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 >
Check out our interview! Our very own Haus filled in for Manny The Movie Guy (KMIR, NBC Palm Springs affiliate) today on the Nov. 17, 2017 broadcast of Phil Hulett and Friends, doling out the Haus Verdict on THREE films opening today: Justice League, The Star, and Wonder.
In case you’re not familiar with the program, Phil is a veteran LA radio guy and voice-over announcer, as well as the PA announcer for the Anaheim Ducks for the past 21 years. He and his gang of Friends run a great and very professional show — this was their 340th weekly episode. Many thanks to Phil & the gang!
If you missed the live broadcast, click the link below to jump right to 38:08 (where we start), or check out the full episode in podcast form on your favorite platform.
Haus’s full Justice League review is up today; The Star and Wonder are coming soon.
Kids these days are so darned ungrateful, and I’m about to be one of them: Sure, DC’s Justice League assembles popular actors to play well-loved childhood heroes; sure, it’s full of slow-mo fights and splashy, big-dollar effects; and sure, it’s directed mostly by Duke-of-Nerds Zack Snyder (tag-teaming with Nerd-Prince Joss Whedon). But sigh and yawn and whip out the iPhone, because it’s just not enough to entertain me. Or, probably, you.
Which will come as a big blow, because Justice League was meant to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers: Namely, a grand cinematic vehicle uniting everyone’s favorite heroes in a colossal fight to save the planet. And while it ostensibly is this, Marvel can rest easy: Justice League is a thematic muddle, an also-ran with an irrelevant and ho-hum villain, no clear character arcs, a hodge-podge of action scenes, and a mad tangle of secret backstory weighing it down.
Problem the first: To understand what’s going on in Justice League, you really need to have seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — which, to be clear, is something no one should have to do. (For DC even to suggest that anyone ingest that gloomy, overlong Nutraloaf of a film falls one step shy of a war crime.) Too long; didn’t watch: Superman died in that one.
Moving on, Justice League assembles a team of heroes, including Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Three of these characters haven’t had their own movies yet. This is a bit awkward, since this will be many More >
Fans of these pages will remember that Mr. Waititi, a Maori New Zealander, co-directed and starred in one of my favorite films ever, What We Do in the Shadows: A madly funny mock-doc about vampires sharing a house in Wellington, NZ. I wasn’t initially so taken with Waititi’s 2016 offering, the Hunt for the Wilderpeople, chiefly because I went in hoping for another barrage of improv genius but got something quite a bit more serious (though still very good). But taken together, these two films will tell you pretty much what you need to know about this director: He’s a Kiwi with serious comedic skill and an ability to chisel meaningful personal connections from some downright strange situations. And he’s an indie guy through and through.
At least he was, until Marvel handed him the keys to Thor: Ragnarok, with its 1,000-person crew and $180 million budget. The hitmakers unquestionably took a gamble on Waititi, one that could easily have cost them dearly — the urge to play it safe with a successful franchise must be strong as all heck, and it can’t be easy to pair a small-set director whose credits include The Flight of the Conchords with an acre of green screen and a VFX team that could fill a small town.
But they did, and good thing: The result is a masterpiece of entertainment, as close to popcorn-and-ICEE perfection as a blockbuster Norse-themed juggernaut can be.
Of course More >
Only rarely does a sequel match, and occasionally outclass, its parent. I’ll spare you the oft-trotted-out examples dotting that particular shortlist and jump right to the punchline: Blade Runner 2049 is straight-up better than the first.
I mean it. And I’ll take on any insta-pout nerd-poseur fanboi who huffs and puffs and disagrees.
Let’s not forget that the original as released was neither particularly popular in its own day, nor especially good. (It took two much later Director’s Cuts in 1992 and 2007 to fully knead it into the cult totem it now is.) And much like it was a lot easier to make partner at a law firm back in the day, or get into Harvard or whatever, our old standards for movies weren’t always so high. If you dare, go back and watch those old classics you love. My bet? Six of ten will seem pretty darned middling today.
The original Blade Runner was a solid movie for sure, but for me, memorable mainly for its sci-noir damp-dark-neon multilingual LA — a steamy, dripping gritpool that was four parts Walled City of Kowloon with a jigger of flying cars and a dash of skyscraping corporate heraldry. Visually striking, instantly recognizable, and a marked departure from the clean-and-gleam futurescapes we so often see on screen. Beyond this, I remember it chiefly for what it lacked — namely, any explicit resolution to the decades-old stumper of whether Deckard (Harrison Ford) was himself a replicant.
Well, there’s an answer to that here, but there’s much more besides. More >
After seeing the Thursday evening preview of a new horror film, I typically rush home to crank out my thoughts to help you, dear readers, determine whether it’s a must-see, or whether you should forget it was ever released in the first place. But you may have noticed that two opening nights in this fall’s frightening lead-up to Halloween—Friend Request and Flatliners—have come and gone without a peep from me. Oh trust me, I saw both films, I just kept finding extremely legitimate reasons to avoid writing about either. “It’s too late to start tonight,” for example, or “A dogs-trying-to-befriend-cats YouTube video with goats?!”
And then I realized the problem—both films were so ridiculously mediocre that I’d rather claw my own eyes out than sit down to write about them individually. So here we are—me with my vision intact, and you with a fun new way to read about the latest scary movie releases: a two-for-one Special…K.
Let’s lay some groundwork first. In Friend Request, our protagonist Laura is a beautiful, popular, and friendly college girl who manages to have a solid moral compass and doesn’t let her ego get out of control—sooo relatable, right? One day, a brooding Sméagol of a girl named Marina friends Laura on Facebook, and despite Laura’s best efforts to be cordial, she gets creeped out when Marina gets all “my precious” with her, and Laura unfriends her. Bad move. Marina kills herself, films it, and posts it on Laura’s Facebook timeline, but Laura can’t seem to delete More >
For anyone who wants a better angle on Deep Throat, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House chronicles the famous Watergate leaks that catalyzed President Nixon’s resignation from the perspective of the Washington Post’s famously secret source. One of the best-kept secrets in journalism, it wasn’t until more than thirty years later, in a 2005 Vanity Fair article, that Mr. Throat finally outed himself as Mark Felt, assistant director of the FBI who’d served three decades as J. Edgar Hoover’s right-hand man. The revelation was a bit anticlimactic: Decades of speculation surrounded a whispered shortlist of high-profile could-bes, but when the truth came out, it seemed no one really knew who Mark Felt was. The world shrugged.
But Felt was the one, and this is his story. And boy, is it timely. For contemporary relevance, director and screenwriter Peter Landesman could hardly have timed it better. I’m told he started work on the script over a decade ago, and was already filming a year ago — well before the shock of the 2016 election. Nixonian levels of rot and scandal in the White House must’ve seemed very foreign in those halcyon days of 2016.
In an interesting casting choice, Landesman enlists a calm, collected, suave-suited-and-silver-foxed Liam Neeson to play Felt – the “G-man’s G-man,” a model of discipline, loyalty, and reliability, and a thirty-year veteran of the Bureau. Neeson’s Felt is even-keeled, no-nonsense, and wholly dedicated to the Bureau. Felt is a More >