Film Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Written by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Plan 9
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford

Resnick Interactive Development, Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission, Madman Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.” – Viago

*written in 2014.

What We Do In the Shadows is a New Zealand horror comedy that I have wanted to see for quite some time. I saw the trailer over a year ago but the film had a hard time getting distribution in the United States, even though it stars Jemaine Clement from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and is made by some of the same people. Since it is now on Amazon’s video on demand service, I purchased it.

The film is done as a mockumentary following four vampires who live together in a flat in urban New Zealand. It shows their lives, how they make it in the modern world, examines their long friendships with one another and how they view and interact with the rest of the world. What We Do In the Shadows not only gives us vampires but it showcases werewolves, zombies, witches and other paranormal entities and how they work through their issues in a world together.

The cast in this movie is phenomenal. Each character in any other film would be a spotlight stealer but in this movie, they all shine and they all grab onto the spotlight and don’t let go from the first frame until the last.

You have Vladislav, the vampire played by Jemaine Clement, who was once a master of supernatural seduction but lost his mojo after confronting “The Beast”. Viago is a vampire that was a Victorian dandy who still embraces that style and culture. Deacon is a vampire who believes himself to be the ultimate sex magnet while ignoring his share of the chores in the flat. The fourth vampire is Petyr who is a temperamental 8,000 year old vampire that looks like Count Orlock from Nosferatu. The cast is then rounded out by a few other great characters that challenge the vampires and their relationships with humans and other creatures.

To call this film “hilarious” is an understatement. There hasn’t been a horror comedy this good since Shaun of the Dead and to be honest, this movie may be a bit better. There isn’t a scene that goes by that doesn’t have you laughing out loud. The thing that makes it work so well, is the fact that you truly care about the characters and their struggles. No one is just fodder for comedy, they all serve a real purpose and feel like real characters despite the absurdity of their situations.

What We Do In the Shadows is a rare comedy masterpiece. I haven’t enjoyed any comedy this much in years. If you are a fan of horror that is funny, this should be right up your alley.

Documentary Review: Hillsborough (2014)

Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Directed by: Daniel Gordon
Music by: Tim Atack, Joel Beckerman
Narrated by: Ryan Van Ness III

ESPN Films, BBC, 121 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hillsborough is a film that kicked off a new series of 30 For 30 on ESPN. It is the first part in the Soccer Stories run, which were released over the last few months in order to build for the World Cup, which itself just started a few hours ago. I plan on reviewing the whole series in its complete form but since this part stands out as a film, where the other parts are half hour episodes, I felt it deserving of its own review.

This film told the story of the Hillsborough disaster, which happened on April 15th, 1989 in Sheffield, England. For those who don’t know, this tragedy happened during a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and saw the death of 96 people who were crushed to death in the standing room only pens of the stadium. Following the tragedy, families of the victims have been seeking justice for decades but been denied it.

Hillsborough gives a pretty solid rundown of everything that happened leading up to the tragedy and everything that happened during and after, painting a very clear picture of what actually went down years after media spin and corruption tried to weave a different story.

The film was beautifully edited and presented, the interviews were conducted very well and I felt like the people involved, who had been victimized by this disaster were able to get some form of closure and peace by being able to be involved in this project while getting out their individual stories.

As a film, it was one of the best 30 For 30 chapters ever produced. It’s a definite must see for fans of the ongoing ESPN series or fans of real football (or soccer as we Americans call it).

TV Review: American Horror Story (2011- )

Original Run: October 5th, 2011 – current
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Cesar Davila-Irizarry, Charlie Clouser, James S. Levine, Mac Quayle
Cast: Evan Peters, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., André Holland, Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Alexandra Daddario, Grace Gummer

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 78 Episodes (so far), 37-73 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I just binge watched the first three seasons of American Horror Story, as I was running out of things to watch on Netflix and this was in my queue for a few years. I have yet to see season 4, as it isn’t available yet.

