Thursday, November 2, 2017

Demented "Ingrid" radiates with unfunny creepiness

Not even a month after I wrote about Aubrey Plaza's last movie (The Little Hours) and her inability to appear in a worthwhile feature - despite her good looks and charisma - she goes on and stars as the titular (anti)heroine in the tonally confused Ingrid Goes West.  Playing a slightly disturbed woman who has recently assaulted another due to a social media faux pas, Ingrid befriends Taylor Sloan (Elizabeth Olsen), an internet socialite who is everything Ingrid wants in a friend.  As Ingrid's past resurfaces in all its ugly glory, the movie quickly turns from an up-to-then quirky character study into a poor-man's copy of Fatal Attraction crossed with Single White Female (a movie which is cleverly referenced by O'Shea Jackson Jr's Batman loving Dan Pinto, the movie's sole source of humor and witty one-liners).

When Ingrid Goes West reaches its preposterous third act, you may find yourself wondering how a movie that was so likable for so long could sink so quickly and unashamedly by surrendering itself to cliched blackmail and violence typically seen in a straight-to-cable late night Cinemax stinker.  The final scene would suggest that Ingrid has finally found her peace and comfort, and thusly won our hearts at long last, but it isn't so.  She's still a despicable psycho, and just because she's finally happy doesn't mean that the movie's confused and misled audience should share her sentiments. It's also never a good thing when the best thing about a movie is its poster, but alas, that's precisely the case here.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Happy Death" recycles old gimmick w/out new vision

Slasher movies (anything in the horror or the sub-horror genre) are generally rated R - at least, they oughta be.  There's something depraved and joyful about watching blood being splashed and throats cut in an apologetically profane and uncompromising manner (Hatchet, Inside, Dead-Alive). Now, that kind of gore should keep the children away, even if the absence of adolescents means lower ticket sales for the pockets of the film's producers, as some things should not just not be compromised for the sake of financial gain.  This is exactly the problem with Happy Death Day, a new movie that only pretends to be a bold, bloody new take on Groundhog Day (and even the more recent and superior sci-fi action flick, Edge of Tomorrow), but never quite ventures where none have gone before.

When Tree (Jessica Rothe), a college student with a few moral issues, keeps reliving the same day (which happens to be her birthday) after being murdered by a masked maniac, her conundrum is less entertaining and enthralling than previously seen in the cyclical time loop formula.  It's a bloodless, profanity-and-nudity free "slasher" movie that feels strangely out of place: like a WB network episode stretched to feature length. It's perhaps slightly too cinematic for TV, but way too derivative and unimaginative for cinema.  There isn't much here that's scary, funny or clever in the least: it's all been done before.  Twice.  And better.  Way better.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"Bad Day" explores endless cycle of vengeance

Revenge is a dish best served cold, or so goes the old proverb.  Taking that sentiment to heart tenfold in Bad Day for the Cut, middle aged Donal (Nigel O'Neill) goes on a personal vendetta against thugs, pimps and a mysterious woman called Frankie (Susan Lynch) after his elderly mothered is brutally murdered in their countryside home in rural Ireland.  Along the way, he aids a young Polish man (Jozef Pawlowski) search for his sister, who has been forced into prostitution by the same people responsible for Donal's own tragedy.  The two men soon find themselves knee deep in a complex plot full of murder, betrayal and dark secrets from Donal's family's past that will shine a whole new light on everything we've seen so far.

Director Chris Baugh (who also co-wrote the screenplay) has constructed a thoughtful revenge movie where the line between "good" and "bad" is very thin, since the antagonists and protagonists aren't nearly as different as they would be in a typical Charles Bronson retribution thriller.  Donal's quest is a morally complex one, and the choices he makes will only instigate further bloodshed.  The final shot is particularly compelling: an open ending that hints at more possible violence to come.  If only Donal could go back to the beginning and do things differently.  If only.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Brutality of thug prison life at center of "Brawl"

Early on in director S. Craig Zahler's savage prison drama Brawl in Cell Block 99, Bradley Thomas (a never better Vince Vaughan, looking transformed both physically and spiritually) displays his fierce brutality by practically destroying his wife's (Jennifer Carpenter) car with his bare hands - he punches the shit out of it until it resembles a junk yard prototype - after she informs him of her recent infidelity.  Bradley, a man of principle as much as vicious barbarity, does no harm to his spouse, but instead forgives her and, after being laid off from his tow trucking job, decides to go back to dealing drugs.

