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|6 reviews in total|
My friends invited me to a preview screening of Bridesmaids last night,
and I accepted the invitation with a sense of cautious optimism. The
trailer for the film admittedly didn't do much for me, but I was
intrigued by the concept of a female-driven Apatow film. Ultimately, I
went into the theater with modest expectations, hoping to get a few
good laughs out of it.
By the time we came out of the theater, my three friends and I had smiles plastered across our faces, and we couldn't stop talking about the film for the next couple hours. We all loved it. I think it easily ranks with the best of the Apatow productions, and it might even be my personal favorite. Like all of Apatow's productions, there are admittedly scenes that arguably go a little too far or a little too long, but that's a small criticism when the film successfully fires on so many other cylinders.
To start with, the film is hilarious, and I think the comedy far exceeds the standalone bits shown in the trailer. Scene after scene is filled with humorous and often sidesplitting moments, and they had the theater in an uproar during the screening. I can't say enough about Kristen Wiig. Prior to this, I've always liked her to some extent but never really loved her. I think she's good at what she does, but I wasn't sure her shtick could sustain an entire film. Would her passive aggressive wit get old? Is it the only note she can play? Can she handle anything more dramatic? Ultimately, she blew me away in this film. Not only is she consistently and uniquely funny, but her character is surprisingly well-developed, and Wiig brings the character to vibrant and dynamic life on-screen.
And this brings me to my next point about Bridesmaids: the film has a surprising amount of depth that completely caught me off guard. Bridesmaids isn't a quickie 80-minute gag fest by any stretch of the imagination; it's actually a leisurely paced 2-hour character-driven comedy that takes time to develop its characters and establish the various relationships and resultant conflicts between them. Ultimately, the film ends up being quite heartfelt and even rather sad in places. Despite the over-the-top antics shown in the trailer, the themes that the film explores are actually quite grounded. Kristen Wiig's character is someone who is feeling completely let down by life, which is a place we've all been, and the personal journey of her character resonated strongly for me. While her character is easily the most well-developed of the bunch, even the other bridesmaids ultimately show some three-dimensionality as well, despite the fact that they are sometimes initially introduced as two-dimensional caricatures.
Ultimately, Bridesmaids was one of the most enjoyable comedies I've seen in a long time. It's certainly not perfect: it could probably do with some editing, there might be a few too many subplots (some of which are left unexplored), and it arguably goes too over-the-top at times, but everything else about the film works so well that these complaints are little more than nitpicks. While I applaud everyone involved in the production, it is Kristen Wiig who deserves the most accolades. As co-writer and lead actress, she plays a huge part in the film's success, and I sincerely hope this film puts her on the Hollywood map, as I would love to see more from her in the future. Whatever the case may be, Bridesmaids certainly makes for a successful maiden voyage for her into the world of feature-film comedies.
It was with some amount of trepidation that I first heard about the
impending release of Let Me In. Like many others, I was quite taken by
the original Swedish film, Let the Right One In, which easily secured a
spot on my Top 10 of that year. I feared that a remake would only
excise the poetic nature of the story in favor of a by-the-numbers
vampire film. The attachment of Matt Reeves as writer and director
didn't do much to assuage my fears. Cloverfield was entertaining enough
for what it was, but its gimmicky shaky-cam aesthetic wasn't very
indicative of his directorial abilities. Once the good reviews of the
film started pouring in, I figured I'd see it just to say that I did
and then forget about its existence shortly thereafter.
Could I possibly have been more wrong? I ultimately saw the film five times during its brief theatrical run. It's been three months since then, and I still can't stop thinking about it. Never before has my reaction to a film been so contrary to my preconceived notions. Not only do I prefer the remake, it has fast become one of my all-time favorite films, and Matt Reeves has shot to the top of my "directors to watch" list. While there is much that can be said for how Let Me In compares to its Swedish counterpart, I'm going to try and keep comparisons to a minimum, because Let Me In stands firmly on its own two feet as a film. The wonderful thing is that one film doesn't have to supplant the other; Let the Right One In is a beautiful film in its own right, and Let Me In is another faithful and unique cinematic take on the same story.
