A tiny review of “Dead Rush” (2016)

“Dead Rush” (2016) isn’t quite as bad as other reviewers have made it out to be; it’s a passably entertaining zombie feature that I’d rate a 6 out of 10.  It occasionally rises above its central gimmick to create a few moments of suspense and emotion.  (The gimmick here is that the entire film is shot from the point-of-view of one man in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.)

That point-of-view device does wear a little thin by the end of this feature-length film … and I’m a found-footage horror movie fan who usually doesn’t mind that sort of thing.  This movie might have been better overall if the viewer weren’t required to follow those “shaky-cam”-type visuals for quite so long; my understanding is that it was adapted from a well received short film.

If there was one thing that bothered me the most, though, it wasn’t the POV.  There is a recurring shot in “Dead Rush” that I liked a hell of a lot, involving the main character’s memory of a loved one.  It’s made even better when it is rather creatively used as a framing device at the film’s end.  A little reflection, though, made me remember that this shot seems to crib a little too much from a similar effective recurring shot in 2011’s “The Grey.”

What the hell … if you need a zombie horror fix, you could do worse than “Dead Rush.”

 

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A short review of “The Belko Experiment” (2016)

“The Belko Experiment” (2016) is a fairly gut-wrenching and potent horror film.  I was going to describe it as “Battle Royale” (2000) meets “The Office” (2005 – 2013).  But, from the looks of the poster, somebody more or less beat me to it.

As you can imagine, there is a sequence of blood-curdling events after the workers of an entire office building are forced to fight one another to the death.  It’s made all the more horrifying (and a bit sad) by a surprisingly effective early montage that shows these people are indeed likable and relatable.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending.  There’s a twist that is nicely satisfying, I’ll grant the movie that.  But there was far too little exposition, and a closing shot that was a little too ambiguous and open-ended … maybe even abstract.  I’d be happier if the person doing the talking told us a lot more.  If you think about it, they mostly just reiterated what various characters had hypothesized earlier.

This film has a couple of “I swear I know that guy” actors.  These include Tony Goldwyn, who I last remember from 1990’s “Ghost.”  Turns out he’s a damn fine actor (in addition to being one of those people who weirdly appear to age little or not at all).  They also include John C. McGinley, Owain Yeoman and Michael Rooker.  And if you think you can recall the gentle giant played by Abraham Benrubi, the actor is none other than “Big Mike” from the classic “The X-Files” episode, “Arcadia.”

I was going to rate “The Belko Experiment” a 9 out of 10; it was exceptionally good.  But I was just too nonplussed by that rushed ending, and I think I’ll settle on an 8.

 

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A short review of “Underworld: Blood Wars” (2016)

I’m not sure what to say about “Underworld: Blood Wars” (2016).  It really differs little from the previous “Underworld” movies.  If you’ve seen those, you’ve kinda seen this one.

The vampires look like underwear models, or maybe a goths-only high school drama club.  The werewolves look … not homeless, exactly, but like burly, long-haired, unemployed grunge rockers.  Both groups speak portentously and repeatedly about things like “LINEAGE” and “BLOOD LINES” and “THE WAR” and “AMELIA.”  (Who was Amelia again?)  There are the requisite betrayals and forbidden inter-species romances.  The entire thing felt like a feature-length music video.

Maybe I’m being too harsh.  I would actually give this film a 5 out of 10 for at least bringing some good things to the table.  Kate Beckinsale is a good actress, and she brings the same magnetism that she always does to Selene, the franchise’s protagonist.  Charles Dance is always superb, and is always fun to watch.  (There are at least two “Game of Thrones” alumni here — one is Dance as a vampire elder, and the other is Tobias Menzies as the leader of the “Lycans.”)  The nicest surprise, though, was seeing Lara Pulver as an ambitious vampire alpha female — fans of “Sherlock” (2010 – 2017) will recognize her as that series’ incarnation of Irene Adler.  She’s a great actress, and she seems to relish this kind of role.

All in all, though, I can’t say I actually recommend this.

 

 

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A short review of “The Good Neighbor” (2016)

“The Good Neighbor” (2016) generally didn’t work for me.

