The Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of the Winter Season (12/21-3/21)

Hi y’all —

So it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. Many changes have gone on in my life over the course of the past couple of months. A new job, big promotion, more responsibility, and most importantly, being the organizer of the fastest growing meetup group in all of Portland. It’s because of this fact that my energies have been far away from the site and focused more on things that are outside of cyber space. However, I do enjoy comprising a “most anticipated” list each season as people I’ve known both in the past, and present, have always enjoyed my lists season to season. I hope this list finds many of you who are still interested in movies that are coming out that in some cases, are either highly advertised for, or, in the case of some others, wouldn’t get the recognition if it weren’t for somebody like me to start spreading the word about. So, at the risk of going on and on and being too verbose – here are the top 10 most anticipated films of the 2015-2016 Winter season (in no particular order other than by date of release):

  1. “The Hateful Eight” (Dir: Quentin Tarantino)(“Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Jackie Brown”, “Kill Bill Vols. 1 + 2”, “Grindhouse”, “Inglorious Basterds”, “Django Unchained”) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69UwVX6Riv8

The Hateful Eight is a 2015 American Western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern. The film score was composed by Ennio Morricone.

The film is set some years after the Civil War in Wyoming, and revolves around eight strangers who seek refuge in a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass during a blizzard.

The film’s development was announced by Tarantino in November 2013. However, after the script was leaked in January 2014, Tarantino decided to cancel the movie and publish the script as a novel instead. After directing a live read of the leaked script at the United Artists Theater in Los Angeles, Tarantino said that he had changed his mind and was going to film The Hateful Eight.

The film is set for a December 25, 2015 roadshow release in select theaters on a 70 mm film format and releases wide in digital release nationwide on January 8th, 2015.

2. “Carol” (Dir: Todd Haynes” (“Safe”, Far From Heaven”, “Velvet Goldmine”, “I’m Not There”, “Mildred Pierce”) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH3zcuRQXNo

Carol is a romantic drama film directed by Todd Haynes, with a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy based on the novel The Price of Salt (also known as Carol) by Patricia Highsmith. The film stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler. Set in 1952 in New York City, the film tells the story of a young aspiring photographer and her relationship with an older, married woman.

The film was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, where Mara tied for the Best Actress award.

“Carol” has already opened in first tier markets. It is currently slated for a December 25th release date here in Portland.

3. “The Revenant” (Dir: Alejandro G. Innaritu) (“Amores Perros”, “21 Grams”, “Babel”, “Biutiful”, “Birdman”) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoebZZ8K5N0
The Revenant is an upcoming 2015 American biographical western thriller drama film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu is based on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name, which was inspired by the life of frontiersman Hugh Glass. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson.
The film will have a limited release on December 25, 2015, followed by a wide release on January 8, 2016.
4. “Anomalisa” (Dir: Charlie Kuafman) (“Being John Malkovich”, “Adapatation”, “Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Synechdoche, NY”) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DT6QJaS2a-U
Anomalisa is a 2015 American stop-motion adult animated comedy-drama film directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, and written by Kaufman based on his own eponymous play (released under the pseudonym Francis Fregoli). The film stars the voices of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, after premiering at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2015.[1] The film is scheduled to be released on December 30, 2015 by Paramount Pictures and arrives in Portland on January 16th.
5. “Son of Saul” (Dir: Laszlo Lemes) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6MJZnDV27U
Son of Saul (Hungarian: Saul fia) is a 2015 Hungarian drama film directed by László Nemes and co-written by Nemes and Clara Royer. The film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival,[3][4] where it won the Grand Prix.[5] It has also been selected to be shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
The film is currently playing in limited release and has a Portland release date of January 31st.
6. “Hail, Caesar !” (Dirs: The Coen Brothers – far too many films to name)
Hail, Caesar! is an upcoming comedy film written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and Ralph Fiennes, the film follows Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a “fixer” working in the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s, trying to discover what happened to a cast member who vanishes during filming.
The film opens nationwide on February 5th, 2016.
7. “The Witch” (Dir: Robert Eggers) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQXmlf3Sefg
The Witch (stylized as The VVitch) is a 2015 American horror film directed by Robert Eggers. The plot follows a Puritan family encountering forces of evil in the woods beyond their New England farm. It won the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The film is scheduled to be released on February 26th, 2016, by A24 Films.
8. “Triple Nine” (Dir: John Hillcoat) (“The Proposition”, “The Road”, “Lawless”) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzyFNVbWPxI
Triple 9 is an upcoming American crimedrama heist film directed by John Hillcoat and written by Matt Cook. The film stars Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Clifton Collins, Jr., Michael K. Williams, Teresa Palmer and Gal Gadot. The film is scheduled to be released on March 4th, 2016 in United States by Open Road Films.
9. “Knight of Cups” (Dir: Terrence Malick) (“Badlands”, “Days of Heaven”, “The Thin Red Line”, “The New World”, “The Tree of Life”, “To The Wonder”) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI2j1FHCjtM

Knight of Cups is a 2015 American romantic fantasy drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick and produced by Nicolas Gonda and Sarah Green.[2] The film premiered in the main competition section at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival on February 8, 2015.

The film is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2016, in the United States by Broad Green Pictures.

