Sunday, July 31, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: Black Death

2010, Christopher Smith (a british director of B horror movies you see sitting on the shelf) -- download

Yes, as a D&D player I tend to rent/download/go see most movies that have swords in them be they with sandals, sorcerers or crusaders. Those not made by the SyFy Channel tend to be a bit better and those of European creation creep even higher up. And you would think that adding Sean Bean to the mix would raise it even further? Nah, you just know he's going to die a horrible death.

This one is the dark ages and probably rode on the coat tails of Season of the Witch, hoping to cash in on DVD rentals the way all those similar plot, kind of similar named, straight to DVD movies do. So it's about men with swords who work for the Church and hunt down witch type folks who are accused of bringing the plague. This time our ensemble band of witch-hunters who travel with quite the impressive piece of witch torturing machinery, is heading out to find a village that is said to have avoided all plague. No disease. So it must be witch craft.

We find that the village, through a liberal dose of clean living, isolation and herbal medicines have managed to avoid catching or transmitting the disease. Oh, and they are also led by an evil witch. She's an evil witch that has the good intentions of the village in mind but she's evil none the less. Take my word for it, no misunderstood Wicca here. And she kills Sean Bean horribly.

3 Short Paragraphs: Source Code

2011, Duncan Jones (he really doesn't look like a zowie bowie) -- cinema/download

I love time travel flicks. I am up on many of the current genre themes of time travel and "get" most of the theoretical science behind them. They still often make my head go ow-ow-ow. I do like multiple time streams better than the "step on a butterfly" concept as it allows you to ignore what could possibly go wrong. P.S. Doesn't it actually take some effort to step on a butterfly? They usually fly away, right?

Now, this is tres spoilerish but I noticed something in this viewing that may have altered the entire movie for me, as in, it made it not a time travel movie. Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) has already said that the source-code is not time travel, more "time re-assignment." In other words, he's not affecting the time stream / period, more his perception of it. Its essentially a massive simulation of the events based on the living last 8 minutes they have access to. No travelling at all, just an alternate view into the past.

There is a key point where Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is begging Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) to let him go back into the source-code one more time so he can save the people on the train. She knows it doesn't work that way but also knows that this can be his only reward for a job well done -- he's going to be reset for the next event. At that exact point, Stevens goes from sitting on the floor of the "pod" to back in the harness. Poof. That is the point of shift. That scene is the magical infinite second in a dying man's brain. His own mind builds a reality where he changes time, saves the girl and lives happily ever after. Then, how does Goodwin get the text message? She doesn't; it's just the Happily Ever After Simulation (his last thoughts enhanced by the source-code) showing us what his perfect reality is. Sean Fentress really died and there is no conversation about the moral ambiguities of hijacking his life, after saving it. Stevens is switched off. Its kind of depressing, not Happily Ever After at all.

Bonus Paragraph: Bleah, I think I will go back in my own source-code and just see this as a time-travel movie.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: Knight and Day

2010, James Mangold (mixed bag director of Kate & Leopold, Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) -- download

Yes, I downloaded this along with the previous title, Killers. They were running in the theatre at the same time so I was under the impression that they were both about assassins trying to give up the life for the love of a beautiful blonde. And that they were both light hearted rom-coms. I was only partially right about it with this one. He is not an assassin, per se, but more of a multi-talented government agent that happens to include killing in that list. And he doesn't want to leave the business because he meets a Beauty but actually just wants to complete his mission. But yes, the Beauty is really really uncomfortable with his killing everyone around them. But he cannot help it, they are Bad Guys.

Its still a rom-com, to a degree, but its more a spy-action flick, as Tom Cruise does really well. Its so much a bigger movie than the other, visiting so many locales and locations that its mucho eye-candy. Its not in suburbia, thankgawdz. This movie wanted to be James Bond light where the settings are larger than life and the action is over the top. It was also a bit darker, with the Beauty showing a true discomfort in the number of deaths that are happening around her. Until she understands the Killer now Knight's place in the plot, where she then joins in on the caper.

Once it was established we didn't have any moral ambiguities about the killing in the movie, the body count could rise without worry. Blowed up, shot, kicked, cracked and crushed -- Knight Cruise really does impress us with how capable this guy is, but without the grim attitude of his other popular government agent. But I tossed in my own worries for the mooks. I know mooks are supposed to be killed but what if they are just being drawn into the fight due to betrayal? Its not their fault they think the Killer is a villain when he is, in fact, the Knight. But they die in droves. And I feel sorry for them. Someone has to.

3 Short Paragraphs: Killers

2010, Robert Luketic (heh. even the poster for his other Heigl flick looks the same) -- download

I am mixed up in how I feel about light hearted movies about assassins. I loved the epitome of the mini-genre, Grosse Pointe Blank, but in general the topic makes me uncomfortable. How can you be light-hearted about someone who kills for money? And how the fuck can it be a rom-com? The only Hollywood trope seems to be having the killer suffer from burnout and then fall in love. Only love can rescue you from the difficult life of killing people.

Like many movies, this one has three acts. Act One, Killer meets Beautiful Blonde. Act Two, Killer and Blonde get married and Live in Suburbia. Act Three; Suburbia tries to Kill Them. This movie gets around the whole messy part where our Killer might do something messy like "his job" and moves him to suburbia almost immediately. And he makes a killing in the construction business (hyuk hyuk) only to be discovered and attacked by a near-endless stream of not-neighbors trying to kill him. So, it's OK if he kills them in tons of creative, entertaining ways -- they were trying to kill him first. It doesn't matter if these were his neighbors and friends and coworkers for the better part of a year. Groan.

Black Comedies do it best when they handle this subject because we will giggle with guilt at the predicaments our Killer is mixed up in. But I guess today's audience wants to just ignore morality of the situation and just be entertained by beautiful people killing not so beautiful people... and one very beautiful Katheryn Winnick. The Beauty (Heigl not Winnick, in case I lost you there) is supposed to represent our conflicted nature in watching the movie but considering her arguments are more about how the whole Killer thing is inconvenient, I am just not won over.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

3 paragraphs on: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

2006, Kirby Dick

There are a lot bigger problems in the world than the fact that there's a shadowy organization with dubious ethics that controls the ratings system of films distributed in America. But then, once you realize that this seemingly minor problem actually escalates sharply into a damaging impact on society at-large and suddenly this seemingly frivolous documentary gains real weight.

