As Above, So Below (2014)

There’s a lot you can say about this movie. But one thing you can’t say is it’s not boring. With a fun twist on the “Found Footage” genre, As Above, So Below gives you enough entertainment to forgive a boring beginning and messy third act.

The movie follows a group of explorers going deep into the Paris catacombs looking for the legendary “Philosopher’s Stone.” With a boring set up that all found footage horror movies think they need (Honestly you can skip the first thirty minutes and it won’t hurt your experience of the movie at all), once the team actually gets into the Catacombs, stuff starts to go down. Think The Blair Witch Project meets The Descent. The movie’s use of claustrophobia as well as spiritual horror creates for a fun ride. There’s some actual good ideas in this film that are pretty effective, and while the movie didn’t “scare” me, it did give me enough to keep me interested. Also, if you took AP English Literature, you’ll be happy to find that you’re knowledge of The Divine Comedy will actually come in use for this film, if only to recognize the scattered references the movie offers.

While this movie is “fun,” it still lacks the film making expertise to be considered a “great” horror movie. It’s hard not to see the faults of this movie, from its basic characters to its predictable story, and while you’ll enjoy yourself after the first thirty minutes, it will be hard to leave the movie without it feeling like a shallow experience.

Rating: 4/10

Train to Busan (2016)

It’s no surprise by now that Asia knows how to make good horror movies. From The Host to Ju-On: The Grudge, Asian filmmakers have been terrifying us for years. In Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan, Sang-Ho combines adventure with horror to breathe new life into the horror genre. While the movie’s quality isn’t consistent throughout, most of the movie will give you some good frights and emotional investment.

A zombie horror movie is only as good as it’s characters, and Train to Busan’s, for the most part, are well fleshed out. The story focuses on a dad and his kid as they go to Busan to visit his ex wife. Sok-Woo, the father, is an interesting lead for a zombie movie, because he’s not really a cool guy. He’s a workaholic that’s been emasculated by his divorce, and while he’s not the best father, we can see that he loves his daughter. So when the carnage begins and the father is called to action, it’s a great release. The cast of side characters are also creative and fun. They’re not super fleshed out, but we get enough character development to root for their survival.

Also, the zombies? Terrifying. Sang-Ho ditches the shambling zombies of the Walking Dead to give us super fast zombies that can dig into the skins of humans in seconds. And with the SFX, their inhumane bodies and movies make them scary as hell.

One of my favorite parts of this movie is the setting. Since the movie takes place in a train, you always get the sense of claustrophobia that’s shared by the characters, especially since they’re in such close proximity to the zombies. I also very much enjoyed that the movie took play during daytime. The bright setting coupled with the nightmarish action makes this movie stand out from other zombie movies. A few times, the movie feels more like an action-adventure movie, which doesn’t really bother me since during these times the movie is still very fun to watch. There’s just also times where the movie falls on zombie movie cliches, and the first two acts are a lot better than the second.

If you’re looking for a new zombie movie to experience, Train to Busan has it covered. With a great cast and awesome special effects, it’s everything a zombie lover would love.

7/10

Closet Monster (2015)

A coming-of-age movie on Netflix about a gay teen coming into his own while also battling his hostile family environment and it’s ACTUALLY GOOD? WHAT?

I’ve seen a lot of queer movies on Netflix. Most of them aren’t that great (see Alex Strangelove). But Closet Monster is what all of these queer movies wish they could be. A coming-of-age movie about a gay teen that seamlessly weaves between tragedy and comedy while giving us some pretty cool shots thanks to director Stephen Dunn and DP Bobby Shore, this movie is definitely worth your time.

This movie heavily relies on the performance of Connor Jessup as Oscar Madly, a queer teen trying his hardest to get into college while also dealing with the turbulent relationship of his parents and, of course, his sexuality. Oscar is someone who desperately wants to fly away from his small world and get into a career of make-up and special effects (which are pretty good by the way), but the world keeps clipping his wings. After his mom left him when he was little, Oscar has had to deal with his borderline-abusive dad while also fighting to build his portfolio for arts school. This story is no big teenager epic, but with every obstacle that Oscar faces, you’re with him till the end. Jessup’s performance gives us a sympathetic character for us to cheer on.

This movie does have its quirks though. As well as trying to be a successful make-up artist, due to Oscar’s lack of friends, he relies on talking to his gerbil, Buffy, who talks to him as well, voiced by the wonderful Isabella Rossellini. He also spends most of his time in an elaborate tree house with different pulleys and levers, because, you know, fun quirky teenager movie. There are a few points in this movie where the quirkiness gets in the way of the actual story, but again, the movie is able to weave comedy and tragedy together and not let one of the two get in the way of the other.

