Friday, September 21

Assassination Nation Review

Assassination Nation

Dir: Sam Levinson

Starring: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo, Bill Skarsgård, Bella Thorne, Maude Apatow, and Joel McHale

French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard is often attributed with the phrase “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”. This simplistic narrative design has been exploited throughout film history, applying it to numerous genres yet often keeping the two motivating factors of a girl and a gun separated. However, in today’s social climate, a better comment might be “all you need to make a movie is a girl WITH a gun”.

Director Sam Levinson takes the topic of “a girl with a gun” and amplifies everything up to eleven, making a hyper-stylized film about four girls who live an indulgent, manipulated, and exploited existence in a town filled with people who exude the worst qualities found in society today; entitlement, bullying, vanity, violence, racism, and all manner of phobias involving femininity. “Assassination Nation” is aiming for the target of empowerment and social consciousness but often misses the mark entirely.

Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari New), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra) are a fearless feminist foursome of young ladies trying to survive the woes of high school. When a hacker starts revealing all the secrets of people around the town of Salem, things go from already worse to some kind of chaotic nightmare where the young ladies must fight and kill for their lives.

The film, with its neon lighting effects and split screen photography, is operating to do so much within its purposefully frantic pacing that it is often tonally unaware of what it is trying to accomplish. While it seems to understand the current cultural climate, with its thematic focus on the degradation and disrespect of women of all ages, the filmmaking is so uneven that it never completely grasps this purpose in meaningful ways. Instead we are provided with shocking violence and leering camera angles set against music video style motifs and slow-motion photography. While in moments it offers interesting frames, like a home invasion scene that pulls and pushes around and through the landscape of the home in ingenious ways, it mostly feels like an exercise in gratuity without the purpose to make it have thoughtful impact.

The film does boast some great performances from the leads, especially from Odessa Young who turns in a star making role as Lily. Her coolness amidst the youth and disillusionment with the world around her are fascinating to watch as life is thrown from bad to worse. Comedian Joel McHale also provides an interesting performance as a hate filled, misogynistic man who has an unhealthy relationship with Lily.

“Assassination Nation” can be a difficult and infuriating experience at times, it seems to be its primary purpose as the film descends into madness with an unsettling final act that unleashes all the terrible societal characteristics one might encounter if they asked their social media platform questions about religion or politics. “Assassination Nation” feels influenced by films like Larry Clark’s “Kids” or Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen”, but it doesn’t have the tact or insight found in those films. Instead, it has style and flair that is flashy and enticing, wielding narrative haymakers in hopes of hitting a mark. It’s unfortunate that the interesting ideas it proposes about youth, feminism, sexuality, and identity in a social media driven world aren’t better corresponded.

Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00

Tuesday, September 18

Streamathon - Urban Legends & Folklore

Streamathon - Urban Legends & Folklore

September 2018
Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of NetflixHuluAmazon Prime VideoMubiFilmStruckShudder and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

It’s less than a week away from The Coda Presents: CANDYMAN at The Filmbar in Downtown Phoenix, AZ. This is kind of a big deal for us over here at The Coda, so I decided that in honor of the occasion, we could all get in the mood with some selections to watch at home in fevered anticipation of the momentous event. The screening is dangerously close to selling out so if you haven’t yet, click the link above and get your tickets…. Like, right now… Then come back and watch these movies with me. 

The Stream

CROPSEY (2010)
Directed by Joshua Zeman & Barbara Brancaccio – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu & Shudder

The legend of Cropsey comes from Staten Island, NY. He was born out of the real-life terror of missing children and an abandoned mental institution in the middle of the woods. As a fictional legend, it pretty much writes itself. And that’s what is covered in the first fifteen minutes or so of this documentary. Then, luckily it is morphed into the true crime story of Andre Rand, the island’s most likely embodiment of the urban legend. It covers his trial and sentencing with a healthy balance of skepticism and realism, always connecting it to the larger-than-life story that terrified the community for decades.

