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A review of the new film, on demand now

It’s always fun when movie posters make a leap to connect a new film to previous audience favorites without being clear about who, exactly, forms the connecting tissue. The poster for new thriller Horizon Line announces that the film is “from the Creators of 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Shallows,” two movies I love a lot, so before watching I did a bit of digging to figure out who said “creators” are.

In this case, it means that Horizon Line was written by two of the writers of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Matthew Stuecken and Josh Campbell… the two 10CL writers who aren’t Damien Chazelle. The The Shallows connection comes from the fact that director Jaume Collett-Serra, king of the high-concept, artistic-trash thriller, is here an executive producer. That’s a decent pedigree! Add in a star turn from Allison Williams, who has been quietly delivering great performances in genre fare like Get Out and The Perfectionist, and you have the recipe for a fun little mid-budget thriller. …


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A review of the dark and gritty fairy cartoon adaptation, on Netflix Jan. 22nd

About halfway through the six-episode first season of Fate: The Winx Saga, I found myself imagining the pitch meeting that must have led to this live-action adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon. “Remember Winx Club, that cartoon about fairies that kids liked in the mid-00s?” someone must have said. “What if… this time… they curse, drink, smoke, and fuck?”

“…What’s our imagined audience here?” the Netflix executive must have replied. “Is this a show for children? Or are we trying to please grown-up fans of the original cartoon?”

“Maybe you didn’t hear me,” the guy pitching must have said. “They’re fairies, except they curse, drink, smoke, and fuck.” …


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A review of the new thriller, on demand now

A Jane Austen quote opens new thriller Don’t Tell A Soul: “What strange creatures brothers are.” It’s from Mansfield Park, and in context it’s about men being unable to communicate their feelings to one another; here, in this film, it’s rather more literal. The brothers in question are teenage delinquent Matt (Fionn Whitehead) and his younger brother Joey (Jack Dylan Grazer), two kids trying to survive in a world that seems to have forgotten about them. Their mother (Mena Suvari) is sick with cancer and their father is dead, so all they have is each other.

One day, Matt tells Joey to follow him, and they hop on their bikes and ride off through the neighborhood. Smokestacks from the factory at the end of the block belch grey clouds into the sky. A nearby house has been tented due to a termite infestation, and Matt heard from a friend that the old lady who lived there has thousands of dollars in cash tucked away. He hands Joey a gas mask and tells him where to find the money. The younger boy is hesitant — he had no idea this is what he was getting himself into — and yet his brother clearly has power over him, so he ducks inside. …


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A review of the YA hearing-loss drama, streaming on Hulu January 15th

The sick-teen romance didn’t start with John Green; I remember swooning over Shane West in A Walk To Remember a full ten years before Green released The Fault In Our Stars. However, ever since his youngsters-in-love-plus-cancer story was a runaway smash, countless imitators have followed in the near-decade since that book.

The latest in the genre is The Ultimate Playlist of Noise, a Hulu-original film directed by Bennett Lasseter. Oddly, this one isn’t based on a young-adult novel, but it may as well be; it’s like Sound of Metal meets Green’s Paper Towns (made into a movie in 2015), a standard story of a kid with a brain tumor chasing after a Manic Pixie Dream Girl as they try to cross items off a whimsical bucket list. …


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A review of the new docuseries, on Netflix January 13th

Los Angeles in the 1980s: a time of glitz, glamour, and so much cocaine, and also a time when people became acutely aware of the fact that the fashion- and fame-filled streets also had a seedy underbelly, full of evil people lurking in both literal and figurative shadow. (Sure, that describes Los Angeles pretty much all the time, but go with me here). This is the world of the Night Stalker, a man who used the cover of darkness to slip into the homes of unsuspecting Angelenos, where he wrought unspeakable evil.

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, a new four-part docuseries coming to Netflix January 13th, speaks that unspeakable evil. The series is an in-depth look at the Night Stalker’s summer of terror, with a specific focus on the recollections of the detectives who followed his literal trail around Southern California. It’s a pulse-pounding, gripping watch, a well-made odyssey back in time to an era that terrorized a city. And, in its focus on law enforcement and in its salacious recounting of gruesome details of the Night Stalker’s horrific crimes, it’s somewhat of an oddity in Netflix’s true-crime oeuvre. …


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A look back at the landmark torture-porn film, on its 15th anniversary

It’s been fifteen years since cinematic prankster Eli Roth’s torture-porn classic Hostel was released in theaters. Though Hostel’s January 6, 2006 release date meant it came after other genre mainstays like Saw (2004) and Wolf Creek (2005), this was the film that first inspired the “torture porn” label, first used in critic David Edelstein’s review for New York Magazine. Compared to most of the other films in this genre boom, which defined American horror in the mid-to-late 00s, Hostel proudly wears its political subtext on its sleeve.

