Glenn Gaylord's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

Hereditary
Hereditary (2018)
1 day ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

INHERIT THE WOUND - My Review of HEREDITARY (3 1/2 Stars)

It's rare these days to see a horror movie without the jump scares, hurried editing, and insane CGI third act nonsense. Think back to the classics, such as ROSEMARY'S BABY, DON'T LOOK NOW, THE SHINING, and THE EXORCIST, all of which took their time with characters, had a mounting sense of dread, and featured completely practical effects. One could even fairly say that DON'T LOOK NOW isn't really a horror film except for possibly the most soul-shaking, final moment jump scare in cinematic history. Ari Aster, in his feature debut, has obviously studied these classics, pouring so much of what makes them great into HEREDITARY, and as such, he's been hailed as the second coming of M. Night Shyamalan, but without the narcissistic cameo appearance. It's certainly an auspicious debut, and with his keen understanding of breathing room, mounting tension, composition, and a stellar use of sound and music, he certainly has the goods. Bonus: He gets an unforgettable performance out of Toni Collette. So why didn't I like this movie more? Let my spoiler free review do the work.

Set shortly after the death of Annie's (Collette) mother, we meet her not-so-grieving family, affectless husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), sullen stoner teen son Peter (Alex Wolff), and disturbed, recessive, tongue-popping daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Grandma, it turns out, didn't exactly possess the warm and fuzzies, so nobody's crying too hard over her loss. Still, a pall hangs over the air in their Utah-based, gorgeous craftsman home, complete with a sky-high treehouse. It's hard to put a finger on what's ailing this family. Annie makes miniature dioramas of her family's history and doesn't earn her husband's confidence that she'll finish in time for a big gallery showing. The opening shot of these miniatures effortlessly gives way to their real world settings, bringing home the metaphor that this family is controlled by outside forces. Peter shows typical teen angst while Charlie, in a world of her own, makes frequent clucking sounds as she beheads animals to make creepy statuettes out of them. Clearly no good will come out of this warped family dynamic, which appears to be rotting from the inside.

Then, out of nowhere, tragedy strikes. It's gut-wrenching, caught me totally off guard, and will stand the test of time as one of the great horrific moments in cinema. The grief that follows, however, threatens to swallow the film whole if it weren't for the great performances all around. From this point forward, despite the fact that the film has its share of frightening moments, chills, and utter dread, the film turned into a somewhat empty exercise, sometimes tedious, but still creepy as hell.

I had trouble at first putting my finger on why it wasn't working for me, when moments from THE EXORCIST and THE SHINING kept coming to mind. William Peter Blatty knew what he was doing when he made Ellen Burstyn's character a prickly film star. She's established in the early scenes as prickly, impatient and easily flustered. Part of the horror of THE EXORCIST emanates from her discomfort as a human being, so when her daughter gets possessed by a demon, you have this very vivid character reacting with everything in her stable of emotions. Same goes for THE SHINING, where in a stunning early scene, Shelly Duvall's character lets her cigarette burn too long without flicking the ashes as she tells a story which shows she's in denial about her abusive husband. The characters' intense back stories strengthen the terror to come because we know their blind spots.

With HEREDITARY, we just don't get enough detail about these people, so when they stare at things in anguish (which happens a LOT in this film), we're seeing an idea of great horror but not feeling anything specific. THE SHINING famously used these same silent scream close-ups to great effect, because we knew so much about their characters. The cast here has to do a lot of screaming and crying, and as fantastic as they are at these emotions, they're all fairly close to being ciphers. It's not enough to wreck the film, but, to me, it keeps it from being truly great.
So much of the films works. Having Ann Dowd in any cast is always a big plus, and she definitely knows how to make friendly, casual conversations in to something more worrisome. Aster introduces elements of the occult and the supernatural into the film in a similar fashion to ROSEMARY'S BABY. We also have scary flames and things crashing through windows, which serve as EXORCIST signposts. It all works and is sometimes truly frightening, and much of the credit goes to Collette's commitment to the bursts of grief and moments of clarity her character navigates. She's just great. Wolff has some incredible scenes, especially one in a car which feels so personal that we shouldn't even be watching. That and the sequence preceding it is one of several classic moments.

Nothing in Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski's credits prepared me for his great work in this film, displaying a keen understanding of negative space and offscreen tension. Credit goes to the Editors, Lucian Johnston and Jennifer Lame, who know just when to reveal something creepy and when to hold back. Colin Stetson also contributes greatly with his truly unnerving score.

