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Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – Stake Land

Movie poster for the movie Stake Land.

Movie poster for the movie Stake Land. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*This is a day early because I missed last week and have a Stanley Cup Playoff prediction post coming tomorrow night.

Apocalyptic thrillers usually fall into one of two categories, the “road” movie or the “hideout” movie.  Great example of the “hideout” movie would be “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.”  The “road” movie involves well, “The Road” and other films in which characters try and reach some sort of destination.  “The Road” was essentially a zombie film, with dangerous cults filling in for the zombies.  To imagine “Stake Land“, think “The Road” which vampires.  There’s actually a lot of similarities.  There’s a man, and a boy.  The man’s name is “Mister”, that’s as close as we get to a name and although the boy with him isn’t his son, he’s essentially taken the role of father/protector.

And yes, the movie has vampires.  In the opening scene, we’re treated to an incredibly NASTY attack on a family, which really surprised me in that it sort of involved an unwritten (kind of) rule about horror movie kills.  Let’s just say this moment tells you that this movie is for real (as real as you could get anyway in a movie about vampires) and it won’t hold back in terms of killing anyone.

The boy and Mister set out for a location called “New Eden”, which is fitting considering the dangerous religious fanatics they encounter along the way.  Since vampires themselves are usually just scary, and not so much evil, the movie uses the religious group to add some psychology to the savagery, much like “The Road” made it scary because the cults were cannibals and you didn’t want to be eaten by other human beings.

Like “The Road” much of the film is set in dark tones, there is a lot of darkness, grays, browns, no real signs of anything living, very little vegetation.  It’s a cold “literally” world that involves some small towns/pockets of survivors, but there is fairly little dialogue, characters aren’t expanded upon that well.  I guess that’s the one flaw of this film.  We like horror movies because they put characters in danger, but if you don’t really care about/get to know them, then it’s a wasted exercise.  I enjoyed the film, but some moments would have been heightened simply had I known more about certain people.

However, I will say that the ending is satisfying and carries with it some not so subtle religious undertones, which is interesting because of the way the film handles religion earlier.  There is actually a really poignant moment during the final showdown, which I had to watch twice to make sure that I had seen what I thought I’d seen.  While “Stake Land” isn’t perfect or prophetic, it’s a more than competent genre exercise.  It’s only drawback is that it has come after so many others, that it seems like it’s simply retreading old territory.  If you can get past the fact, and if you’re in the mood for a movie like this, then it’s pretty darn good.


Wednesday’s What NOT To Watch – The Hunger Games

First, the hiatus from blog posts can be explained by a week long ’bout with bronchitis and a week long vacation in Florida.  Thus, while I was sick, I wasn’t drinking any beer to review or really doing anything fun, and while I was in Florida I was too busy to really type anything.  BUT, I did end up seeing “The Hunger Games” at a midnight showing (not voluntarily) and came away with some thoughts in general about well, how the movie really BLEW IT and basically ruined any hope for the kind of decent movie that the source material (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) really deserves.

A few things first.  I have not read “The Hunger Games” or any of the sequels, nor do I plan to.  Also, I felt really FREAKIN old in the theater because everyone around me was a teenage girl complaining about detention.  Yup, detention.  But given that demographic, it makes total sense that “The Hunger Games” scored an assload of money and is well on its way to being a crazy successful franchise.  But the problem with “The Hunger Games” is that it was made to score an assload of money from high school girls.

What am I talking about?  Well, the plot of “The Hunger Games” is really nothing we haven’t seen/read before.  “Battle Royale” did it with a novel and movie adaptation, Stephen King did it twice with “The Running Man” and “The Long Walk” and there are countless action pics involving Ice-T and Jean Claude Van Damme that involve humans hunting humans for sport.  So it’s not offering anything new.  Example, here’s the IMDB logline for “The Hunger Games”:

Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.

