Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Moonrise Kingdom" Review

What can I say about Moonrise Kingdom, the latest film from Wes Anderson?

It's about a pair of young lovers named Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward respectively) who flee home in order to be together, causing a local search party consisting of an inept scoutmaster (Ed Norton), the young boys in his troop, the town's only police officer (Bruce Willis) and Suzy's parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) to spread out and find them. Additionally, it's been selected as one of the American Film Institute's best of 2012, was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the festival's highest award, and is currently in the running for a Golden Globe as the year's best motion picture in the musical or comedy category.

I believe this is my first experience with a Wes Anderson film, but I certainly hope it isn't the last. Moonrise Kingdom is the first of his works I've watched consciously from beginning to end. Having said that, I am still familiar with his style. I've heard of The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and his animated feature Fantastic Mr. Fox. What I've seen in bits and pieces of those movies is a style and humor that's quirky, yet down-to-earth. That's certainly the case in Moonrise Kingdom, a film that's small in scope but big on heart.
I wish more movies were made with the craft and originality that Wes Anderson brings to the table here. Moonrise Kingdom is simple and innocent enough in story, yet it's presented in a style that makes it one of the most original films I've ever seen.

The awkward, intimate humor of the two children alone together on the beach, as well as the shortcomings of Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton), and the relationship between Suzy's parents help keep the film fresh.  I wish Bill Murray and Frances McDormand had more screen time because anytime they are in a scene, they're brilliant.  SPOILER: I especially love the scene where Murray comes downstairs in his home to find his three young boys sitting listening to records. He turns a corner, ducks into a side room, and re-emerges without a shirt, a bottle of alcohol in one hand, and an ax slung over his opposite shoulder. He then turns to his boys (who can't be older than seven) and says, "I'll be out back. I'm gonna find a tree to chop down."

I've also gotta mention Anderson's use of color.  All the colors of the rainbow are used vibrantly somewhere in Moonrise Kingdom, and they're often used in unlikely places. A couple examples I can think of are the bright red home at Summer's End that Suzy and her family live in, as well as the golden yellow shades of Camp Ivanhoe and the meadows on the island. Using these bright colors sets the tone of the film as one that is lighthearted and happy, and Moonrise Kingdom is certainly that. Each frame looks as if it's shot with precision and care, despite looking like a string of Instagram-filtered photos in one or two scenes (but hey, isn't that what all us smartphone users try to do with Instagram anyway? Take photos with precision and care?).

The film is just a little piece that's really too simple to knock your socks off, but it will certainly touch your heart. I can promise that you will enjoy Moonrise Kingdom. Buy/rent this award winner today.

3.5 OF 4 STARS

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Django Unchained" Review

Quentin Tarantino is at it again, but who's complaining?

His latest spaghetti-western-esque saga, Django Unchained, tells the story of a 19th century slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter. Dr. Schultz takes Django under his wing and teaches him how to become a bounty hunter himself. Together, the unlikely duo set out to rescue Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Like so many of Tarantino's other works, Django is stuffed with colorful characters, peculiar use of music and special effects, moments of side-splitting humor, unique cinematography, over-the-top violence, and lines that are destined to become classics ("D-J-A-N-G-O. The D is silent.").  Driven by a solid plot, all the classic Tarantino elements mold into place to make Django Unchained one of the director's best efforts yet. (I enjoyed it way more than Inglourious Basterds.)

I loved every single character in this movie. Jamie Foxx reminds us once again that he can truly act, as he turns in a riveting performance as our hero Django. Christoph Waltz is always a pleasure to watch. He lends a smart, backhanded humor to Dr. Schultz that makes the film more entertaining and his character one to root for. DiCaprio is also pitch-perfect as Calvin Candie, the Mississippi plantation owner. His character walks a fine line between being a respectable Southern gentleman and a brutal slave owner. DiCaprio nails this balance right on the head, and makes Candie one of the most truly sinister villains of the year & also the most fun to watch. My only major complaint with the film is that Kerry Washington doesn't get nearly the amount of dialogue she deserves. She's a beautiful, talented actress, and in a nearly three-hour run time, she hardly has any lines. They might as well have cast an unknown in the role of Broomhilda, Django's long-lost wife.
My favorite supporting performance of 2012 goes to Samuel L. Jackson for his portrayal of Candie's dastardly right-hand man Stephen. It's amazing how an hour or two in the make-up chair can transform a highly-revered actor into the scene-stealing performer of the year (a la Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder). I wish I could do a better job describing this character to you, but Stephen is a man you just have to see to believe. I promise you've never seen Jackson like this before.

There was very little I did not love about Django Unchained, but I mentioned before that I was disappointed in Kerry Washington's lack of presence. In addition to that, I felt that the film's final act was slightly bloated. It was still entertaining and served as the icing on the cake for a very satisfying moviegoing experience, but I was already perfectly satisfied and ready for the credits to roll fifteen or twenty minutes before they actually did. I guess that's Tarantino, though, and I love his work more than I hate it.

On the whole, Django Unchained is one of the most immensely satisfying movies of the year. Nobody but Quentin Tarantino could have created this film, one very, very loosely inspired by the 1966-spaghetti western Django starring Franco Nero. All the two films have in common are some shared songs for the soundtrack and performances by Franco Nero. SPOILER: Look for him when Schultz & Django first meet Candie.  Nero is the owner of the slave fighting against Candie's.

Go see this in theaters as soon as you can. I think it's well-worth your attention and the awards hype.
(SPOILER: P.S. If you do... yes, that IS Jonah Hill...)

4 OF 4 STARS ****

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Life of Pi" Review

This Christmas weekend, I was able to eliminate another must-see from my long list of movies to watch over the next month: Life of Pi, director Ang Lee's contribution to the crowded field of motion pictures for your consideration during the 2012 awards season.
The film is about a boy named Pi (Suraj Sharma) who finds himself stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger when the ship carrying he and his family from India to Canada sinks during a violent storm.  During his time at sea, Pi's life becomes an epic journey of self-discovery.

When I first saw the previews for Life of Pi, I wasn't impressed. I thought it kinda looked like a corny kids movie that would easily be forgotten. But then I kept hearing about how good it was, and then the American Film Institute named it to its list of best films for 2012. (Further research also tells me Life of Pi has three Golden Globe nominations.) Because the movie has garnered such hype, I decided I had to check it out for myself.
And I'm very glad that I did. With its marvelous production design, ingenious editing, spectacular special effects, and a riveting performance from star Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi lives up to the hype and is one of my favorite films of the year. At the very least, it deserves consideration for Best Picture, but I think it's a sure-fire winner in several categories.

I thought The Hobbit had some great CG work, but Life of Pi features some set pieces that can only be described as astonishing.  The raging storms, crashing waves, lifelike animals, and a brief, yet captivating, scene involving a school of jellyfish all blew me away.  Think of the special effects look as something like a cross between The Jungle Book and Avatar.  Expect Life of Pi and The Hobbit to duke it out for Best Visual Effects come Oscar time.

I also enjoyed the editing work, especially in the first forty-five minutes or so.  The use of crossfading and crosscutting allows the audience to witness Pi's thoughts and actions as he dictates them through onscreen narration.  The first of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies is the last I can remember to also feature a scene with this editing technique.  (It's when Peter is sketching his ideas for the costume.  We get to see the diligent, sometimes frustrated, emotions on Peter's face while at the same time watching him color in pictures of spiders and suit prototypes.)

The cast of Life of Pi is terrific as well.  Rafe Spall plays "Writer", a man in search of an idea who comes to an adult Pi (Irrfan Kahn), hoping he'll share his life-changing experience at sea and allow him to share it with the world.  Spall shows all the wide-eyed wonder and interest of an eager listener, not much unlike young Fred Savage's performance years ago alongside Peter Faulk in The Princess Bride.  Kahn is also wonderful as a grown-up, post-experience Pi.  He doesn't flamboyantly express tons of emotion, but he's a joy to watch as he attempts to keep himself in check, especially as he recants the end of his journey.
And finally I have to mention Suraj Sharma, who plays a teenage Pi and carries the film for the majority of two hours.  Life of Pi is a star-making turn for this young man.  He's a marvel as he portrays the ferocity of a changing teen who suddenly loses everything and finds himself in extraordinary circumstances.  I was rooting for this kid from the start, and I loved watching the change in him from beginning to end.  Sharma IS Pi, so just hand this guy the Best Actor nominations already!

