Saturday, April 29, 2017

But I Digress... Howling for Hemlock

By Cat

Name/Year: Hemlock Grove (2013-2015)
Tagline: The monster is within.
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Length: 3 Seasons, 33 Episodes total, 46 min. each
Rating: TV-MA
Production Companies: Gaumont International Television, Mad Hatter Entertainment, ShineBox SMC
Creators/Developers: Brian McGreevy, Lee Shipman
Producers: Brian McGreevy, Lee Shipman, Eli Roth, Michael A. Connolly, Elisa Todd Ellis, Eric Newman, Katie O'Connell,  Peter Blake, Charles H. Eglee, Peter Friedlander
Directors: David Straiton, Deran Sarafian, Russell Lee Fine, T.J. Scott, David Semel, Peter Cornwell, Eli Roth, Billy Gierhart, Sanaa Hamri, Vincenzo Natali, David Petrarca, Floria Sigismondi, Spencer Susser, Jon Amiel, Coky Giedroyc, Marc Jobst, Jim O'Hanlon, Carl Tibbetts
Writers: Brian McGreevy, Lee Shipman, Travis Jackson, David Paul Francis, Peter Blake, Evan Dunsky, Charles H. Eglee, Jennifer Haley, Daniel Paige, Mark Verheiden, Sheila Callaghan, Rafe Judkins, Lauren LeFranc, Ned Navidi, Lorna Clarke Osunsanmi
Actors: Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron, Joel de la Fuente, Dougray Scott, Kaniehtiio Horn, Madeline Martin
Stunt Coordinators/Doubles: Tom Farr, Matt Birman, Patrick Mark, Dana Jones, Jack Birman, Riley Jones, Michael Andreae, Angelica Lisk-Hann, Bernadette Couture, Jamie Jones, Nicole Dickinson, Jennifer Murray, Steve 'Shack' Shackleton, Nicole Lissner, Al Vrkljan, Aaron Douglas, Mike Chute, Tig Fong, Brayden Jones, Ciara Jones, Devon Slack, Susan Horton, Christopher Cordell, Brent Jones, Robert C. Shannon,Thomas Luccioni, Geoff Meech, Susana Baker, Layton Morrison, Derek Barnes, Goran Stjepanovic

Blurb: A teenage girl is brutally murdered, sparking a hunt for her killer. But in a town where everyone hides a secret, will they find the monster among them?

Now that I have been absolutely freaked out by the relatively freshly released trailer for the new remake of Stephen King’s (The Stand, The Shining, Christine) It (2017), set to release in September; it had me reminiscing. The actor that is stepping into the clown shoes of the sinister Pennywise is none other than Hemlock Grove’s own Bill Skarsgård (Anna Karenina, Allegiant, Atomic Blonde). He’s no stranger to the odd and supernatural. I got all nostalgic for a bit – that might have something to do with trying to think of things OTHER than what I’d just watched. 

But I digress…

With the Netflix Original series freshly on my brain, I realized that it’s been two years since I last visited Hemlock Grove. It’s certainly not a place I’d like to go in person, but the residents of that fictional town endeared themselves to me. So in honor of Bill’s continued career success and the streaming service that gives us so many movies to review for you, I figured that going back to the Grove seemed fitting.

Hemlock Grove was the first Netflix Original series that didn’t have some sort of other incarnation prior to its exclusive release by the media streaming mogul. There were only two prior – one of which was adapted from a BBC show and the other began overseas before Netflix was even the name of the company. In my book, those don’t count. 

Grove was groundbreaking in so many ways. It helped pave the way for the plethora of other series and movies that Netflix boasts as exclusive content. The format also helped it push boundaries with stunning and horrific visuals that wouldn’t be allowed on network television and might be a hard sell even on cable. Of course, these days, what’s allowed and what isn’t is a line that continuously gets blurred and redrawn. 

This 3-season series is based on the book authored by writer/producer Brian McGreevy (The Son). It’s said he originally intended to write a trilogy, but he later stated in a public Reddit interview that he’d decided to focus on the series instead. I have yet to read the book, but it is on my ever growing reading list. I am highly curious how well the story meshes up and if there might be any answers within the pages that the screen couldn’t provide. 

This has to be the most amazing, albeit disgustingly visceral, werewolf transformation that I have ever seen on the screen. It is both crazy and makes so much sense. The cinematography and the visual effects employed by the show just pull you in and give the story depth and plausibility, even though there are some areas of the overall story arc that are downright odd. There’s enough good content to make up for some of the weirdness, however.  I couldn’t help but root for the scruffy Peter Rumancek, played by Landon Liboiron (The Howling: Reborn, Burning Bodhi, Frontier). There was such strength, vulnerability, and humor in his character. 

