[REVIEW] ‘Tenet’: Complex or Convoluted Piece from Nolan? (Spoiler Free)

2020 has been such a strange year it’s probably in fitting that 2 of the strangest blockbusters of recent memory end up opening theaters back up with The New Mutants and Tenet. The New Mutants feels strange because it was delayed so long that its entire franchise feels dated and Tenet because it is from the auteur-meets-mainstream filmmaker that is Christopher Nolan. Going into the weekend I was sure I’d prefer Nolan’s film over The New Mutants but having seen them both I don’t know if that is the case? Their flaws are different, but I certainly enjoyed the experience of watching the simple superhero origin movie over the convoluted enterprise that was Tenet.

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Without giving any spoilers away Tenet stars John David Washington as the Protagonist (literally that’s his name). He is a CIA agent who becomes involved in a secret organization that is studying inverted energy- or moving backward through time. As part of their investigations they become involved with Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who for a number of reasons is trying to star World War III and destroy the entire world with his technology. He is also manipulating his ex-wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) in a complicated case of blackmail involving their son and art.

Robert Pattinson’s Neil is the best character in the film because his job is to inform the Protagonist of what is going on through long exposition dumps. We like him because he is the only one helping us get some kind of baring into the story. Everything and everyone else is muddled and messy.

The truth is at 150 minutes of this sustained confusion I struggled to stay invested and found myself nodding off more than I should have, especially for how much action is in the film. It goes to show all the splashy action in the world does not get you anywhere, for this critic at least, if the characters aren’t engaging and the story isn’t interesting. And I didn’t go into the movie tired or weary. I was ready to be entertained but I mostly wasn’t.

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Some will probably compare Tenet to Nolan’s Inception but to me there is no comparison. I was so much more invested in the characters in the former compared to the latter. I really cared about Inception’s Cobb and have always felt that his relationship with his wife Mal was the emotional core of the movie. Also Inception set up the clues for its puzzle well, piece by piece, so it earned the ambiguous ending. Part of the fun of Inception was walking out debating with my friends what the spinning top means for the characters?

Tenet, on the other hand, doesn’t develop characters we care about. Branagh’s villain, in particular, falls flat in a very one-note performance. Likewise, the clues aren’t laid out in an enticing or interesting way. It ends up feeling like 2.5 hours of characters we don’t care about experiencing cool looking stuff. This can only entertain you for so long. It’s also hard to get invested in characters and story clues when Nolan chooses to have the sound design almost incomprehensible for most of the dialogue. A friend of mine has a hearing aid and got to watch the film with closed-captions, and I’m honestly jealous. I don’t think I’m being ungenerous when saying 2/3rds of Tenet is unintelligible, to my ears at least.

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Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does tremendous work here and the visual effects should all be praised. Hans Zimmer couldn’t do this film because of his work on the upcoming Dune (we got a trailer to a trailer for that film and even though I hate the book what I saw is intriguing) but Ludwig Göransson does a good imitation. Unfortunately the sound mixing is so off and the music so loud the score becomes distracting to the overall narrative.

I’m not going to tell you to avoid Tenet. Maybe it’s too smart for me and you’ll get what Nolan is trying to do? Maybe I will watch it 2 or 3 more times and eventually it will all make sense? It’s possible but I doubt it. Go see it and make up your mind for yourself (as would be my advice for all films). I appreciate that Nolan is pushing mainstream audiences and is not satisfied with the ordinary movie-going experience. Unfortunately sometimes he forgets that the basics of good cinema are important too- characters, story, intelligible dialogue, emotion etc. We need it all for the pretty images to mean something and make an impact. Sorry Nolan! Try again!

4 out of 10

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Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well! I have been very busy watching a bunch of big and small films. After a strange Spring and Summer it is fun to be back busy watching and reviewing movies! Today I have 3 quick reviews for you of smaller films- 2 of them are part of the Fantasia Film Festival which I am grateful to have been granted press access for. I hopefully will have more coming up in the next week.

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I really like character piece documentaries and You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a good example of one that really works. The documentary follows actor David Arquette as he returns to professional wrestling after a stunt world championship win in 2000 that angered the wrestling fanbase. Some of the pain Arquette goes through is tough to watch but by the end it feels like quite the underdog story. We also get to hear from Arquette’s famous family, ex-wife and current wife and experience him go through this along with trying to maintain his sobriety and keep his family together. It’s both sad, fascinating and triumphant at the same time. We perhaps get a bit too much wrestling for my taste but still worth a watch.