The film goes off the rails in its third act, and many will shrug at its truly bizarre ending. Personally, I like where it went, daring to be completely out there, if only it had given us a little more to chew on with character minutiae. It's a bit of a swing and a miss, but I appreciate a film that goes for it, regardless. It's a film about grief, and as such, has its pretensions and lacks humor. Aster has provided us with many indelible moments, but next time out, I hope he rounds out his characters just a little bit more.

Hotel Artemis
Hotel Artemis (2018)
1 day ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

FOSTER CARE - My Review of HOTEL ARTEMIS (2 1/2 Stars)

I know it's tough getting butts in seats at movie theaters if a film doesn't have a Marvel or DC Comics connection. Viewers consider dramas Netflix bait and only big dumb comedies, horror, and animated films seem to have a fighting chance against the superheroes. One recent development, which I support wholeheartedly, is the counter programming attempt made with exploitation films such as REVENGE, UPGRADE, and now HOTEL ARTEMIS, a somewhat impressive first feature by IRON MAN 3 scribe, Drew Pearce, and Jodie Foster's first starring role in 5 years. Now don't get me wrong, it's far from great, but at least it's strange.

Set in 2028 Los Angeles, a city besieged by riots when water becomes privatized, criminals seek refuge at the titular, members-only hotel, which acts as a combination hiding place and hospital. Run by Foster's "Nurse", the hotel has a dingy, noir-ish quality yet features high tech medical equipment. As long as you pay your dues and there's a bed available, the Hotel Artemis welcomes you.

Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry serve as our entree to the place after taking multiple gunshots after a robbery attempt. Foster gets an incredible introduction as she rises from sleep to help these men. Looking haggard way beyond her years and adopting a Keyser Soze gait, she springs into action. Pearce directs these sequences with great efficiency, helped greatly by cinematographer Cung-hoon Chung (THE HANDMAIDEN, IT), delivering a taut intensity to the storytelling.

Unfortunately, we settle into the hotel and its many occupants for the long run, creating a claustrophobic experience which, while never slack, just ends up feeling like a play with a lot of gory fight scenes. The terrible FREE FIRE from 2016 springs to mind, and that's not good. Despite the best efforts of a great cast, I wanted to check out of this hotel sooner rather than later (Forgive the wretched pun).

Still...Jodie Foster invests so much in this role and triumphs. She's quirky, odd, fierce, and totally in charge. Anytime Foster takes a role, I sit up in my seat, as I feel she makes choices carefully, while not always successfully. This feels like a chance for her to dive into character acting and she's fantastic. She also has great rapport with Dave Bautista (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) as her Muscle. I also loved seeing Jeff Goldblum and Zachary Quinto playing against type, Charlie Day shining in the Sam Rockwell role, Jenny Slate as a wounded cop with an interesting connection to the story, and Sofia Boutella (a knockout in ATOMIC BLONDE) carrying some of the best action sequences.

HOTEL ARTEMIS feels like an unlikely mashup of other films. There are bits of BARTON FINK, a LOT of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, PANIC ROOM, and TERMINATOR. It's late 70s/early 80s sensibility set against its 1930s decor yet mixing in futuristic technology makes for a vibrant sensory experience. It's a shame that it ends up feeling like a fairly lifeless trap. There's a good premise here, but it just has nowhere to go.

Upgrade
Upgrade (2018)
7 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

GET HER! - My Review of UPGRADE (3 1/2 Stars)

During the Reagan 80s, it was no surprise that filmmakers reacted to his administration, whether consciously or not, by telling stories about loss of control. Think TERMINATOR, WAR GAMES, BLADE RUNNER, ROBOCOP, ROAD WARRIOR, the stunning 1984, or BLUE VELVET to get the idea that a dystopian world felt well within our grasp. Flash forward to today, where a dangerous xenophobic, racist who Tweets nonsense and thinks it's best to "wing it" when meeting with an unstable nuclear power, and it's no wonder the artistic response has grown really dark. I watch THE HANDMAID'S TALE and feel we're just 5 minutes away from Gilead.

Not all artistic endeavors come out as thoughtful and polished as that one. Often the slapdash exploitation films do the trick just as well. Here's where UPGRADE, from the SAW and INSIDIOUS scribe Leigh Whannell enters the fray. On the surface, it's a cheesy, sci fi thriller version of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, but its commitment to the surprise of violence due to lack of control, sets itself firmly within the nightmare known as Trump's America. Or maybe Whannell just wanted to make a cool action movie in the 1970s Ozploitation vein of his home country.

