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Fantastic Fest Reviews: “Halloween”, “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn” & “Cam”

Halloween (2018)

The opening night film at Fantastic Fest was none other than the highly anticipated sequel, Halloween (2018). Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her iconic role as Laurie Strode to come face-to-face with masked serial killer, Michael Myers, who has haunted her since the traumatic night four decades ago.

The film is inspired by John Carpenter’s classic. But filmmakers David Gordon Green and Danny McBride decided to ignore all the other sequels that followed the original Halloween from 1978, and create a story that changes Laurie’s past. In other words, 40 years later Laurie is a bad ass. Michael Myers is not her brother. And, she’s prepared to take on whatever he throws her way.

Laurie Strode is one hell of a grandma in Halloween (2018). Though her daughter (Judy Greer) still resents her for making her grow up as a survivalist since childhood, her granddaughter, Allyson, (Andi Matichak) adores her. This creates tension anytime the family is all together. It isn’t until Halloween night that Michael Myers returns to wreak havoc, and finally finish the job he started 40 years ago. Only this time he’s up against 3 generations of Strode women.

Halloween (2018) far from a stand out horror flick. We’re basically seeing the same formula just different ways of murder. However, this film is a lot of fun! McBride’s writing shines throughout the film, and it’s the comic relief that provides any sort of originality. But don’t get me wrong, I love this formula and it’s great to see Curtis back in action in a role she handles so naturally. The movie entertains the whole time through and will leave you satisfied.

Rating: 3.5/5

 

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn

Surprisingly enough, the people that brought us The Greasy Strangler, which I hated; has now made An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, which I really liked a lot. Jim Hosking is back with a second feature that maintain his same style and his same personal dialect. Only this time, he let go of the nauseating grease murderers and swapped it out for characters we could actually care for.

Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) stars a Lulu Danger, a recently unemployed woman who is unsatisfied with her marriage to sleazy Shane Danger (Emile Hirsch) and life all together. In an attempt to fix the couples financial troubles, Shane steals from his brother-in-law. Which then makes him the target of the world’s worst hitman (Jermaine Clement). But Lulu sees this as an opportunity, she runs off with the hitman in hopes that he can help her track down her old flame, Beverly Luff Linn (Craig Robinson).

This offbeat comedy takes a minute to warm up to. You might not be sure of the flow it’s taking. But once it gets going, it’s actually quite delightful. The all-star cast does a fantastic job, and this might be my favorite performance by Aubrey Plaza. There’s a very unique and corky chemistry between Plaza and Clement that’s almost endearing.

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is the light-hearted deadpan comic relief that I was craving during a marathon of graphic horrors at Fantastic Fest.

Rating: 4/5

 

Cam

After letting Cam marinate for a bit, it quickly became one of my favorite films of the fest. Daniel Goldhaber’s feature debut is smart, sexy, and disturbing.

The film stars Madeline Brewer (Orange is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Tale) as Alice, a young web cam girl who is on the rise to breaking top 50 rank on a pornographic site.  Alice lives a normal life by day, but at night she is “Lola” and constantly comes up with wild narratives to spice up her online shows. She is anxious to reach the top and beat out the other cam girls in the network. However, she never breaks her 3 rules: No public shows, no fake orgasms, and never telling “her guys” that she loves them.

Just when Alice is moving up in her ranking, she has an unwelcoming surprise when she sees a girl who looks just like her live on her web cam profile. Frantic and paranoid, Alice is on a mission to find out who has taken her identity and stolen her top rank.

Even though 60 percent of Cam consists of a bunch of web cam girls performing erotic acts, the film is incredibly magnetizing. It’s as if you’re in a trance the minute the film begins and you can’t stop watching. The neon lighting, the shocking sequences, and the captivating performance by Brewer is enough to suck you in.

Cam is the movie you didn’t know you wanted to see. It’s a tantalizing thrill-ride with a bone-crushing end that will leave you wanting more.

