“The Witch”

“The Witch” is a slow burn melodrama, but a damn scary one! I applaud writer/director Robert Eggers for creating such a tense and atmospheric period piece.

“The Witch” takes place in the 1600’s and follows a deeply religious New England family, who moves from their plantation to an isolated forest to grow crops. Like most horror films, the family finds themselves cursed *after* moving. They soon believe they’re cursed by God when their crops die, their baby goes missing, and several horrific atrocities occur.

“The Witch” is one of the most mesmerizing and effective supernatural horror films I’ve ever seen. Eggers’ directorial debut is a love letter to witchcraft stories and a heartbreaking depiction of one very dysfunctional family.

We have our innocent protagonist Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), her religiously and sexually confused brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), creepy twin siblings, her noble-but-dimwitted father William (Ralph Ineson), and her increasingly psychotic mother Katherine (Kate Dickie). Their environment turns them against one another, as do their opposing views of God.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! SHIMMY IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!

The witches are unseen for a majority of the time, but they instigate the family’s descent into madness and watch them fall apart. That’s what makes witches terrifying – their mind games. We also see animals in bizarre scenarios, including a stalker brown rabbit, a black goat that has a violent meltdown, and one disturbing sequence involving a crow.

Eggers directs the actors’ emotions masterfully with tight handheld close-ups, capturing their discomfort and heartbreak. His script’s dialogue is authentic Puritan dialogue that will force you to pay attention to the screen. His ambiguous writing is handled confidently. His buildup to the dark finale will leave you shaken. “The Witch” is a great horror film and not for the faint of heart.

Grade: A+

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“Deadpool”

If meta humor and mayhem-fueled action tickle your fancy like it does mine, “Deadpool” is for you.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD, CHILDREN! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

This is Ryan Reynolds’s passion project (he’s the star and producer) as he portrays Wade Wilson, an invincible wisecracking mercenary seeking revenge. Wilson has a twisted sense of humor while on his bloodthirsty rampage (he makes a joke about killing someone in five minutes while chasing them on a Zamboni).

Ryan Reynolds hasn’t had the best luck over the last seven years with a long string of critical and commercial failures (“Green Lantern”, “RIPD” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” are just a few to name). Reynolds even expressed disappointment in “Origins: Wolverine”, but props to him for taking control over “Deadpool”. This is a faithful adaptation and easily a career revival for Reynolds.

Reynolds cracks self-aware jokes and pop culture references throughout “Deadpool” in the middle of action sequences. This isn’t limited to making fun of himself in “Origins: Wolverine” and “Green Lantern”, referencing the “X-Men” franchise, “Alien 3”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “The Matrix”, and Jared from Subway. Yeah, pretty good sense of humor for a disfigured maniac .

It’s the writers’ (credited in the genius opening credits as the “Real Heroes of the Movie”), script that make Reynolds shine. It’s a combination of dark comedy, romantic drama, revenge thriller, and superhero satire. First time director Tim Miller (credited as “An Overpaid Tool”) does a great job directing the intentionally clumsy and energetic action sequences without giving us a headache.

The supporting cast also has their fine moments with TJ Miller (“Silicon Valley”) as Wilson’s best friend, Morena Baccarin (“Firefly”) as Wilson’s equally sassy and vulgar girlfriend, and Ed Skrein (the original Daario Nahares in “Game of Thrones”) as a violent-yet-overly insecure villain.

The movie isn’t perfect since it’s a semi-origin story and has mild pacing issues with drawn-out flashbacks. Aside from that, “Deadpool” wastes no time entertaining us with its warped humor and badassery.

Grade: A

“Hail, Caesar!”

The wacky Coen Brothers go back to their bizarre and experimental comedic roots with “Hail, Caesar!”. This is when they are at their best.

“Hail, Caesar!” is an episodic dark comedy set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, starring Josh Brolin as fixer, Eddie Mannix. Mannix is a neurotic man who acts tough, but is soft in a rough industry. We get a glimpse at a day in the life of Mannix, as he sorts out a pregnancy scandal with a single actress (Scarlett Johansson), manages a cowboy star’s (Alden Ehrenreich) miscasting in an art film, and searches for a missing debauched Hollywood favorite (George Clooney); all while keeping twin journalists (both played by Tilda Swinton) off his back.

“Hail, Caesar!” is likely the Coens’ most polarizing film since “The Big Lebowski” and it’s just as weird, due to its episodic format and semi-confusing plot. It’s also a movie that satirizes the movie industry while delivering jokes that require your undivided attention. Sure, it’s a bit drawn out and semi-heavy handed, but it’s damn good!

The Coens craft “Hail, Caesar!” as a part Film Noir, part Hollywood satire, and a part political satire, and it all works for the most part. Each cast member delivers rich and funny performances, as expected in a Coen Brothers movie.

Brolin delivers one of his quirkiest performances, portraying Mannix as a tough guy who’s overly concerned with whether or not he’s a good person, stressing over bad habits like smoking. Clooney is always his best with the Coens and delivers a hilarious performance as the dimwitted, egomaniac Kirk Douglas-type. Ehrenreich steals every scene as a Texan star who can’t deliver a simple line as directed, and Channing Tatum dances in a terrific cameo as a musical star with a mysterious background.

