Tagged movies

CLOSER TO GOD and the Ethics of Science

Closer to God. 2014. Directed and Written by Billy Senese. Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, and Isaac Disney. LC Pictures. Unrated. 81 minutes. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.

★★★
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Usually I keep my ear out and head up for any new horror films that sound different, or for whatever reason pique my interest. Closer to God went on the checklist of my IMDB account a long while back, before there was ever a trailer, any pictures online. It was just a poster. Not the one I’ve put on here, but a simple red background with a black outlined tree extending its roots out underneath down towards the movie’s title.
I was surprised when I finally got to see Closer to God because, though it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the film was really interesting. Billy Senese, both writer and director, crafts a decent tale of horror, which acts as a film metaphor for the fears people get over human cloning, genetic manipulation, and the ethical/moral implications and ramifications of these practices. While it very literally tackles the subject, the ideas work well with the horror element of the film. This turns out to be more horror than science fiction, even if it wishes to be more the latter.

Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has completed the first successful cloning of a human being. He creates a baby girl – Elizabeth. She is a full-on experiment; made for research and genetic modifications. Not to mention little Elizabeth is made with the genetics of Dr. Reed/an unnamed individual. Naturally everyone is outraged. People hate what the doctor is doing, but they’ve got no idea what else is going on inside the house.
While the storm of angry people push on, morally outraged by the new cloned baby, another child is causing trouble – Ethan.

The housekeepers at Dr. Reed’s home, Mary and Richard (Shelean Newman and Richard Alford), are trying to take care of this boy, troubled little Ethan, who seems to be proving too much. Things only get more difficult, and it turns out Ethan is growing, he’s hurting, and he might just want to get the hell out of the good doctor’s family home.
75-3Something I’m a little tired of is all these indie films, horror or science fiction, which try to be the next Frankenstein. I love Mary Shelley – I’ve read the book, loved it, and I even enjoy the Kenneth Branagh starred-directed version. What I’m sick of is the fact that either critics try to claim a movie is drawing from Shelley, or the film itself relies too heavily on those comparisons within the script. I mean, there’s even a point where we see someone hold up a sign that says – you guessed it – FRANKENSTEIN! And someone literally calls Dr. Reed – Dr. Frankenstein.
Plus, Dr. Reed’s first name is Victor. Y’know, it just feels like a thick layer of cheese over top of what could be a good enough film on its own.
maxresdefaultIt’s a tired, tired comparison. And I get it, the obviousness of it sits right in front of us. I’ve discussed the ethics of human cloning enough via university courses in Philosophy and English Literature to last me a full lifetime.
My biggest issue is that, by relying on the comparison between its own material and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Senese creates an environment where there’s too much reliance on the comparison itself. Frequently the Frankenstein connection comes out, as I mentioned before, and it’s so often that the whole concept becomes annoying. Senese easily created an atmosphere of dread and tension without invoking Shelley, over and over.

When Closer to God really works, though, it works.
A scene truly got to me a little ways in; when Mary (Shelean Newman) goes up to bring Ethan some food. We get a glimpse of him in the corner – you can only barely make out his face, but it is one of pure evil, or emptiness, a void lacking any humanity. He doesn’t make a sound, Mary is clearly unnerved. She leaves, but just as she does and the camera moves back with her Ethan comes running out to the table, smashing things, and screaming in this utterly soul crushing voice that cuts through your skin and your bones. I like to think I’ve seen a lot of horror – in general I’m up to almost 4,100 films in total – but this moment genuinely frightened the shit out into my pants. I was wide-eyed and actually had to text my girlfriend, who is out on a Saturday night unlike her cinephile boyfriend, to tell her how scary the damn scene came off. A great, great bit of subtle horror.

There’s another creepy, brief scene I like, but it’s not nearly as terrifying. There’s an almost horror-beauty to it: Dr. Reed heads out to the gate in front of his house and watches as protesters lob burning plastic baby dolls over and into the yard, just about right at his feet. The way Childs simply stands there, watching these flaming plastic heaps come at him – it’s eerily appealing.
Closer-God-protestor-yelling-700x467As most of the reviews so far have pointed out, the perhaps greatest part of the entire film is the central performance by Jeremy Childs as Doctor Victor Reed. He is an unconventional looking guy to be the lead of a movie – not that I care because I love movies that feel like their characters are real people. There are just so many perfect moments where Childs pulls off the doctor so well. A great exchange happens after SPOILER AHEAD Mary is killed by Ethan – Victor and his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) have a short yet rough argument, and Childs does great work with the dialogue between them. He is believable, and that’s what sells the character of Dr. Reed; no matter how cheerily named after Shelley’s titular doctor he may be.
I think if the lead in Closer to God had to have been someone weaker there are tons of scenes that wouldn’t have been able to carry the emotion they did. The chemistry between Childs and Hoppe as the troubled married couple is good stuff. Too many independent films suffer from having wooden acting, along with bad dialogue. These two really sell the fact they are a married couple, it feels like a bad relationship of course, especially considering the circumstances of the film, but it’s real, it doesn’t come out forced and you don’t see two actors acting as husband and wife. The movie is immersive, and certainly the fact Senese wrote a decent script helped that along.
screen_shot_2015-07-08_at_9.51.22_am.pngIn the end, I think what detracts most from this movie being great is the fact it doesn’t pay out on all the ideas of morality and ethics surrounding the original premise. We get excellently developed tension, a slow and steady pace for most of the film, and then it devolves from what could’ve been, at times, fairly profound horror/science fiction.
Instead of doing more with the science fiction angle, Closer to God drops off into complete horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either, I am a horror hound. But I can’t help feeling at least slightly cheated, in a sense. There’s a promise of grand concepts here. The finale of the film becomes a typical sort of thing – I don’t want to fully ruin the ending or anything. Mainly, I love how creepy the Ethan character was, I just don’t think Billy Senese went anywhere innovative or fresh with what he was doing. Essentially all those Frankenstein comparisons never truly go anywhere, all paths leading to a slasher film-like conclusion.

I think Closer to God, for all its creepiness and tension and the incredibly believable performance by Jeremy Childs, is still only a 3 out of 5 star film for me. There was so much promise in the whole project, but I feel as if Billy Senese squandered a lot of what he’d built up. Again, the comparisons to Mary Shelley’s famous gothic horror novel is an angle I’m frankly done with unless it gets taken somewhere useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some beyond creepy scenes in this film. So much of the material involving the failed experiment of Dr. Victor Reed’s that is his “son” Ethan could have really went into incredible territory. Unfortunately, that territory never gets explored. What Senese does with the material is creep us out awhile and then go for the jugular with a far too heavy handed approach at the finish.
Check this out if you’d like to see some interesting horror/science fiction, but know this: it is mostly generic horror you will find. Even with the supremely creepy bits sprinkled throughout, Closer to God is closer to nothing special. See it for, if anything, Jeremy Childs, and a handful of eerie scenes.

Let’s talk of Twitter, the Ghostbusters & Famous Assholes

UPDATE: I received a wonderful message via Twitter from Leslie Jones. After you’ve read this post, please go see the follow-up.

ghostbusters-castI’d like to take a time out from my regular format. Usually it’s film, film, film reviews.
But something happened this evening on Twitter, it really pissed me off. To no end. Now, I gave up social media until the middle of last year, I’d given it up almost 2 years. Reason being because I’m an emotional, invested man. Though I am sensible, I tend to let things just hound me until they run me ragged. Often it’s mainly for a good cause – these things latch onto me mostly due to people being ignorant, the hateful things you can see over the internet and how nobody seems to want to just be friends, be friendly, to talk and discuss and even debate things in a sensible and friendly manner.

