Dinner is already a risky proposition for the average family, since the threat of verbal warfare constantly looms on the horizon. However this peril pales in comparison to the dangers presented in Adam Wingard’s horror film “You’re Next.” Once the clan sits down for supper in Wingard’s home invasion movie, they are thrown into a terrifying fight for survival against homicidal intruders. The family’s horrifying struggle makes normal squabbles seem insignificant, because of this gory flick’s unbridled intensity.
“You’re Next” re-teams Wingard with writer Simon Barrett, whom he collaborated with on the “V/H/S” anthology films. Like their previous efforts, this movie effectively blends the brutality of old school horror with the new school’s penchant for dark comedy. Accordingly, the pair immediately introduce us to their masked murderers with an eerie, yet enjoyable opening scene. As the fiends stalk their prey, they distract victims with huge notes saying ‘You’re Next.’ Then by the time the people see the killers, it’s already too late to escape. Smug bastards right?
Following that creepy sequence, Wingard and Barrett acquaint us with the family at the center of their tale. We meet Paul (Rob Moran) and his wife Aubrey (Barbara Crampton), who are preparing for a family reunion at their country home. Paul and Aubrey show up to find the house slightly amiss, which arouses their suspicions and ours. However the tension is quickly diffused by the arrival of their son Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson). One-by-one, Paul and Aubrey’s kids arrive with significant others in tow, but soon, sibling rivalry starts to rear its ugly head. Once everyone gathers for dinner, the situation turns from slightly hellish to total nightmare, as masked villains begin attacking them. Despite their immense fright, the family vows to figure out why these people want to kill them and to live long enough to escape.
Although many of us joke about killing our obnoxious family members, we don’t actually have the stomach to do it. Heck, we’d lose our s*** just to see them murdered in front of us, like the people in this picture do. Wingard and Barrett’s movie splendidly captures the extreme anxiety of watching loved ones perish, through the panicked actions of its characters. They also fantastically portray the awkward dynamics between siblings that can’t stand each other. Barrett and Wingard accomplish that feat by casting indie director friends such as Ti West and Joe Swanberg in prominent roles. As the older brother Drake, Swanberg is particularly grating and judgmental. His negative traits make the heaping physical abuse that he takes much more entertaining.
Wingard’s voyeuristic camerawork in “You’re Next” is smooth, yet unsettling, creating a constant sense of foreboding danger for his characters. He generates similar unease through the interesting decision to repeat an ominous song throughout the film. Other music in the picture is amusing too, loaded with thumping synths that seem straight out of ’80s horror. At some point during the movie, its tone shifts from being largely horror to total comedy, which is fun, but feels off. Additionally, the story becomes disappointingly straightforward and predictable. However Barrett deserves credit for throwing in a couple of awesome, unexpected twists that will keep you invested, involving the personalities of the victims and the motivations of the killers.
As I watched this picture, I was well-aware of where it was headed, although still very engaged and incredibly anxious to see everything play out. If you’re a horror junkie like me, you’ll probably feel the same way about “You’re Next.”
My Grade: B+…as in Bravo! Borderline Bodacious!
If Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s bar-hopping buddy flick “The World’s End” had a motto, it would be: In cervesia veritas. Just like the Latin expression In vino veritas, their picture is a statement about the truth-revealing power of alcohol. Except instead of imbibing wine like the ancient Romans, these five friends unwittingly find factuality by consuming beer. Delicious brew in “The World’s End” isn’t just a catalyst for discovering personal truths though, it also helps expose dangerous Earth-shattering secrets.
The film’s story centers on Gary King (Pegg), a drug-addled 40-year-old who has pathetically clung to the peak of his youth: a night he and his chums attempted their town’s ultimate pub crawl. Down on his luck and desperate to relive the time of his life, he cons estranged pals (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Consadine) into joining him for another go at all 12 bars. After arriving however, they quickly make the horrifying discovery that robots now control their town. Realizing that Gary’s team is wise to them, the mechanical men soon give chase, but can these buddies survive long enough to enjoy a pint at the crawl’s final pub, The World’s End?
