The Belko Experiment


Things are getting a little heated back at the office.

(2016) Horror (BH Tilt/High Top/Orion) John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton, Josh Brener, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Rusty Schwimmer, Gail Bean, James Earl, Abraham Benrubi, Valentine Miele, Steven Blackehart, Benjamin Byron Davis, Silvia de Dios. Directed by Greg McLean

 

There’s no doubt that the corporate environment in 2017 is as cutthroat as it’s ever been. Ambitious office drones plot their way to promotions that bring them out of the environment of living paycheck to paycheck and into management where they can make some real money; others plot to preserve their place in the pecking order. Either way, the office is no place for the faint of heart.

Belko Corporation is described as a non-profit that helps large companies recruit American workers to South American locations. They have a large tower located outside of Bogota, Colombia – well outside of Bogota. Mike Milch (Gallagher) is a fairly humdrum middle management type who is involved in a clandestine romance with co-worker Leandra Florez (Arjona) as that sort of thing is discouraged by Belko, who somewhat appropriately incorporate the figure of an eye into their corporate logo. It is not stretching things to say that most of the people who work in the building have no clue what they do for the company.

One unremarkable morning Mike drives into work to discover an increased security presence and that all the local Colombian workers are being turned away from work. He thinks nothing of it – until a disembodied voice comes on the PA system to announce that the 80 or so workers remaining in the building must select two among their number to murder – or else double that number would be selected at random. Everyone thinks it’s a practical joke in poor taste – until the heads of four people suddenly explode.

At first believing the carnage to be the work of a random sniper, there is panic as people try to get under cover. That’s when large blowtorch-proof metal doors and shutters encase the building in a steel cocoon. There is no leaving and as the voice informs them that they’ll need to find 20 workers to dispatch to the choir invisible or once again double that number would be random victims.

Quickly the social order begins to devolve. The company’s COO Barry Norris (Goldwyn) tries to preach calm and order until he becomes convinced that the only way to buy time is to do what the voice commands, especially when it becomes apparent that every move they make is being observed (remember the eye?) by the disembodied voice. Joining him are a number of management types who want to maintain control of the situation, including Wendell Dukes (McGinley), the kind of manager nobody ever wants to work under. Mike is trying to keep from having anyone die but his voice is not getting heard in the increasing panic. Before too long things fall completely apart and everyone starts looking out for their own ass if they are to survive the worst workday ever.

The movie was penned by current fan favorite James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) as a bit of a passion project but it has languished on the shelf while Gunn has been shepherding the two Marvel space operas to money-printing status. He left the property however in the capable hands of Aussie director McLean (Wolf Creek) who does a yeoman job bringing the script to life.

Most of the actors are better known by face than by name and while there is a black comedy element to the proceedings it never gets to the point of silliness which often happens with horror comedies. Of course, this is as allegorical as it gets to what corporate culture has become in terms of treating employees as disposable resources in which salary and benefits are necessary evils and when the need for those workers dissipates, so do the workers.

Rooker, who has become one of Gunn’s go-to guys, excels as a building engineer as does Goldwyn as a boss who is friendly and supportive on the outside but loses any semblance of concern for his employees when the rubber hits the road. Gallagher and Arjona are okay in the lead roles but aren’t particularly memorable. James’ brother Sean is memorable as a stoner and Schwimmer as the office mother hen is strong.

There are a lot of heads exploding here (having to do with a tracking chip that American workers receive in countries where kidnappings are common) and many gruesome deaths by axe to the face or stapler to the skull. I might have wished for a little more variety to the murders – I would imagine in an office environment there would be plenty of supplies that could do some real damage. A little more imagination in this department would have been welcome. It also should be said that those sensitive to gore and carnage will likely have a rough time with The Belko Experiment.

The movie loses momentum in the second half which is basically a survivalist epic and the denouement is a bit disappointing although there are some pop culture references of the blink and you’ll miss them variety that add some richness to the last moments of the movie. I was hoping for a little bit more from the film but to be honest it is solidly entertaining and horror fans looking for something a little bit different could do a lot worse than to look in this direction.

