Movie reviews

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Unfriended_review

To enjoy Unfriended, which is feasible without lumping it into the “so bad it’s good” category, you have to accept a few things. First, it’s about dumb kids. The setting is social media, so that’s expected. But this is also a slasher movie, so the dumb kids are mandatory. Second, it’s committed to its gimmick, so you can’t expect any more than you’d expect from, say, a found footage movie. And third, it’s not good so much as admirably competent for a movie built around a gimmick. Despite the dumb kids and the gimmick, it’s very solidly an R-rated horror movie.

Unfriended relies on a mundane familiarity with Skype, Gmail, Youtube, Facebook, and so forth (either Twitter wasn’t on board or these kids don’t Tweet). It relies on the sounds, the interfaces, the rhythm of copy pasting, alt tabbing, the hitch of a bad connection, how someone might swirl her cursor around before clicking on something. This is the language of Unfriended, a logical next step after the social media mystery Catfish. It plays particularly well streaming to a computer. Ideally, a laptop. I would have felt awfully foolish seeing this in a theater.

Nacho Vigolando did something similar with Open Windows, an Elijah Wood Hitchcockian thriller that goes off the rails and dares you to object as it gets increasingly silly. But Unfriended’s “is it supernatural?” angle lets it get away with a little more. The ensemble cast, convincingly led by Shelley Hennig who could very well kick off a scream queen career, is enough to pad out its 80-minute running time. Contrast this with the brevity of the memorable segment in VHS called “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”, which is a Skype call between two people.

Sure, it’s cheap. But it’s effective, with its share of easy puzzles and expected twists. The inevitable movies that will use this gimmick from here on out are probably going to be a whole lot worse. You might as well get in while the getting’s still good.

Support Qt3 by watching Unfriended on Amazon.com.

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Good_Kill_review

The history of warfare is partly a history of being able to stand farther and farther away from the people you’re killing. From longbows to muskets to battleships to aircraft to missiles to drones in Afghanistan remotely piloted by airmen in Las Vegas. This latter distance is the subject of Good Kill, in which Ethan Hawke and Bruce Greenwood are mostly secure in the knowledge that their targets are always and only bad guys. If kids get in the way of their drone strikes, they’re suitably upset about it. So when the CIA tells them — over speakerphone, no less! — to just blow up innocent bystanders, and then some first responders for good measure, they get even more suitably upset. As the new girl on the job and bleeding-heart-on-her-sleeve liberal, Zoe Kravitz actually cries about it. She’s just that sensitive to what’s Right and what’s Wrong. Don’t worry, she’ll turn in her wings before the movie is over.

Good Kill is convenient pap with characters declaiming superficial political stances in lieu of dialogue and shots of the hero’s home from the same angle as shots of the drone targets because, uh, reasons. What a disappointment considering Good Kill was directed by Andrew Niccol, who previously directed the smart and intimate Gattaca. And then he went on to direct the not smart In Time and the even less smart The Host, each with ballooning budgets. With Good Kill, Niccol is obviously pining for smaller and more cerebral message movies, but the message here is obvious, facile, and ham-handed. In the end, Good Kill decides to find redemption by shooting a Hellfire missile at a serial rapist. Hurray for vigilante drone strikes!

Good Kill is in theaters now in limited release.

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Run_All_Night_review

All you need to know about Run All Night is that at a certain point in the movie Liam Neeson as a washed up former hitman and Common as a hi-tech assassin fight each other with flaming sticks and it makes perfect sense.

When Jaume Collet-Serra directed Orphan, he took the “evil kid” genre and breathed life, character, and craft into it. Here he does the same thing with the Liam Neeson action genre. Granted, it took him three tries. Who can remember the dopey Unknown and Non-Stop? But unlike those earlier Neeson pieces, Run All Night has a clever character-based script with a great cast led by Neeson, Ed Harris, and Joel Kinnaman (it’s a shame Kinnaman is doing his best work in box office under-performers like this and the Robocop reboot). Also among the cast members is New York played by New York itself instead of Toronto or Vancouver, and Run All Night isn’t afraid to run amok in the streets to prove it.