Today, however, something different went down.

I consider myself a happy supporter of equal rights. I’ve always been that way because my parents raised me to be respectful of others, the differences between us, and all that. So naturally, when the new Ghostbusters film directed by Paul Feig was announced, and the cast happened to be all female, I thought it was great. Not to mention the fact Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig were then announced as the actual Ghostbusters themselves. I love all these ladies, especially McKinnon and Wiig. Recently I caught Leslie Jones’ stand-up show on Netflix, Problem Child, and it was downright fucking hilarious; she has tons of charisma, she’s funny, and has a lot of presence onstage. Then I went back to watch some SNL bits I missed, or didn’t pay enough attention to originally, and realized not only was Leslie Jones great at stand-up, she is even better with improv and live comedy.
Then came all the backlash. Continually, all you see now are fanboys whining and crying about their latest franchises being ruined. Worst part is half of the time they’re not even waiting for a trailer, barely even pictures from the set, yet still they trash it and try to blast their biased opinions all over the internet. And sure, we all have the right to an opinion, just some opinions aren’t worth shit when it comes down to the bottom line.
With the new Ghostbusters, it’s a little different. When I said fanboys are ruining things on the internet before films are even out with a trailer, film critic Scott Weinberg made the intelligent point of noting these aren’t fanboys – these people don’t like women.
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And he’s right.
He made another point on his Twitter feed around the same time, or afterwards, and basically said if you don’t know anything about a film other than a cast is female and you still hate it then there may be important questions you need to ask yourself. Or rather, they probably know.
Some men just don’t want to accept the fact they’re misogynists, or they know and they don’t care what anyone else thinks of that.
Make no mistake – the people out ragging on this movie, making extremely bold and idiotic statements such as the preemptive “this movie will bomb trust me” and other foolishness, these people are misogynistic and they are the same types of people who fall in with Disney douchebag Michael Eisner with his assertion that there aren’t many funny, good-looking women.
It just doesn’t matter – if you’re talking about being funny, or acting, or whatever – if someone is a woman or not.
If you can’t relate to films or enjoy them just because the characters in them are female, then you have problems. Yes, that’s right, you’ve got problems, and you need to reevaluate your way of thinking because that’s total madness.

However, I digress. To the point.
I was on Twitter earlier today, and I was reading all the hatefulness users were tweeting out to/about the cast of the new Ghostbusters movie. I nearly boiled over with anger, most of it was absolute stupidity. That didn’t surprise, but as I said – I’m a little emotional, even if it’s only Twitter.
So I decided to tweet out a little support. Only a pebble in the digital sea, but whatever. I’ve had contact with people like Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead (directors of the fantastic horror-romance Spring), and even director William Friedkin who graciously followed my account/retweeted a retrospective review I did on his movie The Hunted. So I figured, why not? Even if no one involved with the movie sees it, who cares? I just wanted to put my positive two cents in and be a supporter. I couldn’t wait to see these ladies in action as the Ghostbusters team! Plus, Paul Feig created Freaks and Geeks, so I’m always up to see what he’s doing.
To my surprise, Leslie Jones saw what I’d tweeted. In fact, she saw it, and hated it, and proceeded to insult me (insinuating I do nothing except probably flip burgers), then block me on Twitter.
What did I say? Well, why don’t you have a read, along with Leslie’s “appropriate” response.
IMG_0310Notice, if you actually take the time to read unlike Ms. Jones, that I was supportive. What I essentially said (if you can’t read it for some unknown reason – just like Ms. Jones) is that I think they’re hilarious, all four of them – and notice I didn’t even say funny women? I said funny people. Because I don’t care if you’re a woman, I don’t care if you’re a man, or transgendered, I don’t care if you’re old, or young – if you’re funny, you are a funny person.
So, I got other tweets back saying “give her a break – she’s seeing a lot of negative things lately”, and I understand that. Totally, I get she and the other ladies cast in Ghostbusters are seeing a wave of negativity from the internet. However, there are plenty of positive people.
And furthermore, is really that confusing what I said? If I said, “Kristen Wii is not funny. Melissa McCarthy is not funny. Neither are Leslie Jones or Kate McKinnon. Whatever the fuck ever” then I could understand her thinking I was being negative; it would be obvious. But it’s painfully clear what I was saying is in no way bashing them. Yet Ms. Jones proceeds to not just block me – her “Order up” implies that I’m just doing nothing except working at a fast food joint or something (because I guess they aren’t real jobs? Hmmm maybe tell that to the people who serve you next time you’re out for a burger…). Regardless, I’m at the tail end of my B.A.H, currently getting ready to write an Honours Thesis essay in the winter, as well as writing a novel, and also editing the novel of a well-known Canadian author Earl Pilgrim. So, yeah, Leslie Jones – I’m not doing ANYTHING worthwhile over here.

In the end, I just want to thank Ms. Jones.
Thanks for making me not want to watch Ghostbusters. Not because its cast is all female – I don’t want to see it now because you were rude, as well as ignorant, you were presumptuous about my life and who I am because you thought I was being negative when I was trying to dispel the idea you aren’t funny by saying YOU ARE INDEED HILARIOUS, and you jumped the gun, treating me like some asshole who is hateful. I don’t get on the internet and spew hatred. Despite all the reviews I do and the time I spend online, I have a life – a great one. I’m a film lover/reviewer, a writer, an editor, and I’m also a proud man who doesn’t take shit from people when I don’t deserve it.
So I’m not trying to shame anybody here, but I’m pissed off.
I know it’s not like Leslie Jones will see this, nor do I really intend her to either. But I had to get this off my chest.

There’s tons of negativity on the internet, but why don’t we all take the time to read? Don’t get hot under the collar without reading something carefully, make sure you know what it’s saying and what you’re meant to get out of it – don’t jump all over people immediately without understanding what it is they are saying to you.
Because Leslie Jones lost a fan today, and I couldn’t be bothered to ever watch anything she’s in again. Too bad – super funny, lots of talent. Hopefully she won’t drive too many people away like this, I’m sure she won’t. In the long run I make no difference as an individual. I just think it’s sad and disappointing to see someone whose talent you admire act like a complete knobhead.
Not to mention, I was trying to support the idea of the female version of this film. I could care less about their being female, but if people are trying to act like that’s the only reason this movie will do bad then this movie needs support from all the fans out there! I don’t expect a medal, but I don’t expect to be treated like some idiot who is out trolling on the internet about a female remake of an older movie. I don’t expect to be insulted by anybody for not “doing anything with my life” when that person doesn’t even know me, and I wasn’t even trying to bash on anybody. I mean – do I need to keep repeating that part?
Ghostbusters will, no doubt, make a great profit. Even if people don’t think it now, it will, and most of the naysayers will still go to the theatres just to see it – regardless if they like it – and contribute to its success.
But, even if I am just one dude, they’ll have to make their money without me. I don’t care if it gets the best reviews and it breaks box-office records, or any of that, because one actor’s nonsense can really sour things. I couldn’t care any less now who hates this and who doesn’t – fuck the Ghostbusters.

