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Winner of the 2015 Oscar for best picture, Birdman’s performances, delivery, and script were exemplary of an Academy Award Winner. Written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, he delivers a familiar story in a very original package.
The story centers around Riggan, an actor who is in his later years and trying to prove to himself, the rest of the world as well as his daughter that he’s not a has-been. Part of this struggle lies in his past as he’s experienced greatness as comic book action hero Birdman in a series of successful blockbuster movies. Now, with his glory days behind him, Riggan faces the pressures of putting together a successful play on Broadway, depression, financial issues, and making up for being an absent father to his jaded daughter. Oh and he seems to be a bit schizophrenic (not bi-polar, I know the difference) and he has superpowers.
The film is surreal and amazing to watch. Among the numerous things that I found compelling about Birdman is that the film is shown mostly in one long, continuous shot with very few edits most of which take place at the very end. The transitions used are seemless and the effects shots blend in amazingly smoothly, the film is crafted together in a masterful, clever way. The director and his team knocked it out of the park visually combining slick visuals with snappy pacing matching nicely with some jazzy undertones early on while building more broadly to the films conclusion.
In terms of performances, all the actors were superb with the standouts for me being Michael Keaton and Emma Stone. Keaton as the lead in the role of Riggan delivers on screen in a big way, he’s passionate, broken, emotional and somewhere deep down, trying to be a good person instead of the self-centered bastard people see him for. Stone is Keaton’s bitter daughter working in show-biz as an assistant to her father. Stone’s acting skills shine throughout Birdman in her subtle and not-so-subtle behaviors that amplify her feelings without the use of words. Ed Norton as the hot-shot Broadway actor Mike is fun to watch and makes you wonder just how much of his personality is embodied in his character. The rest of the exceptional lineup includes: Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Jeremy Shamos, and Andrea Riseborough.
Birdman is a challenging, interesting, sad, funny, uplifting film with an ambiguous ending and I would totally recommend seeing it.
Reviewed by Sean McKnight
Hilariously set in the 80’s to great effect, Kung Fury is a wildly imaginative martial arts celebration of over-the-top kung fu mixed with over-the-top visual effects and storyline. Basically, it’s a silly, enjoyable 31 minute explosion-action fest that you hope never ends while knowing deep down that you realistically can handle only so much…
Initially the film is set in the 80’s where super kung fu master cop Kung Fury finds himself battling murderous robots only to reveal a deeper, more sinister criminal behind it all. That criminal being Adolf Hitler who’s considered the “worst criminal ever” by Kung Fury. So naturally he travels back in time to thwart Hitler before he can rise to power and create murderous robots. Getting the picture? The premise is as over-the-top as the visuals. By the way, the effects includes unicorns, a t-rex, a triceratop cop (named “Triceracop”), along with nazis being liquified, explosions everywhere and laser raptors. That’s right, raptors with freakin’ lasers in their eyes.
And speaking of the visuals, the film is constant eye candy with some impressive effects (especially for a 600k budget), fun costumes and backdrops along with many nods to the style of the 80’s including parachute pants and mullets galore. The film is really thorough in re-creating the time period by the way, even down to the old code that shows up on the ancient computer equipment used by the character “Hackerman”.
The actors are all marvelously amped up in their roles with the lead playing his character with some obvious Keanu Reeves influence, delivery and voice especially. The lineup isn’t comprised of big names but trust me, you don’t need Tom Cruise in here, all these actors are a blast to watch. The cast includes: David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, Steven Chew, Leopold Nilsson, Eleni Young, Helene Ahlson and Andreas Cahling as Thor, because, of course Thor should be in a kung fu movie, duh.
Reminiscent of Kung Fu Hustle and definitely worth a viewing if you’re looking for a fun, action, slapstick comedy kind of film; be sure to stream Kung Fury on Netflix…
reviewed by Sean McKnight
To round out the Halloween holiday season (my favorite), I decided to review another classic in the form of Tim Burton’s 1999 take on the legend of Sleepy Hollow. Starring Johnny Depp playing the lead role of Ichabod Crane, Burton’s version offers a dark overtone throughout the film while celebrating even darker and scarier moments while still offering some moments of levity to even the emotional pitch.
