Wednesday
May012019

"DREAMLAND" // TRIBECA 2019 FILM FESTIVAL

BY MATEO MORENO

Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte's new Dustbowl Era Western drama DREAMLAND is now playing at the Tribeca Film Festival and is a dreamy, thrilling nod to all of the Westerns that came before it. We are led into the film by a voice over, performed here by an unseen Lola Kirke, as Phoebe Evans. She's looking back at her life 20 years ago and telling us about the unforgettable drought filled Summer that was also marked by the sudden appearance of a bank robber, fugitive Allison Wells (Margot Robbie). Her half-brother Eugene's (Finn Cole) father disappeared and his mother remarried Phoebe's father. Eugene spends his days messing around town with a friend and stealing dime store Detective Stories, dreaming of placing himself into one someday. Well, that day comes sooner than he though with the appearance of Allison Wells. The Sherriff announces a bounty for anyone who can catch the fugitive, and since his family desperately needs the money, he decides to find her himself. Unbeknownst to him, Allison has hidden herself in his family’s barn and desperately needs some medical attention from a gunshot wound in her leg. He finds her, and she immediately disputes the claim that she's a killer, while fully acknowledging that she did indeed rob that bank. Is she lying to get him to trust her, playing him like a fiddle? Or is she a girl who truly needs someone to hear the truth? Either way, he falls under her spell and they launch into their very own Detective Story.

 

Cinematographer Lyle Vincent shoots the film with a poetic beauty and it truly is a stunning film to behold. The two leads are dynamic throughout, grasping onto a strong chemistry between them. Margot Robbie plays her bank robber with a mysterious grace, never allowing Allison to be a simple cut and dry character. She's a complicated mess and shines every time she's on screen. Finn Cole, fresh from Peaky Blinders, is equally great here, playing Eugene with a striking innocence that is undercut slowly as the film moves along with the burning sensation that his life needs to be more than it is. Darby Camp, as the young version of Phoebe, plays the childlike innocence perfectly and is consistently believable. As the parents, Travis Fimmel is a complex man, full of intensity and rage yet you feel that there's something hiding behind all that anger. And Kerry Condon turns in a strong supporting performance as Eugene's doting and caring Mother.

 

DREAMLAND is a stunning throwback film, one that moves with an intended ease, letting the tension, mystery, and romance sneak in at its own pace. You may not want to live in this town, but you'll be glad that you drove through it.

 

GRADE: A-
WRITTEN BY Nicolaas Zwart DIRECTED BY Miles Joris-Peyrafitte STARRING Margot Robbie, Finn Cole, Travis Fimmel, Kerry Condon, Garrett Hedlund, Darby Camp. Playing as part of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. For more information: http://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/dreamland-2019
Wednesday
Feb202019

AGAIN AND AGAIN...AGAIN // A FILM REVIEW OF "HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U"

BY MATEO MORENO

Happy Death Day, the 2017 low budget hit from BlumHouse Productions, was Groundhog Day meets Scream. It was a clever mix of satire and horror, taking the lead character of Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) and making her the mean girl who becomes the nice girl after having to relive her birthday over and over when she’s killed at the end of each day. So she wakes up again and again, slowly figuring out clues on how to figure out who her killer is. It’s fast paced and fun, and a refreshing take on the low-budget horror genre. Since it ended up grossing $125 million on a paltry $4.8 million budget, an inevitable sequel wasn’t a surprise. But what was a surprise is that the sequel would play with other genre’s and match (if not improve) the cleverness of the original.

 

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U reunites the entire original cast and starts up right after the first film ends. But we start the film following a very minor character from the first film – Ryan Phan (Phi Vu). You’ll remember him as Carter’s roommate who keeps entering the room at an inappropriate time. Here, we see him head towards his room and enter, just like he does in the original film. When his roommate kicks him out of his own room, he ends up meeting up with other friends of his and gets murdered himself. What follows is Tree having to team up with her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), his roommate Ryan, and his friends Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) to solve yet another murder in a looping day. But this time, the story veers from Horror to Sci-Fi as we start playing with alternate timelines in a very clever addition to a genre that usually just repeats the first films formula.

 

As Tree starts reliving the days again, she starts noticing small changes, like her frenemy Danielle (Rachel Matthews) is slightly different, as is Carter and her killer roommate Lori (Ruby Modine). And in this reality, her Mother is still alive. So is it worth actually solving this loop if she can be happy for once? Like I said, it’s a different path than the original, but still keeps the same brand of dark humor and zaniness that made the first film shine. Jessica Rothe is just as charming and strong here as she was in the original, with her comic timing and strong presence on screen. Israel Broussard has more to do here and also is quite good. Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews, and Ruby Modine have the biggest changes since the first, with new personalities for Danielle and Lori and a fully fleshed out character arc for a one-joke character that fully works. Rounding out the cast, Suraj Sharma and Sarah Yarkin are warm and charming and help fill out the zaniness of the sci-fi edition.

