Monday, October 31, 2016

[Review] Under the Shadow

If you liked 2014's Australian horror masterpiece The Babadook, then you'll definitely want to check out this year's internationally-produced Under the Shadow. Iranian director Babak Anvari delivers a truly nerve-wracking experience that skillfully blends real-world horrors with supernatural terror.

Set amidst the Iran-Iraq conflict in the 1980s, we meet the world-weary Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) as they cope with the turmoil and daily blasts in war-torn Tehran. One day, a missile crashes into their apartment complex (an image that evokes Guillermo del Toro's brilliant The Devil's Backbone). Soon after, Dorsa's behavior shifts and she begins speaking of an evil and possessive wind spirit called Djinn. Shideh stays in skeptic and denial mode, but when she witnesses some frightening occurrences herself, she realizes it's not just a child's imagination.

While most of Under the Shadow's fears thrive on anxiety and dread, there are still a couple of shocking jump scares that nearly caused my heart to leap out of my chest. Along with its alarming sequences of startles, the film is so engrossing because it's rooted in solid drama, doused in sociopolitical overtones of Iran's post-revolution stresses (especially for women), and focused on sympathetic and well-drawn characters. It's very human, and it's a great mother and daughter story against hostile circumstances. The film has a slim runtime of 80 minutes, leaving little room for filler or empty scenes. Every drab frame is precisely rendered, and the ominous mood is crafted with unnerving sound design and backed with an eerie musical score that stuns and reverberates.

Under the Shadow casts darkness on an ill-omened intrusion. A potent and lingering fear. A devastating hole that tape won't fix.

* 9/10 *

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

[Review] Inferno

Holy smokes! Not even Tom Hanks can salvage Inferno--the third piece of the Ron Howard-directed Da Vinci Code trilogy. This historical-religious conspiracy thriller is not only convoluted, but it's also relentlessly boring.

Professor Langdon (Hanks, taking a break from his Captain duties) wakes up dazed with amnesia in a hospital in Florence, Italy. There, he meets the extremely enlightened Dr. Sienna (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) and the two abruptly team up in order to foil a population control plot of billionaire Doomsday theorist (Ben Foster), who plans to unleash biological warfare.

The cast are fine with what they're given to work with. Felicity Jones continues to be a magnetic screen presence, but I couldn't help but just look forward to her leading role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Tom Hanks makes the best of the confounding material. His most charming moment comes when he politely asks for a cup of coffee after learning that assassins are on his trail.

But the film is essentially one long, windy, sigh-inducing chase--burdened by muddled sections of exposition and scenes of people staring at symbols. The narrative is painstakingly chopped with disorienting memory flashes and hellish hallucinations. It's puzzling, but not intriguing. Cryptic, but not gripping. And the setups aren't compelling enough to give the bag of twists any power.

Inferno is such a slog that you might find yourself drifting off into your own purgatory.

( 4/10 )

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Friday, October 28, 2016

[Review] In a Valley of Violence

Acclaimed indie-horror master Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament) deviates from his usual scary tricks and tries his hand at a Western with In a Valley of Violence. The film stars Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan (Oculus), and yes--John Travolta. And it's a pretty doggone decent time, even if it isn't as distinct or memorable as West's past work.

The drifting ex-soldier Paul (Hawke) and his trusty sidekick--a sweet pup named Abbie, are heading toward Mexico. But on the way, they have to pass through the town of Denton. Paul swears he doesn't want any trouble, but trouble seems to find him as he butts-heads with the town's slimy tough guy (played by James Ransone) and his father (John Travolta), who happens to be the town Marshal.

Set amidst crisply wide 35mm views and some far out zoom-ins, In a Valley of Violence is a fairly straightforward homage to classic spaghetti Westerns. All the genre elements, beats, and tropes are there--from the cartoon credits sequence to the orchestral cues. It's populated with shady characters, typical scenes that slowly escalate into predictable confrontations, and the sweet smell of revenge. For those hoping for a few horror twists, there's not much to be found here, aside from one flashy nighttime dream sequence and a somewhat heavier lean on blood and brutality.

In fact, the film doesn't stray too far away a'tall from Westerns of past, or even some of the more recent ones. The story is simple but effective with its John Wickian theme of don't come between someone and their pooch, especially if said person is trained to swiftly blow your head off or slit your throat. The lead-up to the film's pulpy climax is easily the highlight, flaunting some seriously funny shouting exchanges between Hawke and Travolta during the heat of a standoff.

