Leatherface (2017) Review

     I’ve always had a bit of a volatile relationship with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Although the first film is an endurance of horror neo realism the sequels have, well, been lacking sort to speak. Now we have the newest prequel, and second film to be called, Leatherface that attempts to answer questions that at least I wasn’t asking. 

     The Sawyer clan lead by Verna (Lili Taylor) has been broken up by the police lead by Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorff) after not being able to prove that they killed his daughter. So 10 years later, Verna attempts to get her children back from the mental institution, four inmates have escaped with a new nurse (Vanessa Grasse) and go on a rampage. 

     You’re probably wondering, “Wasn’t there already a prequel literally called The Beginning?”  Yes. Yes there fucking was, but that was to the shit remake from 2003. This one is a prequel to the continuity established by Texas Chainsaw 3D. Pretty much just the first film and the aforementioned film. 

     Alright, now that I needlessly cleared that up, to the film itself. It’s alright. I mean it has it’s flaws like painfully underdeveloped characters, some way over the top acting, and dialogue that would make Tommy Wiseau proud. Some can be forgiven for just being the trappings of what the fimmakers believe to be of the genre, but you can aim higher though. Just a little bit higher. 

     Lili Taylor though is a gem of an underrated actress, always has been. She would always play soft spoken vulnerable characters but here as the matriarch of the Sawyers she plays the exact opposite of that, and its pretty damn cool to see her do something different. I just wished it focused more on her character instead of the dipshit roadtrip from hell storyline. 

     The cool saving grace from said storyline is that out of the the male characters, you really can’t be sure who Leatherface actually is. Since he was a minor when taken, he was given a different name. And while the filmmakers have fun with this, there do sneak in some dirty pool thinking they’re clever. Once the reveal comes though, the film becomes interesting again. 

     This shot at a prequel is way more successful than the last time, when I almost renounced my love of horror films because it was that much of a steaming pile of horse shit. The reveal of how Leatherface got his mask was actually given some weight, and I thought it was cool and a little sad. I guess I should give up on the fact that this series isn’t going to go back to the original’s style of having a lack of gore and high amount of tension. It makes me a little sad, but hey at least I didn’t give up the will to live after seeing this prequel, so good job?

Advertisements

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review

     These type of sequels aren’t supposed to be this good. You know the ones I mean; the ones that took decades to write direct and produce, especially if the original is a masterpiece of its genre. Blade Runner 2049 is an exception that should become the norm. A sequel that expands and compliments the original instead of negating it completely. 

     Its Los Angeles 2049, artificial humans called Replicants are now outlawed except for use as officers called Blade Runners, who hunt down older replicants. One such Blade Runner named K (Ryan Gosling) soon uncovers a secret tied to an old Blade Runner from 30 years ago named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) that could change all of humanity. 

     Even though I gave a bare bones plot summary, I feel like I gave away too much. While Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel, make no mistake, but this comes off more like a story that took place in the same universe. This time though, the story is much more of an odyssey than the standard sci fi fare; its still a noir story except we’ve actually met the person he’s searching for. 

     I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor in a performance and thought that no one else could’ve played it, but it happened here with Gosling as K. He anchors his performance with wide eyed silence that almost comes off childlike. He’s discriminated against, by both his peers and the people he’s sworn to protect; its easy to sympathize with him, even though that’s not how he plays it. The presence that Gosling has is just completely mesmerizing. His relationship with a Siri-like application is equal parts sweet, and sad and it came off as believable. He anchors the entire film and gives it its emotional weight. 

     Director Denis Villenuve has crafted his greatest film so far; the man was wise enough to know that the reason that the original is a science fiction influence is to keep the effects as practical as possible. This feels like a world that was built and lived in for decades. It is just one of the most gorgeous films I’ve looked upon in God knows how long. Love and care went into this, and it’s there on the screen. 

     Even though Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own story, people who haven’t seen the original might have a hard time following some visual and audio clues that key us into not just into the action but the emotions as well. I do apologize if I seem to be all over the place with this review, but there’s so much to take in on a story and visual level. Like the first film, Blade Runner 2049 begs repeated viewings and analysis. Like the best films are wont to do. 

