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"You know when a dog bites you... you can either chain him up... or shoot him."
Cold in July was one of the most surprising films of 2014 for me considering I didn't have much expectations for it. I had never heard of director Jim Mickle nor had I read Joe R. Lansdale's novel so I was expecting a standard and by the books revenge thriller. I hadn't even watched the trailer for this film, but I did want to see Michael C. Hall in a starring role considering I loved his work in Dexter. I got much more than I bargained for from this witty and entertaining thriller set in 1989 East Texas. It begins as a simple revenge tale after a family man (played by Michael C. Hall) kills a burglar in his home. It turns out that the victim was a wanted felon so he becomes sort of an overnight hero in his small town. However, the victim's father (Sam Shepard) shows up and begins to threaten his family. Up to this point everything felt by the books, but I was still having a good time with it. From the opening scene I felt the tension and was enjoying the suspense, but when the twists began kicking in it simply elevated the film to a whole other level. With each twist and revelation the film grew on me more and more because it became unpredictable and grittier. It also has its touches of humor scattered throughout the film thanks to a strong supporting performance from Don Johnson. I had a great time with this film as it kept me at the edge of my seat. I absolutely recommend this well paced thriller which plays with its well known genre conventions.
The strong performances in this film are a big reason why the twists and thrills work. First of all, Michael C. Hall gives in my opinion the best performance in his career. He carries the film from beginning to end as we see the transformation he experiences after the fatal incident in his home with the burglar. The town may recognize him as a hero, but he feels uneasy about having killed a man even though he was defending his home. When Sam Shepard's character shows up fear begins to creep in to his life and Hall portrays these feelings perfectly. Shepard is also outstanding in the supporting role as his presence is threatening. But Don Johnson is the one who steals the show from the moment he appears on screen driving a flashy red car and wearing a cowboy hat. He is comedic at times, but someone the audience trusts to help solve the mystery. Don Johnson himself helps give the film a more retro vibe than it already had (so does Hall's mullet). I really enjoyed each one of the characters in this film along with the dark mood and surprising twists. The electric score also adds a lot to the overall atmosphere of the film. I'm really interested now in getting familiar with Jim Mickle's work because he really surprised me with this film.
After teaming up successfully in last year's This is the End there were high expectations for Seth Rogen and Evan Golberg's second film. They had the bro-buddy comedy elements entirely right in their apocalyptic film, but this time around I felt some of the jokes miss the target. The problem is that the first time around they basically made fun of themselves and the entire film industry, while now they tried to mix that bro-buddy humor with a political satire focusing on the North Korean government. There are also a few attacks at the way America has handled these interventions internationally which were witty, but for the most part the film felt like it missed on most of the jokes. There were some incredibly funny moments which you know you'll get from Seth Rogen and James Franco because they have such great chemistry together. This is the sixth time they've collaborated together (but really only the third time they've both starred in a film together) and unfortunately this is my least favorite. I still think Pineapple Express is their best work and it was there where they first experimented with the bromantic comedy elements. They've pushed the boundaries over their next films making the bromance seem gayer. An important issue I had with this film revolved around the pacing which after awhile became a little tedious. I did enjoy some aspects of the film and found the segment where Seth Rogen's character is looked down upon for not being a serious producer as a witty comment on his own acting, but he knows what he is good at and sticks with it.
There were a lot of doubts whether or not this film would be released in theaters after the North Korean government threatened Sony, but ultimately freedom prevailed. Honestly, I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. It ended up getting more publicity and more people watched the film because of it. Unfortunately it wasn't the best collaboration between Rogen and Franco. I did enjoy some of their scenes together, but I think Randall Park stole the show as President Kim. His scenes with James Franco playing basketball and driving the tank were probably my favorite in the movie. At times the jokes felt repetitive, but the funniest scene of the film for me was the tiger incident with Seth Rogen. Even though I didn't enjoy the film as a whole I did find sporadic scenes working really well for me, so I still had a decent time with this film. The female characters seem to be the weakest link for Rogen and Goldberg's film as neither Diana Bang nor Lizzy Caplan get interesting things to say or do. There are some hilarious cameos however and a lot of pop cultural references (mostly from The Lord of the Rings and Katy Perry lyrics) that work half of the time.
