George A. Romero Retrospective & Dunkirk, War for the Planet of the Apes and Valerian Discussion – Cult Following Episode #63

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In this episode of Cult Following, the crew looks back at the career of director George A. Romero, who passed away on July 15th. We look at his most notable films, such as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, CREEPSHOW, DAWN OF THE DEAD and much more. Plus, reviews and discussion of 70mm film vs IMAX and what is the best way to see a film projected in regards to Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK and Besson’s VALERIAN: CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS.

Plus, we discuss WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES and much more on this edition of Cult Following.

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Spider-Man Homecoming Spoilercast & Valerian: City of Thousand Planets – Cult Following Episode #62

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Cult Following is back for Episode #62. In this episode, the team shares their thoughts and reviews on Spider-Man Homecoming after having watched it with one of our spoilercasts. We also talk about War for the Planet of the Apes, Kirby shares his thoughts on Wish Upon. Jasperino shares his thoughts on Alien Covenant and Victor and Kirby discuss Luc Besson’s latest Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets. All in one jam packed episode which also features thoughts on fast food mascots and cannibalism!

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‘Dunkirk’ is the most Viscerally Harrowing Thrill Ride of the Summer

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Christopher Nolan seems like a serious fellow. As an interview subject his words are measured and spoken quietly. He creates powerful images and sweeping stories. For all their occasional dreary over-seriousness, Nolan’s films demand attention. They have become a sort of event. Always in IMAX or 70mm. Always impeccably shot and presented with grandeur. He seems like the Cecil B. DeMille of our time. Nolan makes very big films. Nolan makes very serious films.

It’s not as if his work is without any comedy. Heath Ledger’s Joker certainly had his moments. I remember laughing quite a bit at TARS from ‘Interstellar.’ Still, I wouldn’t think of Christopher Nolan as a light director. His films are Intense. Intense with a capital ‘I.’ Intense in italics.

Intense.

I say all that so that you understand my meaning when I say this is Christopher Nolan’s most intense film. ‘Dunkirk’ is truly something to behold. This is a war movie unlike any I have ever seen. It is a staggering spectacle of almost pure cinema. Relentlessly suspenseful, extremely light on dialogue and brazenly confrontational in its design, this is a rare summer prestige film that needs to be seen (and just as importantly: heard) on the big screen.

It’s important at this point to mention that I saw this in non-70mm IMAX so that is the only format I can comment on. ‘Dunkirk’ was shot on 70mm IMAX film so while I was able to see it in proper IMAX ratio, it was not a proper 70mm projection. I did see this at a full-size IMAX (not a LIEMAX) and it was breathtaking but if you have the rare opportunity to see this at one of the 30 theaters worldwide playing ‘Dunkirk’ in IMAX 70mm, I highly suggest you seek it out. I have also been asked whether to see this in IMAX or standard non-IMAX 70mm. I only have my experience to speak of but I would lean toward IMAX because of their formidable sound system. And yeah… we need to talk about the sound.

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When I attended the advanced screening they were handing out little pieces of swag. There were mini-posters and t-shirts. I usually don’t grab any of it. Firstly, it’s just more stuff to clutter up my house, but it’s also an unspoken rule that members of the press don’t take swag. There’s always some little kid or teenager who would appreciate it more. I will admit however that I have a weakness for the kitschy stuff. The weirder the better (I once got a backpack clip digital watch with Kiefer Sutherland from ’24’ on it. A ‘Knights of Badassdom’ pewter sword letter opener.) So when I saw the credit card holder with an adhesive back meant to attach to a cellphone case embossed with the title of the film, I couldn’t resist (nothing says “World War II” like a rubber cellphone wallet.) I like my little cell-sleeve thing, but the perfect swag would have been official ‘Dunkirk’ ear plugs.

Seriously though: this is the loudest film I have ever experienced in my life. It feels weird to express that as one of my biggest takeaways. That seems so surface level. It feels like a cheat of some kind. But really… this movie was loud. Loud with a capital ‘L.’ Loud in italics.

