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    2015 Oscars
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Spotlight succeeds in its simplicity of storytelling and use of classic filmmaking
Based on a true story, Spotlight tells the story of the reporters behind the breaking news report of child molestation and the Catholic Church's cover up in Boston.

Prior to awards season, Spotlight flew under the radar. Sure it has a killer cast and was well reviewed, but it was little known and littler seen. The Boston Globe is at a pivotal point in its existence in the early 2000s. Bought by The Times, staff cuts and uncertainty cause waves of concern for its journalists. A new Editor, an outsider to Boston, is brought in to hopefully lead to positive change for the Globe. His first order of business is to pursue a story left dormant and uninvestigated: that of a priest who allegedly molested boys and the Cardinal and church that knew about it. This story centers on the small staff that write for the Spotlight section of the paper who are assigned the case.

Most of us should be old enough to remember when this article broke and the ripple effect and later ramifications it had on the Catholic Church. The intriguing part of the film Spotlight is that it truly helps you understand the barriers these journalists faced just to get to the truth. This is a city where the Catholic Church has the greatest power and influence of any American city, permeating its reach into the political system. The lengths these individuals went to prevent the story ever being researched, let alone published, were against them.

Spotlight manages to showcase journalistic quandaries, ethical dilemmas, legal exploitations, and dense information regarding a complicated investigation into this systemic broach of trust all while doing so in an engaging way. Spotlight is coherent and approachable without ever being flat or verbose, a testament to a phenomenal script by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. Furthermore, Signer and McCarthy are able to tell a story that spans across decades without using schticky flashbacks or overly stylized crutches and instead tell a simple chronological but gripping story.

Part of the reason Spotlight feels so real is that, well, it is. Based on a true story, it is beyond evident that the actors (Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Brian d'Arcy James) took the assignment of playing real life individuals seriously. Rather than exaggerating characteristics for effect which ultimately is detrimental to a film, the atmosphere of the staff of Spotlight reels like a group that has been together for years. Each character is unique but honest, well formed and have believably consistent actions and relationships with one another.

At its core, Spotlight succeeds in its simplicity of storytelling. With a narrative laid out from real life events, it had all the makings of a great film. Of course, that has been true of other films which have failed miserably so it's nice to see a movie such as Spotlight to live up to its potential and rise to the occasion.


Please check out the Archon Cinema Reviews website for full reviews of all the Academy Award nominees.

The Big Short

The Big Short crafts a thrilling and infuriating tale of complicit capitalistic deception all with a Hollywood flair
Based on the true story of the '08 mortgage crisis that eventually led to the downturn of the global economy, The Big Short crafts a thrilling and infuriating tale of complicit capitalistic deception.

By the time the whole housing bubble popped, leaving devastation in its path, I was a college junior studying economics. Under the guidance of a passionate and dedicated professor aware of the historical importance of those events, I learned the ins and outs that led to the financial crisis – so going into the film I understood better than most. Despite this, even I was drawn into and maddened by the chain of events laid out by The Big Short.

We all remember the largest financial collapse in modern times erupting in mid 2008 thanks to sub-prime mortgage crisis, but few recognized the grander impact it would have on the economy with even fewer understanding what happened. Years in advance, four players in the world of finance predict the 2008 financial crisis, revealing an intricate web of duplicity on the part of big banks, whose only focus is greed induced monetary gain regardless of the long term consequences. The Big Short not only attempts to explain what caused the crash but with the approach-ability that could only be crafted from Hollywood flair.

After watching the film, you may still not truly understand what caused the housing crisis and how its reach reverberated tenfold in the form of a global recession. I spoke with several people who were still puzzled even after watching the film. In a way that is a flaw that speaks of the film in due to its levity regarding the technicalities of the events leading up to the recession, but it isn't lack of trying on behalf of Adam McKay.

The fact that McKay and Charles Randolph even take on this material and yielded this result is a testament to their creativity. McKay utilizes all the stops to make the material entertaining without dumbing it down completely in both his direction and writing. There are metaphors, allegories and even tangible symbolism in the form of Jenga and Vegas blackjack to try and help you comprehend. Not to mention the celebrity cameos to keep your attention during the technical explanations of jargon that would otherwise lead your brain to wander. It is that same stylization that may not be suitable for some people, especially those that loathe when a story is bastardized beyond recognition by the Hollywood machine.

In other hands, Michael Lewis's novel could have been a dreary and dense drama that no one would have seen. Instead The Big Short is lively and easily digestible for the masses. Its characters are each simplified to be voices the film needed represented: Brad Pitt is the moral conscience, Steve Carell is the retributive rage, Christian Bale is the informative foundation, and Ryan Gosling is the narrator. There isn't a doubt in my mind that the characters in the film have real life individuals from which they are based, but are assuredly so far removed they no longer resemble their counterparts. The film even openly admits of the liberties it takes in changing the facts to make the story more streamlined for adaptation. While watchable, it does detract from the sobering reality of the financial industry.

Another gripe with the film is the hair and make-up, and I'm looking at you Adruitha Lee. While this may sound superficial it has a huge impact on the movie viewing experience. We go to the theater to get away, to be drawn into entertainment and away from the burdens of our lives. This is impossible with the blaringly cheap and cheesy fake hair pieces the actors are forced to wear. This minor detail leads you to never forget you are watching a recreation, that the actors are basically playing 'dress up,' and personally I find it to be inexcusable.

A good film will make you feel something while you watch it, a great film will make you feel something after it is over. The Big Short is a great film, making you feel tense and frustrated by your impotency as you watch and furiously dejected once it is over by the impunity of Big Banks. Watching, knowing there was knowledge and hindsight, you will be incensed and that is what the filmmakers behind The Big Short were hoping.

Please check out Archon Cinema Reviews site for full reviews of all the Oscar nominated films and recent releases.


Surprisingly good and more complex than its peers
Certainly a surprise film of the year, Sicario delves into the sensitive subject of the escalating war against drugs that have become a daily occurrence for those near the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

A member of the kidnapping division in Arizona, Kate (Emily Blunt) is brought onto a special operations unit funded by the Department of Defense after a devastating and jarring blow to her team. Immediately whisked away on a mission; Kate observes with an outsider's eyes the happenings of this covert unit, the sole woman amongst men. Thrust into the deadly and brutal world of the drug cartels of Juarez Mexico, Kate realizes that her idealism has no place as her new assigned unveils itself as far from ethical. With fresh eyes and a purist's motivation, Kate must make her own judgments of trust if she wants to stay alive during this dangerous operation.

Sicario is a film I wasn't expecting. The military oriented subject matter is not normally my forte and the trailer for the film felt generic. Alas, quickly the praising whispers for the film grew too loud to ignore and right they were. Sicario is a film that commands your attention with its barbaric violence, brutally realistic point of view and its astonishing cinematography.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Taylor Sheridan, the film decisively sets the tone within seconds of opening, readying the audience for what they are about to see. Sicario is a film that jolts you with unease, telling you to forget whatever expectations you may have. It is about far more than the mission Kate embarks upon with the DoD, and its ability to harmoniously tell its complexly layered story is a testament to its success.

The best word to describe Sicario is 'intense.' It is jarring, disorienting, and raw. Sicario easily could have been a basic thriller with a military shoot 'em up component. In having Villeneuve direct, the films subtler points are brought to the forefront. Each character is multidimensional and each moment a scene to be watched, within it the plot nuances that lesser films so often forget. The protagonist Kate especially has a marvelous arc throughout the film that matches the audience member's own experience and grounds you further to be completely engaged with the film.

May you remember the film years from now? Perhaps not, but for those looking for a worthy film to entertain with a little bit for everyone to enjoy, Sicario is certainly it.

Please check out the website for Archon Cinema Reviews for reviews of all the awards season contenders.


