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Dredd (2012)

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Dredd (2012)Starring Karl Urban, Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby

Directed by Pete Travis


During Preview Night at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con, Lionsgate kicked things off right for fans by hosting a raucous screening of its upcoming gritty reboot Dredd 3D, which has Karl Urban picking up the iconic comic book character’s mantle from Sylvester Stallone. It manages to successfully wash away the residual effects of the 1995 schlockfest and delivers the film that Judge Dredd fans have been waiting almost 18 years for.

We learn in Dredd 3D that in the future criminals run rampant around the various Mega-Cities across the globe, and in response a new law enforcement unit has been created: the Judges, an elite and brutal group of police who have the authority to act as “judge, jury and executioner” in an effort to reclaim the dangerous streets which have become overrun by dangerous thugs, gangs, drug dealers- you name it.

Over in Mega-City One, our titular character has been long fighting the good fight against the seedy underbelly of his metropolis; at the start of the flick Dredd has been paired up with a rookie trainee named Anderson (Thirlby), whom he’s been instructed to evaluate for the Judges program.

Dredd and Anderson set out to find out what they can about a deadly new drug that has just hit the streets of Mega-City One called Slo-Mo, which causes time for the user to slow down to a sluggish crawl, making 60 seconds feel more like 60 minutes. The drug lord behind Slo-Mo is none other than the ruthless and brutal former prostitute Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who has taken over a 200-story project called Peach Trees; as it so happens, Dredd and Anderson are called to Peach Trees to investigate Slo-Mo, and sure enough all hell breaks loose once the Judge and his trainee show up to mess up Ma-Ma’s operation.

As a whole, Dredd 3D works infinitely better on all levels than the cheesetastic 90’s version of the story; this time around John Wagner worked with screenwriter Alex Garland, and his involvement is certainly the difference maker here. Travis approaches Dredd’s story straight on with a slight undertone of dry humor running throughout, which feels far more in line with the original comics, and for those who have been wondering- our hero never once takes the iconic helmet off. Not once. And that rules.

Urban, an actor who is no stranger to the world of blockbuster filmmaking after appearing in projects like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, The Chronicles of Riddick (two franchises the actor has also returned to this year for their respective upcoming sequels), The Bourne Supremacy and two thirds of the Lord of the Rings trilogy- The Two Towers and The Return of the King; and he appears quite comfortable here taking the lead in Dredd 3D.

Performances from behind a mask are always challenging, especially when the audience can’t even connect with the actor’s eyes, so that is certainly the biggest hurdle Urban faced for this movie- being able to connect with both his co-stars and viewers while hidden behind the obtrusive Judge helmet. But Urban rises to the challenge and really makes the role his own in Dredd 3D. We get a sense of his unflinching dedication to justice, his unwavering desire to make Mega-City One a safer place for its residents and maybe even a sense of Dredd’s world-weariness, without ever once seeing Urban at all. The actor’s body language really sells the performance.

Sure, as a whole Judge Dredd is known for being an ass-kicker, and Urban absolutely delivers on that front in Dredd 3D. But it’s definitely cool that in this adaptation there’s just a bit more to the character than his ability to inflict some brutal and bloody justice to those who deserve it, and that’s due to Urban’s great performance that successfully nails the spirit of the iconic character overall.

In a very testosterone-heavy flick (and rightly so), both Headey and Thirlby knock it out of the park and show that women can kick just as much ass as the guys can in Dredd 3D. Headey, an actress who already has a well-earned reputation as a badass due to her work on shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and in the film 300, steals the show as the ruthless and savage gang boss Ma-Ma who isn’t above biting someone’s junk off or killing off hundreds upon hundreds of innocent people just to get to what she wants. Headey’s slyly vicious work in the flick makes for a great “big bad” for Dredd to go up against with her fearless performance. Great stuff.

Thirlby, an actress who has mostly stuck to the indie comedy/drama world throughout her career, does a great job, too, as a mutant rookie Judge who has a few tricks up her sleeves for criminals beyond the guns she’s packing. It’s a character that we’ve all seen many times before- the naive rookie with no field experience who second-guesses “the system” when they’re finally put to the test (hell, it’s a device even used in my favorite action flick Point Break)- which starts off a bit flat and unassuming (if only because the chemistry between Anderson and Dredd hadn’t really been established yet); thankfully, though, we see the character of Anderson evolve beyond the stereotypical rookie and become a lethal force herself in the second and third acts of the movie, which allows Thirlby to have a little fun with the character and make it her own by the film’s end and proves she’s more than ready to continue to take on bigger films down the line.

Dredd 3D does suffer from a bloated mid-section as the story begins to lag and wander off-track around the halfway point; we get a few subplots introduced that takes the focus off of Dredd and Ma-Ma which feel a bit needless and forced, but as they resolve themselves going into the final act, the pacing picks back up and the flick manages to finish just as strongly as it kicks off. There are a few-groan inducing lines as well (mostly due to the very comic-esque nature of the character’s dialogue), but they’re completely forgivable considering the amount of bloodshed and inventive kills fans get treated to along the way in Dredd.

Travis, the director behind the largely underwhelming thrillers Vantage Point and Endgame, kicks things up a notch in his career and not only does a great job with the material he’s given to work with in Dredd 3D but also delivers a stylish and stunning flick to boot. When the drug Slo-Mo is in use, Travis’ slows things down for the viewers as well, which makes for some really cool moments that become a feast for the eyes, especially in 3D.

And speaking of 3D, Dredd has a crisp and immersive look to it, mostly due to Travis shooting the flick in 3D and not post-converting the project. It’s not a movie whose success solely lies on the format being used so Dredd shouldn’t disappoint in 2D either for those of you out there who have given up on seeing 3D movies. But with Travis’ use of slow-motion throughout the film, Dredd 3D ends up being a visual feast when experienced in all its three-dimensional glory, and this writer definitely recommends seeing the movie in 3D if you’re willing to pony up a few extra bucks.

As a whole, longtime Judge Dredd fans can now breathe a sigh of relief; someone has finally gotten it right, and Dredd 3D makes for the perfect reintroduction of the iconic character to a new generation of cinema-going audiences. Sure, there are bound to be countless comparisons of Dredd to the recent indie action flick The Raid, but that’s pretty unfair since Travis’ film certainly stands on its own two feet (besides, Assault on Precinct 13 did it first back in 1976).

While not exactly a revolutionary story, it’s Urban’s stellar turn as the no-nonsense law enforcer and Travis’ somber and brutal approach to the world of Judge Dredd that should make for a brutally fun time at the theater for both the longtime fans and the uninitiated as well.

4 out of 5

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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product

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DesolationStarring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols

Directed by Sam Patton


I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.

The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.

So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”

As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.

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User Rating 2.87 (15 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3.25 (20 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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User Rating 3.58 (19 votes)
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