Happy Groundhog Death Day

Surprise!  Rotten Tomatoes gets it right!  The consensus:

Happy Death Day puts a darkly humorous sci-fi spin on slasher conventions, with added edge courtesy of a starmaking performance from Jessica Rothe.

So, yeah… I liked this movie.  Fun.  I’m on the cusp of a 7, but my main issue was it never really scared me, and achieved dramatic tension only a couple brief moments.

Something that normally irks the heck out of me is no starting credits, but with this it’s understandable… the title is practically a spoiler.  And it’s compensated for by two factors: The Universal stuttered roll-out, and fun end credits.  On the high side of 6/10.

Comparison Note: Emma Roberts’ TV show Scream Queens


Stalked by Nocturnal Animals


When I saw in the credits Isla Fisher, I had a feeling that would create confusion — she’s easy to mistake for Amy Adams.  Luckily Amy Adams has blue eyes, Isla Fisher brown — because that casting, and that confusion, was no accident.

Nocturnal Animals may be criticized as a pat or cliched story married with another, somewhat less pat story, but the film was no less compelling, and it grew on me to yield a top-ten film in this exceptionally weak movie year.  Bravo on a long opening credit sequence where too many films eschew even putting up a title.  And can we see more Michael Shannon?  He’s  a perfect grizzled Texas detective, and was just as gruff in 99 Homes.  8/10

Comparison Note (recommended): I Spit on Your Grave

Film Brief: Don’t Breathe


Don’t Breathe isn’t always credible, nor as compelling as the best in the genre (“Riveting Rentals”, e.g.), but it’s certainly not boring.

There’s something juicy about protagonists who get in way over their heads when they themselves are not entirely innocent.  Criminal Lovers represents the best execution of this idea.  Don’t Breathe: on the low end of 7/10.

Comparison Notes (all recommended): The Visit, Vacancy, The Last House on the Left

The Walk: A Dream Come True

The Walk - poster

A breathtaking film that brought me to tears.

A rare matinee viewing on an insufferably hot day: the best movie of the year

I don’t really need to say more than that, but a couple notes.  First, this is movie magic.  I think Robert Zemeckis was inspired by this story, because he instilled in The Walk the same type of giddy wonder that he rendered way back when with Forrest Gump.

And the visuals — ahhh, the visuals.  There’s some vertigo in this film.  Just a tad.  I don’t know how well the film will convert to home viewing, but I strongly recommend seeing it on the big screen.  I suppose watching in 3D is the default here, and that’s how I experienced it, but I’m not sure it’s necessary, oddly enough.  But try to see it in the theater.

One final note.  I had seen the documentary (Man on Wire) a few years ago — but there is no comparison.  Familiarity with the story will not diminish your experience with The Walk in the slightest.  That’s because Zemeckis has so expertly crafted his movie, bringing to it all the wonder that Hollywood can muster when set on a divine purpose.  So often great true stories are botched: look no further than Everest or Black Mass.  Thank goodness, not here.  Zemeckis does this story justice, in only the way a movie can.  Best of the year so far.  9/10

PS I’m thinking about sneaking in the theater just to watch the final 30 minutes again.  Don’t tell the authorities!

Facing Mortality on the Face of Everest (IMAX 3D)

Everest movie poster

Everest is like Black Mass: there is an extraordinary true story in there somewhere, but it’s not always so easy to tell.  Now I am being a little unfair: for the most part, Everest does a very good job telling its story, providing both good character colorizations and an explanation of the numerous reasons why it is so tough to climb the world’s tallest mountain.

But narrative problems hinder it from being a truly great film.  As great as Everest is at depicting activities involved in preparing for a summit push, once that push begins things go amiss.  A seemingly small problem early on in the summit attempt: skipping altogether the act of evening rest and overnight sleep in Camps 1, 2, 3 and 4.  It may sound a small and perhaps irrelevant omission — I take it the filmmakers felt that way — but besides missing out on a key experience of climbing nature’s biggest beast, it left the effect that the entire mountain was perhaps being climbed in one day.  This confusion as to the chronology of events is accentuated by the fact that throughout the film — where chronology is less critical — the times and locations are well-captioned.

The chronology issue represents a major botch on the part of the filmmakers.  Confusing the matter even more is talk at Base Camp of a “May 10” summit push — but it’s unclear if that means they are on their way from Base Everest - text blockCamp on May 10, or if that refers only to the final day of the climb.  Since we never see them sleeping on the mountain on the way up, and since captions go missing during this period, a lot of confusion is unnecessarily dealt to audience members.

* * *

So the narration as regards chronology is not such a small problem.  But what’s worse is that when things start going south, the narrative again crumbles.  It’s very difficult to tell the location, condition and circumstances of the various characters at the most critical time.  Iced-over bearded faces and little vocalization sometimes make it difficult even to recognize certain characters at certain times.  During the time of greatest panic, one certainly understands that lives are in peril, but not clearly how so.  And that is the biggest failure of Everest.  I shouldn’t have to go back later and read about the events on Wikipedia to get a clear understanding of what happened, but that’s what I did.

And that’s a shame, because there’s a lot of good in this movie.  Besides the positives I previously mentioned, Everest features perhaps the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen — even better than Gravity.  So even with its problems, I give Everest (in 3D) a solid recommendation.  7/10

Cinematic Greats: The Mist

The Mist - poster large

The Mist - text blockTHOSE FIRST PULSATIONS through the corrugated tin door, which a moment later are found to come from tentacles — the giant, flesh-tearing tentacles of an enormous monster whose body is never revealed: this is the sense of mystery and wonder — and dread — that evokes those early marvels of Steven Spielberg.  James Berardinelli of Reel Views sums it up better than anyone:

The Mist is what a horror film should be – dark, tense, and punctuated by just enough gore to keep the viewer’s flinch reflex intact. … [Director Frank] Darabont has fashioned a tense motion picture that’s ultimately more about paranoia, religious fanaticism, and the price of hopelessness than it is about monsters.

The Mist is an intense macro-epic for when the world is being torn away.  You can read my previous comments here.  And the ending is brilliant — decidedly un-Hollywood.  A terrifically thrilling film.  9/10

Availability: iTunes, rental or purchase