drama

31 Days of Halloween: Cube (1997)– Video Review

We keep the 31 Days of Halloween content flowing with this video review of the cult thriller Cube.

Have you all got to check out Cube? If so, what did you think? Hit me up in the comments below and let me know!

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31 Days of Halloween: Review: Zombie drama ‘Maggie’ more dead than living

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Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin are father and daughter in “Maggie.” (Lionsgate)

Arnold Schwarzenegger built his acting career around blowing stuff up and nailing hammy one-liners. To that end, the notion of him starring in a zombie apocalypse movie conjures up some pretty thrilling images. Alas, whatever movie might be playing in your head (perhaps one where Arnie mows down legions of the undead with a military-grade turret mounted atop an armored truck with a half-smoked cigar hanging from his mouth) is still better than Maggie.

The first few minutes of Maggie cleverly establishes via a mattering of disembodied news reports (because those’ve never been done before) that a clearly made-up virus has broken out across the country and is slowly transforming those infected into decaying cannibals. Abigail Breslin’s Maggie is one of those unfortunate souls and Wade (Schwarzenegger) is her father, a lifelong farmer who’d rather kill a friendly cop just doing his job than turn his necrotizing teenage daughter over to quarantine.

Director Henry Hobson has an ambitious, zombie-lite vision for his film. He wants to tell a personal, character-driven story about a daughter living her last days alongside her father, step-mom (Joely Richardson), and closest friends, all of them well aware that the end is near for the young lady. The aspiration is admirable and Hobson fittingly constructs a consistent, meditative air of gloom.

Unfortunately, the narrative often wanders from the beaten country path and into the indiscernible wilderness (both figuratively and literally) with little explanation as to why. In one short scene Wade sets a nearby field ablaze seemingly just so he can watch it burn. Another time he drives over to his neighbor Bonnie’s (Rachel Whitman Groves) house (even though it’d already been established that the two live close enough to walk) to investigate the room where she kept her zombified husband and son. It’s a touching moment but one that admittedly had me puzzled as to Wade’s motivation.

It should also be noted that, despite the draw of her aging co-star, it’s Breslin who carries Maggie. Schwarzenegger is still an actor of limited range. The behind the scenes artists have done a nice job making him appear haggard and beaten down, but it’s still up to Schwarzenegger to sell me on his character’s emotional journey and here Mr. Universe just isn’t up to the task.

🎃🎃 (out of 4)


Director: Henry Hobson

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Rachel Whitman Groves

Rated: PG-13

Year: 2015

What did you all get a chance to check out Maggie? What did you think? Was it your cup of tea or would you rather see Arnie take on zombies in good, ole fashioned Arnie style? Hit me up in the comments below, I wanna hear from you!

 

Battle of the Sexes (2017)– Video Review

Battle of the Sexes starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell is getting a lot of Oscar buzz. Is it worth all that hype? Check out my video review and find out!

Are you planning on checking out Battle of the Sexes? If so, let me know what you think by hitting my up in the comments section below!

Review: ‘Good Time’ is a great movie about some bad people

Director(s): Josh & Benny Safdie

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Rated: R (for language throughout, violence, drug use and sexual content)

Year: 2017

You don’t need to like the main character of a story. You need only be compelled by them. That’s good new for Good Time‘s Constantine Nikas, a.k.a. Connie– a.k.a. Robert Pattinson– a.k.a. the sociopaths scum of the Earth whose exploitative escapades pile up like a devastating train wreck that’s increasingly tough to look away.

Through the course of Good Time, Connie ruins the lives of everybody unfortunate enough to cross tracks with him. He gets his brother Nick (played by co-writer/director Benny Safdie), the only person he truly cares about outside himself, thrown in prison for a botched bank robbery. He tricks an elderly woman into letting him hide out in her house, then seduces her granddaughter (who looks a lot younger than we’re told). Connie even drugs and frames a security guard at the local carnival, all in the pursuit of ten-thousand dollars needed to bail out Nick.

It’s the type of selfish and self-destructive behavior that makes for a fascinating character study and Pattinson is mesmerizing as a master manipulator with a gift for reading people and situations and orchestrating both to his advantage. Not unlike Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler or Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, Pattinson will have your skin crawling and leave you reeling for a shower.

Connie doesn’t care what he has to do or who he has to do it to on his way to reuniting with his brother. It’s what makes him far and away the most deplorable character in the film. That said, nearly everyone we meet is in one way or another deserving of our disdain. In particular Buddy Duress’s Ray, a whiny, low-life drug dealer who helps Connie navigate the neon-laden criminal underbelly of New York.

And thanks to Director Benny and Josh Safdie’s stylized vision, it’s a fittingly muted place to be. Frequently the singular source of light is a static, white television screen; a dim, blue street lamp; or the ghostly luminescence of some far off pair of headlights. The world Connie inhabits is constantly humming with a soft, bleak glow.

These bleak, electric colors work in conjunction with the pounding synth score to reflect Connie’s artificial soul. He doesn’t value people and relationships the way most people do. At times though I found the music to be too “in your face” and more headache inducing than thought provoking.

If possible, I recommend going into this film as blind as possible. I found that the trailer spoils a considerable plot point of the story. Regardless, Good Time is a great film about some bad people.

Grade: A

What did you think of Good Time? Were you impressed by Robert Pattinson’s performance? Who is your favorite movie sociopath? Let us know in the comments below!

Review: ‘Birth of the Dragon’ serves as an insane, quasi-biopic for Kung-Fu legend

Director: George Nolfi

Starring: Philip Ng, Xia Yu, Billy Magnussen, Terry Chen

Rating: PG-13

Year: 2017

The world may never know what truly transpired during the legendary San Francisco showdown between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man back in 1964. There were few witness and still today there are conflicting reports. The one fact everyone seems to agree on is that there was indeed a fight.

Through the years, the tale of Lee vs. Man has grown to mythic proportions. Birth of the Dragon occasionally embraces that epic status in an attempt to straddle the line between serious character drama and campy Kung-Fu kick-assery. Results vary but this quasi-biopic can definitely offer up some high-flying fun if indeed you can forgive a few glaring flaws.

Despite its title, marketing, and being based on a real life occurrence, Birth of the Dragon centers around a fictionalized friend and student of Bruce Lee’s, a Caucasian American named Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen). Steve meets and, as if on cue, falls in love with Xiulan (Qu Jingjing). She’s a Chinese woman who’s been forced into labor by the China Town mafia. That’s right, a romance not involving Bruce Lee is the heart and soul of a movie that is otherwise supposed to be about Bruce Lee.

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Not that surprisingly, the romance is never compelling, thanks largely to a lazy script that too feels uninterested in exploring this relationship. The awkward report between Magnussen and Jingjing stands out as the pair exchange the type of schmaltzy, uninspired dialogue that would make a scriptwriting professor turn away in embarrassment.

As dull as the central love story is, it does act as the catalyst that ultimately brings Lee and Man fist to fist. Prior to the final confrontation, however, a vast majority of the film consists of a tedious Ping-Pong-style alternation of scenes in which a macho Steve relays messages between the martial artists. Each time we learn a little bit more about these two legends but the general takeaway is always the same: Lee wants to fight. Man doesn’t.

The good news is that interspersed throughout are some genuinely exciting fight sequences. Director George Nolfi is no stranger to action, having written The Bourne Ultimatum and directed the underappreciated The Last Stand starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here he doesn’t often shoot from different angles or rely on rapid-fire editing to create tension. Instead, Nolfi trusts his actors with some brutal choreography, opting to simply set the camera down and hit record.

The further into the film we go, the more grandiose the grapples become. Once Lee and Man eventually face off, not even the laws of physics can interfere. They’re practically superheroes the way they leap from tremendous heights without so much as a scratch and preform killer back flips from laughably tall heights off cement pillars. This fight in particular features some unfortunate overuse of slow-motion and obvious wire work.

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The ultimate culmination is an insane, no-holds-barred brawl at mafia headquarters. No henchman or wooden piece of furniture is safe from the screeching Bruce Lee. However, once our hero kicks down the doors to the boss’s office, I couldn’t help but feel as if all this ridiculousness was undermining the more grounded story of why he was there in the first place– to save Steve’s girlfriend– which the film spends most of its time building up.

