Starry Eyes is the story of Sarah (Alex Essoe), an aspiring actress.  One day she answers a casting call for a film.  What follows is a bizarre tale of the lengths people will go to succeed.

starry_posterAs she is called back for repeatedly stranger auditions, she starts to unravel ever so slightly.  But when she is asked to meet the Producer (Louis Dezseran) her life is forever changed.  Telling her to kill her old life, one questions if this is metaphor or a true command.

Starry Eyes is  dark exploration of human ambition.  Has Sarah truly sold her soul?  Are her actions real?  Are the dreams her own, or communication from a darker source?

Visually, it is both stunning and horrifying.  The make up showing Sarah’s degeneration is simple, but frightful.  Her transformation has the appearances of disease.  The film is very gruesome once Sarah’s ambitions kick in.  Those who are a bit squeamish should be prepared.

Alex Essoe’s performance as Sarah stands out.  Both in emotional performance and physicality, she does extremely well.  It is a performance that effectively moves from sympathetic to creepy.

The co-directors (and writers) Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer have crafted an effective and dark psychological tale, but not for the faint of heart.   But if you like your films dark and bleak, this is definitely in your corner.

sttarsnaps_eliroth_0So, Eli Roth wanted to sock it to Social Justice Warriors with his new flick the Green Inferno.  He claims the kids in the film represent SJW, whom he characterizes as not actually doing anything other than re-tweeting “this is wrong” or posting memes on Facebook.

This is not an uncommon accusation… SJW are usually lumped in with “Hash Tag Activism”.  The problem is, this criticism is oddly over confident.  It presumes that Eli Roth and other critics know the truth about what people really do.  I think to a certain extent, this is projecting.  People who do not do anything resent being told they should care, and they decide that, like them, the person re-tweeting actually is not doing anything to make the world a better place.

The irony in this of course is that his characters are trying to do something to improve the world.  They are active, not just re-posting stuff on face book.  His movie is about young people trying to do good and then dying horribly for it.  Funny enough, there is probably room for an argument that his film is an indictment of self righteous white imperialism (one of those things SJW like to complain about, amiright?!).  Or white liberal guilt…but the idea that it is condemning people who just re-tweet stuff?  Seems a lot shakier.

The_Green_InfernoI am honestly not sure about this film.  For one, I am not a huge fan of the whole Cannibal Horror Genre to begin with.  And honestly, I am not sure I can see what Eli brings to it that makes it worth sitting through.  This is not a slam on Roth…I cannot really see what can be brought to the genre that is giving us a new option.  But that may not be Eli’s goal.  And it may certainly be I am wrong and the film is an intense and terrifying trip.  I am open to being wrong in my expectations.

The Search For Masculinity

I really have no idea what this means.  I mean, first…the reverse sexism?  I am pretty sure men dominate movies still.  Most films are still about men.  Not really seeing reverse sexism.

And since when was “flashy” a typically “masculine” term?  And what exactly are they saying when they talk about how all the roles going to Aussies and Brits?  I really feel like this is one of those silly controversies we see every few years where old guys get their undies in a bundle about the death of masculinity.

If the “death of masculinity” means the death of whining about “dying masculinity”… I welcome it.

maggie1First time film Director Henry Hobson offers up a film very different than one might expect from a guy who came out of the video game industry.  Maggie is not a flashy film.  It is a quiet tale of a family dealing with the fact that their daughter is becoming a zombie.

Set in a world where becoming a zombie is just an expected possibility in life, Maggie is focused on a young woman (Abigail Breslin) who is suffering from the early stages of, uh, “zombie-ism”.    Her father Wade (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) and mother Caroline (Joely Richardson) are struggling to come to terms with what this means.  Do they send their daughter off to Quarantine?  Do they break the law and keep her until she is to far gone?

Wade struggles especially hard with the idea of what the future holds.  He is continuously trying to keep Maggie connected to the living world, whenever she starts to be consumed by aggression and hunger.