"You told people if I wasn't laid off, they would be."
Deux Jours, Une Nuit is the first film I've seen from the acclaimed Dardenne brothers and I understand now what the fuss is all about. Jean-Pierre and Luc know how to direct authentic movies about real life situations in a very simple manner while at the same time making us think how we would react towards these issues. Deux Jours, Une Nuit is a sociological study we can all relate to during this current economic world crisis. This time the brothers present us a situation where an ill woman is on the edge of losing her job. She has been absent for about four months and on the week she is to start working again her bosses inform her that due to the financial crisis the employees must make the decision of either forfeiting their bonuses or allowing her to be laid off. Only two people voted to save her job, but after discovering that the vote was manipulated by one of the managers, the boss allows for another secret vote to take place after the weekend. This gives Sandra time to visit each of her 16 coworkers and ask them to vote for her, even if it means they lose their bonuses. It is a film focusing on solidarity and what it means to be a good samaritan, and it also plays out as a character study of this depressed woman who is forced to beg for compassion. The film is shot in a very intimate way and at times it can get repetitive because we see Sandra walking on screen a lot and explaining her situation to each one of her coworkers. That repetition might not make for a compelling film, but it succeeds in doing so because we get to experience how tedious and uncomfortable it is for Sandra to ask her coworkers for support. We see the ups and downs she goes through as she receives positive and negative reactions. As an audience we feel that sense of uneasiness as she approaches each individual because we don't know how each one will react. It is a very uncomfortable film with a strong premise focusing on our humanity and willingness to be helpful towards other even if that means having to sacrifice personal gain. The different reactions of each of the coworkers are completely justified and believable.
The main character in this film is played by the beautiful Marion Cotillard who has slimmed down for her role here. She has been suffering through depression and you can tell by her facial expressions and physical posture. Despite it all she still looks great. The camera follows her around pretty much everywhere wether she is walking to face one of her coworkers or simply going to buy a bottle of water at the market. The film is honest and tries to be as realistic as possible which explains why we go through some of those mundane routines. Cotillard is always compelling to watch nonetheless and despite the repetitive nature of the film we are always uneasy about how each one of her coworkers will respond and how that will affect Cotillard's character. She gives a powerful performance and deservedly has received a nomination for best female lead performance by the Academy. Her supporting husband is played wonderfully by Fabrizio Rongione who has to always lift her spirits when she feels like giving up. The rest of the supporting players all give believable performances as well, but this is Cotillard's film and she stands out. The ending is also very powerful and the film leaves you with a lot to think about on our humanity or lack thereof.
"If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of ... The Babadook."
When William Friedkin claimed that he had never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook, I was certain that I needed to see this. I'm not a huge horror fan, but I was pleasantly surprised with 2013's The Conjuring, so I went into this with high expectations knowing there is hope for the genre. The film didn't disappoint despite never actually being scary. I don't think that director, Jennifer Kent, was interested in scaring her audience, but rather in creating an uneasy atmosphere that would keep us engaged. She succeeded because while I was watching The Babadook I couldn't help but compare it to some other horror classics like Kubrick's The Shining and Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. Kent spends time in creating an unsettling atmosphere with some annoying characters and isn't interested in creating jump scares like so many horror films tend to do nowadays. The Babadook takes its time to build the right atmosphere and you are rewarded with your patience during the final third act. It is more of a psychological horror film than a graphically violent one. It is almost as if you are watching a dark drama at times. There is more to this film than simply scaring the audience and once the film is over you'll realize that there is meaning behind the narrative. It sort of plays out as a metaphor exploring interesting ideas which I wouldn't want to get into because it would involve spoiling some aspects of the film, but it is clear that there is a surreal undercurrent to the film which effectively says something about the way we deal with grief and parenting. Jennifer Kent's first feature film was a breath of fresh air in the horror department while feeling as a classic at the same time. She will be a director whose work I will be looking forward to in the future. Her screenplay was also smartly written and I know that audiences will benefit from a rewatch because there is a meaning behind everything that is going on. There is an interesting undertone to this film which will only build its reputation over time. If you just look at this film as a monster film you will be disappointed because it has a different agenda.
