Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Indie Showcase: Did You See That? (2019)

The domain of horror, science fiction, and fantasy is something that had its golden age in the 1970s and 1980s with an array of amazing an amazingly bad movies. This naturally includes the weird and wonderful exploitation films that managed to influence entire generations of filmmakers and film fans. Did You See That? is a movie that has a strong sense of the very same sensibility. Here's how it describes its plot:

With the blood of her loved ones on her hands, Chaka, a young witch-in-training must team up with the Guardian Lamar (Powerman MC, Crossbones and Welfare to Millionaire) to stop a demonic entity, Thaddeus Ayromlooi (Dragon Dronet, Alien Resurrection) from mutilating the rest of her friends. Their only hope is the Riazza Themsla, a forbidden book of spells that released Thaddeus into their world in the first place. Time begins to run out as his tactics become more unpredictable, leading Chaka and her friends into doubting what is reality and what is an illusion.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Two-Paragraph Film: The King (2019)

David Michôd is a guy who gets cinema. His Rover was an amazing film that came out of the blue to the international crowd, while Animal Kingdom planted his flag locally a few years earlier. The King is a continuation of this amazing talent and a broad range of interests. Here, he was able, along with Joel Edgerton, who showed his writing kung fu in The Gift, to explore "Henriad" of William Shakespeare in a way that includes no archaic language or archaic acting. Smartly, the movie steers clear of all of those Shakespeare tropes and focuses on the thing that made them into timeless art: it's exploration of human nature.

Instead, the plot is a historical drama that takes in the Battle of Agincourt and puts it front and center into an amazingly engaging movie. The star of the film, Timothée Chalamet, does a marvelous job and he’ll be praised for it for a long time. His Henry is one of doubt, reluctance, and introversion, but also calculated violence and cruelty. Here, Chalamet is really excellent, but an equal level of craft and skill is provided by everyone else, offering authentic characters stuck in a world that is nothing like our own. In its genre, The King is most certainly the best movie of 2019.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: In the Tall Grass (2019)

Like the Bird Box, Netflix is chasing, at least as far as I can tell, some kind of a cooking-cutter way of making decent horror movies. They all have a simple premise and use their star actors more than scenography, props or anything like that. In the Tall Grass, the relatively unknown main protagonists are aided by Patrick Wilson's character as they are all lost in a strange field from which no one can escape.

All of this is based on Stephen and Joe King novella by the same name and yes, like all horror things King, it manages to stick to the wall (somehow). The movie, in turn, seems to want little more than the same wall-sticking ability - it is not A Quiert Place nor does it aim that high. It is able to entertain and it fails to be overtly stupid or comical (unlike the much more expensive Bird Box). While it does that, it starts and ends as a microwave-ready horror film but which carries no greater ambition than to be just that.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

It seems like people who want to make a time travel movie these days immediately say to themselves: how can we make our time travel a never-before-seen thing? Surprisingly, they are often quite good at this. Predestination managed to pull it off to a degree, while the much older Primer does the same on a low-budget yet marvelous level. In the Shadow of the Moon is not exactly the cream of the crop, but it does offer something engaging and mysterious, while it skillfully navigates its way around any potential pitfalls.

Naturally, I’m not talking about physics or time travel mechanics, these are always full of holes (apart from the brilliant Primer). Here, I’m thinking more about the actual plot and how it relates to the main characters - in this case, a cop who witnesses a mysterious case of murders and manages to stop the suspect back in the 1980s. Yet, every nine years, the same murder pattern seems to occur again and again. As the mystery deepens, so does the traction the film has, all the while cleverly connecting it to the main character and the people around him. This ends as a not a very innovative time travel mystery, but one that does try to convey something beyond a pulpy sci-fi tale.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: Yesterday (2019)

Danny Boyle has that special magic that he can give to his films, but not all of the time. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise or The Beach have loads of it, while Trance on the other hand, has barely any. Yesterday is somewhere in between those two, but leaning heavily towards those films with not that much Boyle-magic to give. Of course, compared to other romantic comedies, Yesterday passes with flying colors.

