Archive for August, 2009

MOVIE: Splinter (2008)

August 31, 2009

This movie opens with a fairly typical horror movie scenario — a young couple embarks to the middle of nowhere in the woods for a camping trip, when, suddenly, everything goes dramatically wrong.  But while the set-up may be something we’ve seen a dozen times, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the direction this movie ultimately ended up going in.

The couple in question, Seth and Polly (Paulo Costanzo, currently playing goofy brother Evan on USA’s Royal Pains, and Jill Wagner), have driven out to the backwoods for a weekend of real roughing it.  Their plans are made a muck of, though, when they’re carjacked by an escaped convict named Dennis and his in-the-midst-of-drug-withdrawal girlfriend Lacey (Shea Whigham and Rachel Kerbs).  Driving around the back roads while Dennis and Lacey try to figure out their plan, the group hits something in the middle of the road that thrashes one of their tires.  When they get out to take a look and load up the spare, they find a dead animal in the road covered with all kinds of weird, super-sharp splinters.

As Dennis and Polly work on changing the tire, Seth and Lacey head over to the dead animal, which Lacey is convinced Seth can bring back to health (he’s a nerdy biology PhD).  Seth is less convinced of this, as are those of us in the audience NOT currently withdrawing from a heroin addiction.  But when the dead animal suddenly dies come back to life, and with an attitude to  boot!, the group hustles back into the car and races down the road.   They pull into a gas station a few miles down, and that’s when they finally meet their first human incarnation of the splinter entity.

The gas station attendant, infected by the splinter, attacks them immediately, creeping and creaking around with his joints all crackly and bent the wrong way and dozens of those terrible, horrible splinters jutting out from all over him.  The next thing you know, Lacey’s down as well, and our three survivors — the geeky Seth, the tough-but-pretty Polly, and the bad-ass-with-a-heart-of-gold Dennis — have found themselves trapped in a gas station trying to figure out how in the hell they are going to get out of there alive.

Through trial and error, they manage to figure out a few things about the entity they can use to try to beat it, but in the process, we’re treated to a solid hour of surprisingly effective suspense and some creature effects I have to say truly impressed me.

This is a thoroughly entertaining low-budget horror flick with a great sense of humor, characters that are a little stereotypical but still worth caring about, and a zippy tempo that keeps you at attention.  It’s not flawless, but it’s definitely a solid addition to the good-bad horror movie oeuvre.  Recommended!

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Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Rachel Kerbs, Shea Whigham

Five More ex-Boyfriends Headed for TV!

August 27, 2009

Okay, so we already knew about Paul Gross in Eastwick (ABC, Wednesday, Sept. 23), Tim DeKay in White Collar (USA, Oct.), Alex O’Loughlin in Three Rivers (CBS, Sunday, Oct. 4), Chris O’Donnell on NCIS:LA (CBS, Tuesday, Sept. 22), and Timothy Olyphant on Lawman (FX, 2010) (okay, okay, he’s not an ex-Boyfriend YET, but he will be soon enough).

BUT I just found out today that five more ex-Boyfriends will be starring or co-starring in shows coming to cable and network television this fall/winter.  Man, I might have to quit my day job just to keep the DVR from exploding.  Life is good.  (p.s. Know of any other new shows coming soon that star old Boyfriends of the Week?  Hit the comments!)

We’ve got:

James Marsters playing terrorist leader Barnabus Greeley in SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica. (Jan. 2010)

John Hawkes playing a new character on ABC’s Lost — some kind of businessman described as “scruffy, edgy, and charismatic.”  You had me at “scruffy,” ABC. (Jan. 2010)

Chris Noth co-starring with Julianna Margulies in CBS’s The Good Wife, a series about a stay-home mom who finds herself reentering the workplace after her husband’s very public sex and political corruption scandals land him in jail.  Sounds terrible.  Sign me up.  (Tuesday, Sept. 22)

The delightfully-voiced Clancy Brown co-starring in ABC’s new lawyer drama, The Deep End, which will focus on a law firm and its fresh-faced recruits.  While I’m definitely sick (and tired) of lawyer shows, those are two adjectives I’ll likely never apply to my feelings about The Clance (which sounds like an STD but isn’t; if it were, I’d be happy to contract it, though), so clearly I’m on board. Plus, Tina Majorino!  Yay!  (TBA, Fall)

And last, but certainly NOT least,

James Tupper, humina humina, coming to NBC in Mercy, a medical drama told from the perspective of nurses and described as having “a totally unique point of view.”  You know, except for all those other shows on TV right now about nurses.  Oh really, like we care if this one’s unique.  As long as nobody tries to tidy up his hair, I’m in.  (Friday, Sept. 23)