7 out of 10

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Northwood Pie-

Made on a very small budget Northwood Pie is another movie that tries to do the indie raunchy teen comedy game but in order for that to work the characters need to be appealing (Dazed and Confused) and the laughs need to be there (Booksmart). Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me with Northwood Pie. Young Crispin played by Todd Knaak doesn’t have the charisma of a John Heder in Napoleon Dynamite or a John Cusack in Say Anything. But I can’t really blame him because the main problem was the script that just wasn’t funny and seemed to think the f-word is an excuse for a joke, which gets old fast. I hate to be too hard on super small films like this but it didn’t really work for me.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Savage State (L’état sauvage)-

The new film Savage State by director David Perrault will probably end up being quite divisive. It reminded me a little bit of The Beguiled by Sophia Coppola from a few years ago. Both are slow female-centric stories set in the past. I didn’t love The Beguiled even thought it was well cast and shot and I feel the same about Savage State. All of the energy and tension was sucked out of The Beguiled when compared the original and I felt the same way about Savage State. Everything looked beautiful and the actresses were trying their best but the story was not interesting or engaging. Esther (Alice Isaaz) and Victor (Kevin Janssens) do have good chemistry so that helps. I just wish the screenplay had given them more to do.

4.5 out of 10

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So there you have it. If you get to see any of these films let me know what you think. I would definitely recommend You Cannot Kill David Arquette out of the group!

[REVIEW] ‘Unprescribed’ or A Compelling Case for Pot

If you have followed my content for a while you know I am a big fan of documentaries. Whether it be 30 for 30 and other sports documentaries, historical documentaries like Ken Burns makes or more issue focused documentaries I really enjoy the genre. Today I got the chance to watch a new documentary called Unprescribed which makes a compelling case for medical marijuana that everyone should watch.

These kind of topic-specific documentaries can feel like propaganda so they should be taken with a grain of salt but we can still learn the arguments for one side of the story. such is the case here in Unprescribed. They are not trying to paint a fair argument on both sides of the cannabis debate, merely present one side of the story as compellingly as they can.

The main perspective of Unprescribed comes from our brave military  men and women. Director Steve Ellmore dives into the epidemic of veteran suicide and how the cocktail of drugs they give our returning soldiers is not effective in dealing with their problems. I know from people in my life the damage opiods can have especially on someone with an emotionally damaged psyche as these soldiers have with PTSD. Putting them on opiods is the absolute worst thing we can do for them.

Given the horrible effects of the drugs they give veterans for PTSD it doesn’t make much sense to prohibit them from taking marijuana, a drug with very minimal side effects. Surely nobody can argue that the side effects are worse than the opiods we are giving them!

Unprescribed does not have the flashy celebrity interviews or narration you might see in other topic-specific documentaries (think Michael Moore…). However, I appreciate that it told normal human stories and gives a face to the unfairly demonized pro medical marijuana community. If you are interested in this topic give it a watch. It’s not very long and will help make the case for one side of a very heated national debate.

6.5 out of 10

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Blind Spot 56: ‘The House of Flying Daggers’ Review

I’ll be honest with the glut of films to watch this week I almost forgot about the blind spot for August. Last year I loved Shadow by director Yimou Zhang and it made me curious to see more of his films. This is why I selected his film The House of Flying Daggers when making this year’s blind spot list. I like more grounded martial arts films such as Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee or Rumble in the Bronx and Drunken Master with Jackie Chan. However, I do not like more fanciful films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I know everyone else loves it but it was not for me. I particularly disliked the flying as it took me out of the movie and interrupted the action every time.

Watching Flying Daggers made me realize I don’t think I am a fan of the wuxia style of martial arts films. These are films that involve fantasy and supernatural elements including flying and magic. They are pretty but I find it hard to get into the movies when the problems can be solved with magic or simply flying away. Flying Daggers is in that style (where Shadow was more grounded) and I really did not enjoy watching it.

First of all I will concede Flying Daggers is a beautiful film with stunning cinematography and production design. I also enjoyed some fight sequences like one where they are bouncing off of trees almost like Tarzan swings through trees.

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The problem was this horrible love story where two men Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) over the love of a blind woman named Xiao Mei (Ziyi Zhang). I found all 3 of these people to be extremely unlikable especially Leo who we are supposed to be rooting for. There was no chemistry between Mei and either men and at one point Leo tries to rape her and is only stopped by her superior Nia who throws a magical dagger into his back. There are so many scenes of Mei and Leo awkwardly kissing or finally making love, and I hated every one of them. As a confirmed romantic it did not work for me at all.

