Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mini Review: Snowpiercer

Bong Joo-ho's Snowpiercer - based on a French graphic novel - has some not-so-subtle things to say about class warfare, but that's an article to be written by someone much smarter than me.  An attempt to reverse the effects of global warming have backfired, leaving the sole survivors of Earth to circle the frozen globe in a self-sustaining train, powered by a Sacred Engine.  There's a cautionary tale in that, but I'm not the man to unravel it.

Instead, I'll just talk about how much fun this movie was.  Curtis (Chris Evans) is leading a rebellion against the powers-that-be.  To do this, he must lead his ragtag group from the filthy rear car to the posh front car.  It was almost like a video game, with each car presenting its own challenges.  Some of them contain puzzles to be solved, with new truths being presented that may disrupt their quest.  Others may be a car full of hatchet wielding maniacs who cut open fish to intimidate their attackers.  Others may contain exposition dumps.

It's a dark action movie, all taking place inside a train barreling through snow-covered landscapes.  It's a post-apocalyptic movie unlike any I've seen.  And, while it's bleak, there is a small glimmer of hope.  It's also a lot of fun to watch.

The acting is terrific.  Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Allison Pill are the highlights, but everyone here is great.

I've seen nothing but praise for this, and, while I loved it, I'll preach a little bit of caution.  I don't think it's quite as amazing as the rest of the world seems to think it is.  It’s a bit long and can drag at times, drawing out small scenes to be longer than they have any reason to be.  When I saw this, the hype level was still pretty low.  If I had seen it with sky-high expectations, I would have walked out disappointed.  As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I had some minor issues with it.

It’s not perfect, but it’s still really good.  Keep your expectations reasonable, and you’ll love it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mini Review: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead

I will talk to anyone and everyone about the extent of my love for the first Dead Snow.  It's a little slow out of the gate, but it eventually delivers the full-fledged insanity I hoped that it would, while still developing characters I wanted to spend some time with.  It's one of my favorite zombie movies of the past 5 years.  What Tommy Wirkola was able to do on a small budget (roughly $800K) is nothing short of extraordinary.

As I mentioned in my Trailer Talk post, I was very much looking forward to the sequel.  Seeing as how Wirkola's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters made $225 million on a $50 million budget, he was given a little more money to play with this time around.  It's tough to find exact numbers, but it looks like this film had a budget of around $5.5 million.

As near as I can tell, Wirkola took that money and immediately asked himself, "How can I make this movie crazier than the first?"  The answer, of course, was more.  More characters.  More zombies.  More fights.  More intestines.  More blood.  More deaths.  More weapons.  More laughs.  More insanity.

Daniel (Martin Starr), Blake (Ingrid Haas) and the Star Wars obsessed Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer) - self-appointed members of the Zombie Squad - travel from America to Norway to help Martin Hykkerud (the only survivor of the original) with his Nazi zombie problem.  "We've seen thousands of zombie movies," Daniel proclaims, as if this is enough information for Martin to have complete faith in their zombie-killing acumen.  Martin doesn't seem overly convinced, but put a hammer/shovel/hatchet in their hands, and they're more than willing to prove their worth.  Not to mention the fact that Blake has one of the all-time best zombie killing faces.

Martin had cut off his arm in the previous movie after being bitten.  In a case of mistaken identity (armdentity?), doctors attached a super-strength Nazi zombie arm to Martin.  At first, he found himself at war with it in a way that conjured up memories of Ash.  Eventually he learned to control it and found that he could bring the dead back to life.  Herzog - the leader of the Nazi zombies - has the same ability.  And so, as the trailer shows, we are treated to a massive zombie war: Herzog's zombies vs. Martin's zombies.  It's the kind of scene Wirkola didn't have money to do in the first film, and he's clearly holding nothing back here.  It's terrific.
The Evil Dead remake was a tense, nasty film, but it was clear the filmmakers were having fun as they dumped buckets of blood on the set.  That same feeling of glee is present here, only the events on the screen are much more comical.  Wirkola clearly had a lot of fun trying to think of new ways to kill people, or new ways to use their intestines.  With every new trick, I found myself grinning like an idiot.  I'm sure he was doing the same thing.

There's too much insanity to properly describe here.  If you like buckets of blood, miles of intestines and aren't easily offended, you need to watch this as soon as you can.  Even if you don't like zombie films, you're still likely to enjoy this one.

Rating: 5/5

Added note: I loved the chemistry between Martin and Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen) in the first film, so I was really happy to see Henriksen show up in this one as a different character.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mini Review: Willow Creek

"Bobcat Goldthwait directed found footage Bigfoot movie."
That lovely bit of word soup is all I knew about this movie going in.  Since I had just visited the International Cryptozoology Museum, my interest in Bigfoot was at an all-time high.  My relationship with found footage has been a rocky one, but I was pretty excited about this. 

While I liked Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) pretty well, Jim (Bryce Johnson) really grated on my nerves.  One minute he's admonishing Kelly for not believing in Bigfoot and making fun of the town ("You don't believe?  You don't believe?  How could you not believe?  Believebelievebelieve?"), the next he's poking fun at a Bigfoot mural or jokingly interviewing a wooden Bigfoot or mocking a man who is singing a song about Bigfoot.  You can't have it both ways, fella. 

The movie was slow and riddled with plot holes/standard found footage complaints, but it was short (80 minutes) and provided a few good scares.  While it was ultimately disappointing, I thought it had enough going for it to offer a lukewarm recommendation.  Of course, that may just be my Bigfoot-mania talking.

Rating: 2.5/5