Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Hollow (2015)

I am aware that Cinema Freaks hasn't been active as of late. This was due to the 2016 election and a hurricane, and no, I don't feel like elaborating on those things much. It isn't fun. Let's instead talk about something slightly less depressing – like this depressingly drab, cliché pile of shit The Hollow. 

Actually, never mind; I regret picking it for a review or doing this at all.

Director: Sheldon Wilson
Starring: Stephanie Hunt, Sarah Dugdale

Co-written with Michelle.

This is a made for TV movie, which I believe doesn't have to be a bad thing. But stuff this poorly written and put together isn't doing the genre many favors!

We start off with a woman and her dog that won't shut up driving in a car. They stop by some area in the trees and what looks like a firework explodes in the lady's face. If that seems weird and nonsensical to you, well, then you haven't seen as many bad horror movies as me. All of them have stupid shit like this in them.

This was the 'too gory' version of the anti-fireworks PSA your demented neighborhood council wanted to put out. The sadists...

Then we cut to something totally different and unique – a group of OTHER people driving in a car, in the same boring foresty road setting! Wow. These three are a group of sisters, I guess, whose parents have recently died in a car fire. We know this because of the extremely forced, awkward exposition they engage in. It's seriously really shitty writing – like the one girl, Marley, goes “You KNOW she's been traumatized ever since our parents burned to death in that car!”

Oh, really??? Well thank you for telling me that! Sure am glad you reminded me! I almost forgot!!

There are a bunch of really fucking terrible jump scares in this, too – like, when the two older sisters are looking for Emma, the youngest one, after she ran off into the forest randomly for no reason, a bird scares Sarah and then this guy comes out from behind a tree:

"I know I look like Brock Turner and I'm cornering young girls in the woods alone, but I promise, I'm the good guy..."

Wow! Two jump scares for the price of one! But yeah, this guy's purpose is warning her of going to this town on the island they're all traveling to, saying something bad might happen there. Heavens, me – something BAD happening in this HORROR MOVIE? Say it ain't so! Prep the bomb shelters! I never thought something bad would happen in a movie with a giant tree-fire monster on the cover!

The little girl, Emma, is apparently psychic or something – she has dreams that sort of foretell the future, and has recently had one where all three of them die. Well with THAT attitude... but seriously, though, they never even bother trying to explain what the deal is with these powers. It barely ever comes up again. There's honestly no point in it except to have some weak foreshadowing to what's going to come later. I would have forgotten about it if we hadn't expected it to be a main part of the plot, and then it just... wasn't.

They get to the island, where they're going to live with their aunt after their parents died in that accident that they clearly don't care about, as they don't bring it up ever again.

However, when they get there, they find the island completely abandoned, which is weird, but doesn't seem to ring any strange bells for the girls. I get the feeling these three together had maybe a 75 IQ score. But what's weirder is they get to their aunt's house and find her dead inside her car! Oh man, just another classic good time at auntie's house.

Almost as good as The Visit by M. Night Shyamalan for twisty-turny stories about visiting relatives!

They go through an extremely confusing segment next in which they help this wounded lady into the house who's been attacked by the monster from the beginning. Inside, a storm hits and the two older sisters, Marley and Sarah, argue about how Sarah won't let her do anything. This is really boring, so I don't care about expounding any further – but I will say Marley, played by Sarah Dugdale, constantly looks like she's on drugs through this whole thing:

Are you cosplaying as Midget Elvira this year for Halloween?

Seriously, somebody on set needs to get her into a detox program and keep any needles or pill bottles away from her.

I don't get why their cell phones don't work. I mean, sure, out in the country, maybe. But once they get to the main part of town, it makes no sense unless this is some weird Amish coven with no cell towers. They should be able to just call that guy at the pier on the mainland and get him to send help – and then boom, movie over. But I guess there is a God and he hates us, so that doesn't happen and the movie continues.

They eventually get into town, though, and they split up somehow. Marley finds this shop where the monster kills a guy in front of her, throwing his body on top of her. He doesn't touch her though, or Emma who was standing BEHIND them inside the store the whole time. This is sadly one of the movie's most annoyingly bad elements – the monster constantly has a chance to kill them all very easily but doesn't do it because... uh, I got nothing. Because it... doesn't want to?

"Nah... I got a lot of chores to do today! See ya!"

Later on, they find another group of people hiding in this store, and the monster doesn't even kill them THEN. There's no reason why it can't just burst through the door and instantly kill them! The rest of the fucking island is deserted and dead at this point, so I guess the monster is just off downloading bootlegged Game of Thrones episodes in-between maimings and murders.

If you really give a fuck, here is the backstory we get – some witches were killed in this town a hundred years ago, and now a monster exists because of that and will come back every hundred years for no fucking reason and kill people again. Really? That's the best you could think of? If I turned that into a third grade writing homework assignment, my teacher would flunk me out of the class. You should be ashamed.

