Sunday, April 26, 2015

They Look Like People review (2015 River Run Film Festival)

Horror films with a heart and soul have taken a resurgence lately, with major critical appraise for movies like It Follows. These flicks have been lauded by film fans everywhere as smart and scary alternatives to the jump-scare and found footage obsessed Hollywood executives who pump the horror dreck into cinemas each year. They Look Like People, a microbudget horror film that has toured the festival circuit for the last few months, stands head and shoulders above most of the chillers that I've seen in my lifetime. A complex, dark and disturbing drama with a terrifying dash of sci-fi horror thrown in, They Look Like People masterfully deals with tough subjects in an extremely compelling way. This is a true independent film in the spirit of the word, but it once again proves that a great film can come from anywhere. 

Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) is going through a lot of trouble in his life. He doesn't have a job, his longtime girlfriend broke up with him, and oh, not to mention that he's convinced that the people around him aren't actually human. When he shacks up with his successful friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel), Wyatt begins to hear voices, see things and begins to prepare to fight these creatures using a variety of dangerous weapons like a nail gun and sulfuric acid. Wyatt's insanity begins to become a problem for Christian and his girlfriend Mara (Margaret Ying Drake), who experience his craziness first hand. Christian and Mara must decide whether to help Wyatt get psychiatric treatment or fight through his end of days scenario. 

When I saw It Follows last month, I thought that it failed to be anything more than a repetitive series of creepy scenes that never really amounted to a successful whole. I still enjoyed the movie, but it's a thematic mess (an STD monster is creative, but what's the point you're trying to make). They Look Like People is the polar opposite. This is a film that is biting, exact and terrifying in its portrayal of schizophrenia and mental illness. While there are certainly several scenes that will get your heart pounding, what lingers after the movie is over is the film's seemingly honest and straight-up scary look at what goes on inside the head of those who suffer from this terrible illness.

In a Q&A after the film, director Perry Blackshear discussed how he watched a simulation where it showed what it was like to have schizophrenia. He said that it absolutely terrified him, and it's clear that that experience had a profound effect on the film. Blackshear's treatment of mental illness is profound, it's scary, it's moving, and most of all, it feels realistic. Wyatt hears voices, sees things, and it all works to create an atmosphere of dread that makes They Look Like People one of the most intense film experiences I've had recently. 

It helps that Blackshear has three talented actors in his corner. MacLeod Andrews is brilliant as the psychotic Wyatt, but he walks the line finely between creepy and unlikable. No matter what Wyatt is doing, we always feel for him as audience members. We understand his pain and want to help but nobody is really sure how to do it. Evan Dumouchel plays Christian well, and he's the audience's link to Wyatt's crazy world. Christian makes some odd choices especially towards the end of the film, but it's clear that he wants to be a good friend and cares about Wyatt. 

Another fundamental joy of They Look Like People is that Blackshear understands that you need to care about the characters in a horror film. This film isn't constantly scary. It's sweet and funny and has some really energetic and enjoyable moments. The relationships between Wyatt, Christian and Mara are fully developed and during the final minutes of the film, it truly pays off. The finale is cathartic and relieving for the audience, leaving us on a high note rather than going for a cheap cliff hanger (looking at you, It Follows). 

Blackshear is also an immensely talented director and a guy who could truly break out. This film was his first full directorial debut and with a festival response as strong as this, I really hope that this film breaks out into theaters and Blackshear gets to tackle some bigger projects. He has a knack for both creating dread and writing interesting characters, which is critical for a horror film director. It was very enlightening and enjoyable to listen to him speak at the Q&A session after the film, and I was disappointed that I didn't get to talk with him further. 

