What We Do in the Shadows

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Release: Friday, February 13, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi

Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

It’s once again cool to bust out your vampire get-up for the next Halloween party because these guys have just made being an ugly, putrefying member of the undead so totally hip. Even I, one of Dracula‘s biggest naysayers, wants a sweet cape.

If you’ve been entranced by musicomedy duo Flight of the Conchords, a televised show/live performance featuring the inseparable Kiwis Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie this film has your name written (in blood) all over it. Their brand of humor runs amok in this mockumentary about several vampires struggling to just get by in the 21st Century, all while anticipating and preparing to attend the annual Unholy Masquerade hosted in their fair town of Wellington, New Zealand. This film is such an amusing spin on the vampire legend that being a dedicated fan isn’t a matter of eternal life and death.

What We Do in the Shadows sucks-eeds on a number of levels. Aside from that being possibly this blog’s worst pun yet, it’s also paramount to understanding why you’ll walk away from this fangtastic comedy feeling completely refreshed and satisfied with how you’ve spent your money. Consistency is difficult to find in comedies, much less those of the contemporary variety, but there is no better word to describe Shadows, apart from echoing critics’ chosen adjective: hilarious. From the performances to the frightful wardrobe; the subversion of vampiric lore to the commitment to being ridiculous, this is a product that delivers on its promises from the opening frame of being a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The film invites you in with a frank discussion between two roommates attempting a diplomatic approach with a third, much lazier roommate, the 183-year-old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who hasn’t done the dishes in at least five years. Clement’s Vladislav and Taika Waititi’s Viago, both several centuries Deacon’s senior, are understandably upset. Tensions have literally risen to the ceiling and added to this the fact that their fourth roommate, 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) doesn’t exactly try to voice his concerns. Quickly the tone of the film is set, although direction is a little harder to nail down.

Shadows, while thoroughly ridiculous, knows not to forsake tradition, however. Some of its funniest moments come from demonstrating the “mild inconveniences” of having to suck blood to stay alive. Because they cannot expose themselves to sunlight the gang has to prowl the streets at night looking for new “friends,” and also because of other technicalities, they often find themselves denied the chance to enter night clubs since they’re never invited in. A friend of Deacon (a human female, as it so happens) tricks her ex-boyfriend Nick into coming over to their house to eat what he thinks is a hearty bowl of spaghetti. Uh, it’s not. It’s actually pasghetti, thank you very much, and it looks remarkably similar to a bowl of live worms. A chase ensues when the guest refuses to eat and Nick, despite his best efforts, may never be the same again.

Several other humorous vignettes transpire before we get to the main event: the Unholy Masquerade, and I refuse to reveal anything more about those sequences. While tensions among the roommates are being documented in each scene, this is where things really start to unravel for Vladislav in particular. As he’s expecting to become the featured guest of this year’s Unholy Masquerade, it’s no surprise he is crushed when he hears that not only is he not the guest of honor but instead it’s none other than his ex, whom he describes — in a scene that had me crying from laughter — as “that damn Beast.” All hell breaks loose at the dance when Pauline (a.ka. “The Beast”) quickly sniffs out the human members among Vladislav’s crew — Nick’s computer engineer/dorky friend Stu is one such individual, as are the people filming the documentary — but luckily enough our gang escapes the angry mob of undead.

Shadows may be loosely strung together in terms of plot, but when the gags come in such rapid succession and the characters are this entertaining, basic structure fades into the background. It’s easy to sit back and eagerly anticipate the next twist in the adventure. The addition of human Stu is a brilliant reflection of our own wide-eyed reactions to these bloodthirsty drama queens. He’s also someone the vampires actually take kindly to, as he introduces them to the conveniences of Skype and smart phones, assimilating these creatures slowly into the modern age.

It’s a pretty difficult world to get by in if you’re a mere mortal, but if you’re a vampire good luck trying not to go insane figuring out what the point is of things like Twitter and Instagram.

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4-5Recommendation: What We Do in the Shadows pulls off an impressive feat of remaining funny, engaging and clever from beginning to end while creating several interesting riffs on the vampire genre. For fans of anything Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done this inspired documentary is an absolute must. It basically is for anyone in search of one of the year’s better comedies. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but this has a good chance of staying alive for a long, long time. Fantastic bit of creative energy out of New Zealand. Check it out.

Rated: N/R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “What are we?” / “Werewolves, not swear-wolves . . .”

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 

Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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Release: Friday, August 22, 2014

[Theater]

Okay so there apparently is a major self-destructive streak in me, for I went to see the purportedly ill-advised Sin City sequel and walked out a happy customer. Perhaps more so than I rightfully should have been, too.