Mediocre Yet Nasty Backwoods Cannibal Horror in WRONG TURN 4: BLOODY BEGINNINGS

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings. 2011. Directed & Written by Declan O’Brien, based on characters by Alan McElroy. Starring Jennifer Pudavick, Tenika DAvis, Kaitlyn Leeb, Terra Vnesa, Ali Tataryn, Samantha Kendrick, Victor Zinck Jr, Dean Armstrong, Sean Skene, Blane Cypurda, Dan Skene, and Scott Johnson. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★1/2wrong-turn-4-poster-option-1Declan O’Brien did not impress me with the previous instalment, Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, but I’ve got to say I like this one at least a little better than that.
Bloody Beginnings doesn’t particularly pull out all the stops, it isn’t a masterpiece – not by any stretch of the imagination – but aside from the acting, and some of the dialogue, the blood and gore pleased me for a good slasher, and the kills were vicious. This is by all means a slasher movie; a little different from run-of-the-mill horror. I think slashers need to be judged a little differently than other sub-genres of horror, that’s why this one gets a little better of a rating than the previous Wrong Turn disaster under O’Brien’s care.

The premise of Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is the origin story of the inbred cannibals in the West Virginia Mountains. We start off in 1974, at the Glenville Sanatorium in W.V, where the three cannibal brothers are patients, locked away for their own safety and that of others. They manage to escape, killing anyone and everyone in their path. Cut thirty years later – a group of friends go snowmobiling in the woods, eventually ending up at the now supposedly abandoned Glenville Sanatorium. A storm rages outside. After not too long, the friends discover someone is still checked in at the old asylum, and the brothers emerge from the depths to carve themselves up a bit of fresh meat to throw on the fire: nothing like a bit of lunch on a quiet, stormy winter’s night.
1643781254Immediately, I loved the first scene when I saw it. You’ve got some great elements going on: the creepy asylum, the West Virginia deep woods, patients going wild, and then the three brothers. The use of classical music over the end of the opening scene is excellent, I love when filmmakers put classical or old style music over horror, or any intense situations on film; the juxtaposition makes for something interesting, you almost want to smile until you remember what’s going on in front of you. There’s just utter madness throughout the opening bit. When the three brothers kill the doctor it is a great, wild kill, and certainly sets the tone. It looks good, too. I was afraid O’Brien would pull out a kill like the first one in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, which looked horrible – and not in any sort of good, practical effects type way, it was cheesy and CGI’d to death. This one was gory fun.
968full-wrong-turn-4--bloody-beginnings-screenshot.jpgI don’t like that O’Brien felt the need to go for nudity again right off the bat. I’m fine with sex scenes, if they serve their purpose; I don’t need to watch a movie for sex. And yeah, it’s a staple of 1980s slashers, but the 80s this ain’t, and the nudity in this was just silly. The first scene with the main characters came off needless, when O’Brien could’ve used that time to really jumpstart our emotions towards the leads – instead, you don’t really care about any of them, not at the start, not much in the end.
Furthermore, the acting in this was not good. A couple people held their own, but much of the acting came off wooden, very stilted. The only real emotions I bought from anyone of these characters was fear; development-wise, they didn’t do much for me. I honestly felt bad a little for the Daniel character [Dean Armstrong] because he was the only sensible, nice guy of the males in the film. Unfortunately Armstrong’s acting is a bit stiff, and he didn’t pull me in far enough with the empathy. The other guys I certainly did not relate to because they were foolish characters. This is the biggest problem for Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, the characters don’t catch us and make us care enough for the kills to pay off in the way they are meant to for a slasher; we should care about them, so when they die it’s either a shock or it makes us emotional. The script isn’t perfect, though, it wasn’t so bad a group of solid actors could’ve have made things work. These actors aren’t the worst, but they’re far from the best. Horror needs good acting, or else so much of the framework of a horror film will fall flat on its face.
tumblr_lykqz70ONx1qdmxoco1_1280The kills are my favourite part of this entry in the series.
When they first killed the doctor I anticipated there might be some better deaths in this movie than in the last one, which relied too much on computer generated-looking junk that ultimately does not sell itself. Here, there are some great practical style effects. Those types of kills in horror always come off more effective because it’s visceral, you can see and almost feel the skin peel off, slice open, bleed, and it makes for a better reaction.
Wrong Turn 4 2011 Bloody Beginnings (6)In the auditorium of the asylum, one of the girls is killed (one of the couple pictures above), and it works so well. The blood is plenty, and the reaction of the guy trying to grab onto her feet as she hangs from a barbed wire-like noose is perfect: he screams a wild, high yell, his face getting covered in the blood running faster and faster with every second from her open wound of a neck. You almost want to laugh at the scream this guy lets out, but it is perfect. It struck me as absolute shock and terror. Plus, the blood work is incredible. Great stuff.

I hate the term “torture porn”. So silly. I understand what it means, and the intentions of such a term in trying to describe the types of films that run under that banner, but – aren’t slashers meant to be full of blood and kills and carnage? Yeah, I get that some of it is overkill, what I don’t get is how relevant that is to anything. A slasher is a slasher is a slasher. You can try to spice things up – I loved You’re Next and thought it was a fresh new slasher flick for the modern era – but a slasher will always be made up from some basic elements: one of which is gore. What else do people expect a bunch of cannibals stuck in an asylum out in the deep woods of West Virginia are going to do? You think they’re going to all of a sudden start hunting? No, they’re going to eat people, they’re going to chop them up and make new dishes out of them – stir fry and all kinds of crazy concoctions – and it’s going to be a big, bloody, rotten mess. That’s what I came here for, anyways.
wrongturn4bloodybeginnings2011dvdripxvidac3-yefste_screen[1]People will say I’m mental, but I’ll give this a 2.5 out of 5 stars. There is effort here, regardless if you can’t seem to notice right away. The horror element of this movie really works, for me at least. All the gore and the kills and the creepiness pays off. Whereas in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead there’s a lack of both good horror and any decent acting, this entry into the series gives us some worthy terror, packed with savage, bloody murder, and plenty of brutality to make things worthwhile. If that isn’t what you’re looking for, then go watch a ghost story, or a haunted house movie – or anything else than a slasher. Because if you’re looking for a slasher… there will be blood.

I-LIVED is Modern Horror Junk

I-Lived. 2015. Directed and Written by Franck Khalfoun. Starring Jeremiah Watkins, Jan Broberg, Shannon Collis, Josh Cowdery, Nic D’Avirro, Luis Fernandez-Gil, and Sarah Power. Bleiberg Entertainment. Unrated. 97 minutes. Mystery/Thriller.


★1/2
37729_1_largeI was, and still am of course, a huge fan of Franck Khalfoun’s remake for Maniac, and I thought it was one of the best horrors I’d seen since the start of the 2000s. Even the lacklustre P2 wasn’t all terrible.
However, we’ve arrived at Khalfoun on his latest outing – I-Lived. I think there are some interesting ideas here because I really do enjoy new films that try and explore the latest technologies via fiction, or speculative type science fiction – and this has elements of that: the wonder, and the horror, of the future of social media, the internet, apps, and so on. But instead of Khalfoun delivering something innovative and terrifying the way Maniac worked for him, we get a lukewarm piece of thriller cinema, which could have been a good movie had it been written much better, right from the plot and the story down to dialogue and characters.