But, compare it with Danny Boyle movies, and you get a C+ or B- film. Sure, it does have its incredible snippets, like the appearance of Robert Carlyle character. However, the story of a man who remembers The Beatles while everyone else forgot them after a freak global accident still somehow falls flat. Yes, it is an homage to the band and all of that, but it still fails to connect with our main character, in spite of all that he goes through. That crucial problem makes all about Yesterday seem a bit like yesterday's news - possibly relevant back then but quickly forgotten right now.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Short Film Showcase: Twisted (2019)

In just 16 minutes, the short film Twisted aims to do something really ambitious: present a suspenseful drama that sets off one ordinary evening and ends with a tragedy for one and possibly two people. By using some effective editing and a non-linear storytelling, the film quickly sets up its main pieces and presents the audience with the match between them. Here’s the film’s plot:

Christopher Thomas and his wife Jessica are having what one might say is a healthy relationship until the truth comes out. After a long workday, Chris decides to go out for drinks with a few male coworkers. This is when the troubles he has at home with his wife comes out. Things take a turn for the worst when he wakes up to his wife deceased. Now he must prove his innocence before it’s too late.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Indie TV Series Showcase: Real Acting (2019)

We’re definitely living in the golden age of TV shows. It is enough to check out something like Mindhunter and see what David Fincher can do when he’s given 10 hours instead of two. But, the same golden age applies to indie creators and other genres as well. This is why today, a TV show like Real Acting is not just theoretically possible, but something that already has its full first season. Here’s how the show describes itself:

An out-of-luck acting teacher assembles a colorful cast of wannabe actors for his unique method of coaching in this comedy mockumentary series.

The director of the show, Bron Theron, clearly pulled a lot of inspiration from his own career. As an actor who got his first credit in 2005, he worked plenty behind the camera as well as in front of it. Now, in Real Acting, he used a simple premise of a modest acting school, equipped with a small stage and an even smaller auditorium, to offer his numerous character (and talented actors) a place to do everything and anything actors in training go through.
Over-the-top and obviously focused on exploring all the absurdity, talent, drive and despair to succeed, Theron created a series that is a must-watch not only for aspiring actors but anyone who is into minimalist indie comedy. If this appeals to the thespian inside of you, watch the entire first season of Real Acting right now on Amazon Prime.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: The Operative (2019)

It would be hard to argue that The Operative is not a very flawed movie. The biggest issue among all of those is it loses focus that easily shifts from Diane Kruger as the main character, a woman who slowly becomes a more and more important Mossad agent, and everyone else, who are basically not relevant. The same is true for the time frame in which the movie takes place and here it is hard to gauge what is when, but not in a good, mysterious way.

However, The Operative is also a very good movie. It offers a textured experience that is loaded with different levels of interpretation, looking from a geopolitical standpoint. At moments, it is also lightning-fast in its violence as well. Lastly, its director, Yuval Adler, does a wonderful job with the movie's ending, offering one of the main reasons for the film's relatively low score on most audience-based aggregators. For a spy drama set in the modern world, this film is what we need - a complex and hard-to-understand tale that is potentially unclear even to those who told it.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Watch Now: The Bachelor Party (2018)

Some movies simply ask to we viewed and enjoyed them with a group of friends over a Friday and Saturday night. The same viewing is even better if it includes some food, a few snacks, a drink or two and a whole lot of laughter and a good time. Fortunately, The Bachelor Party offers all of this and a chance to do it all for free, right now! The entire movie is available on YouTube in full HD and anyone can watch it right now. This parody merges romantic reality TV and spy films in one hilarious, fun and celebrity-filled gem ideal for a movie night.

The story follows Shawn "The Showstopper" Valentino, who is the world's most famous Batchelor. However, when his hero-figure passes away, Valentino has to make a choice - get serious with one of his numerous girlfriends or keep living the carefree lifestyle of an eternal bachelor.

Now, besides a whole lot of attractive actors and actresses and plenty of bathing suits as the film's main costume, The Bachelor Party has some insane cameos. In it, you can see Nina Hartley, the iconic porn actress with a decades-long career, always stunning former WWE Diva Shelly Martinez and none other than Marla Maples, the former wife of the current US President Donald Trump. To make the sheer appeal of the movie even bigger, the soundtrack features Snoop Dogg with his main theme California Party.

So, if you're up for some laughs and a good time, check out the entire The Bachelor Party right here!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Two-Paragraph Movie Review: I am Mother (2019)

Similar to Ex Machina, this film has a strong start and quickly establishes itself as a hardcore science fiction work of art. In the world of the distant future, humanity is gone and everything that is left is a bank of frozen embryos, run by an AI and its robotic manifestation. It unfreezes one of these and allows it to gestate into a baby, starting then to care for it as - you guessed it - Mother. The child grows and it is nurtured and attended for by Mother, but in this critical teenage years, the same girl sees her universe drastically change: a human survival appears on the door of their bunker.

