Sunday, April 27, 2014


Horror films by definition are malevolent but Mike Flanagan's Oculus has a really unsettling meanness to it that is fairly disturbing. Murderous, demonic spirits need motivation just like any other character, to my mind, but Flanagan's haint seems to like to kill without meaning or purpose. Can it be that for screenwriters all acceptable reasons have been spent? Or has Hollywood entered into an era of pointless annihilation, which in itself signals a turn toward the dystopic. That seems too easy. The picture stars the Scottish actress Karen Gillan (whom I first noticed as the irrepressible Amy Pond of Doctor Who) and Aussie Brenton Thwaites as sibling survivors of a particularly nasty domestic upset that left both parents (Katie Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) dead and Thwaites's Timmy in the nut house. In the 11 year interim since that really bad day, Big Sister Kaylie has been hatching a plan to call out and, presumably, destroy the devil living in a cracked and cranky mirror that Kaylie believes was the cause of a few dozen grisly murders over the past 300 years. The film, which is artfully crafted and loaded with jolts, is comparatively free of gore and guts, but puts the children in peril trope through its paces. I'm not a fan of parents beating up on tots (be they mouthy or not) so this picture was tough going for me. Recommended but with those reservations.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America 2: The Winter Solider

The Russo Brothers' Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is an exhilarating feature that is witty without being glib and thrilling without being mindless. Chris Evans, who stars as the cryogenically preserved WWII hero Steve Rogers aka Captain America, knows how to deliver patriotic indignation and fill an Under Armour T-shirt, which is not a diss because this latest edition in the Marvel comics cinematic catalog is all about talking a big game about truth, justice and the American way (with apologies to D.C. Comics) and having the muscle to back it up. In this edition, Cap has to defend S.H.I.E.L.D., the agency responsible for transforming him from a 94-pound weakling into the specimen of masculine pulchritude that he is, and the world from the evil insurgent group Hydra and its own, unstoppable fighting machine, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) of the title. Cap is joined in this exuberant undertaking by Samuel L. Jackson as  S.H.I.E.L.D.'s head honcho Nick Fury, Scarlett Johannson as the winsome and pistol-packing Black Widow and Anthony McKie as the metal-winged Falcon. It's all great fun, action packed, reliably bloodless and features a pretty gnarly performance by Robert Redford as the milk-drinking Alexander Pierce, Fury's friend, mentor and boss, with a big secret.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...