THE BYE BYE MAN

Director Stacy Title’s The Bye Bye Man centers on a group of possessed college students who try their best not to spread their knowledge of a name that brings hallucinations, fear and even death when spoken. (GEP: 3/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

The frightening pull of the titular Bye Bye Man is staved off by the film’s repeated phrase, “don’t say it, don’t think it,” which, funnily enough, will be my reaction if anyone brings this film up to me in the future. Please, just don’t say it.

College student Elliot (Douglas Smith) moves into a creepy off-campus house with his girlfriend and best friend in the film’s long exposition, which involves the usual tropes – creaking doors, flickering lights, mysterious noises and dusty, dark basements. Say it with me now: “What could possibly go wrong?”

This slow beginning takes an intriguing turn when Elliot discovers scribbled writing in the drawer of the home’s old nightstand, reading “don’t say it, don’t think it” on crinkled old shelf paper. When he pushes the paper aside, he reads the name that propels the story forward – “the bye bye man. “ And guess what?!?! He thinks it and says it. (Screenwriter Johnathan Penner never mentions what Elliot’s major is, and we never actually see him go to class…I’m just saying.) He even types the cursed name into a search engine, and I personally think Penner should've changed the tagline to "don't say it, don't think it and definitely don't Google it."

Elliot and his three friends now know the name, which doesn’t immediately appear to be harmful – until it slowly takes over their consciousness, causing them to hallucinate and live in fear of the murderous man who is “coming for them.”

The group quickly realizes that they can’t share this information with anyone, because the simple act of knowing this name means a lifetime of hallucinations and being hunted. This leads to a messy, murderous web of lies they can’t explain their way out of, creating an interesting plot device that actually makes up for the so-so first hour. They can’t tell the police, they can’t tell their families – if they do, they put them in life-threatening danger. The more they try to keep it to themselves, the closer and more terrifying the Bye Bye Man and the paranoia he brings become. (If you think and say the very thing the cryptic old writing tells you not to think and say, you're also bound to follow the weird noises, go into the dark basement and open the ominous door. Elliot definitely missed the whole "follow directions" lesson in kindergarten.)

We eventually do meet the Bye Bye Man himself - a poor man’s Lord Voldemort (but at least Tom Riddle had some decent one-liners, am I right?). He’s scary enough, but the dialogue is what keeps this film from meeting its potential. (In one scene, Elliot hits his roommate with a baseball bat in a hallucinatory fog. He proceeds to say, “I almost killed you with a bat!” And I thought the name of the movie was redundant.)

The idea of a name causing so much terror and trauma is a pretty decent metaphor for human nature – the idea of having an important secret, but being unable to share it to spare others from harm. It’s a nightmare, actually – the thought of something ruining your life, but being unable to tell people about it. Another intrinsic theme is truth – once you say something, you can’t take it back. What you say changes things. It’s a good moral if you’re willing to look for it, and it actually makes The Bye Bye Man at least somewhat memorable.

The most important thing I learned from Title and Penner’s feature: if you have a baggy ominous black robe hanging from a hook on your wall that occasionally looks like a murderer lurking in the corner, maybe take down the robe. Come on, Elliot.

© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (1/15/17)

Top Photo: The name that catapults Elliot and co. into terrifying chaos.

Middle Photo: Elliot is "seeing things that aren't there and not seeing things that are."

Bottom Photo: Every teen horror film needs a first-act seance. Every one.

Photo credits: STX Entertainment

Q: Does The Bye Bye Man pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No, and even worse than that, it totally wastes Carrie-Ann Moss as the skeptical Detective Shaw.

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CLAIRE IN MOTION

Opens tomorrow (1/13/17) in NYC. Review coming soon!

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MA

Opens tomorrow (1/13/17) in NYC. Review coming soon!

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SAVING BANKSY

Opens tomorrow (1/13/17) in NYC. Review coming soon!

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SLEEPLESS

Opens tomorrow (1/13/17) in NYC. Review coming soon!

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VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST

Opens tomorrow (1/13/17) in NYC. Review coming soon!

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LET’S BE EVIL

Elizabeth Morris and her co-writers create a futuristic nightmare in Let’s Be Evil, a desperate attempt at an allegorical warning to today’s technology obsessed-society. (GEP: 2.5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

Kids have smartphones now. Said smartphones are slowly depreciating their already-limited social skills. We know this. The news reminds us almost daily that our growing reliance on technology is harming us more than helping. We don’t need a busy, in-your-face allegorical film to remind us, too.

It would be one thing if the film was somehow different, or sent its message subtly and meaningfully. But the very heavy-handed Let’s Be Evil doesn’t, and it starts with the opening sequence of a pundit on a news show yelling about how kids are fat and uneducated because of their screens. Not exaggerating – fat and uneducated. Great start.

“Jenny” (Morris) is a young woman desperate for income to help her sick mom pay the bills. She soon enters the Prosperity Project, a virtual reality simulation in an underground bunker that claims it will “save the country’s future” by training children in advanced science, technology and even combat. There are fancy screens and goggles, eerie robot voices that call out intense rules about “breaking protocol” and other super-scary stuff that attempts to prove how advanced this technology is and what it is capable of.

Jenny and her new cronies are assigned the task of supervising the gifted children subjected to the Prosperity Project’s training. The supervisors quickly learn that the kids are essentially imprisoned, never allowed to go outside or even socialize. They impart nuggets of wisdom like “learning should be fun” and attempt to interact with the kids on a personal level in order to help them be social, but it quickly backfires. Morris and her co-writers obviously don’t actually believe that kids of the future won’t even be able to speak because of their technological reliance, but their use of hyperbole is incessant and overused throughout the 80 minutes. This only gets worse in a plot that predictably twists when the kids take over the facility.

The underground setting is effectively dark and claustrophobic, adding to the eerie, cold tone of the Prosperity Project and everything it stands for. At times, it’s painful to watch because it’s supposed to be, but then the blatant dialogue comes along and any instilled fear quickly evaporates.

Today’s kids have Alexa and Siri to answer questions they used to have to TYPE INTO GOOGLE *gasp*, or worse – actually look up in textbooks and encyclopedias. It sucks, but it’s reality – we don’t necessarily need Morris and director Martin Owen’s version of this robot (Arial – Augmented Reality Information Advanced Learning) to freak us out about it when we have almost daily stories of identity theft and hacking to scare us already. We already know our operating systems with female voices don’t have feelings, but somehow, Let’s Be Evil feels the need to remind us that Arial doesn’t have emotions, and “isn’t that sad?” (Direct quote.)

While Let’s Be Evil is a valiant effort to stave off our reliance on technology, it would’ve played better on paper. Imagining this underground world of incessant screens and futuristic high-tech communication might make the message more meaningful, or at least, less painful to sit through.

© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (1/8/17)

Top Photo: ARIAL is this allegory's version of Siri or Alexa, an all-knowing but unfeeling operating system.

Middle Photo: Jenny is desperate for money when she joins the Prosperity Project.

Bottom Photo: The digital takes a turn for the worse in this creepy, overworked sci-fi thriller.

Photo credits: Posterity Pictures

Q: Does Let's Be Evil pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? 

Yes. Jenny and her fellow supervisor "Tigs" talk about their lives, and Jenny attempts to bond with one of the young subjects at the Prosperity Project.

 

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Underworld: Blood Wars

Fans of the genre and franchise are more likely to enjoy Director Anna Foerster’s Underworld: Blood Wars than the average moviegoer (who may otherwise flock to the 2017 Oscar contenders). Kate Beckinsale stars as “Selene,” a blood-sucking death dealer in a drawn-out war between vampires and werewolves. (BKP: 2.5/5)

Review by Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Although the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” rings true, viewers will get a general sense of what they’re getting into with Underworld: Blood Wars, a supernatural franchise centered on vampire covens and lycan clans.

Theo James returns with Beckinsale as “David,” helping train her vampire coven to take down Lycan leader, “Marius” (Tobias Menzies) who only wants one thing: to find Selene’s daughter, whose blood could end the war. Impressive action sequences fill the time from plot point to plot point, chock full of betrayals and reveals until Selene and David come to blows with their enemies.

Screenwriter Cory Goodman crafts an interesting “other world,” fit for fans of the mythical, superhuman liking. Followers of the series may more fully understand the characteristics of Selene and company, but for those just entering the deep, dark Underworld, an investment in the story is difficult to justify.

However, the aesthetic of icy blue and silver tones beautifully encapsulate the setting, despite the goingson of the characters. The backdrop creates an unearthly place for these characters to roam and duke it out over vampire and lycan blood. Beckinsale and James aid with keeping viewers’ eyes to the screen, consistently engaging due to their action-flick know-how.