The movie takes expected twist and turns from that point and while they are by no means badly done, they are also not much food for thought a hardcore sci-fi film should carry with it. In the last third of the film, the entire notion of the basic emotional triangle becomes strained and somewhat redundant as the girl faces an ever-dropping affection for both the survivor and Mother. In a similar way the movie ends - not with a bang, but with a hint of smart narrative design, but also one that never got a chance to gestate.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

There’s a lot of stuff going on in Alita: Battle Angel. So much stuff, in fact, that in the end, nothing kind of happens at the same time. This has nothing to do with the ending - which is pretty solid, by the way - but with the general direction where the story wanted to go. I guess it features a story about discovering yourself in a world that is unjust and which you don’t understand completely.

However, the film ended up as something that desperately tries to explain who Alita is and who she wants to be, but fails to achieve the same. Is she fed by anger, vengeance, hope? Some might say all of these things, yet, even then, the movie does not manage to keep up with most of these things. In the end, the movie provides some nice action thrills and a lot of promise for its sequel that will likely never come. All in all, that might not be such a bad legacy in the domain of the modern science fiction blockbusters.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: Arctic (2018)

Apparently, getting marooned on the plains of Arctic is not as half as fun as it sounds and Mads Mikkelsen is a great choice for an actor to explore the same situation. He plays Overgård, a man in this predicament but also one who managed to find a semblance of stability, rooted in numerous routines, in his terrible form of everyday life. As he waits for the rescue in his downed aircraft-turned-shelter faith drops a helicopter on him, almost literally. Instead of salvation, he is left with a badly injured woman and a series of big and potentially deadly decisions he has to make.

Joe Penna, the director of this minimalist film is steady at his helm and he was able to steer it commendably. Low on words and high on non-verbal explanation, Penna did what J.C. Chandor did with All is Lost, only changing the punishing sea with the punishing snow - it looks like water in all of its forms wants to kill us when we get marooned. But, cinematographically, in both cases, a strong lead managed to push a great setup even further, creating a very impressive story and very quiet adventure film.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: The Mule (2018)

One of the things I appreciate about Clint Eastwood more and more with the passing of time is the fact that this guy is actually really weird. In other words, I’m still not sure what is going on in his mind after all of these decades of him in front and behind the camera. The Mule is a good example. This film is a thriller about an old orchid grower who becomes a narco-trafficker for the Mexican cartel out of necessity. Slowly, he ventures further into the scheme and this cannot end well.

A standard thriller, right? Yes, but, at the same time, it has a huge number of comic moments, which I’m not sure if they were added by design or by accident. It is also vaguely political in a way that is not desirable to me, even though I know where Eastwood's personal political compass points. This all makes The Mule feel like a strange collage of part of different TV shows that are on air at the same time. Drama, comedy, thriller, and a love story, it’s all in there and it all partially makes sense. The movie is ultimately enjoyable mainly thanks to Eastwood's acting, but where it wanted to take us intellectually remains a mystery to me

Friday, May 31, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2018)

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a smart film, but it is not as smart as it would like to be. It features a classic lifeboat scenario, this time among a band of weekend militiamen who are held up in a warehouse after a massive attack on a police funeral in their area. As they bid their time worrying about arrests, listening on HAM radio about more nationwide attacks, one of them is working hard on figuring out who of them actually carried out the initial massacre.

The movie is all drama and tension between the characters, followed by plenty of dialogue (in fact, that’s most of the film). While I do admire the low-budget approach to this enjoyable thriller setup, it ends up being smug and too self-content at many points. Those long dialogues include some not that great lines, and the actors that deliver them are equally persuasive as a modern militia crew that is inches from committing a new and major terrorist attack. Still, the film holds your attention, which is more than enough for a project of this size.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Indie Showcase: Art of Love (2019)

Art and love might seem like a natural pairing in numerous situations. After all, ever since the days of the ancient past, art did explore in so many shapes and forms the concept of love. Yet, while so many works of art try to approach the subject from a philosophical, grand, and even emotionally detached perspective, some try to observe love and art in the contemporary setting, through the eyes of regular people who work hard to survive and thrive in an often ruthless and uncaring world. Art of Love is a feature-length indie title that tries to do just this. Here is how the film describes its plot:

Monday, May 20, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: High Life (2018)

Gentle and brutal, complex and really simple, relatable and completely alien - all of these are the traits that High Life possesses as a work of art. This alone would make it worthwhile for anyone who is seeking to experience something new. Still, besides these characteristics, the movie has many other fantastic points. Among them is Robert Pattinson as the quiet and contemplative Monte, who easily carries the main role of this oddly structured film.

