It took a little planning, but I did manage to get a Halloween themed month going for my Now Playing page, and I'm pretty excited about it. For my first review of the month, I take a look at the VOD title, 'Death of Me'; a cautionary tale about travelling internationally, and another film to add to the new potential trend of "travel horror", with which I took a look at 'The Rental' and 'Fantasy Island' earlier this year. It could be the next step with things like Air B&B. Even though it's not entirely original, it's scary stuff to think about when travelling to an unfamiliar land.
The film opens with vacationing couple, Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil (Luke Hemsworth) waking up after a heavy night of drinking, in a hotel room on a remote island in Thailand. They have no memory of the night before, but the real problem is that their passports have gone missing. In an attempt to recall the previous night, Neil takes a look at his phone, only to find a video of him brutally murdering Christine, and burying her, giving at least some explanation to the dirt in the bed Christine wakes up in... but not really. Before this nightmarishly mysterious clip, however, we also see footage of a waitress giving them something, which may have the answers to what's happening.
Although often brushed off as collective hallucinations, there's something very real and almost otherworldly that the couple is experiencing. The most unfortunate thing about it though, is that it does get somewhat confusing, as the viewer keeps questioning what's real and what's not; not in a good way, in an irritating way. I suppose to summarize, it's basically 'The Hangover' if it were a horror movie. It's a cool concept, but it could have been executed a little more simply than just feeding us gross imagery that we're not sure is real or not. There are also heavy hints of 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' here, in the sense that these visitors to an exotic land get drugged and their whole experience is a nightmare.
While the gist of the plot remains pretty standard for a trippy horror movie, this one is for those who are after some seriously creepy imagery to knock their minds around a bit. So much of this can come from the local faces of the area this couple is staying, and it's combined pretty well with the idea of not knowing who on the island they can trust. Hell, can Christine even trust her own husband? It keeps your mind going, but again, it somewhat falls apart in the process. All in all, it's effectively scary, and it gives you that dread feeling in your gut, especially when you see some of the lengths the film goes to. If you don't wanna go there with "eye stuff" or "gut stuff", it's not a good one. There is, unfortunately, a torture porn aspect to this.
While it's not quite up there with 'Hostel', it could somewhat be compared to something like 'Saw' - of which director Darren Lynn Bousman directed parts 'II', 'III' and 'IV'. He's also responsible for 'Repo: The Genetic Opera' (a cult hit, of sorts) and one of my new favorite low budget Halloween watches - 'Tales of Halloween'. His works are curious to me, but at the end of the day, works I only need to see once and be done with them. He seems keen on those "take a shower afterwards" movies that make you feel like you were just in a terribly filthy place in your head. For something creepy, gory and straight to VOD, it's not too bad, but it caters to a specific audience as well. For me, it wasn't fun, it was just eerily confusing, and the sad part is that I can't tell if that's a good thing or not. I'm gonna say it's passable for the type of film it is. Perhaps not for me, but not a total waste either.
So, I had an option between a mainstream movie and a limited movie. The mainstream movie was 'Miss Bala'. The limited movie, a documentary on World War I, directed by Peter Jackson, made from old, real, World War I footage that has been painstakingly restored as far as it could, and with voice-overs and sound effects over the old footage, provided by experts, bringing the old footage to life. I picked the latter.
According to Jackson, this was a documentary done for non-historians (guilty), and to be perfectly frank, there's really not much more to tell about its execution other than the fact that the narration is entirely made up of the voices of British No Man's Land survivors.
In truth, history was easily one of my worst subjects. For whatever reason, I was ignorant to its importance, and thought the future was far more interesting. So in all honesty, this was probably the best history lesson that I've ever received on the subject. There really is nothing like hearing it straight from the mouths of the people who have been there.
One thing I will say about this title is that I would HEAVILY encourage it to be shown in history classrooms upon whenever it gets a home release. I can vouch for it in that it held my attention, I found it fascinating, and I'd even say that it's officially raised the bar on how historical documentaries are done.
In case you manage to see this without its behind the scenes doc after its credits, I think it's important to note that Peter Jackson wants the viewers of this movie to get curious about their pasts, and check out some of their family history to see who in their bloodline may have served.
This film really was a case of "history coming alive", and I honestly hope that word spreads about it, and it gets the recognition it deserves. Remember guys, this is the take of the guy who gave us 'Lord of the Rings'.
Producer/Director Clint Eastwood brings us a new idea, having to do with the 2015 Thalys train terrorist attack, and the American heroes who stopped it. What's unique about this, is that Eastwood experiments with allowing the real-life heroes to play themselves. The idea, I would imagine, is for the movie to feel more organic. After all, who would be better at playing you than you? Kudos to Eastwood for experimenting, but unfortunately, good acting goes a long way in engaging the audience. It pains me to say these things because I've always thought of Eastwood as being a great director with such titles under his belt (that I've seen) as 'Sully' and 'Gran Torino'. But what can you do? Every great director needs his/her experimental flop.
