Sunday, December 30, 2012

Random Movie: Argo (2012)

With a dynamic cast and an engaging story, it would be hard for Argo to fall flat but considering Grant Heslov and George Clooney's output as a producing team, it could have as easily ended up as an overwrought, insufferable look at international relations (cough,Syriana). Fortunately though, Ben Affleck returns to the director's chair bringing his experience and past strengths and little of the overdramatic and deadly serious tones that normally populate this sub-sub-genre.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Mini Scum: Arbitrage (2012)

A sympathetic or relatable character is generally a necessity in any movie but especially one that's set in the world of a billionaire's family and his money-printing hedge fund. Richard Gere stars as Robert Miller, a who's who in the world of finance who not only is desperately trying to sell his company to cover up his $400 million loss to his investors, but is also having an affair on the side. As if being a cheating and fraudulent investment broker wasn't enough, Miller flees the scene of an accident where his mistress was killed and ropes in an unsuspecting family friend to his shenanigans.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Random Movie: The Watch (2012)

It's been an increasing trend in the past few years as movie trailers have become more shameless and bloated but a common cry after seeing a movie is "The best parts were in the trailer!" Sadly, this refrain is true for The Watch but even more sad is the fact that those featured moments, the best-of if you will, were not even that good. The rest of the movie followed suit.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Random Movie: [REC] 3: Genesis (2012)

This series just keeps getting weirder.

With [REC] 2 picking up right after the original ended, it would be difficult to continue on the same path with the same momentum as those films. As such, co-writer/director Paco Plaza of the first two decided he would break the formula in quite a few ways. [REC] 3 runs concurrent to the original instead of dovetailing into it like one might assume from the subtitle. In a lovely Spanish church compound, a young couple in love is about to tie the knot in front of their closest friends and family. Little did Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martín) know that inviting that one creepy uncle would not only make things awkward, but also turn their wedding party into a excursion in survival.

Even though the film runs very short, the quick running time still leaves time for Clara, Koldo, and some of the other notable wedding guests to have adequate introductions before the police show up and crazy rapid zombie people are crashing through the windows. In the melee, Clara and Koldo are separated which drives the movie since at any point the characters can simply leave the church grounds. In their search though, we get more backstory and reason to care for them to be reunited.

Mini Scum: Lawless (2012)

As much as I want to like Shia LaBeouf as a serious actor, his past career choices and general absence of skill make that difficult.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Random Movie: The Dead (2010)

A zombie movie that is compelling, decently acted, and not crap! Who knew they still made those?

No doubt you’ve seen The Dead pop up in your local DVD kiosk or big-box retailer with the quoted proclamation that it’s “The Best Zombie Movie of the Year.” Lofty superlatives normally carry some weight when paired with your latest Ben Affleck or Clint Eastwood movie, but I tend to be leery when it comes to low-budget horror since there are plenty of reviewers who are quick to label excellence upon crap to everyone else. Surprisingly though, that declaration is warranted.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Random Movie: The Apparition (2012)

This movie is apparently pretty widely hated. And to think, I had never even heard of it before.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Random Movie: Warrior (2011)

Why did I not have a desire to see Warrior when it was in theaters? The stellar-looking cast including Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton didn’t hurt but perhaps it was the seemingly overwrought story of two estranged brothers who each are fighting against each other for whichever predetermined important reason. (Was that even supposed to be a surprise in the final act? Because it’s all over the trailer!) Or perhaps Warrior didn’t strike my fancy since I am hardly a sports fanatic even though the brutality and testosterone-y aspects of MMA are pretty cool. Yet, all it took was one of my colleagues saying “You’ll want to tackle someone while watching it” that got me on board. For the record, he was right.

Even if you are Amish or have short-term memory problems, or have otherwise not seen the entire narrative spoiled in the previews, the story in Warrior is so expected that you can see it coming from two summers ago. Hardy plays Tommy Conlon, an angry and bitter man who has suffered through many hardships in life, many from his estranged father Paddy (Nick Nolte) who was drunk and abusive before finding religion and sobriety. Edgerton plays Brendan Conlon, brother to Tommy, who left his family at sixteen to be with his would-be wife. Brendan has not seen Tommy since then and is still hesitant about any contact with his father.

Tommy’s past is a mystery since he is emotionally withdrawn and does not talk about it to anyone, especially his prying father. We learn in bits and pieces about him fleeing with his mother only to watch her painfully die later on as well as his heroics in the military and a promise made to the widow of one of his fallen compadres. Brendan on the other hand has a beautiful wife and two girls but is in a bad financial situation to the point that he is about to be removed from his house without a substantial amount of money. With that, both brothers sign up for a MMA tournament against fourteen other top fighters in the world for a chance to win $5 million.

It is odd that a film like The Fighter, which is good but very predictable, can be nominated for Best Picture along with a slew of other awards and the only Oscar nomination for Warrior goes to Nolte. Granted, Nolte is great with his performance as the outside man desperately seeking redemption from his remaining family. He carries the knowledge of his past failures and is humbled because of them but both sons mostly cast him aside except for Tommy who clearly specifies he needs Paddy as a trainer and nothing else. Hardy also turns in a criminally under-appreciated performance as Tommy who hides years of physical and emotional trauma behind a steely facade with nothing but rage and aggression poking through when he is in the cage.

