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Best Movie Ever: Episode 13 – It’s Gonna be a Showdown

July 15, 2013

Well hey, everybody!

Sorry for the lack of activity around these parts last week, but hey, these vacations aren’t gonna take themselves. With that said, whaddaya say we settle back into things with yet another rip-roaring episode of BME? Huh? HUH? Darn tootin’. This time around, Sean and I are duking it out over our most highly-anticipated movie of the summer, Man of Steel, and finally getting around to our Best Westerns Ever. Not sure what took us so long, but leave it to The Lone Ranger to finally get our act together. So without further ado, commence the jigglin’ and click on that banner up yonder!

V/H/S/2 (2013)

July 3, 2013

8/10 Home Movies

Talk about quality over quantity.

V/H/S/2 is about two private investigators that get hired to track down a woman’s missing son. Their search leads them to a flophouse of sorts that’s pretty unfurnished and seemingly uninhabited. As they start making the rounds, they stumble upon a room filled with old TVs, all of which are tuned to white noise. Creepy stuff, yo. So while one guy searches the house, he asks his partner to start watching through some unmarked VHS tapes. Why? To find clues as to this kid’s whereabouts, of course! So she sits down, gets to watching, and before long, it gets weird. Real weird.

Ever since Paranormal Activity gave us a newfound appreciation for not dicking around with demons, these found footage movies have been a dime-a-freaking-dozen. They’re cheap to make, they turn a profit (shitty as they may be) and it’s easy to see why they kept on coming. It was fun for a while, we had some good scares, but the thrill is gone, baby, and it’s time to pack yo bags. That’s been the story for the past couple years now, that is until I heard about V/H/S: a found footage horror movie about found footage horror movies. It was just meta enough to work.

I never got around to reviewing it, but the lasting impression of V/H/S was ultimately that of squandered potential. It was an inventive take on a tired formula and it let some promising young directors make a name for themselves, or at least try to. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Of the six segments featured, there were only two worth writing home about courtesy of Radio Silence and Ti West (one of the better young directors out there right now). As for the other four, snafus all around if I remember correctly.

As a result, I wasn’t all that jazzed about the prospect of a sequel until my co-host Sean gave it a go and quickly went ape. Sure, he liked the first one more than I did, but you should have heard the enthusiasm. Kid had a goddamn fit! To say the least, this was surprising. After all, with the exception of maybe Evil Dead 2 and Troll 2, it’s an awfully rare occurrence to have a horror sequel trump the original. But as you’ve probably already gathered, Sean was preaching the gospel. Nor did it hurt to have a low bar to aim for.

This time around, we’ve got five segments at our disposal instead of six. Not that six was too many to begin with, but when four of those six are probably best forgotten, that’s just no bueno whatsoever. Not only that, but V/H/S/2 nails the tone of its tone of this approach in ways that its predecessor often didn’t.

See, the thing with found footage is that if you want it to work, it actually has to seem like found footage. As inspired as V/H/S was, too many of its characters and too much of its dialogue felt excruciatingly forced, like a bunch of jocks acting the part just to win big on AFV. If your entire hook revolves around creating this facade of horrifying events that actually happened to real people, the whole thing falls apart if your characters come off fake. It just wasn’t effective, it just wasn’t believable, and worst of all, it just wasn’t scary.

Granted, no one’s going to walk away from this with a healthy fear of what they encounter, but for what it’s worth, it’s a lot more convincing. Unlike V/H/S, it does such a good job of making this footage seem found. The rest, dear readers, is math.

Still, as much as I can praise these segments for everything they do right, you’ll find the horrors that came before them once you start to strip them down. More specifically, four of these five segments are more or less variations on The Eye, Warm Bodies, Rosemary’s Baby and Signs. But keep in mind that these are fresh spins we’re dealing with, so much so that it’s kind of unfair to even draw the comparisons. If there’s an important distinction to make, it’s that while some segments will stick out more than others, the quality is consistent throughout. Whether they’re an improvement over those horrors of yore, I’m thinking that’s going to vary from person to person. However, there is one segment in particular that absolutely warrants mentioning.

Coming off the heels of The Raid: Redemption, I certainly wasn’t putting my money on Gareth Evans to have the most jaw-droppingly insane and utterly horrifying segment of the bunch. Yet here he is, the one responsible for that charming fellow in the bloody undies. Evans’ effort is the one that takes after Rosemary’s Baby (which is actually short-selling it) and it is a no-holds-barred experience, the likes of which are straight-up shocking even for a genre like this. Such a great build-up, so effing intense, and even though it goes for a minute too long, it makes the other segments look like Goosebumps reruns. Can’t say more than that, it’s too dang good to spoil. But yeah, cults suck.

If there’s one non-complaint that comes to mind, it’s that the segments in V/H/S/2 lean a bit heavier on the supernatural side of things than in V/H/S. If it hadn’t been for Ti West’s contribution last year I wouldn’t even bring it up, but even so, the issue is only an issue depending on what scares you. Speaking for myself, it was pretty damn spooky.

And speaking of Ti West, it’s also really cool to watch this new generation of exciting young film makers come together to form this horror collective of sorts. Even though V/H/S left something to be desired, it nevertheless introduced me to Radio Silence and further confirmed what I already knew about West. From appearing in each other’s movies to teaming up behind the camera, it’s awesome to see artists supporting artists like this while broadening their fan bases in turn. If things keep going like they’re going, it’s only uphill from here.