The world of Brawl is a cruel and merciless one, a place where gangsters are willing to cut-off an unborn fetus' feet from its mother's womb only to threaten and blackmail its imprisoned father, and where the high security penitentiary warden (a perfectly cast Don Johnson) will just as soon murder an inmate as serve him a meal of shit (literally).  Vaughan plays the former-boxer, turned-drug dealer/criminal, turned-prisoner-of-minimum-security facility, and eventually, turned-convict of the most disgusting-and-lawless-prison ever displayed in American cinema.  To survive it - and to save his wife and unborn child on the outside from gangsters whom he still owes millions - Bradley will resort to such extreme barbarism that his actions will make you both squeamish and relieved (the latter because they happen to vile characters who certainly deserve it).  Rarely have we seen such raw, uncompromising rampage from a central protagonist, and without the aid of a single weapon.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a rare prison movie, an ultra violent masterpiece about a somewhat decent man's descent into hell on Earth where he loses his soul, but perhaps not his humanity.  The Shawshank Redemption may have been a more moving prison movie, but I can't think of any other film in recent memory that portrayed the savagery of life behind bars so unapologetically, and with such vile beauty.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cruise's charm elevates "American Made" past standard cliches

There's really not much in American Made that you haven't seen before, often in lesser movies, but sometimes in better ones.  Tom Cruise, playing a real life character named Barry Seal, is charismatic as can be, and is really the saving grace of this otherwise very mediocre effort.  As an unhappy and overworked pilot for TWA airlines in the late 1970s, Seal is recruited by CIA for top secret operations in Central America, and is eventually entangled into the Colombian Medellin drug ring that includes the likes of Pablo Escobar.  He also juggles several children of his own, and a marriage to a blonde bombshell (Sarah Wright), whose white trash brother (Caleb Landry Jones) arrives one day at their doorstep and threatens to ruin their up-until-now rather profitable existence.

The movie's Lord of War-meets-meets-Blow structure should be familiar to an average movie goer, but what is disappointing is the somber bummer of an ending, which goes against the movie's rather lengthy comedic tone up until that point (since it's based on true events, I guess they couldn't go against the grain and provide a somewhat more elated conclusion).  Director Doug Liman and Cruise have made better movies before (Edge of Tomorrow is one of the most memorable sci-fi action movies of the last decade), but here they get a bit too comfortable with the familiarity of 1980s archetypes of the smuggling trade.  If nothing else, American Made proves that Cruise alone can still carry a movie, despite his recent struggles to rule the box office the way he once did.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Somber "Song" examines the flaws of grief

Ever since Sophia's (Catherine Walker) young son died, she's lived a life of bitter regret, which has in essence turned her into an unforgivable wench whose existence consists of searching for an occultist who can help her open the door to the underworld.  Hoping to speak to her guardian angel and eventually contact the soul of her deceased offspring, Sophia hires Joseph (Steve Oram) an angry, bitter conjurer, and the two retreat into a large mansion in the middle of Wales, in an attempt to unlock the gates of hell.

A Dark Song isn't your typical horror movie. For one, its first two acts are rather slow, and since the cast consists of primarily two actors and one location, the audience can easily get bored by its lethargic, methodical pace.  However, as the mood slowly turns very dark indeed, and all sorts of mysterious noises suddenly take place off screen, tension soon rises higher than the hairs on your arms.  Newcomer director Liam Gavin gently builds to a horrifying conclusion that will leave you gasping (seriously, watching the movie in the dark, it's an understatement to say that I was scared shitless).  A Dark Song is an original horror gem, and although it may not be a masterpiece, it contains more frights and insight into the power of individual forgiveness that it will leave you shaken for days afterwards.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Nature's cold brutality serves up quite a life lesson in "Walking Out"

The cold, brutal mountainous nature of Big Sky country isn't quite what you'd expect early on in Walking Out, a new survival drama that explores an estranged father-son relationship like few movies before it. And don't let the "poor parent" connotative title fool you: this movie is essentially a look at two different generations of paternal figures, and how each had a profoundly different effect on their respective offspring.  When young David (Josh Wiggins) arrives in the Montana wilderness to spend some time with his father Cal (Matt Bomer), he gets more than her bargained for when their hunting trip goes completely awry after Cal is accidentally shot, leaving the two stranded in the middle of nowhere, with two enormous grizzly bears potentially on their trail.

Directors Andrew and Alex Smith (adapting a short story by David Quammen) create a chilling, helpless mood throughout, especially in the second act, when David has to carry his wounded father for countless miles through the thick, frozen snow, amid ever increasing exhaustion, hunger and thirst.  Walking Out isn't your typical man-vs-nature movie; if anything, it's the most harrowing look at a boy's coming-of-age in a long time. By the time David finally reaches civilization, he may have lost a very important part of his childhood, but what he ends up gaining will define him for the rest of his life from there on in.