26 September 2011

Movies: Meek's Cutoff

Meek's Cutoff (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1518812/

Western Drama, Fictionalized historical event

Set in 1845, families hired Stephen Meek to guide them across Oregon. At some point during their journey Meek leads them off the established trail along an alternate route to avoid the Blue Mountains.  We join the remainder of the wagon train during their journey as they are taking on water before crossing the Oregon desert, amounting to three families. Based on conversations between the remaining folk one can surmise at some point there were more folks following Meek, but no real clue as to how many set out, nor how many had died prior to us joining them. The travelers are angry at Meek because he seems lost, their wagons keep breaking on the rough terrain, their supplies are running low and the journey is taking much longer than anticipated. The menfolk are discussing hanging him.

Based on accounts of the first travelers that Meek led along this alternate route the film does hit some of the major points but isn't exactly historically accurate. The film shows only three families instead of the 200 or so wagons and 1000 folks that followed Meek along this alternate route. If you are interested you can get a quick summary at the Wikipedia article.  Chances are paring the train down to three families keeps it simple and emphasizes how alone these folks were taking that route.

Stars Bruce Greenwood as Meek, though I didn't recognize him at all under that massive beard and mustache. You'd probably recognize Greenwood from many films/TV shows and never knew his name. You would probably also recognize Will Patton, who plays one of the families following Meek, for the same reasons. His most recent work is TNT's "Falling Skies" series. The rest of the cast you might or might not recognize.

If you have trouble imagining how boring and uneventful crossing Oregon with a wagon pulled by  oxes this film will give you a pretty good idea. The film doesn't seem to go anywhere for a very long time, paralleling how lost the families in the film felt about their guide and whether or not he was even capable of doing the job he was hired for. I suspect the point to using three families was not only to cut down on the cast, but to emphasize the tedium, the conditions, how small the folks are in comparison with the wide expanse they are traveling.

Great vistas and location shots. Cast members played their parts well. I thought the film somewhat compelling to watch despite nothing much seeming to happen. Yes there are some dramatic moments. The moments may not be actually momentous, but are made bigger because the party is so small and alone.   When the film ends it ends in a really weird way. Something significant seems like it might just be developing and we're left hanging. At first I was wondering "what the hell? " but after I thought about it for a bit it seems to me the ending of the film fits the whole of the film. We're left just as lost and unsure about the future as the families are.

I liked the film, it was paced a little slow, but the pace works with the unconventional way of telling the story. Even the dangling ending makes sense in the context of the film. Not your everyday western film, and not a copy of a copy of a half-remembered ideal for a western film that seems to be the standard these days, with notable exceptions like Deadwood and a few others. 
Once my brain started down the path of thinking of modern westerns that found a new way to tell a story reminded me of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". Not your standard western fare either, but quite a very good movie in its own right.
Which then led me to think of the film "Dead Man". Again, unconventional story set in the late 1800's. Just thinking about that one makes me want to watch it again.

All three films, "Meek's," "Assassination," and "Dead Man," are all worth watching. Though in comparison "Meek's" might seem the tamer and more monotonous of the three. I think the monotony of "Meek's" is intentional to set the tone of the film, which is why I didn't mind it.

23 September 2011

Movies: Drive Angry

Drive Angry 3D (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1502404/

Action / Fantasy

Milton is chasing down the cult that killed his daughter and kidnapped his granddaughter. Anyone that knew Milton remarks "I heard you died" or something to that effect. And some dude named The Accountant is chasing after Milton. You realize rather quickly that no, Milton isn't Snake Plissken, he was actually dead and escaped from hell to return to Earth and go on his revenge tear.

Stars Nick Cage as Milton. Amber Heard as Piper, the waitress that tags along with Milton in his world-saving venture. I've seen her in a few flicks like "Pineapple Express", "The Joneses", "And Soon the Darkness", "Zombieland". What I think is interesting is I didn't realize that's the same actress in those films, which to me means she is doing a great job of playing her characters instead of being the same mannequin propped up or danced around in every film (coughmeganfoxcough).  But the real stand-out performer of the flick is William Fichtner as The Accountant. You'd recognize the guy if you don't already know who he is, he's been a great supporting character in many a film.

Now - to be honest - I can't completely review this film because


If that.

