Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Random Movie: Animal Kingdom (2010)


Well, this was not the movie I expected. Admittedly, I knew very little about this film prior to watching it other than it won a good amount of Australian Film Institute awards and even an Academy Award nomination for Jacki Weaver. I was thinking it to be a zoo-based comedy that also featured Guy Pearce but instead, writer and director David Michôd provides a thoughtful and powerful look at family, crime, and why mixing the two is bad business.

Seventeen-year-old Josh (James Frecheville) calls his grandmother to inform her of his mother’s untimely death after a heroin overdose. At least, once he can pull himself away from the Down Under equivalent of Deal or No Deal. Grandma Smurf (Weaver) takes Josh in and soon he is reunited with the uncles he has not seen for some time as Josh’s mother disapproved of the family. She had a point. Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), the oldest, is a has-been armed robber looking for a new trade. Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) is a manic and paranoid drug-dealer while the youngest Darren (Luke Ford) is a yes-man to the older two. Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) manages the family’s “affairs” and Grandma Smurf mostly stays out of it but is certainly aware of the shenanigans and what-not going on.

In retaliation for the death of family friend, the brothers gun down two Melbourne cops and in turn have the full force of the law brought upon them. Detective Leckie (Pearce) takes a liking to Josh and attempts to extract him from a life of crime which causes strife in the family. Where some stories show the upside to a life of crime with women, drugs, and respect, Animal Kingdom shows this family entrenched in crime, but more in a blue-collar sense. There are no swanky condos or drawers full of money, only constant panic and worry about what is to come next.

If you go into this movie expecting Goodfellas on the Barbie, you will be disappointed. Instead of relying on gunfights or brutal beatings, the film almost skirts around the Hollywood-esque elements and sinks you into the minutiae of a life in crime. Since the bulk of the film then is in heated conversations or quiet musings, it is a good thing there is a strong cast to back it up. Weaver rightly received the most acclaim since her performance is quite exhausting to watch as she effortlessly bounces from bubbly, to mournful, to downright mean when called for. The rest of the lead actors are great as well with my favorites being the psychotic Mendelsohn or the suave demeanor of Edgerton.

The best thing about this movie is also, to some extent, it’s downfall. Given that this is primarily a drama with just a pinch of action now and again, there is a real possibility of a guy like me (though I’ve gotten better) becoming bored. Most of the time, this was not a problem since the way the story unfolded was quite unconventional, providing a lot of surprises even before the first half of the film had passed. But, a large amount of scenes in the final third of the movie feel unnecessary considering that any other movie would have ended long before. Again, the superb acting works wonders to distract you from this but even that cannot smooth out the very rocky pace of this movie.

Considering though that this was the debut for Michôd, he deserves much applause for the mostly engaging story and the wonderful performances he elicits from the actors.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Random Movie: Ninjas vs. Vampires (2010)


Written by: PBF

Ninjas vs. Vampires is writer director Justin Timpane’s follow up to Ninjas vs. Zombies (which I have not seen). I must apologize to Mr. Timpane. While viewing this film, I sent Puck a text calling this film terrible. I rescind that. There are some terrible things in the film, but I now find that adjective to be not applicable to the film as a whole.

Aaron and Alex are hanging out late at night at what is sure to be an unsafe location. They have known each for years, and Alex considers Aaron to be her best friend. Aaron on the other hand, has stronger feelings and would like to be her boyfriend. He vocalizes this and is quickly shot down. To further ruin his night, the pair is suddenly attacked by vampires. Just when it appears a feeding is to occur, a group of ninjas appear and save them. “What the fuck?” you say? I assure you, I type the truth. The group is part actual ninjas, as they practice martial arts, but they are also some sort of X-Men type group in which each one has a special attribute. Kyle (Daniel Ross) can run really fast, Lily (Carla Okouchi) is a vampire but does not feed from humans, Ann (Melissa McConnell) practices magic. Then there is Cole (Cory Okouchi) who is the leader. Other than owning a comic book store and looking like Professor X, I am not sure what his special attribute is. There is some kind of plot involving an amulet, and the vampires wanting to create some new breed of undead and I think a war against humans. The plot is mostly irrelevant and just serves as the reason that ninjas and vampires must fight each other, and appear together in a film.

The comedy in this film is pretty dead on funny. Very funny lines, and best when delivered by Daniel Ross. There are some cheesy throw away lines, but this is a low budget film that is self aware, so even those work. On the whole, the blend of comedy action and gore is rather well balanced and enjoyable.

