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2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)


I’m a little surprised at how many critics have been raving about Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film We Need to Talk About Kevin. I was one who for a while was intrigued by it (and the fact that I missed it when it first came out) because of its grim topic of lone killers and the aftermath they leave. When I finally sat down to watch it, however, something about this movie, which in my opinion shouldn’t be on a bad movie article, didn’t resonate. Something was tonally, visually off from the get-go, and too much time was spent in framing Tilda Swinton (whom I normally love in anything she does, although she has appeared in a couple of clunkers like this year’s A Bigger Splash) in bold reds over and over and over again, and then having her act so arrogantly through the entire affair it was next to impossible to feel anything for her character.

For those who haven’t seen We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is the 2011 movie based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver. The story depicts a mother, played by Swinton, coming to terms with the devastation that her son (played by Ezra Miller) has left behind following a school massacre. For the initial portion I was hooked, wanting to know more about what could have made this privileged child turn into such a murderous, soulless monster, but the problem lay basically in casting. Swinton, for all her visual presence, is  completely wrong for the character of a mother unable to control her preternaturally psychopathic son. When you see her, you think, “Oh, please. One cold stare and she’s got this by the horns.” Nope. It doesn’t happen. It never happens. We see the son manifest symptoms of early rebellion that will manifest itself much later as an outcry of sheer violence. We see Swinton react . . . but not much. She alternates between looking caught between two emotions, deer in the headlights and deer wondering the make of the vehicle that just struck her. So out of touch if her character that we wonder if there will ever be a conversation that spells out the title of the movie. A caveat, and it’s not a spoiler: don’t wait for it. instead, watch for Gus van Sant’s excellent, devastating Elephant.

I can say that many affluent families that I was associated with in my childhood had this thing where no problems of any kind were discussed or mentioned or even referenced. It just didn’t happen. If there were any issues, those involved suffered in silence. In time they could let the bile out of the bag and make those affected go to therapy. Who cares? So in a way, the fact that this family, uber chic, living in a fabulous home filled with contemporary sterility, has no soul. The father? He’s nowhere to be found. John C Reilly seems to have checked out and left it all to chance. That leave the story nowhere to go but into the red. Now, my other contention is, and yes, this is a spoiler, arrows? Really?


Look, I get it. Sometimes you want to lessen the bloody impact of a reality all schools must face in the light of Columbine and all that follow, but to make a bow and arrow a part of a tragedy and not have anyone on board — not guards, security, anyone — tackle this crazy down and somehow subdue him? That’s the most egregious example of a plot hole if I’ve ever seen one. There is no way — nope, not a single one — that Kevin would have been able to inflict as much harm the way he did before a couple of school jocks would have taken his shit down, all the way down. We live in a reality of guns, and guns do inflict almost unbearable harm.

But . . . .this is an artistic  movie, I guess, based on an actual novel, and where there is an audience, there will be sales, so those who bought it and read it believed it and stand by it. And that’s okay. I personally loved a couple of artistic aspects of We Need to Talk About Kevin but it was probably a fraction of a whole. That doesn’t save it from me giving it the axe.



2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Oh, boy. Shirley Jackson must be thrashing in her grave right now. Here we have a movie that shamelessly rips off her narrative style down to details — the dry humor with a wink, the stoic omniscience of the lead — and makes no attempt to create something new with it. Osgood Parkins, its director, has taken the well-worn story of the governess and the old, dark house and given it a modernist, minimalist spin. You can start going down your checklist as I type this: old house? Check. Things that go creak in the dark? Of course. Things that move on their own? Yes. Something invisible that seems to want more than one is willing to give? Bingo.

If you can, check a little horror movie called Darling  by Mickey Keating. That’s all I’ll say here, because I won’t spend more than I have to wondering what was it that made this little experiment of a horror movie suck so badly. When you have atmosphere and nothing else there is only so much you can do before one wonders when one can change the channel or switch to a better, more dramatic film. Mind you, I’m not above slow burns with a pay-off. Those are the best. Even something more commercial as Don’t Breathe by Fede Alvarez and produced by Sam Raimi has only two jumpscares that make total sense to the plot instead of being there to make you jump . . .  but nothing else. This one, with its long, elaborate title, looks more like a movie filmed for video only — you can see right through its seams when the horror appears, and all you are left are with ominous external shots of the house the events purportedly take place in. That doesn’t make this even remotely good.

I do hope that Perkins will come up with something better. This is a first film and mistakes happen. Maybe I saw it wrong, but I’ve seen a lot of horror since I was a child and this one made me irritable. Even names like Paula Prentiss and Bob Balaban, stalwarts from the 70s, helped not an iota. What a total waste of time.


2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)


Ever since B-movies like Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitchhicker directors have been trying to up the ante while telling essentially the same story over and over. In this case, we open to an unseen figure dragging a body covered in what looks to be tarp across a backroad. We have no idea who this person might be, but the sharpening of knives and a quick glimpse of a dead face shows it’s clear what’s just happened and what’s to come. We cut then to a young British hitchhiker (Andrew Simpson, last seen in Notes on a Scandal as the kid Cate Blanchett’s teacher seduced) who witnesses a car veer to a screeching stop in front of him as an argument between a young French man and a woman (Josephine de la Baume) balloons out of control. The man, Jack, essentially rescues the woman, Veronique, from what could have been an impossibly violent situation. After the would-be-assailant takes off, Jack and Veronique continue, making small, tentative talk, each unsure if to open up to the other.

