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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Horror Films Still Don't Get it: You Can't Bring People Back From the Dead

For real, though? Do I even need to say that people in the movies should not ever bring their loved ones back from the dead because...they don't ever come back normal? I already know what will happen in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, so I don't really need to read the synopsis. But here it is anyway:

A family lives an idyllic existence abroad until a tragic accident takes the life of their young son. The inconsolable mother learns of an ancient ritual that will bring him back to say a final goodbye. She travels to an ancient temple, where a door serves as a mysterious portal between two worlds. But when she disobeys a sacred warning to never open that door, she upsets the balance between life and death.

Oh Gawd, and ancient rituals too? The horror movie cliches are running rampant. Watch the trailer:

My fellow fans of The Walking Dead will recognize Sarah Wayne Callies (aka Lori Grimes) from the show. Looks like she's gotten herself into more shenanigans in this new film. Jeremy Sisto also co-stars. 

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR opens in theaters March 11, 2016. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Here Comes Another Pretentious Terrence Malick Film

He cannot help himself at this point. As most of you know who've been reading this blog consistently, I am no Terrence Malick fan. Or, scratch that. Actually, I love watching his films on mute, and will probably blog about that experience one day, but his deafening silences coupled with the Big Bang-like cinematography makes me want to gag. It's just too much, and for no reason but to show off.

Anyway, I said I wouldn't rehash my contempt for Malick films here so I won't. But get a look at the trailer for his new film, KNIGHT OF CUPS (Gawd, even the title is pretentious): 

Okay, I love the cast (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman), but still stand by what I wrote up above.

KNIGHT OF CUPS is in theaters March 4. 

ADVANTAGEOUS and Abraham Attah Get Some Spirit Award Love

I can always count on the Film Independent Spirit Awards to recognize some of my favorite movies of the year. Especially after The Hollywood Reporter basically decided to be a sheep and just feature seven of the most generic actresses ever on its cover, ignoring some of the most promising talent out there right now. Which brings us to Advantageous, the sci-fi indie I raved about a few months ago, that has just earned a nomination for the John Cassavetes award. *insert ecstatic applause here*

Oh, and Abraham Attah, the pint size talent from Beasts of No Nation, has also been nominated. I still say he was the best thing about that film, though apparently co-star Idris Elba is consuming a lot of the attention as well.

In case you're interested, there are a few other films that got some Spirit Award love yesterday too (some of which are wildly overrated, like TangerineIt Follows, and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl). Check out the complete list of nominees below:

Best Feature
“Beasts of No Nation”

Best Director
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, “Anomalisa”
Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Beasts of No Nation”
Todd Haynes, “Carol”
David Robert Mitchell, “It Follows”
Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Sean Baker, “Tangerine”

Best Female Lead
Cate Blanchett, “Carol”
Rooney Mara, “Carol”
Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Brie Larson, “Room”
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, “Tangerine”

Best Male Lead
Abraham Attah, “Beasts of No Nation”
Jason Segel, “The End of the Tour”
Christopher Abbot, “James White”
Koudous Seihon, “Mediterranea”
Ben Mendelsohn, “Mississippi Grind”

Best Supporting Female
Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Anomalisa”
Marin Ireland, “Glass Chin”
Robin Bartlett, “H.”
Cynthia Nixon, “James White”
Mya Taylor, “Tangerine”

Best Supporting Male
Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”
Richard Jenkins, “Bone Tomahawk”
Paul Dano, “Love & Mercy”
Kevin Corrigan, “Results”
Michael Shannon, “99 Homes”

Best Screenplay
“Bone Tomahawk”
“The End of the Tour”

Best First Feature
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
“James White”
“Manos Sucas”
“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”

Best First Screenplay
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
“The Mend”

Best Editing
“Beasts of No Nation”
“Heaven Knows What”
“It Follows”

Best Cinematography
“Beasts of No Nation”
“It Follows”
“Songs My Brothers Taught Me”

Best Documentary
“Best of Enemies”
“Heart of a Dog”
“The Look of Silence”
“The Russian Woodpecker”

Best International Film
“Embrace of the Serpent”
“A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”
“Son of Saul”

John Cassavetes Award
“Christmas, Again”
“Heaven Knows What”
“Out of My Hand”

Robert Altman Award

The Film Independent Spirit Awards airs live on IFC on February 27 at 2PM ST/5PM EST.

On THE NIGHT BEFORE, MASTER OF NONE and the Lack of Women of Color Love Interests

I admit, I had come to Aziz Ansari's defense a little bit when folks criticized his series, Master of None, because Dev (Ansari) doesn't have any women of color love interests. Not because that's not a justified argument (it is), but because he at least has a diverse group of friends with agency on the show. They weren't caricatures; they were real people. That's a lot for a series that has garnered so much acclaim (including mine). And I don't get the sense that he would turn down a woman just because she wasn't white. But I can very well be overreaching with that one, admittedly.

All that to say, I gave Ansari a bit of a pass with--though I think the conversation is a needed one.

Then came THE NIGHT BEFORE, the new Seth Rogen pothead film with a holiday twist that just opened in theaters last week. Isaac (Rogen) and his posse, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie, get into hijinks in New York City on Christmas Eve on their way to the coveted Nutcracker ball. And...smoke a lot of weed, get into a lot of trouble, while dodging adulthood as much as they can. Basically, like most Rogen and James Franco (who makes an appearance) films. Whatever, it was light, at times stupid, but entertaining and I was never bored. But there was a moment in the film in which Mackie's character has, let's say, a romantic encounter with a semi-rabid white woman (Ilana Glazer) in a stinky public restroom. Fine, she is a silly character. But I looked around the rest of the film and there are very few women of color on the streets, the subway, or even at the Nutcracker Ball. In New York City, where we can find diversity everywhere? It's funny how Ansari's NYC is so different from writer/director Jonathan Levine's...

