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Saturday
Nov112017

78/52 (2017)

 

As part of his talking-head interview for Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary 78/52, author Bret Easton Ellis declares that the notorious shower scene in Psycho is the one element that makes Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece certifiably brilliant. Ellis is mistaken, of course, but his notion fits Philippe's movie to a "T". There are forty-five minutes of context and insight here, surrounded by garishly flushable fluff. Before we even get to the interview subjects (all presented, incidentally, in film-school-chic black-and-white), Philippe sets the table with a confusing re-creation of Marion Crane's long and frantic drive to the Bates Motel, which plays as if Universal Pictures had refused to let him use any actual footage from Psycho (we eventually see some, thank God). The doc's centerpiece--a thorough breakdown of score, editing, performance, and Saul Bass' meticulous yet immediate-feeling storyboards--is worth the hassle, as long as you resist the impulse to check out early.

Thursday
Nov092017

Tragedy Girls (2017)

I imagine the pitch for Tragedy Girls being something like, "It's Scream from the killers' perspective!" After twenty-one years and countless imitators, director Tyler MacIntyre and co-writer Chris Lee Hill (working from a screenplay by Justin Olson) stick the landing in a warts-and-all successor to Wes Craven's genre-bending, meta-horror smash. Squeaky-clean high schoolers/social media obsessives Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) build a following with their coverage of the grisly murders plaguing their sleepy little town. Turns out they're the ones doing the killing, and Tragedy Girls presents the audience with a unique challenge: how much clever dialogue; inventive, splatterific deaths; and twisty storytelling can distract us from the fact that these girls are irredeemable psychopaths? MacIntyre and company ratchet up the cruelty from first scene to last, evolving Craven's legacy of movies that are less meant to be enjoyed than feared. And, of course, blogged about.

Tuesday
Nov072017

Mayhem (2017)

When two movies with the same premise come out in the same year (be they dueling asteroid movies or Winston Churchill biopics), it's tempting to think of them as cancelling each other out. Pick one. Skip the other. Both Mayhem and The Belko Experiment center on employees viciously murdering each other while trapped in office buildings; both bring big ideas to the blood-splattered table. Mayhem director Joe Lynch and writer Matias Caruso unleash an inhibitions-neutralizing virus on a shady corporate law firm, sparking a wickedly grim commentary about what everyday people often trade for prestige and security. Mayhem isn't as gory as Belko, but the protagonists' unsavory and unpredictable behavior sharpens the film's satiric edge. Steven Yuen and Samara Weaving make for one of this year's most complicated leading duos. As they fight their way up the drooling jackal pile, you may wonder if there's anyone left to root for.

Monday
Nov062017

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

I know very little about being a mom, so I'm in good company with the writer/directors of A Bad Moms Christmas. In this rushed, ugly sequel to last year's surprise comedy smash, a trio of clichéd, put-upon suburbanites grapples with unannounced holiday visits from their equally cookie-cutter parents. The first film offered some insights into the pressures of motherhood. The sequel transforms Christmas into the ultimate commercial measure of a woman's parenting abilities. It also doubles down on misandry (men are still exclusively depicted as stooges or greased-up, walking erections) and uses kids as profanity puppets. A Bad Moms Christmas relies on our caring about the kind of first-world gossipy nonsense one might overhear at a Whole Foods Chardonnay-and-quinoa tasting. It's entertaining for a couple minutes, sure, but after two hours of wining and whining, you begin to wonder how you stumbled into this garish clown-show in the first place.

Thursday
Nov022017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

I left October exactly as I’d found it, with a conflicted sense of what kind of movies are (and are not) recommendable. I felt half-bad steering people away from the gorgeous but pointless and overlong Blade Runner 2049, and here I am, about to burst the bubble on Thor: Ragnarok. It, too, is gorgeous and, for the first half, remarkably funny, imaginative, and unpredictable. But the God of Thunder’s (Chris Hemsworth) space-road-trip with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a rogue Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) soon gives way to cookie-cutter comic-book-movie bullshit. Cate Blanchett plays yet another genocidal villain with daddy issues (just how many illegitimate kids did Odin have, anyway?) who mows through CGI foes like…well, CGI foes. She also draws power from her home planet—a concept that worked so much better in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, six months ago. Leave after hour one. Sneak into Blade Runner 2049. Repeat.