Movie Review – Climax

Climax (2019)
Written & Directed by Gaspar Noe

The bliss of Heaven is matched by the torment of Hell. This is the central theme of Gaspar Noe’s latest film, a psychedelic odyssey into madness, performed by mostly non-acting professional dancers. They have holed up in an abandoned boarding school during a snowstorm where they are celebrating their planned trip to the United States for a competition. The night’s revelry begins with spontaneous dancing and the consumption of some delicious sangria. After everyone has drunk of the celebratory punch, they realize it’s been spiked with LSD, and the nightmare begins. As is Noe’s style, the film is structured in surprising ways with often overly showy cinematography.

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Movie Review – High Life

High Life (2018)
Written by Claire Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau
Directed by Claire Denis

Monte lives aboard a spaceship, raising a baby girl by himself. How he got here is told in a series of flashbacks that reveal Monte was one of a crew of convicts, taking a deal to participate in a mission to gather data from around a black hole for alternative energy. The secondary purpose is to produce a child via artificial insemination to study the effects of conception and development in space. As the crew gets further from Earth and the realization of their fate sets in they begin to lose their minds and lash out at each other. As we can see from the framing device, Monte will be one of only two who makes it, but what lies ahead for him and this child.

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Movie Review – The Hole in the Ground

The Hole in the Ground (2019)
Written by Lee Cronin and Stephen Shields
Directed by Lee Cronin

Sarah has moved to a wooded corner of Ireland with her son Chris to restart their lives. Something terrible happened months ago leaving Sarah with a concussion and scar. She is worried about Chris who doesn’t want to talk about but otherwise seems like a normal nine-year-old. While exploring the woods nearby, Sarah comes across a frightening large bog, a sinkhole that is slowly swallowing the earth around it. She warns Chris to stay away, but one night it appears he sneaks out of the house. The next day his behavior has changed and slowly but surely creeping paranoia sets in. It doesn’t help that Noreen, an elderly neighbor suffered a complete psychological breakdown decades earlier, reportedly screaming about her son not being her child, but something else, something sinister.

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My Top 20 Favorite A24 Films (2012 – 2018)

My Top 20 Favorite A24 Films (2012 – 2018)

I spent the year watching and revisiting the entire film catalog of distributor/producer A24. Now that I’ve seen all they have to offer, here are my top twenty favorites in ascending order.

20. Lean on Pete (2018) – Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh


From my review:
It was so much darker and bleaker than that. Yes, there is somewhat of an uncertain happy ending at the film’s conclusion, but overall Lean on Pete is a character study of a young man put through the wringer by life. I loved it. I don’t think I have seen a picture in a long time that so unflinchingly depicts the descent into homelessness that a young person can encounter. Charley tries to argue that he isn’t to a fellow transient in a shelter, who replies with a chuckle and lets Charley know, “Sorry to break it to you kid…”

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Movie Review – mid90s

mid90s (2018)
Written & Directed by Jonah Hill

Stevie is a thirteen-year-old living in Los Angeles in the titular mid-1990s. He’s being raised by a single mother and has an older brother who beats Stevie mercilessly if he enters his bedroom. By chance one day, Stevie comes across a skate shop and is immediately entranced by the nature of the young men outside, their freedom and joy. After stealing money from his mom to buy a board, Stevie works his way into the ranks of these skaters and quickly becomes absorbed by their lifestyle. He begins to adopt their mannerisms and anti-social behaviors while watching conflicts emerge among his new friends.

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Movie Review – Slice

Slice (2018)
Written & Directed by Austin Vesely

The city of Kingsport is unique in that it is home to 40,000 ghosts, most of whom died under tragic circumstances at the old mental hospital. Mayor Tracy cleared that building away to make room for a strip mall plaza and has relocated the wandering spirits to the Ghost Town neighborhood, effectively a ghetto. It’s been years since a significant supernatural occurrence in the city until tonight when a shadowy figure kills a pizza delivery boy. There are also reports of Dax Lycander, a werewolf who used to work for Yummy Yummy Chinese Delivery is back in town. Astrid, the pizza boy’s ex, is determined to avenge his murder and sets out to lure the killer out into the open. However, there is much more happening in the shadows of Kingsport that Astrid realizes.

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Movie Review – Hot Summer Nights

Hot Summer Nights (2018)
Written & Directed Elijah Bynum

Daniel is shipped off to stay with his aunt in Cape Cod during the summer of 1991. He’s not a summer bird or a townie and has trouble finding where he fits until he meets Hunter, a local who deals weed to all comers. Daniel also strikes up an intense flirtation with Mckaya, the neighborhood “hot chick.” He’s feeling a restlessness and takes up dealing with Hunter, pushing him to expand his operation and get involved with some unscrupulous people to have enough product. As would be expected, the two young men get in over their heads and are forced to face bleak, very real consequences.

Hot Summer Nights is a damn ambitious movie. From the opening scenes to the final reveal of the title screen it moves along at a Goodfellas like energetic pace fused with the currently popular retro neon 80s vibes. The problem is that the script believes it is much smarter than it ends up being. I was struck with how strong the style and technical aspects of the film were, but how utterly lacking in character development the entire story was. You have critical characters introduced and then forgotten for half the movie while other significant players pop up for the first time ⅔ into the picture only to linger on the periphery, feeling like we are supposed to know more but never getting that.

The first sign that Hot Summer Nights has problems is the disembodied narration from a 13-year-old boy who claims to have lived in Cape Cod and heard multiple rumors about this whole affair. This narration disappears about a third of the way into the picture only to be brought back up in the conclusion. This entire trope resonated with me as the core element of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, a decidedly not 1980s/90s movie. Hot Summer Nights seemed not to be sure what period it references. The soundtrack included a large number of songs from the 1970s and early 80s while the movie itself makes references to many pieces of late 1990s/2000s cinema (American Beauty, Donnie Darko, Boogie Nights). Other than a couple of references to Terminator 2 this picture doesn’t feel firmly grounded in anything other than a particular aesthetic du jour.

The actors present here would lead the audience to believe they are going to get a great character piece. We have Timothy Chalamet, Thomas Jane, Maika Monroe, and Maia Mitchell who are all very good to decent performers. Alex Roe rounds out the cast as Hunter, a new face to me and he was good with what the script gave him to work with. So that script is the Achilles heel of the entire production, so over-energized with dumping a ton of ideas and stylized scenes that it fails to make us genuinely care for and understood the relationships between its principal characters.

Thomas Jane is introduced early on as police Sgt. Frank Calhoun, a member of the local law who has strong notions about Hunter. The problem is that Calhoun is gone from the movie for about 45 minutes until we see him again. Also, the conflict between Calhoun and Hunter is never fully fleshed out until a scene near the end that weakly connects the police officer to Hunter’s drunken dad. Their story is much like the other relationships in the picture; it’s introduced and then just left to flounder while the movie moves onto the next thing it wants to do or establish.

Hot Summer Nights is the definition of a middle of the road movie. There’s so much personality exuding from the film that you can’t help but become involved. There’s not enough meat on the bones for you to walk feeling like you watched anything memorable. The script slides so easily into cliche or derivative scenes that are so obviously more than an homage and border on intellectual property theft. Not the worst movie A24 has produced so far, but nowhere close to a great one.