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Big Bad Wolves (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Big Bad Wolves (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring Lior Ashkenazi, Tzachi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Dov Glickman

Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

Distributed by Magnolia


When considering the pantheon of world cinema, Israel isn’t usually one of the countries that first come to mind. Cinema has only been produced there since 1948, not nearly as old as movies themselves. The country has produced acclaimed films from time to time, though not much has gained traction in the Western world. But any country with filmmakers and ambition is bound to make a mark that resonates at some time. That time has come with Big Bad Wolves (2013), a suspenseful tale of revenge and morality that, according to Quentin Tarantino is the “best film of the year.” Tarantino’s name has become a handy marketing tool for little-seen films that need a boost in awareness. His tastes do sometimes run counter to what his fans might expect, though, so keep that in mind any time you see that “stamp of approval”. As a fan of world cinema, it’s almost embarrassing to note that this is the first Israeli production I’ve seen. Though, to be fair in 2013 the country only produced SEVEN total films. We sometimes get that in a single weekend here in the States. Big Bad Wolves is produced with many of the darkly humorous qualities American pictures employ, which should hopefully bode well not only for its own future but that of the Israeli motion picture industry, too. The trailblazers who made it – the writing/directing team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado – were responsible for making the first Israeli horror film ever, Rabies, which was produced in 2010. Crazy to think the country’s first ever horror film is only four years old. It isn’t hard to imagine this dup getting poached by a Hollywood studio sometime soon because Big Bad Wolves is the kind of film that shows strong promise.

When a little girl goes missing during a game of hide-and-seek with some friends, the police are called in to investigate Dror (Rotem Keinan), a local religious schoolteacher who was supposedly seen with the missing girl. The police team, led by Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), tortures the man and beats him quite severely, unaware that a kid hiding around the corner is recording everything. The video is uploaded to YouTube and Dror is set free, while Micki loses his job and is forced off the force. Convinced Dror is his man, Micki decides to do his own investigation as a civilian. Meanwhile, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of a young girl who was recently found beheaded, decides to kidnap Dror and make him confess where her missing head is located. Jewish custom dictates that a body must be buried whole. Only thing is, Micki happens to be there when Gidi goes for Dror, so he just takes both of them out to his new, remotely-located home with a deep, soundproof basement. Gidi is former military himself, and he really doesn’t want to kill a cop, so he offers Micki the option of joining him in torturing Dror for information. He reluctantly agrees. Gidi wants to torture Dror just as the young girls he murdered were – knocked out with a sedative-laced cake, sexually abused (which he & Micki both agree they’ll just leave out), fingers broken, toenails ripped from feet and, finally, head sawed off with a rusty blade. Dror looks scared, rightly so. During the few times Gidi leaves the room, however, Dror plants in Micki’s head the idea he may not be guilty. Micki floats this idea past Gidi, who not only doesn’t buy it but he knocks Micki out again and cuffs him to a pipe.

Gidi’s father comes to visit later on and discovers what’s been going on. Yet, rather than turn his son in or convince him to give it up, he agrees to join in and try extracting information himself. He, too, is a former military officer who misses the thrill of combat shenanigans. They just want Dror to tell where the head is hidden, and then he can die quickly. But what if everyone has been wrong all along? Dror has a daughter himself and he continually professes his innocence, even under extreme duress. Is Gidi prepared to go all the way even with the possibility of knowing Dror isn’t his man?

Big Bad Wolves succeeds in riding that fine line of “is he or isn’t he?” in terms of Dror’s guilt. Keinan does a fantastic job playing a quiet, bookish schoolteacher who seems like the kind of mild-mannered guy that people are either totally wrong about or he’s been slyly fooling them all this time. Maybe a monster does lurk beneath his wiry glasses and physique. It’s hard to watch Dror’s alone time with Micki and not be reminded of Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth’s exchanges in Reservoir Dogs (1992). As human beings, it’s hard not to sympathize with a man professing his innocence and talking about his daughter at home. After all, the only eyewitness to his presence was another little girl, and eyewitnesses can be unreliable. Once the film does show its hand, the moment is so casually handled you’ll probably miss it the first time around. There’s a sharp intelligence to the script that allows for such a simple concept to be elegantly executed.

Although this isn’t a traditional horror film, there are some very horrific moments. Dror’s torture encompasses just about all of them. The torture scenes involve fingers and toes, appendages that can very easily make a moviegoer cringe when they’re abused on screen. The filmmakers break up this unbearably palpable tension by throwing in a bit of levity. Giri, despite being a 49-year-old military man, still has to take his mother’s cell phone calls or she gets upset. He has to stop from breaking a man’s fingers to tell his mother he’s sick so she doesn’t come over. And what happens later? His dad stops by with soup his mother made because he said he was sick. It’s all this latent humor that is purely situational; nothing is sold as straight comedy. Big Bad Wolves succeeds in presenting sharp moments of dark comedy alongside really horrific attempts at retribution. Keshales & Papushado have stepped up as names to watch for in the near future.

This Blu-ray’s 2.40:1 1080p image is much sharper than a rusty saw. The source is digital-to-digital, so this is a mirror image of what the Arri Alexa cameras captured on set. The picture is pristine, though with the absence of any grain it does lack a filmic appearance. Still, detail is fantastic in nearly every shot. Colors look strong, contrast levels are solid. There’s a moderate level of depth to the image. A few shots here and there appear slightly soft, mostly in medium shots. Much of this film takes place in a deep, dank basement with the expected “bad” lighting, but cinematographer Giora Bejach lights this image perfectly, allowing detail to come through despite the shadowy conditions. With so many newer films being shot with digital cameras it’s not too often you come across a truly bad transfer. Magnet consistently produces exemplary transfers that match a director’s original intentions. Big Bad Wolves is a slick, well-shot picture that looks just great in hi-def. You can choose between a Hebrew or English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track to deliver the lossless audio here, though I’d highly recommend the original Hebrew track because dubs are inferior and cannot capture the true emotion of a performance as the acting was giving it. Don’t be afraid of subtitles. There’s a great undercurrent of sinister playfulness thanks to composer Haim Frank Ilfman’s score. Panning is seamless, with a solid separation of sound effects, dialogue and music. Dialogue comes through clear and discernible. There are no audio defects. Rears come into play every so often to buttress the action or punch up the sound, doing so subtly to provide immersion.

Big Bad Wolves just gets one big bad bonus feature, along with a couple throwaways. There a meaty featurette, a less meaty featurette, and a trailer. “Making of Big Bad Wolves” is presented in Hebrew with English subtitles. The filmmakers talk about how their intent was to make an adult fairytale, working with the actors, the designs for the characters, and so on. It’s a fairly interesting piece. “AXS TV: A Look at Big Bad Wolves” is… well, if you’ve ever seen an AXS TV EPK, you know it’s just a quick piece that gives an overview of the film. It’s just fluff and mostly pointless. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included.

I love twisted films, and I love that this particular twisted film came to us from Israel. International cinema has so many incredible films out there, just waiting to be discovered by a larger audience. Big Bad Wolves has a sharp script with some great, developed characters and a superb stinger for an ending. It may not be the “best film of the year” as Tarantino put it, but it’s a damn good effort.

Special Features

  • Making of BIG BAD WOLVES featurette
  • AXS TV: A Look at BIG BAD WOLVES
  • Theatrical trailer

    The Film:

    4 out of 5

    Special Features:

    2 out of 5

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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    User Rating 4.33 (6 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 3.9 (10 votes)
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    The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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    Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

    Directed by Alan Lougher


    The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

    When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

    Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Ultimately chilling in nature!

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    User Rating 3.31 (16 votes)
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