Monthly Archives: January 2013
by Craig Thomas
It’s not uncommon for a movie with an interesting idea in the horror genre to be milked for all it’s worth. What is uncommon however is for the fifth in a series to be a worthy addition to the series. This is what happened in the case of Final Destination 5, the follow up to The FINAL Destination.
What the creators of the series have tried to do to keep it relevant is to focus on entertaining, something far too many films fail to do. Having transitioned away from the existential questions of the original, they have relied more and more on the gruesome deaths as the main marketing tool. Unfortunately, this means putting all of them in the trailer so watching the film becomes somewhat redundant. If you watch this film, do not check out the trailer first.
So, here is the plot for all Final Destination films. A terrible accident occurs and loads of people die, but due to one character having a premonition of what is going to happen they change the future and a small group of them survive. The result of “cheating death” is that he comes back around and kills the survivors one by one, in a series of needlessly gruesome and convoluted ways.
All the films are the same, aside from the character interactions, none of whom you particularly care about because you know most, if not all of them are going to die. So why watch? For the humour. Whilst the original was a horror with some laughs gained from the death scenes, they have evolved into a series of grizzly comedies. The only part that holds any interest is the ridiculously over-the-top manner in which death gets his revenge.
The great trick in this is the blatantly willful use of misdirection. We watch as we see a series of unlikely events converge to create a series of deadly hazards, only for the victim to step back from the brink at the last second, only to perish moments later in an even more unlikely freak occurrence. We know that each setup isn’t going to kill them, but it’s hard not feel the tension build as we know that death is coming. When it does finally arrive it is often a laugh out loud funny slapstick moment.
The creators know what the audiences want and have no hesitation in giving it to them. Even so, the writing is not terrible. Sure, it doesn’t reach the heights of Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin (in my mind, interchangeable), but it is serviceable, for the most part. The plot is pretty much internally consistent. The shoe-horning in of the detective who initially suspects the guy who had the vision caused the bridge to collapse due to breaking up with his girlfriend an hour before, is a bit much. But once the moment passes he is a vaguely useful character.
There is a vague love story sub plot that doesn’t really have any relevance and quite frankly if you think moving to Paris for six months is the biggest problem in your life, then don’t expect much sympathy from me.
The acting is not brilliant and that doesn’t help to make you care about the characters any more. The only real exception is David Koechner as the boss you love to hate who brings his comedic talents to every scene. It’s also nice to see Tony Todd reprise his role as creepy coroner and plot expositionist (if that’s not a word, it should be), William Bludworth.
Despite my earlier praise for the series, it is no secret that it was a case of diminishing returns and that the number of people looking forward to Final Destination 5 was about five. Still, it has pumped life into a cherished franchise with wit and creative death and would be a worthwhile swan song for a series of films that have very nearly overstayed their welcome.
However, success can have its drawback and the rumour mill is on full turn suggesting that not only will there be a Final Destination 6, but also a 7th, both of which are to be filmed back-to-back. Whether these rumours are true is debatable, though less likely things have happened.
The kids in these movies can’t escape death forever, but seemingly the franchise can.
Final Destination 5 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
By far one of the most bizarre and disturbing grindhouse films you will ever see is Mondo cane (A Dog’s Life), an exploitative “shockumentary” that spans the globe and brings you some of the most bizarre rituals and customs from all walks of life. In spurts, Mondo cane is jaw dropping, funny, appalling, and mesmerizing in the way it constantly flips on the viewer. Made in 1962 by Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara, and Franco Prosperi, Mondo cane sparked a whole subgenre of Mondo documentaries whose main purpose was to exploit death, sex, and taboos at all costs, sometimes even going so far as to stage what you are seeing. Mondo cane is also the film that inspired the infamous Faces of Death documentary, which claimed to feature real footage of people biting the dust (only bits and pieces of Faces of Death were real, the rest was staged.). Unlike most documentaries that strive to educate the viewer, Mondo cane is simply interested in making you squirm, all while a leering Narrator sarcastically explains and dissects what the viewer is looking at. One thing is certain; you won’t come away from Mondo cane a better person consumed by thought, just a little sickened and shaken up.
Mondo cane is comprised of several seemingly unrelated sequences of oddities from around the world. In this hour and forty-minute trip, the filmmakers invite you to spend time with a “cargo cult” at Port Moresby, New Guinea, take in the nuclear contamination on Bikini Atoll, sip a few drinks in a rowdy German beer hall, step into a death house in Singapore, witness a Hula Dance in Honolulu, stop by a Good Friday procession that finds the male participants beating their bare legs with broken glass in Italy, and watch the beheadings of bulls in Nepal. Some of the sights are comical and some are guaranteed to stick with you the rest of your life, but it is truly a journey unlike any other.
As Mondo cane flows along, it becomes increasingly clear what the filmmakers are trying to convey to the viewer. The world can be a sick, depraved, brutal, unforgiving, and downright confounding place to live. The viewer is invited by the Narrator (Stefano Sibaldi) to look down upon the sights you are seeing (at times, literally look down), almost with repugnance and amusement as Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero’s dreamy score hums in the background. Even though we never see the Narrator, you can just visualize him sitting atop a swanky tower, dressed in a tuxedo, and sipping a martini as he chuckles over manhunting in New Guinea and swallows back his lunch as pigs are mercilessly slaughter by a primitive tribe for a big feast. The filmmakers slyly edit the sequences of primitive tribes beating and killing animals with footage of a flashy American pet cemetery, where the camera lingers on the tears of a woman burying her four legged companion, and geese being force fed for foi gras in France. According to Jacopetti, Cavara, and Properi, we are the true brute savages built for their own queasy entertainment.
As far as deep analysis goes, that is about all I can come up with for Mondo cane. It quickly becomes clear that the film is in love with irony (women go to a gym to loose weight in America while tribeswomen are force fed so they can marry the dictator of a tribe) and it gets even bigger kicks out of peering upon death and suffering. The exploration of the Death House in Singapore, a place where the homeless and elderly are left to live out their final hours, is every bit as disturbing as it sounds. Another shock comes when Gurkha soldiers behead bulls with one swipe of a machete, all while the camera pans down to capture the flowing gore at their feet. You will also cover your eyes as the religious men in Italy beat their legs to a bloody pulp for the Good Friday procession. Perhaps worst of all is seeing a man be gored nearly to death by a bull in Portugal, the camera just staying on the scene long enough to see a few people run out and clear the body from the street. The filmmakers have the good sense to not linger too long on the human death but they sure do make up for it with how much animal cruelty they show to the viewer. Dogs are killed and boiled, pigs are beaten with large clubs, sharks have sea urchins shoved down their throats, and snakes have their skin ripped off. It is almost a relief (but honestly no less humane) when we get to Italy and we see chicks being dyed pastel colors for Easter.
There certainly is a playful side to Mondo cane but even these scenes have a vaguely mean-spirited and perverse echo to them. The scenes in the German beer hall are comical but also pathetic as people stumble home, urinate in the street, vomit, and get into nasty fistfights. Another lighter moment comes when we arrive in Sydney, Australia, for a Life Saver Girls competition, where beautiful swimsuit clad women “save” male swimmers, drag them to the beach, and give them CPR, all while the camera pans down to the male’s crotch. You get the impression that some of the perversion comes from the deeply troubled Jacopetti, who was more than familiar with perverted scandals at the time, even landing in a Hong Kong jail for three months after he was caught with two underage Chinese prostitutes, ages 10 and 11. While this sinister perversion is merely hinted at in Mondo cane, it would come to a head in future installments of the Mondo series. If you can believe it, Riz Orolani and Nino Oliviero’s theme song for the film, “Home,” managed to earn an Academy Award nomination. Overall, Mondo cane was immensely popular when it came out and it certainly caused quite a stir when it hit theaters. Looking at it today, the film lacks profundity, which severely wounds it, but it still manages to pack a punch and, in true grindhouse fashion, will make you feel a bit sleazy while watching it. This is an essential film for exploitation fans and a pass for anyone else.
Mondo cane is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
After the success of Sergio Leone’s violent 1964 spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars, a whole slew of Italian directors scrambled to emulate Leone’s reinvention of the western. While many of the spaghetti westerns that were made in the wake of A Fistful of Dollars were overlooked or forgotten, some managed to recruit a following and for good reason. In 1966, director Sergio Corbucci released Django, which really sent Europe into a western frenzy and at the time happened to be the most violent film every made. By today’s standards, Django is rather tame aside from a certain scene featuring a man having his ear sliced off and then fed to him, but it still manages to get the adrenaline following for an hour and a half. Along with Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly), Django stands as a shining example of the spaghetti western and one of the more fun exploitation films out there. It does have some shoddy craftsmanship in places (the dubbing leaves a lot to be desired, the cinematography is so grainy that the picture almost flashes at certain points, the music is a bit cheesy in places) but you can honestly say you’ve never seen a western quite like it. If the reckless violence and bad attitude don’t lure you in, wait until you get a load of Franco Nero’s brooding gunslinger Django, a nasty piece of work that tugs a mud-caked coffin behind him that conceals one hell of a deadly weapon. He almost looks like he stepped out of the coolest comic book you’ve never read.
