Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(doing my best to leave spoilers out)

It’s a good movie. It’s definitely enjoyable. Unfortunately for its box office prospects it’s not a popcorn movie- the requisite for which is pretty much just massive CGI with little to no plot. “Leave your critical thinking at the door” kind of action, like the MIB franchise (which I admit is what I consider “Hollywood dreck” from a creative standpoint; as a cinephile, however, I appreciate it for what it is: large-scale, fun, CGI spectacle). I really want this movie to do well, but as a mix of contemporary history and vampire action flick they would've been just as well off naming this "Abraham Lincoln: Box Office Poison."

I think the biggest complaint I hear about this movie is people saying “Hollywood’s gone too far” or something to that effect. That the idea of a President- an iconic historical figure, someone integral to the creation of our very country- can be reimagined in a supernatural environment is laughable. In a previous post, I railed against that limiting, dream-killing, unimaginative mentality, so in order to not beat a dead horse on that subject I’ll simply address it this time with: Fuck that, this is what Hollywood is all about! It’s easy to make up shit about tornadoes taking people to magical lands of elves and faeries, or interplanetary galactic rebellions. But when you splice fantasy and history together? When you take actual historical reality and add mythology to it? That is just as good storytelling if not better, because you have an existing framework that you have to work within. You can’t just make it up as you go along. And in this case there are actually two sets of constraints: our history itself, and the generally accepted “rules” of the vampire mythos. No mean feat to craft a story that conforms to both.

Some of the plot twists you could see coming a mile away1. Which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just subpar storytelling. And this movie has a story to tell. Saying that not all movies have a story to tell may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. Some movies (the aforementioned “popcorn” movies, shoot-em-ups, comedies…) seek only to entertain. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I love me some Boondock Saints. But this movie is telling a story. And that in itself proves to be a formidable obstacle: Lincoln’s actual life would be enough to fill hours and hours of screentime; adding a creative fantasy flourish to an already dense narrative leads to inevitable plot holes and unanswered questions2. But again, if you’re willing to take this movie at face value, if you’re willing to let Hollywood tell you a story that’s this preposterous, you have to expect that to come with the territory.

Sure, the movie comes equipped with some tired clichés: the “training” montage is pure Action Movie 101 cheesetasticness. You don’t have to love it, but damn, don’t hate; this is what you go to the movies for- for “what if” imaginary scenarios. You and I both know that martial arts are an anachronism here, as foreign to 19th century America as sushi, but fuck does it look cool. This is Timur Bekmambetov at his best. And although it may not be his most visually arresting movie (Daywatch), there’s plenty of style here. The fight scenes are amazing to watch so just go with it. Say what you want, but the image of a 50-year old Lincoln swinging around an axe like a goddamn samurai is amazing. That’s what Hollywood is all about- creativity. And if you insist on being closed-mindedly resistant to the thought of Lincoln- who, in actual real life, was an adept axman and strong wrestler- being a flashy fighter, if you insist on not stretching the boundaries of what’s possible, I have one word for you: Quidditch.

The love story is uninspired, boring. There was nothing to really draw the audience in, to make it remarkable or even interesting. In fact, if it wasn’t a part of history it probably wouldn’t have been included. Kind of a waste of opportunity to deepen the story, or at least the characters. Which was probably my biggest complaint- WAY underdeveloped characters. For example, Speed: why did he like Lincoln so much?3 (PS- Yeah McPoyle!!!)

If this was just a Civil War era vampire drama, it’d be a middle of the road entertaining-but-not-incredible vampire movie. A hell of a lot better than Van Helsing, probably better than Underworld. Maybe somewhere near From Dusk til Dawn for sheer entertainment value. So leave your bullshit preconceptions at the door and enjoy it.


1)      Henry being a vampire
2)      like, How did weeks at a time, and ultimately two entire decades, go by with absolutely no vampire activity in his life? Especially when he had established himself as scourge of the undead?
3)      Speed even became an advisor later in Lincoln’s life. Also, did Lincoln never meet anyone else again in his life? Two decades later, his circle of friends still consists of Speed (the first person he met in town), William (his childhood friend), Mary (his love), and Henry (the man who saved his life). Not very dynamic for such a charismatic man.

There were some unnecessary plot devices. They liked to quote each other, for one thing. I think there were 3 times in the movie that someone said “A wise man once told me…” and then repeated some pearl of wisdom that one of them had spoken earlier. And when Abe proposed to Mary, the camera stayed on his axe as they walked away, just in case you didn’t get that he was leaving that part of his life behind. Also, his “A-ha!” moment about silver weapons for his troops at war was more of a “Duh!” moment for the audience.

There were definitely some ridiculous elements- Mary standing on his hat was implausible at best; 2 men sharing an axe to fight in tandem was just goofy; the stagecoach rescue/sideswipe was absurd. But take the good with the bad. Some were downright unforgiveable though- that CGI horse stampede was horrible. And I say this as a man who went along with the “infected” from I Am Legend (just as a frame of reference). Sooooo bad. They ran with horses, and I kept thinking “OK, the horses will be gone soon and we’ll get back to some physical combat.” But no, they kept running with the horses. They ran across the horses’ fucking backs. Dude actually picked up and THREW a horse at Lincoln. Ugh. And lastly, the train/bridge scene… remember the scene in Speed? Where they all had to lean or some bullshit so the bus could jump the gap in the freeway? Remember how fucking retarded that was? This is about as bad.

But all that being said, I still think it’s a good movie. A fun movie, to be sure. A hell of an interesting concept. It just took itself a bit too seriously. It needed to tread a little more into Dark Comedy territory. Near the end, when 50-year old Lincoln realizes he has to come out of vampire hunting retirement and he begins to practice his weaponry, he drops the axe. That scene wasn’t presented as funny, more as a measure of his mortality, his faded skills. But it WAS funny. And at the end when Mary calls up from the carriage “We’re late for the theater.” That’s darkly comedic shit right there. If it was presented as such, and if there were more of it throughout the movie, it’d be a much better show.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An open letter the moviegoing public of America

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter comes out next week. And you need to go see it. If you’re anything like the (admittedly small) cross section of moviegoers that I’ve witnessed react to the trailer, you likely think this is the dumbest thing to come out of Hollywood since, well… ever apparently. I’ve heard people laugh at the trailer, remark on its supposed idiocy, scoff & deride it. All the while not being able to figure out why they seemed to hate it so.

We are a fickle bunch, to be sure. We bitch about overdone franchises with pointless sequels (Transformers, Pirates), unnecessary reboots (Spider-Man), unwanted remakes (Footloose), lack of original ideas (Battleship) adaptations that were being clamored for by nobody (Dukes of Hazzard), adaptations that didn’t need to be movies at all (Simpsons, X-Files)… and yet for the most part we throw our hard-earned dollars at this dreck at the very same time that we mock it.

From a pop culture perspective we love vampire movies. Always have. We love vampires when they’re the framework for nothing more than a teenage love story (Twilight). We’ve had vampires in pretty much every genre. From the classic interpretations (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), to comedy (Love at First Bite, Once Bitten), period piece (Interview with a Vampire), comic book sensibility (Blade, Van Helsing), teen/coming of age (Lost Boys, Buffy), sci-fi (Lifeforce), to every angle of modern-day horror (Fright Night, Near Dark, Dracula 2000, From Dusk til Dawn)… and even the worst of those have never been met with the sheer derision that seems to be brewing for Abraham Lincoln.

You guys love True Blood, for fuck’s sake! And that’s the same fucking thing- vampires in the south! Why are you so resistant to the idea of an actual historical figure interacting with them? Genre mashup is an amazing storytelling device. This is satirical revisionist history at its finest. Directed by Bekmambetov and produced by Burton!!! At the very least it'll be visually amazing. Unfortunately the population at large seems vehemently opposed to such genre mashup. Movies about vampires are ok, and movies about history. But people can't seem to appreciate a little creative crossover.

If this was just another vampire period piece set against the Civil War and the rise of our nation, I have no doubt that it would be much more palatable to the audience at-large. In fact, people would probably enjoy it. But for some reason, making it about an actual historical figure just destroys any credibility it could have from a pure storytelling perspective. You people loved it- LOVED it- when the President of the United States (albeit fictional) fought aliens in Independence Day. Why not give an actual President a little creative license?

