Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The universe created for a movie is never really self-contained. We're just seeing one side, or with sequels a few sides, of a much larger story. What Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon  give us is the side of their story that's a little bit of everything, horror, comedy, existential drama (a bit), and bureaucracy. I wish I could know more about its inner-workings, but I'll have to settle for great acting, scares, laughs, and the best critique of the horror genre since the Scream series.

In Cabin in the Woods, five friends: Dana (Kristen Connolly),  Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) vacation at, obviously, a Cabin in the Woods. When the discover a basement cellar with all kinds of old knick-knacks, stuff starts getting weird. As they get picked off one by one, a conspiracy as old as time is unraveled.

The strength in this movie comes from cutting between the conspiracy and the, at first, standard hacking-and-slashing. Two of our big masterminds, played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, give  great, funny performances as they and their crew revel in everything they see happen to their victims. The strings they pull bring out the Scream-ness of the movie, as cliches are questioned, explained, or sometimes avoided. It's refreshing to watch after remembering that the only reasons I watched the last two Krueger movies is because those cliches were still relatively new to me.

Unfortunately, the conspiracy angle is where the problem is too, as I always wanted more from the mastermind side of things than what I saw. Some things like how the masterminds developed this world around a cabin Curt's heard of before is open to interpretation. Nothing too outlandish there, it just raises some questions.
To get my fix, I'll have to turn to fan fiction. Getting over that, what's left is a very enjoyable movie. The cast assembled is one of the best for a movie in this genre. Don't set your standards too low for the performances just because of the movie's title, since everyone here delivers. The writing and directing are fairly tight, as there's never a dull moment and jump scares are kept at an absolute minimum. They're not what this movie is about. And finally, the only thing left to say is that when it hits the fan, and the monsters are unleashed, this film will satisfy anyone who enjoys a drippy, red, horror movie set, and great creature design.

If you've read it here, you've probably read it everywhere else: this is not your typical horror movie. I was skeptical at first, mainly because I don't like the crap scared out of me, but I'm glad my sister badgered me into seeing this one.

I give it 4/5

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Harvey (1950)

"Harvey" says a lot about filmmaking, and possibly only in retrospect after 64 years of the business and art continuing to change. Whether it's evolution or degeneration depends on who is ask, but most people who watch "Harvey" will be able to explain why it's a great movie. "Harvey" began as a play by Mary Chase. The play itself, in print, I'd like to believe would be as in-demand as Shakespeare is in print.

That's why the movie is works. It begins with a strong script (written by Chase and Oscar Brodney), and ends with an amazing performance by James Stewart that I believe redefines what it means to be a comedic actor. In the middle of all that are amazing performances by, among others, Josephine Hull (who won an Oscar for her role as Stewart's sister), Peggy Dow, and Charles Drake, and great direction by Henry Coster.

Now, I never said it's a perfect script. "Harvey" unfortunately suffers from being a product of its time, and there are some jabs at women here and there. There's much worse in some shows and movies today, but it's especially noticeable in a black-and-white movie. There was also a very subtle remark that points to some racism, but, like before, today we still have things like that in today's media. The other problem with the film is Harvey's existence isn't always clearly defined and I thought there may have been some contradictions to how he's "on screen." It's cleared up in the end, and I'm sure re-watching the film will help me fill in some of these contradictions, but they did take me out of the moment once or twice. The good thing is that these contradictions are so rare because this movie is much more than its initial hook.

"Harvey" has multiple story lines to take the focus away from its main characters (Harvey and his friend Elwood P. Dowd, who's played by Stewart). Also Harvey and Elwood aren't always hanging out together, which allows some breathing room for the actors and audience to also focus on who their characters are. This works especially well for Stewart as Elwood because Elwood is a remarkable man.

When I think of comedic actors, I usually think of people who go for the punchline, one-line, or slap in the face. They are trying to be funny, and usually they are. Stewart, on the other hand, just plays Elwood as the most regular guy in the world, but occasionally he'll have these moments that are just soul-searching. In the context of "Harvey," it's kind of funny. More importantly, it's dramatic. I think Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd like he was in a more dramatic role, and more of a side character (if that makes sense). He's just in this world where he talks to a rabbit that's over 6' tall, and lives his kind of bland life. In fact, Harvey is one of the few things that livens it up. Stewart becomes a bystander in this movie, and does more than play it straight, he plays it straight with (occasionally) no one crazy to react to since Harvey is a pretty calm character himself.

The rest of the film is rounded out by that excellent cast mentioned above, as they try to figure out how crazy Dowd is, and figure out their own problems. It's mostly love-life stuff, and thankfully it's not overly mushy (I think that was also a product of the times, but I'm not sure.)

I don't want to give anything away, but I'll leave by saying that this film is one of the best escapist movies. Just forget your problems for a while and watch it because "Harvey" shows that sometimes that's the best use of your time.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Her (2013)

This isn't a review, but I couldn't post nothing about this movie.

The more people talk to each other,  the better the world can become. That's what Spike Jonze's movie "Her" effortlessly points to, in a time when people are able to easily isolate themselves wherever they are.  The problem with writing this review is there's a lot to discuss, and almost all of it is better suited to research papers, debates, and editorials, among other places. What can be said in this blog is that "Her" is amazing.