TBT: Let the Right One In (2008)

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Happy Halloween everyone! In trying to properly celebrate the world’s most bizarre ‘holiday,’ today’s entry nearly did not happen, as I couldn’t find a copy of the original Halloween and I’m not into the whole bootlegging thing (yet). . .that, and I don’t watch a lot of T.V. Then the second choice was going to be Child’s Play. Netflix again failed me by informing me that there was a “very long wait” associated with that particular rental. So I was forced to go to other options. After pouring over many great suggestions from you fine folks, I decided to go in a completely different direction and I wound up watching a movie about. . . vampires. I know. I know. These, if anything, seem to be the type of ‘horror’ film that I would instantly be turned off by. Predictable, utterly cliched, and usually just. . .weird as hell, I’ve yet to find a vampire film that I could really enjoy. And then I stumbled across this little gem, something that many people might not necessarily associate with ‘horror.’ Nonetheless, today’s TBT turned out to be a great choice and I’m glad I made it. 

Today’s food for thought: Let the Right One In

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Release: January 26, 2008

[Netflix]

This review is coming at you right off the heels of the end credits, which only finished just seconds ago; therefore this is going to be the freshest any film has been on my mind since I started doing Throwback Thursday. And as such, this is probably going to be a sloppy review. All the same, the beauty and sublime perfection that is Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is likely to leave a lasting impression upon me. This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever laid eyes on. And again, vampires do did almost nothing for me.

A Swedish film, Let the Right One In is about a young boy who finds his first romance in a girl who’s not quite human. Alfredson’s work here is stunning for a couple of reasons. Let’s start with the cinematography, considering this element is all but impossible to gloss over.

It’s obvious that Alfredson is about as taken with the elegance of winter — what, with all its crystal-tipped trees, snow-blanketed wonderlands — as any person might be who may consider themselves a romantic. The winter is harsh and unforgiving — especially the further north you go — but the director is intent on capturing the exquisite beauty, if but to simply distract for a moment or two from the world as it were. It’s also a perfectly spooky setting in which to make a horror film. The wintery environs throughout compound the effect of the many bizarre murders that happen in this small town near Stockholm. Bodies are discovered buried in snowdrifts, in thick ice; the chilled breaths of the characters provide an instant discomfort from the opening scenes.

Fortunately there is a story woven like fine fabric through this frozen wonderland of troubled youth, despair and oppression. Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is introverted and a little strange, resulting in his constant bullying at school. He wants to do something about it but can’t find it within himself to actually take action. Then one night he comes across a very strange girl on a playground just outside of his decrepit apartment block — a girl about his age (“I’m 12, more or less. . .”) and the two become friends, even despite her initial not wanting to even go that far. She’s actually a vampire, destined forever to live off the fresh blood of humans, otherwise she’ll die.

Of course, none of this information she reveals at first, which is part of what makes this such an interesting watch. Bit by bit we see this innocent/vampiric personality coming together. Alfredson selects the perfect moments to reveal the characterizations of the “vampire,” using the experiences of this disturbed boy to reflect the nature of humanity versus that of the undead (what exactly are vampires — are they dead, or not? If someone can riddle me that one, I’ll give them. . .a Twix, or something. . .)

Instead of associating laughable, questionable special effects with the actions of these kinds of creatures, the girl (an excellent performance from Lina Leandersson) her character is very much reacting to and interacting with the real world, in real time. Her attacks are not only necessary but understandable. We know why she’s sucking so much blood from the necks of these otherwise-harmless passersby. And we see the effects her presence takes on the town. Each murder becomes more and more strange, and as they do, Eli (Leandersson) knows her stay in this tiny, frost-laden town is dwindling. Only, she begins to fall in love with a real person — Oskar.

The relationship is beautiful, as much as the scenery is a pleasure to watch. I could stare at the introductory scene all day. And while this couldn’t seem more of an odd choice for the night when we celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, the only thing more terrifying than it is the prospect of sitting through a shit horror film on that night. Fortunately, my experience tonight was completely the opposite. I want to reveal so much more about this film, but alas I cannot, for fear of ruining the entire experience for you.

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4-0Recommendation: This will not be the scariest thing you can find on Halloween, but if your goal is to watch a quality flick, here is one rare example of applying classical elements to a story very much steeped in reality. The locations help to make things interesting as well, as Sweden is a beautiful landscape of architectural splendor, barren isolation and unrepentant cold. In short, this is the perfect location to find some creep creatures lurking around. Forget about coffins and Dracula. This is a vampire movie for the 21st century, and it really works.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Oskar, I do it because I have to. Be me for a while. Please, Oskar. Be me, for a little while. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

30-for-30: Big Shot

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Release: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

[ESPN]

The minute I realized that ‘E’ from Entourage would be directing one of ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary films, Big Shot, I was set on focusing my eyeballs on the nearest T.V. that would be showing it. Annnnd then I missed it the evening it came on.

Fortunately it was airing a couple of times over the next night and I was able to catch it, and now here I am, giving Connolly even more credit than what he’s already due from me with his role on one of my favorite T.V. shows of all time. To me, Connolly’s been a highly likable, intelligent actor who is overlooked more than he should be (I will forever gloss over his minor role in The Notebook, though not on purpose. . . ). But as a native Long Islander and huge supporter of the Islanders, here he comes with a fascinating look into one of the greatest scams in all of sports history.

The year was 1996. The team? The New York Islanders. Desperate to get back to where they once were — the Islanders in the decade prior were perhaps the most dominant team the NHL had ever seen, winning four consecutive Stanley Cup trophies from 1980 to 1983 — the Islander front office hired a man by the name of John Spano to take over ownership of the team. In thinking this move was the team’s best (heck, their only) answer to getting back on track, it would later become obvious that this was one more chronic mistake made by management, a choice that would demote the team from former dynasty to the laughingstock of the entire league.

The team’s new owner was arrested and incarcerated less than a year later on multiple counts of bank and wire fraud and forgery, acts which were committed not only in New York but also in Texas, where previously, before taking over the Islanders he had made an attempt at owning the Dallas Stars team. His purchase of the Islanders was worth $165 million — half of that going to the television rights and the other half to John Pickett, the former team owner who held a 90% stake in the team. Later on, Spano then would buy up the remaining 10% share. The new owner’s upbeat attitude, hard-work and apparent wealth seemed to be everything this team needed, especially after going several seasons without even so much as making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the wake of their early 80’s dynasty. At the time of his purchase, Spano was maybe worth $5 million, and had no legitimate way of paying his share of the team.

Connolly’s documentary weaves in and out of interviews with Spano and many high-profile figures representing the New York Islanders. There’s an extended section wherein Connolly gets to chat with the former owner and 72-month-long prison term-serving Spano face-to-face. Footage of the Islander’s facility springing leaks and floods throughout the building demonstrated the state to which this community had deteriorated prior to Spano’s arrival. A couple of statements are made by former players as well to further emphasize the dramatic changes surrounding this team pre- and post-Spano. The numbers are staggering, as is the other data that gets presented — all of which prove just how associated Spano’s name is with the term ‘fraud.’

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Big Shot is hearing the story in Spano’s words. Time and again he explains away his reasons for how he was able to keep the Islanders in the dark on just how little money he had at the time, describing the dread he would perpetually awake with, having the knowledge of needing to extend a lie of his own epic construction for just another day. He even claims at one point that ripping off a professional hockey team for millions of dollars was never his intention; that he had indeed at first been honestly committed to doing whatever he could to bringing this team back from the dead. Unfortunately, his legacy would leave the team reeling even more.

It also should be noted that this Spano guy was a bit of a slop, on top of everything else. His involvement in several lawsuits at the time of his purchase of the Islanders went unnoticed for a time, though this would ultimately contribute to his demise. The extent to which he lied about his wealth and his professional background slowly started to become evident as Newsday began conducting investigations into the man’s life. The team’s suspicion of his credentials reached its fevered pitch in the summer of 1997, after Spano had failed to come up with much money at all, on numerous occasions. At one point, he even had mailed in amounts as little as $5,000 and $1,700 in an attempt to fool management into thinking these were misprinted checks (when they were meant to be amounts of $5 million and $17 million, respectively).

Indeed, the life story of John Spano devolves from something of an honest reputation, to becoming a pretty good liar and a cheater, to becoming a full-blown fraud, and, finally, a prisoner. One would think such a fall from grace would be enough to learn from once around. However, when Spano was released after his six-year term, his appetite for ruinous business deals still not satiated, he was subsequently indicted on additional charges of fraud in February 2005 having moved to Cleveland and ripped off several companies there.

What Big Shot is great for, ultimately, is demonstrating the ease with which one man had pursuing what most would likely call ‘the American Dream,’ but doing it with such little money! The story of John Spano and the Islanders is almost cartoonish at times. But sometimes the truth is harder to accept than the lies. Just go ask an Islander fan.

Click here to read more 30-for-30 reviews.

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4-0Recommendation: Connolly’s work here is quite impressive. Sports fans are obviously the target here, and hockey fans may take more to this kind of story than others. Even if you don’t call yourself an Islanders fan, or even much of a follower of any sport, his documentary is eye-opening simply considering the scope of this fraud and the terrible ways the team was managed in the 80s and 90s, and therefore has a broader appeal that should interest more than a few peeps who don’t like sports.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 60 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.nydailynews.com 

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

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Release: Friday, October 25, 2013

[Theater]

In this episode, Johnny Knoxville is back as Irving Zisman, the vulgar old man with a big fake. . . well, you know where this is going.

Only this time around, instead of interacting with one of the worst-looking grannies ever (Spike Jonze never ceased to amaze me in those skits in the show) Zisman has been saddled up with his grandkid, whose mother just got sent to prison on drug charges. Now Irving finds himself with no other option but to drop young, impressionable Billy (a surprisingly entertaining Jackson Nicoll) off at his pop’s place, all the way across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Along the way Irving will get his genitals caught in a vending machine, hit on black male strippers, kill a penguin and crash a funeral, a wedding and a beauty pageant. 90 percent of what I just listed can be seen in the trailers, but should you assume that there will be more, perhaps better skits throughout the movie, indeed you won’t be letdown. (Oh yes, and for those who are local, how’d you like that shot of the Henley Street underpass heading into downtown Knoxvegas??)

I got giddy over a two-second clip of my home town because it was far more than what was expected. And speaking of, this movie was actually quite good. Not only are the stunts suitably hilarious with this tandem of old-gramps with a cute, “innocent” little kid working together, but their hidden camera road trip is outfitted with a somewhat heartfelt story as well.

Where plot and prank combine in this outrageous film, this is where Bad Grandpa manages to rise above something more than the montages of ball-busting, stomach-wrenching skits that somehow called for three full-length motion pictures. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for what these guys are doing. . .sort of. I just have always been amazed they managed to put together three such films, on top of the show they had been doing for some time.) Really, it’s pretty impressive to see Knoxville’s 42-year-old body (in an 86-year-old man costume of course) jettisoning through a store window on a coin-operated kiddie ride.

At first Irving can’t stand the thought of having Billy clinging to his side now. After his wife has passed away, Irving’s finding himself a free man for the first time in over forty years. Not even the strongest of Viagra formula is going to be of assistance to him, now that he’s got a grandkid by his side. There’ll be no chatting up the honeys with Billy around. . . or will there be? As the story and journey unfold, Irving and the kid begin to bond over a series of ridiculous situations and you can’t help but find yourself enjoying their camaraderie. The fact that you’ll be feeling something else other than the pee in your pants might surprise you, too.

The other element that Bad Grandpa benefits generously from is the heavy usage of reaction shots. Unlike the other Jackass films, where all of the comedy was confined within the group, this expedition relies heavily on how innocent bystanders take to Zisman’s “parenting” skills. True, there’s always been a few skits here and there where Knoxville will harass some random people for a minute or two, but here’s a movie that completely runs away with that concept. And it works brilliantly. I’d even argue that this film is far funnier because of the way certain people respond to what goes on. Some are so good you want to believe they were directed to act a certain way. But the end credits sequence will reveal that in fact, no one is in on the joke other than Knoxville, Nicoll and the camera crew.

Taken altogether, with clever camera placements, a good performance from the very young Nicoll, and a premise written by fellow jackasses Preston Lacy and Jeff Tremaine that actually enhances the selected stunts, Bad Grandpa is one of the better conceits the crew has concocted. Consider it the ultimate “big” prank, similar to how their other films always concluded in some elaborate scheme — only this time with a lot more loose skin.

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3-5Recommendation: This section should be pretty self-explanatory this time! You’ll either be there laughing your fool head off or you’ll be at home, skipping over channels that are showing the previews for this thing. Very little I can say or do to convince the latter kind, which is completely understandable. I’m just relieved this movie actually worked.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You are sorry, you’re sorry as hell, Mister!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Counselor

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Release: Friday, October 25, 2013

[Theater]

“If you keep heading down this path, you will eventually come to moral decisions that will take you completely by surprise.”

So forewarns the enigmatic night club owner, Reiner, played by a very colorful Javier Bardem in Ridley Scott’s latest suspense thriller, based on the first original screenplay penned by Cormac McCarthy. He was speaking to Michael Fassbender’s Counselor character in the film, but the line’s also apropos of anyone waiting in line to buy a ticket to see The Counselor, the film itself.

Scott’s latest is the schoolyard bully of fall 2013 releases. Unsparing in its austerity, substitution of prose for dialogue and inclusion of jolting and unsettling violence, his direction demonstrates he’s clearly not over the loss of his brother, Tony — which is certainly an understandable issue. But whereas his finished product simply screams misery, it could have cleverly suggested it (I’ve always felt Scott has been a director of subtlety, even in dealing with profound subjects like in Prometheus) and his counseling, therefore, ain’t a great deal of fun to sit through. The anguish on display makes it nearly impossible for even the most hardy viewer to say ‘well, I had a good time in that movie.’ While that may be sort of true, what they probably mean to say is that some of what they saw was enjoyable, but they couldn’t mean they actually enjoyed watching such suffering for as little payoff as they get in the end.

The Counselor fixates on a man (Fassbender’s character is simply known throughout as the Counselor, a description only slightly less blasé than Gosling’s in Drive) who gets in too deep with the wrong people, taking one job too many and becoming just a little too greedy. He’s meant to be a lawyer representing a variety of different, albeit all wayward clients, who insists he can protect them and get them what they want, though he’s really just in the game for the money for himself (and his soon-to-be-wife, the perpetually aroused Laura, played by Penelope Crúz). When the Counselor becomes involved with a multi-million-dollar drug deal and the deal goes awry, his world starts falling apart in unthinkably brutal ways.

The Counselor is approached by a shady, yet exquisitely dressed middleman representing the Mexican cartel, a man by the name of Westray (Brad Pitt), who presents him the opportunity to gain millions. McCarthy’s writing flusters both the audience and the characters in a scene intended to be pivotal for the rest of the proceedings, but it really just passes by as casually as death does here. This is aided by the fact that the discussions are absolutely loaded with metaphor; steeped in philosophy and ultimately add up to nothing more than “I wouldn’t do this if I were you,” just the kind of cautionary advice you fully expect the Counselor to ignore.

And he does.

We are treated to a whole slew of characters who would be compelling had the writing tried not to be so profound. The most compelling of which has to be Cameron Diaz, playing Reiner’s menacing girlfriend, Malkina. Diaz turns out to be the full embodiment of evil here, what with all those leopard print tattoos and her obsession with Reiner’s pet cheetahs and his Corvette (which she has sex with) — oh yeah, did I mention how misogynistic this movie is as well?

It could be to do with the fact that the director is trudging through some hellish waters here recently in the wake of his brother’s passing, and it may also be attributed to the general gloomy way in which McCarthy has consistently viewed the world. Arguing who is more responsible for the film’s tone coming across as bleak as it has could turn into an all-day affair, though. Point is, The Counselor takes an incredible cast and forces upon it some of the nastiest characterizations audiences have seen this side of Andrew Dominik’s morose political allegory.

Zoning out in this movie will not only be understandable but expected. That is, until you see someone’s carotid artery being sliced open in public, or their finger tips sliced off in the process of trying to remove the wire around their necks that’s causing this bloodletting. The viewer goes from being grossly under-stimulated by a wordy script to being just grossed out by scenes of graphic violence. Between the pretense and the pain, both which punctuate this script like stray bullet holes, the best thing that can be said of The Counselor is that its another extreme case of style-over-substance. The misuse of such a talented cast is what’s really difficult to get over. It’s as though the cast members blindly accepted the fact they would be speaking this legendary writer’s words, taking that reality for what it was regardless of the product his writing would ultimately shape.

Realizing this feels more enlightening than any of the lessons that are supposedly conveyed through such ugliness.

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1-5Recommendation: Very little of the film is enticing (except for Diaz’ back tattoos, of course). And when it’s not taking a mean-spirited approach to teaching the forever-sinning Counselor a lesson about being greedy, it’s boring. This movie is a failure on nearly every level, especially considering the talent on this set.

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “I can’t advise you, counselor.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the number of my followers drop after I admit that today’s entry is a movie I had never seen until now. . . Somehow, some way this classic from the mid-80s has eluded me. I can report that after all this time this movie remains just as terrifying as it was when first exposed to audiences in the day. Its easy to look past the dated acting, corny dialogue, and campy 80s effects because the story here is just so thrilling, and quite honestly scary. I had a blast with this TBT. ’twas a much more memorable one than last week’s, that’s to be sure. 

Today’s food for thought: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). 

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Release: June 1, 1984

[Netflix]

No rest for the mentally disturbed/possibly stalked. . .

The spirit of a vicious child serial killer resurfaces in the nightmares of teens in modern-day and is responsible for their subsequent and shocking deaths in this tense, spooky thriller from who else, but Wes Craven (I’m actually not that familiar at all with his style, but since this is a horror film for the ages I figured I’d best get ahead and jump on the bandwagon as quick as possible to make up for lost time).

I think it’s a general desire to distance myself from having too many nightmares myself that kept me away from this vintage piece of cinema. You will not find me in my most comfortable state during scenes of teeth-grinding suspense and dramatically low-lit, creepy stalking sequences, but I had to make an exception here. Craven’s direction is superb, fully taking advantage of a disturbing premise and several buckets of blood syrup to create scene after scene that’s filled with dread, suspense and gore in ways that are rarely seen in today’s horror offerings. Within the first ten-ish minutes, I yearned immediately for a time machine to go back in time and just have horror films like this exist and nothing else — this, coming from a non-horror movie watcher. I’m sure that I’ve said this often enough, I just want to make it even more clear how much fun this movie is.

After Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) experiences the death of her friend Tina, she’s not fully convinced it was the murder that everyone understands it to be, and sooner rather than later she finds herself deeply personally involved in the mystery also, and the dream world she goes to when sleeping starts to blur with the real world.

Years ago, a terrible hat-wearing man (yes his hat was terrible) who killed children was tracked down by enraged parents, who then cornered him in a basement and set fire to the house. Now he lives on in the nightmares of other kids living on Elm Street, killing children as his revenge. With each passing day and seeing more and more disturbing things in her dreams, Nancy is increasingly scared to go to sleep and her mother (horror regular Ronee Blakely) becomes increasingly worried about her daughter’s mental state. Finally enough is enough for Nancy, and she becomes determined to both prove that Freddie is indeed still alive (no one believes her since, well. . you know. . . he was a pariah from yesteryear and is long gone now), and that she is not insane. Nancy makes attempts several times to have someone watch over her as she sleeps and attempts to drag her monstrous stalker from the dream world to the real one so the terrorizing can be stopped, once and for all.

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The Dreams:

  1. A very young Johnny Depp, as Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen Lentz. His big-screen debut.
  2. The bedroom scenes and “I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy. . .”
  3. Charles Bernstein’s score is really damn cool and suitably eerie.
  4. The fact that Freddy Krueger is played by an actor (Robert Englund). Thank god this guy isn’t real. . . . . . .right?
  5. There’s a heavy use of cheesy 80s props/effects here but they are so well-used these have ended up scarring me temporarily. Hopefully I’ll recover in a few days.

The Nightmares:

  1. Some acting bits are pretty questionable but in general these don’t even really bring the intensity down. Also, it is a film from the 80s. I should probably have expected a bit of camp in the dialogue every now and then.
  2. The fact there are so many sequels to this that I will likely never watch because I have this general understanding of how terrible they are.
  3. How dumb must you be to stay in the same town after you’re being suspected of murdering your girlfriend? (Rod Lane, I’m talking to you.) Why didn’t you just blow dodge? Hiding in the bushes, and then whispering to a passing-by Nancy doesn’t seem to be a terrible effective way of hiding yourself from the cops. I think he would have avoided his death if he hadn’t been so foolish.
  4. The ultimate show-down between Nancy and Freddy was a little silly. I was actually hoping for something more, but it still worked.
  5. The ending!!!!!! I am a person who appreciate finality, having some knowledge of things being over, whatever. Uh, this didn’t really satisfy that, but at the same time its not a bad ending at all. I’m very, very torn on how A Nightmare on Elm Street goes out. Still, I refuse to see the sequels.

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Well, that’s it. That about wraps us up for this disturbing week on Throwback Thursday. Thanks for revisiting this one with me, and for still reading after I told you it took me almost 30 years to see it.

 

4-0Recommendation: Simply a classic, Craven’s low-budget and extra-creepy psychological thriller is both atmospheric and unnerving, and should be a permanent installment in any horror fan’s list of films to watch in the run-up to Halloween.

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.pophorror.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Summit

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Release: Friday, October 4, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

K2. Perhaps few points on Earth are as coveted as its rarely-seen, wind-swept summit — at least with the sole purpose being to simply leave the footprints behind to say indeed, you were there; you had made it.

In August of 2008 as many as 11 lives were lost on the world’s second-tallest mountain’s razor sharp ridges and unforgiving slopes during one of the most tragic expeditions attempted in its history. On the first day of the month, 18 climbers made a push for the top, each armed with the singular hope of experiencing exhilaration, discovering liberation, achieving affirmation.

Instead, what awaited them was nothing short of devastation.

The Summit, part-dramatization and part-documentary, juggles climber ethics and responsibilities, the history and politics of high-altitude mountaineering, as well as the psychology of being in the moment — a phenomenon known as ‘summit fever,’ a mental state that causes sound judgment to be compromised when in reach of the top of the peak, gets touched upon. Piecing together first-hand video documentation and convincing re-enactments, a tension-filled story is created that’s meant to reflect all of the confusion and chaos of those fateful days. While the strategy hardly diverts from the legions of other extreme-outdoor docu-dramas, it makes no attempt at providing the material in a traditional, coherent manner. This is rather unfortunate, given the gravity of the events.