Wow.  On its surface, that sounds like it could be really intense with the potential to be really deep.  Kids, killing each other on live television, at the behest of the government.  A ton of possible social commentary and avenues to explore.  The problem is that “The Hunger Games” takes a “Twilight” approach to it, which not only means that everything is watered down into PG-13 teenybopper format, but no one could really make a similar movie that provides an epic take on the “fight to the death” plot, without being compared to “The Hunger Games.”  The future of the genre has been ruined.  Here’s how “The Hunger Games” really screwed up.

1) It takes place during the 74th or 76th (who really cares) Hunger Games, meaning it’s been going on for years.  I understand that the plot of the series is to watch the fall of the Capitol (probably, seeing as I haven’t read them) but a really intriguing movie would involve the first ever Hunger Games, and chronicle the uprising that LEAD to the games.  I mean, someone had to come up with this as a way to either give money to the districts or keep them in check (it’s never really clear what the fuck the purpose of the games are) or entertain the rich ass populace.  I want to see the first games, how the public reacts, how the contestants react, if it really achieves what the government wants it to.  I mean imagine if someone were to institute that, what would the reactions be?  Protests?  More rebellion?  Which leads me to:

2) The government/capitol doesn’t really seem that oppressive.  Sure, they make allusions to them giving food for participating in the games, which I guess makes them dicks and sure, some of the districts basically look like they’re the setting from “Winter’s Bone,” but they are a pretty lame government for this type of movie.  The guards or police force are dressed in white outfits that make them look as unintimidating as possible, they don’t carry guns, and they never really do anything oppressive on camera.  They are SHITTY VILLAINS.

3) It’s not violent enough.  I understand that in this day and age, we are wary of kids killing kids (see, every school shooting ever).  However, if you’re going to make a movie about that exact subject, I think the best way is to really embrace it and say, if this were to happen, this is what it would look like.  If we DON’T want to eventually get to that point, then we should probably address it in a different way than “The Hunger Games.”  Like 8 kids die in the first minute of the battle.  I don’t even remember what they looked like, there was no blood, no screaming, no pain, and it happened in such quick cuts, you couldn’t really tell what was happening.  If you had a battle in which kids were killing each other with sharp objects, people would be screaming in agony, limbs would be all over the place, it would be hell.  Am I advocating that we really make a “Saving Private Ryan” version of “The Hunger Games”?  I’m not sure, but I feel if you are going to tackle the subject of a televised slaughter of 12-18 year olds, then fuckin man up and face it realistically.  Which leads me to:

4) There is almost no discussion of the televised nature of the games.  Sure, there are cameras placed all over the battlefield, but they seem to be more used for the mission control people to add crazy monsters and fireballs and stuff.  First, if you have 24 kids trying to kill each other, I feel like you don’t need fireballs or giant dogs.  Let the kids go at it.  It felt like “Jurassic Park” or something once they started adding the dogs/beasts.  As if the thought of getting killed by your best friend wasn’t scary enough.  But back to the televised aspect.  There is a commentator sort of in Stanley Tucci, but there are no reaction shots of anyone watching the games, we don’t get any sort of sense of who/how many/where people watch it.  Do people go to bars?   Watch them on their Iphones?  Have viewing parties?  There are references to betting, but no scenes of them.  There are references to sponsors, but so much more could’ve been done with them.  IF they had used the movie to explore the first Hunger Games, then you could really explore the reactions of people watching, like, what the fuck are the parents of these kids doing?  They are dying on national TV apparently, but they die, cannons go off, that’s it.  They missed a HUGE opportunity here for social commentary, but I guess when you’re trying to make money off of a movie about kids killing kids, you can’t really explore the “sick fuck” aspect of the people watching kids killing kids.

5) It doesn’t feel real enough for me to give a shit.  Because of all the stuff I listed above, it’s obvious that the movie really doesn’t take it’s subject matter that seriously.  The games are just a setting for a teenage love story.  The rich populace looks like extras from “The Wizard of Oz” crossed with Lady Gaga and the Oompa Loompas from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”  They’re laughable and so they don’t seem human, so therefore, I don’t really care who they are and we never see any reactions of them even watching the games.  One of my favorite moments from “Gladiator” (a movie that I didn’t really enjoy overall) is watching Commodus react to the games, sticking out his tongue in an almost sexual enjoyment of the mayhem in front of him.  That guy enjoyed savagery, these lame asses from the Capitol, they’re just WEIRDOS.  And then we don’t see enough of the poor ass districts to really care that much about them either.

To sum it up, Michael Bay basically ruined the attack on Pearl Harbor by focusing on a love triangle.  “The Hunger Games” does the same fucking thing and ruins a really interesting/promising premise by Twilight-ing it up.  And just like no one is ever going to chance making a great movie about Pearl Harbor, no one is going to chance making a great/epic movie about oppressive governments ruling over televised battles to the death.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but shame on “The Hunger Games” for screwing it up.


Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – Attack the Block

The previews and poor box office showing of “John Carter” are pretty good indications that Hollywood does not understand how to make decent films involving aliens, action, and characters.  So when you do find a successful combination of those three (even if it’s from England), it needs to be celebrated.  “Attack the Block” is a fun, funny, and well executed film about a group of juvenile gangsters (or wannabe gangsters rather) who join forces with a nurse they’ve recently robbed, to fend off a bunch of aliens attacking their high-rise apartments.  And I mean high-rise in not the luxury term, but in the public housing term.

This film has a lot going for it.  It’s got a great group of juvenile gangsters, and a charismatic leader in Moses, who provides the perfect tone for the film.  The supporting cast is likeable as well, and they’re just fun and vulnerable enough that we really feel for them when they’re being chased and yes, when some of them die, because well, this is an R-rated movie and sometimes kids get killed.  Another plus is that the film was produced by the same guys who made “Shaun of the Dead“, which is very similar in nature, only that it deals with zombies instead of predatory aliens.

Some people might blast the special effects, but for CGI creatures, in a movie about kids who would rather lock themselves inside their apartments and play FIFA, they are par for the course.  They sort of remind me of the beast from “Brotherhood of the Wolf“, in that they look fake enough, that they almost look good, if that makes any sense.  Basically, I didn’t know what I was really expecting and I got what seemed to fit the movie.  There is also a big of London slang, which may take some getting used to, but it’s perfectly fitting for the characters and I think it gives the movie a lot of charm.

“Attack the Block” isn’t going to win any Oscars.  It’s not the best action movie in years, but it might be the best one involving aliens in a while and the best one made for a budget of $13 million.  If the name “Nick Frost” and the combination of that, aliens and child gangsters appeals to you, this is pretty much the best you could ask for.  See it before some asshole from Universal decides to remake it.


Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – The Man From Nowhere

Asian films, particularly Asian horror and action/thrillers have been gaining a reputation for being disgusting (see Three Extremes: Dumplings) and brutal in their violence (see I Saw the Devil).  But what’s often lost in the hype/translation, is that many of these films are actually telling a decent story to go along with their spectacle.  For action/thriller fans, “The Man From Nowhere” has it all.  It’s a smart, sometimes VERY bloody film about a loner who, in his quest to protect an orphaned girl, gets in way over his head with an organized crime syndicate.  Except, he has some special skills from his past that come quite in handy.

I’m not just spewing accolades here.  It was the highest grossing film of 2010 in South Korea and the United States has already picked up the rights to an English language remake.  I’m trying to imagine who I see in the lead role and I’m coming up blank.  Jeremy Renner might be a good choice, but I’m sort of biased there.  Maybe an unknown would fit the title role best, I’m not sure.  But obviously, this film has been loved by executives and audiences and is currently available on Netflix Instant.  You should check it out now.

The beauty of the film really comes from a few things.  First, is the relationship between the man and the orphan he befriends.  Like all movies with this plot, it takes a little while to develop, but it feels quite real.  Of course she disappears and the man decides to track her down.  There is a fantastic montage of him tracking children through the streets, watching as they are used by a drug cartel to deliver goods and pass messages.  Second, there is some interesting double-crossing involving the cartel and the man, that really sets up the action of the third act.  And yeah, wow, the third act.  I don’t know if I have watched a sequence of film more than the ending battle between the man and the thugs from the cartel.  It takes place in a beautiful lobby with stone walls, floors and statues.  The bullets ricochet off of everything, the blood is bright against the white floor and the choreography of the gun battle and ensuing knife fights is flat out amazing.  Some of the best action I’ve ever seen in a film.

If you don’t like subtitles, then I suggest you suck it up for this one.  Much of the story can be deciphered simply through watching how characters behave, so the dialogue is sort of just a bonus.  I’m serious, watch it without subtitles and you will be fine.  The action will remain intact, the story still coherent.  Just do it before they remake the damn thing.


Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – Splinter

Splinter is a fun and nasty little movie about a small group of people fighting off a parasitic organism.  It’s an incredibly simple premise, a classic horror movie plot with the usual characters, but the special effects really make this film shine.  If you don’t like blood and gore, and Cronenberg style “body horror” you probably won’t like this movie.  But seeing as I really dig that stuff, I’m recommending this film for all horror fans.  In fact, I’m even a bit sad that it’s not available on Netflix instant anymore because I am really craving this movie.

Small, contained horror movies like this usually involve a small cast of characters who don’t get along from the get-go and are suddenly thrown into a situation where they are trapped and fighting for their lives.  Genre rules say that they must (sort of) work together in order to survive, and someone isn’t going to make it out.  Well this film involves a couple who are carjacked by an escaped con and his girlfriend.  As luck would have it, they end up at a gas station where something VERY BAD happened to the attendant. 

So we start our contained horror story, as the group becomes trapped by a parasitic organism that grows splintery spikes (basically like a porcupine, only a LOT GROSSER) and begins to attack people and take over their dead bodies.  The special effects of the creature are awesome, a lot of make-up and live puppetry going on here in really gross ways.  It reminded me a lot of the effects in John Carpenter‘s “The Thing,” which in my opinion, featured some of the best/grossest creature effects ever recorded on film.  If you haven’t seen it, go rent it or watch it in 10 or so parts on Youtube.  But this creature, well, it’s sort of unclear what it is, but there’s no mistaking what it DOES, which is basically take over your body and contort your bones into ways they shouldn’t, while growing/attaching to other bodies and doing the same thing.  Succumbing to it would be a really BAD way to go, let’s just say that. 

Clocking in at 82 minutes, Splinter is a really enjoyable exercise in horror and tension.  It’s got solid performances from its actors, a really great villian (played by Shea Whigham, who has now gone on to star/support in a bunch of roles), and a really gross, a great homage to the “Evil Dead,” and a gross and scary monster.  There’s implications for a sequel, which I’d take anyday over the next Star Wars…


A Quick F*** You to George Lucas

Dear George Lucas,

I remember when I first came across “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”  My friend Alex had a bunch of VHS tapes in his den where his father had recorded movies from the rental store onto VHS tape.  We constantly looked through these tapes for something to watch and one day we saw a tape that had the words “Star Wars” scrawled in blue pen across the label.  As I was a young boy, the word “war” was interesting, as was the possibility that it could happen in space.  So we popped it in.

I was hooked.  There was nothing like it.  The ships, the stormtroopers, the laser blasters, the battle high above the Death Star.  But perhaps most of all, I was amazed by the creatures.  The aliens in the cantina on Tatooine, the characters in Jabba’s palace.  They were amazing.  And most importantly, they were REAL.  Yoda was touchable.  The pit of the sarlacc had real teeth, they were gross and intimidating.  As someone who later became obsessed with all sorts of creature effects like Stan Winston’s creations in “Aliens” and “Jurassic Park” this was a great moment of movie magic in my life.  Your original trilogy, before the computer generated special editions, was MAGIC.

Then you had to ruin it.  You went back and added new effects.  Some of them were good, such as the snow monster in “Empire”, I liked seeing more of him.  But I didn’t enjoy seeing Jabba in the hanger of Episode IV and I didn’t enjoy the addition of the Venus Flytrap beak to the Sarlacc in “Jedi”.  You ruined something that was good, you ruined something that was tangible.

Then you went ahead and made Episode I, and you included the misguided character of Jar Jar Binks.  I think I know what you were trying to do, put in some comic relief, test your your computer generated technology, maybe appeal to a wider fan base.  But Jar Jar was horrible and this was the first indication that you’ve lost your magic.  The magic that got me hooked on “Star Wars” when I first watched it as a kid.

But what REALLY made me see how much you’ve screwed up, how horribly WRONG you went, was not another science fiction film, but a movie about a creator like yourself, someone who made magic out of creatures.  This film was “Being Elmo” which chronicles the journey of Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash.

Seeing Elmo, seeing the love put into this character, seeing Elmo in action, the way people can touch him, the way he can dance and adjust his eyes because someone is controlling him, it’s magic.  It’s the magic you once had, when you used real puppets, tangible creatures, when you didn’t even know about computer generated creatures.  I cried when I saw Elmo hugging a girl whose DYING WISH was to meet Elmo.  Tell me the last time someone requested to meet Jar Jar Binks?

So let me close by saying it’s really sad to see what has happened to you.  You started off with so much promise.  You made magic and then you took it away.  Your first films had the imagination of someone who truly cared, now it just seems like you’re going through the motions, making creatures just for the hell of it.  My kids will love Elmo, they won’t love Jar Jar Binks.

Sincerely,

A disappointed former fan.


Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – The Square

Today’s entry comes by way of six degrees of separation, sort of.  Not Kevin Bacon style, but just sort of connecting the dots.  I was reading an article about Kathryn Bigelow‘s film about hunting Osama Bin Laden and saw that Nash Edgerton had joined the cast.  Who is Nash Edgerton?  Well, he’s the brother of Joel Edgerton who is also attached to the film and appeared in “Warrior” and “The Thing” over the past two years.  I had thought that he sort of appeared out of nowhere, but the article mentioned that the brothers had teamed up on the noir film, “The Square.”  It’s currently available on Netflix streaming and I recommend you watch it, RIGHT NOW.  Here’s why.

A great noir film actually has a lot in common with a great comedy.  They usually both involve a couple very much in love, who either has some sort of task to face.  In a comedy it could be something like meeting the parents.  In a noir, they are probably trying to rob one of their lovers and then the hell out of dodge.  That’s basically the premise for “The Square.”  And like any good comedy, we know that in a noir film, what can and will go wrong, does, usually because of some missteps, misunderstandings, and unintended consequences.  However, the difference is that in comedies, everything works out in the end and in noirs, everyone is usually dead in the end.

“The Square” follows something like this, involving lovers, money, death, and the attempts to deal with aftermath.  Like the cement that its title refers to, the film has a gritty tone, not just in content but in its film technique.  There is a dark tint to the film, its drab and there are few scenes involving vibrant colors.  It’s totally fitting to the style and the way the film unfolds.

The way in which everything comes together at the climax is so perfectly constructed and it fits everything that has come before it.  A great noir film has an ending which paints a picture of the inevitable and we know from all the exploration of character that this was the way it was meant to be.  I think I actually replayed the ending about three times when I watched it on Netflix.  If you’re in the mood for a great thriller, with few effects, that gets its thrills from subtle development and situations, watch this movie right now.