Hereditary (2018)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity

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Written by: Ari Aster

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Woolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne

In between all the basic horror movies along the lines of The Conjuring to Annabelle to The Boy to The Bye Bye Man, you can find some really unique films that could easily be seen as classics in the future such as Insidious, Sinister, It Follows, The Babadook, and even Mother! if you count that as a horror movie (Most people find it pretty horrifying). Here we have a film that is a very original and intriguing new vision in horror that I personally feel can be ranked up with the best horror films of the last decade.

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After a bipolar woman’s (Toni Collette) mother dies, she still holds harsh resentment to her for her overbearing parenting. When her daughter (Milly Shapiro) begins to act extremely odd after her mother dies, she begins to wonder what was really going on between her young daughter and her mother. The hidden truth begins to unravel as time goes on, and the family falls apart as things become more supernatural.

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I had to take a while to really think about what I should say about this film and even now I’m not completely sure how to put it all together into one review. There’s some very disturbing visuals and events that occur throughout the film. It’s already gotten a ton of flack for being indecisive on what type of film it is. From what I saw, I thought the director was going for an homage to classic horror films by creating a supernatural story and atmosphere that captures the essence of The Exorcist, cinematography that reminds me of Kubrick’s work, especially The Shining, and a surreal ending that seems semi-Lynchian.

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I honestly think people are being way too harsh to Hereditary. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but at least it was an original and interesting new idea that isn’t the same film that’s been made a million times. The CGI flies are probably the worst part about this whole film, the actor’s were sitting there swatting at nothing and none of the flies around them reacted. Also, at the very end of the film, it spells everything out for the audience with this person explaining everything, in case you didn’t get it the first time, and it ruins a very sinister feeling that the film possessed in the finale leading up.

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The good thing is that the acting is generally very professional and well done. Milly Shapiro makes a wonderful on screen prescence with her odd features and even odder personality. The one performance that kinda put me off was the one given by Alex Wolff who hams it up with his cries in certain scenes. I will say that in one of the most critical scenes in the film, he really stands his ground and holds up in a believable manner.

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Cinematically, Hereditary is a very intelligently made horror film. They create some very interesting shots throughout (frame within a frame and upside down shots just to scrape the surface). A large portion of this film feels less like a horror film and more like a family drama. I’ve heard a lot of people call this a slow burn and say it’s very boring. I honestly didn’t think this film was slow at all, I feel that it just took it’s time to develop the story and characters, which isn’t a bad thing. All in all, don’t let what people are saying turn you away from this great horror film, it’s one of the best that I’ve seen in a long time.

Grade: A

Mark of the Devil (1970)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Written by: Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven

Directed by: Michael Armstrong

Starring: Herbert Lom, Olivera Vuco, Udo Kier, Reggie Nalder, and Herbert Fux

Upon seeing any promotional material for this film, one may expect this to be a disgusting, torture porn exploitation flick that takes things way too far. While there is torture and other horrible acts, this film actually handles itself as more of a drama than a horror film. Surprisingly, Mark of the Devil holds up due to it’s dark undertones and historical commentary on religious retribution. One may be surprised to find out that this was originally written as an Jess Franco-esque Dracula film. What comes out in the end is a very artistic and enjoyable film that is it’s own style.

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1700 A.D., Austria, after a town’s witchfinder (Reggie Nalder) has become out of hand, forcing himself upon women and then claiming them as witches, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) and his apprentice (Udo Kier) come to restore order. After falling in love with a young woman (Olivera Vuco) who’s accused of witchcraft, the apprentice begins to question his master’s practices while witnessing countless accounts of murder, rape, and injustice.

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The fact that this film is so entertaining and well made says a lot. Especially since there were many problems during the production of this film of the producer and director constantly being at each other’s throats; until Michael Armstrong was ultimately thrown off the project. Adrian Hoven had a grudge with Armstrong from the beginning, since he was granted the director’s chair and he drastically changed Hoven’s original script. Armstrong was only interested in making a great historical piece that pays homage to Vincent Price’s film Witchfinder General. Adrian Hoven original envisioned a hokey little trash film that he was upset never was carried out.

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With that being said, you would expect this film to be an absolute disaster of mixing styles and ideas. But, after Armstrong was kicked off the project, Hoven had realized that he had to keep continuity and made the decision to keep Armstrong’s style and general idea of the film (other than the ending which was originally a surreal, dark demise). Everything about this film just works so well. The cinematography is so stylistic and intense. The score is triumphant as well as deeply disturbing; it’s also a score that you would expect to be in a big budget historical film.

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The acting all across the board is very professional and each performance is memorable for different reasons. Even small side characters stick out in your head long afterwards. It feels like these people spent a long time to become their characters and they all do a great job making you hate and love them. Udo Kier, who has been in almost 200 films, is very entertaining on screen even though this was his first color film. The production design for Mark of the Devil is top notch and really feels more documentary like than fictional in some scenes.

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There’s really not much I can pick out about Mark of the Devil that I didn’t enjoy. Some parts are very badly dubbed and the kids are horrible at acting sad. But, other than those things there really isn’t much else that I don’t like. Some scenes feel like something out of a nightmare and some scenes are really intense. Mark of the Devil is a very smart film that shouldn’t really be considered a pure exploitation film, and contains an underlying message that is still generally relevant.

Grade: A-

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for zombie violence/gore and language

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Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, and Bill Nighy

The biggest problem about loving a film as a child is that you gain a biased opinion about that film throughout the years. For example, two of my favorite childhood films were Baby Geniuses 2 and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (both of which are far from desirable on recent re-watches). I brought a subtle fear to the table when I sat down to watch Shaun of the Dead of “maybe this film isn’t as good as I remember it being”. All I can say is the second i pressed play and heard the opening sounds, all my fears drifted away as I slowly became engulfed with enjoyment.

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Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a simple man who spends most nights at a local pub, named The Winchester, with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost). Shaun is very neglectful of his girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) and after failing to take her out on an adequate date, he gets dumped. While recovering, Shaun begins to realize that something odd is happening. The news keeps talking about some sort of virus, people keep getting bit by lunatics, and there’s a random lady standing in his backyard. It’s up to Ed and Shaun to figure out what the hell is going on and make (multiple unsuccessful) a plan(s) to save the day.

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I’m going to start off by saying that this is one of the most brilliantly hilarious horror comedies that I’ve ever seen. Made way before Zombieland and a million other zombie comedies, Shaun of the Dead was a great, original idea for the time that it came out. I haven’t seen a film keep me so entertained for the entirety of the running time in years. That’s the biggest thing I can say about this film, it is overwhelmingly entertaining. This film isn’t all laugh and gore either (which is all I was expecting from this film); Shaun of the Dead holds some truly terrifying sequences that I remember giving me nightmares as a child and even has a couple heartfelt scenes.

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The writing is outstanding, Pegg and Wright had to have spent an extensive amount of time writing this film for it to be the thoroughly intriguing film that it is. The climax of this film gave me a rush of utter excitement, watching the characters you’ve come to love beating the shit out of zombies to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now was a satisfying experience. The ending of the film is also one of the most memorable parts of the whole film and has stuck with me throughout the years. There is not a single character in Shaun of the Dead that feels out of place or isn’t developed well. Everything about this film just makes complete sense.

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To nit pick this film would just be an injustice to the brilliance that was put into every aspect of this film. The far fetched ideas in the story work and only add to the movie’s charm. The complete obliviousness to the havoc that these people are being surrounded in makes for some really interesting scenes. The social commentary also adds so much to the film, just as much as social commentary in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It’s even more accurate today, everybody walks around like zombies, having no real social interaction with each other. Also, the sound design and the quick edit transitions give the film some extra flare and gives it a unique style.

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I feel that Shaun of the Dead doesn’t get the appreciation it truly deserves, being slightly overshadowed by it’s sequels. I can see Shaun of the Dead gaining a huge cult following ten years from now, and it would be well deserved. Shaun of the Dead is worth all of your time, money, and effort. Shaun of the Dead is highly recommended by both child and adult Carson.

Grade: A+

DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language throughout, Sexual References and brief Drug Material.

Directed by: David Leitch

Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick & Ryan Reynolds

(based on the comics by Fabian Nicieza & Rob Liefeld)

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, TJ Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy & Stefan Kapicic

Back in February 2016, DEADPOOL was released and significantly shook up studio expectations of what an R-rated superhero film could do. The crudely hilarious comic book adaptation broke box office records, converted many newcomers into DEADPOOL fans, and has influenced studios to make riskier R-rated projects since its well-deserved success. DEADPOOL is the reason for last year’s LOGAN being a proper treatment of Wolverine and now we finally have a full-blown sequel. How does it compare to the first film? While I wouldn’t say that’s it’s on the same level as or better than the original (as some fans have been claiming), it’s a blast of ultra-violent, bombastically hilarious fun!

Taking place shortly after the events of the first film (Deadpool’s origin story), DEADPOOL 2 follows the masked merc with a mouth Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) as he struggles to cope with unforeseen problems in his life (no spoilers). Wade/Deadpool isn’t taking it well, but finds his life gets a little more interesting when Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Nega-Sonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) recruit him as an X-Men Trainee. Soon enough, Deadpool is trying to form his own super-duper group to stop angry futuristic soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) from eliminating a pyrokinetic little brat named Russell (Julian Dennison). However, there is more to Cable’s motives than Deadpool assumes and many lives hang in the balance…all while Deadpool kills things and makes wisecracks. So you know, it’s kind of what you would expect from a DEADPOOL sequel.

DEADPOOL 2 clearly has a bigger budget than its relatively small scale predecessor (which basically served as an origin story for the masked merc with a mouth). As a result, the second film ups the ante in both its scope and plot. While that would normally push any sequel above the high bar set by the original, DEADPOOL 2 actually falls a few steps below the first film’s quality. That’s not to say it’s bad (it certainly isn’t and I’ve seen the film twice in theaters now), but the novelty has slightly worn off since the 2016’s crude, lewd, and ultra-violent R-rated predecessor.

From the get-go, DEADPOOL 2 makes it clear that it’s keeping the very adult, immature, and irreverent tone/humor that fans love so much. The opening credits wonderfully spoof any number of 007 films and will no doubt result in lots of laughter from the audience. Also, be sure to stick around for an end credits montage of material that had more borderline in tears from laughing so hard. It’s still quite refreshing to see a big screen superhero that doesn’t take its material seriously in any way, shape, or form and focuses on entertainment above setting up lore for future installments (though DEADPOOL 2 makes it clear when it’s doing that as well, in the formation of the X-Force).

As far as the cast goes, Ryan Reynolds still seems like he was born to play Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Morena Baccarin receives slightly more serious material and screen time as Deadpool’s significant other Vanessa in this outing. Josh Brolin damn near steals every scene he’s in as the ultra-stoic, super-dark Cable (a futuristic soldier whom Deadpool points out seems more suited towards the DC Universe than this light-hearted Marvel film). Young New Zealander Julian Dennison is hilarious as the foul-mouthed, adolescent mutant Firefist. Zazie Beetz is also great as the upbeat, luck-powered Domino. Despite what Deadpool says about her, Domino’s lucky powers do have lots of cinematic flare to be seen on the big screen and make her stick out amongst her X-Force pals.

