Film Review: It Follows (2014)

Release Date: May 17th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Music by: Disasterpeace
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe

Northern Lights Films, Animal Kingdom, Two Films, RADiUS-TWC, Dimension Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

I kind of regret not seeing It Follows when it came out a few years ago. A part of me wanted to give it a chance but it came out in the middle of summer and I had a lot going on then, as well as having lost my faith in horror over the last decade or so.

Well, there have been a few horror films in recent years that have been pretty exceptional in a genre that is now predominantly PG-13 and full of cheap-o CGI ghost stories. It Follows is one of the few that stands out and proves that horror isn’t a dead genre and that there are still some new things to explore.

The film isn’t terrifying because what is anymore, really? But it is quite effective and a sort of dark and enchanting picture that is made even better by its great young cast, the direction and writing of David Robert Mitchell, the cinematography of Mike Gioulakis and the stupendous score by Disasterpeace.

The premise was interesting and while nothing really unpredictable happened and this film stays on the traditional rails, it did a good job of building suspense until the end. It didn’t focus on jump scares or any other cheap tricks, it just gave you characters you mostly like and it built a sense of dread around them. You want them to survive, which in a horror movie these days, is pretty exceptional, as I usually cheer the monster because everyone else is a moron or just horrible in some way.

Maika Monroe was better than fantastic. Her friends were also all believable characters but maybe needed a bit more story.

The music by Disasterpeace is great. He created one of the best scores I’ve heard in years and I hope this opens a lot of doors for other film projects.

Mike Gioulakis is becoming one of my favorite cinematographers between this film, as well as his work on Split and being involved in the visuals of John Dies at the End.

It Follows is a film that gives me hope. Hope that horror will not die a slow and painful death and that it will rise from the ashes like a phoenix to burn all the horrible shit the genre has been putting out for far too long now.

Film Review: The American Friend (1977)

Also known as: Der amerikanische Freund (Germany)
Release Date: May 26th, 1977 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders
Based on: Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Jürgen Knieper
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz

Axiom Films, 127 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know much about this movie going into it. I came across it on FilmStruck as a part of the Criterion Channel. Also, it wasn’t until I was halfway through it that it dawned on me that Dennis Hopper was playing the same Tom Ripley that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I’m glad that I discovered this film however, as it was fantastic and a really refreshing experience, as I’ve been in a bit of movie limbo lately.

From a directorial and cinematic standpoint, this is one of the best films I have ever seen. The framing of every shot is damn near perfection. The visual composition feels alive and the world truly feels authentic and lived in. There is a vivid flare to the picture that is similar to the Italian giallo style. The European cityscapes and late 70s New York City give the movie a genuine grittiness that perfectly emphasizes the tone of the film. The American Friend is one of the best looking and mesmerizing motion pictures I have ever seen and I don’t say that lightly.

Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper are both stellar in this picture. Their relationship changes and evolves throughout the story and you never really know what each man thinks of the other. Add in the criminal elements of the plot and all the twists and turns and this is very true to the film noir style albeit modernized with incredible visual style.

Director Wim Wenders would go on to have a great career but here, he gives a real nod to those who influenced his work. In the roles of the gangster characters, Wenders cast Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, and Samuel Fuller – all three being directors that Wenders had a deep admiration for. He essentially gave props to his influences and mentors in the same way Quentin Tarantino would do decades later.

This film primarily takes place in Europe and is a German and French production but most of the movie is in English. There are some subtitled bits but surprisingly not as many as you would think.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much, as I went into this blindly and fell in love with it. I’d prefer for others to have the same experience, especially in a day and age where movies are spoiled by their trailers alone.

It is hard comparing the film to anything, as I can’t think of anything else like it. It is an amalgamation of a lot of cool things that can be taken away from more famous films but the overall composition is truly original. And frankly, this film deserves more recognition than it has.