The fact of the matter is, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is the sole ratings board for the American film industry and it is financed by the major studios that present their films to it. The major studios are owned by larger conglomerates that have, within their holdings, the majority of network, cable and satellite television channels, magazines, newspapers and other media, which means that in this media oligopoly the MPAA rating is essential in order to advertise. This means a director or production company is forced to submit their film to the (rather arbitrary and unregulated) review process or else try and find alternate channels to distribute and promote their movie. Beyond that injustice, the film identifies how the MPAA, contrary to most other ratings boards around the world, are far more lenient on violence than sex (further how straight sex is more forgiven than gay sex) thrusts a dangerous message upon the youth of the country, a war-not-love message, if you will. Coupled with how the American military industrial complex (of which the aforementioned conglomerates often have a hand in) has some incredible sway on the content of the films that are made portraying it, there's more than one agenda at play.

Kirby Dick's documentary attempts to pull back the curtain on the MPAA, exposing the identities of various film reviewers, the biases that they have, the influence that comes from above them, and the self-serving attitude of the organization that isn't as altruistic as they would appear to be. Dick relays the tactics of this rather unseemly and unjust institution in both an informative and entertaining manner, with a healthy sense of humour, animated sidebars, and some clever editing of scandalous scenes (most sex-related). In the film's masterstroke, Dick hires a private investigator to find out as much dirt on the organization as possible, notably the people behind the scenes who review the films, and later the people who serve on the appeals board. The investigative process is actually quite thrilling, and turns the documentary into a quasi-genre picture. In the final act, Dick submits a cut of the film to the MPAA for review documenting the process and its bizarre rules of conduct and order. Entertaining and Infuriating.

The documentary is

Sunday, July 24, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: I Am Number Four

2011, DJ Caruso (mostly a TV guy but he did do The Salton Sea, which was great!) -- download

Not sure why I downloaded this one. Maybe it was my interest to see what else in the teen genre fiction scene was like -- like Hunger Games, hate Twilight. Maybe it was because it was about pretty teenagers with super powers. Maybe I was interested in a CGI night. Came at it with little expectations and got a little more than I asked for.

For one, I got Timothy Olyphant as the mentor/soldier/protector of our titular (heh, tit) alien Prince John. He carries the weight well and lends some credibility to this whining refugee from a War in Space. Too bad he has to fill in the Sacrifice Trope so soon though, thus allowing the "hero" to understand his place in things. Secondly, we get Kevin Durand as the alien badguy. Weird alien badguys that do a bad job of disguising themselves as Keanu-Neo style aliens out to kill sequentially numbered targets. Yeah, as long as you were long down in the number list you could probably just hide on earth for quite a few leisurely years. You don't have to join the battle like the sexy Number Six does. We don't ever know what happens to Number Five. Oh yeah, he's just biding his time.

These kind of scifi movies don't really pay attention to the science part of the genre. Lil doggies can transmogrify into giant bear-ankylosaurus and back again without the worries of mass. Like X-Men, aliens can transmit energy without an ample source -- oh they get tired but just a little. Still, they are a fun romp blowing things up real good.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: Red Riding Hood

2011, Catherine Hardwicke (this is why I hate the hollywood demolition of good directors; she starts with Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown and now did Twilight and this pile of wolf poo?) -- download

Oooops, I let the big bad wolf out of the bag. Yeah, it sucked. Or bit, if I am to get my metaphors straight.

So, stylistically Twilight wasn't too bad. The story sucks but that's not her fault. Sparkly vampires are not her fault. But this one.... this one's on her. Well, maybe. Again, this one stylistically is pretty nice. The fabricated village in the imaginary forest of some eastern European country is imaginatively designed. The fairy tale atmosphere is both fantastical and eerie at the same time, even if they forget to explain the sword length thorns growing on all the trees. I would like to see the production behind-the-scenes.

But that doesn't make up for bad acting, terrible plot, an inserted 21st century bumping-n-grinding rave and a very muddled love story. Gah, I find myself dancing from stinky scene to stinky scene but not really able to nail down anything i liked about it. OK, how about how I found myself being distracting from actually watching it by identifying the various actors from the Brotherhood of Canadian SciFi actors? Daniel Jackson? Colonel Tigh? Some guy from Smallville? Hardball from BSG ? Granny Goodness? If Gary Oldman's witch-hunter had Robert Carlyse cast instead, it would have been perfect. And thusly, I found myself thinking f it had been an hour episode from one of the series to which they contribute, it may have been forgiven. But not this.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

3 paragraphs (are almost 3 too many) on Crank 2

2010, Neveldine/Taylor - Netflix

Although I've never seen them or heard them speak, judging their films I imagine the Crank film series directors to be hyperactive 15-year-old boys, constantly sucking back Mountain Dew for a perpetual sugar high, sitting around writing their screenplay by imagining the most fucked-up (to a 15-year-old), coolest (to a 15-year-old), provocative (to a 15-year-old) scenarios they can come up with and then somehow working them all together into, well, not so much a story, but a partly cohesive sequence of events. Every single frame of Crank 2 (and if I recall correctly - which I don't because I've repressed that horrible experience like it was some form of abuse perpetrated upon me - the first Crank) is meant to be "provocative" or "rad" or "fucked up". Every. Single. Scene. And they are... to a 15-year-old.

From that first paragraph you can likely intone that I hate, hate, hated the first Crank film. So why, oh, why would I watch the second? After listening to the fantastic podcasting team from "How Did This Get Made" discuss the film it wasn't so much that I had to see it, but rather that I would challenge myself to see it. And boy, it was a challenge. I wasn't offended by the content of the film, nor by all the immature titillation, the juvenile gross-out humour, the excessive violence... what offended me was the films insistence that this was all somehow entertaining. Crank 2 is a tedious comedy pretending to be an action film, but it's humour levels reside around the "Not Another Teen Movie" range, which is pretty much the bottom of the barrel. There's no craft to it, though Jason Statham is, I have to admit, incredibly game, and incredibly giving, as is Amy Smart, both delivering their lines in a subdued manner amidst every other actor hamming it up to the ultimate excess. If these kinds of over-the-top action-comedies are to work, the actors need to ground their roles to juxtapose with the visual mayhem.

