Tuesday, November 29, 2011
From my perspective, Captain America has always been sort of a jerk. Granted, I haven't read too many comics from his solo series, but it used to be that every time he showed up in any X-men books (pre-90's anyway), he'd be quick to blame them for whatever trouble was happening. Because, you know, mutants. Thankfully he's grown a little wiser since then, or maybe another character took the name and costume, I'm not sure. But in the past few years he's been fighting for truly American ideals like acceptance and justice, and not blaming minorities for stuff, at least when he isn't dying.
Still, it took some persuasion from friends to get me to see this one, even despite the $2 entry fee, mostly because I just didn't feel enthused about Cap as a character. Thankfully, it wasn't entirely bad, although as a whole it's a mess, and I seriously question some of the things we're asked to believe.
The first half of the movie actually had me pretty entertained. Set during World War II, we're introduced to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who has the heart of a lion and the body of a twelve-year-old. All he wants to do is join the army and fight for his country, but he's shot down again and again due to his diminutive frame. (Didn't they recruit for non-combat positions in WWII?) Through all of this we get nonsense about how courage and heart are all you really need to be a man, and eventually Rogers' persistence pays off when Tommy Lee Jones sees him as a potential candidate for a new super-soldier program.
After getting pumped full of drugs, Rogers becomes a manly muscle man, and now is when everyone starts fawning over him. The previously frigid female officer who couldn't be bothered to look at him before lets her hair down and does nothing but sigh and bat her eyelashes for the rest of the goddamn movie. His comrades suddenly give him the respect he deserves now that he looks the part. The film refuses to back up all the talk about courage and bravery and all that being more important than your outward appearance. What a message to send to kids: yeah, what's inside counts, but good luck getting people to notice it unless you look like a Greek god.
As a superhero though, Cap doesn't get immediate respect, and the film's self-awareness of how ridiculous a costumed American flag guy would be in real life leads to some of the most entertaining scenes. Before seeing any real action, Cap is turned into a propaganda piece and carted around the country punching a fake Adolf Hitler in a stage show to encourage the sale of war bonds. Unfortunately, this sense of realism collapses under the weight of a ridiculously portrayed group of cartoon villains that we're supposed to see as more evil than regular old Nazis.
The superhero formula has been done so much recently that it seems like writers are just falling back on the flow of the origin story as a crutch. Once we've got a fully-formed hero, they don't have a clue as to what to do with him. Action sequences...? Uh, yeah, that must be it. And throw in a cast of racial stereotypes to fight with Cap, cause it's easier than introducing characters we care about. The film just feels lazy in the latter half, the main villain, Red Skull, acts entirely without logic, and the disjointed action sequences do nothing to help you care. In short, my assumptions about Captain America as a character were reinforced - there's no internal conflict driving his character once he gets pumped up, and he just becomes a cardboard cutout that fights bad guys. Any message the film tries to convey regarding heroism rings hollow, and we're left with another largely empty film about an action figure that goes through the motions just so that people won't be clueless about the character once the Avengers tie-in rolls around.
3.5 / 10 = Skip it
Monday, November 28, 2011
It always frustrates me when a highly regarded film just doesn’t click with me, mostly because I can’t help but ascribe some portion of it to my own lack of competence as a viewer. I’m not terribly well-schooled when it comes to film, but I like to believe that I’m working towards an increasing lack of ignorance. I also generally believe that film is a medium that’s always accessible on some level, and that you should never need secret or specialized knowledge to parse a film. So it’s somewhat unnerving when something so widely lauded falls flat and lacks any resonance for me, because it either means my assumptions about the medium are false, or that I’m just simply on a vastly different wavelength than most viewers.
I’m not talking about Yi Yi actually, but Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu. I continue to read about the rich humanity and depth of emotion in Ozu’s films, but fail to see it for myself. Barring the possibility that I’m an emotionless robot, I have to chalk this up to my own taste. I see humanity through a character’s actions and words, not simply by their presence on screen. And while the old couple in Tokyo Story seemed perfectly nice and almost preternaturally gentle, I didn’t empathize with them any more than I would an acquaintance’s grandparents. I appreciate the technical aspects of the film: the frame focused on a room through which characters enter and exit as if they aren’t aware they’re being watched, the face-on dialogue shot as if you’re conversing with the characters. Still, even these techniques, which should have enhanced the realism of the film, just couldn’t pull me out of my apathy.
