31 Days to Scare ~ Kristy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a college girl alone on campus over the Thanksgiving break is targeted by a group of outcasts, she must conquer her deepest fears to outwit them and fight back.

Stars: Haley Bennett, Ashley Greene, Lucas Till, Erica Ash, James Ransone, Chris Coy, Mike Seal, Lucius Falick, Matthew St. Patrick

Director: Oliver Blackburn

Rated: NR

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Where to Watch: Netflix

Review: You know how sometimes Netflix will exercise its info gathering muscle by sending you an e-mail letting you know they just added a movie you’d like?  Based on my viewing preferences, I’m always getting a notice about some indie horror flick making its debut on the streaming service.  If I’m honest, most of the suggestions remain that way, sure I may add them at the time but they quickly get pushed further and further down my queue.  For a while there though, they were nicely on target and steered me toward a few winners.  Now it’s my turn to share the wealth.

After suffering through 2012’s The Apparition, I made a pact not to let myself be exposed to another Ashley Greene (Wish I Was Here – another movie I loathed) film.  That particular movie made me so mad I felt justified in holding a grudge against all involved…but when Kristy became the latest suggested title from my good friends over at Netflix I decided to give her another shot.

Feeling very “now” (which means it’ll be dated in several years), Kristy is a thriller heavy on atmosphere resting squarely on the shoulders of its leading lady (Haley Bennett, The Magnificent Seven).  Greene plays the leader of a gang of cyber cultists that hunt and kill random females they dub with the moniker ‘Kristy’.  With no motive to speak of, it’s impossible to look for meaning in their murder-for-sport thrill-kills and the overall brutality to all that stand in their way makes Greene and her crew into fairly nifty villains.  Unfortunately, their latest target is Justine (Bennett, a strong heroine) and she’s not going down without a fight.

It’s the Thanksgiving break and college-student Justine doesn’t have the money to make it home.  Her boyfriend  (Lucas Till, Stoker) and roommate (Erica Ash) have family obligations so aside from a friendly security guard (Matthew St. Patrick) and a solitary maintenance man (James Ransone, Sinister) she’s has the entire campus to herself.  Needing some sustenance for the long weekend, Justine makes a late night convenience store dash where she has a run-in with Greene.  The murder mob follows Justine back to her deserted dormitory and over the course of the evening the bodies pile up in most gruesome ways.  Working from a tight script by Anthony Jaswinski (The Shallows), director Oliver Blackburn keeps the tension high, working the shadowy corridors and security-lit grounds to his advantage.  The campus is wide-open but feels like a prison as Justine scrambles for safety while the four-person posse goes on safari for another ‘Kristy’ to add to their trophy wall.

I look at Kristy now as a nice make-up for me and Greene, because this was one hell of a solid movie that deserved a bigger audience.  Admittedly, I imagine the film plays better at home than it did in whatever limited release it had but this is competent filmmaking surpassing much of the lame big studio fare topping box offices throughout the year.  For the extra brave, I’d suggest watching this one alone late at night in your basement, just for the added thrill of it all.

Movie Review ~ The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Seven gun men in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, Billy Slaughter, Vinnie Jones, Peter Sarsgaard

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I have two things to admit right off the bat. I’ve never seen the original The Magnificent Seven from 1960 or, worse yet, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the movie that inspired both films and countless other knockoff Westerns throughout the years. The second admission is that I’ve been wanting Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Flight) to lighten up a bit already…all of his movies are so serious, so steely, so tortured inside that it has me almost dreading every new film he’s headlining even though he’s one of our great working actors today. While Washington doesn’t quite achieve tranquility during the course of this remake, the actor does show some signs of a sense of humor in between the gunfire and exploding dynamite sticks.

The prologue sets the stage. It’s the 1870s and the town of Rose Creek has a problem whose name is Bartholomew Bogue (a typically ratty Peter Sarsgaard, Lovelace). Determined to buy up all the land in the area for 1/10 of what it’s worth, Bogue has staked his claim on Rose Creek and dares anyone to stand his way. Protected by a crooked town sheriff, Bogue and his army of gunslingers draws a line in the sand for the townsfolk; accept his low offer to purchase their plots of earth or suffer deadly consequences. Before the credits even begin, Bogue has struck down several strong-willed citizens (including an actor listed in the opening credits after he’s been killed) and prepares to return in three weeks to start rounding up and kicking out.

Rose Creek needs a savior, that’s why Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett, The Girl on the Train) offers bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington) all the town has to offer in exchange for his protection. Taking her up on her proposition partly because he empathizes with her and partly to exorcise his own personal demons, he recognizes he can’t go up against Bogue alone and recruits a sextet of men as he makes his way back to Rose Creek. First up is wise talking gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World), as good with a gun as he is with a deck of cards. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) a longtime friend of Chisolm and former army sharpshooter now making a living off of managing the duels of the deadly Billy Rocks (Byung Hun Lee, I Saw the Devil). Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Cake), a Mexican criminal on Chisolm’s wanted list is given a reprieve if he pitches in while Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) makes nice with Chisolm by chowing down on the heart of a freshly killed animal. Finally, we have Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio, Sinister) a soft spoken bear of a man that proves a dangerous person to underestimate.

Look, there’s a formula here and it’s shown to have worked for more than a century. Find someone that needs help, gather a rag-tag group of would-be heroes, and then let them loose in a fiery blaze of glory. It helps The Magnificent Seven that the heroes would likely be the bad guys of another movie but find themselves put to better use doing good. Working together they arm the town and stage some Home Alone-style booby traps that are a, ahem, blast.

At 132 minutes, it’s a long film but I found myself responding to it more than I thought I would. I love a good Western and while this won’t be remembered as any kind of classic I found it engaging and entertaining, two things we’ve had a serious lack of in 2016. It takes it’s time and maybe moseys when it should be sprinting but I didn’t seem to mind it and I think it’s largely due to the cast.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) teams up with Washington for the third time and clearly the two men have worked together enough to develop their own rhythm. Fuqua nudges Washington ever so slightly out of his run of stone-faced champion and gets the actor to feel his inner cowboy. Pratt’s role isn’t quite as challenging, largely being an extension of the good ole boy he’s played before. Hawke, too, turns in a performance that I wasn’t quite expecting. Robicheaux has some ticks and tricks that Hawke takes and runs with…much like D’Onofrio does with his odd, child-like lumberjack of a man. As the lone female, Bennett more than holds her own, stopping just short of going full on Linda Hamilton/Terminator 2 mode as the film reaches its pinnacle.

Pure popcorn entertainment with some great shots of canyons and dust bowls set to a purposeful score by the late James Horner, The Magnificent Seven doesn’t rise to the level of greatness its title implies. Still, there are far worse ways to spend your time at the movies and the cast makes it worth your while.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl on the Train

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Synopsis: Rachel spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds

Release Date:  October 7, 2016

Thoughts: For several years now I find myself thinking at the end of most movies “Emily Blunt should have been in this…Emily Blunt makes everything good.” and it’s an opinion I hold fast to. Luckily, Blunt (Into the Woods) is front and center in this new trailer for the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel The Girl on the Train.  Sure it shares not only an October release date but a plot kinship with 2014’s nice and twisted Gone Girl, but if this first look is any indication (and, I know, it’s not) Blunt could find herself with an Oscar nomination like Rosamund Pike did for Gone Girl.  Plus…I mean, look at the cast: Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Justin Theroux (Wanderlust), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Lisa Kudrow (Neighbors)…just a roster of dependable, stellar talent. October is a great month for mystery and I’m ready for my ticket to ride this Train.