Pages

Friday, July 28, 2017

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Super Dark Times

MOVIE
Super Dark Times

CAST
Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan

RATING
TBA

RELEASE
September 29th, 2017 (LIMITED)
October 3rd, 2017 (VOD)

DIRECTOR
Kevin Phillips

STUDIO
The Orchard

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 40 minutes







RATING
8.5/10





*DISCLAIMER: This review was written in April of 2017 during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival*


REVIEW:


It’s a rarity when movies have a character with the name “Zach.” It’s even more of a rarity when “Zach” is the name of a film’s lead character. When I was reading the synopsis for “Super Dark Times” and saw my name as the central protagonist, immediately I took interest. As it turns out, there’s a pretty great movie surrounding my majestic, underused name. Set in, as the press notes state, “mid-90s suburbia,” this movie revolves around two best friends, Zach and Josh. The two spend a lot of time together shooting the shit, swearing, and talking about girls. One girl in particular, named Allison, has caught the eyes of both guys, with Josh being more vocal about his crush. One day, the two boys are hanging out with a couple of other friends of theirs, and all is going just hunky dory. And then, shit hits the fan. Tragedy occurs! Blood is on thy hands! So the rest of the film deals with the aftermath of what happens on that fatal afternoon.

What I admired so much about “Super Dark Times” is how it portrays the different psychological effects it has on Zach and Josh. The two respond to what happened that day in ways that are both understandable and incredibly believable. The two actors playing Zach and Josh, Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan, give genuinely human performances that, being the central core of the story, elevates the entire film from good to great. Elizabeth Cappuccino delivers strong work as well as Erica, with her chemistry with the boys, again, being incredibly believable. Their relationship together is very similar to a romantic subplot in the 2013 indie “The Kings of Summer,” yet this movie manages to take that type of subplot and make it feel fresh once again. The film wouldn’t work as well as it does, though, if it wasn’t for Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski’s dark and intense screenplay, as well as Kevin Phillips’ eye for getting the best performances out of these actors and telling such a powerful story.

It’s not a perfect movie by any means, with the lack of intelligence from other characters when trying to put two and two together being questionable, as well as how the opening scene doesn’t feel necessary to the story when thinking back on it. That being said, I was both on the edge of and pressing back into my seat throughout this movie. “Super Dark Times” is, as the title suggests, super dark. The performances are stellar, the script sharply written, and the film well-directed as a whole. For his feature film debut, director Kevin Phillips has crafted an intense, relatable, and fascinating look into the teen psyche from multiple subjects. Elements of “Donnie Darko,” “Stand By Me,” and “The Dirties” are scattered throughout, but I can see this becoming something of a new cult classic along the lines of those films. If you’re attending the Tribeca Film Festival currently, attending another festival this is playing at, or if it ends up coming to a town near you when it’s eventually released, I’d highly recommend going and checking this out. You won’t come out of the film feeling good, but you will come out feeling incredibly satisfied, tense, and maybe even horrified.



FESTIVAL REVIEW: Flower

MOVIE
Flower

CAST
Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn

RATING
TBA

RELEASE
April 20th, 2017 (Tribeca Premiere)
Wide Theatrical Release TBA

DIRECTOR
Max Winkler

STUDIO
The Orchard

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 30 minutes






RATING
8.5/10






*DISCLAIMER: This review was written in April of 2017 during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival*


REVIEW:

On the surface, Max Winkler’s directorial debut “Flower” looks and feels like any other coming-of-age teen dramedy to come out in recent memory. However, looking at how great the films in this new wave of teen films have been, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Zoey Deutch stars as Erica, a girl who gets joy in life from hanging out with friends, having a fun time, and blackmailing unsuspecting men with the power of oral pleasure. All is great in Erica’s life, but things begin to take a different turn when Luke, the son of her mom’s boyfriend is let out of rehab. Joey Morgan plays Luke, a mentally unstable and overweight young man with a lot of demons resting under his skin. And with a plot involving a potential sexual predator from Luke’s past coming into the mix, things get more complicated than anyone could have imagined.

From the opening scene, it’s clear that Erica is a nasty woman, and not the kind that people would vote in as our next president. She’s a bitch, long story short, and the film acknowledges this despite us having to like her in the end. With any other actress, it might have been hard to do that, but Deutch is having so much fun being such a crazy and awful teenager that her charisma draws the audience into liking her. Her chemistry with all the cast members, particularly with Kathryn Hahn, who plays her mom, is great as well. Hahn’s performance on its own is yet another example of how strong of an actress she can be. It's easy to compare her work here to her character from last year’s summer breakout smash “Bad Moms,” but there’s a lot more pain and struggle here, all of which comes out at the beginning of the third act.

