the blunt critic

Short Reviews for Regular Length Movies

"Oculus" (2014)

It’s a fun movie with a different story and game performances but it feels hampered by poor dialogue and a wavering tone.  ”Oculus” does a magnificent job of telling parallel stories and using what would generally be pointless jump-scares as transitions between the two stories.  The performances are strong but the dialogue, especially early in the film, feels very written and unnatural.  The horror/mental illness trope is well tread but thankfully “Oculus” doesn’t dwell on it long before pushing it aside.  The performances from the child actors should be lauded, as they were quite good and a strong backbone for the film.  Also to the film’s credit, they didn’t overuse the “mirror scare”, which is especially impressive given it’s a film about an evil mirror.  It’s a good film with a unique visual style and some good practical effects that’s certainly worth a watch.  

"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" (1986)

Grim, bleak and unblinking, “Henry” tells the story of one of America’s most notorious and terrifying serial killers with gritty realism.  It’s a simple story that probably doesn’t stray far from the characters they were based on.  However, it’s not an enjoyable film.  It’s difficult to watch a film where the events are eventualities and the only likable character’s fate is essentially preordained.  Honestly, that’s the only thing that makes the film remotely watchable.  Despite the distasteful nature of the film, Michael Rooker’s performance is remarkable.  His turn as a severely damaged, brutal murderer is among the best performances of psychopathic killers in film.  It’s worth watching for the performances alone but certainly anticipate feeling disgusting afterward.

"The Grey" (2011)

Genres generally don’t matter when it comes to the quality of a film.  However, genres definitely affect the expectation an audience has going into a film.  Thinking of “The Grey” as a pure action/thriller would be a mistake and a disappointment.  The film is more of a genre transcending drama that deals with loss and the will to live.  It’s more about what people take for granted rather than a battle of Liam Neeson vs. Wolves.  It’s Liam Neeson vs. his own mind, regrets and depression. While the end may be disappointing for some who were expecting a different type of film, the fact remains that the film ends exactly where it should.  It ends when the arc of the character has come to completion.  That’s the great part about telling a story that often gets lost in film and television.  It can become wish fulfillment and loses the point.  ”The Grey” doesn’t lose the point.  It may lose the audience but in the long run it will be a more memorable film for it.

"Lost Highway" (1997)

This film is David Lynch in prime form.  ”Lost Highway” is a mind-bending tale that feels like an Impossible Triangle.  It all adds up when you replay it in your mind but not when using the rules of reality, which is what Lynch does so well.  He spins a yarn that has something wrong with it and it will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.  It’s just mysterious enough and just explicit enough to satisfy your cravings for both answers and questions.  The film doesn’t explain away the lunacy, it just lets it be what it is.  The film is more accessible than “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”, so it might even appeal to a wider audience.  Probably not.  It’s still pretty weird.  But that’s what makes it great.

"Tony" (2009)

This film is massively uncomfortable.  What is so terrifying about “Tony” is that it’s not about a demonic, evil serial killer but a mentally deficient, socially demented person who seems to float by, murdering and dismembering people.  He gets by not from his own skill and cunning but by his relative invisibility and ability to take advantage of those who attempt to take advantage of him.  It’s a bleak, stomach-turning film with shockingly straightforward violence and surgery-level gore.  ”Tony” is like a modern day representation of what Lennie from “Of Mice and Men” would get away with.  Peter Ferdinando creates a unique and horrifying character that is equal parts disgusting and pitiful.  This one is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

"The Silence" (2010)

Also known as “Das letzte Schweigen” is an incredible film.  A phenomenal group of characters, each with raw and detailed backstories that return and progress with the film’s action.  Honest and sympathetic storytelling that allows the audience to feel complex emotions about each of the characters, even the supposedly evil characters.  It treats people with sick and taboo desires the way they exist in reality and not like two-dimensional villains.  ”The Silence” is a superb film that will appeal to fans of thrillers, crime dramas, or serial killer films.  

"Along Came a Spider" (2001)

A very plot heavy film that is as fascinating to watch as reading a newspaper and unfortunately just as engaging.  While the twists and turns will keep you alert to the film’s outcome, there is little to garner an emotional connection to the characters nor their ultimate goals.  While the film tries to draw a connection from Cross’s earlier failures in detective work at the end, it doesn’t really line up the way it is intended.  In reality, there is little connection or reason for Cross to come back to detective work nor to leave it in the first place, rendering the character’s personal motivations rather pointless.  Aside from the generally forgettable events and characters of the film, the name of the kidnapper, Gary Soneji, might be the most annoying name to hear aloud and it’s spoke ad nauseum.

"Maniac" (2012)

"Maniac" offers some excellent technical storytelling, bolstered by an incredible performance by Elijah Wood.  The film is grim and makes one feel as though they are stuck in a nightmare.  The first person camera makes the events truly bracing and difficult to watch.  However, the story is fairly shallow and unoriginal, despite some artistic details surrounding the concept.  The true hero in this film is the music, which harkens back to 70’s and 80’s campy horror films and really sets the tone for the entire experience.  It’s a fantastic piece of art to marvel but it feels more like gallery piece than a great piece of horror filmmaking or storytelling.

