Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is 8-years-old, friendless and on the autism spectrum. He is non-verbal, so he communicates by writing and typing on his phone and tablet. One night, he awakens to a children’s story on his phone called “Misunderstood Monsters”. The story revolves around a monster named Larry, who longs to be loved and have a friend to play with. As Oliver reads the story, weird things start happening in his room. He thinks nothing of it, but Larry is desperate to make a new friend and will stop at nothing to make sure it’s Oliver.
Prior to this year, I never put a whole lot of thought into the “kids in peril” genre, specifically as it relates to horror movies. The films were either good or bad, and the decisions made by the characters usually landed somewhere between asinine and completely outrageous. Of course I saw myself in the kid characters, but I never really saw myself as one of the parents. But now that I have a child of my own, all I could see when I watched Come Play was how much I related to the parent characters and their struggle to keep their child safe. It was something I could suddenly empathize with, and something I actually understood versus something I merely had an understanding of.
And when I think of it that way, Come Play becomes the kind of visceral, eye-opening experience that I am not sure I will be able to ever watch again while my son is growing up.
I have been kicking myself for missing In Fabric when it screened during TIFF well over a year ago. I had scheduled it in for the second day of the festival and lined up diligently 40 minutes prior to showtime. It was my first year being a serious member of the press and I had quickly discovered that to maintain my schedule, it would involve a lot of running around between theatres and screens. Having already sat through 8 films by that point, I thought I had it all figured out. But I had not factored in the size of the screen and the number of seats for that particular screening, and stupidly thought that I would not have any issues entering despite the obscene number of people in line. My confidence took a bit of a hit when they cut off the line with ten people ahead of me. Somehow I held out hope that eleven magical seats would show up if I waited around, missing other potential screenings I could have ran into instead. But it was not to be for me, the few people ahead and the 100+ behind me.
TIFF made up for this by scheduling
multiple additional screenings of the film to meet the audience demand. As it
would turn out, I had other much more pressing movies to see literally every
single time they showed it. I was disappointed I missed out, but the
consolation was seeing literally everything else. A24 picked up the film for
release in the US soon after the festival (Mongrel Media picked it up for
Canada), so I assumed I would not have to wait all that long to see it. That
was September 2018.
Cut to December 2019. It is very cold outside, Christmas is coming, a whole other TIFF has come and gone, and I am just now finally seeing In Fabric. Some would call it a Christmas movie, so thematically the timing makes sense. But to say my expectations were super high would be an understatement.
Charlotte (Allison Williams) was a teenage cello prodigy on
her way to being a star. But she had to leave her illustrious school when her
mother fell ill. Flash to ten years later, where her mother has passed away and
Charlotte is not sure what to do next. She decides to take a trip to Shanghai
and there she encounters Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the school’s new rising
star. They have an instant rapport and comradery, but it does not last for
If you are squeamish, or prefer the movies you watch to feature less bugs, blood, and vomit, than this might not be the film for you.
I have already said far too much for my own good. Saying any more would rob you of the deliriously twisted pleasure in seeing how The Perfection plays out for the remainder of its 90-minute running time. The film was a huge hit at last year’s Fantastic Fest – and after watching, it is plainly obvious to see why.
For as far back as I can remember, I have had Sundance Film Festival FOMO. Going to Cannes will likely remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future, but the prospect of going to Sundance is much more attainable — just a matter of the stars lining up in just the right pattern (and my wife granting me permission to skip her birthday to spend a week in Utah). Until both of those things happen or Hell freezes over, I will continue to sit by idly paying attention to all of the buzz coming out of the festival every January and make a mental list of all my must-see films.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was one of those films and was one I assumed I would have to wait until the Fall to see at TIFF. Thankfully, the film showed up a whole lot earlier. The buzz has remained high ever since the January premiere and I have heard and read the word “Oscar” being thrown around in a completely serious way. And when that happens, it can go one of two ways: it can be warranted or absolutely preposterous. And despite the lengthy and obnoxious title, I hoped it was the former and not the latter on this one.