 

Writer/Director Christopher Landon really delivers a delightful surprise here, one that’s funny, consistent and original. Not every joke lands, and not every addition feels necessary, but you admire the grand design he’s going for. And even though the mid-credit tag feels more like a joke than a set up for a sequel, after seeing what they can do by mixing two genres, I’m game for a third repeat to the land of the creepy baby mask killers.

 

MATEO'S GRADE: B+

WRITTEN BY Christopher Landon, Scott Lobdell DIRECTED BY Christopher Landon STARRING Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine, Steve Zissis, Charles Aitken, Lauren Clifton, Jason Bayle, Missy Yager. Now playing in cinemas.
Monday
Feb112019

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW // A FILM REVIEW OF "COLD PURSUIT"

BY MATEO MORENO

 

Liam Neeson is now an expert at the revenge thriller. At least on screen. In real life, at a press junket for his latest movie COLD PURSUIT, he described a past situation where he actually did want revenge. One of his friends was raped and he suddenly had the desire to take justice in his own hands. But, as he described it, he asked what the man looked like. She didn’t know. Then he asked what color he was, and his friend told him Black. So he found himself walking up and down just wanting to kill someone, anyone, who was black. He told this story because he snapped out of it and realized how awful it was. And that he was wrong. However, it did not go over well, as you might imagine (to see more on the interview that went viral for all of the main reasons, click here). Press junkets were cancelled and his new movie underperformed this weekend. Hopefully, Liam Neeson the man can take this as a teachable moment, a learning lesson, and a way to understand how that moment, set 40 some years ago, was a moment of racism. That fact that he learned from it is great. But to fully move on is to acknowledge the moment of racism, and be better. I like Mr. Neeson. I think he seems like a good man overall, so I hope he learns from this and sees how troubling it was for us to hear it.

 

Liam Neeson the actor does indeed get revenge in his latest film, revenge for the murder of his son, and the film itself is surprising and well done. He plays a snow plow driver named Nels Coxman, who at the beginning of the film is accepting the Citizen of the Year from his small town of Kehoe, a fictional Colorado ski resort town. His son Kyle (Neeson’s real life son Micheal Richardson) is killed by a drug cartel over a some stolen cocaine, though we find out soon enough that Kyle was an innocent victim of it all. The cartel set it up so it look like Kyle overdosed. But Neeson smells a rat, knowing that his son was not a druggie. His wife (played by Laura Dern) simply breaks down and leaves him, never to be seen again. Which makes casting such a recognizable face to do almost nothing strange. So Neeson begins to track them down, one by one, exacting his revenge until he gets higher and higher up the ladder, the ladder held by the top boss, Trever “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman).

 

Based on the Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, Director Hans Petter Moland readapts his original film using the Neeson model of the lumbering, late life action hero. But COLD PURSUIT plays much different than his Taken movies, or any of Neeson’s action films. It’s slow moving, the violent action often happens off screen, and it plays homage to slow moving Norwegian films, old Cowboy films, and the revenge film all at once. At the same time, it satirizes them, adding a good load of dark humor to offset you as you watch the film. Neeson is good here, and what I liked is that he’s not the unstoppable machine that he sometimes is. He gets winded. He often doesn’t know what he’s doing, simply that he has to find his son’s killer. And that change helps make COLD PURSUIT stand out. The supporting villain cast also has some strong support, especially Tom Bateman’s openly racist, psychopath head cartel boss, who is Patrick Bateman in the snow but also is rasing his son like a project (he gives him the novel "Lord of the Flies" as an instruction manual to be a man). Domenick Lombardozzi also has some very strong moments here and it’s nice that the middle of the movie follows other characters and then winds back to Coxman. There are missteps; it’s nice to see Native Americans as main characters and not make them caricatures, but perhaps a few lines and personality trates next time? Also, Emmy Rossum and John Doman are a nice, fun duo when we see them, but the fact that Rossum’s character has to use her sexuality to get information is just lazy.

 

All that being said, the film is a fun surprise. It’ll be interesting if Neeson can pull himself out of this self-made hole he gave with the bizarre interview and audiences will want to see him exacting revenge again, but we’ll see. Separate from his own troubles, COLD PURSUIT is well worth your time.

 

MATEO'S GRADE: B+

BASED ON THE FILM "IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE" WRITTEN BY Kim Fupz Aakeson SCREENPLAY BY Frank Baldwin DIRECTED BY Hans Petter Moland STARRING Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Domenick Lombardozzi, Nicholas Hines, Emmy Rossum, John Doman, Laura Dern, William Forsythe, Micheal Richardson. Now playing in cinemas.