Rating: D+/ First of all, I’d just like to say that I really enjoy Gene Jones as an actor, and I hope he goes on to do a lot more movies; most of which will hopefully be better than this one. Dementia has a great premise, benefits from the presence of Jones, and initially seems like it’s going to be a fun ride; that is, until it takes a turn into unintentionally humorous territory. Most of the ridiculousness on display here is due to the villain, who comes off as wwwaayy over the top and takes herself much too seriously for such a silly, overacted character. Continue reading Movie Review: Dementia (2015)→
Rating: C+/ Well, you certainly can’t accuse Quentin Tarantino of false advertising. These eight characters are, in fact, hateful. And then some. Let me just preface this review by saying I love Tarantino’s movies. Usually. But his latest effort, The Hateful Eight, stands as one of his weakest so far. Usually, we can follow Tarantino into the craziest plots, the nuttiest situations that he conjures up before us. His movies are self-indulgent as fuck, films derived from films derived from other films, but that matters to us not one whit. The man has a gift; for dialogue, for characters, for pitch-black, twisted humor that is as prevalent in his films as the ubiquitous big twist in a M. Night Shyamalan flick. Continue reading Movie Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)→
I know I’m completely in the minority here, but I am not a big fan of the classic “The Wizard of Oz” movie. No, I don’t get nostalgic about it, It’s not a big part of my childhood, and I don’t understand why other people, including my mother, make such a big flippin’ deal about it. In my opinion, it’s a watered-down, sentimentalized adaptation of a good book with a cop out ending (it was all a dream, really?!)
That said, not giving a hoot about the original makes it easier for me to enjoy this reimagined prequel, which, despite lukewarm critical reception, was well-received by me and my family. There are a fair amount of flaws- James Franco’s somewhat over-the-top performance as the titular wizard, as well as some forced humor, come to mind, but for every lame joke there is an effective one, there are delightful characters and genuine emotion, and damn it, the CGI-generated colors and backdrops look so dang pretty on the big-screen TV.
Oscar (James Franco) is a flim-flam man operating in Kansas as a ‘magician,’ smooth-talking young girls, and lacking appreciation for his partner Frank (Zach Braff) at every turn. After a particularly poor show, Oz is blown away in a hot air balloon by a twister and (segue from black-and-white into color, as a nod to the original) lands in the radiantly beautiful but potentially deadly land of the as-yet unnamed Oz.
No sooner as he landed there than Oscar meets Theodora (Mila Kunis,) a wide-eyed witch who falls for his charms. Theodora believes Oskar is there to fulfill a prophecy that will bring peace to a land plagued by a wicked witch. Lured by the promise of gold and riches, ‘Oz’ leads Theodora on to believing he is the chosen one, and is aided by a strong-willed and somewhat annoying china girl (voiced by Joey King) and cute n’ furry bellhop monkey Finley (also voiced by Braff) on an epic quest where being a epic-scale bullshitter might just be the thing that makes Oz the man for the job.
In true ‘Oz’ form, people from Franco’s Kansas life reoccur in different forms in the land of Oz. Among these are Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams,) who appears to be the double of Oz’s old flame Annie who he can’t admit he loves, Frank the assistant AKA Finley the monkey, and a wheelchair-bound girl from Kansas (King) who is the voice of the orphaned china doll.
James Franco is a mix of appealing and charismatic-enough and hammy, pulling potentially cramp-inducing smiles and not above scenery-chewing. Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are appealing as beautiful witch sisters. Michelle Williams, who is typically a wonderful actress pulls a performance similar to that of Anne Hathaway in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” that is so wishy-washy it makes you go so what? Williams is not bad, as Hathaway was, but seems to be trying too little just as Franco is trying too hard.
This film is done by Sam Raimi, the man behind the “Spider-Man” and “Evil Dead” trilogies. And do you know what? I think for the most part he does a good job. Nothing beats hearing your little sister’s delighted laughs at a certain scene reverberate across an empty theater, and she wasn’t alone in her enjoyment. “Oz” is no masterpiece, but it’s funny and cute and it might just behoove you to ignore the critic’s opinion on this one.
I was a little skeptical about the prospect of actually enjoying this movie, because my only contact with filmmaker Ti West were his shorts in the utterly rubbish anthology films “The ABCS of Death” and “V/H/S.” Still, the premise and the trailer looked promising, so I watched it on Netflix Instant (thank God for streaming.) After seeing it twice in the last month, I have to say I am very impressed with what the director managed to do here. The build-up is slow-going to say the least, but there were extended periods in the movie where I was glued to the seat, simultaneously fascinated and unnerved by this rarity- a found footage film that seemed altogether too real and rang true as a horror movie with smarts, not just as gimmicky trash.
Journalists Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg) communicate with a fashion photographer named Patrick (Kentucker Audley, what a name!), who confides in them that his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz,) who has a history of drug abuse and irresponsible behavior, has ‘found herself’ in a remote religious sect. Obviously curious about his strange story, the duo join Patrick to fly over to visit Caroline in ‘Eden Parish,’ a community that lies isolated in the jungle. Vowing to film their experiences and share it with Sam and Jake’s readers, the three men have no idea how much trouble they’re about to get themselves into.
This viewer found the acting to be surprisingly good for this kind of movie. AJ Bowen gave a good performance as Sam, an easy going good-guy who finds himself plunged into the heart of darkness. Amy Seimetz is creditable as Patrick’s ditzy sister, under whose cheery exterior lies a undercurrent of mania and confusion. But the actor who takes the cake as the most convincing and award-worthy is Gene Jones, who had a small part in the critically acclaimed “No Country for Old Men.” Here he plays the utterly appalling but charismatic cult leader ‘Father,” who has seemingly won the utter respect and admiration of the people of ‘Eden Parish.” Jones’ scene where ‘Father’ is interviewed by AJ Bowen’s ‘Sam’ is brilliant on so many levels, and both actors knock it out of the ballpark with that one conversation.
“The Sacrament” is heavily inspired by the Jonestown Massacre, and is made particularly potent by the realization that events like this mark our history. I remember seeing a TV program on David Koresh and wondering how so many people could be brainwashed by a douchebag whose obviously cuckoo for cocoa puffs. One of the things that stays with me is the last moments of the children the police were frantically trying to get out of the compound. The kids were calm and compliant moments before burning to death in the place that was both their home and their prison. Did things have to go down that way?
Chilling in its psychological and sociological implications, “The Sacrament” is a real breath of fresh air as both a modern horror movie and a found-footage scare film. Driven by a frightening performance by Gene Jones as a persuasive cult leader, this film ratchets up the intensity that comes with viewing a situation like this to a nearly unbearable level. It’s not for the faint of heart, and those who seek cheerier entertainment look elsewhere, but horror fans that seek smarts in modern horror should love it.
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