Back to Yi Yi. It’s a similar film in a lot of ways - focusing on an ordinary middle-class family in the midst of the minor tragedies and victories of life which seem momentous in scale only for the ones directly experiencing them. Both films focus on a family forced to confront a death juxtaposed against the otherwise boring pace of real life. Both focus on the insecurities and fears each character possesses which manifest in the shortcomings of their behavior. As in Tokyo Story, we encounter these characters in the midst of everyday life - in medias res for the story of their lives, and leave them just as they’ve started to comprehend their own plights.
What makes Yi Yi different for me is that the people we see are fully realized - as flawed as they are good, but always aspiring to be better. They’re not as one-dimensional as the neglectful family or the saintly grandparents in Tokyo Story, but fleshed out people, fully intending to live up to their personal ideals, but without the courage or motivation to always follow through on them.
The English title for Yi Yi is “A one and a two…” and it’s appropriate, given the slow rhythm of ordinary life that drives the film’s narrative. We don’t have large emotional arcs or slow climbs towards drama here, just the gentle ebb and flow of happiness and disappointment along with the cycles of yearning for what might have been and appreciation for what is. It’s a form that filmmakers usually don’t choose to capture, but one that’s immediately resonant when it works. The closest recent thing that comes to mind in comparison is the musical structure of the movements within The Tree of Life. If you’re a fan of that film and have got the time to sit down uninterrupted for about three hours, I’d recommend checking this one out.
8.5 / 10 = See it
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Watching society fall apart is one of my favorite things to do, so I was pretty excited to see that Steven Soderbergh was doing it large-scale by unleashing a virus on the world. What's more, first and foremost he chose to target my former home state of Minnesota! It's always good to see familiar territory being ravaged by plague. I'm impressed by how versatile Soderbergh can be, and while he doesn't always hit the mark with his bigger-budget features, it's clear that he's not afraid to ditch the money in favor of making films he wants to make (i.e. Bubble). Here he's picked up a whole line-up of big-name actors to assemble his ensemble cast, but thankfully never lets the star power overshadow his film.
Matt Damon acts as our Minneapolitan civilian counterpart whose family is one of the first to fall prey to the disease. Meanwhile in Atlanta, Lawrence Fishburne steps in as the head of the CDC and desperately tries to contain the outbreak, prevent the general population from panicking, and keep himself from exploiting his position of power to keep his loved-ones safe. We also get Jude Law as a conspiracy theorist blogger, Zoey Deschanel as a disease investigator in China, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, John Hawkes... needless to say, there's a lot going on in this movie. For the most part it's balanced pretty well, although some of the stories inevitably get shortchanged. It's also a shame that we don't get any main characters based in China, where the disease originates and seemingly has an equally devastating effect (if not moreso than what we're shown in the U.S.).
The stories unfold simultaneously,and are broken up by news-reel style footage and voiceovers, setting this film firmly in reality. There's nothing campy or sensationalistic about it – at times it's almost too subtle, but this works really well when shit really begins to hit the fan. The overall feel reminded me of a modern version of Threads, perhaps a little less bleak and soul-crushing in the end, with nuclear fallout replaced by an unusually aggresive superbug.
This one was definitely worth the $2 entry fee. There's a bit of a post-apocalyptic vibe to the whole deal, and I'm a sucker for anything that suggests the end is nigh, so I had a blast. It's sometimes understated, but has a few killer scenes that really hammer home the sense of dread. I'd recommend checking it out over the holidays – what better way to spend Thanksgiving than watching a movie about a Thanksgiving epidemic? Just wash your damn hands before touching the food.