Like I said, the action can be quite good but the magic of the daggers wasn’t interesting and the sequences feel repetitive and dull. It reminded me of a Chinese version of Twilight to be honest with this horrible love triangle. I was thoroughly bored by it, which I know might be shocking to some but it’s true. It wasn’t interesting, charming or exciting just lots of meaningful staring and then fighting with magical daggers. No thanks.

It’s hard to know what score to give The House of Flying Daggers because this style of movie doesn’t seem made for me but I know many enjoy them. If it seems like your kind of thing than give it a watch but I certainly won’t be revisiting it any time soon.

4 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The New Mutants’: Satisfying Teenage Angst 3 Years in the Making

Very few films have the rocky journey to the box office that this week’s new film The New Mutants had. Originally slated for a 2018 release it was delayed for reshoots and then got washed up in all the problems with the Disney acquisition of Fox in 2019 with it getting 2 more delays in 2020 because of COVID19. Now we finally have it and is it worth the wait? I might be in the minority on this one but I think so. It’s not perfect but I enjoyed this little teenage superhero origin story film.

I should start out by saying I am completely unfamiliar with this run of comicbooks and I did not use the 3 years to read up on them. Sorry! If you are a fan please let me know how they did in an adaptation in the comments section. I would love to find out. I also should warn horror fans who are hoping for a scary take on superhero storytelling they are likely to be disappointed. There is one character I found scary but the rest wasn’t scary in the slightest- so let go of that expectation and you’ll enjoy the movie more.

There are also messy parts of The New Mutants. It starts very small and can’t quite bear the weight of its ending. In addition, some of the cinematography and visual effects felt more of the CW variety than a major superhero property. Nevertheless, I still had a good time watching this film!

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The best way I can think to describe The New Mutants is a combination of X:Men Dark Phoenix and the movie GLASS. The beginning is more like the latter and the ending is more like the former. To begin the film our group of mutants are held in a psychiatric hospital (similar to the one in GLASS) and are told they are there to learn to control their powers. This is led by Dr Cecilla Reyes (Alice Braga in a very one-note performance). Dr Reyes is particularly trying to get to the bottom of a the skills of a new patient named Dani played by Blu Hunt. She is surrounded by other mutant teens played by Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, Anya Taylor-Joy and Maisie Williams.

The beginning therapy sessions asks a lot of the actors but they all worked for me and the ending while messy was better than a bunch of other X-Men movies like X-Men Apocalypse (which I hated) and X-Men Dark Phoenix. I was way more invested in the survival and growth of these characters than anybody in either of those films and it’s certainly leaps better than something like X-Men Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

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In a world of bloated superhero movies The New Mutants is also a blessed 94 minutes. This is just long enough to keep me engaged with the characters and have a lot of fun with the small-scale action towards the end. I won’t spoil it but I particularly liked the relationship we get between 2 of our teen characters. They had chemistry and I wanted them to be free from this hospital/prison so they could be together.

I have a feeling The New Mutants is going to be slaughtered by my fellow critics and it does have its flaws. For me I liked the coming of age approach to a superhero origin story. I liked The Breakfast Club for mutants feel to the screenplay. The likable young cast (not so young any more! LOL) worked well together and it clipped along nicely. I don’t know if you need to watch it in a theater but when it comes to streaming I’d recommend seeing it. If you do let me know what you think.

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’: More Laughs Please Dude

I recently saw an interview with actors Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves where they talked about the great affection they have for their popular characters Bill and Ted from the franchise that bears their names. The first film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure came out in 1989 and was a surprise hit. Then the quite possibly funnier sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was released in 1991. Like Winter and Reeves, a generation has grown up with a fondness and affection for these two silly boneheads and have asked for a sequel to follow up on them in the new millennium.

Now after nearly 20 years we finally have it in Bill & Ted Face the Music which is available on VOD and in theaters starting today. Unfortunately while all involved clearly have the best of intentions with this sequel, it sadly falls prey to the problems of most long-awaited comedy sequels. Almost everything the screenplay puts our heroes through falls flat leaving little laughs and not much else to enjoy.

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In Face the Music Bill and Ted are told by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) they must create a song, which will save the world. This causes our heroes to go back and forward through time mostly meeting up with various versions of themselves. They also go to therapy with their wives with a few laughs from Jillian Bell as their exasperated marriage counselor.

The problem with Face the Music is it is simply not funny. There are a lot of winks to the former films. Those pretty much all fall flat. The dude dialogue of the duo can be amusing but it’s hard to believe they couldn’t come up with more for them to do than running into versions of themselves.

Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving play their daughters and I kind of wish the movie was about them instead of their Dads. They are going around time collecting famous musicians, which was a nice homage to the plot of the first film. (It’s a wink to the original without it being a pointless unfunny cameo).

