What movie was that...?

30 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

directed by Drew Goddard

Two milktoast cubicle types discuss the banality of a wife’s nesting instinct. If I wasn’t at least a little in the know, I would have thought I walked into the wrong auditorium. The two drone on (hilariously, by the way) about baby proofing, routine, company kinks and-BAM! The title credit socks you in the groin, and as far as the film is concerned, it’s game on from there on out. I may be a little late to the party, but The Cabin in the Woods did not disappoint in terms of sheer bloody, good time horror fun. I miraculously managed to remain delightfully ignorant of the premise (well, as ignorant as I could. I did watch the trailer), but Joss Whedon’s latest tale is a sure fire crowd pleaser as it has a bloody good time raiding the treasure chest of horror. The plot is, on the surface, timeless: a group of kids go into the woods to get loose, and their good time goes from rad to bad (that’s the last straw, BC. These jokes are making me sad) as they uncover a relic in the cellar. I’ve said too much, but you probably know all this already. The fun is in the way Whedon plays with the fact that we know, and even manages to give us some great surprises. Suffice to say, though, that the film belongs to Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Mr. Whedon, I could watch a whole movie (or, ahem, a series. Hint hint) about these two guys. Whitford’s tension killing lines are some of the finest in recent memory, and Jenkins is the master of finding hilarity in the mundane. As a guy who has grown extremely weary of the torture porn direction of modern horror (maybe I’m getting old), Cabin is one of those rare treats that find a way to blend the blood and guts with wit and tension, and a knowing wink that says, “relax. This is going to be fun.” Big ups, Mr. Whedon. The Cabin in the Woods is my lady!

19 April 2012

Goon

directed by Michael Dowse

Michael Dowse, most well known for Take Me Home Tonight (a film that sat on the shelf longer than that weird mason jar of liquid in the back of my refrigerator), has bounced back from that disaster with a fully shitfaced, rowdy mess of a hockey comedy called Goon. Goon, co-written by talented actor Jay Baruchel (who also co-starred in the film) and Evan Goldberg (of Pineapple Express fame), tells the story of likeable idiot Doug Glatt, directionless and gloomy, until a brawl at a minor league hockey game uncovers his talent for asskickery. Buddy Ryan (Baruchel, in chuckle inducing goofball mode) films the fight and posts it on the net, and Doug “The Thug” is born. Doug gets scouted by a Canadian hockey team to act as the official enforcer, but here’s the catch (you’ll never see it coming): he can’t skate. Okay, the plot is essentially generic to a fault, but it’s the nuances that set Goon apart. Seann William Scott plays Doug with a heart breaking subtlety that I wasn’t ready for. He makes of Doug a kind of Rocky Balboa-esque personae that doesn’t feel generic or overdone, a guileless and sincere dim bulb you so want to root for. Scott brings something deeper and needed to the film, and dare I say the role brought out some acting chops? I do dare! And Liev Schreiber kicks all kinds of ass as Ross Rhea, the king of the bruisers and the inevitable Titan against whom Doug must clash. Schreiber plays Rhea as straight as possible, which is always the best way to do it in a comedy like this. There are loose ends that don’t get tied up neatly at the end, which I loved about the film, and Goon is hardcore in all the right ways. By that I mean the fights. The bloody, brutal, badass fights that reach down and grab you by the guts. There was something Gladiator-esque about the icy battles, something that almost urges you to yell at the screen. Goon is not phenomenal, but it was good enough to keep a smile on my face and spill a few drops of beer on the floor as I jumped to my feet, shouting “hell yeah!”at full volume.

12 April 2012

Titanic

directed by James Cameron

Of course I went to see Titanic in 3D. Not because of the technology, but because of the awesomeness…

"Sayonara, standard 2D formatting..."
Much has been made of the 3D affectation with which Mr James Cameron has dressed his magnum opus, and frankly I couldn’t care less about the thrills jumping off the screen and into my face. That’s not the reason I was so keen to get back in the auditorium and watch Titanic on the big screen again. I was excited to see it on the silver screen again because Titanic is one of the handful of films that only truly exist when displayed thusly: on an enormous screen in a darkened theater. The muted sound of the projector mixing with excited popcorn crunching and anxious whispers, the hug of the seat and pure joy of watching an adventure unfold before your eyes. The deluge of expertly created and mixed sound sending you far from the stresses of regular life.

