Censor


Some doors shouldn’t be opened.

(2021) Horror (Magnet) Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Clare Holman, Andrew Havill, Felicity Montagu, Danny Lee Wynter, Clare Perkins, Guillaume Delaunay, Richard Glover, Erin Shanagher, Beau Gadsdon, Amelie Child-Villiers, Matthew Earley, Richard Renton, Bo Bragason, Amelia Craighill, Madeleine Hutchins. Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond

 
We all have different tolerances for horror movies. Some of us delight in them, loving the thrill ride feeling of being scared. Others may find the feeling uncomfortable and shy away from horror films. Still others, who carry past traumas like demons that are summoned at the flicker of a screen, can find a horror movie to be something of a time bomb.

Enid Baines (Algar) is a tightly-wound British film censor back in the 1980s during an age of horror films that are looked back upon fondly by aficionados of the genre. Called “video nasties” by the tabloid press and right-wing politicians, the moral outcry was because the new technology of VCRs would allow movies like The Driller Killer and I Spit on Your Grave into the home where children could be exposed to them without supervision. It is her task to determine what sort of cuts needed to be made in order to bring a film up to code, or whether to ban a film outright. She takes her job seriously.

Perhaps that’s because her job is essentially all she has. Her relationship with her mum (Holman) and Dad (Havill) is strained at the moment – that’s because they have elected to declare her sister Nina, who disappeared twenty years earlier, dead. Enid sees this as a betrayal, largely because of the guilt feelings that she has because she was present when Nina disappeared and can’t remember any details.

Then, when reviewing a film called Don’t Go In the Church by cult film director Frederick North (Schiller) whose sleazy producer Doug Smart (Smiley) puts the moves on the increasingly agitated Enid, she notices that the actress Alice Lee (La Porta) looks very much the way Nina might as an adult. Also, she notices that the events of the film – in which two little girls enter a deserted cabin in the middle of the woods – mirror the fractured memories of her sister’s disappearance to an uncomfortable degree.

This sends Enid, convinced that the red-headed actress IS her sister, down a spiral as she looks into the films of Frederick North, including the one he’s currently filming, in an effort to rescue her long-lost sister and bring her home. Is Enid right, and is she about to solve a mystery that has haunted her for 20 years? Or has the years of watching massive amounts of violence and mayhem ultimately unhinged her?

First-time feature director Bailey-Bond has a self-assured hand on the tiller, and together with cinematographer Annika Summerson has nicely recreated the look of horror movies from the 80s with neon-glow lighting, earthtoned costumes and dull, drab office spaces. She does a good job building up the tension, aided by the sound designer Tim Harrison whose use of electronic pulses, barely audible screams and loud thumps keeps the viewer off-balance. Although the movie goes a bit off the rails near the end when the director gets, in my opinion, a bit self-indulgent, she immediately makes up for it with an ending that is absolutely amazing, one that left me grinning ear to ear, not something that happens often at the conclusion of a film.

Algar, an up and coming Irish actress, does a mesmerizing job, evolving Enid from a buttoned-down schoolmarm-ish sort and unraveling into someone whose entire world has been shattered and doesn’t know which end is up or down any longer. It’s the kind of performance that bodes well for us seeing more of her in the future in higher profile films.

This is more or less a psychological horror film with a nod to British horror films of the 60s made in the style of the video nasties of the 80s. While there is a good deal of gore on the screen, it largely comes from the clips that Enid is reviewing, mostly from actual films of the era (the Frederick North films are the exception). This is a solid debut that horror fans should be keeping an eye out for when it hits streaming platforms this Friday – until then, check your local listings for the nearest theater in which it’s playing.

REASONS TO SEE: An exceptionally clever ending. The use of sound to create an unsettling atmosphere is masterful.
REASONS TO AVOID: Does go off the rails a little bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence and profanity – a true video nasty!
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Algar is probably best-known to American audiences as Sue in the Apple TV Ridley Scott sci-fi series Raised By Wolves.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/16/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews; Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Peeping Tom
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Those Who Wish Me Dead

Riders of Justice (Retfærdighedens ryttere)


This is a man you don’t want to mess with.

(2020) Action Comedy (Magnet) Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Anne Birgitte Lind, Omar Shargawi, Jacob Lohmann, Henrik Noël, Gustav Giese, Klaus Hjuler, Peder Holm Johansen, Christina Ibsen, Rikke Louise Andersson. Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

 

A teenage girl’s bicycle is stolen. A mother’s car won’t start. A recently fired statistical analyst gives up his seat on a commuter train to a pregnant woman. Coincidences? Or part of a discernable pattern?

Markus (Mikkelsen) is inclined to believe the former. You see, his wife was the mother whose car wouldn’t start. She is also the pregnant woman who the statistical analyst gave up his seat for. When a freight train crashed into the commuter train, the analyst survived the crash. So did the teenage girl, Mathilde (Gadeberg), who is Markus’ daughter. Markus’ wife did not. Markus, a Danish soldier serving in Afghanistan, returns home to take care of his daughter, but the relationship between Markus and Mathilde was strained to begin with. Markus isn’t the most talkative guy, after all.

