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About me

I am an unrepentant cinephile. Never too haughty to indulge in the sleaziest but always pleased to partake of legitimate art, I give everything a fair shot and strive to remove personal preference from the viewing experience. Though I indulge in all genres, I tend to gravitate most toward the horror, cult, drama, and musical genres.

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“Ever wondered what would happen if you dropped the main character from "Gravity" into the world of "The Abyss" where she encounters creatures with the dynamic of those from "Deep Rising" only following the more serious template of "Alien"? Well then, "Underwater" is the movie for you. The sad news i” read more

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Underwater review

Posted : 4 days, 7 hours ago on 29 March 2020 09:20 (A review of Underwater)

Ever wondered what would happen if you dropped the main character from "Gravity" into the world of "The Abyss" where she encounters creatures with the dynamic of those from "Deep Rising" only following the more serious template of "Alien"? Well then, "Underwater" is the movie for you. The sad news is that it doesn't reach any of the heights of the movies it so liberally cribs from, the good news is that it's still a fine enough b-movie thriller.

Let's be honest, the moment Stewart was cast the chips were stacked against this movie in the eyes of the general audience. She's not particularly made a positive impression on moviegoers despite some more serious, and less seen, roles proving she has at least some talent to work with. However, once the very obvious influences this movie culls its material from became clear the pushback was overwhelming. People, for the most part, dismissed it and it came and went at theaters like a brief blip on the radar. I'm not one to quickly dismiss homage (or even outright thievery) when it comes to art, however, and I made a mental note to eventually make up my own mind about "Underwater".

That time has come and gone and the results are in, as they say. My conclusion? "Underwater" is a relatively inoffensive b-movie knockoff of far better films but far from the disaster that everyone swore it would be. Any seasoned cinephile knows that knock-offs and cash-ins are par the course when a movie makes a ton of money. hell, all the aforementioned movies had a series of other knock-offs already. Any reasonable cinephile will also admit that they have partaken and enjoyed a variety of knock-off movies despite how they pale in comparison to the film they're so blatantly ripping off. As it stands "Underwater" is a film that will possibly garner a small cult following given its strengths and its simple structure. Give it some time and you'll see.

Stewart plays Norah, a cynical and nearly hopeless mechanical engineer working in a deep sea drilling rig that has begun to drill near the Mariana Trench. After an unexpected tremor leads to the partial implosion of the station, she and her remaining crew must make it across dangerous territory to find the final escape pods...but they may not be alone in the mysterious depths. And that's your plot, straight to the point and barebones and, you know, sometimes that's okay.

In a brave (some would say foolish) move the filmmaker's chose to place the brunt of the character work on Stewart's character. Stewart has never been the most expressive of actresses, sometimes she's downright horrible because of this (Twilight, Snow White and the Huntsman) and sometimes she can crack out something good despite her shortcomings (Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice). Here they leaned into her characteristic detachment and made it part of the main character's state of being. Norah, like Sandra Bullock's character in "Gravity", is a woman who has lost her way and purpose in life after losing an important person but circumstances force her into action and soon her arc leads her to find said purpose. The biggest shocker is that Steward does a fine job in portraying this character and making her the anchor to the other ones. It's not overt and refined and much of the supporting cast are set dressing to interact with her and affect her character arc but in a quick moving thrill-ride of a movie we don't need a deep dive into everybody else.

Indeed the film runs at a steady clip, the chaos erupting not long after a brief "essentials-only" intro and the path toward safety being charted as we go. This services the film in the sense that it leaves us little time to linger on character work that would otherwise be important in a more steadily paced flick. It also keeps the momentum....until it doesn't. If there is one outstanding weakness in this movie is that somewhere toward the middle it loses a bit of it's steam by either taking too much time to breath or just bombarding us with moment after moment of this run. Add to this the somewhat viewer unfriendly murkiness of the location and the frenetic film-style and as a viewer you might find yourself losing a bit of interest. That being said, the ship does right itself in time to usher in its conclusion which is actually pretty neat. Again, nothing new if you've been around the block but neat nevertheless.

"Underwater" breaks no new ground, instead it chooses to blatantly pick and choose from a variety of superior flicks but it is also just a popcorn chewing fun time if you stop tightening your asshole like a prude. For fans of the Lovecraftian there is a visual nod in this that, like the rest of the film, is superficial but fun. I give "Underwater" a positive 5.5/10


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Beyond the Door review

Posted : 1 month, 3 weeks ago on 7 February 2020 11:44 (A review of Beyond the Door)

"The Exorcist" spawned many imitators but nary an equal in its day. "Beyond the Door" was one of those pretenders that made a slight impression in some circles, not for its quality but rather for its reckless decision to dive headfirst into the supernatural aspects. While it has some supporters, it truly stands out more as an example of the folly of leaning into the wrong aspects of something successful.

"Beyond the Door" follows the story of a female plagued by demonic possession . As a result of this, her house and family are thrown into turmoil as her symptoms worsen. She is the defacto Regan McNeil of this film but that is where similarities to "The Exorcist" cease. The film somewhat admirably (though ultimately foolishly) chooses to play a game of opposites with its story.

While "The Exorcist" first introduces us to Father Merrin, a devout priest who has faced evil in the past and been strengthened by that encounter, this movie introduces us to an acolyte of the Devil who has failed his evil master and been given one more chance to extend his life and fix things. Instead of a child being possessed we have a woman, newly pregnant, and already with a brood of her own. She, unlike Regan's mother is happily married. Most notably, this movie chooses to focus on the horrific aspects of supernatural torture rather than the dramatic stories of those affected by undeniable evil like in "The Exorcist". Even the moments when science is brought in to try to explain the affliction are tampered down in this.