It seems strange to label the recounting of an ill-fated expedition as ‘confusing,’ but the way in which director Nick Ryan wants to do the recounting is just that, and the result is an audience with more questions than answers. The scenery is jaw-dropping and the cinematography in general staggering. The Summit also employs a few inventive shots that will give any moviegoer vertigo. Thus, Ryan fulfills at least two-thirds of the requirements to make this kind of viewing stimulating.

To be fair, the event Ryan is depicting/reporting on seems to be shrouded in mystery, even to those who were caught up in it. In fact, it’s this mystique that perpetuates the story. How can so many people who are so experienced, get into so much trouble so quickly? How can 18 people begin a push for the 28, 251-foot summit and only seven return to base camp? Who was to blame for the multiple accidents and mix-ups in the Death Zone? Will we ever know the truth?

It’s really the story structure that doesn’t do this event any particular favors. We start up on the mountain quite high up in the beginning, zoning in on a group of Korean climbers who have just fallen and are dangling precariously on a section of steep slope, bloodied and unmoving. Something has gone horribly wrong, but we are not sure what that is. Nobody on the mountain does, either. Cut to the beginning of the day, when everyone is making a push from base-camp. We get some incredible insight into what goes on around there — logistics, meetings, the regular goofing around between good old boys — and all of this is extremely interesting. Too bad we keep getting interrupted by the story which continues to move around like a Mexican jumping bean.

Between trying to keep track of several parties attempting to make summit bids and those trapped down lower on the mountain undergoing individual crises, it’s difficult to keep up with who’s who, and perhaps more strangely, why some losses of life receive full backstories, while others barely get a mention. Historical/political elements factor in awkwardly as well, seeming to be more of an obligation than a contributor to the drama that unfolded in 2008.

Still, if you’re not worried about disorientation or anything like that, The Summit makes for a satisfactory enough watch and the visuals are certainly worth the while. Director Nick Ryan should be commended for attempting to set up a story that goes in a different direction than other documentaries, but it just doesn’t quite pay off for him.

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3-0Recommendation: Given the event, the mountain, and my general love for the outdoors, I walked away unable to stop feeling just a little bit letdown by The Summit. Still, it manages to deliver most of the goods. It just would have been nice to have had a stronger impression of just how messed up of a day this was on the mountain. Nothing that a little research on the internets can’t clarify, though, I suppose. . . .

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “You have to save yourself from K2.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Fifth Estate

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Release: Friday, October 18, 2013

[Theater]

Yeah, thanks. . . thanks Bill Condon, if we wanted to sit through a lecture on information gathering in the digital age, we would (and a lot of us probably) have made tuition payments for school.

However, this is a movie and we want to be entertained as much as we desire to be informed; unfortunately though your work seems capable of handling only one of those — and that is to inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Inform. Prepare to be drowned in informing, actually. This film feels more like a Powerpoint presentation than a creative device. And no, I’m going to try hard and not turn this ironically into a stern lecture on how NOT to make a movie (though I could).

What you are probably going to see a lot of, though, is me rehashing how I wish I hadn’t anticipated this release so much; a lot of reiterating how disappointing a film The Fifth Estate has turned out to be.

While anchored by two very likable actors in Benedict Cumberbatch (doing his best to approximate his unique physique to that of the real Australian hacker) and Daniel Brühl (a selling point for me personally having just seen him in the incredible race film, Rush) and being based on the real Daniel Berg’s book, titled ‘Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website,’ this movie seems to be hacked virtually from the get-go. The pace is slower than dial-up AOL and despite said cast even contributing earnest performances, what we’re given as the story behind Julian Assange and his controversial WikiLeaks webpage isn’t nearly substantial enough. It’s like ticking items off a grocery list, the way we move through several critical moments in his career.

I wish I hadn’t anticipated this film so much.

It’s always troubling in a movie when you find yourself sitting there, consciously picking out all the things on-screen that you saw potentially greater versions of. In this case, director Bill Condon (who is literally one hump away from having a terribly awkward surname) mismatches the talented Cumberbatch and Brühl with a lifeless script that gives only broad brushstrokes as to who the man behind WikiLeaks is; you could get the same information by checking him out on Wikipedia. (Wiki-whoops.) That said, though, the actors bring weight to some of the drama that occurs. Some, being a keyword.

A good deal of what comprises Condon’s data-heavy docudrama/biopic are partially edited recordings which were some of the major milestones in the WikiLeaks era. For example, videos you may have seen on YouTube countless times (depending on how quickly such material got blocked) will resurface again and again throughout the movie — footage of atrocities committed during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan; rare footage of the events of September 11, etc. Condon’s putting all of this information out there but there’s absolutely nothing being done with any of it. I understand its good to be objective on certain things, but there’s a difference between being neutral and distancing the audience.

Coupled with some very suspect editing and special effects from some 90s rock band music video, what should be a riveting and morally gouging narrative turns out to be a complete cock-up. I have no other words for it other than that. (Well, that and I’ve been waiting a long time to bust that word out.) What I deemed to be one of the year’s more intriguing stories (which is now only true in the theoretical) is steeped in amateurish filmmaking and this fact is simply exasperating. And even worse, I almost fell asleep twice throughout. I wish I hadn’t anticipated this film so much.

I don’t even concern myself with the fact that Assange himself considers the movie to be “fiction masquerading as fact.”

