Thursday, May 31, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: Snow White & the Huntsman

2012, Rupert Sanders -- cinema

In the year of the faerie tale re-imagined including TV shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm and the other terrible Snow White movie, Mirror Mirror, but lacking any property made from the comic Fables, I was disappointed that nothing lent itself to the D&D player in me.  Until I saw the trailers for this movie.  Dual axe-wielding, leather armored Chris Hemsworth (who, in all honesty, will always be Kirk's day to me) cried out to be made into an NPC in my game.  Kristen Stewart was not whatsoever an image of Snow White to me, but in a re-imagining where she wields a sword and fights along side an army, I am cool with that.  And Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen.... be still my heart and command me, my Queen. Snicker.  And double yay when Kent gave me an early pass to see the movie!

So, basically what I got was exactly what I wanted -- a light fantasy fare, light on the faerie tale connection and strong on the  generic fantasy.  Queen Ravenna is a wandering beauty who bewitches Kings and steals their kingdoms and the life of the kingdom & its women. She is hundreds if not thousands of years old and sucks the life from maidens for her youth & beauty and magical power.  But when she takes Snow White's kingdom, she kind of takes a liking to young Snow and rather than killing her, locks her in a tower until her early 20s.  When Snow escapes and a prophecy proves to the Queen that the girl should have been dead long ago, she sends the drunken, mead-swilling Huntsman after the girl.  Prophecy becomes destiny and it is up to Snow White and the rebel heroes of the kingdom to defeat Ravenna and take back her father's throne.

This is brilliant generic fantasy, and by generic I mean that it is not all that tied to a specific world.  Faerie tales may be set on our earth and often in Germany or France, but this does not tie there at all. There are hints that more connection may have been dropped on the cutting room floor as there were a few disconcerting and completely unneeded references to Christianity in the movie.  The rest is dark fantasy with haunted forests, faerie glades and magnificent gothic castles !!  Kristen Stewart may not be the best Snow White in history (yes to pale skin but no red lips and limp, brown hair) but she does look rather fetching in armor wielding a sword.   And the 8 no 7 dwarves were brilliant grumpy ex-miners who had recognizable CGIed faces (think Captain America) and voices on real dwarf bodies.  This movie looked great, sounded great and I could watch Charlize have psychotic rages all day long.  Heh.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: The Cabin in the Woods

2011, Drew Goddard (mostly TV writing including Buffy, Angel and Lost) -- cinema

Full disclosure -- I am a Whedon fan.  Goddard is one of those of the stable of Joss Whedon's collaborators, friends and like minded brilliant people.  Yeah, no bias on my part.  Whedon and Goddard wrote this movie.  Recognizable Whedon faces are in the movie.  And considering all of you have already seen Avengers, also done by Joss, you should go check the listings and see this one too.  OK?  Good kids.  You don't have to be sacrificed to the Old Ones.

As hinted at in the last movie "reviewed", I am rather fun of people playing with the tropes of the conventional horror movie.  Strangely enough, back then, I was never that fond of the sources that developed those tropes.  I definitely have seen most of them having grown up in the emergence and decline of the neighbourhood video store and the ritual of renting 4-5 movies for a weekend.  But the older I get, I look back on these "kids getting picked off one by one" movies with affection and a lot more lenience for the stupidity, the sexploitation and badly done gore.  For me, it's now about movie making than it is seeing the great plot revealed.  Cabin comes from that same affection.  Whedon and Goddard obviously loved these movies and decided to do somewhat of an explanation of just why so many people get killed in obviously ritualistic ways when all they wanted to do was go skinny dipping in the lake where several murders took place years past.

I won't hint at the true reveals in this movie but by now you have seen the trailers.  You have seen the references to the "behind the curtain" elements to this movie.  In Cabin we are given a bevy of college kids going to a cabin to spend a weekend winding down.  But we quickly realize these aren't the stupid kids of the usual ilk, they are actually well educated college kids -- even the stoner seems a bit brilliant.  They start their weekend meeting The Harbinger at the "last gas stop" and then are walled into the last weekend of their lives.  We get to see why all the kids act the way they do, why these kids always die in ones and twos, why they have to die in the first place.  And just after we settle into the reveal, we have the curtains pulled aside and we see even MORE. To say this is a monster movie, a slasher movie, a scifi movie and a fantasy is not saying enough.  This time we should be actually rooting for the kids but... really, the guilty pleasure has always been waiting to see who dies next, and how.

Monday, May 28, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: Tucker and Dale vs Evil

2010, Eli Craig -- download

This weekend I was re-watching Dollhouse on Netflix (yes it will get its own treatment) and I again sat and pondered how much I loved watching Alan Tudyk play a not-so-nice character.  He plays the nice-guy soooo well, it was a joy to see him present such a nasty, complex character in Alpha.  But, really, why I like Alan Tudyk so much is how much he comes across as a likeable guy.  And in Tucker and Dale vs Evil he is the patient, thoughtful Tucker, friend to insecure Dale.  Even after he accidentally gets involved in the death of quite a few deaths of clumsy college students, he remains the nice guy.