The key players among the cast are recognizable and well versed in their craft – including Bond-girl and crimson-haired mutant Famke Janssen (X-Men, Taken, How to Get Away With Murder); and Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II, Hitman, The Rezort), an actor that you either love to love or love to hate as he plays both villain and hero so well. 

The thing about Hemlock Grove is that the lines between hero and villain get blurry in a few places. This is definitely not a black-hat / white-hat scenario where good and evil are cut and dry. 

Now to those that think that the supernatural aspects of this series are odd, please keep in mind that this isn’t following along with the standard tropes for the creatures represented. Greevy pulled from folklore in making his monsters – specifically that of the Slavic areas of the world around Russia, Romania, Poland, and the like. If you don’t mind spoilers for yourself, feel free to look it up on a wiki or a search for Hemlock Grove and it should begin to point you in the right direction. Since we don’t like spoilers here at Trust the Dice, this is something I leave in your hands alone to explore – hopefully on-screen through the series. I don’t claim to be an expert on this particular branch of folklore and mythology by any means; but from what I did find in my research, the portrayal seems fairly accurate when you take creative license into account. I enjoyed puzzling things out as the series went along. 

When all is said and done, I’m sad that the Primetime Emmy nominated series only had three seasons; but I’m happy that they got to end it on their own terms rather than some sort of abrupt cliffhanger because a plug was pulled too soon. If you enjoy supernatural thrillers with a liberal dose of mystery and a dash of romance, check this series out!



Speech Available: English, Spanish
Subtitles Available: English, Spanish

Average Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score* – 38%
Average Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score* – 70%
Metascore - 45/100
Metacritic User Score – 7.6/10
IMDB Score – 7.3/10

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5

Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R

*Rotten Tomatoes averaged the ratings for the 3 seasons of the show.

Season 1 Trailer: 

But I Digress... is a weekly column for that can't be pinned down to just one thing. It's Cat's celebration of tangents, random references, and general fan geekdom that both intertwines with, revolves around, and diverges from our movie-review core. In homage to the beloved Brit comedians, we want to bring you something completely different!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fatima (2015) - Foreign Film Friday

Number Rolled: 94
Movie Name/Year: Fatima (2015)
Tagline: None
Genre: Drama
Length: 78 minutes
Rating: TV-14
Production Companies: Istiqlal Films, Arte France Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema, Possibles Media, Pyramide Productions, Arte France, Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC), Fonds Images de la Diversite, Region Rhone-Alpes, Region Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, Agence Nationale pour la Cohesion Sociale et l’Egalite des Chances (ACSE), Societe de Developpement des Entreprises Culturelles (SODEC), Telefilm Canada, Credit d’Impot pour la Production Cinematographique ou Magnetoscopique Canadienne, Filmoption International, Procirep, Quebec Credit d’Impot Cinema et Television
Producer: Remi Burah, Nadim Cheikhrouha, Philippe Faucon, Yasmina Nini-Faucon, Serge Noel, Hany Ouichou, Olivier Pere
Director: Philippe Faucon
Writer: Philippe Faucon, Aziza Boudjellal, Mustapha Kharmoudi, Yamina Nini-Faucon, Fatima Elayoubi
Actors: Soria Zeroual, Zita Hanrot, Kenza Noah Aiche, Chawki Amari, Dalila Bencherif, Edith Saulnier, Emir El Guerfi, Zakaria Ali-Mehidi, Sarah Lameche
Stunt Performer: Chloe Zobel

Blurb from Netflix: After emigrating from Algeria to France, single mother Fatima Elayoubi struggles against barriers of race and language to forge a writing career.

Selina’s Point of View:
I cannot stop yawning.

I was tired even before I started watching, now I’m having trouble even holding my eyes open.

I mean, there was a study scene that was nothing but someone whisper-reading a textbook. I hate that. It makes my ears feel like they’re trying to fly off my head so they don’t have to deal with it.

The story wasn’t bad, I understand the film is based on a memoir written by the real Fatima, but I just don’t think it translated to film well. At least not with this crew.

It was a rough film to watch. Not like last week’s, though. Nothing really tugged at my heart strings or triggered anything in me; in fact, it just felt like nothing was happening. Besides, last week’s film was really, really well made and this one just wasn’t.

That said, after the Top 20 Movies to Look Out for in May post on Monday, I’ll be away until the 9th. Cat will be continuing to post between those days. She’ll be catching up on reviews that happened before her time.

I’ll be back in action on the 10th.

Cat’s Point of View:
This movie exceeded my expectations. Normally, that would be a good thing – in this case, it is not. My expectation, based on the Netflix blurb, was that it was going to be one of those dramas that just wasn’t generally my cup of tea. I was right, there. The hour and nineteen minutes of this film felt like twice that.