REASONS TO GO: The film is clever, particularly in the first half. Some fine actors turn in strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: The gore might be a little bit too extreme for some. The film loses steam in the second half.
FAMILY VALUES: Oh my, there’s plenty of gore and violence, profanity, some drug use and brief sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James Gunn was originally set to direct this from his own screenplay but felt that the violence was not what he needed in his life as he was going through a painful divorce, plus he was also hard at work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battle Royale
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: New Chefs on the Block

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New Releases for the Week of March 17, 2017


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

(Disney) Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Directed by Bill Condon

This live-action version of the beloved Disney animation contains the classic songs from the original as well as some brand new songs by original composer Alan Mencken and legendary lyricist Tim Rice. We all know the story; an inquisitive young girl rescues her father who has been poking around a castle where he shouldn’t have been and has been captured by a terrible Beast. She offers herself in his stead and stays at the castle where everything is alive – even the candlesticks. What she doesn’t know is that a curse has been laid on the Beast and his castle and time is running out on reversing it. It will take a miracle; after all, how could Beauty ever love a Beast?

See the trailer, interviews, clips, featurette and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some action violence, peril and frightening images)

The Belko Experiment

(BH Tilt/Orion/MGM) John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz. A group of American workers are trapped in a high rise where a mysterious voice orders them to kill some of their number – or more of them will be killed at random by the owners. And as things progress, the dog eat dog world of business turns into a deadly game of survival. James Gunn, director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wrote this.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Kedi

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Bülent Ustün. Istanbul (not Constantinople) is one of the world’s most ancient cities. They’ve had a tradition over the years of taking care of stray cats as a community. The cats have become an indelible part of Istanbul’s charm and personality. Told from a distinctly feline point of view, this is the viral cat video to end all viral cat videos.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Land of Mine

(Sony Classics) Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikel Boe Følsgaard. As World War II came to a close, German prisoners of war in Denmark are given a daunting task to complete before being allowed to return to their homes. They must clear a beach of literally thousands of land mines that had been placed there by the German army. The painstaking and crazy dangerous work is high stress and the Danes are not terribly happy about having the Germans around at all but slowly the Danes begin to see the Germans differently as the beach is slowly made safe again.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence, some grisly images, and language)

The Last Word

(Bleecker Street) Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker Hall. A formidable woman, in the twilight of her life, has been of late reading obituaries of people she knows and finds that the obituary writer is making their somewhat ordinary lives sound extraordinary. She decides that having exerted control over everything her entire life she wants to read her obituary before she actually dies, but to get the kind of write-up she wants she may need to make a few changes. Cinema365 was privileged to be invited to a press screening for this; the review will run tomorrow.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for language)

The Sense of an Ending

(CBS) Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer. A recluse who is happy in his quiet existence is confronted with secrets from his past. This will force him to face that his flawed recollections of what actually happened are not the truth about his first love and that he has yet to experience the full consequences of decisions made long ago.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality, and brief strong language)

Ghost Team


Things are looking up for the Ghost Team.

Things are looking up for the Ghost Team.

(2016) Horror Comedy (The Orchard) Jon Heder, David Krumholtz, Justin Long, Melonie Diaz, Amy Sedaris, Paul W. Downs, Tom Schiller, Joel Marsh Garland, Doug Drucker, Rob DeRosa, Martin Barabas, Clem McIntosh, Shane Velez, Vincenzo Vaccaro, Veronika Dash. Directed by Oliver Irving

 

For the most part, we’re all fascinated by the paranormal. Who doesn’t want to see proof of life after we pass on? The existence of ghosts certainly is one of those things that have fascinated us for centuries, and yet for the most part, ghosts still remain essentially mythical figures. That doesn’t mean we haven’t stopped searching for definitive proof of their existence.

Plenty of television programs have documented the search of paranormal investigation teams. One of the most well-known is Ghost Getters which copy store clerk Louis (Heder) watches religiously. When the team puts out the call for a new member, Louis is psyched to apply, but he wants to stand out – by conducting his own investigation.

It’s hard to do when one’s day is mostly spent printing Lost Dog fliers. However when a curmudgeonly old man looking to get some laminated No Trespassing signs printed up lets slip that the barn on his property is “probably haunted,” Louis realizes this is the break he’s been waiting for. He ropes in his sad-sack best friend Stan (Krumholtz) who was left at the altar and thinks the only explanation for it was that his bride-to-be was kidnapped by aliens. They need a computer whiz and happen to know one who works at Micro World, Zak (Downs). When a late night run to “borrow” some equipment from Micro World ends up in a confrontation with gung-ho security guard Ross (Long), the team has their security chief. They enlist phony baloney TV psychic Victoria (Sedaris) and to round out the team, Ellie (Diaz) who works as a beautician in the shop next door to Louis and whose job is to….well, crap, I’m not really sure.

The intrepid erstwhile paranormal investigators who have christened themselves the Ghost Team head out to the barn to conduct their audition but when they arrive, they realize they’ve stumbled onto something that they simply weren’t prepared for. Will the Ghost Team’s first case also be their last?

