Bright

Bright is a strange movie in that it presents a great basic concept but has absolutely no interest in presenting any of its ideas or themes in a convincing manner. It’s a deadly serious movie that constantly trips over itself with terrible attempts at jokes that it thinks are witty. It’s a movie that flashes its racial themes from the very start only to abandon such things almost entirely about halfway through. And despite the ever-present fantasy elements of orcs, faeries, and elves, the movie never really does much with them.

BY-THE-NUMBERS

Directed by David Ayer and based on a screenplay by Max Landis, Bright feels as unoriginal as it is. Because despite the genre mash-up, the movie itself is little more than a by-the-numbers cop drama.

Nick Jakoby, played here by Joel Edgerton, is rookie police officer and a Tolkien-styled Orc treated by humans and elves as nothing more than some poor, violent creature despite his efforts to rise above the stereotypes applied to his entire race for two-thousand years. He’s acclimated to whatever passes for general human culture. He does not act or talk like a stereotypical Orc. He doesn’t even partake in deep-rooted cultural traditions in the hopes of being better accepted by humans. But the police force, including his partner Daryl Ward (Will Smith), want him gone. Not for anything he’s done wrong, of course. Jakoby being an orc is simply bad enough.

But by becoming a cop, he’s also seen as a race-traitor by other Orcs, specifically those who live down to the same generic stereotypes usually associated with black and Latino gangs in Los Angeles

This all eventually leads to a confrontation with some corrupt cops who will do anything to see Jakoby removed from his position on the force, including having his partner kill and frame him for a crime he didn’t commit.

But when Ward puts honor and pride above deep-rooted racism, he finds a target on his own back. And now he and Jakoby must evade capture while also trying to figure a way to clear their names.

There’s also something about a cult, an ancient prophecy, and a magic wand. But none of this really matters or amounts to much outside of two key scenes.

DIM

And this really does summarize everything wrong with Bright: it’s formulaic and uninterested in being interesting.

The first half of the film is all about racism in American society by way of Los Angeles. But then the movie decides it’d rather focus on police corruption by way of cliche 80s action movies. And then, in a few places, it instead becomes about some pointless ancient prophecy and other fantasy nonsense.

In the end, the movie isn’t about anything. There’s no story. The characters are little more than placeholders playing out a generic plot with a fantasy twist. And its serious, weighty themes are just an excuse to provide a thin, pretentious veneer on a shallow cliche with nothing of value to say.

But worst of all, the movie doesn’t care.

At best, the racism simply reinforces old fantasy tropes of Elves being beautiful and good, Orcs ugly and evil, and humans being somewhere in-between. At worst, it’s a lazy plot device. There’s no attempt at commentary or playing with expectations. In fact, Jakoby and his struggle is hardly the focus here. Will Smith is front and center as a racist police officer who reluctantly becomes a little less racist as the movie drags on.

The drama of two police officers struggling to survive in Los Angeles with gangs, a cult, and the entire police department after them lacks any degree of tension. It never feels like our leads are in real danger. Every scene feels like its impatiently trying to rush to the next. And Jakoby and Ward never feel like they’re bonding through any of it.

And the movie’s few action sequences are just as formulaic and unexciting. There’s a bland car chase. A bland shootout at a nightclub. And a couple of brief, bland magical showdowns that exist just to remind us that we’re watching a genre mash-up.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The movie isn’t hard to watch. And it’s far from the being the worst movie of 2017. It’s not even the worst movie carrying the “Netflix Original” branding this year.

That said, Bright is an underwhelming, disappointing mess of a movie that completely squanders every idea (and dollar) it attempts to juggle. There is no nuance. No subtlety. And despite marketing to the contrary, this is not a blockbuster-caliber experience. In fact, the movie doesn’t even attempt to reach mock-buster levels of spectacle.

I’m sure there will be some misguided audience that will find enjoyment in the fact that this movie exists. But unless you’re desperate for a lazy attempt to blend Training Day with Lord of the Rings, your time will be better spent elsewhere. (Oddly enough, I think it’s worth noting that had Ayer used movies like Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop as reference rather than more serious fare, Bright might have actually stood a chance. Maybe.)

Bright is easily a NO CHILL.

Death Note


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Death Note!


When a high school student discovers a strange notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name he writes in it, he’ll quickly discover that playing God isn’t everything he expected it to be in Death Note.

A SUCCESS OF SORTS

Death Note, from director Adam Wingard, is the latest live-action adaptation of the hit comic and animated TV from Japan. But for all the interesting and smart choices made in the adaptation process, there’s several more bad ones that make it into the final movie.

Now there are already plenty of arguments being made on every blog, vlog, podcast, and Twitter account for how the movie fails to directly convert the source material to screen. But like with every adaptation, especially of such dense, lengthy material, a direct translation would never work as a feature film. It’s not just impractical but madness to even attempt to do so. Instead, it’s about taking what truly mattered in the original and trying to make it work in a new format, style, and run time.

And in that regard, the movie does succeed. Mostly.

FAMILIARITY

Nat Wolff stars as Light Turner, a troubled but bright high school student who comes to hold the titular Death Note, meets the spirit of death who normally owns it, and then uses it to wage a one-man war on whoever he perceives as well-deserving of divine justice.

And along the way he meets, falls for, and partners with a lovely girl named Mia who shares his view on the world. And the two inevitably play a game of cat-and-mouse with the mysterious, super-genius detective known as L whose sole goal in life is to bring Light to justice.

The details of how this plays out–of the characters and their setting–are changed. That much is clear simply by watching the movie’s trailer. This is an American adaptation set in America with American actors.

