Kill List (2011)

It’s “hurry up and wait” as a shady hit-man and part time family-man weighs his options on a new big payoff job with some unexpected darkness surrounding.

Not Rated | 1h 35min | Crime, Drama, Horror | 2 September 2011 (UK)

Nearly a year after a botched job, a hitman takes a new assignment with the promise of a big payoff for three killings. What starts off as an easy task soon unravels, sending the killer into the heart of darkness.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Stars: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson

Free Fire and High Rise are two outstanding films by this director, Ben Wheatley. This preceded both and carries a sort of British low-budget charm. Wheatley has made a film for some to identify with in the family relationship present. At the same time, it’s a film we will cringe at because the acts of violence for hire and occultic consequences are unknown to us.

The actors are fine. Nothing extraordinary there and that’s ok because this story is so odd, it sort of awes the watcher all on its own. I did find the pre-job home scenes brutally over-long.

The hit man is hired to kill people on a list. As he does so he realizes there is something much deeper at play. I recently saw “A Dark Song” and enjoyed it quite a bit. The occultic theme is prevalent in this film as well. While I liked the occult aspect in the sense of spookiness, the writing was lacking. I found the beginning scenes dragged on far too long. It took a long time to get to the actual “Kill List.” I can’t recommend this one, though I know many really love it.

5/10

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

The black and white appearance belies the mood colors of this sleepy yet powerful vampire tale. It’s an instant classic.

Unrated | 1h 41min | Drama, Horror | 20 April 2015 (USA)

In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh

Filmed in Iran where women are not always treated as they should be, this film stands out as a bit of a vengeance piece. Ana Lily Amirpour who also gave us The Bad Batch shines as the director here. The scenes and crops are all amazing choices she had to make while creating this film.

What if that woman with her head covered walking the streets at night was not the victim but a bloodthirsty vampire? Some men are easier to hate than others though and therein lies her predicament. Perhaps not all men are bad? Either way we have enough bad ones in this film to make for some great kill scenes. Having said that, this film is rather tame when it comes to horror. A hiss and showing of the teeth is about as bad as we get with this. The rest of it is hypnotic like being put into a trance. This is trippy and different. I loved this movie.

10/10

Happy Death Day

It’s deja vu all over again. This time it’s a sexy female college student living the day of her death over and over et al.

PG-13 | 1h 36min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 13 October 2017 (USA)

A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.
Director: Christopher Landon
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine

The director has already impressed us with some great films. He wrote the Paranormal Activity films and directed Disturbia. Because of that, I won’t be too hard on this latest film because it does not register with me as horror.

It pays homage to Groundhog Day in the final scene. Good thing too because people would have been slamming it if it had not. It is Groundhog Day with a hot blonde and a kill aspect. Thank you you may go home now.

Seriously though, I was entertained until the end when nothing was resolved. You could make an argument things fit but I just didn’t get that Ohhhhhhhh feeling when a mystery comes together. That made me sad because there was a long buildup just to find out … I’ll leave that to the viewers.

Not horror. I kinda felt misled.

5/10

From Nowhere (2016)

Here we see the often overlooked victims of undocumented parents in America. For me it shines a light on the need to support these young people and get them on a path to citizenship, regardless of what Trump says.

1h 29min | Drama | 17 February 2017 (USA)

Three undocumented Bronx teenagers are graduating from high school while navigating the treacherous waters of trying to get their papers to stay in the US.
Director: Matthew Newton
Writers: Matthew Newton, Kate Ballen
Stars: Sydni Beaudoin, Helen Beyene, Erica Camarano

Get this, the director Matthew Newton was a character in Queen of the Damned. In fact he was in a lot of films prior to directing. I think the street fight scene is an example of excellent direction. There are many more aspects of the film that shine obviously because of Newton’s skill. He is also co-writer of this with Kate Ballen. I’ll be looking for much more from him in the future.

The acting here is great as well. In particular I appreciated the performance of the angry abused teen. I’m not sure who plays her but if I get that information I’ll amend my post. Watch for her. The film is excellent in that it shines a light on those who suffer in this country. Some scenes are misplaced and the action takes some time to engage but I found it a wonderful film.

