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Reviews by Morg [2018] FILM

 

Burn After Reading [2008] * * * *

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[*Spoilers*]

John Malkovich as Osbourne Cox getting served in this is the most savage thing ever put to film, whether done for the sake of this movie's irony or not.

Burn After Reading is the Coen brothers' satire of so many different films and generally accepted notions about storytelling that it's hard to even decide where to start. It is the end result of a question nobody bothered to ask: what if one of those parody movies was made by a genuine auteur? It's meta on almost too many levels, and this fact along with one actor's easy outperformance of all the others may be the only drawback from a well-crafted and hysterical work.

When one looks at a description of this movie, the first and last thing that holds attention is the casting. This is in part due to the intentionally bland and unoriginal plot outline, but most of the punch comes from... I mean, just look at it. George Clooney. John Malkovich. Tilda Swinton. Frances McDormand. Brad Pitt. J.K. Simmons. BRAD. PITT. It's just inescapable. It's one Leo DiCaprio or Edward Norton away from being too much and descending into Wes Anderson casting territory. And you never forget it. Every scene becomes a two-way dialogue. George Clooney's character shooting Brad Pitt's character in the face is equally important to the film's effect as the fact that those two specific actors have this interaction on screen, in a movie. This sort of actor overloading makes it more difficult to have a singular protagonist, but it also relieves the pressure to walk by this formulaic approach anyways.

The resulting story is an intentional mess of mixed emotions, motivations, betrayal, deceit, sex, and drama that gets itself way in over its head on purpose. Think of the most stereotypical soap opera ever, blended with the most over-the-top conspiracy drama possible. All of these horrors of mainstream appreciation, satirized by masters in the art. You know that one guy who doesn't fit into the mainstream political sphere because he's always got an attitude that he's fighting for a cause? The Sean Hannity type? Well, here's Osbourne Cox, shooting home invaders while monologuing about his deeply rooted stances. You know that trainer at the gym that is just a little too peppy? Meet Brad Pitt, on a treadmill, waving his arms like a cheerleader. It's nothing short of jaw-droppingly brilliant. I can't stress enough how good Pitt is. He plays the most flamboyant and hysterical character I've ever seen, and it's ironically to the film's detriment that he reaches such high levels of quality, especially when we lose him near the end.

Truly pure comedy is merely a shift in perspective regarding something general and commonplace. It is what happens when we take what is normal and realize the underlying absurdity of it all. Burn After Reading is a master work in the art of classic comedy, with its overblown cast, realistic nature, and exaggerated storytelling. This sort of film is nothing unexpected from the Coens, but it was definitely a long time coming.


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Reviews by Morg [2018] FILM

 

Birdman [2014] * * * * *

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Here's a question: how does one judge pretension in a film? Is it based on the movie's general tone? Does it have something to do with how the actors carry themselves on camera? Is it based on an overtly stylish handling of cinematography? See, when I think of something that is pretentious, my mind never wanders to those who make art. In fact, the initial image in my head appears on a computer screen. Bloggers, reviewers, "culture writers," and average Joes who hop onto little accounts on little websites and grab an entire community's years of extensive vision and work ethic by the balls in order to exude the peak of hubris that is commonly referred to as opinion. Art, dear jmunky.com reader, is never naturally pretentious. For art to be pretentious, it would cease to be art. Opinion is the height of true pretension, and it can become the lens by which a schmuck like myself becomes in danger of sullying a masterpiece such as Birdman in accusations that flow by the wayside like running water.

For all things cinematic, Birdman is a success. This is an actor's film, but it is executed such that any viewer may find their place inside the theatre, be it behind the scenes or in the crowd. Keaton, Stone, Norton, Galifianakis, and everyone in between give standout performances which could be used as a sort of introductory course in toying with dialogue. Michael Keaton plays a washed up movie star who hopes to regain credibility within himself and the performance arts community by directing and starring in an adaption of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." When one refers to this film as "performance driven," there is a sort of duality to that statement. Yes the entire plot is carried on the shoulders of the on-screen participants, but its philosophical undertones ask viewers to examine the theatrical performances they put on every day. When are we acting? When are we being authentic, if ever? To this regard, the movie would make an excellent companion piece to the Tom DiCillo film Living in Oblivion, a movie encapsulating the final days of shooting for an indie film, extrapolated by dream sequences and all kinds of storytelling tomfoolery.