10. “Midnight Special” (Dir: Jeff Nichols) (“Take Shelter”, “Mud”) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVgxxdu-gJc 

Midnight Special is an upcoming American science fiction thriller film written and directed by Jeff Nichols. The film stars Adam Driver,[2] Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, and Joel Edgerton. It is Nichols’ fourth feature film, and his first studio production.
The film is slated for release nationwide in theatres on March 18th, 2016.

A (Halloween) Trip (Back) To The Movies: Review – “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) 10.18.15

One could say to some degree of authenticity that William Friedkin’s original “The Exorcist” (1973) is the “scariest” horror film of all time. It could also be said that Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980) is the most “well made” horror film of all time. If both of these are true, which I personally believe them to be, than Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) is the most disturbing horror film of all time.

What a lot of people don’t know, or think of when they think of the great Polish director Polanski, is how significant of a contribution 3 of his films were that he made across the sixties and seventies. In fact, his 1-2-3 punch of “Repulsion” (1966), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), and “The Tenant” (1976), otherwise known as Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”. Are maybe the three single greatest examples of psychological horror that were released following on the foot heels of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) — still considered by many to be the first psychological horror film of all time. But of the three, “Rosemary’s Baby” was Polanski’s most successful film (it was made on a modest (even for then) budget of 3.2 million and brought home 10 times that at the box office) as well as his being his most highly regarded. But what really became clear and true to me upon this viewing, the first time I had ever seen it on the big screen, was how timeless the film actually seems. Even now 47 years later it doesn’t even in the remotest bit seem outdated at all. And still packed just as much of a wallop now as one could only imagine it did then.

Since most people I know have either a) never seen this film or b) haven’t seen it in many years or in some cases decades Iike me (I think my first and last viewing of it before this night was as a teenager in the mid nineties) I will provide a short synopsis. The story revolves around Rosemary Woodhouse (the excellent and superb Mia Farrow) and her husband (the great director and actor John Cassevetes) who move in to their dream home apartment in an upper crust section of New York City. The two are trying to get pregnant with their first child, and seemingly want to be left alone. That is until they meet their neighbors (played by the effectively creepy Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon — the latter of whom’s performance earned her an Oscar nomination and win for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars the following year). In fact, they start to meet a circle of friends, and as their life grows increasingly complicated, particularly that of Rosemary’s, when they start to feel surrounded and everything seems to be mysteriously linked, out the door goes their idea of marital security and as the story progresses it is revealed that everything isn’t what it seems and those people around them just might have other ideas for how they want Rosemary’s pregnancy to go once she does find out for certain that she is pregnant with her first child.

Polanski here tackles a number of different themes, some of which would become his signature trademark ones, but those in which up to this point in film history, had never been explored on-screen. Betrayal, corruption, marital trust, the illusion of friends and family, the boundaries of sanity, the mysteries of women’s psyches, as well as urban hysteria, all are expertly interwoven into Polanski’s Oscar nominated adapted screenplay. Many of the film’s iconic scenes and characters from the film are etched into viewers minds forever. Farrow hunched over a kitchen sink gnawing raw animal flesh, the dreamscape rape/consummation which is far more unsettling for what is suggested than actually shown. Ruth Gordon’s evolving over the film from friendly elderly neighbor to something much more sinister, and the film’s grand finale, with Rosemary entering “the gathering” of people in her apartment building with a knife. But even despite these completely and totally unnerving scenes, it is the overall Satanic aspect of the film that really makes your skin crawl and taps into some of our own’s most visceral fears.

Polanski’s magnificent weaving together of these elements as well as his masterful manipulation of these existential fears are what gives the film’s its true raw power. As previously hinted at, time has done nothing to diminish the film’s taut and meticulously focused building sense of dread and unspeakable horror. And for those of you who like me that are previously familiar with the film it can only keep them in awe of Polanski’s fine attention to detail, his rhythm and pacing, the skill in which he films his actors and the performances he gets out of them, and the fine script he adapts for the screen. Which all make it a landmark achievement and contribution to the horror genre, and truly one of the finest examples, certainly one of the first and most daring, original psychological horror films ever put on-screen. One that will go down in history as one of my top 3 favorite horror films of all time.

[A+]

A (Halloween) Trip (Back) To The Movies: Review – “Christine” (1983) 10.18.15

Let’s face it — there was no better genre director in Hollywood that was making films during the “peak” decade than John Carpenter from 1978-1988. No one even close. Some might argue Steven Spielberg. But I would argue that Spielberg’s career did a nosedive after the release of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), and the latter’s films were more successful commercially, Carpenter’s were certainly the more interesting of that time. He is actually considered the best “genre” director of all time. Tackling more genres than just about any other filmmaker I can think. In fact his contribution to film during this period is so great, there are college courses in film popping up all over the country that explore this peak period of films Carpenter was putting out during this decade, again from 1978-1988. First came his seminal film in which he’s most known for “Halloween” (1978), which made a then almost unknown independent filmmaker an overnight success and is regarded as one of the best horror films of all time. Then came 1980’s “The Fog”, another horror film, his follow-up to “Halloween” (though the two share almost nothing alike other than that they showcase Carpenter’s trademark style and sensibilities) but which like that film, starred Jamie Leigh Curtis, who also happens to be the daughter of the famous Janet Leigh, who became a film icon in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960). Only moderately successful at the box office, “The Fog” is still highly regarded by many Carpenter”ites” as “top 5” Carpenter. Then the next 2 years (Carpenter was churning out a film a year during this decade) came Carpenter’s 1-2 punch of 2 of his greatest films of all time — 1981’s “Escape From New York” — Carpenter’s apocalyptic Science Fiction film — starring a then young up-and-coming 30-year old actor named Kurt Russell. Which has become Carpenter’s independent precursor to the much bigger and much more expensive Science Fiction film that came out that next year – Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982). Following on the foot heels of “Escape From New York” Carpenter released what is still regarded in most film circles as his best film to date – the remake of the 1951 — “The Thing From Another World” — which Carpenter trimmed down the title to just “The Thing” (1982) — a brilliant, seminal work that captured Carpenter’s trademark style and excellent synth film scores that he composed for his own films (his original film compositions in and of themselves would go on to influence electronic musicians around the world even to this day). “The Thing” was the perfect blend of horror, science fiction, action, and thriller, and again was a vehicle for a star turning performance by Kurt Russell. Carpenter would go on to make a plethora of other great films during this time period – films like “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986 – his 3rd collaboration with Kurt Russell), 1987’s “Prince of Darkness”, and “They Live” (1988). But which is still the most well-“remembered” Carpenter film, at least to me as a kid, was the film that followed “The Thing”, 1983’s “Christine”.

