Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Green Inferno" Review

Eli Roth delivers B-movie nirvana with The Green Inferno, the controversial film that was stuck in distribution hell for two years before horror super-producer Jason Blum swooped in to save the day.

It's about a group of college activists who travel to the Amazonian jungle in order to protest the rampant deforestation going on in the area. A miraculous turn of events finds the students crossing paths with cannibalistic natives who kidnap and terrorize them.

This movie is something of a love letter to the cannibal exploitation films of the late 1970s and early '80s. Roth even provides a nice curated list of the specific movies which inspired him at the bottom of the credits just in case you're in the mood for more blood, guts, dismemberment and live animal killings.

Having seen Ruggero Deodato's 1980 cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, I can say that Green Inferno is like watching My Little Pony in comparison. That is in no way negative criticism.

Though Cannibal Holocaust doesen't cease to genuinely shock even 35 years after its release, Green Inferno has far greater entertainment value. The performances are inconsistent, especially in the film's first 30-45 minutes, but the looks of utter terror on the actors' faces never get old once the "fear of the unknown" really sets in. Though nobody will be rushing to hand awards to Lorenza Izzo, Daryl Sabara or Kirby Blanton later this year, it's refreshing to see horror-movie characters appear so genuinely, outwardly horrified. It doesn't look like anyone is acting.

The movie also earns points for its wonderful practical gore effects from the legendary KNB FX Group (led here by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger). Nobody does barbecued torsos, detached limbs and gouged-out eyeballs better than those guys.

Despite all the gristle and gore, Roth never forgets to approach it all with a sly wink to the straight-up goofy, just to let us all know that we're privy to an exercise in B-movie making for the iPhone era. Whether it's tarantulas in your shorts or some cunning use of your recreational drug of choice, there's no shortage of comedic relief here.

At the end of the day The Green Inferno is much more than a straight-up gorefest. It's a scathing indictment of generation Y entitlement, political correctness, foreign capitalism and geopolitics.

The Green Inferno is not for the faint of heart. If you can't stomach blood and guts, then I cannot recommend this movie to you.

However if you can look past that and savor the film as a solid product of its context (the subtexts, the practical special effects, the B-movie sense of humor, the use of actual native tribesmen, the social media zeitgeist surrounding it), then you will have an absolute blast.

I loved The Green Inferno, and it will likely stand as the most abhorrent-in-content mainstream release for some time. They're just too scared to make 'em like this anymore.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Levi's Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of Fall/Winter 2015

By Levi Hill 

So far, 2015 has yielded several surprises and several disappointments. However, as the fabled Oscar season approaches, we turn our attention toward the upcoming movies. I seriously doubt all of these picks will get nominated for an Academy Award, but these are my top 10 most anticipated films for the remainder of 2015.

10. The Good Dinosaur
Release Date: November 25, 2015
Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jeffery Wright, Steve Zahn, and Anna Paquin
This is the first time Pixar has released two features in one year. They have their work cut out for them if they want to try and catch lightning in a bottle twice following the critical and commercial success of this summer's Inside Out. Firing the entire voice cast just months before the film’s release doesn’t bode well. However, it’s still a movie from Pixar, and that is enough to get my attention as well as the 10th spot on this list.

9. Creed
Release Date: November 25, 2015
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, and Tony Bellew
It’s a return to the world of Rocky Balboa, this time focusing on the son of Apollo Creed with Balboa serving as the mentor. The trailers for Creed look great, but the key element for me is that Ryan Coogler is directing the film. Coogler directed Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, the best performance of Jordan’s career, in my opinion. Assuming Coogler can get high-caliber performances out of Jordan and Stallone, this movie should be very good and deserves a spot on this list.

8. Bridge of Spies
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, and Eve Hewson.
A Spielberg-directed film, starring Tom Hanks, co-written by the Coen brothers. Do I need to say anything else? Set during the height of the Cold War, Hanks plays an insurance lawyer tasked with negotiating the exchange of captive spies between the United States and the Soviet Union. The stakes are high, and I can't think of a finer actor-director pairing to take this story on. 

