Reviewing: Baghead (2008)

The title character of 2008's "Baghead".

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Filmmaker brothers Mark and Jay Duplass have carved out an extensive resume of projects, most notably those in the independent film genre. It’s in this genre that they truly thrive, churning out films that have oddball sensitivities, but are grounded in the real world. Their 2008 feature Baghead is one of them. The film follows four struggling actors, Matt (Ross Partridge of Stranger Things), Chad (frequent Duplass collaborator Steve Zissis), Michelle (a still-unknown Greta Gerwig), and Catherine (Elise Muller), who, after watching a shoddy film at a film festival, believe that they can make a movie that is not only more successful, but can launch their careers as well. They go up to a cabin in the woods and decide on a plot for their newly decided horror film: a group of people are stalked by a man wearing a paper bag over his head. Things become more complicated when a similar individual starts stalking our main characters. The film itself is enjoyable and strikes a clear balance between comedy, drama, and horror, and each of the actors are clearing enjoying themselves. I was hoping for a bit more intrigue in regards to the titular killer, maybe some more inventive ways he could have intimidated the main characters. Overall, it’s a good film: not great, and not terrible, but an enjoyable (albeit not entirely promising) film experience.


Reviewing: Crush (2013)

Crystal Reed (center) and Lucas Till (right) in "Crush".

Courtesy of FilmNation Entertainment.

Crush was a film that I had a degree of hope for: it had an intriguing premise (a high school student is obsessively and violently stalked by a crush) and a few actors I’d been familiar with. I wasn’t crazy about the trailer I saw, but I decided I had nothing to lose and watched the movie nonetheless. While the film is entertaining, it’s only to a degree. This is largely in part because of an almost cringe-worthy script and a predictable storyline, both wasting the talents of a group of very talented actors (Lucas Till, Sarah Bolger, and Crystal Reed, among others). I know it sounds harsh for a film that was released direct-to-DVD, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for those behind the film to not try as hard as they could have, as the premise is ripe for innovation and intrigue.



Reviewing: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

From left to right: Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, and Aubrey Plaza.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

by Cole Albinder

I’ve been noticing a disappointing trend in some recent big-budget comedies, mostly R-rated ones. Now more than ever, they seem to always ride on a constant stream of dirty jokes and droppings of the F-bomb. Now don’t get me wrong: those two factors can make for some funny scenes in movies, but they start becoming more obnoxious than funny when that’s what makes up most of the humor. Not to say that every recent movie that’s done this has been terrible, but in my opinion there should be a way to curse and crack jokes in ways that don’t feel outdated and in your face. What I’m saying is that characters in a film should go a while into their running time without using “fuck” as a noun/verb or going overly dirty with their jokes, even if that film is R-rated. This week’s entry, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, improves a bit on this front but otherwise fails to take advantage of a great premise.

Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) are brothers who have a reputation in their family for wreaking havoc during family gatherings with their antics (a flashback shows that their fireworks display at one party didn’t go as planned). Not wanting the boys’ sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii to suffer a similar fate, their father Burt (Stephen Root) demands that the boys find “respectable girls” to be their dates to the wedding, so that they will keep the boys out of trouble. The boys agree, putting an ad out on Craigslist, before appearing live on The Wendy Williams Show. 

The two main couples.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

This televised appearance catches the attention of two slacker party girls, Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), who have just been fired from their jobs. After catching the brothers’ attention one night (when Tatiana throws herself in front of a car, with Mike rushing to her aid), they agree to take the girls to Hawaii. Once there, the girls struggle to hide their true identities from the brothers and their family members (Tatiana says she is a schoolteacher, Alice goes with being a hedge fund manager), along with actually growing attached to the boys, all the while leaving just as much mayhem in their wake as the brothers usually would.

