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We may have a winner for this year's foreign-language, horror film that's allowed to push the envelope in all the right ways. Cub (or Welp in its native country of Belgium) comes to us from first-time feature director Jonas Govaerts, who has crafted a canny yet unsettling slasher film for a whole new wave of horror fans. Disturbing from the outset, Cub delves deep into the human psyche, satisfactorily delivering violent and sexual tropes you might expect. It all gets splashed with a fresh coat of paint courtesy of some extremely atmospheric tone and a no-nonsense attitude in its vividness. Put succinctly, it's not for the casual camper.
There's not a lot more you can do with the Nazi zombie premise, right? Fortunately, that's not a question Tommy Wirkola bothered to ask. The Norwegian writer/director blazed into the genre scene with his 2009 insta-cult hit, Dead Snow, a film whose basis cries out to be loved by horror fans "in the know." Its black-humor attitude and ultra-gore paving the way for it to be crowned the new Evil Dead. If Dead Snow is Wirkola's Evil Dead, Dead Snow 2 is definitely his Army of Darkness. A wild, often hilarious romp that casually tip-toes between genres, it takes its own mythos and expands them into something truly awesome.
The ups and downs of filmmaker Kevin Smith's career would certainly not discount the strangeness of his latest film, Tusk, a body sci-fi/horror/comedy. The weird premise he and SModcast co-host Scott Mosier developed on the fly seems in Smith's stoner wheelhouse. It comes off, however, like a half-baked comedy, a flatly crafted horror feature, and a dully-paced, sometimes amateurish film that never lives up to the high points of what the writer/director has given us in the past. Nothing about Tusk gels well, all the more shameful when taken into consideration how much potential there is in its marijuana-induced design.
Tom Hardy tackles yet another awkwardly-spoken eccentric (with something of a dark edge) in The Drop, and, once again he hits the role hard. That is to say, he owns it, and the crime drama elevates to something endlessly watchable with every line he speaks and every twitch his eye gives. With a screenplay from novelist Dennis Lehane and execution in guile from director Michaël R. Roskam, The Drop delivers a powderkeg of subtle intensity, suspenseful in all that it does and doesn't do. Though Hardy shines past every distinct aspect the film brings, the solid drama sprinkled with a dusting of violence makes for a fine thriller.
What's that? Pierce Brosnan needs a new action franchise now, 12 years after his James Bond stint ended? There's a series of novels ripe for the action genre taking that would suit him perfectly? Let's make that deal. But The November Man, from the novels by Bill Granger, ends up being more than a run-of-the-mill spy thriller. Aided by some superb action directing from Roger Donaldson and a nice turn from its charismatic lead, the film trumps most of the recently standard "old guy in an action flick" turns we've gotten. Brosnan joins the ranks of Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner, and the former 007 prevails.
Like Marv and the people in The Projects or the girls of Old Town, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is slumming it. The long-gestating sequel to Robert Rodriguez 's 2005 adaptation of the gritty and profane comic series from Frank Miller, you may be fooled into thinking it's more of the same, low-brow fun. You'd be wrong and probably a little disappointed. Sin City was a stylish and sadistic twist of the knife that laid its gallows humor on thicker than water. This one has the markings of a quality follow-up for fans of the first, it ultimately fails, its super serious attitude producing extremely dull results that border on tedium.
The Expendables 3 is so adorable you'd want to pinch its little cheeks if the average age of the crew weren't higher than 50. Once again lead by Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross it's a new mission, a new team, and a new attitude, or so the tagline for this latest film implies. That new attitude must have something to do with entertainment, since The Expendables 3, for its been-there-done-that narrative and paint-by-numbers action set-pieces, ends up as the most enjoyable. It's lighter than the previous two, and though the self-indulgence among the cast is at an all-time high, the genuine fun being had bleeds through.