Loud.

And you know what? I’m accustomed to loud. I go to concerts all the time. I’m going to a music festival this weekend. I’m the guy who listens to his music on full blast driving down the highway. The walls thump when I watch movies at home. So when I say ‘Dunkirk’ is loud, you better believe me. This is almost too loud. This is maybe-they-should-have-put-a-warning loud. This is probably-don’t-take-grandma-and-grandpa loud. I covered my ears at one point. I flinched so many times I lost count. I wasn’t alone.

I was near the back of the auditorium which gave me a bird’s eye view of the other audience members. I mentioned earlier that ‘Dunkirk’ is intense. I brought up comedy because there is not a single laugh line in the entire film. No levity. No breaks. ‘Dunkirk’ is like a roller coaster that is eighty percent loopty-loops and the other twenty percent hanging upside-down. The deafening crack of bullets rip through our eardrums. I feel this strange fellowship as I look down at the other audience members. We are in this together, paralyzed with awestruck horror. We are all silently asking ourselves “is it really supposed to be this loud?” There seems to be a cloud of electric danger in the theater, an “I’m scared but I kind of like it” kind of thing.

Propelling this: the behemoth and indispensable score by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer who once created stirring melodies (He did the score for ‘The Lion King’ for goodness’ sake) has now settled into the droning roar phase of his compositional oeuvre. He introduced the world to the room shaking BRAAM! with which the Hollywood trailer soundscape became as enamored as a child discovering fireworks. Zimmer has made the transition from emotionally epic melodies to experimenting with aural mood manipulation. He has mastered the sound that builds and builds and just when you think cannot crescendo any more, it does. ‘Dunkirk’ is a bomb ready to go off, Hans Zimmer’s score never lets you forget that bomb is ticking.

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The plot of ‘Dunkirk’ is refreshingly simple. So simple in fact that one of the teaser posters tells you most everything you need to know. It reads: “400,000 were stranded in Dunkirk. 700 civilian boats came for them.” That really is the long and short of it. Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed the film, excels is in the way he tells the story. I will admit that I came into this film with expectations. I thought that this would be the heroic story of a few boats going to rescue these stranded soldiers. It would be thrilling and a bit sappy, a bit preachy. There would be long segments of silence and some overwrought dialogue broken by monumentally staged set-pieces. After all, I saw ‘Inception.’ I saw ‘Interstellar.’ I know the game by now. But Nolan threw me for a loop, he still has some cards up his sleeve. He reminds me that he’s the man who made ‘The Prestige’ and his latest trick is creating something of such forceful pace, invasive sound design and unforgivingly dire perspective that he has delivered the most unexpected summer blockbuster in a long time.

Christopher Nolan also continues his explorations of unconventional storytelling as in ‘Memento’ and ‘The Prestige’ which was a very interesting way to tell this story. It seems like every decision he made along the way was in service to increasing the tension. It pays off.

I keep thinking this doesn’t belong in the summer. It is almost certainly a shoo-in for Academy Award nominations. This should be an end of year movie. But no, it’s perfect where it is. Because you want the summer to thrill you, and this is a thrilling movie. There are sweeping vistas and dizzying aerial dogfights. ‘Dunkirk’ is intense and loud and a master-class in war films. Again, I can only speak to IMAX, but this will go down as one of my most memorable movie experiences.

See ‘Dunkirk.’ See it in IMAX if you can. See it because it’s probably going to be the thing everyone is talking about. But do not go in without the serious warning about the sound levels. I have to believe it is by design, but this is a confrontational film. While it is not gory like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ it is extremely violent and shocking. There will be silence and then a sudden explosion or hail of gunfire. I’m glad I don’t have a weak heart.

‘Dunkirk’ is a phenomenal technical achievement and an unnerving masterpiece. I don’t know if I ever want to see it again but I recommend it for the sheer audaciousness and cinematic wizardry.

I hope by tomorrow my ears stop ringing.