I wish I could find something bad to say about this movie.  My only real complaint is that there were some rambunctious young kids who were a little loud in the theater at times, but on the whole the movie was fantastic.  Certainly a dark horse to be one of my top 5 for the year.

It probably won't be in theaters much longer, so check it out in 3-D if you still can.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Argo" Review

Movie #2 of Saturday's double-feature was Ben Affleck's Argo, which is currently a front-runner for the "Best Picture" Oscar.

Argo is based on the true story of the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the late 1970s-early 1980s in which six American diplomats were trapped with the constant threat of falling victim to brutal Iranian revolutionaries.  Disguised as a Canadian film producer and location scout, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is tasked with rescuing the six Americans from under the nose of the vigilant Iranians.  

Sounds interesting, right?  Argo is a heart-pounding thriller that has fascinating characters and an enthralling story.  A perfect balance of nerve-shredding tension and witty humor keeps the movie fresh and fun for a brisk two hours.  Kudos to screenwriter Chris Terrio, as well as Alan Arkin and John Goodman who play the two hilarious Hollywood big wigs who help Mendez and the CIA orchestrate the operation by creating a fake science-fiction movie called Argo.  

Affleck is terrific as Mendez, a man who is willing to do the dirty work to become an unsung hero to his country as well as his wife and young son.  By reading the hardened expressions on Affleck's face, you can tell what emotions his character is feeling, and I love that.  Being able to know what a character is thinking just by observing facial expressions is one sign of a strong actor.  Bryan Cranston also makes a nice supporting turn as Mendez's CIA associate, Alan Arkin and John Goodman are hilariously entertaining as mentioned, and even the actors who portrayed the six diplomats effectively capture the restrained horror of people removed from their element and thrust into life-threatening circumstances.  I wish I could say I had a favorite scene of this movie, but I really couldn't point to anything specific.  The whole thing is great, and I'd love to see it again.  SPOILER: (There's a short history lesson during the end credits that's worth sticking around for.  Fascinating stuff.)

I'd recommend seeing Argo as soon as possible if it's still playing at any of your local theaters.  It's well worth checking out as we head into awards season.  At this point in time, it ranks just above Spielberg's Lincoln as my favorite of 2012 thus far.


"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Review

Man, it's good to be home for Christmas break!

I get to catch up on all the movies I need to see before awards season gets underway, and believe me there are plenty.  Silver Linings Playbook, Hitchcock, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, and Les Miserables are currently on my Christmas short-list.

 Since I have some serious catching up to do, Saturday became a matinee double-feature for me.  Film #1 was Peter Jackson's long-anticipated first installment of his planned Lord of the Rings-prequel trilogy*, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  For those who don't already know, this film tells the story of young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit of The Shire in Middle Earth, who sets out on an "unexpected journey" with a group of dwarfs to help them reclaim their mountain home from a gold-hungry dragon.  (For fans who might be confused, this story takes place before the events of The Lord of the Rings, which explains why Bilbo is much younger in this film than in the previous installments.)

I must say I had heard mixed reviews before getting a chance to see The Hobbit, and I had a feeling even beforehand that it couldn't possibly be as good as Jackson's Lord of the Rings.  For the most part I was right.  The Hobbit has its moments of excitement, but on the whole it isn't as riveting a story as The Lord of the Rings.  At least not yet.  This is a planned trilogy, and as the first part, it's bound to be filled with more dry exposition than rousing climactic action.  There's lots of talking and not a ton of doing, but when the "doing" happens, it's spectacular.  From a dangerous encounter with storm giants to a climactic confrontation with some goblins & orcs to gorgeous panoramic shots of the elf city of Rivendell, The Hobbit features some of the most stellar visuals you're likely to see to date.

Back in the early 2000s, The Lord of the Rings became a benchmark in visual effects achievement.  Nine years have passed since Return of the King, and its easy to see how far along the effects have come, even for a franchise that already includes stellar CG work.

Rumor is, Jackson's been trying a new trick that he hopes will change the game for effects-driven films like The Hobbit: shooting at a higher frame rate.  48 frames per second to be exact.  (Normal movies are filmed at 24.)  The ultimate achievement by using this technique is a more vivid, lifelike image to create a 3D experience for the audience that feels as if they are present within the action as opposed to just viewing it objectively onscreen from the sidelines.  I wasn't able to see The Hobbit in its higher frame rate today due to time constraints, but I will be returning to the theater soon to see it.  48 frames per second is how the creators intended the film to be seen, and I intend to see it as such.

So on the whole, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is really good, but not great.  It's a visual marvel that I'm certain will sweep awards in special effects categories from now through the Oscars in February.  I also enjoyed seeing some familiar faces with Elijah Wood returning as Frodo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as Lord Elrond, and Andy Serkis as Gollum.  That being said, it's still not as strong a story as its three cinematic predecessors.  I enjoyed it enough to see it again as the filmmakers intended it at 48 fps.  Can't wait to see what's next in parts 2 & 3.

3.5 OF 4 STARS

(It will be followed next holiday season by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and concluded by The Hobbit: There and Back Again in Summer 2014.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum - "The Coat Hanger" (Dec. 12, 2012)

On the last episode before the 2-3 week hiatus, American Horror Story: Asylum leaves lots for us to chew on.

First, we get a mind-blowing prologue that brings Dylan McDermott back to the series.  I enjoyed seeing his return because it began to answer my questions about what's happened in the scenes set in present day, and if you're a fan who thinks like I do, you might have found McDermott's cameo to be somewhat ironic.  Here he plays the disgruntled patient to a psychiatrist, which is a reversal of his role from last season in which he played a psychiatrist.  Just a neat little 'Easter Egg' that I enjoyed.

SPOILERS BEWARE: In addition to that twist, Lana finds something out about herself that sets her off, Sister Jude is made an official patient at Briarcliff, inmate Lee Emerson (aka "Santa") attempts to change his ways, and Dr. Arden tries an experiment that, with Kit's help, produces shocking results.

Needless to say, it's another exciting episode full of twists and turns with a cliffhanger ending that's gonna make this holiday hiatus an agonizing couple weeks.  It seems like things are building to an exciting payoff in 2013.

(Gotta say I love this show for the way it keeps you guessing and coming back each week to have expectations shattered.  You'd be ill-pressed to find another show like it on television.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christopher Nolan's "Following" Review

With this review, I have now seen all of Christopher Nolan's directorial work to date, including his black-and-white examination of paranoid psychosis in Doodlebug, which is a 3-minute short film I highly recommend.  Look for it on YouTube.

In Nolan's feature directorial debut, Following tells the story of an aspiring writer named Bill (Jeremy Theobald) who randomly follows everyday people, examining their habits and personalities to use for source material.  But when Bill meets Cobb (Alex Haw), the first person to confront him about his following, the latter decides to take Bill under his wing, teaching him the ropes of burglary.

I found the plot to be very original and the characters to be fascinating and multidimensional.  Deciding exactly what genre Following is is sort of a toss-up.  It's like a dramatic thriller with neo-noir elements that concludes like a psychological thriller.  We've got the flawed hero (Jeremy Theobald), the femme fatale (Lucy Russell), and a very loose grip on who the villain really is.  I won't spoil the exact ending, but at first viewing, it reminded me of David Fincher's Fight Club.

There are lots of cool twists & turns, but I think Following suffers from being too nonlinear for its own good.  It's captivating, but it's also very easy to get lost even if you're paying close attention.  Like most of Nolan's other films, this one also demands several screenings.
I thought the use of black and white was cool in Following.  If the sound hadn't been as good as it was, you'd think this film had been made with 1940s technology, which wouldn't surprise me seeing as IMDb estimates the budget at $6000.

So while the plot gets a little lost along its own winding road, Following is still a rock-solid noir that adequately displays the promising technical skill of its then-budding director.  It further confirms my belief that Christopher Nolan is one of the most exciting filmmakers working in Hollywood today.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Top 5 Favorite Christmas Movies

Hashed this out with some friends on Twitter earlier today.  Here's THE REEL's Top 5 favorite Christmas movies of all time:

5. White Christmas      

The highest grossing film of 1954 stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as two talented song-and-dance partners who team up with two equally talented sisters (Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen) to save a fledgling winter resort in Vermont owned by their former commanding general.  I love watching White Christmas each year for its humor & classically entertaining musical numbers in a wintry setting.

4. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

This 1989 comedy sees Chevy Chase reprising his role as Clark Griswold, a hopeless patriarch who just wants to show his family a nice Christmas when things predictably take a turn for the worse.  While you can probably guess what hijinks are coming as far as plot is concerned, this is still one of the funniest Christmas movies you're likely to see, if not the funniest.  From Cousin Eddie and the in-laws to a gorgeous femme fatale to a more-than-slightly overcooked turkey, the gags never get old.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Gotta love this original starring Edmund Gwenn and a very young Natalie Wood.  It's about a jolly old New York City man who fancies himself as Santa Claus and befriends a Macy's businesswoman and her daughter.  When he is committed to a mental institution, a young lawyer attempts to legally prove that the man's identity is truly that of the real Santa Claus. Miracle on 34th Street is a funny, warmhearted film that perfectly captures the Christmas spirit thanks to Gwenn's Oscar-winning performance.  If you've seen the 1994 remake with Richard Attenborough and not this original version... SHAME ON YOU!!  (Watch the original this season and you'll see that the remake doesn't even compare.)

2. A Christmas Story

For director Bob Clark's perennial comedy classic, I shouldn't even have to say.  The story follows Ralphie, a young boy who tries his darnedest to convince his family, schoolteacher, and even Santa that he deserves a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas.  With more memorable moments and quotable lines than you can count on your pink bunny fingers and toes, A Christmas Story is a riotously funny must-watch with a good heart that begs multiple viewings, as long as you haven't managed to shoot your eyes out during the hustle & bustle of the holiday season.

1. It's A Wonderful Life

A favorite of both director Frank Capra and star Jimmy Stewart, It's A Wonderful Life tells the story of small-town businessman George Bailey, a man with grand aspirations far too big for his hometown of Bedford Falls, New York.  When George teeters on the brink of insanity, a guardian angel teaches him a life-saving lesson by showing him what life would be like if he hadn't been born.  It's A Wonderful Life isn't just my favorite movie for Christmastime.  It's one of my all-time favorites, period.  I could watch it over and over at any time of the year for its wonderful story, clever dialogue, and colorful characters.  66 years after its release, it's still one of the most original films I've ever seen, and I think I cherish it more and more every year.  Partly because it's such a classic holiday treasure and partly because it means it's been another year that Hollywood hasn't announced a remake.  *wink* Thanks Clarence!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Office - "Dwight Christmas" (Dec. 6, 2012)

On the final season's Christmas episode, Dwight decides to throw a traditional German Christmas party for everyone while Jim prepares to visit Philadelphia for his new sports marketing job.
While there are some entertaining bits, (such as Pete teaching Erin about Die Hard, Daryl getting drunk at the party, and a not-so-surprising Christmas twist involving Toby and Nellie) this episode doesn't quite stack up to Office Christmas specials past.  It wasn't side-splitting hilarious, and I really missed Steve Carell this year.  As the last Christmas party ever for The Office, I wish it would've been better.
SPOILER: Meanwhile it seems like things may eventually heat up between Pete and Erin.  They get a little cozy while watching Die Hard, and Erin gets an upsetting text from Andy early on.  I wouldn't be surprised if she really starts warming up to Pete by the time the season's over.

"Brick" Review

This ain't your momma's Nancy Drew...

In writer/director Rian Johnson's feature film debut Brick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a teenage loner who investigates an underground drug ring at his high school for clues about the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend (Lost's Emilie de Ravin).
The plot may sound like it's been done before, but you've never seen it presented quite like this.  I loved every minute of this movie thanks to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's brooding performance and Rian Johnson's fascinating ability to create tone with imagery and sound.  For a shoestring budget of $475,000, that's pretty impressive (IMDb).
Brick is a riveting noir that reminded me of a more serious 21 Jump Street.  While 21 Jump Street serves its purpose of being funny and entertaining, I liked seeing the grittiness that Brick brings to the table in terms of atmospherics, plot, and characterization.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a marvel in this film, and after seeing it I have no doubts about his abilities to carry a movie.  He's fascinating to watch here because his character, Brendan, is that high-school-wallflower who comes out of the woodwork to tangle with the popular kids and seems to have no inhibitions about it.  He's driven only by his love for his ex-girlfriend, and he doesn't care what lengths he has to go to along the way to solve her mystery.
The mystery does get a little convoluted at times, especially near the end, but it's entertaining to see Brendan mingle with the host of other characters he meets during his investigation.  Who knew seeing Gordon-Levitt play Nancy Drew would be so much fun?

