Synopsis: When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Thoughts: I’ve been following the reports out of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and Hereditary is a title I’ve seen pop up on more than few must see lists. Now, it’s well-known that not every title that makes it big at Sundance goes on to perform like gangbusters at the global box office (hello, The Birth of a Nation) but I’ve a happily nagging suspicion this horror film from first time director Ari Aster has the goods to go all the way. I’d see Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) in almost anything but am especially excited to see her take on this role; while the actress has been a value-add to anything she lends herself out to, it’s about time she gets another solid hit under her belt. There’s enough creepy goings-on in this trailer to entice but not spoil…and that always intrigues me to see more. It’s not coming out until June but distributor A24 has proven it has excellent timing so I’m confident Hereditary has fallen into worthy hands.
Review: Based on the book Deep Down Dark, narrative journalist Hector Tobar’s weaving together of the firsthand accounts from the men who were there, The 33 is a drama in real life story that has its heart in the right place. The whole world was riveted by the plight of the Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet below the ground by a cave-in for 69 long days. As the country watched, an international rescue team was assembled to devise a way to get to the men before time and food runs out. Anyone that’s picked up a newspaper or watched the news during that time knows how it all ended, but the details were a bit cloudy for me five years later which added to the dramatic tension the movie builds nicely.
I told someone after the movie that I thought it was “mostly good” because for all of the genuine emotion and heroism captured on screen, there was a strange disconnect that comes out of the film being watered down and becoming more traditionally American-ized than it should. I was surprised at how clearly divided into three acts the movie was, with the traditional climax happening about 3/4 of the way through the film. There seemed to be a carefully rendered formula to every new development that presented itself to the men below the surface and the government officials, family members, and rescue crews racing against the clock to save the trapped workers.
I also found myself really wishing that the Chilean film was entirely in Spanish. All of the signs and news report headings were in Spanish yet the actors almost uniformly speak English with a fair to decent accent. Something that always annoys me is when a movie takes the time to subtitle actors speaking in a foreign language only part of the time. Here, a song of hope and pain starts off with an English translation before the subtitles disappear – perhaps it’s a way to provide a bridge between two cultures but it can come off as slightly manipulative with the filmmakers only translating information they want you to know.
Attracting high-profile talent, the film has a wealth of strong performances. Though he’s billed a bit far down in the credits, Lou Diamond Phillips has perhaps the best, most moving arc as a miner who worked his way up to management, knowingly making concessions along the way that comes back to haunt him. Phillips is one of the last people you see in the movie (before it breaks to a roll-call like credits sequence that should leave a lump in your throat) and he makes a significant impression.
Also impressive is Juliette Binoche (Godzilla) who convincingly masters the language (though her French slips in every now and then) as a strong-willed family member of a trapped miner and Antonio Banderas (The Expendables 3) who is better here than in any movie he’s made in over a decade. Rodrigo Santoro (The Last Stand) is notable as a government official with a conscience while James Brolin and Gabriel Byrne pop up for some histrionically dramatic scenes. The Irish Byrne, it must be noted, totally gives up on his Spanish accent well before the movie reaches its conclusion.
The movie covers all the bases and even brings in a few of the more human interest stories that developed while the men were underground. Most notable are the amusing above ground fights between the mistress and the wife of a hapless fellow and the impending birth of a young miners first-born. It’s all handled nicely by director Patrica Riggen set to the late James Horner’s rousing score (it’s nice to see a tribute to Horner at the end, the second film I’ve seen it in after Southpaw)
Not a movie delivered on an epic scale, The 33 is nonetheless a powerful tale of the human condition and the strength to continue on in the face of terrible odds. Worth digging into.
Synopsis: Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.
Release Date: November 13, 2015
Thoughts: Like many, I watched the developing story of the Chilean miners during the course of the 69 days they were trapped underground. A remarkable story of survival, its drama in real life tale seemed like a perfect TV movie of the week fodder. Instead, it’s been given the big screen treatment and The 33 looks to be an impressive account of the ordeal as seen through the eyes of the men trapped and their families awaiting their return. It’s also probably the only time I’ll be able to report that Oscar winning actress Juliette Binoche (Godzilla) took over a role that Jennifer Lopez (What To Expect When You’re Expecting) signed up for.
Synopsis: Rose, a rebellious Guardian-in-training and her best friend, Lissa – a royal vampire Princess – have been on the run when they are captured and returned to St.Vladamirs Academy, the very place where they believe their lives may be in most jeopardy.
Stars: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne, Sarah Hyland, Joely Richardson, Cameron Monaghan, Sami Gayle, Claire Foy, Ashley Charles, Olga Kurylenko
Review: Vampire Academy sucks. It bites. It’s a stake through the heart of YA adaptations capitalizing on the success of franchise films like the Harry Potter series and, to a lesser extent than you might imagine, Twilight. It’s toothless in its construction and bloodless in its execution. Yes, my fangs are bared and my bad puns are all but used up for this cheap looking, badly acted mess that could have gone so right but finds itself oh so very wrong.
With the director of Mean Girls (Mark Waters) and the writer of Heathers (Daniel Waters, yep, they’re brothers) involved I was expecting a nice mash-up of those two films with a little bit of Jawbreaker thrown in for good measure. Sadly, none of the sparks that made those movies a pleasure (guilty or otherwise) exist here so we’re left to wonder what in the hell went askew.
When a film isn’t screened for critics it’s usually never a positive sign but there was something that compelled me to see the film anyway, possibly hoping that this high school fantasy was just not designed for critical consumption. Based on the first novel in Richelle Mead’s popular series, the film follows Rose (Zoey Deutch, daughter of 80’s royalty Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry), two girls bonded together by an age-old prophecy and their (mis)adventures in a prestigious boarding school for vampires.
An early prologue contains so much rote exposition to bring the audience up to speed that I half expected the actors to start saying things like “I’m opening a door. I’m sitting on a bed. I’m looking dazed at the moment”. Filmed in such non-descript locales suggesting the filmmakers secretly filmed in IKEA showrooms, it’s not long before Rose and Lissa are back on the ground of St. Vladimrs Academy and thrust back into a dangerous plot…the one thing Daniels Waters script doesn’t bother to flesh out.
Remember that scene in Showgirls where veteran dancer Cristal Connors asks newbie Nomi Malone to rehearse with her, only to have a cat fight stop rehearsal five seconds in? There are at least three of passages like that here with Rose getting “trained” by the hunky Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) in enough time for the two to engage in badly timed fight choreography that ends with them staring longingly at each other. While Deutch has an Ellen Page vibe about her that’s mildly engaging, Kozlovsky is pretty much just an Aqua di Gio ad come to life.
This lack of personality in its characters is really where the film trips and falls, we can excuse Deutch’s milquetoast line readings for a while but when she’s paired with Fry the tone becomes incredibly deadly. About as appealing as a glass of room temperature milk, Fry is supposed to be a regal princess but her cracking voice and penchant for wearing ankle length skirts gives off more Amish Princess than Vampire Royal. The costume and make-up design is across the board awful and I can’t imagine any of the women in the film were happy that they wound up with rouged cheeks that suggest a playful three year old applied it.
The film earns two whole stars for including two bits of biting dialogue that hints at the direction the film should have gone. Both occur too late in the film to save us from abject misery but in the hands of Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion) and Sarah Hyland they were the most memorable moments of an entirely forgettable film. Never deciding if it wants to be a satiric black comedy or a dewey young adult fantasy, it winds up turning to dust the moment the lights come up.
Laughably (but laudably) ending with the promise of a sequel, this movie should never have happened. Even if the airwaves are chock full of vampire series right now, this would have been much better suited as a weekly television series because the episodic nature would have made more sense. To the big screen the money hungry producers went, though, leaving the film to go the way of other franchise non-starters like Beautiful Creaturesand The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones. Terrible.
Synopsis: Based on author Richelle Mead’s worldwide bestselling series, Vampire Academy tells the legend of two 17-year-old girls who attend a hidden boarding school for Moroi (mortal, peaceful vampires) and Dhampirs (half-vampire/half-human guardians).
Release Date: February 14, 2014
Thoughts: If this adaptation of Richelle Mead’s popular YA novel looks a little bit like Mean Girls meets Heathers with vampire twist, you won’t be too shocked to hear that it’s directed by Mark Waters from a script by Daniel Waters and though the two aren’t related Mark directed Mean Girls and Daniel wrote Heathers. It’s tough to say if audiences will line up for another vampire series so soon after the Twilight saga ended and the cinematic tide has changed to zombie love…but with a sassy bite to it the movie could turn out to be a harmless guilty pleasure.