Archive for the Innovative Movies Category

CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Compelling Cinema, Exotic Locales, Innovative Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Plot Twists with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by knifefighter

CLOUD ATLAS
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

It’s not often you go to the movies and see something that is truly epic these days. Sure, Ridley Scott’s latest film, PROMETHEUS was epic in scope (even if it was a bit of a disappointment – nothing could live up to the expectations for that movie!), but that’s a rarity. In comparison, the new movie CLOUD ATLAS seems even more ambitious, with stories taking place in multiple time periods, converging and echoing through each other, from the past to the far future.

So does it work?

Surprisingly, it does. CLOUD ATLAS gives us front-row seats to six different stories:

1)      The first one takes place 1849 and involves a young lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), on a long sea voyage, during which he is being poisoned by the ship’s doctor, Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) who claims to be treating him for a parasite. Ewing’s path also crosses with that of a stowaway slave named Autua (David Gyasi).

2)      In England in the 1930s, a poor young composer named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) to become the assistant of a great old composer who has been silent for several years. Intent on inspiring the man to work on a new symphony, Frobisher finds that working with his hero is not as wonderful as he expected.

3)      In San Francisco in the 70s, an investigative reporter, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is on the trail of a conspiracy involving corrupt officials and a nuclear power plant. People who help her end up dead, and she races against the clock to get her story out to the world before she can be silenced.

4)      In modern day England, a publisher named Timothy Cavendish puts out a new book by a murderous gangster named Dermot Higgins (Tom Hanks in a wonderful role). When Higgins’ henchmen come looking for money, Cavendish goes into hiding at an old age home owned by his vindictive brother, Denholme (Hugh Grant), with unexpected results.

5)      In Neo Seoul, Korea in 2144, we follow the story of a clone bred to serve consumers named Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona) and her sudden awareness that there is more to life than servitude, thanks to the intervention of a man named Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess).

6)      In the far future, a post-apocalyptic world has reverted to barbarism (including marauding bands of cannibals), and a goat herder named Zachry finds himself playing host to a “Prescient” named Meronym (Halle Berry). The Prescients are the last race on the planet who still have access to technology, and Meronym is looking for something only Zachry can help her find, that could affect the fate of mankind.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. And at first each storyline is introduced distinctly, but as the movie continues, we find ourselves constantly jumping back and forth between timelines and storylines. It resembles nothing so much as a cosmic juggling act. However, despite the fact that so much is going on, and we have so many characters parading before us, the viewer is not once confused about what’s happening. The movie is surprisingly clear, despite its complexity.

Also, despite an almost three hour running time, not once did I find myself getting bored. The time went by quickly, and I was constantly in suspense, wondering what was going to happen next to the characters onscreen.

In the future, clones are bred to sell us goods in CLOUD ATLAS.

And how epic is this movie? Well, it needed three directors to tell its story: Lana and Andy Wachowski (who gave us the MATRIX trilogy, and who leave that series in the dust with this movie!) and Tom Tykwer, the excellent German director who gave us such films as the art-house classic RUN LOLA RUN (1998) and the underrated THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (2000). Each of the three directors tackled different storylines, and yet it is all quite seamless.

I don’t really want to go into much more detail besides giving you the very brief synopses of each storyline above. CLOUD ATLAS is to be experienced and enjoyed, and the less you know about where each storyline is leading, the better. Because there are surprises along the way.

All I know is that I was completely enthralled by this film, in ways that something like PROMETHEUS doesn’t even come close. Where PROMETHEUS was confusing at times and enigmatic, CLOUD ATLAS is riveting and satisfying. As you can see by the descriptions, several actors appear in multiple roles throughout the movie in different eras, and it works quite well. Even if some of the makeup occasionally lets us down (Hugo Weaving’s turn as Nurse Noakes comes instantly to mind – not once did I believe he was playing a woman).

Is it perfect? No. Sometimes the whole “we are all connected” philosophy that fuels the movie seems a little preachy, and silly. We’ve heard this kind of thing a hundred times before and better (for a more compelling take on past lives and afterlives, you might want to check out Gaspar Noe’s superior ENTER THE VOID, 2009, for example). But that “philosophy” isn’t, ultimately, what defines this movie.

Based on the novel by David Mitchell, written (as well as directed) by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, CLOUD ATLAS is ultimately about its characters: believable, sympathetic human beings that we grow to care about over the course of the film. Not all of the storylines are equal. The tale aboard a ship in the 1800s was probably my least favorite of the stories, and the ones set in the future were among the best for me. However, I found myself eagerly involved in all of them. And yes, by the end, the stories do seem to all be connected, and resonate throughout each other.

The acting is top-rate. I haven’t seen Hanks or Berry this good in a long time, and people like Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Keith David and Hugo Weaving in multiple roles are fascinating. Bae Doona as the clone Sonmi-451 in the New Seoul storyline might be the most compelling character of all.

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry – among several other actors – play multiple roles in CLOUD ATLAS – and do a pretty awesome job at it.