As for atmospherics and plot, writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) uses lots of grey and blue color to create a dark, chilly, almost sinister atmosphere.  It looked as if he decided the filming schedule would only shoot on bleak, overcast or rainy days.  Johnson's choice of imagery and location also support the consideration of Brick as a modern noir tale.  His use of sound design makes the images more powerful. Water flowing from a sewer tunnel.  Gunshots that fade into lockers slamming.  The whir of car engines as they speed past.  It all sets up this unique world for the characters to work in.  At times I even worried if our protagonist was going to make it out as clean as he suggests near the film's opening.
And that uncertainty is what makes Brick such a fascinating, unique, entertaining mystery.  In 21 Jump Street, you knew Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum were going to bumble their way to saving the day.  Even Scooby-Doo and The Hardy Boys seem to always come out on top without any doubts.  But Brick is different, and that's why I enjoyed it so much.
I haven't seen Looper yet, but if his first feature is any indication, I think Rian Johnson might just be one of the most exciting new filmmakers to come along since Christopher Nolan.  Look out for this guy in the near future.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

American Horror Story: Asylum - "Unholy Night" (Dec. 5, 2012)

Clever title for the Christmas episode.

This week, a murderous Santa (guest star Ian McShane) wreaks havoc on Briarcliff, Sister Jude begins her square-off with the Devil, and Dr. Arden's loyalties are called into question before he has a shocking encounter in the Death Chute (Facebook; AHS fan page).  
I feel like anytime Hollywood needs an actor to fill the grizzled dirt-bag role, Ian McShane is always up for the challenge.  Look at the guy's resumee*: Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Frank the stepdad in Hot Rod, and the villain in the kid-friendly James Bond knockoff, Agent Cody Banks.  I'm not complaining though, I actually enjoy his work.  He just plays similar characters all the time. But McShane's grizzled, grey exterior blends well with the atmosphere at Briarcliff in this week's episode.  He brings the charisma to hold his own among the rest of the show's strong personalities to make his Christmas guest appearance one to remember.
My expectations keep getting blown away each week, which is something I really love about American Horror Story.  Otherwise, I'd criticize it for being bland and predictable.  Sister Jude's return to the ward had me excited.  I can't wait to see how she fares in her war with the Devil for possession of Briarcliff.
SPOILERS: And I have absolutely zero clue what happened with Dr. Arden when he went to dispose of Grace's body in the Death Chute.  It looked like maybe he had a run-in with aliens?  Perhaps the same that visited Kit in the season's first episode??  Blew my mind either way.

Till next Wednesday...

*(Pardon my spelling.  Can't seem to find the accented "e" on the new blog post page.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"The Cabin in the Woods" is Like Every Horror Movie Ever Made... But Like Nothing You've Ever Seen

The headline says it all.

Drew Goddard's meta-horror flick The Cabin in the Woods is about (you know...) a group of college kids who go on a weekend getaway to (you guessed it!) a cabin in the woods.  But what starts as an innocent, fun vacation becomes something more sinister, as the kids discover that nothing is what it seems.
Sounds like every other horror movie ever made, right?  But what sets The Cabin in the Woods apart from the rest of the pack is its sense of self-awareness and self-humility.  This is a horror film through and through, but The Cabin in the Woods thrives on the way it parodies horror genre cliches and presents them with a smart, darkly humorous edge.  It's demented fun watching the characters both dodge and succumb to the familiar tropes of horror lore.
If I had to really compare it to anything else, I'd say The Cabin in the Woods most closely resembles Sam Raimi's 1980s classic The Evil Dead.  Both films have strikingly similar plots driven by a very macabre sense of humor, although I actually found The Evil Dead to be scarier on the whole than The Cabin in the Woods.  No doubt that Cabin creators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were influenced by Raimi's classic.