I’d say that Deutch is easily the standout out of the cast, but the real surprise comes from Joey Morgan. Morgan is probably most notable for “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” which, for lack of a better term, isn’t the most intelligent and profound of teen-centric films. Luke is the heart and center of “Flower” as a whole, being both the catalyst for all of the forthcoming events and the most complex out of everybody else. His growth as a character feels incredibly satisfying, especially with Erica by her side. Though the outcome of their bond feels extremely odd and strange, it makes sense how they got there, and I believe the film earned that moment. I will guarantee you, though, that it will turn people off and possibly even question what they thought of the entire movie as a whole.

I haven’t even begun to scratch some of the other active elements this movie possesses, including the hilarious and fun supporting performances from Dylan Gelula, Adam Scott, and Tim Heidecker, to name a few. I also haven’t mentioned how effectively funny and moving the script, co-written by Winkler, Alex McAulay, and Matt Spicer is. “Flower” has a lot of strong things going for it, and as a whole, I think it very much succeeded both as a comedy and drama.

The third act takes an unexpectedly dark turn culminating with a rather bizarre conclusion that, as mentioned before, may very well make or break the film for people. The movie drops in quality for me once that act kicks in, but because of how strong the first two acts are, as well as the performances and the screenplay, I still recommend “Flower.” There are many other teen coming-of-age movies I’d recommend seeing over this, including Deutch’s other recent teen drama “Before I Fall,” the highly overlooked “First Girl I Loved,” and another film playing at Tribeca called “Saturday Church.” Like I said, though, I’d still give “Flower” an enthusiastically positive recommendation. Zoey Deutch’s fiery hilarious yet sophisticated performance alone makes the price of admission worth it.

REVIEW: Atomic Blonde

MOVIE
Atomic Blonde

CAST
Charlize Theron, James McAvoy

RATING
R

RELEASE
July 28th, 2017

DIRECTOR
David Leitch

STUDIO
Focus Features

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 55 minutes





RATING
9/10









REVIEW:

At this year's SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, two action films duked it out for the love of those attending the world-famous festival.  The first of those films was Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver," which I found to be a fun movie with a decent chunk of flaws that kept me from loving it.  The second film was "Atomic Blonde," the Charlize Theron-starring flick based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City."  Both films are different in story and tone, and both have their fair share of flaws.  Contrary to popular opinion, though, I have to say that I enjoyed "Atomic Blonde" a whole lot more.  For those who don't know, "Atomic Blonde" takes place at the tail-end of the Cold War, just as the Berlin Wall is coming down.  Charlize Theron plays MI6 Agent Lorraine Broughton, and Broughton is sent undercover to Berlin, Germany to both investigate the murder of a fellow agent, as well as obtain a list containing all the names of double agents.  Because this is an action movie, expect a lot of blood and combat between Lorraine and everyone who gets in her way.

Before anyone's panties get twisted and accuse me of being crazy and wrong for liking "Blonde" more than "Baby," let me point out again, I don't think either are perfect movies.  In fact, there are points where "Blonde" is a much inferior film to "Baby."  For example, even though I found the story and characters to be more interesting in the former, the intelligence of some of the characters, particularly our lead, is very questionable at times.  Without spoiling too much, Broughton is made out to be an intelligent badass, and yet the film makes it pretty clear in telling you who the real double agent is early on and why you shouldn't trust him or her.  And yet, Broughton still manages to trust them despite having been deceived by them at least once already.  For a character who is otherwise very intelligent, she could be very naive and dumb as well.  It's because of this that the film also suffers from being pretty predictable at certain points.  Not too predictable where it irritated me or anything, but enough where it became noticeable and slightly glaring at times.

So yeah, that's all I got.  That's everything negative I can say about the movie.  I had a blast with "Atomic Blonde," plain and simple.  If you thought Charlize Theron was a badass as Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road," she somehow managed to surpass herself on the badass meter.  The dedication to her physical performance is quite admirable, and even if you might have problems with her British accent's consistency, I was able to let go of that because of the amount of commitment she had to the role, among other reasons.  James McAvoy is just as fun as he always is playing the charismatic David Percival, someone who consistently keeps you asking yourself whether or not you can trust him.  Everyone else in the supporting cast, from John Goodman to Eddie Marsen to Sofia Boutella all have their moments to shine, and all overall deliver solid performances.

The strongest tool the movie has is director David Leitch.  Having co-directed the wickedly awesome "John Wick" previously, Leitch manages to tell a captivatingly interesting and entertaining story, as well as incorporate some impressive-as-hell action sequences into the mix.  There's an action sequence that happens at the end of the second act that is meant to simulate a single take.  While it's obvious where the cuts are in the scene, the fact that it doesn't take away from the sheer brilliance of the sequence (which lasts about 10-15 minutes, by the way) really says something about Leitch as a director.  The choices of colors in certain set pieces, as well as the stellar music choices, add to the cyberpunk neo-noir vibe Leitch is attempting, and successfully, pulling off.  If anyone had any worries about Leitch being the director of the upcoming "Deadpool 2," "Atomic Blonde" will throw all of them away.

Like I said before, "Atomic Blonde" isn't without its flaws.  I know some who had more problems with it than me, but hey, it's all about taste, I guess.  While the soundtrack and the action sequences were pretty good in "Baby Driver," I found the soundtrack and action sequences in this movie to be much more captivating, inventive, fun, and exciting.  The editing in "Baby" is infinitely better than the editing in "Blonde," but as I said, "Blonde" kept my interest and adrenaline flowing more so than "Baby."  It might not be fair to compare the two films to one another, but considering they're both R-rated action thrillers with unique soundtracks and talented directors that happened to both play at this year's SXSW Film Festival, I'd say it's fair enough.

So overall, I found "Atomic Blonde" to be a thrilling and fun action/spy thriller that kept my eyes glued to the screen all the way through.  Charlize Theron kicks ass, the soundtrack rocks, the action itself ranged from awesome to jaw-dropping, and the story kept me invested enough to want to continue following Lorraine throughout her endeavors.  With some of the action sequences that take place during the film, particularly the aforementioned 15-minute single take scene, make this flick something that deserves to be seen on the big screen.  I cannot wait to see this movie again, and I really hope I'm able to see it on the biggest screen possible with the loudest sound out there.  Whether you think this is better or worse than "Baby Driver" is up to you, but regardless, both are worth seeing on the big screen.  This one just grabbed me more, I guess.






Tuesday, October 11, 2016

REVIEW: The Greasy Strangler

MOVIE
The Greasy Strangler

CAST
Michael St. Michaels,
Sky Elobar

RATING
NR

RELEASE
October 7th, 2016 (LIMITED/VOD)

DIRECTOR
Jim Hosking

STUDIO(S)
FilmRise,
Drafthouse Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 33 minutes







RATING
9.5/10











REVIEW:

There is nothing that is, was, has ever been, and maybe never will be quite like “The Greasy Strangler.” This film, coming to us from director Jim Hosking, is a love story at its core. There’s a female love interest in there, but the real love comes between the father and son leads. Big Ronnie, played by Michael St. Michaels, is a man who demands grease in and on everything, and his son Braydon, played by Sky Elobar, complies with his father’s wishes so he doesn’t get evicted. Janet, played by Elizabeth De Razzo, becomes the target of affection for Braydon, and pretty soon Big Ronnie as well. And to think, I didn’t even begin to mention how Big Ronnie transforms himself into “The Greasy Strangler,” a grease-drenched humanoid monster hell bent on killing and strangling anyone who dares to defy him in some way.

In case you couldn’t tell, this might not be a movie that’ll appeal to everyone. "Greasy" is the type of offbeat dark comedy made for a very particular crowd of individuals who like the weird and obscure. Think of it like this: if you’re a fan of Tim & Eric, “The Eric Andre Show,” or pretty much anything that plays on Adult Swim after 1 am, then chances are you’re going to like what the grease is cooking. “The Greasy Strangler” is crude, disgusting, vile, and unapologetic in its execution, that’s for sure. But at the same time, it’s also hilarious, lovably odd, intentionally tedious, cheesy, and a whole lot of fun depending on who you are. I know people who absolutely despised this film, and I completely understand why. Based on my personal tastes, though, I thought this was something of a stroke of genius.

