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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.
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!