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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Review: CLIMAX, an exercise in sadism that offers little else

Gaspar Noe is a filmmaker that revels in controversy, or at least that's the way it seems from the outset. There's a brutal immediacy to his work that is instantly appealing, and to some degree gripping. While Irreversible is a taut examination and rumination on violence and its ripple effects, it's also a film that has spurred no few amounts of walk-outs - particularly during its infamous 10-minute long rape scene. Enter The Void, a project that furthered the French director's ambitions towards the esoteric, is a neon-drenched exploration of the afterlife and the wake of its protagonist's passing. It also features an aborted fetus. Noe's career is littered with these kinds of punctuations on fascinating themes that are either marring or enhancing in its provocation. He is the definition of "not for everyone", as a matter of fact, there's an argument to be made that he's "for the very few".

Surprisingly, with Climax, this cinematic formenter has somehow deigned a new-found appreciation from the critical set; with many who caught his latest in festival screenings calling it his most accomplished work yet, and dare it be said "mainstream".

It seems a far cry to take such descriptors to these potentially logical endpoints, particularly as Climax, while perhaps Noe's most accessible feature, is about as brutal a work of nihilism as he has yet produced. It's just wrapped up in a flashier wrapper.

Opening with a shot of a cheap television surrounded by some of the classics of 70's Italian horror, we bear witness to a number of audition tapes - where a behind the camera interviewer (switching between a male and female voice) asks a number of young street and professional dancers about their individual experiences, their hopes, their dreams, their life philosophies and the like. It creates an fascinating visual juxtaposition, the purity of dancing as an art form combined with the griminess of old horror filmmaking. All that to say, this is clearly Noe's attempt at making his version of a Giallo film of the Fulci, Argento variety...though where it visually dovetails with Italian B-cinema in spirit, thematically it may be more on par with the work of Pasolini, particularly his study of humanity's inhumanity Salo, or the 120 Day of Sodom.

Climax begins with a rush of adrenaline, once the preliminaries are dispensed with, as it zips its attention toward the school in which all of our interviewees have enrolled. Viewers are immediately thrust into a 15 minute long dance sequence that is perhaps one of the most impressive examples of such in modern filmmaking. Noe's cast, comprised of real-life French and German dancers makes the most of their incredible talent and mixed styles. From Sofia Boutella's (the lone known acting quantity here) semi-orgasmic center staging, to a group of male dancers joining together to create one moving unit, to the DJ himself jumping from behind the turntables to join in, it's a mesmerizing effort, and regardless of the ugliness to come, this opening shot of kinetic energy nearly makes the whole thing worthwhile.

As one would inevitably expect, things turn south very quickly. Someone has spiked the sangria that everyone is drinking at this party with LSD, and while it takes a bit for its effects to kick in, giving the performers an opportunity to interact a bit more and provide grounding for their various interpersonal relationships that pre-exist prior to this incident and those that are quickly forming. It's a bit of voyeuristic activity, comprised mostly of two talking heads each that's essential for grounding these characters with the audience at all, but does wear itself a bit too thin. This is largely due to the facile nature of most of their conversations. Everyone has basically one dimension or trait: the drug addict, the sexual conquistadors, the quarreling couple, the other quarreling couple, the weirdly protective brother and sister, the mom, etc...it's a lot of cast to navigate admittedly, but these brief snippets do so little with a huge chunk of time. And then the worst comes...

Once the acid trip begins, Noe and company enter full-throated psychological and cringe-inducing horror, it begins with a woman urinating on the floor and accusations between each other as to who could have committed this profane act to their communal beverage, then a pregnant woman gets kicked in the stomach and is encouraged to self-abort and even kill herself by the quickly growing hostile crew. The sheer pandemonium continues to grow, and literally every Chekov's Gun that you could imagine could possibly go off, will.

That's not to say that Noe's penchant for shock and sadism necessarily provides nothing to recommend. His playing within the realms of a tried and true genre is rather fascinating to behold, particularly when the camera follows behind Boutella, the ersatz central figure, as she travails along the hallways of the school and bears witness to her own internal struggle with the trip and the increasingly creepy visuals that continue to build up around her. Noe cleverly finds a way to even make the idea of a triple-jointed dancer a disturbing thing to behold, playing to a back of the mind queasiness.