Even though DEADPOOL 2’s script offers loads of ties to the comic book material, tons of bloody ultra-violence, and a more complicated narrative, it somehow winds up being more predictable than the first film. The film occasionally takes on a half-hearted serious attitude regarding one of its major plot developments and (though the script occasionally mocks this twist) the tonal shifts feel out of place. I could also clearly see where the entire film was going as it set itself up, because it hits many plot beats that we’ve seen before in other sci-fi/superhero films (including earlier X-MEN films). The result is that some of the thrills were ever so slightly diminished and I felt like I was just waiting for certain plot points to arrive. This might also be because the novelty of a foul-mouthed, R-rated superhero film has slightly worn off (which Deadpool acknowledges in the opening minutes of this sequel).

If you loved the first DEADPOOL, you’ll probably wind up liking/loving this sequel. I had a blast watching DEADPOOL 2 and it’s still refreshing to see an ultra-violent, irreverent superhero blockbuster amongst the overflow of modern comic book adaptations. This sequel’s story is set on a larger scale than the first film’s contained narrative, though it’s definitely more predictable this time around. The new characters are extremely fun to watch, while the old ones maintain their likability. The humor results in tons of laughs and is sure to shock viewers on a few occasions (stick around for the mid-credits montage). However, I’d say the occasional lack of freshness puts DEADPOOL 2 a few steps below the first film. Face it, you likely know whether or not you’re going to see this movie (you probably already have) and/or if you’ll enjoy it! Here’s to DEADPOOL 3!

Grade: B+

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Jim Henson and Frank Oz

Written by: David Odell and Jim Henson

Starring: Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, and Barry Dennen

Jim Henson can only be described as the Tolkien of visual media. His creative visions go beyond story and characters into detailed settings and even languages. With this being said, I could see The Dark Crystal being seen as his crowning achievement in fantasy. Although, I find Labyrinth a much more deserving film of that title, The Dark Crystal still holds it’s ground in being a practical effects marvel that is a very technically brilliant film. There are some elements that really keep me from loving this film, though; but, we will dive into those later…

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After the dark crystal is cracked, two species are formed in its wake, the gentle Mystics and the awful Skeksis. The Skeksis commit genocide against the Gelflings, who are prophesied to bring an end to the imbalance of their world. It’s up to Jen (Stephen Garlick), along with the help of another Gelfling named Kira, to find the missing piece of the dark crystal and return it to it’s rightful place.

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The biggest reason to watch this film is for the spectacular practical effects. The design of the film is easily the best part of the film. The looks of all the creatures and landscapes are what make this film watchable. There’s always a certain amount of charm to all Jim Henson movies, and the Dark Crystal is not an exception of that charm. But, that’s about all the great things I can say about this film, and I will get into detail on why in the next couple paragraphs.

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The writing for this film is probably the least interesting for a fantasy film. The story doesn’t give us near enough to keep us engaged for the whole hour and a half. Some scenes are dragged out so long that it feels completely unnecessary to even try to be interested. The whole movie is all about getting this shard to the dark crystal, but there’s so much filler in between and it’s like they just decided to be lazy and give the audience absolutely nothing to keep them satisfied along this tedious journey.

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Frank Oz once said that to have a great character one must develop an intriguing background and personality before worrying about how it looks. I agree with this statement to an extent, but you can imagine my disappointment when I saw how underdeveloped the characters in the Dark Crystal are. Jen has no other purpose other than he’s just doing what his guardian told him to do. The only background we get for him is that his mother and father died when he was young. It doesn’t help that the acting is some of the worst acting I’ve seen delivered on a fantasy film. While watching the bonus features it really felt like they were describing a completely different film.

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With that being said, I still have this odd pleasure watching this film. I definitely don’t hate it, it’s something that you can find very enjoyable depending on what mood you are in. This is a good film to watch if you’re just looking for some great visuals, and if you’re a die hard Jim Henson fan, I’d say give it a try. But, don’t expect something that’ll blow you away or you’ll end up about as disappointed as I was.

Grade: C+

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