Whiplash (2014)

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Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Production Companies: Bold Films, Blumhouse Productions, Right of Way Films
Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Genre: Drama

What It’s About: A first-year student at a prestigious music school struggles to meet his full potential while under the guidance of an overly demanding mentor.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Andrew (Teller) is a drummer, but being any drummer just won’t do. He wants to be one of the greats–he wants to be the next Buddy Rich. He thinks that he’ll stop at nothing…and then he meets Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Fletcher has a unique way of pushing someone past their limits to help them achieve greatness. The question is: where do you draw the line?

Wow. Ya know…there’s really not a lot to this story if you think about it. A fresh-blooded freshman pushes himself to achieve the unreachable, and then a hard-ass mentor comes in and takes him to limits that he never knew existed before. That’s really the core of it. There’s lots of music, and the practicing of music, and some slight views of backstory…but holy fucking hell does this movie keep you glued to the screen. This isn’t someone trying to learn “Wipeout”, so hold on to your butts.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

The title of the film is attributed to a jazz piece played by the Studio Band in the film, but it references so much more than that. The way the film was directed and shot, makes you feel as though you’re being whip-lashed yourself. While sometimes, the camera work was actually jerking back and forth to create this feel, the performances are what really makes you feel it. J.K. Simmons’ constant state of being positive, and then negative, leave you in a constant state of disquiet. I think my neck may actually hurt a little bit, but in a good way.

Alright. Acting.
HOLY FUCKING J.K. SIMMONS. I know he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor, and that man deserved it and so much more. I’ve been a fan of J.K. for a while now, but he’s always sort of been a “that guy” in films…never really someone at the forefront. His performance was top-fucking-notch. I could honestly not read his character from one minute to the next. I felt as though I was being harassed just as much as Andrew while watching. On the surface, he plays uppity-music-know-it-all-asshole extremely well. He’s never satisfied and is always looking for more, and he demands that his students keep up or get left behind. But what really sold me on his portrayal of Fletcher was how well he walked the fine line of showing that he cared. He cares more about these kids and about the music than anyone else–he may be hesitant to show it–but it bleeds through every once in a while. The scene where he’s telling his band about the former student who had passed away almost killed me. Ugh. Ku-dos, Mr. Simmons.

I’ve had high hopes for Miles Teller ever since I saw him in the film adaptation of the David Lindsay-Abaire play Rabbit Hole. He’s a brilliant young actor, and I look forward to him taking on more dramatic roles like this one. I’m not sure how much actually drumming he had to learn for this role, but he managed to sell it even if he wasn’t actually doing all of the performing. And I don’t mean to judge, but he does have quite the “drummer face”, but that’s good–makes it seem more realistic. There were some scenes in this movie (which I’ll save for spoilers) that I just wanted to give this guy a hug. There was so much passion and determination in his performance, and I bought every second of it.

Let’s talk soundtrack for a minute. The title song “Whiplash” was composed by Hank Levy. I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of scholar when it comes to Jazz music, but there are some pretty great tunes on this soundtrack. A few of the tracks were classics gathered for the film, while others were composed by heavyweight Tim Simonec, who’s had his hands in several film scores. Justin Hurwitz contributed quite a bit as well, but he appears to be fairly new to the game…his only other credits are for writing some TV episodes including an episode for The Simpsons and several for The League. Hmm. Weird.

My Rating: Huzzah!!
Such a brilliantly acted and directed film. I think my brain hurts a bit from the whiplash-like motion of the story, but it was totally worth it.

Where Can I Watch It?: Rent it on Amazon or iTunes, or stop by a local rental store or library.

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Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

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Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Production Companies: Automatik Entertainment, Blumhouse Productions, Entertainment One, Sony Pictures International
Stars: Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Michael Reid MacKay
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: Long before the Lamberts are haunted, Elise reluctantly decides to help a teenage girl who is being targeted by a paranormal entity.

How I Watched It: In the theater with a friend.

Thoughts: Well, you guys…this movie is a PREQUEL.
NOT A PREQUEL!
I, for one, don’t think prequels are all that bad most of the time. Sure–they might not be the most consistent sort of sequel, but I think they open open a whole new realm of potential. Especially when it comes to this film franchise. Imagine all the possibilities of awesome movies staring Elise that they could give us! Let’s hope.

This film is set several years before the haunting of the Lambert family from the first two chapters. A teenage girl named Quinn (Scott) makes a special trip to visit the psychic she’s heard so much about from friends. When she arrives, Elise (Shaye) is more than reluctant to speak to her. This isn’t the strong and powerful Elise that we’re familiar with from the first two films–something’s different. She’s seems scared. She refuses to help her, but when she realizes that she’s traveled so far…she invites Quinn in for a quick chat. Quinn wants to contact her mother who recently passed away. When Elise attempts to contact her mother, she senses something else entirely…and she knows that Quinn may be in danger.

So…there you have it. It’s a similar setup to the first two films. Some sort of malevolent spirit has its eyes on Quinn, and it’s not willing to back down without a fight. I don’t want to continue with a synopsis and ruin this one for you. Can’t ruin the surprises!  😉

Let’s talk about performances.
~Stephanie Scott as Quinn Brenner: I wasn’t familiar with her work prior to this film–which is always nice. I love seeing some fresh blood up on the screen, because you don’t really have any expectations based on the rest of their work. I thought she did an all-around solid performance. She had quite a few impediments in this role. Without spoiling too much, she gets injured and is bedridden for a bulk of the film. It takes some chops to make some things interested when you’re confined to one spot. I look forward to seeing more from her.

~Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier: Lin Shaye kicks so much ass. It’s always a pleasure to see her doing new things–and let me tell you, she gets more of a starring role in this film than any of the others in the franchise. As I mentioned earlier, we get to see some different sides to Elise’s character–lots of great development there. I just…I…gah. She’s my favorite. I will watch every single prequel/sequel/reboot that they come up with if she’s a part of it.

~Dermot Mulroney as Sean Brenner: I didn’t realize that Dermot Mulroney was starring in this film. To be honest, I kind of chuckled to myself because I had just recently watched this SNL skit. But I digress. I was sort of concerned at first. I mean, he’s got the whole handsome thing going for him, and that’s great…but his first few scenes were sort of bad. I don’t know if he was just having trouble connecting to his “movie children” or what, but it seemed very scripted and dull. To his credit, he did improve as the film went along. As tensions and emotions are on the rise, he managed to save his performance. So “meh”.

If you wanna talk about an awesome performance–let’s talk about Leigh Whannell. Not only has he been the writer on all three films in this franchise, but he also stars as Specs.
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He takes on an EVEN BIGGER role in this film as the Director! I didn’t realize that this was the case until the credits were rolling at the end…but holy moly. Oh, and let’s point out that this is his directorial debut. Talk about a big introduction…and what a great introduction it was. Major kudos to him.

Lots of great special effects and really cool makeup designs for the ghosts in this one. Creeeeeeeepy.

My Rating: Huzzah!!!
I’m gonna go ahead and throw it out there–I think this one may be the scariest one in the franchise so far. I lost count of the number of times that I jumped in my seat. We’re not talking cheap jump scares either. So creepy and so well done. A fresh addition to the franchise, and I only hope that they keep these coming.

Where Can I Watch It?: This one’s still on the theater circuit. Catch it if you can.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

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Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Production Companies: Blumhouse Productions, Platinum Dunes, Universal Pictures, Why Not Productions
Stars:  Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Jack Conley, Michael Keneth Williams
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: Sequel to The Purge (2013). This time we view the annual Purge from within the city limits as opposed to a single household. 3 stories become intertwined as a group of people struggle to survive the night.

How I watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: **Spoilers Be Damned**
When the first movie came out last year, I was so excited about the concept. One night a year when you could get away with anything…even murder. I mean…come on. That’s a pretty terrifying thought. The first movie was setup as more of a home invasion, where an upper class family settled in for the night in their barricaded home, only to be terrorized by a group of people from the outside.  I left that film fairly pleased. I enjoyed it…but the more I thought about it, I decided what I really enjoyed was the idea of it.

Now THIS movie was more what I was wanting to see. I’m a middle class citizen. I know that there is no way I would be able to afford all the fancy-schmancy barricades. This film takes on the journey of three separate groups of middle/lower class people that become intertwined as they try to survive in the city.

