Thursday, November 25, 2021

#2,667. Unhinged (2020)


The very idea of road rage makes me uneasy; the fact is you never know who is driving the car next to you, or what they’re capable of, so it’s never a good idea to intentionally piss any driver off, for any reason.

And as we discover in director Derrick Borte’s intense 2020 thriller Unhinged, it might not take much to push that other driver over the edge.

Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is having a bad day. For starters, her lawyer and best friend Andy (Jimmi Simpson) has informed Rachel that her ex-husband Richard (voiced by Andrew Morgado) wants sole ownership of the house they once shared. If that isn’t bad enough, she’s late getting out the door, which - along with making her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) late for school a third time - results in her being fired by her most important client. Then, to top it off, she has an altercation with another driver (Russell Crowe) at a red light, who is none too happy when she refuses to apologize for her actions.

And if this man has anything to say about it, Rachel’s day is about to get a whole lot worse!

We know from the opening scene that Crowe’s character is out of control; also recently divorced, he breaks into his former house, murders his ex-wife and her lover, then burns it to the ground. Unfortunately, Rachel doesn’t know this, and by the time she realizes she has crossed the wrong person, it’s already too late. The lengths to which this guy goes to get back at Rachel will have you on the edge of your seat (as if the opening sequence wasn’t enough to clue us in on his state of mind, there’s a crazy scene at a gas station that proves he’s lost all control).

Unhinged never lets up; both director Borte and the film’s writer, Carl Ellsworth, keep the tension at a fever pitch throughout, filling the movie with one W-T-F moment after another (there’s an insane sequence involving Crowe’s psychopath and Rachel’s brother Fred, played by Austin P. McKenzie, yet even this is merely a precursor for what’s to come). Pistorius is strong as the frenzied Rachel, yet it’s Russell Crowe who delivers the film’s most intense performance, playing what is easily the darkest character he’s portrayed since 1992’s Romper Stomper.

And it’s because of him that Unhinged is guaranteed to shake you.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

#2,666. The Epic of Everest (1924)


This documentary, shot on-location by Captain John Noel, is a filmed record of the now-infamous 1924 British Mount Everest expedition, during which mountaineers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared without a trace.

Relying heavily on intertitles, The Epic of Everest offers a full account of the journey, tagging along with the explorers when they entered the village of Phari-Dzong on the border of the Tibetan Plateau before making their way to Everest itself, where the British adventurers set up several campsites and made three different attempts to reach the summit, a height of almost 29,000 feet (8,800+ meters). The third and final attempt ended tragically when Mallory and Irvine never returned, and were presumed dead (their disappearance sparked a debate that raged for decades, with many wondering whether or not they became the first men to reach the summit before perishing).

The Epic of Everest is mostly a dry, straightforward account of the expedition; the opening shots of Mount Everest, interspersed with title cards that wax poetic about nature and the indomitable spirit of man, run on far too long, and the scenes in Phari-Dzong, though interesting, aren’t exactly kind to the indigenous population (one title card in particular referred to the fact that the locals never bathed). As for the expedition itself, a majority of the sequences were shot from a distance away, and feature little more than the explorers walking to and from their base camps.

Yet as routine as the first hour or so is, the final third of The Epic of Everest will have you on the edge of your seat. The most stirring scene occurs when Noel’s camera, shooting up the mountain, spots Mallory and Irvine high atop Everest, some 4,000 feet away, the last time anyone would see them alive.

Ultimately, the true miracle of The Epic of Everest is that it exists at all, recording for posterity a historic event, and ensuring that George Mallory, Sandy Irvine, and the entire 1924 expedition will never be forgotten.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Sunday, November 21, 2021

#2,665. Blue Crush (2002)


I know I’ve said it before, but I’m a sucker for surf movies, and even a by-the-numbers sports drama like Blue Crush offers enough to satisfy this particular craving.

Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) is a promising young surfer whose career stalled a few years back when she almost drowned. Now entered in the Pipeline, one of Hawaii’s most dangerous surf contests, Anne Marie, with the help of best friends Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake), is in training for the big event.

But with an absentee mother, the would-be surfer finds herself caretaker of a troublesome younger sister (Mika Boorem), and a whirlwind romance with NFL quarterback Matt Tollman (Matthew Davis) has Anne Marie rethinking her priorities.

It’s a standard Hollywood story (with an ending that’s even more so), but director John Stockwell manages to capture the energy and excitement of big-wave surfing, and the hip-hop soundtrack only adds to the intensity of it all (an early montage, set to Blestenation’s update of Bananarama’s "Cruel Summer", is especially memorable).

