Keanu Reeves knows Tai Chi, and, as evidenced by the appropriately titled Man of Tai Chi, the man's directorial debut, he knows it well. What a flurry with which to come out swinging right off the bat. Man of Tai Chi suffers, a lot, from the random cheesiness and ankle-deep script at work, and there is so much about the film that simply should not work. All that is easy to discard, however, when you consider just how kickass the action bouncing before your eyes truly is. Reeves has a keen eye for action and not much else, but Man of Tai Chi has a job to do, a very specific job; at what it aims, it absolutely has pinpoint precision. It almost makes you wonder what Reeves might do with the rest of all that Kung Fu he learned so long ago.
Two genres get a recharge in Derek Lee and Clif Prowse's Afflicted, the latest found footage monster movie that might have some, age-old fans of the genre rolling their eyes. It takes a lot to kick a found footage movie into the land of creativity, and, fortunately, there are filmmakers like Lee and Prowse still out there waiting to impress us. Afflicted uses what works best in the found footage pseudo-genre and even shows us a thing or two we've never seen before, but that's only half of the film's freshness. The monster movie and ultimate story of friendship and one man losing his humanity are powerful and engaging. Afflicted rips the throats out of its horror competition this year, giving us the coolest, most energetic genre film in a while.
In 2010, a Spanish cannibal movie called We Are What We Are dazzled Fantastic Fest audiences with its crazy tale of a family of cannibals living out their traditions in an urban setting. With any good, foreign horror movie, a remake quickly followed, and that same crowd is able to feast on it this year. But the real coup in this American remake is the voice behind it. Jim Mickle has had a strong hand in some of most powerful horror films of the last 10 years. Mulberry Street and Stakeland are deep, emotional dramas that just happen to be set in worlds running rampant with horrors. His We Are What We Are, then, is no exception, and Mickle's ability to draw emotion like blood from a stone is, once again, on display. Read on!
Single-location thrillers have been the craze ever since John McClane decided to visit LA, and, to an extent, the sub-genre has gone in some ridiculous directions. "Die Hard in a..." movies continue to thrive with the locations going from high-rise building to places like a phone booth or a city bus. To that end, Grand Piano is more Phone Booth than Die Hard, but the conceit is still there. A famous concert pianist must perform perfectly else a sniper will take him out. Simple enough, and the thriller at work here is flimsy and even cheesy at times, but that doesn't stop it from being a cool, taut, little thriller backed by a smattering of solid performances. Grand Piano doesn't refresh the sub-genre, but this entry never falls to insulting it.
Eli Roth's latest gore-fest, The Green Inferno, fits right in with his horror history. His films feature Americans dumb enough to travel to the strangest parts of the world who then meet unsavory endings, and they've carried him thus far. But where the Hostel films and Aftershock - to a lesser extent, given Roth's writer/producer credit - differ from The Green Inferno are their conceits. This is a throwback to 70s entrails-laden cannibal movies, the Cannibal Holocausts of horror. And, for what it is, it satisfies its purpose, occasionally slipping into the lesser of Roth's talents, but giving us a bite that leaves its mark.
Fact 1: Writer/director Randy Moore shot his feature film debut, Escape from Tomorrow, at both Disneyland and Disney World without permission or permits. Fact 2: The Walt Disney Company hasn't said a word about what Moore has done, and his movie, thought to only be a Sundance one-off, is going to see the light of day. And thus we have the strange, surreal story of a family man's mid-life crisis in the happiest place on Earth. Escape from Tomorrow is nowhere near a masterpiece, but the sheer ambition on making what can be described as an "impossible film" is undeniable. Walt Disney's frozen head may even be proud.
