Monday, April 30, 2012

DVD Review: The Iron Lady

If I had to come up with a word to describe The Iron Lady, it would be 'letdown.' It's not just that I dislike Margaret Thatcher (though I do), because that doesn't matter: I liked Game Change and that was about Sarah Palin. But that was an interesting story, uniquely told and well presented. This story, while it has the potential to be highly interesting, is...let's say not. But it could have been.

I'm not gonna bother going into the story too much, partially cuz the movie isn't too concerned with it either. Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female Prime Minister, highly controversial, loved by the Right, hated by the Left, blah blah blah. And while that may seem like an odd way to sum up the life of one of the most important women in history, for better or worse, that's essentially how the movie ends up presenting her.

Thatcher, as the movie presents her, is less a fully realized person of nuance, and more her own Greatest Hits Record. We move through all the big moments (Garbage Strikes, Terrorist Attacks, War in the Falklands etc.) very very very quickly, with little to no time devoted to anyone other than her. We see the events, we see someone getting angry at Thatcher, we see her yelling some talking points and then BAM we're onto the next scene. The result of this is to strip the characters and events of any nuance and default to worshipping Thatcher. Both the film, and the person, would have been better served by both giving us more time to see why people were angry at Thatcher and more time explaining why she thought she was right. As it is, the film as a whole feels hollow and thinly written.

This all seems to be the result of an oddly extended 'modern day' sequence involving an aging Thatcher being symbolically 'haunted' by her dead husband (Jim Broadbent). Most of the good acting goes on during this segment and the film manages an interesting portrayal of Alzheimer's disease, but because it, like the historical segments, is abbreviated, it leaves both halves feeling oddly thin and empty.

Yes, Meryl Streep's performance is good, but that's nothing new and she's given better performances elsewhere. There are other interesting performances, notably from Jim Broadbent (given the interesting task of playing, what amounts to, a wacky ghost) and Anthony Stewart Head. But none of that is enough to make me willing to give this a recommendation. If you're an impossibly huge fan of Meryl Streep or Margaret Thatcher, then you've probably already seen it. If you're not? You should probably give it a miss.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks the handling of Thatcher's husband is one of the weirdest directorial choices I've seen in a while.

Friday, April 20, 2012

It Begins

How many of you are familiar with the concept of a movie that is so bad it's good? Thought so. How many of you are familiar with the infamous cult classic The Room? A lot I bet.

For those of you who don't know, The Room is a 2003 film by director Tommy Wiseu. He also wrote, produced and starred in it, so you KNOW it's good. The film was made on a budget of 6 million dollars but looks to cost less than a thousand is so blisteringly, absurdly, inhumanly awful that not only is it infamously one of the worst films of all time (once called 'the Citizen Kane of bad movies') but it has a rabidly devoted fanbase, who can quote it's nonsensical dialogue verbatim. Of which I am a member.

About a year ago, at a midnight showing of The Room in New York City, I was struck by a question: How did this movie come to be, and what about it appeals to it's fanbase? And so, I am, as of today, setting out to answer this question and document my answer. But I can't do it alone.

And thus, my Kickstarter launched today, for my documentary film: Roommates. Over the next few days, in between work (yes that's right, I have a proper job now) I will be uploading various videos, from my prepared opening credits, to some edited interviews I got already. But for now, I will enclose the link to my Kickstarter and ask you: If you can, please donate something. Thank you.

Kickstarter: Roommates

EDIT: Here is the link to my opening credits. Just to show you the tone of the documentary, at least as I envision it
Opening Credits 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: The Cabin in the Woods

There are two things that I want to say about The Cabin in the Woods before I start the review proper. The first is that, if anyone tries to tell you the best thing, or the coolest thing, or the weirdest thing about this movie, do yourself a favor and hit them in the head with a shovel. This is not, repeat, not a movie you want spoiled for you. Trust me, it doesn't matter what they qualify it with, or how they present it, just knock them the fuck out.

