SpecialK

Wish Upon [Review by SpecialK]

World peace. Never-ending financial security. Unlimited wishes. If you paused to reflect for a few moments, I’m sure you could think of some pretty epic wishes you’d make if given the chance. At the very least, you’d likely choose your wishes with more forethought than a distractible, excruciatingly self-involved teenager. But that’s why there aren’t any teen terror films about you, and why Wish Upon will probably rake in more money from theatergoing horror fans than it deserves this summer.

In Wish Upon, protagonist Clare seeks what these films tell us any teenage girl wants—her crush to give her the time of day, the mean girls at school to finally welcome her to their inner circle, and of course, to move past witnessing her mother’s suicide—you know, classic coming-of-age stuff. Clare’s well-meaning dad is played by my generation’s middle-school crush, Ryan Phillippe—who wooed us all with his sweet nothings in I Know What You Did Last Summer: “You two should check out a mirror sometime. You look like shit run over twice.” Swoon. But I digress.

Anyway, Dreamboat Dad brings Clare a magical box with mystical Chinese symbols. Her basic Chinese language skills help her determine that the box offers her seven wishes. She gives it a try, and behold, it works. But as the people in her life start dropping like flies, Clare finds herself wondering if she may have missed something in translation. She revels in her wishes and basks in her greed, but at what cost?

Well, I’ll tell you: More >

47 Meters Down [Review by SpecialK]

What’s summer without a scream-filled, flesh-tearing, bikini-bearing shark film?

June 2017, apparently.

I had high hopes for 47 Meters Down, and I still argue I had good reason to. For starters, Mandy Moore, a throwback favorite, is the star. A beautiful, down-to-earth, second-career actress who is actually not half bad at acting (especially when off-screen—sorry Mandy). And come on, sharks? Forty plus years after Jaws, we pretty much know by now exactly how to use our favorite fearsome fish to build the suspense.

Then for me there was this whole other layer of anticipation. I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on below the water’s surface, ever since I spent my childhood’s Independence Days fishing with my family in northern Michigan. Sitting in that little boat on a massive lake, it felt crazy to me that there was a whole world right below my seat that I’d never get to see.

But although it throws together the same ingredients used in last summer’s The Shallows (girls in bathing suits, huge sharks, bloody gore, beachy scenery), 47 Meters Down fails to deliver a dish we can sink our teeth into.

The premise really is beyond simple: a pair of sisters is diving in a shark cage when the cable snaps and they drop—you guessed it—47 meters down to the ocean floor. Getting back to the surface is complicated by the 25-foot sharks swirling around them, and they have no idea how to evade the predators and make it to safety without getting decompression sickness, or the bends.

But More >

It Comes at Night [Review by SpecialK]

I’ll never forget my first English class. I mean my first real English class. I’m not talking about when your worn-out, second-career, elementary school teacher would ham-handedly thunk themes down before you like thick slabs of meat she oafishly hacked from the chapter you were assigned to read that day—of course, all while watching the seconds tick down until that precious moment when the bell would ring and she could hustle home to her hungry cats.

No. I’m talking about that high school English class with that one quirky teacher (shoutout to Mr. Gruber) who could have easily taught college courses but who was so passionate about teaching young people that he spent his career punching below his weight. The one whose syllabus was comprised entirely of books that at one point or another were banned for their content. The one who made you question everything while awakening in you the realization that you have the ability to craft your own answers to anything.

You know what I’m talking about—in that class, you read that one book (shoutout to The Catcher in the Rye) that taught you that what you thought you enjoyed reading was actually slop. That one book that made you crave works about the world as it truly is, in all its layered, changeable, and complicated glory. That one book that confusingly was nothing you expected to like, but everything you needed.

It Comes at Night takes me back to that freshman high school English class. I stepped into the theater thinking I knew More >

Alien: Covenant [Review by SpecialK]

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The setting? The far reaches of space, of course. The characters? A loveable bunch of couples with far too much to lose. The foe? A foreboding, hero-goading, chest-exploding, ode to old-fashioned sci-fi aliens. So what could go wrong? See Alien: Covenant if you want to find out.

