Sunday, January 31, 2016

Movie Review: "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi"

Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” tells the harrowing true story surrounding the Islamic militant attacks placed against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. At the time of the coordinated assault, the city has been deemed as one of the most dangerous places on Earth. As a result, all countries, with the exception of the United States, evacuate their embassies in the region owing to the threat of militant attacks. An off the books U.S. consulate, called the Annex, also remains, protected by a team of six former military members turned CIA security contractors.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens arrives in Benghazi with the hopes of reassuring peace in the city by holding a press conference. With an understaffed protection detail and local pro-American militia safeguarding the Ambassador, the Annex team, stationed only a mile from the Consulate, is brought in as Stevens’ drivers and backup security. On the morning of the September 11th anniversary, suspicious behavior is spotted outside the compound. Come nightfall, a group of Islamic militants overrun the Consulate, forcing the guards to take Stevens and United States IT personnel Sean Smith into a safe room.

Overwhelmed as the radicals set the building ablaze, the security detail radios the Annex team in desperation for them to come to the rescue. Locked and loaded, the contractors (James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, David Denman, and Pablo Schreiber) await the order, but ultimately hit a wall when their chief rejects the petition out of fear of redirecting the militants to attack the CIA Annex. Defying the demand to stand down, the outnumbered contractors bravely dispatch to the Consulate in hopes of rescuing their fellow countrymen.

After the melodramatic disaster that was Pearl Harbor, having Michael Bay at the helm of another real life war film should only inspire eye rolls and aggravated moans. His movies are notorious for their overindulgence of unnecessary detonations, pyrotechnic explosions, shaky-cam, and style-over-substance storytelling. Film buffs have even scathingly deemed these gratuitous trademarks as “Michael Bay-isms”. With powerful, modern-day war films like American Sniper, Lone Survivor, and Zero Dark Thirty placed in the hands of critically acclaimed directors, Bay’s undertaking only seems all the more problematic. In truth, it’s cringe-worthy, and you haven’t even taken a seat in the theater.

On the surface, “13 Hours” seems to play into all the archetypes seen in virtually every other American war film, right up to the pregnant wife at home. Given that this is based on the book of the same title by Mitchell Zuckoff and the actual Annex Security Team, it throws into sharp relief that these instances are in fact reality for our servicemen. What the film notably strays from, for better or for worse (depending on the viewer), is outright endorsing any political affiliations. It focuses solely on the intrepid ex-military men who combated wave after wave of militia fire. The runtime leading up to the attack does lag in some scenes, but once the going gets tough, the pacing is positively breathless. The acting is superb, the fights are well choreographed, and even Bay manages to impress, proving he’s far more capable guiding actors than CGI robots. Some might not appreciate certain filming choices, particularly his use of shaky-cam. Thankfully, the techniques are still tolerable, and in some ways, they add to the grit of the narrative. It’s easily Bay’s best movie since 1996’s The Rock, and it’s elevated by a soaring score by renowned composer Hans Zimmer.

The film does comes out at a time when its subject matter is at the height of political controversy, but its likeliness to sway the public’s opinion one way or the other isn’t too great. What “13 Hours” does achieve is stirring our appreciation for the servicemen and women who brave these battles against impossible odds.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

"13 Hours poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Under-the-Radar Film Gems: Thrillers

Best conserve your oxygen, because here we’re revealing some under-the-radar thrillers that will leave you breathless. These three movies play within the boundaries of the genre, but each distinctively cuts out its own little corner to give viewers a unique and rousing experience.

First up…

Snowpiercer (2014)

When global warming reaches critical mass, climate engineers try to counteract the deadly results, but the effects backfire and send the planet into an ice age that kills most of its inhabitants. The few remaining survivors take refuge on the Snowpiercer, a titanic train powered by a perpetual motion engine. Forced into submission by the commanders of the train, the famished residents residing in the tail carts continue to suffer in their putrid living conditions nearly eighteen years later. When cryptic messages incite the enslaved survivors to revolt, Curtis (Chris Evans) and a band of rebels hatch a plan to overthrow the class system by taking control of the train. Only horror awaits them though as the ragtag team battles their way through the many different compartments on their way to the engine room.

