Monday, December 21, 2015

December Quick Picks and Pans

Creep (2014) In this aptly titled found footage film, Aaron, a struggling 20-something videographer (Patrick Brice, who also directed and co-wrote the story) is hired by Josef (Mark Duplass), a man with an inoperable brain tumor, to document a typical day in his life as a keepsake for his unborn child. As the day goes on, the practical joke-prone Josef pushes Aaron into increasingly uncomfortable situations, and it becomes apparent the situation might not be what it seems. Creep falls into some of the standard pitfalls of found footage movies (namely, when things start taking a turn for the worse why does Aaron persist in filming?), but it’s saved, thanks to Duplass’ convincing performance. From his first to last appearance, he keeps you on edge. You’re never sure if there’s a shred of truth to Josef’s stories. It’s worth a look if you’re a found footage aficionado, or a fan of slow-burn psychological horror.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

Dead Birds (2004) Henry Thomas stars as William, an ex-Confederate soldier turned bank robber, who runs off with a band of accomplices and two bags of gold. They spend the night in a deserted mansion, where they begin experiencing awful visions of its previous inhabitants. Dead Birds combines elements from haunted house movies with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as William and his cohorts watch their plans unravel over the course of a stormy evening. Director Alex Turner maintains an appropriate sense of dread throughout the film, but it’s very slow going most of the way, and relies too much on jump scares and creepy kids with CGI faces that seem lifted from a J-horror movie. Although it’s far from perfect, there’s a pervasive disturbing atmosphere, and it’s a novel experience to see a horror film set amidst a Civil War backdrop.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

Frank (2014) Despite garnering its fair share of acclaim, this indie darling just didn’t do anything for me. For starters, it’s surprisingly bereft of music considering it’s all about a music group (we never hear a complete song until the end). Michael Fassbender stars as the mentally disturbed title character who wears a papier-mâché head, and serves as the de facto leader of an avant-garde rock band with an unpronounceable name. Fassbender’s off-kilter performance is amusing in small doses, which is more than I can say for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s irritating turn as Frank’s hateful girlfriend Clara. We’re led to believe he’s some sort of mad genius, full of unconventional wisdom, but much like his character, the movie ultimately goes nowhere and has nothing new to say.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

Equinox (1970) Proof that not everything from The Criterion Collection is a classic, Equinox is more notable as a proof of concept reel for future effects wizards than a coherent movie. An innocent picnic turns deadly when teens stumble on a book that can summon demons (perhaps this influenced Evil Dead?). There’s some fun/crude early special effects work by Dennis Muren (who also co-produced) and Jim Danforth, but you’re forced to slog through terrible acting and a barely intelligible story. It’s good for a few laughs at the unintentional humor, but you’d probably be better off seeking some of Muren and Danforth’s numerous better efforts.

Rating: **. Available on DVD and Hulu

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