All in all, it’s an entertaining, if not quite fulfilling movie. It has its moments, no doubt, but even then, those moments could have been made better with more attention on character development and stronger writing. Fortunately, the cast brings their A-game to the material. Efron has been proving himself to be a talented comedic actor in the past few years, and here he succeeds on giving Dave both humor and pathos. DeVine (already well-known as one of the co-creators and stars of Workaholics) matches him with hilarious intensity, and Plaza proves that she’s one of the best female comedians working today. Then there’s Kendrick: don’t get me wrong, she’s a great actress who’s proven her comedic chops in the past, but I haven’t been as comfortable with her playing overly raunchy, quirky characters like she does here. I watched another movie called Mr. Right where she played a similar type of character, and it almost made me cringe watching her deliver certain lines as that character. To be fair, that movie wasn’t quite a gem either, so it’s possible that she can deliver more as this character when she’s got better material to work with.

The four leads huddle up.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

But as I said at the beginning of this review, Mike and Dave doesn’t go full speed ahead into dick jokes and F-bombs until a little into the movie, which I commend it for (if I wrote an R-rated comedy, I’d use the F-bombs and jokes more wisely, just saying), but it still points out a fundamental flaw with big budget comedies: they feel like they can coast by on cursing and making stale dirty jokes, leaving little room for character development or innovation. It could be said that no one sets out to make a bad movie, but I feel like if people in this business could be pushed toward change and originality, then there’s hope for entertainment in the near future.


Reviewing: Miss Stevens (2016)

The main characters of "Miss Stevens".

Courtesy of The Orchard. 

by Cole Albinder


Julia Hart’s Miss Stevens was a movie that piqued my interest a while ago. The cast of both well-known and rising actors assembled was top-notch, and the story sounded interesting: a young high school English teacher is tasked with bringing three students to a drama competition, and one of the  more questionably stable students  feels he has a deep connection to her. I was expecting some slightly intense drama, some snippets of dark comedy, and a good deal of warmth from the characters. While it doesn’t quite go to the darker places I thought it would, Miss Stevens succeeds in creating moments that feel authentic, as well as fully fleshed out characters to inhabit them.

Lily Rabe is the titular Miss (Rachel) Stevens, a withdrawn and slightly awkward teacher who acts as chaperone for three of her students attending a state drama competition: Margot (Lili Reinhart), a type-A overachiever; Sam (Anthony Quintal), an openly gay student; and Billy (Timothee Chalamet), a charming yet anti-social student who seems to have a strange fascination with his teacher.

From left to right: Billy (Timothee Chalamet), Rachel Stevens (Lily Rabe), Sam (Anthony Quintal), and Margot (Lili Reinhart).

Courtesy of The Orchard. 

As the weekend goes on, we the audience get to know more about Rachel as a character, as she relates stories about her acting days to her students and has an awkward sexual encounter with another teacher, who happens to be married (Rob Huebel). But the scenes with her and Billy are the ones that pack a good amount of the emotion and the strangeness of their relationship. Chalamet really excels in these scenes, as we’re treated to the many facets of his character’s personality; he truly lights up the screen with a palpable energy. But this isn’t to detract from Rabe, who shines in her own way. She subtly maintains Rachel’s awkward yet caring personality on the outside, though she’s no slouch when it comes to opening up her character and revealing her hurt interior.

As I said, this film wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.  It’s good to be surprised by a film every once in a while (and it should be the case more often, in my opinion), and this film did just that. A fine cast, an intelligent script, and a competent director at the helm make this an entertaining and thought-provoking watch.

Sam (Anthony Quintal), joining in on a hug between Billy (Timothee Chalamet) and Margot (Lili Reinhart).

Courtesy of The Orchard.

Reviewing: Anastasia (1997)


by Cole Albinder

In honor of its Broadway musical adaptation, I thought I’d sit down and watch what many consider to be a standard of the animated library, 1997’s Anastasia. I was interested in the story, which is loosely based on the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who was thought to have been executed with her family at the hands of Bolshevik troops, though in reality she managed to escape execution. The film takes a different approach, showing that a vengeful sorcerer named Grigori Rasputin (voiced here by Christopher Lloyd) sold his soul for an unholy reliquary, allowing him to place a curse on Anastasia’s family: this incites the Russian Revolution. Anastasia and her grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna manage to escape, though only Marie is able to make it onto a moving train, leaving Anastasia in the crowd. For someone who’s only seen this once, it’s best if you don’t know anything about the plot before going in, as it makes the true events all the more though-provoking. A few pieces of character development aside, Anastasia is a film that shouldn’t be missed.

