Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rewatch: Predators

2010, Nimród Antal (Kontroll, Armoured) -- Netflix

Really, the thing about now doing Rewatch posts is to quickly summarize some of my feelings in rewatching a movie, soon after rewatching it. I waited too long for it on this one, but a few things have stuck with me.

The first thing is that I liked it much more the second time round than the first time. The re-use of the jungle setting and ensemble cast of combat ready killers does not bother me as much as normally with the "do what we already did" aspect of many sequels. This time, we have a bunch of disparate killers, random people chosen for their ability to survive and kill -- from wars, from armies, from crime syndicates, etc. They don't like each other but with the help of a natural leader-ish type (Adrian Brody as an American mercenary. Adrian Brody?  Yeah, I know, never woulda thunk him for an straight up action movie but it kinda works) they band together realizing they are not only being hunted, but they aren't on Earth anymore.

The usual faces of action are absent, but for Danny Trejo, and are supplanted by Alice Braga (sniper), Topher Grace (psycho), Walton Goggins (great name! serial murderer) and a few others. They not only have to survive being hunted but also figure out a way off the planet. That last bit is just not realistic; there is no way they could fly a ship, even considering they want to make use of a "original predator" who has been taken captive by bigger, stronger versions of his own people.  But that is blown out of the water so they can have some predator on predator action.

That said, the "new" predators they introduce are rather cool, all amped up, like comic book versions -- bigger, stronger, more evolved than any we have seen in previous movies.  They are more unique from each other. But even so, they seem to get their asses kicked quite easily all things considered.

The one plot element I didn't get the first time around, and don't again this time, was the Laurence Fishburne character. He is the sole survivor of many "hunting seasons" having hid himself inside some abandoned alien machinery. At first he seems to be helpful but quickly he is proven to have survived by sacrificing others and stealing their gear. Once that revelation is with us, they immediately kill him off. Huh? Waste of a sub-plot if you ask me. Still not sure how that ended up like that.

All in all, its a decent addition to the Predator collection of movies, though not the reboot the producers were hoping for. I gather it didn't do well, as it has gone mostly silent since, but apparently there was an announcement sometime this year. I don't think it was strong enough to warrant it as the reboot of a franchise.

3 Short Paragraphs: Oculus

2013, Mike Flanagan (Absentia) -- download

It kind of bugs me that, now, when they do flashbacks to 11 years ago, it is not the distant past but soon after I arrived in Toronto. So, pretty recent to me. Still the current phase of my life. But in the movies, it all looks pretty ancient. Yes, old. Ugh. Clothes dated, styles dated and they appear to be living in houses and driving cars from when they were just invented.  Was 2003 really all that different from now? I agree that 1974 was probably very different looking than 1984. But has all that much changed since 2000, beyond technology? Is not noticing a sign you are getting *sigh* old?

Oculus takes place now and 11 years ago, Now with siblings Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim reconnecting when he is released from an asylum. He was there since Then. And Then is the two as kids, with their mom (Katee Sackoff) and dad (Rory Cochrane).  The Now kids need to destroy a mirror that killed their parents and ruined their lives. The Then kids experience the purchase of the mirror and how things go really really wrong. We get both views through a decent merging of realities, memories blending and bumping into now. That is the mirror, with its nasty way of making you not quite experience what really is going on, until you die or kill or both.

There is a typical trope here, with the Artifact of Doom haunting the family, making dad all obsessed and abusive while mom becomes obsessed in her own housewifey way. The kids are pretty much left alone by the mirror and/or the haunting ghost image that occasionally appears from it. So, dad kills mom, Tim kills dad, Tim gets locked away, both grow up. Kaylie spends the decade planning how to destroy the mirror, and record all the details for people to see, so she is not seen as plain crazy like her brother. The trouble is that her plan is so convoluted, she doesn't see when the mirror begins to fuck with her, making her think she is doing things against it, when really they are doing things against themselves. Its rather inventive but I was disappointed that Kaylie never got the idea the mirror could derail her plan so badly, that she never even considered that it already was. So, the moral is that you never try to inventively kill an Artifact of Doom --- you work with a bunch of people to blow the fuck up, from afar, out the range of Evil.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What I Am Watching: The Leftovers, The Strain, Witches of East End

From level of intensity, lightest to heaviest, I am watching all three of these in chunks as downloading tends to lend itself to, one episode here, another couple there.

Witches of East End is something we knew about but never even attempted to see. Who needs another CW level show, young beautiful people mixed up in magic and myth. Surprisingly its not related to the The Witches of East Wick, which I keep on forgetting and having to edit out. It actually borrows more from Practical Magic (book and movie with Sandra Bullock) than it does the movie with three witches and and roguish Devil, which became its own terrible TV show back in 2009. It is about familial magic and the bonds between people. And love triangles. And sex. And some tenuous connection to Norse mythos.

Based on a popular novel by someone more attuned to YA fiction, the first episode actually is pretty decent. Love triangles, quirky dialogue, and fun magic. The dialogue was actually charming, no not Charmed charming more Buffy charming. OK, that was a lame attempt at a segue but, BUT, there is a reason we call this show "the next boobie show". You see, in our household, we refer to TV shows that I mostly watch for ... certain features, as "boobie shows".  First there was Charmed and then there was Ghost Whisperer and now there is this one. Yes, Jenna Dewan-Tatum (Mrs. Magic Mike) has such lovely eyes; no really! They really are gorgeous. But where was I? Oh yeah, dialogue. They go for quirky, amusing quips and comments that are actually meant as dialogue between characters, not just for the audience. And I love that. So, it actually made me perk up while watching it (shaddup you) and interested enough to watch the coming episodes.

And that is where things begin to flop. Plot holes, terrible story lines, truncated time (meet someone, fall in love, watch him die, get over him -- all in three days), randomalia and emotional yoyo-s make me cringe and/or giggle almost every episode. This has become a wander-out-of-the-room type of show for me, as "plots" lose me and those eyes are not enough to keep me interested. We have had them told about their mystical powers, broken the love triangle for a new hate triangle, met new lovers, watched said lovers die, talked about long lost family members, have said family members instantly show up, etc. Basically all the attributes of a show that is dependent on a room full of writers trying to contribute something, anything. It ends up being all so random.

And let's not talk about the weird hentai tentacle porn/rape sub-plot.

Meanwhile, I knew I was going to enjoy The Strain.

Not only am I a fan of Guillermo del Toro but I have read and enjoyed the book series (show is adaptation) he wrote with Chuck Hogan. I never really get how co-writing works, but I usually assume one person has the bulk of the plot in mind and the other does the majority of the heavy lifting, the actual work of writing. Either way, it still felt like something del Toro would write. Its a vampire story but in the three novels, it goes from plague story (infection spreading) to zombie (a few survivors surrounded by the walking dead) to post-apocalypse (a world now changed for the worse) story. Its down all of my alleys. Which sounds dirtier than it is.

The show is being shot here in Toronto so I am a little ashamed with myself for not trying to be an extra. But you know, that whole lose job-looking for work-new job dominated my life this year. But it is still fun watching last winter's footage appear everywhere in the show, even when they are a bit obvious wandering into a building with ROM banners behind them. Toronto has a feel to it, that lends itself well to Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs that play heavily in the story.

I am enjoying it, but I am also a bit perturbed. It is following the book pretty damn well, but adapting to TV as well. But, it is not doing the serial story very well. Unless you intend on making a "mini series" (do they exist anymore?) you have to establish some sort of self-contained episodic story telling. This, well, it just plays one episode into the next. Each episode, for better for worse, is just leading to something big and each episode only gives us a bit more of what is going to happen. That can be a bit annoying, but for the fact that each episode is still pretty well done, with the gore and the monsters and the balance of the varied cast.

And this is how I like my vampires, horrific and monstrous.

Now, speaking of horrific, we have the deep seated pain and grief of The Leftovers. In this series, a Rapture style event has happened and 2% of the world just ... disappeared. Men, women, children and infants were there one moment and gone the next. No explanation, none ever found. It is three years later and the world is still recovering, the world still with its open wound, its loss and the ramifications of such a wide affecting event.

I found the show very heavy and difficult in the first few episodes. Everyone is living with some aspect of the event, whether they lost someone or they are involved in dealing with the messes left behind. Chief Garvey is our main character, who lost a wife to one of the cults that emerged after the event. His daughter suffers the loss of her mother, the change in the world around her and an awareness of how damaged her father has become. Everyone is just so much in pain, sometimes the show is almost unbearable. Grief, heavy and palpable as I have never seen it depicted before.

But the show expands, with intertwining stories about the cults, the infrastructure that has emerged in the aftermath (everyone can make a buck), the way everyone is dealing or not dealing and the pregnant anticipation that this cannot be the only event. What do the cults hope to accomplish? Who is the Dog Hunter? Why does Garvey black out? Can Holy Wayne actually hug the pain out of you? It is Lost comparable in often giving more mysteries then it ever hopes to answer.

But for me, its a story tellers tangible way of depicting unexplainable upset. Everyone seems to be left in this unending state of disarray, never completely understanding why they are the way they are. Some have good reasons, such as losing their entire families, while others are just absorbing the peripheral grief of the event. But everyone is affected, everyone is dealing. I often feel our entire world exhibits this now, all the time, with so much intangible stress around us, from world events, from the guilt of plenty, from family, from just living. This takes this feeling many people have and wraps it around an inexplicable event.

Monday, August 25, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Lucy

2014, Luc Besson (The 5th Element, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec)  -- cinema

Even if you include Bruce Willis in the mix, you can easily see that Besson loves to have a strong woman as the lead character. OK, she might need a bit of help, but she definitely stands out from the average heroine mindset. Nikita, Joan of Arc, The 5th Element, ...Adèle Blanc-Sec; whenever Luc takes the reins of the movie (as opposed to producing or writing), we should expect the female lead to kick some ass. Hell, even the bio pic of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratic leader in Burma who spent so much of her adult life in house arrest, could easily join this list.

In Lucy, Scarlett Johannson is a student in Taiwan who dates the wrong guy and ends up detained and forced to be a mule for mobsters. The blue drug, a little more indigo than the stuff in Breaking Bad, is a synthetic version of some chemicals fetuses use to grow their brain. A little is a good high, a lot is ... well, never before seen. We never know exactly why Lucy is delayed from her mule flight in a cell with nasty, abusive men who kick her in the stomach releasing the contents of the bag, but it jump starts her towards the mythical "more than 2% use of her brain". And with more brain, comes more control of one's body. She kicks ass getting out.

Yes, the idea that we only use a small percent of our brain and if we had more use, we would become gods, is a myth but this is specfic and it works here. In typical stylish Besson manner, we track the increase of dosage, the increase of brain function and all the fun that comes with it. Both frightened and inspired by what she has become, she is aware of the time clock in her metamorphosis -- if it doesn't kill her, she will definitely be trans-human by the end, by the time the metre hits 100%. She can control her body, her mind, other minds, other physical objects, see transmissions, understand... everything as the number increases. And in a trippy Kubrick-est, final experience she ... becomes.

Through all of this, Lucy is in control. Of course she is, she is more human then anyone ever has been. But so many of these stories, the expanded is always along for the terrifying roller coaster, never in full control, always fearful of where it will lead. Lucy knows that things will come to an end, a finality, so she has a plan, a goal that does not make her above humanity but its benefactor. Like the AIs in the movies of late, who become one with the technology, become everywhere and everything, Lucy expands beyond comprehension but leaves a bit of herself behind. I imagine, in the end somewhere out there, she will run into Samantha from Her.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Catching Up: Netflix TV Show Roundup

Tron: Uprising - season 1
Doctor Who - The Tennent years (seasons 2 - 4)
Luther - seasons 1 - 3
Red Riding Trilogy: 1974, 1980 & 1983
Star Wars The Clone Wars - season 1
Happy Endings - seasons 1 & 2


The "Catching Up" prefix on this site is reserved for those times where David or myself wind up so deep into our viewing lists but so far behind on our reviewing that we just have clear the docket.  Chances are most of these items we watched months (perhaps over a year, even) and now we're in the position of struggling to recall just what exactly we thought of the movie and/or show.  Presented in order of viewing.


I love Tron.  Tron is great.  It's not for everyone, but I get mesmerised every time I watch it.  I shared it with my stepson a few years back, around when he was 8.  He didn't get it.  I can't say I got it at that age (which was the age I was when it came out) but I was still dazzled.  The effects aren't quite as impressive as CGI today, but at the same time, it's a film that was created using a tremendously unique and labor intensive process that was never replicated, so it dazzles on its own merits.  Tron: Legacy wasn't the film the old fuddy-duddy Tron fans wanted, but I have a hard time figuring out exactly what they wanted or hoped for.  I for one, was equally dazzled by the deep, deep blacks and vibrant neons.  The liquid-like digital world of Legacy was beautifully realized and if the story and/or characters fell flat the visual marvel held it aloft, like the globe on mighty Atlas' back.

Tron: Uprising was Disney XD's first original program (I think), a bold effort at extending it's cinematic properties for teen-aged boys into an appealing television format.  Unfortunately, it failed miserably, which probably isn't surprising, given that the general consensus on Legacy, even from Tron fans, was that it disappointed or sucked outright.  Uprising acts as a prequel to Legacy, which ultimately extends a story the masses didn't care about in the least.  If it hadn't have been deep into production by the time Legacy hit/bombed, it likely would have been pulled altogether.