Rating: 4.5/5

Fantastic Fest Interview: Allison Williams & Richard Shepard talk “The Perfection”

Richard Shepard, Allison Williams, and Logan Browning on the red carpet at Fantastic Fest for the premiere of “The Perfection”.

 

This was my first year at Fantastic Fest and I was treated to a lot of great movies. But the one that stands above the rest was Richard Shepard’s (The Matador and Dom Hemingway) horror-thriller, The Perfection.

The film follows Charlotte (Allison Williams), a former child prodigy cellist, who after a decade returns to the people that helped train and groom her into the powerhouse sensation she once was. However, another woman Elizabeth (Logan Browning), has taken her place and what unfolds after the two’s meeting is better left a mystery until viewing.

Director Richard Shepard explained his inspiration behind the movie came from the structure of Korean movies like Old Boy and The Handmaiden. “American movies don’t do that sort of structure and I had been itching to do a film with horror elements.”

Allison Williams (Girls and Get Out) stars alongside Dear White People’s, Logan Browning. Both give unforgettable performances that will have audiences squirming in their seats. While the two were magnetic on screen, they were also helpful behind the scenes. “I invited both Allison and Logan in the editing room because I felt, Oh they’re going to be able to help me see things I may not see. Because an actor inherently has a bullshit detector that a lot of people don’t have. Because it’s so hard to be an actor. Actors really have to lose themselves and if something feels false, they know it almost more than anyone,” said Shepard.

Without giving too much away, you’re never certain which direction this intense thrill ride is going take until the very end. But the journey getting there is a good one. “I wish there was a way, and I guess there is, to attach some kind of monitoring system to audiences watching this movie. About like who they trust, what they think the plot is, throughout the movie; and it would be like an EKG and like spiking, you know? And I think that’s one of the things Richard does so well. As an audience member watching, you know that whoever made it is in control of it. So it’s not that awful feeling of I don’t know what’s going on and I think I’m supposed to know what’s going on. You’re like I know exactly as much as the filmmaker wants me to know in this moment, and it’s really fun not knowing anything more than that,” explained Williams.

Finding the balance of making a movie that keeps the audience on its toes while still maintaining focus is a rare skill.  And often times, a film that tries to trick the audience too much can result in a mess. Luckily, The Perfection never veers off track. “I believe that if that we can keep the audience off kilter, but at the same time have them care about the characters even when their doing stuff that they can’t believe their doing; they still care for them. It’s also challenging because you don’t want to lose your audience. You want to make the surprises feel fun as opposed to confusing.” said Shepard.

Williams then went on to explain how the film immediately will have you hooked, “It takes guts to start it off with the film’s opening shots of just static like locked frames, and its muted colors and it’s clearly a sad scene. For a film buff, there’s sort of an embarrassment of riches in there. It sort of tells you everything you need to know about the movie, but you just have no idea yet. Most opening scenes of movies are sort of tangential to the actual plot of the movie, but hopefully they’re of the same caliber. This is much more informative than anyone will know until they finish watching the movie.”

Williams added that The Perfection is a film that should be seen twice as you will gain respect for it after a second viewing and realizing how deliberate everything was. “We labored over this. We cared about every millisecond of the movie. And it wasn’t until yesterday. There was a group of us that thought about every second we put into this. And it’s so vulnerable to care so much about something. And now it doesn’t belong to us anymore; it belongs to you guys.”

Though The Perfection may be baffling at first, just relax and let the film string you along. This is a performance that’s worth sitting through.

Rating: 5/5 (The title is self-explanatory, this film is a perfect score)

Movie Review: “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare” – A Convoluted Plot, Scattered with a Few Scares

I’ll be honest; when I first saw the trailer for this film, I was immediately intrigued. Turning a game that I have loved playing with my friends since childhood into a horror flick sounded surprisingly clever. Think about it. The actual game of truth or dare is kind of scary. You could be forced to share secrets that would ruin friendships, or do things that could ruin you. With that thought in mind, Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare had the potential to really shine. Unfortunately, the film is just a commercialized knock off of The Ring (2002) and Would You Rather (2012).

