Saturday, August 19, 2017

[Review] 13 Minutes


Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the historical thriller 13 Minutes revolves around the real-life events of one man's attempt to blow up Hitler during a Munich speech in 1939.

That man is Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), a modest carpenter and accordion player from a small German village. The non-linear plot portrays the aftermath of Elser's arrest where he's brutally interrogated, the events leading up to the assassination attempt, and the recollection of his earlier life and romance with a woman named Elsa (Katharina Schüttler).

Of course, the most intense moments come during Elser's intricate and secretive plotting of explosives, and the most harrowing moments come as he endures harsh methods of torture by the hands (and tools) of the Nazis. It's difficult to watch these unflinchingly detailed scenes, which involve a lot of straps and vomiting, and I'll end it there. Unfortunately, the film's overlong flashbacks can't help but feel like underwhelming filler, especially as they break up the narrative's tense momentum. And Elser's character is never quite as deeply developed as we would like.

Still, 13 Minutes is a pretty well-crafted and fascinating portrait that makes you ask What if?

( 7.5/10 )


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

[Review] The Transfiguration


The Transfiguration is a low-key indie drama about adolescence and yes - vampirism. Think Let the Right One In meets The Fits.

Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a quiet young teen growing up in the rough New York housing projects. Oh yeah, and he happens to have flesh-biting and blood-sucking urges. Early on, he meets a girl named Sophie (Chloe Levine), and the two form a sort of outsider bond. Along the way, Sophie learns of Milo's obsession with vampire movies, only she doesn't know just how true his obsession is...

Throughout the film, many vampire flicks are directly mentioned, as Milo and Sophie name their favorites on ponder which ones would be the most "realistic". The referencing is reflective of The Transfiguration itself, and it's also a way of wearing influences on its sleeve--almost as if director Michael O'Shea is going "Yeah, we know you see the similarities..." It's fun, though. And intriguing. For the most part, the meaning of the vampire elements here is kept ambiguous, but the narrative has underlying themes of urban decay, unflinching violence, and a bleak sense of desperation. Eric Ruffin anchors the story with a subtle yet impressively convincing central performance.

So while The Transfiguration can't hide from the familiarity of its predecessors, this gritty coming-of-age horror thing is still a juicy blend of genres that I'll welcome in.

( 7/10 )


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

[Review] Berlin Syndrome


What starts out as a fairly run-of-the-mill romantic excursion, turns into a hostile nightmare in director Cate Shortland's Berlin Syndrome.

While backpacking in Germany, photojournalist Clare (Teresa Palmer, Lights Out) meets a local dude named Andi (Max Riemelt) and the two become smitten with each other. Andi even playfully jokes about locking her in his apartment because he's so obsessed...only it isn't a joke--he actually locks her in his apartment and won't let her leave! Let's just say the guy transcends the word "Creeper."

From there, we witness Clare's intense struggles to get out, whether it's physical attempts or mind games (at best, both at the same time). The handheld camera and gritty cinematography brings us right into Clare's helpless and claustrophobic point-of-view. Sometimes the picture even blurs and refocuses, emphasizing the overall disorientation of the crisis. And of course, as the title suggests, Clare falls into spells of Stockholm Syndrome--turns out, it can happen anywhere!

This film packs some stressful thrills, but unfortunately, a midsection lull diminishes some of the tension, especially as the film approaches a two-hour runtime. This year's other similar captive thriller Hounds of Love is definitely a more succinct, thoughtful, and compellingly-acted viewing. Still, the gripping end of Berlin Syndrome is worth sticking around for.

( 7/10 )


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Monday, August 14, 2017

[Review] Annabelle: Creation


Ah, creepy dolls. You can't live with them, you can't live without them. The same could be said for prequels and spinoffs. Annabelle: Creation comes as a prequel to a spinoff, which is why it's so surprising that it isn't terrible. Sure, the film has its share of problems, and it doesn't really offer up anything new, but it's a serviceable jump-scare flick for those getting anxious for the Fall season.

David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) is the director of this chapter--which sees a grieving couple (played by Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia) who lost their daughter to a tragic accident--convert their rustic house in the country into a foster home for young girls. But of course, things get frightening when the girls uncover that now iconic old, ominous, eerie-eyed doll who goes by Annabelle.

The typical Annabelle antics ensue: strange noises... head turning... popping up in random places... and making the occupants' lives a living hell. The second half of the film ups the ante and throws any sense of subtlety out the window, unleashing crazy poltergeist activity and demonic intrusions--to the point where the film unfortunately seems to become less about the doll and more about all the surrounding stuff. And given Annabelle's infamy and lore within The Conjuring universe, you sort of wish for a more carefully fleshed out backstory. That said, the film's tendency to deviate from focus allows for an awesomely grisly possessed scarecrow scene, which might remind you of Goosebumps.

Annabelle: Creation is all seen-it-before, but every time you see it, it's still pretty scary.

( 7/10 )



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Saturday, August 12, 2017

[Review] Wakefield


Bryan Cranston stars in the noir-ish and voyeuristic domestic drama, Wakefield. Its cynical dissection of marriage and suburban discontent warrants comparisons to stuff like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. As far as quality, it falls somewhere in between (Gone Girl being the better one, of course).

Howard (Cranston) is an agitated family man. After a quarrel with his wife (played by Jennifer Garner), he has a nervous breakdown and abandons her and their two daughters. But that's not all. Instead of packing up and leaving, he secretly stays in the garage attic and spies on them, like some sort of sadistic experiment to see what they'd do if he disappeared. The film could be titled Guy in an Attic.

It's intriguing to see how this all develops. With such a contained story, a lot of it hinges on Cranston's performance and the blunt tone of his voiceover narration. His character is so self-conscious, so observant, so miserable, so vindictive, and so scathingly sarcastic that it becomes comical--in that black comedy sort of way. As we know by now, Cranston does all of these things well, and he's fine with not being the most likable character. Oh yeah, and he grows a gnarly beard throughout.

Unfortunately, a couple extended flashbacks break up the narrative's momentum, rather than presenting any significant depth or insight. And much like Howard's prolonged time in the attic, the film begins to drag in the second half, especially as his self-sabotaging disappearance becomes increasingly pointless. By then, it's just a matter of waiting to see when Howard will reveal himself, or if he's too far gone. In this case, the beginning is much more interesting than the end.

( 7/10 )


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