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The Shape of Water: When Elisa Met The Creature

January 22, 2018

The Shape of Water is what happens when Guillermo del Toro is able to have full creative control and flex his creature design muscles. It is an ode to the monster films of old, and tells one of the most unconventional loves stories I’ve ever seen. I loved that del Toro was able to make a hard R-rated love story that features lots of blood, profanity and cat eating (least favorite part). I loved hearing the audiences reaction in the packed theater because I don’t think they knew they were getting themselves into a hardcore (yet lovely) Guillermo del Toro movie.

An interesting fact about Guillermo del Toro is his films with budgets under $25 million (Cronos, Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) have a Tomatometer average of 92.25%, and his films with higher budgets (Mimic, Blade 2, Hellboy 1 & 2, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) have a Tomatometer average of 71.1%. Both scores are fresh, and it’s obvious that his cheaper art films that he had complete control of would be over 90%. I just like that he is guy who excels when his vision is unencumbered and he can embrace a neat world of beauty, love and the macabre.

The Shape of Water focuses on a mute janitor named Elisa Esposito who works in a secret government laboratory. She is stuck in a boring daily routine (which del Toro does a great job filming) and her only friends are her next door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) Her life changes when a shadowy government agent named Strickland (Michael Shannon – dude is the best) brings in a captured amphibious man (Doug Jones) and locks it in a very convenient water tank. Elisa eventually begins a neat relationship with the creatures that revolves around eggs, music and more eggs.

 

As the trailers show, Elisa is able to rescue the creature from being autopsied with the help of Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and her neighbor Giles. However, due to something involving the rainy season they need to keep the creature holed up for a month in her apartment. The two eventually form a neat bond, and their rendezvous are filmed beautifully and almost make you forget they are a true odd couple. However, their domestic bliss won’t last long because the government and Russians want the creature back, and the always terrifying Michael Shannon is hot on its trail.

The only problem I have revolves a moment that should’ve been whimsical but is instead really rude. During one of their love making sessions Elisa blocks the bathroom door with towels and turns on the sink and bathtub. The water eventually fills up the entire room and two proceed with their beautiful looking tryst. My issue is that the water starts spilling through the door and starts flooding the entire building that Elisa lives in. Earlier in the film we met her nice landlord and we learn that the theater isn’t doing so well. That’s why I hated that in a moment of whimsy she caused a shit ton of property damage via flooding water.

Aside from a couple minor quibbles, The Shape of Water is beautiful film that is rightly up for some major awards. If you are into beautiful set design, fantastic performances and 100% earnest direction you will love every second of this movie. Go see it on the big screen!

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The 10 Best Action Characters of the 2010s

January 20, 2018

The action films of the 2010s have given the world some fantastic new characters, headkicks and new characters being decapitated via a head kick. Between comic book films, the Fast series and Mission Impossible’s resurgence we’ve been blessed with quality action films that go out their way to shock and awe. We’ve been lucky enough to witness the world’s longest runway (Hello Furious 6) and watch Brad Pitt get chased by insanely fast zombies (World War Z).  I think The Raid: Redemption and 13 Assassins are damn near perfect, and I felt like I got a concussion by just watching Brawl in Cell Block 99. Also, between Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road),and Mallory Kane (Haywire) we’ve been blessed with some scene stealing female action heroes.

The following post covers the 10 best action characters of the 00s. They are an odd lot who all have one thing in common. They are awesome!

Eva Green 300

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I love Samuel L. Jackson in Kingsman: The Secret Service and Daniel Bruhl in Captain America: Civil War but they didn’t really get their fingers dirty in action sequences. Sure, they tortured, shot and harassed many but I wanted this list to feature characters who got in the action and wiped some folks out.

I really wanted to add Fast Five’s Gisele (Gal Gadot) and Han (Sung Kang) but their characters originated before 2011. There are many fantastic characters (John Wick, Hobbs, Lucy) who didn’t make the list, but I’m sure they won’t care because they are too busy flexing.

The Rock

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1. Rita Vrataski – Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski was an effortless badass who wasn’t simply a Tom Cruise love interest. She imbued a soul and personality into a character that was stuck in what seems like a very uncomfortable costume. What I love about the performance is that you 100% bought every moment of alien smooshing and Tom Cruise killing. Blunt believably added humor, physicality and stoicism to a character that could have easily been one-note in a lesser actors hands.

