Monday, June 17, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Dripping with nuance and a sinister vibe, equally mysterious and wild, Bad Times at the El Royale is a picture that hits a lot of familiar beats in fresh and unexpected ways.  The first act is a nifty slow burn that draws you in, the second act is a dazzling descent into secret identities and desperate situations, and the third act is a sizzling eruption of violence served Grand Guignol.  Crafted with nuance and wit, built upon a lethal script and masterful direction from Drew Goddard, this is a striking venture that never fails to enthrall and entertain.  Goddard, who also gave us the splendid and wickedly inventive Cabin in the Woods, shows a real knack for taking cliches and standard tropes and twisting them into diabolical new shapes.  However, while Cabin in the Woods was a devious kick in the pants, I found Bad Times at the El Royale to be a masterpiece that takes noir to groovy new heights while striking some truly ominous chords along the way.  The performances are exceptional, with Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo leading the way while everyone delivers.  Jon Hamm really sets the stage in the opening reel, while Chris Hemsworth arrives closer to the finale, delivering what may have been his most challenging and richest work.  Psychotic and seductive in equal measures, he is the lynchpin for this rollicking odyssey born of paranoia and intrigue, and he is the catalyst for all the groundwork that Goddard lays along the way to a powerful climax.  This review may ring of hyperbole, but I can honestly say that I had high hopes for this one, and it far surpassed my expectations.  I hoped for a gnarly oddity, and I got that and so much more--Bad Times at the El Royale is one of the best films I've seen in a while, and it is a credit to the efforts of everyone involved that it proves to be so mesmerizing.

Final Grade: A+


Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Bridges: American Treasure.  If you don't love this dude, there's something wrong with you.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - White of the Eye (1987)


Short Attention Span Review - White of the Eye (1987)

This little-known thriller from the late 80s is often described as an American stab at the beloved Giallo sub-genre that put so many Italian directors on the map.  I can see some similarities, so I understand that sentiment, but I find it to be something different, a curious opus that pays homage to many things but ultimately stands on its own.  The direction from Donald Cammell represents a stellar vision that is stark, inviting, subversive, and wildly grim.  This picture has a thing for vivid colors and gruesome subject matter, and it is rooted in the queasy realms of power and domination masquerading as purpose, painting an intimate portrait of a madman.  In fact, the lines between the killer we fear and the leading man we are drawn to are blurred, and even those with the closest ties to the murders contained within this pulsing chiller can't decide whether they love or hate the twisted soul who finds purpose in dismemberment.  The score by Nick Mason is a big winner, and the performances are on point.  David Keith is perfect, and Cathy Moriarty matches him stride for stride, while Art Evans and Alan Rosenberg take smaller roles and turn them into major assets.  Few thrillers operate with this much charisma while probing such depths, and the end result is a bit of a mystery.  While the events portrayed are far from ambiguous, the viewer's reaction may be defined by a sense of puzzlement.  When all is revealed, it is difficult to determine just how we should feel about everyone involved, and that is why I cherish White of the Eye.  It is provocative, it is exciting, and it asks a lot of tough questions that it answers by dishing out a lot of tough answers.  Evil can be quite seductive.  Evil may even be rather charming at times.  And those who go toe to toe with evil may taint themselves in the process.  Most don't view this type of fare for such meditation on the darker aspects of humanity, but those who do may find this true one of a kind to be immensely satisfying in its thirst for perversion and identity.

Final Grade: A


Like the best Italian thrillers, this American production is a quirky thriller that oozes style and vibrancy.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Dragged Across Concrete (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

Some might bill Dragged Across Concrete as a dark thriller, but I'm not so sure.  Yes, it is punctuated by shocking acts of violence, and yes it centers on some cops and robbers interplay of a sort that we often see portrayed on the big screen.  However, its more about the characters and their circumstances than their actions.  Dragged Across Concrete struck me as a hard-boiled drama, a stark departure from a garden variety police procedural or a guns blazing shoot 'em up.  More to the point, everything is painted in murky shades of gray, and the picture is bereft of any classical good guys.  The standard rules don't apply either, and this gives the picture a few jolts that most movies in the same vein are lacking.  This is a movie about desperate people making desperate choices and hoping to survive in the wake of these fateful decisions.  The pace is methodical; a stakeout is explored with incredible attention to detail, and though shots are fired and bodies are shredded, Dragged Across Concrete is always more concerned with what its characters are doing between these outbursts of carnage and death.  This is Craig S. Zahler's third film, and it's clearly his most deliberate effort to date.  It is both a throwback and a subversion of the genre, and it will excite many viewers for the very same reasons that it will bore others.  Zahler also pushes a lot of buttons, with a lot of social issues coming into play, though he doesn't seek to preach or provide answers as much as he allows his characters to offer up pointed questions while grappling with life as they know it.  Stars Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn fully embrace the material, and they invest such gravity into their performances that both disappear into parts that don't cater to their usual strengths.  Gibson simmers where he usually boils over, while Vaughn is more subdued and inquisitive than showy or declarative.  Tory Kittles upstages everyone as the unofficial third lead, an equally complex ex-con with a fluid knack for survival that serves him better than brutality or strategy serve his counterparts.  From the onset, we like all of these players in spite of their flaws, which are many, just as we recognize that this is not a happy ending kind of show.  While the gritty drama steadily nears a gruesome conclusion, we are continually surprised by the all too familiar yet oh so foreign plot.  It's not quite a masterpiece, but Dragged Across Concrete is really fresh, really intricate, and thereby really damn good.

Final Grade: A-


Vaughn and Gibson make an excellent pair in this gritty drama masquerading as a thriller, a grim saga where nothing comes easy and no one is safe.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Triple Threat (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Triple Threat (2019)

First off, let me acknowledge that as an action film, Triple Threat probably fails more than it succeeds.  The plot is riddled with so many holes that it is fairly nonsensical, the dialogue is atrocious, and a few poignant scenes are so sorely out of place that they veer toward purely unintentional comedy.  And, it should be noted, that as a kung-fu flick, it doesn't even approach the level of greatness that a venture with this cast could attain.  However, anyone who gets their kicks from this sort of fare will find plenty to enjoy nonetheless, because even a bad rock 'em sock 'em movie with these cats winds up being mediocre.  We've got Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, and two of my all-time favorites, Iko Uwais and Michael Jai White, in the mix, after all.  And while director Jesse V. Johnson fumbles where the exposition (and pretty much everything aside from the action bits) is concerned, he does capture some excellent martial arts mayhem.  Unfortunately, some of the clashes are a bit too brief, and a few of these Grade A combatants never get to engage one another.  Yet the fights we do get are compelling match-ups, and all of the players get to show their stuff to devastating effect.  In particular, I loved seeing Uwais and White square off, and Adkins and Jaa also have a fantastic battle.  Chen also shines, doing a fine job in his work with MMA vet Michael Bisping, who proves rather adept at cinematic fisticuffs.  In truth, I think Adkins may steal the show, with his amazing talents establishing him as a stellar villain.  Dude is so versatile and smooth, he makes dizzying acrobatics look easy, and he can play an arrogant badass with the very best of them.  In a lot of ways, Triple Threat reminded me of one of those 90s martial arts movies I used to enjoy, pictures with guys like Gary Daniels, Don Wilson, and Billy Blanks taking on all comers.  The movies themselves were quite pedestrian, but the fight scenes made them worthwhile.  Triple Threat is far better than most of those, but it doesn't leave them in the dust the way it should.  Regardless, if you're a fan of this sort of show, or an admirer of any of the people involved, this is one you can't pass up.

Final Grade: A very fun C

As a movie, Triple Threat is prone to misfires.  As a martial arts bonanza, it falls well short of its potential, but still emerges as a rollicking showcase for the extraordinary talent involved.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Hell or High Water (2016)


Short Attention Span Review - Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water is a little slow, rather grim, genuinely interested in those areas where morality and integrity stand at odds with the foundations of society, and built on the bonds of family and loyalty.  The violence is realistic, the choices are dire, and the cost of living is high.  It's a movie that boasts many robberies and a couple of shootouts, but it offers much more in the way of drama than excitement because we care so deeply about the players.  This is due to an excellent script, some rich characters, and a wonderful cast that really grasps what the picture is all about and brings it to life with gut-wrenching authenticity.  We sense doom for some of these players from the moment the picture opens, and while we are propelled forward by the choices required of them, we never fully accept their fates, and are reluctant to see just how this uncompromising landscape will break them.  Jeff Bridges does an astounding job as a fair and likable lawman who is as human as he is larger than life--kinda sounds like a Jeff Bridges sort of role, doesn't it?  Gil Birmingham should not be overlooked as perhaps the most dignified person embroiled in this unforgiving saga.  Chris Pine and Ben Foster make the whole thing click on another level altogether as two very different siblings, with their work here draped in authenticity and crackling with purpose.  Pine is a bit reserved as the more introverted of the two, allowing Foster to light the screen up in one of his best performances to date.  Foster plays the most flawed and also the most generous of all these characters, and in a story like this, those who are willing to give of themselves are issued a bloody receipt for their efforts.  That's okay, though, because he plays the kind of man who is more than willing to man up and pay his dues, especially if his family is at stake.  Hell or High Water is another top-notch film from the mind of Taylor Sheridan, who also gave us 2017's unofficial best picture, Wind River.  Director David Mackenzie does a stellar job of bringing this deft combination of a modern western and an essay in noir to fruition, and I rate Hell or High Water as an absolute must-watch for those who like tough movies about hard choices.

Final Grade: A


Jeff Bridges remains an American treasure, but the work that Pine and Foster do here 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Suspiria (2018)


Short Attention Span Review: Suspiria (2018)

Someone I know heralded this remake/reboot of Dario Argento's most beloved motion picture as superior to the original.  He did go on to say that given how far it strays from the 1977 cult classic, this should have been crafted as something else altogether.  "If that were the case," he said with the utmost confidence, "We would all be hailing this as a genuine masterpiece."  Full disclosure: this guy is clearly an idiot.  Of course, some of you liked Hereditary, so maybe shitshows are en vogue these days.  I don't know.  But I do know this: the 2018 Suspiria is a monumental clusterfuck with only a few stunning flourishes to offer any enjoyment for those who suffer through this master class in turd burglary.  This is far too little for me to submit any sort of recommendation, for while there are a handful of pieces to the puzzle that sizzle, they are few and far between.  And they are buried in a plodding and nonsensical affair that tries so very hard to be grandiose and transformative that it renders itself overwrought and tedious.  In many ways, it's a joke, a really bad joke, like a dad joke that has died and gone to hell.  The director has no feel for the material, and the cast and crew are betrayed by a script that is a mess when it aims for intrigue and a bit of a bore when it strives for excitement, save a few instances that must have been accidental forays into entertainment.  Remember the score for the original Suspiria?  Of course you do, Goblin's dizzying array of energy and brilliance were among that startling shocker's greatest strengths.  This time out, we get a softer approach from Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and I think this take on the material could best be described as one basic bitch of a score.  I would categorize the whole thing as abysmal, but I don't want to insult any abysses.  Friends, let me put it to you like this: Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria is like a reboot of John Wick directed by Steven Soderbergh that runs nearly three hours long and only dishes out six minutes of action.  And there is an entirely pointless subplot that constantly drags the whole sorry affair even further into tedium wherein Keanu's titular surrogate pulls double duty in a second role as an old woman with feeble ties to the plot.  And we're not supposed to know it's the same performer in another role, but it is painfully obvious and only makes this particular ingredient and the recipe as a whole less appetizing.  And those who like the original John Wick and those who don't give a shit about John Wick alike can only wonder why they bothered to waste their time with this hypothetical piece of shit.  Though, in fairness, any hypothetical piece of shit is better than the 2018 Suspiria in my book, because I can't really waste 152 minutes of my life watching a hypothetical piece of shit, can I?

Final Grade: F for "Fuck this."


This clip from the film stands as a perfect metaphor for the joy I experienced while watching director  Luca Guadagnino's valiant effort to deeply insult anyone and everyone who enjoys the original.  Personally, I'm ready to throw hands.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Comics Corner - The Immortal Hulk (2018 - Present)


Comics Corner - The Immortal Hulk (2018 - Present)

One comic that has been garnering a lot of praise recently is Marvel's latest take on the Hulk, aptly titled The Immortal Hulk.  This is partly a fresh approach, but it also serves to turn back the clock to the days when everyone's favorite green behemoth first hit the scene.  Once upon a when, the Hulk was more of a monster that men feared who only became a hero when greater threats arose--sort of like Godzilla in the flicks where he gets to play the good guy.


Writer Al Ewing has certainly cast the Hulk as a creature to be feared in this stellar run, and he has conjured up some wicked threats to pit against the titular character.  Joe Bennett has done a gnarly job of translating Ewing's vision to the medium.  Combine their fiendish efforts, and this book somehow manages to give me the Hulk I crave while seemingly paying homage to the grotesque delights of John Carpenter's The Thing, or perhaps some of Sam Raimi's work when he's in "paint the screen red with blood" mode.  Then there's the icing on the cake: the covers from Alex Ross, who is always impeccable, but has taken things up a notch with these diabolical visions of everyone's favorite raging jade goliath.


With Marvel being known and loved the world over for its playful sense of humor, I feel that people probably underestimate what I and other fans mean when we refer to this as a horror comic featuring the Hulk.  It's not a typical Hulk book with him facing off against a few beasties with red eyes, it runs much, much darker than that.  The Hulk himself is a tortured creature, and he has been dismembered, corrupted, and even taken to hell in the fourteen issues of this title released to date.  He has faced off against some deeply malevolent foes, and the pages have dripped with sinister imagery.  Is it on the same level as Alan Moore's legendary take on Swamp Thing so far as plunging a beloved entity into the very depths of the macabre is concerned?  That's a good question.  Maybe it hasn't gone quite that far, but then again, maybe it has.


It hasn't been as surreal as Moore's work with DC's green force of nature, though it has paused to ask some very profound questions and there have been some metaphysics in play.  I like the way the supernatural elements have been portrayed in a straightforward manner--it's quite unique, somewhat akin to marrying high adventure to the sort of body horror that David Cronenberg is famous for.  Seriously, I'll stand by that.  I have always enjoyed the Hulk, but this direction caters directly to my sensibilities, and I will join the choir in hailing it as perhaps Marvel's finest offering in 2018 and 2019.


In short, if you dig comics, and you like the Hulk, you may well be intrigued.  If you dig horror and you like material with some serious oomph, you too may enjoy this title.  And if you dig the Hulk, you have love for comic books, and you're a horror fanatic like yours truly, this is looking like "can't miss" territory, isn't it?  While there are a lot of good books out there these days, and the last couple of years have been really kind to horror lovers (Elvira, Gravetrancers, BlackwoodJustice League Dark, and The Spider King are among my recent favorites), this is probably the title I look forward to most on my pull list these days.  The hype is real, my friends.  Long live The Immortal Hulk.

Final Grade: A