Friday, October 30, 2015

Bridge of Spies: Every Time A Communist Sings, A Spielberg Gets His Wings

This year hasn't been very exceptional when it comes to movies that I stayed glued to the entire time.  I haven't been riveted very often this year and provided with that special feeling of "this is why I go to the movies".  Other than a few exceptions, and the one large exception with The Martian, this has been a very mediocre year.  Not that it's been overwhelmingly bad... it's just been underwhelmingly underwhelming. Thank God Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers and Tom Hanks got together to give us something spectacular before the end of the year. Bridge of Spies, much like The Martian, has rocketed right up to the top of the 2015 list for me as one of the best movies of the year and definitely one of my favorites.

I swear, Tom Hanks could film himself doing the dishes, filing his taxes, and taking out the garbage and I would be glued to the screen.  There really isn't anything un-watchable about any of his performances.  Even Larry Crowne which was an abysmal film, was still watchable enough due to Hanks' charm and charisma and overall screen presence.  He can make a bad movie mediocre, a mediocre movie good, and a good movie great.  Bridge of Spies, even without Tom Hanks would've been a fantastic film, but the fact that it was already great to begin with is made that much more exemplary due to Hanks starring in the film.  Hanks plays the true life character of financial lawyer James Donovan. Donovan is forced by his firm to represent an alleged Russian spy caught in the midst of the Cold War and give him the proper defense.  This, in turn, makes Donovan the second most hated man in America.  Once the trial is over and America has their Russian spy in prison, one of our spy pilots is captured in Soviet territory.  Donovan is then recruited by the CIA to go to the Soviet Union and negotiate the swap of our spy for theirs.

On paper, this is just a cold war thriller/biopic, but in the hands of capable writers in the Coen Brothers and a masterful director, Steven Spielberg, the film is elevated to the highest capacity. It's not just a court case the first half and a chilling negotiation in the second half.  There are levels of character and fear going on throughout.  While Donovan is essentially, in the eyes of the American public, betraying his country to defend a Soviet spy, not once does he ask him if he's actually a spy.  It's not because he knows that he is, but because it doesn't matter to him.  Every man has the right to a defense and he understands that even IF he is a spy, it's because he was ordered to be one.  If he is a spy, and he's not giving in to the demands of the government and revealing his secrets, then he's a damn good spy who is loyal to his country.  What we get from our spy, Abel, is a quiet, charming and personal man who loves to paint.  He's not evil.  He's not selling secrets with the intent of harming innocent people of America.  He's a man, just as Donovan, given a task from his country and performed with perfection.  The conversations that Donovan and Abel have and the bond they form throughout the film is the heart of the film  Even when Donovan is negotiating the swap, he's concerned about the American prisoners he's tasked to get back, but he's also concerned that Abel, once returned, isn't going to be shot for treason.

The writing in the film is really top notch and Spielberg hasn't been this capable since Catch Me If You Can.  We all know that Spielberg is a rock star in the world of filmmaking, but he has the ability with a stale script to provide a stale film.  Lincoln was surrounded by outstanding performances, but the script itself was a touch stale.  War Horse was just plain yogurt.  No fruit on bottom, no nuts, nothing.  Greek bullshit. So, it's nice to see Spielberg back to form with a little help from Hanks, who, as he ages, proves that he really is this generation's Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, all the greats from yore. There's good humor in the film as well, something that the Coen Brothers excel at.  It doesn't matter the subject matter of their writing, there's always going to be that slight Coen touch of humor that humanizes people, gives life back into the story, and provides us with well-rounded characters.

Bridge of Spies is hands down one of the best movies I've seen this year and I'm sure it's no news to you that with the perfect actor/writer/director combination that it has going for it that it succeeds in every aspect it reaches for. It's not an action-packed film, but it is an interesting story told by some serious Hollywood veterans.  It's the biopic that we deserve in a year filled with Greek yogurt.