“Christine” was adapted from a Stephen King novel (probably the second best King adaptation outside of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980) ). Word has it that King and Carpenter, like many other artists during the early to mid eighties, were doing a lot of cocaine, which subsequently resulted in King coming up with a story about a “killer car”, which Carpenter attached on to direct in the same year in which it was published. The King/Carpenter collaboration, which seemed somewhat inevitable giving both of their taste for horror and the macabre, was a welcome treat for many moviegoers of this time. And when I was a kid I probably saw “Christine” over 10 times. It now being 20 years later since my last viewing, I jumped at the opportunity to get the chance to catch it on the big screen in its original 35mm print.

Carpenter’s retelling of King’s classic, even now 33 years later, is just as great as it was, if not better, of my remembrance of it as a kid. What’s so amazing to me, even now 20 years later since the last time I’ve seen it, is how believable of a film someone could make out of such a simple premise – “a possessed car that loves its owners and demands that kind of love back”, even if it winds up killing them and those others around them in order to do so. It’s King and Carpenter’s horror story ode to vintage car lovers. And presents a rather compelling and realistic film about the town’s nerd (played by Keith Gordon), who takes a leap of faith one day at a junkyard and buys a beat up old Cadillac. Only to have the car reinvent itself into pristine condition, and possesses its owner to wreak havoc and revenge on all of the people who have either done him wrong or whom he loves (his best friend and girlfriend play pivotal roles). But the best parts about Christine, is how believable he makes this “killer car love story” so fascinating. When its main character gets beat up by a group of thugs in the beginning, the film becomes a sort of vigilante piece as the car hunts down and kills each of the thugs one by one (in expertly choreographed scenes might I add). Add to it a killer soundtrack (no pun intended) of oldies from the likes of Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Richie Valens with more contemporary music (well, for its time — remember this is 1983) by George Thorogood (the scene’s opening sequence set to Thorogood’s “Bad To The Bone” is epic), Bonnie Raitt, and the Rolling Stones, with another great original Carpenter synth score, and an impeccable use of framing and cinematography, makes this one of Carpenter’s lesser known, but all time greatest gems (“Christine” would make my own Carpenter top 5). It’s a film that was etched into me from my childhood, that I can now see why, almost 2 decades later, why it still holds such a special place in my heart.

[A-]

2 (Halloween) Trips To The Movies (One Current, One Back): “Crimson Peak” (2015) and “Street Trash” (1986) 10.17.15

Guillermo del Toro sure has had his share fair of both hits and misses throughout his now 20+ year career making movies. He started off making films in his original country of Spain with his debut film — 1993’s “Cronos” — still my second favorite of all of his movies but more importantly the very first film that caught the eye of many people and put him on the international filmmaking spectrum. Then came his first English language film — the mostly lousy and disposable “Mimic” in 1997. Only for him to follow it with a film that found him going back to his native country, and what’s still tied for my favorite of his — 2001’s “The Devil’s Backbone” — which, for those of you who have seen it, would know that it was and still is a very solid entry to the horror genre. Then del Toro followed up another hit with another miss by coming back again to America to make the second entry in the “Blade” series (2002). Following this he put out his first of his two what I like to call “superhero” movies in “Hellboy” (2004) which, despite my unlikeness of the genre, was actually pretty entertaining with Ron Pearlman (a frequent del Toro collaborator) breathing new life into a somewhat unconventional superhero. Then came “Pan’s Labyrinth” which was his biggest box office and critical success yet – again, which had the writer/director shooting in Spain, and brought to audiences an incredibly unique and visually stunning film that wound up going on to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Oscars. “Pan’s Labyrinth” catapulted del Toro into legendary status, and if you look at almost anybody’s list of “best films post-2000”, you’ll find it on there. Then he returned back to America like most foreign directors do following an overseas hit and he made the second film — “Hellboy 2” — in his “Hellboy” series. A film, again much like the first one, which wasn’t necessarily the typical kind of film I like as it incorporated superheros but like the first one that I found myself having a lot of fun with. Then came 2013’s “Pacific Rim” — again another film I was apprehensive to see at first but because it was a “del Toro” film, I wound up seeing and that surprisingly impressed the shit out of me, and wound up on my Honorable Mentions list (10-20) of that respective year. Then came this film, which admittedly I thought looked like something that looked like a true visual feast for the eyes, similar to something like “Pan’s Labyrinth”, combined with a Gothic horror vibe that immediately caught my eye and piqued my interest. So I decided to see it opening weekend, like I do with most directors who have put out a couple or more works that I admire. Because I find myself chasing and hoping that I’m going to find something almost or equally as good as their best work.