But the overall movie does play out in a similar manner as the comic and TV series. If you’ve seen one, you know what to generally expect in the other.

FIXER-UPPER

In fact, the movie’s greatest success is in streamlining and simplifying the conflict for the better.

The Light seen in the comic and TV series is wholly unrelatable as a character. He’s a handsome, charming super-genius from a fairly well-off, prominent family. And he has no arc, as he’s already knee-deep in his own God complex. He’s a despicable, blood-thirsty narcissist with little regard for human life who only gets worse as the series drags on.

The Light in Wingard’s movie, however, is a more believable, troubled young man from a middle-class household. His use of the Death Note is more in line with what a bullied, angry but mostly good person would do. He sees himself as a hero righting the injustices of evil men.

That said, this Light isn’t perfect either. Because like the superheroes he idolizes, this Light suffers the lesson of what happens to those who don’t use their great power responsibly. Internal and external forces drive him to darker, more aggressive places. Especially as L grows closer to discovering his true identity.

And, thankfully, this war of morals and ethics between Light and L is not stretched on hour after hour to the point of losing any dramatic weight or purpose.

And it should also be made clear that the performances from both Lakeith Stanfield as L and Willem Dafoe’s vocal performance as Ryuk, the spirit of death constantly lurking in the shadows, are delightful. The rest of the cast fail to keep up, but are otherwise serviceable.

99 PROBLEMS

That all having been said, Wingard’s adaptation suffers from two glaring issues: pacing and staying true to the constantly shifting tone of the original–this serious but simultaneously not at all serious thriller.

Like the original, this movie approaches heavy, serious material with a number of wholly dead-serious scenes only for such things to be frequently ruined by some desire to be cool and stylish.

Now levity and humor are fine, and even necessary at times. But there’s a balance that has to be maintained. A decision has to be made where the movie is either a serious one with moments of levity…or a more stylish, fun movie with key moments of dramatic weight. Very rarely can you ride that fine line and succeed.

Death Note–both Wingard’s movie and the original series– suffers for thinking it can ride that line. I know there are fans of the original series, and there’s plenty there to enjoy. I’m not denying that or arguing against it. However, I stand by the idea that the series is enjoyed more by the ideas presented in it rather than the actual quality of the final product.

In fact, I would say this movie only magnifies the existing issues in the source material. The movie’s pacing is so quick and it’s material is so dense that there’s no time for anything to sink in. But at the same time, the characters are all about as “deep” as they’ve ever been presented. The drama is about as well-built. The tension is about as thick. That’s to say, of course, none of this is very good at all.

The point here is that in all iterations, the focus is always on showcasing certain scenes, certain beats or interactions. To relay some basic idea. But there’s little effort put into making any of it mean anything.

The movie–clocking in at about an hour and forty minutes–is far too eager to rush through its material to even consider slowing down long enough for anything to register. At the same time, the original comic and TV series both stretch the material painfully thin. The events in them are so drawn out– and in this very soap opera-like manner–that such things are diluted to the point of losing any impact.

TRUE-ISH

The movie is not very good. That much is clear. But it’s a fairly true-enough adaptation that’s also fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way. And it’s likely fans of the franchise are going to be the only ones worked up by it in either direction.

Most other people–who will greatly outnumber fans of the property–are either going to be mildly pleased by it or generally nonplussed by what is ultimately a benign, forgettable movie.

Could it have been done better? Yes. Would it have come at the cost of more cuts and changes? Yes. But this is true of the original as much as this adaptation.

And with all that in mind: despite its faults and the unfair demands and expectations of the franchise’s fans, those looking for a quick, stylish jaunt into the bizarre would do just fine electing to CHILL with Death Note.

The Number 23


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the unfortunately sloppy and underappreciated (but stylish) Jim Carrey thriller, The Number 23.


Jim Carrey is Walter Sparrow, an animal control officer who finds his entire life turned upside after his wife, Agatha–played here by Virginia Madsen–shows him a novel that shares more than a passing resemblance to his own life.

But as this obsession with the book continues to grow, Walter slips further and further into the darkest corner of his own mind…in The Number 23.

STYLIZED MADNESS

The Number 23, from director Joel Schumacher, is a very strange mess of a movie.

On the one hand, the movie is tonally and stylistically all over the place. The performances shift back and forth between naturalistic and melodramatic. The movie starts off as a fairly grounded look at one man’s decent into obsession and madness before becoming this stylized pulp mystery before then turning into a Gothic horror story. It’s hard to pin it down as this serious, dark story or a comedic throwback to classic genre pieces and storytelling conventions.

But on the other hand, there’s still this very engaging story of one man losing his tentative grasp on reality and sanity woven throughout this mess.

FOCUS

Now unfortunately, that story is the one told in the book Walter obsesses over rather than the one we see play out in full with Walter himself. The book is a pulp detective story in which a detective by the name of Fingerling becomes obsessed with the number 23 after he meets a woman already driven mad by it. And, soon enough, this book not only drives Walter mad but also convinces him that the book is actually a murder confession from the author.

And while the detective story would work fine enough on its own, it’s the story that inspired this novel-within a-movie that’s the best thing going–this dark, twisted story of a cursed love that consumes everyone involved, driving them full-speed into madness and death. This is exactly what the movie should have been focused on from beginning to end.

Yes, it’s a bit derivative. But its inspirations are the sorts of stories written by men like Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraft. The sorts found in old magazines and radio programs popular sixty or seventy years ago.

This may not have necessarily earned the movie any awards, of course. But it’s the sort of grim yet somewhat campy genre piece Schumacher clearly wanted to make.

