Faults

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Thriller with tags on March 31, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Faults photo starrating-4stars.jpgAnsel Roth (Leland Orser) is “one of the world’s foremost authorities on mind control and cult organizations” or so he adamantly proclaims to a heckler at one of his poorly attended seminars. You see Ansel’s life has taken a downturn. He’s divorced, his TV show is canceled, and now he’s been reduced to shilling his new book in a conference room in a cheap hotel. “I can sign it for $5.”  It wasn’t always this way. His first book was a big hit. Unfortunately his former wife acquired the rights to it as part of their divorce settlement. Now he’s starting from ground zero with a new tome that hasn’t exactly burned up the bestseller list. His last intervention to help someone in a religious sect tragically resulted in their suicide. Because of this, when the parents (Chris Ellis & Beth Grant) of another member of a cult recruit him to deprogram their daughter, his first instinct is to disregard their request. But their persistence and the looming monetary debt he owes to his manager (Jon Gries) soon leads to a change of heart.

Faults carefully straddles the line between black comedy and cautionary tale. The chronicle begins rather playfully but as the story develops it becomes less and less so. By the conclusion, it becomes extremely serious without a hint of humor. The ending is actually rather chilling. “Faults” is the name of the cult. Ansel’s plan begins with kidnapping the parents’ daughter and bringing her to a sparsely decorated hotel room for deprogramming. This is where the majority of the action takes place. The narrative mostly consists of conversations designed to get to the root of her devotion to “Faults”.

The success of Faults is the result of a brilliant screenplay. The claustrophobic surroundings and extended cinematic takes add to the dialogue heavy drama. The interactions of the two principals uncover intriguing discoveries. To go into more details would be to spoil the movie, but writer/director Riley Stearns has written a fascinating script and extracted the best performances I have ever seen from these two talented performers. Character actor Leland Orser is probably best known as a recurring part on the television show ER. Here is given a rare starring role and he makes the most of this compelling cult expert. He has this hapless quality that grows more self assured when he is in his element. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is the wife of the director, is phenomenal as well. There is a blankness o her expressions where you’re never really sure where her head is at. She has this weird mix of vulnerability and calm throughout. This is very much a non-traditional horror film of sorts. It sets up a troubling premise and then follows through to a surprising twist ending with a point. Faults is a rewarding experience.

03-28-15

It Follows

Posted in Horror with tags on March 27, 2015 by Mark Hobin

It Follows photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSo Jay and her boyfriend, Hugh, have consensual sex. Afterwards everything seems pleasant enough, but suddenly he drugs her and ties her to a chair. His intention is for her to visually acknowledge a presence that is now beholden to pursue her. Seeing is believing. That entity is a shapeshifting creature that can assume the appearance of any person, either a stranger or someone you know. It advances by walking slowly, as a zombie would, with the sole purpose to kill the accursed victim. Hugh explains that in order to get rid of this “boogeyman” she must likewise be intimate with another person. The set-up is sort of a rewrite of The Ring but with STDs instead of a video tape. “Because horror movies were just getting too classy,” I carped when I originally read that description. Despite the tawdry construct, It Follows is far more stylish than the great majority of horror films.