I love the fact that these witches cast a spell to 'come back' from the dead as something far worse, and the monster in this movie is the best they could get - a shitty bundle of sticks with a flaming head that moves like a drunk praying mantis. Girls, I think somebody at the magic shop ripped you off.

Also, that guy with a gun from earlier in the movie, who warned them about the island? He's apparently some kind of internet writer who doesn't even believe in the legend of the island, and is just going there to be a cynical ass about it. Because why have any aspect of this plot make any sense, right? If he didn't believe in the legend, why did he tell them it was so serious?

So, honestly, this is the point of the movie where it really fell off a cliff for us. There's nothing wrong with a slow-building plot, which we figured this might be. But nope! It just had no plot, period! Everything we thought was going to be revealed was completely off-base, because the movie just ignored any kind of plot threads and turned into a generic chase scene. I'll give you some of our guesses that turned out to be complete moot points:

-Was the monster not killing the three sisters because they were all important for some reason? Like, were they reincarnations of these three witches that got killed there years ago, or something? NOPE!

-Were the other people they ran into in town going to be evil and conspiring against them or lying to them in some way? NOPE!

-Was the monster dragging off certain bodies for some ultimate endgame that we couldn't guess? Nope, just for no reason at all!

It's just awfully, confusingly bad plotting. How can so little actually happen? Don't you have any sense of drama?

What DOES happen is about 20 minutes of really, really boring running around in a forest from the monster, with most of the characters having to limp now after being injured – because not being able to run properly just makes action that much more exciting, remember. The monster sure does show its face a lot! What a narcissistic, full-of-himself piece of shit.

"My mother always told me I looked like Cary Grant!"

They end up down in an old bunker, because when in doubt, make it harder for yourselves to escape – brilliant plan, General Patton's spawn! They mostly do nothing of consequence there, just more hiding from the monster. Sarah locks herself in this room with the monster, intending to trap it there, and it kills her – a noble sacrifice, for sure. But why didn't she just lock the monster in and save herself? My theory is that she just wanted to end it all now and get out of the misery that is this fucking movie.

"Finally, the sweet embrace of death! Woohoo!"

Then they go outside and the monster follows them, nearly killing Marley before a burst of sunlight through the trees kills the monster instead, because this thing is such a pussy piece of shit monster, sunlight kills it. And not in a cool way like with vampires, either.

But wait a second. Didn't the movie establish that this monster comes back every hundred years? It leaves at the end of Halloween, they said, and doesn't come back for 100 years. So basically nothing they even did mattered! That's bullshit. And this movie is bullshit.

I don't even know what else to add. Bad storyline, with nothing explained or elaborated on, and a bunch of dumb moments where the monster could've killed them but didn't for no reason. Lots of lazy jump scares. No good characters or drama at all, and even though they try early on, they drop it later on and never bring it up again. How much more do you need?

Nothing about this was entertaining at all. Like I said, this wasn't even a good choice for a Cinema Freaks review, and I am sorry I did it. If I had a physical copy of this movie, I'd put it in the Trick or Treat bags of whichever kid annoyed me the most on Halloween night.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.

Monday, September 19, 2016

American Sniper (2014)

The verdict is still out on whether or not Clint Eastwood hasn't just been dead for years, and really it's some kind of voodoo sorcerer using his reanimated corpse puppet to bitch about “political correctness culture,” like he's so senile in his old age that he forgot that Gran Torino was just a movie and is now just acting it out forever in some hellish loop. And we're all too nice to tell him.

But maybe we shouldn't be so nice. Eastwood, after all, hates what pussies our generation has become for caring about racism. So I think we should toss the baby out with the bathwater and stop caring about offending senile old people like him, too.

If Eastwood wants the kind of culture where we just say whatever we want with no repercussions, allow me to say his movies have sucked ass for years. He can't do it anymore. All his recent movies are hack work garbage. And yes, especially the one about the American military. What was that one called?

Oh yeah – American Sniper.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Co-written with Michelle.

I realize it's weird that we're doing this so soon after 9/11. There. The elephant in the room has been addressed. This is a supremely lame and boring movie for something that should feel so important. It chronicles the life of Chris Kyle, the “American Sniper,” who killed a record number of people over in the Middle East in the war. The way this movie tells it, though, is more like an overt love letter to blind patriotism with no actual character or drama. Watching this thing was like listening to my conservative uncle blather on over a Thanksgiving dinner, getting drunker and drunker. So, yeah – not fun.