Again, as much I dug those two segments from the first movie, I can’t stress enough what a vast improvement V/H/S/2 is over V/H/S in almost every way. This is what it should have been like the first time and what’s more is that it was a crapshoot from the start. This kind of approach is why I always roll my eyes whenever some cocky bastard on Top Chef decides to cook a dish three ways instead of just doing one really solid cut of meat. It’s risky as hell, it rarely pays off and if even one of these segments hadn’t been up to snuff, it inevitably would have dragged the other four down with it. But there’s the rub: if you can pull it off, your ass is onto the next round, brotha’. Needless to say, Tom and Padma would have loved this shit.

Like I said, I never expected V/H/S/2 to be the dark horse that it is, but surprises are always welcome in the world of horror sequels. If this is what the future of horror looks like, consider me excited for V/H/S/3. And just you wait, boys and girls, because it’s only a matter of time before you are, too.

Breakup at a Wedding (2013)

July 2, 2013

8/10 Cold Feet

Eloping has its perks.

Breakup at a Wedding is about a videographer who gets hired by a happy couple to film their big day. After years of filming nuptials, this guy’s seen it all, that is until these newlyweds-to-be turn into his self-proclaimed “master work.” See, to all of their friends and family, these two couldn’t be happier to be tying the knot. They’re all smiles, they complete each other, love is in the air. But behind closed doors, everything ain’t so peachy. With two divorced parents who rebounded with weirdos, this future bride starts having some serious second thoughts about the commitment she’s entering into. And with the expenses racking up by minute, this future groom tries to give his girl the day of her dreams without going flat broke in the process. It’s a nightmare really, but since everything’s already been paid for (or so he has her believe), they decided to keep up appearances…sort of. After a long back-and-forth, they ultimately decide to go through with the festivities and pretend like they’re getting married without actually signing any of the legal documentation. Hence the title. So as things go right and things go wrong, their feelings for one another start to change in turn.

All my life I never understood why anyone in their right mind would ever want to elope? It’s a wedding for chrissakes, it’s what you do! Money is no object, open bar for all! The mere notion of forgoing the biggest party you’ll ever throw in your life so that you can get married in secret was simply beyond me. Just think of the faces of your loved ones when you get back from Vegas, struggling to stifle that tinge of disappointment. “Why didn’t they invite me?,” they’ll wonder in that night as they cross your name from the Christmas card list. Why, indeed.

So when my father-in-law offered my fiancé and I a $10,000 check to elope two years ago, I didn’t know what to make of it. I thought the guy liked me! We played Parcheesi together, dammit! It didn’t occur to me that his two marriages counted for a whole lot more life experience than my zero marriages, because in my naive mind a wedding was in order. And so began one of the most stressful years of our lives…

Now, weddings aren’t exactly uncharted territory when it comes to comedies. Given the legend of Bridesmaids and all, I’m honestly surprised we haven’t had more of them as of late. At any rate, the bonus of having that grace period is that it gives Breakup a chance to do its thing without coming off like a coattail-rider. Not only that, but they’re wholly unique except for that whole wedding thing.

If there’s any comparison I could draw, the title alone brings Death at a Funeral to mind. Not being a big fan of the original or the remake, it was nice to find that the comparisons more or less start and end at the title. As for why that is, all signs point to the ways they’re approached.

I don’t know about you, but Death at a Funeral is ridiculous and I wish I meant that in a good way. As much as it tries to bring something genuine and heartwarming to the equation, it keeps shooting itself in the foot by upping the ante and bombarding us with one outrageous scenario after another. It’s a good idea in theory and it doesn’t all flounder (thank you, Alan Tudyk), but at the end of the day, we’re still left with the image Peter Dinklage having a brush with necrophilia and Danny Glover shitting on Tracy Morgan. There’s no coming back from that.

But even if one could forget about, you know, explosive diarrhea, the one thing those movies were was missing was a healthy dose of credibility. Lucky for us, it’s Breakup to the rescue.

Unlike Death at a Funeral, this here is a mockumentary that can only get so ridiculous before the audience calls “bullshit.” Not to say that it entirely avoids this pitfall, but these few lapses are forgivable enough given everything else that’s so consistently good. When it comes down to it, everyone and everything feels surprisingly natural here. It’s not like Exit Through the Gift Shop where you’re left wondering what’s real and what’s not, but even though we’re obviously dealing with paid actors, they sell it from beginning to end. As a result, it really ends up feeling like we’re watching a wedding video.

It sends up things that always happen at weddings without making them painfully obvious and much of the laughs come from people just acting like you’d expect them to act at an event like this. I don’t know, maybe it’s because most of the mockumentaries I see these days are out to scare the goo out of me, but it’s nice to see a comedy that makes the most out of this approach. It makes it look easy and it doesn’t feel forced. Not sure if the credit goes to the cast or the writers on this one though.

Oh, screw it, they both get credit! Been too long since we’ve had a comedy like this.