I don’t have any complaints about the acting, and I followed along just fine. I could even empathize with the frustrations of the characters. Unfortunately, the way this story was framed made it about as interesting as a long-winded teacher giving a lecture in monotone on how grass grows.

The concept of the movie that was described wasn’t even clear through the majority of the film. It just meandered through bits and snatches of the lives of the mother and her daughters. Nothing really ever gave a clear story arc – it just felt a bit cobbled together.

It bugged me a little that the subtitles were over the movie and in white. They were in a bold typeface so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, though. But, it wasn’t the film’s biggest problem.

Sadly, the only reason I’m glad we watched this movie is because it’s now crossed off the list. I’m afraid this won’t be amongst my recommendations.

Speech Available: French
Subtitles Available: English

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 58%
Metascore - 69/100
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6.5/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating1.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating1.5/5

Movie Trailer: 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (2015)

Number Rolled: 36
Movie Name/Year: Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (2015)
Tagline: What’s meant to be will find a way.
Genre: Romance, Drama
Length: 78 minutes
Rating: NR
Production Companies: Unbound Feet Productions
Producer: Dave Boyle, Jamie Chung, Lawrence S. Dickerson, Bryan Greenberg, Ishai Setton, Sophia Shek, Emily Ting
Director: Emily Ting
Writer: Emily Ting
Actors: Jamie Chung, Bryan Greenberg, Richard Ng, Sarah Lian, Linda Trinh, Jaeden Cheng, Collin Leydon
Stunt Doubles: N/A

Blurb from Netflix: A Chinese American visitor and an American expat who spent a night together in Hong Kong reconnect a year later and start falling for each other.

Selina’s Point of View:
This wasn’t really my kind of film.

If I ignore my personal taste, however, I could see how someone might enjoy it. It’s laid back, the banter is relatively natural and the information you pick up about Hong Kong is fascinating. On top of that, there really is a decent amount of chemistry between the main actors.

I found myself smiling uncontrollably at parts of the film. It’s labeled as a romantic drama, and I guess I see the drama aspects – but I still wouldn’t voluntarily state that it was part of that genre. I feel like it was primarily a romance.

My issues with the film are all based solely on a personal perspective, not objective.

It felt slow, but that’s common for this type of film. It also felt like there were a few lines of dialog that weren’t acted quite as well as they could have been, but that’s also common for a film like this. Due to the fact that the conversation was meant to seem completely natural and like two friends just hanging out, you’re not supposed to be able to tell that they’re acting. It’s supposed to make you feel like a fly on the wall instead of a movie audience. People in real life just aren’t always that smooth.

Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong was alright. It wasn’t out of this world, but for someone more interested in the romantic drama genre, that might be completely different. They might find it easier to fall in love with the story.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’ve been looking forward to watching this movie since it hit theaters last year. In fact, this film was #13 on my Top 20 list when it came out. When I consider that particular list of movies now, hindsight tells me that I should have rated it higher. This should have been in my top 10 at the very least.

Who would have thought that a movie with people walking and talking in a busy city would be so compelling?!

There were plenty of laughs and the characters were relatable. The dialogue flowed well and I was definitely buying into the whole experience. I honestly don’t know where time went while I was watching – that’s how engrossed I was. Suddenly the movie was just over and it left me shaking my fist at the ceiling because I wanted more!

The chemistry between the two leads is palpable – and that’s no wonder, considering they’re a married couple off-screen – or were nearly so, depending on when this was actually filmed. They’ve appeared in a few films together, and this likely squeezed in conveniently, given that the shoot apparently only took 2 weeks.

Bryan Greenberg (Prime, Bride Wars, The Mindy Project) just exudes charm and comes across as a guy you’d really want to hang out with. I have been a fan since I first saw him on One Tree Hill (2003-2012). This is the type of role he seems to really excel at – though, I would be interested in seeing him in something beyond the romance genre.

The roles I’m used to seeing Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch, Premium Rush, Flock of Dudes) in are generally rather intense or action related. It was a refreshing change of pace here to see her just interacting on a fundamental level with someone. This movie really just feels like you’re taking a stroll through Hong Kong and hanging out with a couple of your friends.

I absolutely adored this movie. I could watch it again easily and will likely do so.

