Horror Film Review: The Lazarus Effect (dir by David Gelb)


I finally saw The Lazarus Effect and … bleh, who cares?  You may remember that the Lazarus Effect came out earlier this year and it got some attention because it was one of the first horror films to be theatrically released in 2015.  But then the reviews came in and they were all awful.  And then the movie opened in theaters and audiences saw it and soon, social media was full of tweets and updates about how disappointing the film was.  I meant to see it but the movie just kind of came and went.  Looking at my records, I can see that — when the Lazarus Effect was still in theaters — I instead chose to see Kingsman, Cinderella, and Maps to the Stars.

But, last night, I finally found the time to watch The Lazarus Effect and … well, I think I made the right decision skipping it.  The Lazarus Effect is about a bunch of scientists who discover a serum that can be used to raise the dead.  For instance, they use it to bring back to life a dog but guess what?  The dog isn’t very happy to be back and he spends most of the movie glaring at every human that he sees.  One of the scientists (played by Olivia Wilde) worries that the dog may have happily been in “doggie heaven” and now resents being brought back to life.  Mark Duplass, playing her boyfriend and fellow scientists, laughs at her but it turns out that Wilde had a point.

The other scientists are played by Donald Glover and Evan Peters.  There’s also a videographer, played by Sarah Bloger, who is there to record all of the experiments.  You may notice that I’m not using any character names and that’s because the characters themselves are not that memorable.  You remember them because of who played them and not because of anything that the character may have said or done.  It’s true that The Lazarus Effect has a pretty good cast but it doesn’t matter because none of them are really given anything worthwhile to do.  It’s not so much that anyone gives a bad performance — though the usually very effective Mark Duplass certainly does come close — as much as it’s just a case that the characters just aren’t that interesting.  They’re all recognizable stereotypes and, if you can’t exactly predict the order in which they all die from the minute they show up on screen, you obviously haven’t seen enough horror movies.

Anyway, after they bring the dog back to life, Olivia Wilde ends up getting electrocuted so, of course, Mark Duplass decides to use the serum to bring her back to life.  Needless, that was a big mistake.  Not only does she return with a lot of super powers but it appears that Wilde left her soul in whatever afterlife she was inhabiting.

So, now, you’ve got an angry Olivia Wilde wandering around and killing people…

And it should be interesting but it’s not.  The idea has promise but the movie does nothing new or unusual with it and the talented cast mostly just goes through the motions.  The Lazarus Effect ends with the promise of a possible sequel.  Let’s hope it’s a promise unfulfilled.

Here’s The Trailer For The Lazarus Effect!

So, here’s yet another trailer.  I say yet another because the trailer for The Lazarus Effect resembles the trailer for just about every other horror film that will probably be released during the first half of 2015.  However, I’m still sharing this trailer because the film appears to have a cast that’s much more interesting than its premise.  Not only do we have Olivia Wilde and mumblecore pioneer Mark Duplass but it also features none other than Community‘s Donald Glover!

Unfortunately, the trailer seems to indicate just what exactly Glover’s fate is going to be in this particular film.  Between Donald Glover in the trailer for The Lazarus Effect, Joel McHale in Deliver Us From Evil, and Alison Brie in Scream 4, what’s the deal with Community actors dying in horror movies?

Talking About Love: The Best of Me (dir by Michael Hoffman) and The One I Love (dir by Charlie McDowell)


When I wrote my review of The Theory of Everything, I mentioned that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time made a brief, if important, appearance in another film released earlier this year.  That film, of course, was the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best Of Me.  

Now, I have to admit that The Best Of Me was one of those forgettable films that I kind of suspected most of our readers would not mind me never getting around to reviewing.  It came out two months ago, it got terrible reviews, and it didn’t do much business at the box office.  I didn’t even enjoy it and I’m the girl who always ends up defending the Twilight films whenever the boys here at the Shattered Lens start to make fun of them.  You can tell the impression that the Rest Of Me made on me by the fact that I just got the name wrong and I didn’t even bother to correct my mistake.

But here’s the thing.  January is rapidly approaching and, with January, comes my annual 16 worst films of the year list.  And chances are that The Best Of Me will appear on that list and I’d like to be able to link to a review.

It’s probably not a shock to hear that The Best Of Me is not a good film.  With the exception of The Notebook, the novels of Nicholas Sparks are not known for inspiring good films.  Instead, they are known for inspiring films about achingly pretty people who meet on the beach, have a melodramatic secret in the past, and ultimately end up falling in love.  And dying, of course.  Somebody always has to die.  The familiar Nicholas Sparks formula actually works pretty well when you’re the one reading his prose and visualizing the story in your head.  That’s largely because you can always imagine yourself as the heroine and maybe James Franco, Bradley Cooper, or Ryan Gosling as the hero.  But, when it comes to making movies out of his books, the end results are often so predictable and uninspired that the Nicholas Sparks drinking game had to be legally banned after scores of single women fell ill with alcohol poisoning.