Digital cinema has all but killed the wonderful clicking, ticking sounds that seep from the projection booth (one of my all time favorite sounds. I could listen to it as an ambient noise track to help me fall asleep, I love it so much), but the experience of sitting down in a dark auditorium, waiting to be whisked away from reality is a feeling that I seem to freshly discover with each visit to the movies. The closest approximation I have been able to find is that of surfers who find pleasure in the experience of the search, of catching each new wave, because each wave is unique and will never occur again. Damn, do I love the movies!

And few movies seem to beg to be watched on the big screen like Titanic. Merian C Cooper’s King Kong, perhaps, or Steven Speilberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Jaws. Once Upon a Time in the West. We cinephiles out there can surely list our favorites, but this much is true, big screen films carry a magic that fills us up with a feeling that seems to brighten the world, to make it more vibrant, more vivid. In Titanic, James Cameron found a balance of story, thrilling action, romantic nostalgia, romantic romance and all star talent to create one of the finest examples of a big screen movie in the past 20 years. Titanic is a film that envelopes you in every wonderful way, attaching itself to the part of your brain that generates fond memories, or the part that involuntarily says “awww” at the sight two kittens scampering after a ball of yarn. In short, Titanic makes you feel like you just watched a damned movie!

I have roughed up Mr. C for his Avatar fiasco, but I have championed his successes (The Abyss, Aliens, Terminator, Terminator 2), and when you have a resume like James Cameron’s, it’s hard to even compare him to anyone but himself. Cameron clearly has a type when it comes to plot, a type under which all of his films fall with very little variation. The story is usually that of an everyperson (or a small group of everypeople) who, under the pressure or influence of some distant and vast entity, is forced to either undertake a mission or to make a decision or series of decisions that ultimately result in the undoing of the group, or at least some generalized calamity. In the Abyss, the everypeople (Ed Harris, et al) were deep beneath the sea executing a dangerous mission put upon them by the Feds (the distant and vast entity), which resulted in poor Michael Biehn going crazy and Ed Harris sinking deep below the sea and meeting those aliens. The same sentence can be written for Aliens (the team sent to the planet, the Company, the mission itself, the death of everyone but Ripley, Newt, and Hicks), but I am supposedly talking about Titanic in this review, so let’s get back on track.

-sigh-
In Titanic, James Cameron finds the perfect historical event to distill his worldview into a kind of microcosm of sorts, with the sinister conglomerate the White Star Line (read: The Company, the Skynet of the early 1900s) existing both on and off the ship, and the ship itself being a symbol of mankind’s arrogance. Cameron’s Titanic is the white whale that represents both the glory of mankind’s achievements and dangers his zeal and arrogance can manifest. In a sense, the true story of Titanic and Cameron’s film are at once a tragedy and a cautionary tale urging us to think before we do. White Star Line toadie Joseph Ismay is the Satan to Captain Edward Smith’s Faust, convincing Smith to abandon his years of salty dog experience so that he can end his career with a bang. Rose is the everywoman railing against the oppressive societal convention whilst Cal is the smarmy embodiment of the oppressive convention. And Jack Dawson- be still my heart- is the personification of the beauty that mankind can achieve when in harmony with the ebb and flow of the universe.

Jack’s little speech at the dinner table perfectly sums up the intended moral of Jimmy C’s film, that life is a gift and we all should spend a little more time focusing on the here and now instead of clamoring after things, material possessions that only entrap the owner. Jimbo’s dichotomous parties illustrate his intended message as well, that those without all the glamorous trappings of luxury and wealth appear to have a bond those in the upper deck will never know. There is a sense of family below deck, of exuberance, of grabbing life by the throat, of really living. Rose fits in down there, with folks who live with gusto, though the fact that every single person in the hull of that ship would gladly trade places with Molly Brown in 2 microseconds if given the opportunity is a concept that I think Mr C was kind of hoping we won’t linger on…

No matter, because the pairing of Kate and Leo (two of the finest actors of their generation) conjured up enough magic to hide even the clunkiest screenwriting Jim could muster. It’s a classic formula that works because history tells us we love the story of star crossed lovers, of a connection made between two very different worlds (said world in this case being the social ones). Romeo and Juliet, Aphrodite and Hephaestus, Leia and Han. These pairings give us hope that love can truly conquer all (though often these pairings result in less than happy endings, so what does that tell you about us?). The audience is allowed to be swept off their feet by Jack as he makes Rose feel like there is no one else as special in all the world. This relationship is perfect in that we never have to see what happens after they ride off into the sunset (read: the rest of their lives as they learn about one another). It’s perfect because we can fill in the gaps with our wildest hopes and most star gazingly romantic fantasies. Jack and Rose’s relationship is perfect because it never has to be imperfect, because we don’t have to see the phase when Rose gets pissed at Jack for not getting a real job after they get kicked out of their third flat, or when Jack loses the heart of the ocean betting on a dog fight. Again, I’m guessing Cameron was hoping we wouldn’t focus on that, either.

Lastly, the thrills and the spectacle of James Cameron action is nearly unparalleled, and the way he was able to personify the chill of the North Atlantic, the sinister way with which the icy water permeates and penetrates every nook and cranny of the great ship, is both gripping and hypnotic. There is a scene in which the sea water creeps up a corridor, toward us in the audience like a boogieman or intruder, that still gives me the creepy crawlies. The frenzy that ensues on board as civility breaks down in the face of inevitability is enervating and sobering, at least until we walk out into real life again and promptly forget all about it. Cynicism aside, Titanic is thrilling in the quintessential way a film can be thrilling, full of ups and downs, surprises and danger, and special effects on such a grand scale as to leave you breathless. Hell, Cameron’s lust for realism drove him to build a 90% scale replica Titanic in Mexico just to sink it for shit’s sake!

Romance, historical accuracy, thrills, action, danger, Leo. What more do you need, you film snobs who pawn this off as nothing more than a throwaway popcorn film? It can’t all be Kafka and Bergman, you elitists! If that’s all you value in film, then you can keep your subtitles and your issues of The Economist and your Leonard Cohen. Titanic is classicist cinema at its finest, a film that seeks to depict a real event not only as it was, but as we want it to be. The story is a perfect package, bookended by an earring clad Bill Paxton meant to represent us, the modern inquisitor at first interested merely in artifacts who is ultimately swept away in the romance of the story, and the tragedy.

Of course, none of us were completely blinded by the razzle dazzle of Rose and Jack's love affair. We all knew she took Jack from his love in much the same way he took her from Cal...
"We're the two best friends that
anybody could have!"
"I trust you Jack. Say, where's
your Italian friend?"
"You two timing- that was our
spot!"
As this is clearly the longest review I have ever written, I am going to cut this windbag essay off by saying that I love Titanic for all the reasons that many people hate Titanic, and I went back to see it on the big screen not because of the 3D, but because seeing it on the big screen is like seeing an endangered animal in its natural habitat. It’s magic.

PS I love you, Leonard Cohen.

10 April 2012

The Hunger Games

directed by Gary Ross

Okay, okay! I saw The Hunger Games! I didn’t particularly want to, and I only halfheartedly began the first book of the Suzanne Collins trilogy as a result of peer pressure, but I decided last night to just get it over with and watch the filmic juggernaut. And you know what? I was shocked at how surprisingly not bad the movie actually was. This is not to say that the movie was, for me, phenomenal or mind blowing, but it possessed enough gusto and grit to keep me involved and, despite my flawed preconceptions, rooting for these damn kids.

??????
Not having read the books, I was frightened by the images in the trailers: the glossy, manic, cartoonish dystopia as imagined by a Gary Numan obsessed teen scrawling sci-fi addled images beneath a black light circa 1982. The Fifth Element veneer by way of The Running Man bleakness. In this regard, my fears proved right, but I have heard that this aesthetic matches the books, so I guess I’m stuck on that one. I have a hard time with these fluorescent and glittery fever dreams of the future where everyone dresses like Lady Gaga, instead leaning strongly in favor of the lived in realism of Gattaca or CowboyBebop. Hell, even Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was believable, even after Joanna Cassidy wears that plastic jacket.

Nevermind the tangent, because very little of the film exists in the ludicrously fashioned Capitol. The Hunger Games, as we all know, is like the World Series of violence, a battle to the last kid standing where pairs of teens from all of Panem’s 12 districts compete for glory, and the grim promise of adulthood. What’s Panem, you ask? It’s the nation that grew out of the wreckage of environmental calamity, global war and limited natural resources, and The Hunger Games are a penance that each district must pay to atone for a failed rebellion in the not so distant past.