But once the film enters its inevitable Lord of the Flies territory, and the camera becomes more and more obscured, and the shock value enters its most absurd - we begin to wonder what we really learned at all or what the bottom-line messaging that Noe is aiming to uncover. As a piece of genre flirtation, it's a worthwhile curio perhaps, but beyond that, the potential for further appeal escapes likelihood outside of the diehards.


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Sunday, February 17, 2019

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 163: Oscars 2019



It's February, so we must be talking Oscars! This is quite an interesting year for the Academy Awards, with some movies we all loved, some we all hated, and not a lot in between. We go through our 'will wins' and 'should wins', so take notes and hopefully we'll help you win your Oscar pool!



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Thursday, January 31, 2019

25 Films To Look Forward To In 2019

It's baa--aack! Every January, the GeekRex team sits down and comes up with a list of our most anticipated movies for the rest of the year. Historically, some of these films end up a) never coming out or b) being terrible, but hey! They can't all be winners. So let it be said: we're cautiously optimistic for these 25 films, and here are each of our picks. 


Harper




Velvet Buzzsaw
dir. by Dan Gilroy
Release Date: February 1st

While I was surprised by how much I liked Roman J. Israel, Esq., it wasn’t quite the perfect followup to the stellar directorial debut of Nightcrawler. Velvet Buzzsaw seems to take a similar cast and similar feel and apply it to the weird world of art, with a little more supernatural horror thrown in for good measure. The trailer recently dropped for this one, and it only made me more excited; Jake Gyllenhaal as a snobby art critic being haunted by paintings from a mysteriously unknown artist looks fun as hell, a bit like Murder Party with a bigger budget. Throw in creepy looking set pieces, a phenomenal cast including Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs, and John Malkovich, and a bizarre-looking robot and I’m all in.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
dir. by Quentin Tarantino
Release Date: August 9th

A new Tarantino movie is always an event, especially when he keeps threatening to stop directing. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, certainly a play on the two similarly named Sergio Leone movies, focuses on a TV actor and his stunt double trying to find work in Los Angeles, but here’s the kicker: it is set during the events of the 1969 Manson murders. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have the leading roles, but the really interesting bit is how many people have been cast in roles directly relating to the Helter Skelter murders, including Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate herself, and Dakota Fanning as one of Manson’s cult members. I’ve been a huge fan of Tarantino’s recent period pieces, and this one could not sound more up my alley.


Possessor
dir. by Brandon Cronenberg
Release Date TBD

The concept is an interesting one: a secret organization uses brain-implant technology to take over people’s bodies and use them to commit assassinations. Now what if I told you that it’s being directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg, son of the ultimate body horror master David Cronenberg? Perhaps most exciting is the casting of Andrea Riseborough in the lead role, an agent who find herself unwittingly stuck in another’s body. She was fantastic in last year’s Mandy but didn’t have much to do, so this may give her the chance to shine even more.


The Lighthouse
dir. by Robert Eggers
Release Date TBD

There’s not much known about the followup to 2015’s The Witch by director Robert Eggers, so I’ll present the facts:
It’s the story of “an aging lighthouse keeper named Old who lives in early 20th-century Maine.”
It stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
It will be in black and white, and is supposedly being filmed with equipment and lenses from the 20’s and 40’s.
It is categorized as Drama/Fantasy/Horror, and is said to involve old seafaring myths.
It still being such a mystery at this point is part of the excitement, but there’s nothing here that doesn’t point to The Lighthouse being pretty damn awesome.


Parasite
dir. by Bong Joon-ho
Release Date TBD


This will be Bong Joon-ho’s first return to South Korea since 2009’s excellent Mother, which is something to be excited about in itself since Okja was perhaps disappointing for some of his fans. Here’s what we know: “All unemployed, Ki-taek’s family takes peculiar interest in the Parks for their livelihood until they get entangled in an unexpected incident.” These kind of vague log lines for movies drive me nuts too, but honestly I’d be excited about a Bong Joon-ho movie about the adventures of a wooden board.


