Mascots

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Christopher Guest is one of those filmmakers who has found the perfect comedic niche is the mockumentary genre. Since staring in This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Guest has directed four mockumentaries, the fifth one being Mascots (2016).

The movie follows a group of semi-professional sports mascots who enter a competition. The characters are set up similarly as Best in Show(2000). You got the bickering couple (Zach Wood and Sarah Baker), you got the guy with the funny ascent (Tom Bennett), you got…the other guy with the funny ascent (Chris O’Dowd). Alright, so the characters aren’t exactly the same as in Best in Show, mostly because Guest’s usual cast is rotated back into the wings, playing much smaller parts. Veteran Guest co-star Parker Posey is the only one who is a mascot…come to think of it, her story is a lot like Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s. Come to think of it, those two are the only ones missing from Mascots. Weird.

What I find so interesting about Guest’s directorial style is he shoots ten minute scenes, letting the actors improvise and grow the scene organically. He complies something like 60 hours of film for each movie, then edits them down to the realistic hour and a half.That’s, I think, really important for movies like Mascots that real depend on the characters being crazy, funny people doing crazy, funny things.

Having said that, everyone did a great job of being funny. One of the funnier bits in the movie comes from a person in a bunny suit, which is funny. Can I say “funny” any more? No?

I think, much like with Krampus, Mascots just wasn’t as good as some of the other movies that came before it. That’s not to say that certain jokes in the movie didn’t get me, because they did, it’s just that it doesn’t have the same charm it’s so clearly trying to recapture.

Krampus

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

After seeing writer/director Michael Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat(2007), I was impressed enough to give this guy movie theater movie money when his next movie, Krampus (2015) hit theaters. I decided to give it a second viewing, what with my total disregard for holiday awareness.

The story centers around Max, a young boy whose parents are Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Toni Collettte. His family, including his sister and grandmother, is hosting relatives for Christmas. The relatives (David “Champ” Koechner, Allison “Fargo” Tolman, Conchata “I probably didn’t get paid enough to put up with Charlie Sheen for as long as I did” Ferrell, and some kids) are not the classiest people in the world. It’s your normal dysfunction till Max summons Krampus, who is what happens when you misspell “Santa” as “Satan”. He crashes their Christmas, picking them off one by one with a Santa theme.

I don’t hate this movie. There are a lot of things I think could have been done better, but I think kinda get the impression that the studio might have pushed for the PG-13. Dougherty had a pretty good gore factor to Trick ‘r Treat which I was kinda surprise he didn’t pull over for Krampus. This movie has the same cynical tone as his first, but is lack a little bit of the charm. It could be that it doesn’t have the element of the unknown that Trick ‘r Treat had–in Krampus, you know a character named Krampus is going to coming in and fuck up the family’s Christmas, but with Trick’r Treat, all you know is the theme going in.

Ultimately, I guess by biggest beef with Krampus is that it didn’t living up to it’s older brother. I’ll still give Michael Dougherty another movie to prove himself to me, but so far, he’s on track to go the way of Neill Blomkamp, a breakout star who can’t help but try to outdo himself.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Before we get into it, I must confess, this is the first actual exposure I’ve had to the story told in Magnificent Seven. To my knowledge, the story was first told in the form of Seven Samurai (1954), then again in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven, and once more as a TV series by the same name in the 90’s. So it’s pretty well trodden ground, but fresh enough to me.

The Magnificent Seven (2016) tells the story of the small western town that is under siege by a mine operator, Peter Sarsgaard, who threatens to murder the living fuck out of anyone left in the town when he is set to return in three weeks. A woman, Emma Cullen, played by Haley Bennett, who is made a widow by Sarsgaard, goes out to find gun fighters to defend the town. Denzel Washington is the first and he in turn finds the six others: Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Martin Sensmeier.

The formation of the team seemed a bit rushed, but the movie already has a run time of over two hours, so there you go. The action scenes though. Oh man. I didn’t realize I was a fan of westerns till I saw Denzel ride on the side of a horse and pick a bunch of guy off of their horses with a six shooter. The action is extremely well paced and engaging. Hats off to the too many to name here stunt people. Seriously, there are a bunch of them.