I have a few friends who obsess over this show, which is probably why I put it off for so long. Usually, when a bunch of people build something up really high, I am left disappointed. I think the only time I wasn’t was when I finally sat down to watch Breaking Bad.

I wouldn’t call American Horror Story a disappointment though. It was pretty enjoyable and I’ll watch future seasons, albeit at my own leisure. But I wouldn’t call the show special or hype it up to everyone I know.

The premise of the show is horror, which is obvious by the title, but other than tapping into supernatural elements and showing something scary every now and then, it plays more like a teen drama. But that is the way of Hollywood these days. Sure, most of the characters are older than teens but this is definitely a show written for them.

The show just isn’t scary and that is why I have reservations about horror being used in a television format. Sure, you can churn up a few frights and provide creepy visuals and a dark tone but over the course of a 13 episode season, the monsters you are selling get less and less scary. When the reveals have to happen early because modern audiences can’t tolerate suspense, there is nowhere else to go other than adding in more teen drama and stretching out a resolution.

I guess the one thing that irks me about the show, is how the payoffs seem rushed, the resolution happens almost too early and the final few episodes of each season play like an epilogue that is too fleshed out. The grand evil each season is conquered around episode 11. So what you get is two more episodes that really aren’t necessary. I don’t care about any of these characters that much. It’s like the ending to the extended edition of The Return of the King – you just want it to be over.

Highlights of the show include the acting talents of Jessica Lange and Evan Peters (who was Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The rest of the cast, at least the actors who appear over multiple seasons are all pretty good. Although, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau was horrible. I don’t blame her, as the character of Laveau was horribly written. The writers really tarnished the well respected legacy of the New Orleans Voodoo Queen and turned her into an evil vengeful idiot. Kathy Bates was fantastic though, I do want to point that out.

I like the show more than I dislike it but it hasn’t solidified me as a fan and it is a moderately enjoyable way to waste a weekend.

Update:

After the third season, I watched two more. Each year gets worse and worse, to the point that I’ve completely stopped caring about the show. The last season I watched was Hotel and I have no more interest in the future of this anthology franchise. I think there are two more seasons after Hotel with the possibility of this going on forever… but I’m done.

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young

Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment, Thunderbird Entertainment, Warner Bros., 163 Minutes  

Review:

“Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.” – Rick Deckard

Here we go, I’ve been waiting for this movie since Ridley Scott first mentioned that he had an idea for a followup. This is the film I have most anticipated in 2017. So how did this sequel, thirty-five years after the original, pan out?

Well, it is mostly pretty damn good. It is also a very different film than its predecessor.

While Ridley Scott produced and was originally set to direct this, he gave the job to Denis Villeneuve, a guy who is really making a name for himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Between ArrivalSicario and now this, the 50 year-old director has found his stride and may be blossoming into an auteur for the current generation.

From a visual standpoint, while Villeneuve had a hand in it, the credit really has to go to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s a veteran of cinema that has worked on some true classics, including twelve collaborations with the Coen brothers, three with Sam Mendes and now three with Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is something Deakins should truly be proud of and it may be his magnum opus as a cinematographer. His work and vision is a clear homage to the original Blade Runner while updating it and moving it into the future. It is still a neo-noir dreamscape with a cyberpunk aesthetic. It employs the same lighting techniques as classic film-noir, as did the 1982 Blade Runner, and it brings in vibrant and breathtaking colors. This is one of the best looking films to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The screenplay was handled by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Fancher co-wrote the original movie and was partly responsible for giving life to these characters and their world. While the original Blade Runner conveys emotion in a more subtle way, by the time you see the character of Deckard in this film, thirty years later in the story, he clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is a pretty welcome and refreshing change.

We also get little cameos by Edward James Olmos and Sean Young. With Olmos, we see how he has evolved and he gives insight into Deckard. Sean Young appears in order to get a reaction out of Deckard from a narrative standpoint.