Cult of Chucky (2017) Review

     We’re seven films in, and 29 years later, into a franchise that many folks have all but forgotten. Chucky has always been a part of my childhood, and lead me to an intense distrust of dolls, that through the highs and lows I always stuck by him. Friends till the end, right?

     Following the events of the previous movie Curse of Chucky, this new installment titled Cult of Chucky, sees Nica (Fiona Dourif) locked up in a mental institution having been framed for murders that Chucky (Brad Dourif) committed. With the doll making his way through the asylum, Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) makes his way to put a stop to Chucky’s reign of terror. 

     Seven films. Seven fucking films into a horror franchise about a homicidal doll should be this fucking unique and refreshing. I know a lot of you wrote the series off by now, but this goes into some uncharted territory. It plays up the mystery angle again, like the first one and Curse to be fair, and it creates some tension. Again, this is part 7! It absolutely works! Somehow it made it work!

     The film can’t help but falls into some standard clichés that are trapping of the genre, like you know who’s going to die, or who’s a villainous character, all that stuff. But the film is smart enough to realize that, and just embraces its trappings instead of being embarrassed by them. 

     The smartest thing Cult manages to pull off that the humor of the film has to come from Chucky himself, not the other characters. Rather the cheesy humor that put a lot of people off of entries like Bride of Chucky. It juxtaposes itself incredibly against the unbelievable amount of gore. Its been awhile since I saw a horror movie just love its buckets of blood. 

     The genius part of the movie comes in the third act that I can’t bare to reveal because I don’t want to rob you guys of the sheer lunacy that it has. But if you put thought into what the film shows you, then holy shit is it ever terrifying (while also laughing my ass off, not going to lie). If you’re at all a fan of Chucky, then you owe it to yourself to see this one. I know I already can’t wait for the next one. 

     

Gerald’s Game (2017) Review

     Stephen King to me has always worked best when he deals with real life terrors than his supernatural ones. Gerald’s Game deals with some truly disturbing horrors that will make many people squirm, and that is what King has always excelled at. 

     Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) take a trip up to theor cabin in the middle of the woods to spice up their marriage. During a kinky bout of role playing, Gerald has a heart attack while Jessie is handcuffed to the bed out of reach of the key. When delusion starts to set in, she starts to confront the demons of her past.

     As far as Stephen King stories go, this is one of his darkest, unique tales. Basically, to a certain extent, this is Gugino’s show. And I have to say it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen all year. You see the exhaustion in her face, the desperation she must be going through. Gugino is one of the few actresses that can play determination yet still be vulnerable. Its just compelling to watch. 

     The film does utilize some flashbacks that reveal the true nature of her torment, and it’s the most difficult thing to sit through. Henry Thomas, who plays her father in these flashbacks, gives a chilling performance that demonstrates the extent of evil. Director Mike Flanagan recognizes that in order to make horror effective for audiences is to recognize the characters as actual human beings, which in this case, makes the movie work. 

     Yes, Gerald’s Game not for everyone, and the ending does come off a tad bit forced, but the agonizing journey that Jessie experiences is cathartic, and incredibly tense and you’ll feel a relief when its over. And that has always been to me the most amazing thing about horror films. Truly, one of the best films of the year, not just for horror fans, but for everyone who sees it. 

American Assassin (2017) Review

     Action movies in this day and age always seem to have the same fundamental problem that has existed since the early 2000s: the fucking gritty, sloppy edited, shaky cam style. Films like John Wick, Mad Max, and even fucking Baby Driver all seem to have learned that audiences need to be able to see what the fuck is going on. Too bad no one told the makers of American Assassin that, could’ve had a franchise on their hands. 

     While on vacation with his girlfriend, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Bryan) watches his get gunned down by terrorists at a beach resort. Rapp takes it upon himself to take down every terrorist cell as payback. He manages to infiltrate said cell, and gets rescued by a counter-terrorism unit headed by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who sees his fucked up potential. She sends him off to be trained by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to take down former operative Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) who is in possession of a nuclear bomb. 

     Now, that’s a whole lot of plot to digest, and some of it is pretty damn interesting. The film always worked best when it was dealing with the characters and even the moral dilemmas that come with fighting terrorism. But at about the half way mark and forward this constantly happens:

     Hurley: Don’t do the thing! That’s an order!!!!