You probably see Schwarzeneggar’s name and assume there must be at least one ridiculous fight scene…but Arnold really does well in this role of heartbroken father at a loss for how to help his daughter.  He barely raises his voice.  He is not an action hero barreling through this film.  He is not a super hero.  He is a good hearted and gentle guy.  The connection between father and daughter is evident throughout the film…both of them knowing the path they are going down.

Maggie-590-02As I said, this is a quiet film, and moves at a fairly mellow pace.  This is not a zombie apocalypse about the world falling apart.  It would not be right to call it a horror movie.  This is a father and daughter drama set within a zombie movie.  Change Maggie’s situation to cancer and you have a heartbreaking family drama.

There are moments where the film seems to wander, but the overall film was effective as a slow burn drama.  It will, not be for everyone, but if you have enjoyed a film like, say, Moon?  This may be right up your alley.

jurassic-world-posterIt has been 14 years since we saw a Jurassic Park movie.  And they opted to bring us one thing we had not seen.  A fully operational space station.  Wait, that is not it.  I meant a fully functional theme park.  Considering the last two film trod similar ground (small group of people stuck on the island running from dinosaurs) it makes sense that they went bigger this time around.

It is years later and the Dinosaur Theme Park has been running for at least a few years, successfully. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is preparing the most daring exhibit yet.  A genetically modified dinosaur, a creature that has never walked the earth before.  Nothing could go wrong, except that her nephews are visiting the park this weekend.  So Mayhem will ensue.

The plot is not really the point here (there are some big plot points that just disappear from the film entirely), it is cool dinosaur scares.  And the film delivers there.  There is a lot of fan service to the previous films (One I really liked was the return of BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu, given a much bigger presence than the original film).

The characters seem all over the place, early on Chris Pratt’s Owen comes off as the stereotype of the charming misogynist.  I find this trope absurd.  Never have known a charming misogynist in the real world.  But this personality trait drops pretty early, and does not resurface the rest of the film.  Claire is introduced as the “Woman Who Is Sacrificing a Family To Have a Career”, but it is pretty clear when she realizes her nephews are in danger she considers them important, risking her life to save them.

From the minute characters are introduced, I started trying to figure out who was going to get eaten, and it is not to hard to tell.  Faceless guys with guns, random park attendees and a couple big names because they are over confident or greedy.  You can play this game in most Jurassic Park films, but the first film still invested in all the dinosaur food.  We knew a lot about those people who got chomped.  Little to no depth is provided here.

It probably sounds like I hated this film.  But I didn’t.  I actually enjoyed it.  It has a very likeable cast, solid effects, cool dinosaurs and plenty of adventure.  It kept me into the story, even when Claire ran super fast in high heels.  It is a fun adventure, but not a deep one.

poster_fury_road_mad_max_by_cesaria_yohannThe Mad Max franchise went quiet after 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  That film fell a bit short of the Road Warrior, the film that we tend to mostly recall when we think of the Mad Max franchise.  Talk began as far back 2003, back then it was set to star original Max Mel Gibson.

The film struggled through development, eventually announcing Tom Hardy taking over the role.  I was not all that interested, to be honest.  It seems like it was a sequel nobody was interested in getting and that we were all happy to to see it be a remnant of 80’s franchises.

Turns out we were all wrong.  This film is the shot in the arm action franchises needed.  Fury Road is an adrenaline rush.  Director George Miller intended the film to be a massive chase film.  And he achieves that successfully.  The film pushes down the pedal almost right away, and rarely takes a break.

The plot is simple, Max is being a loner and gets dragged into a battle against Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne who was Toe Cutter in the original Mad Max) who is pursuing Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron in a terrific performance).  She has stolen precious cargo from him, and he wants it back.  The cargo is his harem.  These young women do not want to bear children to be fodder for his Warboy Army.

