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Prevenge: Baby Bump In the Night, by Tyler Smith

24 Mar

Alice Lowe’s Prevenge is the latest in a recent line of horror movies about women attempting to navigate the difficult paths of motherhood and loss. Films like The Descent and The Babadook explored the emotional terror of trying to hold oneself together in the midst of agonizing grief. Prevenge seems to pay homage to these films – along with a heavy dose of Rosemary’s Baby, for good measure – but adds in a big helping of glib humor that doesn’t always land, but always keeps the film interesting.


Split: Schlock Treatment, by Tyler Smith

20 Jan

M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is so silly, so trashy, so unabashedly schlocky that one really can’t resist being remarkably entertained while watching it. It helps that Shyamalan employs all of his best visual and editing tricks – along with a fair amount of storytelling charm – to help sell the central concept. The story of a young man with 23 distinct personalities and the young women he abducts attempting to navigate those personalities to freedom requires commitment on the part of all involved, and this film is nothing if not totally committed. By the end, I had been won over and was able to revel in the pure wacky earnestness of it all, which may sound like an insult, but is actually a testament to the power of a filmmaker to transcend his conceptual limitations.


Home Video Hovel: The Squid and the Whale, by Tyler Smith

12 Dec

How do we react when life kicks the chair out from under us? A loved one passes away, we lose our job, we get sick; there are dozens of scenarios that would change the dynamic of our lives were they to happen to us. Examining our reactions to unexpected suffering is a staple of all different forms of art. What many books, plays, songs, and films often depict is a certain nobility in suffering; a person learning to find their inner strength and persevere in the face of adversity. This is all well and good, but not every story can end like that. Sometimes the specific details of our loss, or our own frailty, prevent us from handling things in a healthy way, and we can become virtually intolerable to deal with. This is the stuff of good drama, too, as we see from Noah Baumbach’s domestic masterpiece The Squid and the Whale.


Home Video Hovel: Raising Cain, by Tyler Smith

2 Oct


Is there inherent artistic value to homage? And, if so, exactly how far does it extend? One artist paying tribute to the stylings of another can often be a delightful surprise to those that value art history. Homage is certainly nothing new in film, as directors will often incorporate visual or editorial references to the older classics. Sometimes these references can help frame the current story being told, and on rare occasion can shed new light on the older work. However, when a film is propped up almost entirely by the audience’s previous experience with the referenced classic, the our interest in the newer story can start to wain, and homage can turn to overt comparison, which seldom works out well for the newer film.


Home Video Hovel: John Carpenter’s The Thing, by Tyler Smith

1 Oct


It’s hard to know what to say about John Carpenter’s The Thing that hasn’t been said hundreds (if not thousands) of times by now. Since its release in 1982, it has become a horror staple that has spawned countless imitators, but surprisingly few sequels (beyond an unfortunate prequel/remake released in 2011). Perhaps this is because Carpenter’s film not only features fantastic special effects – which can be borrowed and adapted to other films – but also a sustained tone of dread and paranoia that few filmmakers would be able to adequately mimic. And so, in a genre plagued by franchises, The Thing remains a (mostly) lone wolf of a film, so completely understood to be perfect that it remains largely untouchable.


Home Video Hove: Night Train to Munich, by Tyler Smith

27 Sep


Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich – recently released on Blu-Ray by the Criterion Collection – is a fascinating study in pre-war thinking and filmmaking. This may seem a strange thing to say, given that the film was made while Europe was smack in the middle of World War II. But there is a certain naïveté to the film’s playful nature, which betrays the world’s ignorance to the full monstrosity of Nazi Germany. While the film does acknowledge the Nazis as particularly lethal, one must assume that Reed would have struck a very different tone had the horrors of the Holocaust been widely known. Compare the Hitchcockian quality of the film to Reed’s 1949 masterpiece The Third Man and you’ll see a filmmaker that – like so many others around the world – would come to grips with the true brokenness, heartbreak, and inhumanity of war. This ultimately makes Night Train to Munich a throwback in filmmaking and a relic of a more innocent time.


Operation Avalanche: Never Quite Lands, by Tyler Smith

15 Sep


Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche is a scrappy little mockumentary about the faking of the moon landing that is energetic, paranoid, and often quite funny. I was rooting for this film to work, which it often does. However, as the sense of fun starts to fade and the thriller elements come into play, one gets the feeling that the filmmakers have bitten off more than they can chew. This feeling is confirmed, as the film, which started with such a bang, ends with a half-hearted whimper.


Complete Unknown: Starting from Scratch, by Tyler Smith

1 Sep


Joshua Marston’s Complete Unknown seems at first as though it will be a relationship thriller, in the vein of Fatal Attraction or Gone Girl. All the elements are there and the film slowly sets up a potentially explosive situation. However, just as it looks like things are going to take a potentially volatile turn, the film pivots, choosing instead to explore its characters and their motivations. And, in the process, the film becomes an effective exploration of the transformative nature of art and creation.


Blood Father: Fight for Redemption, by Tyler Smith

26 Aug


Jean-Francois Richet’s Blood Father begins with our protagonist, John Link, sitting at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, stating his general philosophy. It is filled with cynicism and regret; the admission that he has hurt people and would like to repair those relationships, but the understanding that they might be irreparable. Link is haggard and weather-beaten, with a faraway look in his eye, as though he is perpetually looking for something that will never arrive. That Link is played by Hollywood outcast Mel Gibson isn’t merely an interesting element of the movie. It is the movie. That, along with some nice pulpy, crackerjack writing and some solid supporting performances, is what gives Blood Father its weight. And, like Link’s emotional burden, it weighs a ton.


Imperium: Sympathy for the Devils, by Tyler Smith

18 Aug


Daniel Ragussis’ Imperium is by far one of the best examples I’ve seen of how true artistic commitment (on the part of the filmmaker and the performers) can elevate run-of-the-mill material into something special. We’ve seen undercover stories before, and Imperium doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to this type of film. However, the cast is so sensitive to the nuances of their characters that eventually the story feels as fresh and alive as any I’ve seen in recent memory.