The Coens load “Hail, Caesar!” with great sequences, including movies within the movie (these are more introductory sequences for our cast), a smart banter between different religious figures on how Jesus should be portrayed, and some beautiful imagery (the film is shot by Roger Deakins of “Skyfall” and “No Country for Old Men”).

Some sequences and characters aren’t as well developed as others, particularly Tatum’s. With his character (not spoiling anything here), we should have either had more of him or none of him, despite the golden dance sequence.

The Coens vary between dark and violent thrillers like “No Country for Old Men” and Fargo, and quirky comedies like “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski”. “Hail, Caesar!” falls under the latter and is for anyone who loves movies or film history.

Grade: A-

“The Boy”

I rarely see January-horror flicks because well… January flicks are usually terrible. “The Boy” is that kind of terrible that’s almost worth recommending.

In a formulaic intro, we meet Greta (Lauren Cohan), who’s hiding in London from an abusive ex-boyfriend; she takes a nanny gig at a creepy old mansion reminiscent of the one in “Crimson Peak”. It gets better – she’s babysitting a doll named Brahms! Greta ignores the basic rules she’s supposed to follow with Brahms and soon learns the hard way that Brahms might be alive.

Cool horror premise, right? Sure. The premise in “The Boy” is like something you’d read in a gothic mystery novel, but it’s executed like a teen soap opera. It’s still entertaining nonetheless.

Director William Brent Bell (2012’s god-awful “The Devil Inside”) has an eye for suspense. Horror movies are craftiest with editing and “The Boy” is a fine example here. Cuts between characters walking in creepy hallways to close-ups of the terrifying Brahms doll sent shivers down my spine at times.

The first act is a cliched horror movie opening with us meeting the quirky protagonist, tense parents, characters breaking rules we know they shouldn’t, and a couple of nightmare sequences, but the second act is the strongest segment in the movie.

SPOILER ALERT (Eh, sort of)

When Greta grows attached to Brahms and pays more attention to him for personal reasons than the handsome grocery boy (Rupert Evans) adds a mild psychological-driven tone to “The Boy”, but this is sadly a bit short lived.

The final act is ridiculous with confrontations between the protagonists, the ex, and BRAHMS! There are also twists and revelations that are compelling upon first viewing, but don’t make a whole lot of sense after digesting the movie.

“The Boy” is a better January-horror movie than “The Devil Inside”, “My Bloody Valentine 3D” (2009), “Daybreakers” (2010), and many more titles I forgot, but the third act could have been as fleshed out and compelling as the second act.

Grade: C+

“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”

With a title like “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”, you ought to know better than to take a movie like that seriously! It’s ridiculous and fun, but sometimes that’s all that matters.

A zombie plague has taken over 19th century England and Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) and her sisters are all trained for zombie slaying by their no nonsense father (Charles Dance). Elizabeth forms an unlikely romance with fellow zombie hunter Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) and the two discover a plot that can trigger the apocalypse. While the fight their feelings for each other, they fight the zombies invading England more-so.

“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” embraces genre cliches, iconic moments from Jane Austen’s novel “Pride & Prejudice”, and its numerous adaptations, including parodying Colin Firth’s white shirt-swimming scene from the BBC mini series. This isn’t just a spoof, but it also has a surprising amount of panache.

Between innovative POV zombie shots, a pop-up image-illustrated opening credits sequence, and some effective uses of shadows and fog, “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” can almost pass as a serious period horror film. It’s evenly balanced with ridiculous moments including a sensual martial arts fight, subplots involving a clumsy and antagonistic love interest (Matt Smith), and the Four Horsemen.

The cast all does fine work and both James and Riley have great chemistry, managing to balance out even levels of absurdity and drama in their performances. The real stand out though is Smith. He’s a naturally clumsy person off camera and this makes his performance as Mr. Collins more enjoyable.

How can you criticize a movie that’s already this ridiculous? Well, there are a few subplots that aren’t well developed and slow the movie down at times. There are also a few too many characters that come and go throughout the movie, making us wonder their purpose. But once we get to the zombie battles, it’s back in full form.

I saw “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” at a sneak preview, and I’d suggest checking it out at a five-dollar Tuesday theater when it’s released.

Grade: B-

“The Revenant”

I’m disappointed that Alejandro Inarritu’s (“Birdman”) “The Revenant” wasn’t released before 2015 ended. Why? Because this would have easily made my top 10 list of the year!

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as legendary frontier man, Hugh Glass. Glass was the survivor of a vicious bear attack and left for dead by his men, but he survived and tracked his former comrades down for revenge. The frontier member he wanted the most retribution against was the scarred John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a self-aware psychopath who murdered Glass’s son in cold blood.

SPOILER ALERT

This is more of a fictionalized take on the events and we watch Glass suffer through grisly wounds, ride a horse off a cliff, slide uncontrollably down a stream, evade a vengeful Arikara tribe, and eventually engage in a gory knife fight with Fitzgerald.