“Bullshit” warnings aside, it’s just a fun, endearing and chaotic party to be invited to. The strangers are familiar, so are the stresses, and these two crazy kids who are about to not get hitched are likable as all hell. Yeah, their “plan” is a bit hard to buy, but that’s alright, it’s easy to roll with the punches on this one. Nice kids, these two. Nice kids.

Alright, apologies for digressing like a mother on this one, but hey, it did a damn good job of capturing all those highs and lows. I’d even go so far as to say it hit home. It’s funny thinking back on my wedding because the memories that come to mind are the ones I’ll never forget. Everyone was there, it went off without a hitch, and in the course of those 24 hours, all those stresses from the year prior just melted away. I’m glad I didn’t elope, I wouldn’t trade that day for the world, but make no mistake, my kids can expect that check for ten large.

So having gone through the process, there was definitely an added appeal to Breakup at a Wedding. But even if I’d seen this at the height of my bachelorhood, I can’t imagine my feelings would be any different. It’s a very sweet, very funny movie about one of the happiest, craziest moments in a person’s life and it’s easily one of the better date movies I’ve come across in a while. It’s not the funniest movie I’ll see all year, but it’s darn funny for what it is. And after roping my wife into watching more crap than one woman should ever be roped into, you can consider this a recommendation for the ages. Heck of a lot better than I was expecting it to be and the missus would say the same.

Gotsta please the missus, yo.

And the best “Russenter” movie IS…

June 30, 2013


Never seen Elvis, but I’m gonna jump the gun anyway and say that they’re are all winners here. But let’s not kid ourselves, The Thing is in a league of its own. And how about that beard on Kurt! What a badass.

Needless to say, swell voting, folks. Someone needs to get these two back together already. Been too damn long.

The Thing: 26 votes
Big Trouble in Little China: 9 votes
Escape from LA: 6 votes (not sure how this beat out NY, but hey, that basketball scene was pretty sweet)
Escape from New York: 5 votes
Elvis: 1 vote (nice to know someone out there saw it)

The History of Future Folk (2013)

June 28, 2013

9/10 Space Jams

See this immediately, you can thank me later.

The History of Future Folk is about a mighty general from the planet Hondo who crash lands on Earth with the intent of wiping us all out. Just as he’s about to set his deadly plan into motion, his ears are graced with Earth music, and like that, he discovers a planet worth saving. Shortly thereafter, he learns the banjo and starts playing gigs while trying to reconnect with his people back home. Along the way, he falls in love, gets married and has a kid. While the attendance numbers at his shows aren’t great, he integrates quite well into life here on Earth. Then one day, he meets another Hondonian who’s been sent to assassinate him for his traitorous ways. But being the badass of legend that he is, he foils the assassin’s plan and introduces him to Earth music. Next thing he knows, his one-man show is now a bonafide duo and they’re the hottest ticket in Bushwick. But when an outside hire shows up to finish the job our spaceman never started, it’s up to the Future Folk to save all of mankind.

That’s the name of their band, Future Folk. Now it all make sense.

Anyway, hell of a premise, huh? As promised in the trailer, it’s far and away the best alien folk duo sci-fi action romance comedy you’ll ever see and I’d be damned if it ever gets stripped of that fabulous honor. The tragedy of the situation is that I didn’t know it existed until I stumbled upon it by chance, the double tragedy is that I’m certainly not alone. What with all these summer blockbusters getting crammed down our throats, it can be hard for the little guys to get their time in the sun. Yeah, sometimes the Davids get overshadowed for a reason, but sometimes the Goliaths need to take a stop down. And as much as I’ve enjoyed some of these blockbusters as of late, that’s also unfortunately the thing about this season: it can be easy to lose sight of what matters in a movie.

As you’ve likely gathered, this is not a summer blockbuster. You haven’t heard of it, the special effects are ass, the budget’s non-existent and it stars a bunch of no-names (save Dee Snider, who is indeed still alive and is actually still awesome). Safe to say there’s no mystery why this won’t be competing with Pacific Rim next month. It’s sad, but it’s no mystery. From the outset, it seems that all this movie has going for it is originality, charm and some mean, mean banjo riffs. And while I can’t speak for the rest of ya’s, that was all the convincing I need.

Not only am I hook, line and sinker for anything involving a banjo, but I am all about movies that 1) know their limitations, and 2) get a whole lot out of a little. Just look at that synopsis, man. The intergalactic adventures of a high-ranking space soldier is a pretty ambitious road to set out on no matter what kind of funding you’re working with. In someone else’s hands, this could have taken itself pretty seriously and ended up on a double bill with the timeless classic that is Arachnoquake. Instead, it goes for a more “Flight of the Conchords-meets-Star Trek” approach, Syfy channel be damned. Nothing against all you in the Arachnoquake booster club, but Flight of the Trek was the right way to go.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how this movie came about. Either the Future Folk were already a real-life comedy folk act that writer/director John Mitchell made a movie around or the dude wrote a great script and hit the jackpot with the casting. Whatever the reason, the planets aligned.

The thing is, even if the two leads had been horribly miscast, if it had been Bjork and Garey Busey under those helmets, they’d have a damn hard time disservicing such a continually endearing and funny script as this. As soon that general starts movin’ and groovin’ to the muzak in Home Depot, I was utterly won over. From there, it’s just one more great line and one more great moment after another that had me laughing out loud. It is all smiles all the time with this one. Good lord, I’ve been smiling like a village idiot the whole time I’ve been writing this. But lucky for all of us, Bjork and Busey had prior obligations, leaving Nils d’Aulaire and Jay Klaitz to take their place.