The big surprise is that once you look past the absurdly high R-rated body count, you’ll find an unlikely story about fathers that spans four generations. It’s great to see Neeson expending huge amounts of ammo, racking up property damage, slugging bad guys, choking a henchman with the gross rotary hand towel in a New York public restroom, and fighting Common with a flaming stick. But who knew you’d get all that in a movie you can take your dad to on Father’s Day?

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Wild_review

Resist the temptation to think of Wild as a chick movie. Given the press, that might be hard to do. Writer Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada was adapted for the movie, and actor/producer Reese Witherspoon have used the movie’s publicity to advocate for women’s issues in Hollywood. Good for them. But this isn’t an issue movie. Instead, it’s a survival drama, minus the kind of catastrophe you get in 127 Hours or Into the Wild. That the lead character is a woman, and that she is largely defined by her relationship with another woman, shouldn’t even be an issue. It is, of course. But it shouldn’t be. And it shouldn’t be Wild’s identifying characteristic.

What makes Wild stand out is how it recreates the state of mind of someone alone in the wilderness. The visuals are gorgeous as the geography progresses from the barren desert through the cold and into the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest. It’s no accident this progression reflects Strayed’s state of mind. The muted soundtrack is music remembered from a radio playing in a car or heard from another room. Director Jean-Marc Vallee’s deftly edited flashbacks are sometimes a split second or sometimes drawn out sequences, all presented in the style of someone left alone with her thoughts and recollections, all telling us a bit more about this woman.

And this is a woman worth meeting. Another thing that sets Wild apart from stereotypical chick movies is that Wild isn’t about someone who was failed by her parents or betrayed by her spouse. She isn’t rising above a perceived victimization, finding her strength. She’s an already strong character taking stock of the decisions she has made. Reese Witherspoon shows no trace of Tracy Flick, a role that’s hounded her ever since Election. Grimly bearing the burden of that colossal backpack, she shows grit, weariness, self-awareness, and complexity. This is how you work your way out from under a career of romantic comedies. Once again, Laura Dern reveals herself as an actor who deserves far more recognition than she gets. Who else consistently channels raw emotional intensity like Dern? It’s exhausting, in a good way.

As a procedural about an absolutely ass-kicking hike, Wild considers simple issues like having the right shoes and stove fuel. It also deals with the maddening loneliness, offset by bursts of camaraderie among fellow hikers. Wild is a warmly humanistic movie, full of good people. But it’s scary for a woman to be alone in the wilderness in a different way than it is for a man. The isolation when you see that lone hiker in the distance has very different implications for a woman. Wild acknowledges this, but doesn’t cheaply exploit it.

Wild is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD, and video on demand. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

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Maggie_review

Maggie isn’t a zombie movie so much as an elegy about terminally ill children. Who will turn into zombies. It takes place in the rural malaise following an averted zombie apocalypse. Arnold Scharzeneggar has brought home his infected daughter and now he has only to wait until she turns. Will he take her to a quarantine center? Will he put her out of her misery himself? Will his accent be explained? These are the questions the viewer must ponder.

The script calls for quiet grieving. Schwarzenegger is clearly out of his depth. But so too is the haggard farmer he affects. What parent is prepared to watch his child wither and die? What could have been the weakest part of the movie — an action star trying his hand at quiet emoting — kind of works. Kind of.

But then there’s the rest of the movie. First time director Henry Hobson has a nice eye for prosaic detail and dying light (the movie could have been called Twilight of the Living Dead and not just for its tween lead and tween romantic subplot (it could also have been called Foxcatcher, although you have to see the movie to understand that one)). But Hobson takes too long going nowhere in particular. The slow burn fizzles out and trails off. He furthermore displays a singular ability to undercut every scene by serving it with either rolling thunder underneath or syrupy music drizzled on top.

