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Some Additional Movie “Bests” of 2017

Film Editor Patrick Murphy singles out some of his favorite (and least favorite) films and moments from 2017’s movies.

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As anyone who watches a bunch of movies knows, every year is full of mediocrity; the majority of what I’ve seen will most likely be forgotten by January 1st. Still, there are always certain films and moments that stick, whether as a source of pleasant thoughts, or a scar on my brain. Or maybe they’re just weird. Anyway, I’m no expert at costume design or sound editing, and picking best actors in a year that saw art imitate life when Kurt Russell played a god seems pointless, so I’ve decided to go a different route in awarding merit. We’ve already listed our Top 10 films of the year (which I’ve had my say in), but since any evasion of forgettable mediocrity deserves some sort of recognition, there are a few other movies I’d like to personally single out for their achievements.

I certainly won’t recommend every film below (it’s not that kind of list), but whether what follows was an example of excellence or ineptitude, they all made an impression on me in some way, and that counts for something. With that said, here’s some recognition for the 2017 crop…

Best Western – Logan

Sure, there were some movies with cowboys and gunfights and all that stuff, but did any of them capture the spirit and motifs of the western as well as Logan? Nope. The grizzled mutant gunslinger formerly known as Wolverine and his retired outlaw gang are lured back in for one more job, and set out across the wide-open desert to a better place. Go north, old men! Along the way they fight off dastardly cattlemen posing as a security force, make a pit stop to assist a homesteader with bandit problems, and try to suppress the guilt over the violence they’ve wrought. Recalling such classics as UnforgivenShane, and countless others set against the dusty, Logan gently nails so many genre tropes (right down to an action scene involving a locomotive) that it makes a fitting ride off into the sunset for its titular character.

Best Syfy Channel Movie – Kong: Skull Island

I’m a sucker for cheesy Saturday-afternoon monster movies on everyone’s favorite schlock network. It’s not that I like to mock the silliness; on the contrary, it’s because I love movies so much that I’m endeared toward anyone who gives it their all, even if they fail miserably. I also love monsters. So what would happen if one of these things were actually good? Well, Kong: Skull Island answers that question, showing me the Syfy masterpiece I’ve always wanted — a B-movie with A-level filmmaking. A movie that doesn’t take its ridiculous premise too seriously, yet doesn’t feel the need to constantly elbow the audience with self-awareness. In short, it’s a blast from start to finish, with characters that play it mostly straight (irony and sarcasm are the death of this genre), imaginative compositions, and just the right amount of operatic goofiness. This is how you do it, folks. One of my favorite films of the year, period.

Best Superhero Movie – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Any thought that Star Wars would return to its former mystical, ancient, fairy-tale ways was effectively light-sabered through the chest with The Last Jedi, but that doesn’t mean things are all bad. In a year full of superhero movies that continued to stretch the boundaries of believability with their characters’ super powers, this time the Force wins out. When Wonder Woman somehow survives a massive explosion, or some guardian of some galaxy falls 1000 feet off a cliff, then gets back up like nothing happened, I start to roll my eyes before yawning. What are the rules with these people anyway? But magic space samurai who can project their image to another planet or resurrect themselves and fly kind of works. Kind of. Don’t get me wrong — The Last Jedi is chock full of hilariously ridiculous stuff, but at least the Force has always been portrayed as all-encompassing, so I’ll roll with it. Just give them capes already, Disney, and make it official.

Best Marvel Movie – Wonder Woman

While 2017 certainly reaped plenty of profit for Marvel movies, it really didn’t produce much of anything memorable outside of the outstanding last appearance of Hugh Jackman’s muttonchops. Guardians 2 got lost in its own ambitiousness, Spider-Man’s homecoming felt more like an Avengers road game, and Thor’s hammer has all the weight of cotton candy. Is the formula getting stale? Well, not if you’re DC, who borrowed it for Wonder Woman, and out-Marveled Marvel in the process. Ditching their gloomy universe for something a little more colorful and appealing, DC finally got the hint as to why their butts are being kicked, and connected with fans who don’t want to wallow in mopeyness for nearly three hours. No, Wonder Woman is not as great as everyone wants it to be, but Diana Prince’s first foray onto the big screen still has enough sincerity to go along with the quirky, self-aware humor, and the actual human feeling elevates (at least temporarily) the pupil over its master.