Film Review: It Comes At Night (2017)

Release Date: April 29th, 2017 (Timberline Lodge premiere)
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Written by: Trey Edwards Shults
Music by: Brian McOmber
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Animal Kingdom, A24, 91 Minutes

Review:

I went into this movie really knowing nothing about it. I never saw a trailer for it and it came out and got lost in the shuffle of the summer blockbusters. However, I did notice its pretty high rating on Rotten Tomatoes and thought it was a horror film worth checking out.

While considered horror, it really isn’t. It is more of a dark thriller with some mystery. There aren’t really any monsters or creatures to worry about and the title and marketing of the film are pretty misleading, in my opinion. Yes, there is a lot of nighttime darkness in the film but there is no clear indication of what “It” is. And really, “It” doesn’t exist. The real threat is what happens when people with good intentions can’t trust one another and are overcome by paranoia. If that is the “It” from the title, it’s a massive disappointment.

The film, like its title, is full of red herrings. So many red herrings in fact that it becomes tedious keeping up with them and ultimately, none of them matter. The story opens up a lot of avenues and mysteries to explore but then never goes down those paths. While the film does a great job of reeling you in and building suspense for the first 90 percent, the last 10 percent is an anticlimactic clusterfuck that makes most of that previous 90 percent inconsequential and pointless.

The idea behind this film also isn’t anything new. These ideas and these aspects of human nature have been explored in just about every episode of The Walking Dead, and much more effectively. Hell, we’ve seen this story play out in countless zombies movies and really anything that is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

The positives of the film aren’t enough to save it.

The acting is pretty good but most of that is due to Joel Edgerton, who impresses me more and more with each picture, taking on the bulk of the acting duties. His son, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., does a good job being the eyes and emotion of the audience but he doesn’t really get to evolve or explore his character other than emotionally reacting to his world and his loved ones crumbling around him.

The cinematography is also a strong positive. While it isn’t anything groundbreaking, the tone of the film is probably the most effective thing about it. The house is welcoming during the day but a dark and dreadful place at night. The long dark corridor to the back door is really a character all its own.

I can’t say that I was disappointed with the film, as I went into it blindly and without expectations. However, as it rolled on, my expectations rose only to have them slapped back down when the climax arrived.

Film Review: Inferno (1980)

Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Based on: Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Daria Nicolodi, Alida Valli

Produzioni Intersound, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

For those that don’t know, Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria was actually the first part in what would become a trilogy of films. The second chapter in The Mother of Tears Trilogy is this picture, Inferno.

While this is not the masterpiece that Suspiria is, it is still a stellar companion piece that recaptures the beauty and dread of the first picture. It employs colorful tones and stark contrasts. It uses shadows and highlights superbly and is actually a bit more refined in this regard than its predecessor. Some of that might also have to do with Argento hiring his mentor and giallo master Mario Bava to create some of the optical effects, as well as matte paintings and some direction on trickier shots.

Additionally, Argento suffered a severe case of hepatitis while filming Inferno. He had to shoot some scenes while bedridden and then had to take some time off, as the illness got worse. Mario Bava stepped in to shoot some of the second unit material until production could commence. Also, Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son, was the film’s assistant director. So despite Argento’s health issues, the film was in capable hands and brought together three of the best Italian horror maestros.

Inferno is quintessentially a giallo in its visual style. While it isn’t a proto-slasher flick in the way earlier giallo’s were, it still employs the essence of one while there is much more going on than just a sole slasher cutting up victims in the night.

While shot mostly in Rome, the bulk of the film takes place in New York City. We find out that the evil witch from Suspiria was one of three sisters. This film deals with the sister that lives in New York. However, we also get to see evil forces at work in Rome and the appearance of a mesmerizing young woman that one can assume is the third sister. The third and final film in this series (The Mother of Tears) deals with the last sister and takes place in Rome.

If you are a fan of Suspiria, you should definitely like this film.

The narrative in this chapter isn’t focused on just one primary character like its predecessor. Inferno follows different people, in different cities, as they come to face the looming and growing danger. You kind of aren’t sure who you should be focused on until the film is rolling for quite awhile. There is the sister in New York, the girlfriend in Rome and the brother who travels across the Atlantic from Rome to New York. There are also other characters and you are never quite sure who might know more than they are leading on.