Within the world of Tron, the digital civilization inside the nebulous computer dimension, computers have developed beyond their programming into a form of sentience, while a new species of self-aware, self-generating programming have begun to rise.  The totalitarian force in place, led by Flynn's doppleganger, Clu, are trying to keep these programs from further growing, both as viable programs and in numbers, and is oppressing all of this digital society in order to do so.

Uprising largely is enjoyable across its 19-episode run, with a talented regular voice cast in Elija Wood, Mandy Moore, Emmanuele Chriqui, Lance Henricksen, Bruce Boxleitner, Tricia Helfer, Paul Reubens, Reginal VelJohnson and Nate Coddry, and some good short players, like Paul Sheer, Lance Reddick, Aaron Paul, John Glover, Donald Faison, and David Arquette among others.  The animation is jarringly unique, and at first a little unpalatable, but as you immerse yourself in its world, it's quite mesmerising.  There's an unreal texture to it all, like watching through a filter, but the surreality of it inevitably works.   Disappointingly the show's creators were rather toothless in story writing, and there are no real analogies to digital culture represented, it's more a singular take on how its young characters navigate their world of oppression and learn to reject the status quo.  The story is largely that of Tron training Beck into a guerilla resistance fighter, but the main problem is the story constantly keeps hitting the notes of Beck's rejection of Tron's teaching, and the two break up and get together again practically every other episode.  It's frustrating the lack of progression the show makes, even more so when you realize at episode 19 that that is it.  It should have progressed much further in the story (and had they known it was a finite series I'm certain a better story would have been told).  It's strongest points are the character connections to one another, as well as some pretty enjoyable action sequences every episode, while the weakest are its repetitve elements.  It is rather forgettable, but I'm tempted to dip into it again just for its dose of visual pop.


Entering Doctor Who is at once daunting and utterly easy.  On the one hand there's 50 years of history to the character, hundreds of adventures, over a dozen different doctors, and a relatively dense mythology.  On the other hand, most of the adventures are stand-alone or requiring only a base amount of back-story (usually delivered within the adventure) and one only need enter with a healthy suspension of disbelief and a tolerance to BBC's modest effects budget to have a good time.  I watched some Doctor Who repeats on TV Ontario (our provincial version of PBS) as a pre-teen, mostly Tom Baker and Peter Davidson, but in a slapdash fashion so that I rarely saw every part of a story arc.  I was perpetually lost, but still made the effort.

I watched the Fox/BBC TV movie/pilot co-production back in the late 90's with a group of Whovians but still felt like an outsider, and when the Doctor made his triumphant return in the form of Christopher Eccleston, I actually invested myself in the whole season (airing on CBC made it readily accessible).  But I lost track of the Doctor immediately after the Christmas special, when David Tennant made his debut and I didn't return until the hype machine of his departure hit.  I watched the three specials that ended his run (feeling lost once again) and climbed back on board the Tardis with Matt Smith (at least for a year or so).  In other words, I skipped the Tennant years almost in their entirety.  Eccleston brought me back in and I wound up loving Smith's Doctor rather quickly so I didn't feel much a need to backtrack... particularly with the switch of showrunners between the 10th and 11th Doctors.

But with Matt Smith's announced departure last year, and the grand "Day of the Doctor" celebrations, I felt that I should give the Tennant years a chance.  He's considered the people's Doctor, universally loved, even if he wasn't everyone's favourite.  I went into the Tennant years with a sour attitude and an almost determined focus not to like him, but I did.  I liked him quite a bit.  Rose Tyler, though, I don't care much for.  Same with Rickey (though Mickey is okay).  Rose's mom was fun though, but I didn't like the concept that Rose wasn't just the Doctor's companion but the love of his life (at least the love of that life).  Donna was quite a surprise as a companion, someone ill-equipped for interplanetary travel and diplomacy, but with a grander purpose in the scheme of things.  Martha got majorly screwed over by the Doctor in the wake of it all, but becomes one fierce character.

While I still prefer Smith's Doctor most, the Tennant years are far more consistent creatively.  Some of finest episodes in Doctor Who's entirety happen during Tennant's run, with "Blink" being incredible mini-movie that just so happens to feature the Doctor. Any episode that features former companion Sarah Jane Smith (and K-9) are amazing (I love how happy Tennant gets when he's with her, and the moments Sarah Jane shares with other companions) and the Face of Boe has a thoroughly satisfying arc through this run.  Tennant deals well with the anxiousness he feels towards his evil alternate, the Master, and being the last two time lords alive, Tennant's Doctor is desperate for brotherhood, while the Master only seeks his demise.  Perhaps, my favourite Doctor Who episode that explores the character's mythos is "The Next Doctor", in which a seemingly moribund Tennant meets an amnesiac calling himself The Doctor (played brilliantly by David Morrissey) in the late 1800s (he's a nifty, lo-fi analog, complete with his own companion, a "sonic" screwdriver which is just a screwdriver, and a TARDIS which is a hot air balloon) and wonders if he's looking at his own future self.  By the end of the journey, Tennant earns his finest moment, at the brink of regeneration, with tears of equal joy and sorrow, uttering "I don't want to go".  Matt Smith's long face, pronounced jawline, and pronounced pep are all shocking in the transition, but Tennant's vibrant smile coming out of Eccleston's grim visage was an equally bracing adjustment.  It just goes with the territory.

Luther was a show David told me to watch years ago, but there's no shortage of shows on my "to watch" backlog.  It took its time.  Three seasons combining for a total of 14 episodes, it wasn't intensive watching but it is, at times, and intense watch.

Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther of the Serious Crimes Unit is not a straight shooter.  He's got his own sense of morals and a penchant for bending the law.  He's not a corrupt cop, per se, but he's not a by-the-book one either, and it's this behavior that's always in danger of catching up to him.  John thinks he can bend the law to catch his perp, serial killers or perpetrators of major violent crimes, but as clever as he is, he's never thinking far enough ahead.

The first episode finds him investigating the murder of two rural Londoners, piecing all the clues together, and finding Alice Morgan guilty, but with only the barest of tangible evidence to back it all up.  Alice is a full bore sociopathic genius, and she winds up taking a shining to Luther as their cat and mouse game winds up in a draw.  She becomes equal parts guardian angel and devil in disguise for Luther, an ally and nemesis in the same package.  Their relationship is awkward and difficult, but matures and solidifies with every episode.  I disapprove of their relationship wholeheartedly which I think is what makes it so fun.  The first season is disheartening, the randomness and severity of the violence overwhelming, and the second season ratchets it up to an even higher degree, with two 2-episode arcs and a Luther embattled from all sides.

