Tag Archives: Entertainment

Welcome to wild, wild ‘Wyrmwood’

In the spoiler-heavy trailer above, one of the review blurbs calls Wyrmwood: Road of the DeadMad Max meets Dawn of the Dead.” Honestly, that sums it up pretty well.

It’s the zombie apocalypse, in Australia at least. If you don’t have the right blood type, then you turn into the walking dead. Cars are of no use because, it turns out, fuel no longer burns. There’s nowhere to run, few places to hide, and the last of humanity is drastically outnumbered. It’s pretty bleak. Hence, Dawn of the Dead.

Quirky characters abound, from The Doctor – a dancing madman doing experiments on those who haven’t succumb to the plague – to Benny, a goofy dude without seemingly much to offer other than his own special brand of foolish bravery. Toss in the unique armor, the altered vehicles (turns out, zombies belch fuel), the sped-up road scenes and more, and the Mad Max comparison is apt, as well.

But what saves Wyrmood from being completely derivative is the humor and the twist. Not only is the film funny, it’s not afraid to inject humor in truly dark moments, seemingly out of left field. The scene shown in the above trailer where our hero tries to shoot himself in the head, only to be out of nails in his nailgun, is not funny, at all. Until that happens, and then you’re laughing when you know you shouldn’t be. The twist I won’t spoil, but it’s a game-changer and not something I’ve seen used in a zombie flick, at least not the way it’s handled here. It is a tribute to director Kiah Roche-Turner and his co-writer Tristan Roche-Turner that it doesn’t just become a Mad Max knockoff with zombies, but is its own unique entity, and a fun one, at that.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Knock Knock’ intense, frustrating

Here are the two reasons to watch Eli Roth’s Knock Knock:

  1. Keanu Reeves. Reeves gets knocked a lot for a lack of range. I prefer to think of Reeves as the DMX of acting: DMX doesn’t have the greatest range as a rapper, but he knows what he does well and he maximizes that. Reeves tends to be at his best reeled in, stoic, controlled. In Knock Knock, when shit starts to get hectic, we get to see cheating architect Evan (Reeves) rage against his tormentors, Bell (Ana de Armas) and Genesis (Lorenza Izzo). And when it looks like the deal is done, Evan’s fear is palpable. Even at his more subtle moments – such when Evan is trying to both be a polite host and keep himself from compromising his marital vows – Reeves kills it.  It may be the best performance by Reeves in a decade or so.
  2. This isn’t a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong: There are some traditional horror elements in Knock Knock. But really, the movie is an old school morality tale. Can’t resist temptation? Then you will pay, and you will pay dearly, even Biblically. Knock Knock doesn’t necessarily end how we, the audience, have been lead to believe it will throughout the course of the film. But one way or the other, Evan is ruined to the point where he might not ever come back from it simply because he wouldn’t remain faithful. I’m not a huge fan of Roth – I really like Hostel, am pretty lukewarm about Cabin in the Woods and Hostel Part II, haven’t seen Green Inferno and still think the best thing he has done was as an actor, the Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds – but, save for one issue (see below), I was really impressed with his work here. Roth lays out the space of Evan’s home – our lone setting – impressively with the camera in the early going so we know the lay of the land once the action kicks in, and does a nice job of building the suspense and terror.

The lone drawback of Knock Knock:

  1. Rules, rules, rules. Genesis, the alpha female of our psychotic duo, talks frequently about rules. She mocks Evan for violating the bounds of marriage, noting that the lunacy she and Bell are raining down on him is the same punishment that they have given to other married men, none of whom have ever resisted the temptation of she and her sexy pal. Genesis punishes Evan for not answering questions, because it’s that time, and the rules are he has to answer her queries. And so on. The girls are very pointed about the necessity to keep to the rules, whether they are the accepted rules of matrimony or their own personal rules for this sort of encounter. But then the young women don’t follow their own rules. If the point is to punish Evan, why let Louis die? Louis, a friend/co-worker of Evan’s wife, shows up to gather some of her work for her gallery exhibit. The girls steal his asthma inhaler, work him up to the point where he has an attack, he loses his footing and falls, slamming his head into the heavy base of a sculpture and dies. Louis isn’t unfaithful. Louis isn’t really an ally of Evan’s. He’s just a guy doing a job. Then why is he punished? Sure, you can argue the girls are psychopaths, so of course they kill him and laugh at his death, because that’s what psychopaths do. But if you’re going to have killers with rules, the killers should follow the rules. Louis isn’t the target, and his death doesn’t really punish Evan (although it could have repercussions for him beyond the scope of the movie). It seems to be an arbitrary violation of the structure set forth by the killers and the filmmaker, undercutting what’s been established, and one that doesn’t really do much to further the story.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Two ways ‘Suicide Squad’ could have easily been improved

Don’t get me wrong: Suicide Squad was a helluva lot of fun, with solid performances all around and Will Smith and Margo Robbie in particular earning their paychecks. But Suicide Squad is not a well-constructed film, and at times it’s so choppy and lost it’s almost hard to watch. I think two issues could have been fixed that would have changed that.

First, that awful beginning. We get introduced to Deadshot (Will Smith), then Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Then Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, just one of the many terrific casting choices in Suicide Squad) meets with some military types to try to convince them to create her Suicide Squad, wherein she reintroduces both Deadshot and Quinn. Then she introduces other members of the squad, but doesn’t even mention Slipknot. As the squad members are pulled from their cages and assembled to get their embedded neck bombs – which will blow their heads off should they try to flee – we are re-introduced to Killer Croc and Diablo. Then, when it’s mission time, Slipknot, who hasn’t even been mentioned, shows up. But at the first opportunity to escape, he gives it a try, and since he’s the only member of the squad which has hardly been a part of the first 20 minutes of the film, we all know he’s going to get his head blown off, and sure enough, kaboom! Then Katana, who, much like Slipknot, isn’t mentioned for the first fourth of the film, joins the mission. She’s not a meta-human, she’s not American military, she’s very likely not even American, but she hops on the helicopter with a once sentence explanation that explains virtually nothing, and immediately she’s Rick Flagg’s right-hand man. It’s a freaking sloppy, redundant, train-wreck of an intro, something that seems like it is more the product of a 12-year-old who has been off his ADD meds for a few days than the creation of a respected writer (Training Day) and director (Fury) like David Ayers. If the rumors are true – rushed script, re-shoots, etc. – it sounds like Ayers was at the mercy of an unforgiving release calendar and a studio that’s already made a mess of Batman v. Superman and may be doing the same to Wonder Woman as I write this. The intro sets the tone for the entire film, and this one didn’t help develop character or story and just felt like a muddled effort to get Smith and Robbie extra screen time.

Second, fewer characters. This is where Marvel gets it right. Before the first Avengers film, we had Iron Man, Thor and Captain America in their own films while introducing Black Widow in Iron Man 2, as well as brief appearances by Agent Coulson and Nick Fury throughout those films, giving us at least a sense of what to expect from these characters. So when Marvel gathered those six with the Hulk and Hawkeye (who is even teased in the first Thor), you had a fully functioning unit from the jump off. DC, of course, couldn’t take the time to introduce at least a couple of these villains in the heroes’ movies, which means all the character development has to be done in Suicide Squad. And given that the characters driving this film are Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Rick Flagg (and, to a lesser extent, Diablo), that should have meant that Captain Boomerang, Katana, the Navy Seals and even the Joker received less screen time. Boomerang was redundant, another fighter like Killer Croc, except, because of his water skills, Croc was more valuable to this story. Katana, again, is just another fighter whose character is underdeveloped. Each could have been saved for the sequel. The Navy Seals don’t add enough to justify even the small amount of screen time they ate up. And the Joker, not being the main villain, would have been better served being a largely faceless presence asserting himself at various times throughout the film, only showing up for the jailbreak. Jared Leto’s performance is terrific, which is a serious problem, because I spent most of the film wishing the Suicide Squad was fighting he and his weirdo minions rather than the really underwhelming Enchantress, her less-powerful-than-he-looks brother and a bunch of rock-head foot soldiers. Leto stole the show when he was onscreen. Of course, if they had sidelined the Joker a bit, there may have been time to develop the relationship between Flag and the Enchantress/June Moone, Rick’s main squeeze and damsel in distress, making the Enchantress more interesting. Because the main characters here are Deadshot, Harley, Diablo and Flag (Joel Kinneman), and it’s their stories we should focus on. But because DC wants to sell action figures, we get an underdeveloped and unnecessary Boomerang. Because DC wants more diversity onscreen and wants to tap the Asian market, we get an underdeveloped and unnecessary Katana. Because DC wants to up the body count, we get all the superfluous Seals. And because of Leto’s dynamic performance and audience familiarity with his character, we get a terrific Joker who overwhelms a significant portion of the rest of the film, of which he really only is a small part. It smacks of poor planning on the part of DC, which isn’t a new or original criticism, but a vital one, particularly since DC is swimming in the wake of Marvel’s well-designed universe.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sci-fi and ScarJo: A winning combo

I’ve been impressed with Scarlett Johansson’s choice of science fiction roles, namely her starring turns in 2013’s Under the Skin and 2014’s Lucy. Not only is Johansson good in two solid films, the movies and Johansson’s roles couldn’t be more different.

