There’s no use being in denial any longer. If you haven’t done your holiday shopping yet, you better get moving—not now, but right now.
If you’re still not sure what to buy that special someone (and you’re the type of person who likes to brag a little), there are few things that sound as futuristically impressive as saying you bought your girlfriend, husband, kid, or whomever a robot. (That is not until those trips to Mars become available.)
If you’ve got a hypebeast in the family, you can get them one of these shirts. Or maybe these sneakers. But knowing how this game works, you’re probably gonna have to pony up big to purchase them through greedy resellers.
If money is no object (you lucky b-words), then some examples of criminally expensive and somewhat hideous gifts can be found here.
But, hey, the most important thing to keep in mind is to not let the stress of the season make you act a fool out here. Hopefully, these few tips helped ease the pain in the ass that this time of year is.
Now, for something that’s considerably stressful: watching movies. Once you’ve handled buying the perfect holiday gift, sit back, press play, and escape from all the insanity.
Too Late (2015)
Starring: John Hawkes, Dichen Lachman, Crystal Reed
Director: Dennis Hauck
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Summary: A P.I. agrees to help a woman he once spent one memorable night with.
Due to the punchy, referential dialogue, the snappy soundtrack, and the inclusion of a few actors that have appeared in some of his films, comparisons to Tarantino will be made, but Dennis Hauck’s Too Late has the DNA of quite a few past films coursing through its body. It’s so steeped in movie history and tradition it’s like an homage to an homage.
Broken up into five acts, each part is one long, continuous shot with no edits. The first act is entirely under the influence of De Palma, featuring complicated camera maneuvers (via a crane) and split screen. Being that De Palma is a graduate of Hitchcock, Too Late’s influences quickly get all matrix-like, connecting the film’s style even deeper into the past. The banter between the detective (Hawkes) and the women he encounters sounds like conversations Bogart and Bacall might have had had their noir films been made in the ’70s instead of the ’40s. (Actually, the characters speak as if they know they are in a movie.)
The influences don’t stop there. There’s some Altman in the mix. Cassavetes’ Killing of a Chinese Bookie seems to be another reference point. You’re bound to spot some more on your own.
If all this sounds overblown, then maybe Too Late is not the movie for you. But it’s a shame if more people don’t give it a shot. Veteran actor Hawkes is the kind of regular Joe who rarely gets a chance to be the lead in a film, and he doesn’t squander the opportunity. There’s also a standout performance by Vail Bloom as a woman so immersed in her troubles she forgets she’s not wearing pants. She pulls off a hard role wonderfully in a film that will probably only be thoroughly enjoyed by film lovers.
I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)
Starring: Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser
Director: Billy O'Brien
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Drama
Summary: A kid enamored with sociopaths investigates local unsolved murders.
Taking place in a sleepy, small town, I Am Not a Serial Killer unfolds like its surroundings, moving along slowly, yet always hinting at the terror pulsating just beneath the surface. Maybe it’s the depressing weather, the scraggly hair and the layered, unkempt clothing of the main character John Wayne Cleaver (Records) that gives this indie movie the semblance of grunge era aesthetics. (Some of the music we hear early on and the film’s grainy Super 8 quality further adds to that impression.) So, in a way, you could say this is the scariest grunge movie since Singles (1992).
Young John works at the family mortuary business with his mom, aunt, and sister. He’s a little too fascinated with the dead bodies he gets to help slice up for the embalming process. That’s because John fancies himself a sociopath. He writes school book reports on serial killers and has a therapist helping him deal with his unhealthy thoughts. But he’s going to have more than his thoughts to deal with when he makes a terrifying discovery he can’t ignore.
Those who appreciate oddball offerings will probably want to check out I Am Not a Serial Killer. Whether you’ll like it hinges primarily on how you interpret the Cleaver character. Records, who played the boy Max in Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, is far from a bad actor. It’s just that the character he plays is not as developed as the screenwriters seem to think he is. I’ve never read the book by Dan Wells that the movie is based on, but it feels like we’re not getting on screen the full range of John’s personality. (A scene where he turns the table on a bully rings particularly false because he doesn’t seem as menacing as the scene requires him to be.) However, those who stick with it will be rewarded by the presence of Lloyd as a frail elderly neighbor and there’s no denying the creepiness that sets in during the movie’s big reveal.
Starring: George Sample III, Zurich Buckner, Brian Kowalski
Director: Michael Larnell
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Summary: Three friends in St. Louis spend a long, taxing day together.