Room is an emotional film, dramatic and tense, and a stand out thanks to Larson, Tremblay, Abrahamson and Donoghue
Room opens on Jack's world on his 5th birthday. To him, the universe is as expansive as the four walls he knows. Jack's mother known simply as Ma (Brie Larson) is driven by one mission in her life, to shield him and protect him from the true and harsh realities of their life in spite of the harrowing circumstances.

I first heard about the book Room through a friend. She told me the concept and I was immediately intrigued and quickly added it to my Need to Read pile. But it had the reverse effect when I heard there was going to be a film adaptation. I was concerned how the distinct style and voice would transfer over. The wisest decision filmmakers and A24 made was to have the book's author Emma Donoghue also write the screenplay for her bestselling novel. Her faithfulness to the original source is unmatched and her expertise in expanding upon the literature for film should be a basis for all future movie adaptations of novels.

For those unaware of the subject matter, Room is about a young woman being held by her kidnapper. She has been there for some time, long enough to have a five year old son named Jack. She creates a wondrous life for him in the confines of that 10×10 room in an effort to protect him from the horrors of their situation so may grow to be a happy child. What we the audience see is this life and the effect Jack's curiosity has on Ma, spurring a desire to escape to the outside.

The beauty of Room lies in its unique perspective and distinct mechanism through which it chooses to tell the story of its two characters, through the eyes and mind of a five year old child. In that regard, it is awe inducing. In doing that, a film about several different simultaneous traumas is bearable when in reality it should be like living in a raw nerve. And still, the harrowing emotions these characters go through is palpable, going through the screen straight through your soul. There is a constant tension and quiet terror to Room, an anxiety that leaves you restless, wriggling in your seat as you desire to help the characters. I was left nauseous, an amazing feat given how restrained the film is and how perilous it may have been in someone else's hands other than Lenny Abrahamson. He showcases the two sides of this story, inside and outside Room, with balanced finesse and an artist's eye and accomplishes a film that is both tender and terrifying without being far-fetched or jarring.

You really can't talk about Room without talking about its two stars: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Both of whom give outstanding performances with the former perhaps having the luck of earning the role of her career. With as many complex layers to the film as it has, it rarely resorts to telling and virtually relies entirely on the actors' performances and the audiences' abilities to observe minute details. The character of Ma is strong, vulnerable, traumatized, scared, desperate, hopeful, and angry, along with scores of other gentler emotions and Larson does it with a quiet grace and inherent awareness of her craft. Her commitment to the character is so honest that there is no Brie Larson.

You may not be ready for the intense subject matter of Room, and that is okay, but we implore you to give it a chance. Room is one of those films that will touch your soul and feel for your fellow man.

Please check out the site for Archon Cinema Reviews for full reviews of all the awards season contenders!

Ex Machina

Cerebral and cinematic, it's the type of film you wish they'd make more often
To erase the line between man and machine is to obscure the line between men and gods

It's not often that we get the opportunity to watch a film that is both visually and intellectually stimulating that also has an engaging story. Ex Machina is a beautiful testament to independent film making and the harmony it can bring.

Caleb Smith, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is a talented programmer at a mega-internet company that borders on monopolistic power of the industry. Caleb wins a corporate lottery allowing him to spend a week at the company CEO's private estate, played by Oscar Isaac. Caleb swiftly realizes this trip may have more components than initially anticipated and has been chosen to be a component of an AI test of a robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) to see if her consciousness is indetectably human.

When it comes to science fiction films that delve into the realm of artificial intelligence, there is always an ominous component. The ramifications of playing God, creating consciousness, the one thing that distinguishes humans from other animals, is unnerving and unnatural. Alex Garland's Ex Machina, which he writes and directs, plays into this fear almost immediately, with odd glances and contextual cinematography, cinematic breadcrumbs for the attentive audience member.

There are complicated themes within the film itself, proposing potentially perilous questions of ethics, love, intelligence, technology and humanity. For the less discerning viewer, Ex Machina has within itself beautiful and simplistic storytelling where Garland strips back his film to the basics of a mystery, refusing to explain anything yielding an engaging experience until the very end, which is shocking in its boldness.

Ex Machina is a compelling film with strong performances by its three leads and the caliber of film audiences should be privy to constantly. Cerebral and cinematic, it accomplishes all that it intends brilliantly and is a film you will be happy you spent your time watching.

Please check out the website for Archon Cinema Reviews for full reviews of all the recent releases.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

The biggest surprise of The Force Awakens is it's GOOD! (fanatic criticism with only slight bias)
It's impossible to review a Star Wars film objectively, and yet that is the task when assessing the seventh installment Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The franchise is part of our culture at the molecular level, meaningful in a million different ways to a million different people, from $27K mint edition Boba Fett toy collecting superfans to the totally Lucas naïve who could nevertheless hum the imperial march theme in a pinch. Any given moviegoer's feelings about the new film are the result of a complex equation. Certainly it's a product of age, peer group, inherent interest in space operas, but it's also a function of time spent swimming in the nearly 40 year old cultural ocean that is the Star Wars universe—anywhere from browsing casting news on social media as an adult to disrupting chemistry class with Chewbacca growls as a teenager to daydreaming about what your own lightsaber would look like as a kid (guilty of all three). It's easy for most of us to float detached while watching the fanatics go deep sea diving in the Lucasfilm trench, thinking we've outgrown this world, only to realize after watching the first trailer for Star Wars 7 that we're also still submerged, our feet soaked and pruney.

My introduction to Star Wars happened in a local theater during the special edition re-release theatrical run of Return of the Jedi. Later that night at my friend's 9th birthday party, six of us mimed lightsaber fights with the decorative cylindrical pillows on his mom's couch and relentlessly force pushed each other until we fell exhausted. We understood none of the film's Zoroastrian influenced religious principles or historically informed galactic fascism, only the terror of invisibly choking an insolent commander and the thrill of brandishing a glowing sword. Star Wars was and always has been about a particular feeling, and it caught me then as it catches me again now. I might as well have reserved my ticket for the The Force Awakens on that day back in 1997.

Reflecting on the movie in 2016, I've been made conscious of my past with Star Wars because The Force Awakens is itself so self-aware, surging forward into a vibrant new era of space epic movie-making while also refusing to loosen its grip on the context in which it was made. It's no secret the franchise has seen several tumultuous decades following the blissfully world-crushing "original" trilogy (aka Episodes IV, V and VI), including three critically lambasted prequels and countless books and video games that have muddied any purported Star Wars canon. In that regard, it made sense to go back to basics, round up our heroes (new and old), and reset.

At first glance, the closeness to which Force Awakens adheres to an established storyline can give the appearance of slightly lazy, slightly contrived reverence. However, the themes explored by the original Star Wars movies were so broadly universal—light vs dark, willpower vs destiny, liberty vs hegemony—that perhaps it was necessary for director J.J. Abrams to revisit them through a familiar lane in order to realign Star Wars for a new generation. When it comes to beloved franchise reboots, Abrams remains the master of tact. The film's one real weakness comes through its dizzying pace, where friendships form in seconds, losses are processed in minutes, and lightspeed is somehow faster than it used to be. The movie is so packed to the gills with action that I had to take a moment to evaluate if the entire plot had in fact happened in the span of one afternoon (it hadn't, but it might as well have). As a result, emotional stakes feel overclocked and slightly lean, salvaged only by the incredible star-making/confirming/reaffirming performances by all of the lead actors.

Overall, The Force Awakens succeeds in several ways, from the elegantly choreographed space battles to the charmingly frenetic humor of Boyega. Gone are the dreary trade negotiations and Thomas Kinkade-like gloss of the prequels, replaced by a rusty, lived-in, and practical effect-driven world of gears and grit. However, everything only ties together because of Abrams' understanding of the feelings that made the franchise special in the first place. When Han tells Rey and Finn about the Force, his tired eyes swell with vigorous conviction. When a lightsaber is lit on screen, the whole world pauses, as if all of the universe's energy went dark for a split second before being reborn as a single roaring beam. The Force Awakens takes all of the elements we loved about the original movies, dusts them off, and jam-packs them full of renewed wonder. I'm certainly biased, but I can't think of a better re-introduction to our favorite galaxy far, far away.