It's almost as if the writers thought that all this subterfuge would obscure the obvious fact that they were cashing in on the notoriety of another movie. Naturally, their efforts are all for naught. All these overt changes serve only to emphasize why "The Exorcist" is so well regarded rather than to make this movie stand out. "The Exorcist", for all its head-spinning and pea soup vomit, was actually a story about three divergent faith paths and how they cope when being faced with undeniable forces of evil. Beyond the Door falls apart because it almost solely focuses on the goop and shock tactics.

Indeed, the character work here is atrocious. Everyone is so one-dimensional that they literally rather spend time on shots of people walking rather then attempt to further develop them into more palatable characters. Any semblance of personality is immediately dashed by horrendous dialogue and even worse dubbing (some of which grants a child of about 6 years old the voice of a teenager). An opening narration bursting with exposition, robs the story of any potential surprises it may have held (not that they would of been effective otherwise).

"The Exorcist" ended in a melancholic but heartening way. Sure, the bastion of good died but he died in his faith. Yes, the doubting priest sacrificed his life for that of a child but he did so having gone from doubter to believer. In "Beyond the Door" they play that opposite game again and it's possibly the only time the movie comes close to working. Our devil's acolyte is revealed to have been the true focus of the affliction, just the Evil One playing one last game with the fool that followed him. I'd call this a spoiler but the opening narration ruins it and all the glaring missteps in between make it worthless. Then we have one final "reveal" (again ruined by the opening) that, under better circumstances, could of been a genuinely creepy moment but here just makes you roll your eyes.

This movie was produced by Italians (who at the time were notorious for cashing in on a craze) and it shows. We have the requisite wholesale dubbing of voices and sounds, a wildly inadequate soundtrack, laughable effects work, a focus on the visceral, and, of course, an utter disregard for quality. Some films deserve a second look despite their flaws and even exploitation can have its day but "Beyond the Door" deserves to be left at the bottom of the trash heap it was plucked from. 0/10



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Galaxy of Terror review

Posted : 1 month, 3 weeks ago on 7 February 2020 09:33 (A review of Galaxy of Terror)

Galaxy of Terror (1981): A slapdash rescue crew is dispatched to retrieve any survivors of a mishap on a distant space colony at the edge of the universe only to find that they are drawn into the clutches of the very thing that put the people in peril.

One of the multitude of "Alien" knockoffs that actually managed to garner its own cult following on both its outrageous nature and its more clever elements. It bears all the markings of a Roger Corman production like stunt casting, excessive gore, cheap physical effects, low grade production value, uneven acting, and borderline ridiculous writing BUT also happens to be notable for being one of James Cameron's early credits as a crew member before becoming a director.

As is typical of Cameron now, he bulldozed himself to higher status in the production with his innovation and heavily influenced the film. The ultimate result is still encumbered by the weak direction, acting, and writing BUT bears the occasional moment of ingenuity and campy allure.

Helping the affair along are the appearances of genre favorites like Robert Englund and Sid Haig in prominent roles as well as an assortment of crazy and strange effects set pieces that resonate if not for their effectiveness, for their outlandishness (I'm looking at you "worm rape sequence").

What is ultimately most fascinating about "Galaxy of Terror" is that a very transparent knockoff of "Alien" ironically went on to heavily influence Cameron's own later production of an "Alien" sequel, "Aliens". From imagery, to plot beats, to characters and concepts, "Aliens" is just Cameron reworking this movie into the canon of another series.

Equally interesting is how much "Galaxy of Terror" borrowed from sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet when it came to disposing of its canon fodder cast. This choice would later visibly influence movies like "Event Horizon" and their more psychological approach to terror in space that still managed to root around the visceral.

Make no mistake, "Galaxy of Terror" is not a strong film. It is riddled with a variety of issues that render it best suited for cinephiles that have a hankering for b-movies and schlock. That being said it is a b-movie with much more promise than disappointment. One wonders what could of been had it been in more capable hands. If cult film is your thing then you'll understand why I give Galaxy of Terror a 5/10.


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Jay and Silent Bob Reboot review

Posted : 2 months, 3 weeks ago on 13 January 2020 04:09 (A review of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot)

Kevin Smith has become something of a mythic figure. He can, after all, almost single-handedly be credited for bringing geek culture to the mainstream and making it fashionable. Along with Tarantino and Rodriguez, Smith ushered in the era of the independent artist and tore at the clay feet of the industry forever altering the landscape. This can never be taken away from him. However, unlike his peers, Smith never really evolved in his craft.

For a good while that wasn't even a problem. Fans, myself included, adored the slew of movies he churned out, warts and all. We weren't there for his technical prowess (which he still has the barest minimum) or his artistic vision. No, we were there for the melodramatics of youth, the referential and pop culture heavy dialogue that balanced between the witty and the outright vulgar, seeing the banal brought to vibrant and well-meaning life, and, of course, to see what Jay and Silent Bob, that lovable duo of slacker stoners, were up to now. in short, he made us love the characters and shared universe he created for them.

That shared universe (the Askewniverse, properly) was the one he finally left behind in 2001 after going out with a huge, over-the-top, and fan service heavy flick called "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back". It was a big thank you to the fans that supported him for years and, though juvenile and ridiculous, a helluva crowd-pleasing, good time. And so, Kevin Smith set out to make more pedestrian fare....

Only to quickly discover that it was rather forgettable. So he returned to the Askewniverse with "Clerks II" which, surprisingly, showed that he may have learned some lessons and could now apply them to his universe of films. It also showed promise that he could ever so slightly mature his characters and maybe bring them along with his audience as they aged. Alas, after this outing he returned to mainstream film-making with a couple of movies that are best forgotten (Cop Out and Zack and Miri Make a Porno).

Bereft of any wit, originality, charm, or humor, these movies made many question his ability to stretch out beyond the world he knew best. The response actually made him temporarily retire before returning with legitimately good thriller that played quite far from his standard fare that people took notice. Since then he's made more questionable, albeit at least somewhat original material.

So, it was inevitable in some people's eyes and, after a close call with death, he decided to make "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot", a self-aware and meta indictment of Hollywood that would allow him to gather the gang back together again to do what they do best.

Alas, they did their worst.

"Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" is an abject failure. It is a film so stringently unfunny that I literally questioned whether my perception and love of Smith's previous Askewniverse material was legit or just a sweet memory. That sounds a bit like an exaggeration but it sadly was not. I literally sat aghast and watched scene after scene unspool before me evoking nary a hint of laughter or even a desire to laugh. So silent was my viewing that I looked over at my brother and saw the look in his face that surely reflected the one that struck mine, a perverse mix of confusion, anger, disappointment, and disgust. We went in with almost no expectations and still were dragged to the bowers of disappointment. If anything Smith was at full advantage to please given his less than stellar output as of late but from the outset something feels wrong.

Let's get something out of the way that's always been an issue with Smith films in some way or another. On a technical level Jay and SB Reboot is an ugly looking film. Make no mistake it's not hindered by low quality picture, instead the picture has a very rich yet terribly unbecoming color palette that makes everyone look their absolute worst. Ever wanted to see every nook and cranny in a person? Well, this one might do it for you then. Yes, the movie lingers somewhere between downright cheap looking and cinematic but never achieves either one. That can be forgivable though. What isn't is the editing which is something to marvel at...for all the wrong reasons.

We come for the laughs and though familiar ideas and themes crop up, the comic timing is so off in this movie that it actually becomes the most consistent thing in the movie to spot the moment when something COULD have been funny. Sadly, it is so perceptibly "fixable" with editing. In comedy every moment counts and milliseconds are precious, here they tick by like hours as if the editor (Smith himself) where telling you "this is when you laugh". Except you don't.

This brings us to another glaring issue in the film, the gimmick of being a meta reboot. Given the current climate in Hollywood this could have been a great opportunity for satire or an outright indictment of the state of affairs in the industry, instead, we get a boat load of rehashed jokes (which in the process are robbed of their original charm) and entire plot structures. The film tries to pass this off as clever but it's so transparently lazy that it a quickly becomes tiresome. Of course it doesn't end at rehashing jokes. How about endless cameos and callbacks to the mythos of the askewniverse? Hey, remember that scene that made you laugh years ago? Let's do that again only worse and then pat ourselves in the back by remind you that this is supposed to be self-aware. As for the cameos, some are so cheap and utterly useless (I'm looking at you Matt Damon as Loki) that they only serve to underline how much unnecessary fodder is shoehorned into this mess.

But what about the original stuff? Well, get ready for dad humor and puns. Lots and lots of puns. Also, strap in for a dead upon arrival running gag with emojis. Sigh. Equally guilty of dragging down the humor is the dependence on vulgarity. Nothing wrong with a dick and fart movie, that's why we loved "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" but there is everything wrong with thinking that vulgarity for vulgariy's sake is funny when it's not attached to anything remotely resembling actual humor.

And that's the main issue with this movie, it puts so much focus on bad jokes and callbacks to better movies that it loses sight of why we gave a crap about the jokes in the first place in the other Askewniverse movies....the heart and the characters. This movie has a story arc for Jay that could of saved it from being a complete failure. It wouldn't of excused the black hole of humor in its dead center BUT it would of given it a reason to exist. Jay, the irreverent stoner, is given a legitimately good character growth arc about fatherhood that the movie seems intent on putting in the backseat in favor of a shitty joke, cameo, or callback. It's an absolute shame that Smith failed to see why this needed to be front and center, though I can only assume he thought it was. it's a woefully anemic plotline despite it being the core one. The tragedy of the movie is that it HAD a heart but it ignored for cheap humor.

There are moments when you can see what could of been shine through. Jason Mewes legitimately puts his all into playing Jay but when everyone is coasting or in there for a seconds long cameo it's not enough to save the day. Ben Affleck's cameo return as Holden shows you how focusing on the heart of the movie would of done wonders for it but alas it's a fleeting moment in the literal sea of lame punchlines.

One final thing, "Jay and SIlent Bob Reboot" has a serious problem with pandering to a modern audience. Kevin Smith has clung tenaciously to his youth for years. It's his bread and butter, but the truth is he's an aging man and recent efforts like "Yoga Hosers" only show how desperately he wants to show modern kids that he's hip to them too. This movie is sickeningly self-congratulatory in how it embraces PC culture. Nothing wrong with inclusivity and diversity at all but constantly virtue signaling isn't a great foundation for hilarity. In fact, it contradicts what we know about the core characters as a whole. I will grant the movie that there is a scene or two where Jay comes into the realization of how outdated his thinking is that somewhat work but, as with much in this movie, it's not enough to excuse or save anything. In fact, it plays it safe in a movie that desperately needed to be out of the box to matter.

"Jay and SIlent Bob Reboot", like most reboots, is unnecessary and fails to capture the spirit of what made those old Jay and SB movies great. Some people clinging to their fond memories will defend it by saying that "that was the point" but, no, the point was to make a funny movie that ALSO said something about the industry and took us on a journey that made a beloved character grow. We don't get that. All we get is low quality copies of old gags utterly robbed of their sense of humor, bad editing, lazy writing, useless cameos, and, worse of all, a movie that favors all that over the one thing that could of made it worthwhile...heart. The movie is like a selfish lover, it coasts on love and goodwill and gives nothing in return.

"Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" will have a lot of apologists but I can not be one. I did not care for anything in it, it has no redeeming factors, and literally didn't make me laugh, internally or otherwise, once. As much as I love the Askewniverse this movie is an abomination. 0/10.



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Apocalypse Cult review

Posted : 2 months, 3 weeks ago on 10 January 2020 12:04 (A review of Apocalypse Cult)

The found footage sub-genre made a considerable splash in the late 90's when it returned to the big screen with The Blair Witch Project and subsequently took the world by storm. By providing a simple narrative under the pretense of realism and backing it up with a formidable mythos, the movie left a indelible impression in viewer's minds which showed much could be done with little. Naturally, this meant that the slew of impersonators were not far behind. Oft maligned, the sub-genre has subsisted almost entirely on the fact that it is relatively cheap to produce and can almost always guarantee a return.

I'll be the first to admit that far too many examples exist that seemingly warrant the shunning of this cinematic style but I've always championed it because it's a gimmick that, when employed adequately, can be uniquely effective. In fact, the instances of found footage films with merit are exceptional. Movies like The Sacrament, Phoenix Forgotten, The Den, The Taking of Deborah Logan, [REC], The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and As Above, So Below have demonstrated that something truly special can be wrought with this approach. As a result of my experiences with these films, I've always welcomed the viewing of found footage with an open mind. So I went into my viewing of Apocalyptic (aka Apocalypse Cult), maybe all the more open to being surprised given that it was tackling a subject that has always fascinated me.

The premise was intriguing. Some documentarians stumble across whispers of a reclusive religious commune deep in the Australian wilds and decide to follow the lead in favor of the more vanilla project they were originally involved in. Soon they find themselves amid the wide-eyed and content denizens of a cult that follows one man who claims to be the living embodiment of a god. Shades of the ominous creep in and our intrepid reporters soon find themselves increasingly at odds with the goings on.

With a fertile setup and a legitimate reason for the found footage angle to be employed, the movie showed much promise. The capable acting of the two leads and the ladies that made up the bulk of the cult served to lull me into a sense of confidence. For all intents in purposes I felt like I was in for an intriguing experience.

That is until the cult leader made his presence known.

Oh boy, what an absolute deflating moment. Unlike better films in a similar vein, like The Sacrament, the pivotal casting of a man that is supposed to have suckered people into believing he was akin to a god was utterly botched here. Make no mistake, David McCrae certainly LOOKS the part with his eerie Marshall Applewhite-like appearance, bald head, beady eyes, and unsettling grin but that's where it all begins and ends. To say his acting is atrocious might be a bit of an exaggeration but it is definitely not even close to serviceable. Every, single line he delivers as if he were just waiting for the moment to read it out, at times even flubbing his cue. It's actually distractingly transparent how he pales in comparison to his fellow cast members because instead of reacting he is merely reciting. To top it all off he exudes not an iota of the charisma or presence that is historically synonymous with cult leaders. You actually find yourself wondering why anyone would follow this creep with the personality of beef jerky.

From this point forward the movie begins to lose any momentum it had built up. The illusion of immersion begins to crumble not only because of it's lackluster villain but because the movie hits all too familiar hallmarks of cult activity and behavior as if checking off a list. The only standout performances come from some of the actresses that compose the commune which do a wonderful job of communicating their devotion to their leader while never sacrificing the idea of individual personalities. The two main characters that got us there to begin with quickly go from credible to downright incredulous as the loyalty to their craft begins to chip away at the realm of logic.

It also seems like the idea of dialogue is abandoned at some point and people are just playing it by ear. This is most notable when groups interact and annoyingly overt if the cult leader is in the mix. You'll catch smiles where there shouldn't be any, people stepping on each other's lines, and a noticeable decrease in the already lacking quality of dialogue.

Another glaring issue with this film is how closely it sticks to the structure of the aforementioned modern classic The Blair Witch Project. With a bigger cast and different subject matter you'd think this would be easy to hide but it only becomes more evident as it steams ahead into its predictable end. Oh, and, trust me, things get predictable.

Not only do we find that they've cribbed the structure and pacing of Blair Witch but they've also taken elements from Red State and The Sacrament, movies that had come out not long before it did and did a far better job with similar material. That's not to say that they couldn't have still made something amazing but they seemed content to just let it be "close enough".

Much like Blair Witch we get a shock ending here that hearkens to the mythos established in the film. It serves as the one moment that might elicit a sense of excitement were it not for how horrifyingly daft it is. Suffice it to say, that despite getting an edited document of the events,we are expected to believe that (SPOILER) the Apocalypse came. Maddeningly idiotic.

Apocalyptic starts off well but quickly devolves into utter nonsense and, most egregiously, lays the weight of it's aura on the incapable hands of a subpar actor. This is a prime example of why found footage films are derided by many. Avoid at all costs. I give Apocalyptic a 1/10.


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Joker review

Posted : 4 months, 2 weeks ago on 15 November 2019 12:25 (A review of Joker)

"Joker" is undeniably the first outright masterpiece in its particular subgenre. While there is not much in terms of competition for absolute greatness as far as other superhero comic based movies go, "Joker" manages to not only legitimize and justify the existence of its ilk but also raises the bar so impossibly high that meeting the standard it has set might be too much of a task to overcome for those in its wake. It is only fitting that the film that most closely achieved this previously also featured the clown prince of crime as its antagonist, that being Nolan's "The Dark Knight".

"The Dark Knight" stood out because not only was it a good comic book movie but it was a legitimately great crime film with Heath Ledger's inscrutable Joker keeping the story tightly wound and the audience enraptured. To say that Ledger's Joker has deservedly earned its stripes as one of the standout performances of the last few decades is an understatement. The film would of worked without him, for sure, but it is because of him that most people remember it fondly. So long was the shadow he cast that the subsequent entry in that series, though fantastic, felt underwhelming in comparison.

The cast and crew of "Joker" had an unenviable task at hand when tackling the character as the subject of his own film. Not only where they no longer under the relative safety of Nolan's timeline they were literally standing alone outside of any established comic universe continuity. In many ways, it was later revealed, the studio left them out to live or die on their merit.

Undertaken by a director most renown for puerile and irreverent comedies, on the surface it would seem that the deck was further stacked against the production. However, Todd Phillips had turned a page in his film career that showed much promise. Promise he first made good on by casting the exceptional Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role. Phoenix has one of the most consistently solid careers in Hollywood, never failing to deliver high quality work. So skilled is he at his craft that sometimes entire projects live and die on his performance should their quality as a narrative be found lacking. His immersive, method-style of acting guarantees, at the very least, an engaging performance in any film he's in.

Admittedly, the idea of an actor of Phoenix's stature taking on a role that many had considered the final chapter to already be written on was an exciting prospect. The question is, did he manage to walk out of Ledger's looming shadow? The answer is a resounding yes. Dare I say, he not only walked out of it with relative ease but left it in the dust. Phoenix gives us a Joker (here named Arthur Fleck) so multi-dimensionally complex that we are taken by surprise by his ever-developing character even when though he never leaves our sight. At times it is painful to watch him, at others hypnotic, and, yes, even downright shocking or invigorating. Even if "Joker" hadn't worked as a film, Phoenix's portrayal would have made an indelible impression. Thankfully, the material is up to par with his excellence.

It goes without saying that anyone familiar with 1970's cinema will be unable to deny that the film borrows heavily from two of Martin Scorsese's classic films, "Taxi Driver" and "King of Comedy". In fact, Scorsese at one point was attached to direct this film and it is VERY clear that his imprint remained. Some cinephiles might find the homage a bit heavy-handed but those familiar with comic books know that restructuring stories and narratives into new and old molds alike is a relatively common practice used, primarily, to emphasize characters or, yes, redefine them. This is exactly what this movie does and to great effect. Most importantly, "Joker" manages to transcend its inspirations while, like them, leaving a unnerving stain on the soul that opens the viewer's eyes to their surroundings.

It is only suitable that Robert DeNiro, the star of those aforementioned Scorsese flicks, plays an important supporting role in this film. Indeed, like "Taxi Driver" before it "Joker" is the story of a mentally troubled social outcast trying desperately to find his place, any place, in the midst of a deplorable city buckling under urban decay mostly fed by the class divide. Like, Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle he is rebuked at every turn. DeNiro's Robert Rupkin in "King of Comedy" is a highly delusional comedian who is likewise rebuffed for all his efforts to succeed in a business he is clearly ill-suited for and finally finds a way to make his way into the spotlight. Phoenix's Arthur Fleck is much the same and, like those legendary characters, he finds answers, purpose, and respite in sudden shocking violence.

Much hubbub was made of the effects "Joker" might have on an impressionable public, especially given the current zeitgeist. "Taxi Driver" notoriously inspired an assassination and "King of Comedy" was met with caution because it was thought it might inspire more of the same. Scorsese managed to make sympathetic characters of psychopaths. Coupled with the vague endings of those two films it lead to gross misinterpretations of his art by many. "Joker" will only be misunderstood by the most simple-minded - perhaps a danger in itself - because it holds a mirror up to the viewer and asks them to look at the world around them, at the monsters we inadvertently create. "Joker" also presents a world ready to tip over into madness at the merest nudge, a particularly prescient glimpse at our current society. In this way the Joker is not glorified but made into a disturbing portrait of the potential of the everyman.

"Joker" is a morose, glum affair. Tragic at times, nerve-rendingly chilling at others. The tone and atmosphere brings with it a unshakable griminess and inevitability. It is this inevitability where fans of the comics will be most rewarded. The Joker has always been a conundrum. Accounts of his origins are multitude and here we get one that touches on several hallmarks of the character in various incarnations, tying him into the Bat-Mythos in a stunningly satisfying way. We know where Arthur Fleck has to end up and that is perhaps the greatest tragedy. How we get there is one of the great gifts the movie gives to readers, young and old. When these moments come the comic book fan in me shook with excitement and trembled at the possibilities opened up by the expertly delivered nods to the source material and the setups laid out. It would be a shame not to expand upon the timeline that "Joker" sets up so masterfully.

Make no mistake, this is more of legitimate film than a comic book movie but it rests comfortably on both sides of the line. "Joker" is a descent into the world of a truly damaged man trying to find purpose in a world that has forgotten him. Likewise, it is a document of that man's terrifying self-realization. Comic fans will see the birth of chaos, casual fans will see how one man can, by no desire of his own, change the tides. In many ways, "Joker" feels like a real world horror movie unspooling before your eyes.

"Joker" is a masterpiece on many levels. Characters and narrative have been expounded upon above but we must also mention the pervasively ominous score and the brilliantly curated soundtrack selections. Gorgeously lit, "Joker" is riddled with iconic images that stick to your mind long after you've finished watching it. Hell, the entire thing makes you want to take a shower after your done and, you know what? That's testament to its effectiveness. If either DC or the MCU find a way to reach this standard I'll be shocked because "Joker" stands head and shoulders above any other offerings in the genre. More importantly, it stands on its own merits as a film unbound to any genre. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! 10/10







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The Sacrament review

Posted : 4 months, 3 weeks ago on 13 November 2019 07:21 (A review of The Sacrament)

Ti West has made somewhat of a name for himself as a purveyor of excellent slow-burn horror cinema over the years. Though he has on occasion ventured outside of those genre constraints it seems that he always finds his strength in the embrace of the macabre. With "The Sacrament" West mixes his trademark methodical pacing with a faux documentary device to give us a peek into one of the world's most horrifying events.

Little is done to pull the wool over the viewer's eyes and hide the parallels to the Jonestown Massacre. Quite the contrary, it revels in tapping into familiar touchstones of the near mythological status of that tragedy. Though it is never outright beholden to the truth, the film manages to foment a steadily increasing sense of impending doom by sheer nature of audience expectation. It does this so expertly that one could argue that the film is rigged to work solely by what we, the audience, already know happened in a historical context. Exchanges, characters, dialogue, and visual cues carry with them the shadow of dread even at their most unassuming. We all know where this ends and, like the antagonist, we are paranoid of everything because of it.

Ah yes, the antagonist. A film is only as good as its villain and this one seeks to capture the essence of one of the most controversial figures of the 70's. Jim Jones, for all his demons, was a charismatic man that shepherded hundreds into a divergent faith, forward unto new horizons, and eventually toward death. He was also a man who believed his own brand of the gospel and saw opposition to that at every turn. He was a hypnotic and persuasive speaker whose honey-coated tongue could, at a turn, dart like that of a serpent. He was seen as savior by some and as a devil by others. These, as you can imagine, are big shoes to fill cinematically.

Casting Gene Jones as "Father", this film's analog of Jim Jones, was the keystone to this story. Despite his frail exterior, Father carries himself with towering confidence. His first appearance onscreen is met with a sense of awe not only from his congregation but from the audience. The conversation that follows shifts from warm and disarming to icily ominous. The change is affected with such fluid ease that it's almost imperceptible until you're in the thick of an insinuated threat. Indeed, Father is presented as a cunning manipulator but one you can see people fawning over without protest. His influence and presence is felt pervasively even when he's not onscreen and, perhaps most disturbingly, he always feels genuine in what he says. In Father's eyes he is a hero, his people are his family, and anyone that dares change that dynamic is a foe.

The terror hits hard and viscerally when it does come. Like Jim Jones, Father's deeds beg for answers that those outside of his influential grasp can't ever fully comprehend. In truth, no supernatural boogeyman can come close to the horrors of real life. Adding to this sense of realism is the aforementioned faux documentary device the film employs. Framed as a document culled from the footage of an immersive documentary, the film appropriately sets out to take the viewer into the thick of it with its almost meta approach. The results are credible because the setup is credible. The character motivations allow for the oft-maligned device to work in favor of the film's intention, to make you a front-line witness to the lives of people living with unbound devotion and, conversely, fearful doubt towards a singular man.

"The Sacrament" is an underappreciated film. It virtually quakes with an underlying menace throughout. It is subtle, it sneaks up on you, and then it rears its ugly head up before biting you savagely but, unlike most films, you went into this one knowing you were going to get bitten...and how...and by who. Yet there you are, dreading the horrors that are visited upon the weak-minded. Gene Jones as Father alone is worth watching "The Sacrament" but, thankfully, the film as a whole rises up to the task. Far be it for me to wish good tidings on a cult but I do hope that the cult following for this film grows as the years go on. Highly recommended. 8.5/10



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3 from Hell (2019) review

Posted : 5 months, 3 weeks ago on 13 October 2019 12:38 (A review of 3 from Hell (2019))

Rob Zombie has proven to be quite the divisive figure in horror circles. While he quickly ingratiated himself with his initial two offerings (House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects), things quickly took a turn for the worst with his grossly misguided attempts at re-imagining the classic Halloween series. While it would later be revealed that studio meddling had much to do with that, it was also undeniable that Zombie's go-to tropes, cliches, and limitations were just as responsible. And so, he seemed destined to never be able to shake the crushing blow of criticism as subsequent efforts became increasingly hard to fund and were met with lukewarm to downright negative reception.

Admittedly, I am a man who is always rooting for Zombie to prevail but his abhorrent dialogue choices and signature "Zombie-isms" seem to stifle any significant growth. What can't be denied the man is his particular eye for striking visuals, his uncanny grasp on the marriage of music and imagery, his dedication to the genre, and his rabidly loyal, albeit niche, following. What also can't be denied is that, at least at one point, he crafted a genuinely fantastic piece of reverent (even in its utter irreverence of the norm) horror cinema.

Indeed, even notable critics like Roger Ebert tipped their hat to what Zombie achieved in "The Devil's Rejects". Not only did he change the tone established in the film preceding (and linked to) it successfully but he also hearkened back to a bygone era of exploitation filmmaking with stunning pitch-perfection. From the gritty, sun-bleached aesthetic to the unflinching violence to the over the top scenarios and dark humor to the incredible feat of making utterly sadistic characters perplexingly likable despite their heinous deeds, "The Devil's Rejects" carved its own place in the mind of even the most skeptical of Zombie's abilities. It only seem natural then to revisit his most famous and beloved Rejects if he were to get his credentials back.

"3 From Hell" is that long-awaited return to his movie roots and on that many were keeping a keen eye on to make their final judgment on Zombie. The verdict? Well, like all things Zombie nowadays, it's complex.

The film somewhat anti-climatically reveals that the Firefly family as we last saw them (shot near to death) just merely survived a hail of bullets. One feels this is a lost opportunity for some fresh blood to be injected into the formula but it is as it is. We are quickly caught up with a faux news report/documentary on the death of Captain Spaulding (the late, great Sid Haig), the escape of Otis Driftwood (with the help of his deus ex machina brother "Foxy"), and the continued incarceration of Baby FIrefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) who has been driven beyond any realm of sanity.

While this setup just oozes with a gorgeous replication of that unique exploitation film feeling and look (down to tones of shockumentaries, women's prison films, and road flicks) it soon becomes evident that Zombie is treading familiar ground. The plot beats are almost identical to "The Devil's Rejects".

In Rejects we had two of the Firefly clan on the run waiting at a motel for the third member of their group, during which time they take a tightly knit group of people hostage, engage in mischief, murder, and mayhem before and after their partner arrives, and then head on the run again only to ultimately end up in a place run by a defacto "overlord" where they are turned into someone who wants them dead and a face off ensues. In "3 From Hell" two of the clan hold a closely knit group hostage to force them to bring the third member to them during which time they engage in mischief, mayhem, and murder before and after their partner arrives, and then they go on the run ultimately ending up in a small Mexican town run by some defacto "mayor" who turns them into someone who is hunting them down and, yes, a faceoff ensues. See the problem? It is an unshakable realization and soon parallels are impossible to ignore.

There is also a couple of nearly laughably bad sequences during the first half of the movie that will leave you rolling your eyes or shaking your head. One involves Baby having visions of a cat-lady in the vents of her prison cell. While her madness is alluded to (as is her association to "cats", in a manner of speaking) the scene just comes of as this abrupt and ludicrous aside. The other is a scene involving Clint Howard as a clown that happens across the psychopaths. It is neither tense or amusing and it only serves to befuddle and take you out of the goings on...all for a worthless throwaway callback.

Another thing noticeably missing is the spark of life and humor that Sid Haig's Captain Spaulding brought to the unhinged affairs in previous installments. He is sorely missed here and, honestly, it takes a bit for the remaining actors and their new comrade Foxy (played by Richard Brake) to feel fully "themselves". Ironically, their best scenes are separate from each other. Haig was really the glue that brought these divergent and devious minds together so well on screen. For the brief moment he does appear onscreen he is bereft of energy and oomph to even carry the few lines he has. You can tell the man was sickly even then and understand why he had to be written out. None of the crude rambunctious nature or menace of the character survives in the face of Mr. Haig who can barely deliver the lines here. It's a pretty sad affair given that he was not long for this world thereafter.

Things seem dreary at this point you might thing but all is not a loss. The film actually picks up in its latter half with the other thing (besides Haig) that is sorely missing from it...the introduction of an antagonist to these, well, antagonistic protagonists. Rejects had Sheriff Wydell (the great William Forsythe) for the family to play against. A cop, who though justified in his actions, proved enough of an asshole to make the Firefly's likable in their mania. In short, Wydell made the Fireflys work by working against them. This film is bereft of a galvanizing presence like Wydell for a woefully long time and it is, sadly, introduced only till the latter portion of the film, despite being somewhat dismissively set up earlier. Introducing this opposing presence much earlier would of done WONDERS for this movie. Instead, we just sit around with unlikable creeps until it comes along.

Given someone to stretch their anti-authoritarian world viewpoint against, the FIreflys shine. Once again their psychotic nature becomes palatable in the face of something keeping them from what they ultimately should represent to the audience, absolute and true freedom; something we can actually root for. Zombie won me over at this point. With a final showdown imminent and his open use of Mexploitation tropes and Mexican culture to add zest to the Firefly's villain, the movie got cooking and was a blast from thereon out.

Many nods to genre film abound. Most notable among these is allusion to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" which Zombie weaves into the narrative quite nicely. As always, he litters his films with great character actors and beloved genre names playing outrageously oddball characters (most notable among these is Dee Wallace losing herself in the role of a crooked prison guard). Special effects and music stand out, as you'd expect.

In the end, "3 From Hell" is far from perfect but does much to win over the returning audiences by the time it concludes. It's a close call but he pulls it off well enough. It certainly grades above "31" which felt like a visually rich but substantially lacking exercise. You'll leave more content that you started off, for sure. If this is the last time we'll see the Firefly clan then it wasn't a bad way to go though it could of been far better. The question remains, will Zombie step up his game or will he shuffle off into obscurity and ridicule? "3 From Hell" suggests he has promise yet. 6.5/10


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Splice review

Posted : 5 months, 3 weeks ago on 9 October 2019 02:09 (A review of Splice)

Vincenzo Natali was already of renown for his unique, contemplative brand of sci-fi infused concepts when he gave us "Splice" which spiced up its cautionary tale of science gone wrong with a dash of melancholic horror and, surprisingly, family drama. It is only appropriate that Guillermo Del Toro is counted among its production team as the film treads in territory familiar to his viewers with its humanized monsters and emotionally and psychologically dense characters.

Indeed, "Splice", at its core, is basically a retelling of the Frankenstein story which, in turn, is the story of scientific responsibility and impact of the role of a creator in the life of their creation. Clive and Elsa are genetic science wunderkinds, and lovers, that create morally and ethically questionable life in the face of opposition. On the surface this seems merely for the sake of proving their mettle in the field, if not outright egoism, but as the film progresses the layers of reasoning unravel even as the relationship to their creation deepens in complexity.

As with Frankenstein, the creature in "Splice" is a nuanced being whose psychological makeup is molded by the reactions and personalities of its creators. The script does a fine job of drawing parallels in its development to the growing pains of an actual child and the hairpin turns in the interpersonal relationships between parents and children that only serve to underline the creator's inherent innocence, despite its outward or natural monstrous nature. Therein lies the utmost strength of the film, that it serves as a striking parable about the importance of selfless parental involvement in the life of a child. Indeed, the most horrifying portions of the film lie not in the hands of the monster but the choices made by its unworthy creators in all their

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are both charming and detestable as Clive and Elsa, who though relatable are tainted by their hubris, past, and flaws. The more we know them, the less we empathize and, ironically, the more a cruel mirror of ourselves is held up to our face. We are them, daily failing to shake the shackles of our own upbringing and yet thrust into the role of leaders, fathers, and mothers. It is a shocking revelation presented to us under the auspices of a sci-fi horror nightmare.