Rounding out the trio of emotionally scarred Conlon men is Edgerton as Brendan who I first noticed and became a fan of from Animal Kingdom. Edgerton’s character has a good amount of time devoted to him but his character lacks the stress of Tommy or the rejection of Paddy rendering Brendan the more plain character out of the three. He still does a remarkable job though as Brendan is the underdog throughout the process and is given the most material to sympathize with. For most of the film, Tommy comes off almost as an ungrateful punk who doesn’t give a damn about anyone so connecting with him is a bit more difficult.

Even though the story seems a tad unoriginal, co-writer and director Gavin O’Connor infuses the film with so much energy that I feel comfortable in saying that you too will want to tackle someone at parts of the movie. The fight scenes, of which there are many, never feel overly staged or choreographed and the typical handheld camera shots are not overdone to risk confusing you as to what is going on. Punctuating the fight scenes are conversations between Tommy and his father, Brendan and his wife, and so forth but those don’t feel like filler or padding the way some sports movies throw in “heavy” scenes. Even if you are not a fan of martial arts or sports movies, it is close to impossible to watch this film and not get teary-eyed when appropriate or otherwise invested in the characters. I haven’t seen a lot of the heavily lauded films from last year so I can’t proclaim this is the best but I am disheartened that this top-notch drama did not receive a bit more recognition.v

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Random Movie: The Campaign (2012)

In spite of the cast and crew, I can’t say I was expecting much from The Campaign. Sure, Will Ferrell is still arguably one of the best comedic actors still working but his recent output has been inconsistent. Likewise, Zach Galifianakis has had a few good roles but is largely coasting on being the weird, lovable lunk that John Candy may have played twenty years ago.

In the film, Farrell pretty accurately portays Cam Brady, a North Carolina good ol’ boy who is running for Congress unopposed. He’s suave and well-spoken but doesn’t actually believe a single thing he says other than he wants to be congressman again. In other words, he nails a typical politician with ease. After Brady leaves a lewd answering machine message at Jack McBrayer’s house, the Motch brothers (Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow) decide to throw a monkey wrench in his campaign by backing Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a simpleton with no political experience who is easily swayed into poor decisions by money and power. In other words, Galifianakis is also dead-on with his portrayal.

Mini Scum: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

I’m typically a sucker for end-of-the-world type stories so I was curious about Seeking a Friend for the End of the World even with an apparent lovey-dovey relationship courtesy of writer/director Lorene Scafaria. While I haven’t seen most of them, Steve Carell has successfully headlined a number of films but he just seems uncomfortable in this romance/comedy/drama hybrid. Granted, his character is meant to be shy and reserved but it’s a wild change from most of what he’s most familiar from.

His screen partner Keira Knightley is delightful and the two leads share a good chemistry. But, and possibly by design, their relationship never feels as genuine as it should as the two attempt to cross New Jersey apparently (bleh) on the eve of the apocalypse. There are some funny moments as well as some serious ones about the reflection of life and love but because the film never really commits to which genre it wants to be in, things are less impactful. Until the world comes to an end that is.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Random Movie: The Expendables 2 (2012)

If you recall from my review of the first film, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first washed-up action star reunion show. It had its moments and is decent enough for a soulless, mindless popcorn flick but nothing more. As such, I wasn’t expecting much from its follow-up. Surprisingly enough though, The Expendables 2 is a bit goofier and a bit more over-the-top but it is a nice entry into the random action film category.

The idea of a sequel to the first film is not a hard sell since Sylvester Stallone and his band of mercenary misfits are designed to be an autonomous group traversing the world to kill tons of people and woo women. This time around, Stallone’s Barney Ross (did he have a name in the first? I didn’t catch it at least) is tasked by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) to retrieve a sensitive package from a downed plane. Even though Church describes it as a cake-walk, things are anything but once the villainous Jean-Claude Van Damme shows up to intercept the package. Oh, and that character who says he’s not cut out for this line of work and will leave the team at month’s end? He’s rendered dead by Van Damme giving the rest of the plot a forward boost.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Random Movie: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

This movie is terrible. Of course, this isn't a secret or a new revelation I've come to in deducing how mind-boggingly lazy this film is. In fact, it's so bad that I can safely classify it with The Happening which induces similar headaches and constant facepalms while maintaining its ability to make me want to suffer through it even though I know I'll hate myself afterward.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Random Movie: The Innkeepers (2011)

While I haven't seen any of his films, I hear director Ti West is an up-and-comer in the horror world off of his Cabin Fever 2 and The House of the Devil. And while the occasional one may, I have long since given up on the notion that a movie can "scare" me. Yet, I applaud those filmmakers who intend to create new horror films to at least attempt so long as they have the basic tenants of film making covered. As such, even being an original concept, The Innkeepers fails on pretty much every level.

Upon re-reading #pbf's review of The House of the Devil, it seems that West has a particular method of filmmaking in mind: a slow-burn callback to horror movies from decades ago. There are a lot of elements in Innkeepers that seem out of place in the modern film society: very contained cast of half a dozen or so, creepy locale, minimal technology, and a seemingly gradual buildup to the scares rather than a steady pace of false jump scares and such. Writer and director West though seems to set up the first half of this film perfectly for a shocking reveal or twist but forgets somewhere along the way. Instead, the majority of the movie flits along of the precipice of almost-scary before settling down into meandering bullcrap.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Different Kind of Infectious Disease Coming to TV

No doubt your DVR is stacked to the brim with episodes of zombies, vampires, Kentucky-based meth-dealers, and other harbingers of the apocalypse, but NBC is unsatisfied with merely having a well-received show about a flesh-eating psychiatrist as its grim factor. Enter Outbreak: The Movie!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Random Movie: Act of Valor (2012)

On paper (and in the ads), Act of Valor sounds like an interesting premise: an action film shot using Navy SEALs in place of actors. After all, if they can portray even half of the cool stuff the general public even knows about, it should kick ass, right? Eh, sadly not so much. Of all movie genres, it doesn't take too much for me to like a military-based film probably much like the rest of the world enjoys the hell out of military-based video games. Mostly in these films there is a decent story, great action, and overwhelming sense of humility for even the fictional military members doing things that I'd rather not have to think about. They are almost cathartic that way.