If Cronies gives you the vibe of an early Spike Lee joint, that’s probably because Lee, who executive produced this movie, was writer-director Larnell’s film professor at NYU.
Cronies has that richly textured, intense depth that only black-and-white film can give you. By stripping away the color, it brings you closer to the people by letting you focus on them more clearly. The main people we’re talking about here are Louis (Sample III), Jack (Buckner), and Andrew (Kowalski). Louis and Jack go way back. Their complicated past has connected them, for better or worse. Jack, a rather boisterous dude who stays weeded, feels threatened by Louis’ friendship with his co-worker buddy Andrew. Their back-and-forth shit talking and eventual confrontations are what drive the movie, with further insight into the characters being provided by on-the-street interviews/confessions conducted by an unseen documentary filmmaker (Larnell). The talking-straight-at-the-camera device is the most prominent Lee influence, although Louis’ demeanor and his ill pair of glasses makes you think that maybe he’s a not-so-distant relative of Mars Blackmon, whom you expect to walk by at any moment when Louis is interviewed.
As a movie about the challenges of maintaining long-term friendships, Cronies is a convincing example of how difficult it can be to stay loyal to your day-one homies when they don’t want to grow up. It also bypasses the usual stale handling of a white character in a black film, who more often than not, tries (badly) to be “down.” One more bonus: dope music by local St. Louis artists.
The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale (2015)
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Man-sik Jeong, Sang-ho Kim
Director: Hoon-jung Park
Genre: Drama, Action
Summary: A mountain tiger’s fight for survival deeply affects the lives of the men pursuing the ferocious animal.
The Tiger: An Old Hunter's Tale is part fable, part action-adventure picture. It’s as much about trying to kill a deadly creature as it is about leaving it be.
The main body of the story takes place in Korea in 1925. Hunter Chun Man-duk (Choi, dude from Oldboy) is a humble man, known to local villagers as the best sharpshooter around. But that was a lifetime ago. Man-duk is now a shell of his former self. So, when he’s summoned by Japanese military to help hunt down a mythical tiger he refuses.
Man-duk takes on a spiritual presence, preaching not to take more than is necessary from what nature gives us. The film points out how even a dangerous creature has a vital role in the cycle of existence: Without the tiger, the wolves and boars would be left to cause havoc.
Seen as a folktale that takes place during the Japanese occupation of Korea, the symbolism of the wild tiger is made obvious when the Japanese governor is willing to send the same troops that fought Korean rebels to go after the incredibly hard-to-kill animal that refuses to surrender.
The flip side of the movie is the high-octane, Hollywood-ized chase scenes involving the tiger, most of which end with insanely brutal deaths that are sickly entertaining. But any movie relying on CGI for its main attraction is running a major risk. Granted, the tigers mostly look authentic and move swiftly. It’s only when the filmmakers try too hard to anthropomorphize the creatures that the illusion is broken. Still, animal lovers beware: Although the tigers are not real, the violence inflicted on them may be unsettling.
Starring: James Badge Dale, Emily Mortimer, Max Martini
Director: Nic Mathieu
Genre: Sci-Fi, War, Action
Summary: A platoon wages battle with poltergeist-like enemies.
Everybody knows that studios release their awards-seeking movies around this time of year. Most of these are well made but serious films, many of which are designed to make you cry, get you riled up about changing the world, or end up making you feel like a pretentious d-bag pontificating about film theory to whoever will listen. It’s at times like these when it’s a good idea to take a break and catch a popcorn flick like Spectral, a movie that may not be spectacular, but is definitely a solid dose of surefire entertainment.
With a bigger budget and some A-list talent (and perhaps a few more rewrites) this could have been a summer blockbuster release. As it stands, it’s still a satisfying experience watching a doomed-for-failure, must-beat-the-odds mission pitting overwhelmed soldiers with tons of artillery versus what are essentially ghosts undetectable to the human eye.
The special effects aren’t gonna blow you away, but serve their purpose well enough. The premise is basically ripped straight from a shooter video game, but it generates enough interest in finding out where these supernatural creatures come from. The movie is fun, too. There are a few times when the scientist (Dale) rolling with the combat squad has to MacGyver some shit to get them out of jams. It would’ve been cool if they used the mechanical weapon that resembles a cross between a K9 and an Enforcement Droid Series 209 from RoboCop a bit more, but overall, the movie does its job of providing kick-ass moments. If you absolutely must have a deeper meaning to what Spectral is about, it could possibly be making a statement about the frightening future of unconventional military weapons or a cold reminder of just how expendable soldiers are. But, really, it’s just a chance to see some ghosts busted.