Suspiria was pretty straightforward with a lot of mystery and suspense. Inferno may initially seem a bit disjointed but its mystery has more layers and the suspense is still very effective. This picture enriches the mythos of the trilogy where Suspiria simply told its own singular story.

Inferno is a damn good movie. It is not Argento’s best but it still displays the exceptional work of an auteur with near perfect execution while still at the top of his game. Despite Argento’s health situation, he turned out an incredible motion picture that is just as enchanting and nightmarish as his magnum opus, Suspiria.

Film Review: Oldboy (2013)

Release Date: November 27th, 2013
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Mark Protosevich
Based on: Oldboy by Park Chan-wook, Im Joon-hyeong, Hwang Jo-yoon
Music by: Roque Banos
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, Max Casella, Pom Klementieff, Rami Malek,

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Good Universe, Vertigo Entertainment, FilmDistrict, 104 Minutes

Review:

The original Oldboy might be my favorite South Korean film of all-time. Its director, Park Chan-wook made an almost flawless film. It was an instant classic, has stood the test of time and become more than just a cult film in the United States and around the world.

Spike Lee is one of my favorite directors. I’ve been a fan since seeing Do The Right Thing as a kid. He’s got a unique visual style and a great gift for storytelling. While I respect his work, I’m a bit puzzled as to why he wanted to remake Oldboy, as it was pretty unnecessary.

I guess Hollywood always wants English language versions of foreign hits but the fact that Spike Lee stepped up is a bit strange. Although, the combination of Lee’s skill and style mixed with this violent Asian tale motivated me to check it out.

I’ve heard this film being slammed by many critics and fans of the original. I get it, as some things should be sacred and all that. However, after seeing the film, I think a lot of the bitching is just bitching for the sake of bitching. This film is not as good as the original but looking at it as a completely separate entity, it’s still a pretty good film.

Josh Brolin was fantastic, as he usually is. On top of that, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel Jackson were really good. I also enjoyed the performances of Michael Imperioli and Sharlto Copley. Max Casella even shows up for a bit.

Action-wise, the epic fight from the first film was recreated but not as well. It was still a damn good sequence all on its own but if we are going to compare them, the original was superior. Again, the original, as a whole, was a superior film.

The cinematography in this movie was beautiful. Spike Lee and his art department really did their job in creating specific emotional vibes from scene-to-scene. The “hotel room” was eerie and haunting and really became its own character within the film.

If you were to see this film without being a big fan of the original, you’d probably enjoy it more. It’s not as bad as people say and Spike Lee did some great work, fattening his already amazing portfolio.

But again, after seeing it, I still have to question why this remake was necessary. And in retrospect, this was a project destined to piss off fans and critics alike.

Film Review: Shock Waves (1977)

Release Date: July 15th, 1977
Directed by: Ken Wiederhorn
Written by: Ken Wiederhorn, John Kent Harrison
Music by: Richard Einhorn
Cast: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine, Luke Halpin

Laurence Friedricks Enterprises, Zopix, Blue Underground, 90 Minutes

Review:

I was talking to a friend about Peter Cushing and then he asked, “Hey, have you ever seen the one where he’s an SS commander on an island that has Nazi zombies and the kid from Flipper?” And I said, “How the hell did I miss that?” So then I had to watch it. Granted, this was a few years ago but I decided to watch it again to review it and to just experience it one more time.

Shock Waves is not a good movie, even for an old school zombie flick but it had a lot of cool elements mixed together. It also features horror icon John Carradine for a bit.

You also get Luke Halpin from Flipper, except he’s all grown up now. Brooke Adams stars in this as the female lead. She would go on to be pretty good in the 70s take of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is my favorite version of the many Body Snatchers films.