The 3 stories:
1) Eva and Cali: Eva (Ejoga) and daughter Cali (Soul) are gonna wait out the night in their humble apartment. With them, they also have their sickly father/grandfather. After The Purge commences, they realize that he has gone off to become a “martyr” for a rich family. Basically…he’s sacrificed himself to let some rich dicks murder him in the safety of their home, with the guarantee that his family will get a hefty payday. As they realize this, a man from their building breaks in and plans to take out his frustrations on them. Before he can, men in heavily armored get-ups bust in and kill him. They drag Eva and Cali out into the street to the back of a large semi, where a man (Conley) with a large Gatling Gun is waiting. They call him Big Daddy. It doesn’t look good for these two….until….[ENTER SERGEANT]

2) Sergeant: Sergeant (Grillo) AKA Mr. BAMF is out for vengeance. When we first see him, he’s getting geared up to go out into The Purge. He’s got fairly heavy artillery and he’s taken it upon himself to put armor all over his car. We don’t really learn much about his story, but we can tell that he’s got a singular target, and that he’s determined.  When he rolls into town, he sees Eva and Cali being manhandled by the men outside. Reluctantly, he decides to help them.  He just rolls up and shoots all of them down. Bad. Ass. And instead of leaving them to fend for themselves, he takes them along with him. At least we know he’s a good guy, right? They head back to his car….and in the back seat are….

3) Shane and Liz: Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez) are a separated married couple. They were on their way home before The Purge started. They stopped at a convenience store, and while they were there, a group of kids in creepy masks cut some lines in their car. So….they make it a few miles down the road before their car stalls and they’re stranded…just minutes before the night commences. The creeps with masks and dirt bikes are hot on their trail. They make a run for it into the city. They come across Sergeant’s car while he’s helping Eva and Cali, and decide to crawl in the back. Before Sergeant has time to argue, Big Daddy gets up and starts shooting. They take off–all 5 in tow. Too bad that the gun was loaded with armor-piercing bullets…because now Sarge’s car is toast.

The five of them run around the city for a while, dodging attacks along the way. The destination is Eva’s friend’s place. Sergeant wants her car so he can continue on. Along the way, they run into more of the semi trucks with armed forces. Those trucks have a lot of high-tech equipment that appears to be linked to the city’s street cameras. It’s pretty easy to see where that one’s going…dun dun DUUUUNNNN: The Government. They make it to the friend’s house…and bitches go crazy and start shooting up their own family….so the 5 decide to get the fuck outta dodge.

When they escape there, they’re captured by the creepers that were chasing Shane and Liz at the beginning. However, instead of killing them, they take them and sell them to a group of rich people. These fuckers are making a night of it. They’re basically having an auction and a show. At 200K a head, the bidders can partake in a hunting session….with a bunch of humans as the prey. Anyone who didn’t bid, gets to enjoy the festivities behind bulletproof glass. Fucked. Up. Instead of what you might expect, they fight back and take charge. The rich send in reinforcements, and Shane gets shot dead. Just when you think it’s over…in rolls the anarchist group.

This movie is chalk-full of social commentary.  It has a very 99% vs. the 1% vibe. Early in the movie, we see some videos put up by an anarchist group which is led by Carmelo Johns (Williams). This group is against The Purge and the NFAA (the group in charge). They see the annual event as a ploy by the rich to reduce the population below the poverty line. We see other hints of them throughout the movie, but this is the point where they come out, guns blaring. They bust down the doors and take out all of the rich fuckers…but of course not until after Mr. Carmelo gives a speech.

Honestly, anytime I see Michael K. Williams, I just wanna call him Omar.

Ya know...from The Wire?

Ya know…from The Wire?

Anyway, Liz is pissed that they killed Shane, so she stays behind to purge with them. The other 3 leave, steal a car, and Sergeant heads to his final destination.

It’s finally revealed to us that he wants to kill the man who killed his son the year before in a drunk driving accident. He breaks in, and it looks like he’s done the deed. He goes to leave the house….and BAM. Someone shoots at him. Guess who? Big Daddy. He was pretty pissed that he shot him earlier. He reveals to us that he works for the government. Apparently the good people of America weren’t getting out there and killing each other enough, so the government decided to even the playing field a bit. He reveals all of the secrets, and it looks like Sarge is done for….and BAM! MORE SHOOTING. The man who Sergeant went there to kill is alive takes mercy on him and shoots Big Daddy right in the noggin. Seeeee?  Sarge is a good guy! He didn’t do it!

Then the sirens sound. The Purge is over. The man, Cali and Eva rush Sergeant to the hospital. FIN.

Honestly, my only complaint was that the lens flares from the flashlights when they’re down in the subway seemed fake. Meh.

My Rating: Huzzah!!

I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Well placed twists and turns, high adrenaline, great action–a truly intense ride. Terrifying.

