Dark Places (2015) review

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Plot (courtesy of IMDB): Libby Day was only eight years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Almost thirty years later, she reluctantly agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night.

**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

With the advent of David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel “Gone Girl”, I was beginning to see the light, so to speak, with atmospheric modern thrillers; to me, they were just getting better and better as each year passed. But then we hit 2015, and that sparkle begins to fade out slightly. And frustratingly enough, right as the quality and craftsmanship of said films were just about to reach their apex.

Now, that’s not to say “Dark Places” is the absolute pit of despair when it comes to the quality of these movies, but goddammit if this movie didn’t really frustrate me in places. First, and foremost, I should get my rant about the plot, twists, and the characters over with. One of the first things to frustrate me almost to an extreme level was how they made the character of Ben be a “satanist”. Of course, they good girl/good boy gone bad character of these sorts of films are almost always written as a satanist, or a suspected satanist and are judged accordingly by the other characters. It’s not that I have a problem with the writers using this as a plot point, as sometimes it may work out well with enough good writing to back it up, but a lot of the time (such as with Ben) it just backfires almost immediately. And a lot of the times, such as with this film, it’s just another useless plot point. I mean, why is he or she a satanist or why do other characters think they are a satanist, how is that going to change his or her life for the better or worse, is it going to affect their day to day life or their actions? These are the types of questions that need to be addressed, I think, somewhere within the timespan of the film in question if such a big, and often times controversial, character trait is used. But when someone takes the easy way out and just slaps a character trait on a main character like that in such a lazy manner and then goes absolutely nowhere with it, just uses the most basic and cliched outline of what we think that character may be like, and just adds it as an aspect of the film for plot filler they just end up downgrading the overall quality of the film, if the writing isn’t strong enough. Of course, I’m using satanism as an example for my rant about how writers should completely follow through with character traits of that nature, but it could be applied to a number of different things; I’m just using it here as it encompasses a great deal of the plot and twists of this movie.

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That’s another thing about this movie that did not work: the plot twists. A movie as dark and melancholic as this should have some twists throughout that really blow the viewer away, but what we’re left with is some very obvious, cliche ridden, and half-baked story elements that add nothing to the movie. I easily figured out almost from the very beginning when the film really gets set in motion that Ben wasn’t the killer, and I wouldn’t have been that let down by that fact if the way the rest of the story was handled was at least in some way compelling. Throughout the pretty much the entirety of the film Libby is going through the typical motions of someone in a film’s world would if not given the proper written treatment; i.e. what this entire rant is about, this movie basically takes the easy way out in terms of developing its characters over the course of the plot. Very few of the scenes in this movie were even half-way, remotely believable. I mean, sure, without proper answers to explain what really happened the night her family was murdered Libby would be absolutely skeptical and not trusting towards Ben, because if you look at it from her position it certainly looks like Ben is the murderer, but I don’t know how she could still believe he did it when presented with clear and concise theories on what happened by The Kill Club. Of course i’m not expecting Libby to not still be angry with Ben at what happened as she was just a little girl when all this happened and it completely ruined her emotionally, mentally, and just in general fucked up her entire life in a lot of ways but I really think she should have taken a more deeper look into the evidence to the case being brought up by the aforementioned Kill Club if she was truly searching for answers, as it would’ve proven that Ben was innocent. I’m not defending him completely of course as he knew all this the entire time, knew what really happened, and didn’t really try hard enough to reach out to Libby and attempt to give her some peace of mind by telling her exactly how everything went down . It’s huge holes in logic like that that really drag the quality of a good story down.

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It may seem, however, by the length of that incoherent and bizarre rant above that I really loathed this movie with a passion, which is not the truth at all. While I found the bad excuses for twists lame, the underdeveloped characters frustrating, and the barrage of cliches typical of this genre annoying, there were plenty of things I did genuinely like about this movie. For one, I really loved the story. The story was gripping and tension-soaked, and this movie really could’ve been a truly great film if it wasn’t for the problems I listed above. I’ve honestly never read Gillian Flynn’s work before, but seeing how much I loved “Gone Girl” and really was intrigued by the plot of this film I’d probably really love her work. What I really loved about the story however, and it’s basically the same thing I loved so much about Gone Girl’s story, is how perfectly it blends various tones and moods to create a realistic world. Even if the characters of “Dark Places” aren’t developed all the way or well, one thing I can say is Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s stylishly dour direction and Barry Ackroyd’s well-lit, copacetically dreary cinematography make you feel as if you were looking through the scrapbook of a serial killer or madman – which is the best look and feel for this film in terms of correctly expressing the dark story and the characters who inhabit it through well orchestrated shots and a smartly somber color palette.

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As far as the acting aspect of this film goes, the performances – while usually pretty good, can at times be a mixed bag due to how uneven and undeveloped this film is at times. At the very center we have Charlize Theron turning in a typically excellent performance, however at times when the film’s quality seems to dip she has no clear shame in hamming it up to fit the material; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, actually it’s not a bad thing at all but in certain points of the film she does seem a bit miscast. Though, in retrospect, the casting of Theron as the older Libby added a certain ingredient to this film it was most definitely missing. Corey Stoll, when given the proper amount of screen-time during pivotal scenes, is both disturbing and electrifying as the older Ben Day, which certainly wasn’t surprising considering how great he was in his portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s 2011 film “Midnight In Paris”. The performance to be on the lookout for in this film, however, is Tye Sheridan’s mesmerizing performance of young, detached Ben Day – debuting in “The Tree of Life” and turning in monumentally great performances in “Joe” and “Mud”, I can certainly say i’m making a safe bet that one of these days down the line Sheridan will be winning an Oscar and if he continues giving such brilliant performances I can pretty much guarantee it.

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In conclusion, considering how much I loved “Gone Girl” I was extremely disappointed that this is how this film turned out, given the fact that the story had some real promise. The performances are pretty good and the look and feel of this movie more than compliment the story, however this is just yet another example of how a thriller can be purely well designed style over having well thought out twists and character development that isn’t entirely riddled with cliches and hackneyed ideas lifted from other better, more well made movies. That’s not to say this is one of the worst thrillers in years, however it’s very far from being one I could recommend to people. See “Gone Girl” instead.

My rating: 5/10

An Appreciation of Abe, A Small Tribute

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Today I felt the need to make a small tribute post to living legend, and the man who will outlive every form of society, Abe Vigoda. From his excellent portrayal of gangster Sal Tessio in The Godfather to his performance as deadpan, wacky curmudgeon police sergeant Phil Fish, Mr Vigoda has been delighting audiences with his cranky screen antics for multiple decades – and that is why he deserves to be named as a living legend and why he deserves a spot in everyone’s hearts. And even though he hasn’t really acted much in years, whenever he makes an appearance on tv he always brightens up every program he’s on.

Hopefully, since Abe seems to be immortal, we’ll have many more years to enjoy his presence here on Earth. Thanks for being you Abe, thanks for choosing to take up acting and delighting us all, and just simply thanks for existing.

Long live Abe Vigoda!

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An Introduction (Again), I Suppose

I guess it’s time for me to make yet another explanation post explaining my absence, seeing as this is the blog I spent the most time on and I do genuinely appreciate each and every person who’s ever read my writing, or excuse for writing I should say, on here. It’s been since June since I made my last post, and since then things have been a bit complicated throughout. Nothing too major, mind you, but sometimes the stress of day to day life kept me from posting or writing anything for a while, but also a main contributing factor to my absence from here is this is the first month in a while where I have access to my own computer. Actually it was the end of last month, but I decided to continue my sabbatical into the first Monday of the new year in order to sort of make a promise to myself to sort things around. Yes, this may all be completely silly, me apologizing for not writing a blog when there are more important things I could be doing, however writing this blog presents me with an extra challenge, a rewarding challenge to try to actually get some things done for once; basically, it’s an exercise in helping me get back my motivation that has been lost from stress and anxiety over the years. And so far, it’s going swimmingly. Not moving at a fast pace yet, of course, but this morning I got up and wrote a decent sized movie review and a small little side-post I shall be posting after this, so while it’s only two new posts not counting this one at least I feel a little better posting those instead of nothing at all.