But even then, I'm not sure Crank 2 would succeed. It's as juvenile a fantasy as they come, edited as if the film itself had ADD, joined by a pulsating thrash soundtrack that combines metal, freeform jazz and dj elements, none of it effectively. It's quite possibly, next to the first Crank film, one of the worst a-list features I've ever seen, and yet I did watch the whole thing, almost like I had to see what they did next, all the while I could feel brain cells decaying as a result. It's not art, and it's really not entertaining, it's got no style, it's got precious little in the way of characterization or story to speak of... it's just a blitzkrieg of images and ideas loosely threaded together, so I guess in that respect it is indeed something. But I liken Crank 2 to the drawings produced by some askew teenagers, doodling vicious landscapes of skulls, body parts, breasts and bullets all over the backs of their binders and the insides of their textbooks, a seemingly endless morass of grim images tempered by the cartoonish presentation and a lack of any real style or skill from their creators. It would be impressive if it weren't so awful.

3 paragraphs on The Anderson Tapes

1971, Sidney Lumet -- Netflix

(spoilers ahead)

The general rhythm of a heist movie is such: getting the band together; plotting out and planning for the heist; enacting the plan; overcoming the obstacles; getting away with it (if it's a lighthearted heist romp) or things going completely sour (if it's more of a heist drama). The odd thing about the Anderson Tapes is it's in the lighthearted vein, but it ends the tragic way. In a genre that's continued to play into its tropes, it's interesting to find a film from 1971 that so casually and unceremoniously played with the convention.

Sean Connery is Duke Anderson, the Anderson in question, a recent ex-con freed after a 10 year conviction for robbery, who wastes no time getting right back into the swing of things upon release. His old girlfriend Ingrid has spent the intervening years with a series of sugar daddies who take care of her, including buying her a swanky New York apartment overlooking Central Park. Anderson has it in mind to rob all the other well-to-do tenants in one shot and starts getting a gang together. The "tapes" in question refer to all the different monitoring equipment that various law enforcement agencies (the BNDD (the old FDA), FBI, IRS and a private investigator) have tracking not Anderson himself but the people he's associating with. There's a heavy emphasis on "big brother" which is rather foretelling in a film from '71, and it provides the film a modern relevance. I'm unsure if, given the time period, the film was concerned with how invasive monitoring technology can be on our lives, or some sort of polemic on how the good guys are watching, or if there was some larger commentary on the way increasingly prevalent communications technology impacted then-modern life.

Lumet splices into scenes of Anderson with his gang or his girl with shots of cameras, monitors, tape reels, microphones and scenes with the people operating them or reporting to their higher ups, providing a background group of stories more or less irrelevant to the rest of the plot, but otherwise building the environment Lument wants. Unfortunately these shots or scenes are punctuated by a grating, invasive score from Quincey Jones, who was, I believe in an attempt to mirror the film, using advanced-for-the-time electronic sound generating equipment in his music. The script unsuccessfully alternates between bouncy and heavy, and neither the score nor editing help distinguish the two. All the cast for that matter equally seem to have trouble negotiating that line, though Connery is given a couple of great speeches inciting anarchy which he delivers as if hes a classic bullshitter bu unconvinced himself. It's an interesting timepiece that has themes that have aged far better than could be expected, but what didn't work for it in 1971 doesn't work any better 40 years later.

3 paragraphs on Eyes of Laura Mars

1978, Irvin Kirshner -- Netflix

At one point I was a massive John Carpenter fan (still like the guy and much of his work but I don't see all of his work with such rose-colored glasses anymore) but I knew there were a few gaps in my Carpenter-ouvre viewing. I had heard of this TV movie he'd written starring a prominent '70's actress, with a title that had something to do with vision. Once I became aware of Eyes of Laura Mars, starring Faye Dunaway, I was convinced that was it. About 10 minutes into the film, with some not-at-all disguised nudity in pictures in the background and casual swearing in the dialogue, as well as Irvin Kirshner (he of Empire Strikes Back infamy) attached as director (Kirshner slumming it for TV? Couldn't be) I became confused. To the Wikipedia machine. Oh... the John Carpenter written-AND-directed-for-TV film was "Someone is Watching Me" starring Lauren Hutten. You can see how I made that mistake can't you?

(definite spoilers below)

Anyway, Eyes of Laura Mars finds Dunaway as the titular character, a preeminent photographer, successful in both the fashion and artistic communities, with a penchant for staging provocative set pieces involving nudity and death... you know, as a reflection of our yadda yadda blah blah blah. But at the height of her success Laura's models, associates and friends start getting murdered, and somehow Laura is witnessing the murders telepathically. She confides in Lieutenant John Neville (a shockingly young Tommy Lee Jones) her visions, and he shows her some photos of old murder cases which resemble some of her photographs. Is she just psychically connected to death or is she connected to a single murderer? As more of her acquaintances and friends are killed, and her life is threatened more than once, her and Neville fall in love. Despite any palpable chemistry between them, each proclaims an uncontrollable attraction to the other, which basically telegraphs the end of the film, where it's reveal that the murderer is... John Neville.