Then Otto (Kaas), the statistical analyst who owes his survival to his act of chivalry, shows up at his door along with his colleague Lennart (Brygmann). Otto is convinced that the crash was no accident; you see, he saw someone get off the train moments before the crash, throwing out a nearly full beverage and uneaten sandwich in the process. That seemed suspicious. However, one of the other victims of the crash was a man about to testify against a powerful biker gang, the Riders of Justice. Otto’s algorithm shows that the odds of the crash happening randomly is almost astronomical. The accident was almost certainly created, and the most likely suspect is the biker leader, and after the two analysts bring aboard computer hacker Emmenthaler (Bro) and his facial recognition software which connects the person who got off the train to the Riders of Justice, Markus has a new mission: vengeance.

A typical action revenge thriller would move in a specific direction from this point, with plenty of set action pieces, some brutality, maybe a bit of comic relief and a cathartic final confrontation. This is far from typical, however; for one thing, the comedy is a bit darker and more in the foreground. For another, there is some depth here as the three nerds try to get Markus to psychoanalyze himself, and in doing so, analyzing the machismo ethos that dominates action movies and to a certain extent, modern life.

Mikkelsen has become one of my favorite actors. He has absolutely perfect body language throughout; often a coiled spring waiting to release all sorts of rage-fueled energy, but dead-eyed right up until the point he explodes. Markus is a man of few words so much of what Mikkelsen has to get across is done through facial expression and body language.

Jensen, who also co-wrote the script with Nikolaj Arcel (the two also co-wrote the disappointing adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower), utilizes his musical score note-perfect, if you’ll forgive the pun. The writing is also really tight, well-plotted and logically laid out – when the analysts talk about probability and statistical analysis, it almost makes sense. Makes one wonder if such an algorithm might not someday be figured out by some similarly bright boy that might predict seemingly random events. Even better (and exceedingly rare for an action flick) the background characters are fairly well-developed, meaning the audience will care what happens to all of them. The final twist is a humdinger, too.

=This is not your average action movie but don’t let that put you off. The action sequences and fight sequences are well-staged. Markus may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s a badass nonetheless. The comedy elements don’t distract from the action, but rather enhance it. Yeah, it’s a little bit different but not so much that it’s annoying and that difference actually makes the movie more enjoyable.

I imagine that there are action fans who will be turned off by the subtitles, but then most are willing to put up with them for great Hong Kong action movies and this one is certainly up there with some of the best of those. This played the recent Florida Film Festival and was my favorite film this year; it’s playing at the Enzian right now for those ready to make the trek into theatres. For those that aren’t, it should be on VOD fairly soon.

REASONS TO SEE: Really, really well-written. Mikkelsen seethes and simmers. Just off-beat enough to be interesting, but not enough to be annoying.
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags a little during the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fifth time that Mikkelsen and Kaas have appeared together in a film directed by Jensen.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Very Bad Things
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Citizen Penn

Wrinkles the Clown


This is why clowns terrify people.

(2019) Documentary (Magnet) D.B. Lambert, Wrinkles the Clown, Tyler Beck, Colby Gatlin, Sean Whittaker, Edie Love Anderson, Matt Wideman, Miguel Rey, Benjamin Bradford, Nikki Conklin, Bri Jones, Christopher Barcia, Trevor J. Blank, Linsey Kelsey, Andrew Caldwell, Colby Brock, Logan Williams, Peter Barcia, Antonio Harriss, Cheryl Sellars. Directed by Michael Beach Nichols

In a year that has brought us Pennywise and Arthur Fleck, the scariest clown of all might just be Wrinkles. You may have seen him in the several viral videos he appears in; slowly emerging from a drawer underneath a sleeping child’s bed, standing at the side of a busy road holding a bunch of balloons, driving a shopping cart across a parking lot. He seemed to be an urban legend in the making.

Then stickers began to appear all around Naples in Southwest Florida, advertising Wrinkles the Clown with a phone number for parents to call if they wanted to hire him to scare their kids. More than a million voice mail messages were left; some were parents taking him up on the offer, others were curious kids, still others were death threats. Suddenly the mainstream media was looking into this phenomenon and documentary filmmaker Michael Beach Nichols decides to investigate and he finds an old retired ex-party clown who finds it increasingly difficult to make it in his chosen profession. Now living out of his van, he decides that perhaps the profit lies in scaring kids rather than entertaining them and judging by the more than one million voicemail messages he received, he’s absolutely right.

But this seems pretty straightforward and even if our suspicions are immediately raised by a man whose face is never shown but appears to have a flowing white beard, we begin to realize (or perhaps not since the story we’re getting feeds right into our expectations) that not everything we’re being told is, strictly speaking, reality.

This documentary is ostensibly about a cultural phenomenon but to be honest, it is really more about our culture, how myths are made and how badly we want to believe them. It’s also about modern parenting, or lack thereof. Talking head interviews from folklorists, child psychologists and law enforcement give us different outlooks on the Wrinkles phenomenon but as we eventually find out, Wrinkles is more of a pawn than a provocateur.

