Everyone has that one psycho ex. Well… not everyone. But a lot of folks. I do, many do, enough do for there to be a whole lot of movies on the subject. Joe Dante’s Burying The Ex takes that predicament one step farther, straight into the realm of the supernatural, as the director always does. We haven’t had a Dante flick in a while (he’s the genius behind Gremlins, Innerspace and Small Soldiers, for those who don’t know), and it amazes me the lack of marketing which led to me taking my sweet time in seeing this. Glad I did, because it’s a treat. Any headline that boasts Dante, Ashley Greene, Anton Yelchin and the luscious Alexandra Daddario in the same film is automatically a rental, before I’ve even read a synopsis. This one is a darkly comic zombie romantic comedy and subtle Hammer Studios homage, an irresistible flavour indeed. Yelchin is a lad who works at a halloween FX store, has an affinity for retro horror and all things macabre, and is dating prissy Ashley Greene, who couldn’t be more different than him. She’s an abrasive, vegan type A personality jealous manipulative control freak banshee who is sinking their relationship quicker than the Titanic. Enter Alexandra Daddario, a hip, horror movie themed ice cream parlor owner, and sparks fly between her and Yelchin. Those sparks are shot down by a dagger glare from Greene, and it’s in that moment Yelchin realizes he has to dump her. Before he can do the deed, she’s fatally hit by a bus, dies and essentially solves his problem. Or does she? Cue gothic organ music. Before he can take Alexandra on one date, she rises from the grave, now a sex starved psycho zombie bitch hell bent on keeping him for her own, pretty much forever. Quite the situation eh? Dante is never one for metaphors and heady trickery (a refreshing trait), all of his premises are straight up, face value, 100% genre simplicity. She’s dead, he needs to somehow kill her… again. It’s charming and lighthearted, while still retaining the macabre, like Tim Burton by way of Stephen Sommers. Greene is disarmingly hilarious as everyone’s worst nightmare of an ex, Yelchin is earnest and exasperated in equal doses, and Daddario is a babe and a half, always winning me over with them eyes. They all frolic in Dante’s casually R rated inter zone where everything is purely rooted in movie-land, and nothing needs to be seriously thought out. The writing is sharp, heartfelt and riddled with easter eggs for fans of horror from back in a better day. Brilliant stuff.
I’ve never really been a trekkie my whole life. Didn’t grow up with the television series and haven’t actively explored it later in life. When the announcement came that wonder-kid JJ Abrams would be taking on the lofty overhaul of a remake, I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact I waited quite a while before seeing it in theatres, dragged along by a buddy who talked it up quite a bit. Well, it was amazing, and still is. Nothing gets you pumped and makes your heart ache quite as much as that epic ten prologue, starring an intrepid Chris Hemsworth who selflessly saves the lives of everyone onboard his ship, including his newborn son, James T. Kirk. When your eyes flood with tears in the first few minutes of a film, it’s always a good sign. Abrams ushered in Star Trek for the new generation, and I imagine strived to keep core elements like friendship, cameraderie and wonder alive as well. Chris Pine makes one hell of a Kirk, but then he’s one of the best in his age group these days. Cocky, belligerent, dysfunctional, impulsive and recklessly brave, he’s the perfect opposing force to Zachary Quinto’s calculated, logical, no nonsense Spock, who goes through quite a wringer when his entire world is decimated by rogue Romulan extremist Nero, played by a sensational Eric Bana. Both Kirk and Spock are no stranger to loss, being affected and reacting to it in different ways. Their initial rivalry tangles into the beginning of a friendship, hinted at by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, visiting Quinto from far in the future (time travel, baby). The plot and character motivations are in fact mostly about loss and anger; Nero himself is driven by grief which has morphed into poisonous hatred, willing to inflict hurt a thousand fold in return for what happened to his people. Bana finds the wounded areas of Nero, and uses the trademark Romulun leer to cover them up in violent fury. There must always be comic relief too, and when the banter between the two heroes gets too dark, the spotlight shifts to chipper Scotty (Simon Pegg) and a brilliant Karl Urban as Leonard ‘Bones’ Mccoy, the ship’s neurotic doctor. Urban is cast heavily against type in the liveliest role he’s ever been thrown, and clearly loves every antsy second of it. John Cho makes a formidable Sulu, and the sadly departed Anton Yelchin charms the pants off of everyone with his priceless russian accent. Clifton Collins Jr. and Jennifer Morrison are great as well. Abrams loves to cast beloved actors from bygone eras in these things (I peed a little when Peter Weller showed up in the sequel), so keep a look out for terrific work from Ben Cross and Winona Ryder as Spock’s parents. Bruce Greenwood is nobility incarnate as Commander Pike, the kindly captain who sees the potential in Kirk and paternally attempts to clear the wreckage of his personality, dust it off and make something out of him. The special effects and set pieces are a dizzying dream of nonstop adrenaline. The opener I mentioned before, a show stopping fight scene atop a giant chain miles above the surface of a planet, the hair raising arrival of Nero’s ship (it looks like some horrific giant space beetle) and a chase across a snowy tundra pursued by an evil Yeti Muppet thing are highlights that demonstrate how effective and useful CGI can be when implemented properly. For all its razzle dazzle though, Star Trek is ultimately about relationships between different beings (human or other), the ways in which they deal with tragedy, love one another, learn to coexist, help those in need and most importantly, explore the wonders of the universe around them. I admire the fact that in a huge Sci Fi blockbuster such as this, those kind of themes and qualities come first. We are all made of stars, and inward exploration of the ones that reside in us and how they make us what we are is just as essential as the world’s that lie millions of light years away, awaiting our arrival. JJ understands this, and I offer him a well earned Starfleet salute for it.