Goosebumps: Dumbing Down For The New Generation

For some reason, live-action kids' movies have the overwhelming tendency to treat kids like they are idiots.  Films like The Cat in the Hat, Furry Vengeance, Bedtime Stories, Scooby Doo, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Daddy Day Camp, Garfield, The Pacifier, The Game Plan, Night at the Museum and Baby Geniuses think that all children want to see in a live action family film is a bunch of people shouting, some very low brow scatological humor, and CGI that doesn't necessarily have to be very good because, fuck it... it's only for kids.  This is upsetting and tiring because the best movies of my childhood were ones that treated me, the child, with respect.  The best family movies are ones that are smart, well-written, well-cast and directed, and didn't pander to the simple child's mind.  If a family film is fun for the whole family, then it's a success.  Even if the child doesn't understand every single reference, they'll understand the movie.  This has been done several times.  Movies like Richie Rich, Blank Check, Angels in the Outfield, Heavyweights, Hook, Matilda, E.T., The Sandlot, Hugo, The Muppets, Home Alone, The Karate Kid, Babe, Cool Runnings, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Jumanji knew exactly how to make a family film that didn't ostracize the kids, didn't make a bunch of loud noises or fart sounds the primary go-to joke. I had decently high(er) hopes for Goosebumps, but it fell right back into that convention that all kids want to see are screams, slime, and toilet humor.

Goosebumps tries to be a modern day Jumanji.  But where Jumanji set us up with perfect mythology, well-rounded and likable characters, an intense game where kids are both excited and terrified to see what happens next, and a great script... Goosebumps gives us none of this. It begins with Zach and his mother moving into a new house next door to (who we later find out to be) R.L. Stine, the author of all the "Goosebumps" books, played by Jack Black.  Zach takes an interest in Stine's daughter, Hannah, but is warned away several times by her father. After breaking into her house, thinking she's been kidnapped, Zach accidentally opens up one of the original "Goosebumps" manuscripts and releases the monster inside.  This monster is the Abominable Snowman from Pasadena and looks just as terrifying as The Rock did in The Mummy Returns.  It's some of the worst CGI I've seen in a film in a long time.  We come to learn that Stine typed up all his "Goosebumps" books on a magical typewriter because he was a lonely kid and his only friends were monsters?  I'm not sure I followed that either.  So, finally, all the monsters in all the books are released and Zach, Hannah, R.L., and some weird kid with huge teeth have to save the very loud, and extremely obnoxious day.

Goosebumps is some of the laziest writing I've seen in a kids film in a while. There's no actual character development for anyone. And while that's not entirely a necessary facet of a children's film... it should be.  I should actually care about ANY of the characters.  Zach makes friends with the huge toothed kid because... it helps the script?  Their meeting is strained and awkward.  Even Jack Black's R.L. Stine is restrained.  His "jokes" that are scripted are lazy and overused.  I saw everything coming ten minutes before it came.  I heard every punchline, seconds before it was said.  There is no mythology to the releasing of the monsters.  If the books are locked, then the monsters can't escape.  Except the book that releases Slappy the Dummy (who winds up releasing the rest of them) opens itself.  Stine has to find his magical typewriter (that is never mentioned as being magical) to hopefully write a new story to trap the monsters into... but when he can't do it... Zach picks it up and keeps writing.  The dialogue is written from someone who has seen a lot of movies, but never actually written one.  And when they've finally sat down to do it, they're drawing all the lines from movies they've seen in the past.

I'll give it this-- kids ARE going to enjoy it.  It is goofy enough and full of enough monsters that most younger kids are going to enjoy the film, maybe even find a little fright in it.  And that's okay with me. There's nothing inherently wrong with a child watching the film.  It won't make the kid stupider.  It just doesn't contribute to the overall growth of the child.  This will be a film the child loves when they're young, but watching it again as a teenager, you'll find that it's only good for nostalgic purposes and it's really quite a bad movie.  This is exactly how I feel about Space Jam.  I love it because I loved it as a kid, but watch it again now in 2015... it's pretty awful.