There are a lot of interviews with children, some of whom could do with a visit from a homicidal clown (just kidding). Others seem to be more dialed in to things than we give kids their age credit for. One thing is for certain; one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to raising children; every kid is different and requires different techniques. We tend to forget that in an age where we look for quick fixes, and express ourselves in tweets and memes. As a society it feels like we have no attention span whatsoever anymore and while that isn’t necessarily a point that the movie makes, it certainly can be deduced from what the movie presents.

In some ways I’m reminded me of the Catfish movie which set up expectations in one direction but turned out to go in an entirely different one when you finally sat down and watched it. In some ways I admire Nichols for having the huevos to shift gears but at least as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out as to whether it worked for me or not. I’m still kind of ruminating on this one.

Sometimes a movie appears to be going in one direction and then it zings dramatically in another. For the most part, those of us who see a lot of movies appreciate that as a change of pace but not everybody will feel that way; when this movie shifts gears, it comes out of left field and even though when you look back and consider it, you come to an understanding that it was headed that way all along. This is the rare documentary that bears repeated viewings.

REASONS TO SEE: Just might be a reflection of how disturbed we are as a society. Exceedingly disturbing in places and yet from a certain point of view, hilarious.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the Skype interviews are distracting.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images and a plethora of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie made it’s debut at Fantastic Fest in Austin last month.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google PlayMicrosoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews: Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Killer Klowns from Outer Space
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Eco-Terrorist: The Battle for Our Planet

Aniara


A glimpse of a bleak future.

(2018) Science Fiction (Magnet) Emelie Jonsson, Bianca Cruzeiro, Arvin Kananian, Anneli Martini, Jennie Silfverhjelm, Emma Broomė, Jamil Drissi, Leon Jiber, Peter Carlberg, Juan Rodríguez, David Nzinga, Dakota Treacher Williams, Otis Castillo Ǻlhed, Dante Westergårdh, Elin Lilleman Eriksson, Agnes Lundgren, Alexi Carpentieri, Unn Dahlman, Laila Ljunggren. Directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja

 

We like to think we pretty much have a handle on our lives. We more or less know what we want, where we’re going and what we want to do along the way. We know we have a world of endless possibilities to explore. What happens though when we don’t?

In the future, climate change has made Earth unlivable and the human race is moving to Mars. Giant transport ships – essentially city-sized cruise ships – ferry passengers from the dying world to the new one. The Aniara is one such ship, loading up with passengers many of whom have family awaiting them on the Red Planet. The three-week journey is made easier by the presence of 21 restaurants, many more bars and nightclubs, a luxury spa, a massive mall – all the amenities of home.

Mimaroben (Jonsson) whose name is often abbreviated as “MR” runs the virtual reality room MIMA which essentially scans the brain waves of the users and picks out pleasant memories for them to relive. At the beginning of the journey she isn’t getting many customers. She shares a cabin with the Astronomer (Martini), a jaded science officer who doesn’t have much use for people.

But what is to be a routine voyage becomes something completely different in a heartbeat. A field of space junk debris penetrates the hull and forces the crew to jettison the fuel for their nuclear propulsion system. Without it, they are unable to steer or slow their momentum, leaving them to drift through space. Captain Chefone (Kananian) puts a brave face on things and tells the passengers and crew that there will be a delay in getting them to Mars – about two years instead of three weeks – but get there they will because they have a plan to use a celestial body as a slingshot to put the crippled ship back on course to Mars.

As it becomes clear that the Captain is lying through his teeth and that the Aniara is doomed to drift endlessly through space going nowhere, things change aboard the ship. The captain becomes paranoid and power-drunk; MR starts of a relationship with Isagel (Cruzeiro) and suicides become a big problem. Several cults are formed, some hedonistic, most fatalistic.

This is a beautiful film to look at with superb special effects and clean production design. I’ve seen the movie described as Passengers if it had been directed by Ingmar Bergman and it’s not that far from the truth. The tone is extremely fatalistic – it’s Scandinavian, after all – and bleak as all get out. There is some commentary on the excessive consumerism of modern society but in essence, the main theme seems to be that without a destination firmly in mind there is no point to life. I don’t know if I can agree with that.

The film isn’t helped by the bland personalities of the main characters. They are all somewhat one-dimensional, especially MR who is pushed and pulled by the eddies of life without apparently much care as to where they are taking her. She certainly doesn’t seem inclined to do any swimming of her own. While Kananian physically resembles Clive Owen, he’s no Clive Owen and gives the Captain again a fairly one-dimensional portrayal.

There is a lot of intellectual content to unpack here and those who are into cerebral sci-fi are going to find this a big win. Those who prefer their science fiction to be space operas may take some delight in the production design but are going to be bored silly – as many of the passengers are. This is the kind of movie that will appeal to a fairly narrow band of moviegoers but those that are inclined to like it are likely to like it a whole lot.