These entitled white teens live in a world seemingly devoid of parents. There’s our lead heroine Jay, a 19 year old college student living in the suburbs of Detroit. Actress Maika Monroe compares favorably with iconic scream queens like Jamie Lee Curtis or Adrienne Barbeau. . She’s perhaps a bit more vulnerable with her doe-eyed looks but captivating nonetheless. It would appear that she hasn’t been seeing her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) for that long. However he is someone with whom she has formed a connection. Jay hangs out with a tight knit group of friends as well. There’s her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), buddy Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and nerdy lovestruck Paul (Keir Gilchrist). There’s also her neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto), a cool operator with the ladies. Johnny Depp would’ve played this guy in 1984.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has only released two films, but It Follows looks and sounds like the work of an experienced auteur. It’s a throwback to seminal horror of the late 70s and early 80s. The atmosphere invokes old John Carpenter movies you’d watch on VHS tapes. The production is a testament to how important cinematography and music are able to easily evoke a mood. The soft focus gives the proceedings the veneer of music videos from MTV’s infancy. Languid shots of the photogenic faces of young adults who do appear to have a more reflective take on their own predicament than the typical juveniles of this genre. Music is by Disasterpeace, the nom de plum of Rich Vreeland. His elegant synthesizer pieces are so expressive. I fantasize about him throwing some really exclusive dinner party where the guest list includes composers Cliff Martinez and Mica Levi. Oh man I’d love to get an invitation to that get together. His work recalls John Carpenter’s theme from Halloween and Giorgio Moroder’s score for Cat People . I think it’s even set during that era. Check out that ancient black and white TV set with 13 channels and there isn’t a computer in sight.

What defines “it” in It Follows is actually never quite understood either by these characters or correspondingly by the audience. What we do know is that physical intimacy is how you become afflicted. It’s too easy to draw analogies to an STD so I’ll spare you the metaphors. Sex = death in most horror movies but this one actually encourages adolescents to keep doing it in order to alleviate their plight. Once Jay has been brought into the ordeal, she is forever fearful of being pursued. That stalker can take the form of a stranger. It might appear as a loved one. The narrative brilliantly details this fear until the final quarter where it falls apart complete with a hazy conclusion. The screenplay doesn’t hold up in the end but for most of this feature, it’s pretty entertaining. Its artistic aspirations have some critics hailing this as the best horror film in years. So let’s think about that for a minute. Uh survey says (pause) “X” buzzer sound. Sorry The Babadook easily holds that title. That is a modern classic and should keep the distinction for awhile. Even underrated gems like Oculus and Sinister might vie for 2nd place. But It Follows is extremely good. A possible contender for finest horror flick of 2015. The year’s not over yet. Script deficiencies are where it comes up short but in terms of cinematic mood, It Follows is a handsomely made film.

03-26-15

Rear Window

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Rear Window photo starrating-5stars.jpgThe story is simple. Photojournalist L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (James Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. His broken leg injury is temporary thanks to an accident during an on the job assignment. He remains at home while he recuperating. His rear window overlooks a small courtyard where he can see into the rooms of other apartments. The view is a microcosm of humanity at various stages in their relationships. It’s voyeurism at its most enthusiastically unrestrained. As he peers into the private lives of his neighbors, we are disturbed and intrigued all at the same time. Though he doesn’t know them, he creates nicknames for some residents based on his observations. Among them, there’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Miss Torso, Miss Hearing Aid. There’s also the songwriter, the newlyweds, the couple on the fire escape, the traveling salesman and his invalid wife. Then one day he firmly believes one has committed murder. He hasn’t actually seen the act, though, so how will he prove it?

First and foremost, Rear Window is a thriller, but additionally bubbling beneath the surface we’ve got this captivating love story between Jeff (James Stewart) and Manhattan model and socialite, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), who wants to marry him. Despite her exhortations for them to tie the knot, he is reluctant to commit. Stella (Thelma Ritter), in a great supporting role as his wisecracking nurse, thinks Jeff’s fear is ridiculous.

“When a man and a woman see each other and like each other, “ she says, “they ought to come together – wham! Like a couple of taxis on Broadway, not sit around analyzing each other like two specimens in a bottle.”

Jeff’s profession and his love of travel literally mean the world to him. Lisa loves expensive clothes and attending parties. You aren’t made for that kind of a life,“ he contends. Yet Kelly plays the character in a way so that she never seems materialistic or vain. On the contrary, we agree with Jeff. She is perfect. At one point he sends her out to go investigate. As she climbs up the railing to go into a suspected murderer’s apartment, we realize something: She truly is too good for him.

