30 August 2013

Four Movies I Saw

 I can't figure out a clever title combination. You're the Next World's Elysium Station? Nah.


Fruitvale Station

So this one is a bit hard to write about. It's based on a true story and contains actual, infamous footage from this story (briefly), and it's the kind of story that justly infuriates. This guy played by that actor from The Wire is a good dude who is trying to get away from his less-than-legal past. He's having some success but it's a hard road. His past unfortunately leads him to a run-in with some very aggravated police officers, and through a lot of misunderstanding and probable incompetence, he ends up dead. Sad stuff. It's well filmed and honest.



Remember when I posted about Only God Forgives? We have a similar situation here. District 9 was Neil Blomkamp's breakout film, and it's great. I love watching it. It has a wonderful old-future thing going, the improvisation makes it super-believable, and even if it does kind of devolve a bit toward the end, the action is fun. Drive was arguably Nicholas Winding Refn's breakout success, and his next was another collaboration with the same people, but it sucked. Blomkamp did the same thing, sort of, in that he made another sci-fi movie in a similar style with at least one actor carryover in Sharlto Copley. Now, Sharlto isn't the problem here. The problem is primarily Blomkamp's dialogue, which is just laughably bad. Sure, the visual quality is still there, the action is mostly fun, but really, this is mostly just the third act of District 9 without all of the preceding excellence. Even Matt Damon's decent performance isn't enough to make it enjoyable aside from a few scenes. Takeaway: Robots are dicks, and followups to great movies aren't sure things.


The World's End

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have been building their loose "Cornetto/Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy since 2004's Shaun of the Dead. Each film has both blood and ice cream in it. Each film is also hilarious and extremely well-made. Each one employs a different facet of genre filmmaking to give a backdrop to some excellent examinations of friendship, society, and loyalty. This one really hits all three. Much like the first two films, it starts out giving little hint as to what's really going to go down, but is still a very entertaining comedy about old, rather estranged friends gathering around the asshole-leader in order to revisit the time in his life where he last felt happy, drinking their asses off on the Golden Mile. Then shit goes nuts. I won't say anything about it just in case you haven't seen any trailers, but brace yourself for some major fun. It's just great. I'm still wrestling with the ranking, but right now I'm putting it at the top of the trilogy.


You're Next

I don't think I wrote about it, but I watched The Strangers a while back. It's a very good home-invasion horror/thriller movie about a beautiful couple who are attacked in their home for no apparent reason. It's well made, suspenseful, and entertaining, and the simplicity of its execution makes it quite enjoyable without feeling campy. When I saw the trailer for You're Next, I initially blew it off as a Strangers rip-off. It turns out the similarities are only superficial. There's really quite a bit more going on in this one, but I really can't go into all of the differences. The quality of the acting is a bit lower (Liv Tyler's not in it), but everything else about it is quite good. There's a lot of blood but the gore is tolerable. The characters are interesting. It's funny sometimes. I like to think of it as kind of like a combination of Alien and Aliens in a country home. If you like horror, you should go see it probably.

03 August 2013

Conjuring the Wolverine

The Wolverine

Y'all remember X-Men Origins: Wolverine? I do a little. Mostly how much it resembled the innards of my kitchen garbage pail after a few months of neglect, and how Deadpool got painfully violated (and not in a funny way like it might happen in the comics). It seemed that we might get something to help us forget about it when the sequel was announced with Darren Aranofsky attached, but that was dashed when he left after Japan got all scary (what with the radiation and all). Then James Mangold came along, which didn't help my thinking on it much, but eventually word started getting out that this just might not suck! And guess what, it doesn't! Mostly!

It's a very solid, character driven story set in Japan that just happens to star an immortal-type dude with retractable, metal-covered claws. Sure there's action and junk, but it's really quite grounded for the most part, the dialogue is good, and it looks awful nice. The action is great too, which has become more of an unexpected delight in comic book movies. All this can be said about everything through the first part of the second act. After that it gets a bit hairy. The comic-book tropes of a big-bad and boring villains come into play and it just doesn't work. I'm reminded quite strongly of the Iron Man finales, particularly 1 and 2. An ending this bombastic just isn't needed for the kind of movie Mangold was seemingly trying to make, and it suffers for it. Still, as a whole it's a very solid, enjoyable thing, and almost succeeds in wiping away its predecessor's filth.

The Conjuring

I might have talked about my relationship with horror back in my Mama review; in short, I'm not a fan of the dumb stuff that relies on gore and jump-scares to do its job. That's just boring. It would seem I'd be a fan of older, classic horror, because both this and Mama have been described as being old-school in their style. Mama did have a lot of jumps but this really doesn't have many at all, and the gore is basically non-existent. I'm not enthralled by the whole exorcism thing but if it's based on true events as it claims, I'm okay with it.

I can't say I liked it as much as I did Mama. Still, it's nicely made, the cast is great, and it never gets completely ridiculous. In fact it's almost a believable story, which is really what might make it scary for some people. Pretty good.

27 July 2013

Only God Forgives Much Ado About the Pacific Rim

Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon makes good stuff. He even makes good stuff right in the middle of making other good stuff when he really has no business doing so, as is the case with this movie, which was filmed at his (really nice) house while he took short breaks during the production of The Avengers. The cast is almost entirely composed of faces familiar to Whedon fans, from shows like Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and Firefly. It's got a lot of spirit, humor, and heart, and not all of that is just because it's a time-tested work of Shakespeare. The language is of course a bit difficult to handle for someone not entirely used to it (e.g. myself), but I got the gist of it. It's a really fun film. Just a bunch of great actors having fun together.


Pacific Rim

Perhaps a little spottier than Whedon's, Guillermo del Toro's filmography is still a solid list of wonderfully enjoyable, often darkly-tinged fare. He's a big ol' fanboy, and makes what he loves. In this case he loves giant robots and alien monsters, and a healthy dose of Star Wars references. Fine by me. I've been excited for Pacific Rim since the first info started being dispersed. It was a little disheartening to hear that it wasn't doing all too well once it was released, but that didn't decrease my expectations much; Guillermo doesn't make bad movies, and this is definitely a good one. Not great, but definitely good. The thing that people keep concentrating on is the scale of it. It is indeed huge, and the battle scenes are awesome, mostly keeping the action in a wide-ish frame unlike most modern action movies. The widespread complaint of characterization-lameness is also valid though. They aren't bad, just not particularly interesting. I did like the R2-D2 and C-3PO analogue scientists though. Altogether a very enjoyable thing.


Only God Forgives

Unfortunately I can't say the same for Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling's followup to the excellent Drive. My anticipation for this was as strong or stronger than it was for Pacific Rim, but this one failed me. It's a grueling exercise in style and brutality, which might sound good in some ways, but ends up being just a chore to watch. It's a combination of the very limited dialogue, almost universally hateful characters, unnecessarily excessive violence and gore, and complete lack of a satisfying ending. Sure, Drive didn't really have a Disney ending either, but it was interesting and emotional at least. It's definitely well-filmed, and the music is great, but it's hard to ignore how un-enjoyable it is. Even Valhalla Rising is less confounding. I recommend skipping it.

16 June 2013

This is the End of The Man of Upstream Steel

Upstream Color

Primer is the definition of a head-trip. It's nearly impossible to follow. Shane Carruth successfully made a film that only makes sense if you analyze to a ridiculous degree, but still manages to be intriguingly entertaining without going to such lengths. Now with Upstream Color, he's taken a bit of a different route; instead of rooting the story in scientifically plausible concepts, he's almost tripped into the fantastical with psychotropic worms and telempathic (yeah not a word, deal with it) pigs. In the end it's not nearly as hard to follow. There's still a lot of non-linear scenes going on, and a lot of the time it's not certain what's real and what isn't (a-la Trance), but the fogginess of it all only serves to make a relatively simple storyline seem complex. All that said, it's a gorgeously shot and emotionally compelling film.

Man of Steel

I think I've only seen three of the previous Superman movies, and I'm not particularly well-read on him as far as the comics go. I did watch Smallville through something like the seventh season until I realized it was crap though. With all that as a baseline, I can confidently say this is the best Superman screen-property that's been made so far, and definitely Zack Snyder's best film. Although Michael Shannon didn't transcend anything he's done before, his character was well-written and a believable villain, even moreso than his predecessor in Superman 2. I'm a bit sick of Russel Crow. This Henry Cavill guy's got a future with this character though. He lacks the playfulness of Christover Reeve, but his physical and emotional presence is perfect for this god character. The element of god-hood isn't really discussed to quite the degree I would have liked, but Snyder already tackled that in Watchmen, so I guess he didn't feel it necessary to go overboard with it and just stick with the acceptance of an invincible, altruistic being from another planet; not to say that it was ignored completely. Anyway, the action's fantastic, the dildo-space-pods are hilarious, and KNEEL BEFORE SHANNON.

This is the End

Definitely an interesting movie just because all of the actors play themselves. There's a lot more to it than that though, and it's funny-as-hell to boot. There's nothing funnier than a bunch of screaming dudes kicking a bloody, disembodied head around the floor (except maybe for Michael Cera as an insufferable asshole). The whole religious thing is great, and the special effects are possibly the best I've ever seen in a comedy. Between this and 50/50 I think Seth Rogen has established himself as a quality dude. I just really wish Franco had reprised his role from Spring Breakers and started yelling "LOOK AT MY SHIT" for five minutes again.

27 May 2013

The Iceman

I've sung Michael Shannon's praises a few times before here, notably in Take Shelter and Boardwalk Empire. I might not have noticed this movie if not for his name; sure it's a pretty neat story, but it hasn't been advertised very well at all as far as I'm aware, which is a shame. Shannon's performance here is just as monolithic (to reuse the term) as in Boardwalk. The characters aren't the same, but there are enough similarities in their temperaments to make him perfect for the role.

The Iceman is based on the true story of Richard Kuklinski, a man who killed somewhere around 100 people from the 1950s to the 80s. He started out killing for the fun of it and later joined the mafia as a hit-man. The latter period is the focus of this film. Kuklinski had a wife and children who never knew he was a killer until his arrest in 1986. The film paints his family life in a way that makes you almost empathize with him; he seems kind, and expresses the fact that they are all he cares about several times. Outside of the home though, killing is like breathing to him. He's not a moralistic killer aside from his "no women, no children" rule. He kills who he's told to kill, who he needs to kill to protect himself, and those who just annoy him or happen to be in the wrong place.

So, he's a pretty terrible person. The film and Michael Shannon's excellent performance take this dark spot of humanity and turn him into something less than a monster, which is probably bad in the grand scheme of things, but even an anti-hero has to be a little relatable in order for a story to work.

Aside from Shannon, we get some great stuff from the frequently more elusive Winona Ryder, gangster stand-by Ray Liotta, and a completely unrecognizable Chris Evans as the scummy ice-cream truck murderer Mr. Freezy (apparently called Mr. Softee in real life). James Franco also makes a short but very effective appearance as one of Kuklinski's more unfortunate victims.

It's a darn good movie. It's a pleasure to watch Shannon's appearance change through the decades, while maintaining his stone-cold posture and hints of inner turmoil. I hope he's used right in The Man of Steel.

26 May 2013

The Great Trek into Kvelertak

Star Trek Into Darkness

The first one was a lot of fun, and so is this one. The main problem with the 2009 film was the rather unimpressive antagonist; this time around, they got Benedict Expletive Cumberbatch to work his baritone magic, and even with the almost incoherently silly and convenient script, he managed to play a wonderfully menacing and yet almost empathic bad guy and made the film at least twice as enjoyable as it could have been without him. The rest of the cast did their jobs well enough. There's enough action to fill all of the old Star Trek movies put together, and a different kind of humor that often falls into the referential category. It's this referential thing that's getting a lot of people (mostly die-hard Trek fans) really upset. As this is a "reboot" of sorts, there are going to be many parallels, and that is taken to a bit of an extreme here. It's done a little bit sloppily but I got a ton of enjoyment out of it. Good stuff. Robocop.

The Great Gatsby

 I'd been hearing bad things about this from the first time I heard about it. There have been at least four other Gatsby film adaptations in the past, and I don't think any of them have garnered much acclaim; it's just too much of a masterwork (or so I'm told) to really be "filmable," as people tend to say about things they like a lot. Obviously I haven't read the book so that defensive attachment wasn't an issue for me going into the theater, and I think it helped my experience a lot. It's a beautifully visual film with some pretty great acting, a lot of gorgeous women, and of course the story itself is quite interesting even if it is a bit of a "chick-flick" sort of thing. I'm not a huge fan of voice-over but it worked well enough. Perhaps it has failed though in that I don't really feel like I have to go read the book. Different strokes, Old Sport.


Check another one off the list of must-see-live bands. I bought this ticket months ago, as soon as the tour was announced. They have come to the U.S. before, but never so close to me, so there was really no choice this time. Their self-titled album from a few years ago topped my list without much even competition (aside from Shining and Ghost). Meir hasn't had nearly the same effect but it's still an excellently feel-good metal album and didn't lessen my love for the band. I spent the majority of their set in the first and second rows, and suffered the requisite beatings from the mosh pit behind me; it was worth it. The frontman went crowd-surfing several times, and at one point one of them starting hanging from the rafters above the crowd. At the end the first few rows were all invited up onto the stage join in with the band in their revelrous finale. Kick-ass.

The openers were pretty good too. The first band, Black Clouds, was an instrumental three-piece playing rather djenty metal similar to TesseracT but with an extremely distorted bass, and a seizure inducing light show. It was fine but I get bored rather quickly without vocals. Next up, Black Tusk performed as the only opener I'd actually heard before, but were unfortunately fairly boring as well. I'm not sure really what made them boring for me. They're really quite similar in sound to the rest of the bill, but there's just something missing. I think the next band, Cancer Bats, managed to find that element that really gets my interest. Could be the rocking guitar riffs or the vocalist's energetic performance (plus pizza shirt), but whatever it was got me to buy their album Dead Set on Living. It's pretty great; a disc full of rip-roaring bluesy metal followed by another disc of Black Sabbath covers, almost exclusively pulled from their first few albums. They've got a new fan for sure.

03 May 2013

Iron Mud Trance


Danny Boyle makes good movies. Sometimes he makes great ones. This one isn't great, but it's certainly a ride. I went into it with some idea of what to expect from Filmspotting reviews and such; I think I was bracing for something like Inception. It's not really that, but there are some similarities; it can be a little difficult to tell what's really happening and what isn't, and there's quite a bit of jumping around, but the narration helps to keep it mostly straight. It's visually interesting and exciting, but the characters make some strange turns, and it all just falls together a bit ridiculously by the end. I'm just gonna end this one with this: Rosario Dawson knows what you want.


Mud's great. It definitely rides on the quality of its actors. It's probably the best I've seen from Matt McConaughey, Michael Shannon's in it, other dudes from Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood both make appearances, one of the main characters is a kid from The Tree of Life, and Reese Witherspoon's okay I guess. With that lineup as the base, Jeff Nichols crafts an endearing, emotional film only tangentially similar to Beasts of the Southern Wild (which I liked a bit less than this in retrospect). It's got friendship building, violence, action, budding and broken romance, and a lot of water with snakes in it. I'd say that's a winning formula. Definitely catch this one.

Iron Man 3

Shane Black made Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It's not only an awesome movie, it also features Iron Man himself (RDJ). Makes sense to have him pick up the pieces left by Jon Favreau (who appears in this movie as comic relief). I liked the second film well enough but only saw it once. No desire to see it again. This one here has shades of that one, but it does it all a lot better, with a much more interesting villainous angle and a much more human Tony Stark. Still, it's a little hard to believe Tony's emotional plight with his constant, rapid-fire verbal deflections; but it wouldn't be an Iron Man film without that. The little tie-ins to the rest of the Marvel movie-verse (mainly Avengers) are fun and serve the plot well enough. Ben Kingsley's Mandarin works better than I thought it would, but perhaps not for the reason you might think going into it. I liked it but I wouldn't put it over the first film. The initial ending credit sequence though, is fantastic. Nice post-credits tag too.

04 April 2013

Spring Breakers, Stoker, and Pig Destroyer

I find myself in a position of writeness.