After saving a prostitute named Maria (Played by Loredana Nusciak) from two bloodthirsty gangs, former Union soldier turned gun-slinging drifter Django (Played by Franco Nero) takes Maria under his wing and leads her to a nearby border town that is largely abandoned. Behind him, Django drags a mysterious coffin that he never lets out of his sight. Django and Maria take shelter at the town brothel, which happens to be the haunt of the two gangs that Django saved Maria from. It turns out that the two gangs, one being a KKK style cult led by Major Jackson (Played by Eduardo Fajardo) and the other being a trigger-happy gang of Mexican banditos led by General Hugo Rodriguez (Played by José Bódalo), are locked in a battle for the dying town and Django has unfinished business with the heads of both gangs. After a nasty confrontation with Maj. Jackson’s men, Django teams up with Gen. Rodriguez for a robbery that will make both Django and Gen. Rodriguez very wealthy men. Little does Gen. Rodriguez know that Django has plans of his own and that Maj. Jackson is responsible for the death of Django’s wife.
Quick to get into the savage gun battles, fistfights, and staring contests, Django is certainly a different breed of western, even when compared to Leone’s patient and thoughtful work. Corbucci doesn’t appear to have anything deeper on his mind and he is more concerned with getting to the next brutal confrontation between Django and anyone dumb enough to make him angry. Is there really anything wrong with this? No, not really. The film consistently keeps you glued to the action and you just can’t wait to see what is hidden inside Django’s coffin of death. In between the bloody showdowns, Corbucci builds a menacing and slightly creepy atmosphere in the confines of the ghost town and the local graveyard where most of the action takes place. The streets are muddy, the buildings collapsing, and the fences twisted beyond repair as storm clouds loom in the distance. It is the type of place that is so rough and tough, even the prostitutes get into muddy brawls in the streets. The graveyard is just as worse for wear, a dusty wasteland where jagged graves and dead trees barely stand against the howling winds and walls of dust. It certain is a grimy and vaguely apocalyptic vision where there are no heroes to make things right, just those looking out for number one and those who want to kill everyone in sight. Hell, these guys are so vicious; they don’t even flinch when they gun down the kindly bartender Nathaniel (Played by Ángel Álvarez).
While no one in Django gives an A-list performance, the players are all very memorable mostly because their characters are so colorful. Nero is the one in charge here as Django, a stone cold gunslinger who has hidden his heavy heart behind a brick wall. He has little use for Maria, who he saves from certain death and then largely ignores (Yeah, I haven’t quite figured that one out either.). He spends most of his time sitting in the brothel, sipping a glass of whiskey and waiting for Maj. Jackson to show up and pick a fight. Naturally he does and Django kills a shocking number of his men in the span of maybe five minutes. We don’t learn too much about this mysterious drifter, only that he is out for blood and that he fears no man. Nusciak is quiet and haunted as Maria, a beautiful prostitute who finds herself in love with the consistently distracted Django. We learn that Fajardo’s Maj. Jackson is one wicked guy as he picks off innocent Mexicans in the muddy streets just to let off a little steam. Bódalo’s Gen. Rodriguez is a sweaty brute that is constantly being saved by Django yet is quick to dish out a little revenge despite all he owes to the heartbroken drifter. Álvarez is sweet and timid as the shaky bartender who tries so desperately to keep the peace between everyone. His fate is the only moment where the viewer’s emotions are put to work.