(By the way, I was going to reduce this photo of JT a bit.  But then I decided life’s too short for cropped photos of James Tupper.  You’re welcome.)

james_tupper

MOVIE: District 9 (2009)

August 25, 2009

When I first saw the previews for this movie a couple of months ago, I was instantly excited about it.  It feels like it’s been forever since we got a truly thoughtful and original science fiction film (not counting Star Trek, or whatever else it is you’re about to tell me I’m forgetting), and this one looked like it was going to be both those things, wrapped up in a tidy bundle with some wicked special effects sprinkled on top to boot.  Then a few weeks ago, the reviews started to roll in, most of them so madly in love with District 9 they were practically making out with the thing right there in print.  Jeebus, get a room, Schwarzbaum.

By the time the film opened in theaters two weekends ago, I could barely contain my anticipation.  I went into the theater last week all abounce with glee, waiting to be completely blown away by its originality, intelligence, poignancy, political relevance, visuals, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum (but never nauseum).

As it turns out, this movie IS pretty intelligent, poignant, and politically relevant.  It’s also as visually stunning as the previews made me think it would be.  But it didn’t blow me away, I have to confess, and if you’ve been paying attention, you already know why.  The descriptive noun that didn’t make it into my list at the start of this paragraph?  “Originality.”  More on that in a moment, though.

The story opens with a back-story — in 1989, a spaceship appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa, and just sat there, not moving, not beeping, not flashing lights, not playing the theme from Close Encounters, nada.  After watching it do nothing for a couple of months, the South Africans got bored and decided to fly up to it, chop a hole in the side, and take a look.  Inside, they were startled to discover thousands of aliens huddled together, starving to death.  They “rescued” the alien creatures, nicknamed “Prawns” because of their crustacean appearance (and because that’s a derogatory term in South Africa), and brought them down to a slummy township referred to as District 9.

At first, township life was primarily a muddled scramble aimed at getting the Prawns healthy and situated, but as time passed (and reproduction kept building the population), District 9 rapidly began to fill up and then overflow with aliens.  Not wanting them to scatter to the far corners of the country (for their own safety, they said, with a wink and a  nudge), the South African government built a fence around District 9 and began to patrol it with the military.  But overcrowded slums lead to hunger and desperation, which almost always lead to crime.   Crime in turn leads to violence.  Violence then to fear.  And fear then to hate.  And by the time we’ve entered the present day, the Prawns are universally loathed by most of the South Africans who live around them.

As the film opens, we meet our protagonist, a bumbling government employee named Wikus (Sharlton Copley) who has been “promoted” to the job of relocating the Prawns from District 9 to a new “improved” (wink, nudge) township further away from civilization, District 10.   As part of the relocation, every Prawn must read and sign an agreement that hands over their homes, such as they are, to the government, because what are governments for if not extraneous paperwork and the addition of insult to injury?

Wikus and a film crew enter District 9 with the stack of forms, and as he progresses from infuriated Prawn to infuriated Prawn, the vapid Wikus (say it fast, it’s fun!) smiles and grins as he casually points out dissenting Prawns  being beaten or shot and then cheerfully helps engineer the destruction of an enormous stack of Prawn eggs (babies!), like they’re nothing at all.

As Wikus goes through the slum, he’s also on the lookout for Prawn technology.  The Prawns came to Earth with tons of weaponry genetically developed to work only if a Prawn is firing it, and the humans have been trying to find and re-engineer any and all Prawn technology they can get their hands on.  Discovery of a big cache of weapons or other cool stuff would be a huge boon for Wikus’s career, so when he stumbles across a mysterious object in one of the shacks, he picks it up to examine it more closely.  Gee, what is this mysterious object?  Let me put my face right up close to it and see what it. . . gah!  The object promptly sprays Wikus in the face with some kind of nasty brown fluid.  A nasty brown fluid we later learn not only can be used to power the space ship, but also has the unfortunate side effect of turning exposed humans into aliens.  Think The Fly, only grosser, believe it or not.