Not that I expected “fun” out of this movie, but I did expect something. And it didn't deliver! The first 20 minutes rushes haphazardly through Kyle's childhood and into adulthood, when he and his brother find his wife cheating on him in his house. None of it is really given any importance or drama – why should we care about any of it and why is it being shown? It's not very interesting. The dialogue fucking sucks, too. Gotta love when he finds his wife cheating on him and she just flat out says “I'm doing this because I want attention!”

...That is not good writing. Unless her character is just super self-aware and in touch with her emotions, it's god-awful dialogue.

"I have a deep well of personal issues stemming back to the absence of my father in childhood which now causes me to act out in ways that some men may find to be dishonest. I use sex as a crutch to hide my crippling emotional deadness and during the day I feel ashamed, but I can't stop," - a deleted scene in the film involving this character, who is the most in-touch with her emotions out of any of the characters

It just gets worse from there – he meets a girl at a bar and they hit it off in the most cliché and hollow way, exchanging horrendous dialogue on their second scene together about how perfect she is and how he wants to be together forever. Pass the barf bag! She even admits that they barely know each other, which I think was her character breaking from the mundanity of the script and saying something that made sense before the idiocy pushed her right back down.

Love at first sight.

There's just no complexity to these characters. Every interaction between every character is a safe bare minimum slice of vanilla, like the writers were afraid any diversion from the most standard, nonspecific dialogue would alienate their viewers, like they are that fragile-minded. Is there even a point in going over much more of it? Every relationship is exactly what you'd expect it'd be if I told you who was talking to who, AND you were just a really boring, unimaginative person. Kyle and his brother? Just the most empty, banal jocular quips back and forth, bro! Kyle and his wife? “I love you, please don't go back overseas, you can't see what this is doing to you.” Repeat ad nauseam. That's literally all there ever is in this fucking movie.

"My whole existence is based on wanting you not to be in war. I have no other personality. Oh God, I'm having an existential crisis! What is the meaning of anything in life? Am I just a two-dimensional character written down sloppily and hastily to finish a script? Is life just a meaningless black void of nothingness?" 

If it seems odd that I am harping so much on this, well, shouldn't a biopic trying to honor and respect a guy's life be a bit more interesting than just this stale, generic kind of characterization? It's practically a Made for TV movie so far as the writing goes. Yes, as Michelle and I both noted when watching this, it's obviously going for the whole “rah rah America, fuck yeah” conservative attitude. But does that mean it also has to be a bad movie? I just have to ask these questions.

Also, there's really not much conflict to be had when the whole point is that he is a great and untouchable shooter in war. Not like he ever struggles with THAT aspect... and since there's no real drama otherwise, it just comes off as flat.

But speaking of politics, let's talk about this movie's shitty politics. Do you think every Muslim is a terrorist? Do you think the Middle East is nothing but a bunch of gun-toting, bomb-loving terrorists who want to KILL AMERICA? If so, then this movie will really speak to you.

What kind of erudite, hard to glean point could he be trying to make here??? I just don't know.

And, look, I know they aren't going to take time out of this military war movie to show a bunch of peaceful Muslims playing with a dog in a park. I get it. But that's the problem in itself. If I can't tell whether your movie is racist or whether you were just cramped for time, that isn't a really good problem to have.

The bulk of the movie is taken up by fairly passe, dull scenes of military guys wandering around, shooting stuff, wandering around some more, and shooting stuff some more. I can't even believe how many fucking scenes there are in this movie of guys walking slowly and tensely up stairs or driving around corners in their military vehicles. It's seriously way too many.

The above two pictures = 95% of the movie. And you know I never exaggerate anything.

They do vary it up a bit, though, when they show a military funeral for some guy we didn't know. It's so boring I can't even describe it properly. Am I an asshole if I was looking at Facebook on my phone during this scene? Does it count if it was only a fake military funeral? No? Phew.

So then after some more boring action scenes, he goes back home and spends a fuckload of time with a bunch of disabled vets, and sure, it's god-awful that they got blown up like they did. But I will say there's a reason that Eastwood is showing you this in such a gratuitous manner and hammering it home, and it isn't because he really liked the concession stand in that veteran's hospital. Do veteran's hospitals have concession stands? They do for the purposes of this. Shut up.

Obviously it's horrific when things like this happen to people. It sucks. But isn't it really creepy and weird that he's basically using amputees as a political prop to make his shitty point? "See? Look at what those Muslims did to our American soldiers!" If they were real characters we already knew from earlier, and not just appearing on screen for a second at the end of the movie, maybe it'd be something else. But it just can't be ignored with the tone of this whole movie being "America good, Muslims bad." It's uncomfortable.

The film ends with Kyle going off to hang out with the guy who would kill him that same day in real life. Like many true-life biopics, this doesn't actually show anything and instead fades to black on them standing in place outside Kyle's house, making it yet another disappointing choice in a movie full of them. I get why they wouldn't want to show the guy dying. But I dunno - the way they did end it just feels a bit weak to me.