 

‘DUNKIRK’ IS IN THEATERS JULY 21ST, 2017

 

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Wish Upon (2017) Review

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Wish Upon

Directed by John Leonetti

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Genre fans wishing for a horror hallmark such as “Get Out” and “It Comes At Night” will likely be disappointed but while “Wish Upon” is not particularly frightening, it is intentionally funny, occasionally nerve wracking and most importantly, genuinely fun.

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Director John Leonetti who previously helmed “Annabelle,” a surprisingly scary film but unfortunately the qualities of that feature are largely absent here. With “Wish Upon” they wanted the kills to be “Final Destination” worthy centerpieces, focusing on every day hazards as the penultimate fear but because of the PG-13 limitations only squeak by here with some quality tension (the classic “garbage disposal gag” is far more effective here than the trailer would have one believe.) Obviously, “Wishmaster” was also an influence but instead of trying to create a mascot that dotted the horror landscape in the 80s and 90s, “Wish Upon” owes much more to 2012’s “The Possession,” mean girl movies and one literary classic in particular.

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“The Monkey’s Paw” is one of the most oft repeated tales across numerous artistic mediums so anyone familiar with it or the similar O. Henry school of comeuppance isn’t going to find anything new here but that doesn’t mean it’s completely ineffective. The backstory behind the box isn’t hugely satisfying but at least they attempt to flesh out some mythology and actually end up summoning some “Hellraiser” energy that if this had been R rated and gone for all the gore gusto really could have potential as a franchise.

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The script by Barbara Marshall is filled with most of the teenage tropes you’ve come to expect from the glut of CW fodder so prevalent the last two decades but occasionally it showcases some genuine viciousness that evokes dark comedy classics like “Heathers” and “Jennifer’s Body.” In other instances, its already dated with its references to the Pokemon GO phenomenon and an overuse of the suffix “sauce.” Its comedic success is due in large part to Clare’s companions June (Shannon Purser, whose first appearance had several audience audibly crying out “Barb!” in respect to her popular “Stranger Things” character) and the real standout here, Meredith (Sydney Park) who hits the mark many, many times. It’s always fun to see fan favorites like Sherilynn Fenn as surrogate mother Mrs. Deluca and 90s teen dream Ryan Philippe as Clare’s saxophone playing, dumpster diving father but their characters don’t get enough screen time to really find the potential and in some sense, pathos that is buried by the standard running time and frantic pace.  In the same vein, I’d have liked to see more from Ki Hong Lee as the chemistry between he and Joey King is equal parts serious and sweet.

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King, who already has experience with the paranormal, given her role in “The Conjuring” is likeable enough, especially in her abused underdog introduction but once she gets the itching to do some wishing, she becomes increasingly villainous. Yet, it’s not the psychopathic push that I’d have like to have seen; it merely flirts with a much darker path that could have injected additional energy into “Wish Upon” and felt like there may have been some rewrites to placate audiences. Even the ending, which I won’t spoil is clearly influenced by both “The Butterfly Effect” and “Drag Me To Hell” but falls short where it could have leapt forward and stood on its own.

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If you go in expecting balls out blood and guts, you will be disappointed but the humor I encountered elevated this release from the bargain bin. Unlike the absolutely abysmal “Bye Bye Man” and “Rings” released earlier this year, “Wish Upon” has enough laughs, tense moments and campy fun to become a potential cult classic.

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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

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‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is a striking, immaculately-realized and challenging film, a stunning technical achievement that took my breath away more than once, and a moderately disappointing ending to this remarkable trilogy.

Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ took most people by surprise. I know it did for me. Hearing about a prequel to ‘Planet of the Apes’ starring James Franco didn’t really excite most people I spoke to. Reactions ranged from detached curiosity to mocking dismissal (I was the former.) Wyatt and screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa however delivered a surprisingly solid film with real heart, a fascinating story and a standout performance by Andy Serkis. Most impressive was the way it subverted expectations by placing the apes at the center of the story.  I enjoyed it and wondered if there would be a sequel but paid it little mind afterward.