I did enjoy the music in Bill & Ted Face the Music and the message at the end is nice. Unfortunately by then I was bored and ready for it to be done. I have friends who are anxiously awaiting this film, and I sincerely hope they enjoy it more than I did. We all can certainly use some laughs but I honestly laughed more at The Personal History of David Copperfield which I saw on the same night. However, if you see Bill & Ted Face the Music and find it funny let me know. I would love to hear your experience in the comments.

In the meantime party on dudes!

4 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’: Making Dickens Fresh

If you have followed my reviews for any amount of time you know I love my period pieces. Whether it is Austen, Dickens, Gaskell I like going back to the times of manners and rules and getting swept away in the journey (and usually romance) of it all. Even this year my favorite movie so far is the latest version of Emma.

While admitting this taste for the past, even I must admit that sometimes these films can be a little bit stuffy, and I can see why they do not appeal to everyone. However, one thing I’ve noticed since Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Favourite we’ve been getting period films with more of an edge to them. Indeed even the aforementioned Emma made some creative choices like having a memorable nose bleed where a kiss would normally come.

Now we have the latest edgy take on the past with a new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic  novel The Personal History of David Copperfield. This version is directed by Armando Lannucci and at times it felt like a cross between Lanthimos and director Wes Anderson. It had the sarcasm of the former with the whimsy of the latter. It definitely won’t be for everyone but I really enjoyed it.

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The outside the box thinking in this David Copperfield starts with the eclectic colorblind casting. This works because it is not trying to be a realistic version. At one point a character sticks his hand through a house so we are asked to go with the flow and not care. It also doesn’t hurt that Dev Patel plays David who I have loved ever since Slumdog Millionaire and recently in the Oscar nominated film Lion. He is not only extremely handsome and talented as an actor but he has a warmth to him that makes him easy to root for and he brings all that likability to the table playing the often down-on-his-luck David.

I also loved the production design and costumes in this David Copperfield. It’s probably the best in either of those categories I’ve seen this year. I particularly adored a little house made out of a boat that seems to come from David’s imagination but also his own life. All the hats are stunning and the dresses full of flare. It’s so much fun to watch.

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My favorite part of this David Copperfield is it feels fresh. It’s not only quite funny but it’s also unpredictable and surprising. Granted I am not very familiar with this particular novel like I am with something like A Christmas Carol or even Great Expectations so it is easier to surprise me but so many of the choices were unexpected and new. Even the transitions between scenes were cleverly done with wipes and techniques I haven’t seen before in a movie like this.

The only downside to this film is at times it can be too random to the extent it is hard to follow. I was honestly glad to be able to watch this at home so I could read the plot summary as I went, which helped make things clearer. Other people more familiar with the novel may not have that problem but nevertheless the film can sometimes be a bit all over the place.

In addition to Patel, the cast is wonderful (and hilarious) with such talents as Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi and Ben Whishaw. Their skills and the fresh take on the material make The Personal History of David Copperfield definitely worth a watch whether it is in the theater or at home. Enjoy and let me know what you think especially if you are more familiar with the book.

7.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’: #EndtheStigma

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Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well and getting through these tough times as smoothly as possible. I know it is impossible for some people to go to an indoor theater and I know some of you think I am crazy for doing so but we are basically open for new movies here in Utah and I’m here for it! (I fully support anyone who has chosen to not attend a movie theater btw). I have insured I have my mask on during the entire screening, have the back row so nobody is behind me, sit on the aisle so nobody is to the left of me and have typically had almost the whole theater to myself. I understand this is not enough safety with santization and cleanliness but it is for me.

All that said, I was able to go to a new movie with my friend Jen, who is my #1 movie buddy. This is our second time to the theater since quarantine and the first time we got to have one of our big epic chats at the end of it. I missed those sooooo much! It was so good for the soul.

The film that brought us back to the theaters is the coming of age story Words on Bathroom Walls (yes, the name is stupid).

Before I write this review I want to make it clear that my knowledge of schizophrenia is limited and I tried to find some reviews of this movie (or even the book) from the perspecitve of a person with schizophrenia and I was unsuccessful. My perspective is purely an outsider pov and how I think the movie encouraged a discussion on the topic.

Words on Bathroom Walls is based on a novel by Julia Walton and it tells the story of a teen named Adam who starts to hear voices and see personalities around him. There’s a chill New Age girl, an angry bodyguard and a slick cool guy. All these voices fight for his attention along with his love interest Maya (Taylor Russell) and single Mom (Molly Parker) and step-Dad Paul (Walton Goggins). Andy Garcia also appears as the priest at the new Catholic school Adam begins attending after he faces with some bullying at his public school.