While the concept of ‘the fifth estate’ is indeed interesting, its significance to the film couldn’t be more contrived, as its explained away in a line of dialogue, rather than manifesting itself in the style and tone of the writing. Simply put, the term refers to the existence of a group of people who don’t affiliate themselves with any of the four other societal groupings (thinking about it historically, you have the first class “clergy,” second class “nobility,” third class “commoners,” and the fourth class “press.”)

As it pertains to the world now, Assange and his controversial site — where thousands of the planet’s best-kept secrets are made available to the internet-browsing public free of charge — would most definitely plead the fifth (estate). His nature epitomizes both the terms ‘loner’ and ‘enigmatic.’ He must be an incredibly difficult person to relate to, yet somehow Cumberbatch manages to portray him with an amazing confidence that is hard to ignore.

I also didn’t find Laura Linney to be all that terrible either, playing Sarah Shaw, a government official who represents those in high power who stand to lose quite a lot with all of this unearthing of secrets that pesky Assange has been doing. Linney’s given a considerable amount of screen time, and while she’s never been an actress I’ve been able to take seriously for even as long as a minute, here she seems more than capable of delivering the drama. She may not be half bad, but in a movie that is, she seemingly continues to be unable to catch a break. The same cannot be said for Anthony Mackie, however, who is plain awful in this movie and who I can’t wait to never see again in a major motion picture.

The most disappointing aspect to this film is the opportunity that is squandered to reveal an intriguing profile of one of the world’s most controversial figures. I mean, if it was tough then it’s going to be impossible now. Assange, seeking protection from being tried for treason among other crimes in various countries, has been hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, likely to remain there for the foreseeable future. His character will forever remain a mystery, since this film makes an attempt to characterize him but ultimately what it settles for are generalizations, cliches and generally menial statements on the nature of a globally-connected society.

To that end, The Fifth Estate comes across as nothing more than an obligation, an exercise. . .a data dump. Well, that and a film I wish I hadn’t anticipated so much.

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2-0Recommendation: This is probably the flattest and most uninspiring biopic I’ve seen. Very little about its material seemed to merit a major motion picture, and instead seemed to be simply a reason to put Cumberbatch in another lead role, which by no means is something I necessarily disapprove of. But if you want to get to know more about WikiLeaks, as well as the man behind it (good luck on that), you’d be best served by seeking out the documentary, We Steal Secrets. I’m probably not going to be the last to suggest this, either.

Rated: R

Running Time: 128 mins.

Quoted: “Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Escape Plan

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Release: Friday, October 18, 2013

[Theater]

What do the Terminator, Jesus, Jurassic Park, 50 Cent and prison break all have in common? The answer: director Mikael Håfström’s beyond-ludicrous Escape Plan.

That may be the weirdest lead-in ever written, but ultimately it’s what you are going to pay for in this latest battle between Hollywood’s biggest brand name actors. Arnie and Sly team up as they try together to break out from the most highly-guarded and technologically advanced Chuck-E-Cheese (a.k.a. prison), with Sly being an expert at jailbreak — it’s sort of his career choice — and Schwarzenegger simply being the help from the inside Stallone will require to break out this time. If there is indeed a plot to this movie, that’s it and that’s as complicated as it gets, too, making the film open for big, dumb and entertaining fights and, not to mention, undoubtedly a whole lot of criticism.

As a sucker for Schwarzenegger schtick (can anyone NOT like the Austrian posed as the sheriff of a sleepy midwestern town, I mean come on!), and a moderate fan of Stallone’s, I have come to semi-defend this movie. But there’s only so much that can be said this time around. Needless to say, Escape Plan is unapologetically over-the-top and is far from taking itself seriously. The story is as loosely structured and simplistic in concept as possible to ensure that most attention and entertainment value is concentrated on the fight scenes, scenes which feature the big guys in even grayer and wrinklier form than when we last saw them. As per the usual formulas of Arnie/Stallone’s movies as of late, dialogue is equally dumbed down.

It was pretty easy to gather all this from trailers, though, so what exactly, if anything, does the Swedish director do here that makes his film appealing, worthy of your ticket purchase?

To be completely honest, there were only slivers of moments in this movie which felt original and which were truly worth seeing the film for, even if you’re only likely to catch it on DVD. (I don’t blame those who are going to pass right on over this, as the film doesn’t have much character.)

If you were to combine the popcorn-n-soda satisfaction of Arnie’s last movie, The Last Stand, with the dark and brooding atmosphere that Stallone likes to skulk about in for most of his (Bullet to the Head being the most recent example) what you would get is this product. Escape Plan, like its main characters, plays things extremely safe and does everything by the book.

A few introductions might help make this film make more sense to you, as well as it might clarify that opening sentence of this review. So. . .first things first. What’s Stallone’s beef this time? As it turns out, his Ray Breslin is one of the foremost authorities on safety standards as it pertains to prison securities. He’s written a book on the matter and has garnered respect for his ability to break out of any prison he’s ever been put into. He works in a tiny agency that is staffed by three others — Amy Ryan (The Office, Dan in Real Life), along with Curtis Jackson/50 Cent, work with Breslin under the supervision of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Lester Clark. (Horrible name, even worse performance.)

Breslin is informed of one last assignment he could take up; entering and then attempting to break out of a prison called “The Tomb,” a facility that is purportedly inescapable. This horrendous place is run by an evil man named Hobbes (played by THE Jim Caviezel from The Passion) who likes to refer to the inmates as “assets,” and who also speaks in quiet, menacing tones. Caviezel, it needs to be said, is actually pretty good in this film and his presence stacks up quite well against that of Stallone’s and Arnie’s.

Of course, when Breslin agrees to undertake this latest challenge. . .things go awry, and soon it becomes clear that his incarceration will be more permanent than anyone previously had hoped. His attempts to be tracked by his agency are quickly exposed and rebuffed by the brutal prison staff. His transportation methods are questionable at best, and seem to go differently than how Breslin had planned them to go. Has he finally taken a job that he can’t get himself out of?

Not before long Breslin comes across a similarly gargantuan, gray-haired man who introduces himself in a thick Austrian accent as Rottmayer. And, if you’re going to make friends in the joint, it may as well be with Mr. Universe, right? The usual tropes come into play as the two start drafting up a plan to bust out — each one sacrifices things for the benefit of the two of them, and so on and so forth — and these trials will inevitably come to involve the efforts of several other inmates along the way.

Reiterating: this by no means is a good film, but the enjoyment is derived purely from the comforts we find in the aging Schwarzenegger and Stallone, who still possess great on-screen chemistry. The affairs surrounding them are as buffoonish as ever, but this particular conceit serves them pretty well on a number of occasions. There are more than a few shamelessly dramatic reaction shots of Arnie and Stallone which caused uproarious laughter in my screening. I believe just this happening alone certifies this movie has done its job.

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3-0Recommendation: Plan on Escape Plan being the most generic plan ever. If you come in with the most tempered of expectations and an appreciation for supreme cheese, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Although it does get off to a slow start, it’s exactly what you would expect once Stallone crash lands in what appears to be Schwarzenegger’s stomping grounds. There’s also a good bit of nostalgic value to be had here as well, for any who have been long-time followers of these legendary action stars. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “You hit like a vegetarian!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: The Amityville Horror (2005)

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My concept for TBT has yet again proven itself to be worthwhile with today’s entry. This Thursday I watched a film I could have sworn was actually good years ago. I know, I know. This month was supposed to be inclusive of nothing but GOOD horror films — not bad, not even mediocre. Good ones. But I say again, going back in time and rewatching films I haven’t laid eyes on in years has proven to be beneficial. Some films take a second viewing to make their impact (even if those viewings were parceled out over the course of almost a decade). I suppose if I wanted to truly keep to this theme of purportedly “good” horror films, I would have just crafted a review based on my first watch, but seeing that I couldn’t remember anything at all that happened, I decided to give it a quick re-watch and see what came of it. Apparently, not a great deal of excitement. 

Today’s food for thought: The Amityville Horror (2005)

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Release: April 15, 2005

[Netflix]

Ryan Reynolds. . . .in a horror film? How is this possibly going to gel at all? When I was eight years younger, I calmly brushed such concerns aside, slipped the disc into the player and sat patiently, watching as the film opened in considerably grim fashion. A bloody opening scene explains the events that would set-up the story for Reynold’s character and his family later in the film. A man inexplicably slaughters his entire family one random night, and is later described by police as having severely disturbed psychological behavior, the source of his behavior being generally understood to be related to demonic possession. It’s not exactly subtle exposition and foreshadowing, but compared to the terrible way in which it ends, this part of the film should be allowed to slide by.

George and Kathy (Melissa George) are a young married couple facing the typical financial stresses. However, they become infatuated with an old, rustic estate on the water’s edge and, spurred on by a desire to move onward in the “next step in our life’s plan,” they buy the house impulsively and cannot wait to settle in, to start making improvements on the grounds. Soon, though, the house causes disturbances in this family — most notably in George and their youngest child, Chelsea (Chloe Grace Moretz), and soon they’ll be left with only one option: abandon their dream house. Hopefully everyone will still be alive by then.

Given the curious against-type casting of Mr. Van Wilder here, I was nearly convinced this film could offer up something refreshing, performance-wise at least. (I hold out very little hope for experiencing stylistic revelations in horror film remakes). His typical pretty-boy appearance now disguised in the requisite grayscales and dim lighting of horror film sets, Reynolds’ George Lutz actually seemed capable of being a serious character, one that loves, hurts and is able to handle the responsibilities of his life — in essence, virtually the opposite of every character we’ve been accustomed to seeing Reynolds portray. As shocking as it might sound now, back then I thought this would work out.

I should probably back up just a bit though, before I tear Reynolds apart from my frustration of having sat through another plodding, quote-unquote scary film.

The ultimate failure with most films of this genre boils down to either a lack of acting ability (which on the odd occasion can make a film inadvertently more entertaining) or a lack of good writing. It’s those two factors more than anything else that throw off any given horror film’s desired effect; we can all look away from bloodshed if we so choose to. The remake of The Amityville Horror contains a mix of both, but its nearly impossible to argue that the writing is the most uninspired element. Reynolds is saddled with dialogue that is both unconvincing and at times plain stupid.

Of course, his character is taken on a journey that will leave you both confused and moreover, bored. The first complaint previously stated is owed more to the poor writing; his execution of a rather mundane story, though. . .well that’s more on Reynolds. As he slowly becomes more and more affected by the demonic forces within his house, he slowly starts to reveal the cracks in his dramatic repertoire. Aside from looking far too stoned for the duration of the flick, he can’t convey much in his eyes. Reactions and facial expressions are critical to selling the experiences of the victims on screen. All Reynolds can do is simply alter the volume of his voice.

Ultimately, my experience years back with this film is made all the more dim by the passing of time. The fog that has gotten in the way between today and whenever the heck it was when I last sat through The Amityville Borer has grown thick enough to make me think this movie could have survived on Reynold’s presence alone. Fortunately, though, the movie does get some brownie points for the young introduction of Chloe Grace Moretz, who gets more than her fair share of screen time here as the ever-so impressionable Chelsea. Everyone else involved is dreadfully forgettable, however.

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2-5Recommendation: Unlikely to be on anyone’s list of favorite remakes, this edition from 2005 is frustratingly mediocre. The acting is predictably crummy and the scares are sparse. This all said, there’s a decent bit of tension here and there that might make for a decent horror film night on the run-up to Halloween itself, but there’s really not much more value here than that. You might be better off renting the original.

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Catch ’em and kill ’em. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.kickasstoo.com; http://www.fathersonholygore.com

Machete Kills

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Release: Friday, October 11, 2013

[Theater]

Okay. I’ll go ahead and file this one under ‘Ridiculous.’

But I’ll be sure to leave a sticky note on it as well, with a reminder saying, ‘Not bad if you’re in just the right mood for guns, girls and glory all in one simple, cartoonish and outrageously campy package.’ It’s not exactly a brief label, but this is what’s true of Robert Rodriguez’ follow-up to 2010’s Machete. This thing is incredibly clunky, crude and crass, but oh-so-creative and deliciously dumb.

Seems that with Machete Kills, along with lowering my standards of moviegoing entertainment (I paid $8.75 to see Miss San Antonio, not Mel Gibon. . .or even a Chuck Sheen who’s seemingly undergoing an identity crisis as he’s credited as Carlos Estévez for the first time in. . . well, years), I’ve also gone ahead and broken a long-standing moviegoing rule of mine — to avoid seeing a sequel before getting to see the original first. Seeing that this is a story with about as much substance as a microwaved bowl of Spaghetti-O’s, I figured I wouldn’t be missing much. And, barring the continuation of the “fake trailer” gimmick that Rodriguez has run away with since his Planet Terror portion of Grindhouse, and a couple of characters that were also in the first, my experience proved that to be true.

The film opens with a scene in which Machete (Danny Trejo) and his partner, Sartana (Jessica Alba) are fighting off some baddies and seem to have been successful, when suddenly a masked man appears around the side of a vehicle and guns down Sartana, and then bails, leaving Machete alone and  now even more morbid-looking than he previously had been.

Soon he’s captured by an overzealous Texas sheriff (William Sadler) and is subsequently hung, but once again his body proves to be near-immortal as his neck is too thick to break in the process. Moments later, a call comes in from President Rathcock (Sheen) requesting the help of the ex-Federale agent. The cop reluctantly cuts the big bastard down and he sets off on his mission to save the world, also now saddled with vengeance and heartbreak. What ensues is a journey filled with chaos, extraordinarily excessive bloodshed, women that would likely incur the envy of James Bond, and another appearance from Mel Gibson (yay!). It is all perhaps a bit too much to handle at once.

Not the least of which is Amber Heard in a, shall we say, visually stunning role that is, unfortunately, all style and no substance. Her (read: appreciated) eye candy roles have pretty much all led to this.

Simultaneously a San Antonio Beauty Pageant Queen and a covert agent trained to assist Machete in his mission, Heard’s role is probably the most gratuitous element in Machete Kills. Describing her entirely would reveal too much about this flick, even though spoilers SHOULDN’T be something one should be concerned about with a movie like this — all the same, I won’t ruin it — but I’ll say this: Miss San Antonio, for all intents and purposes, is a microcosm of Rodriguez’ brand of filming (at least, as of late). She’s sexy, obsessed with violence, and her acting is desperately campy all at once, in every frame of the film she’s in. As much as I enjoy her presence, her performance does leave a lot to be desired still. But, how dare I ask for more.

Miss San Antonio’s not left to bask in the misogynistic light of Rodriguez’ blood-spattered world alone, though.

Along his journey, our scarred hero must get past a barrage of blustery characters, including a hostile group of women who seem to be the female version of Hell’s Angels (only without the bikes), headed up by Sofia Vergara’s maniacal Desdemona (otherwise known as the girl in the trailer with guns for boobs). She’s backed up by Alexa Vega’s Kill Joy and Vanessa Hudgens’ Cereza; other notable villains include Walton Goggins/Cuba Gooding Jr./Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas as El Camaléon/La Camaléon (that’s a whole other story in itself), and Demian Bichir is wildly entertaining as a bipolar weirdo named Mendez.

Not having seen the first movie may almost be an advantage when talking its follow-up. Clearly, it hasn’t performed even half as well as the original. All depending on one’s loyalty to the director’s flare, there’d be surely some level of disappointment after seeing Kills if you were a fan of the first. The film seems to drag by in places which rendered it a much slower-moving hour and forty-five minutes than it should have been with such a star-studded cast; the flaw in its pacing is something that should be unforgivable given the playfulness of the style and tones on display. When the acting is not something you can rely on either, the parts that drag, go by unbearably so.

Fortunately, the climax of the film is suitably amusing and the deaths are more cartoonish than ever. Mel Gibson is disturbingly comfortable in the role of a demented billionaire, hell-bent on worldwide destruction. In some ways, I was convinced this was not really an acting job for him. He just was himself and cameras rolled. (Theories on this can be discussed later.) What worked the most for Gibson here was his timing. Appearing at the ass-end of an outrageous story, his Voz, a wealthy arms dealer who plans on nuking the world into chaos for some inexplicable reason, is the ultimate threat. A point to the movie, if ever there were any.

Can Machete stop Voz before its too late? Will Machete become seduced by one too many tantalizing ladies? . . . will Charlie Carlos Sheen-Estévez’ identity crisis get resolved? You’ll have to find out by tuning into the latest trailer-disguised-as-movie, Machete Kills, one of the most unabashedly silly farces you should allow yourself to see this side of Movie 43.

Yeah, why not?

Hey, what the hell — why not?

2-5Recommendation: The original likely will be widely regarded as the superior version, as I get the impression this affair lacked some originality in its storytelling (probably the most common syndrome that sequels suffer from), and the Bollywood-esque acting offers no apologies. Still, there’s enough here to have a mindlessly entertaining time with. Guilty pleasures, what’s wrong with having ’em?

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “Machete don’t tweet.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com