Friday, September 22, 2017

Movie Review: "Naked" (2017)

Director: Michael Tiddes
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

On his wedding day, a man wakes up naked in an elevator and must proceed to live the following hour over and over again until he gets it right.

Iiiiiiiiit's "Groundhog Day"!......or "Groundhog Hour"?

"Naked" is the latest film from director Michael Tiddes, who is known for making movies like "A Haunted House," "A Haunted House 2," and "Fifty Shades of Black." As you can see, Tiddes like Marlon Wayans, or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, they work together frequently. Wayans plays Rob Anderson, a substitute teacher who is about to marry a doctor named Megan, played by Regina Hall. On the morning of their wedding, Rob wakes up naked in an elevator unsure of how he got there. After an hour, he wakes up in the elevator again, forced to relive the same hour of his life over and over until he gets his wedding day perfect. Wow, what a totally original concept.

On the surface, "Naked" may seem like it's a "The Hangover" meets "Groundhog Day" rip-off, but it is actually a remake of a Swedish film called "Naken," which came out before "The Hangover" but after "Groundhog Day." Unfortunately, like many of Marlon Wayans' more recent projects, this winds up being almost completely unfunny. For the most part, this is a one-joke flick that is played over and over for laughs, much like Rob's wedding day. A man wakes up naked, must find clothes, and has to get to his wedding, but must go through a bunch of zany circumstances over and over until he reaches the altar and settles things in the proper manner. The concept wears thin really quickly. By the second run through of Rob's hour, we found ourselves incredibly bored with the characters, the formula, and the film in general. The repetitive nature of the story makes the pacing drag and drag and drag and drag and drag. This is a short movie but manages it feels unbearably long when couples with annoying side characters and subpar acting. The humor is not clever and not witty, usually resorting to the lowest hanging fruit possible like jokes about how a woman's vagina smells. "Naked" may hope to redeem itself with a sappy feel-good ending, but by the time it finally arrives, we were already done caring and halfway asleep. Regina Hall deserves better than this try-hard mess.
My Rating: 1.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 1.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 0%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Movie Review: "The Prestige" (2006)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

A pair of rival magicians with a tragic past engage in a dangerous game of one-upmanship doing what they can to destroy the other's career. 

Are you watching closely??

"The Prestige" is directed by Christopher Nolan, who also wrote the screenplay along with his brother Jonathan. It is based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Priest. It stars Christian Bale as Alfred Borden and Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier, two magicians who have a past with one another. The years have turned them into bitter rivals, and they are willing to go to whatever lengths possible to outdo one another. They are willing to sacrifice anything, including their relationships, their money, and their lives, in order to get the upper hand. Joining the two male leads are Rebecca Hall as Alfred's wife Sarah, Scarlett Johansson as Alfred's assistant Olivia Wenscombe, and Michael Caine as Cutter, the mastermind behind Angier's magic tricks.

This film offers a unique take on the murder mystery genre by combining a period drama about a professional rivalry with a crime mystery. There's also a little bit of sci-fi thrown in for good measure. The story here is extremely compelling, every twist and turn remarkably shot, written, and acted. We remain completely engaged by it as we try to figure out exactly what happened, who was responsible for certain events, and who truly had the upper hand at each and every moment. It's one of those films where you find yourself hoping you forget the ending and how it all unfolds so you can experience it, again and again, each time you watch it as if it were the first time.

The narrative is delivered in a non-linear fashion, a trick Christopher Nolan has used in several of his films, to aid in the mystery. The art direction is fantastic and the costumes are utterly gorgeous as they capture early 20th century England and help the feel of the picture as a whole. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are fabulous in this film. The characters they play are, in many ways, polar opposites, yet they both share an obsession with each other. Bale's Borden is the skilled and more talented magician with an unwavering dedication that has arisen from humble beginnings. Jackman's Angier, on the other hand, isn't the best magician technically speaking, but he is a brilliant showman who was raised wealthy with the English title of Lord, a fact he tends to hide. Angier is only interested in the fame that comes with being a performer, and his sole purpose is ruining Borden. We see their obsession and just how deep their destructive madness goes, expertly penned by the Nolan brothers.