Honestly, this is awful. It sucks because it's relentlessly boring, generic, vanilla scriptwriting and moviemaking that does nothing to tell a good story. Instead it just serves as a hollow pro-America propaganda piece. And I'm not against the troops or anything – certainly, good for them if they chose to go over there and do what they do. I wouldn't want to do it. But it's not like I needed THIS movie to tell me America is good. If Eastwood thinks he needs to make this to drive that point home, maybe he needs to have a bit more faith in his own country if he needs to try this hard to convince himself.

It's just so bad, though. Even if it wasn't a propaganda piece of shit, the characters are bland, the action is dull and the writing is plastic and hollow. I may disagree with Eastwood's politics, but the film is bad no matter what. This isn't some kind of lost masterpiece that just has a political view I disagree with. Bradley Cooper did a good job and I enjoyed some of his performance, but others like Sienna Miller as the wife are just bad, probably because she was given very little to work with. The other soldiers and side characters are entirely unmemorable.

Apparently, Steven Spielberg was going to direct this, but the idea he had for it was too much money for the studio's budget. So they threw Eastwood in as a consolation prize I guess. I dunno. Watching the scenes set in Iraq, I think this could've been good with a more noirish, slow-burning, artistic style of filmmaking, maybe a style that really drove home the desperation and eerieness of the darkness over there and the danger the troops faced. You don't really get a sense of that in this movie.

But the way it shows the Middle East, as solely a hive of evil villains waiting to kill the good Americans, comes off as shitty and ignorant too. I don't think it was just Eastwood being crunched for time like I joked about in the review – I think he deliberately portrayed the Middle East this way to make a fucking awful "point." And given our country's current climate, it's not helpful and is actually more harmful than anything. Again, there's no exploration of any of the complexities of this war or why we're there or whether or not we were doing any good at all, and the movie would've been more interesting with some of that. The only exploration of Kyle's character at all is "war is hell," and that isn't enough to carry a two-hour movie in the 2010s. Not exactly a striking, in-depth characterization...

Remember – Eastwood wants a world free from the political correctness he claims is destroying us. So here's me not being politically correct: this movie sucks, and Eastwood is a cranky old man who needs to hang up his hat and retire. Fuck American Sniper.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cinema Freaks Live: Don't Breathe (2016)

Well, last week we did the movie about a deaf heroine fighting off a home invasion, and this week we're doing the movie about a bunch of home invaders fighting a blind man inside his own house. What can we say? We just like movies about the disabled here at Cinema Freaks.

Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy

Co-written with Michelle.

This is our new podcast on the movie. I really liked doing this one, because it feels like our normal text reviews, with play-by-plays of the scenes in order, except done through talking. Michelle and I had fun with this one. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Oh, and as per usual, there are SPOILERS in this thing. Quite a lot of them!

Remember to share this with your friends and Like us on Facebook!

Image copyright of its original owners. We don't own it.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hush (2016)

Let's talk about Mike Flanagan. He's one of horror's best new directors – probably THE best in my estimation, even if only for the film Absentia, which is still one of my favorites of any era of horror. He followed it up a few years later with Oculus, which was also good if not as good, perhaps a bit less layered and character-driven, but still one-upping most contemporaries at the supernatural horror genre. Now he's come out with the Netflix exclusive Hush, which, if nothing else, does show us here at Cinema Freaks that the best way to survive a home invasion is to be deaf.

There are also SPOILERS in this review, so tread with caution!

Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr.

Co-written with Michelle.

Up front: We both think this is a really cool movie. It's very inventive and has a lot of cool, subtle touches that raise it above the average thriller in this genre. I'm not even very big on the home invasion stuff – I think a lot of it is pretty trite trash. But this one is good.

So, then. Let's talk about why.

The film starts off pretty quaintly – a deaf woman, Maddie, is cooking dinner and still sort of conflicted over her old boyfriend, which is a plot never quite elaborated on and I'm glad the film didn't spend much time on it. She gets a visit from her friend, who talks to Maddie about her book, which the friend apparently loved. Maddie says she gets the ideas for her stories from a voice in her head, which, while interesting, could also have much in common with schizophrenia.

Not to imply that writers would ever be anything less than sane.

It does set up the main undertone of the story, though, which is Maddie's talent for seeing all sorts of different endings. She has seven for her book on her computer, as we see later – and she's frustrated because none of them are working out right. Her friend leaves after a mishap with the food she's cooking. Little did she know Maddie wanted everything to be burnt to a crisp – it's that special kind of cuisine.