The story in question originally comes from the mind of Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote the original film as well as the novel that inspired it. The plot revolves around a lonely 12-year-old boy who is bullied mercilessly at school and finds solace in his budding relationship with the girl who lives next door to him. Unbeknownst to him, the girl also happens to be a blood-thirsty vampire who has been 12-years-old for a very long time. Reeves' adaptation of the material is respectful, thoughtful, and personal. In rendering his version of the story, he draws on the overall structure of the original film, various details from the original novel, as well as some of his own ideas and experiences growing up. Reeves clearly has a firm grasp on the complexities of the material, and he crafts Let Me In as a poignant coming-of-age story, tender love story, and devastating horror story all at once. By thoughtfully transplanting the proceedings to 1980s Regan America, Reeves uses the social context of that era as a backdrop for Owen's tortured adolescence, resulting in a subtle exploration of moral ambiguity and duality. Whereas most modern horror films rely on excessive gore as a substitute for intelligence, Let Me In is one of the select few that brilliantly utilizes its horror premise as a multi-layered metaphor to explore a variety of thought-provoking ideas.
While Reeves' screenplay adaptation is impressive in its own right, his directorial style is just as powerful and artistic. Simply put, Let Me In is one of the most elegantly directed horror films I've had the pleasure of watching in a really long time. Reeves' controlled and careful direction is a revelation in today's frenetic cinematic world. Let Me In is one of those rare films where virtually every shot helps reveal character and drive the narrative forward. Reeves is clearly an ardent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, and his point-of-view driven visual storytelling does an admirable job of cementing the audience in the perspective of the central characters. Furthermore, he injects his film with a sense of dread and tension that would have made the Master of Suspense proud. Between Reeves' crafted cinematic approach and his cinematographer's haunting Gothic visual palette, Let Me In is a breathtaking and beautiful film to behold.
Finally, a discussion of Let Me In's strong suits isn't complete without addressing the power of its two lead performances. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz may have only been 12-years-old at the time of filming, but their performances exude a sense of depth and maturity far beyond their years. Let Me In may revolve around two children, but it is a dark and complex film for adults, and the fact that McPhee and Moretz are able to shoulder the weight of the film with such a sense of grace speaks volumes for their talent as actors. Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas turn in excellent supporting performances, but the central story of Let Me In lives or dies by the success of its two leads, and McPhee and Moretz play a huge part in making Let Me In the emotionally charged film that it is.
Although it didn't do nearly as well as it should have at the box office, Let Me In deserves to find a larger audience on DVD and Blu-ray. It's a rare and precious gem that got unfairly swept aside in the chaotic rush of awards season, despite its strong critical reception. In a cinematic climate where countless films are created solely to cash in and make money, it comes as a startling surprise that such a moving, layered, and crafted piece of cinema would come in the form of a remake. And yet, Let Me In is all of these things and more. Anyone who likes their films to have equal doses of artistry, emotion, and intelligence owes it to themselves to pick up a copy of Let Me In. Don't let the genre deter you; it's not just an amazing horror film, it's not just an amazing remake, it's an amazing film, period.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hollywood films seem to follow a recognizable pattern. Once one type of
film makes a splash and rakes in a lot of cash, every film that follows
in the same genre bears a striking resemblance to it. This can
especially be said of the horror genre. At the beginning of the decade,
The Ring started a trend of Hollywood remakes of Japanese supernatural
films such as The Grudge and Dark Water. After that wave of remakes
subsided, the "torture porn" horror film craze launched with the
release of Saw, and everyone welcomed the change in pace. It's been
four years since that film's release and we're still in the thick of
it, once again begging for a change. Every once in awhile something
different slips through the cracks in Hollywood, such as the recent 30
Days of Night, but more consistently one can find solace in the
independent horror film circuit.
