Troubled 12-year-old Sam heads off on a summer camping trip with his Cub Scout troupe. When the highly imaginative boy claims to have seen a creature in the woods, his counselors assume that their campfire tales of a monster named Kai have gotten to him. But watching from the darkness is a real masked, feral child whose menacing snarl and quick movements go unnoticed by all except Sam. As the mocking taunts of the other boys isolate Sam further from his pack, he becomes convinced that a terrible fate awaits them all.
Cub is a Belgian slasher movie that’s having its North American debut at TIFF’s Midnight Madness series, and man, it looks pretty good. Sure, it has all the tropes of a generic slasher film, like the weirdo in a mask stalking kids at a summer camp, but I feel that, as the horror genre continues to grow, we’ve been moving away from the summer camp setting that was especially popular in the 1980′s. I miss that! It’s nice to see someone bring it back.
Based on the novella by Joe Lansdale, Cold in July is an exceptional 2014 crime drama film directed by Jim Mickle. With its ’80s setting, striking visuals, revisionist narrative, and dark tone, inevitable connections will be made between it and No Country for Old Men. I loved both works and I can see similarities, but Cold in July ultimately establishes an atmosphere of its own and is perhaps less symbolic than Cormac McCarthy’s work. Mickle’s film is also compared to Blue Ruin, which was good but somewhat lacking (I hated the dweeb protagonist), which pursues a Hamlet-style story arch and considers the relationship to the southern U.S.
Starring Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame, the story tells about a man named Richard Dane who kills a home invader and incurs the wrath of the deceased’s ex-convict father Ben Russell (Sam Shepard). The father starts coming after Richard and his family, and then the storyline takes a turn when it seems that the authorities are trying to cover up the incident. Revelations abound when it is discovered that the dead home invader is actually alive and well and living under FBI protection. What the FBI doesn’t know, however, is that the not dead son is committing the most heinous acts of all.
After being lauded for his performance in Dexter, Hall really delivers with this role, which sees him become uncertain of what he is doing, unlike his Dexter character. In fact, the performances are great all around, and I was delighted to see Don Johnson (Miami Vice) appear halfway through the story as Jim Bob Luke. He basically plays himself, but he’s so charismatic and awesome that we are drawn to him. I would probably recommend the film just for Johnson alone. As I mentioned, it’s a true ’80s style neo-noir in the vein of Blood Simple and To Live and Die in L.A.. There is no CGI used and the film is very nostalgic (there’s a scene where they’re in a rental video store that made me miss the Blockbuster days a bit), and it’s a creative and entertaining story. The final showdown is a terrific payoff, reminiscent of the epic gundown in Rolling Thunder. There’s one scene where they watch a home movie that you won’t forget anytime soon.
There are only two issues that stop Cold in July from being an absolute classic, and they are mainly centred on the plot holes of the film. Firstly, the film never explains why the authorities try to get rid of Ben Russell and why they leave him for dead; we are only left for implications. Perhaps they are trying to protect the son, but it doesn’t add up. Secondly, Ben Russell’s transformation as a character through the film is a bit unconvincing. He comes across as an intimidating, obsessive stalker at the beginning of the film, but then he becomes this weird, grumpy sidekick later in the film. I didn’t really buy into his moral redemption, but I still liked his character.
The great acting, compelling storyline, fascinating characters, stirring atmosphere, gorgeous visuals, and sense of adventure and spark, however, ultimately redeem Cold in July from its slight flaws. It’s a great summer movie and most certainly the movie of the year. It’s refreshing, engaging, full of action and surprise, and not to be missed.
It goes without saying that the recent suicide of Robin Williams was one of the most shocking celebrity deaths of all time. Sadly, the year 2014 has been chock full of them. Another famous artist who left us this year was director Paul Mazursky, who passed away on June 30 at the age of 84. However, given the close proximity of their deaths, it only seems appropriate that Paul Mazursky would have directed one of Robin Williams’ more overlooked and underrated performances. In 1984, Williams was already a very successful stand-up comedian and a major television star after his work on Mork & Mindy. He had already transitioned into a film career with notable roles in such movies as Popeye and The World According to Garp, but when Williams teamed up with Paul Mazursky to make a comedy-drama called Moscow on the Hudson, people finally started to take note of his immense range as an actor. While Moscow on the Hudson was a perfect vehicle for Williams’ comedic skills, it was also one of the first projects to really showcase his capability as a dramatic actor. In the film, Williams played a Soviet Russian who defects to the United States, a role which easily could have devolved into a cartoon. However, Williams put so much preparation into his role that his character came across as a thoroughly believable, three-dimensional human being and not many Hollywood actors could have pulled this off.
A lot of people don’t know that Giovanni Ribisi was a child actor who worked pretty frequently on television during the 1980s under the name “Vonni Ribisi”. In 1987, during the first season of Married with Children, he had a bit part on an episode as one of Bud Bundy’s friends.
This video from Maison Carnot combines two things that I find spectacularly beautiful: Paris and a Pentax 67. It’s simple, but effective, and subtly comments on how, ever since the invention of photography, we’ve loved looking at the world through a lens.
It’s amusing to see Academy Award-winning actors starting out as performers on children’s shows. Much like when Morgan Freeman was a cast member on The Electric Company, Jeremy Irons performed in the cast of a low-budget British children’s television series called Play Day during the 1970s.
Every Sunday, Gill delves into his archive of over 800 movie reviews and randomly selects three for your enjoyment! Here are this week’s…
This film is essentially Charlie’s Angels, but set in medieval Korea. A trio of bounty hunters (huntresses, I guess) working under a Bosley-type boss character get more than they bargained for when they’re hired by the king to steal a strange artifact. The story here is pure formula: the trio consist of the mouthy, energetic girl, the brains, and the tough one. They each have their own little romantic subplots, there are several action scenes and moments of slapstick comedy…you’ve see all of this before. The Huntresses doesn’t transcend its genre tropes, but it does them well enough to keep you entertained for the duration. This is a fluffy, turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy movie, and if you like this formula, you’ll probably have a good time.
3 out of 5
The Signal made waves on the festival circuit and gained a reputation for being a cool and unusual sci-fi film. However, I feel as though its reputation actually does a disservice to the film, because The Signal would have been even more interesting and impactful had I seen it without knowing anything about it beforehand. So that is how I’m recommending it. There are lots of neat ideas on display here, and what the filmmakers were able to do with their micro-budget is astounding. But to compare this to any other movie only draws connections where there shouldn’t be any. The Signal is cool. It will bend your brain a bit. You’ll be surprised by its twists and turns. But cleanse yourself of all expectations before watching if you want to have the best experience that you can.
3.5 out of 5
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The follow-up to the surprisingly good Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is likewise surprisingly good and far exceeds the quality of its predecessor. Set many years after a virus has killed off most of humanity, the world is overgrown and the intelligent apes from the first movie have started their own civilisation. When an encounter between some humans and apes ends badly, dissent begins to grow on both sides and a war becomes imminent. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is notable for a number of reasons. The story is well told, and deals with a lot of shades of grey on the scale of morality. The filmmakers made some gutsy decisions, such as opening the movie with fifteen minutes of ape scenes, with no dialogue except subtitles and sign language. Most of all, though, the special effects are top notch. All of the apes look photorealistic, and the performances created both by the digital effects artists and the actors sell the creatures completely. Caesar is easily the most impressive CGI creation in years. All of these elements combine to make Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a great blockbuster movie. It poses some philosophical questions, gives us some dark moments and some lighthearted ones, and genuinely makes us believe that CG apes are real beings with real personalities and emotions. If only every summer movie was like this.
4 out of 5
See you next Sunday for three more thrilling short reviews!