The field of paranormal investigation shows has been ripe for a comedy to be based on it (although some would say that the original Ghostbusters was kind of a preemptive strike in that general direction). Certainly the movie takes aim at shows like SyFy’s venerable Ghost Hunters, which the fictional Ghost Getters is essentially based on as are many other like-minded shows all over cable television.

But sadly, the movie devolves into a kind of live action Scooby Doo minus the talking dog although it does have a van not unlike the Mystery Machine. How it does that I will not tell you, but suffice to say that those who grew up on that show will undoubtedly make that connection. I don’t have an objection per se only that the tonal shift doesn’t work here; they needed a better transition.

Heder has always been a bit too laid-back for my taste as an actor but the more he moves away from his Napoleon Dynamite past the better I like him and this is certainly a step in that direction. Like most of the characters here, Louis isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier but he certainly means well and that’s the kind of thing that’s right in Heder’s wheelhouse. He gets some superb support from Sedaris as the fake psychic who can’t believe that anybody buys her particular brand of B.S. and Diaz as an atypical damsel in distress. Long is terribly miscast as a security guy who seems to be suffering from Roid Rage.

Inexplicably, the movie uses Gary Wright’s 70s synthpop hit “Dream Weaver” to almost annoying extent. It was one of my favorite songs growing up but let’s face it; it’s not the kind of song you need to hear more than once on any movie soundtrack. The most genuinely scary moment in the film is when the Ghost Team sings along to the music.

And therein lies the rub; for a horror film, there aren’t any scares; for a comedy there aren’t many laughs. It tries to be both and ends up being neither. Part of the problem is that the writer doesn’t appear to be sure just what he wants this movie to be and what it ends up feeling like is a bunch of zombies wandering around aimlessly, calling pathetically for brains and this is not a movie that has (or should have) a lot of them. All the right ingredients are here for a good little film, but sadly, it ends up tasting rather bland.

REASONS TO GO: A cross between Ghost Hunters and Scooby-Doo. Heder is at his most likable here.
REASONS TO STAY: Official overuse of Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” on the soundtrack. It gets overly juvenile in places. The action sequences are unconvincing. There aren’t enough laughs.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity, some sexual references and some drug material as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was available for streaming free on Google Play before it’s limited theatrical run. It will continue on Google until the end of August after which it will be available on other streaming sites.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Google Play
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/13/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghost Team One
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Star Trek Beyond

Fruitvale Station


A precursor to tragedy.

A precursor to tragedy.

(2013) True Life Drama (Weinstein) Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ariana Neal, Ahna O’Reilly, Keenan Coogler, Trestin George, Joey Oglesby, Michael James, Marjorie Shears, Destiny Ekwueme, Bianca Rodriguez III, Julian Keyes, Kenny Grimm, Thomas Wright, Alejandra Nolasco. Directed by Ryan Coogler

On December 31, 2008 a young man and his girlfriend left their daughter at a relative’s house and took a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train to San Francisco to celebrate the new year. After a few hours of revelry, they returned home on the same train. A fight was said to have broken out, so the train was stopped at the Fruitvale Station so that the transit police could investigate. Four young African-American men were pulled off the train and detained, including the young father. When he rose up to protest, he was forced to the ground with an officer’s knee in his face. While he was down, another officer shot him in the back. He would die the next morning from his wounds.

The young man’s name was Oscar Grant III and his death provoked massive protests and outcry particularly on the West Coast. In the wake of the recent Trayvon Martin decision, his story is more relevant than ever.

The movie opens with actual footage of the incident (many passengers on the train captured it on their cell phones, as did surveillance cameras on the station platform) and then flashes back 24 hours as we see Oscar (Jordan) in the last 24 hours of his life. This young man was no saint – he had a temper and had been incarcerated for selling drugs. He’d recently lost his job in a grocery store for being late to work too often and had recently cheated on his girlfriend Sophina (Diaz).

Still, he clearly loved his daughter Tatiana (Neal) and was trying his best to be a good father to her. Despite his indiscretion, he wanted nothing more than a more permanent relationship with Sophina. And he adored his mother Wanda (Spencer) and looked up to her as a role model. He, Sophina and Tatiana spent the evening having dinner with Wanda and celebrating her birthday. Worried that traffic in and out of the city would be bad and that with all the drunk people on the road it might be dangerous, Wanda urges Oscar to take the train which he and his buddies (along with Sophina and another girl) elect to do, a train that will take Oscar to his final moments.

This will undoubtedly go down as one of the best films of 2013 and will certainly merit some awards consideration (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Weinstein do a brief theatrical re-release right around Christmas to remind Academy voters how good this movie is). I won’t lie and say this is a completely objective movie, but neither is it unrealistic – Oscar Grant had some issues in his short life and his family would undoubtedly be the first to say so. He’s not portrayed as some kind of saint here, but as a real guy struggling to better his life and the lives of his family. Most of us are no different in that regard.

Jordan delivers a real star turn here. He has the best onscreen smile since Tom Cruise and shows amazing screen presence and charisma here. He transforms Oscar Grant from a name on newscasts into flesh and blood. I don’t know how close he was to capturing the personality of the real Oscar Grant (although friend of the family Jack Bryson indicated that it was) but Jordan makes the impending tragedy hanging over the bulk of this movie like a Sword of Damocles all the more poignant because while he was far from perfect, Oscar Grant was a good man.

Octavia Spencer has already won an Oscar and she might just get another one as Oscar’s tough loving mom. She demands – and receives – respect from her son, and is the kind of mom that everyone loves and whose respect and approval everyone craves. Spencer gives Wanda inner strength (which the real Wanda possesses in abundance) and her grief for her son in the movie’s closing scenes is hard to watch.

The movie is highly fictionalized, portraying an incident in which Oscar watches a dog get hit by a car after which it dies in his arm (portending his own fate) and a shopper at the grocery store (O’Reilly) trying to get a recipe for a fish fry whom he connects with his grandma (Shears). In fact, Oscar is constantly on his phone, a conceit that is used throughout the movie by projecting the phone screen onscreen to show us the texts he’s receiving. It’s very effective.

There are those who will grouse that the movie is manipulative, but that’s bull. It’s impossible not to be emotionally affected by the events that transpire onscreen. It’s hard not to like Oscar Grant and wish he was still around to take care of his family. But it’s harder still to avoid the conversation that should and does ensue – that even now, 45 years after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, we as a nation still treat our African-American citizens with suspicion and prejudice. While I can’t say it’s entirely unjustified to be wary of young African-American, they still deserve better than to be profiled and shot like animals. That we’re still having this conversation in 2013 is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all.

REASONS TO GO: Powerful and moving. Career-defining work by Jordan. Possible Oscar consideration for Spencer and Diaz.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too disturbing for some.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a whole lot of foul language, a bit of drug use and some violence and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Won the Grand Jury Prize and U.S. Dramatic Film Audience Award at Sundance, and Best First Film at Cannes.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/31/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100; the critics love it.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Boyz ‘N the Hood

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: Red 2

New Releases for the Week of July 26, 2013


The WolverineTHE WOLVERINE

(20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Brian Tee. Directed by James Mangold

The Wolverine is summoned to Japan by a super wealthy industrialist whose life he had saved years before. Now, the favor is to be returned – by removing Wolverine’s mutant healing ability, making him mortal for the first time. However, it also makes him a target in a game that he doesn’t know the rules to and may well be out of his depth. Now more than ever he’ll have to rely on his courage to get through this.

See the trailer, clips, a promo and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (Opens Thursday)

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language)

Bajatey Raho

(Eros International) Tusshar Kapoor, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Vishakha Singh. A pair of conmen who have been wronged have just 15 days to pull off the heist of their lives and get sweet revenge. They’ll need their entire family to pull it off.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Fruitvale Station

(Weinstein) Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Chad Michael Murray. On New Year’s Eve 2008, a young black man in Oakland who was trying to get his life back together for his young daughter, his girlfriend and his mom decided to celebrate the New Year in San Francisco. What happened on his way back home shocked the region and became a national news story. A major hit at Sundance, this could well be a major Oscar contender next year.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True-Life Drama

Rating: R (for some violence, language throughout and some drug use)

I’m So Excited!

(Sony Classics) Carlos Areces, Raul Arevalo, Javier Camara, Lola Duenas. Passengers aboard a flight to Mexico City find out that their plane has suffered a mechanical malfunction that threatens all their lives. As the crew and ground control attempt to find a way to fix the problem, the passengers and stewards try to find ways to take their minds off of their predicament. Since this is directed by the great Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, you know this won’t be anything like you expect it will be.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for strong sexual content including crude references, and drug use)

The To-Do List

(CBS) Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. A young valedictorian preparing to enter college realizes that she’s experienced little social and sexual activity during high school. Concerned she won’t fit in, she decides to experience all the things she missed in a frantic summer before going to the next level in her education. Somewhat loosely (we hope) based on the experiences of the writer/director of the movie, Maggie Carey.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Coming-of-Age Teen Sex Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language – all involving teens)