Ouija

October 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Darn Kagasoff
Directed by: Stiles White (debut)
Written by: Juliet Snowden (“The Possession”) and Stiles White (“Boogeyman”)

It might be based on a board game found in any local toy store, but moviegoers will be hard-pressed to find anything remotely entertaining about the horror movie “Ouija,” a dull and completely apathetic cash-grab for game maker Hasbro and Universal Pictures. Just in time for Halloween, terrible horror movies like “Ouija” might be enough for an indiscriminate 13 year old to enjoy, but teenagers are bound to get more scares walking through a high school haunted house run by the band booster.

After the mysterious death of their friend, a group of five high school students attempt to contact her via the Ouija board she apparently played before committing suicide. Best friend Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke), leads the group through the ritual, which ultimately awakens an evil spirit who begins to kill each teen one by one. It’s a hokey story with forgettable characters and situations seen countless time before in other shockingly bland contributions to the horror genre. In the case of “Ouija,” it is so generic, the actual Ouija board could’ve been replaced with just about anything (a demonic cell phone, a possessed antique heirloom, a pair of dirty underwear, perhaps) and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the narrative. Add an wise, old Latina maid who know exactly what is happening to the teens because, well, she’s a wise old Latina maid, and just about every other horror movie cliché you can possibly think of (“Come on you guys, who’s doing that?” a character asks when the Ouija board planchette starts moving), and “Ouija” is about as brainless as you can get.

Written by the duo that brought audiences a handful of other unwatchable horror movies like “The Possession” and “Boogeyman,” it really shouldn’t be a surprise how awful “Ouija” turned out to be. It’s more disappointing that this movie is actually going to make people money. In doing so, remember to look out for “Chutes and Ladders: Path to Hell” next October.

Land Ho!

August 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Earl Lynn Nelson, Paul Eenhoorn, Alice Olivia Clarke
Directed by: Aaron Katz (“Cold Weather”) and Martha Stephens (“Pilgrim Song”)
Written by: Aaron Katz (“Cold Weather”) and Martha Stephens (“Pilgrim Song”)

“Life is too fucking short…to sit still.” The honest line of dialogue spoken by one of the lead actors in the low-key comedy “Land Ho!” is an all-encompassing way to describe the motto of this lighthearted adventure by writers/directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens. Featuring two gentlemen in the twilight of their lives, it’s refreshing to witness Katz and Stephens awaken the soul of these types of characters who are usually tossed into cliché “geezer” roles when the script asks for a curmudgeon to yell out, “Get off my lawn!” Fortunately for art-house audiences, “Land Ho!” rarely takes the obvious route and instead aims to share a genuine friendship between two men who don’t seem like they’re ready to slow down any time soon.

In the film, actors Earl Lynn Nelson (“Pilgrim Song”) and Paul Eenhoorn (who was fantastic in last year’s under-seen “This is Martin Bonner”) star as Mitch and Colin, two former brothers-in-law who venture off to Iceland in an attempt to “get their groove back.” Mitch, a retired physician, who looks like he’s in his 70s but acts like he’s in his 20s, doesn’t take no for an answer when he presents Colin, a former orchestral French horn player fresh out of a bad relationship, with a plane ticket to the North Atlantic country to get him out of an emotional rut.

For much of the film, we watch Mitch and Colin do what two old guys would probably do if they went on vacation together – dine out, visit landmarks, take hikes, have conversations with each other and with strangers. Mitch, who turns out to be somewhat of a pervert (as playful and harmless as that can be taken), flirts with as many young girls he can find, including his younger cousin and her friend who they pick up at the airport for an evening out among adults.

While it may be easy to compare “Land Ho!” to director/writer Alexander Payne’s Oscar-winning 2004 buddy indie road comedy “Sideways” (Mitch seems exactly what Thomas Hayden Church’s character Jack would turn into in 30 years), it’s more reminiscent of another of Payne’s projects, the short film “14e arrondissement” featured in the 2006 compilation film “Paris, je t’aime.” In that short, a woman named Carol (Margo Martindale) takes a six-day vacation alone in Paris and thinks about life, death and love. It’s sweet, but has an air of sadness about it, too. “Land Ho!” might have a few more phallic-inspired jokes than it really needs (thank Mitch for pointing out that lighthouses remind him of cocks), but spending some time with these men feels familiar and pleasant, even when it struggles to be completely engaging.