Closet Monster isn’t like most gay teen flicks. It’s not super dark and boring like Beach Rats, or very colorful and tasteless like Alex Strangelove. Again, this movie is funny, but knows when to stop and get serious for the sake of the story. If you’re looking for a good gay teen flick, this is the film for you. If you’re just looking for a good film, this movie is also for you.

8/10

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

There are things that I like about this movie. There are shots in here that are cool. The gore effects are pretty amazing. And having an actual actor playing a cadaver for all of the movie is a pretty nice touch. Unfortunately, all of these things can’t save a movie that’s ultimately just your run of the mill ghost story. There are shiny moments where you can see the director tried to make something more than just your typical jump scare ghost fest, but it’s dragged down by sub-par acting, a predictable plot, and a mountain of horror movie cliches. Honestly, if I were to look at this movie a year from now I would probably forget the title of this movie, just because I’ve seen so many movies like this. As I said, there are some nice touches, but ultimately, this movie is just a very average horror movie that doesn’t really offer anything new.

3/10

Frances Ha

After watching Frances Ha, I want my life to be written by Greta Gerwig.

Starring and written by Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is about a struggling dancer in New York trying to find her footing in life as she goes from place to place, experiencing the highs and lows of adulthood.

It’s hard to find any flaws in this movie. In a way it feels like a French New Wave film in the fact that it’s shot statically and in black and white. But Gerwig’s dialogue is easily the best part of this film. With lines like “Don’t treat me like a three hour brunch friend!” you can’t help but admire the charm and wit of this movie.

The acting is all superb, with director Noah Baumbach getting the best performance out of every actor. And the shots of New York are splendid. Honestly, I can’t recommend this movie enough.

10/10

Alex Strangelove (2018)

Just like the uncanny valley, there is a threshold a movie hits where it goes from bad to so good it’s bad. Alex Strangelove does not pass that threshold. Instead, Alex Strangelove feels like it’s trying it’s hardest to be the worst it can be, and any sort of social commentary or LGBTQ+ issues it tries to bring up is drowned in gummy bear throw up.

Alex Strangelove is about a kid in high school coming to terms with his sexuality. He’s dating his dream girl, and they’re like the school’s power couple. The only problem is Alex has trouble expressing himself sexually with his girlfriend. Things take a turn when Alex meets Elliot, a open gay man, at a party. And then things start to add up for Alex as he becomes sexually interested in Elliot.

I think the worst part of this movie is the writing. This is most apparent in the dialogue between Alex and his best friend Dell. I didn’t think a LGBT movie could be so blindly offensive, but Strangelove checks all the boxes. The movie even goes out of its way to be transphobic. The dialogue is crass, and you can tell the screenwriter is going for an “American Pie” vibe, but for a movie that treads on difficult waters by exploring the LGBT community, this vulgarity makes the movie feel like it’s undermining the same thing it’s trying to enlighten us about.

What else can I say? The romance between Alex and Elliot feels forced. The main character’s conflict feels unjustified. And the film offers nothing special in terms of cinematography or even it’s score and soundtrack. I have seen Breaking Glass Pictures films that are better than this.

Rating: 1/10

Blue Jay (2016)

Mark Duplass has shown us time and time again that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the arthouse independent film scene. With movies such as Safety Not Guaranteed, The Puffy Chair, and Creep, Duplass has proven to be one of the best indie filmmakers of our generation. So when I heard he was starring in a movie alongside the amazing Sarah Paulson, I knew I immediately had to watch. And the movie doesn’t disappoint.

Mark Duplass plays Jim, a man packing up his old childhood home after his father passes away. While back in his hometown, he meets his old high school girlfriend Amanda, played by Sarah Paulson. And essentially the whole movie is them reconnecting and rekindling what they once had. It’s a very heartfelt movie, and what makes this movie are the performances. Mainly because there’s not really a script. The actors were given scenarios to follow, and through their amazing improv skills, they make a relationship that feels more realistic than most on screen romances I’ve seen. Every interaction feels organic. Every scene is so intimate and raw, that it feels like you’re spying on real people.

I can’t say much about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil too much, but this movie is full of a great deal of romance and heartbreak as we go through the day with Jim and Amanda. If you’re into romance movies, then this movie is definitely for you.

8/10