Thursday, March 24, 2011

From the Queue: Let Me In and The Switch

Let Me In was the Americanized remake of a thrilling Swedish adolescent vampire movie. Whereas the original film (Tell No One) was subtle and chilling, the American version was gory and creepy.

The films were both extremely well made and very memorable in their own right. Imagine campy takes on vampire drama like True Blood and Twilight. At the other end of the spectrum is Let Me In never turns the film's heroine vampire into a cartoonish caricature. Instead of turning the vampire into something monstrous and unrelatable OR dreamy and weirdly sexual, Let Me In manages to make the film's main character both eerie and likable. You root for her, even though she creeps you out. It's this success that makes this perhaps the best vampire story ever told, and you can take your pick which one you like best. I like them both the same. Five stars.

Ali and I have been interested in the Switch ever since we saw the trailer last year. Ali wanted to see the film because it looked like a charming romantic comedy. I wanted to see it because I think Jason Bateman is one of the funniest actors right now.

This movie doesn't achieve anything close to what Bateman pulled off in his legendary run on Arrested Development, but there are still some scenes that were funny enough that we hit rewind to watch them over.

The premise is absurd (woman wants to have a baby, so she plans on being artificially inseminated and has her friends over for a big party to mark the occasion, only to have the sperm switched out by her best friend's sperm (deposited by Bateman)).

If you want to satisfy your significant other by watching an in-one-ear-out-the-other romantic comedy, then I recommend this one for sure. Three and a half stars.

Survivor post-Russell

Is it so difficult to find interesting people who would understand the game of Survivor that the show's producers are forced to invite previous losers back again and again.

That's what happened this season on Redemption Island. Survivor producers were so desperate to make the show interesting again they brought back Boston Rob (for his fourth go-round) and Russell (for his third). They also added an unprecedented twist, Redemption Island, which gives castaways voted out a chance to stay in the game by winning a duel against the previous Survivor voted out.

Since this season was designed to focus on Rob and Russell, I'll start by saying out disappointing it is that Russell was voted out by his tribe without reason so early in the game. Despite his faults, Russell is an excellent strategist, maybe the best in the history of the game. So to see him voted out simply because the other guys in his tribe were intimidated by him was pretty devastating. The tribe has since voted out Russell's only two allies, two apparent strong strategists in Krista and Stephanie, whose only flaw was aligning with Russell.

On the other hand, things are moving along nicely for Boston Rob. He is in a safe alliance, he seems to be calling the shots and he even has a hidden immunity idol in his possession. However, I don't particularly like the strategic game Rob is playing. He voted out young, athletic and likable Matt because he was threatened by him. The Robfather from previous games never would have gotten rid of such a strong player. Rob has also kept around two nameless young women who seem to be pretty worthless in every aspect of the game, in addition to Phillip a certifiable loose cannon who may, or may not, be a former federal agent.

The twist of Redemption Island is interesting, but I don't like how arbitrary it is. We don't know when the last person from Redemption Island will be allowed back in the game. So far Matt is killing it at the Redemption Island duels, and it seems logical that multiple players could eventually find their way back in by the new twist. I'm predicting one player returns before the merge, and another after the merge.

The most glaring flaw of this season is there aren't any likable players to cheer for this side of Boston Rob, and there haven't been any noteworthy strategic plays yet. It's always possible things will get more interesting, but so far this has been a so-so season with multiple strong players getting voted out too quickly because they were perceived as "threats," a move I always find annoying so early in the game.

I still love the show and I'm hopeful that I can win the family Survivor pool (unlikely since one of the three players I drew was Phillip), but other than that this has been one of the show's more forgettable seasons so far.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

From the Queue (and Red Box and Netflix watch instantly)

One of the reasons I started writing blog reviews of our Netflix rentals is I've found so many movies, even the good ones, we rent are so forgettable. I thought writing about the films might help me remember them and recommend the ones I like to friends.

Last weekend was a reminder to me of what's "wrong" with Hollywood these days. We watched five films in five days. One week later, I've found that some of these movies have already gone in one ear and out the other. So here goes, a recap of a quasi movie marathon:

1. Animal Kindgom: This was a well-acted melodrama about an Australian crime family. It's chocked full of the requisite violence and obvious tension between family loyalty and self preservation. Lines are blurred between good and bad as the cops often kill without reason and the "bad guys" try to ditch their lives of for a career investing in the stock market. Jacki Weaver gives a chilling performance as the messed-up matriarch of the family. She smiles coldly and speaks with an eerie tone as she tries to keep her family together while her children die one by one. For all of this movie's strengths, its weaknesses are really due to the fact that we've all been there, done that with this type of movie. It reminded me a lot of The Town, which was also underwhelming for me. Three stars.

2. The Human Centipede: In a time when movies find a way to be remarkably forgettable, the Human Centipede is seared forever into my brain. The set up is pretty simple: a talented but demented surgeon wants to create a human centipede, by linking three people by their digestive tracks and then sewing them together by their lips and anuses. I dare you not to find that plot weirdly intriguing. The film's heroines -- two American girls vacationing in Germany -- oddly find a way to be as unlikable as the villain. You resent them for their awful decision making, as they wandered toward his evil lair deep in the German forest during a series of events that would make a pornography director roll his eyes. The acting mostly is subpar, except for the lead character, the detestable surgeon who does all of the needlework. When it's all said and done, this movie's flaws are so pronounced that a better man than me would likely find this movie to be subpar, if not downright awful. But I applaud the film for being memorable, even if there's no way in he'll I'll see the sequel. Three stars.

3. 127 Hours: Danny Boyle is a genius, and he proves it again by taking a movie that could have been a simplistic accounting of a real-life event and turning it into a creative masterpiece. This movie was interesting and suspenseful, even though I knew how it all turned out since I've seen the film's inspiration interviewed multiple times on national television. I highly recommend this movie to any audience, although if you're not one to watch someone hack their own arm off with a pocket knife then there will be times where it's wise to look away. James Franco kinda annoys me, but he's a great actor and I doubt he'll ever top his performance in this one. Five stars.

4. The Next Three Days: So I find it a little alarming that Russell Crowe is on such a lengthy cold streak. Sure he's a great actor, but it's been several years since he's made a good movie. Don't see this movie, if only because you've seen it before. It was a B-grade version of the Fugitive (which I adored) and Ransom (which I disliked). Two stars.

5. Unstoppable: For an action movie as well-received by critics, you have to applaud Unstoppable for being suspenseful without the need for all that many special effects. It helps that the film was based on a true story and it was easy to root for the lead characters. One pet peeve of mine is that action films often are so shallow you don't care about the subjects of the film, but rather find yourself simply waiting for the next robot explosion or good guy v. bad guy firefight. Unstoppable is a pretty rare movie indeed. Four stars.

Friday, March 11, 2011

From the Queue: Get Low and Paranormal Activity 2

I guess I'm not the only person who's wondered what people might say at my funeral. Get Low is a slow-moving drama about a simple guy (Robert Duvall) with a complicated past who throws his own funeral before he's even died. The film is set in the late 1800s or early 19-Dickities. Duvall's performance is great, and Bill Murray helped lead a solid supporting cast.

Because the plot seemed funny to me, I was a little taken aback at how serious the movie is. It mostly kept me interested until Duvall's final monologue, which also serves as the eulogy for his funeral. The final scene throws together in a few minutes what was supposed to be decades of anguish. It felt a little thrown together. When the main character actually does die at the end, the emotion I think the film is supposed to convey actually falls kind of flat. All in all, this was a bit of a forgettable movie that would have been much worse if Duvall didn't deliver his typically outstanding performance. Three stars.

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Something about the Paranormal Activity franchise has me hooked. Maybe because in the back of my mind, I've always wondered why there wouldn't be at least one YouTube video of actual paranormal activity in an age when every man, woman and child on this earth is at the ready with their smart phone. If there really were ghosts haunting the living, it seems like it would eventually be caught on video.

So the PA films pre-suppose that the haunts are caught on video. As with any good horror film, Paranormal Activity 2 has plenty of moments when you want to scream through the television at the characters who seem so oblivious to their horrifying surroundings.

This time, the subjects of the demonic presence is a suburban San Diego family. The dad installs an elaborate security system with 24-7 video recording in every room of the house. When said-video system starts catching horrifying shit on tape, the dad weirdly stands in denial and blames elaborate evil events on the wind. Like when his daughter gets locked out of the house and the demon starts stalking his infant son, the dad refuses to go watch footage from the video feed he's likely paid thousands of dollars to install. As you might be able to tell, I found holes in the plot like this frustrating.

But the film does what it's supposed to do, which is freak you out. The ending is awful and left a bitter taste in my mouth. And I found the movie especially unsettling since it's about a demon stalking a newborn, since I happen to have a newborn right now. All in all, I highly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys being spooked. Four stars