Youth in Oregon (2016)

A movie of togetherness when a family is forced to circle around a grandpa who has a terminal diagnosis.

1h 45min | Comedy, Drama | 3 February 2017 (USA)
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A man is tasked with driving his embittered 80-year-old father-in-law cross country to be legally euthanized in Oregon, while along the way helping him rediscover a reason for living.
Director: Joel David Moore
Writer: Andrew Eisen
Stars: Frank Langella, Billy Crudup, Christina Applegate

The director is known for acting the part of Dr. Spellman in Avatar. I liked the way the actors interact in this film, likely due to the director’s deft hand. I would however liked to have seen some more character development with the grandfather. What is the relationship really like before all this happens? There is some beautiful cinematography and with these actors you’re bound to have a hit.

Frank Langella appears somber in this film and rightly so I suppose. He has learned he is going to die of a weak heart unless he takes a new valve, which will likely kill him anyway. He wants to die with dignity so he is making the pilgrimage to where it’s legal to do so: Oregon. Billy Crudup is his son-in-law and he accompanies him to Oregon. The trip is bittersweet (mostly bitter) as you would imagine. I think people living through euthanasia/assisted suicide issues and/or those interested in the subject will be the biggest fans of this. For lack of character development, it suffered the loss of some points.

6/10

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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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.

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