Session 9 (August 21st, 2016)
Director: Brad Anderson
Starring: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Brendan Sexton III, and Stephen Gevedon
Sometimes a movie just falls under the radar for someone, and they don’t really get to it for a good long while. Sometimes the time is right for it too, just like it was for this movie. I was 11 when this movie came out. And it was not the most accessible movie around, not mentioned in the circles I kept (I had small circles for a while). Even when the social media lifestyle became a thing, I didn’t see it mentioned too much online and when I did, it wasn’t so easy to see even if I got in the mood. That was until recently, when Scream Factory announced they would be releasing it on Blu ray to the masses. At the same time, Guillermo Del Toro praised it as one of the best movies of the 21st Century and others followed suit. So hell, might as well dive into the flick if so many people I respect praised in such superlative terms. And I was right to do so, as where they in their praises of the movie. Holy shit is this an impressive fucking movie. I saw an article recently by Brian Collins that compared this movie to The Shining, and it’s really true. Following a team of asbestos removers as they enter an abandoned insane asylum, the mental degradation of the team is never exactly laid clear. Much like The Shining attempted to, there’s no clear answer on if their mental state is altered by a malevolent supernatural entity, or just the stresses of life coming to a head in an environment that would help foster such negative vibes. That’s really all I say anymore in regards to the narrative. But this is not a movie that relies on gore. This is very much a paranoid thriller, using tone to elicit a bad vibe from the viewer. There’s no jump scares of typical horror movie cliches. What we got here is such a unique and confident movie that plays by its own rules and executes masterfully. It’s an early user of Digital video for it’s filming, and while you can tell it’s an early adopter of it, it never feels cheap. Anderson and company know what they’re doing and film in such a precise way, using natural light, that the movie has it’s own unique feeling. You get put right into the story and feel like you’re right in the asylum with the guys, the nightmare coming to life. It’s a gorgeous movie in a subtle way. The acting is a little less confident, although it’s overall a good cast. There’s some moments that Caruso and Sexton deliver some stilted dialogue (like the infamous “No, fuck You” scene), but it’s overall a good crew. Mullan sells us the decent but overstressed head of this crew. Caruso is playing a bit of a complicated role, the friend with some control issues and a sense of self righteousness and other quirks. Sexton is good as the doofy and immature Jeff. Gevedon is great as the slumming ex law student pulled in to the history of the asylum. And Josh Lucas really sells the sleaziness of Hank, the shit head who would cut and run at the first sign of trouble. We even get a Larry Fessenden cameo, which is always a nice surprise. Moving into spoiler territory now (SPOILERS START), I truly believe this is a better movie than The Shining. If I could only say one reason why, it’s that Mullan and his character are much more interesting and well written than Jack Torrance were. His descent is handled so much more deftly and interestingly, with Mullan not overselling the madness from the get go like Jack did. His journey is so much more tragic too and he’s fleshed out alot more. A little more in the better than Shining camp is that the ambiguity of why this madness happens is so much more murky. There’s no picture placing Mullan in the records of the asylum back in the 1950s or some shit. Nothing is ever answered, other than Mullan has lost his damn mind and it all started the second he left the asylum for the first time. Throw in some questions on whether or not Caruso is really there in certain scenes comes up once you realize what is going on, making a rewatch so very interesting. And honestly, this movie manages to get across the same points as The Shining in many ways while managing to be human and not the coldly clinical movie than Kubrick crafted. It, to me, makes the movie richer and hit harder. (SPOILERS END). I really can’t get over how masterful this movie is. Brad Anderson really knocked it out of the park here. And while I can’t speak on his career firsthand, it seems that he hasn’t been able to reach these heights again. Not really blaming him, as hitting perfection like this isn’t very easy. I can’t really recommend this enough.
The King of Marvin Gardens (August 22nd, 2016)
Director: Bob Rafelson
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, and Julia Anne Robinson
It’s interesting to me to see Jack Nicholson in his pre fame roles. Those pre Cuckoos Nest/Chinatown days where he was doing something other than give super charismatic “Jack” performances. It’s here we see the talent that allowed him to go for the much bigger roles and why they aren’t simple performances, but highly attuned choices. Makes me appreciate them that much more. This is one of those earlier roles, and it’s very much not what one would assume from a Jack performance. This is very much opposite of the confident men he usually plays. This is a depressive, introverted man that is kind of always on edge. A homebody. When his semi estranged brother comes a calling to meet him down in Atlantic City, Jack goes down to see what he wants. The brother is the role you’d expect from Jack, but played this time out by Bruce Dern. And Dern is more than up to the job, really bringing this fast talking bullshit artist to life. But instead of bringing the role a sense of malice, willfully trying to bilk his brother out of money or something, he’s just a deluded jagoff who really believes he’s as good and important as he says he is. He truly thinks he’s gonna help bring his brother out of his shell. But what follows is a tragedy, being a movie from the 70s. The movie could kinda be seen as an indictment of the hippie movement and the conservative lifestyle. The hippies are taken down by Derns lifestyle, with two women and his inability to recognize the reality of things and a deluded sense of optimism at the hopeful outcomes of his schemes. The two women are a big part of the indictment because of how obviously unhealthy their lives are. Burstyn is a woman who is so obviously mentally unhinged, going more and more crazy as the movie goes on until the tragic ending. Her character is a big part of this whole thing, as Derns treatment of her and his refusal to see how damaged she is goes to show how wrongheaded he is in thinking he could help Jack. The younger woman in this relationship is really just a kind of dummy, unable to make her own choices and easily led around. These aren’t happy people, just deluded into thinking they are. And Jack is an indictment on the old school, as he is jut stuck in his home living with his grandpa, constantly reliving his past on his radio show. He’s unable to move forward, miserable in life. This is very much a character piece, a slow mover following these two brothers. There’s some detours into real estate nonsense and some criminal elements, but this is really just a slow mover. The performances are great, and it’s a much more interesting movie than Rafelsons previous movie, Five Easy Pieces. It’s a bit long and monotonous at points, but overall a pretty solid movie that deserves credit if only for giving us two great performances and helped launch Nicholson into the stratosphere.
