My Two Cents: READY OR NOT

Ready Or Not

Directed by Matt Bittinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Andi McDowell

Fox Searchlight

ready or not

By show of hands, who here enjoys a rousing game of hide and seek? If I was to bet, I would say that at some point in our childhoods, we have all played. For children, everything is about fun and games; tag, duck-duck-goose, and the aforementioned hide and seek. Count to one hundred then come and find me. Like I said, these are kid’s games. Now, what if, as an adult, you were thrust into a night of a deadly game where you had to hide to save your life, and if you were found, you’d be killed? This is the situation that the new film from Matt Bittinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Ready Or Not, presents to us.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is a lovely bride-to-be, marrying into the wealthy and eccentric La Domas family. The family, being rich, are skeptical as to Grace’s intentions. The La Domas Empire was built on the backs of board games and playing cards. Think Milton-Bradley or Parker Brothers. With this being said, it is only fitting that the family “welcomes” Grace into the fold with a wedding night game of chance. Unfortunately for Grace, she selects the wrong game; hide and seek. Thus begins a night of survival for the newlywed, as she must make it until dawn without being found.

Going into Ready Or Not, I had no real expectations. I saw the trailer for the movie a couple times, and thought it looked interesting. We decided to check it out, and will grab you right away with its back-handed charm. The characters are all jaded and untrusting, which makes them, as odd as it sounds, relatable. The family is dysfunctional and cagey, which is the case in a lot of people’s experience. The idea of someone having to survive the night until dawn, being hunted by lunatics is not original by any stretch, but the execution here is almost perfect. The dark humour and sarcasm contained in the dialogue is biting and beautiful, and the distain these characters show for one another adds to the humor and paranoia. Also, as an added bonus, there are outbursts of violence that will satisfy your bloodlust and your sense of amusement. The final ten minutes of the film are wild, and the creators do not skimp on the violence and gore. This was a welcome touch in a year that has been less than generous with good horror movies. Ready Or Not is a fun film if you take it for what it is. It may have even slid into my list of favorites so far in 2019. If you want to be entertained for ninety minutes, Ready Or Not is a game worth playing.

T.

JOHN CARPENTER LOVEFEST

Why John Carpenter Is My Favorite Director

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The Maestro in Action

Many directors have a distinct style. When directors carve out their own niche, for the most part, the men behind the lens gain notoriety. Great examples of this are Martin Scorsese, with his quick cut, narrated crime capers. Quentin Tarantino, who uses dialogue and ultra-violence to give his stories life. There is also, my personal favorite director; John Carpenter. From the time I was a boy, there is something about Carpenter’s films that hook me. The ingredients he uses to cook up his films fit perfectly with my movie pallet. For this reason, I would like to tell you why John Carpenter is my favorite movie director.

Simplicity   There is one common thread through Carpenter’s work; survival. From Assault On Precinct 13 to Ghosts of Mars and everywhere in between, a fight for survival against an evil force is the main theme throughout. This makes for his films to be unsettling, intense, and simple. Babysitter versus madman, scientists versus alien, or truck driver pitted against evil sorcerer. You get the picture. A simple plot. Good versus evil. Everything right down to Michael Myers expressionless white mask is uncomplicated. This makes a plot like an escaped mental patient stalking babysitters in small town Illinois seem plausible, organic, and more terrifying; it could happen to anyone. Simple is good. Carpenter does it well.

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The Soundtracks   If you were to take away the haunting synth-based soundtrack from the previously mentioned Halloween, what are you left with? You have footage of a man walking around the dark with a knife. This is not nearly as effective as the same footage armed with the iconic theme of the film. Carpenter’s soundtrack scores and themes are very effect in drawing out the tension and action. The main title from his 1980 ghost story The Fog is my personal favorite. The music is creepy in all the right places. Carpenter still continues to tour, performing his vast collection of synthesizer music. His Anthology and Lost Theme albums are amazing.

The Villains   All great stories have a great protagonist. John Carpenter’s films have a wide arrange of monsters and bad guys. From a possessed 1957 Plymouth Fury named Christine, to a whole island filled with violent criminals in Escape From New York, Carpenter villains run the gamut. The Shape, also known as Michael Myers has even become a pop culture icon since he first appeared in 1978. Perhaps his best creature is the parasitic alien that jumps from host to host in The Thing. This is Carpenter’s best film, and it is party because the alien is convincing and pretty damn cool. A great movie monster goes a long way in telling a great story.

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They Live (1988)

The Anti-Hero   John Carpenter’s films also have another common theme; the anti-hero protagonist. Anti-hero, by definition, is “a central character in a story, movie, or drama, who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Carpenter’s heroes do not wear capes, drive fast cars, or fit into any typical hero mold. Look at these characters, for example. Snake Plisskin is a convicted bank robber who sent into a crime infested Manhattan to save the U.S. president. In Big Trouble in Little China, Jack Burton is hard-living truck driver who battles a sorcerer. For the Kurt Russel hat-trick, whiskey drinking anti-social helicopter pilot McReady battle the alien that invades his Alaskan science outpost in The Thing. Nada, the drifter in They Live and Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers psychiatrist are also examples of Carpenter’s unconventional good guys.

