Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Bill Skarsgård gets perhaps his best showcase yet—outside of his Pennywise makeup, that is—in Villains as Mickey, a small-time crook who robs grocery stores with Jules (Maika Monroe).

When his car runs out of gas minutes after a heist, they wind up in the house of George and Gloria (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick), who seem stuck in the 1950s, judging by their TV set. They also seem to be psychos, thanks to a secret in their basement. Mickey and Jules try to work their way out of the predicament, one that eventually involves Mickey strapped to a bed while Gloria does an erotic dance for him.

The film is strange, mostly in a good way; it’s oddly directed and written by the team of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. Monroe, who is quickly becoming one of the more reliable cult-film actresses in the business, is great as Jules, who learns a few life lessons while dodging bullets.

Skarsgård has a great hyper energy and delivers the film’s best work as a lovable dummy. Donovan and Sedgwick are wonderfully creepy as the married couple who have a strange interpretation of what “family” is supposed to mean.

Villains is now streaming on Fandango Now.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Isabelle Huppert goes bonkers in director Neil Jordan’s Greta, a silly, standard psycho-stalker film made somewhat fun by Huppert’s commitment to nuttiness, as well as co-star Chloe Grace Moretz’s excellence at playing freaked out.

Moretz is Frances, a young woman living in New York City with her best friend, Erica (Maika Monroe). Frances, still dealing with the loss of her mother, finds somebody’s handbag on the subway and decides to return it to its owner.

The owner is Greta, a piano-playing, solitary French woman who immediately invites Frances into her life, and they develop a fast mother-daughter-type bond. Greta has a daughter of her own, but she lives in Paris, so Frances fills a void, while Greta provides the motherly friendship Frances craves. Erica cries “Weird!” about the whole relationship, but Frances persists, even helping Greta adopt a dog, and opting to hang with Greta instead of friends her age.

This is a horror-thriller, so it’s fairly obvious going into the theater that the connection isn’t going to work out well. The cards are flipped early in the movie, and Greta reveals herself as a real kook, with her eventually going into full stalker mode. The plotting is similar to that of other stalker films like Single White Female and One Hour Photo. Those films were actually quite entertaining, as is Greta. That’s mainly because Huppert, a great actress, commits 100 percent to becoming a memorable, cringe-inducing psycho nut. There’s little mystery that she’s crazy; the movie is really about revealing just how freaking crazy she is.

Jordan uses a lot of standard scenarios, like Greta taunting Frances through her mobile phone, or Greta standing outside the window of Frances’ workplace, just staring at her. In the hands of a lesser director, this could come off as shlocky, but Jordan (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy) knows a few things about making movies with solid cinematography and editing. Greta is a solid movie enterprise as far as all the bells and whistles go.

Huppert and Jordan do a serviceable job of making Greta an intimidating, terrifying monster. They also allow the movie to go off the rails in a funny and effective way. Ballet-dancing, hypodermic needles, piano-playing and toy boxes all play a part in the insanity, and Huppert embraces the chance to play bad with glee.

While Huppert takes a journey into crazy villain land, Moretz deserves a lot of credit for keeping her role grounded in a sort of reality, no matter how nutty the proceedings get. The film works as well as it does because Moretz’s Frances is easy to root for, even when her actions are so dumb.

It doesn’t hurt to have Monroe doing her best work since her presence in the instant horror classic It Follows. She brings vigor to the “roommate” role that could easily come off as a stereotype. Erica proves to be a character as memorable as Greta and Frances.

Greta isn’t groundbreaking filmmaking, but it is entertaining and contains enough good scares and creepy moments to make it worthwhile. Huppert’s Greta isn’t the sort of movie monster that will haunt your dreams, but she will make you uncomfortable for a couple of hours.

Greta is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I’m going to sound like an old coot right now, but here I go: When I was a young fella, young-adult science fiction had some goddamn backbone.

Some of the stuff was actually really good, especially one science-fiction series in particular: We had this alien invasion book series by John Christopher called The Tripods, which our school required us to read. The books focused on some young kids trying to make it in this world while trying to avoid alien control. It was well-written and kind of exciting. I think it’s actually to blame for a lot of the tween bullshit we have to endure now at the cinemas.

If The Tripods series was the prototype for tween science fiction, The 5th Wave is its absolute bastard abomination, at least in its movie form; they share the “teens try to kick some alien asses while going through their social awakening” theme—and little else.

The 5th Wave is based upon the young-adult novel by Rick Yancey, the first in a trilogy. God willing, the other two books will not receive a movie adaptation. Further cinematic installments may cause me to punch myself in the face and thus hurt my standing at the workplace, in social gatherings, etc.

Chloë Grace Moretz plays Cassie Sullivan, a normal teenage girl who drinks beer at parties and drools over high school football player Ben Parish (Nick Robinson); her dad is the guy from Office Space (Ron Livingston). Things go from routine to wacky for Cassie when a big metal spaceship parks over Ohio and starts messing with the human race in “waves.”