Either way, Logan Marshall-Green (THE INVITATION, PROMETHEUS) stars as blue collar mechanic Grey Trace, who, in the not too distant future, lives in a world where computers and smart phones anticipate your every need. Sure, we're there now already, but this movie traffics in sleeker environs, so you know it's the future. One evening, he takes a classic hot rod to one of his clients, a young, blond sociopath of a billionaire named Eron (Harrison Gilberston) who introduces him to a new technology he's developing called STEM. Presenting it as a way to make the world better, we know because Eron has Crystal meth eyes and lives in a lair under the beach, that he's up to no good.

Tragedy, of course, strikes Grey, rendering him a quadriplegic with a mission to seek revenge against those who caused him so much pain and grief. Eron re-enters the picture, offering Grey his STEM implant (not very subtle there), which not only cures him, but gives him super-human strength. What could go wrong?!!

What follows is a series of exciting, comically absurd, wonderfully presented fight set pieces replete with great ultra-violent kills (you'll never look at a large kitchen knife the same way again), all delivered with Marshall-Green enraged yet stunned by his own powers. The STEM talks him through his feats, although nobody else can hear it, making for the greatest robotic pantomimes since Lily Tomlin took over Steve Martin's body in ALL OF ME. It's a cautionary tale about the fear of losing one's power, and being careful what you wish for when you gain it back. It's your typical Man Meets Siri/Man Fights With Siri/Man Tries To Live With Siri love story. Think Spike Jonez's HER with 100% more karate chops.

Betty Gabriel, the scene-stealing housekeeper from GET OUT, gets a nice chance to smoothly navigate a co-starring role as a detective on the case. She's commanding and between this and the former film, demonstrates range and movie star charisma. The rest of the cast is fair-to-middling much in the same manner of performances you'd see in old Cannon or Empire Pictures films. It's grindhouse acting from the 80s without the leather jackets and hair gel.

UPGRADE embraces its schlockiness, knowing full well that its less dystopian vision and more crazy fights and fantastic Marshall-Green reaction shots. For some time now, he's been describes as the Poor Man's Tom Hardy, but UPGRADE allows him to break free from those shackles and unleash hell in a ridiculously funny, thrilling way. It reminded me of John Carpenter's THEY LIVE mixed with the body horror of vintage David Cronenberg. Between this and REVENGE, 2018 is shaping up to be midnight movie heaven.

First Reformed
7 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

YOU PREACHIN' TO ME? - My Review of FIRST REFORMED (4 Stars)

I don't tend to discuss my UCLA Film School education in my reviews, as the references would tend towards the obscure for those who don't consider themselves cinephiles. One of my all-time favorite critics, the late great Roger Ebert, took a populist approach despite having a bottomless well of filmic knowledge. He kept his reviews conversational while still maintaining a stringency and a focus.

I've always aspired towards that approach, but there's no way to review Paul Schrader's latest film without mentioning Robert Bresson, whose DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST from 1954 had an obvious influence on Schrader's new work. A major figure of the French New Wave, Bresson's films typically utilized non-actors and had a stripped-down minimalist style. He was known as the "Patron Saint of Cinema" and his work can be felt by such successors as Todd Solondz, whose last film WIENER DOG owes a huge debt to AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, and now with Schrader's FIRST REFORMED, which clearly has its through-line from the aforementioned film. Scharder literally wrote a book about Bresson as well, TRANSCENDENTAL STYLE IN FILM: OZU, BRESSON, DREYER from 1972, so the man clearly had him in mind while making this.

Like COUNTRY PRIEST, it centers around a local religious leader with tormented doubts about his faith. In FIRST REFORMED, Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, the Reverend of a tiny congregation in Upstate New York that tries to carve out its niche in the shadow of a competing mega-church. The action begins when a pregnant local woman named Mary (Amanda Seyfried) requests that Toller meet with her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). An environmentalist plagued by doomsday scenarios, Michael wants Mary to have an abortion rather than bring a child into a dying world. Ettinger deserves the "Beatrice Straight from NETWORK Oscar" for his blistering single scene monologue. HIs words and fears have an impact on the rest of the film, especially on Toller's thoughts and actions.

To say more would spoil the beautiful anguish of this story, superbly acted by Hawke, in what I think is a career best...and I LOVED him in BOYHOOD. Here, Hawke finds a quiet command to his voice and stature which perfectly embodies the hellfire swirling around inside. At times it feels like the Godly version of TAXI DRIVER (which Schrader wrote), descending into darkness and the promise of some pretty severe actions. At the risk of a terrible pun, instead of DeNiro sporting a mohawk, we have Hawke!