The supporting cast has the kind eyes and severe faces you’d expect in a rural malaise. And then there’s poor sporting Abigail Breslyn, who made her mark in movies by being humiliated in Little Miss Sunshine. Since then, she has been run down by zombies in Zombieland, thrown into a trunk and rudely beaten in The Call, and trapped in a ghost jar in Haunters. At this rate, I’d lay good odds that she’ll be one of the first to go in this fall’s Scream Queens, a Fox TV series from the creators of American Horror Story in which one major cast member is killed every episode. She’s left to do the heavy lifting in Maggie, despairing as the zombie make-up on her baby round face gets thicker and the contact lenses in her wide eyes get more opaque. If Maggie had trusted her more than its stunt Teutonic casting and the artsy indulgence of its freshman director, it might have shown more signs of life.

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Everly_review

Everly begins in the moments immediately following a rape, which might lead you to think you’re in for a revengesploitation movie. Not quite. Partly, but not quite. It’s certainly superviolent, and there’s a lot of lovely grindhouse in the proceedings. But this is no simple chicks vs. dicks polemic. It’s an almost-comedy of cartoon violence proportion, in which other women are also bad guys and victims, in which Salma Hayek’s cleavage should get equal billing, in which there will be “a lotta dead whores”. It’s not female empowerment. It’s victim empowerment, in which the victim happens to be a woman, a mother, and a daughter, all significant factors, none more central than the other. Writer Yale Hannon, whose credits include the TV shows Parenthood, Big Love, and In Treatment, deserves a lot of credit for elevating what could have been a forgettable action movie or a facile rape revengesploitation session.

Director Joe Lynch swatted clumsily at low-hanging fruit in the putative comedy, Knights of Badassdom. But in Everly, he’s on surer footing with what is essentially a parlor room drama in which the parlor room is going to get trashed. By unfolding in real time, in one location, with a rogues’ gallery of visitors, Everly is like Quentin Tarantino’s take on Rope. But it’s a crazily multinational melange, filmed in Serbia, with a largely Japanese cast, set in an indeterminate American city, and with Hayek’s accent unchecked. Everly is everywhere and nowhere.

It’s been 20 years since Hayek writhed into American cinema in From Dusk till Dawn. She wears those years proudly in Everly, a movie uninterested in immaculate youth. Older action heroes are normally the domain of men (one of my favorite exceptions is Janet McTeer in the otherwise unremarkable Cat Run), but Everly doesn’t need its heroine to be young, or to have superhero fighting abilities, or slick gun skills, or snappy one-liners. Everly is about someone who’s been rode hard and hung up wet within reach of a shotgun she doesn’t know how to use, but she’s desperate enough to give it a try. In fact, a lot of the charm in Everly is its almost videogame conceit whereby the more dead bodies populate an area, the bigger the available arsenal. And the boss monsters in this movie! Hoo, boy!

Everly is available on video on demand. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

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Dead_Snow_2_review

“Is there a carnival in town?” This is the reaction of one of the characters upon arriving for the climactic sequence of Dead Snow: Red vs Dead. He will later reiterate the sentiment: “What the fuck is going on? It looks like a computer game.”

Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola’s sequel to his 2009 zombie movie wants more than anything to be outrageous, funny, and self-aware. Instead, it’s just messy, overblown, and winking. Ha ha, I’m a carnival and a videogame, it insists. It even proclaims itself “an entirely new genre”.

The original Dead Snow played more like a slasher movie. The Nazi zombies were its backstory, but it was mainly concerned with dispatching good looking young people in a remote cabin. And although it appreciated the silliness of Nazi zombies — we’ve come a long way since Peter Cushing in Shockwaves — it was clearly a horror movie. Not so with this sequel, which is a slapstick comedy with all the finesse of a tank driving through a house.

It’s always a bit disappointing to see horror going full comedy. A lot of us horror fans died a little when Sam Raimi resorted to Army of Darkness. Funny and grim can go hand in hand, as Raimi demonstrated adroitly in Evil Dead II. Most gore is inherently ridiculous, so there’s no need to push it. But Dead Snow: Red vs Dead giggles merrily as it dispatches old folks, people in wheelchairs, children, and even infants. And none of this is grim, because it’s all played for laughs. Remember in American Werewolf in London when the Nazi monsters burst in and slaughtered the family watching The Muppet Show? That was hilarious and horrifying. That was how to do funny and grim. When you stop and wink at the camera, the grim goes out the window and the funny just feels strained.

Dead Snow: Red vs Dead doesn’t even have the courage to stick to its own national identity. Martin Starr — unfortunately, this movie has no use for his droll sense of humor — leads a team of Americans bringing in easy jokes about nerds and Star Wars. For a movie with just the right balance of horror, humor, and a towering sense of Norwegian national identity, there’s always Trollhunter.

Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is available for video on demand.

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Wyrmwood_review

Oh Australia, you’ve done it again! Aussie zombie movie Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is a revelation emerging from the shambling horde of me-too cash-ins. Brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner — remember those names, because these are a couple of guys to watch — directed, wrote, edited, and even handled production design and sound design in this spirited and immaculately paced splatterfest. Wyrmwood has all the energy of a first-time director in love with his job, but perfectly willing to homage his influences. It freely riffs on Sam Raimi’s playfully slithering camera, George Miller’s classic post-apocalyptic outback chic, and the sickly visceral red splat of Romero and Savini’s full color zombie movies. But Wyrmwood is also refreshingly original, with its own unique take on zombie ecology that feeds into the can-do frontier spirit of the Australian outback and a mad scientist sequence so outrageously nonsensical that it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Resident Evil game. In fact, part of the appeal of Wyrmwood is how it plays as a loving mash-up of movie zombie mythology and videogame zombie mythology. Return of the Living Dead meets Dead Rising.

Although it’s ultimately about a couple of very specific characters, you can’t have a zombie apocalypse without killing a bunch of protagonists. You’ll meet plenty of tough men who know how to weld, headshot, scheme their way out of impossible situations, and even reference their cocks as needed, along with a uniquely Australian take on what would normally be the comedic sidekick. There’s even a last-minute villain totally worthy of being the movie’s hero.

But the real standout in Wyrmwood is its heroine, played by Bianca Bradey, who spends much of the movie acting with her eyes. Her introductory scene is one of the most thrilling zombie sequences I’ve seen since 28 Weeks Later and one of the creepiest zombie sequences I’ve seen since I was a kid and I stumbled across Italian zombie movies. A shambling corpse is one thing. A snarling infected feral zombie is yet another thing. But the thing dangling from the rafters in Brooke’s studio is something else entirely. And Brooke’s eventual contribution to surviving the zombie apocalypse is yet another example of how Wyrmwood is no mere me-too cash-in. It’s an Australian fever dream that has earned a place alongside classic zombie movies.

Wyrmwood is currently available on video on demand. Support Qt3 by watching it on Amazon.com.

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Blood_Beach_review

For the most part, you should leave well enough alone when it comes to tracking down the movies that freaked you out as a kid. You’re just going to be disappointed. Your jaded adult eyes will see right through the stuff of your childhood nightmares. Among my recent disappointments are Without Warning, in which an alien uses a fleshy frisbee to hunt humans such as David Caruso; Prophecy, in which a scalded mutant bear ponderously chases Robert Foxworth; and The Giant Spider Invasion, in which a Volkswagen Beetle is draped in black carpet and fitted with long spindly legs to stand in for a giant alien spider.

But some of the things that freaked me out as a kid hold up wonderfully! Phantasm, Jaws, Mario Bava’s Drop of Water segment in an anthology called Black Sabbath, Them, Dawn of the Dead. So I keep trying. My most recent experiment revisiting childhood terror was Blood Beach, which I was surprised to find in Amazon’s instant watch catalog. It’s a movie about something on the Santa Monica beach sucking people under the sand. What I remember most is being truly freaked out by how little is revealed during the course of the movie. Unlike the cover art on Amazon.com, there’s no gore and certainly no scantily clad women being eaten. Blood Beach is not nearly as lurid as the title suggests. Instead, people just disappear under the sand. That’s it. It even attacks during the day, on a crowded beach.

But what I didn’t remember because I was too young to know better is the absolute lack of pacing or craft in this 1980 throwaway B-movie. It is unable to achieve anything beyond its premise. Burt Young plays a wisecracking Chicago cop who seems to have wandered in from a different movie, and occasionally John Saxon shows up as a police lieutenant ordering around some extras playing cops. Saxon even gets a bit of dialogue that I thought was the tagline: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can’t even get there”. He actually says that. He actually riffs on the Jaws 2 tagline.

There is a weird scene in which a crazy homeless lady watches impassively while a policeman who’s trying to help her gets sucked under. I remember that scene freaking me out as a kid. Why doesn’t she help? Why doesn’t she at least react? There’s also a gross, very 70s-style scene that turns inadvertently funny. A rapist attacks a woman under the pier, ripping open her shirt. She elbows him and breaks free, cowering in terror as he crawls on his belly towards her. Then the Blood Beach creature attacks him from under the sand, biting off his penis. I’ve never seen a more literal representation of someone getting his dick knocked in the dirt.

I still can’t help but begrudgingly admire Blood Beach for playing it close to the vest, mostly leaving it to our imagination to consider what could be doing this. A coronor who ends up being a stand-in for the usual movie scientist briefly speculates on the nature of the creature. We eventually get a glimpse of it before Burt Young blows it to smithereens, which then scatter about and regenerate into a bunch of little Blood Beach creatures. There was no Blood Beach 2 forthcoming to tell us the continuing story. Instead, Tremors will be along in ten years for the definitive take on the genre of underground monsters, of what lurks beneath. But what Blood Beach managed was a weird iteration on the mythology of quicksand, also a fixture of my childhood fears, as a hungry creature that will eat you alive.

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The_Voices_review

There’s a quirky appeal in the early parts of The Voices, as we meet Ryan Reynolds as a shy (ha!) wallflower (right…) working a factory job (as if). Whose cat and dog talk to him, complete with CG moving mouths and funny voices (provided by Reynolds himself). Look who’s talking. The cat is crass, aloof, and murderous. The dog is needy and obliging. When Reynolds meets with his psychiatrist, played by the maternally intense Jackie Weaver, he leans forward for no reason and presses his finger into her desk. It’s the sort of random affectation that made people notice Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys. Reynolds is nothing if not earnest. Then Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick as his co-workers arrive on the scene and things get, um, complicated.

Since this is one of those bleakly black comedies, heads start rolling and blood starts splattering. The Voices squanders its quirky appeal and just gets mean and ugly, all black and no comedy. There’s a clever conceit with how the world changes when Reynolds takes his medication, but it’s more a joke of production design than perception. You’d never know The Voices was directed by Iranian expatriate Marjane Satrapi, whose graphic novel memoir Persepolis was adapted into an animated movie. This must be her Hollywood hazing.

However, it’s worth sticking with this black comedy for how it finally finds its groove during the credits. And oh boy, what a groove! This is the movie I wish I’d been watching all along. What a way to redeem ninety minutes.

The Voices is in limited release and available for video on demand. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

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Preservation_review

The worst thing about Preservation, the second horror movie from actor Christopher Denham, isn’t that it’s bad. This is a no-budget movie shot quick and cheap in parks around Los Angeles that are supposed to pass for the deep dark woods. The worst thing isn’t even that it’s insultingly implausible, with people doing typical stupid horror movie things and contrived set-ups for supposedly scary moments.

The worst thing about Preservation is that it is so shamelessly derivative. The set-up is that a troubled married couple and the husband’s troubled war veteran brother are all going hunting for the weekend. But as they’re unpacking their baggage — and I don’t mean their camping gear — something happens and the hunters become the hunted. You probably saw that coming. But what you didn’t see coming, the supposedly clever twist, is a blatant rip-off of a handful of actually clever movies: Eden Lake, El Rey de la Montana, and Ils, respectively English, Spanish, and French, all superlative horror movies. It’s as if Denham decided, hey, I’ll do an American version of those! And then proceeded to confuse “American” with “dumb”.

Preservation is available now for video on demand.

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One_I_Love_review

There’s a reason Twilight Zone episodes are only a half-hour long. They’re all bite-sized premises and twists, less interested in exploring than titillating. Like a lot of science fiction, they’re happy to ask “what if?” and then leave the question hanging for you to ponder. But it takes longer to really explore a premise, to examine the implications of a twist, to pick up the thread and see where it leads. It’s a whole other level of commitment when the premise is a starting point, when the twist is the set-up, when the “what if?” is followed up with an answer resolved by relatable well-written characters making meaningful points about the human condition.

By the way, I heartily recommend The One I Love, starring the irresistible Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, deflty directed by first-timer Charlie McDowell from a fiendishly clever script by Justin Lader. It’s also worth calling out the score by Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi, who did the music for Enemy. The One I Love is available now on DVD, video on demand, and Netflix’s instant watch.

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Lucy_review

Luc Besson loves stories about powerful women. A Luc Besson heroine starts deceptively vulnerable and becomes almost transcendently powerful. Le Femme Leeloo. Lucy is in that same tradition, with all the hallmarks of a Luc Besson movie on display. Flashy, fast, sexy, very international. But unlike Besson’s other movies, there’s a kind of maturity to Lucy. This is a Luc Besson movie made by someone who’s been contemplating his own mortality and has decided that fight choreography will only get you so far. This is a Luc Besson movie that wants to consider the questions you’d expect from Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. And, believe it or not, this is a Luc Besson movie that does exactly that in the context of his usual flashy, fast, sexy, very international action. Like Joe Wright’s Hanna, Lucy is a thriller that isn’t content just to thrill. It has something to say.

What it says is profoundly humanistic, down to a cellular level. When Morgan Freeman, once again playing the sum of all Freemans, is offered the power of all-seeing knowledge, he says to Lucy exactly what he said to Bruce Wayne when Bruce Wayne made the same offer. “Look,” Freeman says, his wise eyes twinkling with concern and benevolence, in that order, “humanity can’t handle knowledge and it will just lead to chaos.” Bruce Wayne agreed, so he told Morgan Freeman to just delete everything. But Lucy, who can see further, deeper, and wider than Bruce Wayne or Morgan Freeman, says what anyone with youth and a liberal arts education will also tell you. “No. Ignorance breed chaos. Not knowledge.” Neil Degrasse Tyson would be proud. I know I was, even if I’m more of a Bruce Wayne myself. But this is Luc Besson’s story. This is what he wants to say. This is where he’s ended up after contemplating his own mortality.

As an action movie, Lucy is a glorious videogame in god mode. Fans of Watch Dogs and Saints Row IV will thrill to Besson’s batshit crazy set pieces as he raises the stakes higher and higher, breaking rules and even subverting his own tropes. Besson loves nothing quite so much as squeezing a ton of heavily armed thugs through a narrow corridor, basically spraying them at the protagonist as if from a firehose. He can’t resist doing the same thing in Lucy, but then breaking his own rules. Lucy is a superhero movie without the burden of a license. The IP here is humanity, evolution, the rational miracle of life, all billion years of it. It is Ken Russell’s Altered States meets Joss Whedon’s Avengers.

Like Under the Skin and Her, two other mind-blowing movies anchored by arresting Scarlett Johansson performances, Lucy is smart and sexy science fiction about what it means to be human. Lucy begins in progress and utterly mundane, with Johansson as an overseas student having an argument with her boyfriend. Who are they? Where are they? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Why is the scene playfully intercut with that footage? What’s in the briefcase? What does Morgan Freeman’s character and carefully staged lecture have to do with any of this? It’s a puzzle that comes together neatly, and the final reveal — Lucy has the confidence to provide an Answer — makes this the most sophisticated and satisfying movie Besson has made. Does every filmmaker want to be Stanley Kubrick? If only every filmmaker was this capable of channeling Kubrick while still retaining his own identity.

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Wolf_Creek_2

Australian director Greg McLean knocked it out of the park with Wolf Creek, an insidiously cruel slasher movie that unfurled like a cross between Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Road Warrior. You could tell from how weirdly paced it was, from its odd structure, that McLean didn’t want to play by the usual movie rules. You might have even been able to tell that he has a background in theater. But then he made a turgid killer alligator movie starring Sam Worthington. Guess how that turned out. So now he’s returned to his previous inspiration with Wolf Creek 2, but I’m afraid we’ve lost whatever creative genius went into Wolf Creek 1.