Where Can I Watch It?: Available on Amazon and iTunes. I rented it from the local Family Video.

 

Oculus (2013)

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Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard, Jeff Seidman
Production Companies: Relativity Media, Intrepid Pictures, MICA Entertainment, WWE Studios, Blumhouse Productions, Lasser Productions
Stars: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: A woman sets out to prove that her brother is innocent of his murder charges by proving that a mirror from their past possesses some sort of supernatural power.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Night. Lights out.

Thoughts:

General overview of the beginning without spoiling it:
Okay.  So you’ve got Kaylie (Gillan) and Tim (Thwaites). They’re brother and sister. The entire movie jumps back and forth between present time and their childhood (Basso and Ryan). We only get to see flashes of the past a little at a time, and as the movie continues, the story of their past slowly unravels while you simultaneously see what’s happening in the now.

We start out the movie knowing that Tim has been hospitalized because he was convicted of murdering his father as a young boy. He’s being released on his 21st birthday. Kaylie works at an auction house which has acquired an antique mirror.  But it’s not just any mirror, it’s the same mirror they had in their house when they were growing up. Kaylie’s on a mission to prove that her brother is innocent–to prove that the mirror is possessed or haunted, or in some way did all of those things that her brother was blamed for.

So, they return to their childhood home, and Kaylie sets up this elaborate room full of cameras and sensory equipment and booby traps. Tim, who’s been through years and years of therapy, no longer believes that something supernatural happened.  He believes that everything that happened was just a creation of his subconscious mind.  So, her first challenge is turning the skeptic back into a believer. As the night unravels, shit gets weird.

Enough about the plot. Blah blah blah.  Shit happens.

Okay.  One thing that bothered me right from the get-go (aside from Karen Gillan’s bangs) is that…Tim gets released from psychiatric detention after..what?….10 years? Okay. Good for him.  He can get on with his life. Then comes dear sister Kaylie to throw him RIGHT back into all the shit that he just spent years forgetting. I mean…come on!  I understand that she had to deal with the past on her own whilst jumping through foster care, and I get that she wants to kick this mirror’s ass…but COME ON.  Give the guy a frickin’ break! Maybe let him go get laid or something–I mean, you know he’s a virgin. He’s been locked up since he was a pre-teen. Ugh. But anyway, after I get over hating Kaylie at the beginning, the movie really kicks off.  She’s just fucking demented, but she’s also really fucking determined.  She’s prepared for this for a long time.

Now, the idea of a haunted mirror, doesn’t sound very scary to me.  I mean…to be perfectly honest, it sounds pretty stupid.  BUT, I can tell you that this movie is incredibly unsettling. The constant jumping back and forth between past and present, and sometimes intertwining them kind of makes you feel uneasy.  And this mirror can do a lot of shit, mmmmkay?  Like…it alters your mind if you’re within a certain radius of it.  Shit gets really weird.  They start imagining things, and we go on the ride with them as they try to decipher what is real and what is an illusion. It’s confusing and frustrating….but in a good way.  The way that the story was directed and edited made it highly successful.

Acting.
Karen Gillan.  I was a little worried that I would only be able to see her as Amelia Pond from Doctor Who, but I got over it.  After I got over her fucking bangs. But that’s just me. I can definitely hear her Scottish accent coming through at times—a lot of times.  But once I get over the nitpicking, she did a pretty good job.

Brenton Thwaites. I just feel bad for him the entire time. Poor guy. His life really sucks. The fact that I feel for him, speaks to how well he plays Tim.

Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane. The elusive parents in the childhood segments. Really creepy stuff. I mean, these two basically become bitches to the supernatural forces….so think….DID patients (Dissociative Identiy Disorder AKA Multiple Personality Disorder). Kudos to them because they pull it off really well.

Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan.  The childhood versions of Kaylie and Tim. I was especially impressed with Basso.  She’s a great little actress.  Garrett Ryan was pretty strong, but Annalise just overshadowed him the whole time for me. Look forward to seeing what she does in the future.

My Rating: Huzzah!

I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t sure how successful a horror movie about a haunted mirror would be, but it definitely creeped me out.  If you want to get that weird stomach-churning-unsettling feeling in your gut, I suggest you watch this one. Don’t forget to turn the lights out!  😉

Where Can I Watch It?: I rented it at the local video store, but it looks like you can find it on Amazon Instant and iTunes.