Yet, Pattison, just like the decades-older veteran Juliette Binoche works fantastically with each other, the rest of the cast and the whole vision of the director, Claire Denis. The plot of the film, which sets a crew of death row inmates on a mission to explore a nearby black hole, is just one of the cogs in this truly impressive machine. The entire setup is much larger than a smarter retelling of Interstellar. Instead, it’s a genre-bending concept piece that is wonderful to watch and also a strong chaotic commotion that you more experience emotionally than understand intellectually. I loved it throughout.
 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: Game Night

When you look at it superficially, the concept of Game Night seems immediately worn out. A group of friends getting for a night of games, entering one that was supposed to include actors but ends up including a real crime which they're firstly oblivious about. Sure, it's like Fincher's Game but only in a comic reverse mode. Must be dumb and boring, right?  Well, oddly, it's really good.

In fact, for me, it's one of the best AAA Hollywood comedies I saw in recent years. The duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein made the film with steady hands and a great eye for a serving of black humor jokes. I was impressed by its sharpness and even more, by the willingness to take the film into some dark and twisted waters - not that deep into them, mind you, but the effort is still appreciated. Lastly, Jesse Plemons is one of the most talented actors of his generation and the movie was lucky to have him - he added a cherry on an already really good cake.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Short Film Review: Spilled Paint (2019)

The plot of the Spilled Paint short film begins as an old-school jazz tune - full of beat and with rising tension. In the movie, the audience is quickly introduced to Patrick, a painter, who is very unpleasantly (even though not yet extremely violently) questioned by a crime boss. The painter made a mistake: he borrowed $10,000 from the same criminal and now it is time to pay up.

Of course, he also made an additional mistake which has been ongoing for some time: he is disorganized, unable to focus and on moments, not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But, he gets a break. The boss will give him a week to get the money. Naturally, with nowhere to turn, the painter realizes his only option is to create a masterpiece of end up very hurt or even worse.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Two Paragraph Review: Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

I really loved Bone Tomahawk and I didn't like Brawl in Cell Block 99. Now, there is the new film by S. Craig Zahler and this is his biggest undertaking so far. Featuring a cast led by the always good Mel Gibson, Zahler did his own version of the Poliziotteschi genre (don't worry, I never heard about it either). In the movie, the vibe of the entire plot is an almost intangible mesh of personal drama, background political commentary and quick bursts of almost senseless violence.

This is something that on moments works great and sometimes fails completely, especially because of the weird script Zahler wrote. Here, the idea of repeated dialogue lines, like "being smarter by a yard post" and similar stuff reminded me of film school student trying to write like Tarantino. The presence of these dorky and completely unnecessary elements is hard to figure out but they often break the immersion and any weird-but-good magic this director can clearly deal out to its audience. Still, no one could argue that for a neo-noir film Dragged Across Concrete doesn't cover its genre basis pretty well.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Indie Showcase: The Bachelor Party (2018)

When it comes to parodies, the basic principle for successful films in this genre doesn't change over time. Today, like always, the more over the top, the better. This is why The Bachelor Party promises a great ride for anyone who is into these types of comedies. Here is how the film describes itself:

Internationally mega-viral superstar Shawn "The Showstopper" Valentino is "The Most Famous Bachelor in the Galaxy." After his hero Hefner passes away, Shawn faces the most impossible mission of his life: a choice to settle down with 1 of his 5 girlfriends or to continue his playboy lifestyle of decadence and fantasy in this ridiculously over-the-top parody of spy films and romantic reality TV.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: A Private War (2018)

I'm not sure if it's really possible to perceive a film like A Private War without having some kind of position towards the conflicts it features. Sure, the film tries to be objective and somehow shift the focus from the wars to the journalists who were brave to traverse them, but it is hard to gauge how successful is it in the same design. This is especially true when it comes to Libya and the war that took place there (and still goes on), now with all that we know in 2019.

