Tag Archives: Sundance

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

19 Feb

After the searing portrayal of a neurotic video journalist from Nightcrawler, I was ecstatic to see director Dan Gilroy and actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo team up again, this time in a pseudo-horror satire set in the world of exclusive art collecting.

Gyllenhaal plays Morf, a well known critic in the Los Angeles art scene. He has just ended things with his Partner Ed and begins to pursue a romantic relationship with art broker named Josephine (Zawe Ashton) whose boss Rhodora (Rene Russo) is constantly on the lookout for new, fresh exhibits to showcase at her prestigious gallery. Josephine, upon returning home one afternoon, discovers her mysterious neighbor has died and left behind all his paintings (though he ordered the property manger to destroy all his work upon his death). Claiming she found all the paintings herself, Josephine and Rhodora begin exhibiting the paintings and circulating the deceased artist’s work throughout the community – with spooky results.

Boasting an ensemble cast (Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, Toni Collete, and Billy Magnussen all play minors roles throughout the movie) Gilroy creates a vibrant and colorful vision of art-fueled Los Angeles. In Gilroy’s world, all the major players overflow with such vapid narcissism so that they become caricatures themselves rather than actual characters; every person on screen turns up the gaudiness dial up to 11 but perhaps none more so than Gyllenhaal’s Morf, who acts more as unintentional comedic relief than an audience conduit for Gilroy’s whimsically slimy universe. Watching the conversations and interactions weave in and out of this web is devilishly entertaining – Gilroy’s penchant for writing glib dialogue shines brightly here and is one of the reasons Velvet Buzzsaw remains so damn entertaining even when it ventures off into trope-ridden genre territory.

The editing also deserves special praise. Things start off mid-conversation inside an art gallery where most of the setting is delivered to us through characters hamming off into their phones. A quick pace keeps things tidy though and the layers of the story get slipped in gradually rather than in specific plotting points. This makes the film strangely gripping and near impossible to turn away from, although many individual scenes are relentlessly awkward and cringe-inducing. Above all else, Velvet Buzzsaw manages to be a very playful film – unpredictable and engaging – even when it meanders off with a wild goose chase in the second half.

Bottom Line: Self-indulgent to the point of parody, Velvet Buzzsaw certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those inclined to leave most (or at least some) reservations at the door, the film is a wildly entertaining romp. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Nocturnal Animals + Neon Demon 

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Hereditary (2018)

9 Jun

Judging from the title alone, you wouldn’t think a movie called Hereditary would be the kind of thing to keep you wide awake at night thinking demons have run amok in your house. Though it was appropriately placed in the Midnight section for its premier at this year’s Sundance, the description in the film guide made it seem like a dysfunctional family indie drama in the same vein as something like The Squid and the Whale. That is not the case. Make no mistake, this film fits squarely in the horror realm – and just might be the most eerily effective one to come along in decades.

Hereditary‘s premise is simple enough: after the untimely death of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) tries to mend the emotional gaps with her strained and distant family. Her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) though loving, is unsupportive and detached while her adolescent son Peter (Alex Wolff) tries to spend every waking moment partying with his friends and away from the family. Strangely, Annie gets closest with her daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) after the funeral, though she soon learns that Charlie may have inherited a few ghastly traits from her late grandmother. Annie’s journey in discovering her family history leads her to cross paths with a spiritualist (Ann Dowd) and a few other-worldly beings.

With a runtime of over 2 hours, Hereditary feels a bit weighty from the get go and takes its time getting to the spooks. Patience is rewarded big time during a shocking mid-point twist and things really get cranked up a notch during an emotionally brutal third act. There are moments of almost-unbearable tension in Hereditary; director Ari Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski should get all the credit for their amazing work at commanding attention to various parts of the frame in the heat of the moment – even when it’s deeply troubling. Aster is particularly great at creating atmosphere and subverting audience expectations, even those who are well versed in the genre. It’s clear that the first-time director is familiar with great psychological storytellers like Kubrick, Hitchcock, and Polanski; comparisons to The Shining are not that far off.

Unfortunately, the highs of the film are diluted by it’s lengthy runtime that fails to justify itself. There are too many stretched out periods of little substance in the film that drain the terrifying power from it’s better moments (of which there are more than one) so that the real terror fails to be sustained from scene-to-scene. Trim off 10 or 15 minutes and you would have a bona fide horror masterpiece – instead we have some incredibly great scenes sandwiched by lots of filler.

Still, the peaks of Hereditary are just so damn high – usually without resorting to the cheap jump scares audiences have become accustomed to. The performances are all on-point and bring a sense of realism which grounds the superstitious subject matter of spirits and demons. Newcomer Milly Shapiro, in particular, is absolutely fantastic as Charlie and steals every scene she is in. This is a bold piece of cinema, one that boils with intensity and lingers in the subconscious long after the credits roll.