“The Revenant” is an epic, beautiful, and overwhelmingly intense adventure that contains elements of some of the best blockbuster movies like “Gladiator” and some more artistic period films like “There Will Be Blood”. Every shot in this movie is filled with great attention to detail.

DiCaprio gives his most expressive and quiet performance to date, acting with painful expressions. There were reports of him suffering through this shoot and we can almost see his pain in his performance. Tom Hardy is just as good, sometimes stealing Leo’s thunder as the philosophical villain.

“The Revenant” is quite different from “Birdman”, due to the lack of dialogue, the setting, and dark tone, but it’s still just as energetic and as much of a great experience. It’s loaded with long takes that occur during a harrowing battle sequence and an unforgettably violent bear attack.

The violence and heavy handed dream sequences might turn some viewers off, but this is a movie I’d strongly suggest all film lovers to give a shot.

Grade: A

The Best Movies Of 2015

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It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite review to write – MY FAVORITE MOVIES (OR FILMS) OF 2015!!!! This year was a solid year, especially in the genre films department. Now I have a couple of disclaimers.

  • I go see at least three or four movies a month, but it’s hard to catch everything. So films on other peoples’ lists like Straight Outta Compton, Room, and Carol won’t be on the list.
  • I really wanted to see The Revenant, but it won’t be out until a week after the new year, so it’s unfortunately not a contender.
  • There are a few movies you’ll see on this list and think, “Hey, why didn’t you review or mention this?” It’s because I either saw them before I launched this blog or after they were released on video.
  • A grade doesn’t mean I have to rank an A+ over an A. There’s even a movie I gave an A+ that’s not on the list at all!

On that note, I have some honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut, but are still worth mentioning:

  • Beasts of No Nation (the only A+ movie not on the list) was a beautiful and harrowing war film about innocence lost, featuring Idris Elba’s finest performance to date.
  • Creed restored my faith in the Rocky franchise, thanks to Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.
  • The End of the Tour is the best road trip movie I’ve seen in the last few years and featured Jason Segel’s finest work.
  • Ex-Machina was a disturbing and suspenseful sci-fi thriller that had great commentary on objectification.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – was the best spy movie I saw in a year loaded with spy movies, and featured one of the most innovative and memorable fight scenes to date.
  • Trainwreck was a very funny and surprisingly dramatic comedy that introduced me to the talented Amy Schumer.

And now let’s get down to it! My top 10 favorite films of 2015 are:

10) It FollowsIt Follows may have the ridiculous concept of a dark sex comedy, but it’s also a very disturbing commentary on teen sexuality and a strong message to young kids about safe sex.

9) Sicario – Perhaps the darkest and most nihilistic movie on my list, Sicario shines through the darkness, thanks to Denis Villeneuve’s visceral direction and powerful performances from both Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. This is one cartel thriller that isn’t for the faint of heart.

8) The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s newest Western is also not for the faint of heart, but still an absolute blast. Part murder mystery and part classical Western, Tarantino’s beautiful direction brings out the best work from its cast, particularly Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins.

7) Love & Mercy – I hate music biopics, but Love & Mercy is more of an engaging psychological study of a broken man than a generic Brian Wilson biopic. Paul Dano plays young Wilson with frenetic energy while John Cusack portrays the older fragile version of Wilson in this unique music film.

6) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – Thank you, J.J. Abrams, for giving us a great Star Wars movie for Christmas. New and old blood, nostalgia mixed with more character-driven storytelling, Star Wars ranks among the best Star Wars installments to date.

5) The Martian – Ridley Scott returns to form and directs the year’s most optimistic movie featuring this year’s most likable protagonist, Mark Watney (Matt Damon in his best performance). This is a survival sci-fi tale that will have viewers laughing while engaged in science and disco music.

4) Steve Jobs – Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin crafted the best film that no one saw this year! Shame on the film goers for skipping a visionary fast-paced biopic, featuring a brilliant performance from Michael Fassbender as the titular character.

3) Spotlight – Likely this year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight is a gripping and important journalism piece that follows people (not heroes or villains) and their struggles writing an investigative piece on molestation in the Catholic Church. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel MacAdams all deliver standout performances as our protagonists.

2) Inside Out – Pixar is back with the very beautiful, funny, and emotional Inside Out. Director Pete Docter (Up, Monster’s Inc.) continues to combine basic genre formulas with innovative storytelling in the form of an animated film. In this case, a disaster movie with insight on emotions.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – What a film! WHAT A LOVELY FILM! That’s the fanboy part of me talking, but the reason why Mad Max is #1 is because George Miller rebooted his own franchise and topped his previous installments. Between the action sequences with stuntmen and reliance on basic props for visual effects, we rarely get an action movie with as much effort put into it as Mad Max: Fury Road. Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw an action movie that treated an ensemble of female characters as powerful people and passed the Bechdel test. These reasons are enough to please all film goers and not just action fans.

Thanks a bunch for reading this countdown! At the bottom, tell me if you agree or disagree with my list. Also, what was your favorite film of 2015?