'The Sacrament,' Ti West's follow-up to 2011's 'The Innkeepers,' feels like a more mature -- albeit still slightly flawed -- outing. A trio of reporters from bad boy news brand Vice head to a cultish compound in Africa to investigate when one of their sisters sends a mysterious letter beckoning him to visit. Inspired by Jonestown (as well as the Branch Davidians and numerous other cults), 'The Sacrament' isn't quite what you expect from West, known for his slow burn horror and sharp, stinging third acts ... and that's a good thing.
'Escape from Tomorrow' is a film that shouldn't be possible -- not just because it was filmed without consent at Disneyworld in Florida, but due to the sheer audacity of some of the (not always successful) ideas and visuals on display. The film follows Jim White, a middle-aged guy on vacation with his wife and two kids at the happiest place on earth. On the last day of vacation, Jim finds out he lost his job, an event that sends him into a spiral that's part mid-life crisis, part psychosis. 'Escape from Tomorrow' subverts expectations with its near-psychedelic transformation of Disneyworld from place of joy and comfort to hellish landscape of evil.
'Machete Kills,' Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to 2010's 'Machete,' ditches the grindhouse aesthetic and homage, and instead tries to emulate a late-'80s, early-'90s action flick -- basically, Rodriguez made the kind of movie he often makes. The result is an uninspired, joyless and oft-trashy exercise in self-indulgence. Rodriguez has spent his career making films the way he wants in his own backyard, and while you kind of have to admire the audacity of it all, the intent is questionable at best.
Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell return to the spooky fun house with 'Insidious Chapter 2,' marking Wan's second horror film release in as many months after this summer's surprise hit 'The Conjuring.' Unfortunately, the sequel gives diminishing returns as the scares are dialed down and the laughs (intentional and unintentional) are cranked way up.
Jason Reitman's new film 'Labor Day' is adapted from a Joyce Maynard novel, and while her literary pedigree holds some water, what ends up represented here leads me to think it's one of those books with Fabio on the cover.
It's New England, it's the 80s and Hank (Gattlin Griffith) is the emo-ist kid in the world. He's got a reason to be. He lives alone with his clinically depressed mother (Kate Winslet). While still new to adolescence, he's basically taking care of her. His father (Clark Gregg) couldn't hack it anymore, but lives in the same town with a new wife and new kids.
Stagnancy has hit the (large, old) house but one Labor Day weekend Winslet's longing for an adult connection will be met. Josh Brolin enters her life and he is the dreamiest of dreamboats every to emerge from a dream. He's handsome, he's attentive and he fixes things around the house. He teaches Hank how to swing a baseball bat and he bakes his own pie crust from scratch, for heaven's sake. There's only one problem - he's just escaped from prison and he's wanted for murder.
It is no easier for me to report this than it is for you to hear it, but we're all adults and let's get real: Robert De Niro's name on a film project is now more a red flag of warning than a sign of quality. For every 'Silver Linings Playbook' there's a 'Big Wedding' or 'Righteous Kill' or a slapped-together piece of tone-deaf dross like 'The Family.'
Whoever said nightmares couldn't also be funny?
Richard Ayoade's 'The Double' is a clever mash-up of Eastern European despair and paranoia against stylized indies of the late 1980s. Its roots are Dostoyevsky's 1846 novella of the same name, but its look and tempo draw heavily from Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' and Martin Scorsese's 'After Hours.' While it does take a little while to truly get rolling, those who delight in movies where every single shot is art directed within an inch of its life will luxuriate in its craftiness.
If disses were marble, Tracy Letts would be Michelangelo and 'August: Osage County' would be his David. His characters in this film, directed by John Wells and based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, are an extended family of well-off Oklahomans loaded with secrets and festering emotional wounds. They have gathered to bury the patriarch, played by Sam Shepard in one outstanding prologue scene.
Shepard may have been the Dad, but the Mom (Meryl Streep, in peak form, even for her) is the real power. A strong and severe woman who speaks her mind loudly and frequently, and is currently suffering from mouth cancer - an irony not lost on anyone - is facing her winter years by popping pills and settling scores. A major early set piece around a dinner table has Streep sitting like a General, barking humiliating things at her family. Why, you might be thinking, would I ever want to see such a thing? For starters, it is very, very funny.
From the center of a black screen a white dot forms into a sphere. Then, blue discs and then, finally, what looks like tar draining away from pure white. Mixed in with eerie music and some incoherent babble from a female voice. Even though I've seen all of 'Under the Skin' I still only have a vague, gut reaction idea of what these opening moments are meant to represent. And...I think that's exactly the idea?
It would be a lot easier if you could say, "it's just a movie." The sickening thing, the thing that may make it difficult to convince you to buy a ticket, is the opening card that reads, "based on a true story." But facing the cruelty of America's original sin is what '12 Years a Slave' is all about. That's what Solomon Northup did.