The idea is seemingly high-concept, but as this story progresses, the complexity of this dystopian world reveals a far more extraordinary plot. Directed and co-written by Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, this poignant science fiction thriller masquerades as a high-octane action movie, but the originality and execution of the story make Snowpiercer one of the best films in recent memory. The brutal fight sequences have a rather glossy comic-book ambiance, but the applied grit and realism reinforce the severity of each blow. Symbolism and allegory play a prominent role as well, further adding to the film’s brilliance from a genre otherwise plagued in clichés. With an unpredictable story, stunning visuals, an eclectic cast, and relentless gumption, Snowpiercer can easily be deemed as the most exceptional and vastly overlooked film of the 21st century.  

Perfect for fans of: 2006’s The Host (also directed by Bong Joon-ho) and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.

Stoker (2013)

On her 18th birthday, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) receives the tragic news that her father (Dermot Mulroney) has been killed in a car accident. Left only with her bitter and distant mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), her world takes an unexpected turn when her charmingly enigmatic uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives to lend his support to the family. Despite having never met him, as Charlie’s spent his whole life traveling the world, Evelyn takes an immediate liking to her dead husband’s brother, inviting him to live with her and her daughter. India, however, isn’t so easily swayed by the charismatic stranger and gives him the cold shoulder. Suspicions only grow after the family’s caretaker (Phyllis Somerville) goes missing after India witnesses the woman arguing with her uncle. Her mother becomes closer to Charlie, but India rejects his efforts to befriend her. She finally begins to unearth the troubling secrets behind her uncle’s ulterior motives, and in a strange turn of events, the girl unexpectedly becomes infatuated with the man.  

There’s a reason why Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Peter Berg and Sylvester Stallone redefined their careers writing screenplays. If the talent is truly there, something very beautiful happens when an actor sits behind a typewriter. Some do this from a place of frustration because they wish to showcase their talents by creating a character they themselves will portray, but others do it simply out of the love of storytelling. Stoker is definitely the byproduct of the latter, as actor Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) wrote this hauntingly off-kilter screenplay under the penname Ted Foulke to allow his writing to speak for itself. And what beautifully twisted things it has to say. Miller’s acting credentials definitely helped shape this script, as he masterfully substitutes clunky exposition for subtle actions to convey his characters’ back stories. As the old saying goes, “Showing is often more effective than telling.” This articulate touch is only further complimented by the lavish visuals of director Park Chan-wook. Stoker’s gothic elements tease with the boundaries of works like Rebecca, paying subtle homage to the likes of Hitchcock, and each actor radiates an unsettling sophistication. Matthew Goode, in particular, exhibits an old-school Gatsby-esque quality rarely put to film anymore, and that allure makes the sinister and aggressive aspects all the more disquieting. As Chan-wook’s English debut, he showcases his talents in glorious fashion by way of unbearable tension and stylish scenery.    

Perfect for fans of: The Gift and Hard Candy

Ravenous (1999)

After cowardice inadvertently allows a United States Army Lieutenant to capture the enemy command at the height of the Mexican-American War, yellow-bellied John Boyd (Guy Pearce) receives a promotion to Captain but is relocated to the desolation of the Sierra Nevadas. He settles into his new position as second in command of a motley skeleton crew of eccentric soldiers, but the tedium of the remote outpost gets shaken to its core when a famished Scottish traveler (Robert Carlyle) wanders into the station nearly frozen to death. Relaying the grisly tale of horrors his wagon train faced after getting lost in the Rockies, the stranger convinces the lone crew to help him recover the remaining members of his party from a cannibalistic colonel plucking them off one by one. 