Harry Potter was the spark that began the latest flame of movies based on young adult novels. The Twilight and The Hunger Games films have kept the sub-genre thriving at full potential, studios buying up properties left and right to get in on the mix. The latest of these, The Giver, is not the go-to novel for the big screen, at least not as much as wizards and vampires, and the results are good reasoning for that. The story comes preloaded with its message, which the film paints in broad strokes, and no amount of quality execution or solid performances (there's both) can get around the hokey and cliched subtext it provides.
"Ain't no thing like me, 'cept me." So says Rocket Racoon, a genetically modified racoon with a bad attitude and a fair point. The same can be said for the movie he's in, Guardians of the Galaxy, the cosmic superhero epic that continues the Marvel cinematic universe. For that matter, you can lay that dialogue and its meaning at the feet of the film's writer/director, James Gunn, who has spent his days since Troma delivering hard-edged horror and unbelievably cool superhero stories. This is his first chance at a big comic book story, and the sci-fi action, comedy extraveganza within Guardians of the Galaxy is cool, comical, and a cracking great time. One could almost be inclined to call it the best Marvel Studios film yet. More below!
Whether suiting up as Black Widow or luring oafish, young men to their otherworldly demise in Under the Skin, or wrangling Joaquin Phoenix with her voice alone in Her, Scarlett Johansson appears to be the ideal choice to play the next-level woman, a female character made supernatural with all the powers she beholds. So thank goodness writer/director Luc Besson has her front and center in Lucy, his latest sci-fi, evolutionary actioner that promises to blow your mind as well as your entertainment meter. Without Johansson, the film would slip by as pretty thin on both excitement and existentialism. Thankfully, Lucy doesn't fail in either department, but the frustration that the whole, messy ordeal leaves behind is far too noticable. Not quite as noticable as someone as stunning and talented as Johansson, but it's there. Read on!
Future sequel-makers in the horror field should pay attention to The Purge: Anarchy. The follow-up to last summer's dystopian action/thriller does so much more with what this franchise has been given by writer/director James DeMonaco. With The Purge, DeMonaco envisioned a new America, one with minimal unemployment and even lower crime rate. The annual Purge, 12 hours when all crime, including murder, is perfectly legal, satisfies the animalistic cravings of the population. The first film was a wasted opportunity, confining itself to a single home invasion and not even doing a very good job of it. Unlike the citizens of the Purged nation, moviegoers weren't satisfied, demanding much more from the cool premise.
"We're such little creatures. Poor humanity's so fragile, so weak. Little, little animals." So said Edward Chapman at the end of H.G. Wells' 1936 sci-fi, war, epic, Things to Come. Wells' animal reference in regards to human beings falls under both fact and metaphor. We are all animals, but something darker, more vicious, seems to always be growing at the heart of this humanity we call ourselves. It wouldn't be until 1968 that the animals or, in this case, apes would really take over the world. Planet of the Apes was a cultural phenomenon that I really don't need to tell you about, a shock-wave of a franchise that would only need a little time before it sprung into action once more. We never expected the franchise would return like this.
The saying goes that if you aim for the stars, you just might end up on the moon. Every so often, though, you hit those damn stars, and South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is no stranger to that level of achievement. He's never done it quite like this, though. His sci-fi epic Snowpiercer is a cinematic accomplishment that barrels its way down the rails of success through intelligent and exciting storytelling, an execution in set and atmosphere that surpasses even the most epic of Hollywood blockbusters, and a slew of top-notch, talent delivering wholly unforgettable performances. Snowpiercer is a masterpiece, rivalling even the best sci-fi in terms of scope and story, and that's saying nothing of its highly inventive conceit.
There's really not a lot that can be done with paranormal thrillers these days. With the recent slate of bland possession movies and the Paranormal Activity juggernaut annually dulling the bump-in-the-night brand of horror, it takes a certain angle at the sub-genre or a top-notch style of delivering the thrills for a film to really play in the haunted sandbox. Luckily, there are those entries that realize the ways in which to keep a fresh game in a stale ballpark, Deliver Us from Evil being the latest of these. Part gritty-NYPD procedural, part sinister-entity horror, the film nails every tone and hits every scare with results that should satisfy any and all downtrodden, horror fans. Thankfully, there are still films that can keep us up at night.