7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Donald Sutherland.
The Hunger Games series finally comes to a conclusion. Following a surprisingly good third installment, the fourth should provide plenty of action and fulfill the emotional tension built up in Mockingjay - Part 1. Jennifer Lawrence returns and has turned in three exceptional performances as Katniss so far. I expect nothing less this final time. It’s probably not going to win any Oscars, but it will still be an intense action film. Who can turn one of those down on Thanksgiving weekend?

6. The Revenant
Release Date: December 25, 2015
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter.
 Alejandro González Iñárritu, winner of last year's Best Director Oscar for Birdman, returns for yet another daring test of the film medium. The Revenant was shot chronologically, on location, and used only natural light. These challenges, an all-star cast (including DiCaprio who might just be able to claim that elusive Oscar with his performance), and Iñárritu in the director’s chair combine to give The Revenant a huge amount of Oscar buzz and will more than likely result in a fantastic film.

5. The Hateful Eight
Release Date: December 25, 2015
Starring: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Channing Tatum.
It won't get a wide release until January 8, 2016, but since Quentin Tarantino's latest has a limited release scheduled for Christmas Day, it fits the criteria to join this list by a narrow margin. The Hateful Eight is sure to be full of snappy dialogue, quick editing, and most likely a ton of violence. Tarantino has a knack for taking talented actors and getting the performance of their careers out of them. John Travolta in Pulp Fiction is an example. I think that Channing Tatum could steal this movie, if he has a decent sized role in the film. It will definitely be one to look out for when it comes to your town.

4. Steve Jobs
Release Date: October 23, 2015
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels.
After going through enough turmoil at Sony to get most films canceled, the Steve Jobs biopic is finally being released, and it looks very good. Fassbender is definitely one of my favorite actors working today, and I’m excited to see Rogen showcase his dramatic acting ability for once. If a Fassbender drama doesn’t have you hooked, the film was directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social NetworkA Few Good Men). Steve Jobs easily finds a place on my list of most anticipated films.

3. The Martian
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Mara.
Matt Damon is an astronaut stranded on Mars who has to survive for several years until NASA can make it back to save him. All of the film’s early buzz sounds like it's one you don't want to miss. The novel was surprisingly hilarious, and the trailers seem to keep the very light-hearted vibe despite the perilous situation Damon’s character is in. Hopefully this will be director Ridley Scott’s return to form.

2. Spectre
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Starring: Daniel Craig, Naomie Harris, Christoph Waltz, and Ralph Finnes.
Daniel Craig is back for yet another adventure as 007. Sam Mendes returns to the director’s chair, following up the critically acclaimed Skyfall. The addition of Christoph Waltz as the villain is nothing but good news, as he is a world-class actor and should be one of the most menacing Bond villains in some time. Spectre would normally probably be number one on this list, however there is one franchise returning to the screen that has many people, myself included, incredibly excited.

1. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Release Date: December 18, 2015
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Issac.

It’s Star Wars. Do I need to say more? This could potentially be the first truly great Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher return as Luke, Han, and Leia, respectively, along with several incredibly talented newcomers to the franchise. The production has been shrouded in secrecy, and in my opinion, that is fantastic because I want to know as little as possible heading into this film. I struggle to find the words to explain how excited I am for this movie. It’s been years in the making, and it’s finally here. It is easily my most anticipated film for the rest of 2015.

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Grandma" Review

Lily Tomlin stars in this comedic drama about Elle, a former poet struggling to re-gain her identity following the loss of her partner. Her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) visits and inquires that she needs $600 for an emergency medical procedure. With less than $60 between the two of them, Elle and Sage embark on an odyssey across L.A. to try and scrounge together the money. They visit several of Elle's old friends and flames along the way; some happy to help out, others still bitter about past heartache. By confronting her demons, Elle gets her groove back.

