Film Review: Midsommar (R)

There are few things more terrifying than Swedish hippies: well-mannered, meat pie munching, salt-herring slurping, commune dwelling devils that they are. Actually, that’s not true. There are few things less threatening than Swedish hippies. They’re total goobers. But that’s all part of director Ari Aster’s gambit in Midsommar. The audience knows this is a horror movie going in, they know the nature worshipping flower children are going to be bad guys, so Aster dares you to be afraid of them by making them incredibly likeable. And it works. Sure the hippies have a couple of creepy customs, but they’re super nice and willing to share their shroom tea, plus they have a bear. Aster fills the film with so much sunshine and good vibes that the steady stream of malice tends to trickle by unnoticed, like a psychedelic trip that’s gradually turning bad.

At its core, Midsommar is a breakup movie. Dani’s (Florence Pugh) and Christian’s (Jack Reynor) relationship is at its end, but gets extended beyond the expiration date due to a family tragedy that results in Dani being reluctantly invited on a summer trip to a Swedish commune. Dani is still haunted by the loss of her family and is scared to be alone. Christian, meanwhile, is too cowardly and lazy to break things off. Luckily, there’s a bunch of smiling Swedes in a surrealistic land of sunshine to help them through their issues.

Aster seems to be positioning himself as a playful trickster despite his bleak subject matter. Midsommar is filled with deceit and narrative sleights of hand. The very first image of the film lays out the entire plot, and yet pointing that out will spoil nothing. Aster brazenly reveals plot points throughout the film in ways that only multiple viewings and a passing knowledge of Elder Futhark runes will make apparent. But these sorts of winks and nods are for studious viewers and take nothing away from the story if unnoticed.

Midsommar makes a perfect companion piece to Aster’s debut, Hereditary. Hereditary was cold and dark, Midsommar is bright and sunny. Hereditary is about being burdened by familial baggage, Midsommar is about nihilistically casting off that burden. Both films trade in deep psychological torment, utilizing gore and grotesqueries as mere punctuation. Aster revisits the familiar themes of family trauma, mental illness, and smashed faces and redeploys a score of disconcerting strings that mimic and meld into all manner of screams and cries.

Also like Hereditary, this film is destined to be polarizing. Although engaging and briskly paced, Midsommar is still a two-and-a-half-hour slow burn drama. This is not the sort of horror that leans on indestructible slashers and whiz-bang chase sequences. So if you aren’t into artsy movies and/or suffer from a short attention span, you may want to skip this one.

Film Review: Hereditary (R)

Hereditary

Hereditary

“No nuts.”

Hereditary has garnered a lot of hype on its way to movie theaters, drawing comparisons to such scary stalwarts as The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, or Repulsion. And while those comparisons may be somewhat misleading in terms of what to expect, Hereditary is certainly worthy of occupying a space next to those films in the hallowed halls of horror. It’s sophisticated, dark, uncomfortable, challenging, and it may leave some rank and file jump scare seekers confounded, but certainly not empty-handed.

The level of craft on display would be impressive for a seasoned director, but this is Ari Aster’s first film. His nimble use of cinematography and editing is clever and jarring. From the opening scene, Aster uses some cinematic sleight of hand to seamlessly drop actors Alex Wolff and Gabriel Byrne into a miniature diorama. Static exterior shots abruptly jump from night to day, bolstering the sense of turmoil and disorientation that pervades the film. Colin Stetson’s score supplements that mood, creating an oozing pulse accentuated with industrial rattles and clicks and a scraping, screeching arrangement of atonal strings.

The story centers around artist Annie Graham (Toni Colette) whose name betrays her enigmatic nature. Colette delivers an amazing performance as Annie, coping with the recent loss of her abusive mother while struggling to be attentive to her aloof children and increasingly beleaguered spouse. The strain is coupled with anxiety over the veritable minefield of her gene pool, a family curse that includes everything from dissociative identity disorder, dementia, depression, and schizophrenia, to sleepwalking and food allergies.

