The Silver Bullet ~ Hereditary

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.

Movie Review ~ Krampus

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

Stars: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tollman, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Director: Michael Dougherty

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: ‘Tis the season to be merry, not scary, but don’t tell the makers of Krampus that.  In fact, try to put aside your notions of what a “holiday movie” is and hunker down with this chilly chiller that aims to give your yuletide some monster movie madness.  Part Gremlins, part National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Krampus may not be destined for a yearly Christmas watch but it’s still fine entertainment, a more than decent bit of counter-programming to more traditional festive choices.

Popular in Austrain folklore for hundreds of years, the Krampus is a massive goat-like creature that has a fondness for punishing bad boys and girls that are most certainly on Santa’s naughty list.  I’m a little surprised that it’s taken this long for Krampus to headline his own Hollywood film but time has shown that Christmas is one holiday that movie audiences don’t like to see sullied with blood and gore (unless it’s in a “respectable” Scorsese or Coppola picture).

Released so soon after Black Friday, the opening credits of Krampus elicit some knowing chuckles playing over a slo-mo scene of chaos with customers at MegaMart pushing each other down and climbing over employees to get the best deals. Overzealous deal seekers are tasered and beaten as ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ sweetly plays in the background.  This opening tells you exactly what kind of movie you’re watching and helps set the tone for what’s to come.

Pre-teen Max (Emjay Anthony, The Jungle Book) just wants Christmas to be the way it was when he was younger, when his family spent more time together and everyone still believed in Santa Claus (ooops, spoiler alert?).  Nowadays, his sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) has better things to do and his parents (Adam Scott, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Toni Collette, The Way Way Back) have lost some of their spark.  With the arrival of his timid aunt (Allison Tollman) and obnoxious uncle (equally obnoxious David Koechner, Hit and Run), their brood of heinous hellions, and a boozy grump of an aunt (Conchata Ferrell, Erin Brockovich), things go from bad to worse when Max inadvertently conjures up our titular monster.  Arriving with a bitter snowstorm and a host of creepy creatures to do most of his dirty work, Krampus stalks the snowbound family now holed up in their house without power or heat.

Director Michael Dougherty made a slick little Halloween horror film in 2007 called Trick ‘r Treat, an anthology film heavy on atmosphere that’s earned a cult following over the years.  He works a similar magic with Krampus, turning a hectic Christmas family gathering into a fight for survival as one by one the relatives meet grim, yet not overly gruesome, ends.

Working within the confines of a PG-13 rating without pandering, the movie is low on grotesque gore, opting instead to focus its efforts on several nicely spooky sequences that mix impressive CGI seamlessly with practical effects. There’s even a clever nod to television holiday specials with an animated sequence accompanying Max’s Austrian grandmother’s (Krista Stadler) recounting her previous run-in with Krampus when she was a young girl.  Horror fans with a bloodlust should look elsewhere because there’s little to be found here.

Over time audiences have soundly rejected horror films like Silent Night, Deadly Night that set out to make Santa and the holiday itself something to fear.  That’s not the case with Krampus.  Dougherty actually is celebrating the time of year and lamenting the loss of tradition that heavy commercialism has been chipping away at.  There’s a good moral to the story and though it starts off tentative and takes a while to get going, it has a terrific final act.  At times I wanted the film to be more than it was, maybe a little scarier, maybe a little less on-the-nose in its observances…but it’s a pleasing diversion that tickles as much as it terrifies.

The Silver Bullet ~ Krampus

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Synopsis: A demon seeks out naughty people to punish them at Christmas time.

Release Date: December 4, 2015

Thoughts: In 2007, writer/director Michael Dougherty crafted a splendid little anthology film, Trick ‘r Treat, that quickly attained a cult status among horror aficionados.  It had a fair share of scares but even better it had something that’s missing from most fright flicks…atmosphere.  A sequel to Trick ‘r Treat is in the works but Dougherty fans won’t have to wait long for his next jolt joint because clearly he’s still in the holiday spirit with December’s Krampus.