Despite its stunning brutality, Django was a massive hit in Italy and it inspired a huge number of unofficial sequels that all managed to work Django into their titles yet have very little in common with Corbucci’s film. There was only one official sequel, Django 2: il grande ritorno, that did star Nero but wasn’t directed by Mr. Corbucci. For fans of exploitation cinema, it may interest you that Ruggero Deodato, the man responsible for Cannibal Holocaust, served as assistant director on Django. If you’re looking to jump into the spaghetti western subgenre, Leone’s marvelous trilogy and Corbucci’s Django are great places to start. You may want to ease in with Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars to really see if this is your bowl of pasta but if you are big on action, Django will really have you on the edge of your seat. It’s also worth checking out for the super catchy theme song that plays over the dreary opening credits (Good luck getting it out of your head!). Overall, Django is flawed but it also happens to be a gritty, savage, pulpy, and highly influential ride through the Wild West. If you’re a cinema geek, western fanatic, or exploitation guru, you may want to seek this sucker out. It truly is one of a kind.
Django is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Even if director Benh Zeitlin’s surreal fable Beasts of Southern Wild wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, it would still demand to be seen on the grounds that it was 2012’s little indie that could. Based on the stage play Juicy & Delicious by Lucy Alibar, Beasts of Southern Wild was a small arty offering that was the talk of the cinema world for months before its release and months after. After whipping up critics and audiences into a frenzy at numerous film festivals across the globe including Cannes and Sundance and nabbing various awards, Beasts of Southern Wild was picked up by Fox Searchlight and released into a summer thick with superhero blockbusters and science fiction explosions. Maintaining buzz all the way into awards season, I feared that Beasts of Southern Wild would fail to live up to the massive amount of praise that was being laid before this debut feature from Zeitlin but astonishingly, I found myself swelling with hope as the film tugged me into an emotional coming of age blur. And if you don’t find yourself drawn in to the grungy dream world of the Bathtub, you’ll surely find yourself beaming over the performance from pint-sized heroine Quvenzhané Wallis, a child so fierce and brave, that she can stop charging Aurochs dead in their tracks. In fact, even if you have absolutely no interest in the film’s premise, see it just to marvel at the promising young talent and understand why Wallis is the youngest Best Actress nominee at the tender age of 9. I know I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Beasts of Southern Wild takes us to the southern Louisiana bayou called the Bathtub, a rusting and decaying community that is cut off from the outside world by levee. Despite the constant threat of climate change, flooding, and being forced out of their makeshift homes, the residents of the Bathtub never miss an opportunity to pause for the day to celebrate the joys of life. Among the colorful residents that live in the Bathtub is Hushpuppy (Played by Wallis), a precocious and brave little girl who possesses a vivid imagination. Hushpuppy lives with her father, Wink (Played by Dwight Henry), a testy alcoholic who is also suffering from a mysterious illness that he tries to keep from poor Hushpuppy. One evening, a strong storm hits the Bathtub and floods the homes of the residents, which causes the authorities to step in and force them to evacuate their homes. To make things worse, Hushpuppy fears that the frozen prehistoric beasts called Aurochs are thawing out in the Arctic and are going to charge into the Bathtub, destroying everything in their path.
Zeitlin does everything in his power to make the viewer feel like they are living in the Bathtub right alongside these fiercely loyal folks. They are immensely proud of their tacked together shelters and they do not intend to leave their community (those who do leave before the big storm are heckled by Wink). To make the viewer feel like they are right there, Zeitlin allows his camera to bob around and explore every nook and cranny of this decaying wonderland of shelters that can barely keep the howling winds out at night. When the time comes for the residents to leave, we are feeling their pain even if we would kill for a shower. We almost become used to the sense of seclusion and isolation, liberation from an outside world that consists of a looming gray power plant in the distance. It is an intimidating structure that suggests man has completely overpowered nature. In the Bathtub, man lives hand and hand with nature as animals roam free and homes are dug into thick walls of brush and trees. When the authorities come in, they march through in polos and pressed slacks, yanking the residents of the Bathtub in every single direction and forcing them into sterile waiting rooms where victims of the storm sit quietly with long faces. It really pierces your heart and deflates your spirit.