The majority of the movie actually presented to us is, instead, a fairly dull one. It feels like filler that exists simply to pad out the runtime of two shorter, better films. Connective tissue between the atrophied meat of the movie.

GENRE ACTING

And, sadly, the performances suffer somewhat. Carrey and company can often be seen, to speak in more theatrical terms, “playing to the back of the house.” They speak in melodramatic tones and with exaggerated gesticulations. But each time, it’s in the style and degree of a scene’s given style or tone.

Again, the general look and vibe of the movie changes changes throughout. But the acting does this as well.

If it’s Walter speaking with his concerned wife, it plays out in the surreal styles of a traditional Hollywood thriller. Carrey and Madsen will speak in quick fits of emotionally-charged shouting as tense, sharp notes of a violin shriek behind them.

But if it’s Walter picturing himself as Fingerling, playing out the story as he reads it, the characters speak in slow, punctuated speech. Their words and tone and inflection conjuring up images of a dark office and a smoking hot blonde lit only by her cigarette. The brass section playing a sensual, alluring tune.

A GENERAL RULE

If the movie is anything, it’s consistent in its inconsistencies. But, again, this doesn’t mean the movie is somehow bad. Uneven and a hot mess of plots, styles, and tones? Yes, of course. But when it’s good, it’s kind of great. Nothing innovative, but it is especially fresh in a time where stories like it are long out of fashion.

As a general rule, I would definitely suggest you CHILL with The Number 23. However, it must be made clear that your millage will vary. And the extent of this will be determined by your interests in classic pulp magazines and radio serials–in Gothic tales where the allure lies in being made witness to inner-demons slowly consuming a man from head-to-toe.

Watchmen


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the adaptation of a comic once thought unfilmable, 2009’s Watchmen!


When one of their own is brutally assaulted and thrown out a high-rise window by a mysterious assailant, a former group of costumed vigilantes must solve an ever-growing mystery that threatens not only them but the entire world…in Watchmen.

NOT UN-FILMABLE

Watchmen, from director Zack Snyder and based on the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is a flawed but highly enjoyable adaptation of a story once believed to be un-filmable.

Now, yes, fans of the original comic series will find themselves conflicted by the way Synder elects to faithfully adapt so much while also omitting or changing other key details.

Some characters are more confident than originally written or have their backstory glanced over. The ending is similar but notably different. Even the reason why costumed vigilantes are no longer active in this world is almost entirely omitted, despite that still being a core aspect of the movie’s story.

But there’s so much done right here that even some of the more drastic alterations are ignorable if not necessarily forgivable.

IT’S ABOUT CHARACTERS

As grand of a story as the original is, it’s Watchmen‘s cast of flawed and deeply troubled characters that really establishes the comic as a modern classic.

The twin plots that revolve around a murder mystery and a global threat are typical comicbook fair. And in a time when so many adaptations of classic comicbook characters are hitting theaters each summer, such things feel rather mechanical. Even in 2009, when the movie originally released, such plots had been done to death in both comics and Hollywood.

But characters like the masked and hyper-violent Rorschach and the ever impotent Nite Owl struggling to find their purpose in a world that doesn’t want or need them? That’s a strong, engaging story.

Their struggles and arcs are not just a stark contrast to the fairly light-hearted efforts from Marvel Studios (or the more recent, wholly underwhelming efforts from Warner Bros.), but also well-realized despite this being a plot-centric ensemble film.

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is an inspired casting choice. Haley seamless slips between a troubled man who has lost any semblance of sanity to a hyper-violent psychopath to a sympathetic, almost selfless antihero.

Patrick Wilson as the middle-aged Nite Owl is a likable, book-ish type who has begrudingly accepted his new life as a private citizen. But his internal struggle as someone who feels as if the world has stripped him of his very manhood just oozes out of Wilson at every turn.

And Billy Crudup’s mostly CGI performance as the man-turned-god Dr. Manhattan carries with it a sense of loneliness and dramatic heft that might have been lost entirely with someone else in the role. Portraying a character who simultaneously has no emotions whatsoever due to his lack of tangible humanity and an inhuman degree of loneliness and heartache that comes along with that is a tough sell. It would have been very easy for anyone in this role to simply come across as bored or unsure of themselves. But Crudup somehow pulls off this balancing act without fail.

STUMBLING BLOCKS

That all said, however, the movie is not without its faults. One of the most unfortunate issues is how the movie’s already limited female cast have their roles reduced even more in the adaptation process.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the female characters–the mother/daughter pair who share the identity of Silk Specter–portrayed by Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman, respectively–were never large roles. In fact, Moore’s original story reduced them largely to the victim and child of rape, one of several notable if wholly unnecessary story beats glanced over in the final movie. Their contributions beyond this are almost nonexistent in both comic and movie.

Then there’s this bizarre habit Zack Snyder has of stripping key scenes of any emotional weight.

There are several times when a given scene is hamstrung by slow-motion, strange musical choices, or simply emphasizing and focusing on the worst thing possible. Whether it’s a very off-putting sex scene or giving entirely human characters superhuman strength at random moments, it’s likely to pull viewers out of the moment as they scratch their heads and ask themselves “Why is this happening?”

IMPERFECTION ISN’T BAD

That all said, Snyder’s Watchmen is easily his best movie to date. His choice to adhere as much as possible to the source material (both in its written content as much as its visuals) results in a faithful-enough adaptation that is streamlined in the best of ways. The spirit of the story and characters remain intact. And the performances bring the characters to life in a way even Snyder’s faithful visuals could never manage on their own.

This is not a perfect adaptation. It’s not even the best adaptation of a comicbook property. But it is one that works in spite of some glaring shortcomings. And that’s not something you can normally expect to find in those projects Snyder has more creative freedom with.

