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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” bigger, better and emotional

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THE FOLLOWING IS SPOILER FREE! YOU’RE WELCOME!

Some say lightening rarely strikes twice when it comes to sequels. But even with a concept like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you would think there wouldn’t be that big of a fanbase. Considering how much love there was towards the first one, especially making it, another adventure with the ragtag of anti-heroes was inevitable and I couldn’t be happier to say it comes close to being better than the original.

So what quest lies for our heroes? Well, without giving too much away, each member finally comes to terms with the term family and the meaning behind it. If the first film was about how they met and why they relate to each other, this one goes deeper. The characters and even us understand just crucial they are to one another.

Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has to deal with the realization of who is father truly is. An entity named Ego (Kurt Russell) finally meets up and we get a sense these two have a bonding father and son relationship. I like how we get an idea of how Peter’s father means to him, but there is a sense of something questionable here. Peter  has lived a long time without a father figure, so how would he take to heart someone whose never been there for him? The basic thought of emotions play until Ego’s true persona that is shocking and unique at the same time. While they both share similar qualities, they are far different from each other in many ways.

Also on the sideline, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is having a hard time coming to terms with where he stands. His crew of scavengers feel he’s not gritty as he once was while the Captain himself wonders if he can change his ways. A crucial highlight is when the blue skinned blighter has to reluctantly team up with the “equally heartless” Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradly Cooper) as the two come to terms with themselves.  Both of them can’t stand each other, but find they are the same person from the inside out and have to know what matters to them the most.

Elsewhere, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have their own troubles. The green warrior has sibling rivalry issues to handle while the big muscle head himself is still trying to find a way to belong. While Gamora has to come to terms with her broken sisterhood, Drax finds companionship in the strangest way in understanding his poor ways in socialization even when he tires. And of course, I can’t forget Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) who is a new reincarnation of everyone’s favorite walking tree. This time around, he starts life anew and has to understand its harness along with it. Thankfully, this toddler variation doesn’t outstay its welcome and knows when to chime in at the right spots.

A big surprise to the table is the addition of a new character named Mantis (French actress Pom Klementieff). This bug-like creature has the ability to feel and manipulate emotions while also trying to understand how complex human beings really are. There is a level of comedy and drama to this character which make her a nice addition and clear scene sealer. Then again, her scenes with the misunderstood Drax make for the best moments in this sequel.

I’d go into deeper details of the story, but I feel its best for you to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” yourself. James Gunn returns in the writing and director’s chair giving us a world that is unlike ours and yet similar in many ways. From hot topics like creation to lost fatherhood, Gunn really channels how complex the human race can be with these characters. And for someone to take on such a difficult issue and tell it through these anti-heroes we love so dearly, I congratulate him for doing so. There’s much humor, action and plenty of color to behold. Dare I’d say, its literally more colorful than the first film when we see the multitude of planets and how their different races run. All I have left to say is that “Vol. 2” will certainly give a run for its money how much it tops not just the first, but other classics like “Wrath of Khan” and “Empire Strikes Back.” I maybe overdoing it, but I personally feel it deserves to be up there with those sequel classics.

“Madea Halloween” scarily unfunny

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I think I just saw a movie. Then again, I’m not sure if I should call it a movie. The more the minutes lingered, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” felt more like an out of body experience desperate to find at least some humor. One joke to hang onto despite a soulless effort to make use of the holiday. Tyler Perry stated in interviews he’s not a fan of ghosts, witches or anything creepy crawly. A shame as the trailers advertise scenes of everyone’s favorite granny punching clowns and running away from zombies. If one thinks this will be a big “monster mash,” you will be disappointed to find its really a lame pumpkin smash.

The main plot relies on Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) and his inability to control his bratty daughter. He crushes his daughter’s plan to go out and party at a nearby fraternity by having Madea watch her. As expected,  Brown’s daughter sneaks out and the granny is not happy. Armed with her two friends and brother, Madea seeks justice in a plot that really goes nowhere. I shouldn’t be surprised as that tends to happen in most of these movies. There seems to be a spark of an idea but somehow gets lost in a sea of meandering subplots and running jokes.

First, we get the fraternity and their big Halloween bash as every teen acts like a stereotype from Animal House or a watered down gang that boozes on beer and sex. While we don’t see any beer glasses touch lips, the writing for these characters gets irradiating with a one sided view on the modern teenager. The kind who is constantly saying a bunch of suffer talk in a masculine way, but acts all tough. The only time the fraternity got interesting is when they try to wise up (say if, someone under-aged appears at their party) and take responsibility. But even then, this action would immediately backfire when they decide to do something completely irresponsible like intense pranking.

This leads into one of the biggest problems of the whole movie. It seems to be really centered on the idea that a prank gone too far can have serious consequences. And honestly, I’m ok with stuff like that. The way its being handled is what I can’t tolerate. Without spoiling too much, certain characters will go out of their way to do these elaborate pranks against each other wither it be staging a zombie apocalypse or the death of a main character. I understand the morale value behind this subplot, but it wears the welcome too much. It even trails into an unnecessary 15 minutes near the end which completely contradicts the “other” main message.

And that is the other big problem I have which is the main theme of parenting. Most of the Madea movies center on a certain theme from second chances to dysfunctional families. “Madea Halloween” tries to examine the idea of what is good parenting and bad parenting. But it gets a set of mixed messages when you have jokes about how to beat a child up wrapped around a climax when Brian finally gets the idea of how to discipline your kid. I’m all for the idea of show and even discussing the limits of child discipline. Yet everything goes back and forth on key jokes like Brian talking to Uncle Joe about a time when Joe tossed him off the roof to learn a lesson. Material like this is not funny and bogs down the message to the point it will feel like a beating to the head or exhaust itself.