     Rapp: Imma do the thing!

     I shit you not, that happens so much that when it happened (again) during the climax of the movie, I was just about to laugh. It seems like 40 % of the dialog is just how Rapp is the best because he fits the profile and some such shit. 

     As mentioned earlier, the way American Assassin is shot and edited is just plain sloppy. I really thought we were past this trend. I can’t even seem to recall if I even got excited by the action if I could make out at times what the fuck was going on. It just sadly make the movie look cheap when its supposed to be an espionage epic. 

     I do now firmly hold the belief that you could watch Michael Keaton take a shit for 90 minutes and he’ll still be able to give a compelling performance. The man has this way of making even silly lines sound completely natural and realistic. I wanted the movie to be more about his and Rapp’s training, but that shit is glossed over. Actually, the performances aren’t bad at all; they’re just in the service of a weak ass story. Kitsch and O’Bryan both sell their parts as foils to one another but nothing is really done with it. Everything by the end just falls flat. 

     In recent years the bar has been set pretty high for action movies, and I doubt that anyone will remember this movie until it comes on cinemax. Its a shame too, because the actors have done better stuff in the past, and it shows that a weak script can hurt even the best of them. 

     

Top 5 Non-Horror Stephen King Films

     In honor of horror novelist Stephen King’s birthday, I spent some time putting together the best non-supernatural stories that he had written. Some completely underrated, some that are obvious, and some that will surprise you. So starting with…

5. Apt Pupil

     The story of a boy (Brad Renfro) who finds out that his old neighbor (Ian McKellen) is a Nazi war criminal and blackmails him into telling him stories of the atrocities that he committed which begins to affect the boy. 

     This is one of those “tough to watch” films in that the horrible shit discussed is rooted in such a real life evil. You see this boy decend into evil, while the Nazi begins to take delight in the influence that he has over him. The ending of the film (changed from the novella) speaks volumes about the corruption of the human soul, and the reaction of the character played by David Schwimmer (yes, that guy) is the devastating reaction that any decent human being would have. True monsters can be human sometimes. 

4. Secret Window

     The story about a writer (Johnny Depp) getting over a divorce, trying to write a novel to get over his troubles. But one day he is greeted at the door by a stranger (John Turturro) who claims that the man stole his story. 

     Here’s a movie that was sadly overshadowed by its somewhat predictable ending, but the journey leading up to it is nothing short of compelling. Depp gives one of those now rare performances where he is subtle, and calm. The backstory of how he ended up getting divorced is heartbreaking, and the discovery of all that stays with you. Especially once you realize what the title truly means. 

3. Dolores Claiborne

      An old woman dies under the care of housekeeper Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates), leading her to be the prime suspect in her alleged murder. When her daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes back into town, the truth starts to rear its ugly head. 

     If there is one movie on this list that more people need to see, it’s this one. Jesus Christ, is everything on point in this film, from the acting to the writing to the direction, just everything. But I do have to warn you folks, that the truth revealed is ugly as fuck. I mean, Stephen King doesn’t fuck around here. It made me uncomfortable, but it made me see things in an entirely different light, and that good and evil are not so black and white. 

2. Stand By Me

     A dramatic tale of a writer reminiscing about the one summer where he and his three friends went on a trek into the woods to find the dead body of a boy their age. 

     Yes, Stephen King wrote this one. This has been hailed as the ultimate coming of age movie, and they’re not wrong. Everything in the movie feels so true, so genuine, like a long ago memory. This is the prime example of King’s focus on characters over plot. It feels like you’re hanging out with these kids. The sad thing is the movie gets more difficult to watch as you get older; it’s a beautifully bittersweet reminder of those carefree summers. 

1. The Shawshank Redemption

     The now classic story of prison inmates Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins) and the bond they form over the years at Shawshank Penitentiary. 

     Maybe along with Stand By Me, nothing gets a more shocked reaction that this was written by Stephen King. The movie is just a drama; no creatures or superpowers in the mix, just the story of trying to live in prison. To me, there is no better life affirming film than this one. Hell I’m getting teary eyed as I’m writing this. I think back to this movie, and I think of the characters as my friends. Sorry, just thinking about the ending. The happiest ending that you’ll ever see in film, and the one movie that proves beyond all measure that hope is the best of things. I can never recommend a movie highly enough. 