The film is an Americanization of the Italian gaillo horror/suspense/thriller genre made popular by directors like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Kirshner and Carpenter do a remarkable job capturing the feel of that style of film (anyone who has compared Carpenter's score for Halloween to that from Argento's Deep Red will know he's quite familiar with the genre), emphasizing the style as much as the story, and sustaining an intensity even in scenes that should not be so intense. It should have been a terrific thriller, and it is, save for the fact that the ending revelation is so mind-bogglingly dumb. Neville's reveal that he has a split personality disorder, the hokey explanation for the origins of it, and the thoroughly overacted confrontation between the two leads basically threw the entire film under a bus, or jabbed an ice pick in its eye, if you will.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: The Adjustment Bureau

2011, George Nolfi (directorial debut but writer of a few thrillers like Oceans 12 and The Bourne Ultimatum) -- cinema

I like PK Dick material. I like the paranoia and the focus on things being not quite as you expect them to be. TAB is exactly that, by plot and by point, where the world does not go as you expect because it just does but because a group of people influence things to go a certain way, by design. Break the 4th wall, take a peek behind the curtains or get a glimpse at the grand design and you will catch the attention of the Bureau. And if this is the way its been for quite some time then who are you to state it shouldn't be done that way? But isn't that what a protagonist is supposed to do?

David Norris (Matt Damon) wants to be in the US Senate and the Bureau wants him there too. But he meets Elise (Emily Blunt)... by chance. Chance is something the Bureau has trouble wrangling with because sometimes it just happens despite all the controls in those neat little moleskines of theirs. So, even though he is told that he is "destined for greatness" he decides he wants love too. Who doesn't? Or better yet, who shouldn't? So Norris breaks away from fate, knocks the hat off the mad men of the Bureau and chooses to confront the designer of it all.

This is where the movie took a "producers fiddling with the magic" turn for me. It should have gone dark. The fact that there was a plan in place, one set by a mysterious organization that wasn't beyond hurting the actors in the play to make sure it went the way it was supposed to go, tells me that upsetting their plans no matter how noble you appeared, would have dire consequences. But hollywood wants the nice guy to win, get the girl and live happy ever after. Oh yeah, and angels. Never read the original story but somehow I doubt there were angels in dark suits. Well, unless they also wore trench coats and liked U2.

3 paragraphs on Into The Night

1985, John Landis -- Netflix

It's remarkable to me how so many '80's films in the action genre took so little time or effort to create a believable established normal life for their protagonist. At the start of Into the Night we meet Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) who has insomnia, hates his mundane job, feels disconnected from his wife (whom he soon discovers is cheating on him), and has a general sense of malaise. This is all rather quickly dispensed and there's never any sense of connection established between Ed and the world he lives in. I get that this is the point, in part, but as a result the audience never connects to Ed. So when Ed is thrust in the middle of a murder/kidnapping gone wrong, and he finds the drop-dead gorgeous Diana (a radiant Michelle Pfeiffer) in the passenger seat of his car, Ed just kind of rolls with it. He asks questions that get him little to no answers, and he never really pushes for any. He's essentially just tagging along for the ride on the Diana crazy train. Ultimately the story wouldn't be all that much different without him.

The stolen jewels caper Diana finds herself in, as well, is ridiculously underdeveloped (or perhaps ridiculously overdeveloped). Diana knows she's in danger, but she's not sure who from. Meanwhile the Iranians who are after her, a bumbling quartet let by John Landis as head stooge, seem to be one step behind her every way, with no real logic as to how they found themselves there. Things only get more convoluted with the introduction of David Bowie as a ruthless assassin working for a Frenchman also after the jewels. Like any odd-man-in caper, Ed is thrust from one dangerous situation to another which he handles with sleepless indifference. But this isn't Insomnia, you rarely get the sense that Ed all that tired, instead he just seems struck with Goldblum-itis.

Landis was trying, and trying hard, to make a big-time romantic-action-comedy romp, full of nudity, violence, and sight gags but the plentiful gaps in logic keep it from succeeding, despite some likeable characters and a few fun set pieces. The film also is too inside-Hollywood at times, an elaborate scene on a film set provides a handful of groan inducing gags, meanwhile, in a fun-but-distracting bit of casting, many of the film's extras are played by Landis' behind the scenes buddies like David Cronenberg, Amy Heckerling, Rick Baker and Jim Henson. Also dragging the film down is a painfully '80's "contemporary" score from B.B. King, one of those atrocious phases where a great musician tries desperately to have is music be relevant to a then-modern audience by including whatever the music trends of the day were. Yet, the film is not unlikeable, it's certainly not unwatchable (Landis was clearly in love with Pfeiffer as there's not a single shot she doesn't look fantastic in), and it's even somewhat entertaining, it's just that it's not very good.

3 paragraphs on Cyrus

2010, Mark and Jay Duplass -- Netflix

Cyrus teeters the line so finely between comedy and drama, that to some it will seem fully one or the other. I see it as a comedy full stop, but I can easily see how someone would find no humour in it at all. Cyrus isn't a dark comedy, in the traditional sense, but it is an emotional comedy, one where the characters leave everything out on the table to be cared for or abused by one another, and there is much caring and much abuse.

John C. Reilley is John, a freelance editor and long-time divorcee who has given up on life. His ex-wife, played by Catherine Keener, is still his best friend, which describes just how sad a state he's in. She forces him out to a house party to hopefully meet someone, which at one time was his element, but now he's just another awkward loser. Yet he does manage to have an impact on Molly (Marisa Tomei), to whom he quickly lays his heart bare, and she embraces it fully, but she's less than forthcoming with him. John, in a fit of curiosity follows Molly home, where he has an encounter with Molly's son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus is obviously intelligent, but reclusive, socially awkward, and makes John feel uneasy. Molly and Cyrus have an uncomfortably close relationship, a she homeschooled him entirely and he attended college through on-line courses. They have their traditions and routines which John sees at best awkward and at worst wholly inappropriate. Soon John begins to suspect Cyrus is trying to interfere in his quickly blossoming relationship with Molly, and he's torn between fuelling his paranoia or giving the 22-year-old kid some leeway.

Hollywood relationship comedies have trained us to expect characters to be stupid, to blow things out of proportion, to see only what the script wants them to see to further the comedic conceit. Instead, Cyrus pulls back at every potential occurrence for misunderstanding and grounds the situation appropriately. While perhaps never achieving the laugh-out-loud hilarity some comedies seek, Cyrus still amuses consistently, all while coming from a very relatable core. When John tells Molly that he hates her son, as a stepfather myself, that's an immensely powerful scene, yet it's also surprisingly funny, and Molly's reaction is completely natural, sensible even. These aren't poorly drawn facsimiles of people, they behave in a way that seems like they've thought through the situations they are in and react and speak accordingly. More than I liked the film, I appreciated it a great deal for how it trusts its audience to connect and relate with its characters as real people.