Building a creepy atmosphere isn't enough for a horror film to succeed; you need characters you can engage with. I know that some of the complaints with this film had to do with the fact that the characters were all annoying and that made it hard to engage with, but in my opinion it worked perfectly for what it was trying to do. Essie Davis gives one of the best performances of the year and was a big part of why the creepy atmosphere worked so well. She plays a grieving mother who lost her husband on the day her first son was born. Her son is a problematic and hyperactive kid who is constantly giving her mother grief. He keeps on repeating that there are monsters in the house and always gets in trouble in school for his odd behavior. He's played brilliantly by Noah Wiseman and he effectively gets on the audience's nerves as well. Her mother doesn't really know how to handle him and when they come across a strange book named The Babadook weird strange begin to happen in the house. Essie Davis's character looks incredibly stressed throughout the film and her physical transformation is incredible. Noah Wiseman is one of those rare child actors who actually makes his character feel authentic and believable even when he is throwing tantrums and fits. I was impressed by the performances in this low budget film and they only add to an incredible tense and unsettling atmosphere. I was never scarred by this film, but I did feel uneasy and I also loved what it was trying to communicate. The Babadook is one of those films you should see now before Hollywood comes up with a terrible remake and ruins it. I hope it also marks a change of pace in the way horror films should be approached from now on.
"People keep asking if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer, but yeah, I'm thinking I'm back."
John Wick is as predictable and formulaic as the other 99% of revenge action flicks out there, but what makes this stand out is how well the action scenes are choreographed and what a breath of fresh air it is to see the action take place without all the extreme close ups and fast edits which never allow you to enjoy them. John Wick was directed by two former stunt men, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who seem to have a grip at what they're doing because they don't take any of the fun away from the action scenes. Derek Solstad's screenplay is pretty straightforward. We are introduced to the main character, John, who is grieving over his recently dead wife. She leaves him a cute puppy which will help him during this grieving period, but a group of young Russian mobsters break into his home one night to steal his car and in the process they kill the dog. That brings John to his breaking point and we discover pretty soon that he is no common man. He was once a feared hitman who later retired after meeting his wife. Now he is set on getting his revenge and the action begins. John is the typical hero we can route for and identify with for his loss, while the villains are ruthless and deserve to be punished. We've seen all this in almost every other revenge film, but what makes this one stand out and feel fresh is that the action scenes are stylized and energetic. So despite having a predictable plot you are entertained with some of the coolest action scenes of the year. This is no Raid 2, but it does get the job done. There is one particular action scene that takes place in a nightclub that is fantastically choreographed. These are the strongest moments of the film, but if you are looking for an original plot look elsewhere because this is very predictable. There are some interesting elements that Solstad introduces in this world where the mobsters have a series of codes and rues that they follow giving it sort of a video game vibe to it at times.
In order for the action scenes to work for a film like this where they aren't cutting the scenes every second you need to have an actor who can pull them off. They found the right one with Keanu Reeves who definitely knows his stuff. He delivers in every action scene with some fantastic choreographed moves. The mobsters build him up as someone they fear and respect, and once you see him in action you believe it. He also delivers during the quiet moments as well despite not having the best dialogue to work with. He was made for these roles and delivers. The supporting cast is excellent as well. Alfie Allen (from the Games of Thrones series) is getting typed cast as the hateful villain who behaves like a child at times. His father is played by the excellent Michael Nyqvist, who John Wick used to work for. He knows his kid made a mistake but tries to protect him nonetheless putting a generous reward on John's head. Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, and Adrianne Palicki get some screen time as well and they were a lot of fun. The way everyone treated John when they realized he was back in business was also another nice touch that the directors made and help lighten the mood at times. This was an extremely entertaining film with some of the best action scenes of the year despite all of its predictability. Stahelski and Leitch succeeded in making this predictable story feel fresh and if you are a fan of Keanu Reeve's work you will not want to miss this.