Friday, October 19, 2012

Seven Psychopaths Review

Martin McDonagh, whose last film was the brilliant but underrated In Bruges, comes back four years later with his Tarantino-esque Seven Psychopaths. So how does Seven Psychopaths line up? Fairly well. While overall I think McDonagh's previous film has a stronger narrative, and is a better film in some ways; Seven Psychopaths thrives on chaos and not being a film or story about structure. But rather the breakdown of structure.
Upon finishing Seven Psychopaths, I really did not know how to rate it. On one hand, it is fun, entertaining, and unpredictable. On the other hand it really is a mess structurally but it is a fun mess. The story follows alcoholic script writer Mary (Collin Farrell) as he comes up with his ideas for his next script. All he has is a title, Seven Psychopaths. While looking for inspiration unbeknownst to him, he actually starts collecting acquaintances and some of his very own friends may be crazy people/psychopaths themselves.
I hate when people use the word "meta" only because it is usually a hipster describing something they don't fully understand. That being said, Seven Psychopaths fits the the description of metaphysical. The film knows it is a film and is constantly referring to the movie's own script in unique ways. By the end you are left with the impression that the movie you just watched, is the from the script Marty is writing. Acting across the board is great, Sam Rockwell knocks his performance out of the park. The one thing I really didn't enjoy about the movie is how the film would freeze and say psychopath #1 with a new character introduced. So you are being introduced to these characters as the seven psychopaths. I thought it wasn't a very good idea to do that, only because in the end none of it matters, and you can really look at the characters and determine who is crazy (all of them). Also the women of the film, Olga Kurylenko and Abbie Cornish are very underused. One serving as a plot point, the other serves as a stream of very funny jokes for Rockwell.

8.9/10 - I really liked this movie. However I don't know if I can give it a 9 only because I think the film is flawed but a beautiful flaw. The script has received a lot of praise. I would argue that other than a few great dialogue moments, it really isn't the script that makes this film great. I think it's a combination of the performances and the tone that the film strikes while in a balancing act of being too comedic and too dark. To add to that, I know quite a few people will not like this movie for several reasons.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

31 Days Later: Excision

Teenage drama meets body horror in this disturbing tale of a teen misfit who believes her calling in life is to become a surgeon. It is an odd genre mash-up that in this case actually works to a degree. Parts of the film are fantasy dream sequences that feel like something director Tarsem Singh would have done artistically, while the gore is very Cronenberg. That may sound like an over exaggeration, but no, the film deliberately appears to be mixing those two styles at least in the dream sequences.
For the most part the film plays out as a drama, it's horror elements are used to great effect in dream sequences that reveal the psyche of our protagonist. The ending brings these body horror elements to the forefront. So what's it all about?
Paulina (AnnaLynne McCord) is an outcast, not only in high school but even to her own family. She isn't attractive (AnneLynne pulls a Charlize Theron), her own sister, Grace (Modern Family's Ariel Winter) is dying from, I assume cystic fibrosis, and Paulina's mother is disgusted with Paulina's behavior. So during Paulina's senior year she begins to obsess over surgery and based upon her fantasies she is getting more turned on with idea of not only sex but well the idea of necrophilia to a degree. These fantasies will propel her to push her self to commit despicable acts that lead will eventually lead to an emotional disturbing act that is guaranteed to jolt a reaction from the audience.
The acting in this is great from Traci Lords playing Paulina's mother and AnnaLynne McCord really transforms herself (especially after I saw pics of what she normally looks like). John Waters even makes an appearance as a pastor. The problem with Excision is that, the person we are supposed to care about, you don't and none of character's are likable. You do find yourself sympathizing with Traci Lord's character however she isn't a nice person for the most part either.

8/10 - It is repulsive, disturbing, but it stands out for it's very emotional ending that really brings the film full circle. The ending is sad, distressing, and extremely messed up. It is rare for a horror film to provoke an emotional reaction from me or anybody for that matter, but that is where Excision succeeds. I look forward to seeing more from local Virginian director/writer Richard Bates Jr. Check this film out, it may surprise you.

Monday, October 15, 2012

31 Days Later: Sinister

Is this considered a found-footage film or not? That is the question. Regardless of how you feel about the over saturation of found-footage films, there isn't denying that it has caused a resurgence of audiences flocking to the movies for a horror movie, despite the fact that the quality of film can be argued as being worse. This is where Sinister, stands apart. It is actually a pretty good movie, and a good horror movie at that. What makes the film work isn't necessarily the fact that the script is particularly well written (which it is), it has more to do with the atmosphere. Sure, Sinister has plenty of jump scare moments. None of them feel very cheap though.
Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime writer whose last book Kentucky Blood gave him literary acclaim ten years ago. Since then he has been traveling the country with his family trying to come up with the next big story to chase. He thinks he has found it, and moves into the very house where the murders took place. Upon moving there and researching for his book he starts to realize that the murders may stretch far beyond what he could have even imagined. His investigation is fueled by a box of 8mm films in the attic of not just the murders he is investigating but also various others.
So what worked? As I said that atmosphere works in this film. The tension built primarily on still images mixed with excellent sound design. This is a classic horror movie concept that isn't seen as much in today's horror movies. To add to that, there are some effective jump scares. Plus, unlike quite a few horror movies, it doesn't rely on gore but rather the plot moving forward or creepy images. The closest thing I can think of that this is similar to, is Insidious. Which shouldn't be much of a surprise because it's the same producers making Sinister.