Act of Valor on the other hand fizzles out almost from the start with a heavy-handed narration from one SEAL to (presumably) the son of another fallen soldier. In the next scene, we meet Rourke who is about to deploy and whose wife is expecting a baby. As if his fate as an expectant father in a dangerous action film wasn't clear enough. We are treated to a briefing on the team's members that doesn't do much other than let us know there are more than the two main guys and then they are whisked away to various corners of the globe to to rescue a captured CIA agent, fight a drug dealer, and defeat a mad Jihadist (their words, not mine) and his rag-tag team of suicide bombers.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Random Movie: The Thing (2011)

When this movie was first announced as a prequel to the John Carpenter's The Thing, arguably one of the best horror movies ever made, I felt an odd sense of relief knowing that it wouldn't be an out and out remake. Of course, framing this as a prequel to a classic film creates its own problems as it effectively paints the film into a corner at the risk of alienating a huge portion of the audience that would get up in arms if it does not tie into the original. So, The Thing '11 is almost like a cinematic damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't scenario. Surprisingly though, it turns out pretty well.

Maybe it was explained in Carpenter's film (or the preceeding film or the novella they all are based on) but why are all these people in Antarctica in the first place? I get that they are research teams but what are they researching? The balmy conditions outside? The mental stress of being cooped up in a reinforced cardboard box for months at a time? Alien mating calls? Whatever the reason, paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is convinced by her mentor Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen) to head to beautiful downtown South Pole to investigate the discovery of a crashed spaceship as well as its passenger who managed to escape before being frozen in ice.

The Americans head back to the Norwegian research camp with an occupied block of ice in tow to research to creature but due to the impatience of Halvorson and the ineptitude of one of the Nordmenn, the monster escapes and most of what you remember from Carpenter's film is replayed, this time with a bunch of bearded, underdeveloped characters along with Joel Edgerton and Lost's Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) for good measure. This is the first stumbling block for Eric Heisserer's script as there are far too many characters who exist only pad the body count. The actors you recognize are given at least a glimmer of characterization but not so much for the foreign fodder.

But who cares? Yeah, even though good horror movies have characters or villains that stand out, it's not a requirement in the genre, right? Well, the story is really nothing special either since other than the first few scenes, after The Thing is unleashed it mirrors a lot of beats from its older brother. The subgenre standards of paranoia and sense of distrust are certainly not groundbreaking but I'm a sucker for these "the killer is among us" type of films. The issue again comes down to the denizens of the story since it is a reasonable expectation that Winstead will be the final girl, either Olsen or Edgerton along with her, and the other notable actors saved until last to die so you know that The Thing! is more likely to be rotate among the other random people in the camp.

In pretty much every review of the 1982 model, the effects are called out as Rob Bottin performed miracles out of gunk and goo and whatever else to stand alongside the actors. It is reported that Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. used mostly practical effects with CGI just to augment or replace what didn't work, nothing noteworthy stood out as real like a self-dismembering head. Granted, the look of a lot of the effects, including a two-faced monster toward the end, look cool but still have a sheen of computer wizardry so they are not nearly as impactful.

In spite of Hollywood's proclivity to churn out remakes and reboots galore, it is difficult to completely divorce them from the predecessors and even more so here. Heisserer and Heijningen make a point to directly tie into Carpenter's film which is neat in some aspects like the aforementioned two-faced monster and even the layout of the Norwegian camp that is glimpsed before. But for as cool as some added history is, there are just too many moments that are repurposed for inclusion here such as a blood test to reveal the monster. I almost wonder if a straight remake would have turned out better but then again, all of these constant homages would have felt even less genuine without that thread between the two.

I know the overall tone of this review is negative but in fact, The Thing 2011 is a pretty decent monster movie. It's not the best and nowhere near as great as Mac and the gang's adventures but with some decent performances, even from the no-names, and a mostly tense atmosphere, you could do far worse. I feel the filmmakers could have done more different instead of falling back on homaging the original so much but if you are going to copy, it's best to copy something that was awesome the first time around.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Random Movie: Piranha 3DD (2012)

Every generation has its defining movie premiere that lives in the annals of history: The Godfather, Star Wars, Weekend at Bernie's. Yet, #pbf and I were giddy with excitement late on a Thursday night in August 2010. The midnight premiere we were gearing up for: Piranha 3D. Sadly, Dimension Films in all their wisdom denied us a repeat event when Piranha 3DD was shuffled around the release schedule only to end up in a few dozen theaters. Dumbasses.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Random Movie: Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Written by: PBF

Chernobyl Diaries is basically The Hills Have Eyes. Except it sucks. Although, the premise is interesting and believable; too bad the writing and acting ruined all of that.

