Film Review: The Witch (2015)

Also known as: La Bruja (Spanish language title)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Music by: Mark Korven
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Parts and Labor, RT Features, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures, Code Red Productions, Scythia Films, Pulse Films, Special Projects, A24, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.” – William

I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it. All I knew is it was about a witch and it starred Anya Taylor-Joy, who I first discovered in Split, but who I’ve grown to like a lot with each film I see her in. And part of me is really excited to see her play Magik in The New Mutants movie, whenever the hell that actually comes out. Magik is one of my favorite X-Men related characters of all-time and Taylor-Joy seems like really good casting.

Anyway, this film is dark and brooding on a level that most films just can’t get to. This is real horror and was able to capture true despair on celluloid.

The Witch is a fairly short film at just 93 minutes but it feels longer. It moves slow but it builds tension and dread exceptionally well. A lot of emotion fits snugly within this film’s 93 minutes. The time is managed adequately and I’d say that all the scenes matter, flow perfectly and this picture doesn’t end feeling like anything else needed to be added. It’s well written and executed with the skill of a master filmmaker, which is damn impressive as the writer/director Robert Eggers isn’t a well-known or seasoned veteran, this is actually his first feature length motion picture. He does have a film coming out next year called The Lighthouse, which I am now pretty excited to see.

Anya Taylor-Joy also didn’t have much experience before this and this was her first starring role. In fact, she guest starred on a television show and had an uncredited bit part in one other film. Needless to say, she makes a massive impact in this. She proved from the get go that she had the ability to draw people in and to command attention through her performance. While the actor who played the father in this, carried some scenes, it was Taylor-Joy that carried this movie and made it something better than what it could have been in the hands of a less capable actress. Being this good, right out the gate, is pretty unheard of but from everything I’ve seen her do, I’m convinced that she is a rare talent than can probably handle the demands of any role.

This film is also enhanced by it’s enchanting and haunting cinematography. The lack of color and the dry coldness of the environment makes it feel like these characters are already lying in their graves.

It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t just horror, it is a mystery as things happen throughout the film that keep you guessing at what is actually unfolding. It isn’t as simple as there being a witch that’s messing with this family.

The ending is intense, surprising and having no expectations for this made it have a greater impact. I wasn’t expecting this to get as disturbing as it did but it was a breath or fresh air in a genre that’s been suffering for awhile.

I really liked The Witch. It looks great, is written great and stars someone who I could see becoming one of the best actresses of her generation.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: some of the better modern horror films: The BabdookItIt Follows, etc.

TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead (2015- )

Original Run: August 23rd, 2015 – current
Created by: Robert Kirkman, Dave Erickson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Music by: Atticus Ross, Paul Haslinger, Danny Bessi, Saunder Jurriaans
Cast: Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Mercedes Mason, Lorenzo James Henrie, Rubén Blades, Colman Domingo, Michelle Ang, Danay García, Daniel Sharman, Sam Underwood, Dayton Callie, Lisandra Tena, Maggie Grace, Garret Dillahunt, Lennie James, Jenna Elfman

Square Head Pictures, Circle of Confusion, Skybound Entertainment, Valhalla Entertainment, AMC, 48 Episodes (so far), 43-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

The Walking Dead really didn’t need of a spinoff. But as these things go, when you’ve got a cash cow, you’ve got to milk it until the teets come off.

What made this spinoff intriguing, however, was that it started when the zombie outbreak started. In The Walking Dead, we follow Rick Grimes, as he wakes up from a coma and enters a zombie infested world, months after the outbreak. Fear the Walking Dead starts on any given normal day and then the shit hits the fan. The first season shows society crumbling and how the main characters respond to it.

That rookie season was good but a somewhat unsatisfying origin story for The Walking Dead world. But once the show moved beyond the initial chaos, it got more interesting.

The sophomore season was broken into two halves, like a typical season of The Walking Dead. This show would follow that formula going forward. And while that season was a bit rocky, it found it’s footing in the second half, once our characters got off of the boat they lived on for eight episodes.