Then we have the lack of big name and profession actors in front of the camera, which really allows these Bathtub residents to come to life. The standout is Wallis as 6-year-old Hushpuppy, our adorable narrator who bravely lives by her own code. She has a trailer all to her self, which she proceeds to set on fire. She is left for days alone and confused by Wink, who mysteriously returns to their home in a hospital gown. Poor Hushpuppy is basically raising herself, with only occasional guidance by the unpredictable madman Wink. He shows her a thing or two about catching fish as they drift through the streets of the Bathtub in a makeshift boat and drunkenly teaches her how to crack and gnaw at some crawfish at a candle-lit dinner. As their journey plays out, we really learn to love their complex relationship, one that lacks a compassionate mother, a woman that Wink says was so beautiful, she could make water boil. Meanwhile, Henry continues to impress as the outburst prone Wink, who enjoys sipping from a liquor bottle and blasting his shotgun at the storm outside. Zeitlin slowly reveals the mysterious of his illness and then shatters our hearts in the final few minutes and he shares a touching meal of hot sauce doused gator with the teary-eyed Hushpuppy. It is easily the best sequence of the film, one that will have you scrambling to rewind it just to take in the mesmerizing acting of Wallis and Henry.
Upon first viewing Beasts of Southern Wild, the stark reality of the Bathtub world and the emotionally draining acting threaten to overpower the weightier aspects of the film. You’ll get chills as the Aurochs charge towards the Bathtub, only stopping to feast on one another to regain their strength. You’ll swell with emotion as Hushpuppy embarks on a miniature journey to find her mother, who cooks gator in a seedy strip club and cracks eggs by spitting a beer bottle cap at the shell (just wait until you get a load of her). You’ll fight back tears as Wink finally reveals the severity of his illness to little Hushpuppy. You’ll be filled with warmth as Wink shows Hushpuppy how to crack a fish on the head to kill it. You’ll swoon at the overwhelming sense of hope that flares up in the final frames of the film, as it is revealed that the residents of the Bathtub are one giant family, sticking together, rebuilding, and proudly marching in the face of tremendous devastation. I am reluctant to reveal all the secrets of Beasts of Southern Wild to you, as part of the excitement is finding out what everyone is raving about and then putting it all together. It may require a few viewings and a little bit of patience at first, but I advise you to just loose yourself in this world and I guarantee that you will be swept away into this dreamy fable. You’ll be glad you did.
Beasts of Southern Wild is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Craig Thomas
Horror film The Bay is, you’ve guessed it, a found footage movie. “Oh no,” I hear you cry, “not another one!” Yes, another one. “Really?” Yes. “Really?!” Yes, now please stop asking.
The Bay tells the story of a quiet town by the sea which has untold horrors thrust upon them from beneath the water.
The story is told by a former journalist, Donna (played by Kether Donohue) who just happened to be there with her cameraman covering a fluff piece about some festival or another. We are informed, via a webcam interview, that this (and all associated footage) was covered up by the US government. We then learn this footage was stolen and leaked by a Wikileaks type hacking group (mmm, topical). Our journalist has now spliced together the footage to create a documentary to “expose” the cover-up and the tragedy of what happened on that July 4th weekend. This is how the film continues throughout, with voiceovers and subtitles to provide context for what we’re seeing.
Somewhat surprisingly this idea actually works. By setting it at a carnival it gives an excuse for a lot of people to be recording the initial proceedings and making the protagonist a journalist allows the filming to continue throughout. Even the hospital scenes are well done with people recording the full waiting rooms for one reason or another, but more important here is the role of Doctor Michaels (played by Kenny Alfonso). Struggling to work out what is going on, he videochats with the Centre for Disease Control, which in turns allows us to see how the outside world is reacting to the outbreak. At times however, it does fall back onto the old “why are you filming this?” question which inevitably pops up in such films, but for the most part it seems a perfectly reasonable setup.
For a low budget film, both the acting (from as cast of relative unknowns) and the script (from single IMDB credit Michael Wallach) are pretty decent. There are a couple of slightly clunky moments, but for the most part it is solid. There also aren’t any lulls. Every scene has almost by default, a sense of peril because we know what is going on even when the characters don’t. Part of the credit goes to the script, part goes to director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam, Sleepers). He does a good job balancing what the audience needs to see with maintaining an authentic amateur documentary feel to the project.
By making the monster essentially invisible it intends to scare on a base level, as well as saving on special effects in a much more efficient manner than the deeply disappointing Chernobyl Diaries. The shots of sores and blisters and partially digested flesh are unpleasant and are used rather sparingly to increase the impact and, one suspects, to hide their relative cheapness. Whilst a lot of films scrimp and save on effects (and as a by-product, scares) for a big though often unimpressive finale, The Bay sidesteps that trap. However, the ending is not entirely satisfactory and I suspect it will split viewer’s opinions
This is very much an eco-horror movie with a strong “pollution is bad” moral to it. At its heart it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Bad stuff is put into the water, sea creatures mutate into unstoppable killing machines, chaos ensues. This isn’t Jaws in that the terror is confined to the waters, nor is it something like The Host where a big creature is running amok in the city. This is a small scale-story told through the inter-connecting tales of a number of different characters. To that extent, it works quite well. There is a constant sense of unease about the place as people react to a series of seemingly unconnected incidents through their own world view. It is only when the size of the problem is too great to deal with that people realize what is happening.
