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Tag Archives: three-and-a-half-stars

Suicide Squad (2016): Desire Becomes Submission. Submission Becomes Power.

Suicide Squad (David Ayer, 2016)

suicide-squad-poster

Time to play. photo credit: flickeringmyth.com

After I saw the trailer for Suicide Squad the week before it came out, all the sudden I wanted to see the first superhero movie I’d wanted to see since Iron Man 2. It looked like ridiculous amounts of fun, starred Margot Robbie, who was so good in Z for Zachariah, and while I haven’t been a huge fan of the David Ayer directorial efforts I’ve seen, as a writer, man, he’s out of this world sometimes (two words: Training Day). And then the reviews started coming in, and they were terrible. But a friend wanted to see it and couldn’t find anyone to go with, and it was five bucks a ticket (and the theater in which we saw it, where I’d never been before, was loads of fun), so I figured why not? My ex-wife’s assessment of the film, which she’d seen the week before I did: “you get to see a lot of Harley Quinn’s ass.” What’s not to like? So we went, and while Suicide Squad is, on the David Ayer scale, far more End of Watch than Training Day, I thought it did its job, and even though I understand, and agree with, most of those critical reviews, I thought it did that job pretty well regardless.

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Finding Dory (2016): Sigourney Weaver, Savior of the Universe

Finding Dory (2016): Sigourney Weaver, Savior of the Universe

Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane, 2016)

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It’s a big ocean. photo credit: classymommy.com

To me, and I know I am in the minority on this, Finding Nemo (2003) has always been one of Pixar’s minor successes; it’s nowhere near as awful as their worst output, like Cars 2 or Wall-E, but it’s nowhere near as good as their classics (Toy Story, Monsters Inc.). And since Pixar’s track record with post-TS2 sequels has been, to put it kindly, abysmal, I wouldn’t have even gone to see Finding Dory if my four-year-old hadn’t begged. And I wasn’t exactly predisposed to liking it today; the mall had a Pokémon Go event going on, so it took half an hour to find a parking spot, and of course at a Saturday matinee, the theater was full of loud toddlers. (I’m not going to say mine is a model, but his mother and I have taught him that quiet is necessary in a cinema, and he mostly gets it.) And yet, I walked out of that theater amazed. Finding Dory is a far, far superior film to its predecessor, and continues the jaw-dropping revitalization of Pixar that started with Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur last year.

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The Conjuring 2 (2016): If You Don’t Shift This Crate of Brillo Pads by Friday, Vengeance Will Be Mine

The Conjuring 2 (James Wan, 2016)

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They’re baaaaaaaaaaack… photo credit: movie-list.com

There’s a scene in The Conjuring 2—very early on in the movie, so this isn’t a spoiler of any sort—that really drives home how important cinematography is to an effective horror film. It starts with Billy Hodgson (Benjamin Haigh in his feature debut) has just gone downstairs to get a glass of water, and is sleepily on his way back up to bed. When he gets to the second floor, he stubs his toe on one of his toy fire trucks. After turning off the annoying light and sound features, he nudges it with his foot so it rolls into the tent he has erected in an alcove just at the top of the stairs. He stumbles back to his room. The camera moves with him, and the tent is always in the background. He almost gets there when there’s a sound of grinding metal, which we know is the sound the fire truck makes when it rolls across the floor, and the sirens go off very briefly—less than a second. He pauses for a moment, decides he must have been hearing things, and keeps on back to bed. As he’s getting ready, we can see a small portion of the tent through the doorway. The bottom of what we can see is about waist-high, so if you know anything at all about horror films, you’re expecting something to come bursting out of that tent. Instead, we hear the lights and sirens again, and cinematographer Don Burgess cuts to the bottom of the doorframe just as the fire truck comes rolling slowly up to the doorjamb. It’s just a beautifully shot scene, playing with the audience’s expectations and demolishing them at every turn, and it sets up the viewer to expect that this is not going to be your average horror film, at least not from the DP’s perspective. (If you search “conjuring 2 fire engine” on YouTube, you’ll find the sequence that happens just after this.)

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Hunting Season (2011): Tease Me, Freeze Me

Selena Kitt and Blake Crouch, Hunting Season (Excessica, 2011)

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This will not be a truly free country until we have the unfettered right to arm bears. photo credit: goodreads

Erotica author Selena Kitt and thriller author Blake Crouch might seem an odd pairing for a collaboration. But hey, look at how many non-noise acts Merzbow’s done collaborations with. (If you haven’t heard his new one with Boris, Gensho, it’s even better than Rock Dream, the collaboration that introduced Boris to millions of noise kids and Merzbow to the wider world.) Sometimes you put two things that don’t seem like they’d go together well in the same dish, and magic happens. “Hunting Season” is quite a nice goat’s head stew, especially given that both authors rein in their normal genre tendencies and write what is, essentially, a contemporary romance novel that happens to be boiled down into eight thousand words, give or take. One of the things that does, where romance novel conventions are concerned, is dispense with the “you thought…” “wait, you thought…” silliness in the space of about a paragraph, when I’ve read books where it can go up to fifty pages. That alone is a refreshing enough shot of adrenalin for romance readers to pick this one up. Crouch does slip in a thriller angle, as ridiculous as it is, and Kitt seals the deal on it with the story’s Big Twist(TM), but in general, I only got impressions of which author was writing which bit, and that is a solid complement to both.

I enjoy both Crouch and Kitt as solo authors, so I went into this one pretty much knowing I was going to enjoy it. If you’re not familiar with one or both, you may want to check out their solo works first (my recommended starting points are Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed for Kitt and Desert Places for Crouch), but if you like those, you’ll want to pick this one up. *** ½

We Are Still Here (2015): House Gruetiful

We Are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan, 2015)

[note: originally written 23Sep2015]

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All the modern conveniences, but still has that old world charm. photo credit: hellhorror.com

Ted Geoghegan got his start working with people like Andreas Schnaas (on Demonium and Nikos the Impaler) and Timo Rose (in Geoghegan’s defense, Barricade, the Rose movie he wrote, is some of Rose’s best work, not that that’s setting the bar too high), then went on to script the confusing, aimless Sweatshop. But at least Sweatshop looked good, even if it suffered from that same confusion and aimlessness. Given all that, one could be forgive for going into We Are Still Here, Geoghegan’s debut big-screen feature, with lowered expectations. And you should go ahead and do so, for that will make this atmospheric, slow-burn ghost story all that much more a pleasant surprise.

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Zoo (1993): So Far, So Good

Otsuichi, Zoo (Haikasoru, 1993)

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Don’t feed the animals. photo credit: cdon.se

I first encountered the work of Hirotaka Adachi, who writes under the pen name Otsuichi (I have no idea if this is what he meant choosing it, but amusingly, one of the possible translations of his pen name is “first second”), when I saw the screen adaptation of his novel Goth a couple of years ago. While the movie was problematic, it was interesting, and I decided I’d try to hunt down some of his writing. The first thing I picked up was Zoo. And boy, can this guy write. (And boy, can that other guy translate.)

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Lights Out (2016): We’re the Only Ones Left on the Floor

Lights Out (David F. Sandberg, 2016)

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I actually totally did that a few times when I was in high school and my parents wouldn’t shut up about energy conservation. Photo credit: blackfilm.com

When this started getting buzz at one point last year, I checked YouTube for the original short, and indeed, there it was. I absolutely adored it, and got excited for this immediately. I’m pretty fond of the whole “awesome short horror film gets a feature length treatment” thing, and I am a huge fan of a couple of them (Dumplings and Grace both impressed me far more than I was expecting), so I went into Lights Out with pretty high expectations. And while it wasn’t a surprise, I was quite happy with the result.

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IQ: I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

Joe Ide, IQ (Mullholland Books, 2016)

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School bully with his crew cut and his shoulders, telling me I was a pansy… photo credit: joeide.com

 

Detective novels are a dime a dozen, and have been just about forever. If you’re going to break into the genre successfully, as hundreds of authors try to do per year, you have to come up with an angle. Devilish mysteries. A pace the reader has never seen before. Complexity, but on a scale the laymen can understand. Amazing characters. Now we have debut author Joe Ide, who did a fantastic job with the last of those to come up with IQ.

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The Devils (1971): You Have Been Found Guilty of Covenants with the Devil

The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)

The movie poster.

I feel as though my heart has been touched by Christ. photo credit: moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

N.B.: This is more of an essay than a review, and as such, some of what is contained herein could be considered spoilers. If that sort of thing offends you, enter at your own risk.

Spoiler Alert!

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Antiviral (2012): Silence Is Golden

Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg, 2012)

Hannah Geist's bloodied lips adorn the movie poster.

Because your kiss is on my list of the best things in life.
photo credit: film-book.com

The whole time I was watching Antiviral, the debut film from Brandon Cronenberg—if the last name sounds familiar, it’s because Brandon is the son of revered Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg—I was thoroughly enchanted with it. I kept having to remind myself that, yes, the movie does have some shortcomings, and they kept it from rating higher than it did. But the movie’s immense style made me want to gloss those shortcomings over. This is definitely a case of form over function, and in that, early Brandon is on the same track as early David was—and by “early” with David Cronenberg I’m talking about his earliest features, 1969’s Stereo and 1970’s Crimes of the Future, rather than the “early” stuff everyone’s seen (Shivers, Rabid, and The Brood, by the last of which Cronenberg had already, as far as I’m concerned, reached the heights of body-horror greatness he would plumb until 1999’s eXistenZ). When it comes right down to it, you’re going to want to say you knew him when.

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