Train to BusanRap versus rock. The designated hitter or pitchers batting. And, of course, the most contentious of arguments pitting fans of a classic approach against a band of upstarts: slow-moving zombies or their quick-footed brethren.

These are the unresolvable debates of our time. And while the Korean horror action flick Train to Busan (aka Busanhaeng) will not end the vitriol, advocates for a more fleet flock of undead have received a major boost from writer/director Yeon Sang-ho. In his first live-action feature film, Yeon has crafted a thrilling ride through a society sliding into the zombie apocalypse, utilizing a passenger train as his literal and metaphorical vehicle. Read the rest of this entry »

NerveNerve had the good fortune to be released in the same week that Pokémon Go may have crested. The underlying conceit of the film is that a game app for smart phones could be so alluring that it would drive users outside to play it. What once could have been dismissed as satiric science fiction is now an established fact. If you doubt the potential power of apps, go to any urban area and watch for the folks holding their phones slightly above waist level as they shuffle forward and swipe, occasionally breaking the spell to shout, “I got a Jigglypuff!”

The app in the film is called Nerve, but it could be called Dare or I Bet You. Users register as players or watchers (the latter forking over $19.99 for a 24-hour window). Players are challenged to complete tasks directly tied to personal phobias culled from data mining online profiles. Predictably, there’s a good bit of being in public naked and almost falling off tall buildings. Complete the dare and a deposit is made in your bank account. Fail or bail, and you lose everything. Oh, and don’t forget – snitches get stitches, so don’t tell your mom or the cops. Read the rest of this entry »

ViralLike a parasite or a particularly unpleasant invasive species, venereal horror can be a nasty and truly gruesome phenomenon – if done properly. The source of the horror can spring from the earth or drop in from outer space. The result can be sex crazed maniacs, hopped-up zombies, or just any non-specific antisocial and lethal behavior, but the motivation of the creature that results from the infection is simple: survive and multiply. Prime examples in this sub-genre are David Cronenberg’s Shivers and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Viral is closer in its DNA to Cronenberg’s film than Carpenter’s, but whereas Shivers was full frontal venereal horror, Viral is the equivalent of just holding hands.

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“It’s blame the bros” time once again. Misogyny led the Ghostbusters reboot to sputter, don’t you know. Much as the intensity of Bernie Sanders supporters was explained by some in the media as a matter of frat boys (and the girls who chase them, according to Gloria Steinem) gone wild, the all female Gang of Four who are out to bust some heads, in a spiritual sense, never had a chance to succeed. Dudes did them in. Read the rest of this entry »

The WailingThe Wailing is a film that works – almost in spite of itself. It plays footsie with several genre conventions, while outright flouting others. It’s a horror movie that runs for 156 minutes. It’s a police procedural with an overweight, adulterous barely competent cop on the periphery of the investigation. One moment, The Wailing is about as subtle as a rake stuck in the head of a zombie (an actual image from the movie), and the next, it is as enigmatic as the mysteries of the world’s religions. It’s a Hitchcock mystery. No, it’s a gruesome hunt for a serial killer. Wait, it’s a biblical allegory.

You could spend the entire post film discussion arguing about the proper categorization for this latest offering from director/screenwriter Na Hong-jin, and not even have time remaining for a discussion of what the movie’s epigram from the Book of Luke means when it is uttered by a character in the denouement. Read the rest of this entry »

Pat-Garrett-Billy-the-KidMore people have heard the stories behind the making of Sam Peckinpah’s last Western, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, than have seen the film – or so it seems. Made by a director in an alcoholic haze with the antipathy of studio bosses, the film has become the stuff of legends, punctuated by the apocraphyl tale of Peckinpah urinating all over the screen after a viewing of the dailies. Faced with a production that was over budget and behind schedule, the studio yanked control and hurried a version far from the director’s vision into theaters where it was panned. The film has been “rediscovered” twice since its initial release, with a “preview” edition in 1988 and a “special” edition in 2005. The AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland recently screened the special edition, simultaneously confirming AFI as the premiere conservator of America’s cinematic legacy and the film’s unique brilliance. Read the rest of this entry »

Dragon InnToo often lost in the hype surrounding anniversary re-releases and 4K restorations of classic films is whether these movies still maintain a contemporary entertainment value or are they of interest only to cinephiles and film school students. So far in 2015, we have seen the 75th anniversary release of The Maltese Falcon and a return to theaters of the 1954 classic, On The Waterfront. Not only are these two movies among the most influential in film history, both remain riveting cinema and still hold the power to enthrall a mainstream audience. Read the rest of this entry »

The DarknessMom’s an alcoholic. Dad’s an adulterer. Sis is bulimic. And little brother is autistic.

Meet the Taylors!

If only it were a comedy, but, alas, those are the tormented members of the family in director Greg Mclean’s career altering mess of a would-be horror movie, The Darkness. Aficionados of the shock-and-slash genre will remember Mclean’s previous work in Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2 with respect and affection. In Mick Taylor, the sadistic killer/torturer of the Australian Outback, Mclean created an iconic monster that terrorized foreign backpackers who were unfortunate enough to cross his path. Throw another European on the barbie, mate! Read the rest of this entry »

High-RiseQ: How many times do you see a movie before you review it?

A: With few exceptions, one viewing is all I get before I pull the trigger. And, with even fewer exceptions, one viewing is generally all I need. And by that, I do not mean that I know all there is to know after a single screening. Rather, it’s unlikely that my basic opinion will change from that initial reaction. One notable exception is The Dark Knight. I’m not sure what it was, but my response after seeing it was, “Meh.” I’ve seen it twice since then and have been awestruck both times. Not sure if it my expectations were too high or if I was just having a bad day, but that’s one time when my first impression was not worth a damn. I really enjoyed Map to the Stars the first time I saw it and decided to use it as a critical experiment. I waited a week and then saw it again before writing a review. The additional viewing provided some nuance, particularly regarding performances, but had little effect on my overall evaluation. Otherwise, too many movies and too little time limits me to one shot per flick. Read the rest of this entry »

ALOYSFor many, full immersion into a film festival – that is, seeing between 30 and 40 films in the course of less than two weeks – does not seem a pleasurable or meaningful way to spend one’s life, or even one’s vacation. Considering that in 2014, the average number of movie tickets sold per person in the U.S. for the year was 3.7, the idea of seeing that many films in a day is mind boggling for many. Other than an intense love of film, another explanation exists for why someone would travel 11 hours over two flights to a foreign country, spend 12 nights alone in a hotel, only to watch three or four movies per day – which is the thumbnail itinerary for this critic’s February trip to Germany for Berlinale. Invariably, over the course of the festival, at least a hidden treasure emerges, one film, maybe two, that might otherwise go unnoticed or unreleased internationally.  At the 2015 Berlinale, Austrian films Homesick and The Last Summer of the Rich were two gems on display that have been seen only sporadically since their premieres.

At the 2016 Berlinale, Aloys, a Swiss feature that defies categorization, but might be best be described as a post-modern detective flick in which an Asperger Sam Spade goes off in search of himself, was the prize that made the trip worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »