stream of Rick's ex-girlfriends and peripheral prospects, all of whom seem to have have the combined IQ of their bra sizes.

This is definitely a fun flick, your basic script-driven romcom, but with the interesting spin of having the world end because God is annoyed that after millions of years of evolution, people can't text in complete sentences. LOL, right?

Of course bear in mind that this is a micro budget flick, so don't expect the Hollywood gloss. But if you are looking for an offbeat, indie romcom that shakes up the standard formula, then this is your flick.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
(2011)

The most boring thriller ever made... and I loved it.
Even the title "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is so boring that most thriller audiences will fall asleep before they finish reading it. But before you click away in search of Saw IX, consider this question: Which is more powerful, a bunch of quick forgettable shocks, or a slow intensifying charge that builds up over 102 minutes? M.M.M.M. definitely takes the latter approach, slowly seeping under your skin, never quite giving you the cathartic release of a good zap, but overall delivering just as much power as any popcorn-spilling slasher, but in a very different way.

And yes, I purposely used the analogy of slow electrical torture because that may be how it feels to some of you. It may feel frustrating, annoying, outright boring and torturous, but if you like your movies on the slower, more cryptic, artistic side, then I guarantee you won't be disappointed. So let's hope my 1st two paragraphs were enough to help you make a decision on whether or not to watch this flick. I'll be the first to admit that some days I'm just not in the mood for "2001: A Space Odyssey" and I'd rather just pop in... Saw IX.

Yay you're still here. Ok here's what you can expect if you choose to watch M.M.M.M. It's the story of a young, late-teen, early-20s girl who escapes a bizarre cult commune, and now she's attempting to adjust to a normal existence. Mystery surrounds her, as she doesn't want to talk to anyone about it (brushing it off with a manufactured lie about some ex-boyfriend), and we the audience are kept in the dark for almost half the film. Why was she there? What did they do to her? Are they hunting her down? Perhaps stalking or planning to kill her?

There are no quick answers, but instead the film jumps back & forth between 2 timelines: the current one after she escaped, and the past one where she is slowly being initiated into the cult. And in order to get a grasp of what's going on, you really have to watch the whole 102 minute experience.

But as suspenseful and powerful as the plot is, that's not the point. The point is to draw us, the audience, into the mind of a person who's suffering severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And it accomplishes that masterfully. This is not some Hollywood cliché about PTSD, but it's a complex, heavy, powerful depiction of the anxiety, delusion, paranoia and growing madness of someone who is haunted by ghosts that just won't go away.

Elizabeth Olsen absolutely knocks it out of the park with her performance. Her approach is very layered: on the surface she acts like it's no big deal and that she's a normal person in control of her life, but she frequently exhibits bizarre "socially unacceptable" behavior prompting others to wonder "what the hell is wrong with her??" even though she herself doesn't understand what she did wrong. At the same time you can feel the rising tension and paranoia, especially as the timeline cuts back to darker & more disturbing episodes, and even though there aren't any car chases and chainsaws, we start to feel every bit of her disturbing, confuse existence.

If this slow, powerful approach to cinema appeals to you, then don't hesitate to check out M.M.M.M. I would group it alongside other slow, "uneventful" psychological films like "Shadows & Lies" with James Franco, "Ginger and Rosa" with Elle Fanning, or maybe even the iconic Soderbergh flick "Sex, Lies & Videotape". All of these movies are somewhat slow, heavy and extremely non-Hollywood but they deliver a powerful shock that you won't soon forget.

Salvage
(2006)

Loved it, then hated it... but the ending made me love it.
The first thing you should know about "Salvage" is that it's not a typical gore-heavy slasher flick. Although there's gore and at least one really heavy slash (you'll know the one I'm talking about when it happens), "Salvage" is more of a film for the mind along the lines of the quiet thrillers "The Sixth Sense", "The Others" or even going back to the 70s with the likes of "The Wicker Man" and "The Stepford Wives". All of these are films with a powerful, novel concept told without a whole lot of blood & guts but with a heavy punch at the end.

The minute I saw that this film was one of the films selected for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, I knew to expect something different, and that's indeed what we get. Shot on a super low indie budget of $25,000 (compared to its more famous 2006 box office competitor "Silent Hill" which had a budget of $50 Million), "Salvage" doesn't give us many bells & whistles, no flashy cgi effects, no colossal sets or zombie makeup, and for that reason if you're looking for a mindless popcorn spiller, you might want to look elsewhere and save yourself 80 minutes. However, if you're prepared for a quieter, more thinking type of thriller flick, then this will be perfect.

When I say "thinking type of thriller flick", I don't mean you have to struggle to understand what's happening. Rather, the challenge is in trying to guess *why* it's happening. And I gotta say, the explanation totally surprised and impressed me. It's the kind of ending that makes you think for a long time afterwards.

The cons: Yes, in my title I mentioned that I hated it. This is because at times the film seemed to fight against itself. On one hand it presented itself as a deep, challenging mystery, but this was undermined by a lot of cheap horror flick clichés (the predictable fake scares, unnecessary schlock, and particularly some ridiculously overt sound effects and audio cues. For example there's a scene where a character finds a small trinket that is of significance, which 80% of the audience will recognize immediately, but the audio department decided to hammer it home with a silly "tinkerbell" sound effect as if to say "THIS IS SIGNIFICANT!" Moments like that are peppered throughout the film, and after a while it felt like the filmmakers were treating us like idiots who need tinkerbell sounds whenever something important happens. I suppose the horror genre isn't exactly meant for beard-stroking philosophers, but still, I think the film should have stuck with a subtle, challenging approach which would have been more fitting for the cryptic mystery that is unfolding.

But like I said, the ending really impressed me, and that along with the excellent acting by our main character Claire (Lauren Currie Lewis in her first headlining feature performance) makes this film a great watch. A note about Lauren's acting: she plays a very believable character, confused, terrified, and yet not a shrieking idiot like a lot of horror flick protagonists. She does utter a few great shrieks, especially her absolutely bone-chilling screams during the aforementioned "heavy slasher" scene, but for the most part the power of her acting came in her realistic portrayal of how a normal person would react to these extremely abnormal events happening around her.

I highly recommend this film to anyone who's looking for a mostly-quiet horror flick with a good, philosophical spin. Major props to the filmmakers who pulled this off on such a low budget. For what it aims to do it's truly in league with the best.

National Parks Exploration Series: The Black Hills and the Badlands - Gateway to the West
(2011)

Good overview but a bit misleading with the cover picture (too many people, not enough park)
Maybe you're like me, and you love watching natural documentaries to escape from the less-than-tranquil human world that dominates our time. The cover photo, title, and the fact that this video is produced by the US National Parks might lead you to believe that you get a visual tour of what you would experience if you could escape to the west for a day or two. Yes, you get that, but you also get other things that you may not be expecting.

Following a nice introduction which shows us the scenery as promised, largely shot from above but also with some hyper closeup shots to give us real-world perspective, the video next delves into history, largely departing from the stunning majesty of the region and instead giving us archival photos, interviews with rangers and specialists, and lots of standard library stuff... you know, like the things you might see and read on the placards in the visitor's center if, for some bizarre reason, you choose not to spend your time actually exploring the terrain.

At first it's just a mild diversion, especially when they talk about the evolution of the natural landscape and the fascinating ancestors of our modern animals at this location. But then it takes a rather weird detour into human history, spending a lot of time on human slaughter of animals, human slaughter of humans, and a rather strange and lengthy segment about Wild Bill Hickock and how many people he shot to death before ultimately being shot to death himself, closing with an even more bizarre adulating summary of how he was such a kind and generous human. You get the feeling that maybe the estate of Wild Bill Hickock may have funded part of this documentary if they promised to put in a good word for him.

Maybe if this stuff were advertised more prominently I would have been prepared, rather than expecting a glorious nature-only documentary to transport me away from the disturbing world of humans. I understand and appreciate the segments about endangered species being hunted by humans, and I even understand the need to talk about how the indigenous native americans were tricked, betrayed and ultimately slaughtered by the US Cavalry. But around midway through the Hickock glorification, you may start to wonder why they devoted nearly half of this 68 minute show to 19th century humans--probably NOT what you would spend your time obsessing over if you were actually standing in the middle of this incredible expanse of earth.

For my money, I could've done with less talk, more scenery.

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