If you are a fan of the MATRIX films and of Tykwer’s previous work, you will be astonished how this movie is a big step forward. If you didn’t care for the MATRIX films (and I know I started to lose interest after the first one), then CLOUD ATLAS will redeem the Wachowskis for you.

I was truly dazzled by this movie, and I recommend everyone go and experience it for themselves.  I give CLOUD ATLAS, four out of five knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives CLOUD ATLAS – four knives!

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FIDO (2006)

Posted in 2012, 50s Horror, Cult Movies, Indie Horror, Innovative Movies, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by knifefighter

FIDO (2006)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

Ah, the Fifties, a psychologically fascinating time. WWII is over and there is money and happiness to go around. In FIDO, WWII has been replaced by “The Z War,” but the result is the same. After almost a decade of living with their consciousness stuffed full of worry and death and horror, the American people focus on happy thoughts and hide away anything that makes them uncomfortable. Life is about presentation. How you look to your neighbors means absolutely everything.

FIDO opens with a very Fifties-looking Public Service Announcement (PSA) detailing the meteor that re-animated all the Earth’s corpses and spurred the Zombie War. We learn about Dr. Reinhold Geiger, who discovered that if you destroyed the brain, you destroyed the zombie. Dr. Geiger then invented a suppression collar that would stifle a zombie’s urge to eat living flesh. This miraculous invention, now manufactured and maintained through the wonders of Zomcon, ensured that every family in America could have their own zombie to handle household chores. Now everyone can be a productive member of society, even after they’re dead.

As the PSA finishes, a very Fifties-looking schoolteacher steps into the shot smiling beatifically. Her class beams at her while she introduces the new head of Zomcon security, Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerney, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, 2005 and THE A-TEAM, 2010). He gives an exhilarating but condescending speech about the importance of Zomcon. His visit is marred by Timmy (K’Sun Ray, in his first major role) the only distrustful-looking kid in the class, who asks questions that beg answers beyond the pretty rhetoric designed to numb society into obedience.

When Timmy returns home, he discovers his Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss, THE MATRIX movies and 2007’s DISTURBIA) has gotten them a zombie. When Timmy’s Dad (Dylan Baker, HIDE AND SEEK, 2005 and TRICK ‘R TREAT, 2007) comes home, we learn that he is terrified of zombies and is mortified that his wife would so blatantly defy his wishes. Dad is working like crazy to earn enough money to pay the exorbitant price of a decapitation and funeral for each member of his family. Mom has to agree to keep the zombie chained up in the backyard when it’s not doing chores before Dad agrees to keep it for a trial period.

Timmy names the zombie Fido (Billy Connolly, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, 1999 and the upcoming HOBBIT movies, 2012 & 2013), and takes him to the park to play. Fido’s collar breaks and he kills their neighbor Mrs. Henderson. The collar kicks back in, revealing an intermittent short, but the damage is done. Timmy is well-versed in making things look “perfect” when bad things happen, so he buries Mrs. Henderson in the park and brings Fido home to clean him up.

Of course, Mrs. Henderson doesn’t stay dead, and soon there is a full-on zombie incident in town. Timmy continues to hide the truth while Mr. Bottoms and his Zomcon Security Force work to contain the outbreak. This is complicated by the fact that Mr. Bottoms has moved his family into the house next door, and Timmy’s Mom is getting friendly with Mrs. Bottoms, the way a good neighbor should.

The first kudos for this film go to the writing. Setting the story during this time period was a brilliant decision. In a world where even rotting corpses shambling around in broad daylight can be made to “look” normal, it spotlights the differences between how things are made to look and how things actually are. Some of the more horrific moments come from the living people refusing to deal with problems and inconveniences. When Timmy comes home with a torn shirt, Mom tells him: “Clean up, put on a new shirt, and we won’t even have to talk about those bullies.”  When she finds him bouncing a ball against the house, she says: “Please don’t play baseball by yourself. It makes you look lonely.” When the zombie knocks over a shelf in the garage, she worries that Dad will send the zombie away. “Then people are gonna say that the Robinsons are strange, and they’ll be right!”

Mrs. Robinson dances with their zombie “… it’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair.”

The performances are all top shelf. K’Sun Ray does a convincing job making you believe he’s the only person in town who’s in tune with how things actually work. Carrie-Anne Moss is excellent in her role, always trying to forge familial happiness in situations where everything is out of balance. You even feel sorry for Dylan Baker’s character as he struggles to maintain his role as the head of the household, while it seems that Fido is slowly usurping his place.

Casting Billy Connelly as Fido was also an excellent choice. Everyone else in the film bears the look of the fifties. None of them would seem out of place in the old TV show LASSIE (which gets lampooned in one hysterical scene– the boy’s name is Timmy, after all), or in any of the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Connelly doesn’t fit that mold in any sense, and every time he is on screen it heightens the feeling that something is out of place.