3 paragraphs on Dinner For Schmucks

2010, Jay Roach -- Netflix

If Dinner For Schmucks was made in the 1970's it would have starred Peter Sellers in the Steve Carrell role (and perhaps Peter Sellers in the role of every schmuck at the party), and whomever the Paul Rudd of the 1970's was in the Paul Rudd role as the likable yet self-centered straight man. It would have been one of Sellers' lesser vehicles, but memorable for a climactic sequence of mayhem... much like The Party. Actually Sellers played the Paul Rudd role in The Party... Point being, it's the epitome of screwball comedy.

The film starts off with a ludicrous conceit - which would befit its origin as a French comedy - in which Rudd, in order to get a promotion, must attend a party with his boss and workplace contemporaries, everyone bringing with him or her an idiot, eccentric or oddball of the foremost order as entertainment. In the typical meet-cute of straight comedies, Rudd meets Carrell by way of running him over, and learns of his hobby, making intricate dioramas using dead (and stuffed) mice. The absurd situation doesn't sit well with Rudd's moral center, but he doesn't see any other options, which leads to contention between him and his girlfriend. Carrell's sudden infliction upon Rudd's life throws everything into increasingly absurd chaos and the odd couple buddy comedy runs through the lengthy middle act.

Of course, Rudd's moral fiber wins out once he begins to understand Carrell's eccentricity, and he sees a true kinship with Carrell just in time for the dinner party that seeks to poke fun at his new friend. The party is a surprisingly brief third act, but stacked with tremendously amusing performances from Carrell, Zach Galifianakis, and Chris O'Dowd as a blind swordsman. The party ends in anarchy, and the film resolves quite sweetly - befitting its origin as a French comedy. It's not a laugh-a-minute comedy, as there are more than a few stretches of pathos and, yes, a montage, and it's neither groundbreaking nor provocative. It is however solidly acted with plenty of charm that carries it almost solidly through it's 20-minutes-too-long 2 hour running time. For better or worse, it's an old-fashioned character-based scripted comedy, the kind that seem to be relegated to either kids movies or foreign films these days.

Fright Night

1985, Tom Holland -- Netflix

I've always mistaken Fright Night for Monster Squad, two classic horror movie homages produced in the 1980s, a time where I really wasn't old enough to watch horror movies (or at least was protected from watching them). Even now I still get them confused, to the point where I started watching Fright Night on Netflix for the first time a few weeks back and was wondering why Shane Black wasn't named as a writer in the opening credits. I know precious little about Monster Squad, and knew even less about Fright Night, except that many of my contemporaries had fond memories of both films, though I hesitate to call either a "cult classic".

Unlike the more garish horror films in the gore-splatter vein of Friday the 13th, Hellraiser and A Nighmare on Elm Street series, Fright Night has stayed pretty far under the radar for an 80's horror film. That it is, in part, a Hammer Horror homage and also somewhat lighthearted probably keep it from staying a relevant part of the discussion of horror films of the era. That, and, well, it's an awkward film.

The story in Fright Night is fundamentally sound: Charlie - a teenage kid who loves watching the weekend horror revue on TV while making out with his girlfriend (but never gets past first base) - believes his neighbour is a vampire and enlists the local horror revue TV host, faded 60's cinematic monster killer Peter Vincent, to help kill him. The first problem with the film, however, is there's no suspense since it is revealed rather quickly that the neighbour is indeed a vampire. Any ambiguity is dispensed with and the Rear Window parallel which plays out less-than-subtly in the opening 15 minutes is forgone.

The second act spins its wheels as it tries to recover from the loss of tension. While Chris Sarandon's smarmy vampire plays with a petrified Charlie like a cat with a mouse, Charlie's friends go to Peter Vincent - who initially rejected Charlie's request for help - in hopes that he can convince Charlie that vampires aren't real. Of course, by the end of the second act, Vincent has proved Charlie correct and is scared out of his mind. Charlie's friends, still skeptical are attacked by the vampire and Charlie must find it within himself to confront him.

The third act plays out better, if fully melodramatic in that '80's way, as things turn continue to turn sour and Charlie's enlisted hero, though less than heroic, musters the courage to join him in his fight. Roddy McDowell's turn as a faded cinematic monster killer is played nicely but his arc is poorly designed, especially the incongruity of him getting fired from his TV gig then appearing on it again at the resolution of the film (it's rather a pointless bit, but apparently necessary for him to be desperate enough to help Charlie out?)

The film uses classic vampire tricks that have pretty much forgotten in these days of the action-and-sex vampires like Buffy, Blade and True Blood. Turning into a bat, the ineffectiveness of crosses by unbelievers, and, as a major plot point, the psychic allure that vampires use to draw the opposite sex to them and control them.

While passably entertaining, it's tone, which wavers between mild spookiness and tongue-in-cheek homage, never solidifies and it never comfortably settles into a proper storytelling rhythm. There's no real scares, certainly not for a modern audience anyway, the character of "Evil Ed" is beyond annoying (his 2 minute "death" sequence is the apex, having that typical 80's "let's linger on the effects because we paid so much for them and boy aren't they impressive" feel, as he transitions from wolf to human form) and I was never actually clear on his relationship with Charlie. Chris Sarandon's vampire is more sleazy than scary, and once I realized that Charlie's girlfriend was Amanda Bearse - the shrewish neighbour on "Married With Children" - I couldn't see her as sexy and vamped-out.

I'm not usually one to encourage or endorse remakes, but there is a core here that could be better explored and exploited by a couple of rewrites and a more assured directorial hand. A remake is ready - starring Colin Farrell in the vampire role and former Doctor Who David Tennent as the Peter Vincent character - so it will be interesting to see whether it can improve upon the original or if it will fall into more modern traps of going too comedic or too dead-teenagery.

