Back in 1997, author J.K. Rowling unveiled a fantasy novel, titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, introducing readers around the world to Harry Potter, an orphan who, on his eleventh birthday, learns he is a wizard. Potter is whisked away from his mundane reality to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he practices magic under the guidance of Albus Dumbledore and makes lifelong friends in Rubeus Hagrid, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. During his time at the school, Potter learns of his magical heritage, and of Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard who's responsible for the death of his parents.
We were bound to hit a lull in the excitement that comes from Marvel movies, especially the origin story part of the deal. That natural – and vital – aspect to the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been played out up, down, and all over the place to the point we find ourselves craving something, anything outside the norm. Thank God for Doctor Strange, that atypical, origin story for which we've been waiting. Sure, it delivers on the excitement and humorous fun we've all come to expect, but under the direction of Scott Derrickson, the Marvel superhero who deals in mysticism and the strange, otherworldly creatures knocking on the door to our plane of existence comes alive with unexpected and surprisingly fresh results.
Can Marvel still make an origin story exciting? Yes. As formulaic as Marvel Studios movies have become, they can still deliver thoroughly exciting big screen entertainment. Doctor Strange is the latest in their line-up that proves with the right formula (in this case, a good thing) of talent behind and on the screen, they can pull off another vibrant introduction. I'm admittedly not that familiar with Doctor Strange - I never read any of his comics and only know what I've learned writing about the movie leading up to the release. After seeing the movie, I'm now a big fan. It's the story of an arrogant, egotistical doctor who has to see the world differently, figuring out how he can still contribute to the greater good even though he can no longer heal people with his hands. Beyond that, the visuals are spectacular and it's worth seeing for them alone.
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.