The story revolves around Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist; who in an early impressive scene, is warned by her dead mother to beware of ghosts (or better put – “Crimson Peak”). The film then jumps 14 years later, to where Edith is now an adult, and she meets a young Aristocrat Thomas (the still relatively unknown but always impressive Tom Hiddleston), who’s visiting her father seeking investors, and whom she eventually falls for despite her father’s disapproval. You see the father thinks the young Thomas is a hack, and as with most wealthy families, particularly in the 19th century in which the film takes place, he forbids Edith from marrying Thomas. Thomas’ sister Lucille (played by the lovely but increasing “hi I’m in every movie” Jessica Chastain) is also seemingly against their relationship, but for reasons unknown except that they appears to have an almost incestual-like relationship. Completing this triangle of disapproval is Edith’s childhood friend now doctor, Dr. MicMichael (“Son’s of Anarchy”‘s Charlie Hunnam), who’s gut tells him there’s something sketchy about the relationship between Edith and Thomas. Despite everyone’s warnings, Edith moves to England and marries Thomas, and winds up in their rather mightily impressive mansion living together under the same roof as Thomas’ sister Lucille. This house is built on the red clay that Thomas, the investor, was initially trying to sell to gain investors. And well, at this point forward in the story, nothing really is as it seems.

“Crimson Peak” winds up reflecting many ideas, styles, and tones that are lifted from some of del Toro’s earlier works, particularly that of “Pan’s Labyrinth”, and is simply without a doubt his most “impressively looking” and shot film to date. I found myself in full on jaw gape mode as I looked at the many astounding set pieces and designs (both Edith’s own house that she’s shown living in as a child into adult and the house she moves to with Thomas in England) reminded me of the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). Almost as if they were a separate character of their own. The stark use of vibrant colors with the “red clay” motif shot against the white snowy wintertime is a visual feast for the eyes. As was the creature makeup, which I personally found to wholly original and genuinely scary when we get the several sites of the ghosts in which Edith encounters throughout. It’s probably del Toro’s most visually impressive film to date, even more than “Pan’s Labyrinth”, and contains a visually arresting Gothic flair in both its production and costume design.

However, where it ultimately fails is in allowing much more for the story other than its technical components. Some of which I’ve listed above. The story is bogged down by a slightly weak and wooden sounding script co-written by del Toro. The actors themselves – Wasikowska, Hiddleston, Chastain, and Hunnuam all do their best but sound like their pulling too much weight off of their acting talents to try to elevate an otherwise weak script. As for the story, it’s a bit predictable as soon as the young investor Thomas courts the wealthy industrialist’s daughter Edith, the viewer will most likely be able to predict what direction it’s going to head in. It’s also a bit of a slo-burner, and takes much too much time overdeveloped story in which we can already predict after about the first half hour where it’s headed in.

In summation, it winds up being an exercise in style over substance. But if you, like me, like to look at the technical side of things and enjoy del Toro’s visually stunning set pieces, design, and costumes. Then you just might find it worth it for those reasons alone. It also retains a pretty nice “creep factor” throughout, and as mentioned above, the film’s creatures and ghosts are genuinely pretty scary and there’s quite a few well shot and executed “jump” scenes. And even despite a strong ending, where the naive Edith begins to learn the real story about her husband’s house and relationship with his sister and takes matters into her own hands, it still all comes at just a little too late. This is a worthwhile effort from del Toro simply because its most technically impressive film to date, but which barely makes up for a lack of a good story, plot or character development, and weak script. For diehard del Toro fans, this warrants a recommendation. But for others, they just might find its exercise in style over substance to be just a tad bit underwhelming.

[B-]

Guillermo del Toro’s – Crimson Peak

Saturday, Oct 17, 2015, 1:30 PM

St. Johns Twin Cinemas
8704 N Lombard St Portland, OR

9 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

Synopsis: When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak. From the imagination of director Guillermo del Toro (“Hellboy”, “P…

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The second film of the day I caught as part of one my local $3 theatres in town – who are doing a welcomed tribute of horror Grindhouse films leading up to Halloween. These films, otherwise known at the time as being labeled “Exploitation” flicks, are known to be the cheap, artsy, made on a shoestring budget crop of films from decades ago. They’ve been described as the “gross”, “mean-spirited”, “ugly”, and “distasteful” films of their time. But along with that, there’s always been a very large underground demographic or resurgence of people (evidenced by the almost sold out showing I caught in Portland late Saturday night) who gravitate towards and really get into this type of thing. I for one have admittedly never been a big fan of the genre, but in trying to keep up with and being as much of a well-rounded student of film as possible, I try to keep myself interested in any and all types of films. And in the case of this film – I went out on a bit of a limb and took a chance in a type of film that I’m normally not used to. The kind of interactive, so bad it’s good, “B” film, that you kind of know what you’re getting yourself into, even if you’re even if like me, you’re slightly familiar with what to expect. These were and still are the types of midnight independent horror films you get together with your not for the faint of heart friends for while over a pitcher of beer and hoot, holler, and laugh at the grotesque and deplorable display of images that are being projected onto the screen. To give you a better idea of the “type” of film I’m talking about here was the more commercialized (if you even want to call it “commercial”) film that came out a few years back — Jesse Eisener’s “Hobo with a Shotgun” (2011) starring Rutger Hauer — a direct homage and paying tribute to pretty every “Grindhouse” picture to have come out before it. It’s maybe that I owe this picture some gratitude of debt in that it familiarized myself with and became interested in these lost hidden gems from a time long ago where people liked their films cheap, violent, and uncompromising. It’s like being a part of a movement, like the film equivalent of punk rock, where you think you may know but you never really do wind up knowing what to expect.

