Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

The original Fright Night came out in 1985 and I was a few weeks from 10 years old. I was decidedly not a horror aficionado and frankly the poster (and matching soundtrack album cover) was the scariest thing I'd ever seen in my life at the time. I stayed well away. I finally caught up with it a couple of years ago, when I did a series on vampire movies on my LJ (Fright Night post is here, if you're interested) and I LOVED it. It wasn't nearly as scary as I'd built up in my mind as a child (few films are, in my experience), and it was half comedy anyway.

When I first heard it was being remade, I had all the "ehhhhh, why" that everyone has when anything is remade. I've recently been thinking that it's less the idea of something being remade that bothers me and more the idea of it being a lazy artistic choice, which it almost always is. But not *quite* always. I'd love to do a post on that topic some time, but back to business.

Bottom line - I think the 2011 Fright Night is a genuinely good remake, one that honors the original while bringing something new to it (something besides just new actors, that is).

Fright Night (2011)

The script was written by Marti Noxon (yay, women screenwriters - double yay, women HORROR screenwriters!), who many of you know as the woman who took the lead on Buffy as Joss Whedon relinquished some of his responsibilities on that show to start creating Angel and (*wistful sigh*) Firefly. Some of you might also consider her the person who ruined Buffy, but that's neither here nor there. The woman knows her way around vampires. Real vampires, that is. :P Tom Holland, who wrote and directed the original, had story duties here, and it always helps when the original creator has his/her hands on a remake.

The story is basically the same as the original. Boy discovers his neighbor is a vampire and gets help from a "vampire expert" to defeat him. There are plenty of differences, though, and something I loved was that they weren't just changing things to make them more hip and cool. These were meaningful changes. In the original, Charley and Evil Ed are friends, but now they're former friends, Charley (Anton Yelchin) having essentially "dumped" Ed (Christopher Mitz-Plasse) for cooler friends because he's so amazed that his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots, who must have had a horrid childhood with a name like that) likes him that he wants to be cool enough and have cool enough friends to hang on to her. Now Ed is the one to notice that Charley's neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is strange and conclude that he's a vampire. Charley doesn't buy it until it's too late and Ed has been turned, and it's only when Jerry won't cross the threshold into the house that Charley gets suspicious.

The film is set in Las Vegas, which I'm pretty sure is another change. It's a great fit for a vampire story, because there's all kinds of people just passing through, and so many people work nights and sleep during the day (which is why no one asks why Jerry's windows are blacked out; apparently loads of people in Vegas do the same thing). And we get to see a bit of the Strip when Charley pays a visit to Peter Vincent, played by the criminally awesome David Tennant, who is the best thing about this remake. Vincent, I mean. Tennant is great, but I loved what they did with the character. This is absolutely who Peter Vincent would be today. In the original, Roddy McDowall played Vincent as the star of a television show called "Fright Night," which was very old-school, gothic, Dark Shadows stuff. Here, Vincent is the star of a Vegas illusion act called "Fright Night." He's very new-school gothic and kind of a rock star - leather, guyliner, long hair, etc. But when Charley meets him in his huge and lavish apartment, he peels off the layers (in more ways than one). Off comes the coat, the wig, and the facial hair, and he turns out to be kind of a loser and a jerk. He curses at his girlfriend (or sex buddy, whatever) and guzzles Midori and is a general layabout. Sexy, though, no doubt about it. There's also some interesting, though perhaps predictable, backstory with this character.

If you've never seen the original, this film might remind you a bit of Disturbia in terms of tension and who's spying on who, and that's not a bad thing (though the original FN had a similar style). There's not a lot of chair-jumper scares, which I liked. Chair-jumpers are effective, but you can't overuse them. Tension is always better. One new element is that Jerry is not just killing his victims; he's built a small prison in his basement, with several little rooms where he holds his victims (which reminded me forcibly of Martyrs), "snacking" on them (as Vincent calls it) until there's nothing left. Charley tries to rescue one, but as soon as they leave the house, she's burnt up in the sunlight. Another element that may have been in the original but it just never struck me is that not only does Jerry cast no reflection, his image doesn't show up on camera. He kills a security guard at one point and the camera pans back to show just the guard, being ripped apart by some invisible force.