I can’t remember a single character I liked from this movie. They were all annoying, irradiating and even some that got under my skin a lot. Madea was never funny or interesting to me. I get the reason why people love this character, but I always find her to be too mean spirited at times. And it doesn’t help when you have her force out this morale message of kids respecting parents when immediately afterwards has a entire sequence when she does something mean to others. I know the purpose why she does (I can’t say without spoiling), but it sort of goes against those moments when the character has a heartfelt morale to say.

As for the others, I really couldn’t care less. Uncle Joe is the perverted senior that’s always trying to say some kind of catchphrase or dirty joke. Aunt Bam has this running gag about being able to legal smoke marijuana which gets old. Hattie is the comic relief with the annoying voice that keeps mispronouncing words just for a gag. The biggest offender I found was really Brian and his daughter. I get they are trying to build this arc over how he can’t manage to connect or even maintain control of his daughter. But when we get to their moment when they recoup, it feels manipulated after a slew of exposition on why Brian is inept over taking charge. And for someone his age, Brian should at least be able to know his daughter this well.

There were only two times I actually did snicker during “A Madea Halloween.” Once at a gag when Bam steals candy from kids and a comment from Uncle Joe about Madea having a prostate. Those jokes only worked because of the delivery of the humor and the ideas behind these two jokes. Everything else I recall is material about being harsh on child discipline and fraternity boys learning responsibility the hard way. There is nothing else I can remember that was remotely investing outside of the advanced technical work giving us the ability to see three Tyler Perry characters in one shot. I know there is an audience for Madea, but I’m not one of them.

“Boo! A Madea Halloween” left me feeling empty and dumb down to the point my mind felt numb. The morale is mixed between cynical humor and taking responsibility to the point it feels kinda calculated. Tyler Perry said his movies were meant for entertainment and not to be thought too heavily on. My criticism to that is when you force a morale like that amidst jokes of spanking and child beating, there will be mixed signals. There are better things to watch this Halloween season and this movie is no treat. I wouldn’t even recommend a single frame to anyone. The only positive about this whole thing was that I saw this Madea movie at my local cinema on Bargain Tuesday for $6. Because it would have been a whole lot scarier if I paid to see this for full admission price.

“Sausage Party:” offensive, filthy and hilarious

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Upon walking out of the theater, there was a strange feeling my mind had. It was almost like my eyes swelled up to the size of Beaker’s from The Muppets. There is no other movie I can think of that left me feeling amazed and shocked at the same time. In many ways, reviewing “Sausage Party” is hard because this is truly a movie that must be seen to be believed. It’s unapologetic, its stereotypical, its dirty to the max, its a cesspool of swears and innuendos, its insane but I enjoyed every minute of it.

The basic gist is that food in a grocery store comes to life every day with the hope of being picked. You see, each product believes that when they are chosen, they are taken to a heaven of their own to enjoy. Right off the bat, you can tell exactly what kind of movie this is. Much like with “South Park” or “The Simpsons Movie,” its a cartoony and dumb concept that holds a sharp and clever commentary. And even if this is an idea that has been done before in dumb (“Foodfight”) and smart places (“The Brave Little Toaster.”)

“Sausage Party” becomes more of a view on religion and beliefs without taking a brutal beating to it. Much like with Monty Python, the comedy on the subject matter is handled well by taking satirical jabs as opposed to stepping out and making mean ramblings. One such example is a Jewish bagel arguing with a Muslim lavash about how different they are. But not by what kind of product they appear as, they argue about different beliefs and the common misconceptions with their religious customs. As the lavash dreams how he wishes to be bathed by 100 bottles of virgin oil, the bagel disagrees with the “pure nature” he proclaims. A little predicable but the delivery makes it worth the laughs.

Seth Rogan plays the lead named Frank, a sausage who gets lost from his cart during a accident. While seeking to be back on the shelf, Frank starts to question not only his purpose, but also the value of why food exists. Even if we know what happens to food, the joke is funnier when we see his reaction to the terrible truth and wonder just how he will coupe with it. As always, Rogan is a lot of fun bring a manic energy while knowing when to be charming and likable.

Kristen Wigg is surprisingly funny voicing Frank’s girlfriend Brenda, a hot dog bun who wishes for…she’s a hot dog bun. What do you think is on her mind? Perhaps interesting is how Wigg’s character is used for a counterpoint as Brenda feels the humans (or “Gods” as they are referred to) are not ones to mess with still having faith in the food’s belief system. Even more startling is Wigg’s raunchy style of comedy is let loose to some welcome and hilarious lines. Coming of off “Ghostbusters,” I felt this movie suited her better to allow more breathing room for her shtick. Her character is more than a one note walking “hot dog in bun” joke. Brenda starts to question if the value of life should truly be questioned while also wondering if morale code should be worth sticking to.

Speaking of which, the best way to describe the movie and its comedy is very much if “The Brave Little Toaster” was directed by John Waters. Just when you think the opportunity to joke about sentient groceries are wearing thin, another joke lurks around the corner unexpectedly. There are moments in “Sausage Party” where on paper is sounds dumb, but then you see the clever side of it once it gets executed. This is notable in a scene when one of the sauasges (Micheal Cera) has an encounter with a druggie who goes on a “bad trip.” Every joke seeks a good opportunity into what kind of life this addict has along with the kind of things that would happen on a drug high. It hits bullseye without missing a single beat.

The only problems I have with “Sausage Party” are surprisingly minor. In this universe, people can’t see the food walk and talk unless are drugged up. This leads to a curious question of how the products look in the eyes of a human being in reality as opposed to the reality of food. This is evident in a gag when two baby carrots try to run and it shows a shot of them running. It then cuts to a shot of the lady seeing two carrots rolling off the counter showing “reality’s perspective.” There were points when I did question what would certain moments look like from reality’s point of view as food runs across floors or mingle with each other. There is one other nitpick and it’s aimed at the final joke in the movie. Instead of ending on a high note, it breaks the fourth wall in a way so bizarre that I questioned if it was ever needed. Even a friend of mine agreed that the scene preceding it would have just been fine to end on. After a climatic and jaw-dropping moment, they try to sneak in one more jab that could have been easily cut out seeing how little it effects the story.