8.5 / 10

Please check out Archon Cinema Reviews website for full reviews of all the Oscar nominees and recent blockbusters.

The Revenant

Fantastic, brutal, bloody and beautiful but not flawless
Alejandro González Iñárritu cemented his place in the Hollywood film scene last year with his tremendous undertaking Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). After sweeping the 2015 Oscars he did not waste a moment and immediately dove into his next project, The Revenant, which has garnered him an equal amount of love this awards season.

The simplest way to describe the film without spoiling any aspect of the plot would be to say The Revenant is about one man's physical, spiritual and emotional journey to survive against the unlikeliest of circumstances. Set in the blisteringly cold woodlands in the 1820s, a frontiersman named Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) lead an American expedition for animal pelts led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). When they come under attack by Native Americans, their mission is abruptly cut short as they flee for the sake of saving their own lives. Barely far enough to rest, their significantly smaller group suffers a painful blow and Glass is viciously attacked by a tremendous bear. What follows are several difficult decisions of will and morality at a time when the savagery of men was a commonality.

The Revenant is reminiscent of an unveiled western, removing the shiny artificial nostalgia that clouds the truth of the time. Mark Smith and Iñárritu's narrative is one you will recognize if you are a fan of films of that era, the difference between the two is The Revenant does not attempt to mislead audiences into believing in the blindly naïve good guy versus bad guy dichotomy when it was inevitably a grey-er time. So how can such a simple story stand apart so easily as the prestigious front runner of the Academy Awards? The answer is equally as simple, with amazing cinematography and superior techniques in direction.

Ask anyone what they thought of the film and their first comment will be how beautiful the film is, this is true of someone who is 27 and also of someone who is 95 (trust us on this one, we did the research). They speak the truth; the landscape and cinematography are beautiful in the purest form of the word. Have you ever been some place so breath taking that you refused to take a picture because it wouldn't do it justice? The Revenant captures that awe inspiring beauty that eludes so many of us. Emmanuel Lubezki truly out did himself with this piece and solidifies his position as one of the best cinematographers of the age.

The direction is also impressive but not nearly as flawless, though it is in its technique. Iñárritu's use of movement and his fluidity for transitions and cuts is revolutionary, especially in the beginning of the film. Alejandro has a vision through the camera lens and uses it as a point of view for the on looker and as a complement to the character's line of sight, yielding a complex and multidimensional direction. And yet, despite these achievements, the film felt lacking at its completion. We're aware of the secondary component of symbolism, still, the film did not feel whole. Fantastic, wonderful, but missing that intangible spark that forces a film to resonate with you and leaves you blissfully satisfied. Further, while beautiful to watch, the film was unnecessarily two and a half hours long when it truly did not have to be.

Watching the film, it is impossible to be so engaged in the film that you forget you are watching a story played by actors, partially due to the brutal natural conditions. The environment these actors endured are some of the most extreme any artist could encounter, especially for DiCaprio, but does that alone warrant the level of commendation the film has been receiving? The actors do a fine job but their characters are not unique and their performances not mind blowing, though Tom Hardy's performance is certainly the stand out of the film. Yes, their trust and faith in their director and to the material is admirable, as is their commitment to braving these conditions for the sake of art but where is the line drawn?

Hopefully this criticism is not mistaken for disdain because the film is a powerhouse, but it has very tangible weaknesses that detract from the overall experience. Bloody and beautiful but an unremarkable narrative except in its brutality.

Please check out the Archon Cinema Reviews website for full reviews of all the 2016 Oscar nominees.


The beauty of Tangerine is its simplicity dressed up with unmatched vivaciousness in all facets
You might have first heard about the film Tangerine because it was shot entirely on a phone, proving the only barrier between you and film-making is yourself.

But then it took over Sundance and was the talk of the festival for its vibrancy and innovation. It's for good reason, Tangerine is wildly entertaining and unlike anything you've seen in a long time. The subject matter may not be your cup of tea and a bit too subversive for some, but it will be at the forefront of your mind for those that give it a chance.

Tangerine is about Sin-Dee, who just got back to Tinseltown after being gone for 28 days. In that time, her boyfriend Chester found another girl and now she's on the hunt to find him. Did I happen to mention that Sin-Dee just got out of jail and is a trans working girl while her boyfriend is a pimp – that's just the beginning for this wild ride.

The beauty of Tangerine is its simplicity, utilizing a plot that has been in existence since the days of Ancient Greece. At its core, Tangerine is a journey film, true all the specifics may mask that fact, but Sin-Dee and the medley of characters are all on a journey of discovery that culminates to a fantastic and satisfying conclusion.

In a way, director Sean Baker is a marketing mastermind. In filming the movie entirely with an iPhone, Baker created a hook to intrigue even the unlikeliest of viewers. Had it not delivered, however, the conversation would have ended there and the film wouldn't have garnered Spirit Award attention.

I can't recall the last film I watched that was this exuberant and distinct. The characters, the dialogue, the events, the music – each constructed with the utmost mania and vivaciousness. It is almost ludicrous for the narrative's events to occur under a day's time frame, but the movie's raw moxie doesn't even cause you to second guess the feasibility.

This is what independent film making is about. Tangerine peels back the veil of a subject most people would know nothing about, delving deep into its grit unflinchingly and yet, its honesty leaves the film mesmerizing and engaging.

Please check out Archon Cinema Reviews for more full reviews of all the recent releases.

L.A. Slasher

Starts off promisingly engaging but veers into boredom in Act II
Death to Reality TV.

I think it is safe to say that humanity is over reality television. Everyone wants to be famous for nothing, but the LA Slasher has something different in mind.

Dressed in garb that imitates the oddity of Michael Jackson, a self appointed crusader against the insipidity of Hollyweird decides he's had enough. Bubbling over with uncontrollable anger, he turns his violent urges to those responsible for today's preoccupation with trash television.

With character names such as "The Actress" or "The Teen Mom" or "The Drug Dealers" you really get a sense that the characters of this film are nobodies, just like their reality show counterparts. This detail is just one of the many subtle ways in which LA Slasher acts as commentator on modern day pop culture. In case you are a little dense, from watching so much junk-TV, the dialogue spells out the film's sentiment:

"Everybody hates reality TV. But they watch it just so they can tell you 'bout how much they hate it. Whatever problems you have, change the channel until you find somebody who's worse off and then suddenly your life doesn't seem so bad, does it? Well let me tell you something: it is that bad."

And who better to voice these disdainful monologues than the pseudo King of Reality Rubbish, Mr. Andy Dick, the voice and man behind the LA Slasher. Unfortunately these meta nods to garbage television end there, as no other humorous cameos make an appearance with the exception of Brooke Hogan. Some C-list actors like Drake Bell, Mischa Barton and Eric Roberts get to make fun of their personas by representing the loathsome reality-TV archetypes.

Based on the context of the film, I imagined LA Slasher to be a comedy-horror hybrid and it is not, nor does it try to be. The cinematography is deliberately saturated to mimic the grotesqueries of reality television and perversities of LA. LA Slasher also gets the soundtrack right with an 80s dance vibe. Midway through the film however, LA Slasher starts to lose its edge as it veers too far into the absorption of entertainment news with reality-TV and borders on monotonous when a change of pace was desperately needed.

Perhaps it would have been more successful if it tried to blur the line more into horror, but then again, perhaps that added burden would have doomed the film to certain failure. Regardless, I'm a sucker for this type of film and LA Slasher has humor, smarts, a cohesive plot, interesting dialogue and a unique point of view.