D’Aulaire plays the super soldier, Klaitz plays the crappy assassin. Much like this movie’s existence, I have no idea where they came from, but sweet sassy molassy, are they perfect for each other. They both do such a great job of playing the straight man in different ways, neither one outshines the other and they each dive face-first into the roles they’re given. Sure, the bumbling idiot/trained professional thing isn’t breaking the mold when it comes to odd couples in comedies, but they’re far from caricatures and they’re so easy to root for within mere minutes of meeting them. Even though a smile is hard to come by with these two, it’s hard not to get caught up in what a blast they’re obviously having. It’s downright contagious, I tell ya’.

Did I mention how good their songs are? Good gravy, are these songs good and catchy as can be. Think you won’t be singing about space worms for the rest of the month? Think again, fool! Man, I am dusting off the old banjo as soon as I finish writing this.

But more than anything, I just love the way this embraces its low budget without compromising on its ambition. There are lazers, there are aliens, there are spacesuits, there is combat. Granted, it all looks pretty thrown together, but that’s a big part of the appeal. It looks like the kind of movie that a bunch of friends made whenever they had a free weekend, it’s the kind of movie that anyone could have made so long as they had a camera and the passion to do so. And in an industry where it’s easy to forget the essentials of good storytelling, it’s a refreshing reminder of what counts and what’s possible. This is my kind of film making.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that makes me want to make movies, but, yeah, this is one of those movies.

From its enormous heart to its sense of humor, its genuine characters to its exciting plot, you talk about a crowd-pleaser made for all shapes and sizes, this is the real McCoy. Regardless of age, gender, race or species, I can’t imagine someone not loving this movie as much as I did, and as you can tell, I’m pretty damn fond of it. What can I say, The History of Future Folks is just loads of fun, it’s absolutely wonderful and it’s right up there with Mud as one of the easiest recommendations I’ll make all year. So before this hype train of mine up and derails, do yourself a favor and seek this puppy out. You won’t believe what you’ve been missing out on.


Best Movie Ever: Episode 12 – The Ultimate Battle

June 25, 2013

Hey, everybody!

Welcome back to another glorious episode filled with laughs, tears and geekouts galore. This week, we’re talking about the recent disappearance of high-concept comedies and which universe we belong to: DC or Marvel? Like I said, geekouts galore. So without further ado, go right ahead and give that banner a click, yo.

Man of Steel (2013)

June 20, 2013

9/10 Dual Citizens

Respect the cape, son.

Man of Steel is the story of Kal-El, a boy who crash-landed on Earth after his homeworld of Krypton was destroyed by the arrogance of its creators. He grows up in the rural town of Smallville and is raised as a son by a pair of humble farmers. They name him Clark, and before long, he discovers that he has powers far beyond those of normal humans, powers that his father urges him to hide for fear of the public repercussion. So he grows up hiding in plain sight, going from job to job, place to place without ever revealing his true self to anyone. And after years of searching, he finally makes contact with the people of Krypton. Unfortunately for him, they’re less interested in assimilating with humanity as they are completely wiping it out. So with the survival of two races resting on his shoulders, Kal-El must choose which side he’s on.

As you’ve likely already gathered, I liked this one quite a bit. As I quickly gathered thereafter, I liked it more than most. On that note, I should probably get to justifying that Verdict up there. So without further ado, let’s take a trip back to the glory days of ’97.

I was 11-years-old, in sixth grade if I’m not mistaken. Girls were terrifying, Goldeneye was king and my after-school ritual was always the same: put off homework, grab Doritos and watch cartoons on the WB. Like I said, the glory days. It was one year after the debut of Superman: The Animated Series, two years after the last episode of Batman: The Animated Series, and as much as I enjoyed those reruns of Batman, Superman was tops, no question whatsoever. It was obvious to me, how could anyone possibly think otherwise? I mean, dudes, on the one hand you’ve got the Last Son of Krypton. On the other, a mere mortal who can’t even so much as fly. A for effort, Bruce. A for effort.

As far as I was concerned, Superman was of such an incomparable nature that everyone else would naturally be on the same page. Why even bother asking around? And I was awfully comfortable in this mindset, that is until one life-altering day when the WB held a contest, a contest where viewers like me could vote on who was better: The Man of Steel or The Dark Knight. So confident was I that I didn’t even vote, I just sat there licking the Cool Ranch dust off my fingers, waiting expectantly for the victor to be named. It was only seconds later that I realized my worldview was a sham, and to this very day, I do not understand it.

Before you grab your pitchfork and get a posse together, don’t mistake this as a slight against Bats. Bats is a great superhero in his own right and he’s only gotten better with time. The point of this story is that, at the ripe young age of 11, I realized that the world hadn’t given Superman a fair shake. Now that I’m 26, not much has changed, and I guess that’s one reason I was so taken with Man of Steel. After six trips to the big screen, we finally had a movie that fit the bill, one that treated the guy with the respect he deserved.

