Anthony Kozlowski's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

It Follows
It Follows (2015)
3 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

The indie scene is where horror lives today. Forgot the twentieth Halloween reboot or the January dump truck that unloads all the mid-budget horror flicks that the studio wants to die quietly. The past few years have given us Oculus, The Witch, Don't Breathe, and admittedly the return of M. Night Shyamalan to elevated B-movie form. Micro-budgets and filmmakers eager to subvert the genre are giving us some of the most well-crafted scares that we've had since a creative dearth gave us seven Saw movies.

What elevates the best of the best with supernatural horror is a willingness toward social allegory. Our worst fears are the ones that hit closest to where and how we live. Cabin in the Woods and You're Next started the trend by slyly flipping the game board and suggesting that moviegoers are too clever for the same old song and dance. Enter It Follows, which takes a simple premise (a demon is slowly coming for you) and elevates it to sexual assault allegory. The demon is passed like an STD and can only be gotten rid of temporarily by passing it on to someone else. This raises questions about self-preservation. What lengths would you go to in order to prolong your life, but doom somebody else? Under the perilous and terrifying circumstances, taking up the "doom somebody else" sword isn't hard. Fear is a powerful motivator.
Like an STD, passing it on won't save you though. It only ends up buying you more time. It's a hamster wheel situation. Death comes one way or another.

Shot and performed with a delicate grace, It Follows steeps everything in a palpable terror. Its anachronistic setting complete with e-readers, tube televisions, classic cars, and a complete lack of cell phones is an ever-present reminder of the characters' futility. It's a perpetual post-recession dystopia full of dilapidation, overgrowth, and despair. And backed by haunting synths, it's a pall that never lifts.

Like the demon that lumbers with deadly inevitability, It Follows stays with you. It's a terrifying perversion of the world we live in and a well-crafted showcase of what horror still has to offer. 9.3/10

The Devil Wears Prada
3 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Everyone has that list of films that they "have to see." At least that's what you're told by friends who start foaming at the mouth when you admit to not seeing a movie that they have the slightest interest in. Hyperbole is responsible for killing my expectations of a lot of things. Thanks to rabid fans and their baskets of superlatives, Doctor Who and Firefly both give off a horrendous stink that has kept me far away. And on the flipside, decently entertaining films have let me down because of effusive overhype. Mean Girls in particular was a funny movie. Notice I said "funny" and not "hilarious," "hysterical," or "an indispensable marvel of comedy." That's because that's all it is: funny. The years leading up to my eventual viewing of it led me to believe something different. It was supposedly the harbinger of the 21st century teen comedy and an absolute delight to the millions of people who quoted it daily. Imagine my surprise when I finally saw it.

But this isn't a review of Mean Girls. The experience I had, hopes fading and the feeling of being cheated, reemerged when I sat down to (finally) dive into another supposed mid-00's gem. I don't hear The Devil Wears Prada being discussed often, but when it is, it's always using (you guessed it) superlatives. Meryl Streep's performance is one for the ages. Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt have amazing comic chemistry. It's the funniest movie ever made about fashion (kind of pigeonholing yourself there, don't you think?). But I'm a jaded old man and so I tried not to let unrealistic expectations ruin it for me.

Even then, The Devil Wears Prada let me down. A lot.

The first glaring issue in my ears - or my ears rather - is its lazy monotonous soundtrack. It layers on track after track of bland adult contemporary music that blend into each other like a single song on repeat. It sounds like royalty free elevator musak shoved in as a placeholder that the editor forgot to replace before exporting the final print. Imagine the sappy soundtrack of Love Actually, but without the cajones to push audience emotions in any directions. It's just blah and it makes the movie blah by being there.

This movie is also famous for giving Meryl Streep another notch in her Oscar nomination belt (she's up to twenty now), but though her performance is good, she isn't even the best part of this movie. The Academy seems to award her just for showing up. Granted, she's one of the premiere talents of our time, but she isn't flawless. If we're going to look at truly deserving performances in this movie, all eyes should be on Stanley Tucci. His bitchy, mentor-figure Nigel is an absolute delight and outshines Streep with biting wit and calculated affectation. It makes you wish that writer Aline Brosh KcKenna had written Simon Baker and Adrian Grenier out of the movie entirely and replaced their scenes with more Nigel. Is there a fan-made supercut of this out there somewhere? Because there needs to be.

In the end, this movie didn't even leave me with the deflated feeling I got from Mean Girls. That movie was good, but not as good as I had been led to believe. The Devil Wears Prada is just boring, preaches unchecked materialism, and is dated by its depiction of pre-recession college grads in New York. At least I got to check this off my list forever. 3.9/10

A Life Less Ordinary
3 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"I thought we agreed there'd be no clichés."

This late-90's offer from Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) will celebrate its twentieth birthday later this year, but this is the first time I've heard of it, let alone seen it. To say this movie was sold hard to me would be an understatement. My friend with whom I watched it (we'll call him Turk), lists A Life Less Ordinary as one of his favorite films of all time. As a teenager in the 90's, he apparently saw it four times in theaters (making him the only one to do so judging from its middling box office take). Knowing Turk, it's easy to see why he connected with this film the way he did. He started his tenure in the industry making experimental films in North Carolina and has lived a - shall we say - colorful life, blurring the lines between youthful idealism and life-threatening violence. If that doesn't cover A Life Less Ordinary in a nutshell, I don't know what does.