Grandma is one of the finest films I've seen this year. Tomlin is magnificent, and the myriad supporting cameos are not to be missed.

I consider myself a man who is confident in his heterosexuality, but I'll admit that when I saw Sam Elliott walk out to greet Elle and Sage at his house and, in his smoky, smooth voice, invite them in for an ear of corn, I melted into my seat. That guy could read the phone book to me, and I'd never want him to put it down. It would be easy to say "shame on Elle for leaving him," but the context of her departure (too unstable / didn't want to be tied down despite a strong desire to raise children) renders that gauche.

Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) directs and provides a hilarious, heartfelt script full of dense female characters, although I could understand the argument that Elle's journey towards rediscovery is a bit of a cliche.

Also, some may come to find the subject matter and parts of Elle's character a bit provocative, but we need more films that are willing to push the narrative edge and challenge the audience to expand their cinematic horizons beyond the safety of action blockbuster & rom-com plot devices.

If Grandma is showing in your area, forget the Whitey Bulger's and the Maze Runners playing next door. Throw every dollar you can at this movie. You won't regret it.


"Black Mass" Review

Black Mass chronicles the real-life story of James "Whitey" Bulger, the violent South Boston gangster who became an FBI informant in order to eliminate rivals encroaching on his turf. Under the bureau's protection, Bulger expanded his empire and became one of the most notorious criminals in American history.

There is undoubtedly an intriguing story to be told here, but Bulger's just doesn't translate to narrative film that well, despite excellent performances and some great individual scenes.

Johnny Depp delivers something of a return to form as Bulger. The character actor is still masked by gobs of makeup, but it's great to see Depp in a more complex role after a string of stinkers like Mortdecai and Transcendence

Though Depp is the highlight, the ensemble cast is wonderful as well. Joel Edgerton plays John Connolly, Bulger's childhood friend and the FBI agent responsible for his protection. Benedict Cumberbatch tries on a Boston accent to somewhat inconsistent avail as Senator Bill Bulger, Whitey's brother and, at one time, one of the most powerful men in Massachusetts. Kevin Bacon makes a strong turn as Charles McGuire, the head of the local FBI office in Boston. Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard and Corey Stoll round out the roster. 

There are several very well-crafted scenes peppered throughout this film that thrive on the strength of the acting. Many scenes show people gathered for meals, and just about all of them are brilliant. One that was featured in the trailers shows Bulger teaching his son that it's ok to hurt someone if nobody is around to see it. Much later, Bulger questions FBI agent Morris (David Harbour) about the secret family recipe to his steak marinade. This scene in particular reminded me of the intense "Who's f**kin' funny, Henry? Am I funny? Do I amuse you?" scene with Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. Depp delivers the nastiness, the intimidation and, in the end, lets the air out by revealing that he's joking around, exactly like Tommy does in Goodfellas. At the same dinner party, Whitey finds Connolly's wife in her bedroom and invites her to join them. She feigns a sickness and refuses, but Whitey creepily caresses her face and neck, feeling for any symptoms of ailment. Once he detects that she's lying to him, you can just feel Bulger's sliminess oozing through the camera. 

Despite these wonderful moments, the film is just chock full of shitty characters. That is, they're all terrible people. The most engrossing stories have characters for the audience to relate to, but Bulger's story seems to have nobody like that. Bulger himself has zero redeeming qualities as a human being. He's a detestable monster from beginning to end. The rest of the people in Bulger's life are either in on his racket and therefore reprehensible individuals themselves, or they're people in positions of power who squander it by protecting the bad guys on the street. Everybody is essentially a villain, and it's not that they're uninteresting figures. It's that the characters, and thus the film itself, lack an emotional center for the audience to invest in.

Scott Cooper's direction is just passable, and Masanobu Takayanagi's cold, gritty cinematography would be great if it didn't look like every other gangster movie that's come out in the past 10-15 years. 

Black Mass comes recommended only if you're a fan of Depp, even though this probably won't be his Oscar year. Gangster movie aficionados have seen this one countless times before.