The directing and editing were spot on as well. Timpane knows what he is doing and put his knowledge of the films he loves in to his film. When you are watching a low budget picture you can usually tell where the sacrifices were made to stay within budget, and aside from the horrible CGI, nothing was so terrible that it screamed, “This is when we ran out of money!” And the CGI was bad. And there was a lot of it.

I don’t feel qualified to judge a fight sequence (which is unfortunate as there were a lot) because action films are not really something I gravitate to. However, there were some decent fights but, they usually ended with terrible CGI. They were entertaining enough, though.

One thing you will have to put up with is the constant references. Just to name a few: numerous comic books, Kevin Smith characters, the Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, endless mentions of vampires that sparkle, G.I. Joe. There are plenty more.

Before watching this film (and I do recommend it) keep in mind that the budget was $15,000. It doesn’t really look like the budget was that low, but it will help you lower your expectations a bit. The positives outweigh the negatives, and it is an entertaining 89 minutes. It’s just good fun.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Random Movie: The Green Hornet (2011)


2011 must be the year of the superhero. Or at least the year of the superhero that I couldn’t care less about. Nolan’s next Batman doesn’t come out until next year after all. But, I figured I would be remiss without catching at least a few of the genre’s offerings this year and what better place to start than with The Green Hornet, the 3D big-budget film that was released … in January? Weird.

Seth Rogen plays lovable slacker (seems like a stretch for him) Britt Reid, who is the playboy son of widower newspaper mogul, James Reid. His father is constantly disappointed due to his attention- and headline-grabbing antics. When his father dies, Britt meets Kaito (Jay Chou), a coffee-making car aficionado who worked for the family and commiserates with him about how much of a dick his father was. In a drunken act of rebellion, Britt and Kaito set off in bulletproof Chrysler Imperial to deface the recently erected statue of James Reid and foil a robbery nearby thanks to Kaito’s impressive martial arts skills. Britt then decides the two should team up and be superheroes.

While I know that the character of the Green Hornet is based on a 1930s radio program, I don’t know how faithful the script by Rogen and Evan Goldberg is to that concept. If it is faithful, then quite a few superhero tropes since have borrowed from the original radio show. If not, then Rogen and Goldberg were heavily influenced. Regardless, in a world with superhero movies running amuck, having Britt Reid sans parents, or working at a newspaper, or the Green Hornet well armed with super-cool gadgets seems derivative even if it was not originally.

One of the more redeeming qualities of the film was the characters’ self-awareness. Reid lays out rather concisely why they should pose as bad guys to avoid the wrath of the real bad guys like other heroes. And he gets help from the knowledgeable Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) as how to ascend to the top-tier of the criminal element. Reid even acts as a publicist when the Hornet’s actions start causing defections from the crime syndicate. This does not sit well with the resident bad-ass Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) who through a convoluted, yet somewhat predictable, turn has people near Reid who want him dead.

While the plot itself was not earth-shattering, it was enjoyable enough. Also quite entertaining was the film’s numerous action pieces, many set to classical music like the source material. Director Michel Gondry composes car chases, hand-to-hand combat, and shootouts like a pro even if his previous films do not seem in the same realm of filmmaking. Since I saw this on a poor man’s Blu-ray, the 3D stood out like a sore thumb (where does that saying even come from?) but was unimpressive unless you like bottle caps virtually hurled at you.

The cast was good but this is another vehicle for Seth Rogen (who slimmed down significantly for the role) to act childish but also to get into fights with just about everyone else in the movie. Perhaps that is where the screenwriters tried to break from the established superhero norm but having Britt be a baby and lashing out at his partner, his secretary, his father’s most trusted friend, et al. is not beneficial in establishing a likable character. Chou has some fancy moves but his character is more background to the Hornet even though he has 98% of the skills in the group. Waltz is always welcome even though his character popped in and out too much to be an effective villain. And Diaz … well, I’ve address her here.

As it is, Green Hornet will probably be one of the more forgettable tales of heroism this year but it was good enough to at least warrant a viewing. I would potentially be on board with a sequel, provided that we try something new next time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Random Movie: I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

Written by: PBF

Remind me to keep my mouth shut the next time I say I should have been scarred. 2010's I Spit on Your Grave is a remake of a 1978 film of the same name. I was unimpressed by the original with its bland characters, lack of tension and surprisingly boring execution of a heinous serious of events. The rectifies these issues, but to the complete extreme.

The story is the same; a writer named Jennifer arrives in the deep country to write her first novel. Before she gets to her cabin, she interacts with some locals, a healthy mix of creepy, retarded and seemingly harmless. An embarrassing event occurs at the gas station which establishes part of a motive for some depraved acts. This combined with a retarded chap\'s misinterpretation of a kiss from Jennifer, quickly results in the go ahead for those acts. Jennifer is assaulted, mentally tortured, and ultimately raped repeatedly. Before the assailants can kill her, she jumps into the river and disappears. Her body is never recovered. About a month later she returns, to get her revenge.

