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Simple motivations that lead to very complicated situations, driven by generally inept protagonists: that's where up-and-coming writer/director Jeremy Saulnier excels. Whether it's an unassuming Halloween party or the simple revenge of the death of a loved one, his films layer intriguing characters with engaging events, and none of the results are predictable. So, too, is the case with the ultraviolent Green Room, Saulnier's latest. It's another brutal, suspenseful and daring entry into Saulnier's self-described "inept protagonist" trilogy in which choices made just make bad choices worse and worse all the way to the absolute worst-possible outcome. Much like his other films, though, Green Room is as smart as it is thrilling, just as rough as it is comical. In a nutshell, it's Saulnier's most accomplished gem to date.
As far as film debuts go, they don't come as terrifying as writer/director Robert Eggers' The Witch. A stunningly simple, period, family drama with loads of gothic mood and dripping with atmosphere, it isn't a horror that will appease genre fans wanting a jump-scare every 15 minutes. Nor will it satiate gore-hounds looking for blood and guts strewn throughout. The Witch, instead, draws its horror from the unseen forces at work in the universe that slowly, but surely, breaks down a family until there's hardly anything, maybe nothing at all, left. Every scene of Eggers' film is crafted with an inherent tension, every shot a gorgeous composition of wood, dirt and fog. The Witch doesn't have an immediate impact, but it damn sure festers.
Ben Wheatley is a cinematic genius. That's the only explanation for the adrenaline shooting through your veins while watching his films, that feeling you get when you know you've just seen something special. The high that comes from experiencing one of his works is indisputable. It charges back into you each time you reflect on one of his films and every time you mentally organize the puzzle pieces the filmmaker has set forth. Wheatley's films are immensely rewarding, because the director doesn't hold your hand, doesn't tie everything together, and certainly doesn't connect all the dots. You're on your own with that, and that's one of the many reasons why High-Rise, Wheatley's adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel, is so damn great.
There are a lot of avenues a filmmaker can take when discussing the emotions that drive us humans as well as the contradictory nature between love and relationships. With The Lobster, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos creates a strange, cynical look at these contradictions with enough sardonic wit to consider it a satire. The filmmaker who hit with the equally strange comedy, Dogtooth, returns to bring yet another dry and somewhat surreal comedy that may just have you cringing in your seat as much as it has you rolling. With a stellar cast and Lanthimos' unapologetic vision, The Lobster is a unique experience that will question your faith in love as much as enhance it.
"Hail Satan." Those two words put together create an unnerving feeling for anyone who sees – or hears – them regardless of one's own personal, religious beliefs. Just the thought of the Devil's presence emits an air of discomfort that horror films have been riding for nearly century. That same level of unease - and that troublesome, two-word phrase - haunts every scene of Osgood Perkins' feature debut, February. Told through disjointed chronology, Perkins's film is difficult to piece together as you're watching. The unsettling and atmospheric results that remain after February has ended and left the viewer are undeniable, though.
I'm sure you've all heard this said before – Lord knows it's been said enough – but war truly is Hell. It's Hell for the people fighting it, Hell for the people who are swept up in it, and even Hell for the people who stay home and await their loved ones' return. During the American Civil War, those loved ones charging onto the battlefields didn't go that far, and the wives, children, and family they all left behind were forced to keep their homes safe from threats both domestic and… well, domestic. It's with this time, place, and situation in mind that director Daniel Barber brings us his new film The Keeping Room (playing Fantastic Fest), a powerful and terrifying drama about war and the people who are destroyed in its unquenchable wake.
It was at his intro to Sion Sono's Tokyo Tribe at last year's Fantastic Fest that HitFix's Drew McWeeny put it best: "You are all my tribe," he said to the packed auditorium, and the sentiment was apparent even before the crowd erupted in of approval and applause. There really is no film festival quite like Alamo Drafthouse's Fantastic Fest - about to kick off its 11th year. There is no program like the one put together every year by Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest founder Tim League and his selection crew. There is no, and I stress this, NO crowd like a Fantastic Fest crowd, and the kinship felt among those who have attended and keep returning is undeniable. There's just something about Fantastic Fest.