Blending Native American mythology with the terrors of the infamous Donner Party, director Antonia Bird and screenwriter Ted Griffin deliver one of the most unique, eloquently layered films to emerge from the genre. This delightfully wicked 19th century tale is anything but categorical and has thus gained a cult following. Ravenous continuously shifts genres by initially playing as a western before descending into horror, dark comedy, and suspense, before eventually coming a chamber piece, all the while remaining true to its ultimate message concerning Manifest Destiny. Though the story is compelling on its own, the mastery of Ravenous cannot be achieved without its stellar, colorful cast of character actors. 

Guy Pearce takes the helm as the straight-laced member of this crew, leaving everyone else the liberty to experiment with their roles. The typically quirky Jeremy Davies delivers another charming performance as the childlike and mildly squirrelly preacher Toffler, Neil McDonough shines as the steely eyed psychotic Private Reich, and David Arquette really hams it up as the endearing, peyote-smoking Private Cleaves. The real scene-stealer of Ravenous though is inarguably Robert Carlyle’s all-inclusive turn as F.W. Colqhoun. For those brave enough to watch this fun and bloody gem, prepare for some dark laughs and cringe-inducing kills. As the tagline says, “You are who you eat.”

Honestly, there isn’t another film quite like it to compare, but if you enjoyed Cabin Fever and 2010’s The Burrowers, chances are you’ll happily devour Ravenous.

Stay tuned for more…

"Snowpiercer poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

"Stoker teaser poster" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

"Ravenous ver1" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Under the Radar Films: Crime Dramas

We all know crime doesn’t pay, but it sure is entertaining to watch. Today on my Under the Radar series, I’ll be putting the spotlight on some great hidden gems of the criminal kind.

First up…

In Bruges (2008)

After an assignment goes horribly wrong, Irish hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleason) find themselves stuck in the title’s little-known Belgium town as they wait to hear back from their boss (Ralph Fiennes) for further instruction. The pair kills time quietly sightseeing in order to fend off boredom, but Ray proves to be the worst tourist to hit the medieval province.

“I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't.”

Naturally, the duo’s conspicuous antics quickly send them into a comedic tailspin of events as they upset locals, fellow visitors, and especially their foulmouthed boss.

Playwright turned screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh’s debut full-length feature proves quite a number of things. For starters, Guy Richie has some stiff competition for being Tarantino’s British counterpart. With an abundance of seemingly inconsequential, yet quick-witted dialogue, In Bruges’s equal combination of dark humor and tragedy makes this arguably one of the best crime films to hit the silver screen. Every last actor cast in this production is fit to perfection, but no performance surpasses Colin Farrell. We’ve seen the potential of his range in glimpses throughout Farrell’s career, best displayed in 2002’s Phone Booth, but nothing rivals the depths showcased here. Farrell’s Ray can switch from being offensively comedic to mournfully suicidal to compassionate and heartfelt over the course of a singular scene. 

In Bruges’s expertly woven tale urges viewers to pay strictest attention as the film constantly steers clear from the conventions of Hollywood’s standards by adding depth with philosophical undertones rarely seen in modern cinema. Its focus on character only makes the tension raised in its thrilling chase scenes all the more impactful, and the film’s ending strikes on a most powerful note. In Bruges is the pinnacle of criminal misfortune, as it is a true masterpiece of filmmaking that is sadly underviewed by the masses.

Perfect for fans of: Seven Psychopaths and Snatch.

Suicide Kings (1997)

When Avery (Henry Thomas) discovers that his sister has been abducted for a $2 million ransom, he turns to his yuppie-wannabe group of friends (Sean Patrick Flannery, Jay Mohr, Johnny Galecki, and Jeremy Sisto) to recover her. In an act of desperation, they resort to kidnapping a semi-retired mob boss (Christopher Walken) to exploit his connections and financial backing. The plan quickly goes awry as the mobster’s driver (Dennis Leary) enters into a hot pursuit to take down the youngsters.

After Quentin Tarantino’s success in the 90s, the market flooded with low-grade knockoffs, resulting in critics’ immediate condemnation of all inspired flicks. This undue treatment ultimately led to Suicide Kings’ failure at the box office, but viewers fortunate enough to catch the film recognized its value, earning it a 75% approval rating amongst fans. Sharp dialogue, great cast chemistry, and its blend of drama and dark humor gives audiences an unpretentiously fun 106 minute thriller.

Perfect for fans of: Reservoir Dogs and Boondock Saints.

Cop Land (1997)

In celebration of Sylvester Stallone’s bravura performance in this year’s Creed, it only seems fitting to call attention to some of his previous work that has since been forgotten. Stallone is recognized as one of the greatest action stars of all-time, and it’s a true rarity to see him step outside of that comfort zone. That very observation is precisely what makes his starring role in this crime thriller so fascinating. Ditching his athletic build with a 40-pound weight gain to sport a pudgier physique, “Sly” stars as Freddy Heflin, a belittled, half-deaf sheriff of Garrison, New Jersey. Due to a loophole in the legal system, the fictitious town is made up almost entirely of NYPD’s finest, letting them run their own streets without objection. The eyes of the world turn to them though as controversy overtakes the media after young NYPD cop Babitch (Michael Rapaport) misguidedly kills two unarmed black men. 

As fellow officers investigate the crime scene, Babitch supposedly commits suicide by jumping off the bridge they’re on to escape the impending wrath. When his body can’t be recovered from the water, suspicion sends Internal Affairs Lieutenant Tilden (Robert De Niro) to Garrison. Tilden, who tries to recruit Heflin to his team, believes Babitch received help from his brothers in blue to fake his death and return to town. The task to provide evidence in such a case proves deadly though as fellow policemen Ray (Harvey Keitel), Frank (Arthur J. Nascarella), and Jack (Robert Patrick) become the prime suspects in the conspiracy.

With additional players Ray Liotta, Janeane Garofalo, Cathy Moriarty, Noah Emmerich, and Peter Berg, the star power of Cop Land deserves praise in itself. The complexity of this crime drama sets it apart from others in the genre. The heart of the film centers on its characters versus the crime, focusing particularly on Freddy’s uphill struggle to prove his worth in a town that refuses to take him seriously. Stallone’s return to form that hasn’t be seen since his Rocky days makes for the most captivating aspects of Cop Land, and his dedication to the role cannot go without recognition. Acting alongside so many Hollywood heavyweights would prove disastrous for a standard action star, but Stallone rises to the challenge and delivers one of his most poignant roles to date. What seemed to make Cop Land fall into relative obscurity after initial release is most likely the abundance of serviceable crime capers that flooded the whole of the ’90s. The fact remains that Cop Land is one of the strongest of its genre for its character-driven drama that takes precedence over high-octane action.

Perfect for fans of: Heat and The Departed.

Stay tuned for more recommendations. 

"In Bruges Poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

"Suicide kings poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

"Cop land movie poster". Via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shadowhunters Review: Demons, and Angels, and Hotties, Oh My!

Adapted from Cassandra Clare’s worldwide best selling The Mortal Instruments book series comes FREEFORM’s attempt to cash in on the young adult fantasy craze with “Shadowhunters”. The story revolves around Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara), a New York City artist, who on her 18th birthday discovers the underbelly of an impossible world where vampires, werewolves, demons, and angelic hybrids all exist amongst humans.

As it turns out, Clary’s run-of-the-mill mother, Jocelyn has been hiding her daughter from the past and the magical properties that come with said knowledge. Jocelyn was once a Shadowhunter, a member of an elite order of guardians who slay demons and protect mankind. After Clary quite literally runs into Jace (Dominic Sherwood), a gorgeous demon-hunting bad boy, she notices he’s quite taken aback when she confronts him.

“You have the sight,” he mutters.

Little does Clary know that this chance encounter results in a domino effect that forever changes her life.