Outpost, the film in question for this review, is just the sort of change I'm talking about. It's a good old fashioned, claustrophobic horror film, and a pretty good one at that. It tells the story of a group of disgruntled ex-marines who are freelancing for a mysterious client. The client pays them to escort him to an abandoned bunker in the middle of the forest, where Nazis performed all sorts of experiments in the occult during World War II. The soldiers soon find out that the results of those experiments might still be lingering in the bunker after all those years in the form of homicidal Nazi specters.
The premise may not be the most original one ever conceived (the story is quite similar to a werewolf vs. soldier movie called Dog Soldiers), but director Steve Barker tells the story with class, taking cues from such genre maestros as John Carpenter and Ridley Scott (is any classy horror film NOT in some way inspired by Alien?). Barker creates a constant feeling of suspense by keeping to the shadows and only showing brief glimpses of the Nazi ghosts that inhabit the desolate bunker. Although the film is shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Barker covers a large part of the widescreen frame in darkness, allowing our minds to fill in the gaps. Like Spielberg did in Jaws, Barker wisely lets the viewer's imagination do the work for the first half of the movie.
Unfortunately, unlike the shark in Jaws, once the Nazi ghosts are finally brought out into the open they're actually not as scary as one would hope. It turns out that the idea of phantom Nazi soldiers is a lot more frightening than the real thing (save for the Nazi General, who is effectively creepy). Furthermore, the supernatural mythology that the film sets up is somewhat muddled. It never really becomes clear exactly what the Nazi soldiers are. Are they ghosts? Are they zombies? A little bit of both perhaps? It's clearly established in the exposition that they have the power to appear and vanish at will. Indeed, the entire first half of the movie rides on that fact, as we catch little glimpses of them in the shadows, only to have them disappear a second later. However, in the climactic siege at the end of the film, all that the Nazis do is lumber about like zombies while the protagonist soldiers shoot at them nonstop. This makes the nature of the villains seem contrived to fit whatever works best for the film at any given time, rather than following a strict set of rules. The film is still suspenseful and entertaining, it's just a shame the film couldn't follow its own mythos.
Outpost may not be without structural flaws, but it's a well-executed suspense-driven horror film. Horror films don't trust the viewer's imagination nearly as much as they used to, so it's a relief to once again see one that relies on shadows and atmosphere more than blood and guts to get the audience riled up. Outpost may not have the most satisfying conclusion, but it's one of those films that is more about the journey than the actual destination.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Automaton Transfusion, despite its head-scratching and convoluted
title, just might be the purest low budget horror film to come out in
the last twenty years. It's not a perfect film by any stretch of the
imagination, but it is the first film of its kind in a long while to
give me the same adrenaline rush I felt when I first watched films such
as the Evil Dead trilogy. Automaton Transfusion is certainly no Evil
Dead, but it's the first low budget horror film in a very long time to
aspire to such greatness.
Automaton Transfusion hails back to an era of low budget film-making that I thought had long since passed. With the Hollywood studio system being as strong as it is, and film-making being such an expensive endeavor, I didn't think truly low budget films were even made any more. To provide some context, the aforementioned low budget classic, The Evil Dead, was made in 1981 at a budget of $300,000. Nowadays, if a movie is made for anywhere between $1 million and $40 million dollars it is considered to be a low budget film. Automaton Transfusion was made in 2006 for $30,000. That's practically the cost of catering on a Steven Spielberg film, and writer/director Steven C. Miller and company managed to make a special-effects laden zombie/action film for the same price.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. Automaton Transfusion has noticeable flaws that should be addressed, so let's just acknowledge them and move on with it. The most consistent problem with the film is the acting. A few actors are good some of the time while others are terrible all of the time, but suffice it to say that the acting performances are not this film's strong point. It doesn't help that most of the film had to be looped in post production due to no on-set sound recording (a necessary drawback of low-budget film-making). Another potential problem is that director Steven C. Miller utilizes the popular "shaky-cam" style of filming to heighten the intensity of many scenes, and while it works pretty well most of the time, if you're bothered by this style of cinematography you probably won't be the happiest of viewers.