They Look Like People is currently only playing on festival circuits, but I think that it will find a way into theaters eventually. This film is too good to be stuck in limbo, and I believe that we'll be seeing more of Blackshear, Dumouchel and especially MacLeod Andrews in the near future. They Look Like People is the perfect independent film, a terrifying and smart horror film that feels like a warm-up act for three very talented performers. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                 (9/10)

Image Credits: River Run Film, They Look Like People (Facebook)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Release dates announced for 'Furious 8', 'Fifty Shades Darker' and 'Pacific Rim 2' among others

Universal has had a massive, massive year at the box office so far. They started the year with the breakout success of Fifty Shades of Grey, before breaking all sorts of box office records with Furious 7, which is now one of the highest grossing films of all time with over $1.1 billion worldwide. And Universal is set up for even more major success in the near future- Jurassic World and Minions could both do absurd business in the thick of the summer season. If Disney didn't have the one-two punch of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Universal would undoubtedly be the big hero of 2015. With all of that success, Universal will surely feel pressure to keep it up in the near future. They have a fantastic slate for the rest of 2015 that includes sequels like Pitch Perfect 2 and Ted 2, sleeper hits like Straight Outta Compton and Trainwreck and Oscar players like Steve Jobs. But what's in store for the studio once we close the books on 2015? Their upcoming release schedule was made more clear at Cinema Con on Thursday, where many sure-to-be blockbusters were announced.

The biggest news at the convention was the official announcement of Furious 8, which is now set for release on April 14, 2017. An emotional Vin Diesel revealed the release date of the film to the theater owners, but there's still a lot of work to be done for the film. With Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson seemingly removed from the franchise, Diesel and company will have a lot of work to do if they want to match the success of one of the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood history.

Universal also confirmed that Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed are in production, with the two films set for release on February 10, 2018 and February 9, 2018, respectively. Both of those films will be major hits, I guess. I don't really know the longevity of this franchise, and I think that there's a chance for these sequels to disappoint like Insurgent did. Maybe the audience is still there and I'm completely wrong, but if Fifty Shades of Grey left a bad taste, people might not show up for the sequel.

Tom Cruise's follow-up to Edge of Tomorrow with director Doug Liman was also announced at Cinema Con yesterday. The film, titled Mena, follows a pilot who becomes the leader of a powerful drug cartel. The film is now set for a January 6, 2017 release date, which doesn't necessarily inspire a lot of confidence. Hopefully this gets an Oscar qualifying run because this sounds like a very good film and the talent involved is enormous.

Universal also shifted the dates for a few of their upcoming tentpoles. Warcraft, Duncan Jones fantasy video game adaptation, was originally set to hit theaters in March 2016, but will now debut on June 10, 2016. Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim 2 was previously set to hit theaters in April 2017, but will now smash into cinemas on August 4, 2017. And finally, The Mummy will premiere on March 24, 2017, moving from its previous summer 2016 date. So to wrap things up, Cinema Con brought lots of changes for the major films that Universal will be hoping to make a buck off in the near future. I'm looking forward to their upcoming films and I'm hoping that these highly anticipated flicks are able to deliver.

Image Credits: Variety, Telegraph, Comic Book Movie

Thursday, April 23, 2015

'Black Mass' trailer highlights Johnny Depp's chilling performance in Whitey Bulger biopic

Something about gangster movies has always been magical to me. I remember sitting in a hotel lobby watching the TV version of Scarface and being completely engrossed by the story. I was thirteen at the time and probably too young to be watching even the sanitized version of that film, but I didn't care. I later caught bits and pieces of Goodfellas and The Departed on network television, and I recall being in a total state of shock and awe over those films. When I turned fourteen, my parents finally let me watch The Godfather and I viewed the film three times over the course of a week. Gangster films are long, epic masterpieces that weave compelling tales out of despicable people and allow us to really be engaged by the story. That's why I get very excited whenever a new gangster film is set to hit theaters. Black Mass, the true story of Whitey Bulger, is debuting later this year and today, we finally got a trailer for the new film. Check it out below:

Black Mass could be a masterpiece. I'm calling that right now. I've watched the trailer a few times now, and once I got past the creepy blue contacts for Johnny Depp and the weird prosthetic makeup, I was able to get really pumped for this film. Now, the worst case scenario here is American Gangster (a film that I enjoy, but that I'm not overly fond of). This could be a bloated, slow gangster picture with a couple of good performances and a nice sense of atmosphere. It might not be able to carry the energy of a Scorsese pic or the intricate plot weave of The Godfather. However, this trailer did nothing but entice me. The performances look stunning (Depp looks appropriately terrifying), the cast is stacked and the intensity is off the charts. Black Mass could be the sleeper hit of the fall season and a major Oscar player next year. With a cast that includes Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juno Temple, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard and Julianne Nicholson, Black Mass is directed by Scott Cooper and will hit theaters on September 18, 2015. I'm all in for this one.

Image Credits: Flickering Myth

'Nightcrawler' star Riz Ahmed and Sam Clafin in talks for 'Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One'

The Star Wars universe was rejuvenated back in 2011 with Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, and since then, a surplus of talented individuals have joined this new franchise. Directors like J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Josh Trank and Gareth Edwards are all on board, while stars like Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Felicity Jones and Ben Mendelsohn have also joined the universe. Disney has been snagging young, fresh and talented people for these movies and I'm simply ecstatic that Star Wars is headed into great shape. And today, Disney may have just added two more fantastic actors to their lineup for Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One.

Earlier today at Badass Digest, Devin Faraci reported that Riz Ahmed, the star of Dan Gilroy's masterful thriller Nightcrawler, is currently in talks with Disney to join Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One in an unspecified role. Faraci asserts that Rogue One has a "big main cast" with comparisons being drawn to "Dirty Dozen and Magnificent Seven" in Hollywood circles. Therefore, Disney will need to fill many roles before Rogue One begins shooting very soon. Later in the day, The Wrap's Jeff Sneider added to the Ahmed report by saying that Hunger Games star Sam Clafin is in talks to join the film as well. According to the Hollywood trade site, Clafin "does not have the role yet" but is the heavy favorite. The report also includes that his role is a very central one to the film.

I've always enjoyed Clafin's presence and I'm sure that he'll do a solid job in the leading role if he's cast by Disney. He has a likable persona and this will be a big bump for his career. However, I'm definitely more excited about Ahmed joining the cast. He gave a dynamic performance in Nightcrawler, and was successful in creating a sort of lovable loser, but with many layers to the character. Ahmed is very talented, which makes me glad that he's joining this universe. Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One will be directed by Gareth Edwards and currently stars Felicity Jones and Ben Mendelsohn. It will be in theaters on December 16, 2016.

Image Credits: YouTube, Little White Lies

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Final trailer for 'Tomorrowland' is absolutely perfect

Tomorrowland is one of my most anticipated movies of the summer, but recently, I've been looking at it with more skepticism. The trailers have been disappointing thus far and I haven't been dazzled by any of them. Yesterday, the final trailer for Tomorrowland debuted, giving the film one last chance to impress me before it hits theaters on May 22. Tomorrowland is hitting theaters during a tough and critical time at the box office, premiering three weeks after Avengers and one week after Mad Max. Tomorrowland is going to have give audiences something truly special to get them into theaters, and judging by the looks of this new trailer, I think that the potential is insanely high for this film to be one of the summer's best thrill rides.

This is what I've been waiting to see since I first heard about Tomorrowland. They've given us a look at the high concept visual effects and the style of the universe, now, let's get to the action and excitement. The major action setpiece in this trailer is brilliantly filmed and edited, giving me great hope that Disney has left their hands off of this film and let Brad Bird do everything that he needs to. The action seems intense, the stakes high and the scale enormous. Despite some initial concerns, this could be the original blockbuster that we've been waiting for and I trust Bird. The PG rating is giving many fans some trepidation, but if the movie is even remotely as good as this trailer, I'm very excited. Tomorrowland stars George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie and will hit theaters on May 22, 2015. Thanks to this trailer, this has jumped up to the top of my most anticipated list.

Image Credits: Indiewire

My experience at the 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' IMAX fan event

Fan events are all the rage in Hollywood right now, and Warner Bros. thought that it would be a great idea to have one for the new trailer reveal of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Unfortunately, an online leak provided some unforeseen circumstances and resulted in the early release of the trailer. But that didn't stop thousands of DC fans from flocking to theaters to check out what Zack Snyder had to show us. And much to my disappointment, the footage was not all that extraordinary. However, this was a fun experience and I really enjoyed the special things that Warner Bros. put together, confirming that they do care about the fans and want them to support this new series.