Using the anti-St. Nick figure popularized in Austrian culture as inspiration, the film centers on a dysfunctional family that gathers for the holidays pitted against a horned beast intent on keeping things not so merry and bright.  Dougherty has a wicked sense of humor and with wise-acre comedians Adam Scott (The Overnight) and David Koechner (Hit and Run) on board I can kind of see where this one will land on the comedy vs horror scale.  Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) also pops up, lending a little dramatic credibility.  It looks like good scary fun that I hope won’t veer too far into campy territory.

The Silver Bullet ~ Miss You Already

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Synopsis: The friendship between two life-long girlfriends is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

Release Date: TBD 2015

Thoughts: I love the movie Beaches.  There, it’s out there for all to read.  Yep, it’s one of those “chick flicks” that require a box of Kleenex and a god hug from someone you love when it’s over…but it does the trick time and time again.  I mention this because having seen the trailer for Miss You Already several times now I keep thinking how much this feels like a Beaches for a new generation.  Toni Collette (Tammy) is the friend that seems to be dying with dignity while Drew Barrymore (Blended) takes on the supportive chum that dries her tears.  Hopefully director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) can throw a few curveballs our way because while this looks like it could be fitfully entertaining, it also gives off a whiff of an also-ran affair.  Maybe it’s just that Barrymore seems so out of place here (no shocker since she got the role after both Jennifer Aniston and Rachel Weisz bowed out) but it’s Collette that will get my butt in the seat.

Movie Review ~ The Boxtrolls

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.

Stars: Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg

Director: Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’ve been a fan of the last two films from Laika Entertainment, the stop-motion animation studio based in, of all places, Oregon. With Coraline and ParaNorman, the company showed that they weren’t afraid to craft a children’s film out of dark subjects and seemed to gleefully bask in their penchant for the ghoulish. It’s true that Coraline and ParaNorman have their intense moments as well as providing a way for parents to perhaps begin more sensitive discussions with their children about life and death.

Laika’s newest film is the Oscar nominated The Boxtrolls, based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow and it finds the company coasting rather than accelerating as they tell another fractured fairy-tale filled with oddball creations. While the film is entertaining in spurts, I found my mind wandering more than it should – even in the most desolate of rehashed children’s tales I can normally find something to latch onto but I found my grip never fit with what Laika’s team was offering.

Featuring the voices of such trusted players like Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), Elle Fanning (Maleficent), Toni Collette (The Way Way Back), Jared Harris (Pompeii), and Tracy Morgan (Rio 2), The Boxtrolls is centered on an orphan boy raised by trolls in a town prized for its taste in cheese. When a mean ole exterminator desperate to break into the upper crust makes a deal to rid the city of the troll vermin in exchange for entrance into high (blue) cheese society, it’s up to the young lad and his precocious gal pal to save the say.

Stuffed to the gills with wondrous stop-motion imagery, the film fills you up pretty fast in the visual department and at times it all becomes a troublesome blur. Where Laika’s previous efforts felt like a good mixture of style and substance, at 96 minutes The Boxtrolls seem to stay with us a little too long. No question that the film offers better entertainment than the majority of similar films aimed at families, but I wanted to be enchanted more than impressed.

Movie Review ~ Tammy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh

Director: Ben Falcone

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (0/10)

Review: There’s a special place in cinema hell for movies like Tammy. Movies so bad, so rancidly unfunny that shelf space has been reserved for them in the fiery pit right next to most Adam Sandler films, Xanadu, Exit to Eden, Cool as Ice, This is 40, and Nacho Libre. What earns Tammy higher honors than most is how it squanders every single thing it has going for it: a popular (if fatally misused) lead, a stellar cast of gifted comedy veterans and/or Oscar winners, and a prime summer spot from a top studio. Yet it’s all for naught as the movie starts off bad and only gets worse over the next punishing 90 minutes.

It’s way past April Fool’s Day but go ahead and send your worst enemy to see Tammy anyway, preferably at an evening show where they’ll shell out nearly $20 to suffer through the unbalanced comedic misery. For you see, Tammy is the awful gift that keeps on giving; never once taking into consideration that it has no laughs, no likable characters, and is as unpleasant as a Silkwood shower after a bad sunburn.

