Embers (2015) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

embersIn the not too distant future, most of the population has been affected by a neurological disease robbing them of their memories.  While a few people try to retain their minds and stay healthy, the rest of the population is trying to remember and reconnect.

Director Claire Carré co-wrote Embers with Charles Spano and they create a dystopian future where the majority of the population, what’s left of it anyways, has no memories but can function as adults.  This leads to some scenes reminiscent of what it’s like to deal with someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  These people still care about others but they simply do not remember each other or who they are themselves.  This could have led to a film where it’s difficult to care about the characters or overly schmaltzy, but that is not the case here.  Carré and Spano’s attention to detail and to creating humans and not simply characters brings forth people that are highly flawed yet trying to connect with each other which lead the audience to connect with them.

As the characters do not remember who they are, the two leads are credited as Guy and Girl.  In these roles are Jason Ritter and Iva Gocheva, both of whom give their characters’ memory loss and loss of self a level of dignity as they search for who they are.  Ritter shines in particular as a man lost while trying to help this girl he feels close to and wakes up near every day, not knowing if they are together or not.  His performance shows care and love while being lost and fighting the despair of losing one’s mind.  His performance steals most of the scenes he is in.  Playing opposite Ritter in most of his scenes is Iva Gocheva who plays well with him, their performances complement each other.  The ensemble of the cast does also quite well, but these two stand out the most.

The production design by Chelsea Oliver and art direction by Matthew Lackit and Wojciech Zogala create a future that is both dystopian and realistic.  The environment in which most of the population lives is counter-productive to them figuring themselves out, in contrast, the rich, unaffected people’s places are filled with technology yet colder than the outside world.  The dichotomy of both worlds is carefully calculated and built.  These set or settings bring a lot to the story and the characters.

All of this is put together to create a film that shows a potential future for Earth, one that is not perfect or even all that good, but the good of people shines through.  The representation of the mystery disease feels like something that could happen if humans do not kill each other first.  The film makes its viewers think and does not take them for idiots.  Some of the mysteries are never explained. It’s simply a slice of life with no explanation how we got there or of what comes after.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.


Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

everybodywantssomeRichard Linklater is of the philosophy that life isn’t planned out or a sequence of fates colliding, and bad luck giving us misery. For him, life is a series of random events, major and minute that result in pure happiness or pure sadness. “Everybody Wants Some!!” is every bit the drama and comedy masterpiece that its predecessor “Dazed and Confused” was. Not only is it an amazing companion piece to his nineties comedy, but it’s also an examination at the turbulence of youth and how being young has a lot of surprising structure and pressures behind it that can often be so much worse than adults.

Its 1980, Texas, and three days before college. Freshman Jake arrives in his new dorm, preparing to share a house with a group of very rowdy guys. Like them, Jake is a baseball player intent on proving himself on the team. Before the school year begins, and daily practices start in an effort to mold the school’s only winning sports team, Jake is taken along with his team on a three day journey of parties, drinking, and beautiful women. Linklater, much like he did in “Dazed and Confused” follows around a group of young people as they navigate through life and use music and humor to connect with one another and find kindred spirits. Music is the life blood of Linklater’s movies.

If there is such a thing as a soul, music is as close as it gets to Linklater conveying what a soul is, and how crucial music can be to igniting it. Rather than focus on a group of teens at the beginning of the summer, Linklater now follows a group of young adults in their final days of the summer, before they have to accept adult responsibility and give up the carefree days of their teens. The future isn’t as bleak as it was in the finale of “Dazed of Confused,” but the film does act as a requiem to immaturity and just being young, before it all fades away in to careers, obligations, and old age. “Everybody Wants Some!!” is a subtle look at enjoying youth and bidding it a fond farewell, all set to a very random and chaotic comedy that unfolds in to one excellent piece of cinema.

Linklater doesn’t commit to plot twists, cheap deaths, goofy romance, or melodrama, and instead zeroes in on drawing a slew of truly engaging characters, all of whom are blind to race and class, and find a means of bonding three days before school. Like everyone in a Linklater film, they use music to keep each other at eye level, and Linklater celebrates the magic of music. Not only does the film have an incredible soundtrack, but the characters live and breath through whatever music is on in the background, from singing along to “Rapper’s Delight” in a crowded car (a scene that rivals the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene in “Wayne’s World,” easily), to the group of baseball players seducing young women at a local club with disco music and pop.

Though many will argue that “Everybody Wants Some!!” has no narrative, Linklater’s wizardry is in the seemingly random events that devise bits and chunks of plot, narrative and themes about male bonding, competition, and the thrills summer can offer to anyone open to a new adventure. Like Linklater’s previous films, “Everybody Wants Some!!” is simple, and down to Earth in scope and vision, but brings with it an incredible series of rich and complex characters, wonderful conflict, and yet another bang up soundtrack. I really hope Linklater offers up another follow up to “Dazed and Confused,” completing an unofficial trilogy. Linklater is a mastermind of storytelling who understands youth, nostalgia, as well as seeing the world through a filter where music is the universal language.


Emelie (2015) [Blu-Ray]

EmelieBRMichael Thelin’s “Emelie” is destined to go down as one of the classic killer babysitter movies of its sub-genre. It’s a mix of “Inside” and “The Babadook” in where a young boy finds a purpose in having to save the lives of his brother and sister when their babysitter happens to a pure psychopath with her own ulterior motives. Sarah Bolgier is fantastic as young Anna, a replacement babysitter who takes over for the usual nanny of a very average and unsuspecting family. The brood she has to look over isn’t particularly interesting or special, and while Anna does look very harmless at first sight.

But soon she eventually begins to reveal something of a reptilian personality as she becomes more and more unhinged with every passing hour. Bolgier is wonderful at maintaining the uneasy smile that she wears throughout the film, as she learns a lot about the trio of children she’s watching, and begins devising her own plans for them that become increasingly disturbing. Thelin relies on mounting tension and pure suspense to bait the audience and keep them watching until the climax. We’re never quite sure what is happening with young Anna, and why she’s so aloof when the kids begin destroying the house, but it does lead in to something that’s so inherently demented and insane.

Thelin touches in to certain taboos exploring how utterly off the wall bonkers Anna tends to be, first seducing young Jacob in an incredibly uncomfortable bathroom scene. Just when you think Thelin can’t top that cringe inducing sequence, he just continues ratcheting up the gross out factor with one more disturbing sequence after another. While it may seem at first glance the shocks are there mainly to keep us squirming, a lot of the actions Anna takes really reflect her lack of sanity, and how far off the deep end she is. “Emelie” is a surefire slow boil thriller that culminates in to a very satisfying explosion that acts as a word of warning to parents on taking second and even third glances at who is caring for your children.

Featured on the Blu-Ray, there’s the thirteen minute “Making Of,” which features interviews with director Thelin, and writer Herbeck, along with the cast and the film’s producers. There’s the film’s original trailer clocking in at two minutes, and finally additional trailers, which aren’t really special features, but should give you an idea of other releases from the company.

Evil Bong High-5 (2016)

high5Do you see what happens when you let interns make a movie with petty cash on the weekends? You come up with “Evil Bong High-5.” It’s a stoner movie that’s so bad even stoners will eventually shut it off because it’s destroying their high. At only seventy minutes long, this is a movie that literally stops dead in its tracks in order to advertise the company’s brand of painfully unfunny ethnic stereotype dolls. One of the many sequels apparently breaking even enough for another installment, Eebee the Evil Bong is back and she’s just as mean as ever. Now that she’s trapped a small group of people in The Bong World, alongside the Gingerdead Man, they have to figure out a way home.

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Epic History X-Men, Volume 3: The Dark Phoenix Saga

EpicHistory1There’s no bigger an X-Men fan online than Comic Book Girl 19. The web personality has made her claim to fame from online personality to bonafide geek goddess by providing insightful, lucid, and very controversial opinions about comic books and pop culture in general. Among some of the biggest pop culture dynasties, Comic Book Girl 19 is one of the most passionate X-Men fans around. Like me, she hates the movies, but loves the X-Men comics and longs for a day when we can finally see them adapted properly on the big screen. “Epic History X-Men” has nothing to do with the movies, and is in fact about a certain stream of storylines and character arcs involving the X-Men.

Comic Book Girl 19 and director Tyson Wheeler have their cut off point, and end episode three of three with the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” The massive science fiction arc was penned by Chris Claremont and is one of the most complex, complicated, and unusual storylines ever put to the comics. And Bryan Singer actually is going to try to simplify it for one or two films. That aside, “Epic History X-Men” is a fantastic and very entertaining documentary where Comic Book Girl 19 and her sidekick Robot lay out the events of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and explain the storyline’s nuances and emotional strong points as thoroughly as possible.

Though the series as a whole could just being Comic Book Girl 19 sitting in a chair and laying out every point of the storyline, she and director Tyson Wheeler switch up the monotony by adding splashes of panels from the comic books. They also animated a lot of the panels, and even add their own voice overs and great sound effects, all of which really add a flavor and excitement to an already enthusiastic host. Comic Book Girl 19 loves the X-Men, and she seems to have a ball describing every storyline, from Jean Grey returning as the Phoenix, the big rumble with the X-Men and an erotic mutant organization called the Hellfire Club, Wolverine taking down a whole army of guards single handedly, to Jean’s eventual transformation in to the dark side as the Dark Phoenix which ultimately split the team apart.

Comic Book Girl 19 even takes the time out to introduce her favorite X-Men: Dazzler. Dazzler is a light controlling mutant that Comic Book Girl 19 has fought for, defended, and consistently taken scrutiny for favoring over everyone else in the comics, but makes a darn good case for the character’s significance to the “Dark Phoenix Saga.” What’s punctuated through most of Volume 3 is that the “X-Men” isn’t just a series about young people going on adventures. It’s a long and very unique consistent epic about people with extraordinary powers from various ethnicities and nationalities fighting for humanity, and learning that they themselves are human, in the end.

Though considerably low budget, “Epic History” volumes 1-3 garners some bang up production with excellent voice work. They’re undoubtedly very exciting, entertaining, and heartfelt glimpses in to only some of the most important storylines in one of the most unique and original characters in comic book lore. Comic Book Girl 19 treats the material with great reverence and will likely leave you seeking out the books and appreciating the characters so much more. Suffice it to say I had more fun with the third chapter than I did with “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

“Epic History X-Men Volume 3: The Dark Phoenix Saga” is now available on Vimeo On Demand.


Emelie (2016)

emelieA babysitter is kidnapped and another girl takes her place to watch over a couple’s three children as they celebrate their anniversary.  The minute the parents leave the house, the new sitter turns the weird factor way up and begins with a series on increasingly creepy games and situations. Written by Richard Raymond Harry Herbeck and director Michael Thelin, the story gets going very fast here.

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Everything is Terrible! The Movie (2009)

EITEven without the hilarious small edits and cuts made by “Everything is Terrible!,” their film comprised of clips and long montages of bizarre footage from news reports is so funny and bizarre, it warrants watching twice, and heavy analyses. When we look back at the VHS generation, we can look back at “Everything is Terrible! The Movie” and either remember that the generation was not all peaches and cream, or was maybe even better than we remember. It’s tough to believe that so much of the unusual, silly, and over the top infomercials and instructional videos were paid for, and made for the utmost sincerity of selling us something or teaching us something.

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Extinction (2015)


Miguel Ángel Vivas’s is essentially “I Am Legend” with two men and a little lady, fighting off the elements with TV quality special effects and so so direction. And in the end we’re left with a mediocre apocalypse film that at least tries for something unique and different. The opening is kind of a riff on “28 Days Later,” and there are some take aways from “The Walking Dead,” but I have to give it to writers Alberto Marini and Miguel Ángel Vivas side stepping the same old zombie apocalypse doldrums. Even if the prologue does involve that same zombie carnage we’ve seen a thousand times over.

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