When we talk about the golden age of Hollywood and I mean the period covering the late 1920s to the early 1960s, Grace Kelly must certainly be included in the greatest sirens of the silver screen. She is positively luminous in this picture. Jeff awakes to a full close-up of her coming towards him for a kiss. It’s a memorable shot. Kelly is introduced wearing an $1100 dress “fresh from the Paris plane” and it’s spectacular. It’s the first of many outfits she wears throughout the production and each one just as stunning as the next. Legendary Edith Head was the costume designer so we expect nothing less.

Rear Window is regularly listed with the greatest movies ever made. Certainly one of Hitchcock’s finest. In addition to the exceptional chemistry between star James Stewart and a radiant Grace Kelly , there’s Raymond Burr as salesman Lars Thorwald with his hair dyed white to make him appear older. When his invalid wife disappears, Jeff suspects foul play might be involved. The setting is a fascinating tableau. Virtually the entire feature is shot from Jeff’s gaze looking out into the open courtyard into the many windows of his neighbors. Each residence is a set within itself, fully furnished. With few exceptions, the camera never leaves the confinement of Stewart’s apartment. The setting can get a bit claustrophobic. Nevertheless it’s a brilliantly assembled theatrical piece right down to the heart-pounding climax . Hitchcock’s brilliance as a director has never been questioned and with Rear Window, his abilities as a visual storyteller remain unparalleled.

03-22-15

Song of the Sea

Posted in Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on March 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Song of the Sea photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgThe setting is Ireland but this period piece sort of exists in a magical land that seems almost otherworldly. The environment relies on folklore as it concerns the ancient legends of the selkie, mythological creatures that live as seals in the sea but become human on land. Song of the Sea is the second film from Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore, the creators of The Secret of Kells. Like that film, it received a nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This fantasy involves a little girl names Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) who lives in a lighthouse by the sea with her brother Ben (David Rawle). Six years after the child’s birth, their father (Brendan Gleeson) still laments the loss of their mother (Lisa Hannigan). Saoirse herself has yet to utter a word. But they have other issues. After the girl is found sleeping on the beach one night, she and her older brother are sent to live with Granny in the supposed safety of the city. The story is fashioned as an epic journey where Ben and Saoirse must embark through a mysterious world of Giants, Rock Fairies and an Owl Witch to get back to the sea. The latter creature is named Macha and her ability to turn people to stone has foreboding qualities. At one point the two become separated. Young Ben’s journey to find her is rather touching.

This mythic tale stars two kids and is pitched at a young audience. However this unfolds at a much slower pace than the cartoons of today. The narrative is more of an experience. It’s quiet and gradually takes its time to unfold. That’s fitting given the bewitching atmosphere of the production. It’s a gorgeous, hand drawn delight that is rich in color. The minimalist design is made up of visually bold shapes. Their simplicity is extremely pleasing to the eye. The soundtrack is haunting which evokes an ethereal mood. Irish singer Lisa Hannigan contributes several exquisite melodies including the title tune. She also happens to be the voice of the mother. With Hollywood studios dominating at the multiplexes these days, Song of the Sea is a beautiful anomaly amongst the current computer graphics landscape. Young children and animation fans will be enchanted alike.

03-19-15

’71

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller on March 18, 2015 by Mark Hobin

'71 photo starrating-4stars.jpgBelfast 1971. It’s the height of the Northern Ireland conflict. But first, a little background for those unaware. The political war ran from 1968–1998. There’s the Loyalists, mostly Protestants, who want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Then there’s the Nationalists, a Catholic minority, who want to leave the UK and join a united Ireland. ’71 involves a particularly volatile area on Divis Street where the two warring communities live side by side. British solider Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is dropped into the middle of the combat to keep the peace. I suppose if you’re from the UK this conflict needs no introduction, but for the majority of viewers, the lack of info will be a bit confusing. I suppose it’s fitting that we aren’t given any backstory as to what is going on here. Our hero is rerouted from Germany and sent with little knowledge as to what he’s truly getting himself into.