"Kiss the Girls" (1997)

While the character of Alex Cross is probably at his most interesting because of the personal attachment to the case in this film, it ends up being a rather paint by numbers “detective versus serial killer” affair.  Morgan Freeman seems to be tailor made for these types of roles and he carries the film very well.  Ashley Judd is also quite good in this film, despite her pedigree of pretty awful turns in thrillers.  The problem with this film is that it uses the worst kind of twist: the “whodunnit”.  It’s inconsequential that the bad guy was so-and-so all along and right under the heroes’ noses.  It distracts from otherwise good storytelling.  What some filmmakers or perhaps studios or perhaps authors don’t realize is that a twist doesn’t have to be a “oh my God, I didn’t expect that moment” and furthermore, shouldn’t be that unless it has context within the story.  In this case, it feels like the film was written, then at the end the writer picked a side character to make the villain and worked backwards from there.

"The World’s End" (2013)

Fans of “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz” won’t be surprised with “The World’s End” and its ability to blend comedy and action/thriller filmmaking.  The cast is brilliant and the writing is both hilariously original and emotionally deep.  The best thing about this film is that it doesn’t take the predictable or easy way out.  It has a truly bizarre climax and ending that probably wouldn’t jive well with anyone looking for a pretty bow and a happily ever after.  There is just after.  There is something going around in apocalyptic storytelling nowadays that examines the idea that the end of the world wouldn’t be bad for everyone.  For some people it would be a more fitting environment or perhaps just the push they need to become a useful member of society, or what remains of it.  ”The World’s End” is a complete film experience with enough thrills and laughs to entertain and enough nuance to stimulate the brain.

"This Is The End" (2013)

"Stoner" comedy plus horror works pretty well.  It’s simultaneously hilarious and jarring.  It takes the desert island, "Lord of the Flies" dynamic and places it in a modern day, apocalyptic situation.  It’s scary, gross, weird, uncomfortable and irreverent.  It has a good balance of self-deprecating humor and insane events to paint a full canvas of entertainment.  While it may not appeal to those against toilet humor, crass jokes or brutal violence, it’s a wonderful genre bridging hybrid experience.  

"War of the Worlds" (2005)

A film with technical mastery is spoiled by a confusing and under-motivated narrative choice.  The visual effects are spectacular and the building of tension works very well.  However, it’s not enough to overcome some failings in storytelling.  First, it’s obvious that the focus of the film is a simple family and not those in charge of defeating the aliens and yet somehow the main character ends up being the one to identify the alien’s defenses are down, ending the conflict.  It feels awfully convenient and terribly unbelievable.  Second, it’s usually easy to overlook simple logical fallacies but the idea that the protagonists could just weave their way through the graveyard of cars on the freeway is hard to swallow.  How are the cars all spaced out so perfectly that cars can get through?  Plenty of other apocalyptic stories encounter the same problem and handle it realistically, such as “The Walking Dead”, “The Stand”, “Deep Impact” and the list goes on.  It’s one of those moments that draws attention to the fact that the original story takes place before cars were around.  Lastly, the son’s choice to join the charge against the aliens is asinine.  While the film tries to establish the idea that the young man is trying to exert his adulthood to his father, it doesn’t come across as believable and certainly not enough to motivate that he would run headlong into a swarm of human-vaporizing alien attack ships simply because he wants to see them.  It’s an idiotic device used to create tension and conflict that is never properly motivated.  Furthermore, it’s practically laughable to buy that the son survives.  If your brain isn’t worried about things like logic and probability, then “War of the Worlds” is a visual treat.  If you do care about such things, the film is more akin to that chocolate candy in the assorted box that’s filled with marzipan: it looks good on the outside but your own imagination will surpass the unsatisfying filling.

"Blue Caprice" (2013)

"Blue Caprice" is a hauntingly quiet exploration of a man’s descent into madness and his disquieting grip on an impressionable young boy.  The performance by Isaiah Washington is tour de force.  He creates such a subtle lunatic that it’s easy to see how such a person existed in reality.  The filmmakers use such a deft touch to tell the story of the Beltway Snipers and their odd father-son/master-servant type relationship.  Behind the curtain of such a media frenzy, there was a simple story of an abusive man driven to the brink and his dark plan to take it out on innocent strangers.  It’s fascinating film that provides an intimate look at real evil and its malevolent upbringing.  

"Prisoners" (2013)

Seldom does a crime procedural film evoke such a desperate fear from its audience the way “Prisoners” does.  Regardless of the predictability of the events or the clues given away by a successful, albeit revealing, ad campaign, “Prisoners” is nonetheless gripping.  The story is tight, the characters are wonderfully flawed and yet understandable, and the filmmaking is often hypnotizing.  While “Prisoners” may seem over-long and occasionally convenient, it’s harrowing, tense and affecting.  It’s refreshing to watch a crime thriller where the characters are more interesting than the plot.  It makes future efforts from director Denis Villenueve all the more enticing.  

"Elysium" (2013)

Where “Elysium” succeeds is its commentary on healthcare as a for-profit industry and the dangers of technology as a weapon and tool of oppression.  It’s an interesting look at robotics as a mere tool of the villain, rather than a sentient opponent, e.g. “The Matrix” or “Terminator”, which is a more realistic realization of the possible dangers of technological power.  ”Elysium” wields the same iconic vision as Neill Blomkamp’s other sci-fi epic “District 9”, however it fails to carry the same impact.  The climax simply doesn’t carry the same weight as “District 9” and feels like a bit of a Hollywood ending.  While it may not have the same impact as a social commentary, “Elysium” is still a visual feast and worth a gander from sci-fi or action fans.