Monday, August 30, 2010

The Last Exorcisim Review

Do not hold the marketing campaign for Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism against it. It is not Stamm's fault that marketers opted to sell the picture as nothing more than a simple shock-a-minute scare fest and ignore the many other levels of what is at play here. And it is certainly not his fault that in the process of doing so they included shots - not necessarily the money shots, but still recognizable images - from the big moments of the film in the trailers, thereby hobbling their effectiveness in the film. It is a shame that the marketing for a film as subtle and nuanced as this has been treated in such a heavy handed way not because it is dishonest, per se - the film really does deliver a number of solid scares - but because it both creates a false expectation of what the film actually is as a whole while also undercutting the effectiveness of the very element that they are 'selling' to the paying public. I only hope that audiences are able to see past that potentially fatal error in judgment.

Much more revealing of what this film is actually about is its original - Cotton - the film having been initially named for its complex, conflicted and entirely compelling lead character, the Reverend Cotton Marcus. A traveling preacher of the deep south, charismatic variety, Cotton was groomed for the pulpit from childhood, his preacher father recognizing the value of a child minister as a gimmick to pack the crowds in. Cotton is a charming, intelligent man, one who took on the family mantle early and carried it well, preaching and performing exorcisms - a family sideline stretching back for generations - from childhood into his adult life. But now, decades into his life in the church, Cotton has realized that his faith is false and the practice of exorcism puts more people at risk than it actually helps - what help it offers being of the psychological variety, in his opinion - and so he has arranged to bring a documentary crew with his to what is meant to be his final exorcism to chronicle the extent of his own fraud and the misbehavior of others like him.

But what he finds is not exactly what he expects. Nell Sweetzer is a charming but deeply troubled girl, one squirreled away by her overprotective father after the death of her mother. They lived a quiet, tragic life until Nell began being plagued by late night black outs and sleep walking spells that ended with the teenaged girl gutting the family livestock with a kitchen knife. Believing her problem only psychological, Reverend Marcus puts on his normal show intending to later push the family to seek medical help only to have things go very wrong indeed when the girl appears, catatonic, standing over his hotel room bed late that night ...

Do not take the opening paragraph of this piece to mean that The Last Exorcism is not an effective, frightening horror film. It is. The scare sequences are well executed and very effective, the imagery striking home all the more because of the naturalistic manner in which it is shot. But, that said, it is very much a horror picture of the slow burn variety, not the smack-you-in-the-face series of jump scares that the trailers promise. If what you are looking for is the SCARIEST MOVIE EVER then you need to be aware that this is not the type of movie that Stamm and his crew have set out to make.

No, while the exorcism of the title may be the final major event of the film - the driving force of the plot - the actual core of the picture is Cotton Marcus himself, the troubled preacher being forced to come to terms with his own faith - or lack thereof - and the limitations of his own beliefs. And Marcus, frankly, is an absolutely fascinating character. Played by veteran TV support player by Patrick Fabian in what absolutely deserves to be a star-making performance, Cotton is a sort of sincere cynic, a man whose belief system has failed him entirely without robbing him of his morality. Though he is a fraud he is a fraud with a purpose and the journey this film takes him on is one of the most sincere and intelligent treatments of the tension between faith and reason put on the big screen in years, all of it being embodied by a performance that places Fabian into a school of character actors somewhere between Chris Cooper and Josh Brolin.

And Fabian's not the only actor doing stellar work here. The entire cast - particularly Ashley Bell as Nell, Caleb Landry Jones (soon to be seen as Banshee in X Men: First Class) as Nell's brother Caleb, and Louis Herthum as their father Louis - are stellar, with not a single wrong note struck in any of the performances. Stamm is clearly a stellar actors director and I would suggest that this is very likely the best performed film ever to adopt the moc-doc format.

Supporting those actors is the script by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland. Not content to play to the genre tropes and the bumps and crashes, the duo instead deliver a script that treats every one of the characters with respect, giving each and every one a distinct, wonderfully nuanced feel. You know these people from the first moment you meet them, even the minor characters, and that simply cannot happen without a combination of strong writing and strong performance.

On the directing front, Stamm's ability to handle actors and draw strong performances out of them has already been noted but it is also worth commenting on his ability to balance out the immediacy of the moc-doc format with a shooting and editing style that keeps the film feeling like cinema rather than just some kids messing around with a camera. The moc-doc style is often used as an excuse to pardon poor cinematography and choppy editing but neither accusation can be made here. This is a well made film on all fronts, one that takes full advantage of the moc-doc style to place the audience in the middle of the action without resorting to massive amounts of shaky cam and cheap shadow tricks.

On the negative side of the picture, there is an unfortunate double ending that plays less as a shocking reveal - again, because part of it is shown in the trailers - than like a bit of an anti-climax after the personal intimacy than has come before, a sequence enough at odds with the bulk of the film that I wonder how much of it has to do with the lengthy tweaking process the picture has been subjected to since being completed well over a year ago. It's not a horrible turn - and is absolutely a necessary one in terms of completing Cotton's character arc - but it could certainly have come together with a bit more oomph.

An intelligent, well executed film that treats both its characters and its audience with respect, The Last Exorcism has unfortunately been saddled with an ad campaign that does neither. See it anyway

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scott PilgrimVs. The World Review

The first and most important thing you must understand about Scott Pilgrim is that it is a love letter to fans of video games. In fact, you could make an argument that it belongs among the best video game movies made, even though it did not come from a video game. Granted, the competition is fairly slim. Oddly, I have found in my travels that not everyone is a long-time fan of video games! I know, I was shocked too, but it is true. To those people, this movie will be the equivalent of someone that is tone deaf watching Moulin Rouge. The majority of the movie will simply fall flat and come off as bewildering, rather than the cleaver homage to 8-bit NES-style games that it is. If you don’t know what an 8-bit game is, then this movie is not for you.
Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six-part graphic novel, the story is straightforward enough. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl date. Boy is attacked by a string of super powered-exes who want to kill him, and he must fight for his love as well as his own survival. Pretty standard fare. If you have seen the trailers, you probably have a fairly good idea of what the plot holds.
My mom- who does not even own a computer- will not appreciate this movie.  If your favorite movie is an obscure Argentina silent film about the loss of love, or whatever, walk away. If you have never seen a video games before, then Scott Pilgrim CLEARLY isn’t for you.
If you leave this film wondering how Scott could have learned his fighting moves, then you missed the entire point of the film. The movie itself is a game, from beginning to end. It follows a certain game-like pattern in plot, it obeys the rules of gaming, and the climax of the movie is based around video games in so many ways, that even casual gamers will recognize it. The movie even manages to bring a logical explanation for having fight music.
You don’t have to currently be an avid gamer, but you either have to have a fond nostalgic remembrance of the early days of video games, or at least be willing to accept it in order to enjoy this movie. That will endear Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to some, while alienating others.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Other Guys Review

The Other Guys" takes stuff that, as a rule, isn't particularly funny, and tries to make you laugh. More often than not, it succeeds.
A crooked financial adviser as the villain? Not funny. Not these days. Except as played by Steve Coogan, who brings a squirrelly charm to the role of David Ershon, a Bernie Madoff-style bad guy whose financial chicanery is the focus of the investigation in this comedy about a pair of wildly mismatched cops, played by Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell.
Ferrell, unsurprisingly, does most of the heavy lifting. As Allen Gamble, an embarrassingly nebbishy police accountant, he's the geeky yin to Wahlberg's hyper-macho yang, represented by Terry Hoitz, a disgraced former hot shot who has been exiled to desk duty after an accidental shooting. Again, not funny. Except that it is, especially the identity of the victim.
Gamble, in "The Other Guys," is Hoitz's punishment. And we're the ones who reap the rewards.
Most of the comedy consists of Gamble doing uncool things: firing his gun inside the station, listening to the Little River Band, driving a Prius. (Yes, I know that's cool in some precincts. Not here.) As his reluctant partner, Wahlberg proves himself a master of the slow burn. He's our glowering stand-in, the angry straight man to Ferrell's earnest, unhinged idiot.
Why is the mere sight of Ferrell singing morbidly depressing folk songs in a bar funny? If you have to ask, you must never have seen "Old School," "Elf" or "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (or any of the actor's brilliantly lowbrow previous work). Almost anything Ferrell does is funny, even if it's stupid.
Especially if it's stupid.
And there's plenty of stupid in "The Other Guys." That's because, more than anything, what it's making fun of is dumb cop-movie cliches. The title itself presents Gamble and Hoitz as alternatives to even bigger jerks, played by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson. As supercops Danson and Highsmith, they're what Gamble and Hoitz aspire to become, even after the film dispenses with the flashy, high-wire duo in a gloriously ignominious -- and hilarious -- end.
Their demise, which comes early in the film, opens up an opportunity for Gamble and Hoitz, who spend the rest of the film competing with two other ambitious officers (Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr.) to fill the void in the limelight left by Danson and Highsmith. As Gamble and Hoitz figure it, if they can just solve one big case, they'll be the new stars.
When the film works best, it does so by subverting our own expectations of the detective genre. After an exploding fireball throws Gamble and Hoitz to the ground, they don't jump up, unscathed, and brush themselves off. Far from it. "I just want to go somewhere and breast-feed," whines Gamble, writhing in pain.
As the hard-boiled police captain Mauch, Michael Keaton has the stereotype down -- except he keeps quoting TLC lyrics, and moonlights as the manager of a Bed Bath & Beyond.
If the movie doesn't work so well, it's because it occasionally stops tweaking convention, and starts following it. At times -- especially during the film's frequent car chases and shootouts -- "The Other Guys" looks and sounds too much like one of the movies it's mocking. And certain running gags are run into the ground. Gamble, for example, is an incongruous (and clueless) sex symbol. Although his wife (Eva Mendes) is, in Hoitz's words, "scalding hot," Gamble appears unaware of this fact, let alone that every other woman in the film also seems to want him. It's crazy -- he's Will Ferrell, for God's sake! -- not to mention crazy funny. But the joke wears thin after the umpteenth iteration. Other dumb bits that outlast their welcome: The bad guys keep taking Gamble's and Hoitz's shoes, and Mauch confiscates Gamble's gun, making him carry a wooden facsimile.
For the most part, "The Other Guys" is seriously silly stuff, in the best sense. If you sit through the closing credits, you'll not only see an amusing outtake, but a series of on-screen graphics that detail how a Ponzi scheme works, as well as other disheartening statistics about the recent financial meltdown. It's a bizarre coda to a comedy, but maybe that's the point.
Instead of riling us up about runaway executive compensation and TARP funds, it only serves as a reminder of how badly we could all use a good laugh nowadays.

