Film Reviews: “Your Sister’s Sister” (2011)

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Written & Directed by Lynn Shelton.
Starring Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt.

Jack and Iris are best friends as Iris dated his now deceased brother. Jack is still mourning the death, so to gain him some clarity/motivation, Iris tells him to go up to her family’s remote cabin for a week of solitude. Jack gets up there and unexpectedly finds Iris’s sister Hannah settled in. Soon after, Iris shows up unannounced and things get complicated from there.

This was a high quality indie comedy/drama. I enjoyed Lynn Shelton’s last film “Humpday” but this one was much deeper and better constructed. Mark Duplass is one of my favorite actors and has really become a brand all his own. He picks great films to star in and writes screenplays as well. “Your Sister’s Sister” stands out as one of his most mature and strongly produced efforts. The same could be said for writer/director Lynn Shelton. She has a very unique eye for capturing intimate emotional moments. Her films get better and better. I am excited where these careers are headed.

3.5 out of 4.0 stars.

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Film Reviews: “American Psycho” (2000)

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Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, and Chloe Sevigny.

Patrick Bateman (Bale) is a young, healthy, and successful New York business man. Perfection on the outside. So, what exists on the inside?

“I have all the characteristics of a human being: flesh, blood, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why. My nightly blood lust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.”

“American Psycho” takes a look at a man who has lost his mind, as if he once had one. He murders with axes and chainsaws while blasting music by artists such as Huey Lewis, and Genesis. When one of Derek’s colleagues tuns up missing, Detective Donald Kimball (Dafoe) comes around asking questions. How long can Derek wear the mask?

Messed up and impressive performance by Bale. Interesting insight into the mind of a killer told through an elitist individual everyone trusts and wants to associate with. Sometimes what is projected on the outside is the exact opposite of what’s inside.

3.5 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)

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Directed and Written by George A. Romero.

“Dawn of the Dead” is my favorite horror film.

The story picks up some time after the conclusion of “Night of the Living Dead.” The zombie outbreak is still new and people are frantic and confused. The film begins at a television station in Pittsburgh. The entire staff are arguing and rushing to figure out which shelters still exist to be advertised to the public. The on-air commentator speaks clearly: “Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills. The people it kills, get up and kill!” It’s a chilling scene and very realistic.

Amongst the chaos, two people from the station, Fran, and her boyfriend Stephen, break away in the company helicopter to meet up with their SWAT friend Roger and his new partner Peter. The four of them flee the city in the chopper, eventually landing on a large shopping mall. The mall is loaded with the undead, but they’re low on fuel with nowhere else to go. The mall is also loaded with supplies, food, ammo and anything they would ever need. Can they make it work? Can they somehow stay hidden and survive, not only from the ghouls, but from the savage outside world?

This is a fantastic film that takes its time with its story and is scary on multiple levels.
The group isolate themselves from the outside world, and once the radio broadcasts stop and the television programs cease to run, all you have is static. It makes you wonder what the world has turned into, and it it’s still even worth surviving.

Along side the dread, this film is exciting too. Who wouldn’t want to have an entire shopping mall to themselves? The effects in “Dawn” are outstanding. There’s so many zombies! Special effects artist Tom Savini practically ran a makeup camp to get all of the undead ready for filming after the real life Monroeville Mall closed every night. It this kind of hard work, patience, and creativity that makes a film like “Dawn” so genuine, and such a far cry from our modern horror films.

The 2004 remake is admirable in its own right. However, the story feels rushed as they are only in the mall a couple of days. It’s missing the isolation factor, and the eerie mood the original “Dawn” conveys. It’s like an immature version of the story. The zombies in the remake are fast and full of energy. That doesn’t make sense to me. It’s much more plausible that the recently dead would be mindless, slow shuffling corpses without much of an agenda or direction. It’s creepier that way. Perhaps the remake was trying to copy the wonderful “28 Days Later” from 2002. In that film, the rage filled, fast moving zombies made sense.

As you can see, I can go on and on about this topic. Lol. Bottom line is that “Dawn of the Dead” is my favorite horror film and has been since I first saw it when I was 12 years old. I hope that someday another ambitious filmmaker comes along and makes a zombie flick with as much patience, scares, and emotion as this film has.

4.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

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Directed by George A. Romero.

Is “Night of the Living Dead” the greatest horror film ever made? One could make that argument and I wouldn’t challenge it. If it’s not THE greatest, then it’s certainly a contender.