Later on we get some more shading and backstory – apparently Maddie moved out to the country to be alone. Her sister and family think it would be better if she moved back into the city, but she doesn't want to. And this guy who she used to date, I guess, keeps calling her incessantly after she starts to call him and then stops. Stop creeping on her, asshole! And, while this is all going on, a guy has broken into her home and has killed her best friend outside!

I wonder if the killer doesn't know she's deaf. Maybe he's thinking "wow, this girl must really hate her best friend to not even LOOK over here when I am killing her." I wonder if that makes him mad, like a spoiled kid whose parents won't even pay him mind. I hope it does.

Oh, wait. That isn't backstory. It's actually just the regular, real and very tense plot.

I do like how the killer just pops up with no warning. Like a fucking Jack in the Box. That's badass. He comes like a force of nature and there's zero explanation for his appearance. He doesn't get some sort of secret connection, some soap-opera shit where you find out he's Maddie's long lost cousin who she once killed his pet hamster, or something like that. No, this guy is just some random psycho, stalking the house with a crossbow.

Maddie finally realizes something is wrong and tries to escape in vain. This starts the meat of the movie – the long, darkly-lit cat-and-mouse thrill sequence where Maddie tries to survive the torments of the man outside, who proves to be very sadistic. I mean, I know that's a hell of an accusation. But look at this – he uses her dead friend as this sick puppet and knocks her hand on the window. Over and over, he does this. I'm not one to judge by first appearances. But I think this guy is probably a fucking whack job.

Hey, we all have issues and we all deal with them in different ways.

Fortunately, Maddie is no slouch herself. She maneuvers all kinds of shit during this movie. She's able to stay alive with gusto, even. Like a female, deaf John McClain, which is really what I think John McClain was all the time inside. A deaf woman. That's what every action hero is inside – a kick ass deaf woman.

The film goes along quite swimmingly, with not a whole lot to pick apart or criticize – it's just a very solid, tense home invasion flick, and the scenes are well constructed and engaging. The film is good because it doesn't insult your intelligence. There are no dumb scenes of Maddie trying to talk and reason with the killer – well, for obvious reasons, actually. And there's no implausible torture-traps or twists of fate where it makes the killer look to have superpowers, a la The Collector. It just gives you good, lean, mean suspense and thrills. Which really should not be some sort of revolutionary thing – but there you go; that's the state of this genre.

One scene I liked that also bucked cliché was when that dead girl's boyfriend shows up later on and distracts the killer. The killer does pretend he's a cop, which is a bit silly. But it never goes the way I expected it to – they do NOT have the killer immediately overpower the guy, tricking him like he's some sort of omnipotent force. The guy almost gets the drop on the killer, actually. The only reason he doesn't is because Maddie distracts him from far away, not being able to tell that he had the upper hand. That's a really cruel fucking twist of fate, and works macabrely in the movie's favor. The killer does kill the guy and it's much closer than it is in other films.

Another great scene: Maddie makes a break for it running outside. The killer catches her immediately with a rock to the head, then straddles her and smashes her head in with another rock.

Cut to her back in the house, having imagined the whole thing. It's her “writer brain” from earlier kicking in – she's a better strategist than most main characters, it appears, being able to judge bad ideas before actually trying to do them.

Instead, what ends up happening is a more closed-in fight scene inside the house, in which she blinds him with bug spray to the eyes and then deafens him with her super loud fire alarm device. Then she ends up stabbing him with a wine opener that appeared earlier in the movie. The old Chekhov's Wine Opener plot device. I know it well...

This is just a solid as fuck horror film. I think this is well done for its tense atmosphere, its clearly defined and exciting series of events and the main character, Maddie, who is very capable, badass and interesting to watch, not to mention actually likable and sympathetic – not always a given with horror movies.

But there are also a few other subtle things I really like about this. For one, the use of sound – the movie's name, Hush, isn't an accident. The film does well to point out and play around with Maddie's deafness as a sort of aesthetic device. The moments in the film where she's alone and then a sound appears to the viewer, piercing the silence in that way that we know she can't hear, are interesting and different, and they're very small, mostly cropping up in the beginning before all the action starts – but it's little, subtle touches like this, very well woven into the film, that establish her character, set the tone for the film and add a detail that the film would've been a bit worse without.

And I like that she's deaf – that she can survive while being a deaf woman trapped in this situation. Those little moments I mentioned? Those are kind of like the butterfly flapping its wings before a storm happens – Butterfly Effect type shit. She figures out new, inventive ways to escape the killer and holds her own, and thus, her deafness is actually what sets this whole movie apart from its parent 'home invasion' genre. It's very fresh in that way.