Coincidentally, the only women of color in THE NIGHT BEFORE are Chris's (Mackie) mom, played by the ever immaculate Lorraine Toussaint, and Mindy Kaling, who's also been criticized for the lack of diversity on her now Hulu series, The Mindy Project. By the way, Kaling's character hooks up with Franco's character (who quite honestly is only mildly interested in her). I say this all to say that the lack of women of color as love interests highlight a persistent problem by which I can only assume that Hollywood simply does not see women of color as believable love interests unless they are playing prostitute or vixens. I mean, Chris was the only character out of his crew in THE NIGHT BEFORE that did not have a love interest--except one that ate out of the garbage and was kind of a psychopath. Seriously, Hollywood? Meanwhile, Isaac and Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) have fairly healthy romantic scenarios.

I like to think that the casting directors just went with the best actress for the roles (and for what it's worth, they're solid performances), but Hollywood doesn't have the best track record in creating a fair playing field as far as diversity goes. So, this gets a side eye.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Awards Watch: The Endlessly Creepy Austrian Horror, GOODNIGHT MOMMY

I swear, if I wasn't running late for my second event of the night, I would have stood up in the theater and did a long slow clap after watching the Austrian horror, GOODNIGHT MOMMY. Not only because it was great (and deeply disturbing), but because I think I have been so deprived of good films that this one came as such a needed welcome. Seriously, it is the only "awards worthy" film so far this season that is actually worthy of an award. (Yeah, I said it).

GOODNIGHT MOMMY came out a few months ago in the U.S., so you've probably already heard that is not what it presents itself to be. In fact, it is way, way more demented. Unlike too many modern mainstream horror films, this one takes time for the audience to get to know each of the characters and their surroundings, building an unsettling intensity the whole time. What we know right from the beginning is that Lukas and Elias are 9-year-old twin boys who spend most of their days roughhousing and running around their spacious yard --and as far away from their now unrecognizable mother whose face is completely hidden behind layers of bandages. Unusual personality shifts like completely ignoring one of the twins, locking them in their room, and generally being both physically and emotionally distant toward them lead Lukas and Elias to believe that their real mother has been replaced by some evil proxy. And so, they react accordingly.

While it doesn't spark endless conversations like, say, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night or Babadook, there is something special about GOODNIGHT MOMMY in that it has an compelling enough plot that doesn't rely as much on socio-political commentary as it does genuine eeriness and rage--classic horror devices. Writer/director team Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz are exquisite at building and sustaining intensity throughout the film, which you never know which direction it will take. Showing a mastery in creating moody atmosphere in even the smallest of rooms, both filmmakers seem to understand that the audience may guess the crazy ending beforehand. But you're still squirming in your seat as you watch the increasingly creepy events unfold.

Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)

Watch the trailer:

Up-and-Comer Stephan James Steps Into the Giant Shoes of Jesse Owens in the First Trailer for RACE

Anytime Hollywood cares to consider someone less famous for an iconic role, I just want to turn to all those naysayers who think non-marquis names don't sell tickets and say "HI, HATER." I mean, let's not even get started on the uber success of Straight Outta Compton, whose only big name is Paul Giamatti.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I saw the trailer for RACE, the upcoming biopic on track Olympian Jesse Owens. Stephan James, whose biggest role has been as John Lewis in Selma, steps into the giant shoes of a legend. I just hope that the film is enough to usher in the next great African-American movie star. I must admit, the fact that the writer team behind Frankie & Alice penned this screenplay is of major concern...

Also, is anyone else annoyed that the studio couldn't come up with a better, less generic title, than Race?

More on the film below:

Based on the incredible true story of Jesse Owens, the legendary athletic superstar whose quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy. “Race” is an enthralling film about courage, determination, tolerance, and friendship, and an inspiring drama about one man’s fight to become an Olympic legend.

Watch the trailer:

RACE hits theaters nationwide February 19, 2016.

Monday, November 23, 2015

3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS Highlights the Disturbing Ties Between Racism and Self-Denial

Like most films that highlight the recurring tragedy of unarmed black men killed by the hands of the law and other entitled individuals, filmmaker Marc Silver's 3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS is both sad and infuriating. It focuses on the 2014 trial of Michael Dunn for the murder of 17-year-old African-American high school student Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, for playing loud music at a gas station. While the documentary itself merely gives the audience a bird's eye view of the courtroom narrative, it punctuates the point that is too often forgotten in these cases: It is Dunn who is on trial here, not Davis.

Davis's character is not as much interrogated as it is revealed to inform the case. Whereas Dunn's character is scrutinized and dissected for the same reason. Most importantly, the question perpetuated throughout is who was Dunn on the night of the murder and was that a change from who he typically is. I keep coming back to the phrase "self-denial," which was repeated a lot during the film as it refers to the idea that Dunn was always a hateful racist and didn't realize it until this particular situation arose. To hear Dunn talk about his own character on the stand, through a shaky voice and teary eyes, one would believe that he was as shocked by his actions as, well, Davis probably was. Even scarier, he believed he was actually the victim.

Of course, as the details are unfolded in 3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS, the terrifying side of Dunn is also exposed--through both the surprising testimony of his girlfriend and his own. Juxtaposed with the trial scenes are Davis's parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, whose grief lends itself to the sadly familiar outcry of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS, whose title refers to the method and the amount of time it took for Davis to be taken from this earth, is a brutal reminder that some stories don't need to be dramatized to be compelling. The fact that they happened at all is enough to move an audience to tears and helpless frustration.

Rating: B+

Watch the trailer:

3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS will premiere on HBO November 23 at 9PM EST/PST.

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