Unfortunately, from this point forward in the film, every single plot element progresses exactly as you’d expect it to, with almost nothing in the way of surprises.  Anybody who watches science fiction movies in which alien beings interact with humans could’ve written this script with one hand tied behind their backs, frankly (a couple I thought of while watching:  Enemy Mine, Alien Nation, the 80’s miniseries V, etc.).  I mean, of course the brown fluid makes Wikus start turning into the very creatures he so detests.  Of course he ends up having to go back to District 9, this time for help instead of for destruction.  Of course his own people turn on him when they see what he’s become.  Of course he learns a lesson about judging a biological entity by its exoskeleton.  Everything you think is going to happen, does, and that includes Wikus’s ultimate conversion from predator to prey.  The way the humans interact with the aliens is as predictably obtuse, paternalistic, and cruel as you’d expect.  The way the Prawns respond is as predictably sympathy-inducing, right down to their cute little kids and the way they dote on them, awww.  The actual plot develops exactly how you expect it to, and there are no twists you won’t see coming from a mile away.

THAT SAID, as much a disappointment as it always is when I see a movie that I thought was going to be unique and original and instead turns out to be this derivative, there were a lot of things I truly liked about this film, and it should be noted that I had a really good time watching it too.

For one thing, though the first ten minutes or so of the movie orient you immediately to the film’s  “message,” it’s not nearly as heavy-handed as I feared it might be.  The fact the story is set in South Africa, home of apartheid, is certainly no coincidence (nor is the fact it’s named District 9, which is just like District 6, historic home of the “Cape Coloureds,” but turned upside-down), but its relevance expands to include the situations of refugees and displaced persons all over the world.  Watching the government guards taunt and beat the refugees for kicks, watching them humiliate and offend with glee, seeing the desperation of the hungry, the pleading in the black market lines, etc. — this is something happening right now to people in cultures all around the world.  It even made me think of the Iraqi citizens we’ve arrested and held in prison camps indefinitely — the way we abuse them, humiliate them, treat them like they are animals, etc.

I also appreciated that Wikus didn’t immediately have a change of heart the moment he began to realize he needed the Prawns’ help in order to save himself.   In fact, it’s not really until the final moments of the movie that you begin to see a change in his personality.  That was kind of unexpected, I will confess (I was waiting for the cheesy epiphany), and I really appreciated the authenticity of that delay.

Also, the acting in this film is wonderful — this was Sharlto Copley’s first feature film role and I was completely blown away by him.  The movie is darkly comic as well, which I didn’t expect (for example, half the theater laughed out loud when we discovered the resident scam artists were Nigerians).   Though I wasn’t that impressed by the look of the aliens themselves (they’re people with shells, essentially), the other special effects in the movie were pretty good.

Overall, I enjoyed District 9, but am a bit boggled as to why all the science fiction lovers I know are so madly in love with it.  I got incredibly impatient in the final act and wish the movie had been about 20 minutes shorter than it was, with fewer shoot-outs and standard action shots.  It’s politically relevant and thought-provoking, but ultimately, that part of it was overshadowed for me by the disappointment I felt when I realized the actual progression of the story was going to be so cliché.  The film ends with a scene clearly intended to signal a sequel — but while I’ll definitely be planning to see that sequel (District 10, perhaps?), I’ll probably wait for DVD.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Science Fiction
Cast:  Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, William Allen Young

I’m Crazy Busy! And So Is Tim DeKay!

August 24, 2009

Sorry the blog has been a bit dead the last week — I had family in town last week and am about to enter the week before my best friend’s wedding as well, so don’t expect much over the next seven days!  You’re lucky I’m still alive, frankly.

timdekayTo tide you over, I’ll be posting a review of District 9 this week, and also wanted to mention that I was watching Psych the other night and saw an ad for a new USA series starring ex-Boyfriend Tim DeKay!  It’s called White Collar and will be debuting this fall.  It sounds sort of like Catch Me If You Can, as it’s about a con artist (Matt Bomer) who finally gets caught by an FBI agent (DeKay) and instead of being sent to jail, gets put to work by the Feebies helping them catch other elusive criminals.    Could be fun.   And, of course, I’d watch Tim DeKay do (almost) anything after falling madly in love with his Jonesy in HBO’s Carnivale.  (I say “almost” because even DeKay couldn’t save Tell Me You Love Me from the abyss of self-important inanity.  Win some, lose some, Timmy.)

More soon, swearsies!

MOVIE: In the Loop (2009)

August 17, 2009

Several years ago, a British reader of the Boyfriend of the Week sent me a couple of CDs that contained six episodes of a sit-com she was mad-crazy about called The Thick of It.  Not only did she want me to watch the series and tell her if I liked it, but she was especially keen on one of its stars, an actor and stand-up comedian named Chris Addison.

I watched the first episode with some hesitation, I’ll confess,  because I’d just finished watching the first season of the British version of The Office and didn’t end up loving it as much as everybody seemed to think I ought to.  That is, I didn’t hate it — but. . . meh.  I figured if I ended up not loving The Thick of It either, the entire United Kingdom might write me off at long last.  That would be horrible!  I like the British!  They talk so cute!