The first wave involves an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out all power and renders the PlayStation 4 useless, while the second wave brings earthquakes and tsunamis. The third wave involves plague, while the fourth includes survivors battling aliens who have taken human hosts. The fifth wave … well, that’s a mystery—a mystery you will solve really quickly if you put forth even the slightest mental effort.

The first three waves are actually kind of interesting, although the subpar special effects and meager budget ($38 million, according to IMDb) don’t allow for much elaboration. The waves are finished relatively quickly, and we are left with Cassie running around the forest. She’s captured by dreamy dude Evan Walker (Alex Roe), a character so lame he’ll make you miss Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

The aliens occupy human hosts by crawling in their heads somehow and wrapping around their brains. We never do get to see this actually happen. Had we seen this process, the film might’ve had a decent scene or two. What we do get is a couple of hilariously bad scenes in which we see the aliens in horribly rendered X-rays that make old ’80s Atari games look state-of-the-art. (Yes, picture me in a rocking chair with some hooch.)

Goetz is an interesting young actress, but she makes a lot of bad movies. I haven’t been blown away by one of her movies since Hugo, which came out five years ago. She looks lost here; her bid for her own Twilight or Divergent series is indeed a sad, sad thing.

Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello chime in as military personnel. One of last year’s “It” girls, Maika Monroe of It Follows, plays young alien-resistance recruit Ringer, a goth girl who takes the time to put on eye makeup for the apocalypse. Hey, one has to keep up appearances, right?

As for The Tripods (wait … let me take a sip of my hooch and puff on my pipe), it was made into a failed TV series back in the ’80s, but there has been some buzz about making a new movie from the books. If they do, please keep Chloë Grace Moretz, the girl from It Follows and Taylor Lautner’s abs far away from the project.

The 5th Wave is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A young woman pays the price for sex in a car in a very big way in It Follows, a creepy, ghoulish, unrelenting horror film from writer-director David Robert Mitchell.

Taking more than a few cues from John Carpenter’s Halloween and the zombie works of George Romero, Mitchell is tuned into the sort of stuff that makes filmgoers squirm and sweat. The movie, reportedly based on one of his own nightmares, combines voyeuristic camera work, eerie soundtrack vibes and fine acting to result in one of the best old-school horror films of the past decade.

Jay (Maika Monroe), a shy high school girl, cools off in her backyard pool while the neighborhood kids spy on her. She’s got a big date with the dreamy Hugh (Jake Weary of Zombeavers), and is anxiously anticipating it. The young couple take in a Cary Grant movie, indulge in some people-watching games, and then have sex in the backseat of his car. She barely has time to take in the loss of her virginity before she’s sucking on a chloroform rag.

Turns out Hugh had an agenda beyond sex: He’s carrying some sort of curse, and the only way to pass it on is through intercourse. The curse involves an unstoppable force that can take the shape of any human, be it an old naked man or one of your parents. That force is not only out to kill the cursed individual; it’s out to kill the cursed individual in a very violent way.

The nightmare kicks in fast for Jay, as a never-ending chain of expressionless people pursues her. The sight of humans simply walking forward hasn’t been this scary in a long while. The aforementioned Carpenter did it well in the original Halloween with Michael Myers, in his white mask, walking like a menacing robot toward his prey. Mitchell uses people of all ages, shapes and sizes as his monsters—and the more normal they look, the more frightening they are to watch.

The shape shifting “monster” is highly effective device: You will find yourself constantly scanning every frame of this movie, evaluating every human being that appears. Crowd shots are especially unnerving. There are times where the “monster” is fairly apparent, and others times when it is vaguely visible in the back of the shot. In short, you don’t ever feel safe watching It Follows.

Of course, there is also a “loss of innocence leads to danger” element here: Not only does Jay lose her sense of safety and well-being after her first sexual encounter; she is forced into a form of promiscuity as she frantically tries to pass the curse along. Characters in this film who would otherwise be generous, caring types wind up hurting and cursing others out of fear and dread. Once they are faced with terror, they act in inarguably selfish and psychopathic ways.

This is mind-bending material, and it marks Mitchell as a filmmaker who knows how to go deep in a genre that is often quite shallow. The finale actually feels a little big for his lean indie film, but it’s still an effective conclusion. I’ll also note that Jay’s friends cannot see the monsters pursuing her, which leads to some good sequences of people being tossed about by invisible forces.

Cinema has had few true horror standouts in recent. (Last year’s The Babadook is a modern classic, and Afflicted was a fun spin on the vampire genre.) I would place It Follows at around the same level of The Babadook: It’s a modern classic. Go see the film, and be prepared to have a love/hate relationship with Mitchell: He’s going to give you a nice, scary time at the movies—and nightmares in the days after.

It Follows is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews