Monthly Archives: April 2011

Dead Snow

A group of Norwegian friends get the scariest history lesson of their lives during a weekend getaway to the snowy town of Øksfjord, where the party is interrupted by throngs of Nazi zombies who once occupied the area. Armed with a machine-gun-equipped snowmobile, the gang fights for survival in director Tommy Wirkola’s quirky horror, shot on location in the mountains of Norway. The film had its U.S. premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Brian
Rating: 3 out of 10

“Dead Snow” is a Frankenstein combination of several good horror films.  It has the living dead aspect of “The Night of the Living Dead,”,has the tongue in cheek nature of “Evil Dead,” the winter background of John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and it has the bad guys coming back to claim old treasure element of “The Fog.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything very good and comes across as a pale emulation that tried too hard but forgot to actually write a script.  It has the usual horror element: several friends go on a vacation getaway (Hostel and Final Destination 2 among others) to a cabin (Evil Dead and Cabin Fever) where they are visited by an odd man bringing foreboding news of doom and gloom (Friday the 13th) and are eventually attacked by bloodthirsty zombies (28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead) who are after their gold (The Fog) while one of the guys in the group constantly references movies (Scream).  Sound original?  Yeah, I thought the same thing.

So, without any originality whatsoever, does it at least give us some good scares?  I certainly didn’t feel fear for one second because so many of the director’s decisions are really puzzling.  For example, why Nazi zombies?   I know it’s a German film and all but is that really scary in any way?  If you were to walk outside right now and see a zombie dressed as a member of Nazi Socialist Party complete with World War II helmets, jackets, bayonets, and grenades, wouldn’t you laugh your ass off?  I know I would.  The director even tries to spice up the way they look by constantly having them drool blood.  Where does all this blood come from?  Do they have some unlimited supply in their home underneath the snow on a mountain where they’ve been dormant for 65 years that they can keep in their cheeks?  Look, I’m not trying to overanalyze this.  I mean, we can all agree it’s a really dumb idea to dress zombies up as Nazis and somehow think it will frighten an audience.  But, when I’m bored, this is what I do.  I nitpick things that shouldn’t be nitpicked because the filmmakers have given me no reason to give a shit about the plot, characters, or entertainment value.  One more observation I noticed during this turd sandwich: for half of the movie, all of the characters’ faces are absolutely covered in blood.  I’m sure it was done on purpose for effect, but c’mon, we can all deal with the blood splash on the face right after someone has killed a zombie but these people have never heard of wiping their face on their sleeve?  It’s not subtle.  Their faces are completely covered in long blood splash lines that run across their entire face.  It’s just one annoying decision in a long line of them that holds this film back from even being fun.  Avoid!

Fish Tank

The life of hot-tempered teen outcast Mia (Katie Jarvis) takes an unexpected turn when her mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing), brings home a handsome and mysterious boyfriend named Connor (Michael Fassbender), who pledges to bring sweeping positive changes to the household. British writer-director Andrea Arnold’s sophomore feature won Best British Film at the 2010 BAFTAs.

Brian
Rating: 8 out of 10 

Fish Tank has a wonderful correlation that runs through the entire film.  The main character, 15-year-old Mia, is troubled because her small world is changing.  She no longer has a good relationship with her mother or sister, she has no girlfriends, and anytime she leaves her home is constantly in conflict with others. 

At one point, she bumps into a rundown trailer park where she sees an old horse on its last legs.  She becomes protective of the horse and demands the owner’s take better care of the animal.  As the story progresses, the horse gets sicker and sicker and Mia’s life gets more and more complicated and confusing.  I realized that the horse was a symbol of her lost innocence.  What better way to capture the end of childhood than a sick horse ready to be put down?  All girls dream unrealistic dreams when they are young.  They want to be a princess, marry a prince, and ride away in the sunset on their pony.  So, what does a young girl do during a time when everything they knew isn’t as it seemed and the world grows darker and colder by the minute?  They hold onto a hope for something better and Mia is no different.  Her passion is for dance and the way it takes her away to a better place in her mind.  There are several wonderful scenes where she dances alone in an apartment building to her music and you can feel what it means to her.  The emotional connection I felt was largely due to the wonderful performance by Katie Jarvis in the lead.  Her scenes are never forced or overacted.  They play out eloquently and in service to the story. 

Is everything perfect here?  No.  While I really enjoyed Mia’s story, there was a sense that there could have been more character interaction.  Mia’s mother and sister are largely wasted as after thoughts when they could have been central in how Mia faces the challenges she does (I won’t spoil them here).  “Fish Tank” is wonderful at presenting confusion but does very little in resolving it.  Some viewers would call that a strength but I consider it a weakness.  Some filmmakers like to leave a lot open ended to let the viewer imagine what could or should have happened to the characters.  But, it’s not about what I think should happen to Mia.  That’s the storyteller’s job and they let me down a little near the end.  But, for those that like cerebral coming of age stories, Fish Tank is a must see.

Love Ranch

Inspired by the story of the couple who introduced legalized prostitution to Nevada with the opening of their Mustang Ranch brothel, this Taylor Hackford-directed drama focuses on the devastating consequences of infidelity in the land of sex for pay. Helen Mirren stars as Grace Botempo; Joe Pesci plays her husband, Charlie; and Sergio Peris-Mencheta plays the boxer who, on entering their world, sets into motion a violent chain of events.

Matt
Rating: 6 out of 10

“Love Ranch” is like a Chia Pet. Sure, it’s kinda neat. But in the end, it just sits there doing nothing.

This film features two outstanding actors in Pesci and Mirren, and they are very sharp as a couple who are at odds, have a strange love that involves a lot of business and no passion, and exist in a very cold world. They’re not likable people, by any stretch, but they’re intriguing. The small nuances given by the actors, from a subtle accent to facial expression, give the sense that you know them.

But in the end, the film is flat. It suffers from a lose script that allowed Pesci and Mirren to stretch their legs as actors, but doesn’t engage the viewer’s attention. It’s kind of a tragic love story focused on Mirren, Pesci, and a boxer who draws Mirren’s affection. But the boxer is a cookie-cutter character with a funny accent because he wasn’t given time to be developed. If you’re a big fan of Mirren or Pesci, it’s worth a watch. As a film, it’s not completely there.

Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal portrays a soldier recruited for a time-bending government investigation that places him in another man’s mind and body, reliving the same traumatic event repeatedly in an effort to identify the perpetrators of a terrorist bombing. Vera Farmiga plays a communications specialist who provides the vital link to the soldier’s primary reality as he searches for critical clues within a recurring nightmare.

Lauren
Rating: 7 out of 10

Source Code is Groundhog Day meets Inception meets Avatar … kind of.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a disoriented soldier who gets to take over the body of a man who is on a train outside of Chicago that is about to blow up. He has eight minutes until the bomb explodes and everyone on board dies. Eight minutes. Over and over again until he can figure out where the bomb is and who planted it. He’s not supposed to be trying to save the people, only learn about the bomber to stop a future attack. This isn’t, as they say, time travel.

There’s a lot of to figure out in the movie – like where is Jake once he’s off the train and in his own body, who are the people who are instructing him in his mission, who’s the bomber, etc., etc.

Source Code is well made and acted and pulled me in from the start. There’s a question I have about Jake and the end, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. So let me know when you’ve seen it and we discuss the ending.

Scream 4

Perennial survivor Sidney Prescott, now a successful self-help author, returns to her home town of Woodsboro in the fourth act of director Wes Craven’s Scream franchise. Sidney’s homecoming, however, coincides with a slew of unsettling new murders.

Matt
Rating: 6 out of 10

The original “Scream” was full of smart dialogue, suspense, fun characters, a great killer, and it was a blast. While this latest sequel doesn’t have the same pop, it’s a lot of fun.

My wife and I saw it on opening night, and while a lot of the script had some super corny lines, and the material doesn’t seem crisp — it’s hard to after four iterations and a huge gap between the last one — we both enjoyed ourselves. It’s not as suspensful as the original, but I’d say it’s the best sequel in the franchise.

If you go see “Scream 4,” don’t expect to see “Raging Bull.” But you can expect to see a fun movie that kept the ending interesting while spoofing itself along the way. It’s a funny, campy slasher flick. The 6 out of 10 rating means it’s above average as a movie. But the fun factor was more like an 8 out of 10.

Heartless

Reclusive Londoner Jamie Morgan (Jim Sturgess), who bears a prominent, heart-shaped birthmark on his face yet can’t seem to find love anywhere, makes a deal with a devil-like figure to get a girl — but there’s a deadly price to pay. After his mother is murdered, the newspapers say thugs wearing devil masks committed the crime. But Jamie soon begins to suspect that they weren’t wearing masks at all.

Brian
Rating: 8 out of 10

“Love is only temporary but suffering is eternal.” -Papa B. in the film Heartless

Heartless is a very special film containing the most original visual work I have seen in a film since “Black Swan.” I love films where the camera is as much a character as the principle actors. Director Philip Ridley doesn’t just place actors on a set and have them exchange dialogue until they move onto the next scene. He paints a picture here that perfectly encapsulates the mood of each individual segment. When demons are lurking, committing atrocities, or tempting the main character, we not only feel but see the bleakness, despair, darkness, and anger. Conversely, the romantic and loving elements are obviously quite the opposite but are just as, if not more, effective. He changes the style completely to a washed out and bright world that feels like you’re touching heaven.

The story itself is a Faustian tale with its own surprises and twists along the way. I have always enjoyed when a character that has a good heart is given a chance at getting what he wants the easy way by having to commit evil deeds. Does he take the opportunity despite the steep costs? What deeds must he perform? How does it affect the other characters around him? It’s a formula that can be very good or very bad depending on the skills of the director and actors involved. Luckily, the script here works almost as well as the visual style. These characters really come alive in Ridley’s world and pulled me in. I cared what happened to them. I suppose much of the credit for that has to be given to Jim Sturgess who is brilliant in the main role. He goes through myriad changes from the beginning to the end of the film and our hearts break or are lifted up by him. Are there missteps? There’s a few. The setup is so amazing that I’m sure the final act was hard to pull off no matter what they did. I didn’t feel the same satisfaction as I did during the setup. Without giving away any spoilers, the last 10 minutes wrapped up a bit too quickly. I felt a bit more explanation was necessary considering the amount of questions that had been left open. Is it a perfect film? No, but it’s damn good and for anyone that enjoys a dark moral fable, I highly recommend it.

Hop

Unemployed slacker Fred (James Marsden) suddenly finds himself uncharacteristically busy after he runs over the Easter Bunny and has to not only nurse the gimpy rabbit back to health but also take over his duties so that the holiday can continue. Burdened with a cranky, cotton-tailed houseguest and a bout of intensive egg-delivery training, Fred finally begins to grow up in this hilarious and touching blend of live action and animation.

Lauren
Rating: 6 out of 10

“Hop” is cute. It does a great job of creating Easter folklore for the Easter Bunny like so many Christmas movies have done for Santa. But some of the charm of the great Christmas movies was just missing. I’m not exactly sure why.

Easter Island is as detailed as the North Pole. The chicks (baby chickens) working in the candy shop are maybe even cuter than elves, and everything is fun and colorful. Maybe an Easter movie can never be like a Christmas movie because Christmas has a special feeling or because I heard stories about Santa my whole life and those movies just brought it to life rather than trying to create something new. Or maybe “Hop” just wasn’t a great movie.

The movie starts out good as it introduces the Easter Bunny and his son, E.B., who is supposed to become the Easter Bunny on his next birthday. E.B. isn’t interested in dedicating his life to hiding eggs and wants to become a famous drummer. So he sets off for Hollywood and the home of the Bunny’s – the Playboy Mansion. After getting turned away by Hef he hooks up with a freeloader, Fred. There’s the whole part about Fred thinking he’s crazy and E.B. discovering how much fun it is and then how dangerous it is to be among the humans.

The end is where “Hop” really falls apart, though. It crams what should have taken half the movie into about 10 minutes and doesn’t really put an end to everything. And without ruining the ending, some humans seem to accept things a little too easily.