Monday, July 18, 2011

3 Grumpy Paragraphs: Thor

2011, Kenneth Branagh (really ken, didn't you learn anything from Frankenstein?!?) -- cinema

I really wanted to like it, really i did !! I wanted to be woo-ed by Asgard, be tossed into a magical-née-science world of gods and monsters. I wanted Ken to inject his Shakespearean background into the Asgardian world with costuming and set dressing and mannerisms. Instead I got, and I should have expected it, plastic-y action figure costumes (you can imagine Micronauts wearing these costumes; where WAS Acroyear??), set dressing out of computer and masserisms better left for Asgard 90210. I also wished I could have seen things better. I have to blame the small theatre screen and crappy projector (or maybe just my bad eye) but even the expected crisp CGI seemed washed out and fuzzy. So no eyecandy love for TBIT.

Midgard. I still don't get the whole rom-com aspect of Dr and the Demi-God. I like a chick-flick more than the next guy but really, was this the place for it? Hit him with a car do me wrong, hit him with a car twice, do you wrong!! If it wasn't for Kat Denning cracking me up, I would have snored through these scenes. And don't get me started on the buddy story.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't expecting The Dark Knight. But I was at least expecting The Hulk. OK, really I wasn't expecting anything but hoping for a good flashy superhero romp. I don't even feel I got that. I would have just liked more weight to the aspect that these characters were godly, even being so much as the templates for whom the vikings worshiped. I guess I just wanted the story bigger, more impressive. I don't even have the energy to describe how much I liked some performances, like Elba and Stellan Skarsgård.

Bonus paragraph !! I'm Thor, I'm Thor !! You forgot your thaddle thilly.

(now read Graig's take)

3 paragraphs on Bridesmaids

2011, Paul Feig -- cinema

A lot has been made about the fact that Bridesmaids is largely comprised of an all-female cast, that it features - much like its Apatow-produced brethren - a fair amount of improvisation, and that it is, holy crap, funny. Not just funny. Hilarious. That it's co-written and starring Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig, whose SNL skits frequently border on the side of grating/annoying, isn't actually all that big of a surprise given her winning cameo/supporting performances in plenty of other Hollywood fare. She's capable of being subdued and relatable - an everywoman, if you will - without annoying voices or tirelessly repetitive gags.

Much has been made of Melissa McCarthy's breakout comedic performance, and she's (no pun intended, honest) larger-than-life to be sure, but Wiig is the actual breakout star, as she proves adept at being both the straight man and gag winner and carrying, rather effortlessly, a 2hr comedy feature. Of course she is surrounded by some great comedic talent, even if some, like Tim Heidecker and Maya Rudolph aren't really given much opportunity to show off. Though the women of the film are the spotlight, professional handsome boy Jon Hamm has a hilarious unbilled performance as Wiig's fuck buddy, and the IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd has a fantastic role as Wiig's love interest.

The film works in many genres of comedy, from juvenile gross-out humour, to slapstick, romantic comedy, buddy comedy, absurdity, wordplay, sight gags, even a little vaudeville (in Wiig's "walk the line" routine), but all of it is in service of her character's emotional journey as she tries to reclaim her life after a failed business, failed marriage and a friendship that seems like it's slipping away from her. There's a heart at the core of all the hilarity, and there's never a moment where it feels lost. The Apatow-fed revival of the R-rated comedy thanks to 40-Year-Old Virgin has been a solid one, but this ranks easily among the best of this new generation.

We Disagree (sorta): Thor

2011, Kenneth Branagh -- cinema (sans 3-D)

I look forward to David's review of Thor, because he outright hated it. It's been quite a few weeks since we went to see it but he seemed very passionate in his disdain, and, quite frankly, I don't blame him at all for not enjoying this film, because it is a totally not-good movie.

I've heard others bemoan the Earth/Midgard sequences of the film, those being the ones wherein a cast-down Thor interacts with Peter Sarsgaard, Kat Dennings and love interest Natalie Portman, who are a Professor and research assistants/students out documenting abnormal celestial phenomenon or somesuch. These sequences play out like a romantic action-comedy for the most part, and, as an admirer of the rom-com/chick-flick genre, it does it very well. But I fully understand those people who want none of that cheap, well-trod style of storytelling in their big comic-book action movie.

As a lifelong comic book obsessive, I have to state that I have absolutely no affection for the character of Thor and that I have very little awareness of his published history/histories. Quite frankly, I find the character boring, and the best he's ever been is as a fish-out-of-water punchline in the youth-oriented cartoon "Super Hero Squad". Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of the character in theory takes the character on an arc from self-involved, arrogant, selfish yet heroic and beloved warrior living in the shadow of daddy to a mature, wise, humbled hero, earning the love and respect of his father and ready at any moment to rule his people. I say in theory, because this journey takes precious little time, and the endpoint doesn't necessarily feel earned. It's basically all explained because he found love, spending a scant couple days with a Midgard woman who herself deigns to love a god.

The Asgard sequences, the etherial world in the clouds upon which the gods live, are quite gorgeously rendered, but at the same time bore me as much as any cartoon or comic-book iteration I've encountered in the past. This cinematic version seemed somewhat uninhabited, undeveloped. There's little sense of the Norse mythology the characters are drawn from, there's little sense of any grander scope to it all. The contention and battle with the frost giants is supposed to feel like a big Hollywood action set-piece, but as it's all digitally rendered, there's no tangibility to it, and story wise, it only serves a small role, mainly as a catalyst for the conflict between Thor and his father, and again between Thor and his brother Loki.

The familial matters of this film, the relationship between father and son and between brothers may have leaves, but fruits never grow. These should have been far meatier elements than the romance between Thor and Jane Foster, yet there given only a sliver of the attention.