Has it really been ten years since the last time we wallowed in the streets of Frank Miller’s sick and twisted imagination? (Actually, it’s been nine but who’s counting?) Point being, its enough time for a follow-up film to be rolled out to the sound of crickets chirping. Moderate fans of the first have all but forgotten that there ever were plans on revisiting this place. Diehards likely even struggled to maintain a reasonable level of optimism. Everyone else simply went about their lives.

See, these aren’t the kinds of films that really move the viewer. And A Dame to Kill For had no intention of changing that, but in a twist of irony it kind of did. It moved people to the point of total disinterest. I had five people in my screening on opening night. Five, myself included. And I didn’t go to the crappy theater at the mall this time, either. Grossing a measly $6.4 million over the weekend (approximately $22 million less than its predecessor), one of its competitors that was already three weeks into its own theatrical run, Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps snatched that up within a couple of showings over that weekend alone.

I suppose me going on to say that Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is back but only for a paycheck won’t help anyone still on the fence about seeing this. Sure, Bruce’s here, but he’s literally in the background. Instead we get a new group of desperados born and bred in the filth of two of Miller’s graphic novels. He, along with returning director Robert Rodriguez, merges the titular novel with one called Just Another Saturday Night, along with two new stories created solely for the film. We first stumble upon a returning hard-man in Mickey Rourke’s battered and bruised Marv, who is seen picking himself up in the wake of a car crash. He starts recounting the last things he remembers and what brought him to this new low point. This part represents the second of two graphic novels used for the story.

Then, some new blood. Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears out of the blue (okay, the black-and-white) as a cocky but composed card player whose good fortune seems to know no bounds. Unfortunately, neither does his ego as he pits himself against one of the most ruthless scoundrels in all of Basin City — the one and only Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe). The Senator is back and more ruthless than ever, making it his personal mission to track down Johnny and reclaiming the money he “stole” at the game. Yeah, it doesn’t end well for Johnny.

And finally we come to the third main thread in Josh Brolin’s Dwight (played by Clive Owen in 2005), a man with a horrific past now doing his best to stay sober. That is, until the titular Dame comes into the picture, tempting Dwight back into a life he thought he had successfully gotten out of. Eva Green in this film doesn’t fit the description of ‘femme fatale;’ she doesn’t even epitomize it. She’s something else entirely, and it’s terrifying. (Well, I say ‘terrifying;’ others might have another word for it.) Macro-psychotic? Sexy? What?

Let’s actually talk about that for a second. How does A Dame to Kill For compare in its thematic presentation? If you recall, the day Sin City was released wasn’t exactly a red letter day for actresses the world over. Violent, sloppy and misogynistic to a fault, the movie indulged in sequences that had Jessica Alba’s hips gyrating, Rosario Dawson cleavage-ing, Devon Aoki compensating for her looks by just being a raging lunatic. But back then the over-the-top toplessness was. . .and forgive me for saying this. . .unique to the production design. The sheer lack of boundaries in terms of violence and sexuality contributed to the experience that was a solid graphic novel adaptation. Fast-forward nine years and the fact that Eva Green spends 90% of her scenes naked just comes across as sleazy and lazy.

Fortunately Nancy Carrigan’s story has an ever-so-slight silver lining to her dark cloud. Slipping into despair, the concubine chops her hair, mars her face with shards of glass (if women aren’t going to be sexy, they may as well destroy those useless good-looks, right?) and ultimately abandons her post dancing at the bar. Thank goodness. She makes moves to overcome her own personal hell, following Hartigan’s selfish act of suicide. Nancy then decides to partner up with Marv, who similarly has seen enough of this dirty old town.

Audiences clearly have already reached that threshold. But in the same way I find Rodriguez’ and Miller’s need to overcompensate for truly original storytelling with even more sexually explicit imagery and brutal violence an act of desperation (watch for an amusing cameo from All-State insurance guy Dennis Haysbert as Manute. . .and what happens to his poor eyeball), I view the mass amount of negativity heaped upon this release similarly desperate.

No, this is not Frank Miller’s Sin City, but it’s the next logical step and it is still a Frank Miller creation. It’s just too bad those who cared enough had to wait this long. There’s something to be said for the amount of power this trio of stories has likely lost after nearly a decade laying in wait.

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3-0Recommendation: An all-around consistent film in terms of appealing to its uniquely deranged fan base, A Dame to Kill For steps up the intensity of its thematic elements in an attempt to draw in fringes of a general interest audience. It may have failed in that regard, but for returning customers there’s enough to like here to warrant a ticket purchase, if not then definitely a rental at some point. On the other hand, if there was anything that put you off in Sin City, you probably could avoid this.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “Never lose control, never let the monster out.”

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 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