The story centers around Crane’s investigations of recent beheadings taking place in the village known as Sleepy Hollow. The village itself is comprised of mostly conservative types scared of their own shadows along with some more liberated minds that aren’t sure what’s happening either or how the strange killings in their quiet little town are all connected. Death and intrigue (along with some new victims) drives Depp’s character closer and closer to the truth as he reveals a nefarious plot at the heart of those who fall prey to the Headless Horseman and his mysterious quest for claiming certain people’s heads as a trophy.
I enjoyed this film quite a bit. The story is intriguing, never quite revealing the kept secrets until the moment is just right. There’s plenty of red herrings in here to keep it interesting and to keep everyone guessing. I know I wasn’t sure who it was up until close to the plot point that was the big reveal for the murderer’s identity. Well executed overall story-wise; the dialog was tight and matched the times, very little if anything seemed out of place from a script standpoint.
The design is amazingly authentic for such and ambitious period piece. If you watch the behind-the-scenes extras on the DVD you’ll see that they more-or-less built a town for this film. The backdrop is gray and foreboding, the hair pieces and clothing are grimy and the people look a bit sickly. In other words they went for a real look from that time, no people in fancy hair or high end makeup, the design here truly reflects the era and is presented expertly so.
Burton does a great job directing and pulls some great performances out of the cast. Depp’s scaredy-cat, jumpy Ichabod makes for an unusual hero archetype, while Christopher Walken’s portrayal of the Hessian Horseman is intense and brutal. The rest of this very talented lineup is comprised of Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Miranda Richardson, and Christopher Lee.
Definitely add this one to your Netflix queue if you haven’t already…
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Anthony Hopkins stars in this film based on actual events involving exorcism. Hopkins portrays a priest responsible for conducting hundreds of exorcisms who is confronted with a particularly difficult case that’s taking months to resolve. A critic enters the story in the form of another priest whose faith is being challenged as he is having trouble believing in both christ or the devil. The priest joins Hopkins as an apprentice in an effort to understand more about belief and the reality of evil as more than just an idea.
The main story starts a little slow and then builds once it reaches the depths of the exorcism that Hopkins is trying to perform. While going through the struggle of performing the ritual, Hopkins himself becomes possessed and it becomes the critic’s task to exercise the demon wreaking so much havoc. I’m not sure how much of the story is embellished (there’s always some embellishment in an adaptation like this) but overall, I was engaged throughout the film and thought the resolution was interesting.
The Exorcist is one of my favorite movies and all possession movies for me are compared to that film. I found The Rite to measure up and stand on its own as a solid film surrounding this topic. While it has similarities to The Exorcist (such as the priest becoming possessed), The Rite still manages to maintain its own identity.
The actors are all good with Hopkins being especially entertaining and the one establishing the bar for the rest of the actors to try to reach. They’re all pretty solid but Hopkins is the standout here for me with a quirky character delivery managing to be a little weird and disheveled here and there while still establishing authority and sympathy. He was refreshing and surprising at times. The lineup includes: Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, and Marta Gastini.
The director of the film Mikael Hafstrom, does a fine job establishing the tone of the film and stylizing the delivery in a way fitting of the material, it feels dramatic without being cheesy. I really liked this one and recommend it if you’re into films inspired by real events and The Exorcist.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
You have to go to the classics once in awhile and see how they hold up. Creepshow Presents Demon Knight was a film I had to revisit as I was a big fan of the series and enjoyed that film in particular when it was initially released. I’ll add that I was a teenager at the time and the effects in that era aren’t nearly on par with where they are now. Still, Demon Knight has a fun quality that stands the test of time even if the effects don’t…
Demon Knight follows William Sadler as a keeper of a sacred key that the servants of hell are after in order to bring about the destruction of the universe. Heavy, eh? Sadler is being chased by arch demon Billy Zane who is trying to claim the key to up his rank in hell. The chase leads them both to a sleepy little town in the southwest somewhere where the battle for humanity is fought between Sadler, the inhabitants of the town and Zane and his demon legion.