I also enjoyed the minor theme running through of Maddie's writing career. The 'writer brain' concept is very cool, and developed subtly but well over the film's course. She starts out the film unable to finish her book, leaving a computer full of half-finished notes and a lot of frustration as her attacker then traps her in the house, cuts off the power and kills everyone she knows. But she's able to survive the ordeal, at least in part, because she's adapted so well to being deaf. Kind of a “other senses amplified” sort of deal. But she actually survives because of what she can do that others can't – her disability forces her to be more crafty than someone who could hear might be, but it's her writing talent and creative mind that helps her actually come out on top.

That's pretty fucking cool. Go see Hush. It's on Netflix so you have no excuse if you've got that. Otherwise, I guess you have plenty of excuses.

Images copyright of their original owners. We own none of them.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cinema Freaks Live: Suicide Squad

Last week, The Observer/Colin and I got together and watched Suicide Squad. I didn't really know what I was going to think of it, but I kept hearing equally good and bad things about it, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

And... well, just check out our video on it:


If you can't watch the video for some reason, we thought it was a pretty shit movie really. But it was oddly fun for all of that! It was so patchwork, so piecemeal, so poorly done. And other alliterative terms beginning with 'P.' You could tell the studio edited the fuck out of this in endless futile attempts to please an audience that hadn't seen it. The stench of desperation about this whole thing is worse than the dead dog I passed on the sidewalk last week.

It's a shame because some of the performances are good and you can tell the actors probably had fun working on it. Well, until they saw the final product anyway and realized they now looked like they'd spent hours working on a movie and had nothing to show for it except costumes that look like bad childrens' birthday party entertainers.

One thing Colin pointed out that I agreed with was that it seems really weird to put together something like this Suicide Squad at all. "We need an army to fight off the bad guys in the shadows and not get any recognition... okay, let's get a guy who can shoot a gun, a girl who's crazy, a dude who plays with boomerangs, a guy who can shoot fire from his hands and a guy with a crocodile head. Sounds logical! We totally don't need anyone else! That should be enough!" It's like, how is that going to solve problems? If there's any real threat, I don't see how these assholes would be that much more capable than anyone else. Maybe the fire guy would be OK. But otherwise, nah.

Jared Leto's Joker, for all his hi-larious antics backstage of the film, wasn't as bad as I figured he would be. He wasn't great - mostly because he looked kind of like a weird CGI blowfish with bad clown makeup on. But for a performance that had to live up to Heath Ledger and partially succeeded by sort of imitating him, Leto was not too bad.

I don't want to say any more. Check the video. Enjoy. Live your life. Watch Suicide Squad, if for some reason that might make you happy. Until next time!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Some loose thoughts on The Invitation (2015)

I saw the movie The Invitation last night at about 1 a.m., which really is the best time to watch a horror film – when everything is dark and the noises go bump in the stillness of the night. Naturally, at that unique time of day and with a movie this strange and eerie, some thoughts were borne out of the experience which I wanted to write down as quick as possible. So I did. Here they are. I'm basically just going to ramble about it for a few paragraphs, just a bunch of loose thoughts. Let's talk about The Invitation. There'll be some spoilers, I guess, but I'm not going through this scene-by-scene like in my normal reviews.

Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall Green, Tammy Blanchard

The story is about this guy named Will coming back for this reunion with his ex-wife and a bunch of their friends. Apparently Will and his wife's son died two years ago, and after that his wife joined this religious group out in Mexico, which is always a good sign by the way. The group's philosophy is that apparently, letting go and dying shouldn't be this scary concept. Which seems like an awfully long way to go to make a religion – why not just get some pills and cash out now? Why wait? But it's a religion for them, I guess, and it starts to make for what could charitably be called an awkward house party. There's a sense of unease immediately, with the crowded camera shots full of all these characters and the almost toxic, claustrophobic sense of politeness – you can just tell there's something “off,” and the movie never skimps on that feeling. I was uncomfortable all throughout this thing.

The movie's first two acts especially are so exquisitely creepy. This is masterfully headfucked, bizarre, trippy stuff, like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining – that was really the prevalent influence I kept being reminded of through the whole movie. There are all these weird, head-trip moments where you don't know what's going on and what's just in someone's head. Will, the lead, seems composed at first, but the memory of his lost son slowly starts to show that maybe he isn't a reliable narrator either – you wonder a few times what exactly is just his warped perspective and what isn't. The ending of the movie is much more straightforward, and doesn't have that kind of ambiguity, but I liked the way they built it up anyway. At some moments before the climax, the movie has these surreal scenes that sort of dive down a rabbit hole of fucked-up-ness, but then cut back to normalcy and you wonder if that scene even really happened. It doesn't end up mattering if it really happened, though, because the effect is still so macabre.