As has been commented on by everyone who's ever heard of Inarritu, the movie is shot to give the illusion of being captured in one continuous take. If this were attempted in any other type of story, say The Revenant or Inception, the move would be a mere stylish gimmick. However, there is still the presence of duality, and the way the film is set around another story within itself propels the notion of watching people act while being completely aware of the acting. Not to mention, the smoothness and semi-symmetry of each shot creates a run down broadway vibe that works with the material very delicately.

It's funny to think that something so judged as bourgeoisie is actually very simplistic in its nature. Birdman is comprised of very few scenes, all extensively reliant on pristine timing and emotion. The actors do a great job, the story is fascinating, the music on drums is tightly performed, and it leaves one with a lot to think about. Frankly speaking, I find that many who would refer to Birdman as pretentious may want to rethink certain inclinations of taste. Like I said earlier, there's a place for everyone in this movie, including a menial film critic who has to swallow their pride in the end.


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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets [2017] * * *

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2017 wasn't Dane DeHaan's year.

A big box office bomb after another.

Cara Delevingne, on the other hand, has delivered the best performance of her life so far: a completely ordinary and forgettable character, but at least not as ridiculous as her character in "Suicide Squad". Bravo!

The reason this model is still being cast for movies is a mystery to me.

"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" has excellent ideas, amazing CGI, great direction, and even a good performance by Rihanna, but, unfortunately in the center of it all, two HUGE miscasts leading the plot.


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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

Ju-on: The Curse [2000] * * * *

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It all started with two shorts: "In a Corner" (aka "Katasumi") and "4444444444". The first introduces Kayako and the second introduces his son Toshio. Both are considered great j-horror icons today.

Later, "Ju-on: The Curse" was released on TV. The first feature film in the series that tells six different intertwined stories, including the before and after events of the two previous short films.

And in the same year was also released "Ju-on: The Curse 2", which recounts part of the storyline of the first movie during the first half-hour and continues the plot about the curse with a few more interrelated stories, but in a more chronological order than the previous one.

These four films have a simple style that ends up increasing the scary atmosphere compared to the other more expensive and well produced films that came later.

The classic concept that "less is more" is applied with excellence here.

Highlight for the first appearance of Toshio in "4444444444" that made me shiver from head to toe. The total silence with the stop of the ambient music added to the scenery always empty and a simple movement of Toshio's hands is enough to mark that image forever in the mind of those who watch. Creepy as hell!

The way the curse is presented to the public through little intertwined stories is amazing. In the first feature, they don't follow a chronological order, but gradually everything fits together and one thing becomes clear: whoever comes in contact with the curse cannot escape from it.

This is probably what I like most about some j-horror movies, especially this. The curses cast by souls of brutally killed people are inescapable. They are like a whirlwind of pure and eternal hatred that sucks in everyone who comes near so that their souls may suffer together.

And furthermore, the mystery about where this evil power comes from and how to stop it is never discussed because nobody knows. Even two characters who are psychic, only know they should keep away from this and some tricks to identify the curse (such as using the sake to identify people susceptible to the curse).

This extreme mystery and sense of total impotence is what makes Kayako's curse really scary, not the clumsy way she walks and crawls, or her characteristic death rattle, let alone Toshio's meows that turn out to be more funny than scary. But anyway, I love these fun and cheesy ghosts features.

Another aspect that caught my attention was the scenarios. Practically always empty or with few people around, and also almost always bathed in sunlight, as in an eternal sunset. Creating a scary atmosphere in broad daylight (and also often using open spaces) is something few can do, and this movie succeeds.

