Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: THE FOUNDER (2016) - **** out of four

The Founder (2016) is one of the most important movies ever made. It is a crash course in why the world is the way it is; an indictment of an age of crass commercialism and hucksters pretending to be visionaries. By telling the true story of Ray A. Kroc, the "Godfather" of modern franchising as we know it, director John Lee Hancock and writer Robert Siegel lay open the story of modern America, globalization, and why we live in a world that rewards sales people and ostracizes the majority of dreamers and visionaries.

The Founder beautifully and clearly tells the story of Ray A. Kroc, the McDonald brothers, and the birth of one of the most successful businesses in the history of mankind. It also tries to set the record straight on who deserves the credit for what, in the long and convoluted story of McDonald's, and puts Kroc and his disciples under the harsh light of truth, revealing them for what they truly are: flawed, ambitious men, who build empires on the shoulders of visionaries and then try to bury them and steal their thunder.

But aside from the film's success as a smoothly structured history lesson, The Founder is also grand entertainment, with a terrific and terrifically complex performance by Michael Keaton as Kroc. While the supporting cast, which includes Nick Offerman, Laura Dern, and Patrick Wilson among others, create memorable and fascinating portrayals of characters that the world and the history books have unfairly forgotten.

All in all, The Founder is one of the best films of its kind, and one which begs for repeated viewings. Unmissable.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: COOTIES (2014) - ***&1/2 out of four

One of the best horror-comedies you've never seen, Cooties (2014) is a fun lover letter to 80s horror/zombie movies. Like Final Girls (2015), Cooties' strengths lie in its near-perfect mix of reverence and send-up, with the filmmakers paying tribute to a genre they both love and find silly at the same time.

The plot: A group of teachers get stuck in a school where the students suddenly start turning into cannibalistic monsters (i.e zombies), and they have to do everything they can to survive, including facing their own fears and weaknesses. Saying anymore would ruin the fun for you, as this is a film filled to the brim with funny scenes, surprisingly hardcore gore, and a number of hilarious lines, not to mention a cast (that includes Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, and Leigh Whannell) that seems to be having a blast. The score by Kreng is also retro-synth music at its best.

This is also a rather conspicuous debut for Leigh Whannell as an actor/writer without his partner James Wan, and he proves himself admirably, delivering, along with co-writer Ian Brennan, a script that is original, funny, scary, and memorable.

Even if it is a bit lacking in technical merits - the direction is occasionally too conventional for its own good - this is an energetic, fun, tense, and endlessly entertaining horror-comedy, and a must see for fans of the zombie movies of the 70s and 80s. Unmissable.

N.B. Look out for a great appearance by none other than Peter Kwong (Big Trouble in Little China) as Mr. Hitachi!

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Movie Review: BLAIR WITCH (2016) - *** out of four

Released without much fanfare, Blair Witch (2016), the official sequel to The Blair Witch Project (1999) - let's all pretend Blair Witch 2 (2000) never happened -  is destined to become a polarizing film. If, like myself, you aren't a huge fan of the original, you'll probably find it to be a slick, compelling, and arguably superior sequel/retread of the original; on the other hand, if you are a die-hard fan of the original, and there are millions of you out there, it could be seen as an unnecessary repeat performance of the best aspects of the original.

To me, Blair Witch blows the original out of the water. Director and genre stalwart Adam Wingard, along with writer Simon Barrett, deliver a movie that is tense, fun, energetic, and deliciously scary, with the always reliable Wingard directing with an ebullience that was missing from the original

Whereas the original was an occasionally tedious exercise in cinema-verite, with hysterical characters and an annoying lead, this sequel features characters that are more fleshed out and much more likable. Yes, it isn't as gritty, and there isn't much here that is as startlingly original, but it is a better movie overall, with tight direction, an inventive script, and a terrifying, if slightly over-the-top, ending. It also has the advantage of working well as a stand-alone film, thanks to Barrett's clever script.

If you're looking for a fun, scary, and fast-paced "found footage" horror film, Blair Witch is for you.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Flashback Review: SLEEPWALKERS (1992) - **&1/2 out of four

Considered by many one of Stephen King's most embarrassing projects, Sleepwalkers (1992) is indeed a very flawed movie, but a fun one nonetheless.

Director Mick Garris, one of the horror genre's most reliable filmmakers, injects a lot of energy and style into the story, and the performances by the main cast (Brian Krause, Alice Krige, and Madchen Amick) are top notch.

What takes the film down a number of notches are the considerably uneven screenplay (reportedly penned by Stephen King as a lark), and the herky-jerky pacing, causing the film to have an incoherent, episodic feel that never lets the characters fully come to life. Also, the film's tone is all over the place, alternating between black comedy, low-brow humor, gory horror, and, ultimately, serious horror; not exactly an easy mix to take.

But, decades after its release in theaters, the film still holds up, mainly because of the terrific make-up/creature effects by Tony Gardner, Garris's stylish direction, and capable performances by the cast, both human and feline (the film features more than a hundred cat performers). So taken for what it is, a cheesy but slick horror film from the early 90s, Sleepwalkers is a tremendously entertaining watch.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Quick Review: LEGO BATMAN: THE MOVIE: DC SUPER HEROES UNITE (2013) - *** out of four

The most fun I've had watching a DC movie in years, Lego Batman: The Movie: DC Super Heroes Unite (2013) - not to be confused with the theatrical feature released in 2017 - is a funny, fun, energetic, and superbly entertaining animated movie. It manages to be slyly funny and reverent to the source material at the same time (astute viewers will catch a lot of references to the original live-action movies), and the voice performances are top notch. A must for fans of Batman, Superman, Justice League, and DC comics.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

Quick Review: THE OA: Season 1 (2016)

Another high-profile, critically-acclaimed Netflix original series, The OA: Season 1 (2016) is a massively disappointing foray into psychological Sci-Fi, with heavy-handed dialogue, humorless performances, and lackluster plotting.

It is all the more disappointing since the pilot is so impressive and visually majestic, right up to the final shot. But as the series progresses, the story gets thinner, the characters more annoying, and the tone more pretentious. It all leads up to an unrewarding and terribly exploitive finale, which is borderline insulting to viewers who'd stuck with it till the end. Avoid.

All episodes written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. Directed by Zal Batmanglij.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017