Now the star of the picture is Ryan Gosling. Harrison Ford doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film. Regardless, Gosling really knocks it out of the park in this. He is one of the best actors working today and he gives a performance that is very well-balanced. Where Ford gave a pretty understated performance in the 1982 film, Gosling feels more like a real person, which is funny, considering that you know he is actually a Replicant in the beginning of the film.

The cast is rounded out by three great females: Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. Wright plays Gosling’s tough as nails commanding officer. De Armas plays Gosling’s right hand, a digital maid, companion and quite possibly the real love of his life. Hoeks plays the villainous Replicant who works for the story’s main villain and is sent into the field to fulfill his hidden agenda.

The film also features small but pivotal parts for Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Leto plays the villain of the story and is the man who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and has made an even larger company that makes a ton of products but primarily focuses on further developing Replicant technology. Bautista plays the Replicant that Gosling is looking for in the very beginning; he has major ties to the film’s overarching plot.

One thing that makes the film so alluring, apart from the visuals, is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. It is a departure from the style Zimmer usually employs. While it still has his touch, it is a score that is truly an artistic extension of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner. It has those Zimmer flourishes in it but very much matches up with the audible essence of the first picture.

Everything about this film is pretty close to perfect, except for one thing: the pacing. While there isn’t really a dull moment in the film, it does seem to drag on longer than it needs to. Some of the details could have been whittled down. The thing I love about the first film is that it just sort of moves. While a lot doesn’t happen in it overall, it still flows, things happen and it isn’t over saturated with lots of details or plot developments. Compared to the first, this film feels over complicated. Plus, it is just so long. Maybe I’m getting old but I just don’t want to sit in a theater for three hours, unless it’s some grindhouse double feature. But I also sat through the first Blade Runner before this, as I caught this on a special double feature bill. I could have just been antsy after being in my seat for over five hours with just a quick intermission.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own film. It works as a sequel but it also works as a sole body of work. The fact that it doesn’t simply retread the same story as the first and instead expands on it quite a bit, is what makes this a picture that can justify its own existence. Was this sequel necessary? We were fine for thirty-five years without it. But it proved that it is more than just a Hollywood cash grab because of its brand recognition.

Few films these days are truly art; at least films from the major studios. Blade Runner 2049 is a solid piece of cinematic art. While not perfect, it’s about as close as modern Hollywood gets these days.

Documentary Review: The Last Gladiators (2011)

Release Date: September 9th, 2011 (TIFF)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Music by: David Kahne

Locomotion Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

I just recently came across a hockey documentary on Netflix’s streaming service called The Last Gladiators. The film was about some of the biggest goons in the NHL during the 80s. The film covered several players but primarily focused on Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, who mostly played for the Montreal Canadiens and won a Stanley Cup with them in 1986.

Nilan is one of the toughest guys to ever play the game and didn’t care if he was facing another tough guy or someone towering over him. He appeared to have no fear and was willing to scrap with anyone on the ice that got in his team’s way. He was a dominant enforcer and built up one hell of a reputation in an era where fighting wasn’t as controlled and stifled by the rules as it is now.

The director Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, does a pretty good job of painting a clear picture of hockey culture and the role of an enforcer that the uninitiated can follow. It starts like a highlight reel of classic fights while the backstory is laid out and finishes up with a tragic story that is still incomplete, leaving you with a sense of hope for the main attraction of the film, Chris Nilan.

I wouldn’t call this a great sports documentary but I would say that it was thoroughly engaging and did a proper job of showcasing goon culture respectfully. Especially in an era where more and more busybody know-it-all idiots are calling for a ban to fighting in hockey.