7/10

Southpaw

Jake Gyllenhaal and Forest Whittaker shine in this boxing movie. Thankfully for me, a reviewer disinterested in boxing, it’s more about finding motivation amidst despair.

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A friend told me it didn’t have much boxing so I thought I could stomach it. I did like the Rocky movies and others like it since like “Warrior” for example. Still, I wasn’t sold with the trailers on this one. It looked gratuitous in the violence. I’m happy to say, in spite of a lot of intense boxing, I really enjoyed this movie’s message. The story is “Southpaw’s” strong point.

We live in such dark and uncertain times of bomb threats and terrorism that a movie with this message is just what the collective psychiatrist ordered. Where do you find the motivation to fight when all you love is gone? “Southpaw” portrays a guy in a low state such as this. The boxing is the metaphor for survival in a universal struggle we all go 12 rounds with.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The director of this film has directed “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” and has served as personal assistant to Martin Scorcese, Robert De Niro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Director of “Birdman.” He’s clearly been around the block in the movie business. Maybe that’s why “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” feels so well crafted at the onset. The acoustic music popping in and out of scenes is reminiscent of a thoughtful comedy like “Juno” or a dry comedy like “Year One.” It is a funny movie but the trouble is the subject matter. You just can’t laugh at a funeral. For me, the plot marched like a dirge. After a point, I wanted to laugh but was somehow unable. Can a plot be too dark for comedy? For some movie makers, sometimes. That’s why a director of a comedy working with such dark subject matter has to be very very careful. All the clever jokes in the world can’t fix a train wreck plot.

The plot is rather simple: A high school senior, Greg, played by Thomas Mann (“Beautiful Creatures,”Project X”), spends his time making movie parodies, which incidentally aren’t very interesting, clever, or good, ie; “Sockwork Orange.” The titles and content of these little parodies seem forced and wannabe. He does almost nothing else but this and he’s able to get by in school and get accepted to a fairly prestigious college. A girl his age named Rachel played by Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel,” “Ouija”) is diagnosed with cancer and his mother makes him go see her. There isn’t much more to reveal about the plot. He has a film friend Earl played by RJ Cyler, virtually without acting credits, who offers street wisdom to Greg and Rachel throughout the film. I won’t reveal where it goes from there but suffice it to say, it get laborious about halfway through and never recovers.

Dry humor works for actors like Michael Cera and Thomas Mann is no Cera. He smirks far too much to appear deadpan serious. I don’t blame the actor entirely, the script is not comfortable in its element. Some of his jokes are funny but many are not. One running gag is the fact that he eyes pillows for their masturbation object potential. Ok, we got it the first 3 non-subtle times. We can laugh at the story to a point but after that, what can possibly be funny? I found the characters as disingenuous as the script.

While I’m letting the film have it: How can Earl be so street savvy and understanding of life and death at 18? I found his character unnaturally wise for his age. He goes from “Are you gonna play with her titties?” to sage-like aphorisms about life and death. Because the first half of the movie made me laugh and I could follow it to a point, I gave it three stars. It lost two stars due to poor characterization, script writing, and casting. It could have been a lot better. When I give a movie 3/5 it’s pretty good, you may enjoy it. For me? I could have stopped watching half way through and walked away happier with the film.

3 and a half stars

Stoker

When a movie moves slowly it succeeds with me only if at least one of two things exist: 1) There is a twist at the end that makes those slow events meaningful. This is the “Oh!!!! Now I get it” effect. One forgets about the slow wait because the payoff is worth it. Or,
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the tone of the movie is pleasant or engaging in some way. This is the “I am so drawn into this movie” effect. In other words, the viewer is transfixed so the slow pace is enjoyable. There may be spoilers from this point. “Stoker” moves slowly and continues that way until the end in a way is neither pleasurable nor instrumental in leading up to a twist. For me, that’s how this movie lost points, it dragged on for no good reason.