Genre Crossover   Blending genres is something that can make a compelling story. John Carpenter is the master of blending horror and science fiction together to make great cinema. Look at films like The Thing, They Live, and Village of the Damned. All great horror films with some science thrown in for good measure. His use of aliens and Martians is pretty much a Carpenter trademark. Humor is also something the director does well. It is usually subtle, but in a movie like Big Trouble, the laughs are right on the surface. Starman is a blend of sci-fi and romance. I think you get the point I am trying to make. The man is a damn good writer and filmmaker.

 

My Top Five John Carpenter Movies:

  1. The Thing
  2. Halloween
  3. Escape From New York
  4. The Fog
  5. They Live / Big Trouble In Little China

T.

My Two Cents: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

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Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Directed by: André Øvredal (Troll Hunter)

Starring Zoe Margret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush

CBS Films, Entertainment One (2019)

Based on the book written by Alvin Schwartz

While I was growing up, there were not a lot of horror books and shows made for kids and preteens to enjoy. It seemed everything in the nineteen seventies and made for the horror genre was geared towards adults. The nineties kids had plenty of horror –lite to enjoy. That generation had Are You Afraid Of The Dark? And the Goosebumps books to jump-start their horror obsession. By the time these arrived, I was already desensitized from watching movies like The Exorcist and The Shining at a young age. No starter horror for me. I jumped in headfirst. Today, kids can be exposed to horror without being scarred for life. This is where Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark falls into place. The main characters are all younger teenagers, and the frights are far more palatable and less gruesome.

Scary Stories is the tale of a group of teens growing up in Middle American during one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history; the late 1960’s. On Halloween night, the gang visits a mansion, which according to legend, is haunted. The family that lived in the home had many dark secrets, including a hidden away daughter that lived a secluded, tortured existence. The kids take a book that once belonged to the daughter, and this begins a series of fateful stories being written into the book by a ghostly presence. These stories begin to happen in real-time, and the group must face their fears to save their lives.

Scary Stories is definitely meant for a teenage crowd, but also has enough to keep adults interested as well. Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape Of Water) co-wrote the screenplay, and if you are a fan of the directors work, you know there will be some wild imagery and creative monsters in the movie. I found the political and social references of the time set a dark tone for the story, although most of the younger viewers won’t understand them. Subtle humor is injected for a good counter balance the intensity of some scenes. All in all, I enjoy my horror with a little more violence, bloodshed, and of course, nudity. After all, I am a horror veteran. Scary Stories, however, would be a very nice jumping point for someone who is new to the genre, or feels like upping the game from light fare like Goosebumps.

T.

 

My Two Cents: Ari Aster’s MIDSOMMAR

Midsommar

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Francis Pugh, Jack Raynor, Vilhelm Blomgren

A24 Films 2019

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After watching Hereditary, director Ari Aster’s first feature length film, I wasn’t really sure how to feel about it. Visually, the movie was great. The acting is stout and believable, and the characters are polarizing. However, I felt that maybe I missed a lot of the films symbolism after the first viewing. The film was very monotone for the first hour, and not until the final act did I become fully engaged in what was happening on the screen. After a second viewing, I was able to absorb a lot more, and pause and rewind when I felt a scene needed to be dissected. This made me appreciate Hereditary a lot more. Upon hearing about Midsommar, Aster’s second feature, I was hoping that I wouldn’t encounter the same trepidation I had after Hereditary. I was cautious.

This was not the case at all.

Midsmmar is the story of Dani (Francis Pugh), an early twenties woman whom experiences an absolutely horrific family tragedy. Dani’s emotionally absent boyfriend Christian, along with his college friends, are planning a trip to Sweden to experience a centuries old festival that takes place on a commune. Out of guilt and thinking she will decline, Christian invites Dani along. To the dismay of the group, she accepts the invitation and they are soon on their way to Sweden. Through a series of bizarre rituals and strange customs, the trip starts to unravel for the group of American outsiders (oddly enough, only one American actor stars in the film). I will leave the synopsis to this bare bones description, because honestly, you have to experience this film for yourself.

I love Midsommar. The film is a beautifully paced, and gorgeously shot look inside grief and the impact it has one a person’s mental wellbeing. I found it easier to process than Hereditary. The symbolism is there, but the messages and meanings are there for the viewer to grab on to, rather than piece together and think too much about. You know right from the time of their arrival that the journey will end badly. You just have to watch and see how badly it ends.

To be honest, there are not many likeable characters in Midsommar, but that is a good thing. This results in the tension being heightened and the dread more palpable. People grieve in different ways, which makes grief isolated and a subjective matter. This is why I feel not everyone will like this movie. I love looking beneath the surface of film plots, and with Midsommar, I was revealed a truly beautiful experience. The last thirty minutes of this motion picture is one of the wildest, imaginative and twisted conclusions to a film I recall seeing in cinema. If you enjoy watching something truly original, Ari Aster has cooked up a five star feast for your senses.

T.