When more updates present themselves or when I feel like opening up some more, I shall make another post like this but until then I’ll just continue on how I posted when I first opened this blog. Again, thank you to everyone who’s read this blog, I really appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

Sunlight Jr (2013) Review

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**Warning: Review contains slight spoilers**

“Sunlight Jr” is a 2013 film directed and written by indie filmmaker Laurie Collyer touching on themes of enduring love, trying to scrape by on near-poverty row, emotional pain, abuse and disability about a Floridian couple who, just making ends meet in barely-paying minimum wage jobs, are saddled with an unplanned pregnancy. If that doesn’t sound grim enough, add in the fact that she has just gotten fired from her job and they may become evicted from the hotel they life in. This movie gives almost a whole new meaning to depressing.

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Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts portray the aforementioned couple, Melissa and Ritchie, giving two nuanced and almost unsettlingly naturalistic performances that make you feel as though you are watching a documentary on a downtrodden couple whose life is shattering to pieces in front of your very eyes. The tangible chemistry between the two actors adds a certain spice to the screen that makes the two characters seem all the more realistic, you can feel every emotion of their anger, despair, hopelessness, and love for each other that it almost crushes your heart watching the plot unfold. One other performance I absolutely must single-out however is Norman Reedus’ volatile and sceen-grabbing portrayal of Melissa’s abusive, violent ex Justin. While his character was utterly hateable in every which way but loose, a complete polar opposite from Ritchie and Melissa, his undaunted performance hit all the right notes.

 

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As someone who has been around poverty before and knows what living on minimum wage feels like, and who knows both directly or indirectly the feelings of anger, frustration, depression, hopelessness, etcetera the comes from a living situation such as this I can honestly say without hesitation that Laurie Collyer’s screenplay is one of the most gut-wrenchingly realistic portraits of poverty, unplanned life events, and desperation I have ever seen commited to the screen. There are no bright moments, there are no overly positive scenes; the movie glooms and swallows every last little fragmented glimmer of hope in sight. The grim setting and emotions of this movie burrow into your soul and hollow out every little bit of life left, making the only thing still standing left at the end of the ordeal is a sense of the everlasting, till-death-do-us-part love shared between Melissa and Ritchie. That’s the only true brightened spot of this movie, the beautiful, if not at-times toxic, love they share. And that’s why I think this movie is one of the finest written in a while, because it doesn’t shy away from the darkness. Not many other films or filmmakers are touching on themes this dark: on themes of alcoholism, on the theme of abuse, on the theme of trying to survive and make ends meet day to day, and most especially on the theme of abortion. No other movie hardly anymore ever touches on abortion. And even if the movies do touch on themes of this nature, a good percentage of the time the themes are half-cooked and not well established. But, as I was implying to state, this movie, and writer/director Laurie Collyer, is pretty damn brave for implementing the subject of abortion into the movie. Is it unpleasent? Yes, however I think it needs to be discussed more in films. But hey, that is just my personal belief; I’d be just fine either way if they did or didn’t discuss it, I do however think from time to time though it needs to be brought up.

 

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In conclusion, while the theme of undying, everlasting love between the main characters Ritchie and Melissa is alluring, the gloomy and devastating themes of hopelessness, anger, and depression will definitely put most people off, most especially if they’ve been around or have been through poverty before. However Laurie Collyer’s daringly authentic, raw, and exceedingly original screenplay and a pair of unsettlingly life-like performances from Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts make this a must-not-miss movie.

My Rating: 9/10

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A Serbian Film [Uncut Edition] (2011) – Review/Rant

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Plot, from IMDB: An aging porn star agrees to participate in an “art film” in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into making a pedophilia and necrophilia themed snuff film.