For some reason, FIDO didn’t catch on like it deserved to. Maybe because it was a period piece, maybe because it came during a flurry of zombie comedies trying to make a buck in the wake of 2004’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD. It wasn’t terribly well distributed, either. I can remember hitting both Hollywood Video and Blockbuster on release day and finding it unavailable.

Period piece or not, FIDO deserves another chance to catch the public’s attention. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out soon. After all, what are your neighbors going to say when they find out you haven’t seen it?

This one is a solid four stars, with a single time out.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Enigmatic Films, Indie Horror, Innovative Movies, Strange Cinema, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2012 by knifefighter

(Note: the original plan was to review SILENT HOUSE today and YELLOWBRICKROAD next Monday, but the SILENT HOUSE review has been postponed until next week, instead.)

# #

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A trail in the middle of the woods in rural New Hampshire. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are following the path through the forest, as music is heard over the horizon)

LS: Why are we here again? I hate hiking and camping and crap like that.

MA: We’re here to review the movie YELLOWBRICKROAD, which was made in 2010, but got some buzz on the independent horror movie circuit in 2011. I figured it was about time we reviewed it for Cinema Knife Fight.

LS: I agree with you, but did we really have to come out here in the middle of nowhere to do it?

MA: Well, the movie is about a trail in the middle of the woods, just like this one. So it seemed appropriate enough to me. Besides, as a New Hampshire resident, it gave me a chance to get out and explore some of the nearby flora and fauna.

LS: Next time, just take a book out of the library (slaps neck). Damn mosquitos.

MA: Naw, why read a book when you can actually be in the great outdoors? This is a wonderful setting for a review.

LS: If you say so. And what is that awful racket? That music is just irritating! I didn’t ask for a soundtrack.

MA: It’s part of the mystery of the trail. What is the YELLOWBRICKROAD and where does it lead to? Spooky, huh?

LS: Not really.

MA:  I agree.

LS:  Y’know, I just realized that I really hate nature.

MA: Why don’t you give us a synopsis of the movie’s plot. It will get your mind off the hiking.

LS: Okay. When YELLOWBRICKROAD opens, we learn about the residents of Friar, New Hampshire.  In the 1940s, the entire town just picked up and walked out into the woods to follow a trail, leaving their homes and belongings behind. The majority of them disappeared completely, but a few were found frozen to death or murdered. Only one guy came back alive (there’s eerie old audio of him being questioned about it). No one knows what happened, but the search party that went looking for them set up a marker for the trail with a stone that reads: Yellowbrickroad. Just like the magical path in THE WIZARD OF OZ  (1939).

MA:  I actually liked that eerie old audio.  It was one of the few things about this movie I actually found creepy.

LS:  Yeah, that was pretty cool. Too bad it only lasts a few minutes.

The whole thing was hushed up for 60 years or so, until the files on it were declassified, which is where the modern-day storyline begins. Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) plans to write a book about the incident, and begins by picking up the recently declassified documents to use as a starting point. His plan is to find the trail, walk it himself, and try to determine what happened to those people back in the 40s.

He doesn’t go alone. He brings along his wife, Melissa (Anessa Ramsey), who will co-author the book with him; Daryl and Erin Luger (Clark and Cassidy Freeman), another couple who will be drawing maps along the way (the trail is not on any known map); there’s also a representative of the U.S. Forestry Service named Cy Banbridge (Sam Elmore); Teddy and Melissa’s intern, Jill Bateman (Tara Giodano); and a psychologist named Walter Myrick (Alex Draper), who is a friend of the Barnes’ and goes along to monitor everyone’s sanity. He is constantly filming people in the group and asking them to do things like reciting the alphabet backwards, speaking gibberish until he says stop, and other weird stuff, to keep track of everyone’s lucidity as the journey continues.

When they get to Friar, none of the locals will talk to them, and they seem to resent the fact that Teddy and his group are so interested in this particular bit of history. So Teddy figures they might as well just start off by finding the path. He checks the coordinates that are listed in the declassified files for the start point, and  they end up at a movie theater in the middle of downtown Friar. They figure this can’t be right, since it’s not in the woods. So right off the bat, things are a little mixed up.

A local girl who works at the theater named Liv (Laura Heisler), is the only local who will talk to Teddy, and she agrees to help them find the path, as long as she can go along. They agree, and she takes them to the real starting point—at the edge of the forest—where the stone with the word “yellowbrickroad” carved into it sits, waiting for them.

The rest of the movie is pretty much a bunch of people hiking through the woods.

MA:  Wow.  That’s exciting.  Not.

LS:  Except the deeper they go, the stranger things get. First off, it’s not long before they hear some weird music in the woods—at times it sounds like an old-time swing band and other times like voices singing—and it gets louder as they keep walking. At one point it gets REALLY loud. There doesn’t seem to be any earthly source for the music. Also, all of their tracking equipment seems to go haywire—the arms of their compass spin out of control, their GPS unit tells them they are first in Alaska, and then in Florence, Italy— but they’re still in the woods of New Hampshire.