This movie epitomizes the popular interpretation that torture-porn is about the consequences for American interventionism, our boldness in interfering in other countries come back to haunt us. Roth wasn’t shy about it; he even went on Fox News after the film’s release, providing a succinct lecture to the snide Neil Cavuto about how horror movies are always political. Working around Cavuto’s mock-outrage at the goriness of the film, Roth gets the point across that his movie is in conversation with post-Abu Ghraib American guilt and fear of journalist-beheading Al Qaeda videos in the same way films like like Last House on the Left and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were inspired by the Vietnam War. …


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A review of the new Netflix series, out Christmas Day

Several years ago, legendary TV creator Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, etc) announced that she was leaving her network home at ABC and heading to Netflix in a deal reportedly worth over $150mil. That creative partnership between Netflix and Shondaland is starting to bear fruit; the first fiction series created under the deal, Bridgerton, premieres this week on Christmas Day.

Set in an alternate-history version of London in the 1800s, Bridgerton follows two neighboring families during the high-profile social season, where young girls and young men attend a series of glitzy events in hopes of securing a marriage proposal. The titular Bridgertons are a well-off family with eight beautiful children, and the eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) is ready to make her debut into society as the season begins. …


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A review of the dreadful new teen drama, on Netflix now

Several times per episode of Netflix’s new teen ballet drama Tiny Pretty Things, I found myself checking the amount of time remaining in the episode, sure that I’d been watching for close to an hour, only to find that only 20 or so minutes had passed. This is the kind of show that churns through plot so quickly, power relations changing so drastically from episode-to-episode and scene-to-scene at such a rapid pace that it’s almost dizzying.

Let me back up. Tiny Pretty Things, out now on Netflix, is a soapy drama about ballet students jockeying for roles at an elite dance academy in Chicago. The show’s main character — if there can be said to be one, as the cast is vast and the storylines multitudinous — is Neveah (Kylie Jefferson), a dancer from Inglewood who is invited to join a term already in progress. A space has opened up, it seems, because the school’s top dancer Cassie (Anna Maiche) has taken a tumble off a seventh-story rooftop. Neveah provides our point-of-view entry into the school; as she meets the various cast of characters who populate the hallways and rehearsal studios of the Archer School of Ballet, so too does the audience. …


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A review of the new documentary, in virtual cinemas December 11th

This much we know is true: on February 13, 2017, in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, the brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was assassinated. Kim Jong Nam was killed when two young women smeared a poisonous chemical on his face; he died within an hour of the attack. Shocking images were soon released showing one of the assassins to have been wearing a shirt that said LOL. while she carried out the murder.

That’s about as much as most people remember. As Ryan White, director of the new documentary Assassins, told me, “That was weeks after Trump took office. And so what would have normally been, I think, a top news story for months — one of the biggest political assassinations of our lifetime, and arguably the most spectacular one — quickly dissipated into the ether as a story that there just wasn’t time for, because Donald Trump was dominating the airwaves.” …


An interview with the director of ‘Assassins,’ out this week

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Ahead of the release of Assassins, his pulse-pounding thriller of a documentary about the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, I had the chance to sit down with director Ryan White over Zoom to talk about the film. Assassins pulls back the curtain on the international incident that captivated the world in early 2017, when North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s brother was killed in a Malaysian airport by two women who smeared a poisonous cream on his face. (You can find my review of the film here; the film is out today in virtual cinemas).

By the time the trial itself took place, though, the world had mostly moved on. Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong were on trial for murder, and if convicted, would be executed; the Malaysian justice system provides no alternate sentence for those convicted of killing. The odds seemed stacked against them, despite the fact that both women maintained their innocence; they claimed instead that they thought they were filming a prank video, and that the attack had been an online stunt meant to make people laugh rather than a cold-blooded assassination orchestrated by a terrifying, impenetrable regime to the north. …

About

Eric Langberg

Interests: bad horror movies, queering mainstream films, Classic Hollywood.

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