What ‘71 has going for it is tense excitement. The story concerns when Gary becomes separated from his unit during a riot and needs to find his way back. It is an intense journey that is interesting because we desperately hope our young soldier can stay alive. French-born director Yann Demange fashions a tale with stunning immediacy. Shot in part with hand-held cameras, ‘71 has an almost documentary like approach. The style has led some to make comparisons to director Paul Greengrass whose Bloody Sunday (2002) covered a similar topic. It’s not always clear who is on what side in ‘71. Even the Catholic Nationalists have their own internal quarrels with the IRA. It doesn’t help that there are two(?) double agents and they look alike right down to their facial hair. Their shifting loyalties fluctuate throughout the film. An offhand remark by one at the end still leaves one guy’s loyalty in doubt even after the movie ends. In fact both groups of fighting ethnic factions look remarkably similar.

The funny thing is, despite the lack of information, the details are not really important in ‘71. True, the absence of sense prevents those intimately familiar with the situation to totally comprehend what’s going on. The script doesn’t benefit from a coherent distillation of history. However the story succeeds as a tension filled, entertaining film. It’s the dramatic urgency that compels us to watch. With the hazy specifics, we make connections between this and other conflicts. I thought of the Iraq War. You might make other associations. The takeaway is that this is about a man on the run. He simply wants to navigate the streets and alleyways just to make it back to his barracks alive. Viewed from that perspective, this is an extremely exciting, well made thriller.

03-15-15

Cinderella

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Family, Fantasy on March 13, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Cinderella photo starrating-4stars.jpgDisney has created a mini industry over the last 5 years in adapting fantasy into live action films: Alice in Wonderland, Oz The Great and Powerful, Maleficent. They have all achieved remarkable box office success. You wouldn’t think that adapting a fantasy would be difficult. After all, these stories have stood the test of time. While each version has had their moments, they’ve always fallen victim to traps of our current age that keep them from feeling like a timeless work of art….until now. The funny thing is, Cinderella should have been the most difficult to adapt. No Disney princess has been more harshly condemned than Cinderella. The criticisms by now legendary: “She’s one-dimensional.“ “She’s bland – too passive.” “She’s reactionary – waiting around for her prince instead of actively doing something to improve her situation.”. And yet the character endures. With Cinderella, the studio has for the first time, created a work that not only respects the classic fable, but still manages to enchant a contemporary audience.

Kenneth Branagh has accomplished something that is revolutionary in 2015. He doesn’t re-invent the fairy tale. He doesn’t modernize it. He doesn’t try to inject winking irony into the proceedings. Those maneuvers, while in vogue, have always negated the original text by descending into camp. Along with screenwriter Chris Weitz, Branagh has done a most inconceivable thing. He somehow cherishes the heart of the 1950 Disney animated movie while elevating the character into someone to admire. That one’s noble heart and unyielding virtue can itself bring reward. If after watching Cinderella, you still think its moral is that lonely girls who wait, will one day be rescued by a handsome prince, then you haven’t been paying attention.

With Cinderella free to just be what it is, the production can concentrate on making the story seem magical again. This is, after all, a fairy tale. It takes what the audience is familiar with and utilizes our modern age to make it better. One of the high points is the magical appearance of her fairy godmother played by Helena Bonham Carter. It’s nice to see the actress look beautiful in a fantasy again. Her pre-ball interaction with Cinderella is a pure delight.  Watching the pumpkin become a coach, mice become horses and lizards become footmen is a marvel of CGI that feels like just the right amount to dazzle the eyes, but not so much that it descends into a garish technological spectacle. The magic continues as Cinderella makes it to the reception at the castle. As Cinderella, Downton Abbey’s Lily James suggests a young Jessica Lange, particularly in her gorgeously made up face. The set piece at the ball is a sumptuous parade of choreographed dancers who spin and turn in unison. The party scene a dazzling display of color and merriment that is every bit as wondrous a moment as you can imagine.