So much stands out, the editing (the film was edited by Miller’s wife Margaret Sixel, who has never edited an action movie before…this was a wise call, as she did a bang up job), the fact that there is almost no digital work with stunts, the grim humor…this is an adrenaline rush of a film.

As with the previous incarnation’s Max inhabits a dark world.  Immortan Joe rules from the citidel, where he keeps all the best for himself, throwing scraps to the people below.  He rules cruelly, while his Warboys live for nothing other than to die for his glory.  He has used a weird viking style religion promising glory to those he smiles upon.

Furiosa wants to rescue the young women Joe keeps to bear him children from this oppressive life.  Furiosa is tough and powerful.  She is a striking character who stands up to the gruff Max, and in turn winning his respect and help.

While the heroes often rely on violence to achieve their ends of getting away from the forces of Immortan Joe, what stands out to me if there is also room for the power of mercy and gentleness to bring about change on an individual level.

Mad Max Fury Road is the best action film I saw all year.  It spends little time on exposition (who are the ghosts that haunt Max?  How long after Thunderdome is this taking place, etc).  The visuals are insanely engaging…I mean…look at this:

doof_guitarYou either think that is the dumbest thing ever, or you love it.  The world is just…, well, bonkers.  Characters have names like Nux, Toast the Knowing and the Splendid Angharad.  I find myself excited for the blu-ray so I can watch it again.  I am curious to see the next film that they give us in Max’s story (Hardy is on for three more films).

kingsman-the-secret-service-posterLike Matthew Vaughn’s previous Mark Millar adaption (Kick Ass), Kingsman: The Secret Service promises to be a bold and irreverent take on it’s genre.  Kick Ass poked fun at super-heroes through excessive violence and profanity.  Kingsman follows through.  It is irreverent, extremely violent at times and full of profanity.

And yet, it seems to be a bit more loving of it’s target.  It is as much homage to the classic spy films of the past.  Colin Firth’s Galahad is older, handsome and stylish.  He seems proper and speaks of manners even in a fist fight.  Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a rough hooligan lacking a sense of manners.

But when we first meet Eggsy, his father has died, and the promising future is dashed.  His father was a secret agent, a member of the Kingsman organization.  Heartbroken, his mother appeared to have never recovered from that loss.  Eggsy gets in trouble with the police, only to meet Galahad who invites him to join the Kingsman Organization.

Unsurprisingly the other recruits are high society kids.  The film focuses heavily on Eggsy going through each test, and building his friendship with Galahad.  The central villain is a flamboyant tech genius named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).  His goal is to wipe out a massive number of the human population to save the world from global warning.  One of his more interesting quirks is that he does not take pleasure or joy in the actual death, but he is certain that it is a worthy end.

The film is comically violent (there are at least two scenes of massive carnage) far more than any Bond film ever managed.  But the film manages to be entertaining.  There is good humor, and the cast has great chemistry together.  I especially liked how the three women are characters, not love interests. One of his competitors, Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is his equal, and he supports her not because he wants to date her, but because they are friends.

Eggsy is a troubled guy, but he is decent, a supportive friend, cares deeply for his mother and baby sister…he has solid qualities that Galahad seeks to steer towards a greater good.

The film is, all in all, quite a bit of fun.  The characters are likable, the cast is solid through and through.  It is an effective action movie, even if some of the beats are somewhat predictable.  The film embraces it’s super-spy inspirations and follows the conventions.  It does it with fun style (Valentine’s henchwoman is pure old school Bond).

While there are moments that seem to relish the crass violence, overall this film is an effective adventure that left me smiling.

RoboCop-1987-PosterUsually, to refer to a movie as a comic book movie is to suggest it was based on a specific comic book. There was not a Robocop comic when the film came out (although, Marvel quickly adapted it into an ongoing series). But Robocop had all the markings of a good super-hero comic. A noble lead who suffers tragedy and is reborn with great powers, forced to rediscover who they are, all while fight nefarious villains. It’s also Paul Verhoven’s one great film.