Alexander


High Life
dir. Claire Denis
Release Date: 4/12/19

Claire Denis is a goddamn icon. One of the most insightful and provocative French filmmakers is teaming up with Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, and André Benjamin - better known to many as Atlanta music legend Andre 3000 - for her first English-language film, a sci-fi film tracking the collapse of a mission to explore a black hole. What I expect: Something bleak, kaleidoscopic, and deeply emotionally resonant.  



A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
dir. Marielle Heller
Release Date: 10/18/19 

Marielle Heller is among the most exciting young directors working today. After exploding onto the scene with a sweet, sad coming-of-age tale - The Diary of a Teenage Girl - she came out with what was unquestionably one of 2018's best films, Can You Ever Forgive Me? She has a keen eye for flawed characters struggling to find themselves in a broken system, which makes her follow-up - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a biopic of Mr. Rogers later years - a puzzling choice. But the inspired casting of Tom Hanks in the lead role gives me hope... as does the fact that Heller hasn't had a single misstep yet.



Queen & Slim
dir. Melina Matzoukas
Release Date: 11/27/19

Melina Matzoukas hasn't made a feature film, but she did still direct one of the major cultural landmarks of the 2010s: Beyonce's "Formation" video. Hell, Matzoukas was one of the contributors to numerous segments of Beyonce's iconic Lemonade, proving that she has a striking visual sensibility. Here, she makes her feature debut with a script from Lena Waithe. In it, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Widows) and Jodie Turner-Smith (Nightflyers) are on a first date when a police officer pulls them over and sends their evening together spiraling in a much different direction than either of them anticipated. The collection of up-and-coming talent on this thing is very promising, as is the Oscar season release date Universal is giving this.



The Turning
dir. Floria Sigismondi 
Release Date: TBD

The Turn of the Screw is one of the most famous horror novels of all time, and at least one of its many adaptations - 1961's The Innocents - is, itself, a landmark of 60s horror. It would seem like there isn't much left to mine from Henry James' classic novella. But the cast is killer - Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Tully) is the harried governess, with the two creepy kids in her care played by Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project). Director Floria Sigismondi hasn't made many features since 2010's so-so rock biopic The Runaways, but she's been active in TV, including prestige shows like The Handmaid's Tale and American Gods. I'm interested to see what she can bring to an updated classic.



The Nightingale
dir. Jennifer Kent
Release Date: TBD 

Look, The Babadook is a straight-up modern-horror masterpiece, and if you aren't excited for literally whatever Jennifer Kent does next, you aren't paying attention. The Nightingale finds her stepping away from horror and into a period piece revenge thriller that looks to be, if anything, even more disturbing than her children's book monster. In it, a young Irish woman, recently released from prison, tracks a British military man across Australia seeking bloody revenge for what he did to her family. Kent is playing in the sandbox of Ozsploitation classics like Wake in Fright, here, and I'm genuinely thrilled to see how she branches out.



Hannah


Captain Marvel 
dir. Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck 
Release date: March 8 

I think I'd be less excited for this if it was happening at the end of the year, but slotting this film just before part 2 of Infinity War has me really looking forward to how Captain Marvel will debut Carol Danvers' role in the MCU and how that could eventually play into the massive team up finale coming shortly after. I also love Brie Larson and the sort of 90s throwback aesthetic I've seen in the trailers thus far. 


Us
dir. Jordan Peele
Release Date: March 22 

Fresh on the heels of his successful horror film Get Out, writer/director Jordan Peele has another movie in the same, eerie vein coming our way this year. Trailers are already out and they look incredibly creepy, featuring doppelgangers trying to take over the lives of a family. I don't know much more than that about the movie, but it looks like a mix between Get Out with a bit of supernatural/science fiction a la The One I Love


Godzilla: King of the Monsters 
dir. Michael Dougherty 
Release date: May 31 

I wasn't super impressed with Gareth Edwards' take on Godzilla, which seemed to feature.. not a lot of Godzilla. Dougherty's filmography is nothing in itself worth getting excited about, either. But what this movie seems to has going for it, based on previews, is the inclusion of a lot of classic Godzilla monsters AND television's favorite Dad, Kyle Chandler. So I'm cautiously optimistic about this one and very, very curious. 


The Kitchen 
dir. Andrea Berloff 
Release date: September 20 

Based on the Vertigo miniseries by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, the synopsis for The Kitchen sounds a little bit like 2018's Widows: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Hadish, and Elisabeth Moss play the wives of mobsters who decide to take over the business when their husbands are arrested. In addition to McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss, it stars Common, Domhnall Gleeson, and Margo Martindale. This one could admittedly go either way since it's Andrea Berloff's directorial debut, but the combination of cast and premise have definitely captured my attention. 


Star Wars: Episode IX 
dir: J.J. Abrams 
Release date: December 20
Star Wars has had some director issues in the last few years, but I found Abrams' first rendition on star wars a perfect blend of homage, simple and well done storytelling, and really well-defined characters. I think he set the stage for this trilogy perfectly, and I'm really looking forward to see how he'll close it out. This one was supposed to be Carrie Fisher's film, though, so it'll be sad to see this one go on without her. 


Shane





Happy Death Day 2U
dir. Christopher Landon
Release Date: February 13

2017's Happy Death Day was a nice little surprise.  Mixing the basic conceit of Groundhog Day with your typical 80's slasher turned out to be a very fun idea.  What could have been a typical, by the numbers film, was raised significantly by Jessica Rothe's starring role as Tree.  The concept hasn't changed much this time around, except now Tree's circle of friends are stuck in the same day over and over with a new killer on the loose.  Director Christopher Landon also took on scripting duties for this film, so hopefully some of the more mediocre aspects of the first film can be wiped away with a new writer.  Nevertheless, the first trailer for this movie was great and this should be another hit for Blumhouse.

Missing Link
dir. Chris Butler
Release Date: April 12

You can't go wrong with Laika.  While their animated films may not always be the highest grossing of a particular year, they're consistent in turning out great content that wins over critics and the audiences who do give it a chance.  Missing Link sees the adventures of an explorer (Hugh Jackman) in search of the legendary sasquatch (called Mr. Link in the film), played by Zach Galifianakis.  April is already pretty stacked as it is, so Missing Link's box office potential isn't great, but Laika + Bigfoot is a combination that is too intriguing to resist.

Avengers: Endgame
dir. Joe and Anthony Russo
Release Date: April 26

It all has been leading to this.  It seems like we were saying the same thing about Infinity War a year ago, but this time we really mean it.  Over 10 years and 20+ movies later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the way superhero movies are made and action franchises are built.  As much as Infinity War had to live up to, Endgame's expectations are past the stratosphere.  Here's hoping the characters we have come to know and love over the last decade aren't forgotten in all the spectacle.  We also better finally get to hear Chris Evans shout, "Avengers Assemble!"

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
dir. André Øvredal
Release Date: August 9

If you don't recognize the title of this film, you would almost certainly recognize the cover of the book it is based on.  A children's horror anthology, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was the first exposure many of us had to horror (at least in literature), with illustrations that still haunt some of our nightmares.  Guillermo del Toro is producing this film with a relatively unknown director and cast (Dean Norris is the movie's biggest name).  The plot of the film is still under wraps and no trailers have yet to be released.  All excitement for this film is purely based on the producer and the source material.  Hopefully I don't regret this pick.

It: Chapter 2
dir. Andy Muschietti
Release Date: September 9

Other than maybe Get Out, it's hard to find a mainstream horror film from the last 5 years that was bigger than It.  Merchandise from the first film is still rolling out.  Thanks to a brilliant cast of kids and an absolutely terrifying Bill Skarsgard, we now get to see what happens to the Losers Club almost 30 years later.  With big names like Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader attached, it's hard not to get excited for the return of Pennywise.  Andy Muschietti returns to the director's chair despite claims years ago that he wasn't interested in the adult half of Stephen King's novel.  This one has a lot to live up to.  If it matches the previous film, I'd say we probably haven't see the last of the dancing clown.


Kyle





Jojo Rabbit
dir: Taika Waititi
Release date: TBD

Taika Waititi, with Thor: Ragnarok, made what is one of the best adventure films of all time - superhero or otherwise - and that was following on the heels of maybe the best horror-comedy ever made in What We Do In The Shadows. With his latest, Waititi takes on Hitler - both in text and as a character - which sees a young boy during World War II whose lone friend is an imaginary (and ethnically inaccurate) version of the dictator. A Polynesian Jew playing the most monstrous figure in global history sounds like something that's gotta be seen to be believed.


Joker
dir: Todd Phillips
Release date: October 4th

While I need another Batman movie like I need a hole in my head, and Phillips has yet to really do anything that makes me stand up and take note, it's hard for me to not be at least a bit intrigued by the idea of Joaquin Phoenix (one of our finest actors) jumping into a comic book period piece as probably the world's most popular supervillain. It's a strange-enough mix of cast (including Marc Maron and Frances Conroy), filmmaker, concept (it's totally separate from the rest of what DC Films is up to), and tone, that it's probably my best hope this year for a somewhat different superhero-experience.


The Truth
Dir: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Release date: TBD

Kore-eda Hirokazu jumps into English language for the first time, with Ethan Hawke, Juliette Binoche, and Catherine Deneuve in tow. After catching the Palme d'Or winning Shoplifters, I'll follow Kore-eda just about anywhere, and if you pair him with both Hawke and Binoche, who are coming off career-best performances, and the long too-dormant Deneuve, this sounds like a powerhouse of a film just waiting to happen. Might Kore-eda join the ranks of foreign filmmakers who find domestic success? We can only hope.


Spider-Man: Far From Home
Dir: Jon Watts
Release date: July 5

Spider-Man: Homecoming, upon a rewatch, revealed itself to me as one of the better efforts of the Marvel canon - with its veritable charms, perfectly-pitched lead, and strikingly depth-filled antagonist all clicking with me in a way that it hadn't before. With that said, it leaves me delighted and excited to catch its sequel, which finds Peter and friends in Europe on a school trip (holy cow!) and coming face to face with Mysterio! I say it once more for the crowd in the back, MYSTERIO!!


The Irishman
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Release date: TBD

Scorsese has been relatively quiet since Silence came and blew me away with its restrained power, but he's finally back with his long-awaited collaboration that reunites Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro (along with Joe Pesci) in a story focused on the death of Jimmy Hoffa. Another organized crime classic from the master would be swell, especially since it'll be on Netflix and I can watch it from the comfort of our couch.
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Review: POLAR Is A Deeply Unpleasant Movie



"Did you fuck her? I did. Eugh!"

That was the moment in Polar when I really lost all hope for the project. Up until then, the film's rampant misogyny - and boy, we'll get into that in a minute - was background noise. It was omnipresent, but it seemed... contained, in a weird way. That moment broke me. But we'll get there.

The thing is, I actually kind of like the hook of Polar. Basically, a firm hiring out contract killers overpromised what it could deliver for pensions, and now, the new kid running the company has decided that an easy way to make a few million dollars would be to kill some of the retirees before they can collect. And yeah, there was some stupid stuff around the edges -- the company forces them to retire at 50 (literally, ON their 50th birthday), so they could also avoid paying off the pensions by, like... not forcing them to do that? -- but whatever, making an action movie around corporate greed and wage theft is a solid idea at its core. Duncan Vizla, the Black Kaiser (Mads Mikkelson), one of the most successful hitmen the company ever saw, is approaching 50, and Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas) has decided that now is the time to take him out. To that end, he hires out his A-team of hip young assassins (Fei Ren, Ruby O. Fee, Robert Maillet, Anthony Grant, Josh Cruddas) to take him out before he turns 50 and the company is obligated to begin paying out his massive pension.

But right away, there are some warning signs. The movie opens on a hit that A-team is performing on another aging assassin, and we see how they operate. How do they operate? Deeply, profoundly goofily. Sindy (Fee), insinuates herself into the hitman's life dressed and acting like a 15-year-old boy's Internet search history, when she starts giving the target a 'strategic blowjob' - not the last she'll give in the film - to put him right in the scope of sniper Facundo (Grant). Never explaint is why Facundo seems unable to hit any target who is not receiving a blowjob; I guess he's just a bad sniper? I don't know. Anyway, Facundo shoots him in the chest - with a sniper rifle - and the guy immediately gets back up. Thankfully, Hilde (Ren), Alexie (Cruddas) have also snuck onto the retired hitman's private Chilean villa, where they just barely manage to execute the drunk, retired hitman who - again - has already been shot in the chest with a sniper rifle. Why did they need a sniper and a... blowjob... giver(?)... if they could just walk up to him and shoot him? No clue. Anyway, their private helicopter -- wait, why did they need any of this if they could just flnevermind -- piloted by Karl (Maillet) picks them up, and they fly ho-- wait, they leave Facundo? In a Chilean forest? IS HE GOING TO WALK TO AMERICA?!