Edge of tomorrow

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2. Artemisia – 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

Eva Green owned every second of 300: Rise of an Empire. She straight up went for it and seemed to be having a blast playing Artemesia. I love when actors/actresses own their roles and dive into absurdity with zero self consciousness.  Green gave us a fantastic villain who is way more layered than she had any right to be.

Eva Green

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3. Bradley Thomas – Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Vince Vaughn is an absolute badass in Brawl in Cell Block 99 and I bought every second of his rampage. What I love most about Bradley is how he realizes the situation he is in (it’s bad) and knows what is at stake (his family). I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film and actively thought “I would not want to be hit by that guy.” There are moments that feature Bradley absolutely destroying folks and it feels very human and mythical. Bradley bleeds and gets hurts, but nobody can stop him. You need to watch Brawl in Cell Block 99.

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4. Furiosa – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Imperator Furiosa is a marvel of a creation. In the six months that Charlize Theron spent filming in the African desert she and George Miller created a character for the ages. She is a one-armed badass who has no problem going head to head with a guy called Immortan Joe. She drives a massive war rig, commands respect from her subordinates, battles Mad Max and can shoot a gun like a pro. Charlize Theron is one of my favorite actresses and I loved her in Young Adult, Arrested Development and Mad Max. In movies like Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman she was stuck in the icy villain role. In Max, Furiosa has a warmth to her that goes along with her effortless badass.

What I love most about Theron’s performance was nothing was forced. Sometimes when tasked with playing a post-apocalyptic war rig driver the actor would go over the top with bluster, bitchiness and a weird deep voice. Theron’s Furiosa wears her heart on her sleeve and doesn’t quite know what she is getting into. She is obviously respected by her peers and Immortan Joe respects her enough to send his entire War Boy party after her. Furiosa at times seem close to tears but has no problem skeet shooting the foes that come at her.

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5. Mallory Kane – Haywire (2011)

Haywire is a badass James Bond-esque action film that only Steven Soderbergh could make. Haywire is full of fantastic action that puts Gina Carano’s skills to full use. Her MMA background is used to bone crunching effect in her fight with Channing Tatum. He walks in, complains about being hungover, throws coffee in her face and smashes a coffee cup on her head. From there we get a badass brawl that involves restaurant patrons, coffee pots and a slick armbar. It is fast, violent and doesn’t resort to choppy editing. I love how Soderbergh lets the camera linger as the actors beat the crap out of each other. Soderbergh couldn’t have done this without someone of Carano’s caliber and I appreciated every second of her various battles.

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6. Shinzaemon– 13 Assassins (2010)

If you haven’t watched Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins you need to do it now. It is an insanely violent epic that features 13 Ronin battling an incredibly evil man. What I love about Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is he is putting his life on the line to stop a tyrant. He knows what will happen if the evil lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagsaki) gains further power so he gathers some tough guys and they go to war. 13 Assassins features the best action scene of the 2010s, and you will find yourself rooting for the world weary Shinzaemon as he makes many people bleed.

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7. Gerry – World War Z (2013)

What I love about World War Z is that it doesn’t let you catch your breath for the first two-thirds of the film, then it makes you hold your breath during the conclusion.  Jerry (Brad Pitt) is an ultimate survivor who always keeps moving and throws himself headlong into danger. He knows he can’t stop and while carnage is erupting all over the place he stays cool and survives. Tell me who else could survive an airplane crash, zombie swarms, riots, more zombie swarms and a gross zombie who chomps its teeth like a creeper. Jerry is a badass because he knows how to survive.

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8. Rama – The Raid: Redemption (2011)

Rama is an action god and I love the physicality that Iko Uwais added to the role. He is a nonstop ball of violence who would put the Energizer bunny to shame. What I love about The Raid is that it never stops. It is urgent, bloody, intense and thrilling. Rama is a good dude surrounded by bad dudes, and he beats them all up. The Raid is action perfected.

The Raid fight scenes

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9. Cassian  – John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

You may be scratching you head as to why a guy who was defeated by John Wick would be in the top 10. The reason Cassian made the list is because he is probably the only person who can give the “boogeyman” such a great fight. I loved that Cassian never thought twice about hunting Wick and their battles across the city of Rome were epic. There is something to said for a guy who knows who he is fighting and never thinks to back down. Cassian took it to Wick and proved himself to be an almost equal to the baddest man on the planet. Basically, I love that Cassian trusted his abilities enough to engage in an all out fistfight with an almost supernatural foe.

