[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 9 – The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Director: André Øvredal

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly

Screenplay: Ian Goldberg, Richard Niang

86 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, unsettling grisly images, graphic nudity, and language.

 

I don’t think enough people talk about André Øvredal (Trollhunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). To be fair, he hadn’t made a mainstream movie until this year, but horror fans should be celebrating this auteur and his amazing attention to tone and suspense. One of his more recent films, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, skirted under the radar when it came out in 2016, but it’s on Netflix now, so I finally caught it.

Father/son coroners Tommy (Brian Cox, X2: X-Men United, TV’s Succession) and Austin (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) have been tasked by local police with a rather curious task. A body has been recovered at a crime scene, a woman with no easily discernible identity or cause of death. Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton, Justice League, TV’s Game of Thrones) has asked the two to discover answers to both before morning, and as they delve into the mystery, they are beset upon by strange happenings, all possibly linked with the dead woman on the slab.

This is a tight little thriller, pretty much singular-location, that led by two excellent performances from two talented individuals. This movie doesn’t work without the talent of Hirsch and Cox. Their chemistry is strained just like it should be, with Tommy wanting his son to carry on the family business, and Austin not too interested in that idea. There’s a scene in the elevator that allows them to dig into the tension between themselves without really leaving the inherent suspense of what’s going on during the autopsy.

Speaking of the autopsy itself, it’s absolutely incredible to have an actual actress playing the body. I get it, you’re thinking how easy it must be to just sit there, but I’ll tell you, there isn’t a moment that I noticed movement. In so many films featuring a character death where you can see them breathing softly, but not with Jane Doe, played by Olwen Kelly (Winter Ridge, Darkness on the Edge of Town). So yes, hers isn’t an acting powerhouse, but she succeeds where she’s trying to: giving an authentic visual aesthetic that makes Jane Doe look realistic without drawing away from the story or suspense.

Øvredal has a command of the story here and slowly unravels layers of this mystery with biting pressure and some seriously strange visual and audio cues. The movie is a tightly-wrapped mystery filled with strange moments, and for the most part, everything works. I’m not big on the final moments of the story, where I feel like it comes off the rails a bit and sacrifices some of the story for the option to go weird with it, and I feel like it doesn’t stick the landing as well as it should, but everything before it is so worth it.

I don’t want to get too deep into the mystery itself because I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but you need to check out The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It’s an elegantly creepy chiller that I cannot recommend enough. The ending may work for you, or it may not, but I don’t think it will detract from the film either way. Seek this one out and see it for yourself. This one is a must-see.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of André Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 25 – The Ring (2002)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

115 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references.

 

I don’t know if you remember (I sure didn’t), but fifteen years back, The Ring was one of the first big films to explore viral marketing. In fact, the first “trailer” for The Ring was just the cursed tape from the movie with no credits or title card. Viewers had to look online for insight or wait with anticipation for a month to find out what the hell was going on.

Seattle journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts, King Kong, TV’s Gypsy) is tasked with uncovering the truth involving her niece’s death. When her investigation brings her to an old shack and a strange videotape with disturbing images, she receives a phone call telling her she is going to die in seven days. Now, in a race against the clock, Rachel and ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson, Everest, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) must find the origin of the tape and learn how to keep themselves alive as time slowly runs out.

The Ring is the first in a long string of Western remakes of Asian horror films, and it is arguably the best one. This writer has found that it isn’t really a classic of the genre, but director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, A Cure for Wellness) weaving an expertly crafted experience and Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ghost in the Shell) turning in a well-written albeit severely bloated screenplay, The Ring holds well.

I think, in addition to the gorgeously-striking visuals on the screen, Verbinski is blessed with a force of nature in lead actress Naomi Watts, who elevates this genre film with a nuanced, layered performance as Rachel. Rachel is flawed, instinctive, smart, and cunning.

My biggest frustration with the film is the ending. I think The Ring ends on a confusing and unexplained note. It doesn’t really tell you what’s going on, and if forces a lot of inference. There was a bookend of scenes with actor Chris Cooper that sounds like it would have helped here, but test audiences didn’t respond well to it, but I think that was a mistake.

The Ring is fine genre horror and very creepy when taking its PG-13 rating into consideration. It’s an entertaining but somewhat crowded narrative and its characters are interesting and engaging. Overall, it’s a staple for many even if I found its ending to be heavily flawed.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of F. Javier Gutierrez’s Rings, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Simon Kinberg to Direct X-Men: Dark Phoenix; Jessica Chastain in Talks to Play Villain

Simon Kinberg will finally get his opportunity to sit in the director’s chair on a new installment of the X-Men Universe. X-Men: Dark Phoenix will reunite Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Tye Sheridan, all from X-Men: Apocalypse.

The film will of course adapt the beloved Dark Phoenix saga focused around Jean Grey. For fans, this is both exciting and also a touchy subject, as many still hold the wounds of X-Men: The Last Stand, co-written by Kinberg himself, the botched first attempt to adapt the material. Thanks to the events of altering the timeline in X-Men: Days of Future Past, we now have an opportunity to right the wrongs.