8/10 = See it
8/10 = See it
Sunday, November 20, 2011
The Taint achieves what by now seems impossible: it pushes splatter to previously unthinkable levels of gore and tastelessness. This is exactly why it deserves your attention. It might be that everything worth doing has been done to death at this point, but just when you think we’ve hit bottom, there’s someone down there scraping away at the muck. Drew Bolduc and Dan Nelson have worked long and hard to produce this slimy little diamond in the rough.
Why not just bypass all the semi-concealed themes in the post-apocalyptic infection scenarios - you know, society keeps people in check, and removing social order via a plague, zombies, etc. allows the non-infected to act out suppressed fantasies… The Taint cuts out the middleman and imagines a mutagen that turns all men into raging misogynists who want nothing more than to kill women. The protagonist seems to exist only because movies are supposed to have one, and we need some reason to jump from gag to gag and flashback to flashback. Don’t go in expecting much continuity, or even much of a story. The Taint is really nothing more than a series of gore-based set pieces, but you can’t fault it for doing one thing if it does it really well.
Misogyny and homoeroticism go hand in hand, and there’s tons of both here. It was really a great move when you think about it - anyone who’s going to revel in the macho violence a little too much is likely going to be caught off-guard by the guy-on-guy wrestling or the ever-present short shorts and crotch shots. The only thing that outnumber the dick jokes in this film are the dicks themselves, all destined to be destroyed in various fashions. But for every sophmoric attempt at humor, there’s something clever - it’s humor by attrition, and it comes out on top in the end.
The film’s greatest weakness is the acting, or the lack of it. Acting (or even having characters) clearly isn’t the focus of the film, so just don’t expect it. At best, the lines are delivered with barely contained smirks, and the suppressed irony threatens to boil over, but only actually does a couple times. (Did we really need a that’s what she said joke in the middle of a montage parody?) Still, it’s clear that the film doesn’t have much spite for the tried and true post-apocalyptic formula, it’s just carrying it to an ultraviolent extreme.
I’m more tolerant of films when they’re labors of love as opposed to cash grabs churned out by big studios. Also, chainsaws, tons of head-crushing, and lots of practical effects don’t hurt. Did I mention how great the soundtrack to this film is? When you add up the numbers, there’s just too much to like here to let the flaws overshadow what the film does well. This is the best and most entertaining low/no-budget film I’ve seen since Mold! and I hope Bolduc and Nelson use it as a springboard to move on to bigger projects.
7/10 = Worth checking out
Friday, November 18, 2011
Setting a boring story about a boring romance inside a giant LARP game doesn’t make it any less boring. Despite the intriguing concept, I just couldn’t get involved in the core storyline of The Wild Hunt, and by the time things picked up in the last act it was too late. I was so uninterested in the characters that by then that even transitioning from fake violence with foam swords to real head-crushing couldn’t make me care.
The movie opens with Erik (Ricky Mabe) being sad about his girlfriend Lyn (Tiio Horn), who sort-of breaks up with him and then promptly runs off to the woods to LARP and play courtesean to a “barbarian lord.” Why do we care? That’s a good question - one that I never figured out. As far as I can tell, it’s because we’re supposed to relate to how moody and whiny they are and how pensive poor Erik looks as he watches traffic go by. When he heads into the woods to retrieve her, he’s sucked into the game and forced into the middle of the conflict between several warring factions, including the Nordic warriors led by his brother, Bjorn (Mark Krupa).
It’s a well-constructed film, even if it lends a bit more drama to the LARPers at times than is necessary. It’s hard to discern whether it’s poking fun at the game or taking it seriously, and this makes for a few wild shifts in tone. But despite the interesting ancillary characters, the plot is hard to take seriously when it doesn’t seem like it takes itself seriously for most of the film.
I can understand why this has gotten some attention - it’s generally well acted and takes some turns that are somewhat predictable but still have enough spin to make them interesting. It’s just a shame that there’s no backbone to the plot. Consistency isn’t necessarily key in filmmaking, but if you’re messing around with such drastic tonal shifts, you’d better make sure you’re doing it deliberately, or else you’re preventing your audience from investing anything in your story. I’d recommend the far more interesting documentary Darkon if you’re intrigued by the LARPing and want characters who are more fully drawn (since they’re real).