Season three switched things up quite a bit and by this point, a lot of the main characters were already wiped out.

But season four, the current season, is where the show really reinvented itself in a bold way. By the time you get through the first half of the season, only one person from the pilot episode is still alive. Additionally, Morgan from The Walking Dead comes on the show, officially crossing over, connecting this show directly to the events of the more popular parent show.

The fourth season also brings in a bunch of new and interesting characters and to be honest, it’s a completely different animal than what Fear was when it started out.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this show, which I have also had with the regular Walking Dead series, but it’s moving in a really cool direction.

It’s hard to tell where this will end up but I find it to be the more enjoyable of the two shows, right now. But being that this is The Walking Dead, that could change at the drop of a hat.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Walking DeadDeadwoodSons of Anarchy and Hell On Wheels.

 

Film Review: Teeth (2015)

Release Date: January 25th, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Tom Brown, Daniel Gray
Written by: Tom Brown, Daniel Gray
Cast: Richard E. Grant (narrator)

Holbrooks, Blacklist, 7 Minutes

Review:

“That which is neglected, is lost.” – tagline

This is a short animated film about a guy and his relationship with his teeth over the course of his life.

What made this work for me was two key things.

The first was the narration by Richard E. Grant. His voice was perfectly paced and pleasant to listen to even if the visuals weren’t welcoming in certain parts. Just thinking of the knife and teeth scene gives me a bit of a chill but Grant’s voice was very soothing and drew you in.

The other thing that worked for me was the animation style. I just loved the look of this, the toned down colors, the flow of the movement and most importantly, how the shaky animation lines added a certain level of tension to the proceedings.

This is definitely an art piece more than anything but this is a good example of short film as art. It is both beautiful and disturbing, soothing and stressful. How those things mixed so well together is due to the meticulous craftsmanship of the writing and direction by both Tom Brown and Daniel Gray.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Probably any of the other modern short films you can find on FilmStruck’s streaming service, where I watch most of the stuff I find like this.

TV Review: A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

Original Run: December 4th, 2015
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Bill Murray
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Bill Murray, Michael Cera, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Dimitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Shaffer, Julie White, Phoenix

American Zoetrope, Departed Productions, Jax Media, South Beach Productions, Netflix, 1 Episodes, 56 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Who doesn’t love Bill Murray? And who doesn’t love Christmas? Well, terrorists… probably.

I was really excited when Netflix dropped the first trailer for A Very Murray Christmas. It looked interesting enough and featured a comedic legend that might as well be a god, as far as I am concerned. It also featured a slew of other talented people and Miley Cyrus. I kid, Miley doesn’t bother me like she bothers lame people.

I had hopes that this would be great and maybe start a new annual tradition with future installments to the series each Christmas. But to be frank, I’m fine with just the one special.

It wasn’t anything great or that spectacular. Murray is in a depressed mood for much of the special and only seems to come alive for a few seconds at a time. While some scenes, like the ones with Chris Rock, played really well, most just didn’t hit their mark.

This special, like all Christmas specials, is about finding that Christmas spirit and enjoying the day and the things that you hold dear. The execution just seemed half-assed and the sequences weren’t all that interesting.

Murray didn’t look like he was enjoying himself and everything just felt thrown together.

Although it was nice seeing him onscreen with David Johansen again. He was the lead singer of the protopunk band The New York Dolls, also the pop artist Buster Poindexter and starred alongside Murray in Scrooged as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Scrooged and that’s about it but Scrooged is much better and a lot less depressing.

Documentary Review: Of Miracles and Men (2015)

Release Date: February 8th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Hock
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwell, Robert Miller

ESPN Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This was one on the more recent 30 For 30 films put out by ESPN.

This documentary covered the Soviet Union’s national hockey team during their dominant heyday and showed the famous “Miracle” game from their perspective, which provided a pretty unique take on the event.

Of Miracles and Men starts off by showing us how the Soviets developed their hockey game and the unorthodox approach to coaching that its founder had.

Unable to study the renowned Canadians, who made the sport famous, the Soviets taught themselves how to play from the ground up with no point of reference. Their coach analyzed everything he could outside of hockey and thought of ways to incorporate these things into the Soviet training routine. He took methods from dancing, weightlifting and other places. All of this showed how the Soviets developed such a refined style that was all their own at the time.

The documentary goes on to show the growth of hockey in the U.S.S.R. and how the nation developed immense pride for their athletes and the sport. All of which eventually lead to them playing some exhibition games against Canada.

While looked at as underdogs and not taken seriously, the Soviet team crushed Canada. And then they kept crushing Canada. And then they crushed everyone else, including the United States.

Where here, in America, we are told of the legend of the “Miracle” game from a very pro-American stance. This documentary shows the tale in a much more realistic light and provides the back story in a way that is more fleshed out than any version I’ve ever heard.

In the end, the Soviets weren’t so bloodthirsty about us, as we were of them. In fact, when they lost, they were more upset that they lost and weren’t looking at it as a failed attempt to topple America. In fact, they had toppled us quite a bit before this game and have toppled us after. Truthfully, the Soviets owned America historically. And today, the Russians still regularly kick our ass, even though we have amazing teams year after year.

An example one of the Soviet players gave in the film, is that this is like a fan of Sophia Loren who gets to kiss her. Years later he is still talking about the kiss. However, if you ask Loren about it, she probably doesn’t even remember it.

If anything, this film opens the viewers eyes to the propaganda machine.

In its simplest form, the “Miracle” game was a game played between really young athletes who just wanted to play the game because it was what they enjoyed doing. Athletes who were probably too young or focused on the game, to fully understand what was going on between these two countries politically.

In comparison to other 30 For 30 documentaries, this one fits in the upper echelon in terms of quality. The editing, interviews and narrative were fantastic. I just wish ESPN did more 30 For 30 films on hockey. I think this is only like the third one out of 60 plus films.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Red ArmyMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015- )

Also known as: Tooken (working title)
Original Run: March 6th, 2015 – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Jeff Richmond
Cast: Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane, Jane Krakowski

Little Stranger Inc., Bevel Gears, 3 Arts Entertainment, Universal Television, Netflix, NBCUniversal Television Distribution, 45 Episodes (so far), 22-36 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a television show that was created by the team that bought you NBC’s 30 Rock. Originally intended to be aired on NBC, once the network pretty much abandoned comedy (see how poorly they handled the final season of Parks & Recreation) it was sold to Netflix with a two season order. So far, only one season has aired on the streaming service.

The show stars Ellie Kemper from The Office and a slew of other actors who appeared on 30 Rock in some form or another. The main cast is comprised of Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski. There are also a ton of cameos: Tina Fey (one of the co-creators), Jon Hamm and Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men, as well as Tim Blake Nelson are some of the most notable.

If you are a fan of 30 Rock, which I mostly wasn’t, the show will delight you as it captures the same tone and humor. Personally, I found this to be a better show overall than 30 Rock but it was too similar in style and felt like more of a spin-off or extension of that show creatively, as opposed to being something fresh and unique. It was littered with a lot of Tina Feyisms and almost thought itself to be too clever, witty and quirky.

The show is very lighthearted and positive all around. Despite the fact that the premise is about a young woman who is freed from an underground cult bunker after fifteen years, it doesn’t focus on that dark subject matter too deeply. It shows a strong and powerful female character, robbed of a decade and a half of her life, taking on every challenge in an effort to live the life she was denied. In a nutshell, it sends a positive message to all that life is something to be cherished and enjoyed and that the relationships we have with people are precious.

However, the show also kind of pushes the envelope too hard with its positive message, as on multiple occasions we see Kimmy meddling in the lives of others. Yes, it is in an attempt to help them and to push them in a better direction but ultimately, she oversteps her bounds more often than not. While her intentions are always good and noble, she is like a helicopter mom to every character on the show. Maybe season two should deal with the potential negative consequences of her good intentions. Where this show gives a template for a great role model, it is counterintuitive for the fact that she is an overenthusiastic busybody.

To give an example, there is a point in the show where Kimmy takes it upon herself to get the angsty teenage daughter she is a nanny to, to go live with her other parents against the girl’s wishes. She uses some trickery in her plot. In the end, she isn’t the girl’s parent and if this isn’t overstepping some moralistic bounds, despite her good intent, I don’t know what is. Just because someone thinks they know what is right for someone else, doesn’t give them the right to force fate against that person’s wishes.

This also ties into the fact that Kimmy pretty much pushes her employer into divorcing her cheating husband. While the husband is a scumbag, it is the wife’s decision and although Kimmy can give her two cents, as a friend, she went beyond that.

I’m not attacking the show, I found it really entertaining and a good choice for some weekend binge watching. These are just the thoughts I had, as I watched each episode unfold. And it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as it is just a sitcom.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show worth your time for the most part. There isn’t a lot of good comedy airing on television these days. I just hope the extreme positive nature of the show doesn’t breed a new generation of busybody know-it-alls.

I will certainly watch season two when it starts streaming. Besides, it is kind of hard to deny myself the magic that is Tituss Burgess. And I love everything that Carol Kane does. I also hope that Jon Hamm reemerges, as well as Kiernan Shipka. Tina Fey can leave her Marcia Clark impersonation behind though.

Update:

Couldn’t get very far into the second season. I pretty much abandoned the show, as it just started to get really redundant and had already ran its course for me.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: NBC comedies of the ’00s: The Office30 RockParks & Recreation, etc.

TV Review: The Last Man On Earth (2015-2018)

Release Date: March 1st, 2015 – May 6th, 2018 (original run)
Directed by: various
Written by: Will Forte, various
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mel Rodriguez, Cleopatra Coleman, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Sudeikis, Boris Kodjoe, Mark Boone Junior, Kenneth Choi, Kristen Wiig, Keith L. Williams, Chris Elliot, Fred Armisen, Will Ferrell (cameo), Alexandra Daddario (cameo), Jon Hamm (cameo), Laura Dern (cameo), Jack Black (cameo), Martin Short (cameo)

The Si Fi Company, Lord Miller Productions, 20th Television, Fox, 67 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Oh, farts.” – Phil Tandy Miller

*Written in 2015.

Now that the first season is over, I can give a proper review to Fox’s The Last Man On Earth.

In short, I really like this show.

Will Forte is great as the lead character Phil Miller. Kristen Schaal is fantastic as the fairly neurotic yet very lovable Carol Pilbasian. Add in January Jones, Mel Rodriguez and as the show progresses further, Mary Steenburgen, Cleopatra Coleman and Boris Kodjoe, and you’ve got a pretty diverse and enjoyable cast.

The show starts with Phil traveling the country in search of other human beings. He paints “Alive In Tucson” on billboards throughout the United States and as the show progresses, characters start to show up every few episodes.

Due to the title, I was wondering how Fox would make an ongoing show out of a single character but I’m glad it has expanded. While it isn’t a post-apocalyptic world per se, it has similar themes as The Walking Dead. Sure, there aren’t zombies and the feeling of danger around every corner but it shows human beings trying to govern themselves and reestablish their place in the world.

Forte’s Phil Miller is mostly unlikable but there is a quality to him that has you siding with him and pulling for him, even though his dastardly deeds cause him to continually lose favor with other members of his tiny community despite the fact that he is the reason everyone has come to Tucson. Miller’s faults are easy to understand and relate to and even though he gives into them, he ultimately just wants to find his place and has a need to feel useful and loved – understandable for someone who was alone in the world without human contact for so long.

The show is entertaining, the cast is amazing and without spoiling anything, it looks like the show isn’t afraid to reinvent itself along the way. Based off of some things that happened in the finale, it will be interesting to see how things pan out in season two.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Well, it’s pretty unique. If you have any ideas, post them in the comments.