Chris, Amanda and Natalie (Chris's girlfriend) are travelling through Europe. They see all the usual touristy stuff then head to Kiev, to visit Paul, Chris's brother. After that, they plan to visit Moscow. However, at breakfast, Paul describes something called "extreme tourism," which, as soon as he said that phrase, I imagined some twenty-something slamming a Mountain Dew and exclaiming, "I saw the shit out of Big Ben!" As it turns out, extreme tourism is simply a flashy term for touring places that one would not think of touring. For example, Chernobyl. Paul met a gentleman named Uri, who runs such a service and he describes it to the others. They are reluctant at first, but via Paul's charm and whimsy, eventually agree to go. Two others, Michael and Zoe, join them on the tour. They arrive at the town where the families of the worker's once dwelled and are turned away by the guards. Uri finds another way in that is unattended. The group's interest and fascination increase as they explore a lake and empty buildings, but after a bit of a scare, decide it is time to go. Only the van will not start. Then all kinds of crazy Russian ghosty things start to occur.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Random Movie: The Avengers (2012)

The general consensus was that The Avengers could not work as intended.

Granted, Marvel Studios did their best in establishing the four main members of the group with their own films that were mostly pretty solid in their own right, but how can one film fit so much backstory, sarcastic quips, and charisma from the assembled team without it being six hours long? Enter Joss Whedon to write and direct it, complete with his own built-in cult of crazed fans even though his output has never included anything of this size or scope before. I can't say I am a rabid fan of Whedon, only because there are many gaps in his resume that I have not seen. Nonetheless, he seemed like a perfect choice just from the goodwill the internet has for him as well as the properties of his I have seen (like the completely awesome Cabin in the Woods).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Random Movie: The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Usually, when a film interests me, I go out of my way to read up on the story or cast or even read a few reviews from trust-worthy, non-spoilery places. This was not the case for The Cabin in the Woods, but only due to the urging of just about every shtick of information I read. There are a few things I feel comfortable going into with this review and some that I don't to preserve some of the charm. Just know this: this is one of the best horror movies recently mostly because it copies so shamelessly from all the rest.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Random Movie: J. Edgar (2011)

Certain movies just scream for attention and Academy Awards because of the pedigree of cast and crew or their subject matter. If you recall, this was my main issue with last year's Best Picture winner The King's Speech. Yet, even though some films have the requisite check marks on the Best Picture to-do list, they fall between the cracks. Such is the case for J. Edgar. Directed by the award-winning Clint Eastwood, starring the award-winning Leonardo DiCaprio, and written by the award-winning Dustin Lance Black, this should have been a shoe-in for every award that Oscar could throw at it. This was not the case as it is a mostly entertaining tale but nothing showcasing great cinema.

J. Edgar Hoover undoubtedly is a prominent figure in United States history and it is rather odd that a theatrical feature about his life has only just been made (not counting the appearances in other films or the Treat Williams' TV film). Good or bad, his name still stands upon FBI headquarters and his contribution to the criminal justice system is more than all four Law & Order series combined. But as historical information shows, Hoover was an interestingly complicated man in his pursuits of truth and justice, all the while trying to uphold the sovereignty of the United States. Sadly though, while Eastwood's film touches upon these moments here and there, the rest is bogged down into questionable historical claims and silly love quarrels.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Random Movie: El Monstro del Mar! (2010)

Throwback movies prove that some films exist just for shits, giggles and entertainment without an agenda, completely unlike most of what the Academy nominated this year. After all, what can be better than a low-budget film featuring attractive women involved in a vicious fight between a ludicrous stop-motion tentacled monster? The answer: not The Artist.*

Available today on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures, El Monstro del Mar! is a quaint tale from Down Under about Beretta (Nelli Scarlet), Blondie (Karli Madden) and Snowball (Kate Watts), three women who are as much empowered as they are tattooed, who seek a shack with a waterfront view after ruthlessly killing two locals in their path. After arriving at the shack, Blondie and Snowball take the opportunity to play in the water before being verbally scolded by Joseph (Norman Yemm) for being there. As things escalate between the vixens and the old man, his granddaughter Hannah (Kyrie Capri) breaks it up and catches the girls’ collective eye.

After being invited over that night, Hannah tells the girls of her parents’ death in the water and how her grandfather forbids her from going near it. Then Hannah gets wasted and a mysterious, tentacled being snatches Snowball from the dock along with a few other fishing folk nearby. The rest of the short runtime is Beretta and Blondie learning about the being’s history and declaring war on it. Along the way are enough grisly deaths and over-the-top effects that truly make this worthy of a watch just to see how crazy it can get.

Most of the indie movies we feature here tend to be low-budget to the point of sticking out. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (case in point, Dawning) but the lack of funds can limit what appears on screen and what is implied. Either writer/director/et al Stuart Simpson had a much larger budget or can manage gross visual effects and some laughable, but still commendable, monster shots on a dime. I’m thinking its a ‘little bit of column A, little bit of column B’ answer. Regardless of how its actual cost, El Monstro is a sharp looking film with little hints of low-budgetness here and there which give it more character.

Beginning with an impressive opening in black and white, the color switches gears into full color as blood is shed. While I appreciate being able to see gratuitous blood in its natural state, this film seems like it was born to be a full B&W affair but that was partially abandoned, likely to increase its commercial appeal. Most every scene after the opening was shot and lit in a way that made the actors stand out prominently against dark or shadowed background. It’s rare to see a modern film embrace the film format of old (The Artist notwithstanding) so I would rather have seen a full commitment if that was so intended. I can’t knock the film too much for this though since the choice of lighting and composition was so expertly done.