“Street Trash”, a picture I was previously unfamiliar with, wound up being a great late night Grindhouse feature that expertly blended elements of horror and comedy. It’s the type of film whose main purpose is to get the crowd interactively rowdy. The story itself is totally off-the-wall, as it involves a group of homeless people who inhabit the back of a junkyard (yep) and whose favorite liquor store owner happens to stumble upon a seemingly ancient crate of liquor which he dusts the cobwebs off of and sells the bottles each for a mere dollar. Creating a sort of buzz around the homeless community in where people start to buy the magical elixir in droves (a scathing commentary on Reagan-era American consumerism). And once said elixir is drank, it melts its victims into a gooey mess (yep, again). Which pretty much sums up the gist of its plot.

Like the title suggests, this is a trashy, grotesque, and vile affair. But one that does exactly what it sets out to do – which is to completely gross out the audience and make them both laugh and cry like the many of us who were in attendance did. So in this sense it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. This film had more violence, gore, gratuitous sex and nudity, and underlying humor, in almost anything I’ve seen in a while. Along with the crowd “interactive” aspect which is half of the fun. It wound up being a great slice of trash from the eighties which I’m sure was just as offensive then as it was now. Though this is not the type of film to be analytical about, it’s simply a film to have fun with, and if you can find it at the bottom of your going-out-of-business video store’s bargain bin, it might just be the most fun with a film you should feel bad for having had such a good time with. I know for me personally it’s a film and an experience that I will both never forget.

[B/B+]

A Trip To The Movies: Review – “Sicario” 10.10.15

What can I say about Canadian born director Denis Villeneuve that hasn’t already been said. Anyone like me who has been following the director since his breakout film – 2010’s “Incendies”, which, was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 2011 Oscars, knows that he is one of the most interesting movie auteurs currently in the business. Because of the success of that film, like with what happens with many foreign directors, Hollywood came a calling. Now a lot of the time, in fact more often than not, this is usually met with mixed results. Except what was different about Villeneuve is that he debuted his first English language film with 2013’s “Prisoners”. An immensely dark, emotionally powerful, and complex film with an all-star cast that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, and Viola Davis. It was a major success and praised by critics worldwide but was only seen by a certain demographic of American audiences. Mainly the kinds like myself who enjoy films that mostly straddle the line between somewhat commercial but are more indie type fare. Many people I know skipped it over entirely. But it’s the one film that I’ve noticed comes out the most out of any other film I’ve seen in the past 3 years when I talk among people who have seen it. And it’s usually something like “why hasn’t everybody seen that film”? “Prisoners” introduced us to a new kind of filmmaker, one whose vision and style is more akin to David Fincher, but his darker works like “Se7en” (1995) and “Zodiac” (2007). In fact “Prisoners” was deemed “too dark” by a large demographic. But I think this had to do with the fact that it dealt with a very difficult subject for people to swallow – child abduction – which I’ve heard is every parents worst nightmare. But besides its dark subject matter and tone, it was and still is a master class in the art of filmmaking. Then came his second American film, “Enemy”, released in 2014, and also starring Jake Gyllenhaal (for those of you who ever hear me showering Gyllenhaal’s praises it’s because of his work in those two Villeneueve films). “Enemy”, much so even more than “Prisoners” was under seen and overlooked, mostly because of it’s incredibly strange mood and tone. It was Villenueve’s love letter to the great David Lynch, who is admittedly a very acquired taste and it had a very limited run in theatres because so few people saw it. I for one loved it, and like his other 2 aforementioned films prior, all 3 made my best of top 10 list in the respective years in which they were released in.

Villeneuve’s newest film, “Sicario”, is his first film in 2 years and also his first film since “Prisoners” to bode such an impressive cast. I remember hearing about it almost a year ago now when it was in production, and saw that Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin all had signed on to do it. I also learned in reading the production notes and summary that it was about the US/Mexican drug war in Juarez. Which, as a huge admirer of the crime drama and love for the director, I started counting down the days then until its release. And when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May and competed as 1 of 5 films for the Palme d’Or (Cannes’ category for Best Picture), I was beside myself in anticipation for it and marked it as my #1 most anticipated film of the fall way back in May of this year.