Best Temper Tantrum – mother!

If you ever feel like you’re being lulled into a false sense of cinematic security, like maybe movies don’t respect you enough to tell you what they really think, just watch mother!. A brutal assault to the senses and one’s own sense of self-worth, Darren Aronofsky’s unburdening of his soul starts off as a tense discussion, but ends in an out-of-control outburst unlike anything I’ve seen on the big screen. This isn’t just a lecture about how  mankind — and thus, you — is an utterly selfish, destructive, poisonous plague to everything it comes in contact with; it’s a full-on explosion of passionate imagery that presents the entirety of our apparently disgusting species’ existence as evidence. No one likes being punched in the face, but damn if I didn’t admire the hell out of mother! for having the balls to do it. Watch this with someone you love, so you can see the look of horror on their face before they get up and leave the room.

Best 20-Year High School Reunion – T2 Trainspotting

Nothing reminds us of how awesome it is to be young more than seeing the middle-aged lumps that youths eventually become. T2 Trainspotting is upfront with its fondness for better days, when being a loser junkie was fine as long as you were a charming, energetic loser junkie. Using callbacks that would make the new Star Wars producers blush in shame, Danny Boyle makes this slower, stupider attempt at recapturing magic extremely watchable. Unfortunately, this tactic also elicits constant memories of a far superior film, but it’s still comforting to see the whole gang back together again — even if time has not been kind. T2 is a sad, pathetic high-school reunion in which a collection of former hopefuls has seen their vitality fade into utter disappointment (possibly like ourselves), but their attempt at reigniting that fire makes for pleasant reminiscing.

The Trip to SpainBest Remake – The Trip to Spain

Have you seen The Trip? You know, the one where Steve Coogan and some other British comedian play themselves as they drive across the English countryside, eat lots of food, and do Michael Caine impressions? Or maybe you traveled along on The Trip to Italy, where Steve Coogan and that same other guy play themselves as they drive across the Italian countryside, eat lots of food, and do Michael Caine impressions? If you like pretending that the same movie is actually different, then you’ll enjoy The Trip to Spain, where Steve Coogan and that other guy once again play themselves as they drive across the Spanish countryside, eat lots of food, and do Michael Caine impressions. Whatever. I like these movies.

Biggest Franchise Wrecking Ball – Alien: Covenant

Never has the line “please…kill…me…” been more apt. I’ve written plenty as to my thoughts on why this year’s entry does nothing for the Alien series, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe Covenant does serve a purpose. It takes an eraser to Prometheus, poisons the original Alien by trying to ape it, and finishes the dynamite job started by Resurrection and the AvP movies. The franchise was face-hugged, then impregnated, and now there’s a big ugly monster running around ruining everything. Just let Ripley, the Nostromo, Hicks, Newt, Hudson, and everyone else that behaved like a real person in a real horror situation have a decent legacy, please. Just kill Alien. Or at least put it to hypersleep for a few decades.

Film Title: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Best Movie Made By a 14 Year-Old – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Man, I bet there was a time when I thought VatCoaTP was awesome. I mean super awesome. The kind of awesome you get when two hot young actors fake a love-hate relationship with absolutely zero chemistry but no one cares because they’re hot. You know, the kind of relationship where he says he loves her and proposes marriage basically to get her in the sack, and she feigns disgust but is actually kind of into it? And then in the meantime they fly spaceships, shoot aliens, travel through alternate dimensions in pursuit of a shiny, glowing Macguffin, all while concocting simple emotional conundrums that are so unrealistic that only a tween would nod and think “this movie totally gets me!” Still, it’s got a stupid, good-natured sincerity that one can’t help smile at. I mean, there’s some raw talent on display from this kid Luc Besson that might pay off someday. It’s nice to encourage young directors to pursue their dreams, and this was better than most high school films I’ve seen. Most.

