“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1″ – Review

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article4017730.html

My Return to KCUR (sort of)

We’re not doing the regular movie review show anymore, but I got invited to talk about ghost stories on Central Standard. Here’s the link: http://kcur.org/post/halloween-edition-ghost-story-time

The Critical List – 13 Horror Movies That Actually Scared Me

Scary movies are like comedies in their complete subjectivity. You may think the Three Stooges are hilarious, while I find them unbearably annoying. A movie that terrifies me might put you to sleep. Here, in completely random order, are a lucky 13 that have kept me wide awake (albeit with my eyes closed).

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Poultry Patrol – “Left Behind” (2014)

What It IsLeft-Behind

The latest film version of the Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins rapture novel, the first in a very long series. Basically, all the “real” Christians (and young kids) disappear and everyone else has to face the rise of the Antichrist. In this case, that includes an airline pilot played by Nicolas freaking Cage!

Why I Saw It

I grew up in a church that believed in this stuff, so I’ve had a lifelong morbid fascination with this – and all – apocalyptic scenarios. Plus, the earlier adaptation (starring Kirk Cameron) was hilariously awful, so I knew I was guaranteed a good time.

What I Learned

  • If you’re trying to convert people to Christianity, you shouldn’t make two atheists and a Muslim your only likable characters

AlecRayme_LW

Nice person

cassi-thomson-in-left-behind-movie-5

Nice person

Chad-Michael-Murray-Left-Behind

Nice person

 
Guess who gets to go to Heaven?

LEAH-1024x682

Incredibly annoying person

cage

Hunk McBonerson was already taken

 

 

  • Rayford Steele and Buck Williams would make great porn star names

 

 

 

  • It’s totally practical to be a flight attendant in 6 inch spike heels
  • Heaven has a No Pets policy

leftbehind

“Well, son of a bitch.”

  • When millions of people suddenly disappear, the only possible response is massive looting

left-behind_612x380

“I just grabbed this sweet Xbox for my kid…..oh, wait.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • If you call your kid Raymie Steele, you should probably be grateful he’s getting raptured
  • Baton Rouge and New York City are basically the same place
  • No one involved in this movie has left the house since 1985

IMAG0312

“The kids still hang out at these, right? And do the break dancing?”

  • A subdued Nicolas Cage is a boring Nicolas Cage

cage2

“Can I just get my check, please?”

 

 

“The Good Lie” – Review

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article2422819.html

“The Equalizer” – Review

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article2220522.html

“The November Man” – Review

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article1293942.html

“I Origins” – Review

New stuff at the Star:

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article790536.html

“Begin Again” – Review

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article648403.html

“Obvious Child” – Review

http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article618499.html

Central Standard Friday – 5/23/14

I got to review Blended, Chef, Godzilla, The Hornet’s Nest, & X-Men: Days of Future Past.

http://kcur.org/post/movie-critics-may-2014

“Blended” – Review

http://www.kansascity.com/2014/05/22/5038194/blended-yet-another-adam-sandler.html

So, I finally saw “Noah”…..

…..and I’m still not sure what I saw, exactly. A deeply weird attempt to turn a Bible story into a fantasy/action epic? A brilliant director’s fascinating struggle with issues of faith and justice? A psychodrama about a family under unthinkable duress?

Yes. Probably. Sort of.

It’s just too interesting not to write about. Lots of spoilers ahead.

140328150043-noah-movie-crowe-story-top

“Glenn Beck fans! RUUUUNNN!!”

Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors, and his filmography has a constant theme of obsessive characters who destroy themselves. Russell Crowe’s Noah is part of the same lineage as the mad math genius in Pi, the drug addicts in Requiem for a Dream and the doomed ballerina in Black Swan. They’re all reaching for something greater than themselves, only to discover that their goals are elusive, if they exist at all.

In Noah, the Creator does seem to exist, and is determined to destroy most of humanity.  Noah strives for righteousness, and he becomes as hard and unforgiving as the God who would wipe out His own creation. This character study, humanizing a figure who gets very little airtime in the Bible, is easily the best thing about Aronofsky’s approach. Crowe nails the portrayal of a man tortured by what he has been tasked with – or thinks he has.

The rest of the film is not as successful. The visuals are great, and the depraved world of villain Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) is impressively rendered, as is his attempt to overtake the ark when the deluge begins. It’s so cool-looking, you could almost forget about all the crazy.

Noah-Watcher V2 -luca nemolato

“For the last time, stop calling me Treebeard!”

I’m not just talking about the Ents rock monsters Watchers, either. Their story is pulled from that short passage in Genesis about the Nephilim, along with extra-biblical writings like The Book of Enoch, which talks about fallen angels being covered with “rough and jagged rocks” and bound in “the valleys of the earth.” Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, get very creative with this concept, even having the Watchers help build the ark. It’s not quite as silly as it sounds, but it’s close.

We also get to meet Methuselah, Noah’s extremely aged grandfather, played by Anthony Hopkins. He lives in a cave, craves berries for some reason, and has magic powers (or hallucinogenics,or both). It’s a bizarre cameo which adds little to the film, except another Oscar winner (Jennifer Connelly’s in it, too).

The real fun(?) comes when Noah determines that all of humanity is supposed to die – including him and his family. They’re just around to keep the animals alive. Noah’s daughter-in-law is pregnant, and God isn’t sending him useful visions of what to do, so he is on the verge of committing infanticide. Only an innate feeling of love for his offspring keeps him from going through with it.

Mind you, he makes this decision without any help from the deity whose (albeit vague) directives led to all this in the first place. Does Noah’s act of mercy fulfill God’s will, or go against it? There were plenty of children killed in the flood. What makes these kids so special?

That is, of course, one of the big questions raised by both the movie and the Bible story. Is it really possible that every single person on Earth is evil, except this one guy and his family? We don’t see much of Noah’s world in either case, and what Aronofsky shows is a sparsely inhabited wasteland that couldn’t begin to sustain even its tiny population.

If the flood only ravages one area, then that explains the absurd notion that the entire planet could be repopulated by 8 people, most of whom are genetically related. Either there were others spared from the flood somewhere, or there’s going to be some serious inbreeding. That can’t be what the Creator (or the director) had in mind.

In virtually every way, Noah is an interesting failure, an attempt to make narrative and moral sense out of a story that doesn’t lend itself to the task. If he had made a straight-up fantasy or sci-fi version, Aronofsky might have pulled this off. By tying the film to a religious text whose tales are ostensibly set in the real world, he backs himself into a corner only divine intervention could get him out of.

"Harry Potter made more sense than this"

“Harry Potter made more sense than this”

"So did Thor"

“So did Thor”

“Oculus” – Review

Originally published in The Kansas City Star
April 11th, 2014

oculus_ver3_xlgMIRROR, MIRROR, OFF-THE-WALL
Though it reflects other horror films,
Oculus shimmers with tension.

  • 2 1/2 out of 4 stars

Oculus won’t haunt anyone’s nightmares, unless they haven’t seen a horror movie in a very long time. Glowy eyed ghouls and self-mutilation lost their shock value at least a decade ago.

What it has going for it is a slow, steady build-up of tension, leading to a final act that makes up in pure intensity what it lacks in originality. In a genre that so often relies on gore and lazy jump scares, that goes a long way.

Oculus is based on director Mike Flanagan’s 2006 short “Oculus: Chapter 3 — The Man With the Plan,” and it cleverly extends the premise. The plot centers on an antique mirror whose owners have a habit of dying mysteriously (and gruesomely). Siblings Kaylie and Tim (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) know this all too well, as they witnessed their
parents (Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff) succumb to the thing’s murderous power 11
years ago. Tim spent his adolescence in a mental institution, while Kaylie was in foster care, increasingly obsessed with proving that her family’s tragic dissolution was supernatural.

Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard never fully explain what’s going on with the mirror, or what Kaylie ultimately hopes to accomplish when she purchases it and installs it in her childhood home. Convincing a reluctant, skeptical Tim to join her, Kaylie has an elaborate plan to monitor the mirror and its effects, and Gillan has some amusing early moments as she shows off her high-tech Ghost Hunters setup. Gillan and Thwaites make completely convincing siblings, as do Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play their younger selves in flashbacks.

Actually, they’re not so much flashbacks as visions, and this is another way in which Oculus stands out. The mirror controls its victims’ perception of reality, and Flanagan deftly does the same to viewers. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s really happening, which contributes greatly to the nerve-wracking nature of the last half-hour. With an assist
from the Newton brothers’ ominous musical score, Oculus gradually, inexorably tightens its grip.

While you’re trying to catch your breath, you may not notice how many horror clichés are being paraded across the screen. Flanagan borrows liberally from family- horror movies like The Shining and any number of stories about possessed objects. Thanks to its lack of backstory, the mirror is pretty innocuous, and the undead intruders it produces could have wandered out of any modern ghost or zombie flick. Even the “twist” ending isn’t as bold as it’s apparently supposed to be.

Flanagan does show promise as a director, and his skill makes Oculus effective enough to be worthwhile. If he keeps this up, he might make something really scary someday. Rated RLoey Lockerby.

 

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/04/10/4948273/oculus-mirror-mirror-off-the-wall.html#storylink=cpy

“Cheap Thrills” – Review

Originally published in The Kansas City Star
April 4th, 2014

cheap_thrills_ver2_xlgA LITTLE TOO TWISTED
You’ll enjoy these “Thrills” if you can stomach them

  • 2 out of 4 stars

People will do almost anything for money. From Ponzi schemes to humiliating game shows, if enough cash is on offer, the greedy and the desperate will get whatever they can.

After countless fictional portrayals of this, E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills brings the concept into the era of Saw and Jackass. How you feel about it will depend on how much creative debasement you can stand to watch.

When family man Craig (Pat Healy) loses his job and gets an eviction notice on the same day, he drowns his sorrows at a bar with old high school buddy Vince (Ethan Embry). Vince isn’t in great financial shape, either, so they’re easy targets for Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), a filthy-rich couple who get their kicks by buying the guys drinks, then daring them to commit increasingly dangerous acts.

The prospect of making hundreds of dollars by downing shots and punching bouncers is too much to resist. But when the party moves to Colin and Violet’s house, the stakes — and risks — get much, much higher.

Katz and screenwriters David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga have backgrounds in low-budget horror (sample credits include Hell Asylum and A Horrible Way to Die), and it shows. They nail the dark humor and grungy atmosphere that can make such films entertaining, but they also include plenty of material that’s gross for its own sake.

Cheap Thrills gradually becomes one of those splatter movies whose existence depends entirely on the strength of its viewers’ stomachs. Even that would be OK, if there was more insight into the characters. A couple of good arguments between Craig and Vince reveal years of jealousy and resentment, and that deepens them a little. Neither man is outright stupid, yet they allow this “game” to go on well past the point where it could possibly be worth it, and their complicated history doesn’t explain that away. Colin and Violet are one-note one-per-centers, so disconnected from humanity they’d make Jordan Belfort cringe.

None of this would work at all without good performances, and Cheap Thrills has four stellar ones, with Koechner a particular stand-out. Colin may be a standard bored psycho on the page, but Koechner’s party-down sleaziness gives him a strange charm. For a while, you almost think Colin isn’t as bad as you thought, despite knowing deep down that he’s probably worse.

That could apply to the movie as a whole, which may be all the reason aficionados of the disgusting need to see it. If that’s you, then bon appetit! UnratedLoey Lockerby.