Tag Archives: 2014

Movie Review: Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)

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Rating: B/ Filmmaker Maya Forbes’ heart tugging, affectionate autobiographical tale stars Mark Ruffalo as Cam, a perennial screw-up and the manic-depressive father of two little girls, Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) and Amelia ( Imogene Wolodarsky, the filmmaker’s own daughter.) When we first meet Cam, it is the winter of 1978, and he is in the midst of a manic episode, running around in the freezing cold in his skivvies and terrorizing his family, who then lock themselves in the car in fear. Later he is hospitalized and put on heavy medication that makes him shuffle, fat and complacent, around the halls of the mental hospital. Continue reading Movie Review: Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)

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Return to Sender (2014)

 ***Warning- Some Spoilers***

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Attention sex offenders- whatever you do, do not drink the lemonade!

What could have been a harrowing study of the long-standing psychological aftereffects of a horrific crime becomes disappointingly seedy, exploitative, and torture porn-y in this mediocre rape-revenge thriller. The actors do their best, but the results are as icy and soulless as the main character, a perfectionist who begins to show her rotten core after being raped by a depraved stalker. If this movie has any real message, it’s that the victim of a rape can be just as sick and demented as her assailant.

Miranda (Gone Girl‘s Rosamund Pike) is a capable nurse and all-around compulsive type who seems to have a bit of an issue with the opposite sex, perhaps springing from childhood trauma. But not a bad lady, right? So you would think… until Miranda commits the ultimate no-no for potentially likable characters and poisons her dad (Nick Nolte)’s dog to death. And baby, that’s only the beginning.

Anyway, before all that shit goes down, Miranda seems like a fairly likable, albeit high-strung protagonist. During a blind date, Miranda is raped by the mindbogglingly sleazy Will (Shiloh Fernandez.) But the crafty Miranda is not going down without a fight. Ever the sultry minx, Miranda visits Will in prison and befriends him under false pretenses, grooming him to walk right into the trap of a perfect revenge. Hold on to your balls, gentlemen!

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However long I waited in earnest for the revenge scene, I found myself somewhat disappointed with the way they handled it. The cheesy and lurid finale just doesn’t fit with the reasonably well-conceived and thoughtful beginning. The problem is not in the actors. Maybe developing Miranda as a more likable character would help. Regardless of the sympathy you feel for her initially, she betrays your trust and reveals herself to be a over-the-top, evil, backstabbing bitch.

I guess the revelation that Miranda is an evil wench is supposed to be thrilling but it seems like a cheat, especially with so many unanswered questions regarding the plot floating around the stratosphere. We’re simply left with the question, why are we supposed to care about this story?  The filmmaker starts out with some good ideas, but “Return to Sender” succeeds in the end as being entertainment in only the basest sense. It’s not inspiring, it’s not enlightening, and it certainly doesn’t offer any comfort or emotional relief to those who’s lives are affected by rape.

Three things save this movie from being a complete bust- the actors (uniformly competent,) the first thirty minutes or so (which maintains a sense of relative realism that falls to pieces in the messy, sadistic climax,) and the fact that the rape scene itself is handled with more finesse than one would expect for a movie of this type. Rosamund Pike is lovely and shows obvious talent, but in the end this film is just another creepy movie about rape, without the soulfulness or the seriousness to make it work.

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Housebound (2014)

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Best described as a ‘haunted house movie that’s not a haunted house movie,’ “Housebound” starts out rather unimpressively and gradually takes hold of your attention with an intriguing mystery and a surprising twist. Once I realized it wasn’t going to be a laugh-out-loud giggle fest like another recent NZ horror/comedy, “What We Do in the Shadows” (although “Housebound” as it’s chuckle-worthy moments, however modestly offered up) I settled in and enjoyed the mix of camp and cult sensibility combined with some legitimate creepiness and entertaining, if cheesy, practical effects.

Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is a world-class bitch and juvenile delinquent which a long standing bad attitude toward adults, authority figures, and the world in general. She is picked up by the police while bashing open an ATM to satisfy her methamphetamine habit and sent to live with her family on house arrest. Worse, Kylie hates her overly gregarious, soap opera-watching mom (Rima Te Wiata) and taciturn stepdad Greame (Ross Harper,) so she’s pretty much as pissed off about the arrangement as she could possibly be.