Like A24’s other critical horror darling, The Witch, Hereditary is an unnervingly voyeuristic experience. Audiences are forced to witness some of the most private and tense moments of family life, like dinners and bedtime confessions filled with blame, bitterness, and regret. These moments are completely relatable but so personal in nature that it feels as if you shouldn’t be seeing them. The film derives some of its most horrific and squirm-inducing moments not from ghosts and gore but from the quiet oppression of parental hell.

That’s not to suggest that this is entirely a psychological drama. There are plenty of ghosts and demons stalking the shadows. As with other recent arthouse horror flicks like The Babadook and It Follows, the bogeymen are metaphorical but provide a very real and visceral onscreen threat. They also provide a fairly graphic supply of gore. Aster has no qualms about lingering on scenes from which other directors would have quickly cut away or omitted altogether. It’s this penchant for reveling in distress that leads to a gobsmacking first act break that’s on par with Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Hereditary’s intellectual plotting and occasional scenery chewing may alienate some moviegoers, but this is a definite must-see for cinephiles and hardcore horror fans. The film itself isn’t easily accessible for everyone, especially the surrealistic pandemonium of the film’s fever-pitched third act, but its fears are universal. There’s nothing quite as horrifying as becoming your parents.

Film Review: ‘Ghostbusters’ (PG-13)

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“Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts.”

Neither a direct sequel nor a true remake, ‘Ghostbusters’ takes a cue from the newest Star Wars movie by taking brand new characters and surrounding them in all too familiar territory. And it works for director Paul Feig just as well as it did for JJ Abrams. While the plot isn’t novel, following the same story beats of the 1984 original, the comedic chemistry between Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy brings fresh air into the old franchise.

The film immediately offers up the sort of rapid fire, deadpan quips that should put nervous fan boys at ease. We are treated to a cold open of Zach Woods (‘Silicon Valley’) guiding a tour through an historic haunted mansion that boasts of such then-modern conveniences as a “face-bidet” and an “anti-Irish fence.” Like its predecessor, ‘Ghostbusters’ is filled with quotable one-liners.

McCarthy and McKinnon’s characters get off to a rocky start, initially coming off as juvenile and mean-spirited. But once the necessary groundwork is laid and the ladies are suited up, the rough edges disappear. The SNL pedigree and camaraderie of the main cast does the heavy lifting in the film and they are given plenty of room to play off of one another. Jones and McKinnon on their own may have been an overload of quirk, without Wiig’s straight man (…err, straight person?) to keep them grounded. Surprisingly, McCarthy takes a more understated approach letting all but a few scenes of slapstick fall on the shoulders of Jones and Wiig.

It’s to the writers’ credit that they avoid making the new crew surrogates for the old. Despite some similarity in appearance to the cartoon version of Egon, McKinnon’s mad scientist engineer would have flustered and frightened off Harold Ramis’ character long before the first ghost was busted. And despite both being the lone black and blue-collar team members, Jones portrayal of a gregarious, well-read history buff who volunteers to join the “club” shares little in common with Ernie Hudson’s no-nonsense “just here for the paycheck” Winston. The film may pay near-constant homage to the Ivan Reitman original, but it’s careful to maintain its own identity in the Ghostbuster universe.

It should come as a relief to fans (and perhaps to the dismay of the troll-happy “GhostBrosters”) Feig delivers a film that’s a worthy successor to the original and is completely superior to ‘Ghostbusters 2.’ ‘Ghostbusters’ tries too hard at times, but shows nothing but love for its cult following while taking winking potshots at its pre-agitated detractors. Not only is this summer movie worth the price of admission, it’s even worth the extra few bucks to have 3D proton beams and projectile slime fly at your face.

Film Review: ‘The Witch’ (R)

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“Woudst thou like to live deliciously?”

Despite how terrifying the trailers make it look, ‘The Witch’ is not that kind of horror film. There are no bogeymen popping out of dark corners, no gratuity of gore and nudity (mostly). You will not be jumping out of your seat. It is a more subtle film, where the monsters are real but kept in silhouette and acts of violence are committed off screen (mostly).

