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The White Tiger: A Thrilling Drama That Features a Star-Making Performance From Adarsh Gourav

January 21, 2021

Grade – A – The White Tiger is a thrilling drama that features a star-making performance by Adarsh Gourav.

Adapted from Aravind Adiga’s 2008 New York Times bestselling novel of the same name, The White Tiger is a thrilling drama that tells the story of the rise of Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a man determined to become his own master. Directed/written/produced by Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes, Chop Shop), The White Tiger feels like a drama mixed with a crime story, and then formed a darkly humorous and vibrant comedy. While many will be familiar with the rise to fame framework, they hopefully will be surprised by the confident storytelling that features many memorable moments featuring Johnnie Walker, driving, and entertaining narration. 

The White Tiger begins by introducing us to Balram, a sharp kid who lives in a rural village in India. He steps up when others don’t, goes out of his way to learn English, and picks up on every conversation he hears at the teashop he works at. One day, when he learns that Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), the son of a local landlord has returned from America, and he and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) will need a driver. Balram borrows money from his grandmother to get driving lessons, and he becomes Ashran’s personal driver. After several months as the families number two driver, Balram takes advantage of a (don’t want to spoil it) situation, and becomes the families main driver. From there, the group moves to New Delhi, and Balram’s life becomes much more interesting. 

Hopefully, when the year-end awards roll around, people will see Adarsh Gourav’s name on some lists. His performance is wonderful, and he’s able to pull off wide-eyed optimism, crushing depression and calculated ambition within one scene. He’s super watchable, which is important because almost every frame is focused on him. You will find yourself rooting for the guy as he watches, learns and plans his way to the top. Also, I’m not going to spoil anything, but, don’t expect Goodfellas or City of God rags-to-riches shenanigans that end with a gut-punch finale. While Balram’s journey isn’t wholly admirable, it also isn’t dragged into a 45-minute trek into self-created hell. 

The White Tiger is a thrilling drama that feels refreshing and fresh. The cinematography Paolo Carnera (Gomorrah, ZeroZeroZero) creates an interesting atmosphere of centered shots and strategic framing (that showcase how close the rich and poor are in cities), that give the film a welcome dose of prestige. If you are looking for a movie that features excellent acting, direction and cinematography, I totally recommend you check it out The White Tiger on Netflix.

John’s Horror Corner: Dead in the Water (2018), a serviceable SyFy original creature feature at sea.

January 21, 2021

MY CALL: Although far from great, this was a pleasantly surprising SyFy original TV movie. The acting and creature effects were more than sufficient to entertain me through this otherwise very familiar story. MORE MOVIES LIKE Dead in the Water: Well, first off, Sea Fever (2019) did it better. Looking for much better horror at sea? Try Uninvited (1988), Deep Rising (1998), Virus (1999), Ghost Ship (2002) or Harbinger Down (2015) for above water horrors; Underwater (2020), The Rift (1990), Deepstar Six (1989), Leviathan (1989) and, although all Sci-fi and no horror, I’d still strongly recommend The Abyss (1989) for submerged horrors; and Cold Skin (2017) or The Bay (2012) for horror with a view of the water. I’d completely skip Death Ship (1980) and Blood Vessel (2019), although there are fans out there who praise their atmosphere (and I’m not one of them).

Right away we’re reminded of the SyFy original-ness of this movie by the shots of CGI ocean, CGI ships and CGI ship propellers. There’s a lot of CGI, and it’s not good quality. Get used to it.

The all-female crew of a ship 600 miles from shore rescues a stranger (Brandon Auret; District 9, Elysium, Chappie) from the icy waters only to have him turn on them in a violent paranoid episode. After killing him, examination reveals strange markings on his body indicating some sort of disease.

THE CREW: Dana (Nikohl Boosheri; Altered Carbon), Kat (Nicole Fortuin), Gwen (Bianca Simone Mannie; The Watch), Rusty (Skye Russell), Erika (Tanya van Graan; Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, Raised by Wolves, Starship Troopers 3, Death Race 2-3, Critters Attack!), Sparks (Christia Visser; Planet of the Sharks), Michelle (Amy Louise Wilson; Troy: Fall of a City)

Meeting the characters is nothing special, the writing is pretty basic. But the acting isn’t so bad. The real enemy of this movie is the initially sluggish pacing. But once we hit the autopsy scene… that’s the turning point of the movie (from boring to fun). It may not have come close to capturing the gravity of such iconic scenes from Alien (1979) or The Thing (1982). But the autopsy was gross, uncomfortable, and cultivated good tension building up to a somewhat predictable (but still satisfying) reveal: the creature inside the stranger!

From there we follow familiar beats from Sea Fever (2019) via The Thing (1982)… the distrust among possible infected crew members, the infection is spreading, learning more about the nature of the creature, and realizing this cannot reach the mainland! The squid-ish life leech reminds me of the early stages of the alien in Life (2017) in terms of movement, resilience and behavior.

The special effects were decent enough. The infected individuals were gross with writhing worms in the face and the rubber monster and its long tentacles were well-done for a TV movie.

Director Sheldon Wilson (Stickman, Screamers: The Hunting, The Hollow) is no stranger to direct-to-DVD filmmaking, and I think he did a good job here for the budget and script he was dealt. I was really pleasantly surprised by this SyFy original movie. Way more entertaining than expected and the monster was kinda’ cool.

John’s Horror Corner: Sputnik (2020), a thoughtful, tense, atmospheric Russian Sci-Horror creature feature.

January 21, 2021

MY CALL: This is top-notch science fiction, complete with horror like action and a fantastic monster, and gift-wrapped in an atmospheric thriller. Huge recommendation. I loved this! MORE MOVIES LIKE Sputnik: The best double-feature suggestion I have for this would be Life (2017). Distantly related, much less pithy, and more to the tune of grimy 80s Sci-Horror are such movies Moontrap (1989) and The Dark Side of the Moon (1990).

Set in Soviet Kazakhstan 1983, this film’s opening very much has the vibe of the ending of Life (2017), only much calmer, as a two-man re-entry pod returns from Earth’s orbit with one survivor. We learn our astronaut survivor Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov; The Blackout, Dead Mountain: The Dyatlov Pass Incident) has amnesia after an incident occurred in space prior to his landing, much as in Species 2 (1998). Doctor Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina; The Bourne Supremacy) is recruited to examine him and safely separate the internal alien passenger from its human host.

Director Egor Abramenko’s first feature film is crafted with high proficiency. The photography, cinematography and editing are solid, boasting some great shots of outer space and slow tense panning shots of the ship interior. Even considering the more basic military installment sets and drab palette, this movie looks great! I’m especially impressed with the dialogue. The writing is thoughtful and mature, free of exposition dumps, lean and natural. I don’t speak Russian, but the acting felt great. Most enjoyable for me was how frequently we find the DNA of other celebrated Sci-Horror films peppered into this while still feeling wholly original.

The alien creature’s emergence smacks of The Hidden (1987), but its appearance and behavior feel closer to Life (2017) and Prometheus (2012). Meanwhile, its host (Konstantin) has no idea why he is held against his will and studied in a military research facility, much as in The Fly II (1989); nor does Tatyana know the military’s motives. Some story components even feel like faint echoes from Aliens (1986). All familiar components, but all delivered fresh and in packaging we haven’t before seen.

Learning about the alien’s behavior is an interesting process—I love it. It unfurls in mystery as much as action. And for that, this film thrives as much on its drama and suspense as it does its science fiction. I came in expecting a wild monster movie. But this has proven to be a much richer, deeper story. At times this feels as much a pithy crime or medical thriller as it does Sci-Fi.

I LOVE this movie. The story and characters are great! The alien creature is highly impactful and nuanced, from its movement patterns to its biology. Likewise, Konstantin and Tatyana slowly unveil their own history and secrets as so unfold the true nature of the alien parasite.

Endings to movies like this are hard to please. This ending I thought was slightly disappointing yet still highly satisfying in different ways. Overall, the ending suited the movie very well. Solid film! I give my highest recommendation to Sci-Fi fans as well as Sci-Horror fans.

Our Friend: A First-Rate Drama That Explores Friendship, Grief and Loss

January 20, 2021

Grade – A – Our Friend is a heartfelt film that features excellent performances, solid direction, and a lot of heart. The dramatization of its source material has turned several critics off, but I really appreciate the emotion and drama.

Based on “The Friend,” a 2015 Esquire article by Matthew Teague, Our Friend tells the story of a man named Dane (Jason Segel) being a very good friend, to his friends Nicole (Dakota Johnson) and Matt Teague (Casey Affleck). Spanning 15+ years, Our Friend uses nonlinear storytelling to tell the story of two evolving relationships that go through ups, downs, and more of both. The first relationship is between Nicole and Matt, who meet in New Orleans, get married, have two kids, and move to a suburb in Alabama. The other relationship is the friendship between Nicole and Matt, and their friend Dane, who manages a sporting goods store in New Orleans, and comes to their aide (for several years) when Nicole is diagnosed with cancer.

What makes Our Friend work so well is how it explores friendship, grief, and loss in a mature and intimate manner. Director Gabriella Cowperthwaite (Megan Leavey, Blackfish – excellent documentary) and writer Brad Ingelsby (The Way Back, Out of the Furnace) do a commendable job of letting intimate moments breath, which allows the experienced cast to shine. Our Friend is loaded with “small” personal moments which feel refreshing and give the characters room to become three-dimensional people who have flaws, imperfections and eccentricities. I love how Cowperthwaite includes character-developing hiking trips, and intimate moments on porch swings, that make us like and understand the characters more. Also, kudos to cinematographer Joe Anderson (The Old Man and the Gun) for creating an interesting visual palette that utilizes symmetry, wide-angle lenses and door frames expertly.

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck are reliably solid as the married couple in need of help, and their performances are layered and likable throughout. The standout performance belongs to Jason Segel, who imbues his character with a believable dose of ennui, enthusiasm and melancholy. Several reviews have labeled his character as a “loser,” (which is super lazy), this is incorrect as Dane is clearly suffering from depression, and struggles with constant self-doubt. The highlight of the film comes when Dane goes on a long hiking trek in the middle of nowhere, and has an interaction with a fellow hiker named Teresa (Gwendoline Christie), who sees through his façade, and helps him through his current doubt of sadness (it’s really neat).

If you’re in the mood for a solid drama that features excellent performances, it doesn’t get any better than Our Friend.

John’s Horror Corner: The Black Cat (1981; Gatto nero), Lucio Fulci’s reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story.

January 20, 2021

MY CALL: A retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s story in a very wacky “Fulcian” manner. Entertaining for fans of 80s Italian horror—but it doesn’t even make it into my “Top 2” Black Cat movie adaptations. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Black Cat: Fans of Fulcian gore may continue with City of the Living Dead (1980; aka Paura nella città dei morti viventi, The Gates of Hell), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981), which form Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy; and then Zombie (1979) and Demonia (1990). For more movies of The Black Cat, go for The Black Cat (1989; Il gatto nero), Two Evil Eyes (1990) and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990).

We open with an introduction to a cat, a lot of cat POV shots, and a curious car accident death scene. But this Italian classic reaches far beyond mere superstition. This cat very quickly feels a lot like Michael Myers stalking twentysomethings and interrupting their sex scene by cutting the electricity.

A creepy professor (Patrick Magee; Tales from the Crypt, Asylum) skulks about the cemetery and speaks to the dead, summarily creeping out the locals. The professor and his murderous black cat have a dark dependency on one another—and a psychic connection. He claims the cat will one day kill him, and he seems strangely at peace with this notion.

The over-the-top Italian-ness is prevalent. People foam at the mouth for no other reason than to inform us they’re dying, a man sprints from his food truck around a lake to murder a total stranger (no clue why!!!), and bodies are discovered bloated and half-eaten by rats. When the town drunk turns up dead in a freak accident, the remaining cat claw marks on his hand identify the true cause of his death.

The strange deaths continue and the professor knows… it was the cat! And soon a local photographer (Mimsy Farmer; Autopsy, Body Count) becomes a firm believer in the evil of the cat. But no one wants to entertain theories about murders committed by cats.

There is a satisfying twist to the story, but the finale’s surrounding execution just wasn’t there. Teleporting cats and needlessly long attacks by bats-on-strings just don’t cut it for me anymore. But despite the “meh” ending, this was alright; certainly entertaining even if not something I’d recommend. Two Evil Eyes (1990) did a more satisfying job of it, whereas Tales from the Darkside: The Movie’s (1990) take on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat is untouchable in its greatness. So Fulci doesn’t even earn a spot in my “Top 2” Black Cat movie adaptations.

John’s Horror Corner: The Beach House (2019), a taste of cosmic horror and oceanside wildlife.