This is also the difference between Goosebumps and Pixels, which are essentially the same film.  Goosebumps is harmless and lazy stupidity that will give a kid two hours of fun without damaging their minds, but not enhancing them either.  Pixels is the infected rectal wart on the ass of the history of film.  Both films really only have one thing going for them-- nostalgic recognition.  We watch Pixels because we recognize the games we used to play when we were kids.  Same reason I really wanted to see Goosebumps (that and I really do miss Jack Black... seriously, dude, come back to comedy).  I wanted to see the film because I wanted to see how many "Goosebumps" monsters I could recognize and how many books I could name from them.  I read every single book when I was a child, sometimes several times.  Seeing the monsters come to live gave me brief joy until I realized what a lazy, sloppy film it had running around it.

It's a 50/50 split in the world of family film, but there are well-made ones.  They are the ones that stay on shelves forever and watched over and over; not just for nostalgic reasons, but because they're great damn movies. Five years from now, Goosebumps won't be remembered.  It won't be re-watched. It may have a sequel or two, but it really has no lasting power. Let's stop treating kids like they're idiots and give them movies they deserve to see.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Crimson Peak: Gorgeously Underwhelming

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the few directors that I would legitimately classify as visionary.  His directorial list has been very hit or miss.  We can all admit that Mimic, Hellboy II, and Pacific Rim were right crap.  Hellboy and Blade II were decent.  And Pan's Labyrinth is not only his best film but one of the best films ever made. The one thing that all of these films have in common is the way they are filmed.  They are gorgeously shot.  Pacific Rim was a blatant Independence Day ripoff, but it looked spectacular. Hellboy has some of the best makeup effects from the genre and even though the sequel sucked, the entire scene at the bazaar was full of unbelievably creative looking monsters and mutants. Coming from a background in makeup, there's one thing you can always count on in a Guillermo Del Toro movie and that is it's going to look amazing.  Pan's Labyrinth is one of the most gorgeous movies I've ever seen. And so is Crimson Peak.  And while I did enjoy the movie, especially from a visual standpoint, there was a lot missing from the film that I realized later after I wasn't distracted by the cinematography and art direction any longer.

Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring female author who writes about ghosts because she's seen them all her life. She's soon wooed by a strange English gentleman, Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) there with a business proposition for her father.  Once her father is strangely murdered, Edith escapes her life in America, marries Thomas and goes back to his estate where he lives with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).  While in the gloomy house, Edith starts to see ghosts again-- horrifying looking entities that seem to be trying to issue her a warning about new husband and sister-in-law as they have their own sinister plans in the mix.

It's a straight up gothic romance film with elements of haunted house ghost story horror sprinkled in. It's really in a genre all its own, but (and I usually hate when reviewers use this cliche) the house is the main character of the film. It's gorgeously constructed and a perfect place to use for a gothic period piece. Del Toro, throughout the film, continuously proves he is an artist and a master at his craft of direction.  I didn't want to take my eyes of the screen.  And while I was interested in the mystery surrounding the plot, it was every shot, every angle, every turn down the halls of the house that kept me watching the screen, unblinking.  The actors all did their part, looking like a supporting cast to the actual star of the film.  Mia Wasikowska shows again that she should be in more films as she's a capable actress able to play a strong, but naive female character. Hiddleston, as always, is a wonder to watch.  He moves and speaks as if he's in a dream which only helps to entrance the audience further.  Jessica Chastain was also good, though it was hard to find the good through the abysmal British accent she unjustly attempted to do. But, it truly is the house that steals the show.