“Sicario” (English for “hit man”) opens right off the bat with an incredibly intense and well executed sequence involving Emily Blunt’s character, Kate, a FBI agent and tactics expert who, with the rest of her team, raid and take down a drug cartel outside of Phoenix, Arizona. This is one of many harrowing scenes in the film that shows the urgency and imminent threat of death behind every corner of this particular line of work. Because of her stand out job and reputation as a tactics expert (she’s 5-0 in taking down the drug cartels she is assigned to, she is called on by the CIA, but really an elite confidential special tasks force unit, led by Matt (Josh Brolin – in as fine a form here as I’ve seen him in anything since “No Country For Old Men” (2007) ), a Department of Justice adviser that commissions Kate to take down one of the largest drug cartel/crime syndicates in the city of Juarez, Mexico. Kate reluctantly signs on, and she is partnered up with one of those elusive, quietly restrained, we have no idea what he’s doing here types named Alejandro (played by Benicio del Toro, easily the best part of the film and his finest work since well, ironically enough, 2000’s “Traffic”). We see the film through Kate’s eyes, and she quickly finds out that both the special unit that she works for, as does Del Toro’s character Alejandro, operate under their own set of rules and seem to understand that the drug war in Mexico is like night and day compared to the drug war that Kate is used to in the States, and in a pivotal sequence that I was so flabbergasted by, she learns what she’s in for as they enter Juarez for the first time (all I will say is both this, and the tunnel sequence, were two of the most expertly staged and riveting sequences we’ve since the bank robbery segment going all the way back to “Heat” (1995) ). Where the intensity and anxiety that was induced had me swallowing my tongue in my throat. As Kate and her team, along with the always present Alejandro, go on to take down these so-called cartels, Kate goes through a personal transformation as both her morals and beliefs are tested to the limits and she enters a world that one might call nightmarish.

“Sicario” is a dense, thought provoking, action packed thrill ride, which also winds up being director Villeneuve’s most straight forward and accessible film to date. Which to me was its biggest surprise. It totally defied almost every expectation I had of it. In while it’s congruent and feels very much like a Villenueve film. It also felt like his most restrained. Not so much in terms of its level of violence. It’s incredibly violent, and should be, as its subject matter practically demands for it to be (after all, it’s a film about taking down drug cartels). But in its ability to not alienate the moviegoer as some of his previous films have. And while it was dark and psychological like many of Villeneuve’s prior work. It gets more into the mind of the Kate character, as we literally see everything from her eyes and point of view. Blunt’s performance, much like Jessica Chastain’s in “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012 – a film I drew a lot of comparisons to), she is thrown into a world that even despite her vast knowledge of, she really has no idea what she’s in for until she’s thrust straight into the heart of it. I also thought its treatment of the War on Drugs and the politics behind American intelligence in relation to the Mexican cartels themselves was handled rather deftly and two-sided. There wasn’t at any point within the film that I thought I was watching a “pro-American” depiction of the War on Drugs and I thought it showed a very equal representation of both parties involved, from the counter-intelligence officials to the cartel members themselves. Del Toro is outstanding as the quiet vigilante type, who we never quite know and are kept in secret as to why he’s commissioned for the job. Unlike Kate/Blunt’s character who is more of a “by the book” FBI agent who seems to live by a moral code and tries to upkeep everything she’s been trained to operate under, but only inside the States. This dichotomy between Kate/Blunt’s character and Alejandro’s/Del Toro’s characters, being on both sides of the law but operating under very different laws of their own, was handled with the utmost precision and was utterly compelling. The story arch and character development is on par with one of the greatest films I’ve seen out of the genre in as far back as I can remember. The cinematography (by the great Roger Deakins – 11 time Oscar nominee) is astonishing as is the film’s pulsating score, which left me and most of my movie group viewers on the edge of their seats. In closing, I think fans of Villeneuve’s previous work might be left feeling a little underwhelmed, but only because of what they’ve come to expect from the director. The film isn’t quite as dark or psychological as a fan of his might expect it to be (though don’t be fooled – the violence is consistent and packs a wallop). But it’s a rather straight-forward, though smart and intricate, take on the War on Drugs and the moral decisions and complexities all of those involved have to face. This is the finest “Drug War” movie since “Traffic” (2000), and it should easily earn a low spot on my top 10 or high on my Honorable Mentions list at this year’s end. Villeneueve is the newest foreign equivalent to something we have Stateside to the likes of David Fincher. And I personally can’t wait to see any and every film he puts out from this point forward in his career.

[B+]

Sicario – w/Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin

Saturday, Oct 10, 2015, 3:45 PM

Regal Lloyd Center 10 & IMAX
1510 NE Multnomah St Portland, OR

11 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

Synopsis: An idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is assigned to work a dangerous stretch of the US-Mexico border by her superior officer (Josh Brolin). She’s exposed to the brutality of the Mexican drug cartel, and becomes partners with a defector from the cartel (Benicio Del Toro) who possesses keen knowledge about the organization. As she gets dee…

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A Trip To The Movies: Review – Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno” 9.27.15