Ultimately, this film isn’t too exciting. It has zombie Nazis, years before that became a fad in video games and modern cinema with films like Dead Snow. However, there aren’t a lot of them and they seem pretty easy to get away from.

It’s like the Romero zombie films, the monsters aren’t hard to deal with alone or in a small group, it is getting surrounded by many and swarmed that is the real issue. In Shock Waves there’s like four or five of them and a lot of wilderness to run away in and a lot of ocean to hightail it out on the seas.

Peter Cushing is about the only decent thing in the picture but I can name two dozen better films with him in it. Also, John Carradine is amusing as the boat captain but he’s only in this long enough to be the first one killed. Also, the two horror icons don’t share any screen time together which is a big missed opportunity.

It is kind of cool though to see films that have been shot close to where I’m from. This was shot in South Florida and chances are, I’ve run around the same island forest at some point or another. But geography alone doesn’t make a film good and this thing just isn’t.

Although, it isn’t so bad that it deserves to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. I will let it keep its dignity.

Film Review: Solaris (1972) & Solaris (2002)

*written in 2014 when I did these as a double feature.

I spend every November coming down from my month long horror marathon that is October. How do I come down? By having a month long science fiction marathon.

With that, I wanted to rewatch the original Russian Solaris from 1972. I figured that I’d also watch the 2002 American version, as I had never seen it and am a pretty big fan of the original.

So let me get right into each film.

Solaris (1972):

Release Date: May 13th, 1972 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by: Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Eduard Artemyev
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn

Creative Unit of Writers & Cinema Workers, Mosfilm, Unit Four, 166 Minutes

Review:

Solaris follows a man who goes to investigate strange happenings at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. People have claimed to have been seeing weird things. The main character, Kris Kelvin (played by one-time actor V. Statsinskiy) arrives at the station and pretty quickly starts experiencing strange phenomena. Mainly, his wife, who committed suicide years earlier, appears on the ship with no recollection of what happened to her. More weirdness ensues and I can’t say anything else without spoiling too much of the plot.

This version of the film generally follows the novel it was based on but takes some of liberties and comes off as more of a Russian art house film in a science fiction setting than a straight adaptation. The result of that is that this is one of the greatest Russian films of all-time. In fact, it is the best Russian sci-fi film I have ever seen.

It isn’t as epic and grandiose as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which obviously influenced this picture in style, but for its limited budget and coming from a communist country at the height of its power, it is more than interesting and pretty damned impressive.

The acting isn’t what I would call fantastic but it isn’t a distraction. For the time and for employing a one-time actor, there really aren’t any complaints about performance.

This is a beautiful film. It does run a bit slow at times but the story keeps you locked in and the relationship between Kelvin and his resurrected wife gets pretty intense and feels truly authentic.

Solaris (2002):

Release Date: November 29th, 2002
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Steven Soderbergh
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone

Lightstorm Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, a director I am not a big fan of, this version of Solaris is quite different.

This film doesn’t attempt to remake the Russian classic. Instead, it tries to make a more faithful adaptation of the book. I can only compare this to being like the remake of The Shining, which was made at the insistence of Stephen King, who thought Kubrick’s version strayed too far away from his source material. Point being, just because this is a better adaptation of the source material, it doesn’t make it a better film.

I like George Clooney and here he plays Chris Kelvin. The name’s spelling was changed by Soderbergh because apparently Americans can’t understand the cooler looking Russian spelling of the name. Anyway, Clooney, who is pretty much always a pimp, is an emasculated version of himself in this movie, as he mopes around over his dead wife and never really shows off that famous Clooney chutzpah.

The sets in this film were done in a pretty cookie cutter early 2000s sci-fi style. Everything was sterile and nothing was inspiring. This film was far from the visual masterpiece of its Russian predecessor. In fact, there was nothing about this film that seemed unique or displayed any sort of real creativity in the design process.

This was a piss poor attempt by Soderbergh, I was basically bored shitless and I fought really hard not to hit “STOP” on the BluRay remote.

So the real question is: does this deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes it does! Let’s see here… the results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”