I-Lived sees Josh Fosse (Jeremiah Watkins), a 20-something and fledgling app-reviewer who hopes to work with a big tech company, try and squeak through life: his rent is way past due, his girlfriend is gone, he constantly has to duck his landlady, and nothing is going on in his life, whatsoever. Then Josh discovers the I-Lived app – you put in life goals, and the app tells you how to achieve them, the steps, and all kinds of suggestions – which promises not only to improve just a single aspect of his life but life in general. At first, things don’t seem to be working much. Once Josh gets serious about testing the app, his life automatically gets better with every passing day – he gets a new girl, he lands a new show online for a big tech company, and in general Josh becomes a more confident guy, et cetera. Finally he decides it’s him doing all this, not the app, but after the app is gone things spiral – the girl leaves him for someone else better looking and more successful, his viewers go down big time, and generally his life becomes awful once more. Soon, when Josh types his new goal into the app, ‘Make my mom better’, the app starts telling him to do more questionable things – the first being “kidnap someone”. This leads into dark, dark places for Josh and his already rough life.
39496870088020395290Not overly impressed at all by the script Khalfoun managed to come up with, and I wish I didn’t feel the way. There’s real excellent ideas here, maybe even some profound musings on how we simply accept the terms & conditions of all this new technology (iPhone updates, Facebook, the list goes on…) without ever looking at it all – some people do, most of us do not. Maybe there’s also some moral ground in there to be covered much more in-depth. Sadly, Khalfoun squanders a lot of the greatness that might have been mined from this idea. The main character Josh Fosse [Watkins] goes over well at times, others he is annoying, a little dumb, and even obnoxious. Not to mention there are lapses of common sense in the script, such as the fact Josh has no money, he can’t pay his rent – the landlady says it’s been 3 months or so – and yet he somehow manages to do one of the tasks his I-Lived app suggests: he gets a tattoo. Now, maybe he had a little cash put away, but the dumb dolphin tattoo he gets is a decent size; not huge, not small though. There’s no way I can believe he had the money to just walk into a shop and get a tattoo, not when his finances were clearly in the toilet. That was a dumb moment.
Screen-Shot-2015-05-04-at-7.42.29-AM-620x400Overall, I didn’t like Josh as a character. It isn’t that I hate him, I just thought he was badly written, and I don’t particularly like the performance by Jeremiah Watkins; he flip flopped from being all right to just blah. The online videos he did were brutal, I hated those because his personality was so over-the-top, and perhaps that was the point – a lot of online reviewers, vloggers, et cetera, have that zany type of speech and way they act – it just did nought for me, turned me off from Josh as a character in general. As time went on, I liked Josh less and less; not for what he did, for the way he was developing. It was like there was no real progression in him as a character – he got worse, but it was like that never properly came across between the script and Watkins’ mediocre acting.
6fQ2yRfThere was one great scene where Josh has a bit of a hallucination, more like a dream: he sees his mother after he comes home, she is in the kitchen, her slippers off, there are shards of a broken plate all over the kitchen floor, and she is weeping – she picks up a piece of the plate, jagged and sharp, and tells Josh “you did this”, blaming him as she cuts a nice bloody smile across her throat. It is a whopper of a scene, which I did not expect because mostly this plays like a genuine mystery-thriller, and the acting from Jan Broberg as Josh’s mother creeped me out like crazy. If only Khalfoun could’ve made more of this creepiness happen throughout, maybe I’d feel different about the film as a whole. There’s one other scene where Josh and his landlady… work things out, so to speak… and that was decent enough. It couldn’t reach the same level as the scene with Josh’s mom in the kitchen, though, that was a great horror-ish moment.
ilived6I watched this entire movie, but I feel like I could’ve easily just paid part attention and got as much out of it as I did seeing the full running time. A few points it was even just straight up CheeseFest 2015 – the reversal of I-Lived = Devil-I? Come the fuck on, Franck! I mean, you could figure that ought on your own just by looking at it, did Josh have to flip it around and physically see it? Did it need to be explicitly stated like that? Man, oh, man… disappointing.
Khalfoun is capable of better, he did Maniac and it really impressed me, this was just a huge letdown. There were unsettling moments here and there, one great shocker of a scene. Past that, I was not pleased with the whole film, not in any way. The ending did nothing to change my mind after making it all the way through this lame-duck thriller. SO HEAVY HANDED, FRANCK! THE HORNS ON THE WALL SHOT – REALLY? DEVIL HORNS, FRANK? Just… I mean… what happened to implicit storytelling? Everything is spelled out in front of us here, so much so that it’s frustrating. This could’ve been a good story at times, but no – Franck had to hit us over the head, over and over, with ultra-tired “evil inside” type buggery.
The final moment with Josh basically expresses how I felt after watching this movie. And at least that brief effect looked cool.

There aren’t that many films I genuinely feel are complete and utter wastes of my time, I try to really look for something to latch onto whether it’s sound design, score, acting, make-up/effects, or anything I can… here there is nothing I truly enjoyed past tiny bits and pieces. I do hope Khalfoun comes back with something a hell of a lot better next time. Because this is a lot of nonsense and numbskulled filmmaking, in my opinion.
Not every last scene was trash. Close enough, I guess. I liked the premise, it could’ve been a contender. In the end, it has nothing special or innovative, and the poster line that says “A New Film Experience from Franck Khalfoun” is total rubbish. I can’t recommend this, other than to see how he followed up Maniac. On my list of highly forgettable fodder for 2015.

WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD – Cannibals, Criminals, CGI, Oh My!

Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead. 2009. Directed by Declan O’Brien. Screenplay by Connor James Delaney, based on characters by Alan McElroy. Starring Tom Frederic, Janet Montgomery, Gil Kolirin, Christian Contreras, Jake Curran, Tom McKay, Charles Venn, Tamer Hassan, Jack Gordon, and Borislav Iliev.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Unrated. 92 minutes.
Horror

★1/2MV5BMTM0NzkwNTM0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzY0NjI4Mg@@._V1._CR83.1875,193.8948860168457,1484.1818237304688,1746.0908317565918_SX640_SY720_ I don’t like to specifically rag on a director because directing can be tough, although, that’s what critiquing is all about in the end. Declan O’Brien doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to his filmography as a director. He’s done a lot of sequels, including Joy Ride 3, plus Sharktopus, as well as both Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings and Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines. Now, while I do actually enjoy the 4th film of this series, I can’t say I like the 5th, and that brings me to Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead.
What a pile this movie is, if it weren’t for a half decent performance from a couple people and at least a different story than the usual “people wander into the deep woods and get murdered by cannibals”, then this would be completely useless in every single way. Not that it’s good, at all, but at least it has one or two small redeeming qualities amongst the garbage.
The third film in the Wrong Turn series begins with the obligatory opening scene of people being killed, only this time a girl survives and runs off. Meanwhile, a notorious prisoner is being transported by some prison guards, along with several other inmates, and on the way they are thrown off course, their bus crashes, and the guards are then at the mercy of the criminals. Then come the inbred cannibals, raving from the woods, shooting arrows from bows and throwing knives and generally destroying anything and anyone who comes across their path. The surviving girl from the beginning meets up with the guards and the inmates, then they all try to survive the woods together, as the cannibal brothers descend upon them with blood and madness and murder.1158. Povorot ne tuda 3Right off the bat there’s needless nudity, and I’m not someone who needs to get my daily fill of breasts on film, thank you very much. Sure, if there’s some reason calling for a little bit of nudity, that’s fine, but I’ve got no time for horror movies that try to fill time with naked women. There are some 1980s horrors I don’t mind even though there’s a bit of shameless nudity, because there was a certain charm to slashers from that era that had the whole “don’t have sex or do drugs or drink or you’re dead” thing going on. I just think nowadays it’s a bit tired, and the opening scene here was not called for, no need.
Then there’s an awful bit of CGI for a kill in that beginning scene that was just… whoa. Brutal. Funny because afterwards it looked like practical effects, and yet the kill itself, as a guy literally tears apart, looked to be terrible graphics. It was laughable, I actually cracked up. One of the things I loved about Wrong Turn and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was the fact they did some great gory stuff with practical effects, you got to see good blood and guts and it looked plausible. This one gag just throws all that out the window. They obviously used some practical stuff in the aftermath of that kill, or at least it looked that way, so it boggles my mind why they couldn’t manage to pull the whole kill off that way. We’ll never know.
There only comes more terribly done kills, for the most part anyways. There’s a horrid face-cutting kill that just blew me away how wretched the effects were and how fake they looked. Very few effects are decent – one knife to the side of a prison guard’s neck is done well, even though it’s not super gory or anything too extreme; it went off well enough to be enjoyed, for a brief instant anyways. The most decent bit of blood was when the cannibals hooked the loudmouth prisoner with all sorts of barbed wire and hauled him off, and even that wasn’t too special.
484756640_640I can’t recommend this at all. I gave it 1.5 out of 5 stars because there are at least a couple actors who aren’t complete rubbish, even if the dialogue is crap for the most part. Not all the performances were good, and none of them were great. At least the main guards were all right, a few of the prisoners were annoying, but overall it could have been much worse. The acting gets worse and worse as the whole series goes on. Stay away from this one. Most people hate all the rest, I actually enjoy part of the next entry – Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings. That being said, from here on in none of the films measure up to the first two in the series, so proceed with caution; you won’t be too enticed by any of the films that follow this one, even if I do enjoy the next instalment.

WRONG TURN’s Freaky Backwoods Cannibal Horror

Wrong Turn. 2003. Directed by Rob Schmidt. Screenplay by Alan McElroy. Starring Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, Kevin Zegers, Lindy Booth, Julian Richings, Gary Robbins, Ted Clark, Yvonne Gaudry, and Wayne Robson. Summit Entertainment. Rated R. 84 minutes. Horror.

★★★WrongTurnIn my last review, for the 2009 Indonesian gorefest Macabre, I mentioned how there are a plethora of ‘cannibal family in the woods’ films, especially in the past decade since 2003’s Anchor Bay remake of Tobe Hooper’s classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. There have been so many movies that copied TCM, but like Macabre there are also a lot of solid efforts in the horror field which emulate and pay homage instead of trying to cover all the same ground.
Wrong Turn, released in the same year as the aforementioned remake of Hooper’s low budget masterpiece, is a film that certainly has its roots in TCM and no doubt there are bits that remind people of it. However, Rob Schmidt’s backwoods horror film does enough to separate it from the carbon copies with some decent acting, creepy characters, and several intense kills, and though it isn’t a great movie it is a head above so many lame, boring cannibal horror movies flooding the theatre these past dozen years.

Wrong Turn begins as Chris Flynn (Dexter‘s Desmond Harrington) travels through West Virginia. On a backroad, he accidentally slams into a vehicle. Chris discovers the vehicle belongs to a group of friends – Jessie (Eliza Dushku), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Scott (Jeremy Sisto), Evan (Kevin Zegers), and Francine (Lindy Booth). After they make sure Chris is all right, the group discovers someone threw a trap into the road: a length of spiked metal and barbed wire designed to blow tires out. They wander around for awhile looking for some way to call for help, or anything that might give them a hand. The group comes across a sort of shanty-house out in the woods. Chris decides to head inside, followed by some of the others. Meanwhile, Evan and Francine are murdered as they wait back at the car. Soon enough the inbred cannibalistic murderers who live in the shanty, One-Eye (Ted Clark), Saw-Tooth (Garry Robbins), and Three Finger (Julian Richings) return, with the body of Francine in tow, and the rest of the group do their best to hide where they can in the house. The horror has only just begun.
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Probably one of the best things Wrong Turn has going for it overall is the fact that Dushku, Harrington, and Sisto are three pretty solid actors. Not that the others aren’t – Emmanuelle Chriqui is probably the only good thing about Entourage – but those three are actors I’ve enjoyed in other things, and they help to carry the emotionality and tension needed in a horror film. So many horrors, especially ones similar to this involving good amounts of blood/guts and disturbing material (inbred cannibal murderers & no doubt they like to rape), suffer due to poor acting. Because a lot of low budget horror gets put out, maybe more so than any other genre, many of those films end up with unknown actors. And unknown actors are fine, as long as they can act. Many times in horror, I think low budget outings try and make up for the acting in other ways, but the fact is you need good actors to sell the emotions and complexity of a horror film. Even if it’s one about inbred cannibals in the woods of West Virginia.
Perhaps my favourite part of the film is when Scott (Jeremy Sisto) tries to calm his fiancee Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) after their first close encounter with the cannibals. He tells her: “We’re going home, we’re gonna get married, all right? And we are never going into the woods again.” In another movie, this might’ve come off too sentimental and cheesy, but Sisto really sells it the way it’s meant to go, and Chriqui does well acting off of him. This is just one instance of some actual decent acting, which often times gets left at the door in (too) many horror movies. The weak links are no doubt Kevin Zegers and Lindy Booth, but luckily there isn’t much screen time for them until they meet a grisly, bloody end.
mountain-men-wrong-turn-2003-The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is, and always will be, one of the scariest films I’ve personally ever seen with my two eyes. Something about it hit me right in the correct scary spots. What I like about Wrong Turn in comparison is how it doesn’t opt to have this family of cannibals act with any semblance of organization, outside of the fact they’ve got a house and they have not been discovered/caught. In TCM it isn’t as if Leatherface and the clan are criminal masterminds or anything, but Drayton Sawyer at least has a job, he appears as a member of the Texan community, and this is all a part of how the family does their business. With Wrong Turn, these nasty boys are just a bunch of savage monsters; they live in the hills and take whoever they can from off the roads to fill their pots of stew and their freezer. It works because the actors who are playing Three Finger, Saw-Tooth, and One-Eye sell their characters so well.
I think the scene where the group of friends has to hide in the old shanty while the boys arrive home is a great one. Very tense, lots of quiet suspense. The point where one of the cannibals tosses Francine’s body to the floor, wrapped in metal and barbed wire, dead, bloody, is rough – in the best way possible. That whole scene really set things up for the moment where Chris and the others flee the house, into the woods, and the cannibals wake up from their nap. Honestly, it reminded me of a twisted version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.
movies-wrong-turnNot near a perfect horror, I can still honestly give Wrong Turn 3.5 out of 5 stars. You can do much worse than watch this movie if you’re looking for something with a decent bit of gore, quality acting, and a nice handful of thrills. Plus, the inbred cannibals are terrifying. The best way, for me personally, to enjoy these types of ‘survival horror’ movies or the ‘backwoods horror’ stuff is to try and put yourself in the shoes of the characters – how would you truly react? Me, I would run, and scream, and cry, and probably ruin my pants. I’d probably be the first to die, or close to first. That’s why Wrong Turn creeps me out so hard, though it has flaws, and another reason The Texas Chain Saw Massacre does a number on my head because I imagine myself in those scenarios, how bad it would be. The acting is good from the lead characters, the make-up effects and gore is a lot of fun, the cannibals scare the hell out of me – check this out if you haven’t. The entire series is not up to par, but there are definitely a couple decent ones in my opinion, at least better than so much of the other generic crap being funnelled into theatres and straight-to-video/VOD. Worth the time to enjoy some internal organs and terrifying, inbred murderers.

JOHN WICK: Dog’s Best Friend

John Wick. 2014.  Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch.  Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, and Ian McShane.  Thunder Road Pictures.  Rated 14A.  101 minutes.  Action/Thriller

★★

john-wick-poster-Keanu-reeves-405x600I, for one, have been a Keanu Reeves fan for a long while now.  When he played Bill for the second time I was only about 6 years old, but it was also only a couple years later, at an early age, I started to see a lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching – Lethal WeaponDie HardHouse [1986], and more.  Not that I’m a prude about when kids should be allowed to see graphic material in films.  Though, I’m sure a lot of people would say 8 years old probably shouldn’t watch too much.  Anyways, I’d seen both Bill & Ted films around that time, too.  I thought Reeves was cool because those surfer types were the kind of characters I latched onto first.  Probably one of the reasons I later enjoyed Point Break, albeit for different reasons.  Then, of course, when I was getting closer to the end of high school The Matrix just destroyed all my concepts of action moviemaking, in a good way, and also pushed me towards what I would later start studying in university – philosophy.  Once again, Reeves reaffirmed to me he was one cool, bad ass dude.

Now there’s John Wick.  While a lot of people hyped this movie up as some sort of revelation in the ‘hitman coming out of retirement’ sub-genre of action films, I reserved judgement until I actually had the chance to see it for myself; something I try to always do, but with some movies it’s difficult because of the level of hype.  However, I went into this one with a very open mind.  I really do love action films, and there are always a few here or there which really subvert my expectations.  That being said, John Wick is not particularly one of these movies.  I did enjoy it, it’s decent enough to put on when you’re looking for a nice fix of a solitary man killing dozens of people relentlessly, but it’s nothing overtly special in any way, shape, or form.
john-wick-keanu-reeves-600x399I won’t recount much of the plot because there isn’t one.  John Wick [Keanu Reeves] is a supposedly dangerous man who once worked as a hitman for other similarly dangerous people.  His wife dies, but has also given John a dog, so as to make sure he isn’t all alone after she is gone.  One day, some men invade his home, kill his dog, and take his car.  This prompts John to revert back to his old self and search out those who did this to him.
-daa89c34-63fc-40be-ae3d-c218fe0e8df1I’m not saying any one plot for this type of film is better than another.  A lot of these movies work on a very similar principle.  Ever since Liam Neeson absolutely knocked it out of the park in the Luc Besson-scripted Taken, the ‘aging hitman’ sub-genre has become one of the hot tickets in Hollywood.  No doubt one of the reasons John Wick originally got greenlit.  I just really think the plot of this film is incredibly weak.  The story is so frail.  I mean, we’re not even given any sort of time to really care about Wick’s personal life before – BAM – you’re in the middle of the action.  I don’t need 50-minutes of a build up or anything, I think it’s just ridiculous to try and make this movie into something it’s not – there’s nothing grand here, there is no emotional weight.  So when Reeves barks out terrible lines like “Yeah – I guess I’m back” or one of the few dozen dead bodies drop to the floor, one after another, there is nothing to prop up such moments and make them any better.  Not that this script is a killer piece of writing; it’s not.  Regardless, you can shine a turd into a diamond with enough effort.  Reeves is not a bad actor, contrary to what some may have you believe, but him plus a bad script is just a mixture for trouble.
john-wick-is-keanu-reeves-best-movie-since-the-matrixThere’s a lot of wasted acting talent in this film overall.  I’m a fan of Reeves, yes, however – I’m a much bigger fan of both Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist.  I even love Dean Winters and John Leguizamo. You can’t forget about Ian McShane – incredible actor.  For all the names I’ve just listed, the many projects these guys have been involved with that I really dig, there is just nothing going on here to justify having them all in here.  There isn’t enough to hold up such an ensemble cast.  Plus, even the guys like Dafoe and Nyqvist who are onscreen plenty throughout the runtime just don’t get much to work with ultimately, and it shows.  The film tries to make up for lack of emotional depth by using tons of music in attempt to cover all the gaping areas where the absence of character development is really felt most.
keanu-reeves-john-wick-600x399I’ll give this about 2 out of 5 stars.  It is not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t my least favourite action movie, but there is nothing at all new here.  Even the way it’s filmed – they make John Wick out to be some sort of ‘better than average’ action flick, and yet there are maybe one or two scenes, hell, maybe only a couple shots, where I actually thought “Okay this is fun or interesting” or whatever other description you might come up with to describe a better movie.  Outside of these moments there is nothing else to make this movie worth raving over.  I really don’t understand all the love this got, and this is coming from a guy who often has a pretty unpopular opinion about movies now and then – I like a lot of stuff others seem to not care about.  John Wick is, simply put, a load of unused talent in a sub-par action film with a bad script, and offering no real innovation in terms of action, stuns, or anything similar.  I didn’t totally hate it.  Yet I can guarantee this is not a Keanu movie I will buy, nor one I will ever watch again unless it’s playing next time I fly somewhere.

PRESERVATION is All About Female Survival

Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
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I’m a fan of the survival thriller sub-genre, whether it’s something strictly thriller based, or a film that’s a little more horror oriented. I’ve enjoyed films like Southern Comfort, the classic Deliverance, and even horror survival movies such as the 1981 cult classic Just Before Dawn and more recently Eden Lake. Preservation is a pretty good little movie, but fails to reach the heights of the movies I’ve previously mentioned. Christopher Denham (most of you will remember him from various projects as an actor like The BayArgo, a small role on The Following, and the excellent sci-fi indie Sound of My Voice) did a really great job directing his first film in 2008 – a found footage horror called Home Movie about one family’s harrowing path to madness. I really loved that movie/own it. While I do enjoy Preservation, and think there are several awesome aspects to it, I don’t enjoy it near as much as his previous effort.

This movie tells the story of Mike Neary (Aaron Staton – most recognizable as the face of the video game L.A Noire) and his wife Wit Neary (Wrenn Schmidt), along with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schreiber – the well-known Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black), who take a camping trip together out into the great outdoors. Mike and Wit are having some intimacy issues, as his job seems to be coming before their relationship – not to mention the fact that early on we see Wit is hiding a possible pregnancy from her husband. Further than that, Mike’s brother Sean has recently come home on leave from the army. Or at least that’s what he first told Sean. Once in the woods, things start to change.
After they go to sleep on their first night out, the three of them wake up: all their belongings have vanished, including Sean’s loyal dog, and each of the three have a large X marked on their forehead with marker. From there things become a gripping story of survival, as Mike, Sean, and Wit have to defend themselves against unseen assailants hiding amongst the trees of the forest.
PRESERVATIONAREADENHAMFEATThere were a few surprising moments throughout the film. I wasn’t totally shocked or anything – the kills weren’t particularly gruesome. At least not for someone like myself who watches a ton of horror, and I do mean a ton. Too much even. I’m not totally desensitized. Some say they are, but that’s too bad for them. I still have fun and get excited and get freaked out at the movies. Preservation didn’t really have any awful kills. Though, they were done well, I must say. I liked the tension mostly. Denham did a great job at drawing out the suspense and really grinding on the tense moments. One specific scene I really enjoyed was when Mike gets trapped for a few minutes in a portable outhouse – I thought the tension was thick as hell here. Really good stuff. Being a horror hound, I would’ve enjoyed more raw kills here. This was a good movie, decent enough, but could have definitely turned things up a notch with a bit more gore. Maybe. Maybe not, as well. There was just something missing along with all the tension Denham managed to work into the movie.

