This weekend, I knocked out two of my more highly anticipated sequels of the summer: one in theaters (Before Midnight), and another which just became available on VOD (V/H/S 2).
Before Midnight is the third film in what may just be the most unlikely trilogy ever. I'm not sure anyone could have predicted back in 1995 that Before Sunrise would go on to spawn two more films, each of them coming exactly 9 years apart. The second in the series, Before Sunset, remains my favorite (one of the best endings to a movie ever), but that's not to knock the merits of Midnight. Director Richard Linklater and his two stars (and co-writers) Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, have crafted another smart, insightful, and, yes, talkative exploration of love. Fans of impressively staged and acted single-take shots of characters conversing can rejoice.
Midnight is a little more caustic and less lovey-dovey, with the characters constantly arguing with each other, but that's to be expected at this stage in their relationship. Hawke, in particular, has never been better than he is here. I can't even tell he's acting. Delpy is good too, but some of her character moments are a little questionable, and too often, she comes across as a snobby Francophile who is prone to wildy erratic mood swings. Still, the last half-hour or so, which is set entirely in a hotel room, is explosive, honest in a way few movies ever are, and worth every cent. If this is the end of the series, and there's no reason for it to be (Before Happy Hour, anyone?), then they've gone out on a high note. ***1/2 stars.
On a wildly different note, V/H/S 2 is one of the rare sequels that actually improves on the formula of the first. Released just a year ago, the first V/H/S was a horror anthology film, with five different shorts from five different directors of wildly varying quality. It was dirty and drab-looking, but had moments of creative genius. The sequel is better. It's shorter, with only four shorts this time. The cinematography is cleaner and more polished. And, though not all of the shorts work, there are no real stinkers this time around. In fact, the third short (Safe Haven), which comes from the director of The Raid: Redemption, is one of the best horror movies - feature or short - I've seen in recent memory. It starts slow, but builds to an almost insane crescendo. V/H/S 2 is not the scariest movie you'll ever see (not even close), but it's wickedly entertaining, and worth a Friday night rental at home. *** stars.