Best Extended Cameo – Blade Runner 2049

Since the whole movie is basically a reminder of the first one, it was nice to see 2049 give in to its base impulses and have Harrison Ford reprise his role as Rick Deckard. Before anyone disagrees with my classifying this as a cameo, I will agree that the role is sizable and has importance these things normally don’t have, but c’mon — Ford’s there to please fans of the original, not because his story is worth continuing. Still, the old man injected some life into a beautiful but sterile world. A comment on today’s youth culture, perhaps? Ryan Gosling is great at playing a robot (which the replicants aren’t, so not sure why they act that way), but he’s totally upstaged by the guy who shows emotions. Who would figure?

Worst Extended Cameo – Blade Runner 2049

Ford is great as Deckard, but I’m not sure showing him as an old man was the best thing for the character. The mystery at the end of the original Blade Runner complements that film’s themes, a nice tidbit of discussion that can lead to interesting philosophical debates; bringing him back completely dismantles that, and causes the sequel to focus on something that never really mattered that much in the first place. Seriously, finding out what happened to Deckard doesn’t do a damn thing for this sci-fi, and takes a bit of coolness away from a classic. Thanks, 2049.

Get-Out-Header-2_1050_591_81_s_c1Best Homage to The Twilight ZoneGet Out

Get Out has a great premise that recalls Rod Serling’s eerie television series, one that puts society under the microscope with a skewed perspective that exposes some human truths. It also probably would have worked better as a half-hour episode, something leaner and more focused. Though it’s far from a masterpiece (c’mon, get real), it certainly smacks of the same freshness and imagination that The Twilight Zone exhibited week after week in its day. Peele takes on one of Serling’s favorite subjects — hypocrisy — in the sort of creepy satire the world could use more of.

Best Industry Hand Job – [TIE] 78/52 and Spielberg

If it’s your idea of cinematic comfort to watch filmmakers ceaselessly gush over other filmmakers, you can’t go wrong with either of these. 78/52 gets an edge for attempting to focus on just the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, though it loses points for an abundance of crackpot theories that would have felt more at home in the hilarious Room 237. Meanwhile, Spielberg has the best talking heads (who doesn’t want to listen to Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma talk movies?), but misses an opportunity to explore some of the director’s less successful efforts. Regardless, both offer a slice of movie heaven that will be irresistible to cinephiles.

Best Use of the Song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in a Movie Featuring Channing Tatum – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The other option was Logan Lucky, which I positively loathed, so really, this was the best option. The Kingsman sequel saw Tatum as a cowboy secret agent who is basically in a coma for the whole movie. It was incredibly stupid, but not as stupid as Steven Soderbergh’s terribly unfunny redneck heist film. I’m sorry, John Denver. you deserved better, but this is what we got.

Best Use of a Prosthetic Hand – Gerald’s Game

If you’ve seen it, you know the scene I mean. It’s called “degloving,” and hopefully I’ll never be witness to it in real life, because it was hard enough to watch in this movie. Also, for those who haven’t seen it, Gerald’s Game is one of the best Stephen King adaptations out there, and one of the best movies this year. Check it out.

Best Sex Scene – Sequence Break

Sure, I could watch two people get it on, but I’ve seen that a thousand times. Until watching Sequence Break, however, I had never seen a man pretty much express physical love with an arcade cabinet. No body fluids are technically exchanged, but it’s about as close as you can get. Look, I love video games too (I helped found a website called Goomba Stomp for Pete’s sake), but I’ve never, you know, loved them. And the gooey, sticky, moan-y way in which this whole thing plays out had me set down my controller for a few days. It’s a weird scene, man.

Best Emetic – A Cure For Wellness

No film in 2017 made me want to vomit more than A Cure for Wellness. What seemed like a pretty healthy dose of trippy psychological horror at first ended up betraying cinematic sensibilities to the point of being toxic. Seriously, that over-the-top last act poisons the entire experience with such awfulness that I actually walked out of the theater angry, and stayed that way for nearly a week. Even thinking about it now makes my stomach feel a bit heavy. If I ever accidentally drink Windex then at least I know a quick way to expunge it.