One thing I did enjoy was the character of Wit. Past here, we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so please – if you don’t want to get the movie spoiled you should turn back now!
preservationfeatI think Wit’s whole situation, involving the initially hidden pregnancy, really played into the whole plot and helped her character stay very interesting. Personally, I found the aspect of her not being able to shoot an animal and then having to face off against real human killers a little tired. This sort of angle has been played out far too many times. What I really did enjoy about Wit was the fact she was about to become a mother. I think once we discover these are just kids hunting them down for, basically, a laugh, it really becomes something much more intense for Wit particularly. She has just discovered awhile ago that motherhood is upon her. Now, all of a sudden, these kids are reigning terror upon her life. I mean – if that’s not birth control food for thought, then what is? This angle of the plot was really interesting for me, and fresh. We’ve seen the kid killer thing, even the pregnancy plot, but combining the two worked here. Not exactly unique or wholly fresh material. Just executed nicely.

This is a pretty good little thriller with a bit of horror thrown in. I would mostly call this a thriller. Definitely a psychological aspect. There are a couple really good performances. All three of the main characters are pretty excellent. Though, Pablo Schreiber doesn’t have a huge part I really did enjoy him here. Usually he seems to be pigeonholed into playing the creepy jerk, or the weirdo, the psychopath, whatever – here, he does a great job at playing an outsider type character, but essentially a good guy. He has some acting chops, I’ve always thought that since first seeing him. Aaron Staton is pretty good here, as well. Mostly, though, it is the Wrenn Schmidt show in Preservation. She plays a complex female character who isn’t perfect, who gets the hell beat out of her, and who has to do things no expecting mother would ever want to have to do – and she comes out of it a whole different kind of lady. I loved her performance. This was definitely the shining point.
One other thing worth mentioning before I clue things up – the score is a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Really added a nice element to the entire film. I’d actually enjoy having it as a standalone soundtrack. Great work.
Preserve_KM_102313_677All in all, this is about a 3 out of 5 star film. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I’ve absolutely seen other movies in the same sub-genre that didn’t satisfy me near as much. Christopher Denham is a pretty good horror director. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting – Sound of My Voice is probably his best work in that sense. I do prefer Home Movie over this, although I’d absolutely, and will absolutely, watch this again. This goes recommended for people who enjoy the sub-genre. If not, you may walk away from this less than thrilled. For the fans I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t expect Denham to have reinvented the wheel on this one. Plus, it’s one of the rare modern survival thrillers where you don’t have to watch a woman get sexually assaulted, or have the implications of such things happening off screen – nowhere to be found here. Personally I don’t shy away from something just because of such things, but I do hate movies that use it as a silly exploitation move. Luckily, Denham does no such thing. Sit back, watch a bit of thrilling fun. Might not be the best of the sub-genre, though, it beats some of the lesser titles to death.

Lost Masculinity & Grim Relationships in FOXCATCHER

Foxcatcher. 2014. Dir. Bennett Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, and Brett Rice. Mongrel Media. Rated PG (Canada). 129 minutes.  Biography/Drama/Sports

★★★★★
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I’d been anticipating this film for a long while. Ever since I’d heard of Foxcatcher, there was something about it which struck me. Now, I’ve only seen Bennett Miller’s Capote, which I loved. I have yet to see Moneyball. Either way, this was something I was looking forward to because I love Mark Ruffalo, as well as Channing Tatum. Even more I was excited to see what Steve Carell would do – and after seeing the first images of him ages ago, I had a feeling this would be something special. In my mind, I was absolutely right. Miller does a great job, along with the spectacular performances rounding out the cast of the film.

Foxcatcher is based on the the story of John du Pont (Steve Carrell), member of one of the richest families in America, and the relationship he had with Olympic Medal winning brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum & Mark Ruffalo respectively). Both men would come to be a part of Team Foxcatcher, led by the multimillionaire du Pont. Over time, it is increasingly clear du Pont is not a man in his right mind. While he at first appears to be just an eccentric, harmless man with too much money looking to finance a sports team, wrestling in particular, it is more and more obvious he will do anything to make sure his only legacy would not be tied up in that of his mother’s and horses. John and Mark become very close over their time together, almost like brothers themselves. When Dave refuses to be shut out of his brother’s life, du Pont becomes jealous of their bond, and the results are extremely unexpected by all involved.
Foxcatcher still 2 (2014)I think the style of Miller’s film really fits the overall subject matter. While I’m sure things were dramatized, as they always are with true stories because that’s how things go, the story of Mark and Dave Schultz’s relationship with John du Pont is a dark one anyways. The sort of grey, grim feel to a lot of the film is a really effective technique by Miller. Not that it’s revolutionary, I just think had he opted for a more bright look this would not have achieved the same effect as it does here with the grey and dull tones. The whole landscape of du Pont’s estate is shot to look almost foreboding and it’s like there is a constant fog at times just sitting over the grounds. Good choice between Bennett Miller and cinematographer Greig Fraser for the overall look. This works very well in conjunction with the editing, as well as the flow of the film. I love how things build up slowly. Once you get to the finale, things have really settled in, you feel comfortable, and even when you know it’s coming things really crash down on you – in the most perfect of ways.
Foxcatcher still 1 (2014)Naturally, I was most interested in the acting above all else. First off – Steve Carell is really great here. Not only does he sort of resemble the actual person he is playing, I think he made John du Pont out to be a very sympathetic character at first. Then along the line, I’m not sure exactly where, Carell really gets into the darkness of du Pont. Of course, starting out I knew the story of the film, as do most who either like to research films based on true stories or get constantly bombarded with information in the digital age, as we all do, so really the fact that du Pont gets a bit creepy and all that didn’t really surprise me. However, the way Carell plays him is really wonderful. It’s a subtle performance. While the make-up is what a lot of people focus on, that big schnoz, it’s not the make-up which defines the performance. Carell does such a great job with all the mannerisms of this character. He really fell into playing du Pont, and I think this shouldn’t go unrecognized. It isn’t all hype. Carell gives an absolutely phenomenal performance. As someone who isn’t particularly his biggest fan, except for his breakout in The 40 Year Old Virgin, I really think this guy gave a pitch perfect effort in achieving the strange quality of this eerie real life man.
still-of-steve-carell,-mark-ruffalo-and-channing-tatum-in-foxcatcher-(2014)Channing Tatum was incredible. I couldn’t get over his performance. I’m actually a fan of his, but here he just goes beyond what I’d ever expected out of him as an actor. Physically, he embodies the role of a wrestler. Further than that, Tatum really gets into the skin of Mark Schultz. I know Schultz has problems with the film, as we’ve probably all seen in entertainment news over the past couple weeks. Regardless, I really felt for this guy. The way Tatum portrayed him was just so full of energy at times, and then others he dove deep into this dark despair. It’s a natural feeling performance from him. There’s one scene in particular that blew me away – Schultz has lost a wrestling match, and is particularly upset at himself, so he smashes a mirror with his head. I am not sure at all if this was real or if it was fake, but either way it comes off really wild, and highly intense. This is just part of what makes his performance an awesome one.
foxcatcherAnother fabulous effort here is from Mark Ruffalo. His portrayal of Dave Schultz is also another great one. I usually enjoy Ruffalo, anyways. He is a solid performer. Particularly, I loved what he did in Zodiac; my favourite film with him in it. Here, he does a really great job especially when it comes to the relationship between him and Tatum. While their characters are brothers, they also have an even closer relationship – wrestling, being so physically close with someone, you develop almost a short-hand way of talking together. I thought the way in which Ruffalo and Tatum worked together, their chemistry, made things all the much better. Ruffalo even looked to have physically beefed up a bit. I have no doubt he and Tatum really trained a nice bit together because their relationship on-screen works so well. Awesome work.
foxcatcher-(2014)I know some people have complained the film doesn’t really give us enough about ‘why’ du Pont essentially did what he did, but I don’t think it’s unclear whatsoever. The man was driven towards something foul. Not to excuse what he did, it is unspeakably horrible, however, I don’t think it’s as mystifying as people make it out to be. The film really shows John du Pont to be a man who craves companionship – not necessarily in a loving sense between two romantically involved people, but maybe in the way of male bonding. You can see in one scene, after Mark has brought him home a medal, he just wants to physically be a part of the gang – he wants to wrestle the guys he sponsors, hauling a couple of them to the ground in a grapple as they celebrate the recent win. It’s a bit of a weird scene, and I can understand how some might take it as something overtly homosexual, maybe as subtext – regardless, it isn’t mean as something like that. I don’t believe du Pont was attracted to the men on his team, or Mark, or Dave. None of that. I think du Pont was so smothered by the influence of his overbearing mother that he was reaching out, straining, just to find some kind of friendship, a close bond, with another man. In the end, this is what drives John to do what he did, and why he eventually came to resent Dave Schultz – because Dave and Mark had when John and Mark would never truly have. It’s twisted. Yet I believe this is his true pathology.