3.5 / 10 = Skip it
How do you break free from the shadows of vintage Schwarzenegger? Is it even worth trying? The answer is yes, my friends. The way it’s accomplished is to go back to kick-ass source material and adapt it as faithfully as possible. Conan the Barbarian doesn’t follow the books exactly, but it has the same spirit as the pulp stories did. There are maybe two scenes in this film that aren’t action sequences, and the battles are bloody, quick, and varied enough to keep you from being bored. Jason Momoa might as well be the real-life version of Conan, in looks and in attitude, and in retrospect he carries the role with a savagery and slight cockiness that fits the character better than Arnold did (however blasphemous it sounds). On the downside, Rose McGowan still can’t act, but thankfully she’s just the auxillary villian to Stephen Lang’s frothing-at-the-mouth portrayal of would-be wizard Khalar Zym. The film is beautiful, and the landscapes look like they were lifted out of a Frazetta painting. The more I think about this film, the more I like it, so here’s hoping it a sequel gets green-lighted. As a side note, I saw this in 3D (I had a groupon - no way in hell I would pay full price) and it added nothing except slight blurriness. This rates slightly low on my rating scale (more on that sometime maybe), but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
6/10 = Worth checking out
Thursday, November 17, 2011
What on earth were the filmmakers responsible for The Visitor thinking? Most of the time it seems like they were going for a straightforward telekinetic evil kid movie, and if it wasn’t for the intermittent exposition, you’d probably just fill in the gaps on your own and call it a day. Instead, thanks to the extended cut 35mm print unearthed by the guys at Cinema Overdrive, we get an opening scene where a soft-focus hippie space-alien Jesus tells a story about an evil being named “Sateen” to a bunch of bald kids… There’s a lot to like in the next hour and a half, including the surprisingly effective performance of the young Paige Conner, whose intermittent Southern drawl adds just enough creepiness to her lines at just the right time. You also get exploding basketballs, flocks of angry birds, Lance Henrickson (better known as Bishop from Aliens), a couple of moments of absurdly sped-up car crashes and ice-rink carnage, and a surreal cameo by Sam Peckinpah in which he’s entirely dubbed and not at all sober. The Italians tend to be good at throwing traditional narrative logic out the window, but unfortunately this one is never quite able to establish a coherent mood. Despite director Giulio Paradisi’s tangential connection to Fellini (he was a bit actor in 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita), none of the master’s technique seemed to stick. The Visitor is worth seeing for its surreal and unsettlingly assembled scare scenes, and is a pretty fun and unpredictable supernatural horror flick.
6 / 10 = Check it out
Thanks again to Cinema Overdrive for presenting this theatrically.
There was so much talk way back when about Super 8 being nothing but empty nostalgia and to some extent it uses your memories of old Amblin features, but thankfully not in the soulless way that the awful 80s-franchise reboots tend to do. Rather, it seeks to evoke memories and a period in childhood where you’re right on the cusp of adolescence, a long summer stretches ahead of you, and you have nothing to do but kick around your small town with a group of friends.
Joe (Joel Courtney) is a kid who lost his mother in a steel mill accident a few months ago and is left more or less to his own devices while his police officer father works himself to the bone as a distraction. Joe and his friends are by far the strongest aspect of Super 8 - they do a great job of acting like kids without overacting, and remaining likable despite their near constant bickering as they work (futilely it sometimes seems) to complete a short film for entry into a contest. The band of slightly roguish kids was also the main ingredient in other 80’s kids adventure movies, such as The Goonies, and Abrams is able to recreate it well.
But this is an action/adventure movie, so we need some action thrown into the mix, and here it comes in the form of an enormous train crash from which something escapes and sparks all sorts of odd things in the sleepy Ohio town. The only thing is, after this initial encounter between the kids and the creature, their stories diverge until the last act. Maybe this is a good thing, since it means we get to continue to watch Joe and his friends struggle to get their movie made amidst an increasingly threatening military presence in the town. When the creature does appear, we’re teased by jump cuts and huge roars, but never see much of it or get too much of a feel for what it’s up to.
The action does let loose in the final act, but the real reason I wanted to see this monster taken care of was so that it’d stop interrupting the far more interesting story of Joe and his friends. Although it seems like the kids might come into contact with it and uncover its secrets, they never really encounter it firsthand. There’s a little too much telling going on, where there should be some showing. About 2/3rds of the way through the film we’re told why we should empathize with the monster, but since we’ve never seen it… how can we?
Super 8 shows Abrams still trying to come into his own as a director, which, honestly, he’s had quite a while to do. Here, as in his Star Trek reboot, he’s shown that he’s able to recreate popular sci-fi stories adequately without really adding anything to them. (Exception: lens flares, which for some reason are still all over the place in Super 8, although less so than in Star Trek thank god.) Abrams talks about how much of a fan he is, and it certainly seems like he loves sci-fi from the jobs he chooses to take, but he hasn’t done much but mimic so far. I’d love to see something original from him, but for now, I’ll turn my brain off and take Super 8 for what it is - a slightly above average kids’ action flick.
6/10 = Worth seeing theatrically… for $2
Even though I saw Lucky McKee's The Woman a while ago, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. It definitely subverted the expectations I had for it, which were undoubtedly influenced by the news of walkouts (excuse me, “runouts”) and audience members becoming sick in the aisles at recent fest screenings. Setting the hype to the side, it's still a pretty uncomfortable film to watch, although not always for the reasons you anticipate.
The Woman is supposedly a loose sequel to 2009's Offspring – an intermittently fun and consistently stupid film about a pack of wild cannibals running loose on the pacific coast. I'm not even sure why the connection to The Woman needs to be drawn though. Aside from sharing the concept of a feral woman, the two have nothing in common in terms of structure, tone, or even intent. The Woman focuses on what appears to be a typical upper-middle class suburban family who is mildly shocked (although not as much as you’d think) when Dad goes hunting and brings back a grime-covered woman he’s found wandering around. Dad has a great and generous plan to teach her how to be civilized, and the whole family will have to chip in to help in order for this ambitious plan to work.
It’s an interesting premise, but I’m going to have to spoil most of the film in order to discuss it, so be warned.
The suggestion in the first half of the film (and by nearly all of the press material) that there's going to be a profound message about civilized society versus nature turns out to be just a ruse. The hints that Dad is a misogynistic psychopath holding his family emotionally captive are present all along, but they're integrated into the context of the film as a social satire. Once it's revealed that he is in fact crazy, his family's acceptance of the bizarre notion that this Woman is going to be held captive in their storm shelter suddenly makes sense. He's forced them into a domestic autocracy where no decision of his is questioned without swift physical punishment. But it's a far less interesting truth than is hinted at during the setup of the film, and it undercuts your ability to read anything meaningful into the film. It's a clever bait-and-switch though, especially because it seems to hint that McKee is throwing up a giant middle finger at anyone looking to distill any profound meaning from the film. Still, the true story is less interesting than the one you're expecting, and if not for the clever lead-up into it, we'd be watching something that retreads old ground.
Compare The Woman to the rape/revenge flicks of the past - it's reasonably similar in structure, and the thing that it truly has in common is that there's such a high sleaze-factor that isn’t often incorporated into modern films. A lot of old rape/revenge films are really unpalatable – especially now, when we're all entering the theater hyper-aware of political correctness. Such films are routinely picked apart looking for subtexts, and you've got to wonder if that's the only way that audiences today can stand to view them. Examining such a film under the lens of female empowerment makes it somewhat more tolerable, yes, but does it change the core concept of the film? Does the ten-minute long rape scene in I Spit On Your Grave become shorter depending on how you interpret it?
The Woman seems to be aware of how audiences are going to read it and sets up all its pieces in such a way that you're guided along until the final act of the film when the rug is pulled out from underneath you. No, we're not watching an allegory here – this is a very straightforward story about a sick man, made seemingly more tolerable initially by the way it's presented. Viewing a monster as a metaphor lessens the reality of its deeds, but once this safe interpretation is destroyed, the truth becomes all the more harder to bear. Following the big reveal, McKee really kicks things into overdrive. The gore is never watered down at any point in the film, but it's turned up several notches in the end. Once the cards are all on the table, the blood flows as freely as the film is finally liberated to roll around in its exploitative filth.