The second thing is that, in talking about this movie, I might accidentally spoil it. So I'm gonna pull a Black Swan here and tell you: This is the best horror film I've seen since 2007 when Let the Right One In blew me away, the best American Horror film since I cannot even REMEMBER when, and easily the best film I've seen all year. It will inevitably be listed among the best horror-comedies ever made right up there with Shaun of the Dead. So before you read the rest of this review, GO! FUCKING! SEE! THE CABIN IN THE WOODS! No, no excuses. I don't care that you don't like horror or Joss Whedon or whatever. Go fucking see it. Seen it already? Go see it again. Once you've seen it, you can come back and read the rest of the review. Or not, just see it.

Alright, you're back. Wasn't that great? Anyway, as you probably know, since you're pressing on, the movie is about...5 teenagers who are going up to a Cabin...which is in the Woods. Once they get up there they discover the requisite creepy basement and are soon under siege by unknown evil. Yeah yeah, I know, this sounds like the setup of 100 other horror films. But, Cabin is looking to use that, both as a jumping off point for it's own incredibly unique narrative, and a surprisingly deep meta-narrative about the business of making horror films itself. All of this is leading into one of the all time greatest third acts in a horror film ever, which as stated above will NOT BE SPOILED HERE!

Aside from that there's not a whole lot to talk about. The special effects are out and out incredible throughout, from the fantastic practical effects and makeup to some great CGI. The script is pure Whedon, balancing varied characters, smart characterization and genuine funny dialogue. While I was repeatedly frightened or surprised, I was shocked by how often I, and the audience, found ourselves laughing, sometimes at an amusing line, sometimes at a well presented moment. Drew Goddard proves himself an excellent director, with fantastic camera work and great mood setting.

Even the actors do great jobs, and while the requisite number of Whedon TV show alumni appear (for those of you who like Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse, I counted Fred, Andrew and Topher), it doesn't feel forced and everyone is well suited for their parts. Fran Kranz in particular reminds me why I was so fond of him on Dollhouse and Chris Hemsworth (looking oddly younger than he did in Thor a year ago) and Kristen Connolly are both brilliant in their parts. But the supporting standouts are Richard Jenkins and Steve Hadley in small but important parts that they really bring their A-Games to.

The math is NOT hard on this one guys. This is the best film to open wide this year so far and easily one of the best horror films you could hope for. There is literally no reason for you to avoid this, unless you have some strange hatred of fun and good things. Do not miss this one. Also: Go see it in theaters. Don't pirate it, don't wait for DVD, don't sneak in. Go to the theater, buy a ticket to see it, and sit in the theater. Partially because, you know if a movie's good, it should get support, but also because based on this movie, I'd love Drew Goddard to get a proper directing career (Whedon, who is doing Avengers is doing fine...in fact, that's probably why it finally hit theaters) and because horror movies this good do NOT come along often enough. And if it dies at the box office, I will be PISSED! See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile, and he's unhappy we didn't get 'Grr! Argh!' in the end credits.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review: Lockout

Lockout is the single most frustrating movie I've seen all year. It's not the worst mind you, that honor still goes to Tim and Eric. What it is, however, is mindless, generic, lifeless and cheap. It's one of those annoying movies that you can predict 4 scenes in advance and you could build a fucking drinking game around the cliches. In fact, why don't we do that?

The plot is based around some loose cannon ex-CIA guy (take a shot), who is about to be imprisoned (take a shot) for a crime he didn't commit (take a shot). He is offered a deal (take a shot) if he enters a maximum security prison in SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE, which is in the throes of a prisoner escape, to rescue (take a shot) the President's daughter (take a shot). But it turns out the prison is going to crash into Earth, so he has a limited amount of time (take a shot) to get the President's daughter out, and fulfill his own agenda (take a shot) and find a friend of his in the prison (take a shot) who has vital information that could exonerate him (take a shot).

How's that liver doing? Okay, we'll leave the drinking game alone for a minute (though that's the setup, the movie itself has a tonnnnnn more) and talk about the technical details. Actually...why am I talking about the technical details? Seriously, why? Their all TECHNICALLY fine, but they're dull and lifeless. The opening action beat in particular looks like something out of a droid ad, and all the rest are completely cliché and predictable, aside from an interesting zero gravity fight that lasts about 15 seconds.

As for the script and characters, what do you want me to say? Some movies are interested in moving past their clichés and making their initially cliched characters into fully formed human beings (see: Attack the Block). This one signed a contract at the start of production to never do anything of the sort. The script is boringly predictable, both in story and in dialogue. Would you believe me if I said that the main characters issue dry one liners every ten seconds? How about if I told you that the guy and the girl started out not liking each other (take a shot) but after going through some tough times and calling each other on their flaws (take a shot) they get a mutual admiration (take a shot) which begins to become romantic (take a shot)? Didn't think so.

Of the actors, Guy Pierce is the only one I didn't hate. I can't hate him too much, as it's not really his fault that the character is a walking cliché and as the lead, he fulfills the only real requirements of being generally likeable enough, occasionally amusing and a believable badass. Other than that, no one is really putting any effort into being anything other than a cliché and a couple characters are phoning it in so hard that their performances might as well be carried out through a tin can connected by some string.

And then there are the aspects that are just weird. I promised myself I wouldn't bitch about the lack of realism when it comes to their portrayal of SPAAAAAAAAAAAACE but there are some things that just confuse me. Like the sequence where the girl (I'm sure she has a name but I don't give a shit) spends 2 minutes insulting the main character, and then the next scene they're friends. This is the most glaring example, but it's far from the only one, and it seems to me that a lot of movie probably ended up on the cutting room floor, probably because a producer decided it was looking terrible and wanted to shorten the movie to maximize the number of showings they could have in a day. It's a fairly common practice.

This movie is just what it looks like: A cheap, generic lifeless mess of a movie, the exact kind of movie that opens early year because they don't think it can compete in summer. I find it ironic that it claims it's 'based on an Original Idea by Luc Besson' (no, really and that might be my new favorite credit) because it doesn't have a single original idea in it's head. If you want to recreate the experience of it, watch Escape From New York, with Star Wars on your laptop while drinking heavily. As for seeing it in theaters: Don't. See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like to apologize to you and to Joss Whedon: I'm seeing Cabin in the Woods tomorrow.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

DVD Review: Attack the Block

Despite strong critical and test audience reactions, Attack the Block was dropped into 11 markets with no marketing, no advance warning and even no website. As a result it passed under a lot of audience's radars and even if it didn't, it was essentially impossible to see. I myself struggled to track it down before it left theaters, but was unable to. But now I can officially tell you, that if you can find it on DVD or Netflix, you should definitely seek it out. Because Attack the Block is ALL kinds of awesome.

The setup is fairly simple. A group of hoodlums in South London, fresh from mugging a woman wind up being attacked by and subsequently kill, a small monkey-like alien. Soon enough larger, bear-like aliens are showing up and assaulting the large apartment building (known, colloquially, as The Block, hence the title), and the teenage hoodlums are forced to band together with out residents of The Block and fight back against the monsters with improvised weaponry and tactics.

Pretty much everything this movie needs to get right it does. The characters are unique and interesting enough that I cared about their fates and was moved when they died, especially given how different they are from the usual kinds of people who wind up fending off aliens. The action is engaging and inventive. The scares are well done, the jokes well placed and genuinely funny. The script is easily the best script a movie like this could hope for. It's got great makeup, lighting, cinematography and even a fantastically used soundtrack. But special mention must go to the monster design. Working on a noticeably low budget, they solved the problem of how to make the CGI monsters look real and scary, without breaking the budget. I won't spoil it, but trust me, this is some of the best monster design you'll see all year.

Look, Attack the Block is not looking to reinvent it's genre. It's certainly not gonna break into the top 3 sci-fi films of the new century any time soon (they are, for context, District 9, Moon and Children of Men, in order). What it IS aiming to do is be a well made genre exercise, and taken on those merits it's one of the best new ones you can hope to see. If you have ANY desire to see a horror/monster movie, make it this one. Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd like to deliver a massive 'Fuck you' to the studio exec who thought Americans wouldn't understand the British slang.