Five minutes into episode one of The Thick of It, though, and I was absolutely in love.  The series, about the bumbling spin machines at work behind the British government, was not only one of the most riotously funny things I’d ever seen, but it was absolutely goddamn brilliant to boot.

The problem with the request of my reader, though, was that when I was done with the six episodes she sent, I wasn’t in love with Chris Addison.  I mean, his character Ollie (“Toby” in the movie, but essentially the same guy) is absolutely my type in real life:  a super-enormous, highly intelligent dork.   But the BotW isn’t about real life, it’s about fantasy.  And in my fantasy world, the character for me was definitely going to be Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi.   Despite the fact Tucker’s an absolutely vicious bastard, his brutal directness holds the same appeal to me as Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House. I probably think to myself, “SPIT IT OUT, ALREADY” 19 times a day when I’m talking to people, and if there’s one thing I absolutely lack patience for, it’s people who tiptoe around topics.  Drop someone in front of me who not only spits it out, but launches it across the room like a SCUD missile, and I will immediately fall prostrate at their feet like the the penitent Magdalene.

This movie, in case you hadn’t already made the connection, is based on that British series (which, as far as I know, only had the one season, though I heard a rumor from someone today that director Armando Iannucci is planning a second season for 2010).  It features a lot of the same cast, including Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison, but also has a few notable additions, like Gina McKee (better known to some of us as Irene from The Forsyte Saga with Damian Lewis and Ioan Gruffud) and James Gandolfini. The backbone of this movie is about the escalation of the British and American governments towards war in Iraq.  But in reality, this film is a cutting satire about media strategy and political spin, and the dunderheads on both sides who flail around in a sea of absolute nonsense day in and day out.  Oh, yeah, and it’s also about us poor schlubs — the politicians’ constituents — and how very, very unimportant we truly are.

The disaster starts when government minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) says in a radio interview the sentence, “War is unforeseeable.”  Though that line is absolutely meaningless in every way, it immediately sets off a gargantuan mess of frenzy, beginning with Malcolm Tucker blackmailing a reporter into pretending it was never said, and ending with Foster’s flying off to Washington DC to meet with the American government.  There, we get a shot of the spin at work behind the scenes of our own political process, complete with an absolutely spot-on-hilarious subplot involving a secret “war” committee that may or may not have actually existed before the news of its existence was leaked to CNN, and a never-ending stream of jokes about how young most of our political go-to people are compared to their counterparts in the UK (“your f*ucking master race of highly-gifted toddlers. . .”)

I took my husband to see this with me because I knew that as a political news reporter, he was either going to laugh the entire time or get really cranky — kind of a win-win for me in terms of entertainment.   As it turns out, he loved it too, and even laughed out loud when someone in the film referred to “the media forces of darkness.”  I suspect, though he would neither confirm nor deny, that his job resembles this movie a lot of the time.  And you know what else?  He’s totally a Malcolm Tucker.  Which is why we get along so well.

If you’ve seen the film and you’re curious about the TV series, you can find a bunch of it on YouTube.  The first part of episode one is here (for the rest, you’re on your own):   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIzx_Z-TGe4.  But you don’t have to see the show to appreciate the movie.  If you like sharp political satire, or the hyperarticulate wit of cranky British people, you could not do better than In the Loop.   Except maybe with Yes, Minister, which I hope they movie-ize next for those of us living ‘cross the pond.  Can’t wait for it to come out on DVD so I can turn the English subtitles on — I’m pretty sure I missed at least two dozen snipy insults in “surround bollocksing” due to fast-moving British accents, a fact that will haunt me from now until the day I manage to catch and make note of them all.  F*ckity bye!

[Prequeue me at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Comedy
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, Paul Higgins, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Anna Chlumsky

MOVIE: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

August 14, 2009

hphalfbloodI finally set aside the requisite 8 million hours (feels like!) it takes to watch a Harry Potter movie and got my butt to a theater seat for this one at long last Monday.  Now, before you get my tone wrong, it should be noted that I’m a big fan of the books, even the ones that sucked, and I’ve also really enjoyed all the movies so far, even the ones that sucked.  So, I was excited to see it; it’s just a big time commitment.  A two-and-a-half hour movie means no Diet Coke, after all, otherwise there will have to be a pee break.  And a movie without a Diet Coke is always a challenge for me, because those are two great tastes that just go so great together.  Kind of like peanut butter and cheese (hi, Dad!).