There's little doubt in the current fascination with violence. Hell, there's an argument to be made that we've grown addicted to it. Naturally, Hollywood was going to throw major bucks in the direction of Black Mass, the story of James "Whitey" Bulger, arguably the most notorious and most violent criminal in American organized crime. It's the kind of role that would attract an A-lister like Johnny Depp, whose performance here makes up the film's highest mark. Tediously paced but overall commendably executed, the film serves as a suitable yet surface-level telling of Bulger's story. The violence clearly sets up the walls of this particular house, but it's Depp's performance that makes the interior design of Black Mass worthwhile.
American Ultra is a cool, stoner action/comedy with a healthy serving of heart, a prime candidate in 2015 for coolest kid on the block. However, the film is never quite as cool as it, or the filmmakers behind it, wants to be. There's plenty of action. There's an abundance of stoner-related comedy. All the parts that make up a rousing success for hip cinema are present, but the results, the endgame American Ultra offers up, is somewhat less-than. A highly enjoyable time at the movies to be fair, it never quite transcends that category to be something ultimately memorable. Instead, we have to make due with the surface-level entertainment the film delivers in droves, an ultra fun, movie-going experience that feels like it could have been more.
There's a whole, separate article to be written about the dissection of the classic, spy film we're seeing in 2015. Never mind the fact that, come November, we'll take our 24th trip to the land of James Bond. With movies like Kingsman and Spy already killing it this year, there seems to be plenty of room in the dangerous world of espionage to jab at its side a bit. Then in comes The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie's take on the TV series from the '60s and a film that, despite all working against it, ends up a pretty entertaining bit of light-hearted action/adventure, a breezy way to send off a rather bleak Summer of dark offerings.
There's a very frank, spoiler-filled discussion I'd like to have with Joel Edgerton about The Gift. His directorial debut, for which he also wrote the script, is intense, and loaded with surprises and ambiguity. More serious drama than suspenseful thriller, the film serves as a cautionary tale about… well, that's just one of those many surprises Edgerton has in store for his audience. Dripping with darkness, The Gift only delves into horror on foreboding tone alone, and the choices made by its characters are very real with real consequences. Edgerton's screenplays have always analyzed human choices we make and the results of our actions, and, with The Gift, he offers a daring, satisfying depiction of one's past coming back to haunt them.
The first time we see Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation he's running. Of course, he's running. The only activity the physically impressive actor does in this franchise more than run is perform insane, death-defying stunts. Like hang off the side of a plane as it takes off. Don't worry. That comes shortly after the running. This is all to say that Rogue Nation knows where the strengths of its franchise lie. It has taken five films, but the people behind these films have cracked the formula. While the narrative appears to coast on auto-pilot, it's execution makes for Grade A, blockbuster entertainment, an exhilarating cap to the Summer, movie season. No, Fantastic Four was not forgotten. I mean what I say.
Imagine taking a punch from a professional-grade boxer. I'm not talking about one of those Mayweather jabs from out of nowhere that leave you woozy. The kind of hit I'm talking about is a George Foreman-sized power hook that you see coming from a mile down the road, but the broad sweep and sheer power behind the man's fist stuns you even before it knocks flat out. Southpaw, the latest film directed by Antoine Fuqua and the first feature written by Kurt Sutter, offers up that latter type of punch. A gritty sports drama blended with Sutter's level of hard-hitting melodrama, the film digs in exactly where you expect, but it does so in all the right ways. Southpaw is as subtle as a haymaker, but, damn, if it doesn't hit just as hard.
Marvel's Ant-Man could have been the strangest superhero movie to date. The comic character who can shrink himself down to minuscule sizes - and, in the comics, blow himself up to gigantic heights - and has a telekinetic link to our ant population had countless avenues in which to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our minds could have been blown despite the inundation of superhero stories since Spider-Man first leapt onto the screen 13 years ago. Instead, fun as it might be, the Ant-Man we get is a basic, hardly-any-frills, comic book origin story. Its potential for strangeness aside, the movie delivers on all the surface-level excitement & adventure you've come to expect from Marvel. You just expect a bit more, as well.