My first problem was its premise.  Two teenage aspiring filmmakers play an elaborate high-tech prank on an elderly neighbor by installing hidden cameras in his home and then manipulating his environment: causing his lights and TV to malfunction, causing his windows to break, and even adjusting his thermostat to plunge the temperature so he’s forced to cope with the bitter cold.  They plan to mimic a haunting, and they rationalize it because he actually is a horrible person, well portrayed by James Caan in an understated performance.

Here’s what doesn’t make sense — what the teens are doing is against the law, and they know it.  (One explicitly states it at least once mid-way through the film.)  I count trespassing, criminal mischief and unlawful surveillance to start with, and I’m willing to bet they’d face charges for harassment too.  Yet they fully intend to makes themselves “famous” via the Internet with this cruel prank/documentary.  They shoot lengthy footage of themselves narrating the construction and implementation of their project; this is intended as part of the documentary.

But why would they upload detailed, inclusive evidence of their crimes to the Internet?  If they truly become “famous” with thousands of “hits” for their video, wouldn’t that mean countless people could bring them to the attention of the police?  (And, truthfully, even if they tried to remain anonymous, I’m sure any competent investigator viewing their video would at least count them as suspects.  One lives right across the street from Caan’s character.)

For much of its running length, “The Good Neighbor” actually succeeds at being a serviceable horror-thriller — if you can get past that hole in the premise.

But then we come to the second problem with this movie.  Towards its end, it takes an unexpected dramatic turn.  It stops being a thriller, and simply becomes a particularly sad drama.  I don’t want to say to much for fear of spoilers, suffice to say it’s a real downer.  But it isn’t frightening at all — or even terribly entertaining.

The only part near the end that pleased me was the movie’s final shot.  It was ambiguous, but it suggested a nice new level of character depth.  I thought it was neat.

Oh well.  Maybe others will enjoy this film more than I did.  I myself can’t recommend it, and I’d give it a 5 out of 10.

Postscript: you can have some fun here trying to figure out where you’ve seen these teenage actors before.  They’re both veterans of horror.  The mild-mannered one is Keir Gilchrist, who horror fans will recognize from “It Follows” (2014).  The meaner, more manipulative of the pair is Logan Miller, who played the goodhearted Benjamin in this past season of “The Walking Dead.”  It’s so weird seeing him play such different characters.

 

 

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A short review of “Here Alone” (2016)

I think “Here Alone” (2016) would disappoint a lot of casual zombie movie fans.  It is admittedly quite slow, there is very little action, and the zombies mostly inhabit the story’s background.

I really liked it.  It is a thoughtful, sensitive post-apocalyptic drama that is beautifully filmed in the mountains of upstate New York.  The idyllic rural setting is a terrific contrast to the film’s brutal plot devices.  And its naturalistic dialogue feels authentic — it’s either a very well written movie or its three principal actors are unusually good at improv.  (The conversations flow so organically that the latter seems plausible.)

The movie focuses on three survivors of a horrifying epidemic.  (The “zombies” here are of the “28 Days Later” variety, and turn murderous upon infection.)  Although they remain off screen for much of the movie, we are reminded of their threat by some intermittent, hellish screams.  (The sounds were perfect; it’s a nice touch that lent tension and atmosphere.)

All three leads — Lucy Walters, Adam David Thompson and Gina Piersanti — were outstanding.  Walters’ performance was especially superb.  Her portrayal of a bereaved young wife and new mother was understated and subdued, but powerful.  She absolutely drew me in to the story.  We visit via flashback the fates of her husband and infant, and some of what we see is truly heart-rending.

The movie’s surprising final shot stayed with me for a while.   It’s ambiguous — maybe even confusing, at first.  But it makes sense if you reflect a little about the dialogue concerning the characters’ coping mechanisms.  It’s bittersweet, and seems to say something sad about survival and human attachments.

I’d give this an 8 out of 10, and I recommend it.

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A short review of “Split” (2016)

For much of its running length, I was considering writing a review for “Split” (2016) that rated it a perfect 10.  (I am an unabashed fan of M. Night Shyamalan, no matter how reviled he is by other Internet commentators.)  I love the way he frames his shots, I love his dialogue, I love his stories, and I love the strange way he can make a slowly paced film nevertheless absorbing.)

And “Split” looked nearly perfect.  James McAvoy handed in a tour-de-force performance as Kevin, a man with dissociative identity disorder (DID).  (Yes, I am aware of the clinical controversies connected with whether the disorder even exists — I was a psychology student many, many years ago.  I think we should suspend whatever disbelief we have for the purposes of enjoying the movie.)  McAvoy plays his role to perfection.  His “Dennis” persona is particularly frightening, and “Barry,” one of the “good personalities” he portrays, is surprisingly endearing and sympathetic.

Playing off McAvoy wonderfully are Betty Buckley as his gentle psychiatrist and Anya Taylor-Joy as one of three teenaged girls kidnapped by his nastier personalities.  The talented Taylor-Joy was also perfect in her role.  (I last saw her 2015’s “The Witch” and she was also in last year’s “Morgan;” I’m gaining the impression that this promising young specializes in cerebral horror-thrillers.)

I would rate “Split” an 8 out of 10.  It suffers a bit, I think, from two missteps toward the end.  One, this taut psychological thriller takes an ill-advised turn into dark fantasy.  I thought it was amazingly good as a thriller grounded only in the real world — it was far less so with the later jarring story elements.  (I do realize why Shyamalan made this creative decision, and you will too, after watching it and then reading up on it.)  But I still think that this would have been a perfect film if the majority of it focused on McAvoy’s personalities either aiding or misleading his psychiatrist, with Taylor-Joy’s fate hanging in the balance.

Two, this film seemed to suffer from the too-many-endings syndrome that people often associate with Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” movies.  We seem to have one denouement that works quite well, then a second that should have been re-shot and re-scripted.  And then there’s another plot strand finally addressed … but it is played so subtly that I’m not even sure I got it.  And this isn’t even counting the significance of the movie’s final line, which works as a fantastic framing device.

About that line … if you’re a Shyamalan fan, then you simply must watch the film until it’s very end, as the camera pans through the coffee shop.  You’ll love it.

 

 

A review of the “Westworld” pilot (2016)

Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison suggested I give the Westworld” series (2016) a try, and I’m damn glad he did.  The first episode was superb, and it’s safe to say it’s reeled me in.  I’d give the pilot a 9 out of 10; this seems like it could be the best science fiction television show I’ve seen in a long time.

I still think the premise is just slightly cheesy — grown men and women spending a fortune to visit a western-themed amusement park with interactive android cowboys.  (I think maybe westerns were a more mainstream genre in 1973, when Michael Crichton’s original film was in theaters.)  And there are times when the show’s central western-themed motifs are a little annoying to me … even though I know the park is supposed to appear superficial and cliche.

But “Westworld” is a highly intelligent thriller — it looks like a hell of a lot of thought went into the script.  Just about every aspect of the show seems like it was well developed — everything from the actors’ performances to the set design.  And don’t let the gorgeous, idyllic, sunny landscapes fool you — there is no shortage of pathos here.  It’s brutally dark in its storytelling.  (By the way, if you happen to be a fan of this show, I must recommend 2014’s “Ex Machina” film — it is similarly cerebral and dark in its outlook.)

Anthony Hopkins is fantastic, as usual; Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton are all very good.  They’re all overshadowed here, though, by two stellar performances.

The first is Ed Harris as a black-clad psychopathic visitor to the park — I had no idea he could be so frightening.  Dear God.  Has he played bad guys before?  I’ve always associated him with nice-guy roles — even his antagonist in 1996’s “The Rock” was misguided and sympathetic.  I’d love to see him get a role in an upcoming “The Dark Tower” film, maybe as one of the Big Coffin Hunters, if they are ever featured.

The second is Louis Herthum, the ostensible “father” of Wood’s heroine.  (They are both androids within the park — I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as it’s all over the show’s advertising.)  Herthum may be a lesser known actor, but he stole the show in a tour-de-force performance, in my opinion.  And that’s no small feat in a cast including Hopkins and this surprisingly vicious Harris.  I haven’t seen a performance that good on television since NBC’s “Hannibal” went off the air.

Anyway, I noticed something funny here.  Steven Ogg plays a bandit who invades people’s homes and murders them … this is basically the same role he plays as Negan’s chief henchman on “The Walking Dead.”  It must be weird to be typecast like that.

Hey … it is only just now that I realized the logo below is a riff on Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.”