Best Actual “Movie” – Dunkirk

Great films these days are often anchored by towering performances or a crackling script, but rarely do we see cinematic work anymore that relies almost solely on the power of what popularized the medium in the first place: moving pictures. Yes, Dunkirk has dialogue (though I wouldn’t call it much of a “talkie”), and the razor-sharp sound effects certainly add to the immersion, but take all of that away and you would still be left with a dazzling array of images expertly assembled into one astounding, emotional, visceral experience. I had gone a little cold on Christopher Nolan after Inception, seeing a director in love more with his puzzle-box stories than the craft as a whole, but Dunkirk changed that completely. This is old-fashioned, masterful filmmaking that revels in the basics, tightly pulling strings like the best movies have done for over a century, but taking them to pulse-pounding new levels. Deserving to be taught in film schools everywhere, Dunkirk was simply the best film of the 2017.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

Fantasia Film Festival

‘Ready or Not‘ Derives a Fair Amount of Mileage out of its Simple Premise

A rich family hunt the bride in a very bloody game of Hide And Seek

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Making its World Premiere at the Montreal genre festival, Ready or Not is a blood-spattered, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that features plenty of gore and a sense of humour as dark as the terror on display.

Anyone who has seen the trailer is already familiar with the simple premise. What is best described as a cross between The Most Dangerous Game and Clue, Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young bride who marries into the wealthy but strange Le Domas family that made their fortune in the board game industry. When it comes time to consummate the union, the bride is told that the marriage won’t be complete until she participates in an unusual family ritual: before the strike of midnight, the newlywed bride must draw a card from a mysterious box which will dictate which game they play into the night. Grace pulls the one-and-only cursed card that reads “Hide and Seek.” But this isn’t the traditional children’s game we are familiar with; in this deadly version, she is hunted by her soon-to-be-revealed psychotic in-laws wielding heavy weaponry like crossbows and shotguns.

A surreal cat-and-mouse chase ensues, with Alex ostensibly trying to help his bride survive while the rest of the La Domas clan remains dead-set on sacrificing her through the mysterious ritual. Their motive is simple: the La Domas believe that they must kill her before dawn as part of a satanic pact agreed upon years ago, otherwise they will have to repay their debt with their own lives. As to whether or not there actually is a satanic pact is unknown; as far as Grace is concerned, these rich folks are batshit crazy and out of their goddamned minds.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are collectively credited as Radio Silence (V/H/S, Southbound), Ready or Not has a lot to offer in wit, style, and entertainment. It feels tailor-made for a midnight audience, as the bloodthirsty relatives arm themselves to the teeth in a wedding night filled with crossbows, shotguns, decapitations, a car chase, and a level of gore I didn’t expect given the marketing. The climax is especially memorable — an all-out gore extravaganza that left the audience laughing hysterically.

There’s a lot to like here, from the score by composer Brian Tyler to the cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, but the reason this film works so well is because of the talented cast they’ve assembled, most notably Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), who serves as the family’s moral core. And of course there’s also Samara Weaving, (Mayhem, The Babysitter) who pretty much sacrifices her body in blood-soaked scenes of action and terror. The actress is fully dedicated in her role, turning into her own version of Ripley while tearing apart the upper-class society, their ridiculous traditions, and their silly superstitions.

I don’t want to oversell Ready or Not; it’s a great B-movie (albeit a big studio B-Movie, but a B-movie nonetheless). The quick pace, simple concept, and terrific performances are what carry it through the 95-minute run time. Ready or Not is simply put, a lot of fun — a horror-comedy that offers a ton of laughs, delivers the action, and cements the star power of Samara Weaving. The best compliment I can give is that I’m ready to see it again. It’s the perfect movie to watch with a group of friends on a stormy night, and a late-summer surprise for genre fans everywhere.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2019, as part of our coverage of the  Fantasia Film Festival.

 

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‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ Celebrates the Ambitious

‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ explores what happens when the creative can’t create, and delivers an incredible performance from Cate Blanchett.

