FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #92 – “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (dir. Mike Flanagan)

Poster for "Ouija: Origin of Evil"

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel return to the assembly-line horror world of Blumhouse with a prequel to a thriller about a board game. Can a franchise horror film whose upper limit of scariness is at roughly the same level as Jumanji possibly exceed our middling expectations? With a skilled director and solid cast, the answer is…well, you’ll just have to see which way the planchette moves (37:16).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 5 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is the track “Time of the Season” by The Zombies, which appeared in the film’s trailer. But you already knew that. Come on.
  • Check out the episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast all about Jason Blum and Blumhouse Productions, filtered through the lens of a specific film and director – quite an interesting look at the process that has unfolded in Hollywood horror over the past few years, with everything from Paranormal Activity to The Purge to The Visit
  • Also check out Glenn’s review of Flanagan’s 2014 film, Oculus, which also starred Annalise Basso. Flanagan actually has another 2016 Blumhouse horror film (Hush) available on Netflix as of this writing.
  • The person who operated the soda fountain was the soda jerk. Look at this jerk:
    Soda jerk

Listen above, or download: Ouija: Origin of Evil (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #91 – “The Birth of a Nation” (dir. Nate Parker)

Poster for "The Birth of a Nation"

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel try their level best to be objective about a film and filmmaker that strive at every turn to make them otherwise, Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation. All of the film’s controversy (and surprisingly frequent comparisons to the work of Mel Gibson) is fundamentally about the interplay of fact and fiction, of drama and history, with our intrepid hosts firmly entrenched on opposite sides. Can we reach an accord, or will we go to war like the Inglourious Basterds of old? Tune in and find out below (49:46).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 6.5/10 (Daniel), 7.5/10 (Glenn)

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is the track “Black Moses” by Pusha T (featuring Meek Mill & Priscilla Renea) from the film’s Inspired By soundtrack, and Nina Simone‘s 1965 version of “Strange Fruit“, which appeared in the film’s teaser trailer.
  • Jerusalem, Virginia was indeed a real village – it was renamed to Courtland, Virginia in 1888.
  • Without being able to scroll back through the film frame by frame, we can’t be completely sure, but as best we can remember (with Google’s assistance), the Bible verse briefly shown in the film (which is the closest that the film comes to suggesting that the rebellion plans to murder children) is Ezekiel 9:5-7:

    And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
    Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
    And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.(KJV)

  • CORRECTION: This one, I really feel bad about, because it wasn’t HBO’s Entourage, the horrendous guilty pleasure of my early 20s, that was responsible for the fictitious Haitian Revolution movie. It was writer/director Chris Rock, in his outstanding 2014 film Top Five (which made my Top 10 for that year). I did correctly characterize its role in that film, however – it was an example of an artsy project that nobody wanted to see.

Listen above, or download: The Birth of a Nation (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #90 – “Hell or High Water” (dir. David Mackenzie)

Poster for "Hell or High Water"

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel return from a wander on the plains to review Hell or High Water, a new modern western from Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, featuring a very familiar Jeff Bridges landing somewhere between his own mumbly personage from True Grit, and Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men. Can this Southern crime tale do enough to differentiate itself? Tune in and find out (34:17).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 7 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is the track “You Ask Me To” by Waylon Jennings from the film’s soundtrack, and Blakwall‘s cover of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door“, which appeared in the film’s trailer.
  • Steven Michael Quezada and Dean Norris, who played Gomie and Hank respectively in Breaking Bad, are more or less the exact same age. Whoops – we might’ve been reaching a bit hard for this comparison. But Gil Birmingham‘s character definitely played a similar role to Steven Gomez in this film.
  • Also the same age? Chris Pine and Ben Foster. Gonna chock this one up to movie makeup and styling – Foster definitely looked older here.
  • Also nearly the same age? Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham (66 and 63 respectively). So…we really biffed it on the age-related observations in this episode.
  • Apologies, Glenn was getting over the sniffles during this episode – we cut what we could.
  • Reverse mortgages are complicated. We correctly (albeit cynically) described the one that was featured in this film, but we’d encourage you to read up on them in detail before considering this film podcast too instructive on the subject.

Listen above, or download: Hell or High Water (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” – An adequate expansion

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I have to imagine that a day on the set with Roland Emmerich is just endless exhortation that the world is exploding around you, it’s real, and you need to give a damn. When I compare his signature destruction to that of Michael Bay or Zach Snyder, the salient ingredient is always that Emmerich chooses to view it through the small eyes of people in small-scale, interchangeable stories who noticeably care about what’s happening, and also about each other. They’re also preternaturally lucky and can travel at unimaginable speeds (the movie literally handwaves this aloud at one point), but that’s all fine. These films are always about the luckiest people on the world; otherwise their stories would be rather short.