But for what’s worth, “Sausage Party” is worth the recommendation. There are moments that I still can help but snicker over they appear in a movie like this. I enjoyed the jokes, the characters and theological stuff as well. Its that one summer surprise that packs tons of laughs and plenty of creative effort. Now as expected, children are not the target audience for this movie. In fact, I do question if parents will be that dumbfounded to take them to see it despite the marketing clearly saying its R-rated. For those curious fools who think a tyke will sit through it, I wouldn’t even attempt it. I predict that it will be a movie that will keep kids far away from the refrigerator as possible as adults laugh over the absurd nature this movie brings.

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New “Ghostbusters” underwhelms with unfunny humor and dull spirits

ghostbusters2016Prior to seeing Paul Feig’s new film, I read an article from the daughter of Harold Ramis. I enjoyed with delight seeing Violet share moments with her father and how much she appreciated the cult phenomenon he created. There were two parts in that piece that got my attention. One where she goes on to say how disappointing it was to see her dad’s likeness not used for “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon. To which Harold replied, “It’s fine. …The cartoon is its own thing.The same way you used to ask if the fans knew I wasn’t really Egon? Well, I’m not. It’s a character. There was a different Superman when I was a kid. Things change. ”

The second part that got my attention was near the end when she mentions the backlash of the new Ghostbusters movie with the principal characters gender swapped. At first she was mad, until the negativity came in. In a response, Violet pleaded to stop using the death of her father as a reason to hate the movie. To which I agree. Because a creator is gone and unable to make his vision, doesn’t give reason to use it as a purpose to hate another’s interpretation. Consider this a public service that just because someone decides to make their version, doesn’t mean it must be shunned. Call this contradicting considering my thoughts of the movie to come later, but if you don’t want to see or bother with this movie, then don’t. But when you criticize and claim you saw something before you have seen it, doesn’t give it the satisfaction it deserves. And while I admit this is not a good movie, its not one to really hate over. Because right now, right across from the laptop I am typing at are two copies of the first movie. One on Blu-ray and the other on DVD. They are on my shelf unharmed and untouched. And even if this new movie tries to erase the continuity of the original, it still exists in the minds of those who love it. Now that I am off my soapbox, let’s break into this.

Even as I type this, I feel really bad for saying that I didn’t find myself enjoying Paul Feig’s take. And personally, there’s a lot of factors to blame here. I could point my finger at Sony for how they tried to make another franchise after losing Spider-Man to Marvel Studios. Its quite clear in the advertising and marketing that they want this to be a big thing. But the problem is that the original 1984 film wasn’t destined to be a huge cultural hit. There was no planned franchise at the time. It was like lightening in a bottle. Once it comes it, it makes a strike on the big screen that can’t be duplicated. They sure tried here, but it falls pale in comparison. Even on its own, I can’t help but pick apart certain plot points and things that really bugged me which I talk about later in.

Another problem I could say is the casting, but even that’s not it. These are all really funny and talented people. I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy in movies like The Heat and she can be really funny. Even thought I wasn’t a fan of Bridesmaids, I admit she was the funniest thing in that movie from her twisted attitude and loud personality. But even here, I felt like she was struggling a bit considering the PG-13 tone this movie is mean to have and the relationships with the characters. The only break out was Kate McKinnon who had this mad scientist personality which was delightful to watch. Kate felt way more animated and seemed like she having way more fun. When Kristen Wigg and Melissa are together, there is more banter than playing off each other. Almost like arguing and that’s in part to what the characters do to each other early on. Nothing said to me, “oh, these two are close friends and I can see them getting along.” The performances were sort of dull and not very interesting. To which I personally blame more the script as opposed to the effort going into it.

The big take away is that the cast and crew really wanted to make a good movie, but it feels like they knew nothing worked because how weak the story was. Basically, it does feel like a rehash of the first movie with similar beats. There are differences here and there to keep it far apart from the original, but nothing stands out. For example, in the first movie, the original crew captures their first ghost and immediately they find the business they created booming greatly. Instead here, once they capture their first ghost, our heroines  get an immediate scolding for no reason. We want to root for these underdogs and see them succeed. That’s what made the first film work, because you felt success was on their side. In this new film, reality intervenes and prevents you from enjoying their success. Now they are being told to keep this supernatural stuff under warps and avoid public panic, when clearly its not even sending a panic. That never made any sense to me.

Another thing that bothered me was the constant use of negative male stereotypes. When watching this new take, I barley remember a point when I recall a male character that actually did some good justice for the girls. In a way, I felt more sorry for them to be surrounded by a cavalcade of jerks, morons and (without giving too much away) delirious fanboys. A prime example is Chris Hemsworth who joins in as their secretary and all he does is just act dumb to them. He doesn’t provide any help and just goes about like a buffoon.  It kept aggravating me because I felt like some better use could have been made out of this character and it didn’t. It was a one note joke that went on for way too long.

Without giving too much away, the villain is certainly the most weakest part of the movie. Neil Casey plays this creepy janitor that plans to bring an end to the world and they try to make it fit into this whole message about bullying. But it doesn’t feel blended in right. I feel its due to how there is no justification for the Ghostbusters crew and how unfairly they get treated. All Neil’s character does is go about and try to motivate the plot, but his moments are so little they could have been cut and replaced with something different. The motivation is not big enough to care for as he mucks his way to the big finale which tries way too hard to please.

