Film Review – It Follows

by Brian Surber

The past few years have had at least one outstanding horror film: from 2009 on we’ve had The House of the DevilLet Me InYou’re NextThe Cabin in the WoodsEvil Dead, and The Babadook.  I am pleased to say that this year we may have found our new addition. It Follows, while possibly steeped in social context, is elevated by its technical skill. This is a film that doesn’t cause nightmares; this is film that is birthed from them. It is the old school kind of horror film that is bent on making you frightfully uneasy the whole way through. The tension in It Follows does not build, it lurks.

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Film Review – Focus

by Brian Surber

I couldn’t help but watch Focus and enjoy myself. It’s sleek, well made, features two strong central performances, at least one outstanding scene, has twists and turns, and is occasionally pretty funny. What’s not to like? I’m not sure, but here I sit giving the film less than three stars. For all the glitz and glamour of Focus, there lies what I can’t help but feel is an emptiness. There isn’t much underneath the surface of Focus; no message or meaning to take away. And while the film falters in that regard, it sure makes up for it in some polished fun.

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Film Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service

by Brian Surber

There are movies that are violent for the sake of being violent. This is not one of them. Not only is Kingsman: The Secret Service a joyously fun, retro-fitted, violent blast of energy, but it’s a film that has something to say. Touching on a generation gap, Kingsman deals with our society’s necessity for action while holding a grand sense of style and old-school proceedings. It’s also just outrageously fun.

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Film Review – Wild

by Brian Surber

“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail…” The first lines uttered in Jean-Marc Vallee’s new film, Wild, represents not only the mindset of it’s heroine but the mindset of the film itself. Here is a film with a familiar premise (mentally damaged, almost broken person sets out Into the Wild to find one’s self), familiar motifs (flashbacks revealing the back story throughout the film), and the grand Brava performance by its lead actor who shares the screen with barely anyone else (Emile Hirsch, Sandra Bullock, Robert Redford). Yet Wild somehow manages to transcend these tropes, providing the audience with air just as fresh as its character breaths, and proving that it has what it takes, just like it’s heroine, to not only be the hammer but make sure that the nail never comes back up.

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Film Review – Still Alice

by Brian Surber

It’s always interesting to see a movie that has a “front-runner” status; when you head to the theater because the movie or someone in it seems destined to win an Oscar. All your attention seems to be focused on that one aspect of the film. Some movies are brilliant enough on their own that you start to forget about the reason you went to see it and begin to be blown away (Whiplash, for example). Others are less engaging and the only thing holding you to the film is said performance (The Blind Side). Still Alice is an interesting film in that it does not fall into either category. It comes with the prestige of getting its star Julianne Moore her first Academy Award, but the film isn’t great enough to stand alongside her performance nor is it weak enough to solely rely on it. There is something missing in Still Alice. It features a duh-incredible performance from Ms. Moore, its deals with a heartbreaking subject with wonderful sensitivity, and sheds light on a terrible disease. But watching the film you can’t help but feel the flaws and they can’t help but hurt it.

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Film Review – The Babadook

by Brian Surber

The thing missing from horror films is a human element. There are humans in it, to be sure, but they aren’t real. Most of the time characters in (bad) horror films are not fleshed out. They have one or two basic motives and they don’t stretch beyond what is needed of them as pawns. There can be and have been great horror films with characters that aren’t very interesting; The House of the Devil and Saw come to mind. Those films achieve their “greatness” status based on their technical artistic achievements. The Babadook, directed with gusto by newcomer Jennifer Kent, is so deeply rooted in character interest that it is elevated from not only the best horror film of the year but one of the best films of the year.

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Film Review – Mr. Turner

by Brian Surber

Art is subjective. We see it how we choose. There is no correct way to feel about a work of art; the artists creates something, we observe and interpret. I think that’s how Mike Leigh made Mr. Turner. He took this man’s life as his canvas, he chose to show us the parts he felt needed to be shown, and presented it to us to decipher. Whether that completely works as a movie, I’m not quite so sure, but hey, that’s just how I feel about it.

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Film Review – Selma

By Brian Surber

Never before has a film captured a cultural icon like this. This might be because Martin Luther King, Jr. is our most untainted of heroes. He is thought of as something almost mystical, something so above an ordinary person that he doesn’t even come across as a human being. He is seen as a remarkable person who has no flaws or faults, who can do no wrong because he did so much good. That’s the beautiful thing about Selma and David Oyelowo’s performance, for the first time we see just how human Martin Luther King, Jr. was and how that makes him all the more amazing.

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