Poltergeist (2015)

Unnecessary remakes can be a real pain in the ass. That’s certainly the case in the horror genre. Rarely are they demanded or, if they’re to be made, it almost always ends up on the disappointing side of things. Who was jumping up and down to see a remake of Nightmare on Elm Street? What about The Thing? The Blob (which is in production now)? How about The Fog? Exactly. And I don’t want to sound too cocky, but I’m pretty sure the same can be said for Poltergeist. I haven’t even seen the original all the way through so a remake wasn’t on my radar whatsoever. Yet here we are with a review of it.

Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt play Eric and Amy Bowen who have moved in to a new home with their two daughters and son. Eric is unemployed while Amy has been at home taking care of the family while never finding the time to write her novel. So when they come across a great deal, they can’t pass it up. Who cares if it’s sitting right on top of a cemetery. In their defense, they did not know that at first. For some reason the real estate agent left that part out.

It does not take long for the house to start performing some tricks: moving items, flickering lights, shutting doors. Yet all hell breaks loose once the youngest daughter, Maddie (Kennedi Clements), talks to their TV and puts her hand on it with something putting their hand on hers from the other side. There aren’t too many unsettling moments in this movie, but her turning to the rest of the family right after and saying “They’re here” is one of them.  Soon she is taken and her family practically does not even question it and quickly accepts it and moves on. A cavalry of paranormal experts are called in to go in to the darkness and find the Bowens’ baby girl.

Director Gil Kenan doesn’t ruin what Poltergeist is and represents, instead it just leaves us wondering why try to bring it back to life in the first place. Like I said earlier, I have never seen all of the original and I’m sure it was terrifying back in 1982, but this reboot leaves scares out completely. The effects are tremendous, but are too heavily relied on. But what hurts the most is the rapidness of the story that leaves all characters empty with emotion and depth. Perhaps the biggest star of the entire movie is the house itself and besides one traumatic scene, the camera pays no attention to it. The atmosphere is almost as lifeless as the dead folks in the TV.

If there’s a light in the hollowness of Poltergeist 2015, it’s the first-rate performances of DeWitt and Rockwell. DeWitt is a strong force as the mother. Obviously, her role plays a significant part, and she is committed to making Amy genuine but sturdy. With that said, no one does it like Rockwell. At first, his character is dealing with the stress of losing his job and not being able to provide for his family. He is just too proud to admit their financial status is suffering. However, once his daughter goes missing, Eric becomes a different man and Rockwell kicks in to full-force. Plus, he delivers some much needed humor. You can never go wrong with his undeniable talent and charisma.

It’s safe to say a lot of movies should be left alone. Here is another example where you question its very existence. This Poltergeist is somewhere stuck in the middle of harmless and uninspiring with no attempt to create something new for itself. But hey, there’s always Sam Rockwell to entertain us.

Best of the Month: April 2015

Best Films

Wild Tales

Furious 7

The Hunting Ground

Love & Mercy

For Grace

Monkey Kingdom

Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Ex Machina

 

Best Actor

Al Pacino- Danny Collins

Tom Hardy- Child 44

Domhnall Gleeson- Ex Machina

Paul Dano- Love & Mercy

Michael Fassbender- Slow West

Jonah Hill- True Story

Ben Stiller- While We’re Young

John Cusack- Love & Mercy

Thomas Mann- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Nick Kroll- Adult Beginners

Kodi Smit-McPhee- Slow West

Oscar Isaac- Ex Machina

Michael Eklund- Eadweard

James Franco- True Story

 

Best Actress

Olivia Cooke- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Helen Mirren- Woman in Gold

Rose Byrne- Adult Beginners

Alicia Vikander- Ex Machina

Naomi Watts-While We’re Young

Noomi Rapace- Child 44

Krisha Fairchild- Krisha

Blake Lively- The Age of Adaline

 

Best Director

Alex Garland- Ex Machina

Bill Pohlad- Love & Mercy

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Damian Szifron- Wild Tales

Review: Nashville Film Festival 2015

The 46th Annual Nashville Film Festival was ten days long with films from all over the United States.

Wait. I meant from all over the globe!

I have been going to the NaFF for 8 years now and every year, the options are endless. From the interesting and strange to the diverse and challenging, it’s all right here. Now I was fortunate enough to see 24 films this year (a personal record). And without even realizing it, out of those 24, 13 of those were documentaries. So non-fiction was superior this year.

Below are some of the highlights of my NaFF journey this year and whether it’s in theatres, VOD or Netflix, keep a look out for any or all of these films. Unless it’s Reminiscent or Entertainment. I’ll explain later.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Tomi Fujiyama is the first Japanese country superstar. You read that right. She even performed at the Grand Ole Opry once in the 1960s with Johnny Cash and Earl Scruggs, and was the only one to receive a standing ovation that night. She was only 19 years old. Her dream is to be back on that stage one last time. Made In Japan is a wonderfully inspiring doc about her multicultural journey through music and how there is no age limit on chasing your dreams. After the screening, Tomi was in attendance and not only did she answer some questions, but performed with just her guitar and a mic. She’s a firecracker and it’s infectious in the film and most definitely in person.

Grammy award winner Che “Rhymefest” Smith tries to put the pieces of his family back together by reconnecting with his homeless, alcoholic father, who he has not seen in over two decades in In My Father’s House. Smith purchases his fathers’ childhood home in Chicago, which soon opens the flood gates to the memories and contentions of the past. It’s a heartbreaking yet stirring documentary about love, forgiveness, and a families’ legacy. Rhymefest was at my screening and showed such a depth of vulnerability in his life and his songs. He’s a courageous man with a monumental heart.

 

When Acting Speaks Volumes:

There are a couple of films that standout more for performances than its storytelling. Eadweard is about Eadweard Muybridge, the godfather of cinema and the last American to receive the justifiable homicide verdict. Now I won’t reveal how he gets to that point, but it’s no surprise it involves a woman. Love makes you do crazy things. What will capture your attention the most is Michael Eklund’s explosive portrayal as Eadweard. Another one is called Krisha, which was accepted into the prestigious Cannes Film Festival during its showings in Nashville. Krisha Fairchild plays the titled character with astounding pain and abandonment. She’s a mother, daughter and sister in a powerful tale about what recovery is and what is lost in the process. I can assure you everyone will feel her wrath.

 

Absolute Awful:

Entertainment has some very talented people in it: Tye Sheridan (Mud), Michael Cera, and John C. Reilly to name a few. Oh and their talents are completely wasted in this incoherent, wandering film. The star of this mess is Gregg Turkington (only known as “The Comedian” in this), whose career is practically on life-support. At this stage in his life, he is traveling around to dead-end clubs in the desert just trying to survive. Turkington’s performance is awkwardly depressing which is a perfect fit for the story. Unfortunately, it is how I felt after watching it as well.

The underrated Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, repeated the same events, but with each time we understood more. Why do I mention this movie? Well because Reminiscent tries this same tactic with disastrous, lackluster results. An execrable sci-fi thriller about an ex Army Ranger who relives each day trying to discover why certain disturbing events are occurring and how to put an end to them for the sake of his family. While I am sure it is a passion project for Justin Tandy, the co-director, writer and star of the movie, it’s full of useless chaos and the final scene is just laughable. Sorry man.

 

Best of the Fest:

First up is Love and Mercy, an unconventional, energetic  biopic about the musical madness of Brain Wilson from The Beach Boys. And I have a feeling Wilson himself would not want it any other way. Paul Dano plays the young Wilson during the Beach Boys heyday. We are fortunate enough to get a peek in to his process with their numerous hits and his struggle with the daring Pet Sounds album. Mental illness flows through his mind and it is in full force when we meet the older Wilson played by John Cusack. While the two versions of Wilson are like night and day, Dano and Cusack bring out the genius and the curse that comes with being one.

What starts out as a food documentary about a young, driven chef opening up his own restaurant and the risks that go along with it, For Grace becomes so much more.  As his story unfolds, it is shocking what he has gone through to get where he is today. It is captivating yet woeful as you discover his obsession, sacrifice and loss.

Silver screen legend, Hal Holbrook, has been doing a one man show for over sixty years where he speaks about issues, always seeming relevant, through Mark Twain. Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey is elegantly filmed in black and white, and is an enriching documentary where Holbrook breathes life in to Twain and vice versa. It’s mastery at its finest.

Perhaps the biggest film with the most hype this year is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It just came out of Sundance in January as the winner of the Audience and Grand Jury prize. And I’m proud to announce the hype is justified. It’s not only the best film of the NaFF, but it’s one of the best of the year. It’s spectacularly innovative in its love, laughs, and tears. With zesty, clever direction, the story about high school turmoils with the big C thrown in there is sincere and impactful. The two who make it all come together are Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke whom display their heart and soul for the whole world to see in this sharply wit, crushing film.

 

Nashville Film Festival sought out a lot of unwonted films and it mostly paid off. At least from my viewing experience anyway. I feel confident that some of these titles will show back up again at the end of the year on my Best of 2015. Until next year Movie City. I mean Music City….get it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of the Month: March 2015

Best Films

’71

It Follows

 

Best Actor

Jack O’Connell- ’71

Liam Neeson- Run All Night

Dave Franco- Unfinished Business

 

Best Actress

Lily James- Cinderella (2015)

Maika Monroe- It Follows

Missy Peregrym- Backcountry

Cate Blanchett- Cinderella (2015)

Shailene Woodley- Insurgent

 

Best Director

Yann Demange- ’71

Kenneth Branagh- Cinderella (2015)

Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi- What We Do in the Shadows

David Robert Mitchell- It Follows

Backcountry

Do you remember Open Water? Let me refresh your memory.  A young couple gets left stranded in the deep blue sea after their tour group leaves them behind. It’s a glorious, atmospheric survival film with suspense building from one scene to the next. Now replace the ocean with the woods and a shark with a bear.