The only thing I've seen before of Harmony Korine's is this, so my knowledge of his style is limited; however it seems to be pretty consistent with Spring Breakers, a somewhat surreal film that at first glance appears to be something akin to those Girls Gone Wild clips everyone has seen somewhere or another, but is instead a strange, dark story of two humans and a bunch of very troubled people. Yes, there is a lot of skin here, but it's a lot more than that. I've heard comparisons to Natural Born Killers, and those are not unwarranted, although the pace is quite different. It's funny, disgusting, and engrossingly erotic, at times concurrently. James Franco shines brightly as Alien, the stereotypical white-man-who-thinks-he's-black, and the four leading ladies take strangely subdued roles while maintaining nearly constant screen presence. Even more oddly the ones who stay the longest are the least developed. It's a weird movie.

I've tried watching the Revenge trilogy aside from Oldboy without much success. It probably deserves another go. Same with that one vampire movie that I was so excited about and never got around to seeing. Park Chan Wook definitely proved himself with Oldboy, and Stoker is no slouch either. Like his previous masterpiece, this one is intensely creepy, and probably very offensive to a lot of people who will never see it. It's impressive that the Korean director's first English-language/acted film is as good as it is, although a lot of the dialogue is really quite awkward; this may be intentional but I tend to think it could be a by-product of the language barrier. It sure doesn't hurt the atmosphere. Mia Wasikowska plays a beguilingly strange young woman with some sort of psychosis that gives her heightened senses and a bloodlust suppressed by her father. Her estranged uncle comes into the picture with the intention of showing her her true self. Madness and a possibly unnecessary shower scene ensues. I enjoyed it all.

Pig Destroyer has been one of my top favorite bands for several years now, ever since I clicked with either Phantom Limb or Terrifyer; I can't remember which. Their most recent album, Book Burner, takes a more traditional grind-core route than their last few but still rips tremendously, and has a few of my favorite tracks of their discography (notably The Bug.) The band doesn't tour much (they have jobs), which made it even more unlikely for me to ever have a chance to see them, until I moved down to the DC area, which just happens to be where they are based. Still it took over three years before I got to experience this megalith of grind in person. It was worth the wait. A good portion of their set at Black Cat was from their latest, but there was definitely a generous sampling of their past catalog as well. I couldn't really sing along of course due to having no idea what the words are for the vast majority of their songs, but when I could I felt like their biggest fan, up there in the middle of the second row fighting to stay upright against the pummeling mass of moshers. Kat Katz came on for a couple songs which was fantastic; it's entirely awesome that such a slight, beautiful woman can belt out that kind of vitriol so violently and maintain her elegance. I hope to see these guys (and gal, perhaps) destroy the stage again, hopefully soon.

Good night.

20 January 2013


From the first time I saw a trailer for this movie, I was pretty intrigued, even before I saw Guillermo Del Toro attached as executive producer. I think that, in addition to the inclusion of Jessica Chastain, is really what clinched it for me, but it really looked quite good for what it is, which is not a whole lot more than your average horror movie. Or is it?

It's obvious that's all the audience was expecting. There was always a mounting level of excited whimpering followed by a huge wave of shrieking for every jump scare, even when the scare was just somebody breaking a chair. If it's not obvious, this was the first time I can remember going to see a legitimate horror movie in a theater on opening weekend. I'm not used to this much "interaction." It didn't help that a bunch of the jump scares were almost immediately followed by some subdued dialogue that I couldn't hear due to all of the screaming and laughing.

All that said, I think the audience kind of figured out what was actually going on near the end, once the nature of the big-bad was given more attention. Mama is not the mindless, ruthless killer of most slashers; she's called Mama for a reason. The movie definitely has a theme of motherhood. Jessica's character goes from someone entirely opposed to having a child at all to being a badass, protective mother figure to two girls with which she has no blood relation, and it's a believable journey. Speaking of Chastain, holy hell, casting one of the most talented actresses in film today in a role seemingly tailored to my desires is a great way to get me into the theater. Excellent job. The kids are pretty great too. Lots of effective, beautiful shots of huge, dark eyes.

Yes, it's definitely a horror movie. Mama herself may not be all that believable, but she has her moments for sure. I actually felt a little bit of tension in my chest during a couple of the scares, but really I found the most effective bits to be in the suspenseful moments, of which there are a lot. There are also some pretty great shots of the kids doing really strange things, closely followed by the realization that Mama is in the room off screen, which is always fun.

Altogether it's really quite a beautiful thing. It's no Pan's Labyrinth, but there aren't many of those.