Cinderella is comprised of a cast that perfectly interprets the individuals in the fairy tale. The script preserves the basis of these people while expounding upon them to give motivation for their behavior. The King (Derek Jacobi), The Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård), the Captain (Nonso Anozie), the wicked stepsisters (Holliday Grainger & Sophie McShera) all have a depth to them. And what would any great drama be without an entertaining villain? Cate Blanchett makes an iconic Stepmother. She does an admirable job of portraying the exaggerated portrait of a hissable villain – yet believably rooted in the attitudes of a jealous adult who would put her own selfish desires before that of a child.

Cinderella has done the unthinkable – preserved the spirit of the original tale, while promoting an empowering message. Actress Lily James is a fetching heroine – a creature of integrity. The ”love at first sight” relationship between the Prince and Cinderella is kept simple, but clarified in a way to make it more commendable. You understand why Cinderella and the Prince are drawn to each other initially when they meet in the forest under more modest circumstances and then again at the ball. It is her selfless personality that is emphasized. When the Prince (Richard Madden) talks of the mysterious girl he met in the forest, his desire is motivated by Cinderella’s words. There is more to their relationship than mere beauty. The poor girl that has been treated like a maid in her own home, has finally felt what it’s like to be a princess. At the beginning of the story, Cinderella’s mother imparts these words of wisdom on her deathbed: “Have courage and be kind. Where there is kindness, there is goodness and where there is goodness, there is magic.” By holding fast to the notion that Cinderella is first and foremost the epitome of virtue, they have fashioned a heroine of female empowerment that is laudable simply because she is a compassionate human being. The concept is revolutionary.

03-12-15

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Posted in Comedy, Drama on March 10, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgThe greatest thing about The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the title. God bless truth in advertising. This is a pale imitation of the original. The existence of which preys upon those wanting to relive the good times of the first film. It bilks poor trusting folks out of their hard earned cash. Judging from my audience that would be retired people over 60 which makes the act even more pernicious. The movie is a such an obvious cash grab I’m surprised they didn’t offer this in IMAX 3D so they could charge more money honestly. Truth be told, I found the first one to be kind of insipid. Yet that was an exhilarating enchantment compared to this transgression.

Let’s start with the overburdened plot. It’s positively stuffed with an extreme number of characters with yawn inducing story threads. Most of the ensemble returns with the exception of Tom Wilkinson who is sorely missed. If you saw the first one you’ll understand why he’s not here. He should thank the screenwriter. Sonny (Dev Patel) desperately wants to expand his hotel business with another property. But wait! He’s also planning his wedding to pretty Sunaina (Tina Desai) while being jealous of handsome family friend Kushal (Shazad Latif) whom Sonny distrusts. Is Kushal trying to steal his girl or does he want his real estate? Or both? Who cares! It’s hard to get past Sonny’s obsequious gestures and cloying demeanor. His embarrassing behavior is a full-blown caricature.  Imagine the hyperactive movements of a Disney cartoon and you’ll get his performance.

But we have yet to scratch the surface of this convoluted saga! Embittered curmudgeon Muriel (Maggie Smith) now manages the existing property with him. Evelyn (Judi Dench) works as a textile buyer and keeps tour guide Douglas (Bill Nighy) at bay. Let’s not forget his ex wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) who shows up late in the film just to be insufferable. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are trying to remain faithful to each other. But are they? Madge (Celia Imrie) is always on the make. She makes Blanche Devereaux look like a nun. That’s a Golden Girls reference for you Millennials. Even with two wealthy suitors panting after her, another handsome visitor makes her head spin. That arrival is Guy, played by Richard Gere who is newly added to the cast. Is he the liaison sent to inspect the hotel for a possible investor? Never mind. He’s actually got his eyes on Sonny’s no nonsense mother (Lillete Dubey) in a slapdash romance that has about as much spark of a damp sponge. Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) is also a new guest there to look over the place for her mother. Can she even stay here? She looks like she’s in her 40s, a comparative baby to this lot. Did I mention she has a thing for Kushal?