Film Review: Cult of Chucky (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017
Directed by: Don Mancini
Written by: Don Mancini
Based on: characters by Don Mancini
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent, Michael Therriault, Adam Hurtig, Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif

Universal 1440 Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“A true classic never goes out of style.” – Tiffany

I really thought that the Child’s Play franchise was going to die with Child’s Play 3 but then they started the more comedic turn and started putting Chucky’s name in the titles with the fun Bride of Chucky and the weird but entertaining Seed of Chucky. Then the series felt dead but nearly a decade later, we got the more serious Curse of Chucky, which was surprisingly good and felt like a return to the roots of the series.

Now we have this sequel, which seems to be walking a tightrope between the original Child’s Play trilogy and the more comedic Chucky movies. While this is a series with multiple personality disorder, Cult of Chucky does a decent job tapping both wells and presenting a happy medium.

This film is far from perfect and it doesn’t live up to the great precedent of the film before it but I did find it entertaining and amusing. It’s certainly worth a view if you are a fan of Chucky and this film series. It also brings back Jennifer Tilly and Alex Vincent, who gets a bigger role in this one and not just a cameo like the end credits scene of the previous film.

Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad (the voice of Chucky), returns as Nica. She is still paralyzed from the waist down and bound to a wheelchair. However, she is now in a mental hospital due to the events of the previous film and for her being blamed for the murders committed by Chucky.

Alex Vincent steps back into the role of Andy Barclay, his first time playing the part, other than a brief cameo, since he was a child. For those who might not know, Andy was the original child protagonist that Chucky haunted in the first two Child’s Play movies. For a guy that doesn’t act a lot, especially since childhood, Vincent really held his own and did a good job in this. I hope to see even more of him in a future film.

This chapter sees Nica struggle in a mental institution. Early on she is moved from a higher security facility to a minimal security one where she can finally receive visitors. It doesn’t take long before Chucky shows up to torture her mind and the people around her. The big twist in this film, which is alluded to in the title, is that there is more than just Chucky to worry about. Now there are several Chucky’s and Tiffany is back in human form as Jennifer Tilly.

This entry into the Child’s Play series, sees the ante upped. At one point, we get three Chucky dolls working together and with his voodoo spells, you’re never quite sure who may have been infected with a piece of Chucky’s soul. Honestly, I was hesitant at this new plot twist but it paid off really well and added a good shot of adrenaline into the proceedings.

Cult of Chucky works but it just doesn’t hit the high quality mark of Curse of Chucky. Still, it is a good addition to the series and even seven pictures deep, I’m game for another one, especially with how this chapter ended.

Oh, and like the previous movie, there is a cool surprise after the credits.

Film Review: Ramona (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Creţulescu
Written by: Andrei Creţulescu
Cast: Rodica Lazar, Dorian Boguta, Andi Vasluianu, Serban Pavlu, Ana Ularu

Kinosseur, Wearebasca, deFilm, 25 Minutes

Review:

In a nutshell, this is a 25 minute short film about a woman going on a revenge killing spree. However, there is no dialogue and no real explanation for her actions, other than a small bit where she flips through some pictures of girls that look physically tortured.

I guess it is similar to I Spit On Your Grave and other films like that but it is a super stylized modern neo-noir looking picture. It also lacks a setup and therefore, you have no real emotional attachment to this woman’s violent revenge quest.

The film is unfortunately one of those that falls victim to style over substance. It plays out in what feels like real time, as it is comprised of a few long take shots but those moments between the killings weigh down the picture and dilute the little bit of violent action that does take place. 80 percent of this short film is walking and driving from place to place and then waiting.

Does it feel real? Yes. But again, it isn’t something you can connect with emotionally and it plays more like a really long music video without music until Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties” plays at the very end, twenty-plus minutes into this.

The cinematography is nice and the shots are very well choreographed but there isn’t much else here.

I guess this is the third part of a trilogy of short films. I’m not sure how related those films are, if at all, other than having the same cast, but maybe seeing those first would have given this a bit more clarity. I’ll still check those out, if I can find them, and maybe that will make me understand this film a bit more. But as a standalone effort, this just isn’t something I was into.