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette

From The Before Trilogy to Boyhood to Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater is about as prolific of a filmmaker as they come. In one year he could release an experimental indie film, and the next he’s doing School of Rock. Then there are those films in between that feel like personal stories that Linklater just needs to put his mark on. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is just that type of movie, and falls somewhere between his more Hollywood comedies and something like 2017’s Last Flag Flying. Much in that same vein, Linklater tells a story of creative people driven from their passions for one reason or another, and in the process of doing so brings to life another fantastic performance from Cate Blanchett as a character both lost and unaware that she is lost.

Bernadette Fox (Blanchett) spends her days hiding away from people in her big, always-under-construction house, with her only form of contact being between her, her family, the occasional wealthy parent, and her digital assistant that orders things for her from Amazon at a rapid rate. One might look at her life and see things in shambles, as she always seems anxious, stressed, or simply at the end of her wits. Her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), works at Microsoft, and spends more time at work than he does with his family. Meanwhile, their daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), is preparing to go off to boarding school of her own volition, but wants to go on a trip to Antarctica with her family while they have some time together. No one objects, including Bernadette — a shock to her husband and daughter alike.

What ultimately follows is a deeper exploration of Bernadette’s character, as she tries to wrestle with her anxieties and worries about going on a trip of this magnitude, while also making sure that she doesn’t let her daughter down. Where’d You Go, Bernadette has one large hurdle that audiences will likely have to get over, and that is its affluent main characters. Elgie is a tech wiz, Bernadette is a retired architect, and Bee is going to private school, and somehow the entire family can justify going on a trip to Antarctica with only five weeks notice; they’re the kind of rich that’s absurd, and if this movie was about anything other than creativity and creative types, it would buckle under the knowledge that most problems could be solved by money. In fact, even when a disaster occurs that damages someone’s property, Bernadette throws money at it as a solution. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a movie about rich people that are surrounded by rich people who have normalized being rich people.

Where'd You Go Bernadette

Yet once again, even with its characters being who they are, Linklater still mines Maria Semple’s book-of-the-same-name for themes and ideas that can hit hard to the right type of person. As the title (and marketing) suggest, there is a mystery component to Where’d You Go, Bernadette that has other characters exploring Bernadette’s life and why she just up-and-disappears. Surprisingly, however, the movie’s title does not just emphasize a physical disappearance, but also a mental one. Where is the Bernadette that would move the world to create something she so passionately wanted? That question is where Linklater finds something personal to latch on to, and why other creative people will want to explore the quirks of the titular character to find out why she has stopped creating.

Though saccharine to a high degree, the cast and Linklater’s knack for writing engaging conversations and beautiful moments tends to help audiences take in all the sweetness without gagging. It’s a very cute, whimsical film that really leans into it by the time it ends. That tone is mostly what gives the movie its momentum, however, along with some of the neat directorial decisions that help paint a fuller portrait of Bernadette’s family without slowing things to a crawl and sacrificing that momentum. Blanchett provides the right blend of motherly love and manic obsessiveness to carry the entire film on her shoulders, but fortunately Crudup and Nelson give plenty of support, as do some of the briefer appearances from the likes of Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, and Laurence Fishburne. Moments that are kind of silly sometimes clash with attempts of being more serious in the scene, but it feels like that’s kind of the point to a certain extent. If Crudup feels like he’s playing the scene more seriously, it’s because his character is attempting to be the serious one in an outlandish scenario.

Those scenes that take the absurdity to new heights or suddenly fall into melodramatic territory are also the most memorable moments, because they often have their tone dictated by the perspective. If the perspective is Bernadette’s, it might lean more on the anxious, tense side of things, where it’s unknown how the scene will end or what a character will do. With Bee it’s often a sweet, loving moment. Almost anything involving Elgie tends to involve a sense of urgency, and takes things far more seriously than the others. Where’d You Go, Bernadette holds a lot of power in the way it presents a side of a story, and walks a very fine line on who is right and who is wrong in any given scenario. 