Cedric Kyles (aka Cedric The Entertainer), who impressed me so much in Chris Rock's TOP FIVE, does so again here as Reverend Jeffers, the leader of the giant Abundant Life church and who does his best to council Toller through his darkest days. Kyles is one talented actor who digs as deeply into dramatic roles as he does with his comedic turns.

Schrader and his Cinematographer Alexander Dynan, chose to shoot the film in the old school, square box Academy ratio, much like IDA from 2013, another film which challenges religious devotion. It adds to the beautiful spareness of this quiet, difficult film. Still, Schrader manages one surreal sequence, which helps bring us into Toller's state of mind and prepares us for an ending which will surely spark conversations. Without going into detail, the last scene, a love it or hate it moment, forces the viewer to question Toller's mental state and begs the question, "What actually happened?" At the screening I attended, many felt ripped off by it, but I loved its abruptness and its unexpected turn.

I can't say I enjoyed watching FIRST REFORMED, as it rips open some painful wounds, but its definitely worthy. By bringing in the real world to the world of religion, which relies on faith and hope more than it does what's right in front of you, it's a challenging, tough sit. As someone not fond of organized religion, I felt compassion for Toller while still thinking, "You do lead a bunch of people to believe in fairy tales, so there WILL be consequences!"

Revenge
Revenge (2018)
8 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

MAD TO THE MAX - My Review of REVENGE (4 Stars)

Reminiscent of the stamp George Miller put on action cinema with MAD MAX in 1979, writer-director Coralie Fargeat announces herself with the bloody, exploitative, well-past-midnight movie glory of her feature debut with REVENGE. Although it owes a huge debt to Miller and his over-saturated desert landscapes and his gift for near wordless storytelling, REVENGE tweaks the genre by doubling down on the stuff you shield your eyes from, resulting in longer shots of gore which descends into a literal blood bath. Consider yourself either warned or primed depending on your taste.

Set in an unnamed American desert, the film introduces us to Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) as she hops off a helicopter with her boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens). In case you haven't figured out that Jen is the Lolita type, she dons sunglasses and sucks on a lollipop. She's a pouty, spoiled LA woman, addicted to her iPhone and used to trading on her sexiness. Richard, a married man, has taken Jen to a hyper-stylized house in the middle of nowhere to have a lot of sex (Pssssst! These two ridiculously attractive specimens get naked a LOT in this film). Of course, trouble comes in the form of two of Richard's friends, Stan and Dimitri, who show up one day with rifles in hand. There to accompany Richard on a hunting trip, they get instantly distracted by Jen, male gazing the shit out of her, which leads to brutal sexual violence.

Fargeat understands the fragility of the male ego and exploits it well in deft scenes showing how each of the men feel slighted by a woman who for so long has kept her true power under wraps. She has learned how to subjugate herself to win over men, but now she has to find much deeper inner strength in order to survive when the men leave her for dead. Let me skip back for a second, for when I describe the violence as brutal, I haven't truly explained that the manner in which they leave her isn't for the faint of heart. I won't spoil it here, but impalement and its aftermath play a big part. It's horrific and Fargeat allows a visual reminder of it to stay onscreen for most of the film.

As the title implies, Jen then spends the rest of the film trying to stay alive and get back at these three terrible men. We witness the birth of a warrior, perhaps not as assertive as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley or as tormented as Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa, but she's a worthy successor. Fargeat forces us to rethink the girly girls of the world, often dismissed for lacking depth and ingenuity, and through Jen gives us cause for celebration.

Although some of the dialogue is in French, the subtitle-averse shouldn't worry as this is pure visual filmmaking of the highest order. Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert and Editors Jerome Eltabet, Bruno Safar and Fargeat herself make every shot, every transition count. It's cinematic candy until it turns excessively bloody. Shots of glass being pulled out of feet or various mutilations go on for so long as to feel grossly hilarious. There's a great set piece involving a self-made tattoo which you won't soon forget. You can feel Fargeat playing with you, taunting you, and daring you to stare at the screen.

Truth be told, with a story as simple as this one, it overstays its welcome with its 108 minute running time. This type of grindhouse thriller should have clocked in at a lean 90 minutes, but it's a minor criticism for something so energetic as this film. Plus, Fargeat has an interesting feminist perspective which puts other exploitation movies to shame. She's playing with the same tool box but applying her unique voice and I imagine I'll be watching her films from behind my hands for a long time to come.