This is rated R, which doesn't really suit it, in my opinion. The original was rated R, mostly for violence (and a little nudity and language, but nothing crazy). This new film is not quite as violent, and kudos to the filmmakers for not just adding more gore gratuitously, but it was almost like they were afraid of not getting an R so they threw in a bunch of f-bombs. A strange choice since the screenwriter comes from television and therefore ought to be good at finding clever ways to avoid profanity. Most of the cursing is from David Tennant, whose character is barely hardcore enough to get away with it, but eh, whatever.

One bad thing about my experience, though, which had nothing to do with the movie. Some JERK-OFF, who apparently has never heard of the memo that says you DO NOT TALK DURING A MOVIE just Could. Not. Shut. Up. He was, like, narrating the movie, constantly blurting out what he thought was about to happen and asking his girlfriend what he missed while he was too busy YAPPING. Ugh. I shushed him twice, which worked for a minute or two before he was back at it. At that point it becomes a fine line between making a stand and contributing even more noise, so I just sat there and seethed instead.

There is a very cool cameo by Chris Sarandon, who played the vampire in the original. Even with the small 10am crowd, there was a good response to the sight of him on screen, and I got a sick joy out of the rare moment of silence from my noisy neighbor, who clearly had no clue why everyone was laughing. I guess I should be thankful he didn't ask out loud what was so funny. OH! And the best part - in my opinion - was the TOTAL lack of a sequel-baiting ending. It's over, the monster is gone, and everyone lives happily ever after, with absolutely no sly shot of a lone vampire still out there winking at the camera as if to say "See you in Fright Night 2, muahahaha!" Yes, original Fright Night, that was partially directed at you. ;-)

This is a great, fun movie. It's not *too* violent, and - surprise, surprise - there are characters you actually care about. It also has some rather bitchin' music, which has convinced me I need the soundtrack (though I'm sad to see the wicked rockabilly cover of "99 Problems" that plays over the final credits is not on it, so I'll have to get that elsewhere). Good performances from the "kids" (well, not really the token douchebags, but Yelchin, Poots, and Mintz-Plasse are all good), and great stuff from the (older) adults (Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, and especially David Tennant). Good summer fun, and best of all, NO sparkles. :D There's a couple of cracks about Twilight in there, and I suspect Marti Noxon has been holding that in for a while.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Help

Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn't even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level

Those are lyrics from a Bob Dylan song ("The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol") that I couldn't help being reminded of as I watched The Help, a movie set very near the time that Dylan wrote both this and "Only a Pawn in Their Game," a song centered on the assassination of Medgar Evers (an event that serves as background to the film). This was the peak of his "protest" era of songwriting, and he actually sang "Only a Pawn in Their Game" at the 1963 March on Washington, where later Martin Luther King would give his "I Have a Dream" speech.

The Help (2011)

There's been some talk about the "whitewashing" this story might be guilty of - this being supposedly yet another story where a white person "rescues" black people. Similar charges were leveled at The Blind Side, a movie which I feel deserves the charge, at least more than this one does. I'm sure some people in Mississippi will see The Help, enjoy its Southern fried humor, and pat themselves on the back that Mississippi is no more like it is portrayed here, and that's as annoying to me as to anyone else. However, I have to disagree with accusations that this is a "safe" film about a dangerous subject. Anyone who thinks that has never spent a significant amount of time in the South and does not understand the incredibly deep sense of shame that any decent Caucasian Southerner has about racism and slavery, despite being so far removed (supposedly) from such unthinkable times. We don't need an "edgy" story to make us remember, thanks.

There's a scene in the movie where a young woman's maid has the temerity to ask her boss for a loan. The woman, Hilly (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) explains that, as a Christian, the right thing - the way to be of most help - is for her to do nothing, reminding her maid that God helps those who help themselves. Ironically, this maxim turns out to be true for the characters in the film, though in a very different sense than the snobbish, bigoted Hilly understands it. Yes, the black women in the story need the help of the nice white lady. But they have to take a very big step for themselves first. A step that, in 1960s Mississippi, could not only cost them their jobs but potentially their lives as well.

Emma Stone gets top billing in the film, but she is not actually the main character, in my view (though she may be more definitively so in the novel on which the movie is based). The movie is narrated by a woman named Abilene (played by the phenomenal Viola Davis, a Tony winner for Fences and an Oscar nominee for Doubt). Abilene has been a maid for many, many years. She cleans house, but her primary job is taking care of rich white women's babies and essentially being those children's chief caregiver. This is more than just changing diapers and feeding hungry mouths; Abilene also gives the children a tremendous amount of love and support, holding them and rocking them much more than their mothers do and giving at least one of her baby girls the self-affirming mantra of "You are kind. You are smart. You are important." This same baby will later tell her "You my real mama, Abie."

But this is the 1960s and, worse, it's also Mississippi. There are actual laws on the books that basically amount to keeping white people from getting black people cooties, and if that sounds ridiculous and makes you want to both laugh and shoot someone in the face, IT TOTALLY SHOULD. This goes beyond bus seats and water fountains. Black people have to use different bathrooms, and in fact white homeowners have begun to build separate, outdoor bathrooms for "the 'colored' help." Not only are the schools segregated, but schoolBOOKS are segregated; books used in black schools can't be used in white schools and vice versa. And just to make sure some tree hugging free love hippies don't upset things, it's also illegal to publish anything about how wrong all this is and how people should be equal no matter what color their skin is.

Into this environment steps Skeeter (Emma Stone), who has just graduated from Ole Miss, which I'd hold against her (being a State gal myself - GO DAWGS!) except that her education has put her miles ahead of her hometown peers. She is a born writer and applied for a job at a newspaper (magazine?) in New York, but was told to get some experience and then try again. She maintains contact with the editor, Elain Stein (Mary Steenburgen), who has advised her to write about something that disturbs her but doesn't seem to disturb anyone else. She comes home to find that the maid that helped raise her, Constantine (played by living legend, Cicely Tyson), has "quit" and after not getting adequate answers as to why, she finds her subject and starts planning a book.

She asks Abilene for help, but like I said, this is a dangerous proposition to even talk about, let alone put into action. Little by little, Skeeter collects stories from her and eventually more than a dozen additional women. She's changing the names to give the women as much protection as she can, and one of the maids (Minny, played by the wonderful and hilarious Octavia Spencer) tells one story in particular (the "Terrible Awful") that is so scandalous it acts as insurance in case local readers figure out who's who once the book is out and try to make trouble.

The writing in the film is nothing mind-bogglingly superb, but the dialogue has a genuine Southern verve (even if the accents are a bit spotty, *ahem* Miss Stone). The directing is perfunctory, but the cast is what makes the movie shine. At the top of the class is the peerless Viola Davis. I hope the studio is planning an Oscar campaign for her and that it's for Lead, not Support, because she is absolutely the star of this movie. Emma Stone continues to make me fall in girl-crush love with her, and the whole theme of her insecurity about her beauty struck quite a chord with me. Octavia Spencer is the scene-stealer, and her character gets to have the greatest culinary revenge since Fried Green Tomatoes. (Incidentally, I thought the movie used this a bit too much, but it's still wickedly funny.) Bryce Dallas Howard made me forget all about her foray into sparkly vampirism and hate - HATE - her social-climbing, "negro"-phobic character. Cicely Tyson is Cicely Tyson, 'nuff said. Allison Janney is great as Skeeter's cancer-stricken, racism-enabling mother with a heartbreaking secret. Sissy Spacek shines in a small role as Hilly's mother. The real surprise for me, though, was Jessica Chastain, who I was not terribly impressed with in Tree of Life, but who was all kinds of wonderful in this movie as the sweet and naive Celia. Celia is a girl who gets a lot of words thrown at her that I don't like, no matter who they're said about. Words like "white trash" and "slut." But if you see this movie, you try and tell me she's not worth at least ten of Hilly. Her sending a check to "Two Slice Hilly" is maybe my favorite thing in the film, and I may or may not have screamed in laughter. Also those of you who saw Equus on Broadway will recognize Anna Camp, who played Jill, in a minor role.

This is a movie that, like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes, is very quotable. It reminds me most closely of Fried Green Tomatoes, mostly I guess because 1) it deals with bigger social issues and 2) it's a chick movie that's not about chicks trying to catch a man. (Skeeter does have a tiny romance in the film, but it very much takes a back seat to the main story, in more ways than one.) It's also a film about Southern people that is not hopelessly embarrassing, like so many of them are. It was weird to watch this with a bunch of New Yorkers, though. There was so much of it that they clearly were not connecting with, even though my audience seemed to enjoy the movie very much. One little but important thing I noticed was that I felt like I was in Mississippi in the summer watching it. It's not all over-the-top sweaty faces and bodies like in A Time to Kill (MAN, I wanted to send that movie a church fan!), but just about every time you see Abilene, there's sweat under her arms. A small detail, but one that adds just the extra bit of authenticity.

It all ends on a up note that might feel false to anyone who is conscious that yes, this is still 1960s Mississippi and these women are still stuck in unfair circumstances. But, in the words of yet another Dylan protest song, "the times they are a-changin'." It would take a long time for things to get better in Mississippi. In the background of the movie, the characters learn not only of Medgar Evers' assassination, but also President Kennedy's a few months later. My dad was in college at Mississippi State when JFK was shot, and he once told me that people were practically jumping for joy in the streets that "that '[badword]-lover' was dead" (their sentiments, not his - I hope that doesn't even need clarifying). It would take the State of Mississippi 31 years to convict Byron De La Beckwith of the first-degree murder of Medgar Evers. I was in college at MS State myself when that happened, and still boggle that I knew someone who had a relative in the KKK - in 1994, for crying out loud! And it was only five or six years ago when I heard a relative of my own utter the words "Slavery wasn't that bad" over Thanksgiving dinner.

Mississippi has had farther to come on the race issue than most places, but they've gotten as far as they have the same way everyplace else has - one person, one voice, one opinion at a time. And maybe it's insufferable that in this movie a black voice needed the help of a white voice in order to be heard - one of the characters even says as much - but there's no denying that that's the world we've come from.

Now I want to read this book. And go to Sylvia's for some fried chicken.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

You probably either *are* a Woody Allen person or you're *not*. His films, for the most part, have a very distinct voice and a distinct style. The opening credits are all in the same familiar font, perfectly and simply underscoring this fact. I consider myself on his side of the fence, even though I tend to admire his films more than I love them. I love pieces of Annie Hall (Marshall McLuhan, FTW!), I love the look and the sound of Manhattan (because it's such a travelogue of New York), and I love the themes in Crimes and Misdemeanors. But his films have largely left me cold, emotionally, with the glaring exception of Sweet and Lowdown.

Midnight in Paris feels both like an atypical Woody Allen film and at the same time is very typical of his work. There is the central character, a neurotic writer, who would have been played by Woody himself twenty or thirty years ago. The central character clashes intellectually with the mundane and pedantic people whose company he is forced to endure. And the whole story takes place in a great city and is as much a love song to that city as a story in its own right. That city used to be New York in all his films, but he has branched out lately. I don't think he quite *got* London well enough to pull this off in Match Point, but he certainly seems to *get* Paris (at least, from what I understand - I've never been *sniff*). But there is an optimism and sentimentality in Midnight that I have never really associated with Woody's films, and it's kind of refreshing.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter in Hollywood who is vacationing in Paris with his fiancee, Inez (played by the flawless Rachel McAdams). The two of them and Inez's mother are pretty much piggybacking on her father's business trip, and we see instantly that Inez and her family are not where Gil needs to be, for the sake of his sanity, not to mention his creative impulses. They are frequently joined on their tourist ramblings by an old college professor of Inez's, Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife Carol, because Paul is in town getting ready to start lecturing at La Sorbonne. Paul is an "expert" on everything, frequently corrects tour guides, and is the kind of person that we all have known and have frequently wanted to throttle into non-existence. Old HP ship debaters will no doubt call to mind at least one or two names among our former opponents that fit this bill.

Though Gil makes a respectable living churning out movie scripts and this is something he's quite good at, he's dissatisfied. He's written a novel, but he's afraid to show it to anyone. Inez suggests he show it to Paul, but obviously Gil would rather spork his own eyes out than let Paul anywhere near it. Inez sort of pokes fun at the book, making Gil tell everyone about the main character who works in a nostalgia shop, which everyone but Gil thinks is trite and hilarious. This kind of stings Gil, on whom the book character is quite obviously based.

One evening after dinner, Gil goes for a walk on his own and gets a bit lost. He sits on some steps and after a while a car pulls up. Not just any car - a 1920s model Peugeot. Several people are inside and a man beckons him to come along with them. Gil is reluctant, because who are these people?, but goes along for the ride. They soon arrive at a party and a woman introduces herself to Gil as Zelda. They are soon joined by her husband, Scott Fitzgerald. At this point, I'm thinking (and perhaps so is Gil) that this is a rich people theme party, where everyone has come dressed as their favorite writer or something and for some reason everyone is staying in character. But no. This is actually Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. And Cole Porter is playing the piano. They go to a bat and Gil meets Ernest Hemingway. Gil has somehow traveled back in time to 1920s Paris, his idea of Paris's Golden Age and the place and time where he would have most loved to live, and is hobnobbing with the artistic giants who have inspired him. But when he leaves a place by himself, he leaves the 1920s behind and goes back to his own world.

He tries to show all this to Inez the next night, but he doesn't quite understand how the magic works yet, so she doesn't see anything special. She leaves, rolling her eyes madly at him, and the clock strikes midnight, which Gil realizes is the key. The car comes along again and takes him to meet Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). Ernest Hemingway, who he'd met the night before, promised to introduce him to her and ask her to read his manuscript and give him feedback. Hemingway wouldn't read the book himself, telling Gil "I hate it ... If it's bad I'll hate it because it's bad. If it's good, I'll hate it because I'm jealous." Stein is going to read the book later, but she reads the first sentence or two aloud, and we see that Gil is a gifted writer. His talent catches the attention of a woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who is having an affair with Pablo Picasso. Gil and Adriana talk and there is an obvious connection between them, and over the course of several more visits to the past, Gil realizes that he's falling in love with her and she with him.

And then comes the most perfect scene in the film. Gil tries to engineer things with Adriana that ought to have happened (and probably would have) naturally, but as they pause on the street, a carriage approaches and stops, beckoning them to come along, much like the Peugeot has stopped for Gil each night. It drops them off at Maxim's restaurant. In the 19th century, Belle Epoque. Adriana's idea of Paris's Golden Age. You guys, I seriously cried from the magic.

I won't spoil the rest of it - I've gone on quite long enough already - but it ends fairly happily, in a way that many will probably expect. This has been out a while, and I was a bit surprised it was still in theaters this past weekend when I went. I don't know whether this will be your cup of tea or not - lately I haven't been too confident in my radar. But if you have a warm sigh in your heart for Paris or are a nostalgic or romantic person, I could not recommend this more highly.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Future

The Future

I fell deeply and truly for Miranda July as a filmmaker with her 2005 debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, so it was with a certain amount of expectation (and maybe a little anxiety) that I approached her latest film, The Future.