If anyone wants to ditch the talked-about Oscar contenders for something mindless and unrelated to any human emotions, Underworld: Blood Wars might fill that void. Otherwise, it’s a sequel to skip.

© Brigid K. Presecky (1/07/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Kate Beckinsale as “Selene”

Bottom Photo: Tobias Menzies as “Marius” with Theo James as “David”

Photo Credits: Seacia Pavao/Gravitas Ventures

Q: Does Underworld: Blood Wars pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No.

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A DIFFERENT AMERICAN DREAM

From Jane Wells and Simon Brook comes A Different American Dream, an eye-opening documentary about the age-old conflict between man and land, wealth and morality, environmental safety and the oil industry. (GEP: 4.5/5)

Review by Social Media Manager Georgiana E. Presecky

The Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota is going through an oil boom in the documentary’s opening sequences, and as the film progresses we see that the resulting fracking might be a financial blessing to oil companies, but an environmental and spiritual curse to those who live on the reservation.

Drilling on the reservation has real implications, not only because of its hazardous effects on land that is considered sacred by its American Indian occupants, but also because of what it means symbolically and spiritually for the men, women and children who call this place home.

American Indians (as they refer to themselves in the film), of course, no longer live the way they’re depicted in AP US History books. There are still rituals and traditions they practice, but the men and women profiled in A Different American Dream have families and occupations not unlike our own. They are not immune to the need to support their families, in spite of what it means for the land surrounding them. Their connection to their ancestral homeland is different than ours, though, and this moving documentary does well to show why it matters.

A Different American Dream is an emotional ride through the chaos of a reservation being overtaken by oil drilling. It is, sadly, just another chapter in a lengthy book of mistreatment of Native Americans and their culture. Their appreciation for and connection to their land is admirable – if more of us saw the world in a such meaningful and spiritual way, we’d be a lot better off. But, slowly, that sacred connection has been littered with gambling, alcoholism and oil drilling. It is heartbreaking to witness both young and old residents of Fort Berthold ponder what’s happening to their little corner of the world – it’s rapidly changing, and there’s little they can do to stop it.

Human history has been riddled with conflict over land – who it belongs to, what belongs on it and how it should be treated. American history, in particular, has been unforgiving in its pursuit of land ownership since before manifest destiny, and Native Americans have been at the center of this painful conflict for centuries.

It’s nothing new, but the average viewer might unfortunately be unaware of how painful the road continues to be for modern American Indians. It didn’t stop with Thomas Jefferson’s horrific Trail of Tears that you read about so you could ace that history quiz sophomore year of high school – the consequences of those painful moments continue to reverberate for these people, and now the oil industry is only piling onto that mistreatment, disrespect and disregard.

If last year's Deepwater Horizon wasn't enough to open your eyes to the seemingly unstoppable and ruthless oil industry, this documentary will solidify your frustration. A Different American Dream will break your heart, but not just for the sake of doing so. It is educational in its subtlety, beautifully shot and just plain upsetting because of what is happening in our country – not just to American Indians, but to everyone. It is timely not only because of the Dakota Access Pipeline making headlines last month, but also because it only contributes to the question a lot of Americans are asking lately: what is happening to us?

Wells and Brook don’t push any agenda – they do their best to tell an honest story from the point of view of an important but all-too-forgotten part of our nation. The men and women interviewed throughout the film’s succinct 84 minutes are straightforward and rightfully frustrated, giving us an honest idea of what it means to be an American Indian today – what it’s like living in these two different worlds, the pain and beauty of this history, and how hard it can be to keep that spiritual outlook when everything seems to be working against you.

© Georgiana E. Presecky FF2 Media (1/8/17)

Top Photo: Dr. Biron Baker is the voice of reason from the American Indian perspective throughout most of the documentary. He is shown here pointing out where his ancestors lived and how the land has sadly changed.

Middle Photo: The Fort Berthold Reservation provides the backdrop for the film.

Bottom Photo: A resident of the reservation tells the filmmakers that he and his fellow American Indians feel "somewhat disconnected."

Photo credits: 3generations

Q: Does A Different American Dream pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? 

The format of the documentary doesn't lend itself to exchanges between more than one person - it mostly consists of solitary talking heads, some of whom are women.

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DR. FEELGOOD

Opens in NYC on 12/10/16... Review coming soon...

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