“Heaven Knows What” (2014)

Obviously hard to watch at times, but that’s honestly kind of the point. This raw examination of a group of heroin addicts living in the city, is a sad and tragic tale of characters who seem to be unaware, or worse are aware, of the damage they’re inflicting on themselves for fleeting instances of instant gratification, but don’t seem to care. It helps that the leading actress, Arielle Holmes, is playing a semi-fictionalized version of herself (the script was based on her unpublished novel) which I think helps sell the scenes. She is fantastic in the film, and truly captures the pathetic nature of her character, without making her feel unsympathetic. The main thing I don’t like about the film is the ending, because some parts of it just seem unclear and inconsistent. I think I know what the directors were going for, but I’m not really sure, and the film suffers as a result, because it doesn’t stick the landing. However, the rest of the movie is so effective, that it can be forgiven. Not a feel-good movie, and definitely not for everyone, but worth checking out if you’re in the mood for a raw, and uncompromising film.

Rating: 4/5

“The Disaster Artist” (2017)

A pretty funny movie, but I couldn’t help but feel like it could’ve been a lot more. This is an interesting look at how it might’ve been to be on the set of the most infamously bad film of all time, and James Franco is extremely good as the man behind the madness. As a director, he’s decent, but nothing to write home about. Still, it feels like parts of the story were missing, that there was so much more material that could’ve made it into the film, but was cut, for whatever reason. Also, the ending, if anyone knows anything about the real event, is not even close to how it actually happened, which, to say the least, is very distracting. This is a very entertaining and well-made film, but I feel with a little tweaking, and some added scenes, I think this could’ve been something truly fantastic.

Rating: 4/5

“Escape Room” (2019)

This is PG-13 horror junk food; nothing more, nothing less. It’s an enjoyable enough diversion that will satisfy those just looking for a brainless waste of time, just so long as you don’t think about it too much. It has just enough creativity in it that you might overlook most of its flaws, but it still won’t leave a lasting impact. While some of the clues and hints are painfully obvious, there are some genuinely clever instances of puzzle solving and ingenuity. It does manage to wring out some suspense, as well as having passably written characters (by brainless horror film standards). The film’s atmosphere is also great, and it’s clear that director Adam Robitel (who also directed the solid Insidious: The Last Key) has an understanding of how to handle good atmosphere in horror. The film’s ending sucks (not “ruin the whole movie” bad, but definitely “leaves you scratching your head” bad). And one of the supporting characters is completely insufferable. But still, the film is entertaining and enjoyable enough, has a great premise, and capitalizes on it a little bit. Honestly, maybe it’s fitting that this film was inspired by Saw, because based on its massive box office return, along with the fact that they’re planning an Escape Room sequel to be released as soon as next year, we could very well be looking at the next horror franchise zombie.

Rating: 3/5

“Nevada” (2017)

I don’t really get the purpose of this short. I guess if you didn’t get your fix of awkward stop motion puppet sex from Anomalisa, this one has it. But when you get down to it, it’s just a couple having sex, the condom breaking, and then she takes the Plan B pill. And in between is dialogue that’s awkward in a bad way. And most bizarrely is the decision of the couple to humanize the maybe fertilized egg as if it was a real baby, before she takes the pill, which doesn’t paint either character in a good light. This seems like a short that seems to be trying to be “daring” or “edgy” or “push buttons” simply to stir up controversy, rather than because the filmmakers actually had a compelling story they wanted to tell. And for a comedy short, it has a suspicious lack of actual laughs or even amusing moments. This is ultimately just a waste of time that doesn’t offer either any entertainment or any genuine insight.

Rating: 1.5/5

“A Grand Day Out” (1989)

This first Wallace & Gromit short made by Nick Park is a real treat. Even though not much happens, you can’t help but be charmed and sucked in by its simplistic nature. It may not be a laugh-a-minute comedy, but it’s still a very difficult film to not at least have a smile on your face throughout the majority of it. On top of that the stop-motion animation, while still rough around the edges in some spots, is just so fluid and alive. Chances are, you’ve already seen this and these words of praises are nothing new to you. I guess consider this a review to act as a reminder that this exists, and that maybe it’s time to revisit a great classic.

Rating: 4.5/5

“Agua Viva” (2018)

This beautifully animated short does a great job of looking into the inner monologue of what a Chinese manicurist might be thinking as she interacts with her clients. It offers surface level, but still compelling thoughts about the worries of speaking in a language that’s not your natural tongue. On top of that, this film is simply beautiful to look at, with an animation style that makes it look as if it’s a painting that’s moving and has come to life. The best way I can describe this short is that it breathes and feels real, and that’s really all that’s needed for me to say this is worthy of your time.

Rating: 4/5

“Water Lily – Birth of the Lotus” (2015)

The animation on this short is great, and has a rather mystical and otherworldly feel to the whole thing. It tells a kind of nice little story, even though most of the short’s events are shrouded in complete mystery, and are left completely up to the viewer’s interpretation. I feel like if had the pacing been slower, and the relationship between the two leads been allowed to develop a bit more, this could’ve been a truly incredible work of art. But still, it’s decent, and it’s well made, which is all I expect from an animated short.

Rating: 3.5/5

“The Driver is Red” (2017)

The fact that this incredible animated short film wasn’t even shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short this year is a travesty. Also, the fact that barely anyone knows of its existence is also a travesty. This incredible, terse, and atmospheric recounting of a true story, is a chilling and unforgettable experience. The voice acting of Mark Pinter is incredible, as he perfectly captures the raw emotion of the Holocaust survivor who’s given the duty and the honor of capturing the architect of all the systematic slaughter. Some people may complain about the art style (the short is made up of a series of crude sketches that are animated so it looks like they’re being drawn), but honestly, there’s something so quaint, old-school and unobtrusive about it that gives it a certain charm. Plus, the well-acted narration is vivid enough, that more detailed animation just isn’t necessary, and the sketches do a good job of illustrating the story for us, on top of giving this short a unique presentation. If you’re able to get your hands on this (as of writing this, it’s available to watch on Amazon Prime in the US) I would highly recommend you check out this one of a kind experience as soon as humanly possible.

Rating: 5/5

“Age of Sail” (2018)

This 360-degree Virtual Reality animated short has a similar concept to Captains Courageous with a little bit of Up and The Old Man and the Sea thrown in for good measure. These are not bad combinations, and the plot isn’t bad either. But this works a lot better as a VR gimmick, rather than a narrative story. The pacing is a mess, with scenes that just start and end abruptly, and the progression of the character motivations aren’t all that convincing. In order for this story to work properly, this really needed to be a full-length feature film, so that the events could truly sink in (pun intended). Still, we do get some decent atmosphere, some of the bickering between the two leads is entertaining, the voice acting from Ian McShane and Cathy Ang is great, and they do have good chemistry between them. It’s solid, but it could’ve been so much better.

Rating: 3/5

“Reaping for Dummies” (2013)

This student film has an excellent idea for a cartoon (there’s something very Looney Tunes-esque about its core concept), and there are even some well executed gags. The problem with this one? It’s too short. Way too short. This premise is so great, that honestly, it probably could’ve worked for a full half-hour short. Instead, it’s just three minutes long; that’s barely enough time for the set-up, let alone the whole short. Still though, the animation is actually quite solid, and like I said, it’s entertaining enough despite it’s rather rushed pacing. This is a short that I could definitely see getting remade, because the concept and potential for it is so great.

Rating: 3/5