In any case, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe are absolutely incredible in this.  I thought I couldn’t get enough Hermione before, but after this movie, I want to move her into my spare room so I can hang out with her all the time.  There is a scene in which Herm (I can call her Herm now that she’s my roommate) and Harry sit on a step together while she cries about feeling unseen by the boy she loves (Ron, for the uninitiated) as Harry sits next to her and just exudes this insane amount of caring-for-her coupled with the sort of awkwardness that hits you when you get to be an older teenager and realize your best friend is someone of the opposite sex.  It’s everything you could ever want in a friendship – that expression on his face.  It’s perfection.  You two crazy kids — you killed me with that, srsly.

Now the bad news: the rest of this movie tooootally sucked.  I was stunned, actually, by how incredibly bad it truly was.  And I’m not referring to plot cuts — I’m one of the rare book lovers who doesn’t get all het up about movies in which half the content of the story is axed.  It has to be done, and I recognize that, even while I don’t always agree with the choices.  Tell your story — I’ll listen.  What I feel like you missed, I can always remind myself of with a reread of the (tome!) instead.

No, my problem wasn’t really with what got left out in terms of actual plot points.  Instead, it was about what got left out in terms of theme, and what wasn’t there at all in terms of inspiration or creativity.  First of all, it has some of the most subpar special effects I’ve ever seen, especially for a movie I know had a budget bigger than the GNP of half the world’s nations.  I could practically see the green screen this time, not to mention that stupid fake-looking bridge in the beginning that looked SO FAKE, MY GOD!  Plus, the scene with the horcrux necklace in the cave — what was up with the set for that?  It starts out like the Holy Grail cave in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade coupled with Superman’s 1978 movie version of the Fortress of Solitude (cheesy crystals and all), and then there’s this sudden influx of Gollums slithering around looking for their Precious.  What the. . .?  That was just bad, Mr. Yates.  BAD.  So bad.

But theme, lordy, theme.  The point of this installment in the series was to look at the impact or difficulty of making choices, right?  Harry is suddenly thrust into the same dilemma that wracked poor Spiderman — he’s got a lot of power and with that comes a lot of responsibility.  But at the same time, he’s just a kid, and he’s in love, and he’s confused, and everything he’s “supposed” to do as “the chosen one” seems to interfere with everything he wants to do as a kid.  The whole movie should’ve been framed around this central concept.

Instead, it all comes out completely disjointed and untethered, like everybody was working from an outline that only had Roman numerals.  It felt like they were trying to hit the parts they knew they had to hit to set up the next movie, bam bam bam check!, and then just threw in other stuff at random to fill the thing out.  But “setting it up for the ending” is not an acceptable excuse for sucking.  And this movie ended up having no emotional weight to it whatsoever, even when one of the most beloved characters in the series gets killed at the end.  Which, lame.

Also, where was Hagrid?  MORE HAGRID.

In any case, if you haven’t gotten your hiney in a movie theater seat for this one yet, I strenuously recommend waiting for DVD.  Now that I know the same director is in charge of the final two movies (they’re splitting the last book into two pictures, in case you hadn’t heard), waiting for DVD will also be my plan unless both films get a ridiculous amount of enthusiastically positive reviews that manage to convince me it’s worth the big screen committment and unpausable pee breaks.

Between now and then, though, let’s hope director David Yates is paying attention to the criticisms about this installment and taking them to heart.  Pay attention, Yates.  Pay it.  I beg you.

(Incidentally, this just in:  for 99 cents, you can download an iPhone application called RunPee that will tell you the best scenes during which to hit the loo in the most popular films playing in theaters.  It tells you what you missed when you get back, and also has a countdown feature that lets you know how much time you have to wait in line for a stall with a lock on it before you start to miss out on something important.  BRILLIANT!  Downloaded and installed, and Diet Coke, here I come!)

[Prequeue me at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama, Fantasy
Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Helene Bonham Carter (HATE!), Jim Broadbent (LOVE!), David Thewlis

BOOK: Dry by Augusten Burroughs

August 12, 2009

When author Augusten Burroughs was in his early 20’s, he landed an incredible job as a New York City ad executive, despite his lack of formal education in that field. A few years later, he almost lost that job when his binge drinking spiraled into full-on alcoholism. After months of coming to work drunk, his boss and colleagues staged an intervention and Burroughs was sent off for thirty days in rehab.