The film deals in squirming, psychological uncertainty moreso than traditional scares. After being banished from his village for heresy, Ralph Ineson and his family trek out into the American wilderness. The family is already fragile, racked by poverty and fear but too proud to acknowledge the direness of their situation. The titular crone only needs to apply the right pressure for Ineson’s family to start ripping itself apart.

We see the witch early on; we know she is real; we know that she is powerful and remorseless, but we don’t know when she will appear again. It is her influence rather than her actual presence that weighs on the narrative. Every journey into the woods is filled with quiet dread; every cute, fuzzy woodland creature is a potential source of malice.

Given the political paranoia and a shared supernatural subject matter, comparisons between ‘The Witch’ and ‘The Crucible’ are inevitable. Debut director Robert Eggers deftly captures the sentiments of the current election year. The witch in the woods embodies the malevolent unknown, the “other,” that breeds anxiety and anger and, in the end, drives us to commit acts no less evil than its own out of pride and desperation.

Eggers first effort is something to be envied. His casting choices seem to be pulled straight out of an early colonial painting and the employment of the score is masterful. Eggers cranks up the volume, approaching the unknown like a Kubrickian space odyssey, but is unafraid to pull the cord and let the audience sit unmercifully in silence. His abilities to conjure unease in a few wordless shots and build tension to unbearable levels are the foundations of the film.

‘The Witch’ is a beautifully shot and emotionally uncomfortable movie. But it has more in common with ‘Under the Skin’ than it does with ‘The Conjuring.’ It is meditative and slowly paced, which means it will likely leave gore hounds and thrill seekers unsatisfied. ‘The Witch’ is well worth your attention, but it definitely won’t appeal to everybody.

Film Review: ‘It Follows’ (R)

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“It’s slow, but it’s not dumb.”

Finally in wide release, “It Follows” is a rare breed of intellectual and innovative horror in a film genre too often mired in formulaic and uninspired exploitation. The premise is novel, but simple. After having sex with her boyfriend, budding scream queen Maika Monroe (who stared in the equally impressive “The Guest”) is stalked by a predator that only she can see. The rest of the film is pure sustained tension as the titular “It” ceaselessly “follows” Monroe.

Like “The Guest,” “It Follows” takes advantage of nostalgia, styling itself after vintage slasher flicks like “Halloween” and employing an 80s synth pop score. In a stroke of genius, writer/director David Robert Mitchell makes the sexually transmitted stalker able to manifest as anyone it chooses. This makes every extra in the background a potential threat. “It” habitually pops up in the most unexpected and unsettling of forms, adding a lot of extra mileage to the concept.

Up front, the concept behind “It Follows” sounds like another slasher-based safe sex morality play, and it could have easily settled for such low hanging fruit. Instead Mitchell takes the “virginal survivor girl” cliché and flips it upside down, creating a scenario in which the heroine must have anonymous sex with multiple partners in order to survive. And that may sound like it is equally as demeaning and exploitative as the virgin survivor cliché, but Mitchell is making a statement with the film that is far deeper than “watch out for STDs!”

The film dwells in the dread of being imprisoned by your circumstances. Gradually transitioning from idyllic, pastoral suburbs to a squalid and decaying “bad part of town,” the film meditates on the psychological horror and desperation of having no way out and the degrading things some people are forced to do to survive. This is handled very cleverly in the beginning, but becomes a little too “on-the-nose” in the third act. But preachy underpinnings aside, “It Follows” is far better than any of the lazy remakes or schlocky franchises that typically flood the multiplexes. This is an invigorating thriller that will keep you squirming in your seat.

The 2015 January movie guide

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In the frenzy of Oscar season, now is the prime time to spend in the theater before the February drought. All of the “prestige” pictures have been trotted out for consideration. But which films are the bores and which are worth your $13? Well, fortunately for you, I have spent some time in the weeds and was benevolent enough to create a late-January guide to the box office.

MV5BODMxNjAwODA2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc0NjgzMzE@._V1_SX214_AL_ The Bio Pics

This Oscar season has been packed with bio pics and right now you can catch “The Imitation Game,” “Big Eyes,” “American Sniper,” and “Selma” in the theaters. I haven’t seen “American Sniper” yet; Bradley Cooper stars and Clint Eastwood directs so I’m sure it’s good, but it seems like a pretty depressing flick.