In terms of performances, Philip Ng is solid as an overly macho caricature of Bruce Lee who’s childishly obsessed with kicking Wong Jack Man’s ass in front of as many people as possible and wants to become the “CEO” of Kung-Fu badassery. Yu Xia is perfectly stoic as Wong Jack Man, a former master of Kung-Fu at the Shaolin Temple, who now seeks to humble himself by moving to San Francisco to work as a dishwasher.

Let’s quick talk about Man. He is without a doubt the most charming character in Birth of the Dragon. He’s always doing the morally upright thing and unfailingly seizes the opportunity to drop wisdom bombs on Bruce or Steve. It’s so easy to root for Man, in fact, that I couldn’t shake the impression that if his opponent’s name wasn’t Bruce Lee, then he’d surely be the hero of this story.

I’ll end my review by equating Birth of the Dragon to a fight. Some punches land while others don’t. Other times it’ll kick you where and when you’re least expecting it. You’ll be excited by some moves but also unable to recall why certain things happened. If you can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, this film might just be for you.

Grade: C+

What did you all think of Birth of the Dragon? Do you think it works as a true Bruce Lee biopic? Or is this just another unfortunate case of Hollywood whitewashing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Review: ‘A Ghost Story’ is a haunting, complex moviegoing experience

Director: David Lowery

Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara


Synopsis: In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife (IMDb). 

Rated: R

Year: 2017

Complete with sheet and dark eyeholes, a man’s restless spirit rises from the corner’s table. From there he begins a trippy journey where he learns about love, loss, and liberation. It sounds whacky, but David Lowery’s (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Pete’s Dragon) supernatural drama is deceptively simple and user-friendly.

There isn’t much going on in terms of story and aside from some haunting cinematography, the film is visually uncomplicated. Even its two leads (though they do solid work here) seem moot next to Lowery’s creative vision.

Recent Oscar winner Casey Affleck plays “C,” a musician (at least a wannabe one). Rooney Mara is “M.” Not much is known about this couple other than they live together in a small Texas house and share some semblance of a romantic bond.

Of course all that’s by design. Fewer distractions means viewers can more readily engage with A Ghost Story‘s rich, spiritual subtext and enjoy the imagination on display.

After unexpectedly biting the big one mere feet from their front patio, “C” returns home via the afterlife whereupon he discovers a grieving “M.” Though he reaches out to comfort his lamenting love, she feels nothing and has no idea he’s there.

We get an idea of just how badly “M” misses “C” during a five-minute take where she buries her sorrow in an entire chocolate pie. Lowery’s questionable tendency to linger in moments like this for what feels to be an eternity will surely test the patience of even the artiest artists in the audience. Thankfully, those moments are few and far between.

“M” even brings home unidentified men to console her, much the chagrin of our silent specter, whose dismay causes the lights to flicker. “M” eventually moves out and on with her life; her lover’s snared soul staying put within the confines of the house he so loved in life.

It’s simultaneously surprising and refreshing just how much Lowery gets us to care about a blanket with holes in it simply by flipping the light switch a few times or having the ghost lean ever so slightly to the side. It’s a testament to the strong visual storyteller Lowery is.

As the sands of time shift on, a lonely “C” witnesses both the future and past of his home, with very few constants save for the occasional subtitled exchange with the apparition haunting the neighboring lot. This is just one example of how Lowery cleverly combines different religious beliefs into a fresh, inventive vision of the afterlife that hasn’t been depicted before in cinema.

Lowery’s decision to curve the edges of the frame gives off the illusion that the whole thing was shot on home video. This gives A Ghost Story a more intimate feel and further highlights the director’s unique creative vision.

Grade: A

What did you all think of A Ghost Story? Was it too artsy, fartsy for you? Let us know in the comments below!

‘A Ghost Story’– Video Review

A Ghost Story is quietly one of the best films of 2017. Hear more about it in our video review!

What did ya’ll think about A Ghost Story? Do you enjoy deep thinking films? Hit us up in the comments and let us know!