Johnny & Barbra drive out to the county to put a wreath on their father’s grave. It’s a gloomy evening and they have a 3 hour drive back. Just as they are about to leave, a man approaches and pounces on Barbra! Johnny tries to fend him off and is thrown head first into a tombstone. Barbra flees to an abandoned country house. She locks herself inside. More ghouls approach and surround the house. They slowly bang on walls and doors. Barbra is starting to lose her mind!

And that’s how the film begins… If you haven’t seen it, make it a priority! The story is so suspenseful and eerie, that I wouldn’t dare give the rest away. From start to finish you really feel alongside the ghastly events as they unfold. It’s that feeling that makes my stomach a pit of nerves while watching this.

“Night of the Living Dead” is a true classic. It also spawned an entire franchise of horror. We are of course talking about the modern day zombie, but they don’t refer to “them” as zombies in this. The are simply “ghouls” or “the recently dead.”

This is a mood film that I watch several times a year, especially on dark & cloudy afternoons. While the film’s sequel “Dawn of the Dead” tops “NOTLD” in many ways, it cannot match the film’s gloominess. The black & white print is gorgeous to look at. It’s a perfect film, even in its flaws. I love it for what it is, an honest and ambitious low budget effort that can never be duplicated.

4.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Blue Valentine” (2010)

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Starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

Wow. Ahem. Okay onto the review….

Cindy and Dean are married, but they don’t act very happy. Something is wrong. Do they still love each other? Did they ever?
“Blue Valentine” takes a heartbreaking look, interweaving the present with pivotal memories of their past 7 years together.

Dean states to a co-worker: “I feel like men are more romantic than women. When we get married, we marry like one girl cause we’re resistant the whole way, until we meet one girl and we think -i’d be an idiot if I didn’t marry this girl. She is so great. But it seems like girls get to a place where they just kind of pick the best option or something. I know girls that get married and their like -oh he’s got a good job. I mean they spend their whole life looking for prince charming and then they marry the guy who’s got a good job and who’s gonna stick around.”

I loved this movie!!! Sitting here and typing this, I am still affected and moved. If you enjoyed “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, then this one is for you! Very similar in tone, sadness and sincerity. It’s a gorgeous picture to look at and I love how important music was in guiding the story. Moments of happiness and sadness seamlessly flow just as our own minds do.

Ryan Gosling’s performance really stands out here. Once a cheerful, young, hip musician, now a relaxed, washed out, pathetic alcoholic. If you told me that the two Deans were played by two different actors, I would have believed it. Fantastic performance!

The soundtrack is wonderful, mainly composed by the band Grizzly Bear and their guitarists’ side project Department of Eagles. Awesome!

“Blue Valentine” is fantastic. Really one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

4.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Cold Weather” (2010)

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Directed by Aaron Katz and starring Cris Lankenau.

The team who made 2007’s mumblecore flick “Quiet City” return for “Cold Weather”, a mystery about a missing girl.

Doug went to school for forensic science, but dropped out. He reads Sherlock Holmes novels and to pass the time until his next venture, gets a job working at an ice factory.
“They have ice factories?” his sister asks. “Where do you think all of those bags of ice come from?” he responds.

Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel comes to Portland for a visit. Things seems to be going well until she doesn’t turn up for a planned event. This gives Doug a chance to dust off his investigative skills, uncovering something that may be too big to handle.

“Cold Weather” is a major step up from Katz and Lankenau’s last outing. Clever, slow paced, and tense where it needs to be, without getting too melodramatic.

It’s interesting to see a film with this kind of story told on a very low indie budget level. In different places I think it helps serve the story but also works against it. I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. Some won’t enjoy it, but others will love it. A nice effort from this team. I look forward to their next project.

3.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Lovely, Still” (2008)

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Starring Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn

Robert Malone lives alone and it has been that way most of his long life. He wraps himself a Christmas gift and places it gently under the tree. What’s inside?
One day by chance he meets Mary. She asks “Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?” Words spoken so comfortably as if they’d been said before. The two bond and begin to fall in love. They always sit by the phone and wait for each other to call. They complete one another, take walks, and go sledding! Christmas morning comes and two begin to exchange gifts. Mary accidentally opens the gift Robert had wrapped for himself weeks prior. What’s inside?

“Lovely, Still” was in fact lovely, but incredibly somber in it’s brutal honesty. Watching Robert and Mary appreciate the little things in each other makes me hope to have someone in my ripe old age. There’s a lot of great humor to be found in this picture as well, coming from Robert’s young boss played by Adam Scott, who he goes to for “women advice.”
Martin Landau is spectacular in this. Not sure how he was overlooked by the Academy. First time director Nick Fackler has a bright future if he continues to put out quality like this.

3.5 out of 4.0 stars.