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10. Alejandro – Sicario (2015)

Benecio Del Toro is the most believable badass since Maximus in Gladiator (2000). I bought everything he did and I was fully on board with his death dealing. He might be the scariest character on the list because he is driven by revenge and has ice water running in his veins. You need to watch Sicario because between Emily Blunt’s unselfishness and Roger Deakins cinematography, it is an almost perfect film.

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30 Days of Night: A Fantastic Vampire Film That Doesn’t Get Old

January 19, 2018

 

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I’ve been a fan of 30 Days of Night since it was released in 2007. I love how it features a solid cast, A+ visuals, and introduces well-dressed vampires who are really mean. When I say the vampires are “mean,” I genuinely mean it because they are nasty f**kers who won’t hesitate to straight up destroy people. Director David Slade (Hard Candy, Hannibal, American Gods, Black Mirror)  imbued 30 Days of Nights with a welcome dose of dread, violence and bird’s eye shots that make death and destruction beautiful to look at. Most importantly, famed horror disliker Roger Ebert had a soft spot for the movie and in his review he quoted a review from Dreadcentral.com that did a fantastic job breaking down the film:

If you are a horror fan, you will love it, and in the interest of equal time for the defense, I close with evocative prose by the critic Tristan Sinns from his five-dagger (out of five) review on DreadCentral.com: ” ’30 Days of Night’ grabs this hoary monster by the throat, pumps it full of the thick rich blood of life, and shoves it out to greet you, eat you and coat you in glorious mists of red firing from oh-so-many newly exposed arterial sprays.”

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If you are curious as to why I am writing a very late review of 30 Days of Night it is because I recently finished up Penny Dreadful (super good) and saw that this movie was now on Netflix. I’ve written about it in the past when it was voted one of the “best horror films that won’t be on any top horror lists,”  and I later included in my “best 21st century horror moments” article. However, I’ve never written about it in-depth and after watching it again, I wanted to dedicate a review to it.

I was initially excited for the film because it was produced under Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) and Rob Tapert’s (more Evil Dead) Ghost House Production company. I will watch pretty much anything Sam Raimi does and I liked David Slade’s Hard Candy, so 30 Days of Night seemed like a slam dunk. However, I wasn’t expecting the film to look so good or feature such extreme bleakness. Cinematographer Jo Willems (Hard Candy, Hunger Games 2-4, American Gods, Limitless, Red Sparrow) did a fantastic job, and his work elevates the proceedings and some of the shot/moments are drearily beautiful..

The bird’s eye view of the carnage is a brutal moment.

30 Days of Night revolves around a gang of well-dressed vampires attacking an Alaskan town that is settling down for a month of darkness.. The blood-suckers are aided by a squirrelly human “The Stranger” (Ben Foster) who goes into town in order to kill the sled dogs, take out the power, and glower like only Ben Foster does. Once all the communications have been shut down, the vampires attack and unleash an insane amount of carnage and blood geysers. The brutal attack doesn’t kill all the townsfolk and a handful of survivors lead by local sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged fire marshal wife Stella (Melissa George) hunker down and attempt to survive the long night. From there, things get very brutal as humans are used as traps, child vampires spill blood, and several people are decapitated.

The biggest issue I have with the film is what happens after the massive vampire attack. I understand that the survivors had to hole up in various locations to make sure they lived through the 30 days of night. After they hunker down the timeline gets a bit wonky and the passing of the time doesn’t feel organic. The downtime grinds the momentum to a halt and focuses on some side characters making  very bad decisions that gets them brutally murdered Also, I agree with a review from Empire’s James Dyer who thinks it could’ve happened in one night because we never get a feel for the 30 days.

An underrated aspect of 30 Days of Night is Josh Hartnett’s performance. Hartnett has been fighting monsters for over 20 years (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, The Faculty, Penny Dreadful) and I totally believed that he could take out feral vampires. My favorite line happens when the lead vampire Marlow (Danny Huston – crushing it) says “The one who fights,” when squaring off with Hartnett at the end. It’s rare when you can actually believe that a character could win a fistfight with a centuries old beast.