And not only that! The amazing and truly talented Jessica Chastain is in talks to play a villain! I absolutely adore Chastain (and yes, I have a boy crush, deal with it) and the work she puts out is consistenly incredible, but she isn’t known for her franchise or genre work, so I’m very excited to see Chastain join the iconic ranks of incredible actors playing X-Men villains (Ian McKellan, Brian Cox, Kevin Bacon, Peter Dinklage, and Oscar Isaac).

But is Kinberg the right move here? I’m not really sure. As I said before, the franchise has already ruined this story arc before, from a script partially written by Kinberg. Granted, we all know there was studio interference and also Brett Ratner behind the lens, but has Kinberg shown capabilities to prove he’s worth the risk? At this point, I don’t think so.

That being said, I’m all for the addition of Chastain to the franchise.

So what do you think? Is Simon Kinberg the right choice to direct X-Men: Dark Phoenix? And what do you think about the possible addition of Jessica Chastain? Let me know/Drop a comment below.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix rises in cinemas in 2018.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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Director: Rupert Wyatt

Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

105 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out of nowhere. Seriously. Who would have thought that his franchise was coming back in such a big way. After a fizzled-out franchise of films and television series, a failed remake from director Tim Burton, and a decade of silence, Rise of the Planet of the Apes just sort of showed up, and I’m thankful it did.

Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours, The Interview) is trying to cure Alzheimer’s. His father Charles (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, Interstellar) has the condition and it is accelerating. The current possible cure is ALZ-112, and Will is in the process of ape testing. When Bright Eyes, Will’s star test subject, tragically passes after complications with the substance, Will comes across a baby chimp in her cell, her recently born son who comes to be known as Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas). Will takes Caesar home and trains him, as Caesar was born with ALZ-112 flowing through him, making him progress at an alarming rate. As Will’s life becomes more and more complicated through his illegal theft of the chimp, Caesar becomes more and more aware that this world is the world of humans, not apes, and he wants to change that.

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The plot of this movie nicely takes real-world problems and a franchise decades old and revives it for today’s world without tarnishing the story that came before (to be noted, this is a reboot and kind of a prequel to the original film and not the Tim Burton remake). It takes the problems that we are dealing with and forms it into a cohesive and interesting bit of science fiction.

Franco’s performance isn’t the strongest in the film, I didn’t really believe him to be smart enough to synthesize a cure for Alzheimer’s. Then again, he doesn’t. Altogether, it is his relationships in the film to Caesar and his father that build the warmth for these characters.

Andy Serkis is the winner of this film and deserved top billing for the film, as without him, the impact would not have been felt as much. His nuanced and subtly tragic work as Caesar is beautiful, and the digital effects work only furthers an already incredible performance. The way Caesar interacts with John Lithgow’s character provides us with a slightly warped but wholly touching American family.

The screenplay,  from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (The Relic, Eye for an Eye), does a nice job of not creating villains, there are very few villains in this film and it allows you to understand many of the core characters internally and empathize with their choices.

Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler) behind the camera also provides a lush environment of great camera work, and the flow of the film is very smooth.

I just needed to end on the CG work, which sought to work together with their motion capture performers to create characters as opposed to just creating stock but cool looking apes. It deserved its nomination to be sure.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great way to jumpstart a franchise, and should serve as a course on how to reinvigorate a property rather than just churn out a remake. Bravo.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

X2: X-Men United (2003)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, David Hayter

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence, some sexuality and brief language.

 

X-Men was a very popular comic book adaptation, especially for the time period, when those movies hadn’t really been doing well. I originally wasn’t a major fan of the original X-Men, but I honestly don’t think I got it. I didn’t really know the X-Men mythos, so when X2: X-Men United came into the fold, and I saw the trailer, featuring a creature I would come to know as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming, TV’s The Good Wife, The Smurfs 2) trying to assassinate the President, that I knew I had to see this movie.

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X2: X-Men United continues the story six months after the original film, and follows the mutants as they deal with a mutant attack on the President. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) is looking for his origins in Alaska. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return) has continued to teach at his school, and spends free time playing chess with imprisoned Magneto (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass). Meanwhile, William Stryker (Brian Cox, Troy, Her) has taken the attack in the White House personally, and chooses to round up the mutant children at Xavier’s school and keep them imprisoned, and Wolverine finds that he may have more connections to Stryker than he knows.

If X-Men woke up the superhero genre, X2 proved that superhero movies can actually be about something while also being great films in general. Without X2, we may not have had the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series.

It also proved that people can perform as superheroes. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan carry this film and drive its story nicely as two friends with very different compasses who must unite against a common enemy in Brian Cox’s Stryker, who also lends his seasoned expertise to the film. Hugh Jackman has also honed his skills as a performer with Wolverine.

Singer’s directing and the film’s editing give us multiple branched out storylines that all come together very well for a powerful and shocking climax that creates ripples for the series for several films to come.

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X2: X-Men United was the best film in the series up until this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, and it has aged very well, becoming one of the most notable superhero films ever.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

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