We Are Still Here - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

We Are Still Here  

Director: Ted Geoghegan

Starring: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, and Monte Markham

 

84 Minutes

Dark Sky Films

 

The haunted house genre is plentiful with material lately. With the successful box office success of recent years, the quality of the scares has become rather stagnant, with most reduced to methods of turning the volume up to eleven in promotion of the jump scare. Still, there is something about these films that remain fascinating and keep audiences coming back year after year, sequel after sequel. Just as the “Saw” franchise made gore fans return to see what new and creative methods of blood-spattered violence could be utilized, the haunted house genre makes viewers ponder the new ways they can be scared, perhaps startled is a better term. The films in horror that maintain beyond the exit door are always the ones that are inventive and display an understanding for how horror films work.

 

“We Are Still Here” is the directorial debut from Ted Geoghegan, who also wrote and produced the film. The film takes place in 1979 in the isolated, snowy region of a small New England town. Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) are moving away from the big city after the tragic death of their son in an automobile accident. Anne is devastated, lost in the memories of the past and torn by every step forward into the future. The emotional separation of the couple and the turmoil it has put on their marriage can be felt in early scenes that display Paul’s frustration with Anne. Barbara Crampton has always been interesting to watch, from her roles in “Re-Animator”, “From Beyond”, and even recently “You’re Next”.  She has proven herself a talented seasoned veteran. Genre mainstay Larry Fessenden makes a welcome appearance in a comedic role that has an unexpected horror twist.

 

Things take a bit of turn when the couple begins to experience strange happenings within the house, with each encounter with the entities becoming stronger, more violent, and soon deadly. Anne and Paul realize that there is more to the house than the spirits that are threatening them, and soon the secrets of the community come to light. There is nothing exceptional about the narrative, it’s all cut and paste from other horror films seen before. What excels is the design, a mix of tension driven atmosphere that leads to gruesome blood spilling. While the ghosts look good on first glimpse they are over utilized, which quickly displays some of the flaws in their CGI assisted design. And, while the actors do a good job of making the characters feel authentic, the narrative lacks the strength to move the film into places that would make the film more unique and less imitative.

 

“We Are Still Here” is a carefully paced haunted house ghost story. While the film may suffer from narrative issues, the film works by being content with delivering creepy, well-composed imagery over big jump scares, and to a large degree this method works exceptionally well.

 

Monte’s Rating / 3.00 out of 5.00

Top 10 Horror Films of 2014 by Monte Yazzie

Monte’s Best Horror Films of 2014  

It was divisive year for genre filmmaking this year with numerous horror fans finding support of different films. That’s a very good thing for the genre because it means that filmmakers are starting to venture into different directions. While many of the films on my list may explore familiar themes, I found many did so with an inventive and individualistic approach. Here are my standouts for 2014. Enjoy.

under-the-skin-poster

  1. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

Writer/director Jonathan Glazer’s impressive film “Under The Skin” is one of the best genre films of recent memory. With a near silent and purposefully ambiguous narrative, the film moves with a hallucinatory yet naturalistic aesthetic through the streets of Scotland, following Scarlett Johannson’s curious and deadly being. The purpose of the lead character is never fully realized, but it doesn’t matter because the journey is so ambitiously designed that the mystery becomes nothing short of consuming. “Under the Skin” is a brilliant addition to the science fiction genre.

  1. Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)

First time director Jennifer Kent has crafted one of the most effective haunting films of the year; a horror film that works on numerous levels while also being consistently chilling throughout. With influences from numerous genres and a monster that builds intimidation through the power of suggestion crafted exceptionally within the narrative. Kent designs a horror film that burrows and finds a lingering home in the mind of the viewer.

  1. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Jim Jarmusch is one of the best directors working in film today; an auteur whose film composition is structured around the characters he meticulously builds. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a story about the toils of eternal life and, far secondary to that, a story about vampirism.  Jarmusch finds significance through character, steering the film in a seemingly aimless direction while shrewdly avoiding the pitfalls that other vampire films have faltered into. Time will pass but “Only Lovers Left Alive” is the kind of genre film that will only get better.

  1. The Sacrament (dir. Ti West)

Ti West takes horror to a realistic level in “The Sacrament”. The documentary style approach takes a group of journalists into the heart of the religious/socialist cult known as Eden Parish. The film is assisted by the technical design, moving the narrative forward by slowly unraveling the deadly truths through subtle touches. The film is further assisted by an impressive portrayal of the cult leader played menacingly by Gene Jones. “The Sacrament” doesn’t need to utilize supernatural forces to induce scares, instead taking the horrors of real life and making a nightmare.

  1. Housebound (dir. Gerard Johnstone)

“Housebound” in many regards has everything that I gravitate towards in a horror film. A clever mix of well-crafted scares assisted by touches of dark and blatantly lighthearted comedy, the film has a continuously unpredictable structure. While the funny moments offer playful tension-breaking opportunities, this haunted house tale steadily remains an unsettling and creepy film first and foremost. This was one of the most entertaining horror films of the year.

  1. Oculus (dir. Mike Flanagan)

Mirrors have always played a major influence in horror films, in many ways becoming an overused prop that is predictably and tediously implemented. Writer/director Mike Flanagan, along with co-writer Jeff Howard, ingeniously builds a woven narrative that is accommodated by exceptional performances. The focus never strays too far from the star of film, the evil Lasser Glass, which is provided a consuming history that adds a sinister depth. “Oculus” was the best mainstream offering this year.

  1. Honeymoon (dir. Leigh Janiak)

People change, it’s a theme horror has explored since the very beginning. “Honeymoon” explores an interesting aspect of change, one that involves the first steps of a changing relationship and individual identity. Taken from the perspective of the man in the relationship, “Honeymoon” takes an inexplicable event and slowly builds into the irrational terrors of the most non-committal men, mainly not fully knowing the person you just committed a lifetime with. With wonderful lead performances and a slow burning narrative that is both subtle and startling, “Honeymoon” was an unexpected surprise.

  1. Starry Eyes (dir. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer)

What lengths will you go to accomplish a goal? Dreams take a certain, and sometimes consuming, amount of sacrifice. This theme is the driving force behind “Starry Eyes”, a film that takes aim at the Hollywood system but also the extreme self-destructive nature of those unwilling to accept rejection of their ambitions. The lead character is offered very little empathy, an actress willing to take the abuse to reap the suggested benefits. The film transitions into a surreal nightmare and effectively crafts a disturbing character study of aspiration.

  1. Late Phases (dir. Adrian Garcia Bogliano)

It would seem logical for a monster that feeds on a nightly basis to locate the easiest form of prey. That’s exactly what the beast lurking in the surrounding woods did when it picked a retirement community as a primary dinner buffet. Director Adrian Garcia Bogliano takes a no frills approach to his werewolf film, crafting an exceptional elderly character to challenge the fearsome creature and a well-executed design that highlights traditional horror attributes. The throwback style is refreshing, a compliment to what has made the monster movie effective for so long.

  1. Borgman (dir. Alex van Warmerdam)

The introduction to “Borgman” is one the best opening scenes I’ve seen in some time. This film is difficult to categorize, let alone explain, but it’s easy to see how horror has directly influenced every frame of this beautifully composed film. The imagery here is a standout quality while the fable-like storytelling accommodates the nonsensical devices implemented to forward the film. With a mix of dark comedy and sadistic motivations, “Borgman” is an unusual yet engrossing film that will only find further debate once the credits roll.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Wolf Creek 2
  • The Strange Color Of Your Bodies Tears
  • Proxy
  • Afflicted
  • Tusk

Monte Yazzie's Top 10 Horror Films (plus a few more)

ShiningFor a horror fanatic, asking them to pick their ten favorite horror films can be a difficult challenge. So today, here are ten of my personal favorites. Enjoy!  