A perfect fit for MLK Day, “Selma” tells a story on par with Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” This is a tale filled with strum und drang and political double dealing all in interest of advancing civil rights. It is a fascinating tale and a vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. you are not likely familiar with. David Oyelowo turns in a masterful performance as a conflicted and emotionally harassed MLK. An absolute Oscar worthy performance.

Next up, Benedict Cumberbatch takes on Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game.” Cumberbatch is believably robotic and socially ill fit as the genius Turing. The film focuses more so on his Vulcan-esque intellect and discomfort with his sexuality than highlighting his achievements, Cumberbatch’s performance in “The Imitation Game” is uncomfortable but fascinating to watch. In a world where we still struggle for LBGT civil rights, “The Imitation Game” put into perspective how far we’ve come and how far we still have to travel.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the bunch is “Big Eyes.” A return to the “Ed Wood” (and unarguably the best) era for director Tim Burton, “Big Eyes” is a bio pic that delves into the endearingly zany artistic niche of the Keanes. Christoph Waltz dominates the film as the charismatic yet indomitable cad, Walter Keane. The story has an unmistakable “forget the critics, the fans know what they want” attitude, which only seems appropriate for Burton. But the tone and form for which he makes this statement creates hope that Burton can still deliver.

MV5BMTAyNDYxOTI4MzNeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDQ3MDU3NjIx._V1_SX214_AL_ The Musicals

It’s not often that we are granted a musical. A bygone relic of the “talkie” age, the musical doesn’t hold the same wonder or prestige as it once did and neither of these films are Oscar contenders. But if you are in the mood for some carefree song and dance, there is really only one option…

Let’s cut to the chase. No matter how much you want “Into the Woods” to be good, it is not. Less a film than “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” and certainly less so than Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm,” “Into the Woods” is a hot mess. Despite the star power of Meryl Streep as a wicked witch and Johnny Depp as a big bad wolf (a character that is introduced and summarily killed off in roughly 10-minutes time) the movie is stiff and contrived. There are no musical numbers that your kids will be humming ad nauseam like “Frozen.” Instead you will find a series of fairy tales shoe-horned into a forgettable and irritating film that prominently features lyrics like, “The woods are just trees, the trees are just wood, no need to be afraid there.” This is a movie that does not need to exist.

Still in a few theaters, the battle tested “Annie” still holds up. With an ethnic, modern spin that pokes fun of itself, Jamie Foxx’s workmanship and Quvezhane Wallis’ charisma alone make this a film worth checking out. This is a film too saccharine and “on the nose” for any real award consideration. But if you happen to be in the mood for catchy Broadway tunes and loveable characters, “Annie” isn’t a bad way to spend the afternoon.

MV5BMjI4MTIzODU2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjE0NDAwMjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_ The Kids

Unfortunately, there are not many rewarding films out for the kids right now. The new Hobbit movie is a self-aggrandized and overly padded fight scene that may appeal to the younger fans, but will leave their nerdy parents shaking their fists. The new ‘not-Pixar’ Disney film “Big Hero Six” is every bit as loveable as its predecessor, “Wreck-It Ralph,” but every bit as hollow. Your best bet, if you can find it playing, is Studio Ghibli’s “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” (a film far superior to the lackluster “The Boxtrolls”).

MV5BMjI2ODQ2NzUwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU3NTE4MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_ The Real Deals

If you’re looking for something to make you look smart at parties, there are really two “must see” films of the season (well three honestly, but I have yet to see “Force Majeure” yet so I can’t vouch for it, but I’m sure it is great).

Based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, “Inherent Vice” is every bit the spiritual successor to “The Big Lebowski.” In perhaps what is Pynchon’s most accessible novel, Joaquin Phoenix plays The Dude-ish “Doc,” a stoner private eye on the cusp of the 70s. The film takes one noir turn after another as an all-star cast of Martin Short, Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph, Owen Wilson and songstress Joanna Newsom complicate the plot of a real estate deal gone sour. Famed director P.T. Anderson revels in the quirks and absurdities of his characters. This is a departure from, but worthy successor to the stuffier pretensions of films like “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master.” Absolutely must see.