In addition, the film also has its moments of carnage. The most striking and sick of them involves a man slamming a bag, with a fetus inside, on the floor and the surrounding walls.

A brutal realization as well as the mystery of what was inside the box in "Se7en".

Even with much less money and technical ability, "Ju-on: The Curse" manages to deliver a much richer experience in all the classic j-horror elements than the more expensive and famous remakes/reboots that came later to suck the franchise dry.


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Swartacus [2018] FILM

 

The Founder [2016] * * * *

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Persistence is a trait that is honorable, until it blasts your proverbial house and home so hard that the paint begins to wither and peel.

This is the story of Ray Kroc sham-wowing the McDonald brothers out of billions. This is the story of a charlatan, a louse, a thrice-married schemer. This is the story of a man who changed the way we eat, who changed how corporate America views franchises, who Steve Jobsed his way into a fortune. This asshole's wife donated their entire fortune to charity after they died, this asshole's empire continues to employ literally millions of under-skilled workers all over the planet to this day. This story is amazing, this story is disgusting, this story is complex and multifaceted... this story is told by John Lee Hancock?

There is literally only one reason this film works so efficiently and that reason is Michael Keaton. His performance is engrossing, full of depth, and in my opinion some of his best work ever. This includes his goofball turn in Birdman - which was not a movie I hated by any means - but it was a film filled with gimmickry and other cinematic pyrotechnics. Think about it for a second... Keaton does not have a top-shelf thespian like Eddie Norton to knock heads with here, or a genius like Inarritu to direct the piss out of him, or even Emmanuel Lubezki to light him in a profound or meaningful way while he stares into the 1950s drive-in abyss contemplating his wasted life.

Nope. Ol' Beetlejuice gets The Blind Side rookie dude and a gaggle of "that guys" led by Marge Gunderson's husband to drag across the finish line. Not to mention the leading lady albatross that is Laura Dern to stonewall his lines off of (if Dern were anymore ramrod stiff here, she might as well have been wheeled to the set nailed to a giant 2x4 by a couple of minimum wage PAs).

Surprisingly this film has a seedy underbelly not seen in a Hancock joint since he burst on the scene as the writer of Clint Eastwood's brilliant A Perfect World (perhaps where the pity casting of Dern came from?). As much as I am mocking Hancock, he does well to hitch his wagon to the newly reignited acting dynamo that is Keaton... as well as writer Robert Siegel (The Wrestler, Big Fan) who seems to have found a niche writing for dark underdog character studies.

This film was about as well executed as a PG-13 movie about a beloved children's fast food joint could be. Even the one F-bomb they were allowed to use was perfectly utilized when Keaton's Kroc seethes at the McDonald brothers "I'm national, you're fucking local!"

I certainly was not expecting such a pitch black character study out of this, but I will always remember Ray Kroc's wholesome family friendly advice for being shrewd at business: "If my competitor were drowning, I'd walk over and put a hose right in his mouth... can you say the same?"

Somewhere, Grimace weeps.


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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

The Blackcoat's Daughter [2015] * * * * *

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Loneliness captured in light and sound.

"The Blackcoat's Daughter", made in 2015 but only released on the international market in 2017, should already be considered a new horror classic. The perfect slowburn! It's really a shame that this movie hasn't reached a larger audience.

I watched this movie before, but I needed some time to condense in a review all the reflection that this movie caused me. I think I'm ready now.

Oz Perkins, son of the great Anthony Perkins ("Psycho") discreetly created a masterpiece in his directorial debut. A film-shaped poem as he defines it himself.

It's the type of film that achieves the feat of getting better with each new watching, even if it unfolds in an extreme slowness. Even with the slow pace, I never felt impatient during the movie, different from when I watched "A Ghost Story".

This is because all the elements of the film are combined perfectly to emit, without fail, an atmosphere of uncertainty and endless panic, as heavy and suffocating as the dense snow that accumulates on all sides. It's as if the characters were buried in an avalanche of depression, fear and longing.