As a story it's a failure overall, but what it does have going for it, and in spades, is charisma. The acting, universally, is fantastic. Chris Hemsworth one would easily believe is a god, seething charm out of every pore that isn't sprouting gorgeous blond follicles. Yes, despite not being gay, I developed an intense man-crush on Hemsworth in this film. I'm not sure if I was jealous of, impressed by, or simply attracted to him. Natalie Portman, who in any other film would command my attention in any scene here battles Hemsworth in the "who's prettier" battle and doesn't win. Kat Dennings plays the sarcastic Darcy effortlessly, while Tom Hiddleston's Loki pretty much does all the heavy dramatic lifting in the movie. Anthony Hopkins' presence wasn't nearly as distracting as I'd expected, at times he's even appropriately powerful to be considered top god. The Warriors Three, however, proved to be a waste of space in this film, serving no purpose other than to be Thor's buddies, so the minor attempts at including them in the bigger picture felt shoehorned in. Idris Elba's Heimdall, the stoic, imposing guard of the bifrost bridge to other worlds, was like the Boba Fett of the film, oozing cool, and tantalizing by his scant amount of screentime.

While Thor envisions a unique world in Asgard, it's not necessarily any different than those we've seen in Clash of the Titans or any other realm for higher beings. That the Earth setting is a small, middle-of-the-desert town somehow doesn't make the equally sparsely populated other world seem any more impressive. The entire film doesn't build to anything impressive as the big action sequences aren't all that well orchestrated or memorable, and the sword-in-the-stone component which seemed put in place for the Marvel Universe development towards an Avengers movie didn't pay off as well as it intended to.

Thor, as a film, seems to be the harbinger of the status quo for superhero films, where franchises and universe building are put into focus, and stories are put together by a committee to try and homogenize the end product to be as appealing to every film goer making for such a generic and forgettable cinematic experience.

(now read David's Take)

We Agree (sorta): Hanna

2011, Joe Wright -- cinema

Despite coming to the film late in its theatrical run, despite reading numerous reviews and hearing numerous people comment on it both positively and negatively, despite having played the Chemical Brothers' soundtrack on repeat for multiple weeks, despite my favourable response and keen interest after each viewing of the trailer, I was still quite surprised by Hanna. Hanna is... how best do I put this... very European in its sensibilities. It's greatest credit is that it's not a loud, obnoxious, hollow American style action movie. It's rather a stylish, at times meditative, but still hollow in some respects old-timey globetrotting action movie. In its heart it's a Bourne Identity/James Bond homage, merged with (as David, and its director Joe Wright, stated) a Grimm's Fairy Tale.

The opening sequence takes place in a remote wintry location. I'm an absolute sucker for films, action sequences specifically, that take place in winter settings. Far too few films take advantage of juxtaposition of violence contrasted with the stark-white beauty of a snowy landscape. Though he only utilizes the setting for the opening 20 minutes of the film, Wright does so beautifully... up to a point. The only folly in the film's style is a garish sequence involving a helicopter/CIA raid on Eric and Hanna's cabin, full of cheap-looking "night vision" and spastic editing, it's an ugly mole on an otherwise beautiful face... but more in the Cindy Crawford mole sense in that it doesn't completely detract from the beauty.

Rather quickly following, however is the film's most fantastic sequence, Hanna's escape sequence which is so perfectly edited in time with the Chemical Brother's thudding soundtrack. It's evident that Hill's crew found a really cool location to shoot in and they made perfect use of it.

As David mentions in his review, there are more than a handful of sequences that just stick in one's brain, and in that sense it's a memorable film. Not for any specific story element, not for any specific character element, it's fully style and sensibility which rule this film... some might find this isn't enough for them, that far too many questions are left unanswered, but in one sense I see this as a film you experience empathically. You're either tuned into it or you're not.

The film is, on the one hand, extremely cold emotionally, as nearly every character seems to have no sense of conscience, their moral compass spinning with the needle tip broken off. Yet, on the other hand, it's not a cold film at all. There's always a sense of one emotion or another driving a character, be it fear, pleasure, love, kindness, etc. Saoirse Ronan as Hanna plays a cold fish punch for punch as well as Cate Blanchett, but both at the same time play their characters as if choking down any emotional reaction, like they've been trained to.

Much like many an espionage/spy film from the '60's and '70's, there's a lot of eccentricity-for-the-sake-of-eccentricity in Hanna. Key among them is Tom Hollander's Isaac as the nefarious German assassin, an expert murderer whom Cate Blanchett's Marissa turns to to deal with Hanna in an unofficial capacity. Isaac is a deviant with vague sexual fetishes which likely tip both ways like a see-saw. He's got two died-in-the-wool skinheads as lackey's/boy-toys which adeptly describes the films wry, to the point of non-existence, sense of humour.

As this year passes, and the many garish and tedious exercises in CGI action cinema are forgotten, Hanna will remain one of the few that stays vibrant, if not actually growing in status in the aftermarket.

(now read David's Take)

3 paragraphs on Kung Fu Panda 2

2011, Jennifer Yuh - cinema (sans 3-D)

My reaction to Kung Fu Panda 2 was much the same as it was with its predecessor, mild enjoyment mixed with general indifference, but time has endeared the first film to me in my memory, and as the months have passed since viewing the second, so too has it been viewed more favorably in the cinema of my mind. I believed the first in the series to feel somewhat... slight. Perhaps, as an occasional watcher of classic Shaw Bros. style eastern action movies, this is a result of familiarity of style. But as time wore on, that's what warmed me to it, the understanding of its homage, as well as a greater understanding of what it contributes newly, namely a wonderful cast of characters, as well as beautiful animation and great all-ages entertainment.

The sequel, upon first (and currently only) viewing is as slight, even moreso. With exception of Po, the titular kung-fu panda voiced by Jack Black, the supporting characters all take a backseat, as both the A-story (Po's confidence issues) and B-story (Po's lineage) belong to the main character. Only the villain - a nefarious, wanna-be conqueror peacock Shen, voiced by Gary Oldman - and Tigress, voiced by Angelina Jolie, get anything resembling character exploration. That said, the remainder of the Furious Five, Master Shifu, additional masters voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Haysbert, Shen's lackey voiced by Danny McBride and his oracle voiced by Michelle Yeoh all fill out the surrounding film nicely. Po's dad (here, finally revealed in an essential plot point to be his adoptive father) voiced by James Hong is great but, considering the prominence of that B-story, doesn't have a large enough role, nor do the Furious Five have enough to do.

