Sometimes it’s refreshing to drive your head into the sand and march into a film with pretty much no idea what’s coming. It’s admittedly tough to do these days, what with trailers autoplaying willy-nilly in our social media feeds and clickbait sizzle preceding just about every steak — but every now and then the stars align and along comes a film that, sure as cold beads form on my ICEE cup, stays swaddled in a cloak of utter mystery. (Thanks for permitting that particular pause-4-florid — I had to earn my “overwrought prose” badge for the week.) Anyway, that all did happen, and I am pleased to report, Game Night was a fun surprise.
Game Night is pretty much The Game meets Date Night (I could write titles) with just a dusting of Get Out-style woke comedy and a legitimate barrel-o-monkeys of surprisingly decent laughs. This is a really entertaining movie.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams lead as Max and Annie, a super-competitive game-obsessed suburban married couple who host game nights at their house with pals Ryan (the always-enjoyable Billy Magnussen), Kevin (Lamorne Morris, who trots out a mean Denzel impression), Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), and Sarah (Sharon Horgan). When Max’s older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town, old rivalries flare up and the group is plunged into a kidnap-mystery participant-theatre adventure that blurs the line between reality and THE GAME. (I could write synopses.)
The plot is what it is, but a film like this sinks or floats on pacing, More >
Hannah Arendt long ago suggested that humanity’s most immoral acts might not be so special after all. If the Third Reich’s reign of genocide gave us the “banality of evil,” can any harm we inflict on each other ever truly be horrific? I’ll leave that question to the political philosophers. In the meantime, “The Death of Stalin” submits that history’s worst figures should wither under our mocking gaze rather than control us with fear. It’s an unsettling experience, but a rowdy, peculiar romp of historical fiction.
Armando Iannucci, our preeminent film and television provocateur, pulls back the Politburo curtain in May 1953. The titular event leaves a monumental gap in Soviet leadership. A writer known for lacing his acerbic humor with jaw-droppingly creative profanity reduces some of the period’s most fabled monsters into shambling nincompoops. (Seriously, partake sometime in a Selina Meyer turn of phrase on “Veep” if that’s not a part of your pop culture diet.) Stalin infamously hosted late-night drinking and John Ford soirées for his inner circle. He forced them to really lean into that whole comrade thing. Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi, droll as ever) even keeps a running list of which dinner jokes met with the General Secretary’s approval. A stray remark could land anyone’s name on the secret police list administered by the bulldog-bear hybrid Lavrentiy Beria (a magnificent Simon Russell Beale). His forces, the NKVD, carry out torture and executions with more causal More >
The Sophomore Slump forgives not. The expectations following a promising debut sometimes can spur artistic leaps (see, e.g., Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky). More often for the brash auteur, critical capital dries up on the second try. Just ask Ana Lily Amirpour or Richard Kelly. Definitely don’t ask Michael Cimino, whose third time behind the camera is truly the stuff of ignominious legend. To this list, I submit Alex Garland, the screenwriter-turned-director responsible for some of the most noteworthy sci-fi thrillers of the new millennium. The fine “Sunshine,” the haunting “28 Days Later,” and the sublime “Ex Machina” all set the stage for Garland to up the budget and casting antes in service of a magnum opus. Those expecting his coronation with “Annihilation” will have to wait at least another picture more.
Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, “Annihilation” tells a story far less bewildering than it presumes. Johns Hopkins biologist Lena (a relatively inert Natalie Portman) mourns the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). Kane kept his Army-issue weapons, while Lena traded hers in for a microscope. Having been presumed killed in action, Kane suddenly reappears like a drugged-out Lazarus to shake Lena out of her mitosis lecture languor. In no time at all, she is chatting with psychologist Dr. Ventress (a nearly flat-lining Jennifer Jason Leigh) and signing up for a repeat of the mission that we learn had kept Kane away for almost a year. A force field known as More >
Don’t open the door. Get the gun. Don’t go back in there. About halfway through every horror movie, at least one of these thoughts goes through your mind, or if you’re especially lucky, gets shouted at the screen by the person behind you in the theater. And it’s at that same moment, while you watch the horrified heroine do the exact opposite of what you know she should be doing, that you stop caring about her fate. Suddenly, it’s not real and you can root for whoever you want, because come on, nobody in real life would be that dumb.