So why the love? What is it about Superman that puts him up on this tallest of pedestals? Well, part of it is probably ’cause I was born and raised Catholic, and you know how us Catholics love us some Jesus figures. Haven’t been to church in a spell, so I’m thinking that’s one of them subconscious reasons. But the main reason for the love goes back to something Superman Returns hit smack on the head, that Superman is more than just a hero. I know, the same can be said for Batman, but we don’t need Bruce Wayne in our world like we need Kal-El. To me, Superman is more than just someone whose mere existence renders all other powers moot by comparison. Whereas Batman is a symbol for justice, Superman is the personification of all that is good and right with humanity. Superman is the archetype, Superman is the best of us, Superman is a call to action.

Needless to say, screw the WB.

All the same, it’d been a while since I’d seen a Superman movie, so I figured I’d amend the situation by giving Superman II a go last week. Always heard good things and given the presence of General Zod here, it seemed like required viewing. So like the good blogger I am, I gave it a fair shake, and at the very real risk of digging myself deeper, I’m sorry to say that it was a pretty rough time. It was dated, it was sloppy, and after a while, it honestly felt like a joke. I’ll go into more detail in a bit, but with all that in mind, I went into Man of Steel.

I’ll admit, Man of Steel has its problems. The dialogue can feel forced, an extra dose of subtlety would have gone a long way, and Henry Cavill is fine as Supes. He looks the part, he gets it done, but it’s hard to deny that the guy’s kind of a stiff. Definitely not helping with the street cred. Still, it’s a whole lot better than Superman II.

See, back in 1980, Clark Kent was a clown and everyone else was an idiot. Through the power of bifocals and acting like a dumbass, Kal-El was able to fool us all into believing he was one of us. That’s some Moleculo shit right there, and I don’t know about you, but it was always a hard pill to swallow. Lo and behold, that nonsense is gone. Now, in the glorious dawn of 2013, Clark Kent is a mild-mannered fella’ with a badass beard who wanders the country from one odd job to the next. For all intents and purposes, Clark Kent is Bruce Banner, and it is a much more fitting look.

Back in 1980, Superman felt like a superhero living in a make-believe world. Now, he’s starting to feel like an actual person with superpowers. Lois Lane isn’t a damsel in distress, Jor-El is a total boss, and these figures in Kal-El’s life have purpose to them that go beyond their stock roles. And that, dear readers, is what I’m talkin’ about.

With that said, there are just so many interesting avenues you can go down with a character like Superman, the complex nature of his place in this world being one of them. Given how campy some of his past stories have been, I loved the way David S. Goyer wrote something so meaningful for the guy. It might get kinda muddled at times, but Kal-El’s search for belonging on a planet where he doesn’t was both a great place to reboot this franchise and a perfect place to weave in Zod.

The thing about Zod is that, once upon a time, Zod was a one-note character with a one-track mind with two loyal henchmen that weren’t any deeper. They were an obstacle and that was all. And while there are similarities in both his persona and agenda, this new Zod is the Zod I always imagined. This time around, there’s a reason behind his single-minded nature that actually ties back into Kal-El. This time around, he’s a destroyer of worlds, not the Pissing Contest Champion of the Universe that he once was. Not only that, but he’s played by Michael Shannon. Could have toned it down on the yelling a bit, but yeah, Michael Shannon says it all. Like many aspects of this movie, it is an noted improvement, and from Amy Adams to Russell Crowe, there are some damn good performances to boot.

But in going back to that “muddled” comment, let’s get to talking about those last 45 minutes. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you, but a lot of things go boom in those last 45 minutes, more so than most might have expected. It’s a big shift in tone and to say that it’s like watching 45 minutes of “Tekken with Kryptonians” isn’t exactly a stretch. It seems like this is where things went downhill for some folks, but in defense of those 45 minutes, was it really all that surprising? When you take a guy who’s so unfathomably powerful that he can punch through dimensions and then pit him against dudes who could all do the same, destruction’s on the menu, big time.

Plus, it’s a Zack Snyder movie. This kind of stuff comes with the territory. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I was so disappointed by the way ridiculous way Superman bested these guys back 1980, but I ate those 45 minutes right up. Although it was a pretty outrageous level of destruction.

Speaking of Zack Snyder, also nice to see him ease up on the slow-mo and let the art direction take center stage. Holy crap, does it reek of Lovecraft, but holy crap, is it easy on the eyes. Way to recover from Sucker Punch, man.

Alright, this is getting long. I fully realize that a big part of why I liked this movie is ’cause I’m a total sucker for Superman. If this movie didn’t do it for you, I don’t expect to have convinced you otherwise. Then again, that was never really the point. Different strokes for different folks. For me, Man of Steel was a long time coming, a much-deserved fair shake that continually moved and amazed. I’m excited to see where this new direction goes, I’m elated by the way it’s gone so far, and regardless of how you felt about it, I think we can agree that it’s all uphill from here. Until then, I’ll just be here, worshiping at the altar.