John is never for shortage of enemies, and allies are rarely good for John (or John isn't good for them) and there's a sense that John is constantly working at a deficit, but that's what makes it so compelling to watch.  Idris Elba plays Luther as cocky and cunning, tough and intimidating, but sometimes just not very smart, nor always a master tactician when working against his enemies.  Elba adopts a strut for Luthor that just seethes confidence, a man with no problem in the world, but his terminally pained face reveals otherwise. The formula of the show is pretty great, finding Luther and company always at a reaction point to whatever violence is being perpetrated that week.  As the audience we're always privy to what is happening but it takes a while, and some investigation (and occasional seedy dealing), for the police to catch up.  But once the perpetrator becomes known, the speed with which they are caught  definitely accelerates, it feels far more natural than the show's American cousins.

Luthor lives and breathes the London air.  You often hear about New York being a character rather than a setting, London is very much this in this show.  It's beautiful and menacing, forgiving and merciless, refined and run down, it promises everything and threatens to swallow them all whole.  It's definitely a UK show in flavour, but the byproduct of intensive irradiation of American police procedurals.  I love that the bad guys have guns and other weapons, but London police still do not carry firearms.  It makes for some heady confrontation and arrest sequences.  Worth re-watching, and begging for the promised film.  A prequel novel is also available.


The Red Riding Trilogy is comprised of three movies that in a way stand on their own but together form a whole, centred around a series of kidnappings, murders and police corruption in Yorkshire county in England.  The events of the series. while fiction, occur simultaneously with the real events of the Yorkshire Ripper (also referenced in the show), and the story pulls inspiration from notable events and figures of the times in construction of its story, lending it an eerie realism amid some of the more dramatically embellished parts of its story.

Based of the novels comprising the Red Riding Quartet by David Peace, the Trilogy starts with 1974, another little girl is kidnapped and the community is in an uproar.  Andrew Garfield stars as a up-and-coming reporter sent in to investigate.  As he digs deeper, he begins to see ties to past child kidnappings, and, face-to-fist, learns of the area's police corruption.  The more he digs, the more dangerous things become, as the local unscrupulous land developer seems to be connected to it all.  This first film is dreadfully intense, overwhelmingly so, and is produced very much in the style of 70's small-town cult/conspiracy films like The Wicker Man, complete with the total bummer of an ending.   It's incredibly well-made, the best looking of the trilogy, with director Julian Jarrold providing a very grimy, grey tone overall to the region, with spatters of vibrant colours or light poking through all the gloom and grey.  He also heavily uses darkness and shadows to great effect, and shooting on 16mm film only helped to sell the 70's aesthetic.

1980 picks up with the events of the first film a fading memory, focusing less on continuing the investigation started by Andrew Garfield's reporter, and instead looking back on the Yorkshire Ripper investigation when it appears he's struck again.  A London Assistant Chief Constible (Paddy Considine) is charged with forming a task force stationed in the region.  He had been there before, investigating events depicted in the previous film, an investigation he had to leave after his wife had a miscarriage.  So amid his delving into old Ripper case files, he can't help but dredge up his past investigation, learning that there may be a connection.  He's all too aware of the corruption among the region's police force, but underestimates just how far they will go to cover their tracks.  There's a sense of optimism to 1980 that 1974 didn't have, I think mostly because Considine's character is senior in the police hierarchy that he should be more effective at cutting through a lot of the corruption or working around it.  But the fact is he gets just as mired in it as Garfield's reporter character, inescapably so.  The use of peripheral and connective characters here is brilliant.  It is a disconnected story in procedural sense, of what is being investigated, but it starts to build the series' Yorkshire landscap in ways that don't just repeat what happened before.  If there's any let down in the plot, it's that Considine's character, set up to be "squeaky clean", has a vulnerable point in the form of an affair with a coworker which gives the forces of corruption leverage on him.  It's an unnecessary element, a little too cliche, and I think had he been utterly squeaky clean the oppressiveness of the corruption around him would feel even greater.

The Trilogy comes to a close with 1983, told from the perspective of David Morrissey's character, a Detective Inspector with a small part in 1974, and was part of the task force in 1980.  What makes this unique is he's a fully entrenched part of the corruption, but when children once again start to go missing his conscience starts to weigh down on him.  His investigation into the disappearances mirrors that of Mark Addy's schlubby solicitor, who reluctantly starts investigating after a casual meeting with a neighbour from his childhood home yields some curious coincidences to another case file of his.  Addy's father was a West Yorkshire policeman, and he'd long heard the rumours of his father's own corruption.  Just like Morrissey's DI, his conscience won't let him drop the case.  This third film switches between these two characters, with interludes featuring BJ, a male prostitute seen briefly in the shadows of the previous two movies offering insight into the darkest regions of Yorkshire.  This film deals head on with the child kidnappings, which sort of got scuttled to the side in the first film, and having little exposure within the second film.  Child abuse and its impact lead to the somewhat cathartic resolution of the Trilogy, but there's still no real happy ending.  The police corruption is never fully dismantled on screen (though you can see from the pieces placed how it might all crumble), which is dissatisfying and leads me to believe that there's still perhaps another film or trilogy waiting in the wings (or perhaps it's just the truth that the power corrupts, and that it's impossible to fully weed out).

Overall, the Red Riding Trilogy is fascinating, if somewhat dark and disheartening viewing.  I have to wonder if the creators of the recent HBO show True Detective were inspired by this, as there are a lot of similarities (though I would indeed say that I though Red Riding Trilogy was better, if only by a slight margin).  The performances are all quite amazing (particularly Garfield and Morrissey), and the weave of the overall Trilogy is something to take in, certainly unlike any other crime drama that I've seen.  I liked it even though it bummed me the fuck out.


Like many a fan of old, I too became quite disillusioned with Star Wars as a property.  Where once I was a purchaser of every new toy on the shelf, of every comic book, novel, magazine, soundtrack, and fast-food tie-in knick-knack,  it wasn't that the Prequel Trilogy failed to live up to expectations (which they did) that killed it for me, but the overwhelming glut of peripheral material the meant being a Star Wars fan should an all encompassing experience.  I soured on Star Wars in the build up to Episode II, and suffered through the remaining two movies (though, I did feel that Episode III somewhat redeemed the endeavour, but I'm not getting into that now) still desperately wanting to be a fan.

The brightest spot in Star Wars during the first decade of this millennium was the Cartoon Network Clone Wars shorts from Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky.  They featured all of Tartakovsky's great Samurai Jack-isms, and were excellent bite-sized nuggets of mood and action.  Basically it was the best parts of the Prequels without all that poorly-acted  melodrama, dry political manoeuvring, and silly Jar-Jar/C-3PO kid-bait.  I loved it.  So it was disappointing to me to see them trot out a new Clone Wars movie in the theatres as prelude to a new TV series that was a) digitally animated in a chunky, unappealing style, b) not directed or involving Tartakovsky in any way, and c) featured a new, young, brash (and, at least from previews, highly annoying) protege for Anakin in the form of Ahsoka.Tano.  Basically I thought they were even further gearing Star Wars towards a children's audience.