But what are you supposed to think when the heroine does everything right? What does it mean if she’s seen all the horror films, reaches for the phone, makes use of every open door, arms herself with all the weapons, and we are still biting our nails wondering if she’ll make it out alive? That’s the novel question The Strangers tackled in 2008, and the same question its sequel explores a decade later in The Strangers: Prey at Night.
Much like the first film, Prey at Night is centered on very average people facing ho-hum problems. The rebel teen daughter (played by Bailee Madison, who offers quite an effective, believable, and un-annoying performance, regardless of what her name might suggest) is out of control, so the family of four packs up the minivan and heads out to drop her off at boarding school, stopping at mom’s family’s vacation rental trailer park for an overnight along the way. This Hallmark-level plot takes a quick left turn when the More >
Thoroughbreds is special little thriller. Right from go, it’s unpredictable — it plays every scene just a little differently than you expect. If you take your teen-angst pictures dark, cold, and set in the idyll of Connecticut’s WASPiest surrounds, you’ll love this one.
Thoroughbreds was shot in under a month, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival (under the name “Thoroughbred,” although I didn’t manage to see it there), and has since picked up distribution through Focus Features. The film is notable both as director Cory Finley’s first feature film, and, unfortunately, as Anton Yelchin’s last (he died two weeks after wrap, crushed by his own Jeep in his driveway).
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Lily Reynolds, a rich high schooler who boards at Andover, lives in a grand old manse, and whose stepfather (Paul Sparks) is a humorless and petulant douche (think financier-cum-rowing machine, fancy road bike, and juice cleanse). Lily is sensitive, demure, and privileged, but with a mean little peach-pit of a soul; Taylor-Joy tacks smoothly between lovable ingenue and steely-eyed schemer like a seasoned professional, and is a delight to watch.
But it’s Olivia Cooke who really slices the screen in two as Amanda, Lily’s near-emotionless childhood friend who’s utterly laconic and immune to any slight; she’s a Vulcan minus the ears and morals, and will pitch a murder like it’s a choice of creamer. I’m amazed that Cooke is able to render so sympathetic a character so necessarily flat and More >
You know the drill. Another year, another trip around the sun, and it’s all for THIS. We here at The Parsing Haus are doing it again, shined and primed for a long and robust jaw-aching feed at the swollen teat of decadent celebrity culture.
Join us on Sunday March 4 for live coverage of the 2018 Academy Awards; bury your hungry snout in our trough of cinephiliac num-nums and popcorn and snark-dumplings and perfect little starfucker sundaes topped with delicious bon mots. It’s a feast. You’re welcome.
- Our live red carpet coverage starts ~4:00 pacific / ~7:00 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
- Our live Oscar coverage starts 5:00 pacific / 8:00 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
So tune in right here. It’s going to be choice.*
* – and don’t forget to refresh the page. On some browsers, the live blog software we use doesn’t auto-update. We’ll fix this someday, probably.Share this:
Carefully-groomed hedges, grates within gates within grids, and tiny, comfy plots to live out the rest of eternity. If you’re picturing a cemetery, that would be a fair guess, given that director Brandon Christensen artfully paints the suburbs with a beige-infused palette of endless, terrifying monotony in Still/Born.
In the film, Mary and Jack give birth to twins, although only Adam survives while his sibling is stillborn. Since Jack just made partner at his firm, work keeps him busy while his wife spends quiet days alone with her new son, battling traumatizing hallucinations of the baby she couldn’t bring home. As if this weren’t enough, she starts to sense someone is hovering over Adam, poised to snatch him up when she’s not looking. The worst part? She’s the only one who seems to notice, and people think she’s crazy when she explains her concern. The lines between demon and dream, hallucination and depression, and paranormal and psychosis blur as Mary scrambles to save her son.