January 19, 2021

MY CALL: Among cosmic horror films, this movie does a lot with a little. The budget cannot carry the effects we’d “like” to see, but I enjoyed what I watched anyway. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Beach House: Hard to say… I’m reminded of Growth (2010), Sea Fever (2019), The Color Out of Space (2019), Annihilation (2018), The Mist (2007) and even Honeymoon (2014), all for very different reasons. But none of these movies are actually “similar” to The Beach House.

This was low in my queue until I listened to the largely spoiler-free pulp review in Beyond the Void Podcast’s episode 215: Top 30 Horror Movies of 2020.

This is the story of a couple, a vacation, and a sort of journey. Emily (Liana Liberato; Haunt) is brought to Randall’s (Noah Le Gros; Depraved) family beach house for what seems to be an attempt to privately mend and salvage their relationship. As we come to understand their common dynamic, their rather normal issues of misunderstanding and their imbalances, an atmosphere of calm apprehension is cast.

Much to their surprise, another very hospitable couple happen to already be staying in the house. Old friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber; Dawn of the Dead, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, The Cell) and Jane (Maryann Nagel) couldn’t be nicer company. That is, until an evening of friendly indulgence leads them to something otherworldly.

Things get weird. Events with jellyfish, slimy goo and subdermal worm infections transpire. The worm infection is gross, invasive and uncomfortable. And the oddities spiral deeper.

I feel like a lot was done with a limited budget—a lot. It’s like Brian Yuzna (Society, Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead) was forced to make a Lovecraftian movie using no more money for special effects than the change under his couch cushions. Thankfully the characters and writing were so good, I hardly noticed the few special effects. Tactfully and purposefully, the weird unnerving tension serves viewers well. Some other gross effects ensue, but again, it’s not an effects-driven film.

I finished glad that I watched it. But I wouldn’t recommend it for reasons of scariness or gore or effects, or even the story. This gets recommended because the characters were good and the tension was enough that I didn’t notice the low number of effects. The ending is neither awesome nor bad, but the ending isn’t really an ending to what’s going on. It’s just the ending to these couples’ weekend. Writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown ushers in his first feature film and does a fine job. I’d be very excited to see his next foray into horror or science fiction.

The Movies, Films and Flix Podcast – Episode 340: Con Air, Bunnies and Seating Charts

January 19, 2021

You can download or stream the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean, or Spreaker (or wherever you listen to podcasts…..we’re almost everywhere).

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

Mark and Adam discuss the 1997 action classic Con Air. Directed by Simon West, and starring Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, John Cusack and Dave Chapelle, this bonkers film focuses on what happens when a bunch of criminals have to fight a determined Nicolas Cage. In this episode, they talk about seating charts, rocks, and the excellence of Nicolas Cage. Enjoy!

Make sure to check out the Con Air seating chart that I created in anticipation for this episode!

If you are a fan of the podcast, make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening, and hope you enjoy the episode!

You can download the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean, or Spreaker.

WandaVision: An Exciting Show That Isn’t Afraid to Be Patient and Different

January 17, 2021
Poster courtesy of Disney

After 23 films, and 13 years worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe films, it’s thrilling to watch Marvel and Disney create a funky show like WandaVision. After watching the first three episodes, it’s clear that the folks at Marvel are at the point where they can take chances, and release a black-and-white sitcom that features traditional tropes (think I love Lucy and I Dream of Genie), interesting twists, and an insane amount of intrigue. 

The first episode of WandaVision was shot in front of a live studio audience, and it’s a lot of fun watching Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany do more than act sullen, or throw magic powerballs at robots. The two clearly seem to enjoy the heightened atmosphere, and their chemistry is wonderful, which is important, considering the show lives-and-dies on their performances. It’s nice watching Wanda and Vision “enjoy” domesticity, and spend time together that doesn’t end with a purple giant crushing one of their skulls. It’s also nice that all nine episodes are directed by Matt Shakman (Game of Thrones, You’re the Worst, The Great, Succession, Billions, Fargo, Happy Endings, The New Girl – pretty much every good TV show), who’s been working in the industry for ages, and also got his start acting in sitcoms. The writing so far by Jac Schaeffer (Captain Marvel, Black Widow – She’s also an executive producer), and Gretchen Enders, has embraced sitcom tropes (terrible dinner parties) and also included a welcome dose of intrigue to keep the audience guessing. Also, since the show has Disney money, the production design and cinematography are top notch. Cinematographer Jess Hall does a fine job of capturing the sitcom look, while adding in extra shots that are beautifully framed. 

Photo courtesy of Disney

While some have begrudged the I Love Lucy stylings of the first two episodes, as they were expecting something more Marvel-y, just know that the show has big plans, and it’s taking a patient and creative route to a neat endgame. So far (the first few episodes) have focused on the married life of Wanda and Vision, who have moved to the suburbs, and are trying to live a normal life that doesn’t involve The Avengers, or revealing their identities. Their neighbors Agnes (Kathryn Hahn – so good), Monica (Teyonnah Parris), and Phil (David Lengel), don’t suspect a thing, and it’s a blast to watch Vision sweat as the dinner party he throws for his boss goes sideways, as lobsters fly out windows, meat is smashed, and pots goes flying. 

WandaVision is thrilling because it’s something different. It isn’t afraid to ignore comic book tropes (Bang, Smash, CGI, Explosions), and doesn’t have a problem taking its time. It’s very rare for something so huge, to be so unconcerned about pleasing everyone. I can’t wait to see what happens in the final six episodes, and I have no doubt that Marvel’s vision will be successful and fun.

The Father: A Harrowing Drama That Features an Excellent Performance by Anthony Hopkins

January 17, 2021

Grade – A – Director and co-writer Florian Zeller has crafted a wonderful drama that features excellent performances from Anthony Hopkins, Imogen Poots, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell and Olivia Williams.

It’s no mistake or fluke that The Father has a 100% Tomatometer score, and has won 10 awards (more to come) from 48 nominations. It’s a tour-de-force of acting, directing, cinematography, and editing, that blend together to make a wonderful puzzle-box of a film that tells a tragic story. Hopefully, It will be a major player come awards season, and I hope mainstream audiences don’t shy away from this heady film.

The Father focuses on a man’s tragic descent into dementia, and the response he gets from family members who are trying to take care of him. Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), is an 80+ year old man who lives in a posh London flat that is loaded with long hallways that come across as haunting and claustrophobic as he begins to wonder what is real and fake. We learn that his daughter Anne (Olivia Williams) is moving to France, to be with her new boyfriend, and that his other daughter is not around (but she’s clearly the favorite). However, Anne can’t leave before she can find a suitable live-in caretaker who can deal with his paranoia, changing moods, and anger. I won’t spoil what happens next, just know that it features paranoia, a few laughs, and uncomfortable dinners. Also, an added bonus is that the cinematography by Ben Smithard (The Trip, The Damned United, Downton Abbey) is haunting, and it makes the London flat where it all takes place seem warm, cold, haunting and expansive.

The Father features an epic performance from Anthony Hopkins, who bounces between stubborn, childish, menacing and lovable. He’s delivered Oscar-winning and nominated performances in The Silence of the Lambs, Nixon, The Two Popes, The Remains of the Day, and Amistad, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so vulnerable and open. It’s a breathtaking performance that never feels exploitative, and is perfectly calibrated. It helps that he’s surrounded by fantastic actors who are able to go toe-to-toe with a legend. Olivia Williams is excellent as always, and it’s a pleasure watching her spar with Hopkins during their arguments and discussions. Also, it’s neat seeing Imogen Poots (Green Room, Fright Night, The French Exit) appearing in an Oscar-caliber movie, and acting alongside Academy Award winning actors. She’s been crushing it for years, and hopefully her work will get in more of these types of films.

If you are in the mood for a harrowing drama that features A+ performances, I totally recommend The Father.

Deep Blue Sea – The Podcast – Episode 28 – Dove Sharks, Muscular Preachers and S.W.A.T.

January 15, 2021

Jay and Mark are joined by Kaitlin McNabb (@kaitlinmcnabb) to discuss “Preacher Gets Cross,” the 28th chapter on the Deep Blue Sea DVD. Chapter 28 is glorious, as it features Sherman “Preacher” Dudley (LL Cool J) stabbing a genetically modified shark in the eyeball with a cross. It’s a wild and unexpected scene that plays out gloriously, and it proves that Renny Harlin is a master of interesting onscreen battles and action scenes. In this episode, they discuss dove sharks, S.W.A.T., and stabbing genetically-modified sharks in their eyes. Enjoy!

Please follow Kaitlin on Twitter and read her excellent shark movie articles

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