The Mortal Instruments is a sprawling urban fantasy world that rivals Harry Potter with its vast creature count, complex mythology, and universal laws. Shadowhunters are Nephilim offspring, which means they are of both human and angel decent. This dwindling race eradicates demons using powers granted to them by etching runes into their skin and weapons with Steles.


Well, runes are magical symbols that give Shadowhunters abilities of all sorts, from speed to invisibility, and a stele is simply a blade made of the heavenly metal adamas used to draw them onto objects/flesh.

And apparently, us muggles, or “mundanes” as we’re referred to here, shouldn’t be able to see Shadowhunters and Downworlders. They’re invisible to the human eye. Now, “What’s a Downworlder?” you ask. It’s pretty much every other class of creature that doesn’t possess angelic blood. Vampires, werewolves, warlocks, witches, faeries, you name it. Then there's the rogue Shadowhunter, Valentine Morgenstern, who kidnaps Clary’s mother in his quest to recover the Mortal Cup, one of the three divine items given by the patron angel Raziel to Jonathan Shadowhunter, the first Nephilim. The Cup possesses magical transformative properties that can turn mundanes (humans) into Shadowhunters, just by drinking from the goblet. Plus, Shadowhunters also save on time and transportation fees by using various portals, five-dimensional doors that can rapidly transport them all over the world.

And the complexity doesn’t stop there, by any means, but you get the picture.

Even over the course of a 585 page book, the introduction to this series, City of Bones, is a lot to digest for a reader. For a television viewer, the story is painfully convoluted when the creator crams half that material right into the 42-minute pilot episode. Fans took issue over the rushed world building in the 2013 silver screen adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, yet Ed Decter doubled down on the critique when creating “Shadowhunters”.

Setting aside the problem of pacing, plenty of other issues plague this TV newcomer. MTV’s new fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles delivers the goods on the CGI front, only emphasizing how weak the special effects are for “Shadowhunters”. The overall production lacks value. Despite Mortal Instruments: City of Bones not being a perfect movie, the film still nailed the aesthetic of the novel, especially the majestic gothic architecture of the New York Institute. In “Shadowhunters”, we’re introduced to some strange high-tech police department instead. Plus, the choreography isn’t filmed well. The weapons look like toy lightsabers. There’s a blatant lack of chemistry between the two leads. The majority of the acting is subpar at best, excluding the delightful Alberto Rosende. And the script generally falls flat, even becoming cringe-inducing at some points with its clunking and cheesy dialogue. Even the gorgeous faces and six-pack abs can't mask the flaws.

What made the book series so special was not just the elaborate world, but the character complexities that drove each person. In “Shadowhunters”, everyone’s been whitewashed to clichés and stereotypes. For an avid reader and massive Cassandra Clare fan (such as myself), you most likely won’t appreciate this rendition. As for a newcomer to the intricate world of The Mortal Instruments, this televised version will most likely leave you scratching your head in confusion due to the inexhaustible information dump during the first two episodes. Is it possible that the Shadowhunting realm should remain only in print? For now, the odds sadly lean heavily in favor of yes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pretty Little Liars: "Of Late I Think of Rosewood" Recap & Review

Tuesday launched FREEFORM, the new name for ABC Family, with the Winter Premiere for PLL.

Summer’s finale hinted at the impending danger awaiting the Liars upon their return to the infamous town of Rosewood five years after “A”’s reveal. Hanna’s taking the fashion world by storm in New York, Spencer’s political aspirations have taken her to D.C., Aria’s pursuing her artistic passions in Los Angeles, and Emily seems to have lost her way in sunny California. And…that’s about it. For anyone who caught the Thanksgiving special back in November, none of this is news.

And this snooze-fest of exposition isn’t the only pain that will have to be endured. After investing years of interest in the show’s beloved couplings, everything has gone up in smoke upon this winter’s return.

Hanna’s engaged…to someone who isn’t Caleb.

Spoby is no more.

Emily didn’t rekindle her relationship with Paige, even though they both wound up on the west coast.

And the forbidden romance between Aria and Ezra is nothing but a distant memory.


