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.
While attending a film festival it's always exciting to hear buzz about films that may not have been on our radar before. One film in particular at Sundance 2014 that I kept hearing my colleagues raving about was actually a documentary, one called The Overnighters. It took a little while but I finally caught up with the film after the fest and was so taken aback, so impressed and surprised and genuinely moved by what I saw, I couldn't help but write about it. Overnighters is a refreshingly modern documentary, an utterly compelling, nuanced film that precariously balances the big questions of one of the great dilemmas of this day and age.
Is this what happens when you get too high? Perhaps. Over the weekend, the New York Film Festival hosted the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film, Inherent Vice, starring Joaquin Phoenix as "Doc" Sportello, the stoner private detective character from Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name. A very faithful adaptation, the film is a smoke-filled mystery that unfurls like Chinatown if Jake kept getting stoned every five minutes. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, the look and feel is spot on – it's like they made this in the 70s and time traveled forward to 2014 just to premiere it. But does it make any sense? Not really.
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.
To live. To fly. To be free. Why is it that the people who live on the edge seem to be the most inspiring? Because they are thrill-seekers, they are the ones who know that the best life is one lived without worry, without fear, without the concerns that society forces upon us. They live with an open mind, a big heart, an appreciation for this planet. They know that genuine thrills make the heart beat faster; thrills remind us that we are still alive, we're still breathing, and that we should make the most of it. I love films that capture this feeling in ways that can't be easily described. Marah Strauch's Sunshine Superman is one of those films that is exciting, moving, heartfelt, but above all it's inspiring to watch. Because it's about inspiring people.
The evil genius returns. David Fincher has thrown the doors to the bedroom of modern society wide open, showing us how deceptive and twisted some people in this world can be - the "ugly truth" has been revealed. His latest film is Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel about a married couple: Nick and Amy Dunne. Closer to Zodiac or Fight Club in tone and style rather than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher's Gone Girl starts out as a mystery, evolves into a dark comedy, and twists itself around a self-reflective look at the follies and fallacies of the American dream.
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!
"Tokyo Tribe, never ever die!" Oh my goodness, this movie is totally insane, wacky, absurd and terrible in every way, but so so so awesome. Do you remember those kind of crazy cult films you'd find in the back of a video store, only one copy on VHS, that you'd lose your shit over discovering and would have to tell your friends about and the next thing you'd know the entire high school would be into this crazy film. Sion Sono's Tokyo Tribe is one of those films, the kind that is really bad in every way, but also insanely awesome in every way. Love it, hate it, it's a can't-believe-this-is-real experience that feels a bit like The Warriors meets You Got Served, even though it's really unlike anything else. Holy sh*t I love this movie, even as bad as it is.