Since this movie is, of course, driven by the cast of seven, there are a ton of six degrees of Kevin Bacon-able lines to be drawn. To start, the director, Antoine Fuqua, has directed Denzel twice (Training Day and The Equalizer), Ethan Hawke twice (Training Day and Brooklyn’s Finest), Haley Bennett in The Equalizer, and Vincent D’Onofrio in Brooklyn’s Finest. And speaking of VD’O, he and Chris Pratt were just in Jurassic World together last year. I don’t, and probably never will have, the energy to draw all of the lines given that, you know, it takes hundred of thousands of people to make a movie like Mag 7, which I’m confident was the original title pitched.

I was actually surprised to see that, as of this writing, the film hadn’t made its budget back. It’s a pretty good movie. Good enough that it should have made that $90 million back in three weeks. Yeah, this movie costed $90 million, look at all those names you know in the credits. I had thought about waiting to watch this at my home theater, but I was really glad I had shelled out the dough. Totally worth the ticket price.

Deadpool

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

2016’s Deadpool follows the story of, well, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), a “super hero” who gets cancer, then subjects himself to medical experiments which in turn give him super powers in the form of a healing factor. He can’t be killed. So he goes on a revenge path to get back at the people who tortured him with science.

This is a movie made by man-children, for man-children, which, let’s be honest, everyone has that side to them. Even most women. The jokes fly at you at such a rapid fire pace, some go unnoticed. The thing that really sets this movie apart from most is how Deadpool breaks the fourth wall. It allows the film makers to do things with the narrative structure that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, which is refreshing as all get out.

There is a reason that this is one of the highest grossing rated-R movies, besides the fact that it’s based off a comic book character which gives it a built in audience, but fuck it, Passion of the Christ (the highest grossing rated-R movie) had a pretty large built in audience. What really drives this movie into greatness is the writing. Well, that and the obvious passion that those who worked on the film had.

Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the writers who also brought their wonderful comedic sense to 2011’s Zombieland, worked  on Deadpool for years without so much as a thank you from the studio. Those fools wanted Deadpool to be PG or PG-13, a rating which casts a wider box office net, but would have ruined the entire point of the character from the source material. The world is lucky that Ryan Reynolds had Reese, Wernick, and first time feature director Tim Miller’s backs. Also the fact that some amazingly funny and action packed test footage leaked, showing people what exactly the team had in mind for the film.

Deadpool has heart. A whole hell of a lot of it. And it shows. When you can watch a movie and see that the people who worked on it actually gave a damn about it, it goes a long way to make up for any and all short comings that the film might otherwise have. The studio cuts the budget, it becomes a quip. Can’t afford a ton of CGI? Who gives a fuck, write around it and poke fun at it. This movie is what happens what everything good beats out everything bad that’s happening in modern day Hollywood.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 5 out of 5

Hands down, my favorite part about the Coen brothers’ take on Homer’s Odyssey is that neither one has ever read the Odyssey. The only one on the entire set who had actually read the text was Tim Blake Nelson who has a degree in Classics from Brown. The Coen’s wrote 2000’s O Brother based on what they knew from other film adaptions and varies other uses of the story in pop culture. It’s impressive to see how many references they manage to work in without actually knowing the story. Sirens, cyclops, blind prophets, cows, they got a lot of it right and threw it into depression era south.

The film follows George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, who after breaking out of a chain gang, journey the south in search of treasure. Clooney plays Odysseus. Hubris and all. Their adventure leads them through laughs, thrills, and even songs. This film has it all.

If you, like the Coens, haven’t read to source text don’t worry. This movie stands one hundred percent on its own.

Another thing about this film: the soundtrack. I dare you, nay, defy you to watch this movie and not get the song stuck in your head. If you’ve seen this movie before, you know damn well which song I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen it, watch and learn. The ear buggiest of the ear buggiest.

Ultimately, O Brother is one of those movies that you could indeed play on a loop and enjoy for different reasons on each viewing. There are references to not just the Odyssey, but several other films. Everything from Wizard of Oz to Evil Dead, the later of which Joel Coen worked as an assistant editor on, one of his first credits. Yeah, if you haven’t seen this one yet, get on it.

 

 

 

Westworld (1973)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

After watching the first episode of the new HBO series, I decided it was time to revisit Michael Crichton’s original. Yes, the man who just can’t get enough of writing about theme parks gone rogue penned both Westworld and the source material for Jurassic Park.

The premise of the movie is this: in 1983, a theme park called Delos offers guest their choice of one of a kind experiences. They can chose from Medieval world, Roman world, or the titular Westworld. Once there, they can indulge in their every fantasy because most of the people in the park are robots. Totally killable, sexable robots. And in the third act, all those sexy killer robots start, well, killing the guests…all sexy like.

The story follows two tourists, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin, who upon entering Westworld came toe to toe with The Man in Black, a gunslinger played by Yul Brynner, who’s pretty much playing a robot version of his character from The Magnificent Seven. Once the robots lose their shit, The Man in Black turns terminator and starts hunting the pair. Fun fact, Arnold based his performance in Terminator on Yul Brynner’s gunslinger. You can tell.

This movie does not stack up well against the new series. With all respect to Michael Crichton as a writer, the concept of the film isn’t all that thought out. The whole thing with these parks is that no one is supposed to get hurt, but Westworld has a triggered event where the robots start a bar fight, throwing the protagonist through break away walls, punching them in the jaws. And that’s before they go crazy. Last I check, getting hit in the face with a fist full of steel doesn’t feel good. Also, the whole concept of Delos kinda weights down the story.

The series focuses solely on Westworld. There are no other worlds to the park, just endless West. This opens up the story to be larger because of the smaller set. In the original, they spend almost as much time in Medieval world as they do Westworld which takes away from all the cool cowboy stuff they could be showing. I get why there are multiple worlds in the original: Crichton develops this idea of a spreading virus as a cause for the roguishness which moves haphazardly from park section to park section, flying just under the operators radar (they didn’t think it was a big deal till it was too late). Delos, as a concept, just weights the story down.

I like to picture the new series as sort of a sequel to Westworld (1973). Ed Harris’points out that the park has been going for at least 30 years, which lines up with the 1983 date. It’s like after the incident, they scraped the other two parks and just ran wild with Westword. Too bad that theory is torpedoed by the 1976 follow up Futureworld, where Delos builds another self explanatory park. So the series is more like a sequel to the original if the original had gotten it right the first time around.

The Ones Below

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

2015’s The Ones Below is an enjoyable yet predictable thriller about a couple (Clemence Poesy and Stephen Campbell Moore) who are great with child and their new downstairs neighbors (David Morrissey and Laura Birn) who are also great with child. The couples also vaguely look alike.

This is writer/director David Farr first feature length with the coupled credit (he wrote the also enjoyable Hanna (2011)). By the end of the first act, the story pretty much writes itself, though the ending of act one I did not see coming, which got me hooked enough to finish out the obvious plot.

Really what hooked me were the performances from Clemence Poesy and Laura Birn. Poesy manages to keep the movie alive with her portrayal of a distrusting mother who can’t be sure of the intentions of her downstairs neighbors. Birn, well, she plays crazy and she plays it well. There is rational to everything she does, but she’s still fucking crazy.

Ultimately, The Ones Below is entertaining but pretty transparent. It’s worth the watch if you like thrillers, but be warned: you’ll probably be able to figure out where it’s going before the halfway point.

Inbred (2011)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

You know what I really love about horror movies? They all follow the three act structure and they all follow a formula. If you’ve seen enough of them, you can tell as soon as you see someone on screen whether they make it to the end or not. Inbred, at first seemed very much to fit the standard formula. The movie started, I picked my survival girl and possible survival guy and I was happy to find that I was wrong. Before we get to spoilers, a little background.

The movie centers on a group of UK youth offenders who, with their two case workers, travel to a small town to do some community service. They soon realize the town is filled with, well, inbred hicks who get their kicks from murdering outsiders who don’t mind their own business. Of course the group doesn’t mind their own business.

Okay, spoiler time. This is where the magic happens.

In a standard horror movie, there is at least a feeling that someone might make it out alive. In Inbred, you get the feeling as soon as the first group member is offed that no one has much of a chance of survival. Even when things look up, shit instantly goes wrong.