I’ve gone into detail about my adoration for Under the Skin elsewhere, so I won’t focus much on it. I will note that Under the Skin is quiet, allowing the action and acting to lead, moving at a deliberate pace. Between straightforward, largely quiet scenes are dark, murky, abstract moments, all eventually leading to one helluva mind-fuck ending. It’s not a commercial flick by any means, with the exception of its star being part of the biggest comic book movie series on the planet.

In Lucy, from writer-director Luc Besson (director of La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional, as well as the producer behind the Taken flicks), Johannson plays the title character, a young woman looking to have a little fun in the Far East until she gets in over her head, carrying drugs for hardcore gangster, Mr. Chang (Min-Sik Choi of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance), who has killed her boyfriend and is threatening to kill others near and dear to her. The drugs, implanted in her body, leak, and said chemicals push her mind and body through about 5,000 years of evolution in 24 hours.

My guess is the science in this science fiction may not be so solid, as Lucy goes from your average human using about 10 percent of her brain to a superhuman pushing 100 percent capacity. But Besson does what Besson does: He pushes the action, whether that means interspersing lectures by expert Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) with shots from nature and the universe, or the attack by Chang’s men against French police that is a hail of lead tearing apart a hallway, or Lucy literally trying to hold herself together as the effects of the drug wear off during a plane ride (see the video above). In defense of the science component, as Lucy evolves from bubbly blonde to being of pure data and energy, I began to think of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 series. Only Lucy manages to do in a couple of days what evolution took (hundreds of) millions of years to do in Clarke’s imagining. I’m not saying it’s accurate or likely, but Lucy fleetingly dwells on similar ideas about evolution and immortality, in between car chases and gunshots.

Johansson excels in two dissimilar roles. In Under the Skin, she is a predator, silently stalking her prey, focused solely on the hunt, until that unfortunate moment when she realizes she is just as vulnerable as the men she consuming. From that point, she goes from offense to defense, searching for a place to hide in a world she is unfamiliar with. In Lucy, Johansson goes from a happy-go-lucky young woman to an entity that is solely concerned with devouring information and processing that data to find an answer that might not even exist.

Lucy and Under the Skin are an interesting mix, and my hope is Johansson continues to look for science fiction roles. She certainly seems to have a knack for picking them.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Dory’ keeps Pixar’s solid sequel run intact

Bravo, Pixar.

Rather than roll out some shitastic money-generating two-hour waste of my time – yes, Independence Day: Resurgence, I’m looking at your lame ass – Pixar did what it always does: Made a great film.

Finding Dory succeeds precisely because it doesn’t attempt to be or to recycle Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo is two films: And epic (the journey of Dory and Marlin) and escape/heist pic (Nemo’s attempt to get out of the dentist’s fish tank). The epic journey portion provides us with the bulk of the tension, and Marlin and Dory try to traverse the ocean while navigating its numerous dangers. Nemo’s fish tank efforts are largely comic relief, a break from the constant danger hovering over the rest of the film.

Finding Dory is a traditional Hollywood comedy, period, with a hefty dose of unreliable narrator in the form of everyone’s favorite short-term memory-challenged fish. When it comes time to travel from their home on the reef to the Marine Life Institute, Dory, Nemo and Marlin merely hop a ride with their old pals the sea turtles and bang, there where they need to be. No sharks, no jellyfish, no weird bottom of the sea fish with a light on its head. That’s not what Finding Dory is, and it makes no attempt to be that. Yes, there’s an escape element in Dory, but that’s where the real action in the film is, as opposed to functioning as comic relief and break from the darker elements.

Is Finding Dory the game-changer that Finding Nemo was? No, but it couldn’t be. Nemo introduced us to a lush, animated underwater landscape viewers had never seen before. There was really no way for Dory to top that.

Thank goodness Pixar didn’t attempt to do that. Finding Dory is all the better for it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Cooties’ is child’s play

My kids had a ball with Cooties.

Cooties is the story of Clint (Elijah Wood), an aspiring novelist doing a summer school substitute teaching gig at the school he went to as a kid. Unfortunately for Clint, some toxic chicken nuggets from the local processing plant have been consumed by one of his students, who is about to go full-on 28 Days Later on her classmates, who, after they turn, start to look at school’s faculty and staff as a potential food source.

