Thursday, November 30, 2017

"The Babysitter" radiates with boisterously clever gore

Who would've thought that McG, the once-upon-a-time hack behind such mediocre efforts as Charlie's Angels and Terminator: Salvation, was ever capable of making a movie that is as bloodily entertaining as The Babysitter?  Certainly not me. Working from a witty screenplay by Brian Duffield, McG re-creates the nostalgic suburbia feel of teenagers hopelessly fighting otherworldly evil in their small town Americana, a la Halloween and Fright Night, to name just a few apparent influences.

Australian Samara Weaving is sexy, charming and mysteriously eerie as the titular vixen who watches over a needle-phobic youngster (Judah Lewis) while his parents take a much needed sex-vacation.  The teenager both admires and lusts after his easygoing sitter, but when he witnesses her commit an unspeakable crime during a twisted game of "spin-the-bottle" with her friends, he realizes that all is not well with her initial cheerful, sunny persona.  The movie takes a complete 180-degree turn at that point, taking its young, bullied protagonist on a wild ride, and us along with him.

The Babysitter is a rare modern movie that successfully fuses over-the-top campy gore with clever, comedic social commentary (a teenager covered in blood from two different victims nervously exclaims, "This probably means that I now have AIDS!"), and does it all in under 90 minutes, without a superfluous moment in it. McG is clearly in solid form here, but credit should also be given to screenwriter Duffield, whose writing is reminiscent of some of the most memorable horror-comedies of the last 30-plus years.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Branagh's "Orient Express" trudges like a little engine that couldn't

Spectacular from a visual perspective - its production design and CGI dazzle the viewer's eyes instantly - Kenneth Branagh's latest remake of Murder on the Orient Express is a movie that feels about 40 years or so late to the modern-murder mystery party.  The cast is as vast and starry as the landscape and richly black skies of the mountainous nights through which the titular trains zooms during the cold European winter.  After a rich businessman, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), is murdered during the night, the shadow of suspicion falls on every passenger who held a grudge against the deceased.

Agatha Christie, a well known mystery writer whose reputation depended on wowing her readers with many a whodunit in her heyday, has had better movies made based on her original works, and most notable of all is the Sidney Lumet 1974 adaptation of this very story, with Albert Finney in the lead role. The energy and elegance of what we see  never once replicates in what we feel.  This is most true of the protagonist, the genial French detective, Hercules Poirot.  Branagh plays him as a man only too concerned with the upkeep of his peculiar mustaches, and hardly as a detective of flesh and blood whose quest we should relate to at all.  But the movie is also incredibly humorless, a flaw that keeps it trudging like an overlong freight train instead of the magnificent locomotive it claims to be.

Murder on the Orient Express continues Hollywood's twenty-first century quest to remake classic cinema of the past to a whimpering effect.  Seldom has a Branagh movie felt this unnecessary and redundant, and I doubt that even Poirot himself could figure out the purpose of its existence.

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.