Conjured up out of America's obsession with spiritualism in the 19th century, "Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board" was created in 1891 by entrepreneur Charles Kennard and attorney Elijah Bond, and made by the Kennard Novelty Company. After Kennard and Bond left the company in the early 1900s, William Fuld, one of the company's first employees, took over and continued making the popular spirit board. By 1920, the game had become such a fixture of American culture that Norman Rockwell featured a couple playing with a Ouija board on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. After Fuld's death, the assets were sold to Parker Brothers, who manufactured the game until 1991, when the company was acquired by Hasbro.
There's something inevitably comedic about a film called The Accountant, especially if that movie is about a cool-blooded CPA with equal penchants of crunching numbers and cracking skulls. My father was a CPA, and I can assure you the thought of him as a ruthless killer in the vein of John Wick is in itself almost laughable. That's the idea behind this film, The Accountant, though, and the fact that it stars Ben Affleck as the eponymous character certainly goes a long way in helping boost its sincerity. Aid also comes from the commitment from his surrounding cast as well as the film's ability to notch up the intensity and excitement with an endless stream of cliché-ridden-but-entirely-enjoyable action sequences. If you can get past the cheesiness and forgive it for its by-the-numbers suspense, The Accountant is a thriller worthy of your time.
Reality can be more bewildering than fiction. On the surface level, the documentary Kate Plays Christine is about an actress, Kate Lyn Sheil, researching a challenging role for an unnamed film project. Christine Chubbuck was a real news anchor who worked at Sarasota's WXLT-TV in 1974 and shocked viewers by shooting herself in the head live, on camera, taking her life. This moment became something of legend, then was largely forgotten but at times interest in the incident is renewed. The film's writer, director & editor Robert Greene quickly leaps between archival footage, behind-the-scenes snippets and a few dramatized recreations, forcing you to think, first, about what is fact and fiction and then, where the two should meet.
Director Keith Maitland's Tower is a devastating documentary that reconstructs the darkest moment in the history of the University of Texas at Austin. The title refers to the 30-story tower at the center of campus from which more than a dozen people were murdered and more than 30 wounded by a former Marine armed with a small arsenal in 1966. Tower opens with the announcement of Charles Whitman's shooting by KTBC reporter Neal Spelce. The film traces the paths of multiple witnesses, with voice overs and on-camera interviews. These "interviews" start out as actors peering and chatting into the camera, then the historical events are re-enacted, and later some of them to become the actual witnesses sharing their emotions.
A Monster Calls seems to have one goal in mind and one goal alone. That is, to deprive audiences of the contents of their tear ducts and make them a sobbing mess. Some might call it manipulative, but that's not really anything new for director J.A. Bayona, who has previously swept audiences up with the emotionally draining The Orphanage and The Impossible. With A Monster Calls, though, the emotion is genuine, and the director, working off a screenplay from Patrick Ness adapting his own novel, twines magnificent fantasy with authentic drama to make a heart-wrenching, cinematic experience. It helps that the cast, led by Lewis MacDougall and the voice of Liam Neeson, is so spot on and committed to the subject at hand. A Monster Calls is a wonderful film that shouldn't be passed up by any audience member of any age.
The Mo Brothers from Indonesia always deliver. Whether it's a disturbing slasher movie like Macabre or an intense thriller such as Killers, the directing team comprised of Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto have become a force for genre filmmaking. Their latest film, Headshot, is no exception. A balls-to-the-wall actioner with plenty of insane choreography and even crazier effects on the execution, the film proves once again that, when it comes to daring works of cinema that keeps your nerves firmly in grip and your thirst for excitement quenched, this is a filmmaking team worthy of your attention. It helps that the presence of star Iko Uwais reminds you of The Raid, as well, as the action found within is every bit as intense and
Split is filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan's most terrifying film to date. Granted this opinion is coming from someone who finds The Sixth Sense, while a phenomenal film with a wonderfully choreographed twist, not all that scary, and, though Signs and The Village deliver the thrills, there's nothing on par with Split in terms of how relentless in intensity and so very chilling it is. Shyamalan used to be considered a master of these types of genre films. Although his work has been less than stellar in recent years, the director's filmmaking and storytelling prowess seem to be back in line. Split is his return, and, with a wonderfully creepy turn by James McAvoy in the lead role, Shyamalan's latest ends up being his absolute best horror film to date. And, holy shit, what an ending, but we'll get to that momentarily.
The question we should be asking isn't where has director Paul Verhoeven been for the past decade. The question is where has this Verhoeven been all our lives? The director whose career skyrocketed with Total Recall and Basic Instinct hasn't released a film since 2006's Black Book, the Dutch filmmaker's return to his homeland. We hoped whatever Verhoeven had in store for us next would be a return to the trashy good form with which the filmmaker had become known, and Elle, his latest, doesn't disappoint. It isn't what was expected, either, instead he gives us an eye-opening and wholly unique look at one woman's attempt to connect with any man in her life: her son, her ex-husband, her mass-murderer father, or even her rapist.
Just when you thought it was safe to leave your doors unlocked and your windows unbarred, a film like Safe Neighborhood comes along and completely makes you rethink the home invasion sub-genre. It's been the format for a certain type of film for awhile now, and the formula involved has been generally left unaltered. Fortunately there are filmmakers like Chris Peckover who aren't satisfied with resting on the laurels of the typical, home invasion movie, and Safe Neighborhood quickly reveals itself to be something just enough on the fringe to make it noteworthy. It's also going to be an extremely challenging movie to speak about without giving away too many of the film's shocking reveals. But let's give it a shot anyway, tread carefully.
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.