Ah yes, here it is: the one and only legendarily off-putting movie “A Serbian Film”. Truly one of the only recent movies worthy of the phrase “one and only”, I can say that much already. Literally everywhere, every site about movies I went onto when this was released every poster was talking about it, saying how sickening it was, and I was immediately drawn to it. I had to see it, any way I could I absolutely had to see it. Boy, I really did not know what I was getting myself into by watching this movie.

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Now, I should most likely start with the fact that I have a strong stomach. An extremely, unnaturally strong stomach for the sort of things that would make most people vomit. Ever since I was a young boy, I have always had this dark fascination with criminals, with serial killers, mobsters, and just the out of the ordinary type of murderers etc. That’s one thing, having a fascination; but I’ve seen snuff films, I’ve seen crime scenes photos of serial murders, I’ve read the Tate-LaBianca case files, I’ve seen death photos of normal citizens and celebrities, I’ve listened to the Jonestown death tape, I’ve seen accident footage where some people were decapitated in car accidents, I’ve seen beheading and torture footage, I’ve basically seen it all and more than your typical person would be able to stand. So, yeah, you could say I have an unnaturally strong stomach for some of the worst attrocities out there, and it’s very very rare for a film to make me sick – but I will state outright that this film here mortified me. I was absolutely shocked, appauled, sickened, and mortified watching this movie. Seeing this movie was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my entire life, but I really got to give credit to director/screenwriter Srdjan Spasojevic and Aleksandar Radivojevic for creating this brilliantly horrific movie because, let’s face it, most people anymore (or ever, really) had the nerve and the guts to make a movie this vile, this nauseating, this appalling, and this putrid and unnerving. This movie, with its themes of necrophilia, murder, rape, pedophilia, and pornography, was so abhorrently sadistic that it could almost be considered a new art-form. However, I give this movie and its makers a decent amount of praise for not adhering to censorship and for sticking with their macabre vision because real life is always an exercise in morbidity and these sort of attrocities like child abuse, rape, and murder happen on a daily basis – and I feel like the makers deserve a little bit of credit for further sheading some light on these attrocities. Granted, the way in which they did it was unnecessarily cruel, but hey – so is life, most of the time.

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And that is exactly why this movie is such an original vision; because it takes all of these horrifying events and presents it in a grueling, sickening, and absolutely putrid fashion and never shies away from anything. I have never, in all my years of movie watching, seen a movie quite like this. Especially with a plot like that, I mean who in their right mind thinks up a plot like that? That is exactly why I would like to find people to attempt to recommend this movie to, I’ll recant this statement in a little bit but i’m trying to make a point: because this movie, while gruesome and disgusting, is extraordinarily one-of-a-kind. Because of the controversy over this movie, I highly doubt any sane being would even attempt to make another movie of this ilk for at least a very very long while.

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I mean, just think about what the actors went through making this – especially the actor who portrayed Milos, Srdjan Todorovic, a very tragic character forced into this unfortunate set-up who basically either has to grit his teeth and bear it or most likely be forced to watch his own family murdered before his eyes (even though, without spoilers, what happened was far far worse). But the character I most felt horribly sorry for was Milos’ young son Petar, who was basically, metaphorically and non-metaphorically, faced at gunpoint to witness these monstrosities head-on with almost no one feeling remorseful about what they’re doing to the poor child. The performance work from the pair is some of the most cruelly, disturbingly convincing acting I’ve ever had the painful experience of witnessing.

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I honestly don’t know how to conclude this review, because as I said I want to recant my recommendation of this movie. I really don’t recommend this movie to too many people due to the extremely brutal nature of it, I mean if I could hardly sit through it with the unnaturally strong stomach I have, a lot of people with just as strong or stronger stomachs for this sort of thing would probably have the same problem. But if you do choose to see this movie, just be prepared for an uncommonly uncomfortable viewing experience.

My Rating: 8/10

I’m not gonna add a trailer to this review, I’m not for censorship or anything but I just don’t think it’d be that appropriate.