Independence Day was an unlikely action sci-fi classic that succeeded by taking a recognizable world (our own) and populating it with the casual sci-fi slaughter of a B-movie on a blockbuster budget. Strippers and mad scientists and mind control? You bet. Tentacles? For days. Two-dimensional WWII-style dogfighting and glorious catchphrases? Welcome to Earth, bitch. For a sequel set 20 real-time years later to succeed, it needed to credibly convey that this is a post-invasion world that has been fundamentally and catastrophically changed, à la Pacific Rim or Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and I’m pleased to say, Resurgence mostly succeeds at this. It does much of it through ham-fisted expository dialogue (“As you know…”), but by and large, it plays through the film’s mesmerizing visuals and grand conceptual ambitions. Have we rebuilt Washington, D.C., bigger and shinier than before? You better believe it, and a damn moon base to boot. We’ve also replaced all of our planes and helicopters with the aliens’ hovertech, and – in a minor spoken detail – the world is completely free of armed conflict.

Wide-eyed genius cable-guy/scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is back, in charge of the UN’s alien-infused Earth Defense. His buddy Captain Steven Hiller, USMC (Will Smith) is not, having been unceremoniously killed test-flying one of the new hi-tech fighter planes between the two films. He is joined by the two kids from the first film, Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) and former First Daughter Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe). I’m inclined to comment on the tragedy of these next-gen fighter pilots being forced to resume fighting their parents’ endless interstellar war, but if I’m being honest, the only real tragedy is that Usher is a charisma vacuum compared to his late cinematic father. Monroe is capable, reviving the same acting chops she used to carry the lead role in It Follows.

Since the younger Hiller offers little in the way of buddy chemistry with anyone in the film, that role is instead filled by Whitmore’s fiancé, pilot and moon-base bad-boy Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), who operates as a sort of unlicensed space cabbie for David, hopping from the Moon to [unspecified plains], Africa, back to the Moon, then back down to Area-51 by way of London, all in about fifteen minutes of screentime. Don’t try to make geographical or logical sense of what I just typed. The key thing is, when London gets senselessly obliterated about seven seconds after reentry, I was waiting for someone to express sadness about it, and David’s French psychiatrist lady friend Catherine (Charlotte Gainsbourg) dutifully obliges, albeit riding the coattails of a pair of pee jokes. This sequence highlights the film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses simultaneously. It has the good sense to include believable character moments and people acting like human beings in the face of unimaginable destruction- but it operates at such a breakneck pace that these moments are very nearly lost in the shuffle. The film never stops to breathe for a moment. David never feels the despair of having spent two decades arming the Earth with defenses that proved utterly outmatched by the aliens’ second salvo, and doesn’t get hopelessly drunk in the Area-51 kitchen. He never thinks for a moment that he’s about to die, and busts out a cigar with a friend before his final moment. The characters in this film feel real pain and pathos as their new world comes to an end, and yet they power through it so quickly that it plays like they already know how the film will end. Granted, the film’s “twist” was a bit obvious, so perhaps even the characters had it worked out.

Still from

As far as the sci-fi action goes, I must reiterate that the film is visually stunning. Its final set-piece is a macro-scale marvel that is far more impressive than anything in Pacific Rim– it turns out a film gains many points with me by having the confidence to showcase its creations in a static, faraway view in broad daylight. It’s okay, the movie says, we know this looks awesome. And we don’t mind showing it to you. The fighter battles were a bit less interesting this time around, mostly because they succumbed to the temptation to overpopulate the screen with visual junk. But the film wisely avoids trying to perfectly recreate the battle-style of the first film, spending most of its time instead with the sort of high-concept sci-fi craziness that might occur when both sides have access to the same level of technology. The resulting battles are bizarre, but entertaining- and only occasionally incomprehensible.

There are other returning characters I haven’t mentioned. Judd Hirsch is put to appropriately goofy use, and Brent Spiner dials his mad scientist persona up to eleven. Vivica A. Fox has been promoted from stripper to surgeon (in a standard “We don’t know what to do with her so she’s a doctor now” piece of casting) and…probably should’ve stayed home. By and large, as a sequel to the first film and an expansion of the world, Independence Day: Resurgence succeeds. The film’s most potent avatar is former President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), who works best when he is credibly showcasing his scars from the first film, and falls flat when he is trying to recreate actual scenes from it. We don’t need the speech again. Perhaps it’s coincidence that today is the Fourth of July. And we’d best leave it at that and get back to the fight.

FilmWonk rating: 6 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #89 – “The Brand New Testament” (dir. Jaco Van Dormael), “When War Comes Home” (dir. Michael King)

Poster for "When War Comes Home"

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel return to the Seattle International Film Festival, first to give a shout-out to the badass women of Angry Indian Goddesses, followed by some fanciful religious absurdity with The Brand New Testament. And then we conclude a trilogy of reviews that we’ve done on warrior subculture in the United States, with a deep dive on When War Comes Home, Emmy-award winning director Michael King‘s new documentary on soldiers living with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. This film divided us, both on what we think a documentary should be, and on the value of compelling human interest stories. Listen to us unpack the film below. (49:26).