We first meet our protagonist, Olivia (Lucy Hale), while she is posting a video on social media about her Habitat for Humanity plans this spring break. But, those plans quickly change. Olivia’s best friend, Markie (Violett Beane), begs her to spend the break partying in Mexico instead of helping people in need of homes. After about five seconds of deliberation, Olivia agrees and the girls are off to Mexico with four other close friends.

Once they get to Mexico, we see a cliché montage of the group having fun, partying, and taking selfies. But of course, they couldn’t just leave it at that. Nope, the group foolishly decides to follow a stranger they met at the bar to “a fun place”. Yup, it was that easy. They are led to an abandoned church, and the mysterious new friend suggests they play truth or dare. They soon to come to find out that the game is haunted by a demon, and now they are forced to play the game forever or die.

As silly as the premise sounds, the film still manages to conjure up a few screams. The actual dares keep you on edge and can be a little gruesome at times. So in that sense the film is effective. But as a whole, the film flounders. The dialogue is cheesy, and feels more like a teen drama series. Dare I say like Pretty Little Liars? There is also way too much crammed into this movie. The few character backstories are rushed, and the journey to finding out how to the end the game is confusing.

The acting is decent; lots of controlled tear drops. There’s a ridiculous love triangle in there somewhere between Markie, her boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), and Olivia. But I chose not to put much thought into that because, clearly, the writers didn’t either. I blame most of my qualms on the script. These young actors are capable of giving better performances in a more solid film.

Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare may entertain its target teen audience with its attractive cast and tense moments, but their money might be better spent if they save this one for a rental.

Rating: 2.5/5

“Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare” opens in theaters April 13.

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Movie Review: “Fifty Shades Freed” Brings the Franchise to Sizzling End

It’s been a fun 3 years, but we finally close the book on the provocative “Fifty Shades” franchise.

When we last saw Anna (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) in “Fifty Shades Darker” they were rekindling their romance. Anna started a new job at a publishing company where her creep of a boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), came on to her. While Anna dealt with him, Christian dealt with some troubling ladies from his past. Eventually, the two over came those obstacles and the film ended with the couple getting engaged.

Now we are at the beginning of the end. “Fifty Shades Freed” opens with a montage of Christian and Anna’s wedding followed by what looks like a dream honeymoon in Europe. However, the newlywed’s aren’t in bliss for too long once they find out Jack Hyde is back and pissed at the couple for “ruining his career”. This puts a damper on married life all together, as Christian continues his controlling ways and has Anna continuously followed by his security.

Besides this bigger plot, there is a lot of other stuff going on. This is the negative part of turning a book into a movie, you can never fit everything in. And even with cutting things from the third book, they jammed a lot into only and hour and 45 minutes (the shortest of the 3 films). In a nutshell, Christian and Anna buy a house, another couple gets engaged, Anna gets a job promotion, there are spur of the moment trips, a pregnancy, and of course, lots of sporadic sex.

Oh, and if for some reason you thought the previous films lacked in sex scenes, this one makes up for it and then-some. It seems married life has only made them hotter! They are making love any chance they can, in the car, with ice cream, red room of pain, etc. Though Dornan’s acting is weak, especially in comparison to Johnson’s spot on performance, their sexual chemistry continues to heat up the screen. In a tantalizing scene where Anna is forced to use her safe word, I nearly shouted “Red” myself.

Unfortunately, out of the three films, I had the most problems with “Fifty Shades Freed”. It was by far the most rushed installment and slightly anticlimactic. The film makes you feel like it is building up to a showdown between Jack and Christian, but instead glances over their shocking history and squashes any conflict in a mere 60 seconds.

That being said, “Fifty Shades Freed” is still just as fun as the first two movies and it’s a great “Girls Night Out” flick. And once again, we are treated to an incredible soundtrack that distracts us from whatever nonsense is happening on screen.