And despite the way audiences and critics gave the movie a lukewarm reception upon its release nearly a decade ago, Watchmen alway was–and continues to be–a movie worth CHILLING with. And in a time when comicbook movies are the hottest thing every summer, it may resonate more with viewers now than ever before.

Circle


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at minimalist sci-fi horror/thriller, Circle!


When fifty strangers wake to find themselves gathered and trapped in a small, dark room, there’s seemingly no way out but a swift, brutal death for everyone. But, as their numbers quickly begin to dwindle, they figure out the subtle rules at play that will determine which one of them will be the sole survivor in Circle.

BIG CAST, TIGHT CONCEPT

Circle, from the writing-directing pair of Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione, is a low-budget, high-concept movie that could have easily gone horrifically wrong in a number of ways…but somehow it never does.

The cast is massive–bloated, really. Fifty characters with no distinct lead is a tough sell. Not everyone has a name, and key characters stick around longer than others. But this is a numbers game where we don’t get to know much of anything about these characters except how they act and speak as individuals until the very moment they drop dead.

Such a thing could have resulted in bland, uninteresting characters with no depth to them. It could have resulted in performances that are over-the-top and more distracting that engaging. But the dialog is tight and character defining on its own. And the performances of its actors feel natural if still somewhat heightened.

Casting and directing the right people in just a few roles is a daunting task. But Hann and Miscione manage to deftly handle fifty individuals, and as one large group.

On top of this, the setting itself is static. We almost never leave the confines of this small, dimly lit room. But there’s enough visual effects and subtle design work to keep it from being too simple and bland. This was a set designed to keep your attention focused entirely on this massive group of talking heads, and it works. It’s just eerie and unnatural enough to keep you guessing as to where and what it is. But it’s a feeling you’ll keep in the back of your mind while you stay focused on the increasing tension between a group of people who know, at best, that everybody but one is going to die.

Because while there is this obvious, glaring mystery hanging over the movie’s collective head, Circle is entirely about the characters. While answers do come and the results are more than satisfactory, what truly matters is how these characters interact with one another.

From the moment everyone wakes to find themselves in the titular circle, they’re struggling with the absolute confusion and terror of being somewhere they don’t know or remember getting to. They’re forced to deal with their own mortality. They’re forced to somehow uncover and fight for a way to stay alive.

Realistically, this would likely be over in a matter of minutes as panicked action would kill off the majority of them. Maybe those fortunate few paralyzed by fear or somehow capable of watching for the mistakes of others before acting themselves might survive a bit longer. But a realistic portrayal wouldn’t exactly make for a watchable movie.

And Circle is more than watchable. It’s a bit insightful. A bit comical–in a fairly dark manner, of course. And it’s entirely gripping from start to finish, especially upon your first viewing. So many questions are left to linger. So many
serious questions are asked and forced to play out, some in unexpected ways.

ELEGANTLY SIMPLE

Circle is a movie that would have easily suffered under the direction of a number of other directors.

It could have lost its way by focusing more on the overarching mystery than its characters and themes. It could have been lost in loud, colorful performances from actors attempting to upstage one another in an effort to make the
most out of their brief, limited screen time. It all could have simply been a dull experience with no tension, suspense,
and genuine moments of heartache and anger.

But the fortunate truth is that Circle is that good. It’s original in its concept and execution. It’s gripping from start to finish. And it’ll leave you wanting more but without feeling as if you’ve somehow been left shortchanged.

Circle certainly isn’t for everyone. This is a movie where very little happens on screen. It’s almost as minimalist as the
concept could possibly be. And this lack of action or effects or much of anything else might turn off quite a few people.

But for those looking for something completely different, for a movie that gives it its all in presenting a series of strong character moments and difficult choices, then Circle is definitely the one you’ll want to CHILL with the first chance you get.

Dreamcatcher


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the entertaining but total misfire adaptation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher!


An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Dreamcatcher tells the story of four childhood friends who were gifted strange abilities by a special needs child they saved so many years ago. Now grown men on their annual winter retreat to a cabin in the woods, the four finally learn the true purpose of their gifts when they come face-to-face with the alien menace known only as Mr. Grey.

SWING AND A MISS

Dreamcatcher, from director Lawrence Kasdan–the director of movies like Wyatt Earp and the writer of classics like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark–is, without question, a wonderfully cast film that also happens to be utter garbage.

King’s novel isn’t exactly a masterpiece that holds up well to any scrutiny. It was admittedly written while King was
recovering from an accident that nearly killed him, and the influence of drugs in his system is clear from beginning to end. But like the best of his works, the characters and relationships in his original story were present and almost makes up for the absurdity, meandering pace, and frustrating moments that plague the rest of the novel.

Unfortunately, while Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant are perfectly cast in their roles as four childhood friends, the movie doesn’t pay them enough attention. Instead, the movie focuses on the paper-thin plot of a not-so secret alien invasion headed by Mr. Grey. And as the four friends attempt to survive their battle with Mr. Grey, they’ll also have to contend with Morgan Freeman’s cartoonishly psychotic Col. Abraham Curtis, a man set on exterminating every last trace of aliens from the face of the Earth.

These were the least interesting and the least coherent parts of King’s novel. The plot is simultaneously over-the-top and generic. The motivations are unclear to the point of being contrived. And while it makes a beeline for the finish, the story constantly gets distracted with the far more interesting character moments shared between its four leads.

The movie, however, strips away so much of these quieter moments between friends so as to streamline King’s massive tome for a two-hour runtime. And while such a trim was needed–and even welcomed–it feels as if they cut all the wrong parts.