I wish there were more style and panache In a Valley of Violence, but at least it's not a bloody waste.

( 7/10 )

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

[Review] Men & Chicken

Do you like weird? Do you like Mads Mikkelsen? Then you'll love this oddball Danish black comedy, Men & Chicken. It's a mirthfully unappealing film, if that makes any sense at all.

Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mikkelsen) are two outcast brothers with "abnormal" facial features. Gabriel is a weary professor, while Elias is an unsavory scoundrel (he jerks off in a bathroom stall after a meeting with his therapist). But if you think that's bizarre, wait until you meet their estranged half-brothers!

After their father dies, Gabriel and Elias discover some surprising truths about their family and set out to find their reclusive siblings, who are a cranky and unhinged bunch. They frequently beat the crap out of each other with blunt objects (some of which include taxidermied creatures), and I doubt they've gone through concussion protocol. They also dwell in a giant, run-down mansion that's populated with livestock. It's like an indoor farm. Oh yeah, and some of the animals are hybrids.

For all its intentionally pukey and nauseating tendencies, this thing is greatly filmed and framed--sporting some provocative shots of the junkyard landscapes and exquisite views of the rustic mansion. Between the dimly-lit, deteriorating interior and its cold, antiquated, and uncomfortable qualities--it's more of a dungeon than a home. But it's highly detailed and somehow artful, sort of like the foreboding living quarters in Taika Waititi's vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows.

Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, Men & Chicken is definitely a one of a kind experience. It's a darkly funny fable with hints of gross-out horror, warped scientific experiments, head-scratching antics, and twisty mysteries. There's even a tragic layer of sympathy and heart beneath it all. And Mads Mikkelsen--he's no stranger to audacious roles, but this is certainly one of the quirkier ones, and he does it very well. I think it's safe to say that it's probably quite different compared to his upcoming blockbuster turns in Doctor Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Anyway, you might actually enjoy spending some time with this family. From a distance, of course.

( 8/10 )

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

[Review] The Wailing

Director Na Hong-jin is the unleasher of The Wailing, a South Korean horror-thriller. This epic film is a blended concoction of doom and spooky subgenres, and the result is wonderfully terrifying.

When mysterious and brutal murders begin cropping up around a small lake village, a local hapless officer named Jong-goo (played by Kwak Do-won) attempts to investigate the root of the problem. But when wildlings, ghosts, demonic possessions, and infection outbreaks come into play, he concludes that the savage sickness is more than just some bad mushrooms.

As disturbing as this stuff is, the film actually dons a surprisingly amusing tone, especially during the first half. Between the slapstick acting, comic reaction shots to the jolts, and the goofy breaks in the madness, there's definitely a splotch of humor. In other words, the film doesn't take itself too seriously (I think I even heard a pronounced fart at one point). But don't get it twisted. This is still genuinely scary and designed to freak you out. And the story grows increasingly frightening as it progresses.

Crafted with plenty of gusto--from pulsating shaman rituals, dreadful face-to-face encounters with flesh-hungry beings, and a deep splash of East Asian mythology and archetypal folklore--the film rivets as much as gets under your skin. There's even some hints of "True Detective" Season One type of stuff--only way witchier and hellish. What's also impressive is the film's grand runtime. It clocks in at nearly 160 minutes, yet it never feels like a slog--thanks to its great pacing, consistent engagement, and a major sense of unpredictability. A lot of other films should take notes, to be honest.

The Wailing is hysterical. It's manic. It's creepy. It's bloody. It's dark. It's a real scream.

* 8.5/10 *

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

[Review] Yoga Hosers

I can wholeheartedly say that Yoga Hosers is one of the worst movies I've ever seen in my life. Writer-directer Kevin Smith seems to have been content with putting out the most aggressively stale and obnoxious film possible. It's actually nightmarish how awful it is. And no, it's not the type of good-bad as say, Tommy Wiseau's The Room. This thing makes Adam Sandler's recent endeavors look like Citizen Kane. It's like being subjected to someone else's boring and embarrassing home movies. It's like one giant inside joke that probably isn't even funny for the people involved.

Set in Manitoba, the film opens with Colleen and Colleen (played by Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith) having a loud and off-key rap-rocking jam session like two teens who just discovered Beastie Boys. In case that isn't annoying enough, they deliver a horrible karaoke-like power ballad later on. The two besties speak unironically by using hashtags and outdated selfie and Instagram lingo (out loud). And they work at a convenience store called Eh-2-ZED because haha Canada? Anyway, there's not much of a plot here. Rumblings of Evil Dead-esque voices swirl through town, which turn out to be little Nazi bratwursts with spiked helmets who unexpectedly drill up into people's butts. It's somehow a more unimaginative gag than Seth Rogen's deplorable Sausage Party.

Yoga Hosers makes sure to let us know that it's operating in the same realm of 2014's Tusk, the first installment of Kevin Smith's True North trilogy, which I actually found to be amusingly deranged, despite it feeling like a short stretched out into a feature. Along with Lily-Rose and Harley, Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment return but as completely different characters, because that makes sense... Johnny Depp also reprises his cameo role as fumbling detective Guy LaPointe, and the guy sounds inebriated out of his mind. It was fun in Tusk, but here it stretches into a tired novelty.

Speaking of stretching, Yoga Hosers shouldn't have been stretched out into anything. It's thoroughly pointless and stuffed with loads of nearly unwatchable filler. The dialogue is atrocious, and the cast draws attention to their exaggerated accents like an amateur Fargo. "Jokes" get regurgitated throughout the film as if we didn't hear how unfunny they were the first time. (Notice how I placed quotation marks around Jokes.) There isn't any sign of a story until about 50 minutes in. The good news is that the movie is over halfway done at that point. The bad news is that it's still too long.

The climax unleashes some commentary on critics, but it comes off like a self-indulgent temper tantrum, basically suggesting that other people aren't allowed to comment on this piece of hack trash that Kevin Smith flung into theaters. So if your goal was to make us hate this movie, you succeeded.

( 0/10 )

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Monday, October 24, 2016

[Review] Ouija: Origin of Evil

2014's Ouija film left such little of an impression that I could hardly recall if I'd seen it or not. Turns out, I did see it. And the only thing that clearly came to mind was Ouija BORED. So that's why it's such a surprise that this year's sequel Ouija: Origin of Evil is so damned good. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a flawless masterpiece, and it isn't really anything new for the horror genre. But as Halloween swiftly approaches, consider this as a worthwhile entry into your October movie playlist.

Right away we meet Alice (Elizabeth Reaser), a psychic medium for hire who scams her customers by pulling crafty theatrics (or as she calls it, "showmanship") with some behind-the-scenes help from her two precocious daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson). One day, Alice buys a Ouija board from the store, and you guessed it--she taps into the other side. For real this time.

The cool thing about this film is that takes an old-school, welcomely retro approach with its throwback title sequence and '60s cloaked sets (also, if you look closely--you can catch a few "cue marks" in the upper right corner of the frame). The strange and scary occurrences incrementally build with tried-and-true horror methods--including alternations between eerie music and deafening silence, slow zoom-ins and zoom-outs backed by creeping piano keys, shadows lurking in corners, beady-eyed and possessed kids spouting off uncomfortable monologues about strangulation... There's also some tense views through the Ouija's looking glass, where the conniving demons dwell. 

In fact, the first half of this film is remarkably restrained and nicely calculated for a mainstream horror flick. Of course, I'm not saying that antes aren't upped or that some crazy ass stuff doesn't eventually happen. But the story mostly refrains from overly campy shark-jumps, groan-worthy special effects, and rotten dialogue. It all escalates into a dreadful and thrilling climax that concludes with an audaciously bleak ending. The magnetic performances from the cast aid the mood, too. 

Guided by director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush), Ouija: Origin of Evil is an unnerving push-and-pull between skeptics and believers. And if you're wondering if you need to see the film's predecessor beforehand, the answer is NO. You're best bet is to slide straight toward this one. But remember the game's three rules:

1. Never play alone.
2. Never play in a graveyard.
3. Always say goodbye. 

( 7.5/10 )

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

[Review] The Idol

"We'll be big, and we'll change the world."

Hany Abu-Assad directs The Idol, a moving Palestinian drama that saddens as much as it delights. It's full of very familiar elements: Coming-of-age, the power of music, rags to riches... And though we've seen stories like these told many times before (even perfected in this year's excellent Sing Street), it doesn't mean they aren't still worthwhile experiences.