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Until the supernatural gets mixed into the arrangement, and her bratty, futile anger turns to fear. Her mom has always suggested that the house could be haunted, being a hotspot for strange and ghostly activity. The weird happenings intensify when Kylie arrives in the house, but who, besides her oddball family,will believe her? Certainly not the authorities who put her under house arrest; certainly not the cops. Or so she thinks- until the realization that her parole officer Amos (Glen-Paul Naru) is a huge paranormal enthusiast and could not be more eager to accompany her on her spooky investigation.

The beginning of this movie doesn’t bode well for the film as a whole, with too little humor and too few things of particular interest going on. Plus, Kylie isn’t exactly a likable character,  with her self-absorbed disdain for anyone who tries to stop her from doing exactly what she wants to do. At the beginning, I was tempted to pack it up and go to bed, but by the end I was glad I didn’t . This movie’s twist is creative and astonishingly well-thought-out.

“Housebound”‘s acting is halfway decent (nothing that’s going to win a Academy Award, but good in the context of the movie) and the identity of the true baddie is a shocker- in classic mystery fashion, they’re the last person you would expect! I’m not sure why this was so highly lauded by Rotten Tomatoes, but I’m glad I watched the whole thing. The movie, while not being the future horror classic some made it out to be, has it’s charms. It’s no “What We Do in the Shadows” (a movie I feel in love with immediately upon watching) but it’s got some value in the horror/comedy world of the great, the okay, and the just plain awful.

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Zombeavers (2014)

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“Zombeavers” is an predictably cheesy and surprisingly entertaining gorefest, and emphatically, and maybe thankfully, the only film of it’s kind- a cheerfully over-the-top horror-comedy about raging homicidal zombie beavers. Yep. Let the beaver jokes commence. It seems to be in the same vein as low budget bloodbaths such as “Evil Dead 2” and “Dead Alive,” but this film is in a category of it’s own- it’s literally so bad it’s good, a hypnotic disaster that has to be seen to be believed.

The dialogue is atrocious,the characters are inane, the animatronic aquatic rodents from hell who can reason- and plan an oncoming attack- are shit, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Saying that this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously is an insult to movies that scrape the bottom of the barrel for cheap gags. But it achieves it’s purpose, to make the lowbrow viewer laugh. Oh, and I laughed. I don’t think the question even has to be raised whether I was laughing with it or at it, but I left the movie in a good mood, and there’s something to be said for that.

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The ‘plot’- a group of three college girls go out on vacation to get one of the young women’s (Lexi Atkins)’ mind off a messy break-up. They are met at the cabin by their respective boyfriends (and the heartbroken girl’s ex) for a weekend of skinny-dipping, booze, and sex – maybe not in that order though. Sound familiar? But that’s where the fun (and the similariites to countless other horror movies) end.

You see, barrels of  bright green nuclear waste has been dumped on the dams of some easy-going beaver families, and the mother-fuckers have gone bad- they’re out for blood. They’re not just beavers, they’re Zombeavers and they will have their revenge. These kids don’t have a brain among them- it takes them half the movie to remember that beavers can chew through wood. All they care about it boobs, broads, and, in case of the lasses, dick. So it proves to be entertaining to watch them die by being gnawed to death by normally docile rodents.

The acting is exactly what you might expect for this kind of movie. The actor who plays the supposedly straight Buck (Peter Gilroy) acts gay as fuck throughout (although he does deserve brownie points for keeping a straight face while screaming “I feel like a power ranger!” mid coitus.) Meanwhile, the actress who plays his girlfriend (Cortney Palm) sporadically picks up and drops her Southern accent as frequently as a bad case of clap.

Of course, they’re not playing in a rendition of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” And in a movie like this, bad acting is pretty much part of the deal. And, well, I must admit (bad. bad philistine that I am) that the sight of those goofy animatronic beavers alone were enough to make me explode into gales of laughter. They’re so quaint, in a bloody, gross way. So it comes down to this. If you like bad movies, really bad movies, really really bad movies, you might enjoy this. If you are a lover of film as fine art and want to keep your pride, and more importantly, your sanity, stay far, far away. You know who you are, bad movie lovers. “Zombeavers” is a banquet of cheese, and depending on your taste, it could be a joy to partake.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

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“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” works so well because you know next to nothing about the characters for the first portion of the film, making it an altogether mysterious and intriguing experience indeed. Crisply photographed in black-and-white and imbued with a truly unique soundtrack compilation, this ‘Iranian Vampire Western’ is nothing if not unpredictable.