My concern is that this will be Scott Pilgrim all over again. A fresh new movie based on fringe literature that brings an innovative story to the screen like we haven’t seen before- or at least in a long time. And what did you guys do with that movie? You shunned it. Office Space bombed at the box office and went on to become a cult classic. Big Trouble in Little China- one of the boldest examples of genre mashup- found a place in American cult-cinema. All I’m asking is that you keep an open mind.

We constantly bitch that we want something new, something different. And when we get it we mock it incessantly. This movie could very well suck. It could be boring. It could be tedious and plodding. It could be a complete piece of shit. But it definitely won’t suffer from lack of originality. And for that alone it should earn your business.

Hit me up, we’ll go see it together, and I’ll even pay for your fucking ticket.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Never thought I'd say this, but Moonrise Kingdom was too "Wes Anderson-y". All the familiar affectations of his films are there: kids acting like adults, quirky camera work, quirkier music, adults with extremely dysfunctional relationships, characters with odd affectations... but this time it's just too contrived, too forced. It's like Wes Anderson trying to make a Wes Anderson movie. And for his fans who thought he went too off-course with Life Aquatic (what with the gunplay and all), this one has its own jump-the-Wes-Anderson-shark moments. Particularly in the finale when our three main characters are dangling precipitously from the church tower. And then all of a sudden it's over and everyone's safe. One of the endearing traits of his characters is that everyone is so matter-of-fact about their respective flaws/quirks/affectations. But this time it never felt quite right. Everything is a metaphor. The woman who works for Social Services is addressed as Social Services. It also marks the second time that he's killed the dog. As  much as I hate to say it, I'd say pass on this one.

Monday, June 11, 2012


I’m sure I missed a lot, and noticed some things that I will forget to bring up. I’m not a theologian, I’m not a critic. I’m just a guy with a love of movies and disdain for doing my actual job while I’m at work. And I love to write.

Prometheus is a story about faith, about the meaning of life, about where we came from. A story about curiosity and our insatiable need to ask “why?” When we do get an answer, we often aren’t satisfied… we want more. The movie itself is testament to that. Because more than just a story, it’s a philosophical jumping off point. Its purpose seems to be to raise as many questions as it answers. And to anyone fluent in pop culture, this much should have been evident as soon as the screenwriting credits were displayed: Damon Lindeloff. Anyone who knows much at all about Lost (and based on its popularity, that’s probably a pretty good proportion of moviegoers) should realize immediately that our journey won’t be straightforward, nor will it tie up all of our loose ends in a pretty bow. It will challenge you, challenge your beliefs.

As with previous installations in the Alien franchise proper, there are characters with several opposing (and secret) agendas: Shaw out to prove our creators are real; Vickers out to prove the opposite, and perhaps something more; David, seemingly interested in preserving (or at least studying) a new species; Weyland, looking to cheat death.

The angle of David intentionally infecting Holloway isn’t ever directly addressed, and in retrospect might not make a ton of sense. It wouldn’t result in Weyland reaching his goal- which is David’s primary purpose. Although it does provide yet another backdrop to bring the issue of faith into clearer focus- when the two debate the origin of life, Holloway’s (perhaps unsatisfactory) answer as to why humans created artificial life was a rather blasé “Because we could.”

The presence of the Aliens themselves, and the associated Easter eggs, is only tangentially important. This movie is definitely related, but it’s more concerned with the reality of the universe as a whole; the Aliens are here more as a treat, a nod to fans of the franchise, as opposed to the centerpiece. Aliens themselves aren’t the focus, just a piece of the mythology that Ridley Scott has built.

The religious undertones are unmistakable and omnipresent, right down to the movie taking place during Christmas. From Western eyes at least, what better parallel than the birth of Christ for humanity finding its own true birthplace?

We also have a scientist, Shaw, who wears a cross. In flashbacks to her childhood she had a conversation with her own scientist father about death and what it means. The father, in explaining Heaven and its various counterparts in major religions, says he knows it’s real because he chooses to believe, a theme recurrent throughout the movie. Not only is it a theme, it’s also a request implicit in the movie itself- if you choose to believe in the answers this movie gives you, you will no doubt be satisfied.

Some of the elements are heavy-handed. For example, Vickers. Her icy, impersonal demeanor is reflected almost too on-the-nose in her choice of living quarters, especially when one of the crew members points out as much- that she lives in a self-sustained escape pod, away from the rest of the crew. It’s clear she has no belief in otherworldy life, especially beings which may have themselves created us. Yet she accepts that some people do believe- when asked by Shaw why they even bothered to invite them along if expedition rules prevent the scientists from attempting contact, Vickers replies “we wanted a true believer.”