Set in conflict-ridden Gaza, the young Mohammed (Qais Atallah) and Nour (Hiba Atallah, a glowing standout) are brother and sister, playing in a 4-piece band that... let's just say they need a little tuning up. The crew attempts to scrounge up enough money to buy new instruments and equipment, all while maintaining lofty dreams of one day performing at the Cairo Opera House.

This film is beautifully shot. Early on, each frame is alive with exuberance and hustle, bringing out the vibrant and fruitful colors even amidst the despair and desolation of the backdrop. The story is all about relentless determination, no matter the circumstances. There's also a nice sense of innocent 'Kids say the darndest things' humor to it. And all the young actors are absolutely great here.

The midway point contains a poignant shocker, and there's a major shift in the narrative, making the film a disjointed tale of two halves. Unfortunately, it also loses some of its spunk. However, the turn rings as a necessary extension and conclusion to this story. With its spanning of different time periods, the film feels like a minor rendition of the Oscar-winning sensation Slumdog Millionaire.

The Idol emphasizes the fact that many children will grow up in completely different environments and face tougher obstacles than some can even imagine--but a wide-eyed smile is universal.

( 7.5/10 )

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

[Review] Chevalier

Better do some pushups and fluff your stuff. Writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari examines masculinity and ego in Chevalier, a deadpan Greek film about six men on a boat.

The plot revolves around a group of fellas in their 40s-60s embarking on fishing trip on a fancy yacht. For no real reason other than to determine who's "The best in general", they decide to engage in a series of contests-- mental and physical--whether it's skipping rocks or measuring morning dongs. Whoever accumulates the most points wins. The prize? Bragging rights, of course. And a titular Chevalier ring to wear for a year, which is essentially an extension of the bragging rights.

Impeccably framed within the mostly compact settings, Chevalier takes an adroit dive into themes of male dynamics, competition, machismo, insecurities, and self-esteem in an amusing clash of middle-aged bro-downs with a slight undertone of homoeroticism (I took note of that shot with the eggplants), as these hairy dudes intently jockey for top status. But instead of casting a biting lure, director Tsangari's gaze opts for a drollishly comedic and low-key observational route, which works, because the film manages to catch a tone of absurdism and realism at the same time.

Sometimes it moves a bit too slow, and the narrative is one-note, but Chevalier still remains an intriguing outing, and it's got a terrific use of Petula Clark's rendition of "Let It Be Me".

( 7/10 )

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Monday, October 10, 2016

[Review] The Birth of a Nation

1915's The Birth of a Nation has been exalted as a groundbreaking cinematic achievement for its technical prowess and epic scope. However, the film is marred by its racist overtones and glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. In a fittingly reactionary move, writer/director/star Nate Parker (who has been dealing with some troubling controversies of his own) ignites a new The Birth of a Nation, taking on the same exact title. And like a well-sharpened hatchet to the gut, this film--which is inspired by the true events of Nat Turner's slave revolt--is as harrowing and moving as you'd expect.

Virginia in the early 1800s. We meet Nat Turner (Parker), a well-read slave who's called upon to deliver sermons at other plantations, while his owner (played by Armie Hammer) collects coin.
Along the way Nat witnesses so much injustice and inhumane cruelty, that he eventually snaps and decides to secretly lead a formation of fellow slaves to strike back against the oppressors.

As a brutal run-through, The Birth of a Nation gazes upon all the atrocities of slavery with intense and unflinching detail. But the film is also a brave and vengeful story of uprising against hateful, evil forces. Given the script's religious layer, the plot is imagined as a David vs. Goliath tale of sorts. A testament of brotherhood that boils with anguish and rage. (A few of the film's turning points generated spirited cheers from the audience during my screening.) There's also a lot of focus on Nat and his marriage with Cherry (Aja Naomi King), along with their newborn daughter, as the film functions as a tragic story of love and family amidst terrible circumstances.

The cast are impressive all around. Nate Parker gives a tremendous performance as the central protagonist. His acting chops are on display most during the watery-eyed, passionate, and soulful preaching scenes, as he recites significantly combative texts from the bible--the verses that the slave owners don't want people to know about. The narrative does stumble at times, and it lacks in character depth, as Nat Turner is the only person who comes off as multidimensional. Obviously I'm less concerned about the despicable slave owners being developed, because eff them.

So this film probably won't garner as much praise as the recent comparison piece 12 Years A Slave, but it's still packed with stunning images, powerful scenes, and themes that still resonate today--making The Birth of a Nation another searing, incendiary, and vital viewing.

* 8.5/10 *

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

[Review] Train to Busan

This South Korean zombie flick's "Dun dun dun dun..." moment arrives toward the beginning when a deer gets leveled by a moving vehicle, then the roadkill rises to its feet and stares directly into the camera with glazed white eyes, letting us know we're in for a wild ride. Hop on the Train to Busan.

Meet Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) as they prepare to board a fast rail from Seoul to Busan (Dun dun dun dun...). Much to their surprise, the train becomes overrun with zombies (Don't you hate when that happens?), and all the passengers must fight for their lives.

Things get gruesome and gory fast, especially as the zombies multiply and strike rabidly and rapidly (the train isn't the only thing that moves fast) with their possessed body contortions, vicious growling, and hideously infected faces. The chaotic frenzy is escalated with the film's sped-up frames and operatic soundtrack. So, this isn't exactly some serious or subversive alternative to the lingering zombie craze. In fact, it's not afraid to get campy. Zombies leap-tackle folks like it's a football game, they plow head-first into plexiglass, and at one point they're literally falling out of the sky.

In a similar way to the film's cousin Snowpiercer--there is a rumbling of class conflict between the different sections of the train, and the narrative ushers in some themes of ethics and virtue amidst a bite-neck setting. But watching all this zombie-slaying can still get repetitive and exhausting over the course of two hours, so that's why audiences who aren't content with the usual genre tactics will be glad to find out that there's a surprisingly emotional payoff in the end. And while Train to Busan's big setpieces of combat and chases and stampeding hordes are impressive, it's really the film's one-on-one altercations that create the most thrills.

( 7.5/10 )

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

[Review] Queen of Katwe

Between Pawn Sacrifice, The Dark Horse, and now Queen of Katwe, it seems that chess has been a frequent theme on the big screen lately. Of course, these films are about more than just the time-honored board game. Directed by Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe depicts the true story of a young Ugandan girl named Phiona Mutesi and her rise as a chess prodigy while dealing with immense poverty. This Disney picture is a familiar underdog tale, but it's an inspiring viewing nonetheless.

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) lives in the slum village of Katwe with her hard-nosed mother Nakku (Lupita Nyong'o). Phiona is a scrappy fighter too. Early on, she punches a kid in the nose after he makes fun of her body odor. That's where she joins a local chess club, led by Robert (David Oyelowo), and she catches on so fast that she eventually finds herself in the world championships.

The performances are all great here. David Oyelowo is solid as the stoic and likable mentor with a compassionate heart. First-time actress Madina Nalwanga's smile lights up the screen as the film's central focus. But it's Lupita Nyong'o (Oscar-winner for 12 Years a Slave) who stands out as the film's most complicated and emotional character, owning every single scene she's in. Another star of the film is the catchy and enlivened soundtrack of African pop songs that flourish amidst the colorful wardrobes and sets.

Sometimes the film is a bit too breezy and formulaic for its own good though, and the chess-playing scenes can be overly repetitive. That said, Queen of Katwe is still a vibrant feel-good story about defying the odds, representing your community, and embracing your craft. And dancing.

( 7.5/10 )

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

[Review] Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Following up 2014's Big Eyes, the prolifically whimsical Tim Burton lays out the welcome mat for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. And it's an underwhelming mess.

After hearing his grandpa's tales of monsters and mutants (kind of Big Fish-y right?), and a hidden mansion on an island where kids with special powers live, Jake (Asa Butterfield) eventually transports to 1943 and stumbles upon the place's doorstep where meets the mysterious Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). From here, Jake attempts to learn the home's strange history and his grandpa's secrets.

This is definitely a Tim Burton film. There's even an encapsulating scene involving a pair of stop-motion animated frankenstein-esque baby dolls with scissor limbs fighting each other. So yeah, this thing has a lot stuffed into it: Dimension warping, time looping, Nazi bombs, an invisible boy, a floating girl, a toddler with a vicious mouth in the back of her head, a campy Samuel L. Jackson transforming into a creature that looks like the Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth...