Arash (Arash Marandi,) the stressed-out protagonist, is a hard-working young man who’s dependent, drug-addled father Houssein (Marshall Manesh) proves to be continually burdensome and exasperating to him. Houssein is being frequently visited by local thug Saeed (Dominic Rains,) a ne’er-do-well, pimp, and drug dealer to whom Houssein owes thousands of dollars of the illegal substances that service his addiction.

Saeed is the exception to the rule. You know everything you need to know about him from the moment you meet him, from his truly epic tattoos (including the word ‘SEX’ inexpertly scrawled on his throat) to his cheap gangsta haircut, Saeed is only half as frightening and twice as ridiculous as he believes himself to be, but is still a volatile hood and no one to be trifled with.

With Houssain in debt, Saeed pilfers Arash’s prized car, driving Arash to steal a pair of earrings from his alluring employer (Rome Shadanloo.) But a mysterious vampire (Sheila Vand, who manages to be all at once creepy, quirky, sexy, and sympathetic) may render Arash’s drastic action obsolete.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” combines wry humor and nail-biting tension in a film that might seem disappointedly low on violence for avid gorehounds but proves to be a technically- and stylistically- sound film. Alternately self-satirizing and even cheesy and artsy and daring, this movie never seems awkward or tone-deaf, but straddles all the elements of the film with pleasing self-awareness and (no pun intended) bite.

Packed into the film is a strong feminist message that proves to be just what Middle Eastern cinema needs. All over the world, women are choked with the what-ifs of simple daily activities such as seeking help carrying groceries from a stranger, walking home from work, and drinking in bars. What if I get robbed? What if I get raped? What if a guy who looks outwardly legit decides to overpower me?

Although men themselves are not incapable of being victims of sexual violence,  it’s a much bigger cause of concern for girls and women. The irony here is, with a vampiress on the loose, now it is the guys, particularly the predatory ones, who have to worry. No pimp, rapist, or woman-beater’s neck is safe. And the halfway decent citizens  of the as-advertised ‘bad city’ are not entirely off the hook either.

You may wonder how this film got away with blunt social commentary and nudity in Iran. Simply put… it didn’t. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” was shot in California. But it is, for all intents and purposes, a Middle Eastern film. And a pretty good one at that. Although some people might be put off by the Black-and-White photography and the subtitles, this would be a good starter movie to others unfamiliar with Middle Eastern cinema, as it is entertaining and takes little to no political background to understand

Nor is it overly gory or violent (other than a gruesome- but amusing-  finger munching scene,) and even the relatively squeamish viewers can watch and enjoy it. International film enthusiasts, and vampire fans, should love it.

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The Captive (2014)

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All in all, “The Captive” is a pretty lame movie. It incorporates a ‘ripped from the headlines’ story with an admittedly good performance from Ryan Reynolds (who’s obviously trying to shed his ‘pretty boy’ image, with some success, but that doesn’t make this movie good,) but ultimately proves to be an unthrilling film that fails to be realistic or compelling.

Most of the fault seems to be with Kevin Durand, who plays a mustachioed pedo freak which such cartoonish abandon that one can only sigh and weep for the direction this movie takes. Durand’s Mika (but I’ll call him pedostache, mm-kay?) kidnaps young Cass (played by Peyton Kennedy as a child and Alexia Fast as a teen) from under poor Reynolds’ nose and does unspeakable things to her.

Reynolds, her dad, is blamed by his grieving wife (Mirielle Enos) for leaving Cass in the car for just a minute as he went into the pie shop to get dessert for his the three of them. Luckily, police officers specializing in child abduction and sexual abuse Nicole  (Rosario Dawson) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) are on the case.

It’s every parents worst nightmare, and great fodder for a thrilling, terrifying crime story, but something is missing. And it’s a shame that, with Reynolds performing so admirably, the central villains performance often lowers the film to ridiculousness.

Mika is an ever-so-slightly effeminate deviant with a pencil-thin pedostache, bleached buck teeth, a habit of crossing and uncrossing his legs constantly, and a penchant for opera, in other words, a live-action cartoon character who is impossible to take seriously in a film that is otherwise for all intents and purposes, earnest.