If you had of asked me back in 2013 two years ago what my most anticipated horror film of the year was I would have said “The Green Inferno”. Unfortunately, it got shelved like many projects do back in the year it was supposed to have been released. This was incredibly disappointing for someone like myself who had been awaiting for writer/director Eli Roth’s return to horror. You see, Roth has been off the map for a while now, mostly involving himself in producing credits in projects like the underwhelming Netflix Original Series – “Hemlock Grove” (2013-2015), Ti West’s equally as disappointing “The Sacrament (2013), “The Last Exorcism Parts 1 and 2” (2010 and 2013 – which one could only imagine Roth made a killing off of) which were mostly dismissable efforts. In fact, the last really great project I’ve seen Roth involved in was his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). A film in which he landed a pretty considerable role in both starring opposite Brad Pitt as Sgt. Donny Donowitz (referred to as “The Bear” in that film as he always brandished a Louisville slugger baseball bat). What a lot of people don’t know either is that Roth also directed the black and white Nazi propaganda film – “Nation’s Pride” that was shown at the climax of that film. Going back was Roth’s most successful project – the first 2 entries to the “Hostel” trilogy (2005 and 2007). The first film I liked but didn’t love and the second which I liked only slightly less than it. But both of which I extremely admire because love it or hate it, between James Wan’s “Saw” (2004) and Roth’s “Hostel” which came out only a year later in 2005, gave birth to American “torture porn” in American horror. A genre that admittedly I admire but don’t gravitate to unless we’re talking about the films that have come out of the French New Extremity movement of the 2000’s. Films like “High Tension”, “Frontiers”, “Martyrs”, “Inside”, etc, to name a few. Had torture porn elements in them but reached for something much deeper in either making social commentaries on something, or spinning philosophical undertones in them. I consider these pictures to be smart, intellectual, psychological horror. Which is how I more or less felt about Roth’s two “Hostel” films. Going even further back was Roth’s writing/directing debut – “Cabin Fever (2002) – still my favorite of all of Roth’s films and the main reason why I keep chasing his projects from year to year, in hopes of him delivering something that’s even half as good as “Cabin Fever” was. Now come 2015, we see the release of his new (if you want to call it that) film that had been shelved for 2 years. His first writing/directing job since 2007’s “Hostel 2”.

Roth’s new film, which opened in wide release this past weekend and casts no recognizable actors (pretty incredibly considering it came out in wide release and was given very little if not any marketing at all). The plot revolves around a college freshman named Justine (Roth’s real life wife – Lorenza Izzo – an actress new to me but who will hopefully start popping up in more movies to come as her performance is great here) who becomes interested in her campus’ social activism group. As she gets more and more involved with the group she learns that they have been plotting a plan to take a trip down to South America to the Amazon rainforest to stop a company from logging thousands of acres and subsequently killing off ancient Native tribes. The activist group of about a dozen then flies to Peru, and starts their climb into the Amazon jungle, and begin the protest by dressing in logger uniforms and tying themselves to the trees that are set to be cut down. Their protest is somewhat successful as they get the attention of global news media but one of them almost winds up getting killed. After having come down to do what they do, and realizing that their activism could have had deadly consequences, they aboard a plane back to the United States. But their small charter plane gets into an accident and crashes (much like the scene from “Alive” (1993)- a film who one of its many themes is cannibalism) not long after their take off, and they wind up right back in the Amazon and into the territory of the ancient Native people, a group who a big part of their mission involved coming down to protect. It’s at this point, about halfway, and forward in the film where Roth starts bringing us the meat of the story, and things start to go absolutely bat shit crazy.

“The Green Inferno” was a highly rewarding experience for true horror fans like myself, and is the best work Roth has put out as a writer/director since the aforementioned “Cabin Fever” in 2002. Paying equal nods to “Deliverance” (1972), “Cannibal Halocaust” (1980), “Alive” (1993), and “Apocalypto” (2006). Roth here releases both his most terrifying and yet at the same time funniest film to date. It almost felt like it took the horror/torture porn elements of the “Hostel” series and added the comedic element that he combined so perfectly in “Cabin Fever”. When the activist group crashes and finds themselves in unfamiliar territory things go from bad to worse. And anyone that knows Roth’s penchant for going pretty out there with what he does with horror may understand how these subsequent scenes between the naive, upper class, mostly Caucasian college kids and tribes of ancient native peoples play out. I read a couple of blurbs of reviews prior to seeing this where many reviewers called this one of Roth’s more “restrained” films, and boy they couldn’t have been more wrong. The blood and gore factor is congruent with, and maybe goes farther than any of Roth’s earlier work. But what’s even more impressive is his ability to combine his trademark horror elements with comedy, expertly blending the two. It’s also a great social commentary on social activist groups, with Roth seemingly laughing at his own inside joke of what could potentially happen if some of these issues our American people fight for stateside were met firsthand if they were to actually travel to these indigenous countries themselves. Which makes it feel like more like an attack on social activism in general more than anything else. There’s a lot that people might pick out as being some pretty significant shortcomings of the film – it’s somewhat poorly acted, the editing is choppy, the film looks cheaply made, etc. Which is why the film has been met with mostly unfavorable reviews. But that’s not the point of an Eli Roth film. It’s to horrify and terrify you; while balancing it with underlying comedy. And as someone who has a slight hint of what to expect, it worked on several levels, especially in the middle section where the students are held in captivity. It’s a film that caters towards a certain type of audience like someone like myself who revels in full-blown horror. And for others who gravitate to this type of material I can assure you it doesn’t disappoint in what it sets out to do. In a year where the really only good horror film that stands out is “It Follows”. This is the next best piece of filmmaking that I’ve seen outside of it, and is a welcome return to the vision of writer/director Eli Roth’s earlier films. And solely because of that, I would recommend it but mainly only to die-hard horror enthusiasts, as almost anyone else might find this material to be a bit too sick and off-putting in its relishing of its pure unadulterated horror. Mr. Roth, I for one can say I’m thankful to have you back.

[B]

The Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Of The Fall Movie Season (In Order By Release Date) 9.21.15

As I always do at the start of every season, I put out a list of the top 10 films that I look forward to most. I’ll keep this pretty brief other than then Hollywood’s really waited to wait to share the goods until late this year, even more so than usual, as each one of these films were carefully hand selected from a crop of about 25. It also should be noted that Christmas Day’s (12/25) movie releases are not included in this list, so you won’t find David O’ Russell’s “Joy”, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, or Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s “The Revenant”. Since well, I’m focusing here purely on fall movie releases whose release dates are being released within actual fall dates (9/21-12/21). Come winter though, I will have another list for you to munch on. But until then, the following are my top 10 most anticipated films of the fall movie season.

1) “The Martian” (Dir: Ridley Scott) (Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, and Jeff Daniels)

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return. Based on a best-selling novel adapted to the screen by Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”, “The Cabin in the Woods”, “World War Z”), and helmed by master director Ridley Scott (“Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Prometheus”), THE MARTIAN features a star studded cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover.

Opens Everywhere Nationwide on 9/30

2) “Sicario” (Dir: Denis Villeneuve) (Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin)

Synopsis: An idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is assigned to work a dangerous stretch of the US-Mexico border by her superior officer (Josh Brolin). She’s exposed to the brutality of the Mexican drug cartel, and becomes partners with a defector from the cartel (Benicio Del Toro) who possesses keen knowledge about the organization. As she gets deeper into the ruthlessness and corruption surrounding the FBI sting to find the organizations leaders, her moral and professional boundaries are pushed to their breaking point. Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”, “Prisoners”, “Enemy”) directs this pulse-pounding crime drama.

Expands From Limited to Wide Release on 10/2

3) “Crimson Peak” (Dir: Guillermo Del Toro) (Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam)

Synopsis: When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak. From the imagination of director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) comes a supernatural mystery starring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam

Opens Everywhere Nationwide on 10/16

4) “Bridge of Spies” (Dir: Steven Spielberg) (Starring Tom Hanks)

Synopsis: Tom Hanks stars as the American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over Russia at the height of the Cold War in this historical drama from DreamWorks Studios. Director Steven Spielberg (“Schindler’s List”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Munich”) and Mark E. Platt produce a film written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen (yes that Joel and Ethan Coen of the Coen Brothers!)

Opens Everywhere Nationwide on 10/16

5) “Steve Jobs” (Dir: Danny Boyle) (Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels)

Synopsis: This incisive biographical drama written by Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”, “127 Hours”) explores the genius and shortcomings of computing guru Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) through the lens of three product launches.

Expands From Limited to Wide Release on 10/23

6) “The Lobster” (Dir:  Yorgos Lanthimos) (Starring Colin Ferrall, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly)

This unconventional love story is set in a dystopian future where potential mates are sent to a hotel and have 45 days to find a significant other before they are transformed into horrific monsters and banished to the woods. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz star in this off-the-beaten-path film from director Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”). “The Lobster” was nominated for the Palme d’Or (Best Picture) at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Expands From Limited to Wide Release on 10/30

7) “Spectre” (Dir: Sam Mendes) (Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, and Ralph Fiennes)

Synopsis: A cryptic message from Bond’s (Daniel Craig) past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M (Ralph Fiennes) battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind Spectre. Directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”, “Revolutionary Road”, “Skyfall”) and based off of a treatment from the bestselling James Bond/007 author Ian Fleming.

Opens Everywhere Nationwide on 11/6

8) “Spotlight” (Dir: Tom McCarthy) (Starring Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, and Micheal Keaton)

Synopsis: “Spotlight” stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, and Stanley Tucci. It tells the riveting true story of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigation team who uncovered a scandal that would rock the city and shock the world. For years, whispers of the Boston Archdiocese’s cover up of sexual abuse within the Catholic church were largely ignored by the media, the police and the legal system. Against all odds, the spotlight team fought to expose the truth. “Spotlight” is directed by Academy Award (R) Nominee Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”, “The Visitor”, “Win Win”).

TBD If It’s Going To Open in Limited Release or Nationwide on 11/6

9) “Trumbo” (Dir: Jay Roach”) (Starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, John Goodman, Elle Fanning, Louis C.K., and Helen Mirren)

Synopsis: The successful career of 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) comes to a crushing end when he and other Hollywood figures are blacklisted for their political beliefs. This film tells the story of his fight against the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom, which entangled everyone in Hollywood from Hedda Hopper and John Wayne to Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger. Directed by Jay Roach (the “Austin Powers” Trilogy, “Meet The Fockers”).

TBD If It’s Going To Open in Limited Release or Nationwide on 11/6

10) “Macbeth” (Dir: Justin Kurzel) (Starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard)

Synopsis: Macbeth is the story of a fearless warrior (Michael Fassbender) and inspiring leader brought low by ambition and desire. A thrilling interpretation of the dramatic realities of the times and a reimagining of what wartime must have been like for one of literature’s most famous and compelling characters, a story of all-consuming passion and ambition set in war torn Scotland. Original story by William Shakespeare and directed by Justin Kurzel (“The Snowtown Murders”) this film was nominated for the Palme d’Or (Best Picture) at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

TBD If It’s Going To Open in Limited Release or Nationwide 12/4

There you have it folks. And that’s only the beginning if you can believe it or not. The upcoming winter season looks packed with good films, many of which are early prediction Best Picture nominees. So stay tuned for what’s to come!