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[Netflix Digest] – The Invitation, Extraordinary Tales, The Beaver Trilogy Part IV…

 

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Posted August 29, 2016 by

 
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A review digest for films you can watch right now on Netflix!

The Invitation

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It sometimes feels like friends and family join cults, doesn’t it? They get wildly involved with something new that takes over everything about them. Often it’s a positive change for the person, giving them focus and something that motivates them. Other times, friends go bat-shit crazy and get into things that are self-destructive or worse. THE INVITATION, a 2015 horror film directed by Karyn Kusama (JENNIFER’S BODY, GIRLFIGHT), spends its running time wondering what if your friends got into a cult of death and you were the victim they needed to attain some greater state of being.

The Invitation begins calmly enough with Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) driving into the Hollywood Hills en route to his former home where his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) is hosting a party with her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). Will and Eden divorced two years earlier over the accidental death of their new son, and this party will serve as a reunion of friends and loved ones after a long time of grieving and healing. Along the way, Will hits a coyote. Will inspects the creature only to find it still alive, so Will uses a tire iron to perform a mercy killing. The early scene is not gory, but it’s no less gruesome and sets the stage for a film that questions the meaning of life and death. It’s here, in the lights of the car, with the coyote off-camera, where Will first decides what side he’s on. But it’s going to a challenge for Will and Kira to hold on to their beliefs.

Will and Kira arrive at Eden’s home, and soon we meet the other guests. As we get to know everyone we’re also experiencing what haunts Will as he moves around his old home. Will relives moments before his son died. Will’s worries about the past soon start to dissipate as he witnesses one suspicious event after another. While Will descends into confusion, Eden and David show their guests a video of the grief group where they met that’s helped them cope. Known as “The Invitation” the group’s leader eases the pain of a terminally ill woman moments before she passes. The guests are confused by the video including Claire (Marieh Delfina of Roswell fame) who decides needs to leave. David insists she stay while a possibly paranoid Will demands she be allowed to leave. Claire leaves, but the standoff between Will, Eden, and David is now apparent.

The Invitation does a lot with a simple premise and setting. Kusama packs a lot of tension into the small spaces inside the house. Performances are strong throughout the film, particularly Logan’s tortured Will who is also vulnerable, yet decisive, and clear-headed. The confined space of the movie is bookended by the opening drive along the hills and the walk outside of the house at the end to reveal an ending worth of Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. The Invitation is top-notch, slow-burn horror that’ll make you think twice about the next dinner party invitation from an old friend.

Ratings:

Direction 4
Writing 3
Performance 3.5
Sound & Music 2.5
Cinematography 3
Editing 3
Visual Effects 2

 

Extraordinary Tales

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Edgar Allan Poe was an alcoholic, depressed, and brilliant writer who remains today, now 167 years after his death, one of the most influential authors ever known. Poe’s poetry is riddled with pain, despair, hope, and love, while his short stories left much of the positive behind to focus on the darker side of human existence. Poe is known as the progenitor of the detective genre of fiction and since his death in 1849 his stories have thrived from generation to generation and medium to medium. Director Raul Garcia gathers a talented team of animators, along with an all-star cast of narrators, and created a film love-letter to Edgar Allan Poe.

EXTRAORDINARY TALES begins with a raven landing on a statue in a cemetery. The first words from the Raven’s mouth let us know that is the restless soul of Poe himself. As Poe laments what tortures him, one of the statues speaks back. Joining Poe in the conversation is Death who challenges the author’s preoccupation with the end of life, often calling it an “obsession.” Throughout the film these bits between Poe and Death introduce each story but serves as a short story in itself. Poe denies any obsession with death until he realizes an even deeper fixation he possesses: the desire for immortality.

Each animated short in Extraordinary Tales covers a different Poe story in an entirely different animated style and with a different narrator. The first is Fall of the House of Usher. The rumbling baritone of Christoper Lee (Saruman in Lord of the Rings) tells the dark story of madness, as a family lineage comes to an end.

Tell Tale Heart is inspired by the works of Alberto Breccia and is smoothly animated but uses only stark black and white and negative space. The narration here is the most wonderfully creepy as it uses a recording of Bela Lugosi from the 1960s. The precise style of the animation runs beneath Lugosi’s crackle-y track and slow, deliberate reading featuring his distinct Hungarian accent.