Burroughs selected the Proud Institute in Minnesota for his stint in the dryer, thinking that at the very least, a center geared towards GLBT populations would have the best shot of being hip and featuring “good music and sex.” He entered the Institute still completely convinced he didn’t actually need treatment, a feeling that quadrupled immediately when, in the first almost unbearably-cheesy group session, he was tossed two giant stuffed animals, Monkey Wonky and Blue Blue Kitten, and told he should snuggle up with them for the night. I’m sorry, what?

Despite the (hilariously) rocky beginnings, however, it wasn’t long before Burroughs began to recognize he had a serious problem. Thirty days later, he returned home a changed and sober man. But the post-rehab world is a hard one for anyone in recovery, and even though his rehab buddy Hayden moved in with him so they could help keep each other on track, a doomed relationship with a fellow addict and the increasing HIV-related health problems of his best friend/former lover Pighead threatened to send Burroughs tumbling back off the wagon.

Written with humor, sarcasm, and the occasional bit of semantic grace, this is another strong addition to the rehab-memoir genre. It’s not quite as good as I was expecting, given the fact I know Burroughs can tell a mean personal story (Running with Scissors, e.g.). But for what it is, it works, teaches, entertains, and moves. Definitely recommended to fans of the genre, and I’ll be keeping it in mind for my library patrons as well.

[NON-FICTION, MEMOIR]

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MOVIE: A Perfect Getaway (2009)

August 10, 2009

aperfectgetawayBased on the previews I saw of this flick, I was expecting it to be a really, really bad horror movie.  So, naturally, I’ve been dying to see it for weeks. It finally opened last Friday, to a cavalcade of surprisingly sort-of-positive reviews, something that completely threw me for a loop.  I mean, wait, what do you mean it “has its moments” and “does an entertaining job of playing with thriller conventions,” Seattle Times?  What are you trying to do, Entertainment Weekly, by giving this movie a B-, which is only 10 points away from an A-, if I remember my math correctly?

By the time I got to the theater the next morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, which is never a good state for me when it comes to movies like this.  The moment I start toying with the idea that it might not suck, it’s all over.  It’ll suck for SURE then, and I won’t be able to enjoy its suckage because I will have gotten my hopes all up in its grill, so to speak.   I mean, this movie IS supposed to suck, right?  So, why is everybody saying it’s not that sucky?

I’M CONFUSED!

Making matters worse, once I got to the theater things only got wonkier.  At first, I thought it might be a good (meaning bad, meaning good-bad) sign when the ticket-selling lady hadn’t even heard of it.  She had to check the sign behind her to see what the hell I was talking about — awesome!  That must mean it’s really bad, right?  Yes!

But then the popcorn guy was all, “OMG!  I saw that last night and it was really good!”   Huh?

And then, the ads, the previews, and finally the opening credits began to roll and I was still completely alone in the theater!  That HAS to mean it’s really, REALLY bad, right?  I mean, granted, it was the 10:20am Saturday show.  But still.  Clearly, this movie is going to SUCK, I thought to myself.  Opening weekend and I’m the only one in the theater?  Bring it on, David Twohy, for I am ready to experience the awesome sucktitude of YOUR MOVIE.

About ten minutes in, though, it all started to make sense.  For some reason, the preview I’d seen had been trying to bill A Perfect Getaway as a horror movie  — the flying axe, the couple lost in the woods, the newspaper clippings about a gory murder, etc.  Essentially, the preview that’s circulating for this film is making it look like every other stupid horror flick ever made.  No wonder nobody turned out for it — yawn, right?

But you know what?  This isn’t a horror movie at all.  Instead, it’s a pretty satisfyingly entertaining and engrossing little thriller, with some surprisingly decent acting at the helm.  (In fact, Timothy Olyphant was so good in this movie — and clearly having so much fun making it, too, which I love to see  — that it only took me about fourteen seconds to stop fixating on his freakish teeth.  Heads up, Christian Bale — you could learn a few tricks from this guy.)

The story opens with a young couple, Cliff and Cydney (Steve Zahn and Milla  Jovovich) who are on their honeymoon in Hawaii. Instead of the usual resort and relaxation stuff, they’ve decided to hop a flight to Kauai and hike out to its uninhabited western coast.  Along the way, they encounter two other young couples:  Kale and Cleo (Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton) and  Nick and Gina (Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez, who is ridiculously gorgeous, wow).

Cliff and Cydney don’t hit it off too well with Kale and Cleo —  in fact, Kale scares the crap out of them, so they try to keep their distance.  But Nick and Gina seem nice and normal (until that goat shows up, anyway), so the two couples decide to join forces for the rest of the hike.  Then the news hits — they run into a group of girls on the trail who relay a rumor about the brutal slaying of another young couple  in Honolulu.  The suspects?  A man and a woman, who authorities fear have most likely fled to one of the other islands.