When we watched "The Prestige" for the first time, we were floored by the ending. Now, with each additional watch, we see the clues and how the surprise ending was foreshadowed all along. The answer hangs in the face of the audience the entire time and we just didn't see it, which is certainly part of the magic of this film. From excellent set pieces and costumes to tremendous acting from Jackman, Bale, Johansson, Caine, and Hall, and expert cinematography and direction, don't miss this wonderful movie.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 76%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Movie Review: "Stardust" (2007)

Image Source
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes

A young man lives in Wall, a small, quaint English village on the border of the mystical land of Stormhold. The two towns are separated by a small stone wall, and this man has promised his love he will cross the threshold into Stormhold to retrieve a fallen star to prove his devotion to her. Once he finds the star, it isn't at all what he expected. 

When people speak of classic fantasy adventure films, the list usually includes pictures like "The Lord of the Rings," "The Princess Bride," and the "Harry Potter" series. Unfortunately, "Stardust," doesn't come up too often, which is a travesty because it should. Director Matthew Vaughn, who would become well known for directing comic book adaptations like "Kick-Ass," "X-Men: First Class," and "Kingsman: The Secret Service," managed to create something fun and imaginative with his adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel.

The film stars Charlie Cox, who would go on to play Marvel's Daredevil, as well as Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Mark Strong, who make up the key players in this story. Also in the film in smaller capacities are Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Henry Cavill, Ricky Gervais, and Peter O'Toole. With such a stellar cast, it is supremely sad this movie was a box office failure in the United States (and also, this is why we can't have nice things). As we know, box office receipts are not necessarily indicative of quality, and all too often, exceptional movies go underappreciated until years after their release. Such is the case with "Stardust."

This is a classic fantasy romance sword and sorcerer adventure. The story revolves around a young man named Tristan, played by Cox, who is a meager shopboy living in the small village of Wall, England. It is called Wall because, at the edge of town, there is a small stone wall which separates their normal, boring world from the mystical land of Stormhold, where magic still abounds and sky pirates capture lightning from the clouds. When Tristan sees a star fall from the sky, it lands in Stormhold. He promises to cross the barrier between the two lands to retrieve the star for the woman he believes is the love of his life, Victoria, played by Sienna Miller. Upon finding the star, Tristan is shocked to find it is not a lump of celestial rock, but actually, a very beautiful woman named Yvaine, played by Claire Danes. It turns out, many people are looking for the same star for a variety of different reasons. Getting Yvaine back to his love will not be as easy as Tristan thought.

We absolutely love this film. "Stardust" is bright, colorful, exciting, funny, heartfelt film, and an absolute blast to watch. This was only Matthew Vaughn's second directorial effort, and even here you can see what talent he has for stylized action and stunning visuals. Though relatively unknown at the time, Charlie Cox does a great job as Tristan, who spends the entire movie with one goal in mind, only to have his heart and soul switch gears halfway through its runtime. Claire Danes is fantastic as the innocent, ethereal star Yvaine. She has a lot to learn about people and humanity and emotions but is pure of heart and wiser than she seems. Michelle Pfeiffer is a scene-stealer as antagonist Lamia, a witch who wants to eat the heart of the fallen star to regain her youth. She combines a sinister nature with a bit of charm as well as some good comedic timing. The old age makeup work on her is absolutely incredible. Though a much smaller part, Robert De Niro is fabulous as Captain Shakespeare. Some may consider his performance to be a bit of a stereotype or caricature, but he plays the part well.

"Stardust" is one of those movies we watch every now and then and it always puts a smile on our faces from beginning to end. Sure, it can be a bit silly and over the top at times, but we think it is an under-seen, criminally overlooked gem that fantasy fans should absolutely seek out if they haven't already done so. This is everything we hope a fantasy adventure film would be and it continues to be one of our favorites even today.

Take a listen to our podcast, which we record live every Wednesday at 6pm PT and every Saturday at 1pm PT!

My Rating: 8.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~76%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Movie Review: "mother!" (2017)

Image Source
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute

A writer and his wife have their normally calm lives thrown into chaos by uninvited guests who turn out to be fans of his work.

After watching "mother!" many viewers may walk out of the theater wondering what the hell they just watched. If you are at all familiar with the work of director Darren Aronofsky, including "Black Swan" and "The Fountain," you will know he is no stranger to using visual metaphors to tell his stories, which are anything but surface-level projects. His films are often ambiguous and his messages usually require a bit of thought on the part of the audience to decipher and unpack his true intent. Throughout each of his movies, Aronofsky will often leave a trail of breadcrumbs and a few hints and clues to guide people in the right direction. He isn't one to hold your hand or offer heavy exposition, as is the case with "mother!" The film stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple living in a very secluded, sprawling home. He is a poet and she mainly works on renovating their home, which was damaged by a fire in the past. One day an unexpected guest, played by Ed Harris, turns up on their doorstep. Apparently, he thought their house was a bed and breakfast, or so he claims. It turns out this stranger is actually a fan of Bardem's character's poetry. The poet enjoys the constant attention, adoration, and praise from this fan, but his wife isn't comfortable with having a stranger in their home, especially when he doesn't listen to their rules. Matters only get worse when this stranger's wife shows up unannounced, interjecting herself into the lives and problems of this couple, who are used to peace, quiet, and isolation. As more of the poet's fans show up day after day, things get more and more out of hand...and that's about as much of the plot we are willing to give away.