The movie is downright uncomfortable from the get go as it opens on an unkempt Melissa McCarthy driving to work while stuffing potato chips into her mouth and then running over a deer that she then tries to resuscitate. Bloody and covered in animal mess, Tammy eventually shows up to work where her boss (Ben Falcone, Enough Said, McCarthy’s true partner in film crime seeing that he’s not only her husband but the co-writer and director) promptly fires her. Before you can say “It can’t get worse, can it?” it does when Tammy arrives home to find her husband (Nat Faxon, The Way Way Back) having a romantic dinner with a neighbor (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding). Faxon and Collette’s few scenes are so under rehearsed and awkward that my only conclusion is that they must have been visiting the set for the day and did this under duress or as a favor.

With no job and no husband, Tammy walks a few paces down the block to her parents’ house where she has a brief encounter with her unsympathetic mom (Allison Janney, Bad Words, only 11 years older than McCarthy) before heading off on a sorta road trip with her boozy grandmother (Susan Sarandon, Cloud Atlas, 13 years older than Janney). Sarandon was a last minute replacement for Shirley MacLaine and evidently no one bothered to redesign any costumes or wigs because Sarandon looks positively awful…and younger than Janney. With no old age make-up to be seen and the kind of grey mop of a crazy cat lady wig usually reserved for a haunted house, Sarandon may be the least convincing old person ever seen on screen. The Oscar winner is usually pretty game for anything but McCarthy and Falcone’s script is so unfocused that she’s never afforded the opportunity to really make something of her aging alcoholic granny.

No, instead of trying to instill some life into the tired old road trip formula, McCarthy and Falcone manage to find new ways to make traveling cross country boring as hell. The problem is that McCarthy keeps attempting to beat everyone to a certain punchline…and in doing so winds up making it worse for herself. Instead of this being the kind of R-rated female-driven raunch fest that’s made a comeback in the last several years, it’s a painfully dull series of scenes featuring McCarthy’s buffoonish and grating style of comedy. Where is the winning sincerity that made her an overnight star (and an unlikely but deserving Oscar nominee) in Bridesmaids? Instead of continuing on that route of using her comedic skills for good, she’s been wasting her gifts in garbage like Identity Thief, The Heat, and cameos (This is 40, The Hangover Part III) meant to be funny that come off as irritating.

Everything about McCarthy’s performance seems familiar…mostly because it’s just a rehash of the simpleton characters she’s played onscreen and in increasingly slack appearances as host of Saturday Night Live. There was a time when I thought McCarthy had it all in the bag, but it’s becoming crystal clear that she’s a comic with limited longevity even though her off screen persona suggests someone you want to have an 80s style sleepover with. McCarthy (and the audience) deserves better than this…but as the co-writer and producer of Tammy she can’t blame anyone but herself.

The one redeeming piece of Tammy is a heart to heart scene between McCarthy and Kathy Bates (Titanic, playing a wise old lesbian) that, though remarkably genuine, comes too late in the game to change my overall feeling toward the picture. The scene offered a glimmer of the poignant comedy I think McCarthy may have at one time been aiming for but it’s gone in a flash in favor of more inane dialogue and slapdash film-making.

Truly terrible, Tammy is another nail in McCarthy’s career coffin she appears to be more than happy to be lying in. It’s the kind of film where you sink lower and lower in your seat the more banal it becomes. The audience I saw the film with started off laughing heartily but soon trailed off into sparse uncomfortable titters as everyone became aware just how rotten it all was. I can’t imagine I’ll see a worse film in 2014 and think that anyone that makes it to the end deserves some sort of certificate of achievement. Avoid at all possible costs (but do take my advice and send your nemesis to a midnight screening).