Please check out Archon Cinema Review's website for full reviews of all the recent indie releases.

The Hateful Eight

Mature filmmaking that stashes away some of Tarantino's trademark techniques, a film you have to stick with til the end
No one comes up here without a damn good reason.

On January 1st I attended a 70mm screening of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight at City Cinemas East 86th Street, one of the few Manhattan theaters selected to be part of the 98-theater national roadshow. The $20 event was presented like a traditional stage performance, complete with a large colorful program handed out prior to the screening, zero previews–supplanted by an opening orchestral overture–, and a full 15-minute intermission. During halftime, a family of three seated to our left (a mother, father, and their grown daughter) voiced their discontent with the experience. The mother in particular seemed distressed by the first hour and half ordeal, audibly grumbling and fidgeting as the movie lumbered along, apparently baffled by the grueling pacing and seemingly directionless narrative (admittedly up to that point, not entirely invalid). She also expressed a bit of physical discomfort; they left and didn't return. What a terrible mistake to begin the year.

I've never understood why people walk out of movies. No matter how little you're enjoying yourself, leaving the theater early amounts to abandoning a financial commitment and, more importantly, rejecting a foundational principle of storytelling – don't judge it until it's over. Walking out is nothing more than a performative act of impatience. Besides, the world outside is a storm of reality and the theater is a temporary shelter. Why not stay seated, invest a relatively minor additional amount of time in your surroundings, and revel in your fully informed disgust later on? Even better, hang around, you may despise everything around you at the moment, but you might be surprised by how an extra hour and a half changes everything.

The Hateful Eight is a stunning behemoth of a movie, one half raising a sledgehammer, and the other half slamming into and through the plane of your gut. It implores you to be patient. Tarantino has toiled for over two decades to reach where he is today, now arriving at his eighth film as a man whose vision commands such rarefied respect among fans that he can get away with staging a live reading of his unfinished script, canceling and then un-canceling a film, forcing theaters to equip themselves with antiquated and highly- specialized 70mm film equipment, and insisting that audiences endure a massive three hour run-time. But the payoff is all there, locked in step with the insanity.

The opening overture is essentially the first character of the story, composed with swelling, delicate menace like the rest of the score by the legendary Ennio Morricone (marking a significant left turn for Tarantino, who traditionally cobbles together inspired soundtracks full of decade-hopping rock and pop tracks). In the opening shot, a six-horse carriage containing the bounty hunter "Hang Man" John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) races through the blinding snow of the Wyoming Mountains in a desperate quest to outrun a blizzard. On their way to Red Rock, where Ruth intends to have Domergue hanged, the carriage picks up two unexpected guests in Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a decorated former Union soldier and now bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), former Confederate fighter and new sheriff of Red Rock. Together with their steadfast driver O.B. (James Parks), the travelling quadruplet forms an unlikely unit in the shadow of the recent Civil War, partnered by destination, bound by the storm, but tense in opposing beliefs, politics, and moral codes. Their numbers double when they stop to hole up in Minnie's Haberdashery and wait out the storm. A Mexican named Bob (Demian Bichir) has taken over as temporary steward while Minnie is out of town, providing shelter to the dapper British hangman of Red Rock Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a Confederate general named Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), and a mysterious cowboy named Joe Gage (Michael Madsen). Things seem immediately off, and we, along with the characters in the haberdashery, begin a Clue-like game to figure out who is lying about their identity, and why.


Please check out Archon Cinema Review's website to read the FULL review for HATEFUL EIGHT!

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

A cohesive narrative with a clear vision, unencumbered by creative conflict and changes personal taste.
Once again The Maze Runner distinguishes itself as the superior YA film adaptation. This time it is The Scorch Trials that out muscles and out stories the inferior Hunger Games.

Scorch Trials picks up where the first film lets off. The survivors of the maze are picked up by a helicopter that is supposed to bring them to safety. But audience members know the truth, that the WCKD organization's grasp is still tightly wound around fate of these youths. Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his fellow Gladers are brought to a facility where they quickly discover that their maze wasn't the only testing location. Realizing that WCKD is still around them, they escape to an unprotected land known as the Scorch, a deserted wasteland filled with unexpected dangers. While there they team up with resistance fighters, hoping to once and for all rid destroy WCKD's power.

Admittedly, I never read The Maze Runner series, so I can't really compare the film to the book. In a way, that makes me better at critiquing and reviewing the Scorch Trials as a film, untainted by expectations and bias. As a film, The Maze Runner's second film is exciting and atmospheric, well acted and engaging to the final minute.

The luck and benefit of adapting a novel into a film is that the major plot trajectory and holes have already been ironed out for you. Sure, you can take creative liberties as you truncate the story for the cinema, but you really have to obliterate it beyond recognition to destroy the cohesiveness as a film. The smartest thing executives behind this franchise did was keep the same screenwriter (T.S. Nowlin) and director (Wes Ball) across both films. What you get is a cohesive narrative with a clear vision, unencumbered by creative conflict and changes personal taste.

Wes Ball is really great at capturing the atmosphere of a wasteland without making the environment feel cheap. Ball knows the story and characters and it translates in the care he has for the material. Following the plot, I very rarely was left wondering or with the inclination that what I was watching was changed from the original source material. It's common knowledge that the film would be simplified in comparison, as is true for nearly all book adaptations to film, but Nowlin captures the essence without sacrificing substance.

In flying under the radar and in the shadow of the blockbuster marketing endeavor known as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner has set itself up for an understated success. Knowing that the films have changed the story slightly from that of James Dashner's novel, I'm curious to see how the resolution fares in the final film – The Death Cure.

The Night Before

Watching this movie is like feasting on a handful full of drugs - just buy the ticket and take the ride
For the past decade, nobody has worn the mantle of "endearingly lost and confused" quite like Seth Rogen. His fuzzy visage is famously disarming, dialed somewhere between "I don't want any problems, man" and "I actually don't even know how I got here." In modern cinema, Rogen is the reigning on-screen avatar for your inner overgrown man-child. He's the Peter Pan of Stoner Stoner land. If you've enjoyed tumbling out the window with him before, it's likely you'll enjoy most of The Night Before. If not, well, Joseph Gordon- Levitt is also here, and does stuff.

Like all films written or produced by Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg, The Night Before centers around earnest relationships blended with a platter of substance fueled escapades. A Tracy Morgan narrated opening monologue sets the scene: fourteen years ago, a young man named Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) loses both of his parents on Christmas, and in order to make sure he never feels alone, his best friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) start an annual tradition of bromantic Christmas debauchery.

As they settle into their 30's, mounting responsibilities–in the form of impending fatherhood for Isaac and sudden NFL fame for Chris — shroud the prospect of future partying. This year, the boys decide to go all out for one final hurrah. However, with no family and no career, Ethan remains stuck in post-adolescence limbo and desperately clings to the significance of this yuletide ritual. Through a stroke of fate, he lands tickets to a legendary bash called The Nutcracka Ball, and leads the group on an adventure through New York City to reach the party. Sleigh bells ring, shenanigans ensue.

The comedy throughout the film is anchored in Isaac's gradual drug- induced transformation into a tripped out, befuddled nomad of the suddenly bizarre Manhattan landscape. Towards the beginning of the night, Isaac's wife (Jillian Bell of Workaholics and 22 Jump Street fame) gifts him a treasure box full of narcotic goodies. Blessed with unexpected powers of self-intoxication, he proceeds to ingest a stir-fry meal of assorted drugs (cocaine combines well with mushrooms, right?) and becomes hopelessly and hilariously unhinged.

Rogen is a rocket on a launch pad. As the night proceeds, he soars, bouncing from situation to situation in freewheeling confusion, guided only by his friends and the prospect of reaching the gilded land of El Dorado in the form of a Christmas party. His emotions flip like television channels, each thought a mere flash before succeeding situations careen in and hijack his attention. Quick! Lunge for that drink you just bled coke-blood into—OK, now respond to this mysteriously explicit text and quizzically question my own sexuality–actually, wait, go talk to that friendly looking sheep in the nativity scene. It's a master class in profound psychedelic confusion. Isaac's solution? Balance things out with more drugs, of course.

The film dims whenever Rogen is off screen. Ethan is relegated to the thankless straight man role, and his personal journey of rekindling a relationship with his ex-girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) is a charming slog at best. Chris is a tech-age celebrity blowhard, a walking #blessed whose steroid-fueled fame is rapidly smothering his real personality. Along with Isaac's drug inspired revelation of his anxiety around having kids, the three friends each have personal journeys to undertake and resolve by the end of the night.

Central plot aside, the film basically provides a red and green colored canvas to pack in as many bits and gags as possible. Director Jonathan Levine scatters in pop culture references throughout, from a "Big" inspired rendition of Kanye West's "Runaway" in FAO Schwarz to a karaoke performance of Run-D.M.C. to an actual performance of "Wrecking Ball" by the actual Miley Cyrus. The references, while funny, are somewhat jumbled and possibly topical (I have doubts that the pointed nostalgia men in their 30's feel currently for Baby One More Time will resonate with future audiences). More effective were the numerous cameo appearances from actors and comedians, ranging from a magical Yoda- like pot dealing performance by Michael Shannon to a scene-stealing appearance by Ilana Glazer as a manic pixie weed nymph.

As a pure story, The Night Before suffers the classic comedic pitfall of having slightly contrived emotional stakes. That being said, drab sincerity is a standard price-of-entry for any holiday comedy, and it would be foolish to let narrative shortcomings stand in the way of simply letting go and embracing the silliness. Watching this movie, like feasting on an Altoids tin full of white powder and pills, is best done with drug guru Hunter S. Thompson's sage advice in mind: buy the ticket, take the ride.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

After Part 1, I was fully prepared for the thankful end of The Hunger Games
It has only been three years since the first novel by Suzanne Collins was made into a film. Amazingly The Hunger Games churned out four films in four years and the last installment, Mockingjay Part 2, is finally here.

Opening where Part 1 left off, Peeta is saved but compromised and traumatized. The rebellion grows stronger, no longer trying to gain momentum but with full traction propelling closer to The Capitol. Katniss finally accepts her position and use in the rebellion and realizes this is the time to overthrow Panem and gain freedom for good.

Screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong, responsible for the division and screenplay of Mockingjay Part 1, get to finish what they started. Mind you, what they started wasn't very good and those same flaws transfer over to Mockingjay Part 2. The third and final novel of The Hunger Games series isn't particularly long, unlike the Harry Potter novels that almost required film divisions, and with each part lasting over two hours there isn't enough content to once again justify the film's length.

Just from looking at the stills released for this film, you can tell it is going to be monochromatic, but you hope that is just visually and not narratively or emotionally. Unfortunately, the monotone vibe is a constant throughout all aspects of the film and I blame the inexperienced and sub-par screenwriters in part for this. Unlike the first two films, there is no 'game' to ground the plot of the film, this time the civil war of Panem is the 'game'. There was plenty of room for the story to be told through action, emotion and acting. Instead, it is told through constant exposition between leaders and is both tiring and uncompelling. All of the dialogue of the film is either talking about what is going to happen or what just happened, with crude-like finesse for the idiots in the back.

Mockingjay Part 2 is evidence of all the minor and minute flaws of its predecessors, dating back to the original 2012 film. In Mockingjay, we are supposed to the see the final culmination of several conflicts between characters, and in reality the war's resolution is secondary. Sure, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 include this aspect in the film, but do we wholeheartedly believe it – No. The lack of believable character development between Katniss and several main characters (Prim, Gale and Peeta namely) reduces the film to a rudimentary skeleton that fizzles for its full length.

Perhaps it may appear I am being too hard on the YA franchise, especially since I was so disappointed of Mockingjay Part 1 – but they are two parts of the same story and were always going to impact one another's effectiveness as individual film experiences. I am critical because the story is simple and the screenwriters failed the final novel's adaptation. With Part 2 once again going into the minutiae of rallying the districts to overthrow The Capitol, it basically is the nail in the coffin for Part 1 and negates it to complete pointlessness. All that, and in it of itself it is sloppy and lazy, an affront to its fans.

Of all the Young Adult books that were lucky enough to garner a film franchise out of their successes, The Hunger Games is the most disappointing. Even the actors appear thankful it is over and tired of their roles, to the point where they all barely try. Lucky for the Director, the score is equally as unrefined as the script, and all of the emotion of the film relies upon and resides in the score.

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Absolutely Anything

Perfectly enjoyable film, just not outstanding or remarkable
Absolutely Anything is a funny enough light comedy that seems better thanks to its notorious cast but unfortunately is a bit subdued to 'wow'.

Simon Pegg plays Neil Clarke, an unassuming teacher who has a crush on his neighbor and hates his job and boss. Little does he know that aliens are circling the planet, ready to put it to the test. One lucky human gets the power to do absolutely anything, and if they use the power for good then great, if they use it for bad, well then the aliens blow up the planet. Seems fair enough.

For those Jim Carrey fans out there, the idea behind Absolutely Anything is strikingly similar to 2003's Bruce Almighty. But unlike the Americans, the Brits are far more restrained in their use of absolute power and complete command of the universe. Neil just wants the simple things, to mess with his friends and maybe improve his work and body sitch. In fact, the ways in which Neil uses his complete power is almost too restrained and basically ends up making the film feel like a missed opportunity.

There are several decisions the producers made that really optimized the film, like getting the Monty Python gang to voice the aliens and Robin Williams to voice Neil's pet dog Dennis. Between their comedy chops and Simon Pegg, it seems impossible for this film to be bland, but it is. It seems as though the film strictly follows the script, leaving very little improvisational wiggle room which is where all the aforementioned talents shine. The comedy of Absolutely Anything is fine, entertaining and delightful, but not memorable or laugh- out- loud funny either.

Ultimately, Absolutely Anything suffers from a lack of creativity and originality in its comedy. It is amusing but average, and in the sea of films released annually, you won't even give it a second thought.

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Paul Rudd keeps the film afloat, barely
If you watch Ant-Man just to sit back, watch a couple fight scenes, laugh a little and eat popcorn then it's not half bad. If you expect it to inhabit qualities of good cinema, with moderately original characters or plot, then you will be quite disappointed by this tedious bore.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) just got out of prison for burglary. What does a former inmate do once he's out of prison and can't find a job? He does what he knows. Unfortunately, that last job has some major implications and somehow he gets roped into a scientist's mad plan to use a super shrinking suit to pull of one last heist and hopefully save the world.

I'm always down for an anti-hero Marvel flick. The character dynamic is always fun and refreshing in comparison to the stale Marvel method that is churned out year after year. Unfortunately, Ant-Man fails miserably and is the most formulaic of all the Marvel films released. Take guy who reservedly accepts his fate as a superhero savior, add close circle of mentor, bad-guy and love interest and there you have it. The details are purely incidental and are really of no consequence to the film itself.

The most frustrating and infuriating aspect of the film is Evangeline Lilly's character Hope. Nothing about her character is thought out except that she is the generic 'capable girl' trope. Her behavior is illogical in relation to her father, the scientist, played by Michael Douglas. Everything about Hope is the templated tough girl crime show character with a dash of femme fatale and her scenes are cheap and unnecessary.

The saving grace for Ant-Man is Paul Rudd. He injects sly humor and his natural charisma within each scene, providing the film with life and vibrancy. Without Rudd, Ant-Man would have been as flat as the much maligned Daredevil. With Rudd, it is still lame and forgettable without the cool fight scenes or laughs to distract.

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Mississippi Grind

Quiet film that indie fans and film as an art form folks will especially enjoy
Films have a sound to them, a volume if you will. Some are loud like those made my Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese or Michael Bay, others are quiet like Wes Anderson or David Lynch. Mississippi Grind is a film that could have been loud, with its narrative based on a journey rooted in gambling, but it's not – it is introspective, reserved and unique.

Written and directed by dual talents Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Mississippi Grind finds a middle aged man named Gerry who is your typical 'gambler.' Gerry is in a tough spot, with no family we can see, debts mounting and his luck pointing hard toward the negative. Until he meets a charismatic man named Curtis. The two have an immediate pull to one another and decide to team up. Instantly Gerry's luck changes, so Gerry clings to Curtis, embarking on a journey through the South to New Orleans so that things may finally start going his way with his lucky charm.

There have been plenty of films about gambling, nearly all of them involving your standard tropes of misery, bloodshed and poor decision making. Mississippi Grind is not that type of film, in fact you almost forget the film is about gambling because it focuses so much on the dynamic between Gerry (played by Ben Mendelsohn) and Curtis (played by Ryan Reynolds). Mississippi Grind is more like the men's version of Thelma & Louise than Oceans 11 or Casino.

Mississippi Grind has only positive things going for it. It is a nice unpresumptuous film about its characters, undistracted by the lights and bells around them. The acting is nuanced and complete, and never does it revert to the archetype of the 'down in the dumps' addict. Instead, these characters are versions of people who have seen behind the curtain, after the bar calls "Last Call" and the bright yellow halogen lights turn on – this is a man who has seen the grunge and filth and dirt of the night and is unaffected.

This is a journey film you really need to stick around for until the end. Beautifully and simply acted with a jazzy southern soundtrack to match the contextual grit, Mississippi Grind is a film indie fans and cinemaphiles should appreciate.

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The Leisure Class

The worst thing you can do as a filmmaker is make a boring film, and that is The Leisure Class
The Leisure Class is the film green lit by the fourth season of Project Greenlight, this year produced by HBO and won by neophyte filmmaker Jason Mann.

For those of you unfamiliar with Project Greenlight, it is a competition produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (and previously co-produced by Chris Moore who was inexplicably absent this season) in which one winner gets to make a movie. The applicants are typically burgeoning cinema creators or drowning creatives who long ago took the safe route of a standard job. After a hiatus, the fourth season finally returns after a ten year lull, and this time New York film student Jason Mann won. Initially Mann was to direct a film written by season one winner Pete Jones called "Not Another Pretty Woman" but after some finagling, Mann won over HBO and was able to direct his own project, The Leisure Class.

I'm a huge fan of the heart and premise of Project Greenlight – give someone, who would otherwise not have a chance at breaking into Hollywood, the opportunity to make a movie. There is something interesting about watching these bright eyed individuals learn about the indie film maker's experience dealing with a studio, a la getting thrown into the deep end. Without fail though, you end up cheering for the Greenlight winner and inevitably form a bias in your experience of the final project. In an effort to truly watch the film with favoritism, I refrained from watching the series after episode two and skipped right to the movie.

The premise for The Leisure Class is not complicated in anyway, a British man named William is about to marry into an 'old money' Connecticut family. This happy occasion is turned on its head when William's eccentric brother turns up and the truth of William's pedigree and intentions can no longer be hidden.

The Leisure Class as a film is riddled with problems from start to finish, which makes us shudder at the thought of the state of Not Another Pretty Woman, the initial screenplay which was to be made. Character development, acting, plot, tone, structure, cinematography, production design, editing – basically everything needs work and feels like a rough first draft that should never see the light of day except as a canistered film on a shelf.

If you pick away at all the physical imperfections, what comes down to it is The Leisure Class is a weak script. The pacing is terrible, unbearably slow and monotonous at the start, with bouts of fleeting and nonsensical mania. The core events of the film do create a substandard plot, but the dialogue and transitional occurrences to get us from one main plot point to the next are absent. Tonally, The Leisure Class is off-putting, jumpy and abrasive while being equally pointless.

Yes, the actors could have brought more to their roles than what was there on paper, especially the feebly written females, most notably Bridget Regan who plays Fiona, but that minor fix would not have been enough to save the film. The two leads, played by Ed Weeks and Tom Bell, who are the heart of the film needed significant guidance based on their performances which a more experienced director would have noticed or edited around. Their banter, which seems excessively ad-libbed at times, needed to be reined in considerably so that the core structure of the film was retained. Listening to the dialogue, you long for the characters to get to the point, patiently waiting for the movie to start, which it never does.

It seems as though Jason Mann was given every opportunity to succeed and utilize this film as a catalyst for his career and exemplification of his talents as a film maker. Based on The Leisure Class, Mann needs to go back to the basics of exciting and compelling story-telling before jumping into filming.

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With occasions of triteness, Spectre is satisfactory but not stupendous like Casino Royale
Resuming where Skyfall left off, Spectre points James Bond on a quest to discover and unearth truths behind the sinister organization responsible.

The 00 organization is under duress as the Centre of National Security attempts to take over control of all clandestine undertakings in the protection of the nation. Bond is on his own and off grid as he follows Spectre across the globe, with one mission in mind, to terminate it at the source. Much has changed for Bond since his first mission in Montenegro where he fell for the beautiful Vesper Lynd. On guard, 007's seductive charisma is set aside as he fervently pursues vengeance for M and truth for himself.

Daniel Craig has been James Bond for close to ten years now, a near unbelievable fact until you go back and realize the first film, Casino Royale, was released in 2006. Opening with a strong action sequence set during the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City, Spectre starts promisingly intense. Set in exotic locations with transcendentally tactile productions, Spectre satiates the audience's wanderlust craving. Something happens once Sam Smith's "Writings on the Wall" concludes, and the dark gritty James Bond we've grown to be enamored with takes several steps back toward the triteness of the 90s.

It was always going to be difficult for director Sam Mendes to supersede expectations set from the wildly successful Skyfall. The narrative had taken a complicated turn with deceit and bloodshed interwoven with treachery and malice. Mendes had teased us with a captivating scene set in a wintry tundra where a cloaked man compared Bond to a 'kite dancing in a hurricane'. It was enigmatic but furtively beguiling. Desperately longing for Spectre to capture this essence for the totality of its duration, it fails to meet expectations.

There is something intangibly weary about Spectre as a whole. The amorous allure inherently exuding from Bond is overdone and forced, injected into the plot to satisfy token assumptions. His unflinching execution of his license to kill has softened, leaving Bond to feel less like 007 and more like IMF agent Ethan Hunt who participates in a similar journey this year.

Do not mistake these criticisms of Spectre as a conclusion for it being substandard. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are marvelously intense and brutal, especially those against Dave Bautista. The narrative plots across Mexico, Rome, Austria and Morocco and does so without sacrificing the story too much. It just ends up feeling drawn out, as if it were going through the motions.

Spectre is vastly superior to the Pierce Brosnan 007 films, it is just in comparison to its peers that it fails to measure up and is more akin to them than the Craig films we've grown to love. With rare occasions of cheesiness that make you more laughably amused (especially at the senseless love scenes) than suspensefully entertained, we can only hope for a sensational Bond 25.


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We Are Still Here

A house is not a home without a family...
We Are Still Here uses the 1970's ambiance to conjure up recollections of possession films of that time period. While the tone is right and the scares are gruesome, the back-story and build- up to terror has gaping holes related to consistency.

Paul, played by Andrew Sensenig, and Anne, played by horror veteran Barbara Crampton, are in dire need of new scenery after their teenage son dies unexpectedly in a car accident. Thinking the fresh air of upstate New York will help, they move into a long uninhabited country estate. Before long, the small town begins to signal to Anne and Paul that the house has a seedy past, a past that may not be resolved. They invite their intuitive friends over and quickly realize that in addition to dealing with paralyzing grief they now must face malevolent ghosts out for blood.