Not much falls flat in this one, nor does it really have time to with a brief running time. Most of the actors turn in largely good performances with the exceptions being the bit characters who die suddenly so that doesn’t matter much. Sure, the monster effects are cheesy but in the film’s defense, that was what it was going for with an old-school approach that makes a seasoned horror fan appreciate the finale with blood-drenched heroines who are sliding around on the floor covered with goo. If nothing else, the finale is worth the price of admission all by itself with the rest of the film simply an added bonus.

*I haven’t seen The Artist but I doubt I’d appreciate it more than El Monstero.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Random Movie: Chronicle (2012)

Honestly, I don't think I even know of this film before it came out in theaters a few weeks ago and I certainly had no desire to see it. Strangely though, Chronicle received so many positive reviews (85% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.6 on IMDb) that I thought I would be remiss without seeing it, especially as I had a free movie ticket burning a hole in my pocket. If all you know about it is "superhero found footage film" then stop now and go see it. I can almost guarantee you won't be disappointed.

I suppose this was somewhat covered in X-Men: First Class (though honestly I don't remember how much), but the film's main angle is 'what would you do if you had super powers?' For Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell), and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the first answer is to fool around with it, all for fun and games of course. After their chance encounter with an odd foreign object, the trio develops the power of telekinesis and quickly use it to beam each other in the head with chance curveballs, construct Lego towers with no hands, and naturally learn to fly. Yet, as they become more in control of their abilities, tensions begin to rise leading to some rather unexpected turns in the story.

I had no real expectations for this before walking into the theater and even being mostly in the dark about the premise turned out to be a good thing. The first two-thirds of the film work well as a found footage story since the actors are not easily placed (other than that DeHaan looks freakishly like a young Leonardo DiCaprio) and have a comfortable demeanor with each other, mostly while the three are still high on their discovery and just having some dumb fun. It is hard not to feel some excitement when they learn to fly and get anxious when a few of the early stunts go awry.

Most everything in the story is well-established and played out with main exception being one of the boys' sudden transformation from shy, awkward kid to dangerous superpower wielding psychopath. That part worked but it had very little foreshadowing or build up making the change feel forced. The majority of it though was spot on thanks to writer Max Landis (yep, of relation to John) who effectively taps into the well of angst and adolescence which made me both nostalgic and loathsome of my high school days.

First-time director Josh Trank brings the great story and superb acting together nicely in a package that moves fast without feeling rushed and embraces the genuine feel of a typical found footage tale but with some trickery to eliminate boring shots as Andrew's consumer camera levitates to give us somewhat cheesy, but pretty impactful shots. The found footage aspect though is hastily dropped toward the end though as multitudes of cell phones, tablets, and news videos are cut together to get a large picture of the destruction. Sadly, this detracts from the otherwise powerful finale as you are missing the personal element of Andrew and his friends shooting that permeates the rest of the film.

While the story would have been great even shot conventionally, having Andrew (mostly) manning the camera as he interacts with his friends, his alcoholic father, or his dying mother carries more heart and feeling than the traditional method would. Regardless of my somewhat minor quibbles about it, Chronicle is an unexpectedly awesome film.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Random Movie: Shark Night (2011)

Much like #pbf said in his review of Piranha, there are certain elements in a movie like this that almost defy you as a viewer to question them, thus making them exempt from critical thinking. I will fully admit to buying into those aspects whole-heartedly for Pirahna but I think my expectations were too high for Shark Night (or Shark Night 3D in theaters). From the illustrious David Ellis, director of the worst ever Final Destination movie (and that’s saying something), Shark Night straddled the line between good and so-campy-and-bad-that-it-is-in-fact-good that I was unimpressed with the final outcome.

If you substitute Haddonfield for this random Louisiana lake and insert sharks for Jason Voorhees, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this film. Sara (Sara Paxton) and her college friends come to stay at Lake Crosby for a random weekend of fun and shenanigans. Unfortunately, the good times and fun are interrupted when one of the group is attacked while water-skiing and loses an arm courtesy of a random shark in the lake. Insert “Your arm’s off!” Holy Grail quote here. Fortunately Nick (Dustin Milligan) is pre-med and knows that the one-armed man must be saved quickly. Cut to various attempts to leave the lake-front home that are derailed by shark attacks and that is a good chunk of the film. Well, other than the diabolical villain explaining why sharks are in the lake without really going into how one acquires a shark and deposits it into a lake on a budget.

I appreciate where Ellis and writers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg try to go with not so random shark attacks but it did not quite gel for me. While it homages the classic slasher film template often, it is nice to see a horror film with a minimal amount of doucebag characters who aren’t solely interested in sex, drugs, or various poor lifestyle choices. For the most part, all of the characters were smart enough and not annoying other than their proclivity for getting back into the water that has been confirmed as HOUSING SHARKS! Granted, many had good reasons to leave via jetski or boat but when you consider that the main adversaries are water-bound sharks, staying as far away from the water would typically be a good start to stay safe.

As far as the ancillary villain (or villains) go, their motives were all over the place from revenge for a boating accident years ago to just attempting to cash in on the hoopla of Shark Week. And for the first motive, why go through the trouble of capturing or acquiring sharks as opposed to a rusty switchblade or a microwave oven to exact vengeance on someone? Perhaps that was one of those moments so over-the-top that it should be funny, but I was merely scratching my head. Not to mention that if you want to kill someone via shark, why would you first put them into a shark cage? Again, I’m sure there is a completely illogical reason to do this so I’ll move on knowing that I don’t understand it.