And in a way, I commend McKee for not being afraid to eventually cast off all the postmodern trappings and give us sleaze for the sake of sleaze. The trend of introducing a slight amount of satire into horror has always bothered me a little bit, since it seems to suggest that horror films aren't able to be appreciated on their own merit unless we're simultaneously laughing at their shortcomings. McKee is fully aware of the “rules” of the genre, but then uses them to subvert and shock rather than poke fun. This is why I suspect the film is getting such violent reactions – because those viewers who would normally be gone at the drop of a hat go in hoping for some intellectual stimulation, and are tricked into watching a film that presents vileness free from context.
The downside is that the true film is essentially old ground re-tread. In order to prime you to read the film the way he wants, McKee introduces a number of elements which weaken it. It's somewhat difficult to reconcile the day-glo suburban atmosphere with the torrid abuse going on within the home, and it also gives the film an air of a made-for-TV teen drama. The inclusion of a relatively upbeat alt-rock soundtrack just strengthens that feeling. It may be that these choices were made to try and induce a little bit of ironic levity to the dark material we're being shown, but they don't always click.
I'd have to watch the film again to see how these thoughts hold up, and I'm not anxious to do that for a while. This film will undoubtedly be labeled torture porn and dismissed by many because of it, but the fact that I'm still thinking about it days afterwards speaks to its strengths. While it's not the most consistent film, I'm inclined to believe that quite a bit of thought was put into it. This makes it worth checking out, especially if you’re looking for an alternative to the popcorn gore of some recent (unnamed) horror franchises, and like your horror filled with the grit, nastiness, and downright mean-spiritedness that the best exploitation films of yesterday adopted.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Aftermath is proof that gore alone can’t sustain a movie, even if it’s only 30 minutes long. Don’t get me wrong - I love some good splatter, but even if it’s technically polished as hell, watching a pathologist mutilate and rape a corpse just isn’t the kind of thing that in and of itself can sustain interest for me. If Nacho Cerdà was just trying to show off his skill at creating realistic gore effects (as long as you ignore the fact that corpses don’t bleed) and establishing a really grim atmosphere, then I guess he’s succeeded. I actually am interested in seeing how his first feature (2006’s The Abandoned) turned out, and hope that Cerdà managed to throw some susbstance in with his style.
Aftermath is available on Netflix Instant.
3/10 = Skip it
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I remember when it wasn’t cool to be a geek. I don’t know what changed since ninth grade - whether it’s the sheer ubiquity of technology these days, or the fact that video games have introduced sci-fi and fantasy tropes into a new generation that’s accepted them as the norm. Maybe it’s just my adult self ceasing to give a shit about how things I like are perceived by a general audience. Still, while we might live in a golden age of geekdom, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t outsiders subject to ridicule.
Enter LARPing (Live-Action Role-Playing), in which grown men and women dress in fare more suited to the local renaissance festival and run around soccer fields beating each other with foam swords. To the uninitiated it looks ridiculous, but to those involved it’s as serious an undertaking as any. Darkon explores the world of LARPing by following a number of enthusiasts through their in-game conquests as well as the more mundane aspects of their everyday lives.
I was apprehensive going into this film, half-expecting an incredulous outsider’s look into a bizarre subculture with the take-away message of “can you believe these people?” But Darkon doesn’t ridicule its subjects, and lets them speak for themselves, whether it’s on their in-game characters, the political machinations that make up the story of the game, or what they do when they aren’t slaying foes. Still, the unspoken question that runs throughout the interviews is: Why do this? What’s the appeal of a grown-up game of ‘let’s pretend?’ Anyone who’s roleplayed doesn’t need an answer to this; it’s fun, and that’s all that matters. It seems like the filmmakers weren’t content with this though, and often they dig into the personal insecurities of the subjects, superimposing their inadequacies in real life against their in-game victories and aspirations. I wonder just how much questioning had to happen before some of the answers that appear in the documentary were elucidated.