REASONS TO SEE: The special effects are stunning. The filmmakers get the herd instincts of the passengers right.
REASONS TO AVOID: The main characters are devoid of personality.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some graphic nudity, graphic sexual content, some drug use, a few disturbing images and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on a poem by Swedish author Harry Martinson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Passengers
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Nona

The Quake (Skjelvet)


Oslo, meet Los Angeles.

(2018) Disaster (Magnet) Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Katherine Thorborg Johansen, Edith Haagenrud-Sande, Jonas Hoff-Otrebro, Stig R. Amdam, Ingvild Haugstad, Ravdeep Singh Bajwa, Hang Tran, Tina Schel. Directed by John Andreas Andersen

 

Some of you might remember a Norwegian disaster movie called The Wave from back in 2015 in which a small town in the mouth of a fjord is hit by a massive wave that nearly levels the town. Well, one good Norwegian disaster deserves another, don’t you think?

Obsessive geologist Kristian Elkjord (Joner) is a broken man. After trying unsuccessfully to get government officials in the little resort town of Geiranger to take his warnings of an impending disaster seriously, 248 people ended up dead. Now two years later, he continues to live in Geiranger although his wife Idun (Torp) has left him and his college-aged son Sondre (Otrebro) has no time for him. Only his daughter Julia (Haagenrud-Sande) seems to have any gumption to spend time with her dad but he clearly suffers from raging PTSD and cuts short a planned visit because he simply can’t handle it.

]When a colleague dies mysteriously Kristian is piqued into looking into his studies. Consulting his friend’s raw data, he begins to suspect that his colleague was on to something – that Oslo is on the brink of suffering the repeat of a devastating quake at the turn of the 20th century and with dozens of glass skyscrapers dominating the graceful sideline it is a disaster (movie) waiting to happen. And when the family is put into jeopardy, it is Julia and not Sondre who puts them there. Fortunately, the couple only had two kids…

]Poor Kristian has become the Cassandra of Norway – nobody will listen to his dire warnings which of course all come true. After all, nobody wants to see a movie in which the lead scientist is taken seriously and his advice followed. But I’m pretty sure that nobody wants to see a movie in which a kid defies her parent’s orders to put herself – and eventually others – in danger either, but that’s what happens here. Kids are not known for acting calmly and intelligently in a crisis situation but there comes a time where I was hoping that Julia might be flattened by a crossbeam or something. Hope springs eternal.

]Joner does a good job of portraying Kristian’s precarious mental state. We know the geologist will act decisively and heroically in a crisis situation (because we’ve seen him do it before) but it’s good that an element of uncertainty is thrown in. Will the PTSD overcome his heroic impulses? Stay tuned.

As with The Wave, the special effects range from the solid to the spectacular. While the director preferred – either for budgetary reasons or personal preference but it doesn’t matter which – using practical effects wherever possible, the CGI when used is hella effective. There are also some fairly gruesome injuries/deaths in the film, one in particular which is of the type Hollywood films like to tease but never carry through. Here in The Quake you get to see it and there is a certain visceral satisfaction in it, even if the victim doesn’t particularly deserve their fate.

The story though is pretty much Disaster Movie 101 much like The Wave was. It follows the same formulaic steps and while those steps are accomplished competently, there isn’t much in the way of surprises here. Still, it’s fine entertainment if you don’t mind subtitles and bratty kids. If it doesn’t play anywhere near you during a limited theatrical run, it’s already available for streaming on most major sites.

REASONS TO GO: The special effects are very well done.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is too formulaic and depends on children doing stupid things.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of disaster imagery and destruction, some depiction of injuries and brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Oslo did suffer an earthquake in 1904 that measured 5.4 on the Richter scale; seismologists have expressed concern that they are due for another even more devastating quake.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/15/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Earthquake
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Becoming Iconic: Jonathan Baker

Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no jûnin)


Hana Sugisaki points out the logical flaws in the plot; Takuya Kimura just doesn’t care.

(2017) Martial Arts (Magnet) Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sôta Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Ken Kaneko, Yôko Yamamoto, Ebizô Ichikawa, Min Tanaka, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Seizô Fukumoto, Renji Ishibashi, Shun Sugata, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Jon Iles (voice), Philip Hersh (voice), Libby Brien (voice). Directed by Takashi Miike

 

Immortality is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s intensely lonely – particularly when everyone you know and loved was already dead. Immortals would be likely to become hermits as the pain of getting close to anyone would outweigh the comforts of companionship. Being immortal, in other words, sucks.

Manji (Kimura) is a samurai who loves only his little sister Machi (Sugisaki). Manji kills his corrupt lord and takes Machi on the run with him after the lord murders her husband and drives Machi insane. The two are cornered by ronin after the bounty on his head; after he agrees to disarm himself so that Machi might get safe passage, the ronin leader kills the girl anyway out of spite. Manji then slaughters every member of the ronin before collapsing to the ground, mortally wounded.

He is approached by an 800-year-old witch (Yamamoto) who infuses him with sacred bloodworms that will heal all his wounds and render him immortal. Rather than being a blessing however, he quickly realizes that he has been cursed and must wander around as a rogue samurai himself, alone and friendless.