Much like Ellis’ previous film THE Final Destination, this was shown in theaters in 3D. While I did not have a chance to catch the extra-dimensional aspect of this film, I did get the silly CGI aftermath as the sharks or debris or whatever was initially 3D looks silly as it juts toward the screen like that random shot of the shark in Jaws 3D. The cast is largely good considering the material they had to work with. I was especially impressed with Joel David Moore who seems to have embraced the fact that he can pull off a college student at 35. I feel like I am being a bit too hard on this film. It’s no cinematic achievement but it did not really strive to be that either. It is a pretty entertaining, if forgettable, 90 minutes of film though.

Random Movie: Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)

I’m quite sure there were not a bunch of rabid fans demanding a sequel to 2008′s Quarantine, which if you recall was an almost shameless American rip-off of the Spanish film [REC]. Where [REC] was pretty well received and produced a decent sequel, Quarantine was merely an okay film bogged down by the fact that it fails at portraying supposedly real events with the polished and recognizable Hollywood actors. For that film’s sequel, writer/director John Pogue drops the found footage angle and sets up a storyline almost parallel to the events of the first. And it works for the most part.

I chuckle at direct-to-video titles since they seem to fall into the trap of either a) crap that no one should see ever or b) crap that no one should pay to see in a theater but is otherwise manageable. Quarantine 2 is more of the latter even though the direct-to-video distribution model has a stigma attached to it which may lead you to dismiss it more easily. None of the characters from the original return since they are, you know, ‘quarantined’ so this film is about a East coast bound plane from LAX that happens to house the virus, or whatever, from the first. Once an infected passenger starts biting the flight attendants and causing a ruckus, the plane is diverted and the passengers depart into a sealed off terminal. Mayhem ensues as the number of infected grow as the number of decent characters dwindle.

It is clearly obvious that this was always designed as a low-budget affair so I feel bad in picking on the film for that fact. It almost feels like picking on a club-footed kid for the way he walks since it isn’t really his fault. Even though Pogue has a scant amount of titles on his resume (most notable a film I hate with a deadly passion, The Skulls), he is able to use the low-budget pretty effectively even if that means a minimal amount of characters and a dearth of locales to venture in. Fortunately, the bulk of the movie does not take place on the plane but inside the airport terminal (Did you even catch the double entendre of Terminal?) which offers more hiding places for the zombies, err… infected people to jump out of. Even if some of the sets are puzzling (like a barren catering truck that for some reason is on a hydraulic jack), it provides the characters a few different places to hang out in to break up the monotony of run-rest-run that punctuates the story.

While the timeline that sets up the film betrays it, the story actually ties in nicely with that of the first film with one of the characters knowing a bit more about the sequestered apartment building than the rest. It is yet another deviation from the story of the original and its ‘sort of’ sequel [REC] 2 even if the human villain is a bit too expository than I would have cared for. Even though the story is rather clunky, the actors in charge of delivering it are good, or at least as good as you can get for a $4 million budget. Mercedes Masöhn turns in a good performance as the reluctant stewardess who steps into power after the other crew members are, well, rendered ineffective while Josh Cooke as the love interest/weird teacher guy is pretty one-note for the most part. I enjoyed Ignacio Serricchio as the random airport employee the most even though he does not have much to do other than lead the group to different places to try escaping.

It’s not Oscar-worthy or even worth a purchase but I will admit to having a case of the jumps or the creeps in appropriate scenes. Pogue uses the set-dressed terminal quite well in portraying a claustrophobic, yet open environment. Since it is available for $1 and change in Redbox or for free on Netflix, it’s worth giving Quarantine 2 a try. It’s not the best, but it’s far better than most zombie-esque movies available in the same venues.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Random Movie: 50/50 (2011)

One might be able to argue that Dane Cook or Nickelback’s success is funny, but one of the big taboos in comedy is cancer. You typically don’t see much humor derived from an ailment that affects millions each year. Screenwriter Will Reiser though effectively manages to take the topic of cancer and turn it into a honest, genuine, and surprisingly funny look on the craziness surrounding an already terrible predicament in 50/50.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, essentially a stand-in for Reiser, who learns he has a rare form of cancer along his spine in the peak of his life. Seth Rogen, from reports who basically plays himself as he did to Reiser, is the supportive, opportunistic, and (of course) foul-mouthed friend to help along the way. We also meet Adam’s super-supportive girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston), and his new-to-the-field therapist (Anna Kendrick) as they try and support Adam though the diagnosis, treatment, and aftermath.

While the previews mostly portrayed this film as more comedic in tone, 50/50 is primarily a drama with a sprinkling of comedy, usually courtesy of Rogen. There is only so much light you can make of a film about a debilitating illness without it coming across as inappropriate or crass. Fortunately, Reiser’s script walks a pretty fine line between making a mockery of the suffering of millions and taking what comes from life in stride. The film succeeds on this front as it is not a heavy-handed “live your life to the fullest” affair but also addresses the hardship that comes with the plights of Adam’s fellow cancer buddies played by Philip Baker Hall and Trashcan Man Matt Frewer.

Not many actors can pull of such a varied performance as Gordon-Levitt did as he hits every stage of the process in perfect form with scenes filled with joy, anger or grief and some all combined together. I would say it is an award-worthy performance but apparently the powers that be do not agree. The rest of the actors merely revolve around Adam in some shape or form with Rogen not breaking too much new ground and Kendrick playing the same young and sensitive, yet inexperienced role that she has in other films. Huston in minimal screentime had quite an impact as the mother that Adam purposefully distances himself from yet relies on when everything comes down to the wire.

