Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The World's End

Description from Netflix:
Twenty years after attempting a marathon pub crawl, a group of friends reunited to give it another shot.  Their ultimate destination is the World’s End pub, whose name turns out to be rather literal.

Notable actors:
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Smiley, David Bradley, Rosamund Pike, Mark Heap, Bill Nighy, Peter Serafinowicz, and many, many more.  This movie became an exercise in “name that actor from previous Edgar Wright productions”.  “Look, it’s Duane Benzie.  Look, it’s ‘the other Andy’.  Tyres!  Brian!”  And so on.

My thoughts:
Anyone who knows me knows that I love Edgar Wright.  Beyond my love of the first two installments in the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), I also love Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Spaced.  I’ve seen each of the movies at least five times, and have gone through the entire series of Spaced at least three times.   I might be in love with him.  I’ve made my peace with that.

This one had a different feel to it.  It had the same message as Shaun of the Dead (trying to grow up and leave childish things behind), but with a more somber tone.  Shaun was a slacker.  Gary is an alcoholic.  Shaun’s attempts at trying to save the lives of his loved ones were heartwarming.  Gary’s attempts at trying to save his loved ones were selfish. And so on.

There were serious moments in the previous two films, but nothing like what we saw here.  I’m hesitant to say much more than that, lest I mention any minor spoilers.  There were quite a few genuinely heartbreaking moments here.  And, while the previous films had some of these as well (the goodbye scene between Shaun and Ed in Shaun of the Dead always gets me), there were a greater number of them here, and they all hit home.

That’s not to say there weren’t jokes.  There were plenty of jokes.  But some of these jokes were different from the rest of the series.  Where the other two movies had a lot of quick-hitting jokes that were set up well, this one seemed to go for easy humor, at least in the beginning.  Weird little jokes, like Gary calling a glass door a “windoor”. 
Since most of these jokes came from Gary (the one in a state of arrested development), I assume that they were in there to get pity laughs from the audience.  They were cheap jokes.  Obvious jokes.  And they were coming from a man-child who was obviously trying to relive his high school days.  I believe we weren’t supposed to find these jokes funny, but were there to help us connect to Gary on a deeper level.  We felt the same level of pity for him that his former friends did.  These jokes were as desperate as Gary.  If that was indeed the reason for them, then Edgar Wright is brilliant.  (In case you wondered, I firmly believe this is the case.)
Still, the majority of my theater laughed pretty hard at most of these attempted jokes, so I thought that I was missing something.  Upon further review, I don’t believe that to be the case at all. 
One of the people in my theater nearly hyperventilated when a white-haired Cumberbatch appeared as Julian Assange is a trailer for The Fifth Estate, and later giggled maniacally when Martin Freeman showed up.  Other people started laughing when Gary told the others his mom died of “the big cancer” (someone actually repeated “cancer” loudly, then laughed heartily).  These were the people laughing at everything.  For the record, I love Sherlock, but I have a feeling that most of the people laughing haven’t seen many British TV shows/movies outside of Sherlock, so they assume that every single line said in this movie was supposed to be a joke. 

"That door says 'Gents'.  HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Opening jokes aside, there really were a handful of terrific jokes in this film.  As is the case with the Cornetto Trilogy, a lot of the major laughs involved either extreme violence or extreme profanity, both of which I approve of.  The first really big laugh involved the first fight with a robot in a pub bathroom.  It was drunken and violent, and it ended with a decapitated teenager in a puddle of blue liquid.  And it killed me.
All of the fight scenes were terrific.  As the movie progressed and our heroes drank more, the fights got steadily sloppier.  It was obvious that a lot of thought was put into each fight.
After watching this, I found out that the stunt coordinator was also the stunt coordinator on Drunken Master, which makes perfect sense.

I loved the look of the robots.  They looked like normal people, but, when they charged to fight, they revealed bright blue lights from their mouths and eyes.  It was a great visual, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the aliens in Attack the Block.

One of the things that ties the Cornetto Trilogy together are some recurring jokes.  Here are a handful of the jokes I saw here:
1. Cornetto.  Of course.  It makes a very late appearance here.
2. Jumping the fence.
3. The noise the bar game makes when it starts up.
4. Knocking over a “Stay off the grass” sign.

I’m sure there are more that I missed.  I guess that means I’ll just have to watch all of them again.  That’s a challenge I can meet.  I’m nothing if not thorough.

Overall, I really liked this.  It was a great take on the sci-fi/bodysnatcher genre.  I would rank it my third favorite in the trilogy, but that’s more due to the strength of the previous films than the weaknesses of this one.  I have a feeling this will get better the more I watch it.  I look forward to many repeated viewings once this makes it to DVD.