The finale in particular tries to be overblown with much effects and spooks, but it goes on for too long. Its like they throw one thing after another just to please viewers of old and new with new monsters and appearances by old faces. However, there is no build up to this big climax. Ghosts come out and start to tear up New York like a giant cookie. Even the choice in ghost designs are uninteresting. In the original, they had these abstract and deformed designs that looked other worldly. In the new version, they feel like floating pedestrians crossed with rejected designs from The Haunted Mansion ride.

This new movie really tries to win fans of the old with Easter eggs and even cameos from characters who were in the original film. But it tries way too hard. Its trapped between trying to do something new for a different generation and appease fans of the old. And a good example are these cameos by the stars from the first film. Some I did find a little cute like Annie Potts and maybe Ernie Hudson. But others suffer either from feeling forced or going against what their original characters represented. One in particular plays this scientists that tries to debunk the girls, but the person who plays him doesn’t fit it. It completely goes against what the original role intended from the first film for someone who believes in paranormal activity.

I’m certain this movie might have it fans and I know really well, this will be an easy movie to hate on. But at the end of day, all these cast and crew members wanted to do was make a good movie. However, a troubled script can’t save the day. I feel really bad for not liking this because I wanted to give this new incarnation a chance. I wanted to walk out of the theater and admit I was wrong about the whole affair. Sadly, that is not that day. Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is so flawed that I found myself being emotionally taken out of the movie a lot. I wanted to accept what was on screen, but nothing clicked. The jokes were unfunny, the effects were not memorable and the overall experience was just dull and boring. I literally sat there in my seat trying to find a good joke throughout the whole affair. In the end, I only laughed three times. So far, this has been a dull crop of summer blockbusters and I keep hoping something will come along to break the dullness. To which I am sad to say “Ghostbusters” didn’t answer the call very well here.

 

P. S. If you are curious about Violet Ramis’ article, click the link below. I really recommend it. It helped me out.

http://splitsider.com/2016/07/on-my-dad-harold-ramis-and-passing-the-ghostbusters-torch-to-a-new-generation-of-fans/

“Ridiculous 6” desert of unfunny

screenshot_2015-10-28_15.28.14Let me start by saying 2015 has been a really poor year for comedies. At least from the ones I’ve seen that is how I feel. I know every year there will be that one that is trying too hard to be gross or stupid just for a laugh. But from the ones I have seen, there has yet to be one that makes me think back to classics like Animal House or One Crazy Summer. Ones that don’t need to dig deep into the barrel just to force a chuckle. Bottom line, comedy needs a jump start or at least reminded what made movies like Shaun of the Dead great or plays like Noises Off enjoyable to watch. Though no doubt in saying “The Ridiculous 6” is a pure sign that humor doesn’t have to be so overly disgusting or overly sexist just to squeeze a laugh out of your throat. In fact, the only benefit I can think of after watching this is how Netflix’s online streaming is the only service screening it. And much like with Netflix’s streaming service, you can simply skip to another movie with ease. I hear “Ernest Saves Christmas” is on there. A FAR funnier movie than the hunk of dead air that came from my lips during this travesty.

The story goes is that Adam Sandler had a raunchy comedy satirizing westerns but studios passed for variety of reasons. After his company Happy Madison Productions agreed to a four picture deal, “Ridiculous 6” was the first to be made…with a budget of $60 million. Not to linger on production values too much but when you take into consideration the poor year Sandler had and the unfunny nature of the feature, its a no brainier why this never got picked up by a major studio. Part of me is curious to see what would have happened if this was in theaters. I’d be curious to see if anyone would laugh. But the more I think about it, the fact this movie is on Netflix does save $8.50 of an admission price.

The story deals with Sanlder playing a man raised by Native Americans named Tommy Stockburn. Before he is about to be wed, his father (surprisingly played by Nick Nolte) gets captured by a gang of bandits under ransom or something like that. As Tommy goes after him, he coincidentally runs into five people who reveal to be his step-brothers seeing his dad made whoopie with their mothers. The plan now is to steal from bad guys and raise enough dough to save him. And yeah, that’s about as basic as it gets.

Even if the plot sounds really bizarre and stupid, there is a lot of stuff they toss in to make it more dumb and stupid. Like the fact that Sandler’s character has super powers, one of the brothers (Taylor Lautner) is an annoying village idiot, the cameos ranging from bizarrely executed to not really interesting and the comedy is either way too low brow or just out of nowhere ideas. Sweet jesus, there’s a scene when this character played by Steve Zahn has to remove his right eye in order to join this gang. The joke is that his left eye is lazy and can only see good with his right. But after being insisted, he removes it with spoon and we see it done in shadow. I’ll give them credit that you don’t see any blood but the graphic details are there. I remember watching that and almost close to the point of vomiting on my desktop screen. And I’m not alone. I heard from a few friends of mine and some viewers that particular moments keeps them from getting father into the movie.

Well for those who couldn’t make it past that, let me address that you are not missing much. In fact, dare I say the whole movie isn’t worth watching. Because every joke they toss at you will either bomb or just have this bizarre context which doesn’t make any sense. No build up. No set ups. Just toss a random gag and see if it flies. Which to me is what I feel most comedies today seem to be doing. I can imagine the writing process being like “Oh hey, let’s put in a donkey that shoots diarrhea out like a machine gun. Because poop is funny. Oh, lets have a scene where Adam Sandler can morph into a tumbleweed because his character’s superpowers have no limit. Hey, why not have a scene when Taylor Lautner’s character is hanged but his strong neck prevents his death causing the audience to freak out in disgust.” Yeah, its just a string of random set pieces that really have no connection other than being part of the “oh, wouldn’t it be funny if we had this” category.

As far as the rest of the movie goes, its your standard Sandler trope fest. You have the Rob Schneider offensive stereotype character, the underdog wins cliche, the “consequences are icky” trope is kind of there, the standard filler of having a random plot point that tries to go somewhere but then abandons it, a bad song sequence and the list goes on. I feel like this movie is more of a series of events than an actual narrative. To describe it, I would have to talk about each scene and each gag that falls flatter than a dead horse being whipped.

Surprisingly, there are three times when I actually did laugh or felt amused in a sense. First was a small gag during a raid. Second was a scene when a poker game happens with General Custer as David Spade and Mark Twain in an unrecognizable Vanilla Ice. Not sense “Million Ways to Die in the West” has there been a weirder casting. But even stranger is how Vanilla Ice is able to be really funny even if the material he is given is not that good. And already I propose a crossover with these two and Gilbert Gottfried as President Lincoln. It would make for a funnier film. And the final time was a reveal with the one-eyed gang which was predictable but the delivery made it funny. But are then enough to make the movie worth seeing? No.

The only benefit of “The Ridiculous 6” is that, again, it never got released to theaters. And pray it stays that way. I almost feel like with this and “Million Ways to Die in the West” they tried to be the next “Blazing Saddles”. But what made “Blazing Saddles” funny was that it was making fun of the genre and how absurd the west was. They weren’t banking on one-note jokes and one-note concepts while filling that time with pointless jokes and gags only existing to serve the dumbfounded. Truly this is a soulless effort where the sets complement the tone as saloons feel like they were stolen from the trash bin of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Dare I say “Back to the Future Part III” was a better Western comedy than this trash. And to those who disliked “BTTF Part III,” I triple dog dare you to see if you can last till the end credits with this movie. Because honestly deep down, I know you can’t. And for those who at least tried to sit through this and bailed out, you get a medal in books. Or at least some form of recognition for trying. Because this one is not worth any part of your time.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Cabin in the Woods

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And now, the most beloved one of the bunch

And now, the most beloved one of the bunch

After the streak of films presented here, you think I would finally come across a gem among the bunch. Well, today is your lucky day because I get to go over what makes The Cabin in the Woods such a delight. Writer Joss Whedon has a very interesting style that feels like a near parody while playing it as a straight forward narrative. At times, his material can get self-aware but not to the point it becomes painfully obvious. Cabin was also directed by Drew Goddard who worked previously with Whedon on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and its spin-off Angel. You think these two talents would make a match made in horror. And surprisingly, that’s what this movie is. A great send off to all the traditional horror tropes and cliches we come to expect from scary movies.

The plot follows a group of teenagers who drive off to the middle of nowhere in the forest just to booze up, drug up and party. Its the typical kind of schlock you would find in The Evil Dead. And within the group are people that feel like basic stock characters like the virgin (Kristen Connolly), the sultry one (Anna Hutchinson), the jock (a surprisingly young Chris Helmsworth), the drug addict (Fran Kranz) and the smart one (Jesse Williams). As one would expect, it becomes the ultimate guessing game to who is going to die and who is going to live. And sadly, I wish I could talk about what makes this movie work but there’s a reason why.

Dare to know what lies within the cabin...

Dare to know what lies within the cabin…

Surprisingly, a lot of fans tend to be very hush-hush about the “secrets” and twists that happen. And honestly, I agree. Why spoil something good in a movie when someone is going to see it? I remember learning that one the hard way when I ruined the ending to Borat to a friend of mine. He never forgave me or even talked to me after that. It was that kind of moment. A movie tends to play with your expectations and when it goes down a path your uncertain of, that is when it gets interesting. What starts as a basic teen horror becomes more of an a homage to the genre along with a send off to the viewers that respect it.

If we know the cliches so well, why now twist them around? Why not have the druggie suddenly get smart or the jock be less of an arse and try to be nobel? That’s just scraping the surface and dare do I ruin the monster(s) that lurk about the place. Trust me when I say less said the better, because this one is worth checking out. While its not a masterpiece by any means, there is one huge element that makes Cabin stand out. A twist so good that you have to find out for yourself.

OR IF YOU ARE DYING TO KNOW, READ PAST THIS POINT. ALL ELSE WHO WISH TO LET THE MYSTERY OF THE CABIN BE SOLVED UNTO THEM, DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER AND PLEASE WATCH THE MOVIE!

LONG STORY SHORT,

SPOILER ALERT IF YOUR THAT DESPERATE TO KNOW…

If you read past this point and what to know what happens…then your in for such a treat. Its revealed that cabin is part of a scientific experiment to please a set of strange gods that rest underneath them. As each of the stock characters die, it fills to be a sacrifice to keep the gods pleased and not bring on the end of the world. This here is what makes Cabin stand out. In fact, every scene with the scientists are the best part. As they control the environment above ground, we see how things can be motivated with the push of a button and what can be used to meet their demise.

SPOILER ALERT! Monsters gone amuck!

SPOILER ALERT! Monsters gone amuck!

But it gets better. Further in, we see that they have a huge collection of monsters they use to unleash to the places they created. It almost feels like a complete ode to nearly every horror movie out there with creepy clowns, werewolves, giant snakes and much more that inhabit these odd cells. But even describing this is still scraping the surface. I dare not ruin anymore or else the whole game is given away. But I will say the magnitude of monsters gives for a great opportunity in the climax when hell breaks loose as we are giving the ultimate monster mash ever depicted on film. Its an entertaining sight that will make any creature fan pleased.

Even so, The Cabin in the Woods has probably one of the most interesting commentary that I don’t think any horror movie has attempted. This might be stretching it but I have my own interpretation that I think describes what makes this movie so good. The stock characters are the ingredients of a horror movie being controlled as the scientists are sort of like filmmakers that want to make the film their way. They know people will go for the same old and rarely break the mold. This is in part because of the gods who feel more like film critics waiting to be awarded something they want. And if they don’t get what they wish, then its them who has the last say as the movie is killed by the mighty blow of their hands. Its an out there theory but I feel it fits for a fun film like this. Oh, as a nitpick, if your not for bleak endings, the way it concludes might turn you off…just saying…

Why the Hate?: Cabin Boy

Aside from the stormy box-office, it sailed on to a better life....kind of

Aside from the stormy box-office, it sailed on to a better life….kind of

This is one of those movies I remember hearing about as a kid and always been curious to see how it plays out. It had a lot that interested me. An adventure on the sea, all sorts of strange and cool monsters as well as some neat looking visuals. Again, I never saw “Cabin Boy” but knew of its existence. And when the dawn of the Internet came into my reach and began expanding my knowledge of film history, I would learn that the cult following for this one was relatively small. In fact, this movie today is decreed as so bad that many disregard it as the worst or even straight bad. Which is a shame seeing there is clearly a lot of talent behind it. Chris Elliot not only stars but also writes the screenplay, Tim Burton (who couldn’t direct due to duties with Batman Returns) produces and there is clearly a lot of effort in trying to make this a grand eye-visual please. At least in where it tries to be grand on a small scale. So what is it about this movie that rubs people the wrong way?

Chris Elliot is the innocent Nathaniel as he talks to one of the locals played by David Letterman. Chris and David used to work on the Late Night show together

Chris Elliot is the innocent Nathaniel as he talks to one of the locals played by David Letterman. Chris and David used to work on the Late Night show together

Chris Elliot plays Nathaniel Mayweather, a self-centered snob with rich folks and crass dialogue that is sarcastically harsh but funny from time to time. And I know what your going to ask, it is one of those movies. The jerk goes on a journey of self-discovery and later learns to be a better person. The character arch isn’t that interesting but you have to give Chris Elliot credit. He really tries with the material even when the scenes he’s in are hit and miss. What works best of the character in my opinion in just how crass he is to not just the poor but even the higher-class too. It shows that he’s not the kind that is into his rich lifestyle but perceived as a grown up spoiled brat. Again most of the comedy works from his child-like antics but I can see this being done better with someone like Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) or even Martin Short.

The crew of the Filthy Whore. And if that didn't make you laugh....

The crew of the Filthy Whore. And if that didn’t make you laugh….

Anyway through a huge misunderstand with a direction sign, he boards a fishing boat on accident thinking at first its a theme boat. But as the captain and crew get annoyed of his snotty attitude, the salty sailors appoint him as a cabin boy and try to find a way to get rid of him. All the while, Nathaniel tries to make things work with the grumpy fishermen as he tries to find his way to Hawaii in order to meet with his father or something like that. I guess you can sort of see the big problem here. There is little to no plot to keep an interest from time to time. Most of the movie takes part on the boat and trying to find something funny with the characters. And to be honest, a comedy can work that way but viewers like to have a story to follow or at least something engaging. This is really the weakest problem as the snobby lad goes from serving fish stick kittens for dinner to swabbing the deck with nothing but soap and his tongue. Its a movie that really feeds on jokes and gags than really giving a compelling story.

Honestly when the comedy works, it does work. There’s a scene when Nathaniel is set adrift on a small raft and has these weird illusions which does take a weird but funny turn. Chris’s material shows his innocent comedy by trying to keep positive despite the harsh conditions from using cooking oil as sun screen to going bonkers. And that’s sort of this movie in a nutsell. Its one gag after another and you wait for the next to come by. Dare I say, its one of those kind of movies you watch with a friend just to see how they react. You either laugh along or pray there is a good joke.

Chocki, half-man and half -shark. One of many unique monsters that shows how great a practical make-up job can be.

Chocki, half-man and half -shark. One of many unique monsters that shows how great a practical make-up job can be.

Also for a movie that was given a low budget, I’m surprised to see how much effort they tried to put into the special effects. In an interview, director Adam Resnick mentioned how he had a hard time trying to make this movie as it was originally meant for Tim Burton to direct. And yeah, I can see where he is coming from. Trying to attempt one’s vision is not easy unless you have someone who understands what he or she had in mind. But I think it was a good attempt. Some of the designs in the monsters have a Burtonesque quality even if  they feel simplistic. The visual look does have a Burtonesque quality even right down to those curtain backdrops. Again, “Cabin Boy” was made on a very low budget but you can tell they really tried to make something out of it. You still get some creative visuals like a ship in a stormy sea or a stop-motion ice monster. Even the make-up job on creatures like a half-man, half-shark being or a six armed goddess really shows what can be done with practical work. A testament to how well something real and in front of the camera can work compared to CGI.

Even the performances are not that bad either. Brian Doyle-Murry plays on the shipmates who knows his mythology and despite the movie he’s in you know he tries. There’s also some cameos by David Letterman and Andy Richter who get a funny line or two as well as some small running gags that are cute. I can’t say there is a bad performance or even one that was painful annoying. There were all around ok.

The Hallucinogenic Floating Cupcake...one of many iconic scenes that viewers remember

The Hallucinogenic Floating Cupcake…one of many iconic scenes that viewers remember

The only reason I can see why some viewers hated “Cabin Boy” on arrival was by how mismanaged the production was from the studio and what they didn’t know what to expect from its bizarre comedy. As a whole, the comedic tone is sort of a demented Popeye cartoon crossed with the surreal nature of Spongebob Squarepants. If this was done in better hands like Henry Selick, perhaps “Cabin Boy” would be molded into a better film. But from what I saw, I felt it was alright. I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it considering the continuing mixed reception that’s been building. It feels like a throwback to those fantasy movies of the 1930s with really cheap effects and silly stuff from time to time.  But if that’s not your kind of fun, I understand. I just think its a silly comedy that really tried. Nothing too horrible or insulting to the eyes bad but far from perfect. Give it a rent and judge for yourself.

“Minions” packs laughs despite uneven story

Kevin, Stuart and Bob hit the road in the all new Minion movie

Kevin, Stuart and Bob hit the road in the all new Minion movie

Ever since the first Despicable Me movie, viewers have gone nuts for those cute and naughty yellow creatures known as Minions. I do admit, I was really hooked as these supporting characters slapped each other around and that gibberish banter was very amusing. Well, they have a movie out and like many, I was really hyped. There were endless possibilities to what could be done. However, “Minions” seems to cater to the humor than put its cute, chaotic characters in a stronger story.

Set up as a prequel, the first 10 minutes are probably the best part as we see these yellow henchman walk on land and find themselves serving dinosaurs and cavemen and later historical icons from Napoleon to Count Dracula. Even if this appeared in the first trailer, these are the funniest moments of “Minions” as its starts off as a “History of the World: Part I” manner with these beings trying to serve a villain but sadly lose them in the process due to great misfortune or just because they mess things up.

Unfortunately, that is the start of the picture as the Minion clan seek refuge up north. But soon enough they find that without a master, they have no purpose to continue living. Our plot kicks in as three Minions named Kevin, Bob and Stuart (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) go out in the world to find a new boss. Along the way, we learn things like how they were able to obtain their signature overalls and appreciation for pop culture television. These scenes are cute alone as the three marveling at shopping malls and yellow fire hydrants. Perhaps more notable is a sequence similar to Modern Times when they stake out in a mall much like Chaplin’s Tramp did minus 1960s television and being a vehicle to find out where to find a new master.

Eventually they do get a new boss in the form of Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock) whose ultimate goal is to steal the crown from the Queen of England and be the new ruler. Scarlet herself is a lot of fun to watch as Bullock really hams up the performance going from a sweet and innocent mother-like tone to slowly showing her true colors near the climax. Its basically Cruel DeVille if she was a super villain but there is fun here. Also enjoyable is her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) whose beatnik personality is a delight to watch. Some of the quips are not too annoying to the point of cringing but his endless array of gadgets are very creative from lava lamp guns to mechanical arms that are put to good use.

Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm really "overkill" the hilarity as Scarlet and Herb Overkill

Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm really “overkill” the hilarity as Scarlet and Herb Overkill

As enjoyable as “Minions” gets to be, the true star of the film is not the animation or the Minions but rather the comedy. For those who miss the dark humor of the first Despicable Me won’t be disappointed. The tone can be described as a blend between something along the lines of the Marx Bros and a Charles Addams cartoon. Highlights include our three mischievous characters mistaking a torture dungeon for an amusement park, a funny shot of a line up of depressed Minions trying to visit a shrink and some notable moments in a villain convention. This movie is packed with many sight gags that a second viewing would be required to hand pick every sign and Easter egg the animator’s stuck in.

Even a little British humor is injected along with the culture itself with endless 1960s pop culture jokes (as the film is set during 1968 as a time period) including a cute parody of the Beatles “Abby Road” album at one point. Even Queen Elizabeth II is not all she’s cracked up to be fooling viewers into thinking we will see a British stereotype when we see her royal majesty can be quite the fighter. In a sense, British pop culture seems to be such a bigger focus for the second half with elements like the King Arthur legend and some British rock tunes play a crucial part in the story and comedy.

Unfortunately, at the heart of “Minions” lacks a story. Kevin, Stuart and Bob get bounced around so much that we find ourselves wondering what is the main story. We go from an origin tale to a fish out of water to a robbery heist as it all builds to a finale that is fun but a tad fatigued. Maybe there is only so much one can handle of that Minion gibberish that one wonders how their shtick can pad out a 90 minute movie. Perhaps if the film played out more like its beginning as an anthology story with the little guys going from one master to the next, there could be some promise.

However, “Minions” is not that kind of movie. Even far from being considered a bad flick. It works better as a mindless comedy and this where my recommendation lies in. If your looking for a film with fast-paced action and really funny jokes, this is worth checking out. On the other hand, there have been mindless comedies before like “One Crazy Summer” and “UHF” that are able to balance a story  with a string of bizarre but funny gags. The humor of “Minions” is in the right spot but it left me wishing more was done in the narrative that keeps jumping around. But when there is effort placed in the animation, humor and voice performances, I can’t deny this movie gave me what I wanted and that’s a good laugh.

Rental Corner: “Neighbors” dumb and basic

"Family vs. Frat" as Seth and Zac go head to head

“Family vs. Frat” as Seth and Zac go head to head

The premise of “Neighbors” may have been done before but it shows some promise. The idea of wacky neighbors moving in and turning the quiet life of John Belushi upside down at least brings opportunity for social commentary and ideas for jokes. Of course, I wish I was talking about that 1981 comedy and not the 2014 movie because even the new Seth Rogan and Zac Effron showed bigger opportunities for laughs but it seems stuck in its dumb environment and doesn’t do much clever. The 1981 John G. Avildsen uneven comedy at least had something building towards it with old vs. new, youth vs. senior and anti-socialism. The 2014 Neighbors is a far different movie with some similar cues even though it bears no connection to the Belushi comedy outside of similar themes and a slightly similar story. I’m not saying its clone or a remake. But when two different movies share the same name, it makes you wonder what is the better movie when both feel uneven.

Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne surprisingly work well as a couple that moved into a new neighborhood and have a sweet kid. Moving past their wild days, they try to settle down and focus on a quiet life raising their baby. The good thing so far is the chemistry between these two. They really sell you the idea they are a perfect couple considering the dialogue feels natural and they look cute together. Unfortunately, conflict comes in the form of a fraternity that moves next door and the two battle it off as the couple tries to tell them to keep the party down despite getting roped in to kick back and have a beer every time they try to convince them. Things go too far when they call the cops on the sorority unleashing a war between frat and family as the two try to find a way to get the college kids kicked out for good.

The concept itself shows promise but it goes way too easy for the stupid and dumb. This could have been a smart commentary about “coming of age” and at times it does get that vibe but a good bulk of the movie has Seth smoking a joint with college kids and pulling crazy stunts to get the Delta kids in trouble. The whole movie feels mostly filler as air bag traps are placed in Seth’s office space and in return damages the plumbing system creating a bigger advantage for the Delta group as well as a one-note genital joke that temporary saves their house. I guess the movie is trying to be a lay back and stupid comedy but it doesn’t feel much amounts to anything. Even half the time when Seth and Rose pull their pranks, I’m thinking half the time about what’s going on with the baby. There’s even one hilarious scene where the kid almost swallows a condom leading to a variety of jokes that are not mean spirited but at least work in the context of the movie. I kept wondering why not have more of that. You have an excuse to push the boundaries of comedy here. Instead, it takes a back seat to the ususal drug, poop and sex jokes.

On the plus, the performances are good. Again, Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne work good together. Zac Efron plays the leader of fraternity as he is determined to see their sorority made well known and I do find his character interesting but it feels too villainous. Off the bat, we side for the couple way too easily as his pranks go from harmless to borderline diabolical. In one scene, he twiddles the sorority bat like a cane as he examines the deeds of the past college members as his friend convinces him to move on and focus on reality. Something about this character almost feels like it could work for “A Clockwork Orange” parody like Zac is doing his take of Alex and all that matters is getting his name out there even when he is long gone and graduated. There’s something dark to this character that never made me sympathize him that much and that’s the problem. The couple are easy to feel bad for because they have an excuse; they have a baby!

Later in the year, Seth Rogan and James Franco made “The Interview” which in comparison I feel is the better movie because the satire was clear and its attack on media portrayal left no stone un-turned. “Neighbors” tries to be something akin to “Animal House” where its going for that college humor but there is a big difference. “Animal House” had characters you could relate to and in a way see in a normal fraternity. They were over-glorified but simple people that were underdogs but never gave up. I feel like they attempted the same thing here but it doesn’t come together for me. Most of the comedy is just the straight-up R-rated material you’ve seen before so its not breaking much ground and its source of satire is all over the place. Its is trying to say something about the youth today or getting a life vs. having one that is carefree. Aside from a few solid laughs and good performances, I only recommend this as a rental.

Rental Corner: “St. Vincent” is Bill Murray at his best

Melissa McCarthy tries to give a rundown to her new neighbor played by Bill Murray in St. Vincent

Melissa McCarthy tries to give a rundown to her new neighbor played by Bill Murray in St. Vincent

Once in a while, you come across a movie that doesn’t need to be gripping or complex in order to get your attention. No fancy special effects or bloated budget. This is where “St. Vincent” comes in. On paper, there is some predictability at play. We are talking about the grouch who has a heart of gold but his view on life changes after someone of innocent nature makes him think other wise. Tell me, we have head this one before right? Well, in one way its more of an adult version of Pixar’s Up. Minus the balloons and fantasy elements. In fact, this whole movie is very much like that with almost the same morals but at least done in a more mature manner. And for me, that is what makes this movie so unique.

Bill Murray plays elderly grouch Vincent MacKenna who is up to his ears in debt, drinks a lot and still has a continuous tab going on with a prostitute he keeps seeing. In many ways, I should despise this character off the bat for how much he is wasting his life. But as the story goes along, we see there is this tragic side of him that really makes him human. He’s doing these things because of his self grief and a sick wife with Alzheimer’s disease that pushes him to the edge. Its a tragic character to the point you really want to sit down and comfort the poor guy. Bill is known for performing jerks and people with flaws but this one I think is his best to date since Steve Zissou or Bob Wiley from What About Bob.

Melissa McCarthy also plays his new next door neighbor as she has struggles of her own. Dealing with a struggle over custody with her son (Jaeden Lieberher), she seeks reluctant help in Vincent in watching over her kid while she has work and legal battles withe her ex husband. I’m normal in seeing Melissa doing comedic roles but she does a good job here too. She’s the kind of mother that is no nonsense and wants the best for her kid but the fear of loosing him gets in the way to ensure she is a good mother.

The conflict of that comes when Vincent has to watch over her son and you can already guess what happens. Next minute, they are betting on horses, drinking at bars and even learning how to fight bullies at school. But in a strange way, there’s almost this lesson to it. Like how to defend yourself and dealing with who you are. There’s only so many times you can try to convey how much a great guy you are that there’s really flaws in the surface. Watching “St. Vincent,” reminded me of a relationship between a grandson and a grandfather with the old trying to show the world in their view. I can be a sucker for those kinds of films as long as it done right. And in the end, a lot of it pays off as the kid learns there can be good people despite having a crummy life.

The only flaw I can think of it is that the story does predicable at times. There are elements here and there they toss in like Vincent having a bookie he owes and visits to his wife that sort of foreshadow this on coming event. Chances are if you can predict these outcomes a mile away, you know what will happen. In another sense, you don’t know this movie until you’ve seen it. Part of making a movie is not taking the same cliches and duplicating but taking them and doing something new. That’s this film.

“St. Vincent” shines the most in its characters and the way they play off each other. Its like a movie made on that one bitter neighbor across from you that yells at you to keep off his lawn. Picture that but a whole movie about it. There are times when it knows when to be really funny and times when it can be really heartbreaking. For all that’s worth, I really wish this was number one on my list of films from 2014. That is Wes Anderson didn’t wow me with an amazing hotel and James Gunn bring me to one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve seen in a long time. Give this a good watch and see for yourself what makes this grump so irresistibly entertaining.