As with any Linklater movie that isn’t experimental in its narrative, there will be those who can’t get behind the sweet, caring portrait of a character often at odds with the rest of the world. He’s proven he can do those characters with films like School of Rock and Bernie, but he’s perhaps best known for capturing a feeling or a time and place. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is fairly straightforward, and won’t surprise many going in (it’s unapologetically heartwarming) but provides an illustration of someone who has a lot to offer the world, and the ways we may inadvertently — and unknown to them — stifle their ambitions.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Beautiful ‘Shadow’ Stands Out

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As a sort of somber Shakespearean political melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow sometimes feels a bit too overplotted, with enough self restraint and looks of longing to make it feel claustrophobic, and so many schemes and betrayals that the script almost gets dazed among them. However, as a fantastical period piece — decked out in luscious trappings and painterly compositions, and bolstered by passionate performances and balletic battles with umbrellas made of blades — the experience fares better, resulting in a look at ancient intrigue that always manages to entertain one way or another.

A brief bit of opening text sets the stage for a precarious peace between two lands — the kingdom of Pei, and the kingdom of Yang, the latter of which currently occupies the city of Jing, much to Pei’s dismay. When the renowned Commander of Pei strikes a deal with Yang’s unbeatable warrior king to compete in a one-on-one duel for the fate of the city, he is rebuked by his own ruler, and stripped of his title, demoted to a mere commoner. However, it is secretly revealed that the man acting as the Commander is actually a lookalike named Jingzhou, captured in his youth and bound to serve as ‘shadow’ to the true Commander — who is still recovering from near-mortal wounds from a previous encounter — in case of threats to his life.

This sickly Commander confines himself to an underground cavern beneath the city, and relentlessly trains Jingzhou in order to uphold the subterfuge, even going so far as to give him similar scars. All the while, he plots to retake Jing and assume Pei’s throne, promising to free Jingzhou from his duty upon victory. Of course, this being a royal court, there are any number of Machiavellian conspirators, each setting wheels in motions that surely will collide. This includes a weaselly king, a fiery princess, a sniveling courtier, and the Commander’s wife, Xiao Ai, who plays along with her husband’s maneuvers, but may be falling for his more honorable ‘shadow.’

Those who casually wander into this inter-kingdom squabble will no doubt soon become as lost as these ancient civilizations themselves, but despite the gravity with which the various players detail their plans, the importance of what they’re saying is mostly smoke and mirrors; sure, the duplicity stacked upon duplicity is mildly diverting, but it’s also shallow and devoid of meaningful motivation; so do the myriad of machinations in Shadow really matter? Not when there are plenty of other things to hold one’s interest.

Chiefly among those elements is the sumptuous look of every frame. Working with a relatively small canvas, director Zhang Yimou has carefully composed grandiose images filled with nuanced staging, deliberate movement, and indelibly rich texture. His choices give otherwise modest engagements an epic feel, and not just in moments where swords are flashed. Conversations become mini-wars in themselves, as he zeroes his camera in on the meticulous exchanges between the main players of his power game, their precisely worded responses and subtle facial expressions acting out aggressive thrusts and parries in word form, often cutting just as deep as any knife. 

One need not understand the spoken particulars to get the general idea, and Shadow actually communicates better through the clarity of its visuals. Each guarded step or confident tilt of the head feels deliberately choreographed, as if part of deadly dance. And instead of overloading the screen with period detail, sets are clean, populated only with objects of significance. This laser focus allows for minute aspects that otherwise may have been overlooked in clutter to factor prominently, especially when Zhang Yimou holds his shots so patiently.

And it must have easy for him to do so with a cast as magnetic as this. Deng Chao does double duty as the Commander and Jingzhou, but creates characters so disparate that you’d be forgiven for thinking they bear no resemblance whatsoever. He manages bitter and reptilian just as easy as dutiful and courageous, showing how life has affected these two men, tied together by a facade, in vastly different ways. Sun Li as Xiao Ai nobly hides her torn affections behind expressive eyes that should reveal more than they do; everyone is playing the game. Zheng Kai and Guan Xiaotong round things out nicely as the deceitful king and his more straightforward, honest sister, who challenges any threats to honor.

Shadow 2019 Film Review

They are eminently watchable, completely up to the task of holding down the fort even when besieged by layers of backstabbing that would require a more talented contortionist than the script is capable of. That’s Shadow itself; from one-on-one political maneuvers to an entertainingly inventive battle involving hundreds, there is almost always something splendid to soak in, even if it makes your head spin.

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on July 25th as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. Shadow is now available in Canada on Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray.

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‘Incident In A Ghostland ‘— Pascal Laugier Revisits the Genre that Made Him Famous

‘Martyrs’ director Pascal Laugier takes another stab at the horror genre.

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Writer-director Pascal Laugier is well-known for his heady 2008 breakout French thriller Martyrs which is regarded by many as one of the most disturbing horror films ever made and took the torture porn genre to untold levels of nastiness. While not his best film (that honor goes to Brotherhood of the Wolf), Martyrs stands as an extreme example of just how twisted French new wave horror films can be.

In 2012 he directed his first English-language feature, The Tall Man, a slow atmospheric thriller about a dying mining town where children begin vanishing without a trace. Despite the star power of Jessica Biel, The Tall Man was both a critical and commercial bomb, and not necessarily what fans of Laugier’s first film were expecting. His latest (and second English-language offering) revisits the grisly torture-porn genre that made him famous but the question going in was, is it any good?

Following in the footsteps of French auteurs Alexandre Aja (High Tension) and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside), Incident In A Ghostland begins as your typical home-invasion thriller and follows single mother Pauline Keller (French Canadian pop star Mylene Farmer) and her two teenage daughters Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) who relocate to their new home. En route, the trio is briefly terrorized by a speeding ice cream truck before noticing a local headline about a series of brutal crimes sweeping the area. The Kellers haven’t even had a chance to settle in yet and already things aren’t looking too good. Anyone who’s seen at least one horror movie knows what happens next. What follows is a no-holds-barred assault that will leave the audience emotionally and psychologically scarred.

What makes Incident In A Ghostland different than the countless other home invasion thrillers that came before, is that the raid on their house takes up only the first twenty minutes of the film. After managing to survive the attack, we fast forward some years and discover a grown-up Beth (Crystal Reed) has written a memoir of her family’s traumatic experience that has made her a famous horror novelist. Her sister Vera (Anastasia Phillips) on the other hand, isn’t doing so well; suffering from PTSD and reliving that horrible night over and over. It’s here that my plot summary must end in order to avoid spoiling the film’s many twists and turns— but to sum it up, the remainder of the running time jumps between past and present, dream and reality, nightmares and hallucinations and dreams within dreams all while keeping the audience guessing as to what is real and what is in Beth’s imagination.

Like the director’s gory debut, Incident In A Ghostland is light on plot (and even lighter on character development) but extremely heavy on the torture inflicted on the young women who are subjected to unspeakable acts of physical, sexual and mental abuse, both real and imaginary. Like Martyrs, Ghostland dwells on the terror our protagonists experience with the camera constantly closing in on tight shots of their wounds, bruises, and screams as they are kicked, punched, choked, chained and dragged around the house. Needless to say, it’s rather painful to sit through, with each scene stretched out for maximum discomfort. Incident In A Ghostland is the sort of movie in which roughly half the running time consists of women screaming in pain while the other half will have you scratching your head trying to make sense of it all. It’s especially unsettling as Laugier subjects Beth and Vera to acts of pedophilic sadism, and later learning that the then-19-year-old actress Taylor Hickson reportedly sued the production company for injuries suffered on the set. Meanwhile, fans of Farmer may be appalled to watch the French-Canadian idol beaten to a bloody pulp while stabbed repeatedly— and if you have a fear of dolls, I recommend you stay as far away from Ghostland as it features an abundance of creepy doll imagery.

While Pascal Laugier’s most recent offering isn’t as depraved as Martyrs, it’s still an intentionally unpleasant nightmare to watch unfold and while I admire the craft that went into making it, I can’t say I enjoyed my time spent watching it. But it is a well-made film featuring stunning cinematography from Danny Nowak (who provides the movie with a sheen polish) and great set design by Gordon Wilding and his collaborators who do a marvelous job in bringing the house to life (so to speak) and making it, as creepy as the villains played by Kevin Power and Rob Archer.