A half century later, he is approached by another young girl, Rin Asano (also Sugisaki). Her father, a dojo sensei, has been murdered by the ambitious Kagehisa Anotsu (Fukushi) who has plans to unite all the dojos in Japan into a kind of super-dojo under his control. He has also kidnapped Rin’s mother, although her head shows up mounted on the shoulder plate of the armor of one of Anotsu’s lieutenants. Rin wants justice and the witch essentially led her to Manji to get it. Manji realizes that this might well be his opportunity at redemption that would break the curse and allow him, finally, to die.

Taking on Anotsu who has some secrets of his own is no easy task, even for a guy who can’t be killed. Also there’s the nearly insane Shira (Ichihara) whom Manji has exacted a terrible price from and who means to get his revenge on the immortal, even if it means killing Rin.

Miike is a visual stylist who has the poetry of violence that Scorsese utilizes. He is artful with his gore and mayhem; the fights carefully choreographed to be almost ballets of carnage. Severed limbs fly through the air in graceful parabolas while jets of blood fountain from fatal wounds but this is no Grand Guignol. It’s most definitely Art.

This director is definitely an acquired taste but one worth acquiring. He has a connection with Japan’s collective id and knows how to tap into it so that even audiences unfamiliar with Japanese culture can relate although it’s much easier if you’re at least conversant with Japanese cultural norms. He also, like Scorsese, is superb at shot composition and knows how to frame the action, often with the most bucolic and idyllic of backgrounds.

I can’t whole-heartedly recommend this; at more than two hours there are plot points that go nowhere and characters leap into the story wildly from nowhere, careen about the plot a bit like a pachinko machine and disappear, never to be seen again. I’m not one for saying that a master should be edited but this could have used some brevity. Also, Sugisaki just about always shrieks her lines; I get that there are some cultural differences between what is acceptable acting practices between the States and Japan but godamighty she gets annoying very fast and she’s in most of the scenes.

This isn’t for the faint of heart nor should it be. As I say, Miike is an acquired taste and like sushi, there are plenty of those who will resist acquiring it. Those who can appreciate the delicate tastes and textures of sushi can enjoy it as a favored dish the rest of their lives; so too those cinephiles who appreciate the different and the unique will discover Miike and be able to enjoy his work for the rest of their lives.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are intense and satisfying. Miike is a master of shot composition and utilizes some beautiful cinematography. The costumes are magnificent.
REASONS TO STAY: This movie runs a little too long. Sugisaki is nearly unwatchable as Rin.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Miike’s 100th film in a 22 year career…he has since filmed three more (and counting).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, FlixFling, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/29/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 13 Assassins
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Coco

High-Rise (2015)


An open house you may not want to attend.

An open house you may not want to attend.

(2015) Thriller (Magnet) Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Peter Ferdinando, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith, Enzo Cilenti, Augustus Prew, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, Tony Way, Leila Mimmack, Bill Paterson, Louis Suc, Neil Maskell, Alexandra Weaver, Julia Deakin, Victoria Wicks. Directed by Ben Wheatley

Florida Film Festival 2016

It is part of human nature to divide people into class by their wealth; the upper classes – the haves – all the way down to the lower classes – the have-nots – and in between. Some places, class distinctions are much more concrete than others; the British have made an art form of it.

Set in 1975, this film based on a J.G. Ballard novel posits something that back in that time was only beginning to catch on as an idea but is more prevalent today – the lifestyle apartments. You know the kind; the ones that have shopping and sometimes even office space in the same building, allowing those that live there to need never venture beyond the walls of their high rise. This particular one sits just outside of London.

The middle class inhabit the lower floors with few amenities; the further up you go, the more amenities there are (gymnasium, swimming pool and so on) and of course the wealthier the resident. On the very top floor is Royal (Irons), the reclusive architect of the whole she-bang and his shrewish wife Ann (Hawes). Their luxury penthouse includes an outdoor garden where there is enough room for Ann to ride a horse and Royal to work on the other four towers of the five he has planned.

Into this environment comes Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston), a physiologist who is single and immediately catches the eye of Charlotte (Miller), the resident nymph who raises her son Toby (Suc) on her own as a single mom, who catches the good Doctor sunbathing nude. She invites him to a party where he meets Wilder (Evans), a dissatisfied television news reader who has the hots for Charlotte and a little bit too high of an opinion of himself.

The building is brand new and starkly furnished in the style of the time, but cracks begin to show in the facade. Electrical outages at first affect the lower floors before spreading and ending up in a complete blackout. The store where all groceries are bought fails to get resupplied and eventually panicked residents ransack it.

The social order breaks down quickly as the haves and have-nots arrange themselves into violent tribes. The women begin to gravitate towards men who can protect them from the violence and chaos going on in the building. The upper classes gravitate towards Royal as a leader (as he is the wealthiest) while the lower classes choose Wilder because of his fearlessness. Before long, civilization is a distant memory.

Ballard’s allegorical commentary on how thin the veneer of civilized behavior is was controversial in its time, although given recent events one can’t help but wonder if he erred on the side of caution. It also isn’t a particularly lightbulb-glowing concept, that the classes don’t like each other much. In some ways, the point was made better and earlier by Jonathan Swift in his A Modest Proposal which suggests that with overpopulation and food shortages inevitably befalling any civilized nation that the wealthy should look to eating the poor. And you thought Ballard was cynical!

Hiddleston has been coming on lately as a legitimate leading man presence. He has a bit of an edge compared to guys like, say, Matt Damon; I think of him as more of a ‘70s archetype for a leading man, which makes him perfectly cast here. Initially, he’s got a bit of a shy and reclusive nature, which might be what draws the ladies to him (including Wilder’s very pregnant wife Helen (Moss) with whom he has a dalliance late in the film) although it might be more due to the fact that he’s got crazy good looks. I know at least a few ladies who have him on their list of five (five men they get to do anytime, anywhere even if they are married). He’s also a hell of an actor and we watch his descent into obsessive insanity, although he never quite hits bottom. While Hiddleston is known for his villains at present, I would imagine leading roles in big-budget franchise films are just around the corner for him.

I was a teen in the era that is depicted here and there’s a bit of a shock in seeing how many people smoked (according to iMDB there are people smoking in 80% of the film) including pregnant woman. There was also rampant sexuality going on, including a crapload of extramarital affairs and plenty of drug use. All of which is captured here, which while I found unsurprising, still seemed jarring when given today’s mores. Still, I ended up feeling a bit grimy just watching it.

Likewise there are things that sort of rock the logic meter to its core. For instance, why don’t people just LEAVE? After all, the chaos is limited to this one building; if the situation became that out of control, wouldn’t you just walk out the door and be done with it? Also, why doesn’t the grocery store get restocked? That’s never addressed.

I think a lot of how you’re going to digest this movie is going to depend on your own social situation. People who are wealthy and/or conservative are going to identify with the upper class tribe; those who are working class and/or liberal might well identify with the lower class tribe, although the latter were guilty of some unspeakable acts which might give you a hint as to where Ballard’s own sympathies lie (or at least the filmmakers; I haven’t read the source novel yet). Quite frankly, from what I’ve read the jury is out as far as opinions regarding the book’s sympathies.

Similarly, the movie is polarizing – people either love it or hate it. I wanted to like it more than I did, but like Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out, watching any five minutes of this film will convince you that it is brilliant but watching the whole of it will not – he called it the best disappointing film you’ll watch this year and in that he is absolutely correct.

REASONS TO GO: Class warfare for dummies. Hiddleston shows some star power.
REASONS TO STAY: Logical holes abound. Makes you feel like a full ashtray has been dumped on your head.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some fairly disturbing stuff here; violence, rape, graphic nudity, sexual content, drug use, foul language and a partridge in a pear tree.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author J.G. Ballard published the novel this is based on in 1975, the same year that ABBA’s “S.O.S.” was released (the song was covered by two different artists on the soundtrack).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/26/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Snowpiercer
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Synchronicity


This happens all the time.

This happens all the time.

(2016) Science Fiction (Magnet) Chad McKnight, Brianne Davis, Michael Ironside, AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, Erik Thirsk, Derek Ryan Duke, Claire Bronson, Sergine Dumais (voice), Elle Sunkara, Ashley Drayton. Directed by Jacob Gentry

Time is not a delicate thing. Once it passes us by, it’s gone forever. There are those who dream of travelling it’s currents and eddies, seeing the events of the past and perhaps even influencing, but time is a much sturdier thing than even a river. Time is impenetrable.

Jim Beale (McKnight) is a brilliant scientist with a bare-bones lab who has discovered a way to open a wormhole, theoretically opening the door to time travel. However, he needs a lot more funding to see the experiments through. That’s where Klaus Meisner (Ironside) comes in. He’s a wealthy industrialist with the cash available to fund the project, but his motives are far from altruistic and he wants control of the invention once Beale gets it to work.

Into his life comes Abby (Davis), a mysterious woman with whom Beale starts a romantic relationship, but her own agenda remains unclear. Suddenly Beale is forced to make a split second decision and he leaps into the wormhole itself – and finds himself being the world’s first time traveler. The trouble is, he’s only traveled a week and he is forced to try to keep the timeline from being polluted – or there will be devastating consequences not only to himself but maybe to existence.

This is sci-fi on a low, low, low budget and if you don’t mind overlooking some anachronisms (much of the “technology” here looks to be of the Atari-era level, even though this seems to be set in a not-too-distant future but decidedly future. There is a lot of blue lighting, light filtering in through window slats and shadows – add a little neon and you’d have Blade Runner. This is a terrific looking movie.

The story is pretty nifty, so much so that I really tried to give you a very bare bones summary. While some of the twists and turns are a bit predictable (including, sadly, the big reveal at the film’s end), there is enough here that is not that you can at least give the movie style points.

Where the film falls down is in a couple of places; the character of Abby for example, is a bit too hipster-ish. She chain-smokes (In fact, one gets the sense that the filmmakers are heavy smokers since so many of their characters do so in kind of a reversal of modern sensibilities) and always seems to have that air that she’s privy to a joke none of us understand. I don’t necessarily blame the actress, but quite frankly I’m at a loss as to why Beale would be attracted to her the way that he was. The script doesn’t really give her much appeal, unless of course chain-smoking hipsters who may or may not be who they seem to be gives you a film boner.

McKnight is a decent enough lead but his character kind of drifts through the movie and the only time he seems to show any sort of fire is when he does the most impulsive and reckless thing he could possibly do. His connection to a scientific breakthrough may be enough to attract a woman like Abby to him but at the end of the day this would have been a better movie if we’re led to believe that Abby may actually harbor some affection for him; it’s hard to believe that she would.

In fact the whole romantic angle really falls short for me. The sparks between the two romantic leads were more like dying embers and no real heat is generated whatsoever. The film is really saved by Ironside, the veteran character actor who has played all sorts of bad guys in his career, is the most watchable of the actors here. While we know that Meisner is up to no good, Ironside at least makes the character interesting and watchable. Veteran character actors like Ironside class up any production they’re cast in.

The worst thing here is the dialogue. It’s clunky and uses phrases that nobody living in 2016 actually uses – who says “I got duped” unless they’re in an Oscar Wilde play? There are a lot of quotations of both abstract scientists and authors whom you wouldn’t expect to find in a thoughtful sci-fi film. This could have used a good deal of polish, particularly in the aforementioned dialogue.

Quite frankly, this isn’t a movie I can throw a lot of support behind, although I think it’s clear that Gentry has a terrific visual sense. The movie’s failings, particularly what’s coming out of the actor’s mouths and the way the characters acts, are pretty substantial. The visual look is at least reasonably cool and the premise intriguing but like a lot of time travel films becomes a little overly confusing. The acting is passable with the exception of veteran actor Ironside but again for the most part not especially notable. While this has gotten a fairly small theatrical release, you’re probably better served to see it on your local VOD network or on iTunes where it’s currently available.

REASONS TO GO: Decent enough premise. Michael Ironside is always welcome.
REASONS TO STAY: The dialogue is clunky. The characters don’t act like real people.
FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language as well as some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gentry co-directed The Signal.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Timecrimes
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Hail, Caesar!

Kill Me Three Times


Nothing like a man who enjoys his work.

Nothing like a man who enjoys his work.

(2014) Action Comedy (Magnet) Simon Pegg, Alice Braga, Sullivan Stapleton, Teresa Palmer, Luke Hemsworth, Bryan Brown, Steve Le Marquand, Callan Mulvey, Greg Miles, Brodie Masini, Tony Spencer, Arthur Vaka, Roland van Zwol, Isaac Griffiths, Daniel Berenger, Andrew Bongiovanni, Antonio Barimen, Anna Philip, Rebecca Caldwell, Veronica Wayle. Directed by Kriv Stenders

This whole mess we call life comes with unpleasant situations and even less pleasant people. All of us without exception have to put up with both at some point in our lives. However, there can come a time when you just can’t put up with even one more minute of one or the other.

Told from three different points of view and going back and revisiting events that have already transpired so that the audience supposedly gets a different perspective as to why people are behaving the way they do, the movie is set in a Western Australian resort town. There, Jack (Mulvey) owns a kind of generic hotel and bar on the ocean along with his wife Alice (Braga). He’s an abusive rotter and she has taken refuge in an affair with hunky Dylan (Hemsworth).

Jack gets wind of the affair and hires Charlie Wolfe (Pegg), a private detective and occasional assassin, to take out his wife. When Charlie scopes out the situation, he realizes that he isn’t the only one whose services have been retained. Jack’s sister Lucy (Palmer) has goaded her feckless husband Nathan (Stapleton), the local dentist, to take the job on and, in a complicated plot point, use Alice’s body to fake Lucy’s death so that they can collect on an insurance settlement that will allow Nathan to pay off his substantial gambling debts which a corrupt cop (Brown) has been hired to collect.

Naturally things go off the rails and bullets fly, not always hitting the target they’re intended to. Charlie watches all of this transpire with a bemused grin until we realize that he is far more involved in this than we were originally led to believe.

The comedy here is very broad and exceedingly dark, with people getting killed left and right and not always in nice ways – not that there is a nice way to get killed. There is a good deal of violence involved, some of it fairly brutal so those who tend towards squeamishness should be well-warned.

Pegg is one of those comic actors who is incredibly likable, even when he’s playing an absolute soulless SOB. Even though Charlie is a nasty piece of work, you can’t help but enjoy Pegg’s performance. Definitely this is his movie and like Shaun of the Dead he carries it flawlessly. Unfortunately for Pegg, it’s a pretty light load.

That’s because the movie, despite all its twists and turns and double crosses (and triple crosses) doesn’t really do anything new or different. Most of the turns aren’t terribly clever and the characters are all so irredeemably rotten that you don’t really care what happens to most of them. Palmer is gorgeous as the shrewish wife and Stapleton, who played a very different character in 300: Rise of an Empire, is actually reasonably gifted as a comic actor.

For most the only way to check this out will be on VOD which is how I saw it and for most, that will be just fine. I can’t imagine the big screen will add all that much to the film, although I will say that the cinematography is bright and beautiful, although not breathtaking. The way I essentially view the movie overall can be summed up by a scene in which Pegg’s Charlie Wolfe watches from a distance a car tumble over the side of a cliff, then chuckles smugly to himself. No words I can write will adequately describe the movie as well as that image. If you are planning on a VOD evening, there are many, many choice that are far better uses of your time and fees. This is essentially only for Simon Pegg’s fan club.

REASONS TO GO: Pegg is always worth the effort.
REASONS TO STAY: Derivative and not very funny. A lot like a TV movie, only less clever. May be too violent for some..
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, a fair share of foul language and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stapleton and Mulvey both appeared in the Swords and Sandals epic 300: Rise of an Empire.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 9% positive reviews. Metacritic: 30/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hot Fuzz
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie


Tim and Eric's Awesome Movie...Great Job (not!)

Tim and Eric’s Awesome Movie…Great Job (not!)

(2012) Comedy (Magnet) Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, John C. Reilly, Robert Loggia, Jeff Goldblum, Will Forte, William Atherton, Erica Durance, Michael Gross, Ray Wise, Matt O’Toole, Todd Wagner, Twink Caplan, Mobin Khan, Jon Baggio, John Downey Jr., Bob Odenkirk, Bill A. Jones, Ronnie Rodriguez, Nancy Stelle. Directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim

Humor is a very personal thing. What makes you laugh may not even get a chuckle out of me and vice versa. That’s what makes comedies hard to write film reviews for and even harder to make movies of. Doing a comedy right is a lot more difficult than doing a drama right. It just is.

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are best known for having an Adult Swim sketch show a few years back called Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It had (or looked to have) a budget that made your most recent YouTube submission look like Avatar. However, the sense of humor possessed by Tim and Eric couldn’t remotely be called conventional. I decided to watch a couple of episodes of the show before tackling the movie and had to stop. I didn’t want to taint my potential appreciation of the movie as I found the show to not be my cup of tea. Hopefully the movie would be better.

Tim and Eric have taken a billion dollars from Tommy Schlaaang (Loggia), the chairman and froth-at-the-mouth face of Schlaaang Industries which is itself kind of a Murder, Incorporated kind of business, to make a movie. God knows why these guys would have gotten anybody to give ’em a hundred dollars let alone a billion but y’know. Anyway, the movie which was supposed to star Johnny Depp instead stars a Johnny Depp impersonator (Rodriguez) and is only three minutes long.

So where did the money go? Mostly on things like a suit made of diamonds for the Depp impersonator, helicopter transportation to and from the set for the directors and drugs. Tim and Eric know they have to pay back the billion but how is that even possible? So they go on the lam and an opportunity drops itself in their laps – eccentric billionaire Damien Weebs (Ferrell) will pay them a billion dollars if they can get the dilapidated S’Wallow Valley Mall back on track.

This won’t be an easy task. The food court is staffed by a man-eating wolf, the stores in the mall are the sort that won’t attract any business (used toilet paper?) and the only people who ever go there are the homeless and the crazy, like Taquito (Reilly), the nearly-always runny nosed consumptive whose temperament is roughly the same as an angry hornet. There’s also Allen Bishopman (Forte) whose sword store is not benefiting from the reign of Tim and Eric and he wants vengeance.

Now on paper it sounds like it could have potential and that’s essentially what kept me going. I kept waiting for something to make me laugh but there really wasn’t anything. Opportunities are squandered and they have a habit of driving jokes into the ground much like stubbing out a cigarette with a stiletto heel until all that’s left is a lipstick smudge.

I’m going to hazard a guess that most of this duo’s audience is in their early to mid 20s and are mostly male. Although I fulfill the latter part of the equation, I’ve left my mid 20s behind in my dust. There’s a very cultish feel to this stuff and if you like their show, that’s all good. It’s just that if you don’t like their show this isn’t going to hold any appeal to you whatsoever.

There are a ton of celebrity cameos of varying degrees of amazing but for the most part this is a movie you endure more than enjoy. It just wasn’t for me and I’m guessing it isn’t for a lot of you either. I will give it points for being quirky and having the balls to try and go outside the box but sometimes when you go outside the box you get eaten by a man-eating wolf.

WHY RENT THIS: If you liked their Adult Swim show, you’ll love this. Fine premise.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Falls flat. Not really for anyone except for their own cult following.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of crude and sexual humor, graphic nudity (briefly), drug use, some comic violence and lots of foul language..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rodriguez, who plays the Johnny Depp impersonator, is actually Depp’s photography double.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: On the Blu-Ray you’ll find a screensaver and a parody EPK-type feature called Good Evening S’Wallow Valley.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $201,436 on a $3M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kentucky Fried Movie

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: RoboCop (2014)