Across all of this, A Private War review should, in theory, avoid the choking geopolitical ramifications of the role Western media played in all of that and focus on Rosamund Pike and her great depiction of Marie Colvin. Yet, for me, the focus of the film is not the Colvin’s personal life but the editorial decisions back in London and the how and the why of those moments. In that setup, it is Tom Hollander as Sean Ryan of the Sunday Times who is actually the main character. Sadly, the film offers no answers to the same questions. Marie Colvin might have not been interested in which plane or artillery piece bombed a village, but I can’t help but wonder who sold and shipped those weapons there, as well as those on the other side.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: Roma (2018)

The thing about Roma is that it follows and depicts a particular kind of childhood, which took place in the turbulent years of the 1970s in Mexico. Yet, at the same time - and this is the thing that makes it so relatable - it is also about everyone’s childhood and their slight absentness from it. In the film, the children and the family that are experiencing the whole snapshot of this part of their lives is only one side of the story.

The second one, in some ways the major tale, is that of the maid working in the same home. Her life is separate from the family but at the same time, it is also fused with their stories as well as a kind of living but an ever-present prop. In spite of this, the family is mostly barely aware of her, as if she is the same complex and undefinable emotional development through which they became adults. She, like the same process, might be forgotten later on, but Roma shows that its actual influence is both unmistakable and irrevocable.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: Overlord (2018)

Overlord is a great movie and there should be no doubt about that - it’s one of my biggest positive surprises in this hybrid horror genre since Bone Tomahawk. Its director, Julius Avery, does a precise and very technical, but at the same time bold and unexpected slalom run through horror, war movie, and splatter adventure comedy genres. In the film, there are parts that are in equal measure worthy of Saving Private Ryan, Inglourious Basterds, and The Dirty Dozen.

At the same time, Avery managed to make a really good movie without the use of practically any big actress or actor. Regardless, through the use of plenty of German and French being mixed up with the English language, its cast pulls off an engaging movie. The plot tells the story of a small band of survivor paratroopers on a mission to blow up a Nazi installation on D-Day - there, however, they find things much more dangerous than a radio jamming facility.  In the hell ride that comes after this discovery, the actors and Avery do much more and present it as a great and very gory adventure. You don’t want to miss out on this gem of a film, especially if you find war films and those from the WW2 era at list slightly interesting.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Short Film Review: Hang Up! (2018)

Watching Hang Up! is like unintentionally allowing a sense of sheer darkness to envelop you. The story of the film is concealing simple - Gary, a middle-aged man accidentally drops into the phone conversation that his wife Emelia is having with another person.

He tries to get her attention but fails, but before he can hang up, his entire day, week, month, year and even life change forever.

The movie is focused on the barest and most minimal cinematographic elements. Most of the 13-minute run time is simply the narration of the man’s wife and the other person on the line, followed by the silent’s husband’s reaction and shots of his office. Yet, saying that this mixture becomes a combustible material in the mind of the viewer is an understatement.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Documentary Review: Minding the Gap (2018)

Copyright: Hulu
Growing up might be hard, but skating towards adulthood seems to be even harder in Minding the Gap. This documentary came about through 12 years of footage of the kids who lived and breathed skating in their hometown of Rockford, Illinois which was even then considered one of the prime Rust Belt locations.

Driven by dysfunctional families where violence was an apparent norm parent-children relationship, three friends try to find an emotional valve, a meaning of life and a chance for a better future in each other and their wheeled boards.

Bing Liu, the director of this fascinating documentary, managed to take the notion of a skate video and blew it up out of proportion in the best possible way. The movie opens like any film shot on a skateboard that follows people riding their own.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: Bird Box (2018)

There’s one thing you need to know about Bird Box and my review has to start by focusing on it: it’s fun to watch and engaging as a well-crafted horror at its most basic cinematic level. However, saying that, I also have to underline that the movie is not by any means an above-average post-apocalyptic film. In fact, it includes many things that make it something of a high-budget B-movie with cheesy dialogue and senseless characters. This is seen in the film's dorky humor and unnecessary exchanges between the characters that occur when the apocalypse starts - the event represents the appearance of invisible creatures whose sight makes the same person immediately commit suicide (unless you’re a homicidal psychopath, then you’re just employed as interns by the same demons/aliens/something else).

The flashback moments are in contrast with those segments where the plot takes place in the present time, where Sandra Bullock's Malorie tries to save herself and her two kids - here, Bird Box resembles the much better A Quiet Place in many ways, working as almost an homage. But, the flashbacks to the start of the event are worthy of the worst moments the worst films that M. Night Shyamalan created, including stupefying and forced drama, there to complement one-liners straight from scriptwriting hell. However, ultimately, the film is still enjoyable as a horror survival and there’s no way to deny this.