Speech Available: English
Subtitles Available: English, French, Spanish

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 74%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 58%
Metascore - None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6.5/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating2.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4.5/5

Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: PG-13

Movie Trailer:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Stretch (2014)

Number Rolled: 76
Movie Name/Year: Stretch (2014)
Tagline: Shift happens.
Genre: Action, Comedy
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: R
Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Chambara Pictures, IM Global
Producer: Jason Blum, Ben Hernandez Bray, Jeanette Brill, Joe Carnahan, Leon Corcos, Jerry Corley, Phillip Dawe, Gerard DiNardi, Tracy Falco, Nila Najand, Tony Roman, Rob Rose, Couper Samuelson
Director: Joe Carnahan
Writer: Joe Carnahan, Jerry Corley, Rob Rose
Actors: Patrick Wilson, Ed Helms, James Badge Dale, Brooklyn Decker, Jessica Alba, Ray Liotta, David Hasselhoff, Randy Couture, Mindy Robinson, Woody Carnahan, Norman Reedus, Matthew Willig, Kaleti Williams, Shaun Toub, Ryan O’Nan, Katie Kerr, Christopher Michael Holley, Jacqui Holland, Ben Hernandez Bray, Jason Mantzoukas, Dominic Bagarozzi, Shaun White, Joe Carnahan, Chris Pine
Stunt Doubles: Ted Barba, Brady Romberg, Mark Aaron Wagner

Blurb from Netflix: Limo jockey Stretch has no idea what’s in store for him when his gambling debt compels him to take on a job driving an eccentric billionaire.

Selina’s Point of View:
I finished watching Stretch about an hour ago and I’m still kind of laughing. I thought it would be more action than comedy, but the genre scale definitely tipped in the other direction.

When I first saw the trailer, I knew I was going to likely enjoy the film, but I didn’t know it would be THIS good. I figured it would be a pretty basic Fast and the Furious (2001) type with enough comedy in it to set it apart. This film was nowhere near that. It was remarkably original and I absolutely loved the base message in it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not preachy or moralistic. That’s not what I mean. The base message is just that – a base. They built upon it with so much more substance.

Chris Pines (The Finest Hours, Horrible Bosses 2, Star Trek Into Darkness) was almost unrecognizable in his part as the super strange limo client. Here’s the thing, I didn’t even realize he was in the film at first. I don’t think I recognized him in the trailer and he’s not actually credited in the movie. I have no idea why. Maybe he just wanted to do the film because the script kicked ass. I’d buy that. In fact, that’s now headcanon to me. He liked the script so much he decided he didn’t need credit. (Trust the Dice does not claim this as fact.)

Patrick Wilson’s (A Kind of Murder, Fargo, Zipper) performance was believable as well, and his chemistry with Pine was flawless. The two of them acting together in this setting just felt right.

I don’t normally shout-out to casting directors, but Sharon Bialy (The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Child’s Play) clearly has her head on straight. After looking at her IMDb credits (going back to 1986), I can see that she’s pretty much part of the A-List of casting directors. At least, in my opinion. I don’t really know much about the subject, but her credits are self-explanatory.

I will admit that I didn’t think Ed Helm’s character was all that necessary to the story. He’s a fine actor, it’s not about that, it’s just the character in general. I can see what he might be representing, I just think the character did nothing to add or detract from the story. It could have been pretty much the same movie without him. However, it doesn’t lower my rating for Stretch or change my overall opinion.

Nothing really negative comes to mind when I think of Stretch. I will definitely be watching it again.

Cat’s Point of View:
I don’t recall hearing anything about this movie prior to this. I’ve got to say, though, that for a movie with only a 21-day shoot and a budget of five million dollars; they really got a lot of bang for their buck. This movie was hilarious and awesome.

There was a great balance here between action and comedy elements. It wasn’t too over the top, and I completely bought what the film was selling.

This movie was a pleasant surprise for me on several levels. It was definitely a relief after last week’s mid-week dud and the emotionally wrenching film that followed.

Let’s talk cast. Chris Pine (Unstoppable, Into the Woods, SuperMansion) wasn’t even credited and is nearly unrecognizable in his role here. Even so, he brought a magnetic charisma to his eccentric character that made the insanity entirely believable.

I don’t typically envision Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera, The Ledge, Home Sweet Hell) in an action lead role such as this. Maybe I just have films like Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013) stuck in my head after recently watching The Conjuring 2 (2016). He really made it work, though, and I found myself rooting for him during his collision with Murphy’s Law.

It was also rather refreshing that in a movie quite full of its share of raunch and nudity that Jessica Alba (Awake, Little Fockers, The Veil), while still gorgeous and absolutely capable of carrying parts like that, was fully clothed and innocent for her part.

There were some pretty epic cameos, which were brilliant. Hey, it’s a movie about a limo driver so you have to expect some celebrity clientele, right? A couple of them had me outright geeking out.

I’ve got to tip my hat to writer/director Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces, The A-Team, The Grey) for making the ludicrous plausible and immensely entertaining.

While it’s safe to say that this this movie is definitely not for a younger audience for a plethora of adult-oriented reasons; I would watch this one again in a heartbeat, and definitely recommend it – in fact, I already have!

Speech Available: English
Subtitles Available: English

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 86%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 64%
Metascore - 63/100
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6.5/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating5/5

P.S. Bloopers during the credits.

Movie Trailer: