*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.
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.
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.
I gotta hand it to the marketing team of “The Grey“. Those guys and girls did a REALLY good job of promoting the heck out of their film. When I first saw the previews, I thought the film looked pretty silly. I mean, wolves hunting down people in the cold? I think I saw that before with “The Edge” only it was a bear, and in “Frozen” although they were skiers and not plane crash survivors. But honestly, not many movies use wolves as their villains. Sharks are popular, so are zombies, but wolves? Sure, they’re fast, and really, they’re furry velociraptors, but it’s been a while since they’ve been used in film to kill people, especially if one of those potential people to be killed is Liam Neeson.
So, back to the marketing. I saw the trailer, then I saw another, then I saw the red band trailer and I was like, this movie could be actually pretty fun to see in the theater with a giant tub of popcorn. I read the reviews when it was released, and well, it seemed deserving of $8. It definitely is. You could watch it at home on DVD and enjoy it, but seeing on screen was pretty intense. I’m trying to think of other words to describe it. I guess I’ll give it a logline.
“The Grey” is a brutal and sometimes agonizing (in a good-thriller way) film about a group of men who survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness and are subsequently hunted down by wolves. That right there, tells you really, all you need to know about the film. It’s a bunch of guys, and we seem them in opening scenes as rough and tough, drinkers, and chasing after girls. Except for Liam Neeson, there is something different about him, we know he’s been through loss (but we don’t find out why until later in a small and touching reveal) and has loved. They board and a plane and it crashes. Boy, does it crash. The plane crash scene is very well done especially since we KNOW from the beginning that it’s going to, so we’re just wondering how. There is a lot of dread and then the actual crash is loud, chaotic, horrifying in many ways. The aftermath is just as awful. There’s a wrenching death very early on that seems to set the tone for the rest of the film. It’s bloody, very matter of fact, very honest. And really, the entire movie is fairly plausible, probably more so than some of the other survival movies out there.
The Alaskan wilderness is probably the worst place to crash in, maybe the desert and ocean would be bad, but the cold could kill you overnight, there’s practically nothing to eat, it’s hard slogging through snow, and then there’s wolves hunting you down, chasing you through the snow that’s already hard to walk through. These guys are really there. Shots show us the wilderness, show us the deep snow, there are no/very little sound stage scenes. The wolf attacks are actually less gory than I thought they would be, but they’re probably as realistic as they could be. Fast, loud, and vicious.
The film does a really good job of coming up with ways to threaten its characters and keep us hopeful that they will survive. There are a lot of wolves and soon, not many men left. It isn’t just the wolves that kill them, one death scene is awful to watch because of the futility/hope involved. This movie is not happy in any way, shape, or form. Sure, there are some jokes, but after it was over, I really felt drained. You care for the characters, you want them to live, they already survived a plane crash, would it be too much to ask that they are able to escape the wolves?
I actually enjoyed the ending of the film and the use of a poem that I’m sure frat boys will adopt into some sort of drinking toast. Some people might have a problem with it, but here’s a tip, stay until after the credits (thanks for the heads up Roger Ebert) and draw your own conclusions. Taken as a whole, for a movie about wolves trying to kill people, it’s actually a LOT more than that. I was surprised, not pleasantly, because the movie is so intense, but I was surprised in a very good way. I have the feeling this movie is going to get a pretty strong following on DVD, so if you don’t see it in the theater, I’d definitely say watch it at home.