Thursday, October 17, 2019

Shia LaBeouf's Past Makes For Outstanding Cinema In Honey Boy

Honey Boy is inseparable from actor Shia LaBeouf. Not only did he write and play one of the lead roles in this project, but it's also based upon his life, specifically his childhood as a child actor while living with his abusive father, the figure LaBeouf plays in Honey Boy. Those expecting a glossy clean-cut biopic from LaBeouf and director Alma Har'el's approach to this deeply personal story will be left unsatisfied. Honey Boy is constantly raw in examining Shia's youth and how it impacted him as an adult and will leave viewers (appropriately) uncomfortable in numerous instances. It's not an easy watch in the slightest, but that's incredibly fitting for this story and taking such an uncompromising gaze with this story helps to make Honey Boy as outstanding as it is.


13 Days of First-Time Frights: Carrie

13 Days of First-Time Frights is a series of reviews for October 2019 where Douglas Laman, in the spirit of Halloween, watches and writes about thirteen horror movies he's never seen before. These reviews will be posted each Tuesday and Thursday as well as the last three Wednesdays of October 2019.

Entry #7: Carrie

The real horror story was the High School memories we made along the way. That's a sentiment I'm sure Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) would agree with. Carrie's time in High School has been fraught with bullying and cruelty as her classmates pick on her ceaselessly. Her home life isn't much better considering that she lives with an ultra-religious Mother, Margaret White (Piper Laurie), whose idea of discipline is to lock Carrie into a closet when she's convinced that her daughter has been possessed by the Devil. Yes, Carrie's life is no picnic, but she does have one interesting advantage at her disposal. Carrie is gradually discovering that she carries the ability to make things move with her mind.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

In Laman's Terms: It's OK if Somebody Doesn't Like What You Like

An image from Martin Scorsese's 2006 movie The Departed depicting Jack Nicholson's response to watching Thor: The Dark World.
In Laman's Terms is a new weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

This is one of those rare In Laman's Terms columns that I approach with genuine hesitance only because continuing the discourse around this topic feels utterly ridiculous. There's so many real-world horrors transpiring as we speak, it can't help but feel like a distraction to talk about how it's OK for people to not like Marvel movies. Doesn't seem like such an obvious statement? But if the internet's behavior recently has been any indication, such a seemingly non-controversial stance is, in fact, tantamount to heresy. So let's jump right into examining the discussion and backlash caused by Martin Scorsese and Jennifer Aniston recently saying critical things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Gemini Man Delivers Double The Will Smith's But Very Little In The Way of Excitement

Notes: Films are usually shot with cameras that capture images at 24 frames per second (fps). Gemini Man has been shot in 120 frames per second and is screening in digital 3D showings presenting it in 48 frames per second. This review covers a 3D 48 fps screening.

With Gemini Man, you'll be seeing double with four, er, two Will Smith's. How did this happen? Well, it all started when Henry Brogan (Will Smith), a cool as a cucumber experienced assassin, decides to retire. Per Brogan, his job is giving him moral heebie-jeebies, he can't sleep or even look at a mirror. Time to hang up the gun and maybe engage in a research project on what exactly Collateral Beauty really is. But suddenly, armed assassins break into his house one night to try and kill Brogan and Dani Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the latter person being a lady previously tasked with tracking Brogran in his retirement. The people Brogan worked for now see this retired-spy as a loose end in need of getting cut and the person tasked with taking him out is a 23-year-old clone of Brogan named Junior.

13 Days of First-Time Frights: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

13 Days of First-Time Frights is a series of reviews for October 2019 where Douglas Laman, in the spirit of Halloween, watches and writes about thirteen horror movies he's never seen before. These reviews will be posted each Tuesday and Thursday as well as the last three Wednesdays of October 2019.

Entry #6: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Us humans have been telling scary stories since the dawn of time. But given that cinema wasn’t invented until the end of the 19th-Century, we’ve been telling scary stories in filmmaking form for a considerably shorter period of time. Among many film scholars and historians, it’s widely agreed that the 1920 German motion picture The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was the birth of horror cinema. Yes, this is where it all began, the equivalent to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Toy Story for the realm of horror cinema is none other than this Robert Wiene motion picture.

Told over six acts, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari concerns itself with the village of Holstenwall. This is where Francis (Friedrich Feher) calls home and it’s also where a local fair has managed to procure a mighty unique attraction. Hosted by the titular Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), the attraction fixates on the powers of somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt) and him relaying grim prophecies to patrons. Strange attraction, right? Things get even stranger when a string of murders begin to transpire in the town. Francis begins to suspect Cesare and Caligari are behind the gruesomeness that may soon ensnare Jane (Lil Dagover), the object of Francis’ romantic affections.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari creates its scares through visual means, particular the ominous production design that makes the appearance of the village of Holstenwall as eerie as the murders transpiring within the village itself. Rare is the building or staircase here that’s brought to life with a completely straight line. Embodying every defining aspect of German Expressionism, every element of the sets has an exaggerated quality to it within The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Much like the backgrounds found in Kwaidan, Caligari uses this unique approach to visually convey that we’re watching a fable detached heavily from reality.