My favorite part of the movie: my pick for survival guy comes up with this awesome plan. Him and survival girl are held up in this cottage, surrounded by murderous townsfolk. He discovers that the basement is filled with booze. He smashed a bunch of the bottles on the floor and lets the townsfolk corner him in the basement, booze underfoot, Molotov cocktail in hand. He goes to light the cocktail. Nothing. The head of the mob tells him that the shit he’s trying to burn is super watered down. Survivor guy gets chainsawed to death. Brilliant.

Any other horror movie would have pulled that punch. Not Inbred.Inbred pulls no punches. Not a once. It is bloody, it is violent, and it manages to shake every trope while still sticking to the formula. It’s everything I could have hoped for. Hats off to writer/director Alex Chandon for a fun, gross ride.

The Trust

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.4 out of 5 stars

Nicolas Cage is a hot button issue for some people and I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, I get it, he’s not great in everything he does, but come on, no one’s perfect. You gotta realize, movies are a numbers game. Nick Cage is in at least a movie a year, lately three or four. All I’m saying is watch 8mm and tell me he can’t act. Anyway, The Trust (2016) stars Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood as a pair of CSI (that’s  crime scene investigators if you haven’t seen a TV for over a decade) who enter into an agreement to rob a drug dealer who has this strange vault in his safe house.

Acting wise, the movie is carried entirely by Cage and Wood. And yes, Nicolas Cage is not terrible in this. Towards the end, he goes crazy Cage, but it works for his character arc. Elijah Wood has the stronger performance, but that’s just because he has the more complex character. His motivation is a little murkier and his arc is the core of the theme “trust”.

At the end of the day, this is a solid story. A good amount of twists and turns. I did not see the ending coming which was nice. I had written this movie off as a 3 star movie from the get go. I was wrong. This is better than a 3, but not by much; clearly you can read and already knew that.

If you like crime movies, you’ll like this one.

 

The Thing (1982)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There it is, the first 5 out of 5 movie. It’s John Carpenter at his best, but he’s not even the super star of this one. The real heart and soul of The Thing is Rob Bottin, the special effects creator and designer. The dude worked so hard on this movie, he had to be hospitalized. He’d sleep on the set at night. This guy lived, breathed, and shat The Thing from pre-production till wrap and the reward? Some of the best creature effects ever filmed.

The film, for those who aren’t in the know, follows a group of “scientist” studying “something” in Antarctica. I say “scientist” in quotes because these gentlemen don’t come off as scientist, save for like 3 of the 12 guys. I say “something” in quotes because who gives a shit what they went down there to study, they find an alien. But not just any alien. This alien is a shape-shifter able to perfectly mimic any living organism.

This is Kurt Russell’s (MacReady) second of four film with John Carpenter: his first was Escape from New York(1981), the other two were Big Trouble in Little China(1986) and Escape from L.A.(1996). This is Keith David’s (Childs) first out of two movies with John Carpenter, the second being 1988’s They Live. If you haven’t seen this film yet, please do, then came back and finish the article.

Still with me? Good. Spoilers to come.

One of the things that I really enjoy about this movie is the way that Carpenter build paranoia through isolation. Because none of the characters know for sure who’s a thing and who isn’t, they obviously don’t trust each other which means they tend to go off on their own. But that’s when the thing gets you; when you’re alone, so it adds to the audience’s paranoia. Example.

MacReady has spent most of the movie in the company of others. We see scenes of him flying with others, talking with others, investigating the thing with others. You get the idea, he’s almost never alone. Keith David’s Childs on the other hand, isn’t the narrative focus so the only time you see him is in large group settings, but the film makes a point to show that he spends time alone. By movies end, when we see the two sitting across from one another, you can see MacReady’s breath, but you can’t see Childs.

Childs is a thing. MacReady isn’t. MacReady totally dies once the credits start rolling.

This is all in the mind of the viewer. Most of this movie is in the mind of the viewer. When a character turns, there’s not a waving flag, just subtle clues that you have to watch out for; for example when MacReady asks Norris (Charles Hallahan) to take charge, he declines after a short pause. Next scene, you find out he’s a thing. Childs doesn’t turn until the others leave him alone after the blood test scene, which is way some might still think he’s human. Long story short, this is a movie that demands being re-watched.