Category Archives: Movies

The Limehouse Golem: A Ghoulish Portrayal of Victorian London

Based on the 1994 novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd, The Limehouse Golem (2016) is a ghoulish portrayal of a Victorian London slum and the stone-faced detective trying to solve a series of grizzly and sensational crimes. It was directed by Juan Carlos Medina and adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman.

Medina is an inexperienced director, having only four films under his belt since 2001, and only two were full-length. Goldman wrote screenplays for The Woman in Black (2012), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Her talented script shines through.

In the opening act, Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) is arrested on suspicion of poisoning her husband, John (Sam Reid). Meanwhile, Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is tasked to solve the “Limehouse Golem” murders, which have become sensationalized in the press. He enlists the help of a Limehouse bobby George Flood (Daniel Mays).

They discover the Golem’s diary written on the pages of “On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts” (1827) by Thomas De Quincey in a library and narrow the suspects to four men: philosopher Karl Marx (Henry Goodman), writer George Gissing (Morgan Watkins), comedian Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), and John Cree.

Inspector John Kildare is not an adept detective and even refers to himself as a scapegoat. Focusing almost entirely on handwriting analysis to whittle down a list of four suspects, he misses obvious clues like the fact that no new murders occur after the death of John Cree and the imprisonment of Elizabeth. The Limehouse Golem made it clear he was seeking fame above all else; he would not let someone else take the blame while he quietly slipped away, meaning the murderer had to either be John or Elizabeth.

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Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in a long time. I try to watch anything with Aubrey Plaza in it, but didn’t catch this one in the theater. Not only is it hilariously improvised, it’s also based on a true story. The unbelievable misadventure of Mike and Dave Stangle, who were instructed to bring dates to their sister’s wedding in Saratoga, New York, inspired the film. They posted an ad on Craigslist in February 2013, which went viral. Real life Mike and Dave, from Albany, even have a cameo in the film.

In the movie version of events, Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) face an ultimatum from family members over a history of hard partying and ruining family gatherings. Their parents, Burt (Stephen Root) and Rosie (Stephanie Faracy) Stangle, insist they bring dates to their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii. She is marrying Eric (Sam Richardson), who is grounded and emotionally reserved. After their Craigslist ad goes viral, they run through a series of hilarious dates before meeting Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), another pair of hard-partiers who pretend to be nice girls to get a free trip to Hawaii.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates was written by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien and directed by Jake Szymanski. Szymanski has directed dozens of video shorts and a few television episodes and TV movies, which might explain why the film felt like a series of skits seamlessly woven together. Make no mistake, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates not only has a plot, it also has character development, two things often missing from other recently-released comedies.

The film is simply about four shallow, emotionally juvenile people maturing and finding happiness. Dave learns he needs a separate identity from his brother and decides to pursue his talent at drawing, Alice finally gets over being left at the altar and pursues a relationship with Dave, and Mike and Tatiana go into business together. They patch things up with their sister after derailing her ceremony, and use their talents to make sure Jeanie gets the Hawaii wedding she deserves. Even Eric gets to show he’s not as straight-laced as he appears. It’s not a complex story, but what else can you expect from a raunchy romantic comedy?

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The Lost City of Z

Written and directed by James Gray, The Lost City of Z (2016) traces the life of British soldier and explorer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is compelled to scour the Amazon for evidence of a lost civilization. Along the way, he’ll repeatedly abandon his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his children and overcome resistance from skeptical colleagues, all to ultimately come up empty handed. It is based on a book of the same name by David Grann.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film since its release, because it’s one of those real life stories more incredible than fiction. Percy Fawcett’s adventures inspired both Indiana Jones and Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World (1912). Unfortunately, The Lost City of Z was less an adventure film and more a plodding, meandering biopic that never quite finds its footing.

As the film opens, we see Percy Fawcett at the cusp of the British upper class. He is a major in the army, but has no medals; he goes on a hunt and kills the stag, but is not invited to dine on it. We see he’s skilled, daring, and willing to take risks. However, this isn’t quite an introduction.

The film makers assume their audience already knows who Percy Fawcett is, but he is a relatively obscure historical figure, especially to American audiences. It’s crucial to quickly establish the identity of the main character and why he is important. Otherwise, you lose the audience’s attention.

Thirteen minutes into the film, a plot finally appears. We learn Fawcett’s father was a gambling drunkard, and he is told that if he completes his mission to map the Bolivian border it will redeem his family name.

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Mother! A Pretentious Danse Macabre

 Mother! (2017), staring Jennifer Lawrence as the titular character and Javier Bardem as her husband, Him, is writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s nihilistic allegory for Biblical creation and the rape of nature. Though marketed as a psychological thriller, Aronofsky told Vanity Fair after the Toronto International Film Festival the film is “about how it must feel to be Mother Nature.” It was partially inspired by Shel Silverstein’s picture book The Giving Tree. No, really.

The story itself isn’t very interesting. A writer lives with his much younger wife in an old octagonal farm house on the prairie. Uninvited house guests interrupt their solitude. Their transgressions worsen, climaxing in a murder that leaves a permanent, bloody scar in the floor. Things settle down again after Mother becomes pregnant, but then crescendo into an orgy of violence and depravity as the writer’s fans take over the house and begin worshiping him.

It’s difficult to say for what audience Mother! was intended. People who enjoy long, boring interludes punctuated by moments of extreme violence? It’s not for the squeamish or easily triggered, but it’s not a work of genius either. For my part, it was painful to see talented actors and actresses, including Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, wasted on this pretentious monstrosity.

Throughout the film, and especially in the final act, Mother is marginalized, tormented, brutalized, and violated. At one point, her clothes are torn open and she is repeatedly punched in the face. Finally, her heart is torn from her burnt chest. I think it’s a little bizarre that A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence, who prides herself on playing strong female leads and on being a role model for young women, would agree to star in her boyfriend’s deranged snuff film.

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IT: Classic Horror Reborn

Seven pre-teen outcasts overcome their fears to confront a shape-shifting creature that takes the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and awakens every 27 years to feed on children in It (2017), the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name.

Written by Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga and directed by Andy Muschietti, It was filmed on a budget of $35 million and grossed over $117 million in its opening weekend. It revives classic American horror by delivering more than just jump scares. It was genuinely scary, but also at times heartfelt, funny, and sincere.

It‘s success is even more surprising given its director’s lack of experience. Andy Muschietti, an Argentine screenwriter, has only directed one other full-length feature. To entrust the long-anticipated reboot of one of Stephen King’s most iconic horror tales to an inexperienced director is, well, incredible. That he actually pulled off making It into a blockbuster will ensure a long career. It‘s opening box office earnings completely eclipse The Sixth Sense‘s and that film made director M. Night Shyamalan a household name.

I’m not a Stephen King fan and I don’t get the fascination with clowns. I never read the novel or saw the 1990 TV mini series staring Tim Curry, so I came to the theater without any preconceptions aside from bits and pieces of things I’ve heard about It over the years. Like most Stephen King novels, the horror element is a vehicle for exploring other issues, issues related to family, coming of age, bullying, confronting mortality, etc., all of which appear in this story.

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Wind River

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracker and an FBI agent team up to solve a double homicide on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming in Wind River (2017). On a mission to hunt down mountain lions killing local cattle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille). The FBI sends Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a Nevada field agent, to determine whether a crime has been committed. They later find another body, deepening the mystery.

Wind River is writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s latest offering. Sheridan is known for writing Hell or High Water (2016) and Sicario (2015) and acting in a number of TV dramas. Wind River takes place in Wyoming in early spring and has a very Western feel, despite its snow-swept mountains. Stunning cinematography was not enough to make up for extremely slow pacing and lack of compelling story.

Some critics argue it is genre defying and highly original; I say it suffers from an identity crisis. Wind River is labeled a “murder mystery thriller film,” but isn’t either of those things. There’s no mystery because a flashback explains exactly what happened halfway through and the authorities never actually solve the crime or bring anyone to justice. It’s not a thriller because there’s no sense of suspense or urgency. Unlike a typical crime thriller, there’s no sense that one crime must be solved to prevent another from occurring.

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