The Silver Bullet ~ Tammy

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Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Release Date:  July 2, 2014

Thoughts: Ok…let me just say something that no one seems really willing to say: Melissa McCarthy has not delivered on the promise put forth in her rightfully praised breakthrough (and Oscar nominated) performance in Bridesmaids.  She just hasn’t.  She hasn’t.  You can disagree all you want but having watched McCarthy rehash the same character in films like Identity Thief, This is 40, The Hangover Part III, and The Heat not to mention her last severely awful hosting gig at Saturday Night Live I’m just not on her bandwagon anymore.  Like The Heat, this first trailer for Tammy has zero laughs, finding McCarthy pulling the same shtick we’ve seen her do countless times.  That’s depressing considering the impressive roster of actors involved with the movie like Susan Sarandon (Jeff, Who Lives at Home), Dan Aykroyd (This is My Life), Kathy Bates (Titanic: 3D), and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back).  I’m actually dreading this movie.

Movie Review ~ Enough Said

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Eve Hewson, Tavi Gevinson, Tracey Fairaway

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 99 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Are you as weary as I am with the slate of romantic comedies that have been released in the last several years?  If so then Enough Said may be the movie that could cure your blues.  A wise film for mature adults made by mature adults, this is a sweetly winning romantic comedy that goes against some of your typical Hollywood norms.  The leads aren’t your traditional bankable hot/buff stars likely to be featured on the cover of US Weekly the same week their film opens in the #1 spot at the box office, nor are they especially bankable…certain death when it comes to major movie studios.

Director Nicole Holofcener knows her way around awkwardly real situations and displays again here what she does best: showing real life people in real life situations reacting believably.  So the result is a film that feels very naturalistic and true to the predicaments we find ourselves in…especially where romance is involved.

I always find it odd that Julia Louis-Drefyus hasn’t become a bigger movie star…then again perhaps her sly talent for wry comedy is perhaps better suited for the small screen where actors can get away with her brand of sharply observed comedic beats.  Movies don’t often give comedic actresses the chance to display the kind of range that Louis-Dreyfus gets to take on here, especially those that are primarily known for their television work.

Even more of a surprise is the late James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty) in his first lead in a romantic film.  Showing teddy bear-ish warmth and sensitivity that’s a far cry from the gruff mob men that made him such an in demand character actor, he fits right into the sweatpants of the character Holofcener has written.  It’s a shame that it took so long for Gandolifni to get a role like this because he’s really quite good, effectively navigating some emotions that until now had gone undocumented on the big or small screens.  The chemistry displayed between Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus is strong, and even better its believable unlike so many movies (like the recent Thanks For Sharing) that can’t muster up the same in their interactions between characters.

The supporting cast is also uniformly strong, if a bit tangential to the overall arc of the film.  Catherine Keener (Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding) is her usual acerbic self as a new friend to Louis-Dreyfus and the ex-wife of Gandolfini.  It’s nice to see her playing a woman that comes across as a self-centered bitch but who we gradually come to see is just hopelessly lonely and desperate for attention.  Toni Collette (The Way Way Back, Muriel’s Wedding) and Ben Falcone (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) pop up as friends of Louis-Dreyfus with marital issues of their own.

All the characters are really just swimming around in the same universe as Louis-Dreyfus because it’s really her movie.  What I liked so much about the film and what others may find frustrating is that there’s not a lot of follow through or wrap up when it comes to these secondary characters.  Even the central plot involving Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini isn’t fully completed by the final reel…but that’s the beauty of what Holofcener achieves in her films.  She allows us to peek in on the lives of people to see what makes them tick…we don’t’ necessarily need to know where they came from or where they’re going but instead she wants us to focus on the here and now.  As in life, some things come to their own natural conclusions while other events need a little time to sink in before they can find resolution.

With two strong lead performances and a general bucking of the status-quo for these types of films, Enough Said is a nice breath of fresh air…and another winning film from the observant eye/mind of Nicole Holofcener.

The Silver Bullet ~ Enough Said

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Synopsis: A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts:  The sudden death of James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty) in June is something that many fans can’t quite wrap their heads around quite yet.  Gandolfini’s tough guy persona kept him from getting roles with a softer edge…which is why Enough Said has caught my eye.  It’s not just because it stars the invaluable (and undervalued) Julia Louis-Dreyfus and features Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Way, Way Back) in a supporting role but because it’s Gandolfini’s last film…and it’s a mature romantic comedy. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has been delivering solidly for nearly two decades yet while she’s popular in the indie film niche she’s yet to truly break into mainstream fare.  Enough Said is probably too small of a film to help make that leap but the public’s love for Gandolfini will get more than the usual amount of people to check this one out…myself included.