Side note: Director Zeman’s follow up film, KILLER LEGENDS (2014) is also available to stream on Hulu. It is an anthology of other urban legends involving murderers, some of which have been immortalized in other films on this list. It’s not bad, but you don’t get even as much information about the stories he covers as you would from Wikipedia, so I didn’t think it was good enough for my list.

Directed by Zak Penn – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

This movie is kind of a weird one for me to watch, specifically because of Zak Penn. I’ve never been much of a fan of Penn’s work. He does a lot of script doctoring on some big blockbuster films. I’ve always sort of thought of him as the type that comes in and revamps a story to dumb it down and make it more palatable for mass consumption. This is odd because for this movie, which he directed and co-wrote, he seems to be playing an archetypical version of himself that I’ve always suspected that he sort of actually is. It’s that type of self-deprecating portrayal that works well for me. And of course, there’s Werner Herzog who co-wrote and co-starred with him to provide the type of integral weight that steers the narrative perfectly. 

Directed by Kaneto Shindō – Streaming on FilmStruck

In Japanese culture, a bakeneko is basically a ghost-cat. This folklore dates back hundreds of years and it’s pretty creepy. Now, imagine that tale being used to tell a medieval rape revenge story. Shindō’s 1968 film does just that. It’s shot beautifully in low light black-and-white with a hauntingly moody score. This one’s is really all about tone. I won’t say too much about it. Just be forewarned, the opening scene always seem to catch me off guard with how vile and disturbing it is.

Directed by Victor Sjöström   – Streaming on FilmStruck

In case you didn’t know, if you are a very sinful person and you happen to be the last person to die in any given year, your sentence is to spend the following year driving all those unfortunate souls to their final resting place in the “Phantom Carriage.” At least that is legend explored in this 97-year-old Swedish film. It is an adaptation of the novel, “Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!” by Selma Lagerlöf that was actually intended as a sort of public service to warn people of the dangers of tuberculosis. She incorporated the fable of Ankou, a hodgepodge of different European depictions of Death from the Dark-Ages. From a technical standpoint, this film was far ahead of its time. It’s not the first time that double-exposure had been done. But it was never done with a technique this complex and time consuming before. The results were captivating to audiences of the time. The special effects gave the illusion that characters were semi-transparent and at times, occupying two spaces at once. To have captured these images with hand-cranked cameras is quite an impressive feat.

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

It’s unfortunate that the original 1976 flick is not available to stream from anywhere. On a whim, I decided to watch this one out of sheer curiosity. I was more than pleasantly surprised. 2014 was at the tail end of the classic horror remake surge that has mostly worn out its welcome. I think this film unfortunately suffered from that fatigue and as a result was underseen. But I dig it quite a bit and if you skipped it due to its unfortunate timing, I would suggest you catch up with this. The killer in this legend is very unique among movie monsters. He is purely human. Although vicious, there is not even an inkling of supernatural ability in him. This is even more true in this updated version of the story. He has speaking parts here. Which as I recall, differs from the original. And it's not some scary distorted 'Jigsaw' type voice. He speaks in a regional accent. I found this to keep him and his legend grounded in a version of reality that rarely exists in works like this.

This is less of a remake and more a reboot/meta-sequel. It’s not retelling the original story. Rather, it incorporates the town’s history and tradition with both the actual murders that took place in 1946 as well as the original film that was released in 1976. This is interesting as a plot in itself but even more exciting in how it allowed post-modern stylistic choices in editing and narrative. For example, after one kill scene, the camera pans the aftermath of the location revealing at the end of the shot that we are actually watching a behind-the-scenes take from the original movie.

Secondly, cinematography is paramount in genre films, especially action and horror. This one’s camerawork is excellent. Cinematographer Michael Goi utilizes smaller lightweight cameras to get a lot of great P.O.V. and various rig shots that respect the spatial relationship of the characters and settings. And the color palette is gorgeous as well as reverent for both the setting and the original Charles B. Pierce film. The ending of this is both unfortunate and disappointing. It’s discombobulated and even a bit anticlimactic. But alas, I’m not one to throw the slasher baby out with the bloody bathwater. It deserves to be seen. 

Directed by Cheng Wei-Hao – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

This is Taiwan’s most profitable horror film of all time. Its titular character is the manifestation of a relatively new urban legend commonly referred to as, ‘the little girl in red’. As far as I can tell, it all started in 1998 when a family went hiking in the Taichung mountains. They documented their trip on a camcorder and were shocked later, to see what looks like a creepy little girl that no one remembered following them on the trail. When the family experienced an unexpected death, the legend took off. More sightings and disturbing anecdotes would abound in the years to follow.

I’m sure that the popularity of the legend itself helped this film immensely at the box office. That being said, I still think the atmosphere is eerie and well put together. I could be the thousandth person to complain about the bad CGI but I always tend to be forgiving of that stuff in favor of empathetic characters and good tension building. 

Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

This film has problems, but I still defend it. I don’t think that it needed to spend as much time as it did meandering around the first act and a half. But then, if you have the patience, you get to the tent scene. It’s a long single static shot that lasts around twenty minutes and leads into the climax. This shot, dimly lit inside a tent, gets underneath your fingernails as it exploits you most anxious empathy. The final act brings it home and makes this piece well worthwhile.

Friday, September 14

The Predator Review

The Predator

Dir: Shane Black

Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, and Jacob Tremblay

Make a list of the action film staples of the 1980’s and it won’t take long to arrive at director John McTiernan’s science fiction adventure movie “Predator” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s a highlight in the explosive catalog of Schwarzenegger who is partly responsible for influencing the prototype for the modern action film that audiences are familiar with.

Shane Black, the writer behind the “Lethal Weapon” franchise and most recently “The Nice Guys”, returns to the franchise he had an early acting role in back in 1987. However, this time Mr. Black is the director of “The Predator”, an entertaining, overstuffed, and brainless film determined to achieve the highest amount of fan service possible. 

A military operation involving a drug cartel in Mexico is disrupted by a crashing unidentified flying object. The cartel members and military soldiers are slaughtered brutally by a cloaking alien hunter. A sniper named Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is the only survivor of the attack. Before a group of scientists from a program called Stargazer can assess the scene, McKenna takes the mask and a weapon off the Predator and sends it away for evidence of the encounter. McKenna is eventually arrested and interrogated, he is placed in custody with a ragtag group of military soldiers who are forced into action when the Predator escapes.

Shane Black is a talented writer who imbues his scripts with humor, quirk, and interesting characters. “The Predator” thrives on these qualities throughout the film. It emulates the catchy team aspect from the original film with a group of military tough guys but here adding some genuinely funny moments from the cast and a female character played by Olivia Munn who can hold her own just fine amidst all the testosterone. In the first major action scene in the film Mr. Black pitch perfectly catches the tone of the original films.

Replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger is actor Boyd Holbrook who, minus the muscles and accent, does a decent job of playing the hero here. Olivia Munn is provided a thankless role, though it does offer a few moments for her to flex her toughness. The standout performances belong to Keegan-Michael Key and Trevante Rhodes who banter and bicker with a mile-a-minute tempo that simply provokes some of the best laughs of the film. 

There are some really fun moments and setups throughout, like when the film blatantly salutes the first two films with a series of clever one-liners and when the Predator is simply left to unleash chaotic attacks. Unfortunately, “The Predator” feels lopsided as it tries t0 balance too many things. The mix of humor and action works in some aspects and in other places it feels out of place. The narrative introduces a few interesting choices connected to the mythology of the otherworldly sport hunters but it also feels stuffed with ideas that never payoff the way they should. You can feel the film working every angle for a sequel. 

Amidst all that is going on with Predator dogs, a character with Tourette’s Syndrome (Thomas Jane), biological modification, a genius young boy (Jacob Tremblay), and Sterling K. Brown playing a scientist with more swagger and coolness than he should have, “The Predator” is definitely a messy premise but thrives to provide entertainment and action first and foremost. 

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00