“The World’s End” is the third movie in Wright and Pegg’s Cornetto trilogy, which includes “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Although these flicks aren’t interconnected stories, they all feature Cornetto ice cream, Pegg and Frost in main roles, gifted homage, and poignant emphasis on complex friendships. This film is no different; Pegg and Frost play pals frequently at odds and the plot pays glorious tribute to science fiction classics such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Like other Wright and Pegg pictures, “The World’s End” creates brilliant laughs from snappy banter, beautifully choreographed fight scenes, and the outrageous crisis coping mechanisms its characters.
As Gary, Pegg gives a fascinating performance, accentuated by the unusual manic energy and odd wiry strength he brings to the part. Pegg is also slippery in a way where you can never trust Gary, yet you can’t help wanting to anyway. Frost, who normally plays zanier characters, provides a pleasantly grounded portrayal of Gary’s uptight foil Andy. Freeman, Marsan, and Consadine are also a joy to watch, superbly rounding out this quirky group as the brainy smooth-operator, the timid family man, and the shy nice-guy.
Although beer may be the driver for this booze-fueled adventure, it represents more than that to the characters. The substance signifies a holy grail-like, tasty moment when all is right with the world. In that way, “The World’s End” is an ode to drinking, emphasized by its intense shots of golden brew, entertaining pub names, and beer-themed lines like, “We’re gonna see this through to the bitter end. Or…lager end.” The film’s celebration of carefree intoxication fits perfectly with Gary’s nostalgia.
Wright and Pegg play up Gary’s wistfulness by using a stylized opening sequence and a soundtrack heavily rooted in the 1990s. Despite their amusement reflecting on the past, they are still careful to express the dangers of nostalgia through the drastic consequences of Gary’s actions. What’s slightly disappointing, is that despite their condemnation of Gary’s behavior, Wright and Pegg ultimately copout and let him off the hook. Perhaps the strangest part of movie is its darkly comedic ending, which is the only part of the film that doesn’t match the rest of the Cornetto trilogy. Still, “The World’s End” is a fast-paced, chuckle-filled ride so loaded with clever jokes that it’s impossible to notice everything on first viewing. Like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” you’ll want to watch it again and again hoping to catch them all.
My Grade: A…as in Amazing! A Must-Watch!
No disrespect to Mark Waters and Tina Fey intended, but Jeff Wadlow’s Kick-Ass 2 seems more like a s***ty sequel to “Mean Girls,” than a follow up to Matthew Vaughn’s awesome comic book adaptation “Kick-Ass.” Instead of delivering the amusing uber violence, delightfully dark humor, and pointed parody that made Vaughn’s flick so much fun, Wadlow wallows in the stereotypical conniving of vapid teenage girls. This bizarre focus is neither insightful nor entertaining, because it never rises above inane moments.
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Think about how outraged you would be if you heard someone brag about getting away with murder. Take that indignation, then multiply it by a thousand times, and that’s how you’ll feel after watching Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary “The Act of Killing.” The reason Oppenheimer’s haunting doc will enrage you is that its subjects boast about committing mass murder like it was “the good ole days.” Not only will you be disgusted by their lack of remorse, but you’ll be flabbergasted too, by how they’re celebrated as heroes. These elements merely represent the tip of this documentary’s infuriating iceberg however.
In just a few short lines on screen, “The Act of Killing” provides the unsettling background for its tale. During the 1960s, the Indonesian government was toppled by its military and to help maintain control, the military hired groups to murder anyone deemed a “communist” opponent. The killers have remained in power since.
Anwars Congo and his friends were known in their youth as “the movie theater gangsters.” They scalped tickets and idolized characters from the American films. Their propensity for violence and their hatred toward communists for trying to ban American movies, led the government to hire them for its death squads. Congo and company graduated from small-time thieving to mass murder, quickly rising to power. In their ascent, they