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No one expected this from Ana Lily-Amirpour. The filmmaker who first broke onto the scene with the Iranian vampire tale, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, had the world from which to choose for her sophomore effort. A story about finding love in a cannibalistic, post-apocalyptic wasteland isn't the stretch, but what Amirpour chooses to do with The Bad Batch, her newest film, is quite shocking. She turns the mirror around on modern society showing a dystopian future that is closer to possible truth than many of us would like to admit. Unfortunately The Bad Batch is layered with cryptic subtext and long, drawn out scenes with little-to-no progression; sadly Amirpour's second outing seems like something of a big step back.
We can stop making science fiction films now. Arrival has said it all. Yes, there's a very healthy dose of hyperbole with that statement, but that doesn't make the overwhelming feeling the film conveys, directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, any less resonant. Arrival is smart, simple sci-fi that never panders and never overstays its welcome, and, with Amy Adams on board to be our guide through the waterworks that are sure to come, it's one of the best science fiction films to come around in years and one worthy of the processing required. Emotional and daring in the most exquisite of ways, Arrival becomes that eye-opening tale of alien encounters and communicative sparring that leaves the viewer rattling the ramifications that follow around in their head for days, a key staple for any, good science fiction.
Park Chan-wook once again plays outside the proverbial box with The Handmaiden, another stunning epic from the South Korean filmmaker whose name has become synonymous with breathtaking cinema. Chan-wook has become one of those few storytellers whose every work is an event, a film you simply have to see for yourself to take in all the wonder and beauty that comes with it. His latest is just as subversive, blending an efficient, con artist story with an abundance of strange sex, horror atmosphere, ultra-feminism, and, yes, even love. The Handmaiden quickly proves itself as yet another glorious masterpiece of visual style and effective narrative that eats away at your brain long after the final curtain has been raised.
There are film festivals, and then there is Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. The time of year die-hard film fans liken to Christmas is once again upon us, and we’re only moments away from this year’s batch of cinematic craziness and insane experiences being unleashed. If the last couple of years are any indication, 2016 is going to be a virtual madhouse in Austin thanks in large part to that special brand of madness only the Alamo Drafthouse can deliver. The movies are just the beginning, too, as the programming during the week of Fantastic Fest always seems bigger and better than the previous year. Movies and TV premieres; a Satanic escape room; a special, horror VR experience; and countless hours of additional insanity are just a few of the items that have piqued our interest for this year so far. And it’s only getting started.
Any verdict on the quality of the actual film aside, Blair Witch is the surprise of the year. It may not be as groundbreaking as when The Blair Witch Project stunned audiences at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival or even when the film stampeded through movie theaters later that summer. The controversy and marketing behind it had something to do with that, but the surprises involved with this latest film, simply called Blair Witch, are undeniable. Thank Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett for this. Their mark on the indie horror scene has definitely been made with hit films like You're Next, The Guest, as well as the V/H/S pair of anthologies. There doesn't seem to be a more perfect union between filmmakers and project
The creative team behind the horror films You're Next and The Guest seem like the perfect choices to bring something as groundbreaking and phenomenal as The Blair Witch Project back to modern audiences. That team, director/producer Adam Wingard and writer/producer Simon Barrett, are no strangers to the world of indie horror and all that comes with it and this shows in everything the pair have delivered so far. Taking what they learned in creating the V/H/S series, the filmmakers once again take to the stage of scares for Blair Witch, a direct sequel to the 1999 film that shaped the horror genre that directly after. Their update is relentless in its intensity and loaded with surprises that fans of the original will eat up in droves.
"If you must blink, do it now." Those words told in voiceover kickstart Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest effort from Laika, the stop-motion,animation studio that has brought us Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. They are a production company whose films have blended majestic visuals with thoughtful, heartfelt stories resonating effortlessly with one another to deliver impressive works of cinematic art. Kubo is their strongest work to date, a powerful story at its core with some of the most magnificent animation bringing it to visual life. Easily a strong, early contender for animated film of the year, Kubo takes adventure storytelling as well as stop-motion animation to stirring, new heights raising the bar even higher
Sausage Party is offensive. It doesn't just cross the line. It gleefully tramples all over the line, recklessly abandoning any and all boundaries to which a film may adhere, let alone an animated film. Sausage Party is also hilarious. Neither of these claims are surprising to anyone who knows anything about the people behind the film, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The content of their 2014 comedy, The Interview, created so much worldwide backlash the film was dropped on torrent sites illegally via hackers; then pulled from its original, theatrical release; and released directly to Netflix. The pair is no stranger to controversy and may even seek it out. Regardless, the team serves its audience well, and the comedy found in Sausage Party is uproarious if you're able to even stomach it. At least fruits and vegetables can't hack computers.
"We're the bad guys." It's a common phrase heard throughout Suicide Squad, the latest expansion of the DC Cinematic Universe after Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The characters making up the eponymous team here are on constant alert to remind us just which side of the morality coin they prefer. Seeing "the worst of the worst" being forced to team up is an idea that works wonders on paper. Hell, it even works wonders in execution at least part of the time. But Suicide Squad, for all of its entertainment value, becomes the latest casualty to studio interference and the dreaded, editing machine. What's left over has just enough verve and edge to let us in on the film that could have been, a potentially great film, too
At least Matt Damon is back, right? That may be a common sentiment from anyone who followed along with the Bourne franchise. The first trilogy of films – The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum – make up an impressively intense series of espionage thrillers with Damon's eponymous character riding high in the lead seat. With The Bourne Legacy, Damon chose not to return, Jeremy Renner took his place, and the stale, lackluster adventure that time around made it seem like the franchise's shining moments were long behind it. It's now 14 years since the initial entry, and though Jason Bourne sees Damon returning for his fourth outing as the rogue super-spy the bloom hasn't quite grown back on the rose leaving us with a dulled, run-of-the-mill version of a series that once actually brushed against the limits of cool cinema.
After six complete series on television and twelve (!) feature films so far, it seems a rather difficult task for the Star Trek franchise to go where no one has gone before, boldly or not. There are only so many worlds in which the crew of the USS Enterprise can venture and only so many adventures they can undertake before it all starts to bleed together into a big, sci-fi mess. That's not entirely the case with their latest excursion, though you certainly wouldn't notice on paper. It plays like a one-off, run-of-the-mill story centering on Captain James T. Kirk and his crew, but Star Trek Beyond has something of an ace up its sleeve in the form of director Justin Lin (of Fast 5 and Furious 6 most recently). He keeps the mood light and the action consistent, and, though it's nothing new, the film finds its way to boldly go towards goodhearted adventure.
We are once again at that time of year when the air is filled with excitement as well as an abundance of explosions. Sure, that could mean 4th of July fireworks and grilling with friends. It could also be referring to another, American pastime, this one a little newer and a lot more exciting. That would be the annual Purge, 12 hours when all crime, including murder, is perfectly legal and the people of this country – those who don't hide behind locked doors – are allowed to get their own, individual aggression out. It's become such a successful tradition – on film, anyway – that the third entry in the franchise, The Purge: Election Year, makes its way in front of our eyes. Once again sights of twisted violence mix with political & social themes, and once again this series turns a mirror on its audience to deliver a fully charged, eye-opening good time.