After extensive rehabilitation, the courts believe that Charlotte, a.k.a “A,” may be ready to be reintroduced into society. Given how broken her home life has become, Charlotte is the only real family Alison has left. To ensure Charlotte’s best chances to be freed, a hopeful Ali begs her old friends to put in a good word. Time may heal all wounds, but half a decade still isn’t enough for Hanna, Emily, Aria, and Spencer to be overly forgiving. Old habits die hard though as they eventually (and nonsensically) cave into Alison's request by speaking up on Charlotte’s behalf. They tell the courts that they are no longer afraid of “A”, despite the fact that she tried killing them all on more than one occasion.

Everyone flat-out lies…except Aria, who breaks down in front of the judge and confesses to the extent of her PTSD. Despite her heart wrenching statement and the extensive documentation, the courts still decide to release Charlotte into Alison’s care. Disillusioned by the verdict, the Liars drown their feelings in alcohol.

Lots and lots of alcohol.

When they awaken the next morning, the town’s painted red with a dead body on the grass outside the church that is later identified as Charlotte. Despite the murderous history of Rosewood, everyone simply assumes Alison’s sister committed suicide…after just being set free.

Yeah, because that makes sense...

The Liars go to the funeral, only to see the illustrious Sarah Harvey in attendance. Upon the service’s dismissal, Alison’s past fling, Officer Lorenzo, informs the girls that they shouldn’t leave town. “Why?” you might ask. Because, Charlotte was…murdered!


Yeah, no one’s remotely shocked here.

The decision to time jump was apparently implemented to reinvigorate the series, but if the winter premiere is any indication of this show’s shelf life, then PLL isn’t looking too good.   

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Best Movies of 2015

As we kick off the New Year and struggle to keep our resolutions, it only seems fair that we give 2015 a proper sendoff. And what better way to do it than highlighting the best films of the year? But what makes a ‘Best’ list anyway? Are they the Oscar bait films that make critics drool? The highest grossing movies of the year? The highest rated? Composing said lists are very subjective and wholly in the eyes of the beholder. One man’s poison is another man’s treasure. Genres, fandom, filmmakers, and more influence the composer’s choices.

Sure, I can talk about how Leonardo DiCaprio might finally get an Academy Award, or that Tarantino released yet another cult classic, or rave endlessly about just how amazing Star Wars: The Force Awakens is. But here I’m going to shake things up a bit by recognizing some otherwise overlooked films in a “Best” list.

Best Original Concept:

Robert David Mitchell's "It Follows"

The passionate kiss in the rain, the good guys defeat the baddies,  the underdogs save the world at the last minute, blah, blah, blah, blah. We know the drill, because we’ve seen it all….

Or have we?

When a truly original concept hits the silver screen, it earns the respect of humble moviegoers. We revel at the thought, because it's only once in a blue moon that such a pleasure comes our way. For this treat to arrive in the form of the horror genre simply blows our minds, as the category is plagued by even more cliches than chick flicks.  

When said concept is about a sexually transmitted demon stalking its prey being played in all seriousness though…

You may have just lost us.

Admittedly, the pitch to this John-Carpenter-esque film sounds like a Syfy channel movie that could rival the ridiculousness of Sharknado, but in the hands of Robert David Mitchell, It Follows surprised audiences worldwide in the best way possible.

After having sex with her new boyfriend for the first time, Jay (Maika Monroe) discovers that she’s the latest victim of a fatal curse transmitted only through intercourse. Death will follow her wherever she goes, taking the guise of either a loved one or a stranger, until it catches up to her and murders her in brutal fashion. It may not seem like much of a threat given that it only ever moves at a walking pace, but this demon is unrelenting. It can’t be killed and will haunt you the rest of your life.

Like that drunken wedding video of you…

Only worse.

