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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I, the first of a two-part finale wrapping up the beloved and lucrative Hunger Games franchise, is a stand-in representation of a number of rages in Hollywood. A dystopian future in which the people, under the control of a brutish government, are beginning to rebel? Check. A tough, female protagonist who finds her emotions torn between two men? Double check. Even the idea of splitting the final novel in Suzanne Collins' young adult series into two films is matching the current "way to do things." Despite its familiar tendencies, Mockingjay - Part I is a solid beginning, a fine launching point for the true finale yet to come, and for what it's worth, it's as entertaining as it is justified.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, there's a darkness surrounding Los Angeles that captivates moviegoers when it's presented in film. Writer/director Dan Gilroy understands this and realizes the darkness in its truest form with Nightcrawler, a crime drama that not only dishes on the grimiest of LA grime, but revels in it. With equal parts style, wit, and discomfort - the latter getting the slight edge, especially given the scuzzy-above-all-else performance from Jake Gyllenhaal - the film wallops the viewer's senses and expectations, a hint of satire pushing it well into the forefront of modern crime drama conversations, making it shine.
There's an odd correlation between cineplex screens and toy-store shelves these days. The movies-being-turned-into-toys-being-turned-into-movies cycle is hardly a 2014 revelation. But, with Michael Bay's most recent Transformers movie scraping the well in search for content, it finally felt like that synergistic cycle was a foregone conclusion. Entertainment and, God forbid, story were afterthoughts to the dollars and cents the film ultimately pulled in. I use Transformers as the example, because Bay's horror-movie production company, Platinum Dunes, has a product in which they'd like you to invest. It's called Ouija, and it's awful.
Writer and director David Ayer brings his particular brand of hard-hitting action and remorseless intensity to the muddied front of World War II-torn Europe in Fury, more specifically the metal beasts that rolled through the landscape on rusted tracks. Fury’s heart is in both the hardened men inside those tanks as well as the hellish events that made them that way. It pulls up a number of war movie tropes, some of which give the film a shopworn feel. Regardless, the out-and-out ferocity of Ayer’s camera and action with a staggering slate of performances led by Brad Pitt makes Fury as solid as any good war film before it.
It's hard to detect a good reason for Annabelle, the horror prequel to last year's terrifying The Conjuring, to exist. It's not as if the makers behind this latest film have anything groundbreaking to say about haunted house movies, creepy doll movies, or even possession movies despite the film dabbling in all three. Annabelle's creativity appears in its scares, something the film does quite well. But no matter how many times it makes you jump, regardless of the menacing tone it accomplishes in droves, Annabelle ends up being yet another standard, generic supernatural thriller that only succeeds in surface-level horror.
David Fincher became master of his craft by honing technical skills first, using the newest technology on dozens of music videos and his first slate of films: Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room to name a few. A technically gifted film from him now is expected, and it's allowed him to play around with storytelling rules. Gone Girl, Fincher's latest, is more akin to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo than his earlier works, the only constant in his career being an ability to create damn good art. Gone Girl is just that, a cynical thriller bordering on dark comedy too often to be unintentional and another success from a master filmmaker.
An oblivious, big-city lawyer gets in over his head in No Man's Land, a neo-western thriller directed by Ning Hao. The film, shot in 2009, sat on a shelf of censorship as the Chinese government deemed it too "nihilistic." To this, the Fantastic Fest crowd, who got their first look at No Man's Land, said, "Yeah, what's the big deal?" What ends up being the big deal is that the film is as smart as it is cool, a deliberately paced trek into the Gobi Desert with a handful of badass trimmings and a nice, rustic fringe. It's the kind of quirky actioner with even quirkier characters that's getting comparisons to the Coen Brothers, and for good reason.
No one expected writer/director David Robert Mitchell to follow his beloved, indie hit The Myth of the American Sleepover with a horror film. Even fewer expected it to be one of the most terrifying cautionary tales to come down the horror mountain in a long, long while. Regardless that's what we get with It Follows, because that's precisely what it is, a spine-chilling yet simple story that knows exactly how to get under the viewer's skin. Mitchell knocks the slew of horror tropes he could have easily fed us to the side, and It Follows ends up being a unique film that just may do more for young-adult abstinence than a sex ed class.
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are Fantastic Fest staples thanks to their surprise smash You're Next in 2011. The movie matched a cool, riotous attitude with a home invasion sub-genre that had been poking its head at horror audiences for years. Now they've again brought a cool, riotous attitude in droves. The Guest is more action than horror, but the edge is still there. Aided by Wingard's enormous talent for mood, an '80s vibe that isn't just pink neon and a synthesized score, and a rousing performance from Dan Stevens, The Guest delivers a sharp, swift punch to the chest of bland action and banal thrillers. Read on!
Unassuming, blindsiding, and masterful in how subtly it shakes you to your core, Resolution, the debut feature from co-director Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead, snuck onto the radar last year. Its exquisitely crafted screenplay made all the difference in helping it stand out from the crowd of recent horror. Now, with their follow-up, Spring, the duo pull off the unthinkable once again in giving us a horror film for the new age, one that isn't satisfied with jarring jump scares or found-footage cliches. Spring, like Resolution, twists the knife slowly, and the cerebral as well as emotional payoff is one of the best all year.
John Wick is awesome. That statement is direct, to the point, but it could not be more appropriate for the film it's describing. Keanu Reeves latest action vehicle is a simple movie with simple ideas, but that isn't keeping it from being one of the most exhilarating, balls-to-the-wall action movies to come down the pipeline in a long while. It's the kind of movie that leaves you both exhausted by the whirlwind of epic action it offers and completely amped for more ass-kickery. Action junkies have been waiting a long time for a movie like John Wick, and no one will end up going home dissatisfied with all that it delivers. Read on!
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.