WARNING! PARAGRAPH MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS: I mentioned before that The Cabin in the Woods is a film that's self-aware.  How else could you describe a movie that literally lets its lead characters pick their own undoings from a smorgasbord of terrifying Hollywood monsters? (Including one freaky option that's either a blatant rip-off or an homage to Clive Barker's Hellraiser.)
I know a lot of viewers will either love or hate this movie for what it is.  Those who hate it are probably expecting a by-the-numbers slasher flick, or don't grasp the narrative surrounding the film's events.  Those who love it, like myself, probably can follow the plot more closely than the haters.  You do have to pay attention to The Cabin in the Woods because it's very easy to miss clues that allude to twists later in the film.  But I think everything that's immediately relevant to what's going on is at some point or other revealed in the 95 minute run time.
And what isn't explained just adds to the mystery and allure for a filmgoer like me.  Maybe it's what we DON'T understand that's the real horror in this unique tale.  It takes a viewing or two, but if you let it, The Cabin in the Woods will capture your imagination in a way that very few movies can, and it might even remind you why we watch them in the first place.

3.5 OF 4 STARS

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Walking Dead - "Made to Suffer" (Dec. 2, 2012)

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS  In the midseason finale, Rick and Daryl engineer a daring rescue mission to recover Glenn and Maggie at Woodbury.  Also, Michonne discovers The Governor's secret while Carl takes in newcomers at the prison.
Needless to say it was another awesome episode that I think was the most brutal in awhile.  It's not necessarily the goriest, but it's pretty intense, especially when The Governor finds Michonne with his daughter.  I was worried for a second that the ending might not be the huge cliffhanger I was hoping for, but boy was I wrong.  Should have known the writers wouldn't leave us without blowing our minds.  Bottom line is, two long-lost brothers are reunited in quite exciting fashion.  I can't wait to see the outcome.  I just wish The Governor had gotten in one last line to tease us as to what was going to happen with them next.

My only complaint is that the newcomers at the prison are never explained.  As of now, we don't know who they are or where they came from, just that Carl let them into a safe part of the prison.  I guess they'll leave introductions for the second half.

Till February 2013...

"Silent House" Review

Every so often, a film comes around that changes the way you watch and think about movies.  Kentis and Lau’s independent horror-thriller Silent House doesn't take the world by storm, and it will likely be dismissed as another mundane entry in the home invasion sub-genre that everyone loves to hate.
But for me, Silent House pushes the boundaries of what I ever thought could be accomplished by a horror movie. It’s a remake of a Uruguayan film called La Casa Muda, and it’s about a young woman who finds herself trapped in her family’s lake house as ominous events begin to transpire both in and around the house. I didn't find it as mind-numbingly terrifying as Scott Derrickson’s Sinister, but there is no denying that Silent House is creepy thanks to a few unique factors.

First of all, the film takes place over roughly 85 minutes in real time. That means all of the events transpire over the exact same amount of time in the viewer’s world as they do in the film.  Secondly, Silent House appears to be presented as one single take, allowing viewers to witness firsthand the genesis of the main character’s madness, something that I loudly and proudly applaud the directors for.  It’s a technique that few have attempted and even less have pulled off, but it works for me here. I thought it was cool to see the main character undergo her change in real time. It puts the viewer right alongside her throughout, and it’s easy to find yourself eventually feeling as insane as she is.  There's also some eerily droning musical score that molds well with the subdued lighting (or lack thereof) to create an unsettling haunted-house atmosphere.  

I also have to give credit to the beautiful Elizabeth Olsen for her stellar performance in the lead role. Who knew the younger sister of Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen could carry a film with such skill? You’d think she was an established thespian who’s been in the acting game for years. In Silent House, Ms. Olsen shows us the dread and genesis of a madwoman in real time.  It’s by her restrained portrayal of the emotional roller-coaster inside the character that keeps us emotionally invested from beginning to end.   

But like any home, Silent House is not without its flaws.  Our main character Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is at the lake house with her uncle and father to clean up the place in an attempt to sell it. I couldn't believe that during the entire time she was terrorized, the seemingly defenseless Sarah only maybe once yells for help.  Also, being that the film captures all the events firsthand in real time, there is a lot of hand-held camera use.  This isn't a found-footage picture like Paranormal Activity, but the cinematographer’s unsteady hand gets annoying in a few scenes. The payoff at the end feels like somewhat of a letdown as well. The twist is pretty cool, but I felt like nothing is really resolved by the time the credits roll.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Silent House is just a character study on how a girl is shaped by her past as well as current traumatic events to become someone different from who she starts off as being. It might take a second or third viewing to decide. Either way, it's quite unlike anything I've ever seen before.

Catch Silent House streaming on Netflix and form your own opinion.