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"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.
Channing Tatum is America's sweetheart. All he does is win, win, win. Even when you think he has taken on a dud or a sequel that couldn't possibly live up to the original, he and the films in which he performs have a way of shocking you with excitement. This is true, as well, of Magic Mike XXL, a sequel to Tatum's coming out party to Hollywood stardom and a film that, biggest shock of them all, surpasses its predecessor. Smarter, sexier, and cooler, Magic Mike XXL is an invigorating piece of entertainment, a solid dramedy about friends and coworkers – even if those coworkers are fellow, male strippers – and a relevant and honest look at the current state of the sexes. Most important of all, it's a better film than the first one.
Heavy on hardware and low on CPU, Terminator Genisys blasts onto the screen marking the return of one of the action genre's kings, both in terms of star power and franchise. The fifth film in the series, there doesn't seem like much room to continue expanding on the inevitable war between man & machine. If that's your thinking, you've forgotten about the wonders a little time travel can do for a blockbuster franchise. You're also forgetting this is 2015, and the mantra of "bigger is always better" is in full swing. It's a shame that bigger usually means dumber, too. Terminator Genisys is both, briskly limping along the rails its idiotic script has laid down for it. Not even Arnold, welcome return as he is, can justify this film's presence.
I struggled putting together a satisfactory, opening paragraph about Ted 2. Struggled. Usually if that's the case, it means the rest of the review will be a nice run through a mud-field of narrative connections and sludgy adjectives… like "sludgy." Unfortunately there was really nothing to say about the follow-up to Seth MacFarlane's surprise hit that hadn't already been said about A Million Ways To Die In the West or the back-half years of "The Family Guy." MacFarlane has a very specific sense of humor, and the ridiculous, pop culture references and violent lunacy that make up 13 seasons – and two features so far – can only pull laughs from the audience for so long.
Just as the dinosaurs dominated the planet until 66 million years ago, the Jurassic Park series is king when it comes to putting these extinct creatures on film. This has been the case ever since 1993 when Steven Spielberg's original film swept through that Summer's box office. It only took two sequels before the bloom was decidedly knocked off the rose, but don't think a few missteps will put a heavy-hitter such as this on the franchise endangered species list. With the latest, Jurassic World directed by Colin Trevorrow, the park is back open, the dinosaurs are roaming once again, and the fodder park vacationers are getting lined up for lunch having the time of their lives. What could possibly go wrong that hasn't gone wrong already?