Immediately, there is something about We Are Still Here that is vaguely reminiscent of The Shining. This similarity is beyond the wintry 1970's setting. There is a sense of hopeless desolation and solitude about We Are Still Here that parallels the intangible withdrawal and sadness of the Stanley Kubrick adaptation.

With those conjured images, we were pretty hopeful about the cinematic experience for this indie horror. Though We Are Still Here did fall quite a distance short of our expectations there were enough successes to deem it a more successful horror than most blockbusters released this year.

When it comes to possession films as sub-genre of the horror film, I'm pretty skeptical of their success and believability in the realm of horror. Too often they are hokey and implausible, with a bunch of people running scared of moving house wares; this is of course after they ignored months of warning signs. We Are Still Here avoids these clichés by truncating the time in which the family lives in the house substantially. Unfortunately, in making a concerted effort to avoid common horror tropes of possession films, Ted Geoghegan sacrifices creating believable lore and cultivated terror.

The physical horror of We Are Still Here is apparent. The villainous creatures lurking in the cellar are a tangible representation of darkness: spooky charred bodies with piercing eyes. The deaths are vicious and completely capitalize on the film's blood budget, viscerally spewing punctured flesh. But, without anything for the audience to connect to, they are all just nonsensical deaths that are ultimately of no consequence. At no point do you cringe or worry for the characters, because their development is completely absent.

Ultimately We Are Still Here is less "The Shining" and more a poor man's The Amityville Horror. You feel for the family, but without a basic plot structure, it fails to impress.

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Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk doesn't really capture the essence that causes horror or western audiences to swoon
A western-horror hybrid film made on an independent film budget is next to unheard of until now. Bone Tomahawk is a chill inducing film.

Paying homage to the old westerns of the 1950's and 1960's, Bone Tomahawk is about an honest law abiding sheriff who embarks on a mission with his deputy, an injured cowboy and a gunslinger to rescue three people kidnapped, one of which is the town doctor and the cowboy's wife. What ensues is a journey akin to a John Ford epic, focused on the gore and savagery of that time.

There is a scene in The Searchers that still strikes and petrifies me to this day. It is in the near beginning when Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to his family's home and must inspect the damage done by the invading Comanches. Outside of the blazing home there is a shrouded hut, in it he discovers the fate of his beloved Martha, the horror of which beyond anything we can imagine. The camera stays outside the door, not daring to pass the threshold. His nephew clamors to see what is inside, using all his might to get past Ethan. Bone Tomahawk uses that moment, but instead lets you push past Ethan and bathe yourself in all the grotesque viciousness unleashed.

Writer and director S. Craig Zahler uses much more than this moment to imitate a classic John Ford western. First there is the medley of characters, all of which have been clearly marked out by Ford films in the past. Then there is the way in which this motley group of characters band together, against horrible odds, to save their friends and loved ones from unspeakable evil. While on paper, Bone Tomahawk seems to fit the western bill, it misses the heart and soul we as an audience discovered along the journey with these characters and jumps right to a brutal conclusion.

And what a barbaric conclusion it is. I am a horror buff who relishes in fictional carnage and I was squirming with all my might to not look away at the severity of the scenes. Most of the gore is contained within the final third of the film, and is highly advised against for the faint of heart, a warning I rarely make.

As a hybrid film, it certainly fits in both milieus. It is also that which prevents it from shining in either. People watch westerns not for the gunslinging shoot-outs but because they yearn for the simpler time when there were strong sheriffs and gruff bad guys and a search for right or wrong. The characters were fully formed and interesting, a beacon of truth in self. People watch horrors because they want to be scared, they want to face that which terrifies them to their bones and feel the catharsis of surviving. Bone Tomahawk doesn't really do or have either of these things, but is daring nonetheless.

As a first film, it is a commendable undertaking and accomplishment for S. Craig Zahler, especially on a budget of near minuscule size at $1.8 million. I wish the film had more of a core to it in regards to the characters and the group dynamic – and at 132 minutes, it had the time, just not the meritorious material.

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Into the Grizzly Maze

Distracting CGI and really unoriginal plot - not scary, just bad
Into the Grizzly Maze is about as low grade B-movie as you can get, with the exception of its start lit cast.

Basically a horror film where an animal is the killer, ala Jaws or more closely Anaconda, Into the Grizzly Maze is about two brothers who must reunite despite their strained relationship in order to hunt down a bear on a killing spree. Set in the Alaskan wilderness, these men, along with other trained experts, think they are on the animals trail to only find out the unrelenting grizzly bear is in fact stalking them.

I'll admit, I don't like animal horror films. I dislike the idea of an animal on the rampage because typically it sparks unnecessary paranoia. Especially since I am on the east coast where bears seem to be wandering into populated area, thanks to deforestation, and the group terror causes them to be put down rather than relocated. But, the relative mystery of the film's existence coupled with the name-y cast was enough for me to give it a try.

Coincidentally, Into the Grizzly Maze is a terrible film with a flimsy unoriginal plot and horrible CGI. No amount of actors such as James Marsden, Piper Perabo, Thomas Jane or Billy Bob Thornton can save it, though their acting is far beyond the subject matter of the film. The film is just your basic 'killer animal on the loose' film and seems to have devolved from the original premise of being based on Timothy Treadwell's life.

Overall, the film just does not work. Despite a couple of grisly deaths, the film is not scary. Perhaps it is because of the bear, who though we know to be dangerous and powerful, just comes across as lumbering and slow on screen. The director does nothing to add to the menace or to highlight the strength and hazards of the creatures clawed paws or gigantic jaw. The use of green screen for death scenes and poor CGI when the bear was supposed to be touching and attacking characters is distracting and almost laughable.

Into the Grizzly Maze is without merit in being green lit for film, and it is no wonder this film was released on the down low. There's no character development or back story, except when told cheaply through conversations. It is without creativity and talent and is wholly unoriginal.

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The Nightmare

Unsettling and entertaining, the monotony for its duration detracts as documentary
Imagine: You are an adult. You rest your head on your pillow after a long day. Falling slowly to sleep, right at your most vulnerable, you catch movement out of the corner of your eye. In the doorway lurks a figure, a malevolently shrouded body leers toward you. You try to open your mouth to scream, but you can't. With all your might you try to will yourself out of bed away from harm, you can't. This is sleep paralysis, this is The Nightmare.

When it comes to sleep disorders, most people have heard of night terrors, those dreams so beyond nightmares that people scream and convulse in their sleep. There is another, a lesser known disorder, a more sinisterly psychological sleep disorder. The Nightmare examines people afflicted with this malady, but not in your typical 'documentary' thematic. Instead, it delves deep into our greatest fears, springing to life those horrors that plague these souls, paralyzing them.

This isn't your normal documentary, for though I've been put off by content or cringed at the realities of other documentaries, no other documentary has truly made me scared. There is something deeply unsettling about the individuals involved in telling their stories in The Nightmare. From all walks of life, with no connection to one another whatsoever, these people recount their experiences with striking similarity. This is where the horror of the documentary resides.

The Nightmare doesn't pose its subject matter in a medical manner, it is with a horror aesthetic. While entertaining and disturbing, it is in this aspect that critics can comment on the negatives of the film. It doesn't follow the standard formula, so there is no true scope or comprehension of the disorder except through vignettes of personal accounts. It is easy to discredit these people as sick without the aid of experts, though the subjects relay pop culture aspects and obsessively research the historical reaches of their disease.

The implicit conclusion of The Nightmare, drawn from the film's focus upon its subjects an how specifically and authentically they describe this horrific experience, is that sleep paralysis is perhaps not a medical malady but a greater, more malicious, occurrence. The documentary loses its strength with nothing to break it up, with Rodney Ascher's 90 minute film constantly and solely reliant upon the stories and their recreations and nothing else.