Like most horror franchises, Wolf Creek 2’s only continuity concern is with its killer, an avuncular but murderous outback redneck meticulously drawled to life by John Jarratt. But this time, the character is played for comedy. He manages to insinuate himself into some absurdly over-the-top situations involving shotguns, meat cleavers, hurtling semis, and kindly old people. It all gets lodged somewhere between funny and gruesome, but it’s not particularly effective as either.

There is, however, one prolonged sequence worth watching. If you’re not paying attention, you might mistake it for torture porn, along the lines of the sickeningly crass Israeli trash Big Bad Wolves (the worst thing you’ll see all month). Jarratt and an actor named Ryan Corr engage in some mental cat-and-mouse, dancing a lovely waltz back and forth across the cultural line between Australia and the U.K. Being an American, I think I only understood about two thirds of it. But I can imagine how well it plays in Perth! McClean’s script comes alive as Jarratt and Corr play off each other, eyeing one another with wonder and horror. Furthermore, McLean demonstrates his theater chops by letting the actors do their dance without a lot of extra business. It would have made a fantastic stage play. Early Stuart Gordon would have been proud!

Wolf Creek 2 is currently available from Netflix instant view and other fine purveyors of trashy horror.

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Homefront_review

The trick with Jason Statham is mixing him into a movie in the appropriate amount. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels was his first movie, but Guy Ritchie can turn anything English into an energetic powerhouse (he could make Prince Charles light up the screen). In the Transporter movies with their goofy European excess and the Crank movies with their goofy American excess, Statham could just tense up his abs and clench his jaw while the movies happened around him. I think Statham is one of the guys in those aptly named Expendables movies, but really, who can keep track of those casts?

A few movie makers have had the idea that Statham can carry a movie. He can’t. He has two expressions. The first is “I’m about to kick your ass”. The second is “I just kicked your ass”. They’re mostly the same expression, but the first one pretends to be a bit more relaxed. So to make a Jason Statham movie, you have to surround him with a solid cast to handle the acting part of the movie. This is where Homefront is probably the best Statham movie in a string of forgettable and easily confused titles like Redemption, Safe, and Parker (Parker is actually pretty good, but it leans way too heavily on Statham). Homefront mostly works because nearly every scene has someone else doing the acting. Rachel Lefevre and her glorious red ringlets. Clancy Brown as a sheriff with his hand perched on his gunbelt. Frank Grillo in an all-too-brief appearance as a biker assassin. A wonderfully hardened Winona Ryder as our Lady MacBeth. An appropriately gaunt and effectively shrill Kate Bosworth. A really good child actor named Izabela Vidovic who performs circles around Statham. And, of course, James Franco and that weird gleam in his eye. The Franco/Statham showdown is great for how Franco prevails so completely that when it comes time for Statham to kick his ass at the end of the movie, he uses Franco’s own zingers against him. Every single one of them. He remembered each insult because they obviously stung. Franco may be getting his ass kicked, but you can tell Statham knows he totally got pwned.

Statham’s best performance is in a movie called London, in which he and Chris Evans spend most of the movie locked in the bathroom at a party, snorting coke and venting their respective insecurities. Statham has the monologue of his career. He confesses — nay, proclaims! — that he suffers from erectile dysfunction. He commits to the monologue like he has never committed before or since, combining both of his expressions in new ways because he knows there aren’t going to be any fight scenes.

Homefront is a bog-standard (literally!) thriller of one good man vs a bunch of bad buys, but its concept of America is lovingly lit Norman Rockwell settings inhabited by meth-addled white trash. “Rednecks,” the movie’s noble black character mutters at one point. It’s based on a novel, but you can clearly see its development as a Sylvester Stallone project that he personally adapted (at one point as another chapter in the Rambo saga), but was unable to get going until he was too old to play the lead. So in steps Statham, trying not to keep his jaw clenched too tightly while everyone acts around him. He knows there’s a fight scene coming up.

Homefront is available on Netflix’s instant watch service, as well as plenty of other places.

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