Review: ‘The Visit’ (C’mon Baby, Let’s Do the Twist)

Warning: shaky found footage ala junior documentarian.

Two crafty kids attempt to heal rifts in their family: allowing their devoted but lonely single mother (Kathryn Hahn) to take a little romantic time for herself while meeting their grandparents for the first time and spending the week with them. After a train ride into small-town Pennsylvania, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are picked up by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), every bit the perfect retiree couple they’d expected from all of their mom’s stories…but something is off. As we wait for the sinister twist we all know is coming, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan plays with our heads and emotions.

We’ve been burned before. The name Shyamalan had become synonymous with “lame twist” before finally just “lame.” The Visit, however, feels like a return to form of films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Like those movies (and pretty much all of M. Night’s filmography), there is a childlike sense of wonder and dread throughout the movie. In addition to an exemplary cast, the script is keenly aware of not only our horror expectations but our Shyamalan expectations, too, using it against us in the best possible way. By dropping banal hints and believable red herrings, the twist makes perfect sense and even backfills the thinking behind the false clues; it’s a horror film that isn’t a horror film that turns into a horror film.
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Review: ‘Lucy’ (Drug-induced godhood, anyone?)

It’s hard for humans to relate to a character becoming LESS human.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a student going to college in Taiwan (really?) and finds herself in a bad situation: a local drug lord is moving lab-made human growth hormones as a new narcotic for global distribution. As one of four foreigners chosen, each has a bag surgically stitched into their abdomens to act as drug mules through airports. Unfortunately, Lucy is kidnapped (also…really?) into a white slave den before getting to a plane and (also also really?) gets kicked in the stomach, releasing a massive dose of the designer drug into her system…and only Morgan Freeman’s questionable pseudoscience brain theories can do, well, something or another.

This isn’t the worst idea from a pure fantasy concept, but in any realm of science fiction, this thing flies off the rails fast. Even if this were plausible, the story is all over the place, trying to rationalize what’s happening with Terrence Malick-inspired flashback clips to other eras (dinosaurs, early man, and such). With regards to conflict and drama, neither materializes; Lucy’s emotional distress never rises above her original ordeal, and she doesn’t appear to have much in the way of any significant ties to her previous life to be missed. There is also a weird narration by Lucy that also goes unexplained, and not one other character is developed enough to provide any real contrasting point of view. Was this how it was written, or did the filmmakers actually think that Johansen and Freeman could carry the movie on acting ability alone?
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Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (A Fang-in-Cheek Mock Doc)

Friends. Flatmates. Vampires.

When a New Zealand film crew is hired to document the activities of four flatmates, their subjects turn out to be bloodsuckers! With each documentarian promised safety and allowed to wear a crucifix for protection, they follow the nightly vampiric activities of Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonny Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham), all leading up to an annual ball for supernatural creatures residing in the area. Complicating their lives is Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a newly turned vampire having trouble letting go of human life, and his human friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), who they much prefer over Nick (and have made a house rule not to eat). What new and amazing things will these strange creatures of the night allow mere mortals to learn from them?

Are vampires are the gift that keeps on giving? Every time someone declares the bloodsucking undead tired and passé, another take on the classic monster pops out of the coffin, but the best work seems to come from long-time fans. This particular labor of love is brought to you by the creators of “Flight of the Conchords,” and if the original short film is any indication (and how young the cast looked) they’ve been thinking about this for a VERY long time. All the tropes are here: no reflections, shapeshifting, blood drinking, hypnosis, sunlight, secret rules, you name it. Sadly, it isn’t all about vampires, but the main characters enjoy their share of picking on other supernatural creatures like werewolves. The hilarity is organic; the players treat the genre with all due respect while allowing the ridiculousness of the characters to shine through. Isn’t it about time someone gave vampires the Shaun of the Dead treatment?
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Review: “Scream” Season 1 (we kind of saw it coming)

As an MTV television show based on a movie series except with an original story, it wasn’t bad and it wasn’t great, but it did turn out better than you’d think.

Welcome to Lakewood, a small town enduring the legacy of the Brandon James murders even after twenty years…and they’re about to start again. After the body of high school student Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne) is discovered at her home and her boyfriend Tyler O’Neil (Max Lloyd-Jones) goes missing, local students begin speculating who could have done such a thing while others contend it was well-earned. But as the body count starts to rise, Emma Duval (Willa Fitzgerald) is contacted by the killer and told she has been singled out: it would all end with her, and she’ll never see it coming.

Following the invention and re-invention of the slasher genre by late director Wes Craven, the Scream movie series epitomized the self-aware horror genre, story worlds where everyone had seen too many movies about sociopathic serial killers and sometimes became them. Almost twenty years later and on the heels of their successful “Teen Wolf” re-imagining, MTV launched “Scream” the television series, a ten-episode who-done-it/who’s-gonna-get-it show. While missteps in casting and lower production values dragged the show down along with some mid-season pacing, the slayings were aptly horrific and creative as far as made-for-televison bloodfests go, and a few cast standouts made the show worth the watch.
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Review: ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ (Cruise Control Engaged)

While still spectacular, is too much self-awareness creeping into the franchise?

After a CIA honcho (Alex Baldwin) lobbies a congressional committee to dissolve the IMF due to perceived ineptitude, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) goes rogue to gather intelligence on a suspected international organization of agents believed killed or dead – an entity no one else thinks actually exists. With the help of a few trusted associates, Hunt manages to piece together clues to not only proof of their existence but also why no trace of them exists. Yes, that’s a bad thing.

From the original 1960s TV series, Writer’s Strike-inspired 1988 television reboot, and most recently the film franchise, Mission Impossible has seen many incarnations. The appearance of lone-star Cruise made the first two films (especially the second) feel more like Tom’s own personal James Bond franchise. This ended on the eventual third film in 2006 (ten years after Cruise’s first M:I film) when director J.J. Abrams brought Simon Pegg in as a techie yearning for field work and restored the team dynamic…not to mention injecting a bit of humor into the situation. The fourth film Ghost Protocol gave The Incredibles director Brad Bird the chance to shine and the chance for Rogue Nation to exist. About the worst thing you can say about the new film contains an inherit self-awareness that skirts dangerously close to spoof, but it still delivers the goods. Stunts, intrigue, spy stuff, all here; it’s really just a matter of whether or not you enjoy watching Tom Cruise do what he does.
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Review: ‘Fantastic Four’ 2015 (Again With the Origin Story)

“There’s nothing at the end,” said the cleaning crew as the credits rolled; how right they were.

Cribbing the look and feel of the movie Explorers, fifth-grader Reed Richards befriends Ben Grimm for the parts to build a teleportation device. Years later at a high school science fair, Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) impresses Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) with the solution to a problem they had been working on: how to bring something back again after being teleported. Dr. Storm recruits Reed to work alongside Sue and himself at New York’s Baxter Building to complete the project with its creator, Victor (Toby Kebbell), a brilliant competitive loner with a bad reputation. They finish the quantum gateway with the help of Dr. Franklin’s underachieving son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), but the financiers want to turn the project over to NASA following a successful test. Determined to be the first humans to cross dimensions using the technology they created, Reed calls Ben to go with him, Johnny and Victor into another world (cue theme music and a giant hourglass).

After the unreleased 1994 Roger Corman version and two previous movies with Julian McMahon pissing away the character of the Dr. Doom, 20th Century Fox has launched a new Fantastic Four film to desperately hold onto the Marvel franchise movie rights…and rushing it into ruination once more. The first act is actually solid with a few hiccups until the words “one year later” gut the momentum and kill any actual drama. Instead of seeing the heroes deal with their powers, we get a montage minus one: our villain. By the time everything comes full circle, the ending happens so quick that viewers should wear neck braces to prevent whiplash. Worse yet, the story could have been saved with a couple of tweaks and little more time spent with what the bad guy might be up to, but instead we get repeated cold shoulders and little if any meaningful interaction. By the time the credits roll, it feels like a cheat: “Meh, the Movie.”
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Review: ‘Trainwreck’ (a raunchy R-rated rom-com by one wily wanton woman)

What do you call a female philanderer? There really should be a word for that.

As children, little Amy and Nikki got an earful from their dad (Colin Quinn) about the horrors of monogamy, a lesson Amy (Amy Schumer) has held to as a grown up. While her sister Nikki (Brie Larson) has a kid, home, and husband, Amy drifts from guy to guy when not at work or enjoying her select collection of vices alone at home. After her publisher (Tilda Swinton) assigns her an interview with a charming sports doctor (Bill Hader), Amy begins to suspect that something might be missing in her life…and she intends to fight that feeling kicking and screaming all the way.

R-rated films for adults over the last decade have been hit and miss, creating images of pointless toilet humor, ultraviolence, or graphic horror. Awards season seems to be filled with quirky “real” characters but rarely in a believable way; too often, they seem like either a trailer-trash reality show or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Movies like This is 40 have managed to break these conventions but still haven’t quite embraced the full potential of an R-rating without spilling over into This is The End territory. Enter Amy Schumer on the high heels of her successful television show with a pitch that must have sounded like “How to REALLY Lose a Guy in Ten Weeks or Whatever.”
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