-Wonderful ensemble cast
-Teriffic individual scenes

-Characters and story lack a relatable emotional center
-Uninspired cinematography
-Mediocre directing
-Low rewatchability factor


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Disney's "The Jungle Book" First Trailer Review

By Levi Hill
The first trailer for Disney’s newest, live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book hit the web today. The most remarkable thing I noticed about this film is that the CGI-rendered animals and environments all appear vividly life-like. The only thing that wasn’t created by a computer is Mowgli, played by new actor Neel Sethi.
Sethi is joined by a supremely talented cast, including Scarlett Johansson (who narrates the trailer as the villainous snake Kaa), Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Bill Murray (Baloo), Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha) and Christopher Walken (King Louie).
In the narration, Kaa persuades Mowgli to trust her, which is probably not a wise decision on his part. If you had any doubt in Johansson’s capabilities as a voice actor, then you probably haven’t seen 2013’s Her in which the actress make an emotionally arresting turn as the voice of a computer operating system
I'll admit that I was hesitant at first to hear anyone voicing Kaa that wasn’t Jim Cummings, but Johansson pulls it off incredibly well—hiss and all.
From this trailer, it seems like Disney is taking a step closer to the original, darker source material of Rudyard Kipling's 1894 book and away from the light-hearted animated version they released in 1967.
However, at the end of the trailer, there is a brief shot of Mowgli and Baloo floating down a river where a few notes from the song “Bare Necessities” are heard. This leads me to believe that the film won’t be as dark as the rest of the trailer appears. It is Disney after all.
The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Faverau, hits theaters on April 15, 2016.

Friday, September 11, 2015

"The Visit" Review

M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs) delivers something of a return to form with The Visit. It's about two young kids named Becca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould) who stay with grandparents they've never met (Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie) while Mom (Kathryn Hahn) takes a cruise with her boyfriend.

Yeah. Nice one, Mom.

The kids, who are making a documentary of their weeklong visit, discover curious things about "Nana" and "Pop Pop" that make for both strong scares and voracious laughs. One of the better gags is an ongoing joke about Tyler going blind from an odd confrontation with Nana. That confrontation is actually one of the film's freakier moments, so it's fascinating to see how several of the jokes are beget by truly frightening situations.

While I'm alluding to Shyamalan's script, Becca and Tyler are two refreshingly well-written, well-acted characters after a summer full of less-than-stellar child performances.

Looking at you, Jurassic World and Vacation.

Becca is the one driving the idea of shooting the experience as a documentary, and in the process she teaches the audience a few things about cinema as a medium. There are several moments where she tries to stage long shots of her brother looking pensively at an old swing blowing in the breeze or making emotionally effective use of zoom and camera staging while she interviews her subjects. Occasionally the camera is set at a canted angle to skew the audience's perspective, adding to the tension of a given scene. It still has the shaky cam trappings of "found footage," but all the movements feel earned. This could very well be the best directed, most well-shot "found footage" movie ever made.

It's reassuring to see that even a storyteller as far in a professional rut as Shyamalan can come back with a $5 million budget and deliver a thrilling mainstream picture that is as much about "film as art" as it is about scary old people. (Which, in and of itself, is an exploration of deeper seeded fears towards aging.)

Of course it all culminates in a trademark "Shyamalan twist" that will probably split viewers. I didn't see it coming myself, but I've seen other reviewers who called it well ahead of time. I was expecting Paranormal Activity but got something closer to The People Under the Stairs.

That's not the worst thing in the world.

Though it won't win any awards, The Visit delivers just enough nastiness and laughter to satisfy genre fans.


  • Shyamalan goes back to basics
  • Found footage cliches feel earned
  • Strong cast
  • Well-written child characters
  • Chilling horror lends itself to intentional comedy
  • Boneheaded premise (What mother sends her kids to stay with people they don't know?)
  • Monotonous middle section (Weird grandparents are weird with only one real scenery change)