July and her costar Hamish Linklater (a perennial favorite at Shakespeare in the Park here in NYC) play a couple, Sophie and Jason, who are about to adopt a cat. They can't bring it home for another month, because it has a broken leg that has to heal, and it's already a sick cat, requiring a strict regimen of medication. Sophie and Jason realize that, once they bring the cat home, they won't be able to make any drastic life changes until it dies, which (best case scenario) will be about five years from now. They'll both be forty at that point, and Jason states that "forty is basically fifty" and that everything after fifty is "loose change." That's harsh, especially to my nearly 36 year old ears, but it's an interesting observation about most people's life patterns. These characters are at that age - and I am too, I guess - where we start to realize that there are only a finite number of things we're going to be able to do before we die. They decide to live this final cat-free month as if it's the last month of their lives. Jason decides to quit his tech support job and follow wherever fate leads. Sophie quits her job as a children's dance teacher and tries to start a YouTube project. Each of them deals with this life experiment in different and inept ways, and their lives basically fall apart.

Threading the whole thing together is narration by Paw Paw, the cat, who is voiced by and whose front paws are animated by July herself. These bits of narration serve much the same purpose as the video art segments do in Me and You and Everyone We Know. They give the film its voice and unique language.

There are several great scenes that could almost be short films by themselves. One of my favorites is when Sophie has called to have the internet turned off - part of their re-prioritizing - and rushes Jason home so that they can look up whatever they need to look up in the hour they have left. Jason thinks it's crazy to turn the internet off and asks what they're going to do if they want to know something, and Sophie says they'll just have to ask someone or ... not know. Which I couldn't help thinking is EXACTLY what the entire world had to do before we had the internet at our disposal (which was not really all that long ago). After looking up some not-terribly-important stuff for a minute or so, Sophie and Jason soon seem to realize this fact as well and calmly close their twin laptops.

The two of them each strike up unexpected relationships with strangers. Jason befriends an elderly gentleman who gives him some perspective on his relationship with Sophie, telling him that after four years with her, he's still in the beginning part. That those are the hardest times and they're both going to do horrible things and they'll just have to work through it. Sophie cold calls a single dad who drew a picture of his daughter that Jason bought from the animal shelter in the beginning of the film, and what starts as a bizarre phone conversation becomes a full-fledged sexual affair (speaking of doing horrible things).

Miranda July's films are devilishly hard to describe. This film in particular has some great magical elements - Jason, for example, can stop time with his mind, and has a conversation with the moon. Sophie has a shirt that follows her and that she ultimately has this rather amazing dance with. It's all part of her singular imagination, and it's a big reason why so many people love her films. And why others hate them.

Because July has plenty of detractors - people who think she's the epitome of everything that is wrong with hipster culture. They call her films "precious" and "twee" - which I can't help feel are insults about her gender as much as her filmmaking. Perhaps worst of all, some feel that the oddball nature of her films and her characters are just a big joke or some ironic comment. July's films are actually the opposite of the hipster chic embodied by films like Napoleon Dynamite. She's not trying to be quirky or offbeat in some ironic way, like someone who's trying to be cool by being uncool. This is really her mind and her imagination. People connect with her films - or at least I do - because there's something in them that makes them think "I thought I was the only person who did that!"

Friday, August 5, 2011

Attack the Block

Attack the Block

Oh, how do I love this movie? Let me count the ways. I'd been hearing about it for months, ever since it played SXSW in March.

So a young woman named Sam is on her way home from work. She's a nurse, and she's had to stay a bit past the usual end of her shift, which makes her nervous walking home because it's kind of late. Sure enough, as she gets to the home stretch, there are five kids blocking her path up ahead. She tries to cross to the other side of the street, but they've clearly marked her and cross to block her again. She gets the typical mugging scenario - give us your phone/wallet/whatever, she tries to plead with them, they pull a knife, etc. Later, taking refuge and consolation in a neighbor's flat, she calls the kids "monsters." Understandable, but she will see much more frightening monsters before the night is out.

Sam was only able to escape her attackers in the confusion of a mysterious something-or-other falling from the sky onto a parked car. The leader of the group, Moses, seeing that the car has been rendered rather easy to rob, investigates to find something of value, only to be attacked by a strange creature (the thing that fell from the sky) which runs away. The other boys laugh and taunt Moses for being attacked by "Dobby the house-elf" (no kidding), and they all go chasing after it. They eventually kill it and boast that no one messes with their block. Moses thinks the creature might be rare and worth a lot of money, so they take it to "Ron's weed room" (it's a big room, full of weed, and it's Ron's, another character explains later), which is supposed to be the safest place in the block. Ron (played by Nick Frost) has no authority ("I just work here"), but his boss, the gangster Hi-Hatz, agrees to let the boys keep the dead creature there. In exchange, though, Moses must start selling cocaine for him (in addition to the weed he already sells).

The boys then see a strange sight out of the window - streams of light falling from the sky, much like the one that delivered their now dead furry companion. Thinking these are the same kinds of aliens, they go to their homes and "tool up" - with machetes, baseball bats, swords, fireworks, etc. - ready to take some more of these creatures on. Two even younger boys - nine-year-olds who insist on being called "Probs" and "Mayhem" - go to the crash site too, to prove how badass they are. These aliens, however, are much bigger. I'm telling you, it takes a lot to freak me out nowadays, but these guys are SCARY! Pitch black, shaped like something between a bear and a wolf, with no eyes, and blue luminescent teeth. And inside their mouths, where a tongue should be, there's just more teeth. The boys wisely run away.

The rest of the movie sees them trying to escape and eventually taking on these creatures, unexpectedly joining forces with the woman they mugged earlier in the evening. Like the better examples of the horror genre, this film too has a bit of social satire. The idea that no one really cares what happens to these kids, because they're poor or they're not white or their music is too loud is touched on, but the crux of the story is Moses's heroism and his learning that he has to take responsibility for his actions. There's also a bit of Scooby-Doo-ing (or Buffy-ing, if you will) going on, as the boys start to figure out what it is that the creatures are specifically drawn to and how to deal with them.

This is a really, really great flick, and a lot of fun. Once again, it's strange to find this so amazing, but here's a genre movie with some great characterization and amazing performances. John Boyega is the obvious stand-out as Moses, but all of the kids (all of them newcomers) are really great. They're not the fresh-faced, perfectly coifed teens of modern horror movies (though I would probably have crushed on Alex Esmail, who plays "Pest," when I was younger), and that's quite a nice change. Thumbs way up for this one, but with a warning - it's pretty bloody, so if you have problems with that, this might not be a good idea for you.

One more thing. If you see it and love it, I would also recommend checking out the soundtrack, which has a great urban pulse - some parts of it remind me of the 1980s classic "Pass the Dutchie" - and a couple of non-score tracks. "Sound of Da Police" by KRS-One is highly dance-worthy, and you can stop laughing at at that mental image of me dancing right now. :P

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens

I was privileged to see a couple of reels of this at Butt-Numb-A-Thon last year, and I was pleased but not terribly excited about what we saw, to be honest. A lot of the character stuff felt very in media res and awkward. Despite the "meh" reviews, I went in with an open mind, and though I winced at the sight of five screenwriting credits, I was still determined to at least not hate it.

Well, I loved it, as it turns out. No, it's not as good a sci-fi/western mashup as Firefly was, but what is? (Alan "Wash" Tudyk amusingly Tweeted that it suffered from a painful lack of Chinese.) It's a little more western than sci-fi, and it's the western portions where the movie really shines. Daniel Craig proves more than ever why he's an excellent addition to the Leading Men Club, and while Harrison Ford doesn't have *quite* the spark that he used to, he's still Harrison Ford, which is more awesome than most of us will ever be. Paul Dano, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Clancy Brown, and Keith Carridine are all stellar in supporting roles, and they're the movie's real strength.

The movie is beautifully shot, and I think it has one of the best-written kiss scenes in recent memory (one that actually has a plot purpose and isn't just there to make you all tingly). The alien tech is kind of generic, but then that's how it is in most space movies nowadays. The aliens themselves are duly terrifying (though nowhere near as scary as Attack the Block's aliens). I think the biggest thing that I wish had been better was the music. I know it's tough to find a balance between western themes and sci-fi themes, musically, but this score was pretty bland, in my opinion.

The movie as a whole, though, is very enjoyable.