Movie reviews

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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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Night_Moves_review

One of the most powerful scenes in Night Moves is Jesse Eisenberg wandering off and then looking down at his hands. Mechanically, that’s the only thing that happens in the scene. But in terms of the story’s shift at that point, in terms of what it expresses about the character, in terms of what will happen afterwards, it’s a powerful moment. These hands. What can they do? What will they do?

There’s a quiet intensity here that wouldn’t be out of place in some of the best “nothing happens” movies of the 70s, an expressiveness without expression, a calmly contained rage. Eisenberg, in the performance of his career, is a quietly writhing tangle of conviction and frustration. Night Moves is about the divide between belief and action, and while the characters are environmentalists, it’s ultimately more universal than that. What do you do when you believe something so strongly that it entirely defines you, yet you cannot find a way to manifest it? Where do your hands and heart belong? Where do they fit?

Contrast Night Moves to The East, a recent movie about eco-terrorists. The East was a clumsy Hollywood style production, with attractive young actors dressing down to pretend to be unwashed salt-of-the-earth grunge activists. Alexander Skarsgard and Brit Marling were far too gorgeous to be convincing. Night Moves director Kelly Reichardt wouldn’t tolerate that sort of play acting. Dakota Fanning is convincingly plain and even a little frumpy. Eisenberg’s sullen intensity is a foil to Peter Sarsgaard’s disaffected devil-may-care. They each relate in different ways to each other, to their basic convictions, to the heist. Night Moves is not a heist movie. It’s a movie about three characters. Who happen to be staging a heist.

Furthermore, all three characters exists in very different spaces, with very different relationships to the natural order. The yurts, damp trailers, and hot tubs are all expressions of Oregon as a character (every state should be so lucky to have a filmmaker as talented as Reichardt), each different, each home to a different perspective, each a careful part of the storytelling. Reichardt’s naturalism is smart enough that it’s not just naturalism. And once again, she knows how to end a movie. This is the fourth time I’ve been punched in the gut by Reichardt’s opinion about what best constitutes a final scene: Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, and now Night Moves. For a woman who knows how to let her movies breathe, she sure knows how to take your breath away.

Night Moves is currently in limited release.

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Coherence_review

I admire the idea of Coherence. Writer/director James Ward Byrkit presents a dinner party. And then sci-fi happens. The premise is a bit forced and unfortunately too familiar these days. But Byrkit builds it to a powerful sequence of someone literally peering into windows at all her possible lives, like Dickens’ Scrooge adrift without a guide in a Jorge Luis Borges story. It’s the quantum physics equivalent of trying to remember where you parked your life. Yes, Schrodinger’s Cat has a cameo.

Among similar puzzle movies, this one ranks above the laughably bad +1 and the merely bad Mine Games, but nowhere near Duncan Jones’ Moon and slightly below Mike Cahill’s Another Earth. Coherence is in dire need of a Britt Marling. Because the script, as it is, taxes the actors’ improvisation skills a bit too much as the aggressively handheld camerawork scrambles to keep up. In place of a sense of craft, there’s a sense of the director trying to throw a net over whatever he can catch while the actors wait for someone to tell them to stop talking. But the actors are likable and mostly convincing. At least Coherence didn’t go the found footage route.

For a better example of how to wring intriguing science fiction from a dinner party, I recommend director Richard Schenkman’s adaptation of a Jerome Bixby play called The Man from Earth. It’s focused, filler-free, and probably not what you expect.

Coherence is currently in limited release.

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Velvet

Have you ever been at a dinner when another couple hosting gets into a protracted argument? There’s nothing quite so tedious as being a bystander when someone else’s baggage is strewn around the room. That’s what it’s like watching Some Velvet Morning, in which Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve are a couple with an indeterminate history, getting into an argument, and drawing it out for 80 minutes. As the baggage unpacks, they’re both so overbearing, so typical, so flailing away at the thrust and counterthrust, poking, stabbing, deflecting weak verbal daggers, parrying, sniping. At least they’re such capable actors. Tucci is too often stereotyped as effete or a villain or an effete villain, so it’s always a bit of a thrill to see him throw his weight around. Eve is stunning to the point of being distracting — what was she saying just now? — but she plants both feet firmly and holds her own as the tedium unfolds. Get ready for the sort of actorly naturalistic bickering you might see in a 99-seat black box theatre that didn’t want to pay the roytalties for a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

And because this is a Neil LaBute script — it’s barely a movie for the way it never leaves Eve’s apartment — you don’t get to draw conclusions until you realize where he’s taking you. Which is pretty offensive. But he’s not done taking you someplace. As Neil LaBute demonstrates when he’s at his best, brutality can be playful. Is he trolling? Or is this tedium a set-up for a punchline? Or an observation about your own assumptions? Who’s Afraid of Neil LaBute?

Some Velvet Morning is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

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The_Sacrament

We partly have No Country for Old Men to thank for the effectiveness of The Sacrament. The Coen brothers brilliantly staged and then subverted the usual scene where the villain murders an innocent bystander. Javier Bardem stands in front of the counter of a dingy gas station to pay for corn nuts, or whatever he’s eating. Sunflower seeds? Pistachios? It’s one of the great mysteries of No Country for Old Men. With their keen and sometimes derisive eye for casting common folk, the Coen brothers put on the other side of the counter an avuncular kindly actor named Gene Jones. You think you’ve seen him in a thousand other movies as a character actor playing bit parts. You haven’t. It was his first movie. His bewildered sincerity is every bit as crucial to the story of this moment as Bardem’s menace. It’s two actors, working together, shepherded by talented directors, creating an iconic scene.

Jones is the driving force in The Sacrament. It’s as if Ti West saw No Country for Old Men and pondered how to build a movie around Jones’ sincerity, but approaching it from a different angle. Literally, in one scene. As Jones is being interviewed, he doesn’t play to the camera, even though this is a found footage movie in which all the characters have camera awareness. He instead plays to a different direction, a direction that says everything about his character, about the events, about what it going to happen. And as is the case with many effective horror movies, The Sacrament works best if you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Unfortunately, what’s going to happen is a scaled down version of what already happened. Presumably for budgetary reasons, The Sacrament lives up to 10% of the events that inspired it, the events it updates and recreates almost beat for beat, the events it follows so slavishly that the exceptions jut out awkwardly, as if they were glued on by West and his found footage approach. But for that 10%, Jones’ presence makes it all worthwhile.

The Sacrament is out now on video on demand. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

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Black_Hole

Near the end of The Black Hole, the ship is assailed by “meteorites”. At least that’s what the robot informs the characters. But any astronomy pedant or child who watched Cosmos knows that a meteorite is the chunk of rock that survives its fall through the atmosphere of a planet. A bunch of bright orange rocks flying around in outer space are something else entirely. Then one of them hits the ship and neatly turns into a ginormous bowling ball that threatens to roll over our heroes. Raiders of the Lost Ark will be along to do it right in two years.

What’s so startling about Disney’s 1979 answer to Star Wars is how utterly uninspired it is, how it’s rooted in the same flat presentational filmmaking Disney had been doing since the advent of Technicolor. Staged lighting, bright colors, ponderous pacing, staid acting, obvious dialogue. The only bright spot in this dark hole is the design of the Cygnus, a derelict — or is it? — ship discovered by the crew of the Palamino. The Cygnus is a dark oddity laced with intricate ironwork, a skyscraper turned sideways. When it lights up, it blazes like the Eiffel Tower on a winter night. What a marvelous ship, swallowed up by a monstrously bad movie.

But then you get inside the Cygnus and it looks like a sound stage in Burbank. This was the same year Ridley Scott’s Alien took us inside the Nostromo. And here we are watching actors plod along concrete floors, past plywood walls, busy with garish avionics without any sense of style, as if they were cut from construction paper. At least Star Trek had a vision of how the future might work. The Black Hole just has patches of color. The robots with their lifeless button eyes look on like something made for a school play.

The story is obviously 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, complete with the eponymous black hole as the climactic whirlpool. Here is a mysterious captain, played by Maximilian Schell looking more homeless than mysterious, with mysterious motives and a mysterious crew manning a mysterious ship. Our intrepid protagonists arrive and get held hostage. A woman is added for the mysterious captain to leer at. “Are you interested in black holes?” he asks her. It sounds dirty. That must be why it was Disney’s first PG rated movie. “Some cause must have created all this,” he later muses at an inopportune time, “but what caused that cause?” During The Black Hole’s finale, its answer to Kubrick’s mind-bending journey is a laughably literal presentation of hell and heaven. Here is Disney, making sure it’ll play in Peoria, as 70s cinema transitions into the 80s.

The pacing and editing are inept, there is no energy anywhere, and the actors are as boring as the production design. When Ernest Borgnine turns bad guy, he actually sweats. It’s about twice as much effort as any other actor will expend. By the way, did Anthony Perkins always sounds like he was doing a Kevin Spacey impression? It’s an uncannily good impression, but it seems like such an unoriginal way to spend a career.

The music crests absurdly while Yvette Mimieux, as sexy as any mom in a Disney movie, is getting rescued. The evil robots literally wrap her in tin foil — I’m telling you, it’s actual tin foil! — so they can laser her brain or something. Then Robert Forster comes along and gamely rolls around with a guy in a robot costume, which isn’t unlike Bela Lugosi with the rubber octopus in Bride of the Monster. Meanwhile, a musical fanfare is playing prematurely — hey, soundtrack, what if Forster doesn’t prevail against the robot costume? — with all the glorious blaring of a triumphant processional through the streets of Ancient Rome. “Elephants for Caesar!” the soundtrack declares. Then cut to a scene of someone tapping his finger, bored, literally waiting to push a button. Hold. Hold. Hold the scene. Hold. Was Disney not aware that pacing had been invented?

But at least it’s better than Event Horizon.

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Wrong_Cops_review

I almost broke up with Quentin Dupiuex after Wrong, his last movie. It had all the weirdness of Rubber, but none of the intensity, none of the self-referential awareness that it was a movie about movies. It never arrived at Hollywood. It just went to work and then stopped. Not even William Fichtner could save it.

I was worried Wrong Cops, Dupieux’s latest movie, would be a follow-up to Wrong. I mean, look at the titles. Fortunately, Wrong Cops has nothing to do with Wrong. It may not have the focus of Rubber, but it has some of the savageness, plenty of the “what the…?” absurdity, and a whole lot of Dupeiux’s talent as a cinematographer with a unique appreciation for the way the light hits Southern California. Rubber was a sun-drenched absurdist riff on horror films. Wrong Cops is a similar riff on cop movies. It’s Bad Boys meets Adam 12 by way of Ionesco. Does it mean anything? Probably not. But the thing about Dupieux is that if you look at him from a certain angle, if you drink him in without asking why, if you accept that you will have no idea what he’s going to do next, he can be incredibly entertaining. For a guy who makes no sense, he sure does have style. Just watch the way he tilts and zooms the camera, or freezes the frame, or lays in his own music. Especially the way he lays in his own music. Dupieux’s alter ego, electronic musician Mr. Oizo, knows how to spin out a memorable beat for a movie that then insists it’s an atrocity that belongs in the trash with dead rats and discarded gay porno mags. “Well,” the cop who wrote the music in the movie says, “it’s about the feeling. It’s all about the feeling.” Can you feel that?

Even if you’re not into the whole absurdist thing, surely you can appreciate Wrong Cops for its spirited actors. Dupieux’s cops and perps are mostly a collection of sketch comedians who know how to commit regardless of whether something is funny. Steve Little from East Bound and Down, Eric Wareheim from Tim & Eric, the adorably spunky Arden Myrin, and even Marilyn Manson all get Dupieux’s humor. But as the wrongest cop, Mark Burnham gets Dupieux better than any of them. He’s as perfectly a fit for Wrong Cops as Stephen Spinella was for Rubber. Burnham has a bullying intensity that taps into your fear of arbitrary authority. He chomps his gum savagely, wears a hair style and pair of glasses fifty years out of date, and unabashedly rocks a pair of tightie whities, bellowing words like “Africa!” and “Germany!” while listening to godawful electronica. And he hasn’t even shot anyone yet. He hasn’t even had his dramatic final showdown with something that might not even be there. What the hell is going on? Exactly.

Wrong Cops is available on video on demand. Watch it at Amazon.com to support Quarter to Three.

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Enemy_review

I once held a tarantula. A friend of mine worked for an exotic animal company. He would load up his car with tupperware containers poked with airholes. Inside were snakes, skinks, hissing cockroaches, and spiders. He would bring them to children’s birthday parties and show them to the children. One day he dropped by my house on the way to returning the animals from a birthday party. He put the hissing cockroach on his nose. He showed us the snakes. The skinks sulked in their tupperware, not doing much of anything.

“Do you want to hold a tarantula?” he asked.

No. Of course not. No. Absolutely not. “Maybe?”

He took it out of the tupperware and held it cupped in his hand. It looked like it was thinking terrible spider things. It very slowly moved one leg and then another.

“Okay,” I said, my courage buoyed by the fact that he was holding it and not freaking out, “here’s the deal. I’m going to hold out my hand and look away. You put it on my hand, but get ready to take it off if I ask you. Okay?”

“Okay.”

He put it on my hand. I could barely feel it. It was eight almost imperceptible points of lightly furred contact with my palm, my wrist. One of the points delicately moved up and then down, then another. It was moving. A tarantula, barely heavier than the air, was moving on my arm. I didn’t turn my head to look at it. The feeling was quite enough.

Enemy is as unsettlingly effective as those imperceptible points of contact with the legs of a spider. It is subtle, insidious, creepy, working at a level deeper than what you’re seeing. It creates something sickly in the pit of my stomach. When it ended, I immediately watched it a second time because that’s the kind of movie it is. It is one of the most mind-blowing movies about one man’s relationship to women since Fellini’s 8 1/2. Enemy is also a welcome reminder of Jake Gyllenhaal’s range and depth as an actor. It wouldn’t work if long shots of Jake Gyllenhaal acting didn’t work.

Enemy is adapted from a novel called The Double by Jose Saramago, a Portuguese author I know from his novel Blindness (also adapted into a movie that’s haunting for very different reasons). Saramago’s absurdist story provides a foundation for Enemy, but Canadian director Denis Villeneuve films something that owes more to David Lynch and David Cronenberg, more existential than absurd. Villeneuve’s previous movie, Prisoners, was safely grim in that manipulative way of studio-approved movies about missing children that star Morgan Freeman. There’s nothing safe in Enemy, and nothing that an American studio would have approved, and it’s not merely grim, and there’s no villain or avuncular presence or a-ha twist. This is languid arthouse weirdness that sometimes resembles a horror movie with its discreet use of CG. It is a puzzle with a solution you might not like, or even care to solve, but the solution is in there. You just have to be willing to hold it in your hand and look at it.

Enemy is currently available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it at Amazon.com.

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The_Machine_01

Caity Lotz had nearly enough gravitas to make the silly horror movie The Pact work. She was able to sell being panicked and straddling an old school motorcycle without it being simple cheesecake. Because, oh yeah, she was totally in her underwear for that scene. But she takes the movie seriously enough that it’s worth watching, even though it cast Casper Van Dien as a pudding eating cop.

So it’s a nice surprise to see her show up opposite proper actor Toby Stephens in The Machine. It’s not clear early on where The Machine is going, thanks to a merciful lack of exposition and very little techno-babble. So when Lotz arrives as the typical movie scientist — too young, too pretty, too effervescent — The Machine nearly falls apart. But it’s quite the accomplishment that she’s the one to bring it back together, to breathe life into it while Toby Stephens emotes sullenly, to shoulder what this movie is trying to deliver in the space between Robocop and Her. And oh my, what shoulders Lotz has got!

The other real star of The Machine is the production design and cinematography. I don’t recall seeing a credit for “colourist” in other movies, or even “colorist”, but it’s appropriate here. The Machine looks like Beyond The Black Rainbow, the 2010 incomprehensible love letter to the 80s, but with a budget. This is what Richard Stanley intended with all that garish color in Hardware. This is where Cameron would have ended up without CG and 3D and Titanic. This is the supersexy hard sci-fi movie Michael Mann never made, featuring wetly growling cyborgs, mostly sensible touchscreen computers, and a synth pulse soundtrack that would make Tangerine Dream proud. The Machine glows and throbs with the heart and sound of the 80s, but the production values of the 21st century.

The Machine is available on VOD now. Watch it on Amazon.com to support Qt3.

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Patrick_review

This remake of an obscure Australian horror movie from the 70s is basically Carrie, but where the lead character is comatose instead of a high school girl. Interesting choice. The best thing going for it is its cast, which includes Sharni Vinson from You’re Next, Rachel Griffiths from Six Feet Under, and Charles Dance from everything Charles Dance has been in.

Unfortunately, the movie is a bit too taken with Sharni Vinson. As am I, to be sure. But you’re not going to pay $6.99 for a video-on-demand glimpse into my head. So Patrick’s greatest failing is not appreciating what it has with Griffiths and Dance, who lurk around in the background for far too long in favor of a couple of “belles among the brain dead”, including the lovely lively Peta Sergeant as Vinson’s sidekick nurse, toiling away in a creepy experimental institute for the braindead. But I’ll trade all the scenes of Vinson Googling “moving things with mind”, stumbling around in the dark, and having two too many relationships for one more shot of Dance sticking his head into a door and saying “Remember to tell me when he has a bowel movement, yes?” Is there anyone else channeling Peter Cushing half this well?

The old mansion, the traditional nursing uniforms, and the sometimes ponderous pace set Patrick apart from most modern horror movies. Although it leans too heavily on bad CG backdrops and effects, it offers an intriguing combination of Victorian horror and latter day technology. There are a few fascinating early fake-outs. An old timey phone rings. The camera cuts to a shot of Vinson’s iPhone. It’s her ringtone. Pretty sneaky. But despite occasional sly touches, Patrick goes from intriguing to borderline camp to downright risible, until it quite literally defenestrates itself.

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Cheap_Thrills

I don’t necessarily recommend Cheap Thrills. I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed it. But I am positive that I respect it. Here is a movie that is not at all the wacky comedy you might expect from the poster of its cast — consisting of two comedians, a character actor, and a vapid horror ingenue — frozen in mid-guffaw. It is instead a premise that is willing to go the distance, without playing it for easy laughs and certainly without flinching. What would you do for money? David Koechner, playing smaller than his usual persona, doles out the dares and dollars to two hapless men, who aren’t sure what to make of this game. Is it even a game?

“Okay, but I am not going to suck his dick,” Ethan Embry insists at one point after agreeing to the premise. Besides, it’s not that kind of movie. This isn’t a bawdy comedy, and it’s not a facile observation on reality TV culture, and it’s not even really a thriller. It’s simply a grim observational about, well, what people will do for money. Real people, for sums of money we can all relate to. These indecent proposals aren’t Indecent Proposal.

The real stand-out in this excellent and committed cast — even vapid horror ingenue Sara Paxton is pitch perfect — is Pat Healy as the sympathetic everyman. Healy has been doing yeoman’s work for years, quietly but effectively filling space in masterpieces like Magnolia and The Assassination of Jesse James. Here he’s front and center, willing to drive Cheap Thrills wherever first-time director E.L. Katz wants it to go, from an apartment in West LA to a dive bar in Silverlake to a house in the Hollywood Hills, from an innocent dare to raised stakes, from a sympathetic everyman to the final harshly lit scene of the uncomfortable point Cheap Thrills was making all along.

Cheap Thrills is currently available wherever fine VOD is sold. Support Qt3 and watch it here.

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Here_Comes_the_Devil

Argentinian director Adrian Bogliano might be one of the most talented horror directors you’ve never heard of. He’s sometimes awkward but almost always subversive in a genre mostly known for stultifying formulas. He recalls a time when horror and sexuality weren’t afraid to fumble and clutch at each other. I’ll Never Die Alone, released in 2008, is probably the only 70s rape/revenge movies I’ve seen that understands Virgin Spring, portraying sexual predation with the detachment it deserves. It’s a ruthlessly shot sequence that no one should have to see and it’s sickening that it’s not part of a better movie. I don’t recommend it. Cold Sweat, about a girl soaked in nitroglycerin, is a bit of a goof, but Penumbra is a clever mystery with an even cleverer follow-through (you can read my so-spoiler-free-it’s-almost-useless review here).

So it’s no surprise that Bogliano’s latest movie is such a disjointed throwback to the horror of the 70s, complete with smash zooms and saturated grindhouse color. The subject at hand is the impossible dilemma of parenthood, reconciling sexuality and innocence in the context of a Catholic culture (Bogliano shot it in Mexico, which gives it a stronger religious subtext than his Argentinian movies). The only way you can bring children into the world is by fucking, and then you have to protect them as best as you can from the same sin that conceived them. It’s the juxtaposition of evil deeds and good intentions. Or is it the other way around? Throw in some demonic possession, gratuitous lesbian sex, and plenty of blood.

As the parents, Francisco Barreiro and the wholesome/sultry Laura Caro carry the movie admirably (it’s a shame the child actors couldn’t pull their weight a little better). Here Comes the Devil doesn’t have much focus, or even much coherence, and as it wends its way along a torturous route to a dark empty nowhere, you could say it’s following a state of unease more than a plot. But it’s also clearly the work of a talented director with a distinctive approach and no interest in the usual formula.

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The_Returned_reviews

One of the latest tweaks to zombie mythology is telling the story from the perspective of the zombies, or at least from a perspective sympathetic to the poor little guys. This is often for the absurdity of it all (Billy Connolly in Fido), or it doesn’t really make any sense (Warm Bodies), or it’s just clumsy (George Romero’s zombie/human detente at the end of Land of the Dead is the logical conclusion once he introduced the loveable Bub in Day of the Dead). Sometimes it’s actually thoughtful and intriguing, but not much of a movie (Colin).

But then there’s The Returned. Both of them.

After the jump, sometimes they come back. Continue reading →

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in_memoriam

Toad Road, which isn’t really a horror movie but sort of is, has that Harmony Korine vibe of “okay, you guys just screw around and I’m gonna film it”, but with slightly livelier mumblecore than you’d expect. This is at times a Jackass cast doing stupid things like lighting each other on fire and daring strangers to punch them in the head, penises flopping out and body piercings proudly on display. What the heck am I watching here? I can’t deny it’s funny and it has a certain “kids, man…” appeal. And I’ll take these greasy burnouts over the vapid twentysomething models who populate most horror movies. Toad Road’s horror elements are a slow burn, inserted elliptically and sometimes sputtering out and occasionally handled clumsily with painfully bad improv. But director/writer Jason Becker knows enough not to overplay his hand. Except for the Jackass stuff, it’s pretty restrained and its two leads are undeniably appealing. Their chemistry is as real as the chemistry that apparently fueled some of the movie’s drug scenes.

The ultimate power of Toad Road, an intriguing experiment in youth culture and existential horror that you might have to tolerate and appreciate in equal measure, is the title card before the end credits. It was inserted several months after the movie was shot. You’ll obviously want to Google what you discover on that title card. What starts out as a “come on, quit jerking me around, you assholes” becomes an “oh fuck, no”. And it’s a particularly painful “oh fuck, no” in the week after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. Is Toad Road better or worse for it? Who can say? But it’s certainly more powerful.

Toad Road is available on VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com here.

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bad_reception

Banshee Chapter is the reason I watch so many terrible horror movies. Because occasionally something like this bubbles up from the muck and makes it all worthwhile. I don’t mean to overstate how good Banshee Chapter is, because it’s got a lot of the trappings of bad horror. If you were to lift any five or ten minutes out of context, you might guess you’re watching yet more half-assed found footage of people wandering around on the way to another cheap jump scare. You’re partly right. Banshee Chapter can’t quite decide why or whether it’s a found footage movie, and it relies on its share of cheap jump scares.

But writer/director Blair Erickson ultimately pieces together something far more haunting by doing three very specific things. His first trick is his script’s focus on something other than the usual ghosts or demons. Banshee Chapter makes it clear early on that this is a conspiracy yarn about MKUltra, but with a definite in-your-face supernatural bent. For no good reason, it sometimes cuts to extended footage of government experiments. It even sprinkles in a little Lovecraft before it’s all over. It reminds me of a little-seen short film called AM1200 for how it’s about evil tidings carried on electronic signals out of remote desert locations, luring victims to their doom. Take note, bad horror movies! A commitment to an unusual idea goes a long way.

Erikson’s second trick is his cast. A lot of Banshee Chapter is an actress named Katia Winter doing research or just looking around with a flashlight. Miss Winter is lovely enough that you’ll probably assume she’s just another annoying horror movie protagonist. She is not. She’s appealing and likeable, and most importantly, she’s convincing enough to sell the long stretches of research and the bursts of horror. She is also an ideal foil to the movie’s greatest asset, Ted Levine. About half way into Banshee Chapter, he lumbers in clumsily as a thinly veiled nod to Hunter Thompson. He and Winter engage in an appealing push/pull act that keeps the rest of the movie rolling.

Finally, Erickson also knows how to use a handful of unlikely assets sparingly and to creepy effect. A numbers station, an ice cream truck, the hiss of static, a latex mask. You won’t find any of the usual CG here, but you will find some genuinely tense stretches that culminate in awful “oh god, what was that?” scares. And the whole thing closes with “The Girl in the Window”, a lovely song by Mark Lenover that fits the movie like a glove. An absurdly clawed latex glove illuminated by a dim flashlight.

Banshee Chapter is available on video on demand services. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

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