The first thing that really works in Words in Bathroom Walls is Charlie Plummer’s performance. He is without a doubt one of the best young actors we have today and if you need proof of that watch him in the criminally overlooked Lean on Pete, which was one of my favorite movies of 2018. He was great as Pete but he’s also great as Adam, showing the anger, frustration and sweet sides of his personality making you invested in his character and anxious for him to get the help he needs.

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That’s the other positive trait of this movie- it gets viewers especially teens talking about mental illness and working to END THE STIGMA. In the film Adam asks his shrink why when someone gets a disease like cancer everyone is kind and understanding but if someone gets a mental illness like schizophrenia they back away in fear? This is wrong and we needrt to tell the stories of those with all kinds of mental illness especially when it comes to teens who can be so lonely and confused. It needs to stop and we need to provide better health care in this country for those that are dealing with a chronic or crisis mental health condition.

Where Words on Bathroom Walls is a weaker is the last act that feels uncomfortable in ending with any kind of uncertainty. All the characters have to be made nice (although one moment had me crying on my mask but I won’t spoil it for you). All the challenges have to be overcome and that definitely feels a little too tidy for the realism of the rest of the movie. On the other hand, it’s hard to overly fault a movie for being too hopeful and trying to inspire its audience too much, so I’m inclined to be forgiving.

It also felt like some of the depictions of the schizophrenia in the film are a little sensationalized for dramatic effect. Again, I don’t know this for a fact but I remember when  A Beautiful Mind came out some people with schizophrenia said that movie didn’t capture the experience very well and I have a feeling they’d have the same complaints here but if anyone can provide further insight in that regard I would love to learn more.

All that said, if you have teenagers I recommend watching Words on Bathroom Walls and having a discussion about Adam and his struggles. What can we do to end the stigma and make things better for those with a mental illness? As someone who has faced panic attacks this is extremely important to me so this movie really hit a chord with me even with its flaws. If you get a chance to see it I recommend it.

7 out of 10

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By the way if you want to get a smile worthy mask like I am wearing in the photo check out the merch store

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Reader Zach reached out to me and we talked about schizophrenia and how it was portrayed in this film

 

[REVIEW] ‘Unhinged’ : A Tense Thriller that I Hated

Writing a review for the new thriller Unhinged challenges my skills as a critic. On one hand I can’t deny the film does its job as a thriller in building tension and suspense. On the other hand, I hated the experience of watching it and found the film to be an extremely cynical and mean-spirited exercise. I am also left baffled at why on earth the studio fought to have this of all movies as the first large film to be released after quarantine. Is it supposed to be a cautionary tale? Good grief!

Unhinged stars Caren Pistorius as a woman named Rachel (maybe too close to home with that name!) who gets involved in a road rage incident with a man in a truck played by Russell Crowe. He then decides to make this the worst day of her life and stalks and attacks her. This even includes preying on her family and friends.

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The problem with Unhinged is the film isn’t content to just be a thriller with an innocent being preyed upon by a deranged man. From the opening credits it wants to say something about technology and modern empty consumerism. It honestly tries to justify the actions of Crowe’s character as if he has simply taken a truthful response one step too far. No spoilers but in the end Rachel even learns the lesson he was trying to teach her from the beginning- as if that in any way justifies all that he has done.

The whole process is incredibly cynical and assumes the worst of human nature. That we all can only be pushed so far until we turn into The Man (Crowe’s character has no name). Some may find this thrilling. Some may even believe it to be true. I do not and did not.

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The other problem with Unhinged is they don’t go all the way with the gritty realism/social commentary. There are scenes where people are not behaving in logical ways or making much sense. Particularly a scene in a diner felt ridiculous and extremely unlikely. I guess this is a movie where you are supposed to ‘turn off your brain’ ? The problem is it tries to be a deep metaphor so you can’t just have ‘dumb fun’ with it!

There are also some moments of sloppy filmmaking. In particular there’s a scene with terrible ADR that for the budget and time they had to work on it is unforgivable. You think with all the delays they could have at least gotten that right?

Like I said, some people will enjoy Unhinged because it does build up tension well but it’s not satisfied to be just a simple thriller (think last year’s Crawl as a good movie that was happy to be a silly fun thriller). Unhinged has to try and be more and teach both the character and all of us watching something. It is in that cynical and frankly repulsive message that the film loses me. Sure we live in a society that can be lost in technology and forget the humanity of others, but we also have goodness and compassion demonstrated every day in a thousand different ways (sometimes even on that very technology). No thank you Unhinged and your supposed cautionary tale. No thank you at all!

3 out of 10

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