By Monte Yazzie of  The Coda Films

 

An American Werewolf in London (Dir: John Landis)

“American Werewolf in London” was released in 1981, all that time and the werewolf transformation scene is still the special effects scene to beat. John Landis, coming off “The Blues Brothers” and “Animal House”, made this darkly comedic werewolf film into a standout genre film. Rick Baker’s Academy Award winning special effects steal much of the spotlight but the narrative is inventive and humorous while still levying a generous amount of gore and jump worthy scares.

 

Candyman (Dir: Bernard Rose)

The best movies stay with you because they evoke an emotion. Fear is a strong emotion and “Candyman” captured my fear. Whether the haunting score by Phillip Glass or the gothic poetry spoken by the monster, this movie directed by Bernard Rose stuck with me. Based on a story by Clive Barker, “Candyman” has all the misery and dread found in Barker’s work. As it is in most of Barker’s tales, the monster is the most complex character of the story.

 

Dawn of the Dead (Dir: George Romero)

First was “Night of the Living Dead”; the second was “Dawn of the Dead”. George Romero’s script is filled with satire and social commentary and the reflection of the emotions and attitudes of the time. In the current state of popular culture, where zombies are everywhere, Romero’s films are a direct influence for all of them. For Romero zombies have always been used for commentary, which makes it interesting to see how “Dawn of the Dead” still reflects many of the issues from the past in our present. Even though the 70’s are on clear external display, the undertones are inherently timeless.

 

Evil Dead 2 (Dir. Sam Raimi)

The first “Evil Dead” was a straightforward, low budget horror film. The second, still to its core a horror film, added a healthy dose of humor and unleashed the charisma of Bruce Campbell. Director Sam Raimi mixes slapstick and horror with ease, making it okay to laugh while our hero Ash is put through the ringer of horrible acts. Raimi’s style was patented here, a distinctive quality that can still be seen in nearly all of his films. Bruce Campbell’s manic comic acting turned the film into something lighthearted at times but it never stops being relentlessly horrific.

 

Kairo (Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

“Kairo” is a cautionary tale. In a technology fueled world people have isolated themselves to near zero communication. Instead using numerous forms of electronic communication to connect with the rest of the world. Suicide becomes rampant and the ghostly images of the recently deceased begin to communicate through technology. Horror films have always been used as social commentary; here the topics of depression and suicide are examined. Communication has changed to the extent that human interaction happens through artificial sentiments looking into the glow of a screen. How will this change people? “Kairo” may not offer scares that keep you up at night, but the questions offered might keep you thinking longer than expected.

 

Nosferatu the Vampyre (Dir: Werner Herzog)

Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre” is a beautiful, dread-filled film. While holding many of the strengths of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic, Herzog embeds his patented designs throughout the film. From the use of nature that hints at something dangerous behind the scenic fronts, to the color that continuously expresses emotion with vivid and muted renditions, to Klaus Kinski’s pitch perfect performance of the character made famous by Max Shreck; this is more than just a run of the mill vampire film. In the hands of one of the great filmmakers, horror is made truly beautiful.

 

The Shining (Dir: Stanley Kubrick)

Stanley Kubrick has created some of films most revered works of art. “The Shining”, based off a Stephen King story, is in the horror hall of fame. Down every hallway and through every door of the labyrinth that is the Overlook Hotel Kubrick draws fear with subtle and deliberate imagery. Flooded elevators of blood and ghostly images are still effectively startling today. Not to mention the performance by Jack Nicholas, which can only be classified as iconic. “The Shining”, regardless of how many times I watch it, continues to stay with me long after the credits roll. That’s the mark of a true horror film.

 

Shivers (Dir: David Cronenberg)

“Shivers”, alternatively known as “They Came From Within”, is a low budget horror film from the bizarre and brilliant mind of David Cronenberg. This film displayed the skill that would be further implemented in his later work, but the effectiveness of “Shivers” is that it doesn’t utilize the typical genre characteristics to scare. The gore and violence happen relatively off screen and the special effects are used sparingly, instead Cronenberg focuses on the characters in the apartment and the uncontrolled threat of the parasites turning people into sex-crazed maniacs. Cronenberg has transitioned in his current work, away from the horror of the body and more into the horror of the mind, but the past has proven Cronenberg one of the most unique directors of our time.

 

Suspiria (Dir. Dario Argento)

I was fortunate enough to watch this film on a 35mm print with a crowd full of horror enthusiasts, some watching Dario Argento’s masterpiece for the first time. It was an experience to say the least. From the assaulting introduction complemented with a score by Goblin, the young American ballet student walks into a European school of horror. The unpleasant mood builds with nightmarish imagery with little concern about adhering to structure. Rendered with deep blues and bright reds, visceral gore, and innovative design, “Suspiria” is less a story and more an atmosphere. A genre spectacle conducted by a master of horror.

 

The Thing (Dir: John Carpenter)

“The Thing” is potentially one of the best genre remakes every made. From director John Carpenter, whose film catalog could have populated this list completely, “The Thing” is a benchmark of special effects wizardry from the hands of the great Rob Bottin. It’s also terrifying. Carpenter, having “Halloween” and “The Fog” underneath his belt, utilizes the isolated Antarctic research facility to portray a story where no one can be trusted. With tension filled scenes, Carpenter builds anxiety, shocks you with scare, and then follows it with a gory mutation whose effect still holds up thirty years later.

 

 

Here are ten more that could have easily made this list on a different day.

  • Black Christmas
  • Bride of Frankenstein
  • Carnival of Souls
  • The Devils Backbone
  • Fright Night
  • Halloween
  • The Lost Boys
  • Pieces
  • Return of the Living Dead
  • Rosemary’s Baby

 

Nas: Time is Illmatic - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

Nas: Time is Illmatic Dir: One9

 

“I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death/beyond the walls of intelligence life is defined/I think of crime, when I’m in a New York State of Mind”. Twenty years ago a twenty-year-old New York rapper named Nasir “Nas” Jones released his debut album “Illmatic”. Twenty years have passed and “Illmatic” is still an iconic work of musical art. With charismatic yet thought-provoking and candidly insightful lyrics, accompanied by production by some of hip-hop’s most elite producers at the time, Nas weaved masterfully a melancholy journey through the rough and tough daily life in the Queensbridge housing community he grew up in. Though, amidst the harsh street narrative is still a hopeful young man with aspirations and dreams who was blessed with an unquestionable skill with language.

 

“Nas: Time is Illmatic” watches the rise of a young man towards the defining moment in his short life, seeing opportune circumstances fall at the right place at the right time for his gifts to shine in ways that separated him from others. Whether his upbringing with equally exceptional parents who guided his early musical ambitions or motivations to change the trajectory of life that was consuming young men in his neighborhood, it’s the kind of success story emulated in heroic tales where the integral character rises, falls, and then rises even higher. In other terms it’s the American dream.