The story unfolds as robot assistant Walter (think Rosie the Robot meets Data in a Michael Fassbender shell) awakens the crew of a ship destined to colonize a far-off planet so that they can handle an onboard emergency. Now awake (and bored?) the crew chases after a curious transmission they track to a planet perfect for human colonization. Mysteriously, in their years of preparation for their mission they seem to have missed this speck of the universe. What to do, what to do…well, nobody is ready to go back to sleep for another seven years, so they decide to forego all plans and explore the unknown planet. The crew takes its dangerous detour, and before we know it, they start dropping like flies.

Now I’ll admit that the film starts out quite strong. Our first encounters with the aliens are raw, visceral (literally), and flat-out fun. It’s exactly what those of us who grew up watching Sigourney Weaver stare down a nasty mini-alien (emerging from its mama like an angry, possessed tonsil) had hoped for—good, old-fashioned, sci-fi horror.

But the plot soon twists and betrays us loyal fans. The struggling crew stumbles upon David (Fassbender again), an out-of-date Walter who you will of course remember More >

Phoenix Forgotten [Review by SpecialK]

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One of my favorite horror movies, if not my absolute favorite, is Lake Mungo, an unexpected little gem of an Australian film. It’s a faux documentary that centers around a family mourning the loss of a teenage girl, who they mysteriously start seeing around their house long after her death. It’s simple and straightforward enough, yet I watch it again and again and never tire of it. The filmmakers gently but persistently build an ominous mood, hitting all my favorite ghosty pressure points and revealing dark, unexpected secrets along the way.

Phoenix Forgotten closely tracks all the things I love about Lake Mungo. In Phoenix Forgotten, our narrator is the sister of a teenage boy who disappeared with two friends in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona. The trio of teens had set out to find answers to the real-life unexplained appearance of a UFO-like string of lights over the city in 1997, but they never returned from their excursion. Now, the sister is back in town, looking for answers about her brother’s disappearance, and of course, making a film. She interviews local experts, family members, and even military officials, and mixes in video recorded by the teenagers themselves.

So what makes it work so well? I think some of it is what has made true crime so maddeningly popular. Many experts have written about the explosion of investigative TV shows and podcasts. They’ve postulated about the “armchair detective” effect of entertainment that walks you through a tragic story More >

Haus, Parsi, Specialk, and CLGJr LIVE BLOG the 2017 Oscars

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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, February 26 for live coverage of the 2017 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 ~2:30 pacific / ~5:30 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
  • Our live Oscar coverage starts 4:00 pacific / 7:00 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. 

XX [Review by SpecialK]

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Ladies, gather ’round. That’s right, circle up. Vanessa and Susie, put down the feather pillows, let’s not fight. Becky, those frilly PJs are adorable! Stacy, cap that nail polish, and Jessica, pause just a sec, you can finish braiding Amanda’s hair later. I’ve got a secret to share: girls can make pretty pictures on the big screen, too!

Look, I really, truly wanted to like XX. I’d been awaiting its release for months. Finally, I thought, a suite of horror films showcasing the power of women filmmakers. I pictured creativity, dynamism, and a new take on my favorite genre. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I knew each film would be singular, bold, and even scarier than my worst nightmares. Surely, a compilation dedicated to brilliant terroristas would offer no less.

Would you believe I even had a whole theme planned for my review? I’d present each film like a waiter describing a chef’s award-winning tasting menu at a fine restaurant. Apéritif, first course, main dish, and dessert—just the perfect little meal. So you can imagine my shock when the first offering was chicken nuggets. Decent ones, but still, chicken nuggets. Next course? Chicken nuggets. Main dish? Sure, we can spice it up. Fried chicken. And dessert? More nugs. Girls, I know we can do better than this.