Rating: 5/5

A collection of cool posters:


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Conjuring

Description from Netflix:
Based on true events, this spine-chiller tells the story of a New England family who begins having encounters with spirits in their farmhouse, and the paranormal experts who help them do battle with the supernatural forces.

Notable actors: Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson

My thoughts:
It took me a month to finally get out to see this movie.  Because of that, the hype had reached insane levels.  It's currently sitting at 86% at Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost unheard of for a horror movie.
Combine that hype with the pre-release marketing machine ("rated R for being toooooo scary"), and I went into this movie with a cynic's heart and a critical eye.

I hated the opening with Annabelle, the creepy doll (I assume she was called Annabelle because she was shaped like a...she's the belle of the ball).  Hated it.  (I thought it was as nose as the Anne on plain’s face.)  I could see what they were doing: using a creepy scene to set up the rest of the movie.  But, for me, it didn't really work.  I feel like the "creepy inanimate object" trope has run its course in horror.  It no longer scares me.  The implication of what was going on with the doll was a cool idea (demon trying to enter our world through a conduit), but the entire opening wasn't really creepy for me, no matter how hard they tried to make it so.

I bet she sings a killer version of "We Three Kings"

Plus, I kind of felt like Wan was nudging me in the ribs.  "Hey.  Remember how I directed Saw and Dead Silence with those dolls?  You remember that?  Wasn't that awesome?"  And I never want anyone reminding me that Dead Silence exists.  There were also a few very Wan-like moments involving pale, ghostly figures turning their heads slowly and opening their mouths wide.  But, since this was a James Wan joint, I could pretty much count on at least one of these scenes showing up, and it was pretty easy to see it coming.
Beyond that, this opening scene wasn't so much a set-up as it was a blueprint for how the rest of the movie would play out.


And, really, that was my problem with a lot of this movie.  A lot of the major plot points are telegraphed pretty early on.  They linger on certain objects for too long, or have a conversation about the object.  They have all these tiny little exposition scenes throughout the movie, the sole purpose of which seems to be to tell us what is going to happen.  The actors did everything short of breaking the fourth wall to spell out exactly how future scenes would play out.

"And now for the end of the movie..."

Another huge problem had less to do with the movie itself, and more to do with the trailers.  They had a fantastic set-up to a great jump scare ("hide and clap"), but it was ruined because of the trailers.  That scene was in every trailer I saw.  Had I not seen the trailer, that scene probably would've had me jumping out of my seat.  But, since I knew it was coming, it was just kind of boring.  In fact, the entire 5 minutes leading up to that point were kind of boring, because I already knew how it was going to end.


I suppose this is partially my fault.  When I see a trailer for a new horror movie pop up, I should just close my eyes and block it out.  But that's not easy to do.  Still, I may go this route for You're Next.  That seems like it could be a solid movie with some good scares.  At this point, all I know is that there is a pig head involved.  It may just be a remake of Motel Hell.  I don't know.  I haven't looked into it.

Look at that guy.  Always standing and walking.

I have also found myself tiring of these "house isn't haunted, the people are haunted" type of movies.  For it being a somewhat recent development (the first movie I remember seeing like this was Paranormal Activity) a lot of movies seem to be jumping on this train.  On some level, I understand it.  If the house is haunted, the easy fix is "just move somewhere else".  (The Lutz's made their grand escape on a rickety motorboat.)
But, if it's the person who is haunted, there's no easy fix.  You can't run.  You have to try to beat it.  It raises the stakes for everyone involved.  Essentially, these filmmakers have combined haunted house movies and possession movies.
Again, this isn't a bad idea, and I have really liked some of these movies.  But, by this point, it seems a bit overused and predictable.  Maybe someone will come along and make a movie that reenergizes this particular subgenre.  But this is not that movie.

That's it for the negative stuff.  Now for the positive.

There was a pretty good feeling of dread throughout.  Even though I could see where the story was going, I still had the feeling that something was just around the corner.  That's not easy to sustain throughout the course of a movie, but Wan did that pretty well here.
There were also a couple of really good scares.  There was one in particular that really seemed to come out of nowhere.  It was really scary and extremely well done.  There were also a number of moments that, while not overly scary, still had me more than a little creeped out (there was a fantastic scene involving the wardrobe that pulled this off really well).

For the most part, I liked the actors involved.  They didn't necessarily raise the movie to another level, but they all played their characters well enough.  It was well-acted, even if some of the characters felt like they were lacking any substance (I love Ron Livingston as much - or more - than the next guy, but there was hardly anything behind his character).

"This is kind of weird, but it's like you almost miss that possession."

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, but I didn't love it as much as everyone else seemed to.  It was a pretty good haunted house/person movie that kept me entertained the entire time (opening 5 minutes excluded).  I felt like I was a bit more critical than normal going into this one because of all the hype it received.  If I went into it with no expectations, I'm sure I would have loved it.  As it was, it was a solid movie that I liked, but didn't love.