"mother!" is an exceedingly hard film to nail down. It is difficult to review because, as we have often said on our site, we don't like to spoil movie plot points if we can help it. There is so much we want to say, but even the slightest detail would venture into spoiler territory, and trust us when we say this is a movie that begs the audience to go into it knowing nothing. We would love to give you our take on what Aronofsky was trying to say in this film, but that would imply we absolutely know which direction he was headed when we really don't. Aronofsky has so many things to say about life, culture, religion, politics, nature, fame, society, and humanity all wrapped up in this two-hour sensory and visual spectacle. We remained completely enthralled, paranoid, worried, scared, creeped out, unsettled, and in awe of Aronofsky's work from start to finish. Even if we were confused with what was going on, we remained on the edge of our seats waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Director of photography Matthew Libatique has once again done an exquisite job, offering a striking visual display as he always does when he teams up with Aronofsky. The visuals combined with the stellar sound design, incredible practical effects, and expert performances make for an extremely well-made film. Jennifer Lawrence gives what may be the best performance of her young career. We have grown accustomed to her phoning her roles in over the last few years between her work on the "X-Men" series and "The Hunger Games" two-part finale. We have always enjoyed Lawrence as an actress and it is refreshing to see her so invested in this role. She gives an Oscar-worthy performance, though we aren't sure if the subject matter will click for all Oscar voters and may hurt her chances by proxy. Javier Bardem is fantastic as well, often showing perceived indifference to his wife's concerns about his fans. Michelle Pfeiffer is incredible and Ed Harris is equally impressive in their much smaller parts.

We absolutely loved "mother!" This is a movie that won't connect with everyone because it does not have a straightforward narrative. It was rather mismarketed in its promotional materials. Aronofsky thrives in disturbing and unsettling his viewers regardless of who he offends. When we say disturbing, we truly mean it. There are some extremely hard to witness moments that will turn some viewers off immediately, and though the last act is exceedingly difficult to watch, Aronofsky has made it clear now and always that he is willing to go places most filmmakers are not willing to go and show things most movies would never dare attempt. The amount of admiration we have for this man is boundless as he continues to shake up Hollywood movie by movie. He is willing to take risks and be the one different voice in a crowd of carbon copy filmmakers. People constantly complain about the lack of originality in cinema, but when someone makes a unique, different, divisive piece of art like this, it is shunned, slammed, revolted, and given an F on CinemaScore. It's not because the populous is stupid (as other critics and movie lovers have stated), it's because people don't really want anything too drastically different, which makes us supremely distressed and saddened. It's the same reason why people eat at places like Denny's and Applebee's because they want something safe and consistent rather trying something new and interesting with the risk of not liking it.

For us, the intrigue never lets up, and by movies end, hearts pounding, tears flowing, and eyes wide opened, we left the theater, discussed the film for hours, and have not stopped thinking about it since. Whether you love or you hate "mother!," chances are, this film will make lists and be on the tongues and minds of many in the years and decades to come. BRAVO, SIR.

If you want to hear our spoiler talk and review of "mother!," take a listen to our podcast, which we record live every Wednesday at 6pm PT and every Saturday at 1pm PT!

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~68%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Movie Review: "Red Christmas" (2017)

Director: Craig Anderson
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

A mother is forced to fight for the lives of her family during their Christmas get together when a cloaked stranger shows up claiming to be someone from her past. After being shooed away, this person comes back and goes on a murdering rampage.