Now if only we could get Jimmy Olsen up in this piece…

This is the End (2013)

June 18, 2013

8/10 Bad Actors

Funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

This is the End starts with Jay Baruchel visiting his good buddy Seth Rogen in LA. Now, this is a special occasion because Jay Baruchel hates LA, not to mention all of Seth’s friends who live in LA. If it weren’t for Seth, he wouldn’t even make the trip, so being that it’s a special occasion and all, they hole up at Seth’s place and get to tokin’. Pupils get dilated and everything’s gravy, that is until Seth proposes they head over to a party James Franco’s new digs. Jay’s not a fan, but Seth promises he won’t ditch him to do lines with Michael Cera. So they go, everyone’s there, and as Seth is having a ball, Jay is ready to bounce. Eventually they take a stroll to get some munchies and whatnot when, all of a sudden, the Rapture goes down. Earthquakes, sinkholes, fires and bedlam as far as the eye can see. Completely forgetting the Funyuns they came for, they gun it back to Franco’s place and wait to be rescued. With four of their friends along for the ride, their situation intensifies as they try to survive.

Believe it or not, but apocalypse movies are a dime a dozen these days. Be it zombies, Mayans or trees with a vengeance, the masses just love seeing humanity get offed. I don’t know if there was a memo going around, but the same thing’s been true for comedies this year. To tell you the truth, I was going into this thinking it would be a placeholder of sorts until The World’s End arrived and made everyone forget this ever happened. That’s just the way things go with Edgar Wright. But now, I’m just wondering how he’s gonna top this? So with my expectations served and a slow clap on the way, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

I guess the reason I wasn’t more excited about This is the End is because it’s been a while since I’ve seen these guys together and in their element. Even with comedies as their main m.o., just about all of these guys have been branching out into more dramatic affairs since Pineapple Express and Superbad. Don’t get me wrong, Moneyball‘s one of the greats and who didn’t like 127 Hours, but holy crap, I totally forgot how good these guys are when laughs are the menu.

If you haven’t heard, the gimmick of sorts is that they’re all playing themselves. When I say that they’re going over to James Franco’s house, they’re really going over to James Franco’s house that I’m assuming he built with his Oz money. Gimmick and all, there are three reasons why this is awesome: 1) This is a crew that knows how to have fun, 2) This is a party I want to be at, and 3) The last time they hung out it was effing hilarious. Remember Knocked Up? Remember them playing themselves and ripping on Martin Starr’s beard the whole time? Good movie in general, but you know what would have made it great? Two hours of beard jokes, baby.

You know, I’ve often wondered why this isn’t a more common approach with comedies. I remember talking with my uncle a while back and he said that if he were going to make a comedy, he’d just get all his friends together, press Record and shoot the shit for two hours. I wouldn’t call it a sure thing, but with the right group of friends and booze involved, that idea is pure comedy gold. Lucky for all of us, this is that group of friends and that’s exactly the approach they’re taking. And even if we’re not lucky enough to be part of this funky bunch, it’s a blast to be in on the jokes by just having watched their movies.

Much like with Knocked Up, a lot of the laughs come from all the shit these guys give each other and the way they’ve been written into the story. Take Michael Cera for instance, the adorable, timid son-of-a-bitch that he is. Well instead of writing him as another endearing George-Michael clone, yeah, he’s a coke fiend who has threesomes in James Franco’s bathroom. There’s a lot of that going on here and they’re all more than happy to self-deprecate. Might have come off as a one-trick pony if it was, oh, I don’t know, an Adam Sandler joint, but from one scene to the next, it never gets old with these guys.

Speaking of which, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a comedy that was so consistently funny as this is. Being a sage older brother and all, I recently had the pleasure of introducing my 10-year-old brother to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’d been a long time since I’d had a refresher course on the funniest movie ever made, and even after all these years, I still couldn’t believe how it kept the laughs coming. Those kinds of comedies are hard as hell to find, and while I’m not saying that This is the End is the next Holy Grail, it’s just as consistently funny, if not more so. Naysayers can thank Castle Anthrax for that one.

But wait! There’s more! Amazingly enough, that’s not the only thing these two movies have in common! I don’t know about you, but there really aren’t enough comedies out there going for that same degree of a full-blown silliness that the Pythons managed to perfect to a goddamn science. It was silly without being stupid, and while I’m not saying these guys are the next Pythons, they sure do strike that balance. One of silliest freakin’ endings you’ll ever freakin’ see and it is oh so freakin’ glorious.

Now, I can’t say much about the details surrounding the apocalypse they’ve created, but I will say that it’s far more inventive and original than I thought it would be. And given the way their chosen professions are eventually woven into their own survival, I dare say I’d call it smart. As clear as it is that these guys had a goddamn blast making this thing, it’s awesome having that extra elbow grease to bring it to a new level.

And as for the cast itself, Jesus Christ, take your pick. There’s not a weak link in the bunch and I’m still having trouble deciding which of them was my favorite. Right now, it’s a tie between McBride and Franco. If only for Season 1 of Eastbound & Down, Danny McBride deserves to be a household name by now and I’m crossing my toes that this finally does the trick. No one plays an asshole like Danny McBride, and he is such a funny asshole in this. In regards to Franco, that guy keeps giving me more and more reasons to like him, especially coming hot off the heels of his gun-suckin’ turn in Spring Breakers. Not that I ever disliked the guy, far from it actually, but given that he’s branched out more than any of his fellow Freaks, it’s always a welcome reminder that this is his bread and butter.