That's right. Despite explosions, car racing, Nick Cage fully clothed banging some random nude chick and killing about 6 folks in a gunfight, probably-intentionally-bad-one-liners, Nick Cage getting shot in the eye, and other such stuff, the film bored me. Paused the film about halfway through and found something else more exciting to do (I think I took a nap or something).  Didn't even feel like re-starting it later. Just stuck it back in the ol' Netflix envelope and sent it on its merry way.

There are very few films I've intentionally stopped watching.  For example I stopped watching "Embrace of the Vampire" because I just couldn't take the stupid any more. Within the first 15 minutes it accomplished a mind-numbing equivalent to a 16-hour commercial-free Scooby-Doo marathon (yes with Scrappy-Doo). "Drive Angry" wasn't quite that bad, but after stopping to nap (or whatever) I had no desire to continue watching it.

The film may have been aiming for the homage to yesteryear films the way the Grindhouse flicks or Robert Rodriquez's "Machete" were targeted, but what I saw fell a little short.  Perhaps it was trying to fit in the category of "Shoot 'Em Up"*, but never got anywhere near that film either. And the whole 'returned from hell' smacked a little reminiscent of "Ghost Rider", mostly because Nick Cage is in both films. But if any film draws a comparison to Ghost Rider it has already dug a pretty deep hole to try to climb out of. Sure, there's been other 'returned from hell' to exact revenge/right a wrong/whatever flicks. This one, I didn't really enjoy so much.

Watch it or not, it's up to you. I didn't feel compelled to watch the whole thing.

* If you haven't yet seen "Shoot 'Em Up" I suggest you do. The first 10 minutes of the film tell you exactly what sort of ride you are in for. It is a great comedic lampoon of over the top action films, probably the best in recent years, and easily re-watchable.

20 September 2011

Movies: Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1531663/


Nick is an alcoholic that fell off the wagon, was fired from his job, returns home to find all his stuff on the lawn, the front door is locked, the locks are all changed, the credit cards are blocked, and there's a note from his wife telling him she's leaving him.  His AA sponsor, a police detective, tells him by law he can't live on his lawn, but he can hold a yard sale for a maximum of five days. At that point the lawn has to be cleared and Nick has to be living somewhere.  Kenny is a neighborhood kid that ends up befriending Nick and helping him with the yard sale.

Stars Will Ferrell. Young Christopher Jordan Wallace plays Kenny. Great supporting cast including Michael Pena, Stephen Root, Laura Dern.

C.J. Wallace has only one other film to his credit, he was in "Notorious" as Biggie, age 8-13. He also happens to be the son of Notorious B.I.G. Tell you what, that kid did great in this film. He did well in all his scenes with Will Farrell - performed a great supporting role.
All the cast did well. Farrell played this part straight. This isn't the "Anchorman" Ron Burgandy Farrell, or SNL Farrell, or Farrell in most movies to date. This is Dramatic Farrell and he plays it great. There is natural dramatic comedy in how the story plays out, and the casting works perfectly in synch with the script and feel of the film.

A lot of the back story is told has current events unfold, you get bits and pieces of Nick's life and how it fell apart to this moment as the story progresses, allowing the viewer little "ah, I see" moments as the gaps are filled.  That is done surprisingly well and doesn't have a bunch of exposition, which is a plus. There seems to be three acts to the film, and the moments the film moves from act to act are subtle, but still noticeable.

For the majority of the film the more I learned about Nick the less sorry I felt for him, despite how hard as the film tried to make me sympathetic.  His troubles were of his own making. But there arrived a point where, darn it, I did begin to feel sorry for him by the end. The film's conclusion worked for me too, it ends in a way that stays true to the story told.  Nick's coming to terms with the reality of his life and dealing with his relationships, old and new, parallels his having to sell off his belongings and deal with the memories associated with his stuff. While sorting through his stuff he sorts through his life, learning what is valuable and what isn't.  Plus there is the whole 'who is the teacher, who is the student' vibe in his relationship with Kenny.

It is a heartfelt story told well, has its amusing moments, doesn't go off the rails. Farrell's tempered and low-key performance is perfect for the film and keeps the funny moments funny and the serious moments serious.  Definitely one of Farrell's best performances that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his best comedic performances.

13 September 2011

Movies: Paul

Paul (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1092026/


Two British nerds, Graeme and Clive, travel to the U.S. to attend Comic-Con then rent a RV and go on a road-trip through the States visiting significant UFO sites.  After a stop in Roswell, NM,  they are passed by a speeding sedan that crashes ahead of them. When they stop to see if the occupants are okay they meet Paul, a little grey alien. Paul has been stranded on Earth as a 'guest' of the U.S. government since 1947, he escaped, and Graeme and Clive agree to help him get to Wyoming so he can return home.

Stars Simon Pegg (Graeme) and Nick Frost (Clive) of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" fame. Seth Rogen provides the voice (and half of the motion-capture acting) for Paul. We also get a great group of supporting actors like Sigourney Weaver,  Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, John Carroll Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch. Even a guest voice appearance by Steven Spielberg.  No complaints about any of the cast, they all do well.  Prior to watching the film I was skeptical of Rogen voicing Paul, but after watching the feature it does work.

Much like "Shaun of the Dead" is a lampoon of the zombie films and "Hot Fuzz" does the same to buddy-cop films, "Paul" tackles the extraterrestrial films. And, like its predecessors, "Paul" is a work of appreciation for its inspirational sources.  Again, the Pegg-Frost dynamic works well. They aren't your classic comedy duo where one is the straight-man and one is the comic, it is more like they trade comedy duo roles as the scene requires, each a compliment to the other.  In this feature Frost plays more of the straight-man role than in the previous two films.

The CG and puppet integration of Paul in with the live actors is realistic. Every bit as good as WETA's work with Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  They got the lighting right in all conditions, I didn't notice any obvious issues.

It's funny, irreverent at times, does the 'anal probe' joke maybe one too many times, has many nods to classic extraterrestrial films like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "E.T", "Aliens" and more. Paul's influence on Earth culture is explained quickly and makes sense in the context of the film and even better explains the nods to the classics this film references. It has a good soundtrack that works with the film instead of seeming pasted-in as an afterthought. Pegg and Frost seem to have a good handle on American pop culture and it shows.

Paul has some extraterrestrial "powers" that seem like a grab-bag of convenience even though they do factor into the story progression. But I'm no xenobiologist so what do I know. The first 2/3 of the film works well as a type of 'on the road' buddy-film, the last third gets a bit shootey and explosioney.  But one can see the maturation of the Pegg-Frost combo and their script writing, although I do find it curious Edgar Wright wasn't involved this time. Maybe he was busy, but based on future collaboration plans I don't think the working relationship is strained.

I liked the film. It's amusing and enjoyable. The Pegg-Frost dynamic still works well and, so far, they don't play the 'same two guys' in every feature, which is a plus. Worth watching. And if you haven't yet seen "Shaun of the Dead" or "Hot Fuzz" they're worth watching too.

12 September 2011

Movies: Drones

Drones (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1232775/


Brian works in an office, an office the manager has compared to a bee hive, hence the title "Drones". Brian has developed a crush on Amy, co-worker. When Brian goes to the store-room to get her some staples he discovers Clark in the store-room talking to his home planet; Clark is an extra terrestrial.
Clark tries to play it down as no big deal, he's just an observer. After some conversation Clark admits yes, his home planet has plans to invade and enslave Earth. Except Clark really likes the planet the way it is and has single-handedly been delaying the invasion.  While grappling with that knowledge Brian wonders if other co-workers are extra terrestrials also. But it is tough to distinguish the Earthlings from the E.Ts.

Stars some actors you may or may not recognize, their familiarity hinges on exposure to a range of TV and film.  I think the 'biggest' castmember would probably be Angela Bettis, who's been a supporting actress in a few feature films and TV series. Followed by Samm Levine, who plays Clark. His most notable work was "Freaks & Geeks" and  "Inglorious Basterds".  "Buffy" and "Angel" fans might recognize Jonathan Woodward, who plays Brian. They may be familiar, but not well-known faces.
The script was written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. They head up the "Thrilling Adventure Hour" stage show and podcast. It's a stage production in the style of old-time radio. The podcast is amusing, has some big name guest stars in many of their productions. I heard of the film because I heard they wrote the script for it.  When I saw it was playing on Showtime I set up the TiVo to grab me a showing.
The film was directed by Amber Benson and Adam Busch. Again, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alums. Joss Whedon's influence tendrils are reaching in many directions.

Comparing the film to "Office Space" is probably unavoidable.  My first thought was "Office Space" with extra-terrestrials. The comparison actually isn't fair to "Drones". True, the whole of "Drones" takes place in the office environment, is a comedy, and is a layered metaphor for cubicles and people to bee-hive activity, drones, etc. But that's about all the similarity. If you continue the comparison "Drones" will be disappointing next to the crushing greatness of "Office Space" and probably panned as such.

If you can get past the unfair comparison, "Drones" isn't terrible and can be appreciated on its own merit. A lot of the dialog keeps an amusing tongue-in-cheek feel, brings about a few chuckles. Based on the ending I got the impression they wrote themselves into a corner and, considering the budget, had to come up with an "out" that could play in the same office floor where the rest of the film takes place.  I'm not sure how much feature-length writing they've done, most of their "Thrilling Adventure Hour" skit episodes are 15-20 minutes long, so I don't know if that had impact on resolving the story.

For a low-budget comedy it is amusing, it is quirky, it is entertaining in a way that is bigger than its small budget and guerrilla production style. Probably won't be a classic, might get labeled as a 'comedian's comedy film'. I think it might also be a stretching of the wings for the Bens Acker & Blacker, a dipping of the toe into feature-length film writing. Perhaps it will get them enough notice for future bigger projects.

08 September 2011

Movies: The Killing Jar

The Killing Jar (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270296/


Late night, sleepy small diner outside a small town with a cook, a waitress, a deputy, a local, a late teen couple. A sales rep in a bad brown suit sporting a "Hello my name is..." sticker walks in asking to use the payphone, then stays for a cup of coffee and maybe pie. A news story on the radio announces in the next county over a farm family of four was found slaughtered in their home: husband, wife, two small children. Soon after the announcement a rough looking guy wearing a black leather jacket and a bad attitude walks in, demands a steak, only gets coffee. He also draws the attention of the waitress, who tips off the deputy this guy seems sketchy, especially with family-murdering psycho on the loose.

And we're now in the "Killing Jar". The whole film takes place inside this diner. Get it? Killing Jar? Diner?*

Stars Michael Madsen as our leather-wearing badass. You might remember him from a very graphic and brutal scene in "Reservoir Dogs" set to Stealer's Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You". Or maybe something less violent, like "Kill Bill" or "Species". Harold Perrineau is the traveling salesman. He was Michael on "Lost", and the replacement pilot on the Nebuchadnezzar in the Matrix sequel films. Danny Trejo, everyone's favorite chest-tattooed bad-ass Mexican and star of "Machete" is the cook. Amber Benson is your waitress. She's probably best known as Willow's girlfriend Tara in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." A couple more recognizable supporting actors like Jake Busey, Kevin Gage and Lew Temple. The last two you've probably seen a lot and, like me, still have no clue what their names are.

Now, the film is supposed to be thrilling and suspenseful, like watching in a pressure cooker, especially when you have 7 folks trapped in a little diner when all hell breaks loose. But the film doesn't really quite deliver as an intense thrilling experience as maybe it should. Granted, there are some odd camera angles that are probably attempts to harken to Hitchcock, but they don't really work well. And some of the dialog, ugh.
I think the weakened suspense building comes mainly from the casting. Not that the cast did poorly with the material given to them, quite the contrary. They all did a good job in their roles. Unfortunately the people were cast in roles that betrayed the story ahead of time. I guessed about 80% of the story within the first 15 minutes of the film based on the cast. But I wasn't sure how the film would end, though I had my suspicions, so I stuck it out to watch it.  I even voiced my guess about the plot 'twist' to the wife that early in the film so I could pump my fist with a victory "yes!" when I was correct because I'm juvenile that way sometimes.
My point is if this film was cast with relatively unknown (and preferably talented) actors in the roles the viewer probably would have been kept in the dark about a lot of the story a lot longer. However, as both Madsen and Perrineau are listed as Executive Producers on the film I suppose the film would not have been made otherwise.

The film is rather violent, even graphic at times, but if you sat through Madsen's "Reservoir Dogs" scene this performance is a little tamer. Madsen still delivers in this role, then again he's very practiced at it by now. Perrineau did well in his role too. Benson handled herself well in her role next to these veterans, she's a rather solid actor and I'm surprised she doesn't get more larger roles.

Come to think of it, I keep forgetting that Benson was in "The Crush". A film most memorable to me because Cary Elwes punches Alicia Silverstone in the face, launching her across the room. She kinda deserved it at that point.

