Toy Story 4
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On a dark and spooky night, an unidentified female corpse is dropped off at a small town coroners office, where a veteran coroner, Brian Cox, is showing his son, Emile Hirsch, the pathology ropes to figure out the cause of death. An intriguing mystery then unfolds within the confines of the examination room and office as the two peel back the metaphorical and literal layers behind this Jane Doe's unusual death. The film become more engrossing as it builds tension and the mystery becomes more and more inscrutable. This is where the film started to lose me. When the story was more of a mysterious crime procedural, I was all-in and when the film started leaning towards unexplained phenomenon which still might have a scientific explanation, I was still with the film, but when it went full supernatural I was somewhat disappointed and felt the writers took the easy way out story-wise. However, the film is consistently scary, suspenseful, and intriguing, so it absolutely held my interest and kept engaged me much more that most horror films. André Øvredal is a director to watch, bringing style and atmosphere to the proceedings. His first solo feature film, "Trollhunter," was a campy monster hunter movie, but with "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" he establishes himself as a director who can do straight horror as well, which makes me even more excited to see his adaptation of the classic 1990s children's horror book collection "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark." Overall, "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" is a unique and clever horror film, but would have been even stronger if it had managed to pull off more ambiguity around its supernatural elements.
I took my kids to watch the TCM revival showing of "The Wizard of OZ" on the big screen and my 6 and 9-year old were just as enchanted and terrified of the film as I was as a child. I won't bother to summarize the plot, because everyone already knows the story. Rewatching it now, it's fun to see how this film has influenced everything from the 1980s version of "Flash Gordon," to Jim Henson's "Labyrinth," to obscure sci-fi comedies like "Heartbeeps," to even J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." The film is admittedly slow at times, some songs are better than others ("If I Only Had a Brain" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" are the high points), and it's incredibly corny though out, but there is an undeniable charm and magic to the proceedings. Although many newer films have better special effects, less mannered of acting, and far better production design, they don't hold a candle to the wonder and magic of this true American film classic.
Charming and violent love letter to 1980s genre filmmaking. A group of teen boys (Eats, the fat kid, Woody, the nerdy kid, Farrady, the bad boy, and Davey, the relatable main character good kid) suspect their police officer neighbor is really a serial killer. This leads to lots of spying and talking over walkie talkies, BMX bike riding, and hanging out at arcades & tree forts. "Summer of 84" could easily be written off as a "Stranger Things" knockoff, and it is admittedly very similar, but it also feels unique in some aspects, particularly in that it's a non-supernatural horror film that's more similar to Hitchcock and De Palma than Stephen King or John Carpenter in it's 80s horror cinema love fest (both still owe a lot to Steven Spielberg). Directed by FranÃ§ois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (billed as RKSS), who previously made the innocent yet wildly violent "Turbo Kid," another 80s love letter that paid homage to low budget Mad Max post apocalyptic ripoff films (i.e. "Endgame" "1990: The Bronx Warriors," "Exterminators of the Year 3000," etc.). As with that film, the band Le Matos provides an excellent retro style synthesizer heavy score, although this score is much moodier than their peppy Turbo Kid score ("No Tomorrow" is a classic movie song as far as I'm concerned). Overall, your affection for the 80s will determine your enjoyment of this film. Minus that nostalgia value, the film is not scary or suspenseful enough to be memorable on its own. Also, the characters are not as funny or as endearing in a Spielbergian sense to be all that memorable, which is something "Stranger Things" does exceptionally well. FUN FACT! Look fast for the fictional Polybius video game in the arcade scene. Also look fast for a Turbo Kid action figure in the main character's closet when he's digging for his G.I. Joe walkie talkies.
Smart small-scale post-apocalyptic horror film is really about the horrors of parenting. John Krasinski co-wrote, directed, and stars as the father of a family living in a world where monstrous blind creatures roam the countryside hunting by sound, forcing the family to live in near complete silence. The film begins 89 days after the monsters first appeared and Krasinski and family seem to be the only ones left alive, introduced without explanation, walking barefoot into town to get supplies and medicine. The family has an advantage in this new silent world in that their oldest daughter is deaf and they all know sign language. The film is endlessly fascinating, seeing how the family has adapted to survive in this silent world, creating sand paths to quietly get from place-to-place, leaving all door open to avoid noise, and an elaborate system of colored lights to silently communicate danger. Different ways the family has adapted to live in silence are shown throughout the film and are a great hook to hold audience interest (Don't even ask about Krasinski's wife, Emily Blunt (who are a real-life married couple), being pregnant and their plan for how to keep the infant quiet!). From a filmmaking perspective, "A Quiet Place" is unique in it's use of silence and reliance on visuals to tell its story. Most horror movies rely on jarring sounds and pounding music to build suspense, while Krasinski has crafted a film where the smallest sound becomes terrifying. Even more impressive, from a storytelling perspective, Krasinski has created what is essentially a modern day silent film. There is almost no spoken dialogue and most of the film has the characters communicating through ASL. The original plan was to not include subtitles for the ASL, but at the last minute the filmmakers decided to include them. I chose to watch the film without subtitles and it worked perfect without, which is a testament to Krasinski's talent as a writer/director, as well as credit to the talents of the actors involved. Original ideas for horror films are rare these days, and this was a pretty clever twist on the tired end-of-the-world scenario, but what makes "A Quiet Place" a cut above most of its ilk is the film's emotional depth. Most post apocalyptic and horror films are simply exciting survival tales, and this film is certain that, but at its core it's about the terrifying responsibility of parenting. The most resonant parts of the film are the parents' constant vigilance to keep their children safe, teaching them how to survive in this new world, and their guilt over mistakes that have made (even when it was not their fault). This identifiable human emotional level is often missing from horror films, but when it is present, it makes the suspense and horror elements all the more terrifying, which is what makes "A Quiet Place" one of the most effective horror films of recent memory. Well worth watching, even for non-horror fans!
From Sergio Corbucci, director of the classic spaghetti westerns "The Great Silence" and "Django," comes a routine, but serviceable Italian sword-and-sandal epic staring Steve Reeves, best know for his many Hercules films. This was Reeves final on-screen appearance in this particular genre, later moving onto pirate and western films. "The Slave" has Reeves cast a Roman soldier who discovers he's actually the son of Spartacus, a slave turned gladiator turned rebel leader against the Roman Empire. Like his father, Reeves ends up leading a slave revolt. Unlike the Stanley Kubrick version of Spartacus, this film is minus interesting characters, dialogue, and narrative. However, Corbucci does bring strong visuals to the film and the production values of "The Slave" is better than most Italian sword-and-sandal pictures, which makes this film worth checking out for fans of these admittedly silly films.