The subjects are interesting and likable people though, and the dedication they put into weaving their in-game stories reveals a passion that would be entertaining to watch regardless of the pursuit it was poured into. This eventually lends the footage of the game a weight that it lacks when it’s shown out of context in the beginning. And this is what LARPing is all about – not the act of hitting things with fake weapons, but the clash of personalities and the communal telling of a story. The dramatic music and crane shots near the climactic battle almost cheapen it in a way. There’s enough tension in the story without these pseudo-Hollywood effects.
What it comes down to in the end is that real life can be boring, and most people find a way to make it less so. These people don’t deserve scorn - if anything they should be applauded for creating a story so extensive and immersive.
7.5/10 = Worth your time
Darkon is available to watch via Netflix Instant.
6/10 = Worth checking out
Monday, November 14, 2011
In the spectrum of post-apocalyptic road movies, Stake Land can’t decide whether it wants to fall on the side of the old-school monster-killing, badassery, or the more somber, character-driven style that seems to have been rekindled by The Road. One the one hand, we’ve got Mister (Nick Damici), the kind of efficient moustache-totin’ vampire-staking machine you’d want on your side if the apocalypse did roll around, but then we’re also given Martin (Connor Paolo), a teenage kid of indeterminate age whose contemplative voice-over frequently pushes the tone into the sentimental. The resulting film handles both styles reasonably well, but the constant tension between the two means neither really develops as much as it could.
Despite the numerous scenes of vampire-killing carnage, the father-son dynamic is what wins over and ends up driving the story. The film is set some time after the emergence of zombies, er, I mean vampires, causes society to collapse and general chaos to ensure. Martin meets Mister the day his parents are killed in a vampire attack, and the two hit the road in search of New Eden, a Canadian town rumored to host a sanctuary from the undead. Just to keep things interesting, there’s also a fanatic Christian cult thrown into the mix. My biggest issue with the story is that it doesn’t break any new ground. While it does an okay job of driving the story forward, every scene feels as if it’s been played out before, and every character falls neatly into a standard archetype.
Still, this is a very good-looking apocalypse, and the believability of the sets, costumes, and general feel of the film is extremely convincing. Some of the best parts of Stake Land are its depictions of a destroyed rural American countryside with vast stretches of fields and forests broken up only by run-down shantytowns. There are also some truly intense action scenes (ever seen vampires dropped out of helicopters as weapons?), although there are an equal amount that unfold unremarkably.
It’s a shame the monsters of this world aren’t as nice-looking as the scenery. The vampires are believable when they’re simply bruised people with fangs, but other times the makeup and prosthetics are slathered on so thick it looks ridiculous. Also, they shout in that annoying guttural roar that no human throat can produce - the one that for some reason seems slapped into every single horror movie where someone transforms into a monster. The cult members are similarly over-the-top, and I’d be okay with this (insane cults are one of the best things about PA films), except that it’s incongruous with the serious tone the rest of the movie tries to establish.
I might be overly critical of Stake Land, but only because I saw such potential in it. It’s a shame that the filmmakers settled for re-treading old ground, and I truly think that had they put a little more time into the development of their script as opposed to the look of the film, they could have achieved something memorable. Instead, we’ll have to settle for another polished post-apocalyptic re-hash.
7/10 = Worth checking out
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Welcome, and thanks for tuning in. I'm now on air and ready for broadcast.
Dollar Theater Massacre! is my new place to talk about movies I see. The name comes from the fact that I live within walking distance from a second-run theater whose price of admission is low enough to pay for with the change I find in my couch. Despite the sleaze factor, this place is home to some really fond memories, and it gives me a chance to see films theatrically that I'd otherwise skip. If they're good, they're extra good because they're cheap. If they're bad, I get full bitching rights without paying an exorbitant amount. I may not be able to review stuff before it gets a wide release, but let my suffering inform your video rental decisions.
I'm also into horror / cult / exploitation flicks. Recently, in an attempt to reduce my cinematic ignorance, am working my way through the classics.
Give me a shout if you like similar stuff - I'd love to follow some other blogs. In the meantime, happy viewing.