Accompanied by Rich Vreeland’s ’80s inspired electro score, It Follows pays homage to classic horror films with a genuinely unnerving premise that leaves its viewers in deep discussion concerning its overall message. Any fan of the original Halloween will eat this up like a kid at Wilky Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

Best Surprise:

Joel Edgerton's "The Gift"

Married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an acquaintance from Simon's past, after relocating back to Los Angeles. Their perfect lives soon enter a tailspin as mysterious gifts and uninvited encounters plague the pair at their home. Sensing an unspoken tension between her husband and his old classmate, Robyn delves into their past, only for her to begin questioning the very man she married.

Trailers can be a powerful thing. A brilliant one can make even a bad movie look amazing, à la Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. In unfortunate cases, it can have the reverse effect. Dramatic moments of silence, background ticking effects, jump scares, screen static, sinister music, and the Insidious producer namedrop put together, and Joel Edgerton’s full-length feature debut couldn’t look anymore generic. Cue the eye rolls and head banging.

Among last year’s slew of underwhelming thrillers like Return to Sender, The Boy Next Door, and Knock, Knock, this character-driven chamber piece about past ghosts turned out to be a resounding breath of fresh air. Despite its underwhelming and cheesy trailers, the film actually subverts the clichés and conventions of the genre with masterfully crafted storytelling and its superb cast. For any moviegoer wishing for an escape from the by-the-books formulaic thriller, The Gift is most certainly for you. Let the creepy stares ensue.

Best Underviewed Feature:

James Ponsoldt’s "The End of the Tour"

The End of the Tour focuses on late author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), recounted by journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) who interviewed the novelist during a Midwest book tour twelve years prior to Wallace’s suicide. This film doesn’t require any flash to tell its story, focusing solely on the provoking conversations exchanged between the two lead stars. 

Reflecting on the brilliant perception of the late writer, The End of the Tour shows just how thought provoking a film can be purely on the merit of its sophisticated, yet natural dialogue. Its execution allows viewers inside the mind of a tortured writer without ever resorting to the pretentions typically found in these biopics. The End of the Tour is a heartbreaking, thought provoking, and insightful rollercoaster ride of emotions. The fact that it only brought in a measly $3 million at the box office makes it criminal.

Best Soundtrack:

Sam Taylor-Johnson's "Fifty Shades of Grey"

Forced to fill in for her sick roommate, shy college senior Anastasia Steele interviews the mysterious billionaire Christian Grey for the newspaper. After literally stumbling through the meeting, she discovers she’s left an impression on the man. Given Ana’s sexual inexperience, Christian sees her as the perfect submissive partner, and he inserts himself into every aspect of Steele’s life. The pair enters into an affair, and Ana soon discovers her new man’s dark secret playing on the boundaries of pain and pleasure.  

Officially written as Twilight fan fiction, E.L. James set the literary world on fire with this dark contemporary romance that was only destined to hit the silver screen.

Okay, if you’d have told me a year ago that 50 Shades would be on any Top List, especially written by me, I would have undoubtedly been like…

Yet, here we are.

The story centers on a rich, yuppie businessman with peculiar extracurricular activities.

No, we’re not talking about Patrick Bateman here…but this concept is as equally disturbing.

With Mr. Grey’s behavior drawing comparisons to that of manipulative cult leaders, it’s really, really hard for us to think of him as a plausible love interest. Anastasia even refers to him as a serial killer at the sight of his hardware shopping list! Run away, girl! Just run away!

Yet, Christian still manages to brainwash the impressionable young woman and gets her to do his bidding.

Not weird at all…

Say what you want about the movie, but it’s not so easy to knockdown the soundtrack however. With Beyoncé’s “Haunted” and the 2014 remix of “Crazy in Love” taking place on this playlist, it’s pretty hard to go wrong from there. Then add Annie Lennox’s rendition of “I Put a Spell On You,” The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” Skylar Grey’s “I Know You,” and Ellie Goulding’s critically acclaimed “Love Me Like You Do,” and you have record gold. Just try not to picture Christian Grey stalking you, as he's quite notable for…

Best of luck to Leo come Oscar season.

And on that note....