At the time of the film’s release, Demon Knight was pretty damn scary to me. Now, it’s definitely lost some impact as my de-sensitivity to such things becomes more de-sensitive and my observation of the effects is much more critical. Rightfully so as this film was produced before the days of digital creatures like you’ll find in Jurassic World. Demon Knight was shot during the time of actors in bad rubber suits and cheesy looking green laser eye blasts.
Aside from the distractions of the bad effects, the film is enjoyable and the story somewhat provocative once some of the backstory unfolds about the origin of the 2 main characters. The actors are a little over the top at times (it is a Creepshow horror film after all) but mostly they’re all pretty enjoyable to watch. Zane is particularly witty as the smarmy demon trying to kill everyone with his charm and his bevy of badass creatures. Among the actors in the lineup is a young Jada Pinkett Smith who portrays the bad girl trying to make good convincingly and with conviction. The lineup includes Thomas Haden Church, Brenda Bakke, John Schuck, Sherrie Rose and John Kassir as the voice of the Crypt Keeper.
While it may not hold up through the annals of film history, it’s a fun film to add to your scary movie collection while enjoying the Halloween season, just try to enjoy some of the silliness and look past the rubber suits…
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Inspired by actual events that took place in Nome, Alaska, The Fourth Kind is based on a series of alien abductions that resulted in multiple people recounting the same experiences and one missing person who has yet to be found. The film opens in an interesting way with the film’s star, Milla Jovovich featured explaining the events the film is based on and let’s the validity of the film speak for itself so the viewer can decide whether to believe the story or not. The film ends in a similar manner with a brief prologue presented by the film’s director. Another compelling thing about The Fourth Kind is that it includes actual footage from interviews with the real victims that the actors are portraying. They even present the footage at times in a split screen with the real interview on one side and the actor portrayal on the other.
I would suggest that this film will fit in either a horror or thriller category as some of the footage is downright disturbing and intense. Scary as hell at times but not bloody or excessively violent. The center piece of the storyline is Jovovich’s character Abbey Tyler, who moved to Nome to open a psychology practice. After a time of seeing patients, she found that a number of them had a strikingly similar if not almost identical experience surrounding a vision of an owl but with more under the surface of the story that had been initially veiled. She decided to try hypnosis to unlock the patient’s subconscious and uncover more detail. Upon doing so, the patients had an extremely fearful and at times violent reaction to what was discovered in the depths of their psyche and how the owl hadn’t really been an owl at all.
Abbey eventually began to have the same experience herself, leading to her own psychotic break through hypnosis, driving her to the edge of insanity. She ended up under police surveillance after becoming a suspect in the strange happenings around Nome. While being watched by the police, a video recording from the police car of her house shows something resembling a UFO just before the camera signal is distorted and the disappearance of her daughter occurs. Suddenly, Abbey becomes a suspect in her own daughter’s abduction.
It seemed pretty damn real to me but you’ll have to make up your own mind. The film is compelling and has a unique style to it. Olatunde Osunsanmi did an excellent job directing for the most part. I say for the most part because I felt Jovovich’s delivery of the main character was mostly wooden and devoid of emotion through most of the film. She got better at the end but when watching her delivery next to the actual interview footage, Dr. Tyler had way more underlying fragility and sullen characteristics than Jovovich was able to summon in her performance. Her emotional pitch raises a bit later as the story becomes more intense but Jovovich seems like she’s going more through the motions rather than actually feeling them.
Aside from Milla’s lackluster performance, the rest of the actors really step up and deliver; the film overall is very well done and had me hooked most of the time. If you like alien abduction stories that skew a bit darker and more intense than your typical Roswell faire, check out The Fourth Dimension. The lineup includes Enzo Cilenti, Will Patton, Corey Johnson, Elias Koteas and Alisha Seaton.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
Despite some short-comings, as far as low-budget horror movies go, I found The Hamiltons pretty decent. Part of the recently re-invigorated After Dark horror series, The Hamiltons centers around a family comprised of 4 brothers and a sister who pull together in the wake of their parents death to live life as best they can. The trouble is that the family has a dark secret that puts them in danger and forces them to move around to avoid persecution (and possibly death) that could be inflicted by the public if their secret is discovered (insert ominous music here).