Director Jim Hosking has had his fair share of success in the world of short films, most notably for his segment in “The ABC’s of Death 2,” “G is for Grandad.” “Greasy” is his feature-length debut, and it shows in every single scene how much love and dedication he has put into this piece of insanity. It’s clear that he intended to make a modern-day exploitation B-movie with this, and that’s exactly what we get here. Every scene showcases disgusting imagery, from someone eating eyeballs to another dipping a hot dog in one hell of the nasty tub of grease, so if you’re squeamish at all, then this might not be for you. It’s almost as if Hosking challenged himself to outdo himself in gross factor with every passing scene, and for the most part, he succeeded. And yet, through all of the depravity and obscenities presented, there’s this sort of intelligence that oozes out of this movie’s pores.

Hosking, along with co-writer Toby Harvard, wrote the story and dialogue in such a way where things feel incredibly self-aware. There are several moments throughout the movie that are intentionally tedious, and even though in theory these scenes should overstay their welcome, they’re written with expertise and cleverness that they just keep getting funnier and funnier as they go along. Other scenes, where things abruptly end for no specific purpose, compliment these other moments ever so perfectly. It also helps that most of, if not all of the movie, have immensely quotable and ridiculously bizarre lines that will help this stick with you long after the credits end. Hell, I haven’t been able to get “Bullshit Artist” and “Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie” out of my head ever since my initial viewing of the film. I have now seen it twice, and it’s one of those things that benefits from a second viewing in my eyes. Long story short: Hosking and Harvard’s script is tasteless and completely bonkers, yet more intelligent and memorable than one could have ever expected.

Another factor in the film’s self-awareness comes from the cast members. Michael St. Michaels hasn’t had any major acting roles before this, but it’s hard to tell that from how good he is as Ronnie. Not only is he clearly having the time of his life playing this crazy older guy and the greasy persona he puts on throughout the story, but he also comes off as undeniably likable despite playing such a deviously monstrous person. Like with the script, Michaels’ performance is intentionally hokey, making him all the more entertaining. In fact, all of the acting in this movie is deliberately mediocre, which ironically makes the performances even better.

One of the first thoughts that came into my head after I first saw this was “Tim & Eric,” and that comes mainly from Sky Elobar’s performance. There’s this deadpan and awkward nature he gives off throughout that makes his character Braydon as funny as he is earnest. Being not the most attractive individual adds to a lot of the visual humor, but it’s in Elobar’s delivery that sells the character. This guy can turn an already unerotic sex scene into an absolute laugh-fest. Hell, he can even make phone sex more painfully awkward and side-splittingly funny than anyone could have ever imagined.

The person who probably gives the least “bad” performance in the movie is Elizabeth De Razzo. As Janet, Razzo gives her all by going fully nude, along with partaking in some of the most awkward and jaw-dropping sex scenes in motion picture history. “Game of Thrones” is tame compared the sex scenes featured here. While a lot of her dialogue is cheesy, her delivery is the closest to being “realistic” compared to her co-stars. This isn’t a criticism in the slightest to her or her fellow actors, but rather a compliment to her for being able to keep it straight (or as straight as anyone could be) while saying and doing really odd things. The rest of the acting is even cornier than the three leads, which help to both add to the camp-factor of the movie and the memorability of some scenes.

When I say this movie isn’t for the faint of heart, I mean that in every sense of the phrase. What we have here is easily the grossest, vilest, and most depraved film to come out this year, and that’s saying something considering we had a movie come out that featured an animated food orgy just a couple of months back. Along with insanely disgusting imagery being present throughout, there’s also a lot of male nudity from the two male leads. Both schlongs are prosthetic, and both are used to quite hilarious lengths (pun intended), but if that irks you at all, then I don’t even know that you could ever be fully prepared to see this. And as you might have expected from both a low-budget indie and a homage to exploitation films of the past, the practical effects look as corny as they are brutal. I mentioned some examples of gross imagery before, and believe me when I say that those aren't the most disgusting things shown in the film. These effects are done not just to disgust the viewer, but to also have us laugh at the insanity that’s being presented throughout this movie.

It’s funny how this and another Sundance hit from a first-time writer/director came out on the same weekend, the other one being Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation.” Both films are not easy to sit through, but this one is less accessible to an extent. “The Greasy Strangler” requires a special taste in films in order to enjoy fully. I know quite a few friends of mine who would love this, and I know just as many who would despise this. Regardless of your overall thoughts on the film if you end up seeing it, I guarantee you that it will be hard to forget it. If you’re like me and love these type of obscure indie “midnight movies” that go all out and push any boundaries one may have, then absolutely seek this one out. This is a cult classic in the making, and I really hope people manage to find it and embrace it in all of its greasy nature. I’ve seen “The Greasy Strangler” twice now, and I can’t wait to see it a third time. It’s disgusting, depraved, shocking, crude, and I had an absolute blast with every second of it.









