Wednesday, August 16, 2017

[Review] Berlin Syndrome


What starts out as a fairly run-of-the-mill romantic excursion, turns into a hostile nightmare in director Cate Shortland's Berlin Syndrome.

While backpacking in Germany, photojournalist Clare (Teresa Palmer, Lights Out) meets a local dude named Andi (Max Riemelt) and the two become smitten with each other. Andi even playfully jokes about locking her in his apartment because he's so obsessed...only it isn't a joke--he actually locks her in his apartment and won't let her leave! Let's just say the guy transcends the word "Creeper."

From there, we witness Clare's intense struggles to get out, whether it's physical attempts or mind games (at best, both at the same time). The handheld camera and gritty cinematography brings us right into Clare's helpless and claustrophobic point-of-view. Sometimes the picture even blurs and refocuses, emphasizing the overall disorientation of the crisis. And of course, as the title suggests, Clare falls into spells of Stockholm Syndrome--turns out, it can happen anywhere!

This film packs some stressful thrills, but unfortunately, a midsection lull diminishes some of the tension, especially as the film approaches a two-hour runtime. This year's other similar captive thriller Hounds of Love is definitely a more succinct, thoughtful, and compellingly-acted viewing. Still, the gripping end of Berlin Syndrome is worth sticking around for.

( 7/10 )


Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Monday, August 14, 2017

[Review] Annabelle: Creation


Ah, creepy dolls. You can't live with them, you can't live without them. The same could be said for prequels and spinoffs. Annabelle: Creation comes as a prequel to a spinoff, which is why it's so surprising that it isn't terrible. Sure, the film has its share of problems, and it doesn't really offer up anything new, but it's a serviceable jump-scare flick for those getting anxious for the Fall season.

David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) is the director of this chapter--which sees a grieving couple (played by Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia) who lost their daughter to a tragic accident--convert their rustic house in the country into a foster home for young girls. But of course, things get frightening when the girls uncover that now iconic old, ominous, eerie-eyed doll who goes by Annabelle.

The typical Annabelle antics ensue: strange noises... head turning... popping up in random places... and making the occupants' lives a living hell. The second half of the film ups the ante and throws any sense of subtlety out the window, unleashing crazy poltergeist activity and demonic intrusions--to the point where the film unfortunately seems to become less about the doll and more about all the surrounding stuff. And given Annabelle's infamy and lore within The Conjuring universe, you sort of wish for a more carefully fleshed out backstory. That said, the film's tendency to deviate from focus allows for an awesomely grisly possessed scarecrow scene, which might remind you of Goosebumps.

Annabelle: Creation is all seen-it-before, but every time you see it, it's still pretty scary.

( 7/10 )



Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Saturday, August 12, 2017

[Review] Wakefield


Bryan Cranston stars in the noir-ish and voyeuristic domestic drama, Wakefield. Its cynical dissection of marriage and suburban discontent warrants comparisons to stuff like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. As far as quality, it falls somewhere in between (Gone Girl being the better one, of course).

Howard (Cranston) is an agitated family man. After a quarrel with his wife (played by Jennifer Garner), he has a nervous breakdown and abandons her and their two daughters. But that's not all. Instead of packing up and leaving, he secretly stays in the garage attic and spies on them, like some sort of sadistic experiment to see what they'd do if he disappeared. The film could be titled Guy in an Attic.

It's intriguing to see how this all develops. With such a contained story, a lot of it hinges on Cranston's performance and the blunt tone of his voiceover narration. His character is so self-conscious, so observant, so miserable, so vindictive, and so scathingly sarcastic that it becomes comical--in that black comedy sort of way. As we know by now, Cranston does all of these things well, and he's fine with not being the most likable character. Oh yeah, and he grows a gnarly beard throughout.

Unfortunately, a couple extended flashbacks break up the narrative's momentum, rather than presenting any significant depth or insight. And much like Howard's prolonged time in the attic, the film begins to drag in the second half, especially as his self-sabotaging disappearance becomes increasingly pointless. By then, it's just a matter of waiting to see when Howard will reveal himself, or if he's too far gone. In this case, the beginning is much more interesting than the end.

( 7/10 )


Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Thursday, August 10, 2017

[Review] The Incredible Jessica James


Netflix's output of original films seems to be increasing by the month. Some hit. Some miss. But I'm pleased to say that the romantic comedy The Incredible Jessica James is one of the good ones.

Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is an aspiring playwright. Upfront honesty is her thing--which is why she's so open about being bitter from her recent breakup with Damon (played by Lakeith Stanfield "Atlanta", Get Out). But things begin to change when she's set up on a blind date with a modest fellow named Boone (played by Chris O'Dowd). The two basically are polar opposites, but there's notable chemistry between them. A real Let's just see where this goes vibe.

The film's bright and colorful dance/title sequence really sets the tone. This is a fresh, breezy, engaging, and exuberant watch. The script runs on deliciously snappy dialogue, and the film flaunts a visual spunk that's met with enthusiastic editing. Newcomer Jessica Williams proves to be a wonderfully natural lead with a terrific and likely star-making performance. And even over the film's brisk 80-minute runtime, her character's personality is nicely drawn.

The only downfall of The Incredible Jessica James is that it has an episodic slice-of-life feel to it, playing more like a really great TV pilot rather than a well-rounded feature film. Much like Jessica and Boone's sparky but short-lived times together, it leaves you wanting more.

( 7.5/10 )


Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

[Review] Lady MacBeth


You could definitely call Lady MacBeth the cousin to this year's My Cousin Rachel. It's another dark and scandalous British period piece set in the mid-1800s. But this cousin is the better of the two.

Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman who's been sold into marriage with a dreadfully controlling and unpleasant middle-aged man. Safe to say, she hates it. But when Katherine sparks up a steamy affair with a grounds worker, everything changes as she engages in a chain of rebellion.

"Drab" is the ultimate word that comes to mind when describing this movie. The dour situation... The dingy living quarters... The static camerawork... All the scenes of people getting beaten... "Shit hitting the fan" also comes to mind. There's some nasty confrontations and drastic table turns. This film doesn't dance around the drama, it dives right into it. And just when you think the well might be running dry, something new comes up that raises the stakes and pushes the film into even darker territory.

Newcomer Florence Pugh gives a tremendous central performance that's both tumultuous and commanding. As you can guess, this is far from a feel-good film. But the lead character's transition from sympathetic victim to despicable villain is something jaw-dropping to witness.

( 7.5/10 )


Be sure to Like Fade to Zach on Facebook!
And Follow me on Twitter: @Fade_to_Zach