The effects hold up relatively well and, even if they hadn't, the story is carried out in such a way that it would engage nevertheless. The whole affair is a bleak and somber one which is emphasized by the cinematography with its deep wells of darkness and gritty shades of green and blue to contrast stark and sterile whites, almost as if to underline the idea of science gone awry.

At times heartwarming and heartbreaking and at others chilling, cold, and cruel in its implications, "Splice" is a fantastic and underrated piece of work. A definite must see for fans of the genre and the casual viewer. I give it 9/10.


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Anna review

Posted : 6 months, 3 weeks ago on 14 September 2019 08:29 (A review of Anna)

The denizens of the internet seem determined to fight an irritating battle on the merits of female leads in previously male-dominated genres/roles. It's a spectacle that has become something of a civil war amidst cinephiles and pop culture aficionados. SJWs caterwaul relentlessly about the validity of a gender or race swap or the influx of female cinematic outings while more conservative dweebs lash out in anger at a perceived attack. Sides are taken, threats are issue, people are "cancelled" , and much rage in incited but director Luc Besson goes on unfettered by a discussion he never even saw worthy of having for decades now.

To say that Besson loves Mary Sue style leads is an understatement. The man has practically built a career on it. Hell, you might say he redefined the idea by making his female characters actually have some flaws but still making those flaws essential to everything. Yes, his women inspire the men (and women) to fall unabashedly in love with them, they're usually incredibly capable of feats of prowess that would put a Navy Seal to shame, they're statuesque and intrinsically beautiful, they'll bring foes to their knees and lift heroes to another level previously inaccessible by them, and, more often than not, they are defacto savior figures. This is Besson's bread and butter and it's definitely something that's not new to the world no matter how people want to color the narrative.

"Anna" is no exception to the rule. If anything is a smorgasboard of Besson clichés all vying for the spotlight. As is typical of Besson, he keeps the action constant, the flow breezy, and the aura decidedly European. Despite making films for an international market, Besson has admirably never tried to Americanize his efforts as many tend to do. His casts are usually multi-nationals playing just that, his locations rarely cross the Atlantic, and everything has that distinctly sleek Euro-cinema look and feel to it.

It's well known that Besson co-writes dozens of scripts to put into production and cherry picks the best ones for himself to direct. Though "Anna" is breaking absolutely no new ground you can easily see why he chose to keep this one for himself. Aside from filling all the typical Besson "requirements" it is also gave him an opportunity to potentially catapult a female talent into the spotlight, something he is quite fond of doing. In this case we have model Sasha Luss, previously cast in a small role in one of his previous films, given the titular lead role.

Indeed, the bulk of the film depends on this waif of a girl to keep it afloat and, lo and behold, she manages quite well. Is she a stellar actress? No, she has a ways to go but, to be fair to her, English is not her first language. This may come off as wooden to some, however, when working outside those parameters you can definitely see that she has something more to offer if a different role should come her way. Ultimately, she was portraying a character that was jaded and embittered by the trappings of her lifestyles so one wonders if it was a creative choice.

And there's our story, Anna is a perpetually oppressed Russian woman in a dead-end relationship with a crook. She is cherry picked by the KGB (the film is set in the early 90's) for her proficiency with languages and her noted ambition. Given the chance to escape her life, she is taken into the spy program with the promise of her eventual freedom after five years of service, five years she's not expected to survive. Determined to make her way out, she is involved in a serious of intrigues that may either dig her a deeper hole or get her what she wants.

The story unfolds in a non-linear series of flashbacks and flashforwards that slowly reveal the many layers of her manipulations and those of the agents around her. Honestly, it's the choice to approach the material in this particular fashion that gives a familiar plot a fresh feeling. "Anna" seeks to constantly flip the script on you and make you see events from opposing sides and it is most definitely an engaging conceit. If the movie had not taken this approach it would have easily been a pedestrian affair.

At times "Anna" is surprisingly violent and, thankfully, Besson never overindulges in this and so each time the film goes there it packs a visceral punch that never besmirches the style the film is going for. Yes, the action is delightful to watch and expertly choreographed and never seeks to take attention away from the story, saving its impact for the notable times it roars onto the screen.

Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy play agents on opposing sides and their credentials do much to give substance to otherwise filler "love interest" roles. Most welcome, however, is Helen Mirren as the head of the division in charge of Anna's clandestine affairs. Mirren brings likable, humorous charm and nuance to the role of a rigid former spy with ambitions of her own. It's really amazing how much she says about her character with a look or even a grunt. It is the relationship between she and "Anna" that made me go from just "liking" this movie to truthfully enjoying it.

Without ruining much, is a movie about the often overlooked resiliency and potential of women working in a world dominated by men. It's not preachy though and it isn't burdened by an agenda, it's just what Besson does. As always the men are left in awe of the women and the effect they had on their lives. This is the definition of Besson. He wants to provide fun, action filled entertainment filled with gobsmackingly gorgeous people and the occasional tenured actor to lock it all together.

Despite bringing nothing new to the table, I found myself really enjoying "Anna". It's almost impossible not to. The pace never lets up, the storytelling device hooks you in, the action is engaging, and the ending just sets in nicely. I give it 6.5 out of 10.
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