Despite the predictability, overall "The Killing Jar" does an admirable job and is entertaining enough to be watched. I caught this one on Netflix streaming.  So if you're stuck trying to find a thriller-type film it isn't a terrible choice, just not necessarily the best either.

Yes, I know this film got crushed in its RottenTomatoes rating and it isn't doing so hot with real (paid) critics either. I figure like a film if you like a film, hate it if you hate it. Sometimes I am entertained by films that I know aren't great films, and sometimes I can't stand films that are beloved by many.

* In case you are still wondering what a killing jar is and why it's a significant title for the film, people who study bugs will drop them in jar that incorporates an insecticide to quickly kill the insects with minimal damage. Contrast with the 7 folks trapped in the diner. Come to think of it, however, the whole 'minimal damage' thing doesn't really apply to the film.

That said, if you haven't seen "Reservoir Dogs" you probably should. It might help one understand why Tarantino's name carries the weight it does, even if he does recycle (er, I mean, pay homage to) old films in his films. Heck - check out "Kill Bill" vol 1 and vol 2 if you haven't seen 'em. Or rewatch 'em if you liked 'em and haven't seen 'em in a while. I didn't mean to make this review a plug for Tarantino flicks, it's just that seeing Madsen in the film reminded me of how much I enjoyed Dogs and Bill.

Movies: I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1464540/

Action(ish) Sci-Fi(ish) Thriller(ish)

Some aliens called Mogadorians wiped out the beings on another planet, except for a group that relocated to hide on Earth with their guardians. So the Mogs show up on Earth and hunt them down, one by one, to wipe them completely out of existence. Apparently this is taking years to accomplish. We join the story as Number Three's number is up, and we follow Number Four as his time approaches. We quickly learn Number Four and his guardian have to move often to try to escape Mog detection. Four goes to his new school, makes friends with a geek, falls in "like" with a girl, has the Jocks hating him for being the new guy and liking the head jock's ex-girlfriend. Blah blah blah. Lights and explosions.

Think the same story as "Footloose". Except with worse dialog, alien powers instead of dancing, and explosions.

Stars some guy I've never seen before as Number Four. #4's bodyguard is played by Timothy Olyphant, that Ryan Seacrest lookin dude from Justified and a few other movies. Kevin Durand, who was Keamy in Lost, is the head Mog.  And some cute young actresses I've never seen before too. I suppose if I watched "Glee" I'd recognize Dianna Agron, she plays 4's love interest.

For me this film seemed like someone had a halfway decent core story idea and it probably got rewritten a few times to fit into a marketing box resulting in what finally ended up on screen. I noticed Marti Noxon is the last credited of the 3 screenwriters, which means she was probably brought in near the end to punch up the script. Her name is familiar from such projects as 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel', and pretty much anything else that has Joss Whedon alums working on 'em.

Lightweight in the Sci-Fi department. About the only sci-fi(ish) thing about the film is it involves aliens that look like people, more or less, and they have seemingly otherworldly weapons and powers. Lightweight in the Action and Thriller departments too. CGI monsters look like old-school CGI monsters, complete with appearance in darkish scenes to try to hide their CGI-ness. They don't integrate with the real world well at all.  I don't understand the alien death results- both alien races turn to dust when they die. Maybe Noxon brought in that detail? Doesn't make sense. It isn't the weapon that does it - at least one of the deaths doesn't involve an alien weapon and the end result was the same.

Seemed more targeted to a "Twilight" audience than to sci-fi fans. For some reason it also reminded me of "The Covenant", which is a film I can't remember a thing about except that I didn't particularly like it and had completely forgotten until I saw "I Am Number Four" (IAN4). Crazy, right? I'm supposing because the way it is targeted to a younger audience where someone has decided that flashing lights and explosions and 20+ years old "teenagers" running around "discovering" their new powers trumps any need to have a good story or dialog. Perhaps tossing the viewing experience for IAN4 into the mental dustbin shook up some vestigial recollections of "Covenant" out or something.

I can't bring myself to blame Noxon, nor Olyphant or Durand for the end result. Those folks signed on and did their jobs best they could with what they had to work with. I think this was produced to death with goals in mind that probably gutted any bits of a good story to target the "Twilight" audience. 

If you don't mind watching the same story as every other "new kid in school makes the wrong friend likes the wrong girl so the big bad jocks turn on 'em" film with a sci-fi(ish) spin with alien powers and explosions, go for it. Not nearly as bad as, say, "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid", but lacking in MPvG's train-wreck entertainment value. If you're a nerd for sci-fi you'll probably be disappointed.

If you've seen it - what was up with that box? Did I blink and miss its significance? And what was with the protector's weapons? How were they significant beyond their glowy handle?  Ugh my brain hurts thinking about it.

05 September 2011

Movies: Super

Super (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1512235/

Dark comedy / Action / Drama

Frank the fry-cook's wife leaves him and shacks up with a drug dealer. Devastated and feeling powerless, he decides to become a superhero (without superpowers) to fight evil, especially the guy that stole his wife. He becomes The Crimson Bolt, fighting crime with a pipe wrench. Along the way Libby, a  comic book store cashier, becomes Boltie, the Crimson Bolt's sidekick.

Very dark comedy starring Rainn Wilson (the Office, House of 1000 Corpses, etc) as Frank. With Liv Tyler as Frank's wife Sarah, and little Ellen Page as Libby.  Kevin Bacon is Jaques the drug dealer. You'll probably also recognize Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle, Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog) as The Holy Avenger. There's even a brief appearance by Linda Cardellini. You'd probably recognize her from Freaks & Geeks, E.R., or as Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo flicks.

That said, I loved the casting. Granted, Kevin Bacon as a smarmy drug dealer isn't a stretch. But the casting of Wilson and Page is perfect because you wouldn't normally anticipate either in such outrageous roles. Fillion's Holy Avenger isn't much further afield than his Captain Hammer, but it works and is amusing.

Comparisons with the film "Kick Ass" are unavoidable. Both films involve regular guys deciding to dress up as superheroes and fight crime on their own. But that's about where the similarities end. "Kick Ass", despite its violence, is nowhere near as dark as this film.

It is a low-budget indie production, and it shows in the camera work. Not saying it's bad, it just looks more gritty and almost documentary-ish. A lot less polished looking than the "Kick Ass" production.  That still isn't saying that it is badly produced. Quite the contrary. Its production helps emphasize the film's tone. The indie-style camerawork lends a more 'realistic' feel to the film.

This movie gets violent. Very violent. Way more violent than "Kick Ass".  Brutally violent. And gory.
There isn't really a "Good" vs. "Bad" feel to the film either. It's a little more along the lines of Frank is the central character, you're made to feel sorry for him in his situation, so you're rather on his side from the start. But Frank is duller and more powerless than Rainn Wilson looks. Page's Libby is energetically more out-of-control than she looks. And Bacon's Jaques is as smarmy as the role requires. When it comes down to it, it's less a "Good vs. Bad" story and more down to degrees of schizophrenic, sociopathic and psychopathic behaviors.  None of the central characters are "normal" folks. And, unlike in "Kick Ass", all the character flaws in "Super" are on display.

As much as I liked "Kick Ass", I think I liked "Super" a little more for its edgier and darker story. Plus "Super" is in some ways more believable than "Kick Ass". The characters have real problems, real issues. The story is also more driven and tighter, and seemingly a little less sanitized.  The comedy is more subtle than in "Kick Ass" too. "Super" is closer to "American Psycho" on the dark comedy scale, although not quite as messed up as AP.

I liked it, it appeals to the macabre and morbid humor centers.

04 September 2011

Movies: Tangled

Tangled (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0398286/


The Rapunzel tale from the Brothers Grimm. Sort of. It's Disney's version of Rapunzel.

About all they took from the original Rapunzel story: Rapunzel, she sings, she has long hair, she lives in a tower,  Gothel took her from her parents (albeit under different circumstances), Gothel and Rap's beau climb up her hair, Rapunzel cries tears on her beau. Everything else - Disneyfied. 

If you've read the original Rapunzel you'll spot all the differences immediately. If you've seen the movie first, I recommend reading the original anyway. It isn't that long. It should be freely available on the internet because the story is way out of copyright. For example, check out Project Gutenberg's Household Tales by Brothers Grimm and search for Rapunzel. It's a very quick read.  But the fact that Disney changes up classic fairy tales is no secret, so I can't imagine why anyone gets their undies all twisted up when they do that. I figured they would, they did, no problem. It's still good to read the original tales. They've shaped and influenced western literature for hundreds of years, which is why it is important to read them.

Despite the Disneyfication of the story it is a very entertaining film for the whole family. Maybe a little scary at times for the little ones, but not overly so, just enough to get a PG rating. Good voice casting, some recognizable names in the cast too. Very bright colors, almost like an animated painting.