ATTACK THE HEART

This is very much supposed to be a sentimental story about four friends spending what turns out to be their final days with one another. Of four brothers unknowingly enlisted from childhood into a war of the worlds. We’re introduced to each character separately in a cold open that almost insists that you have read the book to get the point. Each man receives about three to five minutes to highlight their general personality, unique gift, and their current lot in life. We see that these four men do indeed know each other via quick phone calls that connect these otherwise unrelated scenes.

Now in the book, these are all extended scenes that dig into each man’s emotional state of mind and reinforces just how much they need each other. No matter how much they’ve aged or drifted on a day-to-day basis, with their lives and careers taking them to different parts of the country, their bond transcends everything.

So almost immediately, the heart of the movie’s conflict is hacked away entirely. These are now just four grown men who sorta miss their old friends…rather than four brothers missing a part of themselves.

SCI-WHY

Now, the few moments in which the main cast is gathered together feels like a family reunion. They quip and bicker and laugh together in a way that feels like these four men have known each other all their lives. That they would die for each other.

But just when the movie finally gets them all together, it also then rushes to get to what it believes is a fascinating plot about aliens invading and a military that won’t stop till their enemy is dead and buried in a shallow, unmarked grave. These four men caught in the middle of it all are second bananas to the chaos around them.

So much is cut, in fact, that the flashbacks to their childhood feels entirely out of place. These key scenes are not just
stripped of sentimentality but also dramatic weight. They’re pivotal to the plot just as much as they are to the characters. But it’s all compressed down to a few minutes of lazy exposition.

The end result is a heartless sci-fi thriller that is constantly distracted by characters we’re not given a chance to care about.

It’s as if two entirely unrelated scripts were mashed together. One was an alien invasion movie, the other a heartwarming bro-mance about friends gathering together after the near-death experience of one of their own. Either would have worked fine enough on their own, maybe. But together in equal measure? It’s just a waste of two stories.

These two drastically different halves ultimately play nice together in the novel–quality of writing not withstanding, of course. But that’s because novels have all the time needed to do so. A two-hour movie is something Dreamcatcher was never destined to be.

SHITWEASELS, DUDE

That all said, Dreamcatcher may be well-cast enough and absolutely crazy enough to keep you hooked from start to
finish. You might end up questioning your decision to do so after the fact, yes. But you won’t exactly feel as if you’ve wasted your time by doing so.

The quality of the CGI and the simple notion of anything called a Shit-Weasel may be as questionable as Morgan Freeman’s psychotic George C. Scott impersonation. But somehow that actually makes the choice to CHILL with Dreamatcher all the easier.

Frailty


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at underappreciated thriller, Frailty (directed by Bill Paxton!).


Frailty is not only directed by Bill Paxton but also features Paxton as a father of two sons who believes that he’s been tasked by God to slay demons disguised as humans. But in the years following their father’s death, one son will carry on his father’s legacy while the other attempts to turn in his blood-thirsty sibling. And what he shares with them will leave everyone watching shaken to the core.

GROUNDED INSANITY

The first feature film directed by Paxton, Frailty remains a testament to a man who was just as talented behind the camera as he was in front of it. And for what is essentially a twisted family drama wrapped up in a tense thriller, the movie’s tone is surprisingly well grounded.

Paxton could have easily approached Frailty in a number of ways. And a lesser talent may have gone the easy route of upping the camp and cheap scares. And in a movie where the material naturally lends itself to visions of Jack Nicholson as the ax-wielding Jack Torrance in The Shining, it would have been very easy to get lost in scene chewing, cheap gore, and a hollow mystery.

But Paxton understood the power of the material he had in front of him, electing to let the performances shine in more subdued, unnervingly believable ways.

From start to finish, you’ll be attempting to devise whether Paxton’s single father of two is legitimately crazy, sincere in his mission to slay demons, or something far more malicious.

More so, you’ll be left heartbroken by the emotional toll such a morally and ethically bankrupt killing spree takes on two young boys. Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter are perfectly cast as brothers Fenton and Adam, what with the way their increasingly rocky relationship not only feels authentic but also in the way it degrades as the two find themselves taking opposing views on their father’s handiwork.

And together, these three actors feel like a family simultaneously being ripped apart at the seams and somehow strengthened by their perverse, blood-soaked family outings.

It’s a difficult task to get strong performances out of a single child actor, especially in a lead role. But to do so with two young actors while also playing their father–and a character as mentally unhinged as this one–Paxton was clearly only scratching at the surface of what he was capable of.

FLAWED, SORT OF

Now, if there is a flaw worth mentioning in Frailty it would be how the material ultimately feels a little thin. How the run time feels a just a little bit squandered.

See, while the twisted relationship between a father and his sons–as well as the one between two brothers–is tense,
touching, and painful to watch rot before our eyes…there’s not quite enough present to fill the movie’s full one-hundred minute run time.

That part of the movie is set years in the past. Meanwhile, the movie is bookended by some present day scenes featuring Matthew McConaughey as a now-grown Fenton informing the FBI of his brother’s role as the “God’s Hand” serial killer. And it’s these modern day scenes that come across as lackluster padding. Most of the movie is concerned with Fenton sharing his horrifying childhood. And while these scenes of him as an adult do eventually provide a nice little epilogue to the story, they’re not all the interesting.

The real appeal to the movie is the family’s relationship and the ever-present question of Paxton’s character’s sanity. And spending twenty or so more minutes exploring those relationships and that question further would have been time much better spent than watching McConaughey doing nothing of importance.

DOUBLE THREAT

Bill Paxton remains beloved and respected for his roles in a number of great (and some not-so great) movies and TV shows. But his brief career as a director also deserves some attention.