Nothing says Christmas like an abortion debate. This sensitive subject is the foundation of the film "Red Christmas." It starts out with protests surrounding an abortion clinic followed by a terrorist attack on the building by radical pro-lifers... which is a little ironic if you ask us, someone claiming to be pro-life while murdering people. But hey, that's just us. Not exactly a standard schmaltzy Christmas plot, right?
Not exactly what you'd expect from a Christmas movie. (Image provided by Artsploitation Films, photo by Douglas Burgdorff)
This Australian holiday horror flick is written and directed by Craig Anderson, who uses this rather taboo political subject to create a horror-themed abortion debate set around yuletide cheer. The film stars Dee Wallace, who is best known for her role in "E.T.," but has also starred in numerous horror classics like "Cujo" and "The Howling." Here, she plays Diane, the matriarch of a somewhat dysfunctional family having their last Christmas get together in their family home. It is a typical family gathering complete with domestic dramas, squabbling siblings, and conflicting ideas. All of this stops, however, when a cloaked stranger named Cletus shows up at their front doorstep. He claims to be someone from Diane's past. Being polite, she invites him in, until his true intentions are revealed. When she casts him out of their home, Cletus goes on a murdering rampage, picking off the family members one by one.
When a stranger calls. (Image provided by Artsploitation Films, photo by Douglas Burgdorff)
"Red Christmas" is a fairly conventional slasher style horror film despite its premise. There's a bit of a twist as it is centered around the abortion debate in what some may consider the crudest way possible. Anderson doesn't go deep into a lot of detail past the first few minutes, which simply set up the rest of the story in this holiday horror. There is a little tension at times, but this isn't the type of movie steeped in "edge of your seat" thrills and heart-pounding terror. It doesn't rely on unnecessary jump scares, which we always welcome. This is more of a gore-driven flick that has a couple of creative death scenes featuring odd objects like bear traps and blenders (hey, Bear Traps and Blenders would be a good band name!), as well as a couple of tried and true kills featuring an ax to the head. The practical effects are excellently made and are very, very bloody.
Dee Wallace as matriarch Diane, locked and loaded.. (Image provided by Artsploitation Films, photo by Douglas Burgdorff)
Dee Wallace gives a good performance as a mother trying her best to keep her family from fighting during their Christmas celebration. It is clear she has always had her work cut out for her with her children Ginny (Janis McGavin), Suzy (Sara Bishop), and Jerry (Gerard Odwyer). Ginny and Suzy have seemingly always had a sibling rivalry, and now that they are adults, there is a huge clash of morals between the entire family and Suzy, who is extremely religious, as is her husband Joe (David Collins), who is a preacher. Jerry is the youngest of the siblings and has down syndrome. He is the liveliest of the kids, quick to put a smile on everyone's face, but he would also be the most hurt if his mother's secret ever got out.
A family brought together by death. (Image provided by Artsploitation Films, photo by Douglas Burgdorff)
Some of the cinematography is a bit weird. It feels like cinematographer Douglas James Burgdorff was instructed to keep the lighting interesting. Because of this, many of the scenes are backlit in the hot pinks and neon greens of Christmas decorations, or the deep reds and flashing bright blues of a cop car driving by outside. These colors serve as the only luminescence in multiple shots. Many of the shots are also filmed at strange angles to keep the flow spruced up, and while some viewers may find this annoying, we mostly enjoyed it because it's an obvious attempt to make it feel more artistic and less one-dimensional.
Deck the halls. (Image provided by Artsploitation Films, photo by Douglas Burgdorff)
Overall, "Red Christmas" is a fun and entertaining low-budget horror romp provided you're not easily offended. It's not a movie everyone will love because of its delicate subject matter, but we had a really good time watching it.

"Red Christmas" will be available nationwide October 17th, 2017 on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu and more.
My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 46%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Movie Review: "Clowntergeist" (2017)

Image Courtesy of October Coast
Director: Aaron Mirtes
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

A woman is harassed by a supernatural ghost clown that has given her a countdown to her death. Now, it is up to her and her friends to find a way to beat this entity before it's too late.

We wonder how long it took writer Brad Belemjian and writer/director Aaron Mirtes to come up with the title "Clowntergeist," because however long it took, it was worth it. The main reason we wanted to watch this movie was due to its title. This film seems to expand on Aaron Mirtes' super creepy debut short film "The Clown Statue," which is essentially rehashed in the first death sequence. The story is changed to make the clown antagonist a supernatural entity. Each of its victims receives a red balloon with an exact time and date written on it letting them know when they will die. The use of the red balloon imagery could be seen as an homage to the clown horror film "It," or possibly a ripoff depending on how you look at it. Clowns are creepy enough on their own before bringing the supernatural into them. I outright hate clowns, which is an opinion and fear many people share, which is why they make such damn good villains in horror films.