I’ve noticed a few critics online comparing Incident In A Ghostland to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre which in my opinion, is heresy. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains to this day a motion picture of raw, uncompromising intensity, a punishing assault on the senses via some of the most extended scenes of absolute sustained frenzy ever captured on celluloid. Incident In A Ghostland brings nothing new to the genre and is just another example of a movie that relies on plot twists and extreme violence to get a rise out of the audience. Whereas Marilyn Burns’ doomed screams will forever be etched in your memory, the hundreds and hundreds of screams heard in Ghostland will soon be forgotten. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre undoubtedly ranks as the best horror film of all time and also boasts one of the most unforgettable abrupt endings ever. I’ve already forgotten how Ghostland ends.

Incident In A Ghostland is a Shudder exclusive. For more info, visit their website.

  • Ricky D
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‘Nekrotronic’ Sells its Soul to Monica Bellucci

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Some movies are just so hard to grasp that trying to do so would be futile. In some instances, that can be used to a film’s advantage, such as Kiah Roache-Turner’s 2014 debut, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, in which explanations didn’t really matter. Understanding what was happening in that film wasn’t the point; it was just about accepting the ride. That’s the same strategy employed in the director’s 2018 follow-up, Nekrotronic, a supernatural social media haunt that opts for the same deprivation of logic for the sake of a fun B-movie romp.

Co-written with his brother, Tristan, the script takes a kitchen-sink approach to the insane story of demons possessing humans through social media. As the eternal fight between Nekromancers and demons rages on, they’ve become locked in a new type of cyber warfare. An app being designed by a soulless corporation of human husks is overseen by the Queen of the Underworld herself (played by the always incredible Monica Bellucci), and acts a lot like Pokemon Go — but as users find ghosts instead of Pokemon, they unknowingly give their souls to the underworld. And so,  the fate of all mankind now rests on the shoulders of a sanitation worker (Ben O’Toole) and his best friend (Epine Bob Savea).

Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible.

This Ozploitation film tries really hard to give explanations to virtually everything it introduces, and that’s an admirable effort in a story that very clearly doesn’t care that much. It’s Ghostbusters with a little bit of They Live, and an aesthetic that feels like the video game Doom more than any movie in recent memory. There are 3D-printing demon souls and giant lasers, wraiths, and ghosts that travel through the internet like it’s a series of tubes, and a refusal to stop introducing new conceits. That Nekrotronic has logic presented at all is like if the Alien movies tried to give motivation for the xenomorph attacking its prey — endearing to attempt, but so very unnecessary.

Nekrotronic

That is the major issue that plagues Nekrotronic. The Roache-Turner brothers want to do everything, but by doing everything it’s easy to lose focus on the central conceit — which is hard to pinpoint, because there are so many small emotional beats that are all treated like huge deals at various times. There’s not even really much in the form of a social commentary on our reliance with social media and technology; Nekromancers once put demon souls into the internet as a form of containment, and then didn’t realize that the Queen of Hell would discover a way to use the internet to release the demons. That’s a neat genre explanation that could be mined for more of a critique on apps that data mine and do more harm than we really realize, but unfortunately, the movie only passively mentions this point, then walks away from it immediately.

Instead, Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible. The cyber-horror aesthetic lends itself really well to the narrative; while it very much looks like a B-movie, it looks like a B-movie with a budget. The visuals are also very vibrant and filled with more colour than Wyrmwood, which is justification for a more riotous feeling — and the really bad jokes support that spirit.

nekrotronic

But the ultimate reason to sit through this very boring, exhaustive assault on the senses is for Monica Bellucci. She chews scenery, whether it’s for the benefit of comedy or horror; no one else comes close. If Nekrotronic did anything really right, it was casting Bellucci as a demon from Hell that says phrases like “No more Mrs. Nice Guy” as she tries to come off motherly, seductive, and terrifying at the same time. If there’s one thing to take away from this film, it’s that the Roache-Turner brothers are hellbent on telling entertaining stories — they just missed the bar with this demonic affair.

Editor’s note: This review was originally published on September 8, 2018 as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. 

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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