Director Jonathan Levine takes what you would anticipate being an ensemble effort and focuses superbly on Adam and his struggle. From the first diagnosis when the “State University” doctor remarks that his cancer is quite interesting because it is rare and yada yada yada, Levine pulls back and focuses solely on the ear of the patient as he tries to comprehend the words being causally tossed at him. We follow Adam throughout the entire ordeal as he has his first chemotherapy, gets high on weed-laced macaroons, and comes to terms with the probable outcome that he will die. The emphasis on Adam and the events in his life during his treatment put you in the mindset of someone in that situation. It is not a joyous, “to hell with rules” mindset but one of reason, despair, and sorrow.

On one hand, 50/50 is not a feel-good movie as it evokes many emotions that most (including myself) would disregard while watching a film. But it is not only a strong movie off the back of Gordon-Levitt’s great performance, but also one that can help you see the bright side in even the worst situation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Random Movie: The Hangover Part II (2011)

I’ve already said my piece (twice actually) regarding The Hangover Part II, namely that I would not cry if it died in a blazing inferno. No such luck though as the film was released last Memorial Day weekend to buckets of money being thrown at it. I guess that means we can expect another sequel in a year and a half or so much to my chagrin since this entry was just like the first, except not funny.

Perhaps that is too harsh. Perhaps Hangover II is in fact funny but I was too biased to notice. I don’t think that is the case though unless you equate lazy storytelling with funny. Much like the last film, there is a wedding involved, the “Wolfpack” getting into trouble with the locals and the authorities, a missing member of the group, a new addition to the group (this time there are three in fact), and shenanigans as our leads attempt to piece together the previous night’s events. And there is even a random song from Ed Helms and an appearance by Mike Tyson. What a coincidence! At this point, I can’t tell if writer/director Todd Phillips and co-writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong are merely trying to emulate the first film or just have nothing else for our trio of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Helms to do other than recreate the first.

My chief concern for this film, even just hearing about it during production, was that it would be a soulless cash grab missing any of the “charm” of the original. The fact that the main cast members (except Heather Graham, sad) returned was remarkable to avoid a painful recasting or written-out character. From the acting front, everything still clicked as Cooper, Galifianakis, and Helms have a good chemistry together which makes the events fairly easy to watch. Ken Jeong randomly reemerges as Chow but he was quite entertaining in his brief screentime. Even Doug (Justin Bartha) returns although he is left out of the fun and games but not because he is the missing person. That honor goes to Mason Lee as Teddy, who is Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law but his interactions with the gang are few thus making his disappearance not as impactful as Doug’s in the first.

So while the cast was good enough here, the really issue lies with the story which is just a shameless rip-off of the original. Many of the scenes that originally drew big laughs from myself and I’d imagine many others are almost painstakingly recreated here which just leads to a yawn and fond rememberance of a film that was wild and unpredictable, as opposed to this film that was unpredictable only in how many callbacks to the first it could jam into the 1 hour 40 minute running time. While I didn’t pick up on the location of Teddy like Stu did (although that seemed a bit forced as well), pretty much everything else in the film is so predictable and easy to see coming. That is of course unless you haven’t watched the original.

Everything else on a technical level was sound with quite impressive shots of not only the gritty, urban Bangkok locale but also of the remote private Thailand island where the wedding is to take place. Honestly, it was the end of the film which solidified that I did not care for this movie with the random realization of where Teddy is, followed by Alan taking control of a speedboat to get back to the wedding (nothing can go wrong, right?), and then Stu finally standing up to his douche of a father-in-law. It all seemed so forced and convenient since the rest of the movie has established that everything will happen just like the first so we know that Stu’s nuptials are not in any real danger.

Whereas I liked the first Hangover because it was crass, silly, and unexpected, I dislike its sequel because it has all of those same characteristics but nothing else to bring to the table. Was it funny learning that Stu has “semen in him?” Quite. The random monk beating Helms and Cooper with a cane? Pretty funny. But there are so few moments in this film that are not almost directly lifted from its predecessor to make it anything more than Hollywood’s poster child for churning out sequels that no one (well, maybe just me) wants to see.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Random Movie: Final Destination 5 (2011)

I caught a lot of crap at work for “liking” the Final Destination series. Primarily, this is coming from a guy who proclaims his favorite movie ever is the original Saw, so I consider his opinion moot. Given the unevenness of the series, I would say “tolerate” is a more appropriate verb for my feelings on these films. That seems fair since Final Destination films seem to range from pretty good, like the original, to the offensively stupid, such as a large chunk of part 3 and all of part 4. Since the various writers and directors of the previous four films seem to have moved on, Final Destination 5's writer Eric Heisserer and director Steven Quale have almost a blank canvas to create on.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Random Movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

In case it isn’t apparent, we at Movie Scum are big fans of David Fincher. He is, in my opinion, one of few standout directors currently working even if his resume does not have the broad appeal of a Spielberg or a Cameron. Perhaps it was my excitement upon hearing he was involved in the American version of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo that drowned out any feeble complaints of another American remake of a foreign film. I have not read the Stieg Larsson novel nor seen the entire Swedish adaptation, so I bring no preconceived notions of the story to this film and can hopefully be as impartial as possible.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Random Movie: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Written by: Tabitha Johnson