Lastly, the film suffers from two different third-act blunders. First, Miller packs a whole bunch of exposition regarding the zombie's origins into the last ten minutes of the film, which is not the best time in a film for characters to stop and chat. Secondly, he ends the film on a needless cliffhanger. He says that this film is the first in a planned trilogy, but that's no excuse. Even when there's an overarching plot line, each film in a trilogy should have a self-contained story so that the viewer feels satisfied at the end of each installment. One last thing: it's a little nitpicky, but there is a noticeable deficit of strong female characters, as most of the women in the film are a male-projected fantasy: they either willingly take off their clothes at inappropriate times or scream for help from the men. A stronger female role would have been nice.
Okay, now on to the complimentary stuff and why I liked the film so much. The first thing I noticed in starting the film was that it looks like crap. "Complimentary?" you say. I know that doesn't sound like the highest of praise, but it's a key element that has been missing from horror films for years. Back in the day, low budget horror films looked murky and grainy because they were shot on cheap 16mm film, which did wonders for their gritty atmosphere. These days, every horror film looks too squeaky clean because they're shot on pristine 35mm film that picks up every little detail in the frame. Automaton Transfusion, however, being truly low budget in nature, is shot on grainy, de-saturated video, and the lower quality resolution supports the gritty atmosphere of the film wonderfully.
Speaking of atmosphere, Automaton Transfusion has tons of it. A lot of independent horror films lack any real sense of atmosphere due to budget constraints and instead the filmmakers throw buckets of gore at the screen to make up for it, but the folks behind Automaton Transfusion manage to instill the film with palpable atmosphere at a fraction of the cost. Don't get me wrong, there are buckets of gore in this film too, but there's so much more than that. From the run-down shacks that the characters find themselves trapped in to the completely isolated city streets that lend a post-apocalyptic vibe to the proceedings, the crew on this film worked some kind of magic to achieve the things they did. The music also makes the film sound much more expensive than it really is, as it boasts an orchestral score that expands the scope of the film and adds layers of value to the action and horror sequences.
When the film ended I was left with an admiration for how much Miller and his crew were able to make out of nothing. Despite the obvious problems, the film makes for an enthralling and fast-paced horror adventure. The film clocks in at a brisk 75 minutes and the filmmakers pack in every bit of entertainment value and ingenuity that they can muster from their budget in that amount of time. Sometimes restrictions can be a movie's greatest asset because they force the filmmakers to be creative. Automaton Transfusion is a testament to that fact.
While Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof seems to be a much more authentic
representation of 1970s grindhouse pictures, Robert Rodriguez' Planet
Terror is more of a loving caricature of 1980s zombie splatter films.
Nothing in the film is played straight, and virtually every scene is
accompanied by a wink and a grin at the audience.
If Tarantino's effort is accused of being slow (or deliberately paced, depending on your opinion), Planet Terror never even thinks about slowing down. From the exploitative opening credits through to the final frames of the film, this is a roller coaster ride of a film that doesn't let up.
With Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez continues his "everything and the kitchen sink" mentality when it comes to his film-making by throwing everything at the wall just to see what sticks. While it sometimes feels like this technique gets in the way of Rodriguez finding a true film-making voice, it works quite well for a film like Planet Terror where there's no room for subtlety.
The cast that Rodriguez assembled is a glorious ensemble of bygone action heroes, horror icons, and Rodriguez stock actors. They all bring their parts to life in a cartoonish sort of way that fits the tone of the movie beautifully.
While the uncut DVD edition of Planet Terror doesn't change the film drastically in any way, it definitely improves the film. It gives the film smoother transitions and fills in some gaps in the plot (though that missing reel is still there and will always remain there as one of the many comical winks at the audience). The large cast of characters are also given more beats here and there that help fill out their personas a little more. All in all, this uncut version simply allows the film to breathe a little more, rather than having to jump frantically from scene to scene in an effort to make the 84 minute running time.