This is me eating crow.  Over the past few years, I have caught a random episode or five of The Clone Wars and found them to be not only tolerable but mildly enjoyable and surprisingly not patronizing.  I wasn't ready to give in to regular viewings though.  It was actually upon the recommendation of a coworker (a non-Star Wars nerd) that I decided to give it at shot, and what's more, make it family viewing with my 12- and 5-year-old.

I recall the reviews of the pilot/movie were underwhelming, and it's true, Ahsoka is crammed into being part of series and kind of grates from the get go (the sheer fact is she's Anakin's padawan and it's not even brought up in Episode III that he had one).  The plot of the film is thin, with the young Jedi's on a mission to rescue Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped son, but it features some absolutely cracking action sequences, including a wall climbing fire fight that's as stunning as anything seen in the live action films.  That sequence alone was enough for me to buy into the rest of the series.

The first season of The Clone Wars gets off to a slow start, in that there's plenty of action throughout each of the early episodes, but they feel like one-offs, and there's no cohesive glue.  Midway through the season the show starts exploring multi-part episodes, and gains more confidence in developing the characters beyond what we know of them from the Lucas films.  Ahsoka comes into her own as a realized character, Anakin is portrayed as conflicted in a much less ham-fisted way than the Prequels, and the first season gives many of the background Jedi and other characters more prominent roles.  The show even develops unique identities for the clone troopers like Rex and Cody, giving them each distinguishing colour markers on their uniforms.  As the first season goes on, it becomes less reliant on connecting itself to the original trilogy, and less concerned with bridging the gap between Episodes II and III, instead feeling more at ease to weave its own story, and make the characters and their relationships work (the Anakin/Padme thing still doesn't quite have much chemistry to it, so it largely avoids their dynamic in the first season.  Were I to bet at a secret affair without foreknowledge, it would've been Anakin and Ahsoka for sure).

There are some great episodes in the first season, all in the back half (like the episode where Rex and Cody root out the traitor in their midst, or the Ryloth Trilogy which tells a large story through three compartmentalized episodes), and by the end it's found its groove.  The Clone Wars fans out there have long said it's worth investing in, even for the lapsed and jaded Star Wars fan, and I'm inclined to agree.  The Prequels didn't destroy Star Wars, not irreparably anyway.  The concepts in Episodes I through III are all quite sound (as this io9 editorial observes), but Lucas' execution of the central story, Anakin's journey, is where it failed and fell apart through bad acting, poor direction, and unfortunate choices made.  Clone Wars the cartoon isn't focussed solely on Anakin, it's telling the story of the Clone Wars in which he is a character, and by making him a part of the ensemble, rather than building the whole series around him, it serves the franchise well, and actually gives the appropriate sense of scope to the fabled battles mentioned in the original films.


For a few years I was an avid daily reader of the Onion AV Club website, which was easily the best online source for cinematic and television criticism and pop-culture commentary.  It's still a pretty good site with great writers, but ever since the entire movie staff got poached by Pitchfork to form The Dissolve, it just hasn't been the same essential go-to source.  I'm more of a casual observer these days than a devotee.  That said, their television writing staff is tops online, if only because their opinions conform so often with my own it's kind of scary.  I barely have any quibbles with what they say (certain episodes of Community Season 5 notwithstanding).

For any reader of the site, you know AV Club champions certain shows, many of which align with my own viewing interests.  But one show they were constantly trumpeting, and then actively bemoaning the loss of, was Happy Endings.  Despite my trust in them as writers, I for some reason had an absolute mental block when it came to that show... I just couldn't see past it being a latter-day Friends knock-off and wouldn't give it's cast of attractive 20-somethings any leniency, despite having a mild crush on Casey Wilson from her short stint on SNL and enjoying Adam Pally's "Bro" appearances on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast.  I just had this stick in my craw about Elisha Cuthbert and another Wayans kid for some reason which I can't even justify now.

Suffice it to say, like the Clone Wars above, I was wrong.  Even more wrong I would say than I was about the Clone Wars, I would say.  Happy Endings comes out the gate strong (it's pilot is directed by producers Joe and Anthony Russo, who also did Community's pilot and paintball episodes went on to much acclaim with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, if you didn't know).  Live every network comedy, it's formed around the premise that Dave (Zachary Knighton) is left at the altar by Alex (Cuthbert) and resolving that the group of friends won't be damaged by it.  By episode 2, the gang is hanging out together with only a slight amount of tension residing between Dave and Alex (but this is because the more awkward moments are in episodes buried in the middle of the season as they were weaker and thus aired out of order as networks are wont to do... I wonder if they're in order on the DVD releases?).

The Dave-and-Alex thing crops up frequently through the first two seasons, not so much a "will-they-or-won't-they" but rather a "should-they?".  But even when those moments do come up it's never the center of an episode.  The episodes are almost always formed around things that have minor to no real consequences for the characters, which makes for a rather light and fun atmosphere to visit within.  I respect a show that actively diffuses any potential awkward situation and refuses to play the awkward-as-comedy game (though I certainly appreciate that kind of humour as well).  A favourite early episode deals with the artist illegally living in the crawlspace above Dave and Max's apartment (it's just a shame he wasn't a re-ocurring character) and a season 2 episodepresents one of the absolute best Halloween costume-as-comedy gags ever which interferes with both Max and Penny's abilities to pick up at a party (I won't spoil it because it's hilarious).

What works best for Happy Endings is how well-realized its characters are, and how well defined they are almost from start.  Alex owns her own store and is always up for a challenge, but she's also a variation on the dumb blonde.  She's not full-stop Phoebe airhead dumb or "white out on the computer monitor" stupid, just often slow to catch on or oblivious to deeper meanings and contexts. Unlike all the other actors, it takes a while for Cuthbert to ease into what her role is exactly.  Eliza Coupe plays Jane, Alex's sister, and she's my favourite character on the series.  Jane is a focussed, anal-retentive taskmaster, and is successful because of it.  But she's also got a party-girl history and a mean competitive streak, all of which the other characters toy with constantly.  Jane is married to Damon Wayans Jr.'s Brad, and their dynamic is incredible.  They have a playfulness that rings true to real couples, and they continually manage to avoid the stereotype of married couples whose spouse constantly irritates them. These two love each other and love everything about each other, especially the quirks that tend to annoy everyone else (it makes sense why they're married), and their sex-in-public troubles are a great running gag.  Brad is a goof, but with utter confidence in his goofing around.  He's not easily embarassed because he has utter belief in how cool he is, without being a dink about it.  Brad also has a tendency to drop his pants (sometimes in order to entice Jane, but just as often for fun or comfort).  Brad being black and in a mixed race couple comes up perhaps more than it would normally in real life, but the little struggles that Brad has with race are the only flaws in his armor.  Brad is best friends with Max (Pally), a gay man the show is determined to bust every gay stereotype with.  If the show falters at all early on it's with the constant repetition that Max is gay, but eventually they just settle into him being a gay character.  Max is a loafer, has no job (he eventually starts a limo company with an old '80's limo he buys), eats insane amounts of food, and is generally quite juvenile (he's generally the instigator for the really off-beat and goofy things that happen in the show).  The short romances they give Max all generally are pretty great, and speak to the character as a person seeking love and not hammering home gay cliches.  Penny (Wilson) is Max's BFF. They dated in high school.  Penny is a successful career woman, but terminally single because she constantly tries to change herself for her boyfriends.  Though the show never gets too deep into the characters' psyches, Penny is unhappy with herself so she compensates with a desperate need for attention.