Each of these characters is introduced with a stylized title card. Here's Sindy's, just so you know what level this thing is working on.


Meanwhile, Duncan Vizla (Mekkelson) is preparing to retire, but his handler at Damocles, Vivian (Kathryn Winnick) wants him to pull off one last job. Duncan is called in from his cabin in Montana for one last job. Little does he know, it's a tra--oh, it goes off without a hitch, we never even really see the trap. He does castrate a fat man with a nail gun; if you're worried that's the worst graphic abuse of fat people you see, don't be, later in the film, they inflict even more horrific violence on an even fatter man as a 'joke'. Guess they have to send in the A-team. Wait, why didn't they lead with the A-team? This is the most legendarily competent assassin in the organization, and they went with the day players?

Anyway, the next hour of the movie - this is an excruciatingly long film - is about the A-team trying to track down Vizla by torturing their way through a series of U.S. stereotypes, while he hangs out in Montana and befriends a local woman, Camille (Vanessa Hudgens). She talks him into visiting a local kindergarten, where he shows them pictures of dead bodies and how to perform killing blows with exotic weapons. The kindergarten teacher seems iffy on this demonstration, but doesn't fucking stop it for some reason. Camille and Duncan strike up an unusual relationship, but that gets put on hold when the A-team shows up to confront Duncan and kidnap Camille.

And here's where we get to the moment at the top of the review, the moment where I well and truly gave up. Vivian is portrayed as the only goddamn professional in the organization. Second in command at Damocles, she organizes payments, puts together missions, provides personal contact to the assassins - she is, in a very real way, the adult in the room. She's the one warning the Big Bad, like, hey, just let this one go, you can live without his pension. The only thing we see of her personal life still involves her at a strip club, smacking the ass of a couple female dancers grinding on her, because this movie, and I can't stress this enough, cannot help itself, but still, she's a professional. Who, we later learn, fucks the employees on demand. She doesn't seem to like it; the old hitman who talks about her certainly doesn't seem to have enjoyed it. She doesn't seem to be interested in men. But, just like every other woman in this organization, Vivian is expected to be sexually available at all times. This film puts forth a reality in which you can be among the most dangerous women in the world, but you will always be unquestioningly sexually submissive to and available for any man who asks.

Except for Camille. But if you were worried that we got a single woman who wasn't put in her place, don't worry: Mr. Blut does threaten to rape her. Whew, I was worried they would let a woman just fucking exist.

Anyway, I won't spoil how it ends. Secrets are revealed, throats are ripped off, heads are cut off -- it's all quite de rigueur. There's one solid action beat in the film, honestly; the rest is poorly staged gunplay, the kind where a dozen gunmen run directly at our unarmed hero not firing their goddamn guns so he can take them out with a badass doubletap and some quick hand-to-hand combat. The action is plagued by rapid cuts, but then, so is the whole movie.

There are precisely two good scenes. One is an action beat. It doesn't have the choreography or style of something like John Wick, but it does have a bit of pulpy action fun that hearkens back to something like the hilarious snowbound machismo of the opening scene of Schwarzenegger's Red Heat. And honestly, that's all this needed. It's clear that director Jonas Åkerlund doesn't have the confidence or experience to pull off great action choreography, but the script - adapted from a Dark Horse comic - doesn't really offer many interesting scenarios that let him play around with pulp machismo either.

The other is simpler. A doctor gives Mads Mikkelson a prostrate exam, and then, without washing his hands or transitioning to another room pulls out a pear tartine, which he offers to share with Mads, and then sits down at a desk still in the examination room. I felt like I was having a stroke, but also, I laughed as Mads and this weirdo doctor ate a pie together in the world's largest medical examination suite, so, good on you, movie.

So, that's Polar: Two good scenes, a lot of bad action, and a profound and pervasive misogyny and fatphobia that infect damn near every second of screentime. Last night, when I was watching the movie, as I got a couple minutes in to a 'cool', 'stylish' torture scene, all I could think was: This is a deeply unpleasant movie. And honestly, everything I've said here in this review has been to the purpose of explaining that feeling. I did not enjoy my time with Polar. Honestly, I don't know who would. It's Suicide Squad for people who thought that literally the only thing that movie lacked was Harley Quinn sucking some dicks.

Watch John Wick. I don't love Atomic Blonde, but it's a thousand times better than this. Hell, you'd even be better off with RED if you're just looking for a movie about retired assassins fending off their replacements. There is nothing to Polar. Don't bother.


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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

CHEERLEADER now available to rent or own!




One of my festival favorites from back in 2016 is finally available to rent or own digitally, Irving Franco’s directorial debut Cheerleader! It’s a movie that has never really left my thoughts over the last couple years, one that I’ve been dying to rewatch and be able to recommend to friends since it premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival. You can check out my original review here.

Cheerleader is a super stylish film that dives headlong into its 1980s setting, lavishly costumed and decorated to bring a neon sensibility to its time period. Catherine Blades is fantastic as the titular cheerleader Mickey, and her inner monologue will break your heart. While most of the characters have starting points as prototypical high schoolers, they end up all feeling like they have rich inner lives. On a new viewing, I was really struck by how tight the narrative is, in terms of both script and editing; it's got a short runtime of 69 minutes, and never drags for even a second. The score, composed by Franco and Michael Grazi (now available on Spotify!), is another highlight, really giving the film a dreamy feel akin to Air's score to The Virgin Suicides

This has been one of those treasured movie finds that has stuck with me over the last few years, and I'm thrilled that those who missed it on the festival circuit now have a chance to dive into Mickey's world. Rent or own on Amazon or Itunes!
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Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Best Sounding Movies of 2018


It's been a fantastic year for sound in film, and as GeekRex's resident sound guy, I look forward to making my picks all year! The lineup of films is pretty awesome, and one of my picks has maybe the best mix in cinematic history. Hopefully this will open some ears and give you a peek behind the curtain into the insane efforts that sound professionals go to for the movies we love!




Roma
Alfonso Cuarón  - Director
Skip Lievsay and Craig Henighan  - Re-Recording Mixers
Sergio Diaz - Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
José Antonio García - Production Sound Mixer

Alfonso Cuarón’s newest opus really captures the magnificence of an ordinary life, how every life is full of strange, coincidental, scary, tragic, and even heroic moments. It is fitting, then, that he and his sound team crafted a film that is just as intimate in the aural realm as it is in the visual. The level of detail in the sound is pretty incredible; at any given moment, you are sure to hear a dog barking next door, a man walking down the street blowing a whistle, children playing a few blocks away, an airplane soaring overhead, and a radio playing on a nearby rooftop on top of what is actually happening just in front of the camera. The exceptionally rich ambiences are only made better by what I consider to be perhaps the most beautiful film mix in cinematic history. Skip Lievsay manages to keep every sound, from those ambiences to voices to footsteps, exactly where they should be in space around the viewer, even as the camera regularly does 360° turns. This brings a wonderful immediacy to every scene, as it places the viewer very firmly inside what’s happening.

There’s a moment when Cleo says something like, “This place looks like home. It even sounds like it.” Cuarón and co. have managed to create the sound version of his signature long take, and the results are sublime; after spending time with the movie, it begins to sound like home. Without a doubt the best sounding movie this year, and one of the best of all-time.

More about the sound of Roma:


A Quiet Place
John Krasinski - Director
Brandon Proctor - Re-Recording Mixer
Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn - Supervising Sound Editor
Michael Barosky - Production Sound Mixer

On the surface, you might think it would be easy to work in the sound department of a movie where the characters’ survival depends on them being silent at all times. What this means, though, is that because of the near complete lack of audible dialogue, the film’s entire soundscape is carried by ambience and foley. The sound team had to find ways to record the quietest sounds–like a piece of felt touching a board game–and make them audible and meaningful within the mix. The result is a mix that is rich with incredibly subtle detail, and one that really amps up the terror with the contrast between these quiet scenes and the intense ones. Like the loudness wars in modern music, modern films tend to not have much dynamic range (the range between the loudest sound and the quietest sound) because we’re taught to keep things at moderately consistent levels for the comfort of the listener. But that isn’t how life sounds, and the team behind A Quiet Place really understands that.

More about the sound of A Quiet Place


Mission Impossible: Fallout
Christopher McQuarrie - Director
Gilbert Lake and Mike Prestwood Smith - Re-Recording Mixer
James Mather - Supervising Sound Editor
Chris Munro - Production Sound Mixer

Action and war movies always take center stage in the sound categories at the Oscars, and there’s a reason: every bullet fired, every explosion, and every car crash has to be created and edited in place. For a film like Mission Impossible: Fallout, there are all those challenges and more. Here’s an example: the production sound team led by Chris Munro managed to actively record dialogue during the real high altitude jump and the real helicopter chase by hiding mics in helmets and even utilizing a military grade microphone that resides in a custom earpiece and records the voice through the bones in Cruise’s skull. They did this while also recording live surround sound effects that were used throughout the final mix. Another example: according to Supervising Sound Editor James Mather, every punch in the film is made up of about 20 different elements to achieve just the right impact. The result is a film that feels as real in the sound realm as its incredible stunts, and will certainly leave a lasting mark on how action movie sound is done.

More about the sound in Mission Impossible: Fallout:

Revenge
Coralie Fargeat - Director
Cristinel Sirli - Re-Recording Mixer
Alain Féat - Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
Zacharie Naciri - Production Sound Mixer

While the academy has come around to recognizing the sound achievements of sci-fi, those of horror films tend to be sadly overlooked, especially indie ones. Revenge is all about the impossible survival of a young woman who is pushed off a cliff, the the brutal retribution she doles out on her attackers, so there’s a lot of bloody material for the sound team to work with. From the sounds of ants and splintering wood as she gets herself off the sharp branch that has pierced her body, to the sizzle of searing flesh as she cauterizes the wound with a fire-heated beer can, the movie is full of hard-to-hear sounds. The surreal cave sequence as Jen struggles to maintain the focus to stay alive is particularly impressive, but the whole film is a study in awesome bloody sound design.



First Man
Damien Chazelle - Director
Ai-Ling Lee - Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
Frank A. Montaño and Jon Taylor - Re-Recording Mixer
Mildred Iatrou - Supervising Sound Editor
Mary H. Ellis - Production Sound Mixer

While the film itself is a bit of a letdown after the successes of La La Land and Whiplash, from a sound perspective it is firing on all cylinders. The team worked to make the sounds of the original spacecraft as authentic as possible, but the goal was to make everything as intimate as they could, with something like Das Boot as the reference for the feeling of claustrophobia. The use of the astronauts’ breaths contrasted with the impossibly loud rocket launches are wonderful, and the creative use of sound to help sell when Armstrong is trapped in an uncontrolled spin really work. If nothing else, First Man is able to place the viewer squarely inside an important historical event in a way that feels authentic and real, and that’s worth a lot of praise.

More about the sound of First Man:



Hereditary
Ari Aster - Director
Lewis Goldstein - Re-Recording Mixer / Supervising Sound Editor
Tom Ryan - Re-Recording Mixer
Steven C. Laneri and Viktor Weiszhaupt - Production Sound Mixers

And the award for the sound effect I’ll never be able to get out of my head! Hereditary has some of the most disturbing sound design moments in any film I’ve ever seen, and in the two scenes I’m particularly thinking of (the car and the attic), you hear what’s happening before you see it, so the sound is crucial to the buildup. In addition to the great work done in the scariest spots, there’s a lot of subtle work done to help put the viewer on edge, from moving sounds and music around throughout the surround field to soft creaks in the house that hint that they are not alone. The team also worked carefully to provide different perspective throughout different rooms in the house, which really gives you a sense of space not usually present.

More about the sound in Hereditary:

Some Others Worth Mentioning:

The Haunting of Hill House - Easily the best sound in a series I’ve seen in quite a while, particularly in the incredible long take episode (read more here).

They Shall Not Grow Old - The monumental task of recreating the sounds (and voices!) of 100 year old World War I footage with incredible authenticity is worth a big shout out.

Blindspotting - One of my favorite movies of the year, and the sound in the dream and flashback sequences are super interesting and surreal.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse - Super fun comic booky sound design that led my wife and I both to remark about ‘that awesome sound that plays every time the Prowler shows up’.

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