Ewan McGregor's twenty-something burnout Robert Lewis is a surrogate for Turk's roller coaster youth (he told me himself several times between sips of bourbon). His violent, unconventional, and divinely-intervened meet cute with rich firecracker Celine Naville (Cameron Diaz as the prototype of 90's beauty complete with Claire Richards hairdo) is something straight out of my friend's northern Florida upbringing.

Boyle strikes an absurdist tone early, poking fun at the bourgeois idea of a romantic arc. From what I know of Turk, his love life has also been quite the mockery of tradition. When women aren't coming at him with knives, they're screwing the bartender from the local franchise restaurant on his couch. So the failed attempts of Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo's angels to create a spark between Robert and Celine must have struck a certain chord with him. Love isn't the "boy meets girl" ideal that most romantic comedies nuke on high for mass consumption. It's a battlefield of false starts, mutual hate, and (at least in my buddy's case) a lot of blood.

I always try to give credit where credit is due, and to this effect, A Life Less Ordinary largely succeeds. It subverts romantic comedy clichés even as it stuffs them in one after the other. Like the meddling angels, we want Celine and Robert to end up together despite their absurd magnetic repulsion. No romance that involves kidnapping, murder, armed robbery, tommy gun shootouts, gravedigging, and Bilbo Baggins on a vendetta (Ian Holm plays Celine's father with a cartoonish whimsy) should end in happily ever after, but the audience's conditioning demands it nonetheless. It's intended as irony, but I can only imagine the literal analogues to Turk's life that he watched one by one.

When you watch a movie that looks like the inside of your head, it's hard not to fall head over heels for it. Watching FX's Man Seeking Woman for the first time had that effect on me just as A Life Less Ordinary must have had on Turk. But to quote BoJack Horseman, "When you look... through rose-tinted glasses, all the red flags just look like flags."

A Life Less Ordinary has clear intentions with its subversive narrative, but intentions do not a good movie make. Its framing device of Heaven's police department treating lovers like murder cases, while initially amusing, becomes distracting and dissonant as time goes on. Though the best moments of the film belong to Hunter and Lindo as their botched attempts at matchmaking go off the rails, it feels like a counterpoint from a completely different movie.

For absurdism to really work in the context of a story, there need to be clear rules. That's why Man Seeking Woman and Adventure Time in particular work so well as surrealist narratives. The former creates a realistic metropolitan setting and all of the wackiness (ie. interdimensional monsters, calls from the president, dates with bridge trolls) are exaggerations of real emotions and situations. In the latter, the fantasy genre allows for a certain suspension of disbelief that let the creators to get away with say, injecting a race of hotdog people.

A Life Less Ordinary establishes nothing like this. We're never quite sure if this is supposed to be the real world, a satirized version of it, a fantasy realm, or an all-out piece of avant-garde museum cinema. With nowhere to plant our feet, the film is still amusing, but allows for minimal investment. Scenes are played out for maximum shock value and don't move the story forward very much (they sometimes move it sideways if anything). Toward the end, I found myself wondering how the surreal addition of Heaven's police department aided the story at all. It really didn't.

If you decide to take this movie on its twenty-year spin, do so for the visceral experience. Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz have amazing chemistry (even if the dialogue gets ham-fisted from time to time) and the bullet-ridden absurdity of it all is a bloody good time. Plus, you won't see an unwound Holly Hunter climb a truck hood grinning like the devil's mistress anywhere else. 4.2/10

The Witch
The Witch (2016)
3 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A24 has become my favorite movie distributor. Not all of the properties they pick up have the same level of quality - although they are responsible for Oscar darling Moonlight and the delightfully idiosyncratic The Lobster - but they never want for creativity. Scrolling through their film catalogue is a similar experience to skimming a moody photographer's Instagram profile. It's curated for a certain sensibility, a box of independent movies for the streaming generation. I've never watched a movie of theirs that I didn't at least appreciate.

The Witch continues A24's tradition of hunting the odd and the quietly creative. Writer-director Robert Eggers starts with what is essentially the outline for The Blair Witch Project but gives it a unique flair. He sets it against the backdrop of colonial New England, complete with almost-impenetrable period dialects. Eggers uses his expertise as a production designer to great advantage here. Every visual tick is so steeped in a grim colonial aesthetic that you can practically feel the heat drain from your fingers and toes. Egger's director of photography Jarin Blaschke even went so far as to use as much natural light as possible and shoot at a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (as opposed to the typical 1.85:1 or 2.35:1) to give it a more "timeless" feel. On its visual presentation alone, The Witch creates a consuming unease that persists from the first to last frame.

The story itself almost becomes inconsequential to the aesthetic. A family cast out of a colony for religious differences find themselves battling starvation and striving to keep their faith while beset upon by an unknown (and possibly imaginary) evil in the nearby woods. It's a very, very slow burn, but worth it for effectively it will churn your stomach.

A lot of credit goes to newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy as the eldest daughter of this brood. Her slow breakdown and grapple with faith is the most tangible thing on screen. But as the shroud falls over her and her struggling family, we're never quite sure whether we can trust her or not. Notching this alongside her gripping performance in Split, Taylor-Joy has had quite the breakout year.

The Witch isn't a movie for horror fans who demand jump scares and buckets of gore. It is, however, a piece of intricately crafted Gothic art, as old fashioned as it gets and worth every minute. 7.8/10