“Whiplash” might just be my favorite film of the Oscar year (next to “The Babadook”). In a “not-horror” tale of a music teacher pushing a student beyond the bounds of greatness, “Whiplash” is a cringe-worthy tale that explores the moral limits of utilitarianism. There is really no other film out there that remotely comes close to “Whiplash.” This is a film that demands every second of your attention. “Birdman,” “Selma,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Boyhood” are all phenomenal films worthy of Oscar praise, but “Boyhood” is the only film that can truly rival “Whiplash.”

MV5BMTYzNDc2MDc0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcwMDQ5MTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_ The Rest

If you just want to stay in and watch movies in your pjs, there are plenty of movies on VOD worth your time. Taking over 12 years to shoot, “Boyhood” is a monument to filmmaking and a heartbreaker for any parent dealing with empty nest syndrome. “Birdman” is a psychedelic masterpiece and Michael Keaton deserves an Oscar nod for his amazing performance. “Gone Girl” is faithful to the source material and is a perfect display of director David Fincher’s ability to disseminate a dense plot. Finely acted, this is a perfect substitute for those too lazy to read the book. “Nightcrawler” is an amazing, but highly unnerving movie that flew under the radars of most, but it is definitely worth seeking out. Like Russian nesting dolls, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a storybook within a storybook and a comedically rewarding tale of grace under fire. “The Babadook” is a soul crushing horror tale of a single parent battling a children’s book boogeyman and a reality that she is unable to face. It is without a doubt the best horror film of the year and criminally overlooked for the Academy Awards.

This is prime cinematic cherry-picking season. So whether you decide to stay cozy indoors, or experience an Oscar-worthy performance on the silver screen, now is your time.

The Buried Alive Film Festival keeps screaming in its Ninth Year

Atlanta’s Fabrefaction Theatre is recessed in a small shopping center on Edgewood Avenue, virtually invisible from the street. This is the home of the 9th Annual Buried Alive Film Festival (or BAFF). The Fabrefaction is not a “movie theater” but a “theatre theater,” which makes it a curious venue choice of an independent horror film festival. But it works.

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Divorced from the anonymity of cavernous screening rooms, stadium seating and jumbo screens, the accouterments of the Fabrefaction are cozy and inviting. Well, considering that this is a venue offering mounted, chainsaw-mutilated faces as awards and adorned inside with chain link fences plastered with gruesome horror one-sheets of films titled “Angst, Piss and Shit” and “Dead Fuck,” inviting might be a relative term.

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Entering the screening room mid-programming feels like entering a haunted house. Groping along a pitch-black hallway coupled with the ominous soundtrack of the current film, you can’t help but expect a knife-wielding clown to jump out at you. But once inside, the atmosphere changes. The space is small, intimate and populated largely with cast and crewmembers of the programmed films. These are peers, co-workers and friends gathered together to watch the product of months, years (and in the case of the 48 Hour Film Project entries, days) worth of work. There is a communal mood about the festival. Watching horror movies in the dark and sipping Hoplanta beer makes you feel like you’re hanging out in a friend’s living room. This isn’t the sort of slick festival where industry bigwigs bid aggressively for distribution rights, this is the sort of festival with genre fans freely mingling with filmmakers, conversational Q&As and lots of local networking opportunities. BAFF even offers an opening night party at Joystick Game Bar geared toward such mingling.

The films were organized into blocks of shorts and features averaging between 80-to-90 minutes. The blocks are arranged by themes like “Healthy Relationships” and “Scary Animal Monsters from Outer Space.” Film festival programming, by nature, can’t help but be hit-or-miss and a festival specializing in a genre known for trending toward cheap exploitation runs an even higher risk of doing so. However the event organizers, Blake Myers and Lucas Godfrey, did an excellent job in the selection process. The films ranged from creepy documentaries to gore-ridden cerebral shorts to gleefully campy and over-the-top features, but none that felt like shoddy filler.