Enter the protagonist and source of the movie’s triumph, Katniss, played to perfection by Jennifer Lawrence (who earned major street cred for her astounding turn in Winter’s Bone). Lawrence is the essence of gorgeous grit, an actress with the ability to be devastatingly lovely, fragile, yet simultaneously fierce, tough as nails, a fighter to the last. Watching Lawrence is like watching Sigourney Weaver in Alien, or Uma Thurman in, well, nearly anything. In the hands of a lesser actress, this film would have fallen apart like a 12 year old at the hands of Cato (filmy inside joke).

I am not going to get into too much detail with regard to plot and twists, but I will say that the absurdity with which the Game Maker (a reliably sub par Wes Bentley) conjures beasts from thin air may cause more than a few eyes to roll, while the editing diminishes the intense (and gore-less) battle scenes to mere incoherence at times (as many films seem to do these day). The film tries valiantly to tread a PG-13 line whilst delivering on the moral darkness and bleak cynicism that the books promise (I presume). This may be where it falls short the most, as Ross and Collins (who consulted on the film) attempt to restrain the horror of a future in which the madness and bloodlust of such sport is a national coagulant, but thanks to a stellar supporting cast (Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks), the film breathes smoke in places that surprised me.

Was I expecting to hate this film? No, but I was bracing myself for the possibility. Has watching this film turned me off of finishing the book? I think the answer to that, thanks largely to Lawrence, is decidedly hell no. I can only hope that the rest of this series finds its stride for the second and third films.

04 April 2012

7X7 Award


The wonderful Pete from I Love That Film has awarded me the coveted 7X7 Award. I would like to thank my family, the Academy, and, of course, the Hollywood Foreign Press. Let’s do the damn thing:

The rules of the 7X7 Award stipulate I answer the following topics.

Tell everyone something about yourself that no one else knows.
An interesting concept, this: a secret long withheld, suddenly loosed into the ether of the internet in an effort to adhere to the rules of an award category. Some people who know me already know this, but after I graduated high school I lived in Ireland for a time. I worked in a pub called the Dean Swift on Francis Street in Dublin, and the crack was mighty. The real tidbit was when (during this same period) I spent time in Brussels and, whilst waiting for a hostel to open, a hoodlum? (I don’t what they call them in Belgium) tried to stab me in a severely botched mugging attempt. Good thing I was young and stupid! I actually ran into the guy a day later, fully prepared to conclude the battle begun and suddenly ended (due to a language barrier and a thick coat, I presume), but alas, he seemed to want no part of me. Must have proved my mettle.

Link to a post I think fits the following categories:
Most Beautiful Piece
Probably one of the most beautiful films over which I have ever had the pleasure of fawning, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West is a film that defines and destroys a genre. An epic, heart swelling love poem to the American West, the western genre, and cinema itself. Leone was the Tarantino of his generation, a genius with a ravenous lust for film, and Once upon a Time is his most raggedly affectionate admiration.

Most Popular Piece
According to my stats, the hands down most visited post of OMFBC is my page Filmy Drinking Games. I originally began this page to provide a kind of alternate review of films I both loved and didn’t love so much, but lo and behold! film loving boozers seem to scour the internet in search of rules to govern their intoxication. Thank you, bored college kids!

Most Controversial Piece
Not necessarily a controversial piece per se, but my view of this film is certainly not popular. Usually I try to keep an open mind and give films the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes a filmmaker or a film will really stick in my craw, as they say. Avatar, James Cameron’s glutted disaster of a movie, was one such film.

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece
It’s one of the most popular of all my posts, and I am truly happy that it is so. After being so affected by Cary Fukunaga’s America commercial for Levi’s, I felt compelled to deviate from OMFBC’s formula of simple, concise reviews of films worth watching. This was when I realized that I had been limiting my focus to feature length filmic art and that I should devote equal attention to any film of merit, regardless of length or form. Much thanks for kicking my ass into gear, Mr. F.

Most Underrated Piece
I have always championed the merits of this stellar documentary because it always seemed to me that David LaChappelle’s RIZE never got the credit it deserved.
Also, Antonia Bird’s Ravenous is one of my very favorite films, though no one else seems to agree with me except my brother DC. Please watch it again, film lovers!

Most Pride-Worthy Piece
I think this goes without saying, but my interview with Bellflower filmmaker Evan Glodell is definitely OMFBC’s high point.

Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.
On the Road Again (ever will I lament its demise!)
Paragraph Film Reviews (a blog after my own heart)

PS I hope that my little Belgium story doesn't dissuade anyone from potentially visiting such a wonderful country. I love you, Brussels!