Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mud (Jeff Nichols, 2012)

Writer/director Jeff Nichols began developing a name for himself in 2007 with Shotgun Stories. The family drama took a subtle approach, and stayed away from the standard histrionics that would have plagued a studio film of the same variety. In 2011, he blew away festival audiences with the superbly written and performed Take Shelter, his second collaboration with another up and coming talent, Michael Shannon. This time, the story of a man who seems to be very slowly descending into a mad fear of a storm that will end the world, a storm he's having visions of, was also played with a perfect level of understatement, but able to expand it's scope when necessary. It was intense, disquieting, tender and frightening, at the same time.

Nichols latest film, Mud, has obviously benefited from his previous recognition and success. If in no other way than being able to attract a cast full of recognizable stars who are willing to let the film and story be the thing that are actually front and center, instead of their "charisma"and "star power." Having now made his third film, in certain ways similar to his first two, and in other ways very different, it's safe to say that Jeff Nichols is a first class film maker and storyteller. There is very little that stands out as spectacular about the film, except the film itself and just how incredibly engaging it is able to make a relatively traditional story. If he continues the streak he's on, Nichols may go down as the best pure storyteller of his cinematic generation. He takes what is essentially a kind of variation on Tom Sawyer, in a story about two boys who choose to help a man in what can best be described as a questionable circumstance that when combined with the natural course their lives are already taking, forces them on the beginning of the road to adulthood in a way they could never have seen as possible, and is able to wring every possible piece of texture and humanity out of it. It is, in more ways than not, about the things that become part of who boys are as they become men, and how the people around them and choices they make effect who they become. And it is beautifully understated and without judgement in the way it weaves those elements together.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Lords Of Salem (Rob Zombie, 2013)

 (Note: This review was originally posted at Truly Disturbing Horror.)

Rob Zombie is one of the more singularly divisive figures in modern horror. He inspires frothing anger and gleeful loyalty in equal measure among horror fans worldwide. What ever other criticism can be rightly leveled at him (and he certainly has some significant failings as a film maker), it can't be said that he's someone who is guilty of finding a successful formula and then milking it until audiences are so tired of it that they just can't stand it any more. Every Rob Zombie film is significantly different from the others, with the possible exception of the stable of actors who have now become regulars in his films, including his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie.

The Lords Of Salem is a vastly different film from anything he's done before, and with the possible exception of Ti West's The House Of The Devil, it's a vastly different film from any we've seen in a long time. There are some truly great, iconic moments and images in the film that go far beyond anything his previous films even hinted at. There are elements of the film which could have almost taken it over the line and into greatness. There are also things in the film that don't work and are reminiscent of problems with some of his previous films, but he either got very lucky and came up with a story that allows for him to rely more on his strengths than he has before or the experience he's accumulated through the years allowed him to start developing stories that minimize the parts of film making that he is least successful in. Either way, because of the nature of the story, those failings are evident, but they aren't quite as damaging to the story or to the experience of seeing the film as they have been in some of his other films.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kiss Of The Damned (Xan Cassavetes, 2012)

The vampire craze seems to have no end. The popularity of the sexy undead has probably never been any higher. As soon as someone decides to bring back the old radio dramas with a vampire show, they’ll have conquered just about every conceivable form of media. KISS OF THE DAMNED is the latest cinematic outing for everyone’s favorite nocturnal bloodsuckers. It’s generated favorable buzz on the festival circuit and with the indie horror set.

The marketing campaign for the film has been targeting horror fans though, which might be a bit misleading. If you’re a horror fan who enjoys TRUE BLOOD or Tony Scott’s THE HUNGER, the chances are pretty good KISS OF THE DAMNED is going to be right up your alley. But, if you’re looking for the kind of vicious vamps that populated films like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, this isn’t going to satiate your thirst.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Evil Dead (Fede Alvarez, 2013)

The Evil Dead is a seminal classic in the world of horror cinema. It announced the existence of Sam Raimi to the world, became embroiled in controversy due to what was considered graphic content at the time, and initiated at least two generations of horror fanatics into the idea that a horror film could also be joyously creative. If there's one thing that drives the original film, it's the feeling that Sam Raimi was completely intoxicated by the opportunity to try many of the things that had been lurking in the back of his imagination for years, and not just in the way of gore and gross out, but even in the nuts and bolts of cinematography, sound design and so on. It was a feeling of hysterical glee, as if Raimi himself had been trapped in some unseen dimension for centuries and was finally free to pour all of his creative energy into something. It's two sequels became increasingly goofier and were instilled with more and more of Raimi's love of The 3 Stooges, but the first film is a horror film through and through, and some of the sense of danger that it conveyed was due to the audience being completely unsure of where the madmen behind the camera were going to be willing to take them. It served Raimi and the film well that it had a barely perceptible aroma of sleaze about it as well. It's the kind of film, especially at the time, that upon first viewing, truly left all possibilities open. The audience could not be at all sure they were not going to end up seeing anything they would want to "unsee." Luckily, the film hits hardest in that particular way early on and then abandons it for the rest of the film, relying on tension, creative camera work, the charisma of Bruce Campbell and it's over wound energy to deliver all of the things it does.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The Collection (Marcus Dunstan, 2013)

Marcus Dunstan and his writing partner Patrick Melton came to fame on the now defunct reality show, Project Greenlight. It followed the entire production of a film that would be produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, from the choosing of the script all the way through post production. Dunstan and Melton's script for the film, Feast, was picked up in Greenlight's final season, and hilariously documented through it's creation. But, Feast, was without doubt the most successful of the Project Greenlight films (not to mention being a really fun horror/comedy). Dunstan and Melton then got to try their hand at doing some writing for the horror franchise that was the heavyweight champion of the box office at the time with Saw IV. Dunstan and Melton ultimately helped write the final four films in the Saw franchise.