The climax turns into an all-out bloodbath. It becomes something similar to the movie End of the Line, which I panned way back in 2014, but the execution is what matters – the 'cult end of days killers' theme is done so well in this film. As I mentioned, the ambiguity and the surreality of the early parts of the film were excellent, but I am not one to turn my nose at a good dose of violence, either. This climax is full of great stark, surprising, bloody moments, and it works. The final twist at the end is one I've seen done before, and maybe it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I was rolling with it the way this movie told it. I had no great complaints.

I think beyond everything else, it was the little touches that made this movie so good to me. The villains in this film are part of this cult that wants to enact mass suicide. But when they die, they don't seem like they're at peace as they said they'd be. When these cult members die, they don't reach some kind of perfect bliss like they blather on about all throughout the first two acts – they're in pain, screaming and they don't want to go. I think that's a kind of insight that puts this movie way above most other horror movies.

It's a nuance that shows an understanding of people's psyches where, even as far gone as these villains are, we're all the same when we're dying. The reactions of the main characters, the good guys, killing them are appropriately horrified, too; another thing most movies do not get right. I think when you can feel the deaths at a more visceral level, see the pain, then a horror movie is even more “real.” That's why The Invitation succeeds.

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Standoff (2016)

Standoff is a movie about angry, shouting men trapped in a house together. If that sounds good to you, well, you'll like the film. If you're thinking there could be subtleties and more depth to it than that, well, get ready to be disappointed!

Director: Adam Alleca
Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurence Fishburne

Co-written with Tony.

Apparently this got mostly negative reviews, according to Wikipedia, which really is the only source for movie ratings. Fuck Rotten Tomatoes. I'm a purist and only read the "reception" tab on Wikipedia to tell me whether to get a movie or not. And I'm glad to add my critical voice, so esteemed by my peers, into that foray!

This movie begins with Thomas Jane, who I like to think of in this movie as Better Keanu Reeves, as he has long hair and a similarly angry, stoic demeanor, but he can at least try to act, so that's something. Him and his wife are mourning because their kid dies, and she leaves him, apparently not really needing that big Thomas Jane acting gold too badly.

That's way too nice of a shot for this movie. Kind of a waste...

Meanwhile, a little girl with a camera, called Bird, is going to a funeral with her stepfather, Rob Zombie movie extra:

Straight from the set of '31' probably.

They get there and it's pretty much as cliché as a funeral scene can get – like, the fact that they filmed this at all without falling asleep is amazing. I bet they just watched a funeral scene in any other generic Z-grade thriller like this and copy-pasted the entire script. But they can't even finish the funeral without a hitman showing up and killing everyone there. D'oh! Foiled again! Better try to have that funeral again at a later time. It's going to require a do-over.

He actually always only kills people at funerals, just because he is a lazy fuck.

The little girl sees him doing it and takes a photo of him with his mask off – it's Laurence Fishburne, by the way. He sees her and then immediately decides he has to devote the rest of his day to killing her. He cancels all his other appointments, including the one to curl his hair and the one to get his nails done. He chases her through this big field to the house of Better Keanu Reeves, who opens the door and is surprised to see her there. But he's even more surprised when Fishburne shoots him in the foot immediately, without even attempting to reason with him.

This begins the main conflict of the story – Jane's character and the little girl, Bird, stuck upstairs in Jane's house while the increasingly deranged Fishburne stomps around downstairs threatening them. It's the least suspenseful cat and mouse thing ever. There should be multiple ways out of this, but for some reason, this is dragged out for a whole damn movie. It's also revealed somewhere in this mess that Jane's character is a soldier. This has importance because, well, they couldn't think of any other way to shoehorn in him being such a badass. Still better than John Wick, though, which is why Jane's character retains the nickname Better Keanu Reeves.

Especially ludicrous is the way Fishburne constantly blathers on about how he's the best hitman ever and he's the biggest challenger Jane will ever face. But he proves himself wrong instantly, as he's constantly over-emotional, flying off the handle at every little insult Jane throws his way. You know, like a good hitman would be. He also gets really, really drunk to ease the pain of when Jane shoots him, too – I'm sure being drunk just makes him a better hitman.

Drinking on the job is actually the way to be good at anything. If you're a bus driver for instance, drinking on the job will just make you even better than you were. I'm telling the truth obviously, as this is in a caption on a picture on a movie blog.

Not to mention the elephant in the room – he's doing all of this just to kill one little girl, and he can't even do that right! How good of a hitman can this guy be? Were all his previous marks catatonic patients in hospital beds? Fuck, this is a dumb ass movie.

The movie pretty much proceeds like this for the entirety of its runtime:

FISHBURNE: Who the hell do you think you are? I'm going to laugh at you from down here!


Or sometimes, when the movie really starts taking risks, they reverse that conversation so it's Fishburne screaming his head off at Jane being condescending. Ooh, now we're really getting brave!