Frailty, fortunately, highlights his talent as both. It certainly isn’t for everyone due to its subject matter. But I think anyone who watches it can still appreciate it for its strong performances and grounded approach. And that’s precisely why Bill Paxton’s Frailty is an emotionally charged viewing experience worth CHILLING with.

Vice


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the low-budget, high-concept sci-fi thriller, Vice!


Bruce Willis is Julian, the entrepreneurial genius behind a company that allows people to live out all of their fantasies in an artificial world free of consequences. But when one of his creations escapes from her Westworld-inspired prison, she will do whatever it takes to never go back–including putting Julian out of business once and for all–in Vice.

BASIC GENRE

Vice, from director Brian A Miller, is about as base-level genre work as you’ll ever find.

The concept is high and campy but handicapped by a clearly limited budget. The dialog and acting–including some delightful scene-chewing from Thomas Jane–is more often than not stilted at best and robotic at worst. And it looks as if the entire budget for the movie was little more than a hope and a prayer.

That said, it should be made clear that this all feels right at home in a movie so self-aware of–and eager to play up–its campy roots.

DUD HARD

However, if there is one true negative that faults this movie in a way its low budget, uninspired story, and hammy acting does not, it would be the wholly miscast Willis.

While Thomas Jane and company are clearly upping up the cheese factor present in the script, Bruce Willis instead takes himself far too seriously–and to the detriment of every single scene he’s in. He’s not charming. He’s not malicious. He’s simply there, phoning in a lifeless performance, and collecting a paycheck.

And it’s odd that a movie with characters who are artificial lifeforms who become self-aware–in a movie that is entertaining exclusively because it is so self-aware of its genre trappings–we get a major star like Willis who fails to realize how he personally dragged down the collective fun factor with his unaware performance. He’s more artificial than the inhabitants of Vice itself.

A movie like Vice depends upon the audience fully accepting that the movie isn’t attempting to be a stellar, gripping piece of cinema. That it’s looking to be familiar, low-budget, and, most importantly, fun.

Miller, Jane, and literally everyone else in this movie do all they can to make the material work when it probably shouldn’t. But Willis can’t be bothered to bring the charm that established him as one of Hollywood’s most iconic action stars.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Of course, this isn’t meant to imply that the movie is lacking any real shortcomings other than Willis. The story is uninspired and plays out in the least interesting way possible. And it lifts so much material from so many better movies that it could be a top contender for the USA Olympic weight-lifting team.

That said, it is still fun enough to suggest you CHILL with Vice. Just know that this isn’t staring the Bruce Willis of the 80s and 90s–the man we saw tackle terrorists, ghosts, and a giant asteroid. Instead, it’s the jaded, lazy performer who now appears to only take roles for the money rather than any attempt to entertain an audience.

Vice is a fun, light-weight bit of popcorn cinema. But every scene with Willis is a chore. And with him as the movie’s villain, his other role as a heavy weight chained to the ankle of the movie threatens to drag the whole thing down every few minutes. He doesn’t succeed entirely, thankfully. But it is something to keep in mind.

The Substitute


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at mid-90s action-thriller, The Substitute.


An 80s action movie unfortunately burdened with the fairly droll sensibilities of the 90s, The Substitute , from director Robert Mandel, features Tom Berenger as Jonathan Shale, a mercenary with a heart of gold who goes undercover at a Miami high school in order to seek revenge on the local gang who assaulted his fiancee.

HOW DO I REACH THESE KIDS

One part Stand and Deliver and two parts Kindergarten Cop, The Substitute ultimately fails to balance its low-budget action scenes and hackneyed revenge plot with a wholly unnecessary B-story in which Berenger’s character also learns the joys of teaching.

Because he’s not only undercover as a teacher, he also comes to connect with an entire classroom full of stereotypical (bordering on parody of) inner-city high school students.

Now, had the film been allowed to indulge in the insanity of its concept rather than taking itself far too seriously, The Substitute might have succeeded in being an entertaining bit of cheese. Instead, it comes off as an ironically straight-faced version of Jon Lovitz’ High School High.

Aside from some scene chewing by Ernie Hudson, there’s no passable bit of acting to be found in this movie. The movie crawls along at a snails pace. The action is hardly that. And there’s no attempt to really differentiate it from every other movie like it from that era.

BAD, BUT NOT BAD-BAD

That said, it could be argued that The Substitute isn’t an outright bad movie. Because while it manages to be both cringe-worthy and eye-rolling time and time again (including one of the least sexy or tender moments on film that involves a coat hanger and a full-leg cast), there’s still some fun to be had with the movie. To do so, simply turn your viewing of the movie into a drinking game with friends by taking a shot for every cliched lined, plot device, or ridiculous action a character takes. Do, however, take precaution as the most eagle-eyed player runs the risk of alcohol poisoning.

Fun aside, The Substitute is a sloppy and unoriginal collage of assorted tropes, plots, and characters blatantly ripped out of better films. In fact, The Substitute is little more than a no-budget remake of Dangerous Minds had Michelle Pfeiffer’s character also been a gun-toting psycho with a thirst for revenge.

ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Whether or not you’ll actually enjoy any time spent with The Substitute will really be determined by two things: how much you enjoy unintentionally campy dramas set in a crime-infested high school where a teacher touches the hearts of his troubled students…and how much you enjoy cheesy thrillers with a paper-thin revenge plot.

If you are a fan of both, then you should definitely CHILL with The Substitute. That said, if you’re not a fan of either to some fair degree, avoid this one at all costs.

Black Rock


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the sophomore outing of writer/director/actress Katie Aselton, Black Rock!