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Crimson Peak

Airing on slightness, the film is beautiful but without a genre, for del Toro perhaps it doesn't matter
One word serves as the by-line of Guillermo del Toro's next feature: Beware.

Guillermo del Toro wants to sit you down and tell you a story. He is an eager host for your attention, enthusiastic in a way that is only possible for someone who truly believes his version of a tale is better than any you've heard before.

Around the campfire, one imagines that Del Toro is vibrantly evocative–supplementing his narrative with gestures, shadow puppets, striking imagery—and you might start to forget that you've already heard this story a thousand times. His films breathe life into established tropes (like giant robot WWE or Spanish Alice in fascist wonderland) and they are always captivating, but rarely surprising. Crimson Peak is no different, for better or for worse.

From the very start, the film's main characters feel instantly familiar. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is the lovely, bookish daughter of a wealthy businessman in early 20th century New York City. Burdened by the shackles of privilege and high society, Edith finds escape in a career writing ghost stories. She is everything we've come to expect of a heroine—smart, spunky, yet romantic—and it is no surprise when the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives at her father's doorstep to charm her off her feet. Along with his sister Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), Thomas is the last of a dying aristocratic lineage, and seeks investors for his mining invention in a desperate effort to avoid bankruptcy. After he is rebuffed by Edith's father, both as a business partner and as a suitor for Edith, he nevertheless encounters the right circumstances to wed Edith and bring her back to his ancestral English estate, Allerdale Hall.

The story that unfolds is a hybrid of Gothic story elements, focused mostly on uncovering the dark secrets of the Sharpes. We follow along as Edith thumbs through old photos, explores forbidden rooms, and generally plays a puffy sleeved version of Nancy Drew with one tiny catch: she can see ghosts. The mangled apparitions are beautifully rendered and thrilling whenever they appear. Del Toro takes full advantage of the film's "R" rating, at times pushing the boundaries of the expected gore in an otherwise tame romance/horror film. However, though they are the visual highlights of the film, the ghosts almost feel like decorative veneer tacked onto the walls of the story, secondary to the main plot.

It's an easy film to follow because everything you're supposed to feel and think is blatantly telegraphed. Mia Wasikowska is a competent lead, albeit as a character written as thinly as the rims on her gold- framed spectacles (subtext: this pretty girl also has brains!). Once she arrives in the decaying Allerdale Hall, she has little to do except settle in and warm up to Lucille, who seems inexplicably (or not..) jealous of Edith's relationship with her dear brother. Chastain as Lucille is the clear scene-stealer of the movie, a perfect ice queen who turns red-hot with every spiteful glance. She operates at a different level than her co-stars, who seem dull and clunky in comparison. The pieces are set and all we are left to do is wait for everything to come crashing down.

Ignoring the numerous shortcomings in plot and dialogue, there is much to enjoy in Crimson Peak. The film occurs in visual peaks and valleys, as if Del Toro sketched out a dozen dramatic stills and then cobbled a film around those images. A flowing gown trails the distraught Edith as she glides down the stairs and bursts out the front door. A dark castle broods on a snow-covered peak, with red clay spewing from the earth like blood. The wispy silhouette of a woman in the hall appears and vanishes, shrouded in shadows and lurching like a robotic spider. The images are effective and moving, and the film is ultimately rewarding if appropriate expectations are first established.

Crimson Peak is a slight but gorgeous movie without a genre. It doesn't quite have the scares of a horror movie or the emotion of a romance, but maybe that doesn't matter. Scoot closer to the fire and start making a s'more, Del Toro has another story to tell.

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The Visit

Did we watch the same movie? The same garbage M. Night has been producing for years
M. Night Shyamalan has fallen quite a ways since his hey days of Signs and The Sixth Sense. Audience members prepare for his token 'twist' and they just keep getting more outlandish. This year's The Visit pares down the story and film back to the basics, and still we can't help but think his film is still just inadequate and inferior.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and younger Tyler's (Ed Oxenbould) mom is in need of some serious R&R. So they take it upon themselves to take their grandparents up on an offer to stay with them for a week so mom can have some quality time with her new boyfriend, especially after the sudden and painful divorce. Never having met the grandparents, since their mother is estranged from her parents, they embark on an adventure to Pennsylvania farm country. At first Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are welcoming and loving, all seems well, but then they start noticing odd tendencies about the elder couple and start to think this isn't what they had planned.

People keep claiming that The Visit is the redemption film for M. Night Shyamalan after such travesties as The Happening or The Last Airbender. Having never seen the latter, I wasn't all that disappointed in the former. The problem with his films is they try so hard to be grand, rather than actually being an extraordinary concept. It shows in his ever decreasing popularity, and The Visit is no exception.

Once again we have an M. Night Shyamalan film with a twist, which, if you perceive that as a spoiler then you are bonkers because every one of his films have a twist. The acting is poor, resting on the shoulders of two child actors who are not quite up to the task. Their personas and the family dynamic with the mother (Kathryn Hahn) is not one we typically see in film, but it is there, and M. Night's ability to bring it to life is lesser than his predecessors. The only good actress in the film was Deanna Dunagan as the batty Nana, but that is not enough to save the film overall.

In all honesty, I wanted to stop watching after five minutes. The painful exposition, the trendy use of faux documentary cam footage in a horror film, and the bland characters – it was obvious this was not going to be good, let alone great. But, I persisted, and unfortunately that time invested didn't pay off. With no scares and very little story to build constant tension to give the illusion of fear, we were dreadfully disappointed once again.

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The Hallow

Cinematically beautiful, Hardy's vision stands out in this marvelous indie creature horror
Pulling from ancient Irish fables and mythology, The Hallow, also known as The Woods, takes the fairy tale atmosphere and destroys it with malevolence and foreboding darkness.

Tasked with unfortunate responsibility of going into rural Ireland's natural landscape, British conservationist Adam Hitchens must venture into the woods and choose which trees are right for milling. The townspeople warn him that he doesn't belong, that in those woods are land belonging to the Hallow, tiny little ancient tree fairies who were driven from their sacred lands. Ignoring their warnings, Adam and his family quickly find out there's truth in mythology, and fight to survive the night against these demonic creatures.

The Hallow is an effective horror because it does not rely on one type of horror, imperative of those select creature genre flicks which always end up disappointing. The horror is multi-layered, initially relying on the foreboding sense of unrest from the superstitious townspeople. Then it morphs into a creature horror, but just when you think its simplicity has reached a peak, it turns again, this time the utter terror and cringe inducing body horror of a dark essence invading your skin. But it's not over yet, then it adds the complete panic of a mother protecting her child at the risk of losing him forever. With all these ingredients, there is a type of horror for everyone to get you squirming.

It's rather amazing that The Hallow is Corin Hardy's first legitimate feature film. His grasp upon mood and ability to integrate story with scares while having the eye to make a visually stunning film that is overcast and dark is beyond impressive, with similar praise going to the cinematographer Martijn van Broekhuizen. His use of natural scenery, muted tones, and shadows to hide and highlight the ominous creatures of the woods is that of someone far beyond his experience. It is no wonder that, though a relative unknown, he is slated to direct the remake of The Crow.

It is clear that no aspect of The Hallow was beyond Hardy's creative reach. Everything is subtle, muted even. The music is practically subliminal, building tension naturally rather than forcing an emotion that is not organically present in the subject matter. And yet, Hardy's film has clear vision and makes a strong statement by veering past the standard three Act format and skipping from the first to the third with no middle act to be found.

Based on the execution of The Hallow, I think Corin Hardy is going to be one of the up and coming directors to watch the way James Wan took over the horror scene. The Hallow may not be as a resounding scream of an announcement of talent as Saw was for Wan, but is surely the whisper to get Hardy started.


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