(Yes, that actually did happen!  Google it! …. or don’t.  Actually, don’t.)

The Best Of Me is, without a doubt, the most Nicholas Sparksian Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever made.  Seriously, it has everything that you would expect from a Nicholas Sparks film and it presents it all so predictably that watching the movie is a bit like watching a checklist.  We’ve got two former high school lovers who are reunited 20 years later.  We’ve got melodrama that comes out of nowhere.  We’ve got multiple flashbacks.  We’ve got soft focus cinematography.  And, of course, we’ve got an ending that is meant to be both tragic and inspiring but it’s neither because, since this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, we already knew that the ending was going to try to be both tragic and inspiring.

What we don’t have is much chemistry between the two lead actors.  James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are both pretty in the way that people in Nicholas Sparks films often are but you never get the feeling that they have much affection for each other.  Even worse, in the flashbacks, their characters are played by two actors (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) who look absolutely nothing like James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan.  In particular, it’s impossible to believe that Luke Bracey could ever grow up to look like James Marsden.  I found myself half-expecting a huge twist where Marsden would reveal that he was an intruder.

And you know what?

That would have been a lot more interesting than what we got!  Somebody help me get in touch with Nicholas Sparks!  I’ve got some ideas for his next book!

The One I Love

For a far more memorable look at love and relationships, allow me to suggest The One I Love, a film that was obviously made for a lot less money than The Best of Me but which is also a lot more thought-provoking.

In The One I Love, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a couple whose marriage is on the verge of breaking up.  At the suggestion of their friendly-yet-creepy marriage counselor (Ted Danson), they agree to spend a weekend at a beautiful but remote house.  Danson assures them that they will be the only couple at the house. Duplass and Moss agree and, at first, the weekend seems to be working.  However, soon both of them start having conversations and encounters that the other claims to not remember.  Duplass and Moss discover that they are not alone at the house…

And to tell you anything else about the plot would be unfair.  The One I Love is one of those films that works best when the viewer discovers its mysteries at the same time as the characters.  To spoil the film would be a crime.  Let’s just say that there is a twist that will leave you reconsidering everything that you’ve previously seen in the movie.

Beyond that twist, however, The One I Love works for the exact reason that The Best of Me does not.  Moss and Duplass have the chemistry that the leads in The Best Of Me lack.  You believe them both as individuals and as a couple.

So, when it comes time to consider what we talk about when we talk about love, check out The One I Love and leave The Best Of Me behind.

Moonrise Kingdom Wins At The Gotham Awards

Well, it’s Oscar season and that means that, over the upcoming month, a bunch of otherwise obscure organizations are going to be handing out a lot of awards to a small group of films.  Last night, the Gotham Awards were awarded to the “best” in independent films.  The Gothams aren’t exactly known for being a reliable Oscar precursor but they do signal start the awards season and I, of course, am an awards junkie.

Here are the winners:

Best Feature: Moonrise Kingdom
Gotham Independent Film Audience Award: Artifact
Best Ensemble Performance: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister
Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Breakthrough Actor: Emayatzy Corinealdi, Middle of Nowhere
Breakthrough Director: Behn Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Documentary: How to Survive a Plague

Of course, the “best” is in the eye of the beholder.  I, for one, greatly enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom.  However, I also thought (and continue to think) that Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the most overrated films of all time.  Seriously, didn’t Voltaire end the myth of the noble savage with Candide?  It’s also interesting to note that, despite racking up a lot of nominations and being two of the best films of 2012, neither The Master nor Bernie won any awards.

Film Review: Cyrus (dir. by Mark and Jay Duplass)

Last Tuesday night, as we watched the end credits of Cyrus rolling across the screen at the Plano Angelika, a very dear and close friend of mine leaned over and whispered in my ear, “That was a really odd fucking movie.” 

(Actually, it was two weeks ago.  Sorry, I started this review a while ago and only recently returned to finish it.)

And he’s right.  Though the film is worth seeing (though I’d honestly suggest waiting until it comes out on DVD unless you’re just the world’s biggest John C. Reilly or Jonah Hill fan), Cyrus really is an odd fucking movie.

Cyrus is the latest film from Jay and Mark Duplass, the two brothers responsible for 2008’s Baghead, one of the unacknowledged great films of the last decade.  In Cyrus , John C. Reilly plays a character named — appropriately enough — John.  John is a likable loser, a less musical version of the character Reilly played in Chicago.  When the movie opens, John is depressed over the fact that his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), is getting married again.  At Jamie’s suggestion, he goes to a party where he proceeds to have too much to drink, flirts awkwardly with every woman he sees, and somehow manages to charm Molly (Marisa Tomei).  Molly is soon sleeping over at John’s house but every morning, John wakes up to discover that she’s either already left or is in the process of sneaking out.  John asks her if she’s married.  Molly replies that she’s not but is still vague about why she never stays the entire night.  Finally, one morning, John follows Molly after she leaves.  He sits out in front of her house and, after she’s left for work, John proceeds to creep around outside the house. 