8/10 - This is a very enjoyable movie that doesn't rely on many cheap scares. What really makes this movie worthwhile is the performance from Ethan Hawke, along with the creepy atmosphere that really puts you at the edge of your seat. You will be in anticipation for jump scares, that will sometimes come, and sometimes not.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

31 Days Later: Trick'r Treat

Anthologies are a staple of the horror genre. Unfortunately being a staple means that the genre is flooded with not only good anthologies, but a lot of poor/crap ones. Since Creepshow came out in 1982, everything that came out afterwards has been considered sub par by comparison. Creepshow and Creepshow 2 would become the standard with by which every horror film anthology would be compared. So how does the underrated 2007 film Trick'r Treat stack up? Surprisingly well. While not a strict horror anthology like V/H/S, Trick'r Treat walks the fine line of being in the horror genre and a parody or comedy of the genre itself. It is a thin line, but it manages to stay within the horror realm. What's great about this movie compared to most other anthologies is that the individual stories themselves are woven together in such a way that you will see characters from other stories show up briefly in another story. There isn't a sudden cut from one story to the next, it is all very organic within its narrative. This might be due to the fact that all of the stories are under the direction of one director, Michael Dougherty. So how do the stories themselves add up? Without being overly detailed about each:

Beginning/start of film: A couple coming home from a Halloween parade. The wife blows out the candle to a jack-o-lantern, which may have fatal consequences for her. This really starts out with a bang.

The Principle: A kid strolling down the street takes more than one candy from a pumpkin on a porch. He gets caught by the house owner, who turns out to be his school principle who has a lot more nefarious ideas in mind for this kid.

The School Bus Massacre: Kids go trick or treating around the neighborhood collecting jack-o-lanterns they convince a savant girl to come out to a quarry where kids drowned in a school bus years earlier. If I had to pick one as being the weakest, this one is it, even though it light years better than other shorts.

Surprise Party: Four women (including Anna Paquin) go out on the town trying to pick up men to take to a party. Meanwhile Anna Paquin may be being stalked by something other than human. My favorite short.

Sam: An older cranky man by the name of Creeg (Brian Cox) gets pissed off at kids coming to his door for candy, when a mysterious kid shows up with a sack on his head and is looking for more than candy or so you think.

Ending/conclusion: The ending connects to the beginning. Everything comes full circle.

It is worth noting that Trick'r Treat is based on a short animated film by writer/director Michael Dougherty. It is an interesting short that I recommend checking out after you see Trick'r Treat. Overall the film has more hits then misses and even feels more than the sum of its parts because of the cohesive direction weaving these tales together. This is without a doubt one of my favorite horror anthologies, granted it isn't scary or gory. It's just creative and fun. The problem with Trick'r Treat as a package is that there is a point in the film when things slow down because I found myself caring less about the story I was on. This is a problem that every anthology faces, however Trick'r Treat handles this problem with ease as it moves organically to the next story.

9.5/10 - As far as Anthologies go, this is up there with Creepshow. While hokey, not scary, or even that gory; Trick'r Treat rises above other anthologies for its creativity and simply just being fun. There are Christmas movies that families watch every year around Christmas time. Trick'r Treat is a film that should be viewed every Halloween as it captures some things that make Halloween itself great. Having said that I wouldn't recommend little kids watch this, however teenagers and above would enjoy this as it definitely gets you in the mood for Halloween.

Side note: if you would like to view the short film that Trick'r Treat is based on "Season's Greetings" you can click here to view it:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

31 Days Later: Stakeland

Stake Land is a movie that gained a lot of attention from the horror community as standing out from the rest of the straight to DVD titles that have been released. While I agree the film is very well made, this movie is the very definition of generic. Maybe I have just seen too many post-apocalyptic films that to me they just feel like watching one cliche after another, but this movie was so unbelievably predictable that I was actually expecting some sort of twist just to make up for the whole film being the same as every other post-apocalyptic movie. What it had I wouldn't even call a twist, just bringing back an antagonist. The heart of the problem isn't just with the onslaught of cliches but also with the structure of the script. The movie is narrated by a kid named Martin (Connor Paolo), and it suffers from being over-narrated. Narration is used literally as a scene transition. I found it a little annoying in Perfect Sense, but in the end I forgave it because that movie actually said something profound by the end of it. Stake Land's narration doesn't ever say anything that interesting. The story revolves around Martin traveling north with Mister (Nick Damici), a strange vampire hunter who saves him after vampires kill Martin's family. The plot is then basically Walking Dead but instead of zombies it's vampires. However unlike most cinematic vampires these ones run at you like I Am Legend, and are pretty much brainless. That is pretty much the plot. It meanders and goes into cult/cannibal territory, so basically the same crap in every post-apocalyptic movie. So what did work? The acting though spotty at times is passable. Nick Damici is probably the best part of the movie. The make up is really well done and set design is cool as well. However none of that makes up for the mediocre script.

6/10 - Its passable. Nothing special. The problem with Stake Land is that it never separates itself from any other post-apocalyptic films. So unless you haven't seen many of these, you may find yourself slowly getting bored because it is way too predictable to the point that every cliche is thrown at the screen. That being said, it is a very well done cliche.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

31 Days Later: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

I am very surprised that this movie was never in wide release. As a horror comedy this movie easily makes my top ten and I even would rank it up there with Shaun of the Dead. Originally made in 2009 and premiering in early 2010, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, wouldn't see a limited theater theater release till Sept. 30, 2011. It was soon followed by its quiet DVD release a month later. Which is a shame. Don't get me wrong, not everything works in this film, but it is so much better then most of the horror/comedy movies that come through most multiplexes.
Without getting into too much detail, basically Tucker and Dale are two rednecks taking a weekend trip to their own cabin which they both haven't seen before. Along the way they stop at a gas station and meet a bunch of college students. The college students automatically think that because of their strange demeanor around them that they are redneck psychos. This idea is further perpetrated when the group of college students start accidentally killing themselves and it makes it look like Tucker and Dale may have done the killings. The whole film is based on misconception and misunderstanding.
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play Tucker and Dale with such aloofness that it's brilliant. I thought almost every aspect of this film worked. If there is one complaint I have, it's when the parody of a horror movie eventually becomes the horror movie. Cabin in the Woods did the exact same thing. In fact this film is perfect for a double bill with Cabin in the Woods. The film is gory but in spite of its gore the humor really does work for the most part.

9.5/10 - Highly underrated. If you saw Cabin in the Woods and loved that movie, you will love Tucker & Dale vs Evil as it plays upon the same themes and tropes. The most amazing thing is how this gem was never picked up for wider distribution because this is a film that even mainstream audiences will love.

Monday, October 8, 2012

31 Days Later: Pontypool Canadian sleeper hit caught my attention as it was listed as one of the most underrated horror movies. To add to that,it currently holds an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. So I went into this with slightly higher than average expectations. But man, I thought this movie didn't work at all. The first 40 minutes are so were fine, and I will say it has an excellent set up where it could have gone in several directions. Unfortunately for me, it chose the second to worst direction I thought of. This movie's ending was just nonsense. This may sound like a decent idea on paper, but it just appears extremely stupid on the screen. I know a lot of people will hate me for saying this but this reminded me M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. In fact I would say The Happening makes more sense than this movie. I understand this film is a big cult film, but if this film had a much larger budget I think it would be like a cross of The Signal and The Happening. So basically what I am saying is that I think a lot of people are giving this film a break because it looks great on a meager budget. I will agree with that, however crap is crap. Let's talk about what this was about briefly and I will talk about what did work.
The film takes place in Pontypool, Ontario when a radio talk personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) drives into work, and what starts as a normal day soon becomes chaos. The station which consists of Grant, Sydney, and Laurel-Ann start receiving reports from locals about riots outside a doctor's office. As they keep receiving information, not from media outlets but from people calling in, they start to believe that there is some sort of viral outbreak happening right outside their studio. It basically consists of the infected eating people and repeating words over and over again. The thing is Grant, isn't sure if this is a hoax or not.
The set up for this film is great as I actually wanted it to be something like a hoax or something unexpected. Unfortunately I guessed what was going on fairly quickly and it never really diverted from what I thought would happen until it got more stupid. The acting is another thing that worked. Stephen McHattie is great as a radio shock DJ and everybody else is competent at their performances. The tone of the film has kind of a black humor about it that works for the most part. There are genuinely funny moments throughout the movie, but even that couldn't save it.

4/10 - Great set up, great performances (stand out by Stephen McHattie), and has some pretty funny parts. However, the story is stupid because the overall concept behind it, is one of the strangest yet dumbest ideas I have heard. It reminds me of The Happening only because the concepts are equally dumb. Being dumb isn't so bad if the movie is fun though, which this isn't. By the way for idiots that say "Oh you don't like this movie because you don't get it", oh I got it (it's not even that complex of an idea) and it was still stupid. As I said, on paper this sounds cool, on the screen it doesn't.