     So there you have it, some movies that prove that Stephen King is not just about the supernatural. The man is a master storyteller, and these flicks are some of the best movies ever made. Give yourself a treat, and watch them. 
 

Mr. Mercedes: A Different Type of Stephen King Horror 

     Stephen King has been enjoying this bit of a resurgence lately, with It recently breaking box office records. Even though thw man has been known for his tale of the supernatural macabre, he does manage to find new ways to horrify you; and Mr. Mercedes is just that new flavor to get a taste of. 

     During a job fair, a man driving a Mercedes plows his way through the crowd injuring and killing many including a young mother and her infant child. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) was assigned to the case but was never able to locate the killer. Two years later, now retired, Bill begins to receive messages from the killer (Harry Treadaway) taunting him, goading him to kill himself. He just didn’t count on one thing: Bill starts to fight back. 

     I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Stephen King story that has both the elements of noir along with that of a cat and mouse game. As of this writing there have been 6 episodes (out of ten) and there is nothing supernatural about. Just the ugly depravity of human nature.

     The best thing about Mr. Mercedes is that it is a series so the characters are allowed to flourish under the episodic nature of television. Gleeson’s Hodges is a man broken, haunted by his failure to not only capture the Mercedes killer, but to keep his family together. The most shocking thing, as it were, about the series is that from the first episode we the audience know who the killer is. Treadaway’s Brady has that creepy vibe, but you can tell that he doesn’t want to be that way. Because of his introverted ways, he gets stepped on by his boss and mother, causing him to pursue a twisted sense of righteousness.  

     The series dives into some truly disturbing elements and images that will turn some people off, like the aforementioned job fair scene, but the quiet nature of the game that these to men are playing is just to juicy to pass up. These men have given themselves a perverted sense of purpose towards each other, and it’s only going to get worse for the both of them from here. 

     This time Stephen King has shown us that the monsters we should be frightened of don’t live in the sewers, but the ones that could live next door to us. 

It (2017) Review

     I was only in 7th grade when I read It by Stephen King. At over a thousand pages, it became the novel that brought me of age, much like the Losers Club in the novel. Even though this film adaptation only covers roughly half the novel (omitting everything from when they’re adult) it manages to cover the sheer terror of growing up, and no matter the time period, you’ll notice nothing has changed. 

     The film starts in 1988 and goes into the summer of 1989. Children have gone missing and there have been sightings of a mysterious clown known as Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) that may be linked to these disappearances. A group of 7 children known as The Losers Club band together to bring an end to Pennywise’s terror which occurs every 27 years. 

     Adapting Stephen King is no easy feat. As much as the 3 hour miniseries got the basic gist of the story, so much of the harsher themes, history of the characters, and disturbing violence had to be cut out (though to be fair to the miniseries, it was on network tv. In 1990). With the novel being the cinder block that it is, i can understand the first half being about the Losers Club as children. 

     The performances of all 7 kids hit the right notes, and I felt I was seeing my friends again. Like Finn Wolfhard as Richie was spot on.  He was always the smart ass and he did make me laugh which helps to ease the tension in some scene. Even Jaeden Lieberher’s Bill captured the sutter that will play a part in the next chapter of the story. I only truly feel that Chosen Jacobs’s Mike was the only that got short shifted the most. He’s a crucial character in the next part. Sophia Lillis is Beverly Marsh. Her storyline in the movie can be very uncomfortable, well if you see the flick you’ll know why, and Lillis plays it with a strength and confidence that made me notice she’s the heart of the group. Just as she was in the novel. 

     I know every single one of you is wondering about Skarsgard’s Pennywise. The man is no Tim Curry, but he isn’t trying to be. At times he comes off like a playful kitten, one that will devour your soul (like a real kitten). The key to Skarsgard performance, and what makes it so fucking unsettling, are his eyes. I came to find out he can actually move his eyes independently from each other, and nope! Fuck you. 

     But if I had to gripe about anything really is that knowing the story fully, the movie suffers from having only adapted the first half or not shooting both parts simultaneously. The real thematic meat of the story comes from the Losers Club as adults, and the underlying theme of coping and facing your childhood trauma. Saying that though, I didn’t feel cheated going to see this version. It actually manages to tell a complete story with a three act structure. 