What the film doesn’t realize is that pedophiles look like regular people. They look like the kindly old man halfway down the block, the big bearish uncle who used to placate you with sweets and hug you a little too tightly. To portray an offender as a John Waters-esque creep is to do a disservice to reality. And Durand’s overly zesty performance doesn’t help.

Let me tell you about the ending. Obviously, **spoilers. Read at your own risk. Cass, who looks thirteen like Dame Maggie Smith looks twenty-five, is freed, and the baddie is smote. She returns to her regular life almost immediately, and the film closes on her ice-skating with a happy grin on her face. After years of Tina (Enos) psychologically abusing Matthew (Reynolds) and blaming him for their daughter’s’ disappearance, it seems like the duo will automatically get back together.

Aw, how Kodak. Bring out the camera, folks! Smile! Except all I can say is, really?!! Not only does the film completely fail to mention that Cass will be scarred for life and saying she will have trouble adjusting is a massive understatement, the revelation of Matthew and Tina hooking up at the end seems completely false. Their daughter is back, suddenly everything is swell! Never mind that the whole family has been completely through the ringer and will probably be deeply damaged for the rest of their lives. **end of spoilers

It would have been interesting to see Reynolds play the bad guy like he (sorta) did in “The Voices” (the “Voices” anti-hero wasn’t a pedo though, just a nice old fashioned serial killer.) To see Ryan Reynolds play a perv would be so totally different that I would kind of have to applaud it. As least “The Voices” felt like a unique experience. “The Captive” feels like a nighttime crime show that you half-watch while occupying yourself elsewhere. A really bad crime show. Ryan Reynolds, I don’t think this movie is the best way to further your career.  Although, I must admit, playing alongside Durand did make you look damn good.

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Big Eyes (2014)

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It seemed like a match made in heaven. Outwardly charming and charismatic realtor Walter (Christoph Waltz) wedded the wide-eyed artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams,) making it possible for her to keep the sexist mid-20th century authorities from deeming her an unfit mother based on her unmarried status and taking her daughter away.

But Walter proved to be an untrustworthy , possessive pig, constantly berating and manipulating the terrified Margaret and taking credit for her work, a series of  slightly unnerving paintings of waifish children with enormous doe eyes. Caught between fear of her husband’s socioeconomic influence and her own happiness, Margaret stayed trapped for years in a loveless  marriage to a egomaniac monster of a husband.

The story of artist Margaret Keane and her fraught relationship with her conniving husband, Walter, seems like it could make a fascinating film, but what can one do with a script as shoddy as this? In “Big Eyes,” Amy Adams is as lovable as ever as the innocent Margaret, initially lulling the viewer into believing that the movie will be much, much better than it actually is.

Christoph Waltz, however, gives an unexpectedly atrocious turn as Walter, rendering all Amy Adams’ efforts to make a good movie out of a mediocre one obsolete. For people such as myself, who adored Waltz in “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” his performance is a devastating betrayal.

We know he can do better, but with his fiendishly cartoonish portrayal of Adams’ abusive husband, we half expect him to spirit a stack of Acme products out of thin air and futilely attempt to blow Margaret and her frightened daughter to Kingdom come. His performance is what transforms a average movie into something much less.

“Big Eyes” is an improvement over “Alice in Wonderland,” filmmaker Tim Burton’s earlier film of recent years? Ha! “Alice in Wonderland” was solid, gaudy entertainment, harmless to take the kids to and relax your brain with. “Big Eyes” tries to take on serious subject matter, and fails miserably.

I was initially really excited to see it because it sounded a lot different from Burton’s other work, but how disappointed I was when it turned out to be a shallow biopic with one-dimensional characterizations and… yes, a mortifying performance by an actor I used to like and respect.

Meanwhile, a supporting characterization by Danny Huston as an interested reporter seems perfunctory and uninteresting, placed haphazardly in the film simply so he can supply some backstory in the form of a voiceover. As “Big Eyes” veers into shameless, albeit star-studded ridiculousness, all I can think of is what a missed opportunity this was. Hopefully Burton will take his next project more seriously and not deteriorate into kitsch like he did in this sloppy and misfortunate misfire.

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