Ultimately, in addition to being a solid movie, Prometheus can be seen as a metaphor for the audience as believers or cynics- do these answers satisfy you? Are you Vickers, or are you Shaw? It could be argued that neither one met a fitting end: Vickers, literally crushed beneath the truth she acrimoniously resisted; and Shaw, taking yet another step in her Sisyphusian journey to find answers that she undoubtedly won’t want to hear.

The Engineers themselves- our very creators- aren't too different from us. The place they've led us to is essentially an abandoned military outpost for their biological weaponry.

Beyond that, Ridley Scott has proven that he’s still got it when it comes to Sci Fi. He’s old-school, as evidenced by the fact that his future has a society that is incredibly advanced but still uses combustion engines and wheeled vehicles- details not lost on the sci fi literati. He ultimately never answers the question of why the Engineers created us (or the far more interesting why they subsequently sought to destroy us) because sometimes not knowing the answer to a question is much more liberating.

Sure, you could nitpick some of it. I’m not above that myself (, but if a movie doesn’t take liberties with the boundaries of what they expect you to accept, then I’m willing to suspend some disbelief. Could Shaw have done everything she did after abdominal surgery? Doubtful. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, that maybe the surgical machine contained advanced healing agents, or at the very least incredibly strong painkillers. And it was clear early on that Weyland was still alive and that Vickers was most certainly related to him. But these elements didn’t detract from the story, they didn’t derail the message that the movie was trying to deliver.

I don’t recall the exact dialogue (because I had all this other minutiae swimming around in my head), but near the end when Shaw asks David what he’ll do once Weyland is no longer around to program him… I recall David saying something to the effect of “Well then I’ll be free.” And I may be reading into it, but he seemed to have a bit of trepidation at the thought.

To those of you who expressed displeasure/contempt/frustration with Prometheus: What were you expecting? You got everything you could’ve possibly wanted- the origin of the Aliens, the origin of our very species. The only reason I can think of for all the hate- or perhaps more accurately, disappointment- is that it wasn’t the answer you hoped for.

Basically, the movie itself can be summed up, in my esteem, by the clip of old cinema David was watching early on, when a character in another movie said “the trick is not minding that it hurts.” You have to be able to stand the hurt of not finding what you were looking for.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Running a 5K

Running is pure evil. It’s one of the things I hate most in the world. Let’s be honest- it’s probably at the top of the list. But I love obstacle courses. I used to watch Fear Factor wishing I could just try all the physical stunts (not the eating disgusting things though), convinced I could do most, if not all of them.

Unfortunately for my health, my love of obstacle course challenges far outweighs my hatred for running and all things cardio-related. Because if you're going to run, do it like a fucking man and have mud pits, water slides, and fire involved. But I have zero cardio. Zero. What I have instead is stubbornness. Stubbornness enough to get me through just about any physical challenge I’ve undertaken, including hiking Mt Whitney, and the Warrior Dash, which I’ve written about on here before.

With the Warrior Dash- another 5K obstacle course- I signed up for and ran it by myself, just for the fun of it. I don’t run. And I sure as hell don’t train to run. So when I turned in a 34 minute time, I was actually a little proud considering that was about average for my age group. However, my pride dictates that if I do another 5K, I had better not do worse, time-wise, than the last one.

So I decided to train. In my own half assed way. 6 Days before the race, I began running around my block twice a day with my dog. Once around is half a mile, and on my first outing I could barely make it half way before I thought my lungs would explode.

And my dog wasn’t helping. He’s still a puppy, which means he’s an asshole. He loves to grab the leash and pull it in any direction other than the one I’m running in. He even likes to loop behind me while we’re running, occasionally clipping my heels and sending me tumbling across the pavement. Jerk.