Watching Caligari’s visuals, it’s fascinating to see how heavily future pieces of cinema have leaned on this one’s production design sensibilities. Nightmare Before Christmas especially kept leaping into my mind right down to the textures on certain objects. Caligari didn’t just pave the way for an entire genre of storytelling, it also left an immeasurable impact on future filmmaking on a visual level. Production design isn’t the only area this production impressed visually provided you’re watching a certain copy of Dr. Caligari. The version of the film that I watched also replicated color tinting that apparently was utilized in some fashion in its original theatrical release.

This is yet another visual aspect of Dr. Caligari that manages to work divinely to instill an uneasy atmosphere. Colors also are used to enforce the aesthetics of certain environments within the Movies universe. A more restrained shade of Yellow, for instance, covers sequences set at a bureaucratic local government offer and an asylum to emphasize the everyday normalcy of these locales. More vibrant colors are utilized for scenes depicting creepier elements like Cesare to help visually differentiate them from what’s visually coded as “normal” in the world of Dr. Caligari. Modern movies like Jurassic World and Money Monster that use color grading technology to just douse their shots in a pointless light shade of blue could take a cue from the far more considerate use of various colors in Dr. Caligari.

Much of Dr. Caligari is a visual exercise, which explains why the characters are mostly broadly drawn archetypes. Sometimes that’s a flaw in a movie, but in the context of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it feels fitting for something that’s clearly evoking the feel of an old-times Ghost Story. Director Robert Weine and writers Carl Mayer & Hans Janowitz are out to pair up bold visual touches with a classical horror tale, not reinvent the wheel in terms of what kind of characters you see in these sort of scary stories. On that front, they’ve certainly succeeded with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a trailblazing feature whose impact on cinema is still being felt about a whole century after it was first released.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

13 Days of First-Time Frights: Jennifer's Body

13 Days of First-Time Frights is a series of reviews for October 2019 where Douglas Laman, in the spirit of Halloween, watches and writes about thirteen horror movies he's never seen before. These reviews will be posted each Tuesday and Thursday as well as the last three Wednesdays of October 2019.

Entry #5: Jennifer's Body

When it comes to acclaimed horror movies getting initially negative reviews, well, to quote tom Jones, "It's not unusual." Films like George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead or Tobe Hooper's Texas Chain Saw Massacre had plenty of notable detractors upon their very first theatrical releases before getting properly reevaluated in the years afterwards. What's especially strange about Jennifer's Body is how the initial reviews didn't just critique the film, they saw it as a vehicle to attack the films writer (Diablo Cody) and to ogle the films star (Megan Fox). As has been noted in a number of excellent pieces by now, the majority of negative Jennifer's Body reviews back in 2009 were all kinds of gross and misogynistic. It's utterly repulsive to see all these reviews passing for actual film criticism, though, thankfully, a broader array of voices have made themselves heard on the internet and ensured that Jennifer's Body is getting the re-evaluation it deserves.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Brightburn Fizzles Out Before It Can Reach Its Fullest Potential

Over in Brightburn, Kansas, life is relatively peaceful enough. Kids go to school, parents go to work and Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn), son of Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denman), is a seemingly normal Middle Schooler. Except, well, he's not normal. Now, really, nobody is "normal", but Brandon is especially abnormal. His parents have concealed his true origins, which tie into his superhuman strength as well as why he's so attracted to some strange machine located in the Breyer family barn. Realizing he's far more powerful than he ever imagined, Breyer begins to revel in his powers by committing a series of murders around his hometown, which won't remain peaceful for very long now that Brandon A.K.A. Brightburn has come around.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Provides A Fantastic Epilogue To The Jesse Pinkman Saga

SPOILERS FOR BREAKING BAD FOLLOW

Nothing else has made me curl up my toes and instill a pit in my stomach in response to dread like Breaking Bad did. That show constantly had me on the edge of my seat watching these characters spiral into wholly new people over the course of multiple seasons. Unlike too many other grisly TV shows (looking at you Ozark), everything on Breaking Bad had a purpose, every action had a consequence, there were constant ripple effects attached to everything. That's where so much of its suspense came from, the constantly present notion that nothing in a single episode was going to waste. Breaking Bad was all about every action has an equal or opposite reaction and that led to a one-of-a-kind sense of unease that I got the privilege of experiencing once again with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Little Monsters Is Plagued By Big Storytelling Issues

For the first ten minutes or so, Little Monsters proves to be outright excruciating, the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. This is the part of the story introducing the viewer to the protagonist of Little Monsters, an aspiring musician named Dave (Alexander England). Dave is a man-child protagonist whose foul-mouthed and selfish ways make the average Adam Sandler comedy protagonist look like a model citizen. Obviously designed to be intentionally unlikable, writer/director Abe Forsythe does too good of a job here, Dave is downright repellent. Even in the context of a dark comedy, why should I want to spend time with this guy? Who cares? One couldn't blame you for turning off the TV just a few minutes into his ribald man-child antics.