This is a low budget B-horror movie, so we can be forgiving of an inexperienced cast and/or lower production values. Unfortunately, that isn't the biggest problem with "Clowntergeist." We would have loved to have seen a tense film about a murdering ghost clown, but director Aaron Mirtes resorts to cheap, ineffective jump-scares to startle the audience far too frequently. Moments like these aren't scary, they are just loud, annoying, and expected. We're sure, dear readers, you already have the image of a creepy clown in your head, all Mirtes had to do was capitalize on it properly, but mostly fails to do so. It feels like the writers thought up their overall concept and got lost in how to fully realize it. They wanted to have a clown antagonist killing and harassing people, but the mechanism in how people are chosen and the final reveal of why it all happens is a very weak design. We would have hoped they would have been a little more creative and found a way to build more tension, but it often winds up feeling like a generic slasher flick. Also, there's not enough clown in the first place! There are a few unsettling and gory moments, mostly involving the bloody remains of a family pet. As dog lovers, it certainly grossed us out, but these instances are few and far between.

We had hoped "Clowntergeist" would have been a hidden horror gem that could have built itself to cult status, but unfortunately, it is much too forgettable and not effective enough as a horror movie.
My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: 3.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Movie Review: "Second Nature" (2017)

Image Courtesy of October Coast
Director: Michael Cross
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Amanda and Bret, who are both running for mayor, accidentally make a wish on a magic mirror for the other to understand what it's like to be the opposite gender. The next day, they wake up in a world where societal gender roles are reversed as women now 'act like men' and men now 'act like women.'
Mirror, mirror. (Image Courtesy of October Coast)
What if the world were run by women? Can you imagine what it would be like? There's just one catch: they all have to 'act like men' in order to do it. "Second Nature" is a film that takes the "Freaky Friday" concept and throws a very pertinent, very relevant twist on it. Instead of two people living in the other person's shoes for a period of time, the entirety of society has traded places. Gender roles have been completely flipped on their head. Director Michael Cross imagines the world where men are objectified and judged by their physical appearance alone, where they make less money, and how they are expected to be homemakers. It is an interesting concept with a clear political message meant to raise awareness about how women are treated in our society.
We have a feeling she could get used to this! (Image Courtesy of October Coast)
Collette Wolfe stars as Amanda Maxwell, a real estate agent who throws her hat in the mayoral race against her boss Bret Johnson, played by Sam Huntington. Bret's best claim to fame is clearing the path for a 'Honkers' restaurant to come to town. His main goal as mayor is to make room for some strip clubs and other male frequented establishments. No matter how stupid his ideas seem to be, they are heavily praised and applauded because he is a man. As for Amanda, despite having good ideas and being clearly more qualified, she is regularly patronized and judged for her haircut and sensible choice in clothing rather than being lauded for her ideas. Gee, we wonder if there are any real world parallels being drawn here?!
BUT HER CLOTHING CHOICES!!! (Image Courtesy of October Coast)
The question is, is "Second Nature" successful in conveying its message in a comedic and entertaining fashion? One may question if it is a bit too ham-fisted in using hyperbolic gender stereotypes. The answer may depend on whether or not the viewer is man or a woman. One could take offense that the male attitudes are always portrayed as chauvinistic, womanizing, and crude, or that female attitudes are represented as passive, jealous, and weak. There is a certain implication that says in order to be in power, you have to be able to piss standing up. Maybe we are reading into too much, but there is a literal scene where women are the ones who pee standing at urinals in this alternate universe, so probably not.
Literally peeing while standing. (Image Courtesy of October Coast)
There are some things in "Second Nature" that can be funny, but this at its core, this is just an extended one-gag movie that runs for 80 minutes. Does that make it bad automatically? No way, but the gender reversal is the joke every time over and over. "Look! This lady is swilling beer and ogling a man!" "Look! A man is making breakfast and being jealous about his girlfriend talking to another man!" "Look! A woman is repairing a car! "Look! A man is being sexually assaulted!" "Look! Instead of Honkers, the restaurant is called Peckers!"...Ok, that last one is actually kind of funny. Wolfe and Huntington have good chemistry as opponents in their mayoral race and really in all of life, so watching them have to work together when it is Amanda who is the revered one is actually really fun.
Is there a real Peckers restaurant? Asking for a friend. (Image Courtesy of October Coast)
In the end, one may applaud this movie's attempt to make a point about gender roles in society. Then again, another person could just as easily condemn it for reinforcing the stereotype that the only way to be successful is to act like a chauvinistic alpha bro asshole in order to get a leadership role regardless of whether you have a penis or a vagina. "Second Nature" does manage to garner some laughs, but this isn't really a comedy you need to run out and see as soon as possible.
My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?