And with that, you can see exactly where the movie is headed right?  Our intrepid heroes, Cliff and Cydney, have now made the acquaintance of two other couples, both of whom are slightly “off” in some way or another.  Kale is downright aggressive, so he and Cleo are the obvious first suspects.  But Nick — Nick is a little bit strange too.  And it doesn’t help that he’s an ex-Army special forces guy who carries a big knife named “Gilligan” (“my little buddy”) strapped to his ankle.

Right away you know one of these couples is going to end up being the killers.  And, if you’re savvy, you’ll pick the right one about 40 minutes in (as I did, though I’m happy to say I wasn’t completely sure I was right until the very last minute, which is awesome).

Here’s the thing I really liked about this film, though — I didn’t actually care that much who the killers were until I was forced to when their identities were revealed and the chase scenes and shootin’ began.  For most of the first 2/3rds of this movie, I was so enjoying the dynamic between the characters, as well as the gorgeous scenery and the occasional comedic riff, that the thriller part was almost more an afterthought.  Yes, it added some nice moments of tension every now and again.  But there’s nothing “horror flick” about this film.  No obnoxious “Boo!!” moments, no gore (well, okay, some at the end), no stupid over-exposition (well, okay, some at the end), no chase scenes involving really stupid women screaming and running with their boobs a’flappin’, etc.

The ending has an overly long black and white scene/flashback that attempts to explain the killers’ motivations — that part was stupid and mostly unnecessary, and definitely guilty of over-exposition, one of my biggest pet peeves in a movie.  But after that scene ends and we head back to the woods to watch what will happen now that the good guys have finally figured out who the bad guys are, the chase and fight scenes that ensue are actually pretty damn satisfying, I have to say.  I couldn’t be sure until the last minute who was going to end up dead, and, what’s more, I actually cared!

In fact, I even found myself rooting for the good guys, further evidence this is not a horror movie — by the end of a bad horror flick, I am almost always rooting for the sociopath to win.  Especially if there are chase scenes with flapping boobs, as there almost always are.  (Ladies!  Undergarments, please!)

All in all, I had a really great time watching this movie.  Though, had I known I’d have a huge theater all to myself, I would’ve stayed in my pajamas.  Note to self.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

MOVIE: The Hurt Locker (2009)

August 10, 2009

[The following review is excerpted from the Boyfriend of the Week write-up on Jeremy Renner — I decided to make a separate blog entry for the movie so that it’s easier to find the review down the line if you’re lookin’.  Which you ought to be, because this movie is incredible.]

The Hurt Locker, set in Baghdad in 2004, focuses on three soldiers in an elite Army unit, the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). The movie opens with the death of Bravo Company’s leader, Sgt. Thompson (Guy Pearce), in a scene that will make your stomach clench into a fist-sized knot approximately fourteen seconds in.

Just so you know: it will not unclench after that for at least 12 hours. Longer if you’re me.

Brought in to replace him is Staff Sgt. Will James (Renner), whose leadership style is radically different from that of his predecessor. James immediately clashes with his number two, Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), a cautious, by-the-book sort of soldier who freaks out when James continually gives the metaphoric (and occasionally literal) finger to procedure.

It soon becomes clear that James has no apparent fear of death — an alarming quality in an EOD specialist, though one you’d also think would sort of have to be a prerequisite. He routinely walks into dangerous situations he doesn’t need to walk into, taking Sanborn and the third member of their team, a kid named Spec. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), into that danger with him. He does things like take off his headset when he gets annoyed with Sanborn, whose job it is to keep an eye out for snipers or dudes with cell phones that look suspiciously like detonators (which is all of them, naturally); or strip off his protective gear despite (because of) the fact he’s surrounded by IEDs on all side. He stays at scenes long after the time he should’ve cleared out, putting both his own life and the lives of his company at risk.

At first it seems like he has a death wish. But it’s not really a death wish so much as it’s, like, death apathy. The movie wants us to believe that what drives James is an addiction to adrenaline — after all, it opens with this quote by war correspondent Chris Hedges: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” But James is not a simple adrenaline junkie, and this movie, from my perspective, was not really about addiction to the rush of danger.

Instead, it seemed to be about the variety of ways soldiers, especially young soldiers, respond to danger and fear (for example, look at the differences between James and Eldridge, or even James and Sanborn), and the hardship and confusion that stems from being sent to a place like Iraq to live for an extended period of time — a place much more like an alien planet than simply another country — and then asked to return home and do things like shop for groceries with your wife, do the dishes after dinner, play with your children, work at a desk, etc.