That is Backcountry.

Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym), a young adventurous couple, decide to leave the city and head out in to the Canadian wilderness. Alex is an experienced outdoorsman who is familiar with Provincial Park, but Jenn is a lawyer who cannot stay off her phone. From the beginning, she’s not thrilled about camping, but she’s doing it for Alex. He wants to take her to Blackfoot Trail—one of his favorite secluded spots with an amazing view. As the journey gets longer, it intensifies with each encounter (man and beast).  And then with every passing day, food and water becomes scarce until finally the truth is said out loud. The trail Alex once knew has vanished. They are despairingly lost.

Roop and Peregrym go together so well. If someone said they were a real couple off-screen, I would believe it. They have solid chemistry and wear the cruelties of the wilderness very well. Alex and Jenn are tested in the most extreme conditions. It is easy to see they are at war with nature and themselves, and it takes a toll on their already fragile relationship.

In his directorial debut, Adam MacDonald instantly shows his skills when it comes to messing with your nerves. By being in the middle of nowhere along with the struggle of overcoming the brutality of Mother Nature herself, a feeling of isolation, terror and panic can demolish the soul. In exceptionally smooth fashion, MacDonald demonstrates just that. His film is indisputably effective due to the execution of showing very little, but suggesting so much.

How far would I go? What would I do? How would I survive?

These questions are asked in our minds throughout movies that have a certain kind of reality to them. There’s a shocking realism to situations we never think about until it’s staring us right in the face. Films such as this one, Open Water, and the one that probably started it all, The Blair Witch Project, do such a terrific job at guiding the audience to imagining themselves in these nerve-frying situations. And the fact you know it could happen sends chills.

Backcountry is a terrific example of taking a simple concept and turning it in to something truly horrific.

Cinderella (2015)

Forgive me for assuming, but I would like to think everyone knows the story of Cinderella. No matter what age you are, you have seen some type of version of the story where every dream for a sweet, servant girl comes true. Whether it’s Walt Disney’s classic animated film from 1950 or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s version—-not the one with Whitney Houston and Brandy. My God not that one. However, if those do not sound familiar then you probably enjoyed Drew Barrymore’s take in Ever After and Hilary Duff’s in A Cinderella Story which would make you a very rare breed.

So why bring this imitable tale back in 2015?

Well I cannot really answer that because I have no idea. Cinderella is innocent, harmless fun for families, but offers no surprises along the way. It flawlessly goes through the motions—happily ever after. If it ain’t broke then why fix it right?

All of your favorites are here. The Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter)? Check. Evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her obnoxious daughters? Check. Mouses, pumpkins, and slippers? Check. Prince Charming (Richard Madden)? Check. One of the first things you will notice is how delightfully wicked Blanchett is as the stepmother. It is a welcome change of pace for her after her last year’s Oscar win for Blue Jasmine. Nevertheless, this movie belongs to Cinderella herself, Lily James. She captures the true essence of the titled character with not just her beauty and blonde hair, but her naturalness at being adoring and gracious. The movie’s ability to sweep you up in to its whimsical world comes from her genuinely enchanting performance.

Director Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing, Thor) keeps everything squeaky clean (which I’m sure that’s how Disney demands it) by taking absolutely no risks. Don’t get me wrong, there is no need for this version to be dark or twisted. This Cinderella is not suppose to be that and should not. It simply plays it too conservative in the comfort of its own Mickey Mouse home. Sadly, my dream of the film being original while keeping the traditional parts alive did not come true.

And yet, Branagh makes the film flourish with splendor and color. His deep-rooted background with Shakespeare soaks through every scene and unquestionably provides a romance in it’s storytelling. No matter how hard you try, you cannot help but feel emerged in the magic.

 

Best of the Month: February 2015

Best Films

Still Alice

 

Best Actor

Colin Firth- Kingsman: The Secret Service

Will Smith- Focus

Kevin Costner- McFarland, USA

Taron Egerton- Kingsman: The Secret Service

 

Best Actress

Julianne Moore- Still Alice/Maps to the Stars

Dakota Johnson- Fifty Shades of Grey

Margot Robbie- Focus

Mae Whitman- The DUFF

 

Best Director

Matthew Vaughn- Kingsman: The Secret Service

Pawel Pawlikowski- Ida