Where it all went kind of south for me was in the execution of the story.  And while Del Toro has proven that he should be behind the camera for any movie, he may not have the writing chops to pull off his own script.  What was underwhelming for me is that there really was no crazy or unexpected reveal at the ending.  As the movie pushes forward everything I kept expecting to happen... happened.  I'm the last person to go into a movie trying to solve the puzzle.  I try to avoid this at all costs so that the reveal will be that much more rewarding.  There are those that say they picked up on the twist ending of The Visit in the first twenty minutes of the film.  And yeah, looking back at it now, it was pretty obvious, but I didn't pick up on it because I didn't want to.  The same went with Crimson Peak.  I didn't want to figure it out in my head, but it kept going down a path that what I assumed was going to happen... happened.  And this isn't necessarily a good thing. You don't want your audience assuming the next scene because then there's no real reason to ever watch the film.  If you're able to guess the plot as well as the ending, then you've failed as a writer.  The strange part was... I was never unhappy when I found out it was going exactly as I expected, and I now know why.  I didn't care because for this movie, it didn't matter what was about to happen or the answers to the mystery because I was distracted by how gorgeously the movie was shot. Most of the time this distraction would leave me feeling cheated, but in this instance I didn't.  It's a rare film where the plot doesn't really hold its own and is essentially very thin and predictable, but due to the lush set design and Del Toro's eye for the Gothic aesthetic... it kept me interested.

The other problem I had with the film is that there is no explanation of why Edith can see the ghosts.  And while I promise this isn't a spoiler... to me, there didn't seem to be a point for the ghosts other than the fact that they look gnarly.  Yes, they're helping Edith solve her mystery, but every time she figures out a new part of it, it's not because of the supernatural.  It's due to an actual clue provided by a very real and incriminating piece of evidence.  To me, if you took all of the ghosts and supernatural out of the film... nothing changes. This kind of urks me a little bit, but again, it still didn't ruin the film for me.  And I may have been watching it with veil-covered eyes, but the beauty and style of the film were enough to overlook a weak plot.

Crimson Peak is a film that looks like it was the strange lovechild of Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Allen Poe.  It's a horror film that, while it isn't all that scary, will still provide much needed chills in this Halloween season.  Yes, the plot is nothing to write home about, it's the everything surrounding the plot that makes the film worthwhile.  Under an lesser of a director the film would be instantly forgotten.  And even if you walk out of the theater hating everything you just went through and feeling a bit manipulated by the simplistic plot... the images of the film will stay with you just as Pan's Labyrinth did almost  a decade ago.

The plot, the script, the mystery and the reveal... C-

but... because of Del Toro's wonderful and gorgeous direction and set design...


The Martian: One Small Step For Matt Damon, One Giant Leap For Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott really needed a win.  Like, really needed a win.  It was borderline desperate, but he evaded that by his name still being (mostly) in good standing with the general public.  When you direct Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, and Gladiator you're given a LOT of leverage when you mass produce piles of shit for over a decade.  This is unlike M. Night Shyamalan who desperately needed a win with The Visit.  You can't skate by with The Sixth Sense when you directed The Last Airbender.  But seriously, Ridley Scott has legitimately not made a good movie since 2003 as most people have not realized.  2003 was Matchstick Men but since then it's been a slew of promises that were never kept like Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies, Robin Hood, The Counselor, and terribly awful Prometheus, which I'll agree looks beautiful, but is a solid gold, shiny turd of a film. So, Scott truly needed a win with The Martian.  And not only does he succeed in making a fantastic movie, his good name will continue to shine and he's now allowed to make another decade worth of crap Prometheus sequels.  Let's be clear: The Martian is a phenomenal film.  This is the reason that people go to the movies.  It's great science-fiction, it's thrilling drama, it's hilarious comedy... it's the reason people fall in love with the movies.

The story follows Mark Watney and a team of astronauts as they're working on Mars.  The weather goes sour, the mission ends early, and Watney is sent flying in the abyss of Mars presumed dead.  The crew take off leaving Watney behind.  However, Watney survived.  But, there won't be a manned mission to reach Mars for another four years.  So, he has to figure out a way to live on Mars without anything going wrong and/or starving to death while trying to contact NASA and everyone back on Earth doing whatever they can to get him rescued before it's too late.  Matt Damon is perfect as Watney both because he has the acting chops to pull off the lone survivor without anyone to talk to persona, but because he's had practice being stranded and saved (see Interstellar and Saving Private Ryan).  He's able to bring many facets to Watney that truly make us want to root for him.  He's not like most stranded on a desert island planet characters.  Mark truly has hope and a good head on his shoulders.  He's able to see the light in almost every dark situation.  He's funny, he's brilliant, and he's a pleasure to watch.

Now, I haven't read the book, but everything I've heard about it is that it's just as brilliant.  But, due to the amazing screenwriting adaptation by Drew Goddard (this dude is going to be HUGE very soon) he was able to take a wonderful book and turn it into an even better movie.  It fills the gaps that the book is missing. While I haven't read it, like I said, this comes from very reliable sources. Everything about this movie is great and defies genre convention. For awhile, everything seems to be going right for Mark. Like too right.  Like he's got this cheerful demeanor about everything and every single idea he has just... works out.  I was starting to get worried that this was going to be the case eliminating all conflict in the film and making for an uninteresting story. Again... not the case.  It's a slow build of everything is going to be all right and then like a row of dominoes it all comes crashing down.  Everything Mark has spent a third of the movie doing to preserve his life is ruptured little by little until the end.  Everything that can go wrong, goes wrong and you're left both wondering how he's going to survive and praying for a miracle. And the entire time... there's Watney cracking jokes, shit-eating grin on his face, and hope in his eyes. It's a brilliant character surrounded by an extremely harsh situation.

The surrounding performances are stellar as well. Jeff Daniels in his cocky boss role that he's started to love so much is a perfect balance of PR and heart as the president of NASA. Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Donald Glover and everyone else whether a small role or a larger one all hold their own and contribute something special to the film.  The only one who seemed to be entirely out of place was Kristen Wiig.  Her character was that of a woman with constant worried face and always asking questions.  There's no depth to the character or really any reason for the character to exist, yet it does.  And with an unknown actor in the spot it would've just blended into the story calling zero attention to itself.  But, the fact that it is Wiig makes me wonder why she wanted the role.

With everything on set done almost practically, everything looks real.  You're never questioning the legitimacy of Mark's situation due to shoddy animation or direction.  It's all real.  Ridley Scott has created a Mars environment that finally doesn't suck (see Red Planet and Mission to Mars).  The direction is precise and the soundtrack is perfect.  I'm especially mentioning a long scene that amazingly incorporates David Bowie's Starman.  While the year is winding down and I know we're going to have a couple of months full of award-worthy films... as of right now The Martian is the best movie I've seen this year.  This is one not to miss, especially on the big screen.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sicario: A Mature Action Flick That Misses The Opportunity To Use Emily Blunt As A Badass

Emily Blunt is a bonafide badass chick.  We've seen this several times and know she can hold her own.  She's not just a female Jason Statham ass kicker, but a character with true skills and believablity.  She was badass in Looper and she was downright insane in the membrane badass bitch in Edge of Tomorrow.  Both of these characters could handle the action around them with finesse and badass ease, but they were also characters with depth.  This is a good place to be if you're a female looking to transcend the common dude-riddled action movie. This is what I thought Sicario would be.  And while it wasn't the Emily Blunt kicking ass and taking names flick I was anticipating, it was still a very tense and taught thriller that's worth a look if you can get past the fact that Blunt's character is anything but worthy of your cheers.

Blunt plays Kate, an FBI agent leader of a task force looking to take down down drug houses owned by a highly volatile drug cartel. Immediately, they storm a house in Arizona only to find dozens upon dozens of bodies within the walls and a bomb in the shed.  She's recruited by Matt (Josh Brolin) an operative looking to cut the head off the snake and go down into Mexico and put a hurting on the leaders of said cartel so it will dissolve from the top down.  With him is mysterious operative Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro) with motives of his own that may or may not impede upon the mission and "going by the book".  While in Mexico, they pick up an important member of the cartel assuming the rest of the cartel will try and retaliate before they get to the border, engaging in a firefight with them in front of civilians.  This is when Kate realizes that the mission she signed up for may or may not be the one she's on.