Green Room has the same vicious, simplistic edge to it that director Jeremy Saulnier’s 2011 thriller Blue Ruin had, but sharpened and honed to near perfection this time around. This is one grim thriller, a claustrophobic little odyssey of desperate violence that’s thick with a sick, overwhelming atmosphere that isn’t for the faint of anything. A big part of what makes it work so well is the fact that it makes sense, in terms of scene to scene actions and character motivations. These aren’t cardboard horror protagonists darting through a predetermined rat maze of a narrative, these are real humans in a deadly situation who act accordingly, with both purpouse and realism. Atmosphere was a huge part of Blue Ruin, and now again Saulnier weaves a tense auditory cloak that puts the characters in the hot seat of danger and the audience in conniptions of suspense. It’s a situation straight out of a seething nightmare: a down and out punk band led by Anton Yelchin are on a dead end tour, severely strapped for cash and getting desperate. When a vague buddy hooks them up with a rural gig, they jump at the chance, until they find out they’re playing for a clubhouse full of angry neo nazi skinheads in a backwoods bar. Everything is going marginally well (as well as coexisting with nazis for a set could go, I suppose) until a member of their group accidentally witnesses one of these freaks brutally slaughter a girl, suddenly branding them all as witnesses. With nowhere to go, the band barricades themselves into the green room and descends into a collective panic as the reality of their situation sets in. Outside, an armada of furious Aryan psychopaths prepares to siege the bar and kill them, led by the clubhouse owner, Darcy (a wicked, malevolent Patrick Stewart, loving every second of a rare villain role). The film clocks in at a scalpel sliced 90 minutes, with not a second wasted on anything that doesn’t propel the story forward with the momentum of a machete ripping through bone. These dudes are out to get them at any cost, and the band in turn are whipped into an adrenaline overdrive of base survival instinct, using anything they can to dispatch their tormentors and escape. Yelchin does an excellent job of making their plight feel uncannily real, the terror emanating from every pore until there’s none left, and empty, deadly resolve sets in. Imogen Poots is great as one of the clubhouse girls, a no nonsense spitfire with revenge on the brain and the will to make it happen. Stewart chomps at the bit with an eerie calm and articulate, insidious presence, a genius casting decision and a joy to see in menacing action. I’m curious to see how much farther Saulnier can push the envelope with his next film, which I’ve heard will be the last entry in this episodic trilogy. This one shows us what a real thriller is, one that pumps your pulse to a boiling point and makes you glad there are filmmakers out there with the balls and creative know-how to make something like this happen. Just bring a thick skin, there’s a ton of graphic and very realistic looking violence. Unbelievably terrific stuff.
The one great benefit that any film based on a Stephen King story has is just that: it’s based on a Stephen King story. The guy is just such a prodigy of fiction that even if the film version of one of his books doesn’t deliver, one can still see the brilliant blueprint lurking beneath the frames. When the filmmakers are successful, however, we get a visually stimulating project founded on the tale he has weaved to support all the other elements. Hearts In Atlantis is based on an anthology volume of his, and in fact the story the film follows isn’t even called that, it’s actually ‘Low Men In Yellow Coats’. I can see why the director went with Hearts In Atlantis though, as it’s much more akin to the ethereal, sentimental tone he was going for, and less of an ominous hook. The story itself follows a mysterious man named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), a recent tenant in the home of young Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin) and his wayward mother (a miscast Hope Davis). The setting is Midwestern America, in the dead heat of a 1950’s summer. Bobby spends his days cavorting in the local woodlands with his fastest of friends, Carole (Mika Boorem) and Sully (Will Rothhaar). He takes a shine to Ted though, who pays him a dollar a week to read to him, and warns him of shadowy ‘low men’, threatening figures who doggedly pursue him for nasty reasons. Ted becomes a father figure for young Bobby, whose mother has questionable ideas about not only raising a son, but taking care of her own affairs. Now the film may seem a bit thinly plotted to some, and there’s a reason for that. This story is actually a tiny fragment in a much larger tale, King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower. Ted and Bobby have important parts to play in that saga, in which the events of this film are but a sentence long. Some viewers may feel slighted by a lack of context, but the filmmakers here still find a way to make this its own story, crafting a touching coming of age story melded with whispers of otherworldly intrigue. The fusion of beguiling nostalgia and the vague menace that advances on Bobby and Ted makes for a unique tone, something just south of a thriller which can’t quite be pinned down by genre labels. Hopkins can be both terrifying and tender depending on the role. Here he is kindness incarnate as a man whose worldly intuition goes beyond telekinesis into the kind of qualities reserved for the best and brightest. Yelchin and Boorem, who would star alongside each other again a few years later in the lacklustre Along Came A Spider, are the superb heart of the film. Yelchin has shown a constant progression of strongly realized, believable work and the quality of his craft can be traced back to this stunning genesis role. Boorem is highly underused these days, and one need only watch her light up the screen with emotional sincerity in this to see why she should be working far more. There’s neat supporting work from Tom Bower, Celia Weston, Alan Tudyuk and David Morse as an older version of Bobby who yearns for days gone by. I found myself deeply enjoying this one whilst constantly drawing back to the knowledge and context I have for it via The Dark Tower, but the film on it’s own is enough to provide a rewarding experience for anyone who isn’t familiar with the multiverse. Amid King’s favourite topics and settings are Midwest adolescence, idiosyncratic nooks of Americana and the ever present supernatural aspect, dynamics which Hearts In Atlantis gives us aplenty, along with an open invitation to explore the universe farther, should one want to venture along the path to the Tower. I’d recommend it.