Unfortunately, none of this really meshes into a compelling or unique story. The fantastical and semi-creepy settings, along with the oddball characters and quirky humor are all fun and intriguing for a while, but the film's second half turns into a muddled patchwork of carnival and Halloweeny mediocrity. It's like Harry Potter but without the charming wonderment and stellar word-building. Or an X-Men film but without the slick, sweeping action (I'm talking about the good ones, of course).

Asa Butterfield, who was good as a young lad in Martin Scorsese's magnificent Hugo, is super bland and stiff here. And Eva Green, who is awesome in everything, doesn't seem to be in the movie all that much, especially for being the title character. The narrative also suffers from that unpleasant predicament in which it somehow feels rushed and overlong at the same time. And its potential themes of exploration, discovery, and embracing differences never really come to fruition.

You probably won't feel the need to stay here. In fact, you might just forget all about it.

( 6/10 )

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Monday, October 3, 2016

[Review] Deepwater Horizon

With the Fall season blowing in, we're in for a wave of 'based on true events' films, kicking off with last month's Sully. Here, director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) depicts 2010's BP oil spill in Deepwater Horizon--a disaster flick that's so wet and muddy that you might catch a cold while watching it.

Early on, we're introduced to electronics technician and family man Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a perfectly cast Kurt Russell as a concerned safety chief, and a positioning officer named Andrea (played by Gina Rodriguez, who's wonderful in "Jane the Virgin"), as they all aboard a massive semi-submersible oil-drilling rig that's parked off the coast of Louisiana.

Along with some amusing banter between the crew, and Mark Wahlberg yelling over loud machinery, the steady buildup conveys a lot of in-your-face foreshadowing and technical explanations. If all the scientistic terms and diagrams make your head implode, all you really need to know is that there's something severely wrong with the vessel's equipment down below.

Once things do go awry (to put it lightly), the film launches into an explosive and chaotic intensity. Peter Berg's direction is taut and immersive, reminiscent of another stark re-creation specialist named Paul Greengrass (United 93, Captain Phillips). Berg has a knack for staging remarkably visceral action as pipes burst, rooms blow out, and flames erupt. And like Lone Survivor, the film also focuses on the physical and painful blasts that the characters endure--whiplash and crashes against heavy metal, scorching burns, and shards of glass to the eyes.

Thematically, the narrative takes a rapid view into the decision-making dilemmas that arise during crisis, especially when the situation is so out-of-whack and there's not enough time to wait for orders from higher-ups. The film's detailing of the story is very straightforward in its tact--greed was at work, things were overlooked, human lives were lost, animals and ecosystems suffered--which is why the thick layer of melodrama during the ending stretch seems overwrought and un-needed, especially given how gritty, potent, and proficient everything that comes before it is. Still, Deepwater Horizon remains a thrilling and well-executed portrayal of a recent, horrific event.

( 8/10 )

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

[Review] Storks

"For as long as can be remembered, storks delivered babies..."

Much like this year's The Secret Life of Pets, the new animated tale Storks packages a relatively endearing premise for a kids flick, but the end product is squandered with middling humor and emotion, as well as a derivative plot--but at least it's cute.

Our main stork Junior (Andy Samberg) works at a far away factory that's a mix of Monsters Inc. and Arthur Christmas, but instead of scaring kids or delivering presents, they deliver kids as presents. He teams up with the spunky Tulip (Katie Crown), a human teen left behind because of a lost address, and the two set out to deliver a baby to the family of a young boy who's hoping for a sibling.

The mild humor is hit-or-miss with zippy lines of dialogue and fast-paced gags. There's a villainous pigeon character (voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman) who's incredibly annoying, perhaps by design. But while real-life pigeons may invade cities and poop on your head, at least they don't have a dumb haircut and constantly run their mouths and say stuff like "I thought we were vibing" like an out-of-touch adult who just discovered Twitter. The scenes and montages of Junior and Tulip caring for the wide-eyed, pink-haired baby are adorable and charming though, and they're one of the film's brighter spots. There's also a fairly sweet conclusion to Tulip's story.

So, Storks is reasonably harmless (except for that dang pigeon). Fun at times, and it's got some heart, but it isn't really breathing any new life into the animation world.

( 6/10 )

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