Also, we learn why Walter tagged along, since everyone begins to slowly show signs of madness as the trek proceeds. To the point where some characters erupt in violent rages, and the rest lose their way and can’t figure out how to go back to civilization.

What exactly is this path and where does it lead? Those are the questions the movie seeks to answer for the remainder of its running time, as everyone’s sanity appears to break further and further down. And things start to get a little scary. Or at least, they try to.

I actually thought the idea behind YELLOWBRICKROAD, of a strange path where people get hooked and are forced to follow it to the end, was a pretty interesting one.

MA:  I agree.  I loved the premise.  But—.

LS:  Yeah, the premise is at least original and I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it before. And for that reason I found myself really wanting to like this movie.

MA:  Again, I agree.

LS:  However, there are long stretches where characters are just walking through the woods and things don’t really get interesting until the end—where I was expecting a terrific payoff. But instead, all I got was disappointed.

MA:  Ditto.

LS:  I guess you’re supposed to interpret the ending for yourself, and I was able to do that, but at the same time, I didn’t find it very satisfying. And I’m sure a lot of people will just find it confusing, and a complete letdown.

MA:  I found it extremely confusing, from start to finish.  To me, this film never really established its identity.  Is it a creepy ghost movie?  A documentary-style horror flick a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)?  A study in psychology, where the characters simply lose it and turn on each other?  It’s a little bit of all of these, particularly the latter, but it never really takes what it has and runs with it.  As a result, it ends up being one long unexciting trek into the woods.

LS:  It did remind me a lot of BLAIR WITCH at times, although it is not filmed in the “found footage” documentary style of that movie. If you remember, in BLAIR WITCH, the characters went looking for something supernatural in the woods and lost their way as well, and started acting weirder as it all went on. But, aside from those superficial similarities, YELLOWBRICKROAD had the potential to be something truly different. And it all hinges on what we find at the end of the road. And honestly, the answer just isn’t very compelling.

The acting is okay for the most part, but I wasn’t blown away by anyone’s performance. They suited the story well enough, but I wish there had been a more dynamic character or two to keep the story from dragging. Even though Teddy appears to be the main character early on, by the middle of the movie, nobody is really the lead character, and there’s no one person who is a strong presence. I even got a couple of characters mixed up a few times because of this.

The accent used by Laura Heisler for Liv was supposed to be a New Hampshire accent, but I found it pretty irritating. Did is sound authentic to you, Michael?

MA:  No!  It sounded like a botched fake Boston accent.  It was extremely irritating.

LS: I thought so. I’ve never heard someone from New Hampshire talk like that. It was just weird.

MA: I’m with you about the acting, although I did like Alex Draper as Walter, the psychologist.  I thought he was an interesting character, even though he didn’t do a whole lot.  The rest of the characters all seemed like they would be interesting if we had got to know them.  I didn’t think the screenplay by writers/directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton did a good job fleshing these characters out.

LS:  The location of the woods is okay (hell, it worked for BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, too), but gets tiresome rather quickly, because it all looks the same (which makes sense, because it makes you believe it when characters get lost), at the same time, it’s not very interesting visually.

TREE WITH A FACE: Who are you calling tiresome?  Trees are exciting!

MA:  Really?  I don’t think I’ve ever met an exciting tree.

TREE:  You don’t get out very much then.

MA:  Well, I’m out now.  Do something exciting.

TREE:  That’s too much pressure.  I can’t be put on the spot like that.  I’m too self-conscious.

LS (produces an ax):  We might need some fire wood later. How’s that for excitement?

TREE:  You’re just mean!

LS:  Yes I am, and I’m also the guy holding the ax, so why don’t you stop bugging us and let us go on with our review?

TREE:  The next time you need shade, don’t come crying to me!

LS:  The next time I need shade I won’t be here. I’ll be in my air-conditioned apartment.

MA:  Alright you two.  Let’s get back to the movie.

LS:  Sure.

The use of sound effects is a big plus in this movie. The otherworldly “music” everyone hears is the only soundtrack to the film, and it is kind of creepy, although, the more you hear it, the more you get used to it. It is used well, though, and does add a sense of atmosphere and foreboding to the movie.

MA:  I started out liking this effect, but as it went on, I just found it annoying.  I found this tinny music which sounded like something you’d hear played on an amusement park speaker irritating and aggravating, which I guess was supposed to be the point, because it starts to drive the characters crazy, but strangely, I didn’t find it creepy.

And that’s something this movie continually lacked, establishing a sense of creepiness.  Nearly everything that happens to these folks in the woods, I found annoying rather than scary.  I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.  I was sitting there thinking, will someone turn off that flippin music?  It’s giving me a headache.

They hear the music, they have no explanation for it, and so they just go on and try to ignore it.  That makes sense, except as a person watching this story, I wanted to know what the music is, and so I wished someone in the movie would make an attempt to figure it out.  But no, it just plays on and on, and our investigative team simply walks on, deeper and deeper into the woods.  I sat there asking myself, where the hell are these people going?

LS:  When we finally get to see some violence, I found it kind of laughable. One scene where a character attacks another character and pulls off her leg had me laughing out loud—it just looked so… fake.

MA:  It was incredibly fake-looking!  It was extremely disappointing.  For a movie that has generated this much buzz, I was surprised that such a poorly executed scene like that was in the film.  Amateurish.

LS:  And when characters who go insane start talking about the need they have to hurt someone, it just struck me as kind of goofy, rather than scary. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that there is maybe one scary moment in the whole movie (involving a cave) but it still had me laughing, because I guess I’m just jaded.

MA:  I think the fact that film just wasn’t scary had more to do with your laughing than your being jaded.  It’s true.  It was goofy after a while.

(LS and MA see some apples growing nearby)

LS: An apple tree! After all this walking, I sure am hungry. And I love apples.

(LS grabs and apple and pulls it free)

SECOND TREE WITH A FACE: How dare you! Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: Another talking tree! But this one reminds me a lot of one we saw back in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

SECOND TREE: That’s because I am from Oz, genius. But someone dug me up and transplanted me here, to this boring place.

MA: So you don’t like it here?

SECOND TREE: Are you kidding? None of the other trees will talk to me, and nothing happens here! Nothing but that grating “music,” that is giving me a migraine. Can’t you guys dig me up again and take me with you? You can bring me back to Oz! I’ll even curl up my roots to help you.

LS: What the hell are we going to dig with, our hands? Besides, I don’t know how to get to the Oz you’re talking about. But I can take you to a prison called OZ.

SECOND TREE: Ahhh, forget it.

LS (to MA): You know, if there had been some talking trees in YELLOWBRICKROAD, I would have liked it better. (bites into apple)

(SECOND TREE cries out in pain)

LS: Did that hurt you? Me eating this apple?

SECOND TREE: Yes, it did.

(LS takes another bite, and the TREE cries out)

MA: Stop it! The racket he’s making is worse than that stupid music.

LS (throws apple on the ground): Okay, okay. But I’m still hungry. Maybe I can catch a rabbit or a woodchuck or something.

MA: Can we just finish the review?

LS:  Okay.

The ending just seemed to me like Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton (who co-directed the movie and co-wrote the script), couldn’t imagine something really cool to end things with, so they went with something enigmatic/ominous. And it just made me yawn. There were so many other, better ways this movie could have ended.

MA:  I agree

LS: I give it an A for effort and originality, but a C- for execution. Or something like that. In total, I give YELLOWBRICKROAD, two knives. And I’m being generous here.

MA:  You liked it more than I did.  I was sitting there thinking, “This movie generated a lot of buzz?  This movie?”

Again, I liked the premise, so I thought this movie had lots of potential, and I thought the preview trailer looked very creepy, so I had some high hopes for this one, but it let me down big time.

I think some character development would have helped.  For example, our lead investigator, Teddy, says he’s obsessed with this legend.  Why?  We don’t know anything about him which would explain why he’s so interested in solving this mystery.  Does he love mysteries?  Did something similar once happen to him or someone he knew?  Is he somehow associated with the town?  But we’re not offered any kind of background information that might make Teddy and his investigation more interesting.

The film is incredibly ambiguous.  Now some people like to make the argument that if a movie is confusing, it’ll turn people off and they won’t like it, just because they have to think.  Now, I don’t mind an ambiguous movie, and I certainly have nothing against movies that make you think.  But here, there doesn’t seem to be much to think about.

I only have one question about this story, and it’s the only question that was on my mind during the movie:  what happened to all those people who disappeared in 1940?  And related to that question is this one, what happened to the characters in this movie?  Neither one of these is satisfactorily answered by the movie, so when all is said and done, I still have no idea what happened to these people.

LS: Actually, the movie does give you a hint where those people from 1940 ended up, but it only lasted a second, and I can’t explain it to you without spoiling the ending. So forget it.

MA: Yeah, but that’s what I’m talking about.  A blink-and-you-missed it “hint” doesn’t satisfactorily answer the question.

Plus, nothing in this movie captured my imagination and made me want to watch it again and look for clues that I may have missed the first time.  It was like trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle that didn’t provide enough numbers.  Where’s the fun in that?  You want to be able to solve the damn thing!

Beyond its unique premise, YELLOWBRICKROAD has nothing else to offer.  It’s not creepy, it’s not scary, it’s not really gory; it’s simply annoying and irritating.  Without understanding what was going on, I just couldn’t get into it. Had it at least been eerie, I would have possibly looked past the fact that it had a confusing story, but I wasn’t scared at all during this one.

For a movie that generated so much buzz, I was very disappointed with YELLOWBRICKROAD.  I think Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton’s script was mostly to blame, rather than their direction, because had the story been more cleverly conceived, had there been some meat on those bones, they might have had something.

LS: Yeah, it was a completely missed opportunity. Which is frustrating as hell when you’re in the audience and you’re a writer, like we are. We could have come up with a so much more clever ending to this thing! But nobody throws money at us to make a movie.

