Monthly Archives: June 2016

Just say no to ‘Independence’

It could have at least been fun, this whole Independence Day reunion tour. Parts were there – the new enormous spaceship, the queen leading the hive, etc.

But instead, flop, fizzle … other f words come to mind. Here’s the main two reasons not to see this room-temperature turd:

  1. Beating the aliens is too easy. While I’d never argue ID4 was any sort of cinematic classic, it does a nice job of building the tension, putting our heroes backs up against the wall and making it hard to see that there’s any way out for the humans fighting the massive alien invasion. Here, the build is awkward and uneven, there’s little to no character development and the resolution both seems easy and somewhat ridiculous. Resurgence isn’t even a shadow of ID4‘s former self.
  2. The goddamn school bus. At one point, Julius (Judd Hirsch) gets entangled with a family of newly minted orphans. Because riding in a late-model station wagon with a group of four kids younger than 16 isn’t cute enough, they then jump on a school bus with a bunch of kids whose driver has abandoned them on the side of the road. Then, because that wasn’t cute enough, they just happen to end up in the middle of the desert where David (Jeff Goldblum) is about to help take down the aliens once and for all. And because that isn’t cute enough, then David drives the school bus as he and his plucky band are chased by the enormous hive mother alien. The only things lacking to make this the schmaltziest film you’ve ever seen are Ewoks and a Randy Newman soundtrack.
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Palahniuk takes on some beautiful ‘Monsters’

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players. – William Shakespeare

What is the cost of beauty? If you go all in on your looks, what lengths will you go to seeking attention for your long eyelashes, lean legs, toned abs? And when you lose those looks, what is left of the person when the pretty is stripped away?

Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters takes a deep, twisted dive into those murky waters. This is the tale of Brandy Alexander, a pre-op transexual who was thought to be dead by her multi-monikered sister, the narrator of the tale. Sister narrator was always a beauty and grew to be an up-and-coming model in the fashion world, until she is shot in the face by her lover Manus … or her best friend Evie … or maybe neither. She awakes in the hospital to meet Brandy, a big, brash, beautiful product of multiple plastic surgeries financed by three brothers who made a fortune in dolls. And from there, it’s a non-stop race to defy beauty and seek truth, no matter how ugly said truth may be, until the walls close in and everything burns to the ground.

In true Palahniuk fashion, Invisible Monsters isn’t nearly  as simple as this previous, vague paragraph suggests. The author lays out the case for pure, simple beauty as a wonderful thing that is then marred, manipulated and repackaged for sale as just another consumer product. “Shotgunning anybody in this room would be the moral equivalent of killing a car, a vacuum cleaner, a Barbie doll. Erasing a computer disc. Burning a book. Probably that goes for killing anyone in the world. We’re all such products.”

Narcissism is an industry, just like technology or manufacturing. The lengths – both physical and financial – to which our model narrator and Brandy will go to either to enhance their looks or re-create themselves is startling. Waxes, dyes, make up, dresses, shoes, diets, drugs, nips, tucks, implants. Money, money and more money, to fight that nasty aging and freeze their perfect countenance in time for as long as possible, projecting the flawless mask to the camera, the photographer, the entire world, and hide that invisible monster that no one wants to know exists.

The grotesque nature of the proceedings, the absurdity of this pursuit of eternal and false perfection is the perfect world for a mind like Palahniuk’s to explore. I’d encourage you to jump into the journey and take the ride.

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If you’re planning a Norwegian vacation, beware the trolls

I think the whole found footage think gets unfairly knocked. It’s simply a story-telling device, something that isn’t inherently good or bad. When it’s well used – The Blair Witch Project – you end up with a solid film. When the story is weaker – Cloverfield – you get a final product that isn’t as interesting or compelling.

Enter Troll Hunter, a 2010 Norwegian film. Brief text at the beginning explains that everything shown in the film, as far as the people who found the footage know, is true. We first meet our plucky-if-naive college students, Kalle, Johanna and Thomas. They start out on a lark, looking for a poacher who has been killing bears in the area. After some poking around and a little luck, they come across Hans, a surly, secretive man who lives a nomadic life, sleeps all day and leaves at night, residing in a abnormally smelly camper with an inordinate amount of exterior lighting.

Following some Scooby Doo-like sneaking and shadowing, Hans fesses up: He is a troll hunter, Norway’s only troll hunter. Trolls are allowed to live in isolated parts of the country, but lately, the trolls have been wandering out of their safe habitats and into inhabited areas, leaving a path of destruction and death in their wake. It’s up to Hans to figure out what’s causing this problem, as well as killing any troll who reaches civilization.

At first, the kids think they’ve run into a madman who will make an awesome subject for their documentary. That is, until they are chased by their first troll. Then shit gets real in a hurry.

Troll Hunter‘s strengths are two-fold:

  1. The film plays less like a found-footage horror movie and more like a documentary. The kids get an inside look at troll hunting, the varieties within the species, how they do and don’t act like fairly tales would suggest, the bureaucratic red tape that is involved with each troll death. As the film unfolds, two other interesting stories begin to unfold: The length to which the Norwegian government will go to conceal the existence of trolls, and the toll this life takes on Hans, our titular troll hunter.
  2. Our main man Hans. Played by Otto Jesperson, Hans agrees to show the movie-making trio the troll world because, after years alone hunting them, Hans is tired of the coverup and the secrecy. A former soldier, he has killed these creatures for years, and it clearly haunts him. He has respect for the beasts, and he has had to do horrible things, some to protect humans, some to protect Norway’s business interests, and he wants no more to do with it. Hans is the real star of the show, and Jesperson’s portrayal – and the strong writing and direction of Andre Ovredal – gives Troll Hunter a strong anchor that keeps the film solidly moored in reality as things get more and more fantastic.

If your kids are OK with reading subtitles (I’m not sure whether there’s an English dubbed version), this is a film with some scares that isn’t too scary. And if you’re thinking about a trip to Norway and are a good Christian, you may want to reconsider it. The only thing trolls love more than the fresh, warm blood of a follower of Jesus is a good tire to chew on.

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Raise a glass to ‘The Final Girls’

The quick Final Girls review: Pleasantville meets Scream.

The Pleasantville angle: Max (Taissa Farmiga, American Horror Story) is the daughter of actress Amanda (Malin Akerman, Watchmen), who is known mainly for her one role in the cheesy horror film, Camp Bloodbath. Years after her mom dies in a car crash she survived, Max and friends attend an anniversary showing of the slasher flick. Mid-movie, the theater catches fire. Max and pals cut through the screen, hoping to escape backstage, but instead ending up in the film itself. It’s a fun conceit, and since the kids know what happens throughout the film, they are forced to go with the flow and hopefully ride it out until they can return to the real world.

The Scream angle: The kids not only know Camp Bloodbath, but understand the horror tropes themselves. For example, they, too, must avoid the traps that attract the machete-wielding killer: Nudity, sex, drinking, drugs, general stupidity. For some, it ends up being harder than it sounds. The gang uses some cliches to their advantage, such as the flashback, while doing their best to battle through others, such as the slow-mo shown above. Eventually, Max is the last kid standing, the titular final girl who must do battle with mad killer Billy Murphy, a duel to the death.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson balances the humor and blood deftly, and the casting – including Adam Devine (Workaholics, Pitch Perfect), Alexander Ludwig (Hunger Games), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), etc. – is spot-on. If you’re a fan of comedic horror or the horror genre in general, The Final Girls is worth a watch.

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