Magic in the Moonlight

August 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Blue Jasmine”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

With the amount of features filmmaker Woody Allen has consecutively written and/or directed over the last 30-plus years (at least one annually since 1981!), not all of them can be winners. For every Oscar-winning script penned like “Midnight in Paris,” there‘s a picture like “To Rome with Love” that fails to reach the level of intellect and wit one would hope Allen could recreate in every project.

After writing and directing last year’s wonderful character study of an emotionally unstable and neurotic woman in “Blue Jasmine,” which won actress Cate Blanchett her second Academy Award, Allen has once again quickly churned out another screenplay with “Magic in the Moonlight” It is, however, one that evokes his lesser attempts and is sure to garner little attention after it’s release. While “Magic in the Moonlight” is, at times, charming and beautifully shot, the humor, romance and sharp dialogue are sorely lacking.

In the film Oscar winner Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) plays Stanley, a popular magician who performs under a stage name and behind a costume and is known for being able to debunk supernatural powers. Stanley is faced with his most challenging case when he meets Sophie (Emma Stone), a young woman claiming to be a spiritual medium who can connect with the dead and reveal things about someone’s past that would be impossible to know. Although Stanley refuses to allow himself to be cast under her spell and become a believer, he soon finds out there is more to Sophie than he first thought.

While the theme of logic versus faith is interesting, “Magic in the Moonlight” is far too predictable and lightweight to build on a fine performance by Stone, who shows some nice range as an actress coming into her own like she did in “The Help.” Firth, too, is substantial as he tries to separate what his heart and mind want. Without the dramatic confidence of some of Allen’s earlier films, however, “Magic in the Moonlight” sizzles out faster than Allen can type screenplays.

 

Korengal

July 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: LaMona Caldwell, Miguel Cortez, Stephen Gillespie
Directed by: Sebastian Junger (“Restrepo”)

In a follow up to his emotionally-raw and visceral 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo,” filmmaker Sebastian Junger brings viewers back to the frontlines of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in “Korengal,” an equally intense sequel created from leftover footage Junger (and late “Restrepo” co-director Tim Hetherington who died during the Libyan civil war in 2011) captured during their time spent with deployed American servicemen in 2007 and 2008.

What was left on the editing room floor when Junger and Hetherington pieced together “Restrepo” is definitely not extraneous footage that could be forgotten. In “Korengal,” Junger, an American journalist and author, continues his powerful and illuminating one-on-one interviews with soldiers who share their experiences in combat and their personal thoughts about everything including family, friendship and faith. Junger doesn’t toss up too many softball questions, so what soldiers are presented with is an opportunity to speak candidly about the things they have seen on the battlefield and the responsibility they feel they have to their fellow brothers.

It’s obvious each of these soldiers would die to save the life of the man next to him, but to hear it come from the men themselves and hear the authenticity behind their voices is affecting. Also noteworthy are the moments of reflection when some of the men think about what they are doing in such a hellish environment. During one particularly heart-wrenching interview, a soldier questions whether or not killing another human being, even during wartime, is a forgivable act. The excuse that “it’s something [he] had to do,” isn’t sitting well with his conscious anymore. For someone who believes in God, it’s a logical debate that really illustrates how torn some of the men are when put into a life or death situation.

While “Korengal” isn’t as moving as its predecessor (“Restrepo” focused a lot more on a single soldier who was killed in Afghanistan, Juan Restrepo), the realistic firefights, scenes where soldiers are overcome by pure boredom and the insightful thoughts of these men, some who may have over-romanticized the military when they first joined up, it is still a compelling package Junger has put together with thought and focus. It’s probably true that moviegoers who have never served in the military still won’t really understand the sacrifice these men have made nor will they ever feel the same type of loss as someone who witnesses a friend die in battle, but Junger’s attempt to tap into the hearts of these heroes is commendable.