Soon after a car approaches them and a couple offers a ride. Anyone who would see the driver would probably give that man a “hell, no” from the get-go — Frederik Pierrot just oozes a kind of cheery menace I personally wouldn’t want to venture even near to. And the wife (Barbara Crampton as nervously stiff as ever), while quiet, makes allegations of a serial killer on the loose in the French countryside and later on as they arrive at the couple’s isolated mansion for a stopover, all but becomes unhinged at the seams. What could be going on with this older couple? Director Abner Pastoll keeps his cards tightly against his chest throughout the entire nocturnal sequence as the foursome have what amounts to a nearly terrifying dinner and the wife continues to warn Jack to keep his door locked at all times.

I won’t say more about what happens in Road Games because while it’s little more than cardboard horror, badly acted, it has a clever third-act that I didn’t quite see coming. Safe to say it’s an above average late night fright fest without too much gore or blood but a pretty dark center that points at the possibility, if French cinema was like its American counterpart, into sequels.


Green Room:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


Try to survive in the green room.
Try to survive in the green room.

After the show, Jeremy Saulnier came out and spoke to the audience on his new movie Green Room, how he stumbled upon the story, how he himself was part of the story (he was a member of a punk-rock band in the 90s), and his love for exploitation flicks. It was quite an insight to someone who’s quickly establishing himself as a director of note who hasn’t yet sold out to Big Hollywood and suddenly churned out another (yawn) rehash of a Marvel/DC superhero movie. Not that that isn’t okay — hey, to each their own, I don’t judge, it’s their pockets, not mine. Even so, to see a director not selling out and sticking to smaller, genre pics (for the moment) is pretty refreshing.

If any of you saw his 2014 Blue Ruin (which singlehandedly became the sleeper thriller/neo-Western of the year), you saw a finely drawn character study of a broken man out to protect his sister from the man who years before killed his parents. Its (anti)hero Dwight, played by the taciturn and scraggly Macon Blair couldn’t be farther removed from the unstoppable force that is Liam Neeson in the Taken films (or, apparently, any film where he’s the good guy in an impossible situation). Notwithstanding, Dwight is as tunnel-visioned as the most hardcore of them, and when his mission generates an unexpected reaction from an entire family, the film then takes revenge and retribution into a whole different level altogether, elevating it almost to Coen Brother’s status.

Green Room is completely different, and at the same time, a little like Blue Ruin’s more streamlined companion. There is a family, or let’s say, two of sorts, and yes, there is battle, and the overwhelming need for survival instinct, but the similarities end there. Green Room is more muscular in its setup and delivery and doesn’t have the gravitas that Blue Ruin exhibited, and there are moments of so much self-awareness and black as night humor it’s a wonder this couldn’t also pass as a mock-up of cheap B-movies.

A DC punk band lands a well-paying gig at a remote location. Once they arrive to the place they realize it’s a watering hole for White supremacists looking to vent their aggression with hyper-loud punk music. Their gig goes well albeit the initial misstep, and here is where Saulnier starts to introduce a sense of menace just outside the melee of bargoers — a large, tattooed skinhead spitting his drink at the howling singer, and two odd looking girls meandering through. Once the band returns to the green room to a nasty event of someone getting a knife through their head, the gloves are off. The band manages to outwit the bouncer and take possession of his gun. Pat (Anton Yelchin); the bar proprietor, Darcy (Patrick Stewart in a completely different role) wants them to hand the gun, come out, and promises no harm. The tension in this scene is almost unbearable.


Green Room from here on explodes in scene after scene of escalating violence as two groups of people fight to overthrow the other. There is so little characterization that the players emerge mainly as archetypes, but that’s precisely the point in this homage to exploitation films — no one is a true person; everyone is there to serve a plot and drive the story home. Saulnier is Green Room’s true star, delivering a tightly-directed story filled with mood, snappy lines, shocking violence, gallows humor, and a pretty good amount of nastiness. There’s probably one too many subplots playing in the background as to who did what first, but you won’t care once the carnage starts. This should be pretty good performer for horror movie lovers once it gets released later in April.


Coming out of Turkey is a cop movie with a decidedly wicked twist worthy of David Lynch, Lovecraft, or Giallo movies. Baskin, which in Turkish stands for “raid” is a lurid dream within a dream within reality, well-made, if a little uneven or over the top, leading to a clever Moebius strip that forces the story to unfold back into itself into a hellish replay.

The story has a prologue and epilogue of sorts. A young boy wakes up to hear his parents having loud sex. When he knocks into their room, a strange, misshapen claw of a hand creeps out of another room, beckoning. Cut to the present, and you meet the five cops of the story. There is an extended scene straight out of Goodfellas where a bumbling waiter laughs at a homophobic cop’s joke that winds up with them fighting. It seems completely out of place within the scope of the picture, but this is all setup. Once they get a distress call from another cop asking assistance in the town of Incengaz [sic], and another cop almost loses his shit while staring at himself in the mirror, Baskin hits its story.


They take off and have encounters with escalating weirdness: frogs, frogs, and more frogs, a naked man crossing the road, and a very strange family. Nothing, of course, can prepare them for what comes next. But while we get there, we’re pulled out of the story and into the best scene in the movie where two officers creep each other out — one with the nightmarish sequence that starts the movie, the other with the tale of being watched . . . and just over his shoulder, in the background, a shadow so unsettling it made my skin crawl.

Baskin devolves into gross out for the sake of it which distills the power it would have had to horrify had it taken a minimalist route. As it stands it is also a pretty good little horror movie that should appeal lovers of gore and straight up bizarre images heavy with faux-Satanic symbolism.