The third story is The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Julian Sands tackles the story of defeating death. The art style is reminiscent of a zip tone-style comic book. The animators added a further detail to Poe history by making the lead character in this story look like Vincent Price who famously starred in many Poe stories over his decades-long career.

Next is The Pit and the Pendulum narrated by horror master Guillermo del Toro (director of HELL BOY, PACIFIC RIM). The animation here looks almost like the cinematic from a video game and is told using comic book style panels.

Last is one of Poe’s most macabre stories, The Masque of the Red Death. Here, the animation looks like a moving painting of the Renaissance era which is tinted with red to highlight an impending doom. Playing out like a silent film, Masque moves the viewer through a part wealthy elites who drink wine, feast on food and partake in passions. It’s a hedonistic festival that soon encounters the death that plagues everyone, wealthy or poor. Legendary B-Movie director Roger Corman handles the little narration found in Masque.

Fans of Edgar Allan Poe, like me, will undoubtedly enjoy the attention to detail given to the match the music, animation, and mood to its source material. Fans of animation will also relish the unique style that brings each story to life. For those who fall somewhere in the middle, it’s an entertaining 90 minutes. Poe was a master of mood and atmosphere and Extraordinary Tales captures it beautifully. Watch it with a handful of friends, in silence, and in the dark.

Ratings:

Direction 4
Writing 5
Performance 4
Sound & Music 4
Cinematography 5
Editing 4
Visual Effects 5

 

The Beaver Trilogy Part IV

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Trent Harris may not be a household name in the movie business, but to cinephiles, he’s a longtime indie director with an impressive list of films. Harris toyed with Hollywood in the 80s with a weird film called RUBIN AND ED which featured a strange story that included a scene with a surfing cat. I guess you could say Harris was ahead of his time when you consider that those kind of cat shenanigans are what power the Internet today. Before flirting with Hollywood, Harris worked for a local TV station in Utah. It’s there where a chance encounter in the parking lot begins the Beaver Trilogy story. The documentary unfolds to tell a story of stardom on a personal level, sans the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.

In 1979, Harris met Dick Griffiths, a young man with a big smile and a sun-bright personality. Dick aspired to Hollywood stardom and performed impressions on camera for Harris who was out testing equipment. It’s not soon later that Harris creates a film about Griffiths which included Dick’s in-drag show of Olivia Newton-John. For Harris, THE BEAVER KID was his next avant-garde film that unfolded in ways he didn’t expect. For Griffiths, it was the start of personal turmoil. Harris did his due diligence attempting to screen the short film wherever he could, while Griffiths struggled with the negative attention he received from locals. Griffiths wanted stardom, but the conservative region of Utah where he lived in the early 80s wasn’t exactly open to guys in drag, even if it was for entertainment purposes.

Harris went on to remake the Beaver Kid two more times. Each time with a budding Hollywood superstar. The first feature Sean Penn and the second were the future star RUBIN AND ED who most pop culture fans will know as George McFly — Crispin Glover. Over the course of The Beaver Trilogy Part IV, Besser tracks down Griffiths whose identity is revealed during the film and looks into the life of an indie filmmaker like few others. Like any good documentary, Beaver Trilogy Part IV, edits reality to include powerful emotional punches throughout. The story seems so tragic for Griffiths and melancholy for Harris and culminates with an unexpected uplifting ending.

Griffiths wanted stardom, and for him, just a drop of it was too much to handle. Harris tried it, and it didn’t sit well. Both men ultimately get what they want in ways that may not be the sort of thing we typically call celebrity but not all stars shine the same. For Griffiths, his star-like smile gets to be on display; Harris made the film his way; and Besser weaves it all together seamlessly, while Bill Hader’s narration adds a deep, sincere tone to it all.

The Beaver Trilogy Part IV is a must-watch for true cinephiles. By that, I mean those who love film beyond the big-budget style of Hollywood. I don’t mean that as a judgment, Hollywood has its place and makes brilliant films, but independent film is better than ever, and this history of outside Hollywood filmmaking is a vibrant one about passionate, authentic storytelling.

Ratings:

Direction 4
Writing 3
Performance 4
Sound & Music 3
Cinematography 3
Editing 3
Visual Effects 3

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Ruben R. Diaz
@RMartian
Freelance Contributor

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