It may not be unique, but Blue Crush hit the spot, and has me jonesing for summer to return!
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Friday, November 19, 2021

#2,664. George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)


Written and directed by his son, George Stevens Jr., George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey is a detailed biography of - and a loving tribute to - one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors, the mastermind behind such classics as A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Cinephiles are sure to get a kick out of the rare, behind-the-scenes color footage taken on the set of 1939’s Gunga Din (photographed by Stevens himself) but it’s the sequences detailing the acclaimed filmmakers’ service in World War II (he filmed the massive landing on D-Day) and his defense of colleagues during the McCarthy era that truly stand out.

But more than anything, George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey is a time capsule of old Hollywood, featuring interviews with (among others) Katherine Hepburn, Frank Capra, Cary Grant. Joel McCrae, and John Huston, all recounting the glory days of Tinseltown and one of the men that made them so memorable.

If you love movies as much as I do, you’ll adore this documentary!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

#2,663. Edward II (1991)


A postmodern take on Christopher Marlowe’s classic Elizabethan play, Director Derek Jarmon’s Edward II transforms one of England’s most tragic figures - the Plantagenet king Edward II - into an advocate for gay rights.

Following the death of his father, Edward II (Steven Waddington) ascends the throne of England, and his first act is to recall his friend and lover Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan), who had been exiled.

Once back in England, Gaveston exacts revenge on those who supported his banishment, and in so doing angers many of the King’s advisors, including the militant Mortimer (Nigel Terry), who conspires with Edward’s neglected Queen, Isabella (Tilda Swinton), to depose the king and gain control of the realm.

Lifting dialogue straight out of Marlowe’s play while at the same time setting the story in modern day England, Jarmon lets his imagination run wild, utilizing sparse set pieces (to put the focus squarely on the characters) and even inserting a very cool musical sequence into the mix (Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics appears as herself, singing Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” as Edward and Gaveston dance together in the background).

Throughout Edward II, Jarmon remains faithful to Marlowe’s depiction of Edward while also shining a light on homophobia, a hot-button issue as prevalent today as it was in 1991. With strong performances all around and a clever approach to the material, Jarmon’s Edward II is not to be missed.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, November 15, 2021

#2,662. Skin Walker (2019)


There are a handful of actors who - when I see their names in the credits - get me so giddy that I can’t wait to watch their movie. Udo Kier (Mark of the Devil, Shadow of the Vampire) is one of them. Even if the film itself isn’t that great (I’m looking at you, Mother of Tears), I usually enjoy Kier’s performance.

Case in point is writer / director Christain Neuman’s Skin Walker.

Skin Walker is not a good movie. In fact, I don’t know if it’s a “movie” at all; it’s more a collection of random sequences, strung together in no particular order, and even by that standard it’s an incoherent muddle.

Regine (Amber Anderson) returns home to attend the funeral of her much-despised grandmother (Marja-Leena Junker). After a brief but tense reunion with her father (Kier), she finds herself dealing with the traumas of her past, including the death of her deformed half-brother Isaac.

But the deeper Regine delves into her family’s secrets, the more unstable she becomes.

Told entirely from Regine’s perspective (and, minor spoiler, she’s as nutty as a fruit cake), Skin Walker is a psychological horror film, but as I stated earlier, there’s zero structure here; what starts out as slightly confusing evolves into “What-the-hell-am-I-watching” insanity by the halfway point.

It’s a shame, too, because the performances are decent and the production design, as well as Neuman’s stylistic approach to the material, is at times amazing (the sets, coupled with the occasionally jarring camera movements, are what kept my interest).

In the end, though, Skin Walker was just too befuddling to be worth the 87 minutes it demanded.
Rating: 4 out of 10

Saturday, November 13, 2021

#2,661. Snatchers (2019)


In 1996’s Scream, movie aficionado Randy (played by Jamie Kennedy) laid out the basic rules for surviving a horror film, the first of which was “Don’t have sex”. It’s sage advice; in most ‘80s slasher flicks, the characters that did the nasty often ended up on the wrong side of a machete.

But not even Randy could have predicted the insanity that occurs in 2019’s Snatchers when high school student Sara (Mary Nepi) has sex with her boyfriend Skyler (Austin Fryberger). In a bizarre turn of events, Sara discovers the very next day that she’s pregnant. In fact, she’s so pregnant that, a mere 24 hours after sleeping with Skylar, she goes into labor!

Clearly, there’s something otherworldly at play here, and with the help of her former best friend Haley (Gabrielle Elyse), Sara hopes to get out of this mess before her doting mother (J.J. Nolan) catches wind of it. But when Sara gives birth to a giant insect, it sets in motion a series of events that may ultimately destroy her home town, and maybe even the world!

A fun, funny sci-fi / horror mash-up co-directed by Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman (both of whom also penned the screenplay), Snatchers features lots of snappy dialogue (filled to its breaking point with teen slang) and some truly impressive practical effects (especially late in the film, when we finally discover what’s really going on).

Occasionally crude yet also kind of endearing, Snatchers was an absolute blast!
Rating: 9 out of 10