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There is not a lot of love or quality of horror at the box office, but BAFF thankfully fills that void. BAFF is a great place for local filmmaker to see each others work and talk shop, and getting to see strange gems like “Extreme Pinocchio” and local premieres like “Satanic Panic 2: Battle of the Bands” (the first Satanic Panic can be seen here online) is a treat for horror fans. Dropping $10 per block of programming (or $50 for an all access pass) ensures a better bargain than shelling out $12 to see the newest horror franchise reboot/prequel/swill. BAFF may be a smaller festival, but it is a quality one. Hopefully it will continue to scare film lovers for many more years to come.

 

Winners of the 9th Annual Buried Alive Splitzy Awards

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Best Feature: “The Sunderland Experiment”
Directed by: Sean Blau and Adam Petke

http://youtu.be/w0pCF31iZzo

 

Best Short: “The Bear Family Secret”
Directed by: Cintia Domit Bittar

 

Best Animation: “Fists of Fire”
Directed by: Tomi Malkki

 

“What The Fuck” Award: “Split”
Directed by: Andy Stewart

 

Best Local “Golden Shovel” Award: “Hellyfish”
Directed by: Patrick Longstreth and Robert McLean

 

Local Runner-Up “Silver Spade” Award: “Goat Witch”
Directed by: James Sizemore

You can read reviews of some of the winners here.

Ninth Annual BAFF winner movie reviews

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“What The Fuck” Award: “Split”
Directed by: Andy Stewart
Runtime: 17 minutes

 

Based on his body of work, Glasgow’s Andy Stewart is a fascinating filmmaker, but maybe not the type of guy you’d want to have a beer with. His debut film, “Dysmorphia,” also screened at BAFF in 2013 and quickly earned Stewart a reputation as one sick monkey. His newest short, “Split,” does nothing to dispel this reputation, but adds an impressive amount of depth to his steadily growing filmography.

“Split” chronicles a man’s depression following a nasty breakup. Easily going toe-to-toe with masters like David Cronenburg, Stewart uses his knack for graphic body horror as a gruesome visual simile for the protagonist’s mental state. As the protagonist falls further into depression, his body steadily degrades into mucus and puss covered decay. Even at 17 minutes, it’s a hard film to watch and it clearly deserves the BAFF 2014 “What the Fuck” award.

You can learn more about Andy Stewart and “Split” at the film’s official website.

 


 

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Best Local “Golden Shovel” Award: “Hellyfish”
Directed by: Patrick Longstreth and Robert McLean
Runtime: 13 minutes
Website:
Trailer: https://vimeo.com/100958041
Full Movie embed: http://youtu.be/nrmziUUzNrI

 

“Hellyfish” boasts a surprisingly slick production quality for a small, locally crafted independent project. The film is overflowing with enough CG monsters and digital gore to rival the likes of “Piranha” and “Anaconda.” The plot is no less campy than those films either. A couple of terrorist spies attempt to recover a nuclear weapon at the bottom of the ocean but accidentally trigger the bomb instead, setting off a Jellyocalypse at a nearby beach.

Directors Patrick Longstreth and Robert McLean have an obvious adoration of goofy creature features and “Hellyfish” is more a gleeful homage than a smirking satire. The film may be light on substance, but it makes up for the shallowness in sheer spectacle. “Hellyfish” was definitely a standout entry at this year’s BAFF.

You can learn more about “Hellyfish” at the official website and you can see the full movie below.

http://youtu.be/nrmziUUzNrI

 


 

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Local Runner-Up “Silver Spade” Award: “Goat Witch”
Directed by: James Sizemore
Runtime: 13 minutes

 

“Goat Witch” may have only taken home the “Silver Spade” at the 2014 BAFF, but it was undeniably one of the best films of the festival. Director James Sizemore’s short is creepy, well acted and filled with jaw-dropping practical effects. Labeling a film as “independent” normally carries the stigma of being cheaply made, but “Goat Witch” is a professional and quality production that overshadows most of Hollywood’s schlocky horror.