In 2014 the second film, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ was released, and it is a marvel.

Taking over the reigns was director Matt Reeves. Reeves’ previous films: the found footage giant monster movie ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Let Me In,’ the American remake of a Swedish vampire film were both quite good, but I didn’t see anything in his skills that prepared me for the perfect execution of ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’ Here was the sequel to a film no one really took seriously that elevated the story to something more deeply profound than anything I could have expected. The filmmakers were almost all changed. Not only did Matt Reeves take over directing duties but The score for the second film is by Michael Giacchino and is one of my favorites. The cinematographer was the legendary Michael Serasin who shot ‘Angel Heart’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.’ It seemed like the film was elevated at every level. Nowhere was this more clear than with the performances.

Much has been made of Andy Serkis’s performance-captured role as Caesar and for good reason. He is absolutely tremendous. Also a standout in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ was the villain Koba played by Toby Kebell. Of equal importance is the outstanding special effects crew headed by Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon. I have seen some incredible special effects in film however ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ may have been the first time I actually couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The uncanny valley was gone. I was seeing real apes speaking on screen. These were special effects which were not showy, they were there to serve the story.

So yes. I loved ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’ I felt it was a beautiful Shakespearian epic that led perfectly into the ‘Planet of the Apes’ mythos. And really, that’s the biggest problem I have with ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.’ It’s quite good. But it’s not as good as the last film.

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‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ begins many years after the end of ‘Dawn.’ Caesar has no wish to continue Koba’s war on humanity and has retreated into the forest in a hopeful peace. This proves to be impossible however as the Apes are ruthlessly pursued by a group of humans called Alpha Omega led by a mysterious and mythical man known only as ‘The Colonel’ (Woody Harrelson.)

This conflict leads to Caesar separating from most of the apes and setting out on a quest with his closest and most-trusted followers. As this is a spoiler-free review I will steer clear of specifics but the quality of ‘War’ is absolutely on par with ‘Dawn.’ Almost the entire crew from the last film return here which makes the last two films in the trilogy a great pairing, but it also makes the trilogy feel a bit lopsided. The departure in both tone and quality between ‘Rise’ and the second two films means that ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ exists in a strange position as being the unusual prequel to a perfectly-matched pair of films.

Strangely, ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ does not feel like the epic conclusion of a trilogy but a somber epilogue to the events of ‘Dawn.’

This movie is less Shakespeare and more The Bible, at times seeming like a direct adaptation of the Exodus story. There is also a fair helping of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (a fact clearly not lost on the filmmakers as there is a prominently seen piece of graffiti saying “Ape-pocalypse Now.”) I won’t say much about Harrelson’s The Colonel but there is more than a little Kurtz in his performance.

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If we are to look at these films as a trilogy, I can’t help but feel like the last film was this series’ ‘The Empire Strikes Back': a dark middle chapter whose quality stands head and shoulders above the rest. But ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is no ‘Return of the Jedi.’ There are no Ewoks here. This film is a brutal treatise on the cruelty of war with very little joy to be had. The exception to this is Steve Zahn as Bad Ape, a zoo chimpanzee who joins Caesar and his band of crusaders.

I also have to once again call out the special effects team at WETA. They achieved something truly special with the previous films and have managed to exceed that with their latest. There are languishing close-up shots of the apes’ faces that were truly awe-inspiring. My eyes would search every inch of the screen looking for seams or obvious signs of CGI and couldn’t find any. Eventually I just stopped trying and my mind accepted that I was seeing apes speaking on screen. This film is a technical marvel and is truly something to behold.

This is a darkly beautiful film but it seems like a strange way to end the series. Perhaps it won’t be the end. Andy Serkis has been quoted as saying that there could be more films. I believe that if we get another film which more properly bridges the gap between the world started in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and the Ape controlled planet of the classic films, I would be happier with this entry in the series. As a film I thought it was wonderful but as a final chapter in the story of Caesar I found it lacking.

‘WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES’ IS IN THEATERS NOW

 

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