A solid cast – including Rainn Wilson (The Office), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Jorge Garcia (Lost), Nasim Pedrad (Scream Queens), etc. – makes up for what the script lacks. Ian Brennan and Lee Whannell co-script (and appear in) Cooties, and their writing experience – Brennan with Glee and Scream Queens, Whannell with the Saw and Insidious flicks – would seem to be a good mash-up for this sort of film. And at points, they are. Whannell’s Doug, a science teacher who lacks basic social graces and may be hearing voices, is a hoot. When Clint and Wade (Wilson) argue over the best way to proceed, Wade yells, “Oh, you’ll sneak around, huh? Sneak around like a little Hobbit. No way! I’m taking the fight to them like a fuckin’ orc!” The overall horror arc is also well done, as the outside world reacts to the pandemic while our heroes deal with it face to face. There are some good reasons my junior high-age offspring liked Cooties.

Unfortunately, for me, the grownup in the room, it fell a little flat. The dialogue has its moments, but generally feels forced, saved some by the talent of the actors saying the lines. And certain things don’t make sense. For example, during a number of escapes, Clint braves potential gnawing by running back to grab the first chapter of his novel as the hordes of junior high zombies close in on he and his new pals. But nothing comes from that, no grand resolution, not much in the way of tension, nothing. It’s noted prominently a few times, then evaporates. The ending also seems anti-climactic and a bit abrupt, leaving an opening for a sequel that I can’t imagine will actually happen.

The talent was available, and there was no lack of financial support holding Cooties back. A sharper script would have likely resulted in a movie beloved by many – think Gremlins – instead of a film forgotten by few.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rogers vs. Stark better than ‘Batman V Superman’

Why is Captain America: Civil War better than Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice? Here’s three reasons:

  1. Civil War looks real. The big fight scene in Batman V Superman, where Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman go mano a mano with the Zod monster, looks like a video game. Not a good video game, either. I even laughed at one point, where Wonder Woman almost looked like she was glued onto the top of a scene, like a pre-schooler’s arts-and-crafts project. The beauty of the big fight scene in Civil War, where Team Cap and Team Stark go at it, is just how good it looks. Even when Ant-Man goes gigantic, the CGI is so well-rendered that it never takes you out of the moment. It’s not as if some of the Marvel movies haven’t had a similar problem to BvS – yes, Thor, I’m looking at you – but Civil War doesn’t fall prey to that lack of suspension of disbelief.
  2. It’s all about the story. What was Superman’s storyline in Batman V Superman? The exact same damn story line from the first Superman movie: Should Superman use his power or not? Zod’s crew threatens Ma Kent in first movie to get at Superman; Lex Luthor threatens Ma Kent to get at Superman in the second movie. Pa Kent gives Clark advice in the first movie; his dead ass gets dragged out of the grave to give Clark the same advice in the second movie. You would think in a movie two-and-half hours plus long you could cut the redundant stuff. Batfleck wasn’t a Daredevil-size mess, but I wasn’t all that impressed what they did with the character beyond the big showdown battle with Superman. What was the point of Holly Hunter’s/Senator Finch’s story? I’m not sure, other than it made the movie longer. Plus, Gal Godot was not well used. Wonder Woman is played primarily as a flirt/foil for Batman, then wastes our time showing us the other DC heroes that aren’t in the movie in a scene that could have been cut to half the time it ran and tacked on as a prologue in the credits … ya know, kind of like Marvel? Civil War advances not only the stories of both Captain America and Iron Man as well as introducing Black Panther, it also gets at the main themes of the Marvel universe: Should the unending power of our heroes be checked by some sort of civilian/military/non-hero leadership? What is the cost of our heroes using those powers? What is the responsibility of heroes to those without powers? No redundancy here, just good writing and development.
  3. The new characters. You know what I figured out from watching the brief introduction of Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg? That I have no interest in seeing individual movies for any of them, probably not even when they join up and become the Justice League. It does look like Wonder Woman is going to be done right, so I’ll probably check that out. But there are valid reasons Aquaman is universally mocked – he won’t be all that interesting if the villain chooses to show up in, say, Arizona or the Sahara – and getting Khal Drogo to play him isn’t going to change my mind. If I cared about The Flash, I’d be watching the CW series, which I’m not. And my only knowledge of Cyborg comes from Teen Titans Go! with my son. Between that show and this brief introduction, my world is not being rocked. But look at Spider-Man and Black Panther in Civil War. I’ve never read anything involving Black Panther prior to seeing Civil War, but I’m stoked for that stand-alone. I thought Chadwick Boseman was good, and the little bit of back story provided makes me think I need to see the Panther as a main character. After four atrocious films and one average flick, it’s nice to see Spider-Man actually look like the goofy kid with super powers that we know from the comics. I thought the hype on Spidey was a bit over done leading up to the latest Captain America flick, but it turns out the hype was for real. Maybe it will actually be enough to wash the taste of Toby McGuire’s Peter Parker from my palate. A miracle, indeed.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,