Movie Review ~ The Way, Way Back

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with a manager at a local water park.

Stars: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: In the days and weeks since I caught a screening of The Way, Way Back I’ve taken in quite a few other films across the cinematic spectrum.  At the end of each film there was only one movie in my mind and it was The Way, Way Back.  While I tend to refrain from overselling a film (lest I lead my readers astray) when you have a picture of this quality you have to stand up and shout it out.

With all the reading I do on film and upcoming projects, this was a film I kept hearing good things about after a successful screening at the Sundance Film Festival.  When the trailer was released I was surprised at how much interesting material was packed in and that after all was said and done I still wanted to see more.  As a huge fan of 2011’s The Descendants, I was particularly curious to see what its Oscar winning screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash would devise for their follow-up to that quirky dramedy that packed a huge emotional punch.

For a film that could be seen as a mish-mash of genres from Meatballs-style summer shenanigans to family drama to coming of age heartbreak The Way, Way Back is for the most part quite focused.  That’s thanks in large part to the Faxon/Rash script that seems nicely trimmed of any excess fat and provides some wonderfully diverse actors to play against type in a manner that doesn’t seem forced.

We all know that Steve Carell can float between comedy (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) and drama (Dan in Real Life) but what he shows us here is that he can believably play a hard-edged two face with little to no redemptive features.   We see this right away when he quizzes the shy son (Liam James) of his girlfriend (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding) to see how he’d rate himself on a scale of 1-10.  Prodding the teen to give an answer while the mom and Carell’s own teenager daughter doze in the car ride to their summer beach retreat, he gets the boy to give a response and then skillfully tears him down.

Arriving in a coastal Martha’s Vineyard-esque hamlet, the car isn’t even unpacked when boozy neighbor Allison Janney (…first do no harm) bursts out of her house to welcome the blended semi-family.  Janney should be nicknamed Old Reliable because she never fails in creating a memorable scene-stealer and this is no different.  If anything, Janney hopefully will get some major award recognition at the end of the year for a nuanced take on the stereotypical lush who can’t keep her opinions to herself.

As the boy silently skulks through the first few days where Carell continues to brow beat him in a way that no one seems to catch on to, he finally wanders into a local water park and meets the head lifeguard (Sam Rockwell, Iron Man 2) who winds up taking the boy under his wing.  Clearly starved for attention, the relationship that builds between Rockwell and James is sweetly winning because it comes with no strings or artifice.  Rockwell’s character may be a jokester but he can spot that this kid needs a friend and provides that for him – as well as opening his eyes to the fact that life is what you make of it not what someone tells you it should be.

Also co-directing, Faxon and Rash cast themselves in small roles that fit their personas and don’t seem like they are taking advantage of their power (I’m looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan).  Rounding out the cast are fine turns by Maya Rudolph as Rockwell’s superior that does her fair share of eye rolling, Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry (Warm Bodies, Pain & Gain) as friends of Carell, and AnnaSophia Robb as Janney’s daughter who catches the eye of our young lead.  Collette is, as ever, completely winning even though it’s frustrating to see how long she turns a blind eye to Carell’s attitude toward her son.

The film, though, belongs to Rockwell (fingers crossed an Oscar nomination is in store for him) and James as they navigate a summer filled with the right amount of fun in the sun, conversations about acceptance that ring true, and personal journeys that carry these characters upward and onward.  By the time the film reaches its conclusion it has won the audiences affection and wraps things up with a powerful final image that tells us everything we need to know about what happens next.

More than any movie in recent memory, I was sad to see The Way, Way Back come to an end.  These are characters I think many of us can identify with because as the film tagline deftly illustrates, “We’ve all been there.”  Yes, we’ve all been there and hopefully most of us have found our way back.