The Box. In our first glimpse of frighteningly feminine fiction, a stereotypically successful suburban family is torn apart when a young son refuses to eat after being shown something in a gift box by a More >

A Cure for Wellness [Review by SpecialK]

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I’m almost positive that A Cure for Wellness isn’t intended to be a spoof of the entire genre of psychological thrillers. Almost. From beginning (a Michael Clayton-like opening monologue offers some biting commentary on the Mouse Trap board game that is Wall Street while scenes of sterile, gray high-rises slide by), to middle (a bright and airy Shutter Island-brand old timey mental institution spa retreat is inexplicably stuck in the middle of the 20th century), to end (a Phantom of the Opera-style candlelit lair sets the stage for the climax of a castle-on-a-hilltop-versus-villagers folktale), the film draws from any and every psychological thriller in existence.

The story is simple enough at first. A greedy New York financial services firm’s future is on the line, and a young rising star—Lockhart—has been tasked with saving the company by traveling to the Swiss Alps to pick up the CEO where he has been hiding out at a spa retreat. Come on, what young corporate associate hasn’t been there, amirite? If I had a nickel. . .

But it gets even weirder. Lockhart’s car crashes on the mountain road, and he wakes up at the retreat, now a patient himself and unable to escape. While he recuperates, he tries to figure out exactly what is going on at this place, and what this “cure” is everyone is talking about. He also learns about the building’s history—a rich baron sought to make a bride out of his sister in his hilltop castle, but the villagers wouldn’t allow it and burned everything More >

Rings [Review by SpecialK]

You’ve gotta admit that you really haven’t stumbled upon a winner of a scary movie if you have to struggle to stay awake, and if it’s taking every last ounce of dedicated film critic in you to resist the temptation to head home before the feature ends. As a diehard fan of the original film The Ring, I had amazingly high hopes for this third film in the series, Rings, and remained undeterred as the release got pushed back month after month. But perhaps in retrospect, much like the film’s protagonists who watch a VHS tape and then are told by a raspy voice over the phone that they will die in seven days, the signs really couldn’t have been clearer that things would not go well.

Rings opens on an airplane, when a guy with a fear of flying confesses to his seatmate that it’s not the tumultuous turbulence he’s scared of, but a VHS tape that he saw. You know, the one that kills you a week after you see it? That one. (Yes, the screenwriting really is that robotic). We suffer a painfully early, predictable, and banal reveal of Samara—the girl at the center of the franchise who was unfortunately killed by her mother and dropped into a well, so she of course went on to inhabit a grainy VHS tape that its viewers must copy or show others in order to avoid her wrath. Duh. Anyway, Samara wins, and the whole plane crashes.

Useless opening? Yes. Scary? No. Helpful plot device to lay the groundwork from the prior films? Not at all. Frustrated yet? Just getting started. So now we get to the More >

Split [Review by SpecialK]

Perhaps it’s quite appropriate that Split opens as the nation teeters between two starkly different political administrations. Walking to the movie theater in Washington, D.C. tonight, I brushed past out-of-towners in red baseball caps proclaiming that America has fallen by the wayside, while I perused friends’ tearful Facebook posts celebrating all that America has become over the past eight years. This weekend, right- and left-leaning crowds will course through the city’s streets in waves, each vociferously claiming ownership over what it truly means to be an American. In their wake, the nation’s capital could be left shifting from one identity to the next, with no real sense of who it truly is, or perhaps even what it will be capable of in the years to come.

What better time to see M. Night Shyamalan’s dark, compelling gem of a film? In Split, James McAvoy plays Kevin, a young man struggling to live a normal life despite childhood trauma that left him with dissociative identity disorder and 23 distinct personalities. His therapist has tried her best to help Kevin keep his demons at bay, but unfortunately, his most dominant and dangerous personalities have taken charge.

Those identities work together to kidnap three young women, including Casey, played by The Witch’s mesmerizing Anya Taylor-Joy. As we meet each of Kevin’s most terrifying identities, we learn that they have selected the girls because of their easy, struggle-free lives, and that the abductees are to be More >

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