The set up is simple enough. A witch looking to transcend the physical plain ropes her lesbian lover into participating in a satanic ritual that becomes far more serious than anticipated. Sizemore doesn’t pull any punches, rolling out horrifying, DelToro level beasties and even a little dark humor. “Goat Witch” is the sort of film you go to film festivals hoping for.

You can see the full film here and the “making of” video below.

http://youtu.be/y7YASRNu0oU

Movie Review: “Tusk” (2014, Rated R)

Smith melds classic horror pacing with modern torture porn tropes.

Yes, this is a Kevin Smith film. Yes, it appears to share DNA with “Human Centipede.” Yes, it is being marketed as a horror movie. No, you should not let any of these facts inform your expectations of this movie. “Tusk” is a film that will defy any preconceived conceptions with the sheer power of its what-the-fuckness.

Sure, there is a healthy amount of “WTF” factor to be expected from a movie about a guy that is non-consensually transformed into a walrus. But “Tusk” tackles its subject from unexpected angles. The plot, inspired by a prank personal ad read on Smith’s podcast, is lifted right out of Tom Six’s dream journal. Justin Long is lured into the creepy residence of loveable madman Michael Parks for some not-so-elective surgery. The film is overtly structured after “Psycho,” rushing Long into walrus mode only to circle back to his girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and best friend (Haley Joel Osment) investigating his disappearance with the help of wacky detective (Johnny Depp inexplicably doing his best John Malkovich impression). Smith melds classic horror pacing with modern torture porn tropes, but replaces the anticipated scares with unanticipated comedic beats. The result is closer to Vincent Price’s “The Fly” than to Jeff Goldblum’s.

The first part of the film is a slog. Long’s role as an exploitative podcaster feels tailored for Jason Lee, and Long fails to create a relatable character. Smith wisely speeds him into his rubber suit, giving Parks plenty of room to chew the scenery. “Tusk” revels in its goofballs, lingering on a scene where Depp and Parks try to out weird each other. And it’s in such moments that the film finds its footing. “Tusk,” unlike “Red State,” only ever pretends to be dark and serious, always pulling back from the brink with an outlandish giggle.

Smith’s vision of Canada is similar to Miike’s Nagoya or Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a polite and hospitable locale populated with eccentrics and alien customs. As the first entry in a proposed Canada-centric trilogy, “Tusk” is a promise of strange and exciting things to come.

Film Review: “Pizza Shop The Movie”

This is the type of movie you keep rooting for, even if it doesn’t always deliver.

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Review by David Feltman

Pulling from the Kevin Smith playbook, writer/director George O’Barts creates a blue-collar, gross-out comedy with “Pizza Shop The Movie.” The film follows the juvenile exploits of a group of pizza delivery drivers, ultimately developing into a story of personal growth and male bonding.

The film is largely set in the titular shop and is composed of static, comic book panel-like shots. Whether strictly a budgetary issue or a lack of technical know-how, the absence of camera movement flattens out the already minimal onscreen action. This puts the burden of carrying the film squarely on the actors and their ability to deliver a joke. This does not often work in the film’s favor. “Pizza Shop” is episodic, moving quickly from one gag to the next as the pizza guys deal with internal pizza politics and customers that are alternatingly curmudgeonly or sex-crazed. O’Barts misses an opportunity by limiting the variety of customers. It would have been easy to replace one of the nymphomaniacs with, say, a repugnant shut-in or a goofy hick or a negligent parent, something to add an extra topping or two to this slice-of-life comedy.

The script is loose and a little spotty, filled with plot points that are overly convenient or entirely abandoned. Bhavin Patel plays the new guy and serves as the film’s central focus for a full 15 minutes before being dumped in favor of Robert Bielfelt and Cian Patrick O’Dowd. But despite these drawbacks and its shared DNA with second-tier comedies like “Waiting,” “The Slammin’ Salmon,” and “Road Trip,” “Pizza Shop” is loveable and entertaining. This is the type of movie you keep rooting for, even if it doesn’t always deliver.

You can order “Pizza Shop” from the official website or catch it on Amazon Instant Video.