 

Dissecting the album song by song, director One9 shows the many attitudes and personalities that went into each. It’s interesting to see the assuredness of the producers working with Nas; many of these producers, like Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest and DJ Premier from the equally gritty hip-hop group Gangstarr, were already established and collaborating with some of the biggest names in hip-hop. But as soon as they heard Nas on the microphone it’s like they innately understood that Nas was something unique. While this part of the film is filled with the head-nodding tracks from the album and insightful anecdotes from those present in the studios, it’s not as compelling as the personal parts of the documentary. The poignant interviews with Nas and his musician father display an interesting growth of the father/son dynamic. The film utilizes defining events, like the death of a close friend, the difficulties of a broken home, or sudden acts of neighborhood aggression, to display the struggles of separation from the desperate environment that Nas and his friends and family have fought and are still fighting through. In one poignant scene Nas is looking at a picture of the people from his neighborhood most of whom have all, in some way, been swallowed up by drugs and crime.

 

“Nas: Time is Illmatic” portrays how this classic album came together but most importantly it explains the reasons why. One part history lesson and one part character analysis, the documentary easily and engrossingly moves between both aspects, also demonstrating how music changes and, in some cases like “Illmatic”, how it gets better with time. The album cover for “Illmatic” depicts young Nasir Jones striking a look of maturity and ambition. What is reflected in the album and this documentary is the same.

 

Monte’s Rating / 4.00 out of 5.00

 

Annabelle - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

Annabelle

Director: John R. Leonetti

Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard, and Tony Amendola

98 Minutes

Rated R

by Monte Yazzie - TheCodaFilms.com

The mischievous smile that adorns the Annabelle doll supports what horror films have exploited for years…dolls are creepy. The doll from “Magic”, “Dead of Night”, The Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll”, and “Poltergeist” are just a few of the figures that have spooked audiences. “Annabelle” finds it’s influence from James Wan’s “The Conjuring”, where the doll first made it’s appearance, however the compliments are few for this uninspired and holiday exploited horror film.

Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton) live an idyllic life in the suburbs of Santa Monica. They go to church, have great neighbors, and are expecting their first child. John is busy at medical school while Mia prepares for their child at home. The couple gets in an argument one night and John offers an early present to apologize, it’s a doll that completes Mia’s extensive collection. The neighbor’s estranged daughter, who is a runaway, returns violently home one night. Mia and John are attacked but saved by authorities but not before the Annabelle doll becomes a conduit for a malevolent force.

From the beginning moments of “Annabelle” the distinct scare design seen in films like “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” are present. Tension is a crucial element in these films. Whether it’s the score that rises and falls in volume coercing anxiety or the sustainment of a scene at the peak of fear, everything is purposely coordinated to make the audience uneasy. Even moments of relief become opportunities to blindside the viewer. It’s all effective when done properly. “Annabelle” has a few great setups, like a storage room scene that composes a great shock and an extended elevator gag that is surprisingly effective; the remainder of the film is a composition of reused frights from scarier movies and one-dimensional characters that aren’t given any opportunity to develop. It’s unfortunate because the writers hint at some really interesting outlooks, like an early scene of a news report that discusses the prominence of cults in California or the incorporation of a demon figure that steals every fearsome scene. While the first twenty minutes of the film establishes a nice origin the remainder is problematic in numerous ways, making the film ultimately feel like it was rushed for a Halloween deadline.

Once the family moves from the suburbs to a big city apartment, things get interesting again. Allowing Mia the opportunity to display motherly characteristics and adding the presence of a defenseless infant rejuvenates the stumbling film for a moment. Annabelle Wallis does a good job here; the protective qualities motherhood offers her character makes depicts her character as resilient when it would be easy to consider her decisions foolish.

“Annabelle” is not terrible but it is not particularly good either, however it does offer enough forceful frights and recognizable setups to remind horror fans that they should take one of the 31 nights of October to revisit “The Conjuring”.

Monte’s Rating / 2.00 out of 5.00

Tusk - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

TuskTusk  

Dir: Kevin Smith

Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, and Haley Joel Osment

 

Rated R

102 Minutes

 

By Monte Yazzie - The Coda Films

 

It all started with a podcast. Filmmaker Kevin Smith and longtime friend and producing partner Scott Mosier sat down for their weekly podcast. The subject of the show was an advertisement on a craigslist-like website from a man looking for a roommate who would be willing to dress in a walrus suit. Strange, but this story sparked creative juices taking Smith and Mosier through an hour-long formation of a treatment for a film. Offered to Twitter for approval or disapproval from fans the hash tag, #walrusyes, was overwhelming enough for Smith to pursue the wild idea for major production. With “Tusk” Kevin Smith has made a joking conversation with a friend into a ludicrous, over-the-top comedic horror film tailored for his fans.

 

Wallace (Justin Long) is an obnoxious podcaster who travels the country looking for odd people to interview. Wallace travels to Manitoba for a meeting with an internet sensation but things go awry. Stuck in Canada without an interview, Wallace finds an advertisement on a bathroom wall that intrigues him enough to venture deep into the True North to find Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an enigmatic wheel chair bound seafarer with a storied life. Living in a museum-like house Howard shares an outlandish story about being lost at sea just before drugging Wallace and taking him captive. His co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend Ally are worried about his disappearance and travel to Canada to search for him with the help of a peculiar detective.

 

Smith expertly mixes tones, walking and at times diverting far from the line that separates comedy and horror. It feels like a skill tailored for Smith’s talents. This quality is needed in “Tusk” which begins with a reality-grounding introduction but turns into something completely and grossly outrageous. It’s a sharp curve from the norm, one that Smith guides successfully in parts. As is the case with most of the films in Smith’s catalog, things get verbose quickly. While his flair with characters and dialog can be humorous, it can also be frustrating when it takes away from the positive developing features. Unfortunately, there are a few moments where Smith’s overindulgence within scenes hurts the pacing and takes away from the back and fourth tension built by the design utilized in the narrative.

 

Having the fantastic Michael Parks in your film can hold any wild tangent together. Parks’ performance is committed and exceptional as the sinister seafarer with an obsession with walruses. Justin Long, playing the difficult role here of both man and beast, in extensive makeup, is at times painstakingly annoying when taking advantage of his girlfriend or demeaning Canadians though he is also empathetic albeit by forceful methods of mutilation. There is also an indulgent cameo by a familiar actor in disguising makeup. While this role is amusing at first, especially for those who listen to Smith’s podcast, the joke runs its course quickly.

 

Kevin Smith is clearly making a movie for his own fascinations and die-hard fans. “Tusk” is Smith at his most technically confident, the cinematography here is better than most of his other work and his narrative is filled with stinging humor and in-jokes all wrapped in a dark and demented premise. While the first half of the film establishes great characters with surprising heart and a playful yet dark environment, the gruesome transitions in the second half feels somewhat uneven. “Tusk” is strangely unique, especially for a Kevin Smith film. It’s different enough from a genre standpoint to split horror fans appreciation but Jay and Silent Bob would explicitly approve.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

 

As Above, So Below - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

As AboveAs Above, So Below  

Dir: John Erick Dowdle

Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, and Edwin Hodge

 

93 Minutes

Rated R

 

By Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

Claustrophobic and in moments creepy, director John Erick Dowdle gives “As Above, So Below” a fighting chance amongst genre clichés and forced frights. Using the rudimentary “found footage” style Dowdle transports a cast of young explorers into the catacombs underneath the streets of Paris. The unsettling location creates some wonderful atmosphere. Unfortunately the narrative foregoes exploration of some provoking historical elements introduced early on and the film becomes overly predictable and filled with the usual telegraphed scares that flaw films using this style choice.

 

Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a single-minded researcher bent on finishing her deceased father’s life work of finding an ancient historical artifact. This leads her initially into a dangerous cavern in Iran that almost kills her. Following the clues from Iran she is lead to Paris and into the forbidden section of the catacombs below the city. Looking for a secret doorway, Scarlett and her crew are trapped in the mazelike tomb leading them into the supernatural and face to face with their innermost fear.

 

The story begins as a treasure hunt in the vein of “Tomb Raider”, though not as intelligent or action packed. The history mystery has Scarlett investigating artifacts and piecing together a puzzle started by her father. This ultimately serves to accommodate the plot change, which brings a larger group of people to aid Scarlett into the catacombs of Paris. Once below the group is haunted by apparitions that reflect their own traumas and fears. The film only touches the surface of character development, though it could have offered an interesting inquiry into the secrets of past civilizations and the personal horror hidden inside the individual. The introduction is fairly sloppy though when the transition from adventure to horror happens, the atmosphere takes control and things get interesting. While nothing narratively will be particularly unique for horror fans, Dowdle shrewdly utilizes claustrophobic spaces, the confusion of darkness, and disorienting sound designs to keep things sinister. In one scene the simple design of a chanting chorus, along with a nightmarish situation for one of the characters, really brings the journey into the cavernous unknown to echoing life.

 

It’s unfortunate that the film uses the “found footage” technique. Whether a budgetary or production concern the hand-held approach hurts the frightening potential that the disturbing environment possesses. Every scare becomes telegraphed and the camera shakes away the atmosphere.

 

“As Above, So Below” has an effectively creepy mood to work with, and for a moment the location hides the weaknesses of the narrative. Perdita Weeks gives a decent performance as the brave and ambitious to a fault researcher but unfortunately the tiresome filmic technique hinders the terrifying experience proposed in the premise.

 

Monte’s Rating 3.00 out of 5.00

 

Life After Beth - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

Life After BethLife After Beth  

Dir: Jeff Baena

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Anna Kendrick

 

91 Minutes

Rated R

 

By Monte Yazzie (www,thecodafilms.com)

 

There is never a lack of social commentary or awareness in the horror genre, but it seems rather prominent in zombie films. Going back to Romero’s films, zombies may not say much coherently but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to say something. “Life After Beth”, a romantic zombie comedy from director Jeff Baena, avoids delving too deep into sociopolitical sentiments but instead attempts to showcases the complications and awkwardness of love and relationships.

 

Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is dead. Having died in a hiking accident after getting bit by a snake, her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is mourning and struggling with the guilt of the shaky ground their relationship was left on. Zach visits Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), playing chess with her dad and organizing belongings into boxes with her mom. Zach is coping until Beth’s parents begin to act strange, not answering their door or communicating with him. Frustrated and wanting answers Zach spies into their home and witnesses something unbelievable, Beth alive and walking around in the house.

 

Aubrey Plaza has proven capable in small roles like a supporting spot in “Parks and Recreation” and in leading roles like “Safety Not Guaranteed”. Whether the expected deadpan sarcasm she is known for or a surprisingly heartfelt dramatic turn, Plaza has displayed potential range. She shows these qualities quite well in “Life After Beth”. After returning from death, Beth is oblivious to her demise and confused about her past. All she is sure of is her relationship with Zach and an unexplained test that she has to prepare for. Baena, who also wrote the script, touches on some interesting relationship ideas. Zach is offered the fortunate position of amending his regrets with Beth, but just as relationships change so has death changed Beth. She isn't the same, and the narrative builds this up comically with uncomfortable private moments that find the highly affectionate couple struggling with intimacy, like a funny moment where Zach has difficulty kissing Beth because of her unpleasant breath. But there are also moments of tension and fury involving Beth, who is confused emotionally and increasingly agitated at the people trying to control her.

 

Unfortunately the interesting themes of love and relationship are clouded by forced comedy. In one scene involving a funny and unexpected cameo, the timing feels unneeded at that particular moment in the film. This continues to happen during moments that seem to hold the most meaningful intent for the characters. While a few of these comedic breaks keep the tone from becoming too serious, it mostly functions in undermining the potential narrative insights. As the film progresses, the good ideas become more muddled and the film loses grasp on the direction it wants to go and the statement it wants to make.

 

“Life After Beth” can be quite humorous in parts, displaying a charming touch of comedy amidst some inventive genre touches. DeHaan and Plaza shine in the leading roles, with good support from the assisting cast, however the film struggles with finding a direction to go and balance between when it should be insightful and when it should be funny.

 

Monte’s Rating

2.50 out of 5.00

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

sin citySin City: A Dame To Kill For  

Director: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

Starring: Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Dennis Haysbert, Bruce Willis, and Christopher Lloyd

 

102 Minutes

Rated R

From Miramax Films

 

By Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

In 2005 director Robert Rodriquez transformed author Frank Miller’s neo-noir graphic novel “Sin City” into a stunning, cutting-edge film. Rodriguez, adoringly making a living comic book, utilized a groundbreaking mix of digital style and animated renderings. “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” is a continuing story involving old and new characters. Miller, who also co-directed, utilizes an established story as inspiration but also includes two new tales. The narrative, somewhat fragmented, is again a gritty crime noir piece with intensified aesthetics of violence, sex, and revenge. Rodriguez and Miller keep everything relatively familiar, though “Dame” wields uncompromising style into every scene it doesn’t demand much more.

 

No one is innocent in Sin City. Some familiar faces still dodging their demise, but also a few new ones looking for trouble, journey about Sin City’s desperate streets. Nancy (Jessica Alba) hasn’t been the same since the suicide of her protector in the first film, a cop named Hartigan (Bruce Willis). An early image of a lost Nancy, scantily clad with a bottle of hard liquor and a handgun, is the descriptive sum of themes for the film. Her plight of desperation and revenge is one echoed throughout the mirage of extravagant visual style and outlandish violence. Nancy’s entrancing dance has a purposeful aggression this time around; her vengeful sights are squarely set on the powerfully corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Willis makes a welcome cameo as a ghostlike guardian of sorts, while Boothe shines in an unpleasant role within two of the stories. The narrative struggles with keeping the shifting stories interesting. Especially Nancy’s story which unfortunately gets lost amongst the others but displayed potential of being the most interesting because of the characters extensive arc within the world.

 

Just like the first incarnation, “Dame” weaves storylines throughout each other with Nancy’s dive bar workplace playing the community intersection for the stories. Marv (Mickey Rourke) a bruising and bruised staple in the degenerate packed tavern watches over Nancy, but visitors are always welcome. This includes a cocky gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is playing a dangerous hand during a card game with Senator Roark. While Dwight (Josh Brolin replacing Clive Owen), a returning character from the first film, seeks retribution after deadly dealings with a femme fatale (Eva Green). The cast, even some unmentioned here, are exceptional throughout. Rourke in full comic makeup seems tailored to play Marv’s brawly presence. Gordon-Levitt is also good, squaring off against Boothe in a flow of tough guy sentiments and power gestures that are heightened in the realm of a poker game. Brolin, always interesting to watch, seems somewhat overshadowed playing opposite the best performance in the film by Eva Green. Green’s hyper sexualized performance as Ava seems to share all the best attributes of villainous women all wrapped into her character. Vulnerability and voluptuous beauty utilized to make men into her controlled marionettes.