Despite the rather narrow focus on a singular character, the film, and series, is ceaselessly charming. Ancillary works -- like the Kung Fu Panda Christmas special from last season and the Secrets of the Furious Five bonus disc which came with the first movie's DVD release -- have built the world of Kung Fu Panda beautifully, to the point where its become an identifiable and welcome franchise that can continue to entertain its audience as it ages while welcoming new, younger viewers as well. Apparently Dreamworks is looking at a six-film series total, which, if quality persists, isn't a bad thing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: Hanna

2011, Joe Wright (from Atonement and Pride & Prejudice to this? neat!) -- cinema

I admit, most of the images I saw of Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, I was thinking she was going to be Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. I also heard all the comparisons to faery tales and was thinking, "Is Red Riding Hood also about a girl who knows how to kill?" Given that I also had other movies about people who kill real good on the mind (upcoming "reviews" of Knight & Day and Killers) I can be forgiven for a bit of confusion about the matter.

Hanna is style. I won't go so far as to say it was style without substance but it is sort of lacking in the engaging plot. Months later I left with pretty much what I was left with a few short hours after I saw the movie. Memories of the forest her father was raising her in (the woodcutter?), memories of the breakout scene (they shipped her to Arizona that quick? Er, pay attention TBIT) and the final kill-the-evil-queen battle in the enchanted forest. They are all so well done, the scenes along with the great music choices were long lasting.

But I think they could have focused more on a girl who wanted to be real, who wanted to be normal. We were never shown a normal life that she wanted to attain. Yeah yeah, that was the point -- there is no normal -- but I would have liked for her to see some mundanity and be given the choice whether she wanted to attain it or not. We didn't need some happily ever after but a little expression of ever after would have been nice.

(now read Graig's take)

3 Short Paragraphs: Limitless

2011, Neil Burger (best known for The Illusionist, no not the animated one, the one that was not The Prestige) -- download.

I loved Flowers for Algernon, which I am always astounded to find out was only a short story because it took my high-school slacker self ages to get through. But I love the idea of ... well, getting smarter without all that annoying time and book work. I know I have tons of information in my head and as I get older it becomes more and more difficult to access. I could write such astounding novels, draw & paint brilliantly and probably direct an Oscar winner or two. But alas I am saddled with the same brain as the main character, Eddie Morra. And yes, brains influence personality.

Imagine taking a pill that can allow you to just connect the dots. Its not about instantly attaining knowledge, its learning to make due with what you have -- brilliantly. But of course, it wouldn't be a parable if there wasn't a cost. Of course, if you were THAT smart, couldn't you find a way to actually think through the cost? If there is a limit, can you just solve the problem that keeps you from ... everything?

Besides this movie wishing to be the new Fightclub, stylistically, and not really succeeding I did rather enjoy it. There are cute little things he does with his ability, like decorate a crappy apartment with crap, but stylishly. Smart people do things like that; they make do wonderfully with what they have. Hmmm, I already said that. A smarter person wouldn't repeat himself. In the end though, I found his "ultimate goal" a little limiting. Really, politics? Meh.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We Disagree: Jennifer's Body (1 short paragraph)

Though I'm not sure if it's what Diablo Cody and co. intended, Jennifer's Body comes off as an exceptionally sloppy, low-rate Buffy riff in the horror-comedy genre. Amanda Seyfreid schluffs off the ditsy blond of Mean Girls well enough to venture into nerd/hard-ass territory, but Megan Fox and her toe-thumbs are given overwrought, ungainly dialogue to wade through, and unclear direction on what exactly the character/demon's purpose is. As far as high school horrors go, it rounds the bend from smart to socially awkward autistic.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

3 Short Paragraphs: Jennifer's Body

2009, Karyn Kusama - Netflix.

I originally saw this in the theatre when it came out and really enjoyed it. I thought it was a nice twist on the usual teen sex romp horror flick with some catchy dialogue ala the short lived trend generated by Diablo Cody. Smart, mouthy teens speaking in none too realistic pop-culture thick dialects is something I have enjoyed since Buffy. And, yeah full disclosure, I like Megan's skank factor. I decided to watch it again because it was something recent on netflix and also to see if it held up to a second viewing.

It does. It still struck me as smart and catchy. I like the atypical opening and over-dialogue. What I didn't like as much this time round was Jennifer. She is such a bitch and while I won't say she deserved being sacrificed by loser hipster satanists, I sure wasn't as sympathetic as I was in cinema viewing. Its not surprising that a demon is able to body ride her back to life; they are a good fit. And after years of passive-aggressive abuse at the hands of her friend, Needy is finally able to react, albeit it in a final, violent way.

I found myself thinking about how much this wasn't Twilight. Both take place in the north west right? Both are about monsters going to highschool. But this probably took place on a side of town that Cullen wouldn't visit unless he broke his human blood fast. I guess I prefer my monsters a little less sparkly and more skanky.

3 Short Paragraphs: Dylan Dog, Dead of the Night

2010, Kevin Munroe (from bathurst, NB?!?) - download.

Yeah, Dylan Dog. Let me preamble by saying its based on an italian comic book that I have never read. But its the sort of source material I love -- a normal guy who is mixed up in the world of supernatural even though he is mostly a mundane. Think of John Constantine trading his trench coat for a red shirt and sports jacket. I didn't read a page of these comics but to be blunt, I think only the die-hard fan would like this movie. Or loathe it more than I did for ruining their hero.

Simple supernatural world where there are humans and there are undead. Undead means everything not human: vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. Seems to be based on a 7 year old's view of monster movies. If Dracula and Frankenstein come back from the dead and the Wolfman was created because the guy was attacked, he must have come back from the dead too, right? But they are alive enough for the vamps and weres to have children... Yeah, this was only one element of what I disliked about this movie.

Its just bad. Bad continuity. Bad acting. Decent set dressing but no real use of the world of New Orleans. Plot ambles all over the place, like the zombies, but with less panache. Is it dark? Is it satire? It doesn't know. I know I am getting older because I find myself yelling at the screen with too many, "Why the fuck did they just do that?!" Why did I persevere through my cinavia issues, I will never know.