When I pitched watching Velvet Buzzsaw to my wife, I mentioned that Dan Gilroy had written and directed two other films: Nightcrawler, which I love, cherish and still to this day remain devastated did not land Jake Gyllenhaal a Best Actor Oscar nomination; and Roman J. Israel, Esq., a total mess of a movie that landed Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar nomination, despite featuring the single worst performance Denzel has ever given. The film was better used as a punchline in a Weekend Update sketch involving Bill Hader’s Stefon which still makes me laugh just thinking about it.
So needless to say, it was a 50/50 shot going into Velvet Buzzsaw. I refused to watch the trailer (and you should too) and tried my very best to stay away from any and all of the Sundance reviews. But even after seeing Gilroy’s mash up of satire and horror set in the world of art dealers, creators and critics, I am still sort of confused about what a Velvet Buzzsaw is. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of whatever Gilroy thought he was making here.
I watch a lot of movies, so it seems to shock friends and co-workers any time I have not seen the popular movie of the moment as quickly as they have. I usually have the standard excuse of “It’s on the list” or “I’m waiting for Netflix”, but as must-see content continues to pile up on an almost hourly basis, I find myself consistently behind the curve. Quitting my full time job is not an option (especially when you’ve only recently become a full-time homeowner), so I’m constantly playing catch-up.
I say all of this, because the last few weeks have been dominated by discussions about Christmas, New Year’s, whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie (spoiler alert: It is), and Bird Box. The film premiered with little fanfare at AFI Fest in November (mostly because they cancelled their Red Carpet coverage out of respect for on-going wildfires terrorizing California at the time), but has since become one of the most watched original Netflix films, has inspired conspiracy theories about the veracity of the memes about the film being posted on Twitter, and now has inspired its own social media challenge related to activities being performed while blindfolded.
So yes, it makes sense that someone would be surprised I had not watched the film just yet. I made a point of fixing as soon as I possibly could.
The Gift got lost in the shuffle before TIFF earlier this year. I had heard increasingly great things about the average-looking thriller, and finally found some time to see it at the end of the summer. And now I regret not encouraging more people to check it out too. From the moment the film starts, it is anything but average.
Joel Edgerton (who was terrific in the under appreciated Black Mass) writes, directs and stars in this suspenseful gem that starts off akin to Fatal Attraction, before becoming its own scary thing entirely. It is easily one of the most unsettling films I have seen all year. It is the rare film that feels creepy and leaves you disturbed long after its twisty finale. The camera lingers too long on some moments, and adds some genuine horror to others. You expect some flaws from a first-time director, but Edgerton is a pro and makes you feel every range of emotion possible over the course of TheGift‘s lean 110-minute running time. Not one moment feels wasted, and it never really slows down. Edgerton is great in his supporting role, and Rebecca Hall is even better.
But the real standout is Jason Bateman. He plays the slimy prick character he has nearly perfected since Arrested Development, but he is completely devoid of all comedy here. And Edgerton taps into that archetype and turns it on its head, giving us what might be the best performance of Bateman’s career (Teen Wolf Too notwithstanding). It just feels so natural and brings a dramatic gravitas that you would have never expected from him. What easily could have been phoned in turns into a perception altering game changer. I have long waited for him to try something different, and hope he continues to be more daring in his future roles.
As a writer, my problem has consistently been brevity. I always write too much and tend to overwrite in some cases. So as an exercise, I’ve devised #ShortCuts — short, timed reviews that I write within 15-minutes, check for spelling and grammar, and that’s it. The idea is a bit daunting for someone who has never really been limited with what he writes, but it’s something I’m keen to try out. I will continue writing long form reviews, but may try to post these a few times every few weeks and see if it helps make my writing a bit more concise.
With that, here are my #ShortCuts reviews for Hot Pursuit and Unfriended, both hitting Blu-ray/DVD this week.