Whilst this is not the greatest film in the world, or indeed the scariest, it does convey a constant sense of unease throughout which puts it head and shoulders above a lot horror these days. The ending is somewhat of a letdown and will surely divide people who see this, but it is worth seeing just to see that a good idea, well executed can mean a found footage film needn’t be stupid and/or a waste of potential.
by Steve Habrat
After spending time with the boxer Micky Ward and his dysfunctional clan in The Fighter, writer-director David O. Russell decides to lighten up a bit and tickle our funny bones with the romantic comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook. Based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook retains some of the grittiness and raw family drama that made up The Fighter, which turns this sappy exercise of love lost and love found into something very heartwarming and special. With his real-world tone set in the first few moments of the film, Russell then focuses on creating characters that are all a bit nutty, which instantly allows the viewer to fall in love with them. Russell even managed to make me really like Bradley Cooper, an actor that I have always felt was highly overrated and never as charismatic as he has been made out. With the character he takes here, Cooper makes a strong case for himself and actually manages to lure me over to “Team Cooper” if only for a little while (I hear there is another Hangover movie coming out this summer so my feelings may change once I see that one). Yet Silver Linings Playbook ultimately belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, the young but aggressive widow who befriends Cooper’s bipolar Patrick and attempts to keep his feet on the ground. It is the relationship between them that is the mushy core of Silver Linings Playbook and the part that you just won’t be able to shake off.
After catching his beloved wife Nikki (Played by Brea Bee) having an affair, Pat Solitano (Played by Bradley Cooper) suffers a violent melt down and is sent to a mental health facility for severe bipolar disorder. After eight months of treatment, Pat is released to his doting mother, Dolores (Played by Jacki Weaver), and his Philadelphia Eagles obsessed father Pat Sr. (Played by Robert DeNiro). With a new positive outlook on life, Pat spends his days refusing to take his medication, reading, exercising, and thinking up ways to win Nikki back, even though she has moved away and has a restraining order against him. Convinced he is on the right track, Pat reconnects with his friend Ronnie (Played by John Ortiz) and his overbearing wife, Veronica (Played by Julia Stiles). One evening, Pat attends a dinner at Ronnie’s house where he ends up meeting Tiffany, a beautiful young widow and recovering sex addict who he forms a quirky relationship with. As the two bond, Pat tries to convince Tiffany to help him communicate with Nikki but Tiffany will only help him if he enters a dance competition with her. Pat reluctantly agrees but he soon finds himself being pulled away from Tiffany by his football obsessed family. To make things worse, Pat begins to fear that he may not be able to win Nikki back.
While Silver Linings Playbook has some heavy moments that rival those found in The Fighter, Russell manages to milk some chuckles even from the most severe situations. The flashback scene where Pat catches Nikki having an affair is cleverly shot from Pat’s POV with a dreamy haze clouding the frame. It is a tense moment that throws a moment of hilarity our way just before Pat unleashes on the guy Nikki is having an affair with. Another scene finds Pat desperately searching for his wedding video. He bursts into his parent’s room in a panic and forces his mother out of bed to aid him in his search (this is just one moment where he bursts in on his poor parents in the middle of the night). As tensions rise and tempers flare, Pat suffers a breakdown that finds fists and slaps flying and the neighbors congregating outside the Solitano home in disbelief. It is a confrontation that should have us nervously shifting in our seats but there is something vaguely hilarious and absurd about it, especially when Patrick accidentally hits his mother. When we aren’t chuckling at the blow ups, we will be getting a kick out of a tour of Ronnie’s home, where Patrick and Tiffany continuously make one inappropriate statement after another (one involving iPod docks and Metallica is especially hilarious). Then there is awkward first date between Tiffany and Patrick on Halloween night, one that starts harmless enough but then spirals horribly out of control as tables are knocked over and the police respond to an argument outside of a movie theater as kids in Halloween costumes close in on poor Patrick. It is almost as if Russell is inviting us to observe the silver lining to these situations, to look past the seriousness and just laugh at our own insanity.