Bottom Line: Although the lengthy runtime tragically dampens the impact of its spookier scenes, Hereditary displays a chilling cinematic intensity and contains some of the boldest and (most importantly) scariest moments in contemporary horror.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film recipe: The Shining + Bug + Paranormal Activity 

The Babadook (2014)

15 Jan

We are all familiar with the scenario: a young boy with an overactive imagination becomes terrified of the monster underneath his bed, and rushes to his mother for a therapeutic bedtime story. But what if this imaginary monster actually becomes real? This is the set up for a new Australian horror flick premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival entitled The Babadook. Our protagonist, Sam, is terrified of monsters. So terrified he is loosing sleep, causing trouble in class, and creating his own sinister weaponry out of household objects as a means of defense. It’s enough to drive his widowed mother, Amelia, into a frantic state of paranoia. As tensions between the two escalate, a new presence called the Babadook makes it’s way into the household which questions the sanity of everyone involved. The film cleverly embraces and deconstructs typical horror film conventions in order to create something new. Though it is hilariously playful and entertaining, it’s also a terrifying psychological thrill in the same vein as films like Black Swan or Rosemary’s Baby. Essie Davis is great as Amelia, but newcomer Noah Wiseman gives an incredibly memorable child acting performance. If you are a horror fan looking for something new, look no further than The Babadook. Just be prepared to have nightmares afterward, and remember to leave the kiddos at home for this one.

Rating: 7/10

Similar to: Black Swan, Rosemary’s Baby, The Loved Ones

Prince Avalanche (2013)

26 Jan

If Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd get stuck in the woods, does it make for a good movie?

This is the question Prince Avalanche asks of us, and the answer is a resounding yes.  The film is a low-budget bromance that focuses on the relationship of two road workers revamping Texas roads after a forest fire wipes them out.

Spending weeks at a time isolated from society, our two protagonists get to know each other very well, and talk about everything and anything together – but mostly women.  Alvin, (Paul Rudd) is dating Lance’s (Emile Hirsch) older sister Madison, while Lance is constantly looking forward to the day when he can leave the forest and head back into the city where all the girls are.

The pair of actors are wonderful together, and it’s their comical and engaging interactions that provide the framework for this movie.  Director David Gordon Greene (The Sitter, Pineapple Express) is no stranger to comedy, and there are some brilliantly funny moments in Prince Avalanche, but the humor never takes full focus.  There are long, meditative shots of nature mixed in with some great dramatic events that make this film a more reflective piece than a funny one.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of empty space, and some scenes drag on longer than they should. There is also this sub-plot involving an older alcoholic character that never really goes anywhere.  Despite it’s flaws, the highs and lows in Alvin and Lance’s relationship make for a charming and inspirational story.  Prince Avalanche is whole-heartedly an entertaining film that finds that rare sweet spot between the heart and funny bone.

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Rating: 7/10 

Similar to: Ghost World, Up in the Air, Lars and the Real Girl

Stoker (2013)

26 Jan

Park Chan-wook has proved himself to be Korea’s version of Quentin Tarantino.  With a slew of acclaimed films under his belt (ThirstLady Vengeance) including a revenge cult classic (Oldboy), he is no stranger to the violent and macabre.  Stoker, his first English-language film, is a bit more on the tamer side, but by far his most intellectual and thought-provoking work.

The story revolves around an 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whose father has passed away in a bizarre car wreck.  His wife, played by Nicole Kidman, arranges for her mysterious brother-in-law Charlie (Matthew Goode) to stay with the family in order to help them cope.  India is skeptical of her uncle whom she barley knows, and grows more suspicious when rumors float around saying that he is sleeping with her own mom.  To say anything more at this point would be spoiling the mystery behind this elusive family who all have their fair share of skeletons in the closet.

At its heart, Stoker is a psychological thriller, and the best kind you can ask for.  The limited amount of characters and slow pacing of the movie give the audience time to reflect and peer into the minds of the Stoker family.  The film is beautifully shot with eerie accompanying music composed by Clint Mansel.  Though it lacks the blood and carnage of previous movies directed by Park, Stoker is one of the best films of its genre I have seen. It is a suspenseful ride with more twists than your typical rollercoaster including an ending that blew me away.  I loved every minute of it.

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Rating: 8/10 

 
Similar to: Black Swan, The Shining, Psycho

Sundance Film Festival 2012 feature films and documentaries

4 Dec

The Sundance Film Festival announced the feature films and documentaries yesterday. I’m looking forward to seeing Chan-wook Park‘s Stoker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction, and Sound City, a documentary about the digital music revolution.

382092_10151193956618515_1299375032_nfor the full list of films click the link below:

 

http://www.sundance.org/festival/release/2013-sundance-film-festival-announces-films-in-premieres-and-documentary-pr/