At its core, Still/Born is a solid horror film. Christensen lures us into the muted, sterile comfort of a McMansion, and just when our eyes glaze over during yet another scene of Mary folding gray laundry in a gray room, we are thrown out of our seats by a mile-high jump scare, followed by a soundtrack of eerily sliding bass strings. Christensen effectively relies on steadfast modern techniques, like Paranormal Activity-style hauntings caught by security cameras, The Conjuring-like demonic audio More >
“Wide unclasp the table of their thoughts,” and “These same thoughts people this little world.” If you see Winchester, you learn early on that these phrases are etched into two beautiful stained glass windows in the Winchester mansion. But you may not know that they frame the house’s grand ballroom, that they are from two separate Shakespeare plays, and that nobody knows exactly what Sarah Winchester, the architect of the M.C. Escher-esque home, intended when she designed them that way.
Winchester is rife with rich and playful Easter eggs like these—from the remake of real photos of Sarah Winchester with Helen Mirren’s likeness, to cameos by the house’s most famous and most mysterious architectural features, such as the door to nowhere. But unfortunately, if you haven’t been to the house, the film is a flop, and even the great Mirren herself can’t save Winchester from its meandering plot or cheesy horror tropes.
The Winchester Mystery House, aka the Most Haunted House in America, is a super rad and seemingly random mansion that today rises from the earth like a massive tombstone amid the strip malls and highways of western San Jose. It has a fascinating history that is as American as pioneers, apple pie, and the release of intelligence committee reports. Too soon?
Ok, let’s peel back a few layers of this fascinating story. In the second half of the 19th century, Sarah Lockwood Winchester survives the tragic deaths of her one-month-old daughter, and later, her husband More >
Look, I know it’s 2018, and we should be all “onward and upward,” but I’m here to remind you that it’s ok to let yourself enjoy some truly harmless gratification now and again. Come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s sleeping in when you know you shouldn’t, or peeling back the lid on that pint of ice cream you know is better left in the freezer. Or maybe it’s playing and replaying that moment during the 2018 Golden Globes when Natalie Portman called out Hollywood for not tipping its hat to a single female director—sigh, yeah, now that was a satisfying burn.
Much like any guilty pleasure, Insidious: The Last Key has all the makings of what should be a bad film. Really, I know I shouldn’t like, let alone recommend it, yet here I am finding the franchise’s fourth film to be the best since the original.
Tracking closely with a growing trend set out in the first three films, this one focuses almost exclusively on the story of parapsychologist/friendly grandma character/heroine Dr. Elise Rainier, played yet again by the lovely Lin Shaye. We travel back to Elise’s childhood in Five Keys, New Mexico, where she suffered an abusive father, the death of her mother, a less-than-happy home built next to a prison, and a lot of beige 50s-style decor. As if that weren’t enough, Elise had to deal with her abilities to see dead people and travel out of her body to everyone’s favorite foggy haven in the afterlife: the Further.
After this flashback to Elise’s childhood, More >
The Star cannot possibly be as interesting as the pitch that preceded it:
“Hey, the birth of Christ is great and all, but you know what’s missing?”
“How about – a talking, praying donkey leading the way.”
Oh, Sony Pictures. Of all the pitch meetings in all the world, I wish I could’ve seen that one.
And in the end, in a twist worthy of Shyamalan — as the money-men sat, enraptured on Aerons, spiced lattes forgotten — behold, it was greenlit! Abandon belief, ye hordes. Whatever rational world you think you live in, you’re wrong. The world is this. It is only this.
And I’ll dial it back now, partly because that last bit was a shade too much but mostly because The Star is a pretty dialed-back movie.
The Star tells the story of Jesus Christ’s birth (loosely retold in the most gentle, Sunday-school way), as witnessed by a donkey named Bo (voiced by Stephen Yeun).
Bo dreams of something more than his life in a mill, and sets off on a grand adventure with Dave (a dove, Keegan-Michael Key), and Ruth (a sheep, Aidy Bryant), ultimately crossing paths with a trio of camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, and Oprah Winfrey) and other animals (Kelly Clarkson, Kristin Chenoweth, Patricia Heaton, and others) as they follow the titular star. We see King Herod (Christopher Plummer) dispatch a couple of mean Roman dogs (Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias) to chase them down and ferret out the prophesied King. Meanwhile, Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) make their way to More >