Like a mean bastard, Cheap Thrills gut-punches its way before your eyes and into your head. E.L. Katz's "What would you do" scenario makes for loads of after-viewing conversation, but above and beyond that, the film is a dynamite charge of fun. Thrilling, as the title would suggest, edgy and hilarious all at the same time, Cheap Thrills is like that distant relative who knows exactly how to make you burst out into laughter, but usually only after the wincing. Phenomenal performances push the drama into extremely genuine territory causing everything to meld together perfectly as one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences this year.
Kill List and Sightseers director Ben Wheatley's A Field in England is drastically different from the British filmmaker's previous works, to the point that fans of his other films are having a difficult time wrapping their tastes—and minds—around this new one. A Field in England is shot in gorgeous black and white by his regular cinematographer collaborator Laurie Rose. That's a switch-up. Beyond that, though, Wheatley's delivers yet another head-trip of ideas, an extremely abstract work of art that requires the film to sink in and rattle around before the true genius at work is allowed to come to the forefront of your mind.
Machete Kills. "That's what he does," says Charlie Sheen as the President in Robert Rodriguez's violent follow-up to his 2010 Grindhouse hit. Machete was a blast of ridiculous fun, pushed across the entertaining finish line by Danny Trejo's awesome stares and gutters. But there can be too much of a good thing, and so we have Machete Kills. The sequel is nowhere near as much fun, almost limping along by the Looney Tunes antics Rodriguez has turned to this time. Machete seems almost subtle by comparison, yet whatever creativity this "now" franchise once had has vanished. Trejo's stares even seem tired at this point.
My appreciation for Formula One racing grew exponentially in the last few years. It all began with Senna, the outstanding doc (see it if you haven't!) profiling driver Ayrton Senna. This year we have a feature film titled Rush from director Ron Howard that focuses on the rivalry between two other famous drivers - Niki Lauda, played by Daniel Brühl, and James Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth. While the mechanics of the cars are fascinating, it's just as compelling to dive deep into the psyche of the drivers, and what drives them. That's a bit cheesy, but all I wanted to do by the end of this was go out and drive, and push the limits.
Revenge is a... we all already know that old Klingon proverb. So how about something a bit different? How about revenge with a tinge of blue and some blood splattered in there, too? One of the films I caught early at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival was one I originally missed at Cannes, a small revenge feature titled Blue Ruin from director Jeremy Saulnier. It's a bit of a slow burn take on one man's desire to exact revenge on the people who destroyed his family, but it never drags at any point. As the buzz claims, it's actually one of the best revenge films this year, and a good one to discover for yourself if you love bloody revenge stories.
With films like Saw, the under-appreciated Dead Silence, and the terrifying pair of Insidious and The Conjuring, director James Wan has put himself top of the list for modern masters of horror. Each time out of the gate, his films are loaded with style different from his previous works and always delivers more than run-of-the-mill scares. With Insidious: Chapter 2, though, Wan falls into the dreaded sequel territory, something he didn't even get roped into with Saw. This latest outing offers some decent thrills, but hits chords all too familiar and easy, not something that jolts excitement into the promise of a new franchise.
What a beautiful, beautiful film. That's the best way to put it. And that's the first thought that came to mind and stayed at the forefront of my thoughts while I was watching this. The film Tracks, directed by John Curran, and follows the real-life story of Australian naturalist Robyn Davidson, who crossed 1,700 miles of the Australia Outback by foot by herself in 1977. Her journey was documented and published in National Geographic and this film gives us a dramatic recreation of it, following Robyn and her sunburned trip with three camels. Watch it is like floating through a beautiful dream journeying across the Australian Outback.
Holy crap! This was awesome! The Midnight Madness selection at the Toronto Film Festival usually features some outstanding genre gems and this year I caught one of them that considerably impressed me. The film is titled Afflicted and if there's anything I must suggest it is to catch a screening of it as soon as possible without knowing anything else about it. It's yet another genre found footage film, but it's also genre-bending and the closest comparison I can come up with (without giving away too much more) is Chronicle. If you loved that film, you should love this, too. Afflicted kicks ass and will leave you with chills at the same time.