The relationships these characters share with each other, and how they develop further throughout the series are all great, and it's a thoroughly good time.  It never gets to heavy even when it starts to focus in on the real problems these characters face.  There's always an aside or quip to undercut the drama.  That's kind of what you want out of a comedy show, quite frankly.  The first few episodes of the second season seem to hold back on the goofier elements of the characters and their collective quirkiness, as if they were trying to reshape the show for a new audience.  But by the Hallowe'en episode it returns fully to form and launches into great stories like Penny's jealousy when Max's other ex-girlfriend visits, Penny's efforts to change a guy instead of herself, everyone preparing for Brad and Jane's "Spring Smackdown", or Dave and Max dealing with the bully at the gay gym.

It's not a perfect comedy, and not as clever or outre as some, but the characters are great, it's warm, welcoming, and non-threatening.  I understand why its loss was so bemoaned.  It had life. But there's still season 3 for me to watch, so I'm not ready to bemoan it yet.

Friday, August 15, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Locke

2013, Steven Knight (writer of Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) -- download

Immersed in the movie making world, exposed to all sides of it, actors, cinematographers and writers sometimes become directors. Sometimes it works, sometimes its just a natural extension their ability as story tellers. If ever there was a prime example of how to present a writer's focus, it is Locke. This entire movie takes place in the car of Ivan Locke, as he drives from Birmingham to London to attend something very important to him. All the interaction is via his car phone. Its all dialogue, with a bit of visual play and beautiful cinematography (late night driving bokeh galore) tossed in for good measure, but really, its all Tom Hardy talking. Yep, another small movie that I absolutely loved.

If its important to you to feel all in suspense as to why he is driving, stop reading now. No? OK, Ivan Locke is driving because his child is about to be born. A child conceived after a one night stand with a lonely, likely unstable woman. And Ivan must be there; it is his responsibility. He is leaving behind a construction job that millions of English pounds are sunk into. He is leaving behind a wife and kids expecting him home for the football match. But this is his fuckup and he is going there to be an upstanding fellow, to be there for his child, as his father was never there for him.

Ivan is commendable. He is well spoken, calm and obviously very determined to do the right thing. Even at the expense of his job and family. Even so, he believes he can fix things. He can talk his foreman (Andrew Scott; Moriarty on Sherlock) through the concrete pour, over the phone, and soothe the bosses. He will tell his wife what he has done and why he is not coming home tonight; but he will return in the morning and they will make a practical plan to get past this. He is a man used to explaining difficult things to people and having them understand him. He is not a man who understands that sometimes, intentions be damned, things just fall apart. He definitely doesn't understand that maybe he isn't so commendable, as he is not there for the child, but really there for his own misplaced sense of honour. And a neurotic fixation on his own father's failings.

All of this is portrayed excruciatingly well by Tom Hardy, who leaves behind a dozen other defined characters for this small man. He talks, a faint accent and a determined voice, occasionally wiping his nose or chatting with the phantom in the back seat. He cracks, ever so slightly, as things normally under his control slide a little. His voice changes, he begins to swear, he begins to lose control. A writer now director with a wonderful actor give us all we need to understand a man who is changing due to one fateful act.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: The Machine

2013, Caradog W. James -- download

As I break into my digital copy of Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson, I am thinking about the trend of evil machine intelligence and what exactly that means. Is evil purely a human ideal or at the very least, is it reliant solely on how humans see the world? Can evil be redefined by the (artificially created?) intelligent species in question? Is it evil to be concerned about your own survival even at the cost of others? The Machine is a an indie movie that quickly accepts the idea of an active AI, then almost immediately corrupts it with human aggression. As I said, at least from a purely human point of view. From the machine point of view, it is just reacting logically to an aggressor.

Toby Stevens (the guy I keep on thinking is on Game of Thrones) is Vincent McCarthy, a scientist seeking out the best in AI research by offering turing tests to anyone who wants a grant. Everyone fails abysmally except Caity Lotz's (known as Black Canary on Arrow but I know her for the The Pact) modest thinking machine that she carries in a suitcase. But McCarthy doesn't have a grant, he has funding from the British military, at war with China, who want intelligent androids to fight the war for them. They can make the bodies but need the mind to be more ... human.

While this movie suffers from the usual indie traps of inexperience and plot expedience, I was able to overlook the faults and just enjoy it. The director, or at least artistic director, obviously had seen some of the best examples of AI fiction, such as Ghost in the Shell, as the visual depictions of the creation of the android are brilliant. Rather than focusing on the disembodied mind of an AI, like in Transcendence, we see it transposed to the initially childlike android. It actually is kind of annoying that the initial successful AI (the one that passed the Turing Test) is completely forgotten about in favour of the sexual/sexless android. Smooth bodied, no nipples, but obviously female both disturbs and attracts the humans around her. We actually feel the loss as she is corrupted by her owners, becoming the war machine she was built to be. But, of course, they don't take into account what she wants. Luckily, we don't end up with a world encompassing AI overpower like Transcendence but just a handful of amped up super soldiers and a rather naive updated version of Cherry 2000.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Only Lovers Left Alive

2013, Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers) -- download

Again, I am astounded to see that a director has only done a handful of films since his Hollywood lauded Ghost Dog. He was one of the directors, with Night on Earth, that dragged me out of my narrow focus on only Hollywood movies or black & white classics. Yes, he is a weirdly accessible indie dear to the film world, but he still represented something different out there. And with the last film of his we saw in the theatre being 2005's Broken Flowers with Bill Murray, I expected there to have been a spate of other films, as I slipped out of my "interesting movies" phase. Nope, just The Limits of Control. And then this one.

That Jarmusch is doing a vampire flick is ... interesting. But, whoah, does he really dig into a core element of being a vampire. This is not an origin flick or a romance flick (though it is painfully romantic) or a horror or any of the other aspects of vampire culture  that have been explored in the last decade's resurgence of the genre. This is about immortality.  This is about being around for a long time, about seeing the world as us in our quick races towards death cannot behold. This is about appreciating the time you do have.