The Expendables Review

You know that scene in every action movie since 1974 when the guy jumps into the water after being blown off an edge by a massive, flaming ball of death? Yeah, that's The Expendables in a nut. If it isn't on fire, crumbling to pieces, being chased by a thousand guys in face paint and getting torn apart by a rapid-fire shotgun, it probably isn't in The Expendables.

This is the kind of film we used to spit-ball with friends in a kind of 'wouldn't it be cool if...?' scenario – all the biggest action stars coming together for one massive orgy of violence and bloodletting. Really, the concept is so tantalizing that we harboured a flickering flame of hope for this one; Sylvester Stallone called upon his action movie counterparts, roping in some of the biggest, toughest Ess-Oh-Bees out there for a movie that promised all the hallmarks of classic hard-action films we love to pieces (mostly things exploding and quippy one-liners).

Joining Sly are a fan-favourite selection of muscle-bound heroes. After a tone-establishing opening, complete with classic 80s-era 'steel font' typeface (look, we like the little touches), things play out witlessly and inexplicably. The story is baffling; something about cocaine plantations, American government conspiracies, an uprising and motorcycle gangs. You can fill in the blanks – Sly certainly did – and his solution is more everything. He piles on the (thankfully well-choreographed) fight sequences and stupendous set-pieces. Everything is exploding or being torn apart and people die with the same strawberry-jelly bursts of gore that made the Rambo reboot a mess of bloodthirsty fun. Between the neck-breaking combat and the occasional sense of humour, The Expendables earns its star-and-a-half.

My Life's Story

Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down and I'd like to take a minute just sit right there and I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town call Bellaire.

In west Philadelphia born and raised on the playground is where I spent most of my days chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool and just shooting some b-ball out side of the school when a couple of guys they were up to no good started making trouble in my neighborhood I got in one little fight and my mom got scared and said you moving with your aunty and uncle in Bellaire.

I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said fresh and it had a dice in the mirror if anything I can say that this cab was rare, but i thougth naw forget it, yo home to Bellaire.

I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8 andyelled to the drive yo ho smell ya later I looked at my kingdom I was finally there to sit on my throne as the Prince of Bellaire.


Fifty Greatest Movies

1. Citizen Kane
2. Casablanca
3. The Godfather
4. Gone with the Wind
5. Lawrence of Arabia
6. The Wizard of Oz
7. The Graduate
8. On the Waterfront
9. Schindler's List
10. Singin' in the Rain
11. It's a Wonderful Life
12. Sunset Blvd.
13. The Bridge on the River Kwai
14. Some Like It Hot
15. Star Wars
16. All About Eve
17. The African Queen
18. Psycho
19. Chinatown
20. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
21. The Grapes of Wrath
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
23. The Maltese Falcon
24. Raging Bull
25. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
26. Dr. Strangelove
27. Bonnie and Clyde
28. Apocalypse Now
29. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
30. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
31. Annie Hall
32. The Godfather Part II
33. High Noon
34. To Kill a Mockingbird
35. It Happened One Night
36. Midnight Cowboy
37. The Best Years of Our Lives
38. Double Indemnity
39. Doctor Zhivago
40. North by Northwest
41. West Side Story
42. Rear Window
43. King Kong
44. The Birth of a Nation
45. A Streetcar Named Desire
46. A Clockwork Orange
47. Taxi Driver
48. Jaws
49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
50. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid