(This review was written for one of my Patreon review requests. If you’d like to compel me to watch and write about movies like this, please check out my Patreon campaign.)
I have no business telling the guys who invented the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles what they did wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway. Hey, comic book guys from the 80s, when you invent a team of superheroes, the superheroes should be different from each other. For instance, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredibles, or the Justice League. A team of superheroes shouldn’t be four copies of the same thing. Even Charlie’s Angels always have at least one non-blonde. But the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are four of the same hero. That’s not how heroes work. That’s how bad guys work. Bad guys are all indistinct copies of each other. Heros should be the opposite as sure as white hats are the opposite of black hats. Heroes should represent individuality while bad guys represent conformist masses.
But these four turtles have to wear colored bandanas so you can tell them apart. There’s the orange one, the red one, the blue one, and the purple one. Even the color scheme is a big fail for leaving out a primary color in favor of two secondary colors. I eventually noticed that each turtle uses a different weapon. The red guy uses two sais, the blue guy uses katanas, the orange guy uses nunchucks, and the purple guy uses a staff. For me, watching the 1990 movie for the first time, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is just a color and a weapon.
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Locke is a tough movie to pull off. Just a guy in his car, on the phone, dealing with a personal crisis. Watch him make difficult decisions. Watch him take responsibility for his own bad choices. Watch him troubleshoot his own life. Baby Driver is an easy movie to pull off. A kind-hearted getaway driver getting into car chases, meeting a cute chick, and going on a heist. Watch him drive really fast. Watch him listen to catchy music. Watch him brood furiously into the camera. That Locke works and Baby Driver doesn’t speaks volumes about the difference between Tom Hardy and Ansel Elgort.
Wheelman is a little of both. It accepts the challenges of Locke, but embraces the simplicity of Baby Driver. One of its smartest choices is putting Frank Grillo in the driver’s seat. Visually, he’s ideal leading man material. That immaculately unshaved jawline, those intense sunken eyes, that wild hair refusing to behave. As an actor, he’s got just the right mix of hardened tough guy and soft-hearted dad. He’s the city and the suburbs, Hollywood and Sundance, drinking buddy and heartthrob. And he’s finally got a whole movie to himself, literally in the driver’s seat. A lesser movie would have made this about a tough criminal. But Wheelman insists on also being about a father, which gives the movie a lighter touch and ultimately a ton of heart. By the time it’s over — about ten minutes too late, but it’s earned a lot of goodwill by then — Wheelman is more Locke than Baby Driver. Daddy Driver.
First-timer Jeremy Rush shows fine instincts by shooting the movie with the same intimacy as Locke. Contrast this to a structurally similar movie called Getaway, which stays with Ethan Hawke as he drives through a souped-up thriller, which gets splashier and sillier the longer it goes on. Selena Gomez is along for the ride, which tells you all you need to know about Getaway. But Wheelman knows a car going fast is never as cool as a car going fast driven by someone you care about. Add someone who matters to the passenger seat and now you’re giving Locke a run for its money.
Let’s talk people lost in a desert, literally and metaphorically. In recent movies, there’s Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, in which the lovely Suki Waterhouse is exiled into a morally parched wasteland to learn hard lessons about revenge, cannibalism, and family values. It’s a deliriously messy swirl of post-apocalyptic aesthetics with a fantastic female lead. Waterhouse holds her own against Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, and even Keanu Reeves struggling with some of the worst dialogue since Point Break. Mad Maxine. There’s also Grave Encounters director Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red, one of those rare horror movies more concerned with character development than horror. It’s a wickedly clever variation on the buddy road trip, with zombie mythology standing in for a woman’s bad choices constantly two steps behind her. Brittany Allen’s comedic but poignant performance drives the movie across the desert through sheer force of will, with a little help from vodka and cocaine.
These are both uneven movies, definitely worth watching, but neither comes together as well as Happy Hunting.
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You can tell right away from the title that Let Me Make You a Martyr is trying something, well…different. Think of the title as the movie warning you beforehand. Hey, it says, this might not be for you. It’s probably right. It’s probably not for you. It’s alternatively pretentious, awkward, and indulgent. I mean, come on, who names their movie Let Me Make You a Martyr? But I loved it.
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It is a dark and stormy night. You wake up among a pile of bodies in the bottom of an open pit. You have no memory of who you are or how you got here.
You have a ring of keys. You have a Zippo lighter.
You find a gun. It’s loaded. A woman throws a rope down to you.
The woman is gone. There is a house in the distance with the lights on. You hear people talking inside.
GO TO HOUSE
You are at the house. The front door is unlocked.
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Aliens is one of the easiest templates for a low budget sci-fi thriller. Just gather some sci-fi props, secure a shooting location, and figure out what to do for your monster. In the case of Armed Response, these are, respectively, an RV, a warehouse and, uh, they’re invisible. The invisible monsters bit is a great way to save money. Or you can also just pretend something infects or haunts some of the characters. Now they can be your monsters. To its credit, Armed Response splurges on a couple of bad CG sequences late in the movie involving ghostly arms. Literally arms. Not weapons. But actual arms. That’s your reward for sticking with it. Continue reading →
The basics of Killing Ground are as old as Deliverance. So, uh, 1972, I suppose? When you’re out in the wilderness, beyond the range of a 911 call, it sure is scary that some psycho could try to get you! In the absence of civilization, there is no check on murderous chaos, right? Dog eat dog. Survival of the fittest. Plenty of movies play on this fear. It’s often crass, but effective. Backcountry and Blue Jay are recent dingy little horror movies to that effect. Wild brought it up in a wonderfully unexpected way. Australia’s brutal contribution was Wolf Creek, a horror movie with an uncompromising serrated edge so effective that it spawned a (not very good) sequel and a TV series (that I have no desire to see).
First-time Australian filmmaker Damien Power revisits the same territory in Killing Ground. It’s nothing if not familiar. When you’re out in the wilderness, beyond the range of a 911 call, it sure is scary that some psycho could try to get you! But Power ruthlessly stakes his own claim. Continue reading →
If you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to watch Rooney Mara eat pie for ten minutes, you’re in luck! Arty director David Lowery has returned from his stint making a movie in which things happen (the Pete’s Dragon remake) to bring us this eulogy to anything happening. A Ghost Story is literally a story about a ghost, which opens up a lot of possibilities. None of them are explored. Instead, everything and nothing happen, leaning mostly in the “nothing” direction. The minutes pass like years, the hour like a millennia, and yet there are still a few scenes to go. Then you don’t get to read a fortune cookie. Roll credits.
A Ghost Story is pretentious, ponderous, and curiously boxed into a very square aspect ratio with curved edges. I think it’s supposed to invoke the time someone made you watch slides of their vacation. The movie also invokes getting stuck in the kitchen at a party while some boorish hipster with overalls and pierced ears spools out his penny-ante nihilism. It invokes it by making it actually happen. The guys just goes on and on and for some reason the scene doesn’t cut. It’s enough to make you long for the pie-eating scene.
A Ghost Story is in limited release. Not limited enough.
You know that trick where you ask someone to spell “most”, then you ask them to spell “boast”, then you ask them what they put in a toaster, and then they say “toast”? Which is wrong because — gotcha! — you put “bread” in a toaster. It’s a dumb mental trick that plays with how your brain anticipates information. It sees certain things and then pre-loads itself based on your ideas of structure and patterns. It gets ahead of itself because it has spent your life accumulating expectations. Shimmer Lake is an intricate exercise in structure and expectations. It’s also one of the tidiest and most fiendishly clever crime thrillers since Fargo. Continue reading →
In the movie Curve, Dancing with the Stars dancer Julianne Hough gets trapped in a car wreck while a psycho killer stalks her. Her leg is stuck, so she isn’t going anywhere. This makes things pretty easy for the psycho killer, but there’s still about an hour of movie left, so a bunch of stupid stuff happens. The Curve I’m talking about is not that one.
This Curve is a short film by Tim Egan, an Australian cinematographer whose short didn’t quite make the cut in ABCs of Death 2, so it was chucked into a B-side release called ABCs of Death 2.5. Having already seen 52 ABCs of death, of which maybe 10 aren’t terrible and 3 or 4 of those are actually good, I didn’t have it in me to watch another 26. I might have to rethink my decision after watching Egan’s latest short film, Curve.
Curve is a horror movie about friction. Literal friction. The principle of physics governing the movement of two surfaces in contact with each other. But being a thoughtful horror short, it’s not really about what it’s about. I’d say it’s a metaphor for the human condition, but of course I would, because I’ve taken a few too many undergraduate philosophy classes. Some habits are hard to shake. Still, I can’t help but think that Curve is to short films what No Exit is to the theater. But unlike a production of No Exit — those characters are so annoying — Curve is mesmerizing, memorable, and ultimately slick. And it only takes about ten minutes of your time.
You can watch Curve in its entirety right here on Vimeo.
It Comes at Night puts a family in a Petri dish and focuses a microscope on it. “Come take a look at this,” it says, its face betraying nothing about what you’re going to see. Is it an insidious virus? A cure? Something baffling? Or some meaningful new discovery?
At first glance, it just looks like another post-apocalypse. Continue reading →
It might sound trite to relate this war movie, written with keen insight by someone who served during the invasion of Iraq, to a videogame. But consider that the videogame in question was also written by someone with keen insight into the wars America has fought since 2002 (actually, since 1965).
I’m going to list a few facets of our situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of these is a part of the story in Sand Castle and a gameplay mechanic in Afghanistan ’11. It’s going to sound disjointed, so you’ll have to trust me they come together as a narrative in both the movie and videogame.
Here goes: Continue reading →
I don’t mean to imply that Lady Bloodfight isn’t dumb, inconsistent, and familiar. It kind of is. The basics are nothing that haven’t been done a thousand times with everyone from Jean Claude van Damme to, uh…who’s doing these kinds of movies these days? John Cena? I haven’t been keeping up.
But for this kind of dumb, inconsistent, and familiar, Lady Bloodfight is as good as it gets.
Heck, better! Continue reading →
In the usual horror movie, a monster stalks its victims. Will it get them? When will it get them? How will it get them? What even is it? A Dark Song is the inverse of this forumula. The lugubrious soundtrack that would normally promise Something is coming instead promises Something is being steadily approached.
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I own an unwatched copy of Barry Lyndon because it came with a Kubrick collection I bought a long time ago. I didn’t buy it because I felt the need to own a Kubrick collection. I bought it because it was cheaper than buying 2001, Full Metal Jacket, and Dr. Strangelove separately. Those are two movies I love (half of 2001, half of Full Metal Jacket, and the entirety of Dr. Strangelove is two movies worth of movies). Clockwork Orange is quaint for how it was once considered scandalizing and for the synth Beethoven. I didn’t appreciate The Shining until recently. Eyes Wide Shut is like that scene in The Shining where Shelley Duvall sees two furries having sex, but drawn out into a full movie starring movie stars instead of furries. Like everyone else under 80, I’ve never seen Paths of Glory.
There. Now you have my Kubrick bona fides. Continue reading →