 

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” continues its seedy sex and violence fueled tale with the same unique visual style established in the original nearly ten years ago. While the style and story are not entirely fresh, Frank Miller’s knack for constructing interesting characters and Rodriguez’s capable skill as a director keeps a relatively average sequel entertaining enough for those ready for another trip to Sin City.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

TMNTTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  

Dir: Jonathan Liebesman

Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, and Whoopi Goldberg

 

101 Minutes

Paramount Pictures

Rated PG-13

 

By Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

Leaving the theater a young boy asked his older brother this question, “What does Cowabunga mean”? The older brother responded, “Something old people use to say”. Nostalgia plays a large motivating factor for the newly reimagined “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” directed by Jonathan Liebesman. While some elements like characters and situations may feel similar, everything else is supersized and hyper stylized. Those looking to relive the fond memories from opening night in 1990 will be disappointed if you approach it with this attitude. This film, at times funny and wildly action packed, is for a new generation of fans to embrace.

 

April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a fearless investigative reporter relinquished to report on supplemental pieces of boring news. New York City is being overrun with crime and corrupted from a syndicate known as The Foot Clan led by Shredder (Tohuro Masamune). April, wanting to find a break into legitimate journalism, stumbles onto activities by the criminal group who are thwarted during a robbery by four teenage brothers who happen to be mutated turtles that know the art of the ninja. April’s life is placed into the dangerous path of Shredder after she begins to investigate her past and the origin of the Ninja Turtles.

 

The original “TMNT” has grown over time as a cult classic. The zany image of human actors in upright turtle costumes held an eccentric sensibility. This new version has bypassed the practical effects for motion capture computer graphics. While this allows the Ninja Turtles room to jump higher and hit harder, they don’t resonate as effectively as the Apes from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” which is another mo-cap film. This is partly due to the narrative, which foregoes moments of development for heavy-handed action theatrics. But that should be expected in this kind of film, especially considering that it’s produced by Michael Bay. The action is immense with all manner of outlandish set pieces. Unfortunately they all feel like the Transformers could substitute for the Ninja Turtles.

 

The chemistry between the Turtles, when it’s just them on screen, is funny and charming. Most of the laughs coming from Michelangelo’s many passes at April and one especially funny scene involving all four in an elevator during a crucial moment. It works best when they banter between each other, like brothers would, and are given time to display the bond that has kept them together. Unfortunately the story is centered on Megan Fox’s character April, which takes away from the emphasis on the title characters.

 

The easy pass would be this film is another failed reimagining. But regardless of how someone familiar with the original film and cartoon may feel, this version of “TMNT” is not for you. This is an adaptation for a new audience of young people. Unfortunately it is filled with a bombardment of confusing imagery and head shaking derivative narrative. The flaws are easy to pick out; instead, enjoy the quality time with the youth discovering this piece of pop culture cinema for the first time.

 

Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00

 

Guardians of the Galaxy - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

guardiansGuardians of the Galaxy  

Dir: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close

 

by Monte Yazzie of The Coda Films

 

It’s always fun to cheer for the underdogs. The motley group of heroes in director James Gunn’s adaptation of the lesser-known Marvel Comics property will have you cheering with satisfaction. The superhero film has saturated the movie market with mixed results of comic sequels and reboots, though Marvel has been on a role recently with two quality offerings for the summer, “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. Mark it three because “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the best of the exemplary group, blending great characters with a none-too-serious comedic tone for an impressive visual joy ride.

 

Peter Quill, an outlaw with the self-referenced moniker of Star-Lord, has been making a life away from his existence on Earth scavenging for rare artifacts. With a smart-alecky attitude Quill finds himself captured and sentenced to a space prison after he steals a mysterious orb, which was also being sought for by other outlaws and some particularly bad Marvel universe villains. Quill reluctantly unites with four other outlaws vying for the orb, a self serving assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an intimidating giant bent on revenge named Drax the Destroyer, a tough talking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and his steadfast treelike bodyguard known as Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Though not the best example for the definition of “team”, they must join forces to defend the galaxy from destruction at the hands of a powerful being known as Ronan (Lee Pace).

 

There is a lot going on, with a wealth of different characters, but Gunn doesn’t overwhelm the film with unneeded exposition. Instead he keeps his focus on the primary Guardians, working the chemistry between characters, which takes them from a group of individuals with self-gratifying ambitions to a cooperative with a defined purpose. It happens quickly, perhaps too quickly, but it never seems unlikely for the group that is battling their own individual tragic influences. Gunn, who also co-wrote the script, understands the dynamics of the comic and utilizes the characters with a lighthearted approach. However in a few moments the tone turns serious, subtlety adding effective substance to their collective journey.

 

The comedy is consistently quick-witted, assisted largely by Chris Pratt’s seemingly “off the cuff” performance. There is also a nice turn by Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, a brut of a man whose literal interpretations offer some laugh-out-loud moments. Not to forget Zoe Saldana’s turn as Gamora who consistently offers something interesting to her performance even when it’s done through green makeup. Still, amidst these great performances, at the core of the story is some unexpected heart from two unlikely characters, Rocket and Groot. Underneath the abrasive attitude Rocket is the epitome of the group’s collective outlook; a group of underachievers dealing with personal regrets and loss but are still compassionate and inherently heroic. And Groot, a walking tree who only says three words, is the beating heart of the film.

 

James Gunn gives this superhero film a unique personality with unabashed comedy and underlying emotion. It can be difficult for a comic book film to find an identity, most having a tendency to look and feel similar even with unique heroes. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a wonderfully envisioned world that takes a straightforward approach at presenting the elements and characters of the comic book genuinely, giving the film a uniquely immersive quality. Director James Gunn has fashioned one of the best Marvel adaptations to date.

 

Monte’s Rating

4.50 out of 5.00

 

 

Lucy - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

lucyLucy  

Dir: Luc Besson

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and Min-sik Choi

 

By EuropaCorp

Rated R

90 minutes

 

By Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

 

Luc Besson, throughout his entire career, has had an affinity for his female heroines. From “Leon: The Professional” to “The Fifth Element”, Besson has crafted unique action films with female characters who encompass all manner of strong qualities. Whether the forced resilience of Mathilda or the abused innocence of Leeloo, Besson has always made femininity beautiful, complicated, and the clear dominant gender. With “Lucy” Besson has eliminated the obstacles, giving his female lead control of everything. Whether this all works coherently in the film is another story entirely.

 

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is in the wrong place at the wrong time during a bad deal with terrible people. Like an animal being stalked and hunted, Lucy is dragged and drugged by a group of men led by a bloody handed tyrant named Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi); she is forced into being a drug trafficker, the transport being her body. The drug, an altered genetic narcotic, is broken inside her body by some forceful men wanting to take further advantage of her. The drug coursing through Lucy expands her cerebral potential, giving her power beyond reason.

 

Besson utilizes numerous styles and genres in arranging “Lucy”. Science fiction attributes are continuous amongst the usual impressive action setups and crime film influences but also some interesting narrative applications. At one point Lucy is dragged into dangerous participation with some unsavory characters. While the men slowly move in and surround her, Besson intercuts nature scenes of lions stalking prey. Subtle? Not really, but that doesn’t seem to matter at this point, it’s just an interesting way to strip the story down to basic functions of human behavior.

 

The narrative incorporates a simplistic theory of complicated material explained by Morgan Freeman who is playing Professor Norman. Freeman has an uncanny ability to make even the most illogical statements seem reasonable, and his skill is very much needed with the narrative here. The extraordinary ability Lucy develops becomes so outlandish that anything more fundamentally based would immediately derail the story. Though once the story navigates into these far-out realms, Freeman’s character does a decent job of tour guiding the science into a comprehendible hypothesis. Scarlett Johansson is again good; her performance handles the hyperkinetic storytelling Besson is known for. Johansson is versatile, switching from a reluctant girlfriend into a dominating superhero of sorts with ease. The narrative has difficulty keeping up with the advancing elements of Lucy’s enlightenment, and this has a tendency to make the pacing uneven.

 

Luc Besson builds his action films with less emphasis on narrative and more on character development that accommodates his unique action visions. With “Lucy” Besson has crafted his mightiest female force. It will be interesting to see where he takes his feminine characters next. While the film lacks the intellectual coherence of other, better science fiction films it makes up for it with creative style and imagination.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00

The Purge: Anarchy - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

PurgeThe Purge: Anarchy  

Director: James DeMonaco

Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, and Zoë Soul

 

It’s difficult to turn back once someone wielding a weapon screams the phrase “RELEASE THE BEAST”. “The Purge: Anarchy” expands the world introduced in the first “Purge” which mostly composed a tedious home invasion film. This time the depravity of a society that is given the opportunity to commit all manner of crime, including murder, for 12 hours is taken to the streets of Los Angeles. Director James DeMonaco somehow finds restraint, making a film composed with all manner of interesting exploitation inspirations and some keen observations about society yet unfortunately still has difficulties finding a way to play within the boundaries of the rules it creates.

 

The film follows a few different groups of people a few hours before the start of the annual Purge. Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are on the brink of a breakup while on their drive home. After an intimidating encounter with some eager Purge participants, the couple’s car curiously breaks down. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) are preparing their home, in an apartment complex, for protection. Barricading the doors and trying to ignore the color commentary on the news, their apartment is attacked. These four people, unprepared and hunted, are rescued by a lone protector (Frank Grillo) looking for retribution of his own. Their goal is simple, survive the night.

 

Writer/Director James DeMonaco moves this sequel into a more socially satirical realm than the first film that was mostly reserved for moments of cheap scares and a violent game of cat and mouse. Expanding the realm to explore how society copes and fails when rules for moral conformity are relinquished creates some interesting avenues of survey. The analysis of the wealthy upper class is the most deliberate; the Purge is portrayed within this class with delusional fascinations of luxury to the extent of an auction for rich families to bond in the thrill of the hunt for humans. The more interesting view comes when DeMonaco presents how society has turned on itself. The film indicates the culmination of aggression towards the controlling social power with displays of attacks against those in positions of influence. Still the poor are defenseless, forced into hiding, and those unwilling to participate are lost in a world which operates on rage. All of them waiting for the Purge to one day find them.

 

While the narrative offers more stimulating undertones it still has difficulty making sense of the system it establishes. Why aren’t people more prepared? Why are people out on the streets hours before the yearly apocalypse? Yes, this is overthinking the point of the film but it’s too obvious to ignore. If one were going camping it would seem necessary to prepare with kits and supplies, why wouldn’t this logic apply for the yearly Purge Day? The character decisions, on both sides of the assault, are hindered by idiotic judgment calls. It all serves to move the film toward the unsurprising climax, which wastes the depth explored early on.

 

“The Purge: Anarchy” is filled with genre influences clearly from “Escape from New York” and “Assault on Precinct 13”. These are great films to emulate and this sequel is a definite step ahead of the first “Purge” film. Still the film struggles to maintain the tension of the event and sustain the interesting elements of social commentary.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

apesDawn of the Planet of the Apes  

Director: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee

 

“Dawn” is a fitting word to describe the second installment of the “Planet of the Apes” films. Whether the transition from ignorance to understanding, or the state of light invading darkness and alternatively the resistance of darkness to light, are explored throughout director Matt Reeves’ excellent “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”.

 

The film is introduced with a quick montage of information explaining what has happened since the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. In nearly ten years a deadly virus has spread killing off a majority of humanity, leaving the world in anarchy and violence. The Apes have escaped into the woods outside of San Francisco and have created a colony led by the advanced Caesar (Andy Serkis). A small group of disease immune humans remain in the city though they are without power and low on fuel resources. The humans, desperate for electrical power, invade ape territory and are met with resistance by Caesar and company.

 

Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is a father and subsequent leader of the journey into Ape territory to save his group of surviving humans. Malcolm and the powerful Caesar are basically the same character. Two men that are both the leading hope for their communities though they are mostly trying to make a better life for the family they have. Seeing them on two different sides of battle makes for an interesting dichotomy. Caesar loves humans, being raised by a human father figure (James Franco in “Rise”) and allowed to live in the same environment as them. Malcolm has seen the worst in humanity and finds the Apes “remarkable” in their advancements. Both men are from worlds filled with fear and hatred for each other. In scenes were Caesar and Malcolm interact there is mutual respect and most importantly for both, trust. The trust between Caesar and Malcolm is met with hostility by both sides but especially from Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar’s hostile second-in-command. Koba was an experiment when captive, sliced and cut for the benefit of science. Koba wants revenge and Reeves builds towards the inevitable altercation against Caesar with exceptional tension. These small moments of interaction, both physical and psychological, give depth to the narrative. The original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” composed reflections of the social and political tensions of the time. “Dawn” also echoes this theme however in a darker perspective. The future here has been consumed by hatred that continues the prevention of resolution and humanity’s response to “difference” evokes chaos; a societal outlook that proposes the outcome of continued discrimination and intolerance.

 

Andy Serkis may not be the most recognizable name, or face, but his contribution to film performance has been nothing short of remarkable the last decade. Contributing performances through CGI that gave life to Kong in “King Kong” and Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings”, Serkis brings brilliant emotional content to these digital characters. His composition of Caesar is both sympathetic and powerful, a performance impressive to watch. The remaining cast, both human and ape, also contributes finely to the film. The use of non-verbal expressions to communicate relationships between characters gives the cast plenty to work with, even in very limited roles for some of the actors.

 

It’s rare for a summer blockbuster to propose thought provoking subject matter amidst the bombardment of action extravagance and forced development. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is both highly entertaining, action packed, and provocative; a credit to Matt Reeves for asking more from what is ultimately a genre film.

 

Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00

 

Savaged - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

savagedSavaged  

Dir: Michael S. Ojeda

Starring: Amanda Adrienne, Tom Ardavany, Ronnie Gene Blevins, and Rodney Rowland

 

95 Min

From Raven Banner Entertainment

By: Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

Revenge films are one of the gold standard subgenres in horror, especially ones with female protagonist committing all manner of gruesome violence against the people, usually men, which have assaulted her. Director Michael S. Ojeda crafts his version a little different, this time with a supernatural twist that involves the possession of a deaf, and left for dead, woman by the spirit of a Native American warrior who is seeking revenge. Ojeda doesn’t try to reinvent the genre but instead makes a vicious and inventive film that is a recent standout in the oversaturated category.

 

Zoe (Amanda Adrienne) is on a road trip across the desert making her way to an eager boyfriend. Zoe, who stops to take pictures of the landscape, witnesses a young Native American man running for his life from a gang of men chasing him in a truck. Zoe intervenes, trying to get the young man into her car, but is halted by the murderous group who kill the young man in front of her. They kidnap, brutally assault, and bury her in a shallow grave. Her body is found by a medicine man who brings her back from death, however she does not come back alone. The vengeful spirit of an Apache warrior has possessed her body.