“Fifty Shades Freed” has its flaws and by no means is it a “good movie”, but it is a solid end to a ridiculous romance. The story stays true to the books and ultimately, Christian and Anna are given the happy ending all us fans so desperately wanted to see.

Rating: 3/5

“Fifty Shades Freed” hits theaters February 9.

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Interview: Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, & Anthony Sadler talk “The 15:17 to Paris”

On a summer vacation to Europe, three friends experience a terrifying ordeal when a terrorist threatens the passengers on a high speed train. Now THAT sounds like a movie. And it is! Clint Eastwood’s newest film, “The 15:17 to Paris” is based on a real life event that happened in France in 2015 and three American lads (Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler) are the heroes! Check out my interview with the real life heroes/stars of the movie!

“The 15:17 to Paris” opens in theaters February 9.

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Movie Review: “Happy Death Day” Delivers Laughs and Scares

“Groundhog Day” meets “Scream” in this surprisingly funny, mystery thriller.

Sorority girl, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up hungover on her birthday in a stranger’s (Isreal Broussard) bed. She discovers she stayed the night with nerdy classmate, Carter, and rudely exits his dorm room. Thus begins her rampage of being a narcissistic mean girl to everyone who crosses her path. As we get a peek into a day in the life of Tree, we learn she ignores her father’s call, she’s sleeping with her married professor, and constantly belittles others. I know, hard to believe someone wants to kill her. As the night draws near, Tree heads to a party and is quickly stabbed to death by someone in a disturbing baby mask–oddly enough, that is the school’s mascot.  She then wakes up, and is forced to keep reliving her birthday with each day ending in her being murdered in some gruesome way. As Tree grows weaker with each consecutive loop, she must unmask her murderer and stop them from finishing her off for good.

Writer Scott Lobell does a great job with this clever script, as he adds a lot of humor and makes the film self-aware to the fact that this is a cheesy horror. The self-awareness allows for the movie to go beyond cliché lines and really have fun with a decently, thought out mystery. At this point I’ve described more of a comedy, but director Christopher Landon achieves a handful of scares that will have audiences jumping in their chairs.

The film’s story is solid, but the key ingredient here is the engaging breakout performance by Jessica Rothe. She nails the strong bitchy exterior that actually allows us to not feel guilty when we laugh at her numerous deaths, yet still gains sympathy towards her hopeful victory. Rachel Matthews, who plays an even more awful sorority sister, might provide the most laugh out moments with her over the top bitchy lines.

Whatever “Happy Death Day” lacks in the horror, it makes up for it in its entertainment. Reminiscent of the “Scream” era, it provides the same kind of “whodunit” feel that keeps you guessing till the very end.

I can’t say that this film should be at the top of your must-see list, but if you are looking for a few scares and fun time during this Halloween season, then “Happy Death Day” is the perfect choice.

Rating: 3.75/5

“Happy Death Day” opens in theaters October 13.

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Movie Review: “The Girl on the Train” is a Messy, yet Intriguing Thrill Ride

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Emily Blunt isn’t the only one taking a ride in The Girl on the Train. The audience should be warned of the many back and forth jumps throughout this mystery thriller.

The film follows Rachel (Emily Blunt), a divorced alcoholic who spends everyday on a train ride that passes her old neighborhood. She watches a couple, Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans), whom she views as “perfect” and almost lives vicariously through them. All the while she still tries to contact her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who is now happily married and with a baby.

One day during Rachel’s usual stare at Megan and Scott’s house, she notices Megan kissing another man out on her balcony and freaks out! Completely wrecked by the fact that Megan would “throw it all away”, Rachel gets even more drunk and angry. When she stumbles off the train that night she sees a blur that looks like Megan. She wakes up the next morning in her place with a bloody head, and unaware of anything that happened the night before. Ironically, Megan has now gone missing, and Rachel is determined to find out what happened to her.

If you find reading that premise at all confusing, it’s even more of a mess watching it. To be fair, by the end everything ties together and there are no loose ends. But it might be a struggle getting there for some.

