Over the past week and a half I've been attending a few screenings of films as part of the Fantasy Filmfest in Berlin (where I now live). Inspired by and operated similar to Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and Fantasia in Montreal, the Fantasy Filmfest is a horror/sci-fi/genre festival in Germany (taking place in multiple cities over these past few weeks). Their catchy tagline is "Fear Good Movies" and their line-up of films this year is impressive, including some of my favorites from other fests like: Swiss Army Man, Under the Shadow, Train to Busan, Yoga Hosers, and War on Everyone. I caught four films over the last few weeks, two of them worth recommending. Overall, I'm glad I heard about this fest (from a fellow movie lover in Germany) - I always enjoy seeing some of the latest genre films, especially since there's so many out there every year.
Don't Breathe, the second feature film from Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez (of 2013's Evil Dead reboot) produced by legendary filmmaker Sam Raimi, is the depraved offspring of Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring and Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs. It's about a group of teens who try to rob a blind man's house, only to discover he's not as passive as they expected. Jane Levy, who already earned her Final Girl Merit Badge as Mia in Alvarez's Evil Dead, stars as Rocky, a young woman determined to escape her abusive mother and save her younger sister (Emma Bercovici) from a dead-end existence in Detroit.
"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
In 1977, Walt Disney Studios released Pete's Dragon, a live-action/animated musical about a boy and his dragon. The film, which was nominated for two Academy Awards, stars Mickey Rooney, Helen Reddy, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, and Charlie Callas as the voice of the animated dragon. 40 years later, Disney is introducing a whole new generation to Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field's classic story. The remake, co-written and directed by filmmaker David Lowery (of Ain't Them Bodies Saints previously), retains the sweetness of Don Chaffey and Don Bluth's original film while reimagining the story for a modern audience.
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
Written and directed by David Ayer (of Fury, End of Watch, Street Kings, and Harsh Times previously), Suicide Squad sounds like it should be a very fun movie. A secret government agency recruits incarcerated super-villains (from DC Comics lore) to carry out high-risk black ops missions in exchange for reduced sentences? It's The Dirty Dozen with Harley Quinn and the Joker and a few other bad guys, what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, everything. While the premise is intriguing, the movie is unfortunately an incoherent, aggressively dull mess that squanders an impressive ensemble cast of characters.
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.
Throughout my teens and early twenties, I was visited by the Night Hag. I would wake up suddenly in the middle of the night, and there would be something in the room with me: a woman in a blue dress. With wiry black hair and pallid flesh, the woman crawled around in circles at the foot of my bed, scratching at the floor with long, claw-like fingernails. Upon making eye contact with her, I would feel an immense pressure on my chest, unable to move my extremities as she spider-walked closer to my bedside. I would clench my jaw and squeeze my eyes shut as she climbed onto the bed. I could feel her gnarled hands pushing down on the mattress to pull herself up — her fetid breath on my neck. And then suddenly, nothing. She was gone.
The original Ghostbusters from 1984 captured the imagination of a generation in a way few films do. As a kid, I was obsessed with the spooky-but-silly world director Ivan Reitman and writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis created. I watched The Real Ghostbusters cartoon religiously, had Ghostbusters-themed birthdays, and experienced a memorable Christmas in which Santa left Slimer, The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the Fire House Headquarters, and Ecto-1 under the tree. I idolized Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler and spent entire days busting ghosts with my proton pack, ghost trap, Ecto-Goggles, and PKE meter. For "Ghostheads" — diehard fans of the franchise — Ghostbusters was their childhood. But even though I have many fond memories of my time with the boys in gray, I would never consider myself among them.
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.
20 years to prepare. 20 years of anticipation. That's where we're starting at in 2016 with Independence Day: Resurgence, the long-awaited follow-up to the massive sci-fi hit released in 1996. Though film technology has advanced as much as the defense technology found within the movie, it's no substitute for fast-paced entertainment and human emotion. You know, the stuff that made Independence Day such a crowd-pleasing success back then. Instead we're left with overblown effects and seemingly bored actors delivering dull, meaningless dialogue. Independence Day: Resurgence isn't the worst blockbuster sequel to come down the road, but its mildly amped pace and predictability in story leaves even the most die hard of fans of the original squirming for something more. Maybe they'll get it right in another 20 years.
Nicolas Winding Refn creates iconic characters, individuals who, despite the madness in which they're usually swept up, have a mythological aura that clings to them like a bur. His latest, The Neon Demon, follows suit. The protagonist is a young woman trying to break into the cutthroat world of modeling. Though Refn instills in her the same, memorable qualities he has used to grow many characters before, the harsh world and sadistic players he builds become more so. The Neon Demon is a wicked, bloody, fairy tale that could only be delivered by Refn. Uncompromising in tone, pace, and outcome, it may be his most divisive film yet. That doesn't stop The Neon Demon from being a brutally honest look at the fashion world and the shallowness that goes with it that slowly builds to a violent finale. In other words: it's pitch-perfect Refn.