This is absolutely a 5-star film. A lot of times anticipation will kill a film for me, but when I was able to see Foxcatcher none of that happened. I got into the story so deeply. The whole movie really got to me, and moved me quite a bit. Each of the three central performances worked incredibly well towards complimenting the finished film.  I think the casting was spot on. These three guys were the reason this film essentially works. Coupled with the fact Bennett Miller has a lot of nice sensibilities as a director, these elements really make this one of the greater films from the past year. A fascinating, disturbing, intricate look at the lives of three men who came together tragically. Definitely worth seeing. I really hope Steve Carell gets his due here because this is not overhyped, he really is wonderful, as is everything else about this fantastic biographical drama. Enjoy.

Jack O’Connell Gets STARRED UP

Starred Up. 2014. Dir. David Mackenzie.
Starring Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Raphael Sowole, Anthony Welsh, David Ajala, Rupert Friend, and Sam Spruell. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Not Rated. 106 minutes.
Drama

★★★★★
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Starred Up (the slang prison term for a criminal who is transferred early from an institution for young offenders to an adult correctional facility) is the story of Eric Love (O’Connell) – a young offender starred up to the big house. An angry young man, Eric ends up in a rough prison where he quickly butts heads with the prison officials from guards to the Deputy Governor of the entire facility. To make matters even worse, Eric has been housed in the exact prison where his deadbeat father Neville Love (Mendelsohn) is currently serving, what we assume to be, a life sentence. A prison counsellor (Friend) who runs a group helping offenders with their anger issues tries to extend a helping hand to Eric. At first the young man is highly resistant. However, after some time passes, Eric realizes this may be one of the only keys to ever having a normal life again. Faced with more and more to push him towards breaking, the discovery that his father has become homosexual due to his extended stay in prison, and almost everyone around him expecting him to fail, Eric must try and overcome his own issues to break free from the rage which consumes him and maybe someday eventually walk out of prison a free man.
starred-up-bg-4-620x413The majority of prison films often take on the same sort of plot. Starred Up might seem similar to certain earlier works like Bad Boys or even a bit of Scum, however, it is an excellent prison drama in its own right. One of the obviously excellent things about the movie is Jack O’Connell. His performance is a knock out. I absolutely think this will be one of the most overlooked performances of last year. I’ve seen plenty of praise for O’Connell in this film, but not enough awards will be heaped upon him. Though, awards do not matter, it’s always fun to see a young actor get recognized for really spectacular work. I think he’ll definitely benefit from this performance going forward.
Starred-Up-Image-1-600x400One of my favourite actors in recent years has come to be Ben Mendelsohn. His performance as Neville Love is brilliant work. There are a lot of prison hard men portrayed in movies, and I think Neville is definitely near the top of the list in regards to which ones are truly tough guys. Part of this comes from the relationship between him and his son Eric. He and O’Connell play well off one another, but truly it’s the father-son relationship and how everything plays out between them which is the most exciting part of the movie. The tension between Eric and Neville after the son finds out his father has become gay in prison is truly wonderful drama. I thought the scene where Eric discovers this part of Neville’s prison identity was absolutely marvelous – really subtle and perfect acting from both parties.
unnamed-2Another significant aspect about Starred Up is also what it has to say overall about youth offenders, or offenders in general, who cannot be conformed to easy living in prison. Better yet, it demonstrates how willingly prison officials often are to simply snuff out a problem than truly deal with it and rehabilitate prisoners, or at the very least try to anyways. Eric Love is a very difficult, angry, violent young man. His story shows us how these types are usually dealt with violently, as opposed to being given therapy – like one counsellor (played by Rupert Friend) tries to give him. In the end, without spoiling anything, luckily Eric still has people watching over him, who care for him, and do not want to see the worst happen. I also think the fact Starred Up ended on a positive note helped the film not play into all the trappings of regular prison films. Often there are grim endings, or endings which come off too bittersweet. As the end here does come off positive, it still isn’t totally optimistic, as Eric is still in jail, as well as his father. Regardless, I think the finale played a lot less typically than other similar movies, and I enjoyed the last moments – very real, very touching.
Starredup_0609This is absolutely a flawless prison film. In a sea of very generic prison movies, from drama to action, Starred Up is one of the great modern works of this sub-genre. The performances really helped to elevate an already enjoyable script. O’Connell and Mendelsohn together are really something. Not to mention the supporting cast were also on point. I really thought all the actors who played characters in the support group with Eric were pretty damn good. There were great and tense emotional scenes involving these characters. The script is the best part of this movie, though, because it really does more than work as a drama set in prison – as I said before, it attempts, and successfully in my mind, to tackle issues involving the rehabilitation of prisoners. One of the messages lingers on until the end – some of these guys just need a chance. Not all, maybe not many, can be legitimately rehabilitated, but some just need the chance. Eric Love got his. Luckily for him, being incarcerated with your father in the same prison can be productive for the mental health because he suffers from issues surrounding his father. This a great story about redemption, love, and male bonding. Stellar film. One of my top from 2014.