Movie Review: HANNA

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hannaFocus Pictures
2011
PG-13

“Kissing requires a total of thirty-four facial muscles, and one hundred twelves postural muscles. The most important muscle involved is the orbicularis oris muscle, because it is used to pucker the lips.”

Raised by her father, an ex-CIA agent, in the wilds of Finland, Hanna’s upbringing and training have been one and the same, all geared to making her the perfect assassin. The turning point in her adolescence is a sharp one. Sent into the world by her father on a mission, Hanna journeys stealthily across Europe, eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative with secrets of her own. As she nears her ultimate target, Hanna faces starting revelations about her existence…

It was movie night with my circle of friends, and I chose Hanna to be the one we watched. This was back when the movie was first released on DVD, and while looking into the movie, the premise intrigued me. It seemed to be a bit more than your standard Bourne Identity-style psychological thriller. For one, it involves a young girl as a trained-since-birth deadly assassin, who was raised by the CIA agent that was part of the project to develop these super soldier kids. Not exactly a unique premise, admittedly; but what interested me was that it was said that Hanna wasn’t shot like the other action thrillers that were being churned out.

There’s a lot of European folktale influence on the visuals and ambiance of the movie. I don’t know what other way to explain it, other than this is definitely a different beast. There’s more of a subdued, sombre quality to the execution, almost a Kubrick-esque style. Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are great in their roles, and the cinematography is breathtaking. The story itself moves along at a decent clip, with several locations utilized.

Overall, Hanna was a good change of pace from the bunch of action flicks that normally clog the theaters. It’s a good psychological thriller that will stay with you a bit longer than usual. Recommended.

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Movie Review: AMERICAN PSYCHO

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american psychoLionsgate
2000
R

Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my god, it even has a watermark!

 

Patrick Bateman is a Wall Street yuppie obsessed with success, status and style. His co-workers, like Paul Allen, are just as obsessed with success, status and style. However, there’s one thing that sets Patrick apart from his co-workers. He is also a psychotic killer who rapes, murders and dismembers both strangers and acquaintances without provocation or purpose. With Detective Donald Kimball on his tail, Bateman seems to be leading himself into a spiraling downfall of insanity and defeat…and all the while, he’s still able to throw a few Huey Lewis and the News facts your way.

American Psycho is one of those movies that I’ve seen a few times prior, but haven’t gotten around to pounding out a review of, mainly because it also happens to be one of those movies that defies being lumped into just one category. Certainly, one would stick this in the general horror genre, maybe even in the psychological thriller sub-category. You might even be forgiven for thinking this is just another slasher flick, going by the title and movie poster art alone. But, first impressions going into American Psycho are deceiving.

On the surface level, yes, American Psycho certainly is a kind of slasher horror movie, about a wealthy New York investment banker in the later part of the 1980s with a taste for pop music and elaborate business cards who begins offing people, possibly due to the stress of his lifestyle. But, the way he goes about his homicidal tendencies falls squarely in the “Black Comedy” style that will have you laughing and shaking your head at the utter absurdity of it all. But then, subtly at first but then rather evident as the story unfolds, reality itself seems to be breaking down right before your eyes, taking a serious Aronofsky style mind-bending psychological twist.

It’s because of these aspects, and also the great acting by Christian Bale and the 80s setting that has made American Psycho stick in my head all this time. And I’ve watched it several times, mainly because I’m still trying to figure that ending out. Yeah, I know I had it explained to me, but I keep thinking I’m missing some kind of subtle nuance to give me that “Oh, right, I gotcha”. Also, naked Christian Bale wielding a chainsaw. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Overall, American Psycho is twisted, will mess with your head, and make you wonder what you just watched by the end. All the while, you can’t not keep watching. Recommended.

Movie Review: The GOOD NEIGHBOR

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Movie Review GOOD NEIGHBOR, TheLionsgate Home Entertainment
2016
NR

“Maybe I should teach him a lesson. Keep that son of a bitch on a leash, okay? Because the next time, if it happens again, I’m going to cut him in four pieces and send him home in this can.”

A pair of mischievous high school kids create the illusion of a haunting on an unsuspecting neighbor. While keeping his every reaction under surveillance, they see much more than they bargained for, and discover that the man they’re tormenting is not the easy target they’d expected.

Never have I been pleased with a simple mistake. You see, there’s this horror thriller movie out there that stars comedian Bill Engvall called The Neighbor. Ever since I learned of the existence of a straight horror thriller that features a member of the Blue Collar Comedy team, well, let’s just say my sense of morbid curiosity still hasn’t been sated yet. Because I happened to get the slightly differently titled The Good Neighbor by mistake. I was disappointed by the mix-up, yes, but I ended up watching The Good Neighbor anyway, because this one stars the always great James Caan as a delightfully grumpy neighbor to a couple of teenage boys with far too much time on their hands.

So, here’s the story: We start off with what seems to be yet another found footage-style setup, introducing a couple of suburban teenagers setting up some high-tech video surveillance equipment, with the one who is clearly spearheading this endeavor narrating what they plan on doing with said equipment–rig the house of a cantankerous and reclusive old neighbor that lives across the cul-de-sac where they dwell to seem that he’s being haunted, and film the results with said video cameras. The kid claims it’s for SCIENCE!, but it’s rather clear this is a thin excuse to take out some passive-aggressive anger on the neighbor for reasons that go beyond “he’s not a nice guy”. That, and teenagers are douche-nozzles, generally speaking. Anyway, just before you think you’ve gotten yourself into a feature-length episode of Punk’d, the movie cuts to courtroom scenes, where the teenage boys are on trial for the murder of the neighbor they’re doing the experiment on. So there, you know something went awry, and now you’re invested to continue watching to see what may have transpired. As we continue with the found footage angle, it’s clear that the old man’s reaction to the various “haunting” rigs is not what the boys were hoping for, as instead of being wigged out, he acts…differently. That’s really the only way I can put it without really getting in-depth and spoiling things for you. Basically, things are not what they seem on the surface, when we learn this goes beyond just wanting to prank an old guy because he emulates Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino…and the old guy has a reason as to why he’s grumpy. And why he ultimately reacted the way he did to put the boys on trial.

The Good Neighbor isn’t exactly a horror movie, so much as it’s a very tense psychological drama that has an atmosphere that will get under your skin and leave you on the edge of your seat, with an ending that will send some chills down your spine by the implications. James Caan is fantastic, as he has very little dialogue but nails everything without having to say much. Everybody did a rather good job, and I liked the fact that this didn’t turn out to be yet another found footage movie. Or your standard horror flick.

Overall, if you’ve overlooked The Good Neighbor before, do yourself a favor and check it out some time.

Movie Review: GET OUT

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get outUniversal Pictures
2017
R

“I want your eyes, man, I want those things you see through.”

Now that Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.

I have to once again say, 2017 is turning out to be a rather good year for horror movies. There has been a bunch that have eschewed the usual conventions of the PG-13 teenybopper horror flicks that have glutted the big screen in the past ten years (you know what they are, I don’t think I have to point them out) and produced some very smart, very effective actual horror that hits you square in the psychological soft spots.

So, with that bit out of the way, I bring you my take on the movie Get Out. This has been toted as a modern horror masterpiece, a new type of horror some are calling Social Justice Horror. Or something like that. I’ve heard that bandied about a couple of times. I’m not what you would call a passionate zealot when it comes to political issues; on the other hand, I do appreciate a well-executed bit of subversive commentary within the horror movies I watch. The operative word here would be “well-executed”, mind you. I’ve seen more than my share of movies where it’s obvious the message was more important than making a quality horror movie.

Get Out manages to hit that balance between effective psychological horror movie and social commentary. I know this because I enjoyed this movie immensely without once having my intelligence insulted. And that would have been far too easy to do, and the fact that he pulled it off speaks volumes of the talent that is Jordan Peele with this being his first movie directing.

The best way I would describe Get Out was if David Cronenberg decided to do a remake of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (the good one with Sidney Poitier) while having it produced by Alfred Hitchcock in his prime: A young black man who is an up-and-coming photographer of note is being introduced to his Caucasian girlfriend’s family, who kind of go out of their way making him feel welcome and he’s safe because they’re just oh, so NOT racist or anything. Right. During their stay, he meets his girlfriend’s family’s many friends and acquaintances, all of which marvel at what a fine specimen this young man is. Also, they’re totally not racist or anything. They cool wit’ the struggle. They’ve watched In Living Color back in the day and stuff. Did I just date myself? I believe I just did. Anyway, all of this starts getting to the young man, and he decides that he’s going to cut the trip short, only…

Yeah, if I go any further, I’ll be doing those of you who haven’t seen Get Out a major disservice. Mind you, I only tend to give away the endings of bad movies, and Get Out is very much NOT a bad movie. As a matter of fact, it is a very, very good horror thriller movie that is well-written, well-filmed and edited, with some fantastic performances from the cast. For this being Jordan Peele’s first movie, let alone a horror movie, after watching this, I cannot wait to see what else he has for us in the cinematic sense. My only regret is not catching this in the theater when it was out. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The INVITATION

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the invitationDrafthouse Films
2015
NR

“I’m so glad you’re here. We have a lot to talk about. So much to say tonight.”

While attending a dinner party at his former house, a man starts to believe that his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister plans for the guests.

The Invitation was one of those movies that I heard getting quite the buzz around the independent movie circuit, getting rather positive reviews from the regular horror movie blogs and websites I frequented. It was described not as your standard horror movie, nothing supernatural, and also not one of the many type of siege and home invasion type horror movies that have come out in the past few years. It took me a bit to get around to watching this for myself, but finally the chance happened for me to do so.

In the movie, this young couple are on their way to a dinner party that, as we find out, is being thrown by the guy’s ex-wife and her new husband. So, already we’re being thrown into the awkwardness right off the bat. Lovely. Then they hit a coyote along the way. Of course, the two don’t seem to take this as an ominous sign, so they make it to the house, which also happens to be the house the guy and his ex-wife used to live in, until the tragedy that tore them apart happened. So, yeah. Unpleasant memories on top of seeing the woman you used to love intensely be happy with someone else, inside of the house you two used to…you know what, let’s just move forward, shall we? When they arrive, they meet several of the other guest that are there, including that of a young lady that the ex-wife and new husband decided to have live with them after meeting her at a spa retreat in Mexico. As they all chat and such, the tensions rise as memories come flooding back to the young man, and he begins to suspect something sinister is afoot, as everyone’s a little too friendly…and also his ex’s husband has locked all the doors. Then they’re all shown a kind of infomercial recruiting video for that “spa” in Mexico that is totally not a cult that, as it turns out, the ex-wife went to not too long ago to help deal with the tragedy of her son’s death on his 10th birthday. The reaction to this is what you would expect, though not as harsh as if they were being pitched AmWay. They continue on with the dinner and socializing, as the young man grows a bit more paranoid as the night wears on. Everyone assures him that everything is all right…up until the time when he realizes he was correct all along.

I have to give this film credit: I had no idea what kind of movie I was going to be watching going into this. I wasn’t even certain while I was watching the movie itself, as it did a really good job at keeping things close to the chest and just letting the story unfold slowly and letting you try and think things through. This movie is intense, and in that slow-burn, tension mounting, something just isn’t right kind of vibe that builds up to a bursting point, and when it does burst it’s quite effective. All of the actors were great, giving fantastic performances and really pushing forth the genuine sense of tension and uncomfortable atmosphere. The film is rather claustrophobic, as it’s mostly set inside of a house (with some scenes outside of the house briefly), and overall, when it came to the twist ending, leading up to it I was still uncertain if it was going to be the one that I thought it would be. Turns out, it is, but I’m not going to say what it is.

Overall, The Invitation turned out to be much, much better than I expected, with a completely fleshed out cast of characters, some very powerful performances, and a thick atmosphere of claustrophobia and paranoia that leads to a very satisfying ending. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The VVITCH

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movie-review-vvitch-theA24
2015
R

“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

A devout Puritan family in 1630s New England are exiled from their village, and struggle to survive in their new home situated at the edge of a mysterious forest. The sinister, witching forces in the wilderness emerge silently to terrorize them, first by kidnapping the youngest of their five children. As their life-sustaining crops fail, the clan fall victim to paranoia and fear as they begin to turn on one another, eventually suspecting teenage daughter Thomasiin of witchcraft.

I’m afraid that everything I know about the Puritan society in America’s past comes from Nathanial Hawthorne novels, and of course the Salem Witch Trials. In other words, it’s not a very flattering image that’s been presented of these sectarian Christian settlers in this country of ours. Of course, a lot of our country’s early folklore and proto-horror tales come from the fables and myths created by these seemingly uptight yet hale-and-hearty shoe buckle enthusiasts in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Some very good American Gothic yarns have sprung from this era’s imagination, to be certain.

Which brings us to The VVitch. Yes, I’m using the double-“V” usage on what is normally a “W”, mainly to keep in time with the period setting that has been meticulously researched by writer/director Robert Eggers. Meaning, he made a greater effort than just spending a couple of hours on Google, like I normally do. Puritanical beliefs and behaviors, folklore, witches, vocabulary and grammar, all brought together to make the movie feel as real and authentic as possible, and it works greatly to that effect. I have to credit the actors, who all really made the archaic language and mannerisms come across as genuine and effortless. I can imagine how tempting it could have been to make things needlessly campy; these guys pulled it off.