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picks up close to where the last one left off. Sherlock (Robert Downy Jr.) has spent an untold amount of time between films piecing together a continent wide conspiracy. With Watson (Jude Law) getting married he knew he had to finagle him into also being interested in the conspiracy. There has been bombings throughout Europe and he concludes that it his arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). He safely stops one bomb just for the mark to be assassinated none the less by the hit man. In guise of Watson's Bachelor party Holmes sets out to collect more clues. Enter Noomi Rapace (Girl with the DragonTattoo) as Madam Simza the soothsayer. Fighting ensues and a disastrous and drunk evening winds up with a disheveled Watson late for his wedding the following day. Holmes was used to being the smartest man in the chase until he tangles again with Moriarty. The professor is always two steps ahead and not shy of grand gestures to aid Holmes in meeting his maker even if innocents are hurt. The great reveal comes with Moriarty admitting that even if he didn't start the world war he was fine taking the world over financially with supplying the weapons to maintain the wars destructiveness. Throughout the film the history is slightly tweaked to fit the plot and help the audience make sense of it all. The climax and confrontation is set (where else would it be in a comic book style storyline) at the Summit Meeting between the nations.

Downy's performance is successful in delivering the quirky, intelligent, animated, lovable performance that we got used to from the first film. With Law bringing his cynical, realistic outlook on life attitude back they are a match still made in heaven. There’s been some time since there has been a male pair that shared such charisma and elegance on screen together. They both put their best feet forward. Only downside, writing more so than performance, was there was no depth given to the Holmes character. There were instances where you knew there was going to be more than his intellectual insanity but it fell away as quick as it appeared. Watson seemed to see through the exterior but it was never delved into further than him acknowledging non-verbally that it there. There was an entire sub plot that never developed. Watson being married at the end of their adventure that would have left Sherlock alone in the flat could have been used to really define Sherlock’s need for companionship. The loneliness behind his smile should have been given some room to be explored. However, It was still a very well put together action film.

Noomi's character should have been given more of a role than just a plot device. Her talent was not used to the best of her ability. I guess when coming from such a spectacular trilogy maybe it was a personal choice to cross over to the American Cinema with this type of role. She is not bad by any means. She still works well with what she was given but there should have been more given. When you take such a strong actor and give them a mediocre role it shadows their true talent. Harris kicks in the door with his performance. I have never loved and hated a character so much. He is a genius in his evil, super villain with pizzazz role. You began to root for him and his despicably absurd ploy for financial world domination. With what we know of Moriarty I was shocked that it look so long for the hand-to-hand combat to come. His devilishly handsome and overly confident self meets Holmes move for move to leave us holding our breaths as they get close to the edge of the falls.

The entire film is action and adventure sprinkled with dialogue and great direction. There are moments like when they get to the Summit that seem a little dragged out to make up for too many fighting sequences. The attention to detail is lacking in the action sequences and some may never notice but I did. Sherlock Holmes resides in Britain for most of his life, so why is it that he has an Eastern fighting style? I understand it is what most movie goers these days expect but that little anachronism changes the way I see the Guy Ritchie franchise of the great detective. It is why there is so much action in the movie bringing the film more current than the actual setting, appease the audiences. If some of the none plot building scenes were dropped the two hour plus movie wouldn't have felt like three hours. Ritchie stayed true to his form with the slow motion this-is-what-went-down technique and flash backs to cover what had previously happened but was skipped temporarily in the film. Over all it was a very enjoyable film. I would say it was slightly better than the original but sets expectations for a third higher to set itself apart from this good film.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Monster Scum Archive

Vampires, Giant Insects, Fish-Men, Werewolves, Extraterrestrials, Mummies, Mutants, Dinosaurs, Zombies, Carnivorous Plants, Phantoms, Psycho Hillbillies; October just wouldn’t be the same without Monsters. Whatever your favorite flavor of freaky-creature, we here at Movie Scum are tipping our hats to all the many monsters that live on the big screen. Every day in October leading up to Halloween will be dedicated to a different monster movie, starting in 1980 and moving up through the last three decades. Join us, won’t you, for the Monster Scum Marathon.

Monster Scum Marathon

Day 1 – The Awakening (1980)
Day 2 – The Evil Dead (1981)
Day 3 – The Beast Within (1982)
Day 4 – Christine (1983)
Day 5 – C.H.U.D. (1984)
Day 6 – Day of the Dead (1985)
Day 7 – Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Day 8 – Predator (1987)
Day 9 – Pumpkinhead (1988)
Day 10 – DeepStar Six (1989)
Day 11 – Tremors (1990)
Day 12 – Subspecies (1991)
Day 13 – Candyman (1992)
Day 14 – Body Snatchers (1993)
Day 15 – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Day 16 – In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
Day 17 – Zarkorr! The Invader (1996)
Day 18 – The Relic (1997)
Day 19 – Deep Rising (1998)
Day 20 – Idle Hands (1999)
Day 21 – Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Day 22 – Evolution (2001)
Day 23 – Dog Soldiers (2002)
Day 24 – Darkness Falls (2003)
Day 25 – Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Day 26 – Alone in the Dark (2005)
Day 27 – Abominable (2006)
Day 28 – The Mist (2007)
Day 29 – Cloverfield (2008)
Day 30 – Alien Trespass (2009)
Day 31 – Monsters (2010)

Monster Scum Lives

Day 1 - Halloween (1978)
Day 2 - Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Day 3 - Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Day 4 - Shaun of the Dead(2004)
Day 5 - The Thing (1980)
Day 6 - Freaks (1932)
Day 7 - King Kong (1933)
Day 8 - The Exorcist (1973)
Day 10 - Frankenstein (1931)
Day 11 - Diabolique (1955)