Cynthia Erivo Brings Top-Notch Work To A So-So Biopic In Harriet

As of April 2016, only one* theatrical movie has featured Harriet Tubman and that film was 2012's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Though a solid action/horror tale in its own right, even the filmmakers behind that project would be the first to admit that it's ludicrous that this high-concept exercise in historical fiction is the only cinematic representation for such an important historical figure like Harriet Tubman. For Gods sake, the man who killed John Lennon has gotten his own feature film but not a woman who was an integral part of the Underground Railroad! Such a massive oversight has been combated by the release of Harriet, a new feature film hailing from writer/director Kasi Lemmons.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

13 Days of First-Time Frights: The Fly

13 Days of First-Time Frights is a series of reviews for October 2019 where Douglas Laman, in the spirit of Halloween, watches and writes about thirteen horror movies he's never seen before. These reviews will be posted each Tuesday and Thursday as well as the last three Wednesdays of October 2019.

Entry #4: The Fly

Scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is working on something quite impressive. It's not something he's willing to share with just anyone, but he does end up bringing reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) back to his workspace to check out what he's managed to create. Turns out, Brundle has created a revolutionary teleportation device in the form of two telepods. It's still in need of tweaks so that it can properly transport human tissue but it's already transporting clothes from one place to the next without issue, surely humans can't be far behind. Veronica Quaife begins to chronicle Brundle's trial and error exercises in getting this machine to work properly and in the process the two of them being to fall in love.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

In Laman's Terms: The History of CGI Humans Trying To Be More Human


In Laman's Terms is a new weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

With this Friday's new action movie Gemini Man, director Ang Lee will be using cutting-edge computer-generated visual effects to create a wholly digital version of Young Will Smith. Put it another way, Lee is using CGI to "...[make] a person...from another person!" It's a groundbreaking concept that I'll be curious to see in terms of how it fares in actual execution. After all, Gemini Man is not the first movie to try and create digitally de-aged versions of our favorite movie stars, with a number of those tries going horribly awry. Before we all strap in for Aladdin Will Smith duking it out with Fresh Prince Will Smith, let's look back at the history of CGI wizardry trying to make young versions of famous movie stars.


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Burmese Harp Confronts What To Do When A War Is Finished

In World War II, a time of expansive violent conflict spanning multiple continents, Private Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) opts for a harp rather than a gun. He's the designated harp player for his troop of Japanese soldiers and he uses this instrument to send signals to his fellow comrades as well as deliver beautiful pieces of soothing music in between struggles on the battlefield. Eventually, World War II ends just as Mizushima and his fellow men are stationed in Burma. With the war over, they are transported to a prisoner of war camp looked over by British and Indian soldiers. Under orders from a British commander, Mizushima is sent to go tell a separate rogue faction of Japanese soldiers to surrender, otherwise they will be slaughtered.


13 Days of First-Time Frights: The Mist

13 Days of First-Time Frights is a series of reviews for October 2019 where Douglas Laman, in the spirit of Halloween, watches and writes about thirteen horror movies he's never seen before. These reviews will be posted each Tuesday and Thursday as well as the last three Wednesdays of October 2019.

Entry #3: The Mist

We're always talking about the Before trilogy, the Toy Story trilogy or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But what about the most important trilogy of 21st-century filmmaking? What about the trilogy I call Mid-2000s Genre Fare Where An Andre Braugher Character Perishes? This trio of films, Poseidon, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Mist, are all connected in how they feature Andre Braugher playing supporting characters that prove to be antagonistic to the protagonists and eventually, even in the PG-rated Silver Surfer movie, meet gruesome ends. It's the only thread holding these three individual films released over the span of 18 months together but it's all they need to make up the greatest trilogy of all-time.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Isn't It Romantic Isn't Quite As Creative As It Could Have Been

 
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is a cynical soul.Granted, it's hard not to be cynical in 2019, I mean, have you seen how little people in power care about taking the most basic steps to help our planet? But she's especially cynical, particularly in regards to the tropes you'd find in romantic-comedies and also her own self-value. Her life gets thrown for a loop when she bonks her head in the subway during an attempted mugging and ends up stuck in a world adhering to the rules of a romantic-comedy. This means everything is colorful, no F-bomb's can be dropped and every guy in sight, including hunky billionaire Blake (Liam Hemsworth), is in love with her. Natalie soon deduces that the only way she can hope to get back home is through following all the romantic-comedy rules to a tee.


The Mustang Takes Its Horse To Self-Improvement Road And Rides Until It Can't No More

When we start The Mustang, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a prisoner who has thrown himself into the shackles of isolated solitude. He doesn't talk to anyone, not even his daughter on the rare times she comes to visit him, and he's basically accepted, in his own way, the idea that the rest of his life is doomed to this miserable solitary existence. While off on a chore consisting of shoveling horse fecal matter, Roman Coleman comes across a wily mustang horse that's apparently impossible to train. Stumbling upon this horse leads Roman to discover a group at this prison consisting of prisoners, under the watchful eye of Myles (Bruce Dern), learning how to train horses as a form of personal rehabilitation.