Black Rock, from actress, writer, and director Katie Aselton, follows three childhood friends who are now 30 and have splintered due to some personal conflicts that occurred several years earlier. They reunite for one more trip to an island, located just off the coast of their hometown, where they would often play as young girls.

But as they rekindle their friendship and mend their old wounds, the ladies meet a strange trio of ex-soldiers out on a hunting trip. And when things go quickly wrong, the three friends must fight to survive the night and escape the island before they’re all hunted down.

ONE WORD

Frustration. If there’s one word that can possibly sum up Black Rock, it is “frustration”. Not because the movie is unwatchable–because it is. But it is frustrating in that, after having watched it all the way through to the end, you will be left with this sense that somebody left out half the damn movie.

That said, the best part of the film is easily the dynamic between its three female leads–Abby, Lou, and Sarah (played respectively by Aselton, Lake Bell, and Kate
Bosworth).

The three are all sensitive, selfish, and absolutely unsure of themselves as they struggle to deal with personal issues before all hell breaks loose. The love between them is every bit as palpable as the tension, anger, and resentment lingering in the air.

If nothing else, it’s a testament to their acting abilities that these women feel as alive and fleshed-out as they are in spite of how weak the material they’re working from actually is.

TAKING NOTES

Now, this isn’t to say there isn’t some quality to be found in the movie aside from it’s actresses. The story itself feels very Stephen King-ish in that these characters are all very much “people” being forced to deal not only with their own issues but also the horrifying event that organically comes about due to a fine mix of unfortunate circumstances and their failings as people.

This leads to a tense situation of life-and-death played out between two camps of people who’ve made a lot of mistakes and feel there is no other way out but to kill the others.

This isn’t a matter of young ladies being hunted down by some monster, or menacing lunatic with a grudge against pretty ladies. These are very much people fighting people.

BUT…

Unfortunately, these loftier concepts aren’t fully realized. Yes, the three women all feel like real friends with real problems. Even the troubled trio of ex-soldiers that they meet on the island seem just as troubled and eager to escape the worries that plague them.

But unlike a story by King, where we get to dig in to these characters–and their back stories and relationships to the point where we feel every sting of pain and guilt and rage they do–we’re left with a lot of half-baked everything.

There’s a troubled history between the girls, but we’re left to fill in all the meatier details with help from the expository dialog that flows from their mouths whenever the plot slows
to a crawl, which is far too often.

When the leads aren’t exchanging some naturally wonderful banter and dialog, they are telling us that they’re childhood friends. They are telling us they have been to this island a
long, long time ago. They are telling us they have issues with each other. They are telling us they have even newer issues back at home.

But for all this telling, there’s almost zero showing of any of it.

This problem also applies to the trio of soldiers they meet on the island. We’re told that the girls are old friends with one man and his older brother. We’re told they’re ex-military. We’re even told that they’ve done some rather shady things to get kicked out of the military. We’re even told very clearly that two of these men owe their lives to the third. But, again,
we never see any of this.

A WRONG TURN

Most of the film’s all-too brief 80 minutes should have been dedicated to developing all six characters further, letting the audience see how troubled they really are in a slow burn before allowing the proverbial shit to hit the fan.

Instead, we’re left with a film that goes from an introspective story about a group of three sisters (and three brothers) with very real problems to an incredibly stretched-out chase
scene.

It’s this desire to rush to the “horror” stuff that not only hurts the emotional side of the story but also greatly harms the “horror stuff” by dragging out what should have been a short, tight, and incredibly tense third act.

FISHBOWL HORROR

There simply isn’t a lot to do on the movie’s incredibly small island. In fact, the setting is so small that at one point the women are shown running from one side of it to the other in
a matter of minutes. And because this part of the story, for some odd reason, takes place over several days, they do this a lot.

It’s not just boring to see the same scenes play out again and again, it also harms the credibility of their pursuers. When trained soldiers can’t find or flush-out three untrained women on a small island in a couple of days, the whole thing becomes a bad joke.

More so, Aselton’s weaknesses as a director are all too apparent once the chaos takes hold. Not only is there little tension and drama once bullets and blood start flying, it all looks terrible.

The obligatory final showdown at the end looks like an edited-for-TV movie, with cut-away after cut-away reducing what should be R-rated action to fairly dull PG-13 fair. In fact, if it weren’t for the occasional F-bomb and breast thrown around, the film’s actual R-rating would have proven totally unnecessary.

Now this may be due to budget concerns, as showing cuts and stabs can really up the need for stunt doubles or prosthetics or gimmicked props. However, there are smarter and more effective ways to get around this without making it so obvious.

RESPECTABLE

All of this being said, Black Rock is a respectable-enough sophomore outing for Aselton. It shows she can handle strong characters and drama. It even affords her the chance to display her skillful range as an actress.

However, it also shows that while Aselton may have a strong mind for good stories and dialog, a fast-paced film is not her thing. Instead she excels at the slow, tense burn that is often missing in modern horror. And if Aselton can focus more on this, she may prove one of the next big things in a genre desperate for fresh blood and fresh styles.

In the end, Black Rock, while not well-realized, has the makings of something greater. And if you can appreciate the very hard work of everyone involved and the aspirations the film has, you might just be able to overlook its glaring shortcomings long enough to CHILL with Black Rock.

Mall


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at thriller-drama, Mall, directed by Linkin Park’s Joe Hahn.


Mall tells the would-be tragic story of an emotionally unstable addict by the name of Mal, a man who decides to go on a killing spree one morning.

Why he does this is never really made all that clear or relevant. All we do know is that, eventually, he takes his
whirlwind of death and destruction to the titular mall–a setting that hasn’t been socially relevant in over 20 years.