Anyway, in addition to the twice a day run, I also jump rope. Barely, though. Here’s my asinine regimen that somehow makes sense to me- 6:30AM, run around the block. After that, feed the dog and jump rope while he eats (which is about a minute and a half). Repeat at 6PM. Do this for 6 days. Oh, and nowhere in this routine do I stretch at all. Suck on that, Tony Little. (Is that a decent "fitness" reference? Maybe I should've used Jack LaLanne)

I don’t know how that seemed like a legitimate course of action to me, but it did. By the 3rd day I was able to run the entire lap around the block without wishing for the sweet release of death. A few more days until I’m actually put to the test, so we’ll see how it all turns out. But one thing is still an eternal truth in my life: Fuck running.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Movie review: Safe

The title is a witty double entendre, referring not only to the actual safe that everyone is trying to break into, but also the act of keeping a young girl safe that Statham readily, heroically accepts. However, I think they inadvertently leaned too heavily towards yet another definition of the word: bland, boring, pedestrian.

My biggest complaint with Safe is that it violated Action Movie Unwritten Rule #1: Don’t try to be more than you are. In this case, you’re a showcase for Jason Statham beating people up. That’s it. If you’re a shoot ‘em up (Clive Owen’s version of which sucked ass, btw. Crank was everything that movie wanted to be, but that’s another discussion) don’t try to pretend you’re something bigger with some convoluted, unnecessary, meandering plot.

Sure, there are exceptions- Haywire was much more an espionage film than an action movie, and it starred Gina Carano. But it worked. That usually doesn’t happen. Haywire actually had a decent story as well as some good fight scenes. Not so much with another Statham movie: Killer Elite. Marketed as an action movie, it most definitely was not and disappointed in that regard. A mistake repeated with The Mechanic. The point being keep it simple, like Tango and Cash or the aforementioned Crank. Or if you don’t really have a plot, just skip it altogether. Be like Cobra.

On top of the contrived plot, Safe also tried to be stylish and cool with clever edits and slick storyline shifts. Cutting from one scene… to a scene with a similar line or action or event that would bridge the two. Kind of like a film school dropout’s version of Tarantino. Not that such editing is necessarily bad, but when taken in conjunction with all the other things this movie did wrong it’s just another detriment.

On to the story- a washed up MMA fighter/garbage man who won’t play dirty and is unjustly punished for it. Such a fresh angle. I’ll bet if Mel Gibson wasn’t in the shitter he would’ve starred in this movie. Especially considering that the protagonist’s wife (who we never even see, let alone learn anything about. How are we supposed to empathize? Oh wait, they did give us one tantalizing clue about her- apparently she was ugly) is murdered to teach him a lesson. Have you ever noticed how many of Mel’s movies have his wife or girlfriend get killed? And usually by his enemies? Look it up. It’s actually more than a little disturbing, moreso now that we know what a volatile misogynist he is.

So back to the story. In the history of MMA, nobody’s ever been put into a coma with one punch! But I guess that’s how tough our anti-hero is. So be it, I’ll take that ride with you. But from there it’s downhill. The whole premise is just too ridiculous… as the Chinese mob strolls around Chinatown asking the girl questions, she starts reciting dollar amounts that various businesses have been earning- to the penny! Can you believe it? To the PENNY!!! I can’t think of any other way for them to track these figures than a broad-daylight kidnapping of China’s pre-teen Good Will Hunting and forcing her to work for your gang under threat of her mother’s death if she doesn’t cooperate. Except maybe a pen and paper. Or a calculator. Like a really nice one from TI that does fractions and shit.

Back to our hero. After the Russian mob murders his wife, they opt to let him live under the burden of knowing that anyone he befriends will also be killed. Even an obnoxious transient with no redeeming qualities who was probably going to steal his shoes (No! Not him!!! You bastards!). Which raises another point- if the Russian mob has the time and resources to literally follow him everywhere, all the time (including on the subway and in a homeless shelter that seemed more like a federal penitentiary. What the hell kind of shelter has armed guards, “lights out” curfew, and the aura of a prison camp?), maybe they’d be better off putting those resources into their turf war with the Triads. Just a suggestion.

But that murder of the homeless guy got me thinking: the ninja-like presence and brutality of the Russians almost seems like a superpower. Imagine, if someone annoys you- just befriend them and by morning they’re dead. That would be fucking awesome! People who talk on their cellphones while they’re at the cashier? Gone. People who double park? See ya. Bicyclists? Adios (I don’t mean ALL bicyclists. Just the obnoxious spandex-wearing ones who think the rules of traffic don’t apply to them but will not hesitate to give you shit if you encroach on their precious bike lane by an inch with your car).