But like I said, everyone on that poster is firing on all cylinders. There’s no wrong favorite to play.

The last time I walked out of a comedy and had to restrain myself from quoting the whole damn thing verbatim was with the great Cedar Rapids. When you simply have to stop thinking about a movie for fear of alienating your friends or crashing the car from giggling so hard, that, dear readers, is when you know you’ve found something special. And thank god for that, because we’ve been knee-deep in a comedic dry-spell for quite some time now. Bridesmaids was two years ago, folks. Two very long-ass years ago. But now that This is the End has arrived in all its endlessly quotable glory, water never tasted so good.

Man, I’d see this again in a heartbeat, I even suggested it to my parents it was so good. I know it’s only June, I know we’ve got some contenders on the way, but from where I’m sitting, they’re gonna have a hard time dethroning this as the funniest movie of the year.

Certainly wouldn’t complain if they did, though.

Lore (2013)

June 14, 2013

8/10 War Children

Not your average bear.

Lore is the eldest daughter of a German family at the end of World War II. Hitler’s on the outs, the Allies have won, and it’s just a bad time to be a German in Germany. So as the Third Reich falls, Lore and her family uproot their lives to go live in a cabin in the woods. Before long, her parents both leave in the hopes of escaping persecution. Shortly thereafter, Lore and her siblings are forced to leave as well. With a dwindling supply of food and five mouths to feed, Lore struggles to help her family survive as they make their way across Germany by foot. And just when it seems that all is lost, an unlikely stranger comes to their assistance.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of too many movies that approach the Holocaust from this angle. No big surprise there. The only ones that come to mind are Valkyrie and The Sound of Music, and while they worked to varying degrees, they were going for something else. This is a German survival story told through predominantly German eyes, one of the rare few that I’m aware of. Reading that back, it sounds like an oxymoron, like revisionist history to a degree. And while I can’t imagine this is swaying anyone to give it a fair shake, the payoff is worth it for those who do.

See, the reason this story manages to be effective without being insensitive is due almost entirely to the age of these characters. Make no mistake, Lore’s parents are bonafide, decorated Nazis, ones that live, breathe and would ultimately die for their fuhrer’s cause. If this had been their story, I’d be singing a different tune. But since it’s not, there’s sympathy to be found (amazingly enough).

That’s because these kids aren’t their parents. If they went to school and yelled “Heil Hitler” during the morning announcements, they weren’t doing it because they were believers, they did it because they’re kids, because they don’t know any better. They can barely dress themselves let alone be blamed for their circumstances, and they’re too young and too innocent to deserve the hand they’re dealt. All they care about is finding food and their parents, and if some kind soul decides to help them with either, who really cares if they’re German or Jew?

Lore, on the other hand, is the eldest of these kids. She’s old enough to know the reality of their situation, of her parents’ situation, of her country’s situation. The burden is on her to grow up fast and keep everyone alive, and the resentment she harbors is towards the enemies of the fatherland. With that said, the most noteworthy difference between Lore and her siblings – aside from being the new matriarch of the family – is that she’s the only one who’s indoctrinated. So when she discovers that the unlikely stranger they cross paths with is none other than a Jew, she speaks to him with hate as he puts food on their table. As a result, it’s this relationship between Lore and Thomas that brings the story to a new level.

Again, I can’t think of too many – scratch that – any movies that approach the Holocaust and those involved from such a one-on-one perspective as this. More often than not, the German in question in still very much in power while the Jew in question is very much not. So when the two parties meet in a situation like this, in dire straits and dependent on one another, it’s fascinating to watch them evolve. We see Lore go from a loud and proud Hitler Youth to a vision of self-doubt as her worldview crumbles around her. And as for Thomas, Thomas is something of a mystery, someone whose intentions are good and motivations unclear. It’s a relationship that changes in ways that I nor the characters themselves were expecting and it makes for a profound, if not microcosmic metaphor for the relationship between their people.

Still, it’s strange. From beginning to end, it’s hard to forget that Lore and her siblings are German, that in the grand scheme of unspeakable horrors that occurred during their lifetime, their struggles aren’t the ones I should be invested in. I don’t think I’m alone in this line of thought as it’s an instinctual one to come to. Thomas is the one I should be caring about. But therein lies the beauty of Lore. By making it about these kids, by putting them in this situation, by bringing them down to the same level as the one person they’ve been raised to hate and the one person who actually helps them, it serves to remind us of their humanity.

I can’t imagine this was an easy story to sell or tell, but it’s truly impressive the way writer/director Cate Shortland manages to tread this line. It doesn’t take away from the Jewish experience or try to glorify the Germans in any way, shape or form. It’s a story about shared experiences and the common bonds between us, even in the face of genocide, even after humanity has been systematically stripped away.

Needless to say, it is a harrowing story. There isn’t much said and much of the plot is driven by one stark roadblock after another. It sounds weird from the outset, but I liked that about Lore. With imagery like this, with their world the way it is, words aren’t needed to drive home the gravity. A little goes a long way, and the same is true for the fantastic performance from Saskia Rosendahl. As Lore herself, she’s incredibly convincing as she’s forced into this role of both sister and keeper. Everything she’s going through you can just read on her face, and, like Lore, it’s a performance that you’d expect to come from someone older.