Iraq, where everything seems upside-down: the nice people often the most terrifying, the children used as vehicles for bombs, the cats all three-legged and limpy (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one — what was up with all the cats?), the language completely incomprehensible, and your time on the job spent walking right up to the very sorts of things sane people run screaming away from.

When your every-single-day in Iraq is a clenched-stomach tale of impossible odds, how do you go back to picking out a box of cereal in a grocery store? Like it’s a task worth your time? Like it’s a task of any importance whatsoever? To me, that’s not addiction to adrenaline so much as it is PTSD. War breaks minds — it does it all the time, without mercy or discretion. And to me, that, more than anything else, is what The Hurt Locker is about.

Adding to the tension of this movie is the fact that though it’s shot primarily outdoors, often in large open areas of the city or way out in the enormous desert beyond, it’s one of the most thoroughly claustrophobic films I’ve ever seen. No matter how much the camera is pulled back in any given scene, your field of vision remains limited to James and about the first half-meter of the primary blast radius around him. Sometimes, it gets even smaller — smaller than James, even. Down to the exposed fingertips on his gloved hands and the inch or two that encircles the fuse he’s trying to defuse.

When working on an IED, James’s gear is almost spacesuit-like, which only adds to the sense of confinement. It’s a big clunky helmet and huge padded suit that not only weighs so much it makes him walk heavy and slow like he’s on the moon (not ideal for when it comes time to flee, I might note), but has absolutely GOT to be the hottest thing you could possibly wear in Baghdad, Iraq. Every time the face mask came clunking down over James’s eyes, I was immediately gripped by a feeling of sick enclosure. The knot in my stomach tightened. I shrunk down a bit more in my seat. And then every time time a bomb was disarmed, James would take his gear off, calmly walk back to the truck, sit, and light a cigarette. And as he’d inhale, I would too, often for the first time in what felt like forever.

As for Renner himself, wow. If I ever had any doubt about his talent, it was completely blown to smithereens by my second time through this film. He is aces, and always has been, at playing distant, emotionally cool characters. But in this movie, at long last, we get to see some cracks. There are several scenes when James just loses it, for one thing. Even more affecting, though, were the scenes in which he exhibited actual tenderness, striking not just because of his reserved character, but because tenderness in that place of violence and strain — it just plain stands out. Certainly that would include every scene with the little boy he befriends. But there’s also a scene towards the end that really stayed with me. A man has had a bomb strapped to his chest and it’s covered in half a dozen padlocks so that he can’t get free. James is struggling to figure out what to do, as the timer ticks down, down, down, but the man is freaking out, screaming and crying and it’s loud and mad and crazy. In the middle of all that chaos, James suddenly cups the back of the man’s head gently with his hand, like he’s a person, just a regular person in a regular place, and says soothingly, reassuringly, “You’re okay.” I don’t know why that stuck with me, but it did.

And don’t even get me started on that shower scene after one of his teammates gets shot. Covered in blood from trying to save his friend’s life, James climbs into the shower, gear and all, and we watch as the low-flow military-grade showerhead gradually washes away not only the blood drenching his fatigues, but the last remnants of his steely facade as well.

Goddamn. That, my friends, is what we librarians call ACTING.

Seriously, I could talk about The Hurt Locker all day, and I would, too, if I didn’t think it would drive you guys batty. I’ll stop now, though, and sum it up with this one last thing: if you haven’t seen this movie, GO SEE IT. It is a brilliant film — absolutely brilliant — and even though I don’t put much stock in the Academy Awards, if it gets shafted for a Best Picture nomination, heads will roll. (I’m starting with Joan Rivers and working my way in from there.)

[Pre-queue me at Netflix | Watch the trailer]

BOOK: Failure (Poems) by Philip Schultz

August 9, 2009

failurepoetryThe Truth

You can hide it like a signature
or birthmark but it’s always there
in the greasy light of your dreams,
the knots your body makes at night,
the sad innuendos of your eyes,
whispering insidious asides in every
room you cannot remain inside.  It’s
there in the unquiet ideas that drag and
plead one lonely argument at a time,
and those who own a little are contrite
and fearful of those who own too much,
but owning none takes up your whole life.
It cannot be replaced with a house or car,
a husband or wife, but can be ignored,
denied, and betrayed, until the last day,
when you pass yourself on the street
and recognize the agreeable life you
were afraid to lead, and turn away.

[Need I say more?]

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