At the end of the day, Planet Terror isn't going to win any awards, and it's certainly not meant to. It's simply an extremely enjoyable guilty pleasure of a film that virtually anyone with the stomach for it can probably have a good time with, especially if you're a horror fan. Take a couple of classic John Carpenter films like The Fog and Escape From New York and throw them into a blender with a couple of classic zombie splatter films like Evil Dead 2 and Dawn of the Dead and you've got a pretty good idea of what Planet Terror is like. And at the end of the day, you could definitely have a worse combination of films to pay loving homage to.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Death Proof was the second half of Robert Rodriguez' and Quentin
Tarantino's audacious Grindhouse double feature, and it has just been
released on DVD as a standalone film in its original uncut form, no
longer trimmed to fit a three hour running time with fellow Grindhouse
feature, Planet Terror.
Seeing it in its uncut form and without an hour and a half of over the top campy violence preceding it, Death Proof can now be appreciated on its own terms. Death Proof is much more successful as a standalone Quentin Tarantino film than it was as the second half of a Grindhouse double feature. The truth is, Death Proof was far too talky and way too devoid of action to sustain the climax of a three hour plus double feature. Furthermore, while Tarantino's film is indeed the more authentic 70s grindhouse picture (Rodriguez' was more of a boisterous caricature), it simply didn't have enough of the key elements to fit snugly alongside Planet Terror as a rowdy good time.
So now that we have Death Proof standing its own two feet, we can truly appreciate it for its own merits, even if it is by no means a flawless film.
Across the board, the performances are wonderful. Every actor seems perfectly capable of handling Tarantino's trademark mouthfuls of dialogue. Kurt Russell gives an amazing performance as Stuntman Mike. Russell hits a variety of tones, from disarmingly innocent, to subtly frightening, to comically cowardly. His tough guy persona mirrors many of his iconic performances in John Carpenter films in years passed. By the end of the film, we witness a complete inversion of that archetypal persona that provides a wonderful ironic twist as well as some unexpected comedy for those of us who grew up on Russell's other films.
The action sequences, though only two in number, pack an enormous punch, and prove to be some of the most intense vehicle driven action sequences in a number of years. Tarantino plays everything for real with absolutely no CGI enhancement, and the result hearkens back to a bygone era of visceral simplicity.
As usual, Tarantino's visual eye is spot on, making the film another directorial feat. From the aforementioned action sequences to the choices of music, he gives the film that unique Tarantino feel.
As for the weaknesses of the film, the most noticeable one is that this film is just plain too talky. I know we come to expect lots of dialogue in a Tarantino film, but this really is a horror/action film at its core, and given the genre, there's just not enough horror or action. I honestly think that just cutting snippets of dialogue here and there and replacing that running time with one more action set piece would have improved the film quite a bit. Then Tarantino would have struck an appropriate balance between his own predilections and the confines of the genre he's working in. As it stands, Death Proof is caught between Tarantino's love of the written word, and the more action oriented elements of the genre.
The overabundance of dialogue also reveals the fact that Death Proof has barely any plot to speak of. I'm not saying other horror movies have any more plot than Death Proof, but one starts to wonder how long the movie would actually be if the bulk of the dialogue was cut out. Honestly, it would be a pretty short flick, because when you get down to it, Death Proof is really just about a homicidal stuntdriver stalking and killing a group of young women, and that's about it. In fact, Tarantino essentially tells the same exact story twice, once in the first hour and then again in the second hour. This gives the film a bit of an uneven structure. Sure, it has a nice Hitchcockian flare to it, but the way its executed, one can't help but find the second half of the film a little redundant.
Despite these shortcomings, Death Proof is still a very entertaining and rewatchable film. After all, it may be a slightly weaker Tarantino film, but even lesser Tarantino is miles better than the majority of films being released these days. Just know that it's not really an action/horror film like its Grindhouse counterpart. Go into the film expecting a dialogue heavy Tarantino film with some great action/horror elements and you certainly won't be disappointed.