MA: I give YELLOWBRICKROAD one and a half knives.

Now that we’re done, can someone shut off that damn music!

LS:  I’ve done better than anyone in the movie, because I’ve just discovered where the music is coming from.

MA:  Where?

LS:  Up  there.  (points above them to a hill in the middle of the forest. On the hill is a DJ spinning records. On either side of him are giant sunflowers that are obviously amplifiers. The DJ is so caught up in what he’s doing, his eyes are closed and he doesn’t notice LS and MA)

MA:  Shall we?

LS:  Let’s do it.

(LS produces a sling shot, MA hands him a big rock, and LS shoots the rock at the DJ. Knocking him out. LS and  MA high five each other when the music stops. But, suddenly, a few minutes later, the music starts playing again.)

MA:  Now, that’s creepy!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives YELLOWBRICKROAD ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives YELLOWBRICKROAD ~two knives.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Innovative Movies, Just Plain Fun with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  a hip, upscale nightclub, invitation only. There are two bands playing simultaneously, blasting their music at incredible decibels, and the dance floor is jam-packed as lasers and other pyrotechnics ignite the scene. Outside the club, two burly bouncers block the entrance. MICHAEL ARRUDA approaches them.

LEFT BOUNCER:  What’s the password?

MA:  Swordfish. (MA looks over his shoulder and address the camera)  That’s a homage. (pulls out a cigar and impersonates Groucho Marx.)

(The Bouncers step aside and allow MA to enter.)

(L.L. SOARES approaches the Bouncers. He pulls cigar from his mouth and blows smoke in their faces.)

RIGHT BOUNCER (coughing):  What’s the password?

LS:  Let me in.

(Bouncers step aside and let LS enter.)

(Inside, LS chats with some scantily-clad ladies, then notices MA standing alone on the patio and follows him outside.)

LS:  What are you doing out here?  The party’s inside.

MA:  I know. I’m resisting.

LS:  Resisting?

MA:  I’m trying to resist the insanity that is Scott Pilgrim. I wanted no part of it. I didn’t want to see this movie, and when it started, I wasn’t into it, but then— I started to like it.

LS:  So? Just go with it. Why are you so resistant all the time?  Wanna talk about it?

MA:  Sure. I’ll start the review.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD begins with 22 year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) playing in a band with his friends and dating a 17 year-old high school student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). He soon meets Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl of his dreams, and when she finally agrees to date him, he learns that in order to do so, he has to defeat her seven ex-boyfriends.

LS: Exes

MA:  Yeah, seven “exes.”  They’re not all boyfriends.

With the help of his friends, including his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), Scott takes on this mighty task, while juggling his responsibilities to his band, and the relentless affections of his former girlfriend Knives.

In a movie like SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, the plot is secondary. Describing it doesn’t do it justice. What stands out in this film is the directorial style of director Edgar Wright, who was also at the helm of one my favorite horror comedies, SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004).

LS: No matter what doubts I had about this movie based on the trailer – they were balanced out by the fact that Edgar Wright made this movie. After SHAUN OF THE DEAD and the equally great HOT FUZZ (2007), this guy has a great track record. So I figured, there was a good chance I was going to like this one.

MA: This film is a visual tour de force. There is so much going on in this movie, visually, that it doesn’t take long for the style to take over and dominate everything that is going on. And it’s not a distraction. It’s not like INCEPTION, where I was scratching my head, wondering what was going on. Here, the storytelling is strong and precise. I knew exactly what was going on, even though the story was told in the most unconventional of ways.

LS: Actually this movie reminded me a bit of ZOMBIELAND (2009). First off, Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera, the leads from both movies, are very similar “types.” Then, there’s the way ZOMBIELAND would flash things on the screen, like you were watching a live-action video game. Except, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD takes this concept and blows it up like an atom bomb. Between the jokes and video game references flashing onscreen, to the fast cutting, to the sound effects and manic visuals, there has never been a movie before quite like SCOTT PILGRIM.

MA: I wasn’t into this movie from the start. I didn’t want to see it, wasn’t really interested in it, and thought I would hate it. When it began, I still wasn’t into it. Sure, it was creative, the jokes lively, and people in the audience were laughing, but I wasn’t. I felt like I didn’t “get it.”  There seemed to be an inside joke that I was missing. Why did people like this Scott Pilgrim so much?  Why should I care about him and his relationships?

LS: I think Michael Cera can come off as incredibly whiny and wimpy sometimes, like he did in movies like SUPERBAD (2007) (the reason to see that one is for the scenes with McLovin’ and the cops, not the “bromance” of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) and JUNO (also 2007). However, Cera is perfectly cast here as Scott Pilgrim. Physically and personality-wise, he’s just perfect throughout and never seems to stumble. He’s finally won me over as a fan.