There are some improvements from the original. There actually is a clearly established motive for these men to commit the acts that they do. In the original, they seemed to be a result of mostly them just being country psychos. Also, in the original, the men were lured in to the most ridiculous of traps and met there demise. The remake has them being ambushed for lack of a better term and dispatched in fairly quick and bizarre fashions. Having said those things, this version seemed more realistic.

However.

This film (I watched the unrated version) is quite vile. Needless to say, the crimes committed again Jennifer were most certainly uncomfortable and heinous. Not just the rape, but the mental abuse and games they play with her were just as evil. But, also the crimes committed against the men. Horrible, elaborate deaths. Disturbing at best.

This leads to the ultimate debate that should occur if both men and women view this at the same time. Were Jennifer's actions justified? It's clearly obvious her actions are revenge driven, but in case you may not pick up on that, she says the same things to each victim that were said to her during her ordeal. But does that make her right in her actions? If, not what would be fitting? Arrests and eventual death chamber? Same end result. Just not as inhumane. Possibly. I say that the debate "should" occur because it certainly will not. Everyone will be washing their brains in hot water in an effort to remove some of the images. The film seems more interested in shock value than healthy discussion. Not that all films should result in a healthy discussion, but man. You have quite a controversial subject to not want to spark one.

The film is better acted, directed and just plain is better than the original. But is it good? Unfortunately, no. It goes too far. Instead of say, the A Time to Kill approach about justifiable homicide, which mostly involves a deadly reaction to something and then a trial, this film just shows repeated horrible acts, which leaves you too jarred to even discuss the subject.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Random Movie: Bridesmaids (2011)


After commenting on Twitter that I had seen and pretty much dug Bridesmaids, good ol’ Wifi Pirate from 3SMOVRadio attempted to clarify by asking if it was The Hangover for women. It is very Hangover-esque but featuring women, not necessarily just for them. As The Hangover was very reminiscent of previous movies by Judd Apatow, it seems fitting that this is one of his productions and directed by Paul Feig, one of the many people I love just for being involved with Arrested Development.

As you can probably guess, Bridesmaids centers around a wedding. The bride-to-be Lillian (Maya Rudolph) wants her lifelong friend Annie (Kristen Wiig) to be her maid of honor but Annie’s life is in shambles. She is broke after a failed business attempt and shares a small apartment with a quirky English brother and sister. She is also quite jaded from a recent breakup and probably should not be anywhere near the planning of a couple’s everlasting happiness. Yet, Annie puts on a happy face and endures even though her expression betrays her desire to yell profanities at all the happy couples throughout.

Lillian introduces the rest of the wedding party including the raunchy mother of three Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), the obnoxiously innocent Becca (Ellie Kemper), the improper and foul-mouthed Megan (Melissa McCarthy), and the controlling perfectionist Helen (Rose Byrne). As the five embark on what would normally be numerous scenes of gossiping or backstabbing in a typical female-biased comedy, there are many inspired moments of gross-outs and physical comedy galore. As such, this is far more satisfying, not to mention hilarious, than the title alone would have you think.

It’s no surprise that I don’t hold out a lot of hope for Hangover 2, so thus Bridesmaids may be the talked-about R-rated comedy of the year. It certainly strives for that title with the knowledge that infantile women and their bodily functions are just as funny as similarly plotted male characters. Yet, much like the best of the entries in this genre, the film is filled with characters who are wacky, yet still realistic which makes it much easier to connect with the story instead of just laughing at the obviously telegraphed portions.

The script from Wiig and Annie Mumolo does not fall into the trap of random sequences strung together for comedic effect or the typical tear-duct cleansing sessions of a normal romantic comedy. There are strong and well-developed characters, genuine character arcs especially with Annie and her romantic flings with Jon Hamm (!) and Chris O’Dowd, and a true sense of comradery between the women as they embark in their quest for the perfect wedding complete with brutal diarrhea or run-ins with an air marshal.

The biggest fault of the movie is its runtime at a hefty two hours and five minutes. Basically, there is no reason a normal comedy should run this long and neither of the two editors seemed to be able to craft a solid narrative out of the (admittedly very funny) interconnecting scenes. I guess then they just stitched it together as good as possible but that left a very uneven and plodding pace present with scenes that easily could have been excised. Considering the strength of the actors and the story itself though, I can almost excuse a bit too much moreso than not enough. In fact, Bridesmaids may be the best movie to bridge the gap between typical male and female movie tastes. That is definitely worth applause.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Random Movie: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996)


Sadly, I was late getting into MST3k when it was still around. In my area, we didn’t have Comedy Central until just before the show switched to Sci-Fi so the only option for Joel/Mike and the ‘bots was overly expensive VHS copies or one hour long segments at 2 AM on Saturdays. As such, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (henceforth referred to as whatever acronym I feel like) was an easy way to get your bad movie fix rife with sarcastic commentary. That is, until I realized that the movie is actually quite different from the show.