Reviewing: Brick Lane (2007)

The film's main character, Nazneen Ahmed (Tannishta Chatterjee).

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

by Cole Albinder

The 2007 film Brick Lane (based on the novel of the same name by Monica Ali) gives us a look at the lifestyles that many of those in the Muslim community (specifically the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Indians) were forced to lead. The film’s main character, Nazneen, is forced at a young age away from her sister and life in Bangladesh at the age of seventeen, during the 1980s. She is arranged to marry Chanu Ahmed, who is nearly twice her age, and they are to live in the Brick Lane section of London, England, which is home to the British Bangladeshi community.

As Nazneen grows into her role as wife to Chanu and mother to their two young daughters, she keeps herself sane by sewing clothes, sending and replying to letters from her sister, and striking up a close relationship with Kharim, a clothing worker who comes to her flat periodically. Her world is thrown into disarray (once more) when, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, racial tensions against her community force her and her family to consider moving back to Bangladesh.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The film explores the tensions that arose in the wake of 9/11. As we all know, the events of 9/11 sent our world into a state of shock, one from which we may never recover. It caused us to question our safety, our well-being as a nation, and our relationships with those of other cultures. It forced those not young enough to understand what happened to understand, to realize that the barriers protecting one’s country were not as all-powerful as we were lead to believe. Similar acts of terrorism in other countries have forced its inhabitants to embrace that sad and scary truth as well, as this film shows.

Nazneen (Tannishta Chatterjee) and Kharim (Christopher Simpson).

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Brick Lane does a superb job of putting the audience in the shoes of its characters, in addition to giving each one of them a voice and a three-dimensional characterization.  While I would have liked to see a bit more of the family dynamic amongst the Ahmeds, the film itself stands as a powerful commentary on the impact of terrorism as a whole, especially in regards to a community that is cruelly blamed for those events.

Reviewing: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

One of the original posters for "An American Werewolf in London".

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

by Cole Albinder

It’s a great time to be a horror fan, if these last few years have been any kind of indication. From the Paranormal Activity movies to recent breakouts like It Follows and Get Out, the horror genre has reignited the interests of filmmakers and  moviegoers alike. For this week’s post, I thought I’d treat myself to one of the more famous films in this genre, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London.

If the name John Landis sounds familiar, then you’re not alone. He’s been the director for several hit comedies, like Nation Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Trading Places. Now you’re probably getting curious: how could a director known for comedies suddenly transition to a straight-up horror film? To be fair, American Werewolf has its fair share of funny moments (more so than the average horror film), but nonetheless manages to be terrifying all the same.

The film's two main characters: Jack (Griffin Dunne, left) and David (David Naughton, right).

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The film follows two young Americans, David Kessler (David Naughton, right) and Jack Freeman (Griffin Dunne, left) who are backpacking through England. While they are briefly stopped at a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, they are warned by the townsfolk to stick close to the road, “beware the moors” (referring to the North York Moors, which is not far from where the men are traveling), and also to “beware the full moon.” As with most horror movies, the men unintentionally forget to heed this advice, and are attacked by large animal, resulting in David being injured and Jack being killed. As David wakes up in a London hospital, he is visited by the decaying spirit of Jack, who tells his friend that they were attacked by a lycanthrope (otherwise known as a werewolf). By the next full moon, David himself will become a werewolf.

As I mentioned, American Werewolf is a funny film. It may be odd that a horror film can be both funny and scary, but this film pulls off the combination of these tones beautifully. Just because it is funny doesn’t make it a spoof, as there are genuine, dangerous stakes to this story. The effects used to transform David into the werewolf are frightening and impressive, even by today’s standards, holding its own against the CGI of today’s films. If you’re looking for an introduction to the horror genre that manages to thrill you, in addition to making you laugh quite a bit, An American Werewolf in London is for you.




David (David Naughton) transforming into the werewolf.Courtesy of Universal Pictures.