The romantic escapades of the inhabitants of the Marigold Hotel is the subject of this soap opera masquerading as sophisticated entertainment. This is Love, American Style for the geriatric set. Although I hope I didn’t insult the early 1970s ABC TV anthology series. Seriously though. What are they feeding these folks? Even with all the amorous adventures, the production is absolute drudgery for a moviegoer to endure. Not much of consequence happens. Even the title refers to a subplot that doesn’t really figure into the story until the very end. A sensible and evolving drama is clearly not a priority of the script.  The narrative advances with the urgency of a three-toed sloth. Not to boast, but I’m rather proud I was able to stay awake during the snoozy happenings. Naturally everything culminates in a Bollywood style musical number at an Indian wedding.  Its presence only to adhere to some checklist of clichés. By then I had already checked out of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. My advice? Don’t even bother checking in.

03-09-15

Wild Tales

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Thriller with tags on March 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Wild Tales photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpg“Don’t get mad, get even.” That’s the apparent mantra of Wild Tales – Argentina’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2015. An anthology comprising of six stories connected by a common theme: revenge. The presentation is constructed much in the same way as a collection Twilight Zone episodes strung together. The very best have an underlying sense of humor that offsets the negative view that humans are nothing more than savage beasts. Indeed, photos of wildlife are subtly inserted in the background during the opening credits.

The chronicle commences with “Pasternak”. It’s the shortest segment, but one of the most effective. The story immediately grabs the viewer’s attention with its anecdote of two passengers on a plane united by a startling coincidence. The last freeze frame shot brilliantly begins the production on the right note – wicked farce. “The Rats”, and “Road To Hell” maintain that sense. In the latter, an altercation between two drivers is like a modern day Western. Their duel escalates into a battling game of one-upmanship. There is giddy anticipation as to how far they’ll go. The next three are a bit longer. “Bombita”, number four, details the rising frustrations of a man brought to the brink by one misfortune after another. It’s triggered when his car is towed. A man at odds with government bureaucracy immediately recalls Michael Douglas in Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down. “The Deal“, about a wealthy father trying to keep his spoiled rich son out of jail has a heavy-handed ending that kind of kills the winking spirit of the piece. It’s at this fifth tale where the drama starts to drag a bit under the movie’s extended length. However it all ends on a suitably funny note with “Til Death Do Us Part“. A bride discovers her husband-to-be’s infidelity at their wedding reception and reacts accordingly. The party descends into chaos with amusing results.

Wild Tales contends that human beings are merely separated by a thin line between societal norms and raging beasts. These six sagas of revenge highlight this fact. The most successful of which suffuse their bleak takes on life with comedy. Damián Szifrón writes and directs this glossy picture co-produced by Pedro Almodóvar. Stunning cinematography by Javier Juliá gives these dark comedies a picturesque quality that lightens the mood. A memorable score by Gustavo Santaolalla beautifully complements the production. Occasionally the tone gets nasty. There is a delicate balance between comedy and ugliness. It’s the twisted humor that redeems these misanthropic sagas. More often than not, the strength of the composition outweighs the occasional lapse. I didn’t expect the “Love Theme From Flashdance” to pop up in one segment but its playful moments like that which uplift a gloomy narrative. Those lighthearted touches keep these 6 unexpected tales of retribution consistently entertaining.

03-06-15

What We Do in the Shadows

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags on March 6, 2015 by Mark Hobin

What We Do in the Shadows photo starrating-4stars.jpgWhat We Do in the Shadows is a mock documentary about Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr, four vampires who share a flat in New Zealand. Viago (Taika Waititi) is the most affable. He’s a bit of a neat freak as well. Viago laments that the others don’t put down newspaper in the house before a kill. A regular dandy, he is the sophisticate of the clan. At a mere 183 years, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the baby of the group. A rebel “bad boy” who sleeps upside down in a closet. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) carries himself like a sexy rock star. His explanation as to why vampires prefer virgins is hands down the funniest line I’ve heard in a long time. If there is an odd man out in this clique it would be 8,000-year-old Petyr who recalls Nosferatu. His incongruous presence next to the other 3 is the source of several laughs. The production was written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi who also star. The two have worked together before on Flight of the Conchords, the HBO series which Clement stars with Bret McKenzie.

The routine tribulations of being a vampire in modern New Zealand is profiled. By day they are holed up in the secluded enclave of their apartment. By night the four bachelors prowl the streets looking for people on which to feast. It pokes fun of the clichés of vampire lore and celebrates them in the process. Much of the humor is extracted from their often banal existence and matter-of-fact regard that other people have to their existence. Even after the gang has turned another victim (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, the guy insists on bringing his best buddy along who still remains a human. Deacon also keeps a human servant named Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), a housewife who bemoans the fact that he has not turned her into a vampire.

What We Do in the Shadows contains horror elements with moments of bloody gore mixed with an overall sense of lighthearted comedy. A surprising amount of warmth surfaces amongst this pseudo family of sorts. It isn’t a movie in the traditional sense. That is, it doesn’t present a self contained story. It’s more of a series of gags strung together. That might irk some. However the account is so brief (86 minutes) that the lack of a strong narrative isn’t a problem. The unique mix is somewhat odd, but it generally works. An apt point of reference would be the documentary This Is Spinal Tap, except well ya know it’s about vampires instead of rock musicians. The script has a very high ratio of jokes that really tickle the funny bone. Although the loosely constructed picture doesn’t immediately feel like a comedic classic, it’s solidly written. Repeat viewings should give this a longevity that will make it an enduring cult movie for many years to come.

03-03-15

Focus

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags on March 4, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Focus photo starrating-2stars.jpgSeasoned con man Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) takes inexperienced protégé Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) under his wing to teach her the art of the grift. You’d think the fact that Smith is Robbie’s senior by two decades might give them a more father-daughter relationship but you’d be wrong. Robbie is stunning and Smith is still famous so naturally the two are fated to fall in love. Or do they? The problem with Focus is that you never quite believe anything that is happening on the screen. It’s one of those “who’s cheating who” type deceptions. There’s genuine skill in creating the perfect con that the best films (The Sting, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can) understand. There is a delicate balance between a grounded tale and a twisty fraud. Unfortunately this chronicle is so artificial, there’s nothing to count on. The many eye-rolling moments kill interest in this deception.

Focus is a glossy bit of entertainment, but it’s all a con. It’s crucial to your enjoyment that you enjoy the sexual chemistry that Smith and Robbie are trying so hard to ignite. Robbie is game but Smith lacks the suave demeanor required to really pull this off. He’s no Cary Grant. He’s not even Jim Carrey. There was a time where Smith could pull off charming. He had it in Hitch. But he doesn’t even exude the warmth necessary to even like him as a human being. Smith comes across as more smug – coolly detached to everyone and everything. He’s more in love with himself than his beautiful young co-star. With the romance falling flat there’s just the haphazardly constructed “big job” in the second half to hold our interest. A keen viewer will disregard everything in this subterfuge with a discerning eye. The story never earns our trust. It fails to engage – with one notable exception. Early on Nicky meets a compulsive gambler while attending a football game. B. D. Wong plays the wealthy businessman with fiendish glee. Their escalating back and forth double or nothing betting is the single most delightful scene in the entire film. For a brief moment, the movie comes alive. Too bad it loses focus.

03-04-15

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