MA: Yeah. Like I was saying, I didn’t “get” this movie at first. Then a funny thing happened. I started to like it. About the time Ramona entered the movie, specifically, the scene where they go to her bedroom for the first time, things began to click for me. I started to buy into the movie then, and from then on, everything seemed to work. I was suddenly laughing at the film’s all-over-the place creativity and humor, and it is all over the place. I haven’t seen a movie this creative in years. Going back a long time, I had similar reactions when I watched movies like FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986), which, for its time, was very creative, and THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI IN THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984), but while that movie was often incoherent, SCOTT PILGRIM is not. The story doesn’t suffer from its off-the-wall super-charged style, and I think that’s what I liked most about it.

LS: I never understood why so many people love FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. I think it’s a mediocre, overrated movie. And, while BUCKAROO BANZAI is interesting, SCOTT PILGRIM blows both of the movies you mentioned away, without even working up a sweat.

MA:  Not so fast, buckaroo!  While I agree with you that SCOTT PILGRIM is a better movie than BUCKAROO BANZAI, in terms of pure comedy, I gotta go with FERRIS BUELLER. For my money, that remains one of the best comedies around.

LS: You gotta be kidding me.

(Suddenly, a fat, bald NERD with glasses comes out onto the patio)

NERD WITH GLASSES: Aha! Here you are. It is I, Barney Booble, one of the League of Ex-Critics!

LS (rolls his eyes): Uh, oh.

BARNEY: And I am here to get my revenge on you two.

(BARNEY raises his fist and run at them. LS and MA pummel him into unconsciousness with lots of sound effects and “POWs” and “WHACKs” flashing on the screen. When they defeat him, he disintegrates into a hundred coins.)

MA: That was easy.

LS: Yeah.

MA: The League of Ex-Critics?  Sounds like the movie. If this plays out the same way, you think we’ve got six more of these guys coming after us?

LS: I hope not. Get back to the review.

MA: But underneath all the wackiness in SCOTT PILGRIM, there’s a strong undercurrent of sincerity. I thought Scott was a very likeable character. He’s someone easy to identify with. He’s the little guy, the nice guy, the “nicest guy I ever dated” Ramona says at one point. I was very happy to root for him. Usually, these characters end up the losers, or if they win, it’s with lots of help. Not so here. Nice guy Scott actually has a kick-ass persona and fights some hilariously wild battles. It’s all so very weird, but it works so well.

LS: It all works perfectly.

MA: And the whole thing with the ex-boyfriends also works because while on the surface it’s silly, having to “battle” seven exes—underneath it all is what most young people go through when they’re dating.

LS: The emotional baggage thing.

MA: Yes, you often have to “battle” the ex’s, and I thought that even though in this movie the battles are right out of a video game, they serve as an allegory for real battles we’ve all had to fight in the wild world of relationships.

The acting is very strong in this movie. By far, my favorite performance belonged to Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace. He stole most of the scenes he was in, and his wry, witty style reminded me of a young Robert Downey Jr.

LS: Oh, totally, Culkin is a scene-stealer, and Wallace is a great character.

MA: I also really enjoyed Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim. He’s got the “nice guy” thing nailed. I think a big reason for his success here is he really keeps Scott a sincere character. There really isn’t much unlikable about Scott, and his character doesn’t suffer from this, as he’s not boring at all.

LS: Nope.

MA: Mary Elizabeth Winstead also delivered a very memorable performance as Ramona. She was just aloof enough to be interesting and attractive, and she never really crossed the line to bitchiness, where you didn’t like her.

LS: I dunno, she almost crosses over into bitchiness a few times. And there were a couple of scenes where I started to wonder why he was going through all these battles for her. But, by the end, I still dug her. And hell, she’s hot.

(A giant laser bolt explodes past them with a blast, burning a bystander in the background to a crisp.)

MA:  Very hot.

And Alison Pill, Mark Webber, and Johnny Simmons were also very good as the three members of Scott’s band, as was Ellen Wong as Knives Chau.

LS: Yeah, their band is called Sex Bob-Omb, which is an obvious reference to the San Francisco punk band Flipper (one of my faves), who’s most famous song  was “Sex Bomb.”Also, all of the music for their band was written by Beck (and the music by competing band Crash and the Boys was written by the band Broken Social Scene), which is why it sounds so good. In fact, all of the music in this movie sounds good. Which just adds to the adrenaline of it all.

MA:  That’s true. The music is excellent.

LS:  And Knives Chau is a great character, especially when she tries to compete with Ramona for Scott’s affections later on.

MA: But as I said before, the real story behind SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is the visual style of director Edgar Wright. There is just so much going on in this movie. The pace and visual gags are non-stop, and yet I didn’t feel exhausted or overwhelmed. I felt entertained. It just worked, and on more than one level as well, and that’s because Wright never sacrifices the story for his visuals. You never feel this is being creative just to be creative. No, it’s being creative to tell the story.

LS: The visual style rocks!

(A tall skinny guy with a mustache runs out onto the patio)

GUY WITH MUSTACHE: It is I, Freddy Fleegle, and I am here to destroy you two in the name of the League of Ex-Critics!