Seattle area listeners:
There will be a special Flag Day screening of When War Comes Home at the Majestic Bay Theater, on Tuesday, June 14th, at 7:30PM. It will be followed by a panel discussion with several of the film’s subjects.

For free tickets, RSVP at this link.

May contain NSFW language.

Still from "The Brand New Testament"

FilmWonk rating (The Brand New Testament): 5 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (When War Comes Home): 6/10 (Daniel), 7.5/10 (Glenn)

Show notes:

  • [00:33] Brief : Angry Indian Goddesses
  • [07:20] Review: The Brand New Testament
  • [23:06] Review: When War Comes Home
  • Music for this episode is a pair of tracks from the outstanding soundtrack to Angry Indian Goddesses: “Zindagi“, written and performed by Anushka Manchanda, and “Kattey“, performed by Bhanvari Devi and Hard Kaur.
  • We didn’t issue a rating for Angry Indian Goddesses, since we didn’t do a full review segment for it. But suffice to say, we both loved the film. Check out its Facebook page for more info on how you can see it.
  • If you’re wondering what the hell I was talking about with Paul Rudd‘s computer – treat yourself here.
  • You can check out the episode that we referenced of Rose Eveleth‘s Flash Forward podcast here – and we highly recommend it!

Listen above, or download: The Brand New Testament, When War Comes Home (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #88 – “A Bigger Splash” (dir. Luca Guadagnino), “Death By Design” (dir. Sue Williams) (#SIFF2016)

Poster for "A Bigger Splash"

In this week’s podcast, Glenn and Daniel make an inauspicious start at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival with an environmental documentary that did a rather poor job of convincing our heroes of things that they already believe. Then they hop overseas to check out the latest Italian collaboration between director Luca Guadagnino and actress Tilda Swinton. Stay tuned for spoilers, because we had vastly different reads on this film’s ending (38:37).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating (Death By Design): 2 out of 10
FilmWonk rating (A Bigger Splash): 6 out of 10

Show notes:

  • [00:46] Review: Death By Design
  • [11:36] Review: A Bigger Splash
  • [26:25] Spoilers: A Bigger Splash
  • Music for this episode is the track “Emotional Rescue” by The Rolling Stones, from the soundtrack to A Bigger Splash.
  • Glenn was probably butchering Matthias Schoenaerts‘ name pronunciation, but he is definitely not the first to sorta mistake him for Ryan Gosling, and he regrets nothing.

Listen above, or download: Death By Design, A Bigger Splash (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #87 – “Captain America: Civil War” (dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Poster for "Captain America: Civil War"

This week on the podcast, Daniel engages in the as-yet-unprecedented behavior of suggesting that we review a new Marvel film, and shocks Glenn to his very core by enjoying it. Come along for the ride that proves that Marvel continues to check such basic storytelling boxes as “give them a good reason to fight” and “make us care”. Take notes, Zach Snyder – this is how a proper superhero clash is done (42:49).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is the tracks “Lagos” and “Clash” from the film’s original score, written by Henry Jackman.
  • Our initial screening was canceled for what we describe here as “the usual reasons”. If you’re curious what we mean by this, listen to our brief rant at the beginning of Episode 35.
  • Bit of fictional geography: Wakanda’s location has varied in Marvel lore, but all sources seem to agree that it’s located in northeastern Africa, somewhere in the region inhabited by real-life Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and/or Ethiopia. Which is around 2,000 miles from Lagos, Nigeria (in West Africa), where the film’s opening scene takes place. In our discussion (where we got quite a bit wrong, geographically speaking), we referred to Wakanda as the fictional product of an alternate history in which an African monarchy remained untouched by European colonialism, but after recording (and consulting Wikipedia), we remembered that there is a potential real-life parallel for Wakanda, in the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia), which successfully avoided colonization. The last Emperor, Haile Selassie I (also the founder and principal religious figure of Rastafarianism) ruled the country for 44 years until he was overthrown by a Soviet-backed communist coup in 1974.
  • Daniel stumped me at one point by asking whether the black panther species is native to Africa. The answer: Yes, kind of. Turns out the term refers to the melanistic (dark-pigmented) variant of a number of species in the Panthera genus. According to Wikipedia, black panthers in Asia and Africa are leopards, whereas the ones in the Americas are jaguars. Also, gibbons are apes, not monkeys. Yay knowledge!
  • Correction: Whoops, Don Cheadle was totally in Iron Man 3. Remember the Iron Patriot? Because we totally forgot him. He was definitely present in the final showdown as well. We regret the error.

Listen above, or download: Captain America: Civil War (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)