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Underrated Films, Underprolonged Reviews: Mallrats (1995)

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Plot, from IMDB: Both dumped by their girlfriends, two best friends seek refuge in the local mall.
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I’d like to start this small piece out by simply stating I love Kevin Smith’s movies. I’ve been a big fan of his for about five years or so now, and I just love his perverted and often witty since of humor. He is easily one of the most, if not the most, unpretentious filmmaker out there right now because he makes the type of movies he would watch, that he would enjoy, the type of movies that a singular person or a group of friends can watch and laugh and have a good time with. For the most part, I mean. I hated “Cop Out”, like most people, but I don’t blame him for that film being awful as he wasn’t the screenwriter. Now, onto the actual point of my piece rather than explaining my love for Smith’s movies; why do a lot of people hate Mallrats? I don’t really understand that. Sure, it’s nowhere near the quality film “Clerks.” was, and especially not as great as “Chasing Amy”, but it is in itself a pretty damn funny movie. The writing may be puerile at times, obviously, and it’s definitely not as clever as his previous film “Clerks” was, but what “Mallrats” has in its favor as a follow-up film is a delightfully fun new adventure with the human versions of Scooby and Shaggy themselves, Jay and Silent Bob. This movie infact contains some of my favorite Jay and Silent Bob moments, especially the scenes when they’re trying to sabotage the gameshow Truth or Date, and it also includes quite a bit of hilarious one-liners throughout. And frankly that was good enough for me, I came to this movie years ago to laugh and have a good time and it most certainly suceeded in doing just exactly what I expected it to do. No more, no less.

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In conclusion, while “Mallrats” is certainly not Kevin Smith’s masterpiece (that title would go to “Chasing Amy”), it is still a fun, laugh-out-loud and enjoyable good time that will make you smile and crave more wacky Jay and Silent Bob shenanigans.

My Rating: 8/10

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Underrated Films, Unprolonged Reviews: Factory Girl (2006)

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Biopics. The biopic genre is a genre that can easily stand the test of time because of the way a writer or writer-director has a way to sensationalize the subject or subject matter. Biopics can be either completely fictional, semi-factual, or overly sensational, but if done right they can be a compelling piece of filmmaking. And in a way, that’s what we got here. Departed filmmaker George Hickenlooper directed this biopic of Edie Sedwick in such an evocative and eccentric way that it felt almost like watching a Warhol underground movie, which worked out quite flawlessly considering the subject matter. The main problem, however, that I am just itching to address is just how sensationalized this movie is; knowing as much as I do about Warhol and Sedwick and the inhabitants of The Factory I could easily lay back and spot the fact from the fiction. One of the most glaringly obvious fictional parts of this film is the way they portrayed Bob Dylan. They portrayed him as her lover and the intention cause of Edie’s downward spiral into drug abuse and subsequent barbituate overdose, which is complete and utter bullshit because she was a known addict before they even met and they weren’t anything more than just off-and-on acquaintences. But, seeing as I went into watching this movie knowing it wasn’t entirely factual, I was still able to enjoy the tones and sensationalism of the story. The screenplay may not be entirely tight, but the way it flows wonderfully throughout made it just good enough to make this film hold my intention. The absolute best thing about this film, however, that makes me seriously wanna recommend it is Sienna Miller’s transcendent and eerily uncanny performance as Edie Sedwick. I’ve seen “Ciao Manhattan” before, and I can definitely state she not only got the look down perfectly, but she also expertly captured her poise, her manner of speaking, and her mannerisms in a way that no other actress could’ve ever done. Not only that, but as the story progresses into a bitter downward spiral when she is using and withdrawing from drugs, as someone who’s personally been around people going through that I can state outright Sienna incomparably captured the painful dissolution of a dreadfully crippling drug addiction. This is the type of performance that comes around once in a blue moon that without a doubt deserves way more recognition than it got.

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In conclusion, George Hickenlooper’s “Factory Girl” is definitely a sensationalized piece that is more fiction than fact, however it is a well shot and extraordinarily well-acted film that certainly deserves a better chance that it got. While I do agree somewhat with the points Lou Reed (Rest In Peace) brought up when this came out, I still wanna recommend it to people who love Sedwick, Warhol, or the history behind The Factory.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Rest in Peace, George Hickenlooper

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