If you've viewed many of Disney's animated features you'll recognize recycled ideas from previous features, but Disney has been doing that for decades with many of their animated films. The animation is top-notch, as one should expect from a Disney film, the rewritten story works in its way, has enough child-friendly thrilling action sequences, the characters are lovable/hate-able (as required). Some of the songs aren't extremely memorable, and mercifully they don't dominate the feature. Some of the songs work great in the context, others, not so much. The memorable sidekicks were Maximus the horse and Pascal the chameleon - both had good bits in the show and weren't annoying like singing candelabras and clocks and stuff.  Pascal is just cute, and the interplay between Maximus and Flynn (Rap's beau) is amusing.

It's fun, funny, lighthearted fare as one expects from Disney. If you're a Disney fan, even as an adult with grown kids, it's worth the watch.

01 September 2011

Movies: The Perfect Host

The Perfect Host (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1334553/

Psychological Thriller

John Taylor, ex-con, robs a bank. During his escape he hears a radio news bit that basically tells him the cops already had him and his get-away vehicle figured out. Desperate, he ditches the car, walks through a neighborhood, grabs a postcard out of a mailbox, then bullshits his way into Warwick Wilson's house pretending to be a friend of Warwick's friend Julia. Warwick invites him to dinner, John eventually realizes he's played the ruse too long, and as he begins to terrorize Warwick John passes out. Turns out Warwick isn't the helpless poofter John thought he was. Warwick had already drugged John's drink. Now it's Warwick's turn.

Think "Fraiser's Niles Crane + Psycho"

That summary isn't really spoilery in that you get pretty much the same info from the film trailer, which you can watch on YouTube if you wish.  You'll understand the "Niles Crane + Psycho" reference if you do.
First time I saw the trailer I was convinced I wanted to see the film. Then again I tend to enjoy creepy psychological thrillers, especially when they can turn an actor like David Hyde Pierce into a very effective twisted anti-version of his well known Niles Crane character.

Stars Clayne Crawford as Taylor. I didn't recognize him at first, turns out he was in 2006's "Unknown", a pretty good film too. In this flick he sortof reminds me of Ray Liotta. Also stars David Hyde Pierce as Warwick. Both are quite good in their roles, especially Pierce, who knocks it out of the park. I also recognized Meghan Perry, she plays John's girlfriend. You probably have no clue who she is, but I recognized her from the "Heather's Vampire Vlog" series on YouTube (plus one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

The film is based on a 30 minute short film by the writer/director Nick Tomnay, who also helms this feature length version. Yeah, I hadn't heard of him either. But for being relatively new-to-the-business, and as his first feature length film, he did quite well.  The production seemed a lot more mature than his short résumé would indicate.

There's enough twists in the story to keep the viewer interested. The trailer (and my summary) do nothing to spoil the film. As much as the trailer reveals, more story is lurking. The character development works well, even the flashbacks to flesh out the motivations behind Taylor's bank robbery. Those details get neatly tied together as the story progresses toward its conclusion.

I liked the core film - pretty much the first 2/3 that is probably based on the original short. I can't say for certain as I haven't seen the original short, but it makes a sort of sense compared with the feel of the final 1/3. That last 1/3, well, it took the story in a direction I wasn't anticipating. It was an unexpected twist. As I watched it play out one detail kept nagging at me - the incredible coincidence required for the story to take the direction it takes. If you can look past that coincidence it plays out pretty well and wraps up okay. For me the coincidence is such a big requirement to have to accept that it hurts the film. Not irrecoverably, the film is still quite good, but ouch.

It's refreshing to see an original film in the ocean of remake/sequel/reboot films that have flooded the screens lately. The story seems innovative enough to me, I can't think of any film off the top of my head that it resembles, but I could be wrong. On the IMDB message boards someone offered up "Hard Candy" as a comparison, but I don't see much resemblance at all except for one story aspect that I won't mention for "spoilers" sake. But even that resemblance is a stretch.

If you're in the mood for a psychological thriller this film should fit the bill. Worth watching. Especially because it didn't get much advertising, thus a lot of folks might miss the chance to see it.

Now that I mentioned 'em, go ahead and check out "Unknown" if you haven't seen it, it's a pretty good mystery thriller. And if you wanna see a messed up psychological thriller give "Hard Candy" a shot too.