Don’t get me wrong, The Hamiltons are not your average family, they are some very bad people as evidenced by the opening scene profiling them through an exchange with one of their victims. I won’t say what The Hamiltons are so as not to give away the big reveal, but let’s just say they’re not taking people in because they offer bed and breakfast services.
Overall, I thought the writing was decent, not mind-blowing, but decent. Some of the dialog I thought was pretty boring and predictable but conceptually there are some interesting things going on and I thought the ending worked pretty well. I like when a film will take some chances and not offer the watered down generic Hollywood endings we continually see coming out of the west coast. No offense to my friends on the west side but LA isn’t the only hub for entertainment these days and thank god, otherwise all we’d see are super hero films, reboots and the same regurgitated comedies we’ve come to expect. And by the way – SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FILM!
Horror wise, there are some tense moments that manage to get the pulse rate moving a bit faster without being a gratuitous torture porn film. There’s even some drama involving the relationships between the family members that will keep you guessing here and there, especially with the conflicts that the second youngest son is facing as he questions the actions of his kin.
Where the film falls a bit shy is twofold both in moments of poor production quality along with some bad acting. The lowlight shots in the film made me gasp audibly at how bad the distortion was to the point I was questioning how the hell the movie got distributed in the first place. Then there was the eldest brother’s performance along with the sister who I felt both turned in pretty forced deliveries without feeling very natural in the skin of the characters they were embodying. There weren’t any actors in the film that I felt were exceptional, they were all pretty generic both in terms of delivery and dialog seeming more like placeholders rather than passionate human beings. The lineup includes: Brittany Daniel, Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Joseph McKelheer and Mackenzie Firgens. Directed by The Butcher Brothers.
In a nutshell, The Hamiltons is worth at least a viewing if you like suspenseful horror without huge expectations.
reviewed by Sean McKnight
I was a little apprehensive about this one but overall, I thought it worked with a few exceptions here and there. There have been a number of Turtle movies made in the past including another live action version from 1990 that was a horrible train wreck. The animated version of the series entitled TMNT I thought was great and have reviewed it for a past blog. This version goes back to live action with the turtles designed in 3D animations rather than actors in bad rubber suits. Luckily, the tech has improved since the last live action version…
The film is basically another reboot (surprise, surprise Hollywood, do you have any original ideas anymore?) starting with some backstory and then bringing us present day with the turtles already into their teenage years. Shredder and the Foot Clan are up to their usual mischief in terms of world domination and it’s up to the turtles to save the day. Enter April the news reporter who is trying to expose what’s really going on once she discovers the truth of the turtles, the clan and the clashes that are taking place between the two. Little does April know that she’s part of the story herself which adds some new twists to where everything is going.
The writing is pretty average and although it tries to add some left turns, you can still seem them coming easily. But that’s ok, this film isn’t going to be the most challenging thing conceptually and doesn’t really need to be. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for with fun and action which is what you’re really looking for when it comes to crime fighting mutant ninja turtles anyway.
The acting is average for most of the actors with no standouts for me. The weakest link in my opinion was Megan Fox who just looks confused most of the time when she’s not trying to be scared. If you watch her face, I swear it looks like she’s not really sure what film she’s in or what these turtles are all about. Overall, she’s a terrible actress with little to no-range. I’m not sure why anyone really uses her in films to be honest. She’s nice to look at but there are many more attractive actresses that can actually act out there and I don’t think her name is all that big a deal these days so I don’t really get why she was cast here as she doesn’t bring anything to the film that’s interesting, unique or even beneficial. The cast includes Will Arett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg and voice work from Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shaloub.
The production is very well done. Michael Bay is a producer on this one (luckily he didn’t direct so no overuse of low angle crotch shots) and the effects are top notch. They did a great job of seamlessly blending in the 3D characters of the turtles with the live action in a way that felt convincing.
If you can tolerate Megan Fox and are fan of the series, you’ll probably dig this film, I did.
reviewed by Sean McKnight