     It left me thinking from the second the film ended, and it captured so many wonderful moments, and some seriously graphic violence. If the opening with Georgie and his sail boat doesn’t leave you in shock or cringe in horror, then you’re worst than Pennywise. Fucking monster. 

      

Don’t Be Upset That Twin Peaks Ended, Be Joyous That It Happened. 

     On September 3rd, Twin Peaks: The Return ended its run with a two part finale. I’m still reeling from so I will do my best to keep some sort of sanity in my thoughts. I sense that a lot of people royally pissed off over how it all transpired; the events, the use of the characters, the explicitly unanswered questions, just take your pick, its all valid. 

     If you find yourself upset, ask yourself this: 

     Do you even know David Lynch?

     The last two episodes (especially the second one) come off as some sort of fever dream that quickly spiraled into a nightmare. This is Lynch at his purest, most surrealist that he’s been in years. From the likes of Lost Highway to Inland Empire this is what the fimmmaker has always done; the dropped plot points, the strayed characterizations, I mean this is pretty common. 

     The final episode, to get back on track here, is a surrealist masterpiece. Based on that one viewing, I legitimately have no idea where to start to make sense. No matter though, when it comes to David Lynch I have come to learn that if you don’t know how to feel, just go with the music and the images. The use of negative space, think of the car scene at its climax, along with the lingering shots, create such a sense of unease, almost as of we’re descending into Hell. I feel a sense of loss, but I can’t even begin to tell you why. The ending just feels sad and open ended and that has always been Lynch’s style. 

     I do have a theory about what it could mean, but that requires some spoilers. 
     Based on the last few episodes, I believe that the events of this series of Twin Peaks all transpire in Audrey’s coma. I am fairly confident that in one of the early episodes it was mentioned that she was in a coma, but in a throwaway line. And then with her dance at the Roadhouse it became pretty apparent. But again that’s my immediate reaction. 

     What does it all mean, this new Twin Peaks? I believe it’s about the fact that you can never go home again. It just isn’t the same. And when you do go back, be prepared to face the demons you left behind. If not then all you’ll experience is the bleakest void imaginable. 

     This ending is going to stay with me for awhile. I knew that since the beginning. 

Death Note (2017) Review

     The anime Death Note is one of the most thrilling, shocking television series that has ever been released. With its densely layered plot, complex characters it leaves an impact unlike most television nowadays. Now we have a 2017 American adaptation that does manage to capture some of the themes and complexities of the characters. While it comes up short compared to the anime, the film manages to be fascinating, and grips you from the start. 

     Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a smart kid in Seattle, Washington who is constantly being bullied at school. One day while minding his own business, he comes across a ledger called a Death Note. A mystical demon named Ryuk (Willam Defoe) tells him that he can write a name, imagine them, they’ll die. Now with a sense of power, Light starts to kill criminals which catches the attention of the authorities and a master detective only known as L (Keith Stanfield).

     This only covers the surface of the story. I think of this as a bit of a cliff notes version, but it is a damn good one. The performances are all spot on, especially Stanfield as L. He manages to bring an eccentricity to the character that actually comes off as endearing instead of off putting. He has a vulnerability that counterbalances his seemingly supernatural ability to keep up with Light. Wolff as Light had the embodiment of righteousness down, but due to cultural differences with Japan, he comes off as more of a victim than a lauded student. It works well for this version, and gives the film its own sense of identity. 

     Unlike this year’s Ghost in the Shell, director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) has a clear love for the material. Subtle nods and ingenious explanations for using elements that were clearly Japanese but moving them over to America which somehow managed to work. The film doesn’t shy away from the horror elements of the material, and along with the music, has a distinctive 1980s vibe that took me by surprise on how well that worked. 

     While in the grand scheme of things I do prefer the series over the film, that version shook me up pretty bad with its twists, the film exists as its own beast and exists as further evidence that apparently Netflix is where you’ll get some thrilling, just damn good movies. Few movies this year left an impact on me, but this one sure did, and I hope everyone sees this movie, and then check out the series. 

Note: I chose not to dive into the whitewashing controversy because I wanted to focus the films on its own merits and its source material only.