Adam (Tom Hiddlestone) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are old, really old. Adam lives in dilapidated Detroit with his old guitars, reel to reel tape machines and Tesla car -- made from Tesla the scientist technology, not Tesla the electric car company. Eve lives in Tangiers with her books. She is old enough to know an object from its touch, to guess its age and its history from the way it feels. Adam is depressed, with how the world is going, with how little impact he and his kind can have on us, the zombies. In slow, deliberate dialogue Eve and Adam discuss his situation (she takes a night flight to the US) and highlight exactly how exquisite it must be to live for hundreds of years, to take the time to really enjoy all that is around you, even if it is only ever in the dark. There is so much music, so many books, so much culture. If you have the time, you can absorb so much. But there is that annoying drinking blood thing, which requires craftiness if you don't want to kill people or contract all the blood born diseases we collect these days.

Monday, August 4, 2014

We Agree: Edge Of Tomorrow

2014, d. Doug Liman -- in theatre

My moviegoing experience was sullied by a pair of giggly teenagers interested more in killing time than watching the movie.  About 30-40 minutes of the feature were interrupted by cel-phone glare, barely-whispering, and lots of girlish tittering ill-synced to the events on screen.  I stepped up (since no one else was going to) about 20-minutes in to chide the ill-mannered children to either STFU or leave.  A minute or two later they opted to leave, but returned after another 10 minutes before leaving again another 10 minutes after that and talking loudly outside the door for another five.

I'm not going to get on my rant about teenagers (I didn't like older kids when I was a child, I hated being a teenager, I disliked most of my peers when I was a teen, and my impression of teens hasn't changed much since), but Jesus Christ the lack of respect on these kids not only for the people around them, but for the film on screen.  I digresst.

So my Edge of Tomorrow viewing got off to a bad start, and by the time I could invest in the characters and the plot, I was already behind, missing some crucial details to enjoying the full immersive experience (little details are what make great sci-fi).  You've heard it described as a sci-fi/action Groundhog's Day, and verily, it is exactly that.

David breaks down some of the plot in his review, but suffice it to say, this film actually has a rationalization for why Tom Cruise's Lt. Col. Cage returns to the same starting point in time every time he gets killed.  Not only does this looping have an explanation but it also has a purpose.  Cage has accidentally tapped into the alien enemy's key weapon, which has given them the ultimate tactical advantage.  With the guidance of Rita (an impressively tough Emily Blunt), who had the same thing happen to her in the only battle humanity has won against the invading aliens, it's trial by error training as Cage goes from being a soldier in rank only to being the fiercest warrior in the field, one repetitious day at a time, death after death after death.

It's an impressive feat of storytelling, in script and performance, to put together a story where one character advances and grows while all the other characters, by mandate, have to stay exactly the same.  At the same time, each day Cage spends with Rita, he feels closer and closer to her, as he mirrors her experiences, and he learns how to extend his time with her.  Rita keeps her distance but understands what he's going through, and how close he's getting to her, each repeating day, without being able to reciprocate.  As well, watching as Cage masters how to communicating effectively and efficiently with every passing repetition, is part of the film's joy.

It's a tremendously enjoyable film, but not a flawless one, and any real scrutiny will start to poke holes in character logic and story sense.  I also have to say I'm tired of the "hive mind" aliens that seem to dominate the blockbuster these days, the type of enemy who only require one ship to be taken out and it shuts them down ... Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and the Avengers are the two most notable offenders but there are plenty more.  It's such a trite way to end a war.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Silent House

2011, Chris Kentis, Laura Lau (Open Water) -- download

This is a remake of the 2010 Spanish (Uruguay) movie La Casa Muda, which was supposed to part of our last Days of Halloween run but dropped out because of terrible sub-titling. Its made by the people behind that floating-while-waiting-to-be-eaten-by-sharks movie, Open Water. The original writer returns for this English language version. Both are shot in single take style (as opposed to really, truly one take), thus in real time, inside a house that holds a dark secret and doesn't want to give up the heroine Sarah, played by Elizabeth Olsen. The rest of the characters are toss away, just barely supporting the focus on Sarah.

Sarah and her father arrive at the Old Family House. It is being emptied and inspected, for the prospect of being put on the market. Its an Old House, something shared by the extended family, but really only used in the summer and has been recently vandalized by local kids. The windows are boarded up, the electricity is non existent and Sarah really doesn't want to be there. There is an immediate creepiness about the way her father and uncle interact with each other, and with her. Soon after the two arrive, Uncle Peter (who was in the basement, looking for mold) leaves the two alone, and daddy leaves Sarah to herself, to start cleaning up the room she used. And that is when things become horror movie.

I was thinking, as I watched this dark & grim house, that just the tone, music and lighting can turn an old house that must be ripe with family memories, from something warm into something downright sinister. But as the movie progresses, Sarah being stalked by an unseen figure, her father brutalized and the house becoming almost inescapable, things fall together so damn well. There is a reason behind the labyrinthian basement, the darkness that absorbs the light, even in daylight, and Sarah's "hide under the bed sheets" reaction to everything. Even the overplayed, misplaced sexuality so prevalent in other movies has its explainable place here. This is a sold psychological horror, and I now must go back and find the original for comparison viewing.

A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce) / Bachelorette

A.C.O.D. - 2013, d. Stu Zicherman -- netflix
Bachelorette - 2012, d. Leslye Headland -- netflix

The theatrical comedy isn't what it once was.  It used to be that you would go to the theatres to see unhinged, madcap comedies, featuring curse words and nudity and things you wouldn't normally see on TV.  It was at the movies where the biggest and funniest comedic actors could be found, in movies that would put them in ever more outrageous situations.  But with cable TV and the relaxing rules about what you can't say or show on network television, there's not as much need for comedy on the big screen, and in truth, it has a harder time existing there.  Television has the definite advantage when it comes to character-based comedy, as it has the ability to grow characters and relationships over time and build jokes upon them.  Movies aren't able to earn quite the same reward in such a short amount of time.  Situational-based comedies is where movies can have an edge, particularly where the situation calls for a bigger budget to execute the comedy.  More and more it's the big blockbuster movies that seem to be filling the desire for comedy on screen, able to deliver both character and situation based comedy amid gunfire and explosions.  It seems that smaller, character-based comedies have been largely relegated to the on-demand world, the modern version of direct-to-video.

A.C.O.D. is one such film, a film that falls into the "light comedy" category.  There's no big, outrageous set pieces here, and there's no hint of gross-out factor that seems prevalent in the most successful comedies in recent years, it's just a character piece exploring a topic in a semi-humorous way that would otherwise be dramatic and painful.  It's not a laughaminute/laugh-out-loud affair, but it is humorous, engaging, and presents a story not often seen, certainly not from this perspective.

Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott is Carter.  He runs a successful restaurant and has a lovely, supportive and understanding girlfriend of many years in a  Lauren (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  His brother, Trey, lives in his garage, living a rather aimless life, but announces that he and his girlfriend Kieko are getting married.  Carter is given the task of negotiating wedding details with their long-divorced, still-feuding parents (and exceptionally game Catherine O'Hara and Richard Jenkins) which dredges up emotions he long thought were resolved.  He seeks out his therapist from childhood (a charmingly bohemian Jane Lynch) who turns out not to have been a therapist at all, but an author sitting with kids for research on her bestselling book "Children of Divorce".  She asks Carter if he will be a subject for her follow-up book, "Adult Children of Divorce", and he reluctantly agrees, thinking he's so well adjusted, just as his life spirals out of control upon catching his parents, since remarried, having an affair with each other.

What is most intriguing about this film is how honest Carter's emotional state seems to be.  Scott is a gifted deadpan actor, and here he's playing the straight man once more, but it's the straight man steadily coming unglued.  Typically in these sorts of character comedies, it's external factors that start driving the character insane, typically another character who is highly annoying or aggravating.  But Carter's ungluing comes from his own issues about how his life should be, and not how it is.  In most comedies, when the male protagonist comes to the realization that his long-suffering girlfriend is the woman he's meant to be with, it feels like a win... in this movie it's just another symptom of Carter's crisis of self.

The film often  teeters perilously close to wacky shenanigans as characters start colliding, but the film doesn't treat everyone like they're simpering babies, but that they can have grown up conversations and emotions and deal with things without slapstick and goofballs.  The film's close is amazing, set one year later, an abrupt halt of a non-ending with Carter, his brother and his dad all sitting on the church steps, someone's about to get married, but it doesn't let on who.  Genius.

It's not going to be a classic, and it doesn't have big memorable laughs like 40-Year-Old Virgin (it's poster is yet the latest take on the Sears Studio candid shot style) nor any meme-generating quotes but it's interesting and engaging in a different ways with plenty of chuckles to go along with it.

Like A.C.O.D., Bachelorette was a direct-to-VOD picture with a simultaneous limited-market theatrical release.  A less forgiving reviewer would liken it to an "All-girl version of Hangover" but that's awfully reductive and kind of demeaning (and that particular descriptor was pasted all over Bridesmaids, so there).  True, Bachelorette is vulgar, heavy on drug use, and not shy about sex, but its its own comedy beast, and doesn't need a male analog to be compared to.

With one of the quartet getting married, high school friends, affectionately known as The Bitch Faces, reunite in New York for a the wedding and the bachelorette party the night before hand.  Becky (Rebel Wilson) is the first of these now-30-something friends to get married, and she's asked control freak/queen bitch/perfectionist Regan (Kirsten Dunst) to organize the wedding.  Flying back in for the rehearsal is Gena (Lizzie Caplan), a lifelong partier, and perpetually clueless Katie (Isla Fisher).  When Becky freaks out at the main party, it ends, leaving Regan, Gena and Katie to their own devices... or rather, their own vices, cocaine and booze.  Goofing around the hotel room, extremely high, they mangle Becky's wedding dress, and set out on an evening's adventure to attempt to fix it.

Much like any "wild night out" style movie, the wild night is just a premise for revealing the truths about the characters and/or resolving any conflict between them.   As a remarkable change of pace for female-led comedies, there's next to no conflict between the women themselves.  They're best friends, and tensions may rise between them, but they also rise above it quickly enough, their friendship never in doubt.  The journey here is either self discovery or dealing with the past, inching only slightly forward to self-improvement, but still positive steps for progression have been made by the end.

Regan, Gena and Katie all earn about the same amount of screen time, but Lizzie Caplan's arc is the biggest of the three.  Gina is a bold and complex character, her second scene in the film takes place on a plane, seated next to an overwhelmingly enthused Horatio Sanz, as she discusses blowjob science at length as a means to antagonize him.  As a character she shields herself behind sex and drugs, because she's uncomfortable with her life.  Having to face her high school ex-boyfriend (Adam Scott, again) leads to an awkward, but necessary and cathartic reunion, and perhaps change, but it's not so cut an dry.

Regan, meanwhile, is a role Kirsten Dunst needed to play.  She's shallow and vain, bitchy and demanding, but also fiercely loyal with a never-say-quit attitude.  She has a boyfriend in med school whom she barely tolerates and generally finds her life unfulfilling (her rote speech about working with sick children betrays much of her supposed selflessness), thinking that she deserves whatever it is she wants, even though she obviously knows how to work for it.  Being on the receiving end of her primadonna act seems utterly miserable, but being the benefactor of her efforts can make a world of difference.  Dunst excels in the role.  Having watched her from a child in Interview With A Vampire through to the Spider-Man series and beyond, this may well be her best role ever.  She owns it and is believable as both a doctor and a monstrous bitch.  She's given a showcase as Regan takes to action in the final act, coordinating the final wedding arrangements while covering up the horrific details in the background from the bride.  It's an impressive sequence, that takes the manic pace up to frenetic, thus earning the cool-down-epilogue that follows.

Isla Fisher is given the task of finding something truthful in the dumb girl archetype, and she really sells it.  She starts the film as a vapid sales clerk with a gawking hanger-on (I wasn't certain if it was her gay best friend or a lustful straight boy) and turns into a careless partier.  She's sick of the type of guys she dates, but spends no amount of time thinking about what she really wants (or really thinking at all).  When she meets Joe at the wedding reception, a pleasant computer programmer, he professes to still harbor a lasting crush on her from high school, and she can't even remember his name.  In a nice role reversal, Joe won't have sex of an overdrunk Katie, despite her advances, but the impact rejection has on Katie is even more telling.

It's a shame that Becky is really relegated as the films centering point, but otherwise an inactive participant. Having watched and enjoyed Rebel Wilson's short-ish lived "Super Fun Night", she's a great comedic performer, writer and improviser who could have added a unique fourth dimension to the film.  She does have some pivotal moments at the beginning and the end, but she's not allowed to flesh out as much as the other characters.

Bachelorette is a solid comedy, straight out.  It's not a chick flick, there no "need a man to complete me" message here.  Love, sex, and romance do all have their place, but it's not the heart of the film.  It's telling that with such a gifted cast and convention-defying script, that such a well-made film got relegated to the on demand world.  It speaks to both the status of comedies and female-led comedies that studios don't put much backing into a picture of this level to push it out on the mass audience. It's great that this film got made, but without the big market push and exposure it's still represents the usual repression of earnest female sexuality in American entertainment.