You should know about MST3k by now considering that we’ve had two previous posts about it, not to mention the dozens of other pages and wikis about the show. The long and short is that a man is trapped on an orbiting satellite just above Earth who is forced to watch bad movies to amuse his captors. Not content to suffer in silence, the first man, Joel, builds four robots, some to aid in the ship’s operation and others to make witty quips with him while watching the chosen horrendous films.

One of the most endearing qualities about a typical episode of the long running series was the reliance on rapid-succession jokes full of obscure references that only make sense after researching it. But, since this was designed to be a feature film to (I presume) increase the show’s exposure, the rifts were not as sophisticated or plentiful. It also helps (or hurts depending) that the film featured was not some DTV piece starring Joe Estevez but rather, the 1950s classic-for-the-time-period This Island Earth. This Island Earth is certainly cheesy with questionable special effects and performances that are mostly on par with other sci-fi movies from this time period but considering the depths of cinematic ineptitude this series has uncovered through the years, this one is Oscar worthy.

Mike (Joel’s replacement) and his robot pals have fun riffing the movie and most of their lines stand out as laugh-out-loud funny as opposed to the hit or miss barrage of jokes from the series. But I still feel a little cheated that a good portion of This Island Earth is excised which makes it look more vapid and nonsensical than the movie actually is. Also that the feature length film runs a good ten or fifteen minutes shorter than an average episode with seemingly longer host segments is almost inexcusable as well. Reportedly, there was a bit of animosity during the production with the almost certainly free-spirited MST3k folk battling corporate bigwigs. Perhaps that is the cause of the significant shift in execution or its truncated length but regardless, MST3k:TM is a much funnier and enjoyable time than your average Adam Sandler movie.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Random Movie: Cropsey (2009)

Written by: PBF

Title that makes no sense? Subject I had not heard about? Documentary? Surely Cropsey is not for me. Quite the contrary.

Cropsey is a documentary by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, who grew up on Staten Island. As kids (though they did not know each other at the time) each were familiar the urban legend of Cropsey, an escaped mental patient who kidnapped and murdered children. He varies from story to story, sometimes having a hook and other times wielding an axe. On July 9, 1987 a young girl named Jennifer Schweiger is kidnapped. After Andre Rand is arrested as a suspect, it seems like Cropsey may not just be an urban legend. Rand was on orderly at Willowbrook, a mental institution for children who were mentally ill, or handicapped. In 1972, Geraldo Rivera did an investigative report on the facility, exposing the horrible treatment of the patients (and employees) and their living conditions. Ultimately, the facility is shut down and the building left abandoned. After sometime, some of the employees (Rand included) returned to live in the underground tunnel system of the facility. Several children in the area had disappeared in the 70′s and 80′s. When Schweiger goes missing, a group called Friends of Jennifer is formed. The group and police comb the area and find nothing. Rand, who is known to camp in the area, is arrested and is clearly out of his mind. A photograph of him in custody shows him drooling and completely gone. Because of his arrest record, many people immediately consider him guilty before he is even put on trial. Another search of the area is conducted, and suddenly Jennifer’s body is now found in a shallow grave near Rand’s camp. This oddly suspicious discovery seals his fate (he is still serving time today). Jennifer’s body is only one of the missing children to have ever been found. Cropsey presents evidence, interviews and case information all in attempt to determine whether Rand was innocent or guilty, and if so, if he acted alone. It also follows his trial some 20 years later of another girl whose body was never found, but he was accused of kidnapping.

Obviously, the subject of children being abducted and murdered is quite disturbing and this film is just that. From the facts of the cases themselves to actual footage from Geraldo’s expose, there is nothing very comfortable to watch here. Yet it is extremely compelling. Essentially what we have is two filmmakers attempting to find out if a tale from their youth is actually true. Within this is the possible implication that a town may have convicted an innocent man, simply because it would provide some closure to a highly disturbing series of events. There is a lot of evidence to argue either side, but not enough to clearly indicate Rand’s guilt or innocence (despite his incarceration).

This is an excellent film that will fascinate true crime fans. It is well put together and complimented with haunting music. Take a viewing of this film and choose what side you believe.