And, of course, its while he’s doing all of this creepy stalker stuff that he first meets Cyrus (played, of course, by Jonah Hill).  Cyrus is Molly’s 22 year-old son and from the minute he first appears, its obvious that there’s something off about him.  He’s far too friendly and speaks in the oddly stilted cadence of someone who is obviously making an effort to act “normal.”  He  spends all of his time composing New Agey synthesizer music in an elaborate home recording studio.   Of course, the main sign that there’s something odd about Cyrus is that he’s played by Jonah Hill.

However, the main thing that distinguishes Cyrus is just how close he is to his mother.  From the first moment that we see him and Molly interact (he’s playing his music and Molly enters the house and immediately starts dancing to it), its obvious that Cyrus is Oedipus, Norman Bates, and Yanni all wrapped up into one package.  And, obviously, he views John as being competition…

Cyrus is an uneven film, one that starts out strong but — once the title character is actually introduced — suddenly seems to get hit by an identity crisis.  Is it a realistic portrait of sad, lonely people trying to find love in uncertain times or is it an Apatowish mix of stoner sentiment and over-the-top comedy?  Is Cyrus meant to be the emotionally wounded, painfully insecure outsider that he appears to be the movie’s more contemplative moments or is he just a sociopathic comedic device that Reilly has to overcome in order to pursue his relationship with Tomei?  That’s the question that is at the heart of Cyrus and discovering the answer is the film’s entire excuse for existing.  Unfortunately, the Duplass Brothers don’t seem to know the answer themselves and as a result, the entire film feels directionless and we’re left with too many unanswered questions.

For instance, where is Cyrus’s father?  It’s mentioned by both Cyrus and Molly that the father is no longer in their lives but why?  Though its never explicitly stated, its obvious that both Cyrus and Molly have suffered abuse in the past, probably at his hands.  However, the issue itself is never directly confronted and its hard to believe that John wouldn’t have asked about it at some point.  For that matter, beyond her role as Cyrus’s mother and John’s girlfriend, Molly isn’t given any back story whatsoever.  Considering the fact that the entire movie is about how Cyrus and John feel towards her, it’s interesting that she’s never given a scene where she really gets to explain how she truly feels towards either of them.  A good deal of the film’s attitude towards Molly can be seen in the fact that, while a major plot point hinges on her being at her job as opposed to at home, we never find out just what exactly it is that she does for a living.

That’s unfortunate because, in many ways, Cyrus shows a good deal of promise and psychological insight.  One of the subtle pleasures of the film is seeing how all of the various relationships (John and Molly, John and Cyrus, Molly and John, John and his ex-wife, Cyrus and Molly) actually run parallel with each other.  When Molly first flirts with John, John replies, “Are you hitting on me?  I’m Shrek.”  And it seems like he’s got a point until you see Cyrus and Molly together.  It’s at that point that you realize that John probably once looked just like Cyrus and that Cyrus is eventually going to grow up to be John.  It’s hard not to wonder if Cyrus’s father looked like John or if Molly is attracted to John because he reminds her of her son.  On the other hand, much as Cyrus is totally dependent on Molly, John is similarly dependent on his ex-wife (who, as played by Catherine Keener, looks strikingly similar to Marisa Tomei).  In a nice touch, his ex-wife’s new husband seems to have the same opinion of John that John has of Cyrus.

The Duplass Brothers also get a quartet of excellent performances from the film’s leads.  This is all the more exceptional considering that three of them are playing characters that are either underwritten (Tomei and Keener) or else totally inconsistent (Hill).  The film really belongs to John C. Reilly who is such a sympathetic, likable presence as John that he convinces the audience to forgive a lot of the film’s unevenness.  His best moments are to be found in the film’s opening party scene where he essentially acts like a total drunk jackass yet you still feel oddly sorry for him.  He’s just such a nice guy.

As previously stated, Cyrus is an odd film, an uneasy mix of independent and mainstream sensibilities.  Watching it, I found myself wondering if the Duplass Brothers were really sure what type of movie they wanted to make, if they wanted to emulate the cold, detached dry wit of the Coen Brothers or if they were indulging in a little Judd Apatow-style schmaltz.  Both styles attempt to co-exist in Cyrus and the end result is a movie that seems to be struggling to establish its own identity.  Still, Cyrus is worth seeing if just for the performances.  As flawed as the film is, it confirms what Baghead indicated, that the Duplass Brothers as intriguing filmmakers to watch out for in the future.