Looking around on the web, I saw this movie has achieved a sort of cult following. It is watchable but none of it is clever, ingenious or, in my opinion, otherwise worthy of cult status. There is likely a backstory someone has sketched out but it’s not worth exploring. It’s referred to as “modern gothic” in tweets and reviews. I call it “modern potential for a good movie.” We have the ancient question of whether killers and hunters are born or made.

We are forced to draw the conclusion that some people have orgasms after being under murder victims. That’s right, you heard correctly. Some people end up insane for no good reason. Perhaps murderous tendencies are genetic. It may intensify when your mother doesn’t care about you. Despite the slowness and enough belt to hang itself, “Stoker” has a great cast and may be worth someone’s time. For that reason I gave it the rating I did: 2 1/2 stars. It’s not a total bomb. It could have been much better. I’d be interested in hearing from fans of this movie.

The Peanuts Movie

Lucy pulling the football then Charlie Brown yelling “AAAAARGH!” Sally pining over Linus. Woodstock dancing to Schroeder’s jazz piano … it’s all there and the other stuff I didn’t mention. The 2015 incarnation of Peanuts is brought in a 3D animation format by Blue Sky Studios. This is the studio that brought us “Rio,” “Ice Age,” “Epic,” and more. They are becoming an artistic force in modern pop culture. “The Peanuts Movie” follows suit with those other movies. I’m a tough audience member to please because I have studied Charles Schultz and his work for many years. He’s a guy who applied for a job at a syndicate with his cartoons, was rejected, then years later bought the syndicate with proceeds of his cartoons. His is a success story. I think people like the Peanuts cartoons because they can relate with Charlie Brown. There’s even a song about him. He can’t seem to get anything right but he never gives up and in the end, everyone sees him as a good old guy.

Most everyone around my age (46) give or take a couple decades knows what the Peanuts are. I’ve found here and there my 10 year old students do not. For that reason I am so glad this amazing film has been released by Blue Sky Studios. It has all the gags and life lessons of the early 70’s cartoons and the newspaper cartoons that started much earlier. There is a great song by Megan Trainor “Better When I’m Dancing.” All the music is good in fact. My favorite parts are the Snoopy vs. Red Baron “dogfight” scenes. They really pay tribute to the moody colors used in the original cartoon while spiffing it up with 2015 animation. I won’t try to describe what they do exactly with the animation but some of it is hand drawn and some is computer generated. It works well and preserves the humanity of the 70’s cartoons. I’ve been giving out a lot of perfect scores lately and this one is no exception. That’s a good thing. I loved it, take your kids.

Sicario

Quick review on this one, after seeing it last night, it’s a winner with my wife and I for sure. Emily Blunt plays an idealistic fBI agent looking to make a change in the drug war. She gets recruited by a high officer played by Josh Brolin and a mysterious character played by Benicio del Toro. Incidentally, this role may be my favorite of his entire career.

There’s a lot going on here. It has already been labeled on the internet as “not for the faint of heart.” That may be somewhat of an exaggeration. If you can handle “Breaking Bad” you can handle “Sicario.” I’ll keep all spoilers out. Like “Traffic” you find out what is going on with the border drug trafficking. You also will probably walk out not feeling happy and good. At the same time you’ll be closer to knowing the stuff that really goes on down there.

The Martian

Films made from novels are usually great in my opinion. I think screenwriting a story without a famous novel behind it may be fading by convention. “The Martian” is one of those hip cool novel-to-movie examples. I read the first few chapters before seeing the movie. The understated humor and NASA space themes drew me in right away. That and the universal praise of the critics put seeing this one at a high priority.

“Star Wars” proved a global love for space movies. “Castaway” did the same for survival films. It’s likely “The Martian” draws from both audiences along with readers of the novel. It’s already being given “Blockbuster” status in the press. In the story, a manned mission to Mars goes wrong and an astronaut, thought to be dead, is left behind. He uses his ingenuity and tenacity to survive. The movie is well over 2 hours and I wasn’t bored once. I give this one a perfect 5/5.