I like Melissa George and Josh Hartnett together.

30 Days of Night is a genuinely good horror film that hits above its weight, looks beautiful and delivers the vampire goods. Check it out on Netflix!

 

 

The MFF Podcast #114: Office Horror, Mayhem (2017) & The Belko Experiment (2016)

January 17, 2018

MFF

Download the pod on iTunes, PodBean, Stitcher or
LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.
Please SUBSCRIBE, REVIEWRATE and SHARE.

SUMMARY: This week we discuss the films Mayhem (2017) and The Belko Experiment (2016), and evaluate the fun cheekiness and brutality that divide these two films. We also explore the notion of “office horror” as a subgenre, the alliances and sociology between victims and bad guys, the utility of grand conspiracies as plot devices, and how exactly movie viruses spread.

Fans of this episode (or these films) should check out our reviews of Mayhem (2017; John’s Review, Mark’s Review), The Belko Experiment (2016), and perhaps even The Purge (2013).

For more horror podcast discussions, check out…

Episode 113: Elise, her Demons and the Insidious Franchise
Episode 108: The Best Horror Films of 2017
Episode 78: Carpenter vs Zombie Halloween Rematch (1981 vs 2009)
Episode 76: The Blair Witch Pod (1999-2016)

Download the pod on iTunes, PodBean, Stitcher or
LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.
Please SUBSCRIBE, REVIEWRATE and SHARE.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Yorgos Lanthimos is a Madman, and I Can’t Wait to See What He Does Next

January 17, 2018

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Before I get into the review I really want you to watch a clip from The Lobster. Director Yorgo Lanthimos shot The Lobster before The Killing of a Sacred Deer and I think it will give you a good idea of what his films are about.

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What I love about Lanthimos is how he blends humor with pitch black comedy. You will find yourself laughing at the most insane things imaginable and you really don’t feel bad about it. His dialogue comes across an as an alien language that nobody on the planet would ever speak, yet it feels natural in his films. If you can get into the feel-bad vibe and overall insanity of his films you will find joy in the bleakness.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer revolves around a surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) dealing with an incredibly squirrelly young man named Martin (Barry Keoghan). There is something amiss in their relationship and it’s evident he keeps this kid in his life because of a past wrong he committed. Steven lies about how he met the kid, and tells his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman – awesome) and co-worker Matthew (Bil Camp) differing stories that would never hold up. You can tell that Steven hasn’t thought this through, and doesn’t consider Martin to be dangerous or conniving.   Steven introduces Martin to his family and very weird things start to happen. I’m not going to go into specifics because they are crazy and would wreck the insanity of the plot twists and ending.

Lanthimo’s dialogue is truly odd, but if you can ride it out you begin to understand the flow and appreciate what he is going for (bleak quirk). Also, this film and The Lobster have made me appreciate what a great actor Colin Farrell is. He was fantastic in In Bruges, The New World and Beguiled, but those roles weren’t quite as odd. In this film the dialogue is clipped, stilted and nobody on the planet would sound similar. However, Farrell embraces the odd and finds a way to own the dialogue and direction and have fun with it. If you are going to be in a Lanthimo film you need to trust him and I love how the actors dive in and embrace the art. Here a clip from the film that will help you get a feel for the dialogue.

In the end, I much preferred Dogtooth and The Lobster to The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I missed the dark humor that permeated Lanthimo’s first two films. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy his latest effort, I just agree with Farrell when he calls it the “feel bad movie of the year.” The experience didn’t leave me shook or exhausted, it left me feeling like I enjoyed the film while never wanting to watch it again.

If you are into odd dialogue, dark humor and blood you should watch The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Kill Zone 2 (2015) aka Sha Po Lang 2, Tony Jaa meets his equals in this gritty crime thriller martial arts film.

January 16, 2018

MY CALL:  So much more brutal, exciting and interesting than the first Kill Zone (2005), and featuring multiple excellent martial artists!  MOVIES LIKE Kill Zone 2: Well, this is a sequel… so Kill Zone (2005) along with the far more brutal The Raid: Redemption (2011).

Any else love it when Tony Jaa gets those rambunctious running starts?

Kill Zone (2005) was about revenge—mean revenge.  Now, ten years later director Pou-Soi Cheang (The Monkey King 1-3) escalates the plot to the black market organ trade.  But much as the Fast and Furious sequels expanded their family values and geographic coverage, this sequel accordingly spans Hong Kong to Thailand and includes more family ties than its predecessor and that sense of blood ties urgency is strong here.

Chan Kwok Chung (Simon Yam; Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Ip Man 1-2, Kill Zone) and his nephew Kit (Jing Wu; Wolf Warrior, Kill Zone) get caught up with organ traffickers who run a Thai prison and incarcerate Kit.  Our boss bad guy is in need of a transplant from his unwilling brother.  Chatchai (Tony Jaa; Ong-Bak, The Protector, Furious 7) needs a transplant for his little daughter, and he works with her godfather as guards in the Thai prison.  Oh, and the organ harvesting prison warden Ko Hung (Jin Zhang; Pacific Rim Uprising) is apparently an all-star ninja assassin in a three-piece suit.  With all this going on it should come as no surprise that the plot gets complicated.

Much as I found Kill Zone (2005) to outweigh its martial arts with drama, so follows part 2 for most of the first half of the film.  This had me worried at first.  Both are very gritty mainstream crime movies that are more about the crime-fighting than the kung fu fighting, except part 2 lets the kung fu (and muay thai) shine in the second half.  Instead of just bullet-ravaged bodies in firefights, we have guns disarmed in close-quarters, leading into modernized Asian action: kung fu while wearing suits because they offer such great mobility!

And speaking of martial arts, I felt that Tony Jaa’s acrobatic stunt talents were a bit underutilized, and his combat action and choreography in Furious 7 (2015) felt more “exciting” even if not technically richer or more stunt-heavy.  But let’s be clear.  I really enjoyed the action in this movie.  When the fights fired up, the combat was richer with grappling and stabbings than part 1 (which was more classically techniqued).

Like its atmosphere, the fight scenes mix the style of chaotic street brawls and classic kung fu cinema; even the action photography and editing fit this notion.

The best fights are saved for the end. The tonfa-knife fight in the lobby was great, and the final fight brought together the three best fighters in the film for a long, drawn out, wire-work spectacle during which Jaa appropriately explodes into a whirlwind of knees and skull-cracking elbows.  However, everyone gets their moments (and a LOT of them).  Which brings me to the notion that, much to my surprise, this was not a Tony Jaa movie.  This was a Jaa-Wu-Zhang triple showcase.

I appreciated the more visceral action, the amusing chaos of the prison riot, and the fact more than just one hero and one villain were able to brandish their skilled flare.  In my opinion, way better than part 1 and well worth owning.

Their Finest: Bill Nighy is the Best

January 15, 2018

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Their Finest is a refreshingly nice take on the people who looked to inspire the British populace during World War 2. Based on the 2009 book Their Finest Hour and a Half  is a look into the film making of the 1940s and its obligation to promote the war effort. Screenwriter Gaby Chiappe does a great job of adapting the book and director Lone Schergif (An Education, One Day) works wonders with the way she balances the multiple themes and the large ensemble.

The film revolves around writer Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton – always great) landing a writing job with the Ministry of Information to add a feminine touch to various scripts. She eventually finds herself becoming one of the writers on a film about the “true” story of two sisters who stole their parents boat and attempted to save soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk. The major hurdle is the sisters boat never made it to Dunkirk, so it’s up to her and writers Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin – dude can act) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) to “exaggerate” the truth and inspire the masses.

I loved the scenes featuring the writers figuring out the script because it showed how craftsman took a familiar formula and made it both entertaining and inspiring. The chemistry between the writers is fantastic,  and I can’t think the of last time I was entertained by three people typing. Also, the late addition of an American pilot provides some of the biggest laughs of 2017. Jake Lacy crushes the role of an earnest pilot who has no clue how to act and has to rely on Bill Nighy to teach him.

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Their Finest is an incredibly charming film that blends drama with humor and features another fantastic Bill Nighy (dude is the best) performance. Bill Nighy is one of my favorite actors and I loved his charming portrayal of an older actor who has reservations about playing the comedic “drunk uncle” in a minor role. Watching him spar with Gemma Arterton was a highlight of the year and I’d pay to watch another movie with the two of them reprising their roles. In a perfect world Bill Nighy would’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.

Watch Their Finest and embrace a neat tale of film making

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