Yes, the plot might have been poorly executed, but that doesn’t make the story any less fun. From the moment the film began, I was on the edge of my seat trying to add up of every clue and anticipating the expected twist. Though the climax and the unveiling of surprises are far from Gone Girl standards, they were still satisfying none-the-less.

What’s certain is the subtle yet believable performance Emily Blunt gives as a functioning alcoholic. She stays committed the whole way through. So much so, that her character can be extremely frustrating at times.

The Girl on the Train may not please everyone. And yes, Tate Taylor’s direction is less than adequate as he struggles to give a steady flowing narrative. Luckily the mystery and story alone are enough to keep this ride interesting.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Girl on the Train opens in theaters October 7

“The Girl on the Train” Official Trailer HD

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Quick Review: “Dark Places”

DARK PLACES marks the second film adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel. And no, it’s not a GONE GIRL sequel. This film just proves once again that Flynn knows how to capture her audience with intricate story-lines that keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Interview: Joel Edgerton talks “The Gift”

We sat down with triple threat star, Joel Edgerton (Director/ Writer/ Actor) to discuss his new film, “The Gift”. We talked about bullies, rumors and much more! There’s a reason why critics are loving this film. It’s the must see summer thriller!

“The Gift” opens in theaters August 7.

Click Here to Watch “The Gift” Interview with Joel Edgerton

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Interview: Director Kevin MacDonald talks “Black Sea”

Black Sea tells the story of Robinson (Jude Law), a submarine captain who, in order to make good with his former employers, takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a submarine rumored to be loaded with gold.

We got a chance to sit down with the Academy Award winning director, Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland), to discuss his latest film.

Besides the fear of being at the bottom of the ocean, these men are also kind of thinking about this money that they are about to find.  And some of them aren’t too happy about the fact that they have to do the even split, even though it would still be plenty of money. What do you think it is about money that changes people and makes them act in psychotic ways?

“Yeah I mean; I think the center of this movie is sort of what greed can do to people.  And not even so much what money can do to people, ‘cause it’s not sort of anti-money in this film.  It’s sort of anti-greed, I suppose.  And it’s the idea that, people, instead of realizing when you’ve got enough, it’s like I always want more.  I want more and more!  And that’s kind of part of human nature.  That kind of dark part of human nature, isn’t it?  Yeah, it’s the positive and negative of human nature, both present in this extreme circumstance.”

This was probably one of my favorite roles to see Jude Law in as Robinson.  I really felt for his character, especially, with him losing his family to his job.  Because I think in any work that you do, you can get wrapped up in it and kind of lose sight of the ones you love.

“I think that’s exactly, that’s the sort of central theme I suppose.  And it’s a very simple one really of this movie.  Is that we all kind of think that our jobs are so important; that we only get respect from other people, because of whether we’re successful in our jobs and all these sort of things.  And the pressure that there is to be successful to earn money, but actually when all is said and done; that’s not what’s important about life.  And at the end of our lives none of us are going to think, “oh I wish I had spent more time at the office.”  We’re going to think, “I wish had spent more time with my family.  I wish I loved that person more, and made that relationship work.”  Those are the things that you’ve got to think about.  And I guess that’s what’s fundamentally at the heart of this movie.”

I mean for me, the moment they entered the water; I was on the edge of my seat.  I was just terrified the whole time.  So, is there another film for you that has given you that same excitement while watching?

“I mean, I think Gravity has that feeling for me.  You know pretty much as soon as the movie starts, and you’re in this precarious situation space walking with Sandra Bullock. You’re terrified.  And you’ve got vertigo (laughs), and yeah, I think this is sort of the underwater version of that.”

Yeah, it is. It gave me the same effect actually, because I struggled to breathe in both those films.

“(Laughs) So there’s a good recommendation.  If you want to struggle to breathe, go and see this movie!”

Click Here for Video Interview

Black Sea opens in select theaters January 30.