It's a slow burn of a thriller, one that will absolutely keep you on the edge of your seat thanks in part to the direction of the film, but mostly due to the soundtrack.  Little ominous pulses and beats amplify the tension and play with your ever increasing heartbeat.  We're not given all of the information, as Kate isn't, so as she's trying to figure out if there's something sinister going on, so are we as well as assuming the worst for all of our heroes.  I mean, if we've learned anything from Breaking Bad, Mexican cartels ain't nothing to mess with and they will kill you so hard back.  It's a tense film from beginning to end and a very mature action thriller.  There isn't any big Michael Bay-esque set pieces as this film cares more about it's characters and plot than it does wowing us with its explosions and mayhem.  Plus the fact that Benecio Del Toro is other-worldly badass.

But, my problem is the character of Kate.  She is merely a bystander to the rest of the dudes enacting their plan.  She never is able to do anything herself and when she does try to go toe to toe with anyone, she always loses and must be saved by a man.  And it's heightened because she is a woman in a man's world that we expect her to jump out of her cocoon, but it's impossible to do so. This is obviously the message director Denis Villeneuve is going for, but it makes the character less fun to watch.  When you finally realize her role in the story, it's almost as if we feel we've wasted our time trying to get invested in her life when it's the men all around her that are doing the more interesting stuff. And it's not just because she's a woman... it's the character.  Whether portrayed by a man or a woman, this character would have nothing to do but sit back and watch the events happen around him or her, but the fact that it's Emily Blunt had suggested to me that she would at least get her badass moment to shine.  Unfortunately, the character is fucked over as much as the audience is in their expectations. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing in the context of the film.

Like I said, it's a slow burn and it's a very unexpected movie.  But, it's worth it.


The Green Inferno: Rumble In The Jungle And Eating Eyeballs And Stuff

It's been six years since we've been treated to a film from Eli Roth.  The dude had mad game going into the mid to late aughts and then took a brief hiatus mainly due to money and production issues.  Trailers for The Green Inferno were up way back in early last year and was supposed to be released in September of 2014, but due to a failing production company the film was delayed almost an entire year essentially sabotaging any and all money this film would make.  And while it has been given a bit of advertisement, I'm willing to guess most out there wasn't aware of its existence or has just forgotten.  Me, I eagerly awaited this film as a fan of good horror (and if I'm not getting good horror from Eli Roth, at least there will be good gore) and a fan of Eli Roth.  And while it isn't his magnum opus, it is a lot better than his last film, Hostel: Part Two.

We begin with Justine, a freshman at NYU, wanting to become a social activist along with the hippies in the courtyard staging a hunger strike for the janitors to get paid higher salaries.  She makes friends with shy, chubby Jonah and he introduces her to mysterious and accented Alejandro who ropes her and a dozen other students into going down to the jungles of Peru, chain themselves up to trees and protest the bull dozing of the Amazon.  While down there, after their successful protest, and on their way back, their plane crashes into the heart of the jungle.  After half of the students eat it in the plane crash, the rest are attacked by a cannibalistic Amazon tribe and taken captive.  As the tribe believes the students are part of the bull dozing company, they aren't exactly treated with respect.  They're tortured, hacked apart and eaten in front of our very eyes.

There is a definite statement that Eli Roth is trying to shove down our throats with a red hot pocker to fillet our insides, but that statement more or less gets lost in the violence and inhumanity of the tribe.  While this is a fictional tribe played by a real one (they're actually peaceful and had a blast being in the film) the statement of privileged white people going into a place they don't belong and trying to bend other cultures to our will is the one that is prevalent for awhile and then seems to get lost in the bloody carnage of the rest of the film.

There is a substantial amount of gore in the film, but none of it ever feels that vomit inducing as Roth has been able to provide in the past.  Yes, watching a bunch of Amazonian people chop up another human limb from limb, gouge out his eyes and tongue and eat it isn't exactly like watching magic pixies dance on clouds, it's not the same level of masturbatory gore we saw in Hostel.  This could be due to restraint on his part, or it could be a little bit of maturity as well.  And while the movie doesn't necessarily need a significant amount of gore for the sake of gore, I did expect Roth to up his blood game up a little bit. However, there isn't really any unnecessary gore either.  Everything makes sense and ups the tension and fear for both the characters and us as movie goers.

I will give him credit, however, he was able to include a decent amount of humor in the film.  Half the movie I'm rolling my eyes at the nonsense these "activists" think they're improving upon, then I find myself cringing at the brutality of the tribe's dinner plans, then I'm laughing at the ridiculousness of the characters, then I'm rooting for the characters to get away, I'm groaning when it doesn't happen.  There are a lot of audience emotions to be had in this film beyond Eli Roth trying to gross you out for no reason.  It's an enjoyable film to a point if you get out of your own head trying to find reason and meaning behind the violence... as there is only one-- if you're white and tree hugging in the middle of the Amazon for a cause you're not even certain what it is-- you might deserve to be eaten.

I saw the 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust... it's quite possibly one of the nastiest films ever made and clearly a lot of Roth's career inspiration has come from this film.  And The Green Inferno is a definite nod to that film.  But, the problem is, that Cannibal Holocaust is disturbing even for today's standards that there's no way to out-do that film in any capacity without being laughed out of every MPAA meeting you make to try and get an R rating. Roth gives his best homage to the film, but even thirty-five years later, Cannibal Holocaust is the superior film. Both in message and in the unbelievable amounts of on-screen gore that will leave you feeling like you need to puke and take a shower at the same time.  And while I get that they were different times (hell, Cannibal Holocaust has the cast kill a few animals and eat them onscreen... for real) The Green Inferno may just make you have to set down your popcorn for a few minutes.  That's all.


Everest: It's No "Vertical Limit", But It'll Do

Back when I was a young lad and I had just seen Chris O'Donnell go full retard in the mountain climbing disaster movie Vertical Limit, I was obsessed with mountain climbing movies.  I wanted to watch them all.  I wanted to see people climbing full snowy mountains only to be engulfed in an avalanche or slip and fall to their death.  I was sad to learn that these movies really didn't exist beyond VL.  There was K2, but the 90s weren't exactly kind to effects that early.  And there was Alive, but that was less about dying via climbing and more about dying via someone eating you.  So, beyond a few scenes in The Day After Tomorrow, I had to stick with VL for as long as I could before fully developing a brain and a sense of what actually makes a good movie.  However, once I saw the trailer for Everest... that little part of me that loved VL so much got a little bit giddy and I had to see it.  While it doesn't have the oozing cheese of VL, and it's actually about a pretty messed up true expedition, Everest is a very serviceable mountain tragedy film.

Based on the best-selling true novel "Into Thin Air", Everest tells the story of the most tragic expedition up Mount Everest ever recorded (actually, it was the most tragic until the year they made the movie... then more people died than even in this film... which is also pretty tragic).  It's your standard mountain climbing fare-- Rob (Jason Clarke) is an experienced mountain climber who leads actual amateur expeditions up the mountain for a hefty fee.  He's level-headed, he's experienced, and he's about to be a dad as his wife (Kiera Knightley) is newly pregnant.  Along for the ride is an obnoxious Texan (Josh Brolin), an empathetic everyman (John Hawkes) and the rival, big mouthed, cocky mountain leader, Scott (Jake Gyllenhaal).  Together, they train and trek and scale the huge mountain until they (mostly) reach the summit.  However, it's the path down that is somewhat interrupted by a huge snowstorm they were unable to plan around.  The storm attacks viciously and winds up leaving quite a few bodies on the mountain permanently in what was then the worst disaster on Everest in history.

That's about it.  Beyond little backstories here and there, there isn't much characterization or depth to the characters.  They're lucky they got great actors because we still feel a bit of empathy for everyone.  Hawkes' character, Doug is the most relatable, but it's the relationship between Rob and his wife that give the movie that emotional umph it needed a lot more of.  Beyond that, it's all about the mountain.  How can the mountain beat you? Let me count the ways.  It's also a very stunningly shot film.  I avoided the IMAX truly because I can't stand to watch anything in 3D, but I'm sure even there it's a sight to behold. Even though there's nothing inherently new brought to the table with Everest, I did especially seek it out because I had to see it on the big screen.  And whether or not the film is worth your twelve dollars for the ticket remains debatable, the fact that this movie should be seen in theaters is not.