Don’t Breathe (August 26th, 2016)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto
I was a very big fan of Fede’s debut film, the reboot/sequel of The Evil Dead. It was a well made flick with a horrific mean streak in it, going for the throat with it’s portrayal of Lovecraftian horrors emerging from the depths of hell after being unleashed from the necronomicon. The violence is graphic and mean and it really fucking hurts. There’s so much shit in that movie that surprises me to my core that the MPAA allowed it. Especially the ending, where the heroine chainsaws a demon in half in graphic and comically bloody fashion. So I was excited to see what Fede had cooking for his follow up. And it’s definitely a wholly original flick. No sense of repeating another filmmakers past glories here, original stamp on it or not. This is truly his own beast, and it’s a wild one. Short and sweet and too the point, he gets in and out with a bunch of fucking haymakers landing to the chin. This is not an easy movie, one that will play the same to the idiots that like PG13 horror flicks with blando teen actors. There’s basically no likable characters in this movie. The one we follow the most (Levy) comes close, but she’s still a piece of shit thief. They aren’t sociopathic levels of shit, but there’s still a willingness to show them as low lives. But then there’s the big one, Stephen Lang, as the biggest piece of shit in the land. They play him as the victim for a good amount of time, the blind old man who lost his daughter and stays in his house most of the time. But when he realizes that there’s people in the house, he quickly turns into the maniac a horror movie needs. He comes off like a guy protecting his home with a little more vigor than necessary, taking a little too much pleasure in inflicting pain, but overall you get where he’s coming from to an extent. But there’s a twist that comes that just completely shifts the empathy levels all the way down, losing any sense of righteousness in the process. Lang is a beast in the role, a mainly silent performance comprised of grunts and predatory physicality in the body of a blind man. He’s a haunting fucking presence before the shit hits the fan, and becomes even more terrifying. The thieves give good performances, selling the desperation required to make their stupid break in make sense. Levy does the best, continuing her collaboration with Fede. She plays the one with the tragic backstory and personal strife needed to make her scumbaggery seem at least reasonable. Minnette just comes off like a real tool. A decent enough guy, but a fucking tool only committing robberies so he can impress Levy. And Zovatto is the hood rat piece of shit dumbass that makes things so much worse for anyone he is around. Fede shows the technical prowess on display in Evil Dead wasn’t a fluke, as he shoots this flick with some real fucking talent. His eye is strong and he really knows how to make violence really hurt. It’s not on the level of brutality as Evil Dead, but it’s still a punch packing level of nastiness. And the ending is such a descent into madness and so not where we expected the movie to go that it really feels even more original. Fede’s talent for suspense is on point here, really using the conceit of having to hide from a blind man to the peak. There’s a few crackerjack scenes with almost no sound that just leaves you whiteknuckling in your seat. It’s been a hell of a year for horror movies and genre in general, and this keeps the trend going. Fede has shown himself to be a hell of a talent that doesn’t take the easy way for anything, going to real uncomfortable places with a real strong filmmaking ability. A real wild ride, I highly recommend.
The Secret Life of Pets (August 27th, 2016)
Directors: Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney
Starring: Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, and Jenny Slate
I have a weird relationship with cartoons and animated features. I like them. I watch them and own them. But when they come out, I don’t rush out to see them in the theater. I usually see them on home video. And it’s usually without the same amount of verve I have with other movies. It’s an odd disconnect. Which is what took me two months to see this movie, a movie I wanted to see as I am a sucker for anthropomorphic animals (I still haven’t seen Zootopia oddly enough) and that I bought Despicable Me to get movie money on Fandango. But I figured it was almost out of theaters and I had the time to catch a matinee, so why not. Didn’t spend much money. And it was a real fun time. This isn’t some Pixar/Disney level quality, where it has a lot to say. Despite the fact that it really is just Toy Story in a different skin. Same exact plot in most ways. Yet it really just goes for the base level of entertainment, and it pretty much works. Just gag after gag. Really having a good time with the pets and how they live their lives when humans aren’t around. The cast is all really good. CK surprised me, as he always has the same delivery wherever he is, but he actually puts a little verve into his voice. Stonestreet sounds very different, not doing Cam from Modern Family at all. Hart is basically doing Hart but as a maniacal bunny. Jenny Slate is perfect as the girly girl dog who fights for her love, CK. Albert Brooks is a falcon trying to rehabilitate and not eat other animals. The whole crew is great and really sells the personalities. I love the animal stuff and I am an easy mark for this stuff. It’s really nothing more than a fun little movie that plays as a nice diversion from the lack of real quality in most blockbusters this summer.