Movie reviews

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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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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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