ME WITH ACTORS MICHAEL ST. MICHAELS, SKY ELOBAR, AND ELIZABETH DE RAZZO AFTER THE NEW YORK PREMIERE/AFTER PARTY FOR "THE GREASY STRANGLER" ON OCTOBER 3RD, 2016.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

REVIEW: Brooklyn

MOVIE
Brooklyn

CAST
Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen

RATING
PG-13

RELEASE
November 4, 2015 (NY/LA)

DIRECTOR
John Crowley

STUDIO
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 52 minutes







STARS
***1/2









REVIEW:

One of the hottest titles to come out of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was John Crowley's "Brooklyn."  The movie stars Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish girl named Ellis who decides to immigrate to America and start up a new and hopefully more successful life.  Ellis initially feels homesick as most people would.  However, her sickness is immediately cured when an Italian man from Brooklyn named Tony, played by Emory Cohen, enters her life and becomes the center of her romantic infatuations.  From that brief plot description, it's easy to brush this off as yet another romantic film that caters to the hormone-injected teen girls of today.  Despite the film having typical romantic cliches that have been done time and time again, "Brooklyn" manages to stand out amongst other romantic tales coming out these days.  It does so by being an emotionally moving, fantastically acted, gorgeous looking, and overall downright charming drama that, while it's not perfect, is very much something that audiences everywhere can and will enjoy together.

Saoirse Ronan is an actress I've always enjoyed seeing in movies.  Whether it's playing a supporting role in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" or the title character in "Hanna," Ronan always gives it her all in her performances.  As Ellis, she not only gives a great performance, but she also shows off a rawer and more emotional side that was quite refreshing to watch.  Granted I haven't seen her Oscar-nominated work in "Atonement," so I can't judge off of that film.  Considering this is pretty much Ronan's film, though, I think it's safe to say that she held her own and gave a commanding and investing performance.

The first 30 minutes or so of the film show Ellis' struggle not only in America but her journey coming to America itself.  These scenes were all very good, but they didn't quite grab me as much as I would have preferred.  It wasn't until Emory Cohen's Tony came into the picture that the quality of the movie not only raised, but leaped high up in quality.  Not only does Cohen give an exceptionally likable and charismatic performance, but the chemistry that he has with Ronan is unbelievably charming.  Every time these two were on screen together, even if a scene was more dramatic than others, I had a big smile on my face because of how well these two got along.  Their romance never felt artificial or written, but rather as if we were watching a documentary about the sweetest couple around in 1950s New York City.  Their romance to me is the glue that kept the film as a whole together.

About halfway through the film, a tragedy occurs which causes Ellis to go back to Ireland.  Back in her native home, she meets another young man named Jim, played by Domnhall Gleeson.  The reason this film fell short for me from being fantastic is because of Gleeson's character.  Don't get me wrong, the performance is strong, and it's nice to see Gleeson in so many movies right now.  My problem with his character is that, frankly, he didn't feel integral to the plot whatsoever.  It seemed like his only purpose was to create a romantic conflict between Ellis and Tony, thus creating a love triangle.  I never once felt invested in him as a love interest, and I just felt that he was kind of unnecessary to the movie as a whole.  If the filmmakers wanted to create a conflict that would persuade Ellis into moving back to Ireland, they could have made up a better than excuse instead of relying on another romantic partner to seduce her.  Gleeson gave a solid performance, but his character didn't feel needed in my eyes.

"Brooklyn" isn't anything we haven't seen before regarding storytelling.  Not just because this type of story has been done countless times before, but also because this film is based on a book of the same name by author Colm Tóibín.  However, screenwriter/fellow author Nick Hornby gives the story more substance and creates likable and relatable characters that we as an audience care about and enjoy watching.  John Crowley animates the screenplay to life by helping his actors deliver great performances and showing a visually beautiful look at 1950s New York.  The second half felt too much like an artificially created conflict for Ellis, and Domnhall Gleeson's presence felt unneeded, but at the end of the day Brooklyn is a charming, well-acted, beautifully shot, and well-made film that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser to everyone who sees it.