I just don't know. Most of the movie is just a dull slog. They really, really stretch this out, to the point where the stretch marks would look more like World War II bayonet battle scars. Jesus, this is boring. I guess a few times, they move around and make it seem like something interesting is going to happen – like, at one point, Fishburne goes outside and climbs upstairs using a ladder, I guess. Even then it doesn't get any more interesting. Having the only two characters involved in the fight be crippled from wounds and one of them very drunk doesn't exactly make for good suspense. What's next – a movie about two geriatric wheelchair-bound old farts screaming at each other across a nursing home? Check that out next summer, from the makers of Standoff!

At one point, a cop shows up and hears gunshots coming from the direction of the house. Showing that the old 'dumb cops dies' trope is still fresh to some misguided individuals, he doesn't even call in that he heard gunshots. He's about to, but instead of telling the rest of the sheriff's office there was gunshots, he just goes it alone. You go for it, Rambo!

He actually does call in, but then changes his mind and doesn't even tell them he heard gunshots. Either he has a death wish, or the movie is just terrible at writing cop characters. What motivation does he have to go off rogue-style on his own? He doesn't know what's out there. He could be walking into a gunfight between two redneck assholes. He doesn't know if this is going to be anything that will like, skyrocket his fucking career and make him a hero. I don't get how a character can be this dumb...oh, wait, it's because the script needs a convenient idiot.

So Fishburne ties up the cop and tortures him for a while, all to get Jane to send Bird downstairs. He doesn't, so instead we just get a pretty lame, try-hard torture scene shoved into the movie. Ya know, in case you weren't convinced already that this movie is out of ideas and pandering to horror cliches that no one wants to see in the first place.

Did you want a torture scene with cuts so quick you can't even see any gore? Do you also want a porn movie with only shots of the girl's feet through the whole thing?

I just don't get the whole premise of this story. Fishburne's character wanted to kill Bird because she saw him without his mask on. But he CHOSE to take his mask off in front of the woman he came to the cemetery to kill in the first place. That was in broad daylight. Unless he had extremely accurate, prescient future-vision, there's no way he couldn't have known that some other random pedestrian(s) wouldn't have walked by. So really, it's his own fault for taking his dumb mask off and assuming no one in broad fucking daylight would ever see him. Kinda a self-fulfilling prophecy. Numbnuts.

And now he wants to kill Bird – a girl who can't be older than eight. She would have nothing to talk about if you hadn't taken your mask off. So really, all this is your own fault. It's especially insane and maddening because he constantly talks about how he's the greatest hitman in the world. Uh, maybe if by greatest you mean worst. Maybe that would be accurate.

The movie ends with a lot more huffing and puffing from these two assholes – Jane does the cliché thing for these movies and asks why Fishburne ended up the way he did, and Fishburne tells some dumb story about how he started killing more and more people and it helped him sleep. Snooooooore. Wake me up when you learn to write a real character!

The movie's characters are so thinly and shallowly written. They have no depth and they just scream and the movie thinks that's a way of conveying who they are. It's hack bullshit. It sucks.

Then, as if this whole thing couldn't possibly get any dumber, it's revealed Fishburne has lured Jane's wife to the house, by telling her he was drinking too heavily, and she believed him despite never having heard his voice before. Yeah, I'm sure the guy who you've never met or heard of, claiming he's your husband's friend and telling you to come back to the house but not letting you speak to or hear your husband, is telling the truth! I also have a Nigerian prince who needs some money. Open up that check account, bitch!

So he kidnaps her and threatens to kill her if Jane doesn't give up Bird. Seeing as he would probably kill them both anyway after they gave him Bird – why wouldn't he? – the whole thing is just dumb. This guy has left a bigger trail of bodies by now than most serial killers. He killed a fucking cop. You think you'll be able to really get away with this? He constantly goes on about how his employer will kill him if he leaves any witnesses. Well, I doubt your employer will look kindly on this Appalachian Trail of bodies you just left in broad daylight and go, oh yeah, this was the job I wanted done.

But it's OK, because Jane attacks Fishburne and stabs him multiple times in the neck, killing him – so glad this whole thing was solved in the non-violent way as my Sunday school teachers always used to tell me. Then we get a ridiculous ending of Jane and his wife and Bird huddling together, set to the worst and most inappropriately sappy music they could find. As if to say 'look at what an important story just happened.' Honestly, I'd rather set this music over a video of me taking a shit.

What a happy ending and how much we've learned. Oh wait, except for that cop who died, whose body is still rotting in your house. Have fun cleaning that up. And I'm sure his family really appreciates the sappy music montage you're playing right now! Ah well. He isn't a real person anyway. He's a fictional character.

This is a load of crap, honestly. I've had more fun locking myself out of the house, in terms of things tangentially related to what happens in this movie. In fact, what did happen in this movie again? I can't remember. Oh well.

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