Spoilers are all over this…so if you have not seen RoboCop, but think you would like to someday? You might not want to read this.

Robocop is set in a near future that seems scarily possible. Crime is rampant in Old Detroit. Companies like OCP (Omni Consumer Products) now have contracts with the police dept effectively privatizing the police force. The villains of the film fall into two groups. There are the bottom level drug dealers, thieves, murderers and rapists…and then there are high rise occupying corporate men and women. The central villain is Dick Jones (Played with malice by Ronny Cox), the second in command at OCP. After his failure with his ED 209 Urban Pacification Unit, in swoops younger go getter Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). Bob has been working on the Robocop plan, and has the opportunity to pitch it to “The Old Man” (Dan O’Herlihy).

robocop_car

Peter Weller is able to convince us in a few short scenes that Alex Murphy was a decent, generous father, husband and cop. He loved his family and was devoted to his job. He also seems to get respect quickly from his sergeant (Robert DoQui) and his partner, Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen). In just a few minutes of screen time, he manages to make Murphy matter enough that when his inevitable death occurs at the hands of low life sleaze Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang, it’s downright painful. Granted, part of the reason for that is that Verhoven is so graphic in the film’s violence. However, for the most part, the graphic violence feels justified within the context of the story.

So, by dying, Murphy “volunteers” for the Robocop Project. This leads to a nice series of shots all from Robocop’s perspective as he is being built. This lends a nice air of mystery as you wait anxiously to see the final look of Robocop. Even when he is finished, you don’t get a good look at him as he enters the police station. When he is revealed, the transformation is surprising. You barely see the man and Weller moves like a machine in an extremely convincing manner.

This all leads to a nice series of scenes where Robocop saves people. An interesting moment is after stopping an attempted rape, the victim hugs him and is thanking Robocop…but Robocop has no emotion about stopping the crime, it’s simply what he is programmed to do. He starts directing the victim to a local rape crisis center in a cold, uncaring tone.

But as OCP has tried to suppress the man, Murphy seems to fight to be free. Nightmares of Murphy’s death jar Robocop from his “sleep”. Lewis is the first to recognize the man. And it’s her questions that trigger Robocop to search his own history. In one scene, Robocop asks Lewis about “Murphy’s” family. Murphy is the other. He is not Murphy. After she explains to him what became of his family… Robocop quietly notes that he can “feel them, but I can’t remember them.”  There is a tone of mechanical desperation in that line.  He can process there is something there, but his programming cannot connect with what is missing.

Robocop runs into a member of Boddicker’s gang, which triggers a curiosity.  Robocop needs to investigate who killed him. This film is focused on Robocop uncovering the mystery of how he died, but then who he is, and how to regain what he lost.

Robocop’s effectiveness is in its characters. The villains are despicable, the heroes noble (but flawed). One of my favorite characters is Sergeant Reed, a passionate leader in his precinct. He will not stand for talking of a strike, he is a police officer, and that is a noble profession that can’t just go on strike. He quickly seems to accept Robocop as an officer, not merely a machine. On the other end of the spectrum is Kurtwood Smith who plays Clarence Boddicker with such evil glee, you almost like (and totally hate the bastard). Nancy Allen plays Lewis as a confident, bright and headstrong officer. Ronny Cox is so calculated and heartless in his portrayal of the power hungry Bob Jones, you hope for a worthy demise (and yeah, it’s “worthy”).robocop_lewis

And again, Peter Weller? The suffering he must have endured in that suit never shows. Instead, he moves in such a way that you can often forget there is a man beneath it, I can’t recall a moment where he slipped up. And yet, he manages to bring a warmth to Robocop as his self realization grows.  His movements are machine, but he becomes a man at heart.

I had mentioned this as Verhoven’s best film, and I stand by that. Often, his desire to shock with copious amounts of violence and nudity result in a rather flat story. And often, the themes he says he wanted to explore are barely touched upon at all. But in Robocop, his social commentary and satire on our consumerist and corporate culture pretty much hits every mark with great accuracy.

Robocop has managed to remain relevant and be entertaining even 28 years later.

marisa_tomeiThe reports are coming out that Marisa Tomei is going to be Aunt May in the Spider-Man movies now.  Which just feels crazy.

Not because she is a bad actress.  Not because I dislike her.  I like her a lot and think she is talented. But you know…this is Aunt May…

Auntmay

aunt_mayShe is an older woman.  Now granted, they made her a bit less frail in the Ultimate Spider-Man Comics.  I appreciate and get that.  Old does not feel quite the same in my 40’s.  But when Sam Raimi made the first Spider-Man in 2002, Rosemary Harris was 75 at the time.  I loved Harris in all three of Raimi’s Spider-Man films.  She had a strength of spirit and a kindness, even though she was not physically imposing.aunt-may-harris

When they rebooted the franchise with the Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, Sally Field was 66.  I liked this casting, it put a slightly younger spin, but Aunt May was still advanced in age in comparison to Peter.

sally_field_

But Marisa Tomei is barely 51.  I mean, I guess it is not that crazy to think of a teen having an aunt in their 50’s…but for some reason this ongoing de-aging of Aunt May just feels…off.

Several years ago, back in the 90’s, Richard Gazowsky (a Pentecostal minister) went out to the wilderness and had a vision.  God wanted him to make a epic sci-fi movie.   Really.

audience_of_oneHe came back to his San Francisco congregation and proposed this…and the congregation went with it.  And that is when you start to wonder if you’ve been sucked into the Twilight Zone.  They start a company called WYSIWYG Productions, and then the fun starts.

At first, it looks possible.  I do not mean this in any sense sarcastically.  The wardrobe people, comprised of the Preacher’s family and members of the congregation, seem pretty competent and knowledgeable about what will and won’t work.  Gazowsky does not listen, routinely ignoring and steam rolling over anyone who tries to explain why what he wants may not be possible.  One young woman even explains that she sees him as her spiritual father so if he says to do something-even if she knows he is wrong-she will do as he asked, waiting for God to correct him.

audience_oneRichard talks much, along with the conceptual artists, of creating creatures we’ve never seen in their sci-fi version of Joseph and the coat of many colors(called Gravity:The Shadow of Joseph).  The plans for this film are large.  They are even hiring outside people for cast and crew.  They are flying to Italy to film.  This is no small production.  The church is transformed into a fully formed production studio.

It’s in Italy that things start to take a turn.  Cameras don’t work, people working on the film get stressed, and three days into filming, there has not been one second shot.  It is unclear when any filming is happening at all.  But what is clear is Richard gives great speeches regarding God, God’s will, what God will do for them as long as they stay focused and remember that their endeavor is to make this movie for an Audience of One.  As you may suspect, that audience of one is  Jesus.

Gazowsky is passionate and sincere, there is no doubt, but one seriously starts to question his grasp of the situation, as crew seem to realize that maybe there is trouble brewing.  When they return to San Francisco, things seem to look up.  The Church rents a large studio space from the city, a seeming blessing…until they fall behind on paying their rent.  This results in more more impassioned pleas, including Richard telling about how he went to tell the city that they were behind on the rent but the money is coming.  When the city asked for some proof, he told them that his word should be enough, and that they just need to believe because that’s what God wanted them to do.  The money will be there, the city of San Francisco just needed to believe.

Yeah, they shut off the power.

The film’s real strength lies in it’s sympathy to these people.  It doesn’t try and decide everything for you.  Admittedly, towards the end, as Gazowsky lays out a ten (eight?) point plan for the church that includes multiple Christian television networks and colonizing other planets (I am not kidding) he states that it is either God or he’s just crazy… it is not hard to side with crazy.

Director Michael Jacobs has made an entertaining and fascinating character study with Audience of One, and I recommend checking it out.