Just a fantastic and fascinating character all around that leaves you thinking about her long after you’ve parted ways.

Believe it or not, it helps to be in the right mood with this one, but it’s an important and moving one at that. Granted, that comes as something of a given when you’re dealing with the Holocaust, a period in human history that always bears reiterating. And not to take away from the stories that have been told, but it’s always interesting to look at history from a new angle, especially one that puts things in such a perspective as this does. If anything, Lore ought to be commended for taking the road less traveled, a road I never imagined taking. It could have gone horribly, it could have been deplored, yet it’s anything but. And for that reason alone, it deserves to be seen.

Mama (2013)

June 7, 2013

7/10 Custody Battles

Parenthood, right?

Mama is about a crappy father who offs his wife, grabs his two girls and drives off the road because he’s crappy at that too. Amazingly enough, they survive the crash, so dad takes the girls to abandoned cabin nearby. Once they’re inside, he takes out a gun and puts it to his kid’s head just like any good parent would. But before he can pull the trigger, his ass gets snatched up by some thing in the darkness. Years later, his twin brother continues to search for his nieces. Just when he’s about to give up, he stumbles upon the cabin and the girls, both of whom are still very much alive and pretty damn ferile for their age. Since he can’t just leave them there, he assumes legal guardianship and moves into a new house with them. He and his girlfriend (who hates kids, by the way) do their best to play parents, but as they eventually come to realize, some thing isn’t too keen on the idea.

Once upon a time, slapping “PRESENTED BY GUILLERMO DEL TORO” on a poster would have had me hook, line and sinker, no questions asked. Such was the draw that led me to one of the best horror movies of this crazy new Willennium, The Orphanage. Unfortunately, it was also the draw that duped me into Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, one of the stupidest horror movies of this funky fresh Willennium. As a result, name-dropping Guillermo has gone from a bonafide guarantee to a tried and true crapshoot, so it wasn’t doing much to sell me on Mama.

For that matter, there wasn’t much of anything that was selling me on Mama. Judging by the trailer, it was just another haunted house movie from the god-awful month of January. And unless I was missing something, the only real hook was finding out who or what was “Mama” That and why Jessica Chastain had suddenly turned goth on us.

If it weren’t for a friend’s recommendation, the mystery would have remained. And while we usually tend to argue about these things, it’s sure is glorious to find some common ground with horror.

So the downside of the situation is that in many ways this is just another haunted house movie. The upside of the situation is that it’s learned from those before it.

The biggest difference between this and say, Paranormal Activity, is that I never wanted to scream at the characters. “Dude, go to bed. Quit taunting the demon already.” That kind of stuff. The weird thing about is that these are all stock characters that keep walking into stock situations. They’re the psychiatrist who diagnoses “Mama” as a split-personality, they’re the folks who enter a room just when someone warns them not to. Time and again this continues to happen, but every time these fools are about to confirm your expectations, something magical happens: they don’t.

I have absolutely no idea why this is, but it’s so freaking rare to find characters in a horror movie that value self-preservation over sheer curiosity. I wasn’t certainly wasn’t expecting to find those diamonds in the rough here, but lo and behold. I can’t even begin to express what a relief it is to think to myself “Don’t go in there!” and then watch a character not go in there. Seriously, think about that for a second. How many horror movies have you seen where that happens? Only one or two are coming to mind and I sincerely wish that wasn’t the case.

I still can’t help but wonder why they always wait ’til the sun goes down to go exploring, but whatever, I’ll forgive it. It’s a horror movie, darkness happens. But what can I say other than it’s just plain nice to not have to worry about these characters for once. I’ve seen them before, we’ve all seen them before, and after years of getting offed because of their own stupid selves, common sense has started sinking in. Way to go, people.

The other noteworthy trait about this crew is that aside from acting like actual people, they relate to each other like actual people. Despite the large role that the uncle plays in getting the ball rolling here, it isn’t that long before he winds up in a coma. Dude should have known not to front with “Mama.” So with Jaime Lannister out of the picture, it’s up to his girlfriend to grit her teeth and shoulder the responsibility of raising these two wildings. She doesn’t like it, they don’t like it, and both parties make this quite clear from the get-go. But the more time they spend together and the more they warm up, the more they start to grow under the watch of that thing.

It’s no Kramer vs. Kramer, but this strained relationship among the three ladies (and let’s not forget “Mama”) is unusually convincing for a movie like this. Again, it all adds up to make these characters feel human enough so that at the end of the day, you just might care about what happens to them.

It’s not exactly breathing new life into a tired and familiar premise, but Mama works, much more than I thought it would. And like any good horror movie should, it works because of what it doesn’t show. It doesn’t show idiots and it doesn’t show what you think it will. It winds up shooting itself in the foot by showing its monster front and center, but that’s a small price to pay for doing so much else right.

Still, if it’s cheap scares that you’re after, Mama might disappoint. Even though it has them and even though I was spooked, the fact remains that I’m a tried-and-true wuss with these things. The horror’s mainly driven by atmosphere and tension, and if that sounds good to you, the finished product should be pretty darn eerie. Then again, cheap scares and pissed pants only do so much for me these days. So if you’re looking for something to actually listen to your pleas, Mama is here to make everything better.

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