I am going to go ahead and point out, like so many others have, that The VVitch doesn’t fall neatly into the general area of “horror” as we know it. While there are supernatural elements in the movie, they aren’t so much seen as felt; even then, it’s left wide open as to whether what’s happening to the family is, in fact, the result of supernatural shenanigans, or if it’s the natural mental breakdown due to their circumstances, buffeted by the strong religious superstitions that come with their sect of their faith.

The VVitch is a great, Ye Olde Fashioned Gothic tale, both in the time setting and the atmosphere of the story, building up the tension and the natural paranoia slowly, filling you with a sense of dread to the point where a scene featuring a static shot of a bunny feels darkly off-putting.

Make no mistake: The VVitch is a horror movie, but it’s an unassuming one that will find its way burrowed deep underneath your skin, delighting in the way you will squirm until the end, and even then will stay with you long after the end credits have stopped rolling. Greatly recommended.

Book Review: MISERY

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book-review-miseryStephen King
Viking Press
1987

He felt as he always did when he finished a book: queerly empty, let down, aware that for each little success he had paid a toll of absurdity.

Paul Sheldon, author of a bestselling series of historical romances, wakes up one winter day in a strange place, a secluded farmhouse in Colorado. He wakes up to unspeakable pain (a dislocated pelvis, a crushed knee, two shattered legs) and to a bizarre greeting from the woman who has saved his life: “I’m your number one fan!” Annie Wilkes is a huge ex-nurse, handy with controlled substances and other instruments of abuse, including an axe and a blowtorch. A dangerous psychotic with a Romper Room sense of good and bad, fair and unfair, Annie Wilkes may be Stephen King’s most terrifying creation. It’s not fair, for example, that her favorite character in the world, Misery Chastain, has been killed by her creator, as Annie discovers when Paul’s latest novel comes out in paperback. And it’s not good that her favorite writer has been a Don’t-Bee and written a different kind of novel, a nasty novel, the novel he has always wanted to write, the only copy of which now lies in Annie’s angry hands. Because she wants Paul Sheldon to be a Do-Bee, she buys him a typewriter and a ream of paper and tells him to bring Misery back to life. Wheelchair-bound, drug-dependent, locked in his room, Paul doesn’t have much choice. He’s an entertainer held captive by his audience. A writer in serious trouble. But writers have weapons too . . .

1987 was a pretty big publishing year for Stephen King. While cranking out a novel every year is impressive for any author, for reasons I’m not really going to go into here, 1987 was the year that King published four separate novels, each one a bit different in style and tone: The Eyes of the Dragon, which was straight fantasy, the second book in the Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three, which was a western/sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, The Tommyknockers, which fell squarely into the science fiction genre, and this one here, Misery, which is more of the psychological thriller side of the horror genre King was more known for.

I read Misery the summer before my Freshman year in high school, again because of my Junior High English teacher describing the story. That was also the summer in which I was confirmed, so I used some of my confirmation monies to purchase the book from the stands of whichever grocery store I accompanied my visiting father to. I remember, rather amusingly, him asking me, “Does your mother know you read these kind of books?” in a voice that made it sound like he just discovered me smoking out back.

Misery contains no supernatural horror, no fantastical elements, nothing to really indicate that this is springing forth from one of the more potent minds of pop fiction literature to ever emerge from the late 20th Century. Instead, everything depicted in Misery is very much realistic. Everyone has run into, or personally knows someone just like Annie Wilkes, who seems normal on the outside but there’s just something not quite right bubbling underneath the surface. And the thought of being helpless and at the mercy of someone like that, like author Paul Sheldon does in the book, gets under your skin like none other.

It’s pretty much a useless fact, but the copy of the novel I bought had a second fake cover of a Paul Sheldon Misery book, which was a take-off of one of those romance novels with a muscle-bound beefcake that had Stephen King’s face, which was something I found beyond hilarious. If you had this in there as well, you know of which I speak of. Good times.

Misery is often listed as one of Stephen King’s best novels written, and I tend to agree with that. Ultimately, my copy fell apart by the time I got through with the story. Such was the quality of the mass market paperback, I guess. But really, if you’ve only watched the (equally excellent) movie adaptation, you really should check out the original novel some time. Sure, I would urge that for every adaptation, but here I would urge it more.

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