Rating: 3.5/5

This is a pick for Final Girl's Film Club.  Watch it, then head over to her blog to see what she (and others) have to say about this.

Friday, August 9, 2013

What Comes Next: The Battery

You can read my review of this movie here, and you can read about the “What Comes Next” series here.
As always, there will be spoilers.  So if you haven’t seen this movie, you’ll need so before reading this article.  And I highly recommend that you watch this.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to explore Ben’s escape from the car at the end of the film.  Ben tells us (well, he really tells Annie – the woman who lives in the zombie-free colony – over the walkie talkie) how he is going to escape the car by finally telling the story of how he and Mickey escaped from the house they had been trapped in:
“We just opened the door.  They tried to pile in one side, and we just went out the other.”

It’s a novel idea, but I’m not entirely sure how well it would work.  When surrounding an object, zombies don’t really respond like lemmings.  Well, perhaps they do, but not fast-acting lemmings.  Very slow lemmings.  So, while I could possibly buy that this could work with a house (lots of room to maneuver and all that), I can’t see it working with a station wagon.  We see him opening the rear hatch (hatch?  I feel like it’s called a hatch), and the next scene is him on the road, running (more like hobbling, really) from the zombies.  With the car completely surrounded by zombies, I just don’t think there would’ve been a door vacated by zombies before the entire car was filled and Ben was bitten. 
(Not to mention the fact that a crowd of zombies groaning in one spot for a couple days was sure to attract the attention of more zombies.  By the time Ben tried his escape, there should have been hundreds of zombies, not dozens.)

Still, that’s how the movie ends, so that’s our starting point.

The last image we see of Ben is him hobbling from the zombies he just narrowly escaped.  It doesn’t look good.  He’s sleep deprived, malnourished (due to living on a diet of canned tuna and urine) and can’t move very quickly due to the gunshot wound in his leg.  With an undead horde about 10 feet behind him, it’s quite possible that his story ends a few minutes after the credits roll.  He can’t keep up his already plodding pace - inspiring Rock Plaza Central song be damned – and the zombies devour him on the road.

But there’s also a chance he gets away.  If there’s one thing we know about Ben, it’s that he’s a ruthless bastard.  Plus, these were his last words to Annie in that walkie talkie conversation:
“If it [escaping the car] doesn’t work this time, I’m just gonna put a bullet in my head.  But if it does, I’m gonna come and put one in yours.  I’ll see ya soon.”

He seemed to be having fun with the zombie apocalypse until he had to put a round in his best friend’s head.  After that, his mind unraveled faster than the baseball in his hand.  His voice got rough.  His eyes were empty.  He had two things on his mind: survival and revenge.  He was already on his way to survival (in his mind, escaping the car would be the hardest part of the plan, and he seemed to have pulled that off pretty well), which means his mind was already working on revenge.
He knows that the colony couldn’t be far.  They were in walkie talkie range.  So, while finding it would be difficult, it certainly wouldn’t be impossible.
The bigger question is what happens once he gets there?  We don’t know how big the colony is, but I’m going to assume – based on no evidence whatsoever – that there are somewhere between 20-50 people there. We know they’re careful.  We know they have guns.  And, since Ben threatened Annie over the walkie talkie, they’ll be on the lookout for trouble (even if they don’t think he’ll actually find them, they’ll still be on alert for a couple weeks). 
We also know that Ben is a good shot, and more than willing to kill someone if his own survival is at stake.  He shot a guy from around 20 yards, then had no qualms at walking up and shooting him in the head (because Ben knows that the line between life and death can be as thin as a double-tap).  But he’s also smart.  He won’t run at the colony guns blazing.  He’ll formulate a plan.  Separate and terminate.  Like a fatter, bearded version of Jim from 28 Days Later.

Even though I’d like to say that he would be able to pull it off, I just don’t think he’d be able to do it.  He may be able to take out a few of them, but not everyone in the colony.  Not if they’re prepared for him.  I imagine it’s walled off, and they would have guards.  Jim had been on the inside.  Knew the ins and outs.  Ben has no idea what he’s getting himself into.  Eventually, he would go down in a blaze of glory.  Maybe he is able to take Annie out as he’s being plugged, Sonny Corleone style. 

A crazed, bearded ex-ballplayer storming a walled-off community in search of revenge.  I would absolutely watch that movie.

Of course, he could also just lay in wait until Annie sets foot outside the colony and take his revenge at that point.  That would probably be a better option.  Less dramatic, but it would get the job done. 

Good luck on your murderous endeavors, Ben.

(If you have any ideas for a movie to cover in this series, leave it in the comments.)