So our hero is drifting along aimlessly through life, alone, when he sees the young math prodigy being chased by the same mobsters that murdered his wife. He sees here, finally, a purpose. Something to live for. Something to fight for. This is one of the few parts of the movie that I find believable. So he jumps headlong into the fray, kicks the Russians’ asses, and steps up as the girl’s protector. Oh, and by the way- of course he used to be a cop. (the moment where the director is hoping the entire audience goes “Whaaaa…?” in unison).

There’s just too much that doesn’t make sense- the Russians’ omnipresence, the Triad’s need for the girl in the first place, the cops (former associates) who beat him up for old time’s sake then just decide to stop and let him go, the cops tracking the Russians’ cellphones but not keeping tabs on their credit cards, the hotel with armed security… which, by the way, how logistically impossible would it be to pull off a hostile takeover of an ENTIRE FUCKING HOTEL??? Not to mention the fact that in modern-day New York City that would no doubt be considered an act of terrorism and even if you got away, the already precarious alliance/truce between your mob and the cops would be replaced by a hail of gunfire the likes of which would give Sam Peckinpah a hard on. By the time we find out that one of the safes holds a measly $30 million I’m already looking at my watch trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my day once I get out of here. Really? $30 million? If your mob doesn’t just have that kind of cash lying around in bags with dollar signs printed on them, you might as well pack it in and go back to Pangea or wherever the hell you’re from. Mob life isn’t for you.

The final “fuck you” to the audience was the abbreviated last showdown between Statham and his former badass/special agent/whatever the hell they were compatriot. Again, the director goes for clever here, ending the fight literally before it even begins by having the girl shoot the bad guy. That kind of “this dude is so badass you don’t even get to see it” shortcut works in some situations, like the Joker overpowering the cops in The Dark Knight, or Cromartie wiping out an entire FBI team in The Sarah Connor Chronicles (yes, I know I’m probably the only one who watched that show; if you had watched it too maybe it wouldn’t have gotten cancelled. Thanks for nothing, jerks), or even here in this very movie- when at the beginning they cut short Statham's MMA fight just before he landed his coma-inducing punch. But here it’s just another cheap gimmick that doesn’t pay off. Reminiscent also of the famous Raiders of the Lost Ark scene, where a swordsman displays his flashy skills only to have Indy shoot him. But again, there it works. Mostly because that isn't the fucking climax.

Much as I like the guy, Statham’s filmography has been very hit or miss. And this one unfortunately falls into the “miss” column.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods (there be spoilers ahead)

A surprisingly fresh twist on the slasher genre. Not only did Cabin successfully hit on (and in doing so, unironically parody) all the slasher movie cliches, it did so in a way that was fun, entertaining, and still scary. A feat accomplished maybe once before with Scream. It wasn't heavy-handed and formulaic, collapsing under its own pretense like I Know What You Did Last Summer, or the Final Destination franchise.

Sure, you can question the logistical impossibility of much of what transpires in this flick,(would pheromone mist work? and that quickly?), but for a movie like this you have to be willing to suspend disbelief to a greater degree than you normally might. You have to realize, this movie is asking you to go along for a ride in a universe where "the old gods" exist and are to be feared. So save all your "Shuh... right" for Shyamalan's next outing.

Besides, this movie has a bigger agenda. Not only is it a thoughtful and original commentary on the bureaucracy of our modern age- juxtaposing the red-tape cubicle life to which we've become accustomed against old-world religious cults- it also takes to task our societal bloodlust; or at least our desensitization to the horrible things that happen in our actual world, as evidenced by the nameless company's celebration (premature though it was) while the last remaining survivor of their cruelly orchestrated ordeal was getting the shit kicked out of her on a dozen monitors in the background. Not to mention the betting pool itself, which was also cleverly mirrored in the movie's finale when we realize that just as the kids in the cabin chose their own harbingers of doom, the corporate drones chose those kids to ride down in the same elevator and kill them.

Cabin is a self-conscious movie, aware of its own genre but not to the point of satire. It knows where its boundaries lie and it pushes right up to the edge of those boundaries without becoming a joke. More of a knowing nod, a peek behind the curtain. And in that vein it includes references to other classic horror movies- Evil Dead, Hellraiser, The Ring- as well as genuine campy humor- the zombie arm, the contrast between horror movie archetype and real world issues (as in the speaker phone scene, where Mordecai actually seems to break "character").

It has all the sensibility and atmosphere of an 80's slasher film without falling victim to the cheesy cliches that so routinely plague the genre. All the usual elements- stereotypical characters, poor decision making- are satisfyingly explained in real life terms. Especially fun was the guilty pleasure of seeing all the other creatures that earlier were only hinted at on the board- sexy witches? Angry molesting tree? Kevin???

Another nice touch- there is no happy ending. Sure the protagonists survive (including, in an interesting twist against type, the resourceful stoner). But it's short lived, as not only do they ultimately die in the end, they also self-righteously choose to wipe out every living person in existence. An incredibly selfish choice that caps off the film nicely.

I really like that they downplayed the whole "reality TV" angle. It was pretty much only mentioned in passing. The premise itself is almost like a modern, less dystopian version of Hunger Games: kids chosen at random to fight to the death in a controlled and manipulated environment, all for the entertainment and survival of the rest of the population. The placement of this game in our familiar modern world makes Cabin all the better. We see technology failing, endless bureaucracy, jaded corporate drones... genre mash-up that is both intelligent and hilarious.

Highly recommend. Go see it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Movie review: Goon

Goon is a fun movie. A little disappointing, but fun. A lot of it was poorly written, especially some of the dialogue, and the acting was weak in parts- not that I expect an Oscar-worthy turn from Seann William Scott, but still... I know he's capable of better. Problems aside, it's still a good watch.

I might be biased because of my love of both hockey &its enforcers (I had to actually stop myself from cheering probably 3 or 4 times in the movie when a clutch goal was scored) but I think most people will enjoy it. The treatment of the culture of hockey, the roles different players have, is pretty well crafted. They got a lot of the quirky things right- the oddball announcer, the overenthusiastic young player, the burnt-out, jaded captain, the dynamics of the team chemistry, even the national anthem scene, though only seconds long, captures a world of minute detail that exists in the world of hockey.

Hockey fans will have a lot to identify with. And normal people will have a good story to watch unfold. Because it's a hockey movie, but it's also a movie about finding your purpose, learning what you're made of; it's a movie about what matters in life; about being part of something bigger than yourself; about camaraderie; about loyalty; about brotherhood & friendship. And about punching people in the face.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lockout (aka Seriously?!?)

You know the old adage "Put a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, and one of them will eventually pound out Hamlet?" Well suppose you only have one monkey and 3 months. You might end up with Battlefield Earth. And if you only have a week, you going to get a new Rob Schneider movie. But before it even starts typing, that monkey is likely to rip the paper out of the typewriter, wipe his ass with it, and throw it on the ground. I present to you Lockout.

Lockout is a sci-fi action thriller co-written by Luc Besson. Unfortunately that's where the upside ends. I refuse to see this movie on the grounds that, judging by the trailer, it is simply an exercise in stitching together every woefully overused cliche in the history of Hollywood. Riot in a maximum security space station prison while the President's daughter is there on a goodwill mission, and her only hope for survival is a burned out former CIA agent who was framed for a crime he didn't commit.

There's a line of dialogue in the trailer when they are discussing who they can recruit for the suicide rescue mission, and when the protagonist is mentioned someone actually says "He's the best there is, but he's a loose cannon." They actually say that. That's real dialogue from this sad excuse for a movie. Someone (hopefully not Luc Besson) sat at a table, typed out those lines while writing shitting out this script, and thought "Yeah, I like the sound of that." And then other people read it, and didn't object. And THEN some "actors" read the lines out loud while cameras were rolling and nobody stopped them. Holy shit I can't believe that series of events actually happened in the real world. I can only guess that there was some sort of radon gas leak in the studio when all this was happening and nobody was really alert enough to yell "Cut! Guys... what the fuck are we doing?"

"Whoa... you're right. That line is really bad."

"No, not that. Well, I mean yeah, that's fucking horrible and we should all have our WGA cards revoked, but I'm talking about this whole thing. Has anybody read this through?"

"...not really. I just sort of flipped through it absentmindedly while I was huffing glue."

"Yeah, I used the first few pages to make cole slaw for dinner last night.":

"You made cole slaw out of paper??"


"And you ate it?"

"Of course. Guys, I'm stupid enough to agree to make a movie like Lockout, what makes you think I'm not too stupid to eat paper?"

"Good point. Hey, where's the glue?"

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Grey

I had been looking forward to The Grey ever since I first saw the trailer. Liam Neeson has become a favorite badass of mine. Which, by the way, when did that happen? Sure, he's skirted tough-guy status before: Ra's al Ghul, Qui-Gon Jinn (one of the few enjoyable aspects of a certain trilogy that I refer to as Lucas' Shame), even as far back as Darkman- but even those characters were just moderately formidable, not outright ass kickers. Add to that roll call all the dramatic turns he's taken- Schindler, Kinsey- and it sort of evens him out. But somewhere around Taken he became a legitimate, hardcore, Bourne-esque man not to be fucked with. And not just a badass, but a resourceful one. A guy who can solve any problem, overcome any obstacle, and do it in a way that makes it seem like he's done it all before. And the crazy thing is that it was such a smooth transition. Never a moment of doubt that he could kill a man with his bare hands 7 different ways. To the point where I want him to go up against The Expendables. And win. I honestly don't have a problem with his tough guy status. In fact, I love it. It just seems so... unexpected in retrospect.

Two of the most "Oh no he didn't!" moments in the movie, to me, were at the initial wreck site. First, he talked a fatally wounded companion through his own death. That takes fucking cojones like I couldn't even imagine. Shortly after, he tells Diaz "I'm going to start beating the shit out of you in about 5 seconds." Start. Start beating the shit out of you. The inclusion of that one little word makes a world of difference. Most threats of that ilk are just a proclamation that someone will beat the shit out of someone else. But for him to say he's going to start beating the shit out of Diaz? That implies that it is going to be a long, and extremely painful beating.

Anyway, I had wanted to see The Grey on opening weekend, but was unable to go. Movie pal David Novin did go see it though, and immediately after he sent me a text letting me know. "How was it?" I texted back. A noticeably long pause preceded his stark reply: "I feel cold and empty inside."  Now I was even more excited. Not to mention this was sure to be a much needed action movie break from the CGI porn overload that's been so prevalent lately.

Speaking of CGI, that was by far the most terrifying plane crash I have ever seen in movies or TV. I was legitimately afraid sitting in my plush, reclining seat in a theater that suddenly felt about 10 degrees colder than when I first walked in. Dammit, Novin was right. Everything about the movie chilled me to the core, physically and emotionally. It was so barren, so isolating, so... empty. Survival in its most raw form. Add to the already tense and hopeless scenario the flashbacks that haunted our protagonist, and it was an effort not to give up myself. But as grim as it was, I had one humorous thought pop into my head- so many of the characters had flashbacks/hallucinations/visions of previous relationships: Liam's wife, one guy's sister, another's daughter. I thought it would be hilarious if Diaz, in his dying moments, had a vision of the admittedly repulsive hooker he had recently been with.

I had minor complaints with the reality of some aspects of the movie- like humans outrunning wolves... in snow; the presumption that they had enough extra gear to make an improvised rope, as well as the wolves being able to cross the same chasm unassisted and just as quickly; the abrupt disappearance of the wolves- formerly in hot pursuit- after Hendrick fell into the river. But again, these are minor points overall. Nothing so glaring as to undermine the story itself. My biggest gripe after seeing it is that they gave away the best scene (and one of the best scenes in cinema in recent memory) in the trailer. Still... soooooooo effing cool seeing him improvise some duel-to-the-death weapons and leap headlong into the face of his own certain demise, swinging for the fences as he did. (one other... complaint? in that last scene, there was one shot that showed the scar on his cheek being on the wrong side of his face. Clearly a mirror image of footage they used for some unknown reason. Seems like an amateur mistake, and it honestly distracted me for a moment)

The post-credits scene was both chilling and rewarding, in a way that only a badass could deliver. He fought that wolf to the death. And he took the wolf with him. Great movie, loved every moment of it. In my own little "I want to be a director" mind, I kind of wish they had used a second bonus scene showing a rescue team at the crash site. Just to really crush your spirits a little bit more. Make that cold, empty feeling linger a bit longer with the suggestion that had they not taken off into the woods they might have lived.