Tucker and Dale are hillbillies, in the classic sense. They wear overalls and plaid, they talk with funny accents and have a truck full of power tools and sharp objects.  In most movies they would be the scary guys at the rest stop freaking out the college kids  are on their way to the cabin in the woods (yes, later, its own treatment as well) for a weekend of debauchery.  But of course, the college kids just don't get that Tucker and Dale are also headed to the cabin in the woods, having just purchased it as their new summer home.  Dale establishes himself in the kids' minds, as a scary psycho, when he tries to talk to a pretty girl. Dale is a bit socially clumsy so it doesn't go well.  Meanwhile the kids are showing that they have their own psycho.

This is a great comedic send up on the classic tropes of a horror movie, in the way The Cabin in the Woods is a serious twist on the same tale.  This time we see most of the story from the point of view of the "scary" hillbillies at the "last gas station before hell" not quite harbingers of doom.  They are just nice, well-meaning guys who get mixed up in the terrified delusions of the college kids.  It doesn't help that there are a few clumsy run-ins with wood chippers and long pokey sticks.  In heavy swipes of slapstick mixed with great dialogue, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine (another of my favourite comedy actors), use the cliche chainsaw and tool shed for of sharp objects and even have time to toss in a saw mill before they vanquish the actual evil of the title.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: The Borrowers

2011, Tom Harper (Misfits) -- TV movie / download

Actually, I am not sure of the exposure my memory has to  the classic Borrowers or even why I think classic.  Was it the 1997 Jim Broadbent movie?  I know I have seen at least bits of it but I have no clear memories of seeing the whole movie.  Was it the original 1952 book?  One of the earlier TV adaptations?  I don't recall but I know I was attracted to this world building idea of little people living beneath our floor boards "borrowing" things they need to survive.  I have always had a decidedly un-boy-like fascination with doll houses, miniature environments so delicately detailed.  The idea that there might be little people making use of them makes me grin.  Unfortunately lil guy, that tiny toaster I have is of no use to you.

So, we knew the Studio Ghibli movie was coming out / was released in Japan so it was no surprise BBC would do their own re-do.  They attached Christopher Eccleston to it and Robert Sheehan shows up as the rebellious Spiller but beyond that, it was standard BBC fare.  Stephen Fry as the Bad Guy is the light in this as he is just maliciously amoral and completely unaware that what he wants to do to these little people might be considered cruel.  They are not real humans after all.  I have no clue why they had to add a punky hacker type, ala Lisbeth Salander, as his sidekick.

Just like all my memories, the best part of the movie, which felt like the first episode of a typical british mini-series, was the beginning focused on the house and their initial forays into the world of human beans.  The climbing and crawling, over sized props and amusing uses for cast off junk tickled my grin.  There is a hint of the danger of being 4" high imparted but I felt the dark past that Eccleston carried was a little too much.  Once we were into the adventure story involving too many humans, I was not as enthralled.  And I have pretty much blocked out the plot element of the child human sidekick to Arriety, the curious and isolated heroine.  I know it's the original plot but, really, I think I ignored it then as well. All in all, this felt like exactly what it was, christmas fare built by the BBC to entertain idle kids.  And it made me all the more eager to see the animated one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: 50/50

2011, Jonathan Levine -- download

Fuck you cancer.  As they say, we have all been touched by cancer.  As I say, it is not whether I will get cancer but when I will get cancer.  It is just a characteristic of the geography I grew up in.  But the last few years have given me some direct contact with it, luckily most ending (does it ever really end?) well.  50/50 approaches the cancer, i-might-be-dying, story from the point of view of someone with, as they say, his entire life ahead of him.  Cancer stories from characters in their 40s or 50s are common place enough to be subplots on TV shows when ratings get low. But a character in his mid-twenties having to deal with a 50/50 shot at surviving is something new.

I was interested in seeing Seth Rogen challenged to do a role where he needed some concern & seriousness along with his usual levity.  His character Kyle is the jerk friend, the friend we all have that annoys the fuck out of us but time forces us to retain.  Also, we usually see some element of charm in them.  But when forced to confront the impending possible death of his friend, and the very real bad months coming with chemo and its side effects, Kyle straightens out... just enough.  It was very touching to see a friend be a real friend by retaining the jerk attitude when needed but also being very very affected behind the scenes.  Not surprising as the script was loosely based on the experiences of Seth Rogen's real life friend Will Reiser.

Small movies, and can you really call them indie anymore (??), shine through in the focused dialogue and the well chosen cast.  Bryce Dallas Howard is the girlfriend who just cannot quite support her boyfriend.  We hate her, through Kyle, for doing it but see ourselves in her.  Could we support someone through all the pain, lethargy and visible illness?  Anjelica Huston is the overbearing mother whom he can no longer avoid or put off -- this time her desire to just take care of her son, as if he still a little boy, is warranted, if still typically heavy handed.  And the small supporting roles of Phillip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer were just perfectly noted.  Everything was handled nice and low key.  And nice movies are nice to watch.

Friday, May 18, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: Real Steel

2011, Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Cheaper by the Dozen) -- download

No, I didn't intend on seeing this movie.  C'mon, it's rock'em sock'em robots without the actual tagline "brought to you by the same people who made Transformers and Battleship".  It's also a plucky kid movie along the lines of Stallone's Over the Top, yes the arm-wrestling movie.  What in what way makes this movie sound appealing other than watching robots smash each other to bits?  And you can see that in real life in universities and geek clubs across the country.  I am not sure why I downloaded it but for that tenuous connection to the future that I like to see portrayed.  I wanted to see how they could fit the idea of fighting robots into a society that looked pretty much like now.

Surprisingly, it's not such a bad movie.  Jackman plays a down on his luck fighter, who is also an ex human fighter, from the days when humans still thought it was cool to watch other humans smash each other to bits.  But he sucks and he is unlucky.  Add to the mix an ex-lover who had a child who he ends up with purely to make a buck.  He is not a nice guy, ok he's nice, as he is played by Hugh Jackman and he cannot help but be personable, but he's a downright bastard. Even after he begins to take a shine to the kid, you get the sense he would turn him in for a few bucks.  But the connection between the two is played very well and there is no cloying relationship and the kid is not all that whiny.  He definitely is plucky because it is his idea that turns Jackman's luck around.

But I was disappointed with the lack of world building.  C'mon, you have steel behemoths socking each other other but people don't have personal service robots?  If robotics had evolved to flashy delicate machines that could move exactly like 12' humans, then they should have been present everywhere in life.  I think it was mentioned but it shouldn't have had to be, it should have been visible in all walks of life.  But this was a sports and family values movie so the other stuff was just left on the writing room floor. It is probably better they focused on the stuff the audience actually wanted to see.

Friday, May 11, 2012

3 Short Paragraphs: Chronicle

2012, Josh Trank -- download

Shaky cam movies lend themselves to my lesser attention span of late. In my transition from "see every movie in the cinemas" over the past 10 years to "rent many DVDs" to "download just about every movie I watch", I have noticed a lessening of the thorough immersion I once enjoyed.  Gone are the days where the lights were turned out, the phone was muted and we just ... watched.  Now, laptops are in laps, kittens are bounding and ... well, usually chores are being performed.  I rarely watch a movie completely through without a half dozen pauses.  That extracts me enough from the experience that these "reviews" can be sometimes difficult as I am not as invested.  It takes a lot for me to become so.  And then there are movies where it just doesn't matter. Shaky, faux documentary flicks, like Chronicle, have an element of mundanity attached to them, in order to impart a sense of "this is real cam work" normally by an amateur.  No editing, no cutting room floor.  So little things are left in that do not contribute so much to the world and the story, as much as they do add to the technique.  Thus, last night, pauses and kittens.

Chronicle is just that, a chronicle of a damaged kid's life through the eyes of a couple of different video cameras.  It's not "found footage" as there were a number of different cams used, including what could have only come from cell cams, dashboard cams and a few news choppers. And then there were a few scenes where he must of just said, fuck it, pretend there would be a camera there for whatever reason. But for the most part we get a story told via the floating eye of a digital camera.  P.S. This also lends itself to being pirated from the Interwebs, as you cannot really tell if you got a crappy copy or this was intended. The technique is effective as it leaves gaps where you would expect and provides a sense of reality in a story that is very superhero or anime in its plot.  Other than the magic cams, cameras where none would have been, I was OK with the indulgence.

The story is pretty much an origin story of kids getting super powers. No investigation of background, no research as to why it focuses entirely on how it affects the highschoolers.  And the newfound power doesn't really do right by them, which is not helped at all by the fact they are all dicks -- perhaps better to say they do not do right by it?  These kids are the epitome of today's internet generation, the self-absorbed arrogant commenters on YouTube, the kind that don't consider the consequences of their actions and, as previously mentioned, the kids just plain damaged by their lives. And as Spiderman says, "with great power comes great responsibility", responsibility they all toss to the wind, the wind rushing by their faces as they fly, fly like Superman.  But I would hazard that is the point that Landis (screenwriter/story) had -- not everyone given superpowers would go one way or the other, super hero or villain.  Most would just play with them irresponsibility.  And if one happened to be weaker than most, one might just go all Akira on the world.  Even the kid who begins to see where they are being led only has a tenuous connection to the responsibility, more interested in the image of being responsible, sort of like the whole Kony / Invisible Children thingy.