MALLRATS, BUT NOT

The bottom line regarding Mall is that it simply doesn’t work. Imagine Kevin Smith’s Mallrats as a somber film featuring a goofy, pretentious college student pining after a girl with no discernible qualities other than being pretty, a random pervert, and a mall rampage…instead of a comedy which also features all of these things.

The charm, wit, self-awareness, and likable characters of Mallrats are absent. Instead, we’re presented with several unsympathetic, vapid placeholders. And Mallrats‘ several wafer-thin plots are all replaced with nothing of interest.

VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCE

But aside from committing the grave cinematic sin of being uninteresting, Mall also goes a step further by operating in a ridiculously small world of sheer coincidence.

For example, the police officer who we see hassle a young man at the top of the film also happens to be the same one
who arrives at the mall to arrest Vincent D’Onofrio’s Danny, a man caught peeping on a desperate housewife-type in a fitting room.

In fact, everyone we meet and follow prior to Mal’s arrival at the mall is pointed out and given eerily accurate summaries of their entire characters by another character, Jeff. Mal himself is even revealed to be the son of a character who also happens to be at the mall simply because the script demands it.

What could have been–what should have been an introspective narrative that shows us how several lives are
affected by a sudden, terrible tragedy…is reduced to a series of loosely connected scenes that quickly abandon any
pretense of telling a cohesive or meaningful story.

SAY WHAT

Mall is a well-shot, decently acted movie with some interesting ideas that also has some terrible, on-the-nose
dialog and a plot that refuses to go anywhere. Worse, it desperately wants to be seen as far deeper and smarter than it really is.

Now, it could be argued that the film is possibly an intentional send-up of the problems present in many similar
films because of the way it blatantly waves around its own. But just because a film can accurately point out the glaring flaws of those around it doesn’t necessarily mean it has
anything worth saying.

Mall certainly has nothing worth saying, nor does it present anything worth watching…aside from D’Onofrio’s performance, perhaps. And that’s why I can’t give it anything other than a NO CHILL.

Nurse 3D


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at thriller-horror flick, Nurse 3D!


Nurse 3D features Paz de la Huerta as Abby Russell, a licensed nurse by day and vigilante slayer of cheating men by night. Except when the movie is about a different woman, Katrina Bowden’s Danni, who finds herself the target of Abby’s increasingly stalker-like behavior. Or when any attempts at a plot is tossed out the window and the film turns into a would-be softcore porn about two drunk, naughty nurses.

INDECISIVENESS

For all the style, solid cinematography, two fun halves of two very different scripts, and delightfully trashy performances, Nurse 3D is a film that suffers from its blatant indecisiveness.

And what I mean by that is how director Douglas Aarniokoski couldn’t decide whether he wanted the film to be a throwback to exploitative grindhouse films of yesteryear or a more modern thriller-horror about a crazed would-be lover in a one-sided love affair.

Nurse 3D could have been a solid cult hit in either genre if those involved in the film’s production made a firm decision of either A or B. Instead, we’re left with Movie C, which fails to juggle two completely incompatible plots and tones simultaneously, frequently switching back and forth between Abby’s vigilante ways and Danni’s struggle to put away the sexual deviant and violent nut job who so badly wants her as a plaything.

There’s little else to say about the film other than it looks nice, sounds nice, but ultimately is not very good. Two very different scripts were wasted. Two fantastic performances by Paz de la Huerta are squandered. And the best I can say is that, should you still choose to watch Nurse 3D, only 80 minutes of your life will have been lost rather than two hours. But for those who will heed my advice, Nurse 3D is a big NO CHILL.

No Escape


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the socio-political tinged action-thriller, No Escape.


No Escape features Owen Wilson as Jack Dwyer, an all-American father and civil engineer uprooting his family from Texas–yes, Owen Wilson in all his surfer-accented glory is supposed to be a man from Texas (oddly enough, despite his accent, Wilson actually is a man from Texas. Dallas, specifically)–and moving to an undisclosed country in South East Asia.

Not long after they arrive, the family find themselves caught in the middle of a violent political coup. Rebels begin executing tourists and thus our quartet of generic protagonists are forced to run for their lives, moving from one set piece to the next, and picking up bits of exposition that attempt to deepen the conflict playing out in the background.

CYNICAL, BUT APT

No Escape, from director John Eric Dowdle, can cynically be summed up as white Americans running in fear from savage brown people. Objectively, it really doesn’t have much else to say.

The movie is shot well. The action is serviceable to the plot with few scenes feeling like filler. And the characters and their actors fulfill their roles well enough. But that’s about the extent of the movie.

It has nothing of substance to say despite its socio-political themes. Its characters are dull and flat from beginning to end, with all the conflict coming across as uneventful. Also, for a story about survival, No Escape never makes it feel like the family’s lives are ever really in danger, thus undercutting its entire premise and making the 100 minutes you spend with the movie just about as pointless as its closing scene.

Those looking for an exciting movie are bound to be left disappointed. Those looking for depth in character and story are going to be bored to tears. If the final result weren’t so unbelievably lazy, No Escape might come across as something more than a shallow analogy for American views on society and race. But as it is–shallow, pointless, and stupidly insensitive–No Escape is also a NO CHILL.

Missionary


Tonight’s movie is Missionary, which features Dawn Olivieri as Katherine, a struggling single mother who carries on a forbidden love affair with the titular Mormon missionary, Elder Brock. But when Katherine suddenly decides to put an end to the affair in order to focus on mending her relationship with her estranged husband, Elder Brock won’t take “no” for an answer.