The IMAX fan event was announced last Wednesday, and I snagged tickets for me and three other friends right away. All of us were quite excited to see the footage. Before the event, we snagged some dinner and ended up in the theater around 6:30 PM. In other locations, fans had been lining up for hours but at my theater in Charlotte, NC, the auditorium was mostly empty. We got decent enough seats, took some pictures and were ready for the footage to begin. Before the trailer started, DC gave us each one free ticket to come back and see the advanced screening next year, which definitely pleased all of the fans (including me).

Around 7 PM, a studio rep came out and informed us that we could not film any of the footage tonight and that this special screening was meant to be only for the fans in theaters. After that, Zack Snyder popped up on screen and told us that he was going to show us the world premiere of the Batman v Superman trailer. The fan energy was palpable and the trailer that was previously released online played on the giant IMAX screen. Only a few things were noticeable about the trailer shown in theaters- there was a little bit of special IMAX footage, and a brief theatrical exclusive of Batman and Superman running at each other.

The fans were definitely pleased after the trailer initially played and Snyder came up on the screen again. He told us that they were going to play the trailer again and that we should watch out for a few things, confirming that the shot of Batman and Superman was an IMAX fan event exclusive. After the trailer played for the second time, the #BatmanVSuperman came up on screen and the room was silent. Wasn't there something more for them to show us? One guy got up and said "Well, I'm gonna go get my poster!" which caused widespread laughter. I audibly said "Is that it?" but continued to sit there until the same studio rep came in and confirmed that the event was finished.

After we left the theater, we received two posters. They were the two teaser posters officially revealed on Zack Snyder's Twitter and they were both very impressive. We all ended up snagging a few extras and I've already hanged both of them in my room. The fan event footage may have been disappointing, but free posters and free tickets were fine by me. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice stars Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Diane Lane, Jason Momoa, Jesse Eisenberg, Ray Fisher and Holly Hunter, and will hit theaters on March 25, 2016.

Image Credits: Screen Rant

Monday, April 20, 2015

New trailers for 'Jurassic World' and 'Fantastic Four' give a better look at two of the summer's biggest films

Early last week, the new trailers for Ant-Man and Terminator: Genisys dropped, giving us a fresh new look at two major summer movie question marks. I wasn't overly impressed by the trailer for Ant-Man, but the Genisys spot piqued my interest and it generated a lot of conversation in the fanboy universe. Later in the week, we received teaser trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, both of which became almost national news stories. And now, with new trailers for Fantastic Four and Jurassic World, it's clear that April is the new month for studios to preview all of their upcoming blockbusters. First up is Fantastic Four, the superhero reboot that has been regarded with much skepticism in recent years. Fans were excited by the talent involved, but nervous about certain elements that had been revealed in plot details. The first full trailer debuted yesterday and you can check it out below:

I'm still not sold. That was my immediate reaction to this trailer, which does a good job of giving us an idea of the film's stakes, but is less successful in making the film look like a must-see. The chemistry between the four likable leads (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell) seems to be very good and I like the idea of re-shaping the origin story around a bunch of young whiz kids. But overall, this trailer just left a very "Meh" taste in my mouth. None of the visual effects seemed astonishing, and many have compared the look and feel to The Amazing Spider-Man, which feels like an apt comparison. Fantastic Four has a lot of potential, but I will certainly be going in with a lot of doubts. The film hits theaters on August 7, 2015. Next up is the second trailer for the highly anticipated Jurassic World. Check it out below:

This isn't a perfect trailer and I would arguably say that it isn't as good as the teaser trailer, but after the clip fiasco last week, this was just what I needed to get me excited for Jurassic World. Chris Pratt and Vincent D'Onofrio seem to fit their roles perfectly and I like where the plot is going. A manhunt for one giant dinosaur set in a major theme park? Count me in. This movie looks like one heck of a ride and I'm really hoping that Colin Trevorrow has delivered something special here. I'm very excited for June 12, which is the day that Jurassic World is set to premiere.

Image Credits: Screen Rant