 

These kinds of films have the potential to wane into exploitative territory rather quickly. Some promptly moving away from the slim narrative purpose into full-blown movements of gore and violence. “Savaged” isn’t much different in this regard; the violence turns sadistic and brutal before the 10-minute mark of the film. However, director Michael S. Ojeda shifts the narrative by utilizing other subgenres of horror to assist in transitioning the customary revenge film into one with zombie and spirit possession conventions. What would have otherwise turned routine and monotonous becomes an inventive morphing of familiar themes. Zoe turns brutal, attacking her attackers with stereotypical Native American weaponry, bows and arrows and tomahawks. While these demonstrations walk the fine line of cultural sensitivity, insulting Native American typecasts are still prevalent even in big budget productions but here the offensive material is utilized to further condemn the antagonists that have wronged both Zoe and the spirit.

 

Amanda Adrienne may not look intimidating but her performance will deem otherwise. She turns from helpless to hardened convincingly but also commits physically to the demanding tasks. The remaining cast, all men and mostly villains, are given minimal amounts of character development. Besides Marc Anthony Samuel, who plays Zoe’s boyfriend Dane, most of the remaining cast is nothing but hate filled scoundrels.

 

“Savaged” takes a very common genre theme and attempts to do something different with it. While nothing is necessarily surprising, the film is paced well and has enough genre attributes to keep the horror enthusiasts appeased.

 

Monte’s Rating / 3.50 out of 5.00

 

Nothing Bad Can Happen - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

nothing-bad-can-happen-posterNothing Bad Can Happen  

Dir: Katrin Gebbe

Starring: Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, Annika Kuhl, Swantje Kohlhof

 

110 Minutes

From JunaFilms

 

Reviewed by Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

A pulsating score threateningly introduces a young man led towards a lake. The music grows more ominous as the camera moves in and out of focus finally finding the young man forcefully submerged beneath the water. This aggressive action isn’t meant for dangerous intentions but instead portrays the Christian ceremony of baptism. This introduction is just a piece of the relationship director Katrin Gebbe is trying to convey between unwavering religious faith and volatile nihilism. It’s a subject matter that is initially handled with keen subtlety but progresses into distracted blatancy. Gebbe, sure footed along the way, attempts to explore an interesting aspect of religion in “Nothing Bad Can Happen”.

 

Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is in a church where members are known as the “Jesus Freaks”, a youthful group who dress in punk apparel and conduct contemporary worship services in industrial settings. This is his family; not much is known about his past besides the presence of medical seizures that render him helpless. Tore, who isn’t shy about sharing his faith, invites a skeptical man named Benno to his church. While at the service Tore is overwhelmed by a seizure and Benno rescues him. Tore is given recovery in Benno’s home with his wife and two children. Tore is treated as part of the family at first but things turn depraved as Benno unleashes his own “tests” of faith.

 

Gebbe is tackling difficult subject matter with equally difficult imagery. This leaves opportunity for criticism, both justified and unjustified, but also confusion concerning the qualities demonstrated by the faith based community. Tore’s journey is one that transitions from diligence to carelessness. His staunch belief in the involvement of God in his everyday life, depicted in an early scene where the power of prayer fixes a broken down vehicle, is a guiding principle that grows with each test of will. Gebbe utilizes faith to forward the progression of Tore’s battle with Benno who is initially accommodating towards his devout beliefs. However, it’s an artificial reaction for Benno who instead implements trials that torment the steadfast diligence of the young man. It begins as intuitive questioning but progresses to physical violence, one altercation leading to another, before Gebbe moves into more torturous and vicious territory. It’s a transition that abandons the restrained nuances involving the proposed inquiry of what it means to be faithful. How much will Tore endure to show his allegiance to God? Through the continuing and escalating gruesome presentation, Tore’s faith is rendered a naïve attribute.

 

In Pascal Laugier’s equally challenging film “Martyrs” the suffering for insight is forcefully implied on the subject. However in Gebbe’s film Tore willingly commits to the torment, led towards reasoning by his own interpretations of the situation. Whether misguided or divinely directed the film never straightforwardly takes a position, though the debate will be made that it leans one way depending on your stance on the subject matter.

 

“Nothing Bad Can Happen” is a difficult film to watch. Initially director Katrin Gebbe guides the film with subtle observations on the polarizing aspects of religious belief. Unfortunately, the thought provoking subject matter is skewed by an overindulgence of shocking elements.

 

Monte’s Rating

2.50 out of 5.00

 

Deliver Us From Evil - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

deliver usDeliver Us From Evil  

Dir: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale, Sean Harris

 

118 Minutes

Rated R

From Jerry Bruckheimer Films/Screen Gems

 

By Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

Horror films run in cycles of popularity. Whether slasher, zombie, or vampire, these subgenres have produced spotlight films and have also worn-out their welcome with an overabundance of less noteworthy copiers. Director Scott Derrickson, who’s recent “Sinister” surprised, doesn’t have an extensive catalog, but his film “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was an early contributor to the popularity of this specific genre theme. “Deliver Us From Evil” shines with talent but unfortunately buckles underneath an over dependency on unsurprising scares and an identity that feels lost throughout.

 

Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is a New York police officer struggling with the day-to-day atrocities he encounters. He begins to investigate a series of gruesome and unexplainable crimes involving a group of soldiers and a mother who tosses her child into a lion’s den at the zoo. Sarchie is offered assistance from Father Joe Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez), an unconventional priest who explains to Sarchie that demonic forces are at work with these crimes. Together they investigate the mysterious crimes, leading them to an intimidating face of evil.

 

Derrickson approaches the film from an interesting point of view, utilizing the detectives to uncover the gruesome supernatural details. It begins as a crime procedural, investigation of locations and interrogation of suspects that are targeted as responsible for the devious deeds. While this is a clever method in an exorcism film, it doesn’t always yield coherent results but rather serves as a convenient way of easily moving the narrative towards the desired scare. The officers make idiotic decisions and, regardless of the obvious signs, continue to doubt what they see in front of their own eyes. They are not being asked to believe in the work of the supernatural by means of blind faith but are rather offered clues that are visibly in front of them, which they constantly deny. Though the film is influenced by the actual paranormal cases investigated by Ralph Sarchie while he was a police officer, the film still feels lost in what direction it wants to take, design and narrative wise. The ending is chilling and quite satisfying with both startling visuals and an aggressive, assaulting tone that feels more suitable for the subject matter proposed before it.

 

Eric Bana and Édgar Ramírez both handle the dramatic elements well. Bana is a conflicted cop who tries to keep separate his personal and professional life but is slowly losing grasp and merging both identities with emotional outbursts. Ramírez is a priest who is also on the struggling verge of relapse into a life that almost destroyed him. These two characters compose a nice balance of the struggle to remain devoted, in different capacities, to the path they have decided to lead. It’s unfortunate that it takes so long for them to finally have meaningful scenes together instead of the forced exposition given to merely introduce more genre startles with flashlights pointed into dark places and the occasional "what was that?" comment.

 

There is a significant amount of recognizable horror film influences utilized throughout "Deliver Us From Evil". Whether the obvious influence of "The Exorcist" or the designs of other recent fright films like "Insidious", Scott Derrickson tries to combine the successful qualities of all these films throughout his own. Unfortunately it only makes you want to watch the films that offered the guidance.

 

Monte's Rating

2.25 out of 5.00

 

Coherence - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

coherenceCoherence  

Dir: James Ward Byrkit

Starring: Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendan, Elizabeth Gracen, Lorene Scafaria, and Hugo Armstrong

 

89 Minutes

From Oscilloscope Laboratories

By Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)

 

“Coherence” is a puzzle of a science fiction film. Director James Ward Byrkit mixes his film with a little bit of both science fiction and horror; a passing comet that hints at the introduction familiar to many zombie and alien invasion films, “Twilight Zone” storytelling aspects, and the psychological effects imposed on a group of friends forced into survival mentality. It’s not hard to identify the plethora of genre films that embody these narrative elements on display. It’s impressive that all these qualities are found in a low-budget first feature that mostly takes shape in one location.

 

A group of friends gather for dinner the same night a comet passes Earth, this renders power outages and loss of cellular service. A house down the street still has power and a couple of the guys from the group decide to investigate. Byrkit doesn’t spend much time satisfying the horror movie clichés, aside from unusual noises, but instead builds tension with the characters at his disposal. The focus aptly remains on the psychological stresses of the group who move quickly from assessment of the situation to application of the theories they build. These ideas are surprisingly well formed with science, both central and fringe, found in a textbook that assists in the discovery of the secrets brought on by the anomaly.

 

As the night progresses the story transitions into more puzzling territory as the group separates and the attention keys on the most compelling character in the group, Em (Emily Foxler). Foxler is the standout performance of the group; her character is a former professional dancer who is conflicted with a past that passed her by. This reference to the past plays a key theme in the film’s structure, which utilizes science fiction standards to find the parallels between time and humanity. Whether it’s the straightforward explanation of Erwin Schrödinger's paradoxical thought experiment involving the state of being, alive or dead, of a cat or the imposed confusion utilized by Byrkit in the portrayal of the characters to one another, the film simply moves from one thought to another.

 

The film makes no apologies for being complicated. The mystery transitions often, shifting focus from character allegiances to a race against extinction. With so many different twists the film becomes lost in the misperceptions it promotes while building towards the finale. This unfortunately makes the ingenious puzzle lose some of the initial intrigue that Byrkit carefully formed throughout the film.

 

“Coherence” is a low budget thriller at its core, one that is infused excellently with creative science fiction conventions. “Coherence” explores more than just surface genre standards while also attempting to examine the dynamics found in personal identity and human relationship. While the film doesn’t exactly find a place to finish that is as satisfying as the progression throughout, it’s definitely worth a watch for genre fans looking for something different.

 

Monte’s Rating / 3.25 out of 5.00

 

The Signal - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

signalThe Signal  

Dir: William Eubank

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cook, Beau Knapp, and Laurence Fishburne

 

Rated PG-13

95 Minutes

 

By Monte Yazzie with The Coda Films

 

There is a moment in William Eubank’s science fiction tale “The Signal” when he corresponds the desolation found along a road trip with the idea that though we may feel isolated there is more going on in our vast world. This journey for three college students feels ill fated from the beginning, a mystery that is handled deftly and formed with tension surrounding the uncertainty of young adulthood. Through seamed flashbacks that display the burgeoning love of Nick (Brenton Thwaites) and Haley (Olivia Cook), the crossroads of their relationship is introduced. Nick is suffering from a progressing physical disorder that requires the assistance of crutches. His girlfriend Haley is moving to a different school across the country but wants Nick to commit to a long-term, long-distance relationship. Battling insecurities both physically and emotionally, Nick is unsure of his future.

 

“The Signal” does a great job of masking its appearance; if it weren’t for the telling trailer it would be difficult to figure out what kind of film was playing out. It starts out like a horror film, spinning intentions in the early portion of the film with cryptic and sinister purpose. After a full break-up between Nick and Haley a side trip is planned to confront a hacker named Nomad, who has been threatening Nick and his friend Jonah (Beau Knapp) since they left college. What they find is a dirt road and an abandoned house with high tech equipment in the basement. The group is blindsided and taken captive in a decrepit research facility. A man (Laurence Fishburne) in biohazard uniform conducts a series of tests on Nick, who is separated from Jonah and Haley. Eubank holds the mystery until this point adding a creative twist of intervention for Nick, one that is unexpected and shifts the film into the realm of science fiction. Unfortunately after an impromptu escape the film loses the positive emotional conflict established in Nick and his aversion to change, both controlled and uncontrolled, in his life. A drawn-out and incoherent finish, amidst slow motion action pieces, is substituted in place of closure or otherwise for the characters.

 

The performances by the cast are effective, a nice change seen with recent genre films. Nick, given shape by flashbacks displaying his physical ability and sturdy relationship with Haley, is offered the emotional heft of the film. Brenton Thwaites succeeds in carrying the weight, which makes it regrettable that his character was somewhat slighted in the finish. Laurence Fishburne is good in a calmly menacing role, the entire time in a biohazard suit that only reveals his face.

 

Good science fiction blends concepts of fantasy with humanistic and societal qualities. It’s visible early on that director William Eubank, who shows his talent throughout, was shooting for this goal. While “The Signal” doesn’t always meet its lofty ambitions, it is still an intriguing attempt.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00

 

Edge of Tomorrow - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

edge of tomorrowEdge of Tomorrow  

Dir: Doug Liman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, and Brendan Gleeson

 

Rated PG-13

113 Minutes

 

By: Monte Yazzie  from www.thecodafilms.com

 

Tom Cruise knows how to make an entertaining film and director Doug Liman understands action film storytelling. Combine these two consistent artists in a film and you are bound to have one entertaining experience. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a smartly designed and skillfully constructed science fiction thriller, with good performances from the two leads.

 

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a high level recruiter for the military and the new war against alien invaders known as mimics, who have the ability to reset time, giving them the advantage of being a step ahead in warfare. Cage, a non-combat officer, is stripped of his rank by an overzealous General (Brendan Gleeson) and placed in a ragtag group known as “J Company” for frontline defense in the impending first assault. Cage doesn’t make it very far on the battlefield, dying within minutes but in the process killing a mimic that bleeds on him and gives him the ability to reset time. On a learning curve with his new power, Cage enlists the help of a respected soldier named Rita (Emily Blunt) in an effort to defeat the mimics.

 

Cruise was good throughout the film, starting the story as a privileged officer in the military who had an aversion to blood and had never used the weapons he promoted. But by the end he was a hardened expert of combat, motivated by the needs of humanity over his personal fears. It was a shift that Cruise handled with ease. Emily Blunt was enjoyable to watch, wielding a massive combat sword with an attitude that challenged most manly military stereotypes. She was best when paired with Cruise; mostly kicking him around during training sessions and repeatedly killing him so she could reset the day, it became fairly humorous after awhile.

 

The narrative was complicated, but not confusing. Liman kept the story nicely paced up to the final act, which changed tone and unfolded too predictably. The battle sequences were in the style of Liman’s past films, a mix of frenzied handheld perspectives awash with a grey color palette. Liman constructed a maze-like battlefield with explosions from nearly every direction that was an impressive display even with the unneeded 3-D gimmickry. The initial battle, that would again be replayed more than few times, was dizzying and exciting.

 

The CG aliens were in a constant state of hyper movement, reminiscent of the chaotic transition seen with the conversion from machine to robot in the “Transformers” series, and it became cluttered when mixed with Liman’s distinct action design in some parts. The artistic design of the futuristic weaponry was reminiscent of the first person shooter game “Unreal Tournament, though the gore was much less. The restraint, in regards to violence and the many deaths of the lead character, were handled subtly with a camera pan or an intentional edit.

 

While the movie incorporated elements from some familiar sources, most notably “Source Code” and “Groundhog Day”, director Doug Liman kept the story easy to follow and the action exciting to watch, making “Edge of Tomorrow” an unexpected summer surprise.

 

 

Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00