Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reviews, New Stuff

The Cabin In the Woods

Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin In the Woods” sets itself apart from other horror films pretty early on with its opening scene: two men (a wonderful Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in suits ramble on about failed experiments in faraway countries as they drive through a concrete office bunker and the sense of mind-numbing beaurucracy settles in. From there, “The Cabin In the Woods” turns into a witty deconstruction of the horror genre and plays like an episode of “South Park”. Remember the “Margaritaville” episode? Written by Joss Whedon and Goddard, “The Cabin In the Woods” is sheer fun, circumventing the horror film in both narrative and fundamental ideals as a group of teenagers and their weekend retreat turns into a real-life nightmare. Irony for the sake of irony is never fun, and that is where a majority of the post-Scream and Whedon’s own “Buffy” series posit themselves nowadays. “The Cabin In the Woods” is a bit mean-spirited towards its main characters, sardonic in all the right moments and facetious with the genre tropes (the old man giving directions at the gas station begins with a wince and then pays off to terrific lengths later in the film), but it also works in the same way Sam Raimi’s early horror films work. There’s a creativity and a sense of devotion to inverting the genre that seeps through the whole film. Highly recommended for upside-down entertainment.

4:44 Last Day On Earth

“4:44 Last Day On Earth” is the first Abel Ferrera film in over a decade to receive a marginal stateside release (the last was minimal drug dealer procedural “R Xmas”) after his self imposed exile to Italy. Sadly, it’s not a major triumphant return, ranking as one of Ferrra’s weaker efforts. Starring Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh as loft-dwelling New Yorkers awaiting the end of the world, Ferrera’s catastrophic world view is a supremely interior one. There are hints of the chaos outside as Dafoe witnesses a neighbor jump off the fire escape in the building next door, but the film largely concerns itself with the spiraling doubt and relapse of his own drug dependence and his painter-girlfriend’s distrust of his ex-wife. There are moments of tremendous spontaneity- as when Dafoe creeps into the apartment of his old dealer and finds his sober brother (a wonderful Ferrera-stable actor named Paul Hipp) there to talk him out of “nodding his way” through the end of the world- but overall, “4:44 Last Day On Earth” fails due to a strained performance by Leigh and a muddled preachiness via numerous slow zooms into a television set where people such as Al Gore and the Dala Lami talk about global destruction and the joys of inner peace. If seen as a parable for Ferrera’s own recent sobriety, “4:44 Last Day On Earth” makes some sense. Moments feel very personal and, as written by Ferrera himself, the film delivers a quiet examination of one man’s balancing act of sobriety. But as a straightforward, low-key thriller about a man and a woman and the general population of New York itself, it’s unconvincing atmosphere and amateurish narrative choices derail the thing long before it fades into supposed oblivion.

The Raid

Building on the kineticism of John Woo and "The Fast and the Furious" aesthetic, Gareth Evans' "The Raid" excels in style and, at times, even slows down the camera movement enough to make me appreciate the hyperballad of fists, legs and jabs. All is well and fine, I just simply didn't care for anyone in this film. The cops and bad guys are drawn with generic broadness and the film plays out like a video game, techno music and strobe lights intact.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Music On My Mind....and Baseball

Ahh, baseball season. Nothing better. MLB baseball cable package ordered, Opening Day game tradition still intact (although the Ranger bandwagoner fan is making this increasingly stressful!) and all is good. Random music on my mind the last few days:

Opening Day montage: 2012

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Last Ten Films I've Seen, March Edition

1. The Interrupters (2011)- If I had seen this film last year, it would have ranked very high on my favorites of 2011. Documentarian Steve James takes a fascinating approach to gang violence through the people who once lived the life and now try to be stop the violence along Chicago's South Side. Truly moving and heartfelt filmmaking.

2. Silent House (2012)- I really, really love Elizabeth Olsen and believe she'll amount to one of the best actresses of this generation. And all of this based on just two films now. A tepid subject- gimmicky idea of one continuous shot as a woman roams a darkened house in search for bumps and noises in the night- all held together by Olsen's riveting performance.

3. Of Time and the City (2009)- Currently working my way through a majority of British director Terence Davies films, and this is a poetic, if not hermetic, look at his hometown of Liverpool. There's little history or insight here... all mood and tone as Davies orchestrates lush music over archival images. It seeps under the skin, though, and commemorates a city like no other piece of work.

4. Onimasa: A Japanese Godfather (1983)- Hideo Gosha's epic rendering of a young girls' introduction into the home of a yakuza mobster. Spanning some thirty years, "Onimasa" feels like a precursor to so many later films. Moving, violent, unexpected... it's simply one of the best films of its time. See this one!

5. Texas Killing Fields (2011)- The daughter of Michael Mann tries to imitate dad, but this murder mystery is all over the place. There are times when director Ami Mann captures a stirring image, especially at night, but the poor performances by Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan elicit little sympathy and the mystery itself is so plodding and unrealistic that it made me check out pretty early. Sad since the original idea this film is based on is one of great Texas lore.

6. Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976)- Terrific, fast paced comedy-drama starring Harvey Keitel, Bill Cosby and Raquel Welch as Los Angleles ambulance drivers. Immensely funny in parts, disturbing in others (see the performance of Larry Hagman), Peter Yates' film turns on a dime and jams so much into this energetic farce.

7. The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995)- I just don't quite understand the fanaticism for cult director Philip Ridley's films, including this one and "The Reflecting Skin". It does prove that, from 1994-1997, Ashley Judd was one hot thing. This tale of gothic religious confusion gone horribly wrong in the backwoods suffers from an alternating tone between fantasy and surreal commentary as Brendan Fraser stumbles out of a religious sect into the caring graces of Judd and mute lover Viggo Mortensen.

8. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)- More of the same. I think I'll go re-watch "The Changeling" or "The Stone Tape".

9. We Are the Night (2010)- A female version of "The Lost Boys", or "Near Dark"... pumped full of house dance music, chic European clothes and beautiful people everywhere. For a guilty pleasure, Dennis Gansel's superficial film does the job, but don't look for anything more than that.

10. Two Men In Manhattan (1963)- Very hard to find Jean Pierre Melville film about two reporters (one writer and one paparazzi) searching for a missing French UN delegate in New York. Starring Melville himself, it's a very touristy film, full of the New York skyline and long-lost locations that would probably make any native New Yorker cry. There are some of Melville's themes, but its a very minor work in his illustrious and moody career.