Everest is gorgeously shot and wonderfully acted even if the characterization is a little thin.  It's a realistic and tragic story that doesn't necessarily provide the viewer with much happiness and closure, but it does give you a great insight into the never ending battle of man vs. nature and when nature feels like fighting back... man doesn't stand a chance.


Goodnight Mommy: Uhm... Damn!

Let me begin by saying this: the less you know about Goodnight Mommy going into it, the better. Even if you've seen the little two and a half minute trailer, try and put everything about it in the back of your mind and go in blind.  This will help you experience the film a lot better than knowing too much.  So, as you keep reading, understand that I will not be giving away any major plot points or spoilers.  Even my little half-assed plot summary may be too much.  Just seek this movie out and see it... if you're a horror fan.  I'm not talking horror in the sense that you really like all the Paranormal Activity movies or you've seen at least four or more Saw films beyond the first one.  I'm talking, like, you went and saw The Babadook in theaters and loved every second of it type of horror fan.  You don't need a lot of gore and you don't go see a horror fan hoping to get cheap jump scares out of your girlfriend, like you like horror so much that you risk being unnerved for the next few days.  I'll tell you this-- I saw Goodnight Mommy over three weeks ago and have now just been able to sit down and write about it.  It's that crazy.

Let me stop myself before I blow the film out of proportion. It's a very solid horror flick, but you must have patience.  It's a very slow build to a very intense climax. But, let me reiterate, the build is very slow.  I even found myself (while still engrossed in the story) wondering if it was going to make that turn into horror territory... and oh, yes, my friends, it most certainly did. So, stick with it.  The very general premise is this-- we begin with identical twin brothers Lukas and Elias. They're besties, they play outside together, they throw rocks at each other, and they never leave each other's side.  Their mother has just returned home from what can be assumed is facial plastic surgery.  Her entire face is wrapped up and the boys immediately begin to fear her.  Elias is able to let it go quicker than Lukas who gets it in his mind that this woman may not, in fact, be their actual mother.  The problem only exacerbates when Lukas gives mom the cold shoulder, and mom gives it right back.  I mean, you can argue that Lukas is just a kid who doesn't understand, but it's hard to see your mother through this:
And that's all I'm going to give you.  The boys start doing their own little investigation of this person who may or may not be their mother which inevitably leads up to a horrifying climax that certainly pays off if you're willing to stick with the slow and clever build.

There's a lot that works in this movie that lends perfectly to the horror.  First, the boys' performances are stellar.  Whether she turns out to be the actual mother or something entirely different, it's the boys that immediately turn you to their side.  Whoever this person is, mom or not, is definitely acting strange and you want to figure out the mystery as badly as they do.  What's also very clever is that these boys don't do anything during their investigation outside of their own 11-year-old abilities.  Every test they try or mystery they try to solve is done with the mental capacity of an 11 year old boy. It's quite ingenious.

There's also the heightened sense of sound that is going on in the film to add to the tension.  Whether it's footsteps on the wooden stairs or a drop of water in a sink, the sound is heightened to add that extra bit of tension that is constantly building throughout the story until everything comes to a head.  I do have to say this... don't go in with a weak stomach.  There are some quite unsettling moments in the film.  And while it doesn't have the same in-your-face, over-the-top Eli Roth type gore... it doesn't have to in order to be cringeworthy and effective-- and it is both.

Much like The Babadook, this low budget horror has what a horror fan wants and needs out of good horror.  Austria is slowly becoming the benchmark of great, cheap horror... something Hollywood needs to catch on to.  And I'm sure this film will be remade in English in a couple of years and miss the point entirely, but while the film is out, and if you're serious about your scary movies this October... Goodnight Mommy is certainly one to seek out.