LS: Here we go again.

MA: I’ve never even heard of you.

FLEEGLE: Well, you’ll know my name now, when I rip your heart from your chest!

(FLEEGLE  shoots lightning bolts at them, and LS and MA retaliate with large red bolts of atomic power. The bolts smash the walls of the club, sending plaster flying everywhere)

MA: This one’s not so easy.

LS: We’ve almost got him.

(LS pulls out an enormous hammer and crushes FLEEGLE’s head to mulch, ending the battle)

FLEEGLE: Ouch.

MA:  He’s still yapping.

LS (hits him again):  Not anymore. Oh what fun.

MA: But back to the review. Edgar Wright also wrote the screenplay, along with Michael Bacall, and while the writing is very good, on its own, without all the visual stuff going on, it wouldn’t be the same movie. Sure, the screenplay might have called for all the visual theatrics, but it would have been so easy to overdo it and drown the story in overindulgence. Wright doesn’t do this.

LS: The screenplay is based on a comic book series (what isn’t these days?) by Bryan Lee O’Malley that’s put out by Oni Press.

MA: SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is a masterpiece of visual style.

LS: Yeah, there’s a lot to like about this movie.

I thought it was funny how most movies based on video games are pretty lame. And yet this movie, based on a comic book and trying to be a living, breathing video game actually worked very well. You know, with something this new and original, there are going to be copycats.

Oh, and don’t forget the other great performances – the evil exes! From Chris Evans (the Human Torch from the FANTASTIC FOUR movies) as a tough guy skateboarder/actor to Brandon Routh (my favorite ex, and also known as Superman in the completely underrated SUPERMAN RETURNS from 2006) to Jason Schwartzman (star of the indie classic RUSHMORE, 1998, among other films) as the leader of the League of Evil Exes, Gideon “G-Man” Graves. Even some of the lesser known actors were good, like Satya Bhabha as Matthew Patel (the first ex, with his own demonic Bollywood chorus) and Mae Whitman as Ramona’s one girl ex, Roxy (“It was just a phase,” Ramona says, breaking Roxy’s heart). In fact, they were all pretty formidable foes (except for the Japanese pop star twins, who weren’t developed as characters at all!). Even Scott’s ex, Envy Adams (Brie Larson) was pretty cool.

MA:  Yes, you gotta love the evil exes. I think my favorite was Jason Schwartzman as Gideon.

LS:  Anna Kendrick kind of bugged me, though. I normally like her a lot (she was one of the best things in those awful TWILIGHT movies), but every time they showed her talking on the phone to Scott (she plays his sister, Stacey Pilgrim), she’s supposed to be upset, outraged, and yet the camera lingers on her a little longer than it should, and she smirks, and totally ruins her scenes. This sounds like a minor thing, but it bothered me. I think because these were the only moments in the film that seemed “insincere.”

MA: I didn’t mind Kendrick that much. Still, it’s one weird movie, one I wouldn’t expect horror fans to like. I certainly didn’t expect to like it, but I did,  because Wright’s direction is so powerful you can’t help but laugh and enjoy it. Of course, it helps that the humor in this movie is funny.

LS: Why wouldn’t horror fans dig this? It’s a strong, entertaining flick by the guy who directed SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Sure, it’s not horror, but it’s a good movie. Isn’t that enough?

MA: Well, it’s not horror, so I would think that folks who like horror movies might not see any need to see this one. But they should.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is a goofy yet highly entertaining movie that will draw you in and make you laugh, and it will win you over. I give it three knives.

LS: I totally agree, and I think I liked it even more than you did. I give it three and a half knives.

(A guy with a mustache and glasses enters the destroyed patio)

GUY: Aha! You think you’re done now, but I’ve come to finish what my flunkies started. I will pulverize you both to dust!

MA: It’s Michael Medved!

MEDVED: Yes, the same. And I find your reviews morally reprehensible. In the name of family values, I have come to crush the life out of you.

MA: But I don’t get it. Why are you calling yourself an ex-critic? Don’t you still review movies?

MEDVED: Yes, but I don’t call myself a film critic anymore. Now I’m a political pundit, or a cultural watchdog. It’s much better than being just a plain old critic.

And now that you know my secret, YOU SHALL DIE!

(MEDVED pulls out a huge knife and hurls it at them. LS and MA jump to the sides, and it misses them. MA pulls out a gigantic fly swatter and squashes MEDVED dead).

MEDVED: Drat!

MA: Squashed like the bug he was.

LS: You have done the film critic world a great service today, Young Michael.

MA: I know.

LS (looks bored): Oh well, we’re done. Might as well go home.

(MA and LS walk away from a huge pile of rubble, as the nightclub has been reduced to ash and cinders. Hundreds of club-goers flee into the night screaming. The ruins are still hot, and smoke is rising to the sky).

MA: See you next week.

LS: Okay.

–END–

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD 3 KNIVES

L.L. Soares gives SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD 3 1/2 KNIVES