A constant melancholy from the beginning to the end that you notice in the faces, in the scenery, in the haunting and subtle undulatory sound that accompanies the movie from beginning to end, like a buzz coming out from within you, which becomes deafening in a second assisted when you can already imagine from the beginning what is going on in the head of the characters.

Fear of loneliness is the main focus.

The pain of being "alone in the world". A frozen world on the outside and inside. Deserted roads covered with snow, an empty bus stop in the middle of the night, a huge college usually full of life reduced to dark corridors, huge empty bathrooms and an unbearable "silence" that is only broken by demonic whispers that echo through the pipes.

The only setting that presents a warm lighting is the basement. Another example of the combination that the film makes among all its elements. The scenery and the lights also lead and complement the story.

What makes loneliness so unbearable is people's indifference to those who aren't part of their family. And this indifference is noticed by the details, because in the speech everyone says that they'll take care of you.

The film shows several examples of these heartbreaking details like a hopeless phone call to a number already deactivated for many years, the excuses to not be present, the false promises of company, the gentleness made by obligation, fear, or because "you remember someone else".

People always say that family and religion go together. The film addresses the opposite aspect where extreme solitude draws the other side of the coin.

[---BEGIN SPOILERS---]
Katherine shouts: "I HAVE SATAN!"

Cries of pure relief for not being alone anymore, after all having anyone is much better than having no one.

The pastor asks if she believes in God.

How can you believe in God when he allows you to be alone in the world?

Later, the same God again separates her from her only company.
[---END SPOILERS---]

Nobody cares what's right when they're in pain.

"The Blackcoat's Daughter" is a truly horrifying retelling of the worn-out subgenre of demonic possession, done with elegance and intelligence.

The lighting and angles used by the director (always cutting off a little at the base to show more of the sky and the walls around the characters to intensify the sense of oppression) highlight the common environments.

It's as if at any moment that I paused, I would be before a beautiful image of pure desolation with excellent framing and balancing of light, shadow and smoke.

That's the main reason that doesn't let the movie get monotonous.

A simple walk through the empty hallways of the school is a feast in the eyes.

The final scene is a chilling portrait of pure panic. The pain of loneliness at its apex. Unforgettable and powerful.

Just like in the best slowburns, violence has the right moment to happen and when it comes it has its high effect because of the speed and simplicity with which it occurs.

It's the purest form of horror, which makes you face frightening real possibilities.

A realistic nightmare that would destroy anyone's world.

"The Blackcoat's Daughter" features an impeccable atmosphere where all aspects of the film work together to turn the pain of loneliness into images. Cinema of the highest level.


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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

Better Watch Out [2016] * * *

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"Better Watch Out" (title much better than the previous "Safe Neighborhood") is one of those movies that plays with the conventions of the genre while filling the plot with references to casual and hardcore horror fans.

As the film has a huge (and excellent) plot twist at the end of the first part, I'd rather not comment so much on the plot and just talk about it in general.

I'll just say that "Better Watch Out" is more of a "home escape horror movie" than a "home invasion horror movie", and just like 2008's "The Strangers", this film gets more interesting if observed from the point of view of the villain, after all he is by far the most interesting character there.

The plot unfolds quickly and the characters act realistically most of the time. Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) quickly identifies that something wrong is happening. An unlocked door and a figure in the backyard window is enough for her to get alerted just like normal people do.

Director and co-writer Chris Peckover is smart in setting the details of the environment (the pencil under the rug, the itch cream, ...) and then using those same elements without much fanfare, respecting the memory and the intelligence of the audience.

In addition to the various subtle references to horror classics, among them "Scream", "Halloween", "Black Christmas" and others, the greatest reference is made to "Home Alone". Made directly (even on the tagline of the posters "You Might Be Home, But You're Not Alone") during an amazing scene that transforms one of the most iconic and innocent elements of Macaulay Culkin's Christmas classic into something really horrifying.

The ending of the movie reminds me A LOT of a famous horror movie with a similar twist, and even the way the character is wounded and what the killer tries to do to escape the crime scene. This part was not just a reference, it was basically a copy.

"Better Watch Out" is a fresh, fun, and deliciously self-aware addition to the subgenre of Christmas horror that will please fans of the genre in search of something (mostly) new.


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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

The Other Side of the Door [2016] * *

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I kinda liked this movie during the first act.

Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori from "The Walking Dead") does a really great job selling her character. And that's not an easy one.

I really could put myself in her shoes and I'm a 25 year old male without kids.

Some great shots too. I like the colors, the dried trees forest, the ruins of the temple, and the big monster design.

Speaking of which, what a waste of a good work from the LEGENDARY Javier Botet ("Mama", "REC", "The Conjuring 2"). They barely show his work playing the scary Myrtu. This creature had potential to become a new horror icon if they let it have more screen time... Sad.

To rest of the movie is forgettable.

The end tries to make a good twist but what came before in the climax was so boring that I couldn't be bothered.


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jmunky [2018] FILM

 

Not Another Teen Movie [2001] * * * *

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This gets a star for each writer credited, minus a star for using so many writers.

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Chad S. Walsky [2018] FILM

 

Patriots Day [2016] *

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Patriots Day or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Mark Wahlberg Save Boston.

To me, if you're going to make a movie like Patriots Day, your number one goal should be authenticity. To tell the story in a near documentary fashion, and help audiences better understand the events of the day. Any writer can sit down and craft a story about everyday Americans facing dangerous circumstances and long odds and entertain the hell out of an audience. I'm not even opposed to real life events being used as a backdrop for a gripping story as long it's not an exploitative money grab. There have even been some current events films that approached their sensitive subjects with respect, and told honest stories with relative accuracy ("United 93", and to a lesser extent "Zero Dark Thirty"). But what doesn't work for me is when a filmmaker decides to shoehorn in a made up character that works as an audience surrogate and an amalgam of real life police officers. Of all the misguided and insulting aspects of Patriots Day, this one bugged me the most. Mawky Mawk, super cop? Oh fawk you, guy.

Now some might say that the only way to get this story told in two hours is to condense several storylines from the "bit" players into one composite character. And to that I say - bullshit. Maybe just don't make the movie if you can't tell it accurately. Frankly, I'm not sure this story needs to be told anyway (in this modern era, information and images aren't hard to come by when events like this happen, particularly in this case). But if you're going to tell it, do it right. I don't need scenes of Mark Wahlberg doing his best "Boston Bro" impression while crying into his wife's bosom about "messing with the wrong city." I swear at times Patriots Day feels like it's more about Wahlberg and Berg than it is about the actual bombing. It reeks of "Hey, look at us... we're heroes too." Maybe I'm being harsh, but the whole thing rubbed me the wrong way.

And maybe it's because Berg blurs the line between "real life drama" and "action blockbuster". Every time Wahlberg's Sergeant character showed up at an important real life moment and started spewing that Boston tough guy act at his superiors, I winced. Wahlberg, a police sergeant, basically dresses down a high ranking FBI official in front of about 50 people and is simply met with a "Heeeeey, cool it, Tommy!" What is this - Lethal Weapon 5?!? I call bullshit. Factor in the overlong and gratuitous bombing scene and the subtle support of trampling civil rights, and Patriots Day starts to feel a bit gross. I don't think Wahlberg and Berg had a nefarious agenda by any means, I just think this movie came across as selfish (if that makes any sense). I'm sure their hearts were in the right place, but their heads certainly weren't.

I should also add that I recently watched HBO's documentary "Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing", and that clouded my viewing of Patriots Day. Although the documentary mostly concentrates on the victims and their recoveries, the investigation aspects still prove more insightful then Berg's meatheaded film. It's honest, powerful, and heartbreaking, and I absolutely recommend you watch it instead of Patriots Day.


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