Besides the rough acting from our real-life heroes (but seriously, much respect for doing what you did), the film comes across to me as a giant American flag. They seem to make damn sure in this that you know these guys are American. And not only that, but damn patriotic Americans. Even as kids, these dudes play around with guns and talk about the comradery of war. It just seems to flex a giant American bicep the whole time.
But enough about that. The fact of the matter is that this movie is a bit of a throwaway. It's definitely not something I'll remember much by the end of the year, and these guys' story speaks for itself. If you wanna know more, I'd recommend either reading the book this was based on called 'The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers' by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos - the final three of whom were portraying themselves here, or this Wiki article for a quick reference.
The whole thing is a neat idea, but it just wasn't very well executed on the whole, and ends up being unmemorable. These guys didn't convey the emotion an audience would be looking for with a story like this. The thing is, I place none of the blame on them 'cause they tried, and these guys aren't trained to act in any way (that I know of), so this is just what we're gonna get. It's a good story, but too "America, F&%$ yeah", and could have been much more if it was done a bit differently. But again, much respect for these guys in accomplishing the feat that they accomplished.
Nothing like Oscar season to catch up on some of the better titles of the year. This one has seemingly been floating under the radar a bit, until only recently, when it was nominated for several Oscars.
The story here, in question, is about Winston Churchill's (Gary Oldman) new appointment as Prime Minister of Britain, and his decision whether the country struck a deal with Hitler, or fight against all odds. The central focus is actually, once again, Dunkirk, and the effort to get the allied troops out of there.
Although this has six nominations under it's belt, no two awards stand out quite as much as Gary Oldman for Best Actor, and Best Hair/Makeup, which is admittedly a bit of a strange one for me to get excited about. The thing is, the two go hand in hand. The brilliantly done makeup is zoomed in on several times, and you'd swear you were looking at real skin. The makeup lends itself to Oldman's brilliant performance here as well. He's really quite convincing here when all is considered. When you look at his eyes, you see Oldman, but that's about the extent of what's recognizable... or perhaps the mouth? For me, it was the eyes, anyway.
It's also up for Best Picture, Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design, all of which were very well done, but have slightly more serious contenders on the list. But don't get me wrong, this movie is pretty rock solid. The musical score keeps you well-engaged, along with a sense of humor that seems to come from Oldman's performance as a rather crotchety old man. His character here is as equally likable as he is unlikable, and it was very interesting to see how he may have been behind the scenes of everything that went on.
One could probably watch this and 'Dunkirk' back to back, and it would almost be like watching one long movie from two different perspectives. It was interesting to me that the two major war movies of the year contained the same subject matter. That's as in Dunkirk, not World War II.
Anyway, if nothing else, one should approach this wanting to see Oldman's performance, as it's one of the best of the year (if not the best). The overall story is really quite basic, which there's absolutely nothing wrong with, but it IS Gary Oldman who carries this movie on his shoulders. It may very well be his best performance to date.
First, some history. The rioting in 1967, on 12th Street was sparked by a police raid on a "blind pig"; an unlicensed, after hours bar. This gives us our "part 1" of the story, as we see racial tensions between black and white flare. The African American community caused an uproar by looting, setting fire to buildings, and showing the world that they are finally sick and tired of such segregation. Getting out of hand, however, the already unfair Detroit police force do what's "necessary" to calm these situations down that are spreading throughout town like hell fire.
Enter our main characters, without having to go into too much detail. Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore) of the real singing group 'The Dramatics' get separated from the rest of their band during a riot, and they stay at the Algeirs Motel that night. During their stay, another guy named Carl (Jason Mitchell) decides to mess with some of the riot guardsmen by shooting blanks in their direction. Of course, they are taken as real gunfire, so a group of cops head in to begin what would go down in history as the "Algiers Motel Incident".
Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) was acting as security at a grocery store right near where the blank-shooting was aimed, so he and the guardsmen go to check things out. Meanwhile, however, a crooked and racist cop named Krauss (Will Poulter) is in the motel, with his two partners, seemingly doing whatever is "necessary" to get the answer from anyone staying there as to where the gun is. The whole thing is very disturbing to watch, but it's made even more disturbing by the fact that according to various sources, the actual goings on of the incident were much, much worse. You can't help but feel for Melvin during the whole movie, and Boyega really shows some more of his acting chops here. Don't be so fooled by his just okay role in 'Star Wars', the dude can carry emotion.
It should be mentioned that the second part of this movie, in which the Algiers Motel Incident is unfolding, is one of the most uncomfortable things you'll see this year. It's very much torture porn, but more in the sense of emotional than physical. I mean, of course it does get physical, but it's not like watching 'Hostel' so much as watching a bully breaking people down.
The third part of this movie is the aftermath, taking place during the trials, and showing the testimonies of those involved. And I won't spoil the ending, but let's just say it ends up being a very important part of history that you probably never actually knew about. I mean, it's not like saying "Oh, the Titanic sinks at the end, haha" where everyone is well-aware of the incident. It's more like a wake up call, in a way, and a total downer when you find out what really became of it all.
The movie was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who many may still be mad at for winning that Best Picture award for 'The Hurt Locker'. Y'know, one of those movies I liked for the story but it's basically the fakest thing in the world according to anyone with any sort of military training. So yeah, between that and the potential taboo of having a white woman direct a movie on black history, there's some controversy floating around on this one. But what do I think?
Well, I have to say that it looked like Bigelow did a pretty good job at doing her homework on this one. You're given a better history in the beginning of this movie as to what lead up to this riot than you can even find online. I know this because I was trying to start the review with it, but I didn't wanna screw anything up, historically.
Apart from that, it's very well-acted and has given me my most hated character of 2017 in the form of Krauss. I've always also been one to shy away from the "torture porn" aspect of film, but in a case that involves historical events, I daresay it's somewhat necessary. This was this big important event that happened and more or less got ignored for about 50 years. For most of us, this movie seems to be the introduction to it, and to see people get treated so harshly is a reinforcement of the reality of it all. No one came out of 'Saving Private Ryan' saying they hated it because of the Normandy scene and it's literal bloodbath. Most people, including veterans, claimed it to be the most realistic portrayal of the battleground and respected it for that reason. This one gets a lot of flack because it's the torture of African American people plus two white women. I don't mean to sound insensitive on that point, but I think it illustrates how truly sensitive we are to these issues. We're quick to say "that's just sick torture porn stuff for Hollywood purposes" when the reality was, again, apparently much worse than what was on screen.
This movie brought this incident to my attention, and made me fully aware of how bad things got during those riots, whereas I can admit to sadly being ignorant to it beforehand. It's a powerful one to watch if you can make it thorugh, but it's a lot like watching something like 'Schindler's List'. It's dark, it's depressing, it's uncomfortable, and you may never want to see it again, BUT that "holy shit" message definitely gets across. Turns out, for me, this was a powerful story.
Every now and then, a movie comes along that caters to an audience based more on an "experience" than an actual story with well-developed characters. Trust me, it sounds more negative than it really is. It is my belief that if a movie manages to entertain, it does it's job on some level. This can be done with great stories and great characters, which is what usually happens. However, I think one can be just as taken in with technical aspects of the film if they're done in a unique and beautiful way. 'Dunkirk', for me, is one of these movies.
Codenamed "Operation Dynamo", the Dunkirk evacuation took place between May 26 and June 4, 1940, during the Battle of France. Approximately 400,000 British, French and Belgian troops were cut off and surrounded by Germans, as they advance into France. Under cover from ground and air, the allied troops were methodically evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk using serviceable naval and civilian vessels.
The movie shows the story from three different perspectives; in short - "The Mole" shows us Tommy's (Fionn Whitehead) story on land, as he tries like hell to get off the beach; "The Sea" follows Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his two sons, as they act as part of the civilian rescue team; finally, "The Air" follows three Spitfire pilots who are providing air cover, namely Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden).
Getting back to my original point about this being more of an "experience" movie, that lies in a couple of things. The first of those being that, for the most part, I didn't get terribly emotionally invested in any of the characters. Some may disagree, but just know that in my mind, that sort of thing IS passable here. The effect Nolan was going for here, speaking from a technical standpoint, seems to be an immersive experience above all else. He wanted to make a movie, without the need for 3D, that still makes you feel like you're a part of the action.
This movie was filmed using REAL Spitfires with IMAX cams strapped onto the side of them. This makes a lot of the aerial shots look beautiful. You even get the sound of the plane's engines surrounding you; a subtle detail that seems to get left out of a lot of war movies when bringing us to a cockpit's perspective. Above that, the sound mixing and editing is absolutely Oscar-worthy. It's probably one of the best technical movies I've ever seen, and certainly the best overall I've seen yet this year. This gives me a great admiration for someone like Christopher Nolan in that he still hasn't caved when it comes to 3D technology. He probably won't, either, because he's STILL able to give us a hell of an experience without it. 'The Dark Knight', 'Inception', and 'Interstellar' were all still visually pleasing without the need.
The only true criticism I had with this was some of the dialogue. I dunno if I'm alone on it, but I didn't understand what was being said a lot of the time due to a combination of thick accents and mumbling. This may have helped me get more emotionally invested as well, and I think comprehensible speech is often one of Nolan's faults. For this, I plan to see it again. He is, otherwise, a brilliant director. This wasn't extremely story-driven so much as tension-driven, but I think he was going for something a bit different this time around. He clearly needs no extra practice in story-telling with his past projects, and remains one of my favorite directors.