Then there are the spot on performances from Cooper and Lawrence, both that do crazy very, very well. I’ve never found Cooper to be particularly funny but I must say he really delivers the laughs here. He is pathetic in his constant state of delusion and stubbornness, insisting that he doesn’t need to take his medication because he thinks it makes him foggy and bloated. You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he insists that he will get back together with Nikki and everything will work out. When his extreme personality mixes with Tiffany’s, Silver Linings Playbook really soars. Tiffany is just as erratic as Cooper’s sporty Patrick, but she hides behind tangled mess of dark hair and thick eye make-up. It is certainly the most mature role that Lawrence has taken yet, one that dips into pure teary-eyed emotion and shies away from the chilly, closed-off intensity she brought to Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games. On the outside, she is strong and firm, but the more she opens up, the easier it is for her to break. Meanwhile, DeNiro gives one of his strongest and emotionally charged performances in years as Pat’s father. A scene where he begs to spend more time with his son is heart wrenching and, yes, hilarious. Weaver is in top form as Pat’s fussy mother, who really enjoys making snacks for her boys as they huddle around the television. Chris Tucker is also present in a small role as Danny, a fellow patient from the mental heath facility who keeps trying to break out.
At two hours, I feared that Silver Linings Playbook would begin to loose steam in its second half but thankfully it doesn’t. The second half of the film focuses heavily on a bet made by Pat’s father and a fellow buddy with a bad gambling problem. Naturally, the bet centers on the Eagles and the big dance competition that Tiffany and Patrick are participating in. When we finally get to the big dance competition, the big moment seems all too brief and, dare I say, rushed. Either way, the dance routine is wonderfully handled and ends up being a bit of bubbly fun. As far as the family drama is concerned, Russell once again proves that he really knows how to handle this type of material and make the emotions relatable. Maybe it is the lack of polish that really allows these scenes and characters to come to life. Overall, Silver Linings Playbook is a pragmatic reminder that we are all bit crazy, some just a more than others. It is a touching, funny, sweet, and irresistible love story that really has us rooting for the emotionally shattered Patrick and Tiffany. It is a comforting reminder that every moment is another chance for us to heal, we just have to watch for the signs.
by Craig Thomas
In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker, a pilot with an alcohol addiction. At the start of the film we see him drink alcohol, take drugs and crash a plane into the ground. The rest of the film then follows Whip as he struggles to deal with his alcohol problem as well as the media and investigative frenzy surrounding the crash. During this time he befriends Nicole (played by Kelly Reilly), a heroin addict, struggling to stay clean.
Calling the film Flight is somewhat misleading. After the impressive opening scenes to set the stage, there isn’t any actual flying. Instead, there is a character study of two people with substance abuse problems at different stages of using. But let’s start with the actual flight.
This is a very impressive scene and even though you can guess what is going to happen, the tension holds brilliantly. Each pull of the lever, each flip of numerous switches feel vital and precise. Whereas other plane crash movies might have the pilot flipping banks of switches, here each flip is specifically called for and built up to. Every time there is a sense of relief quickly followed by building tension once again.
For a big action sequence, it is very minimalistic. There are no drinks trolleys flying down the aisles, nor does every piece of luggage feel compelled to bound from its overhead compartment. There aren’t any shots of passengers wailing, or praying or any of that sort of thing. In fact, we don’t really get to see the passengers faces at all, with most scenes shot from the back of the plane. It wants you to be under no illusion, this is not a disaster movie.
Then the planes crashes.
This is when the movie really begins. We see Whip struggle with the situation he now finds himself in and the potential consequences of his lifestyle. We also see Nicole as she battles her own demons and tries to support Whip as he falls apart.
Things slow down here and though the script is solid, it is somewhat surprising to see it nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Aside from a few lines which sound like classic Washington, there isn’t really much to get excited about. There is an interesting speech in a stairwell, but apart from that there isn’t much. At times it feels overwrought and heavy-handed, whilst some of the big scenes don’t manage to hit the right spot.
Yet the cast do their best with what they’ve got. Denzel puts in a very good performance as always, but the material isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, so there is only so much that can be done. One only wonders what this film would have been like were the lead role given to a lesser actor. Still, a Best Actor nomination seems overly generous if only due to the limitations of the script.
Kelly Reilly also gives a solid performance, but neither character feels particularly fleshed out, even though we know a lot about their (unfortunately predictable) backgrounds. Don Cheadle does well as the amoral lawyer (is there another kind?), Hugh Lang. There is also an enjoyable cameo from John Goodman playing Whip’s Rolling Stones soundtracked drug dealer.
Helmed by Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future, Forest Gump, Cast Away) the film is very well put together. At times, his use of the camera really focuses on what is important, giving an insular feeling which reflects the character’s isolation. The only time he really slips up is during an inappropriate moment at a hospital where we are invited to laugh at some (again, two dimensional) people for their religious beliefs. It tries to lighten the mood, but ends up looking like something from an out-and-out comedy and doesn’t sit well with the frankly serious nature of the scene. It would be like placing a fart gag at the emotional climax of Schindler’s List.
This is a mediocre film pulled up by its bootstraps by some great performances and some inspired directing. It shouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is, but then that is true of a lot of Denzel Washington movies. The main problem is that it isn’t particularly deep which is usually death for a character study such as this. Still, everything just about comes together and there is enough good will in the first hour or so (which is regularly topped up) to carry you through to the end.
A few weeks back, John LaRue of The Droid You’re Looking For asked me if I was interested in writing a gritty piece for his site on the grindhouses that ruled 42nd Street from the 1960s to the mid 1980s. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to help John out and after a few weeks of brainstorming, tweaking, and watching old exploitation movies, that article was completed and sent off to John. He added an introduction and a snazzy infograph to make my list of “exploitation essentials” a bit more pleasing to the eye and we were off to the wildest time in movie history. If you wish to read the article, click here, and do make sure you check out the rest of John’s site. It truly is one of the most unique, funny, and downright creative film websites you will see. On with the show!
-Theater Management (Steve)
P.S. Barf bags will be provided to those audience members with weak stomachs.
by Craig Thomas
The Tunnel is a 2011 film from Australia which purports to be a documentary about a news investigation gone horribly wrong. As the title suggests, it shares a number of similarities with another horror movie, called The Descent, in that they both involve people trapped underground with unidentified monsters.
This is basically another found footage horror film with ideas above its station. Whilst big ideas are laudable, you have to be able to pull them off, and that just doesn’t happen here. The biggest twist on the idea is that this is actually a documentary, made after the supposed events. This means there is lots of people talking to camera about what happened and whilst this is a nice idea, it commits the cardinal sin of being relentlessly dull. It also removes any tension regarding whether or not certain characters will die, as they clearly didn’t. Despite this being a work of fiction, the actors actually do a convincing job that they are recounting events, which is somewhat of a rarity in such movies. So you can get on board with the whole idea.
It is, in theory at least, an interesting concept. A similar technique was used to much better effect in the not very good Mila Jovovich alien abduction movie, The Fourth Kind.
The biggest problem with The Tunnel is that it is a really good idea, for a TV show. By which I mean, as a special at a length of 45 minutes to one hour, it had the potential to do something really good. However, with it being 90 minutes long, there just wasn’t enough material to sustain it, therefore there is a serious drag for the first half of the movie, most of which is superfluous. The first 30 minutes, a whole third of the film, could easily have been cut down to five minutes, without any loss whatsoever. It would seem the only reason it was all there to begin with was to take up time. After that, it takes another 15 minutes for anything interesting to happen. So straight away, we’re halfway through the film without anything of value or interest happening.
After that it does improve dramatically. The actual horror part of the film is pretty good. It builds and maintains the suspense and there are a good couple of jumpy bits. But by this point a lot of the audience’s goodwill has been spent so it needs to work really well to justify the first half of the film and unfortunately it doesn’t quite get there. If they had managed to extend the actual horror elements of the film, then it would have been significantly improved.
In its defense, it is not too surprising how little is actually shot in the tunnels, in what would appear to have been a fan-funded film. What they have done here is impressive and the last half outstrips many larger budget films. The problem is the rest of it doesn’t work.
Considering the budgetary constraints, everyone comes out looking good and if they had found a way to make more of it a horror, or made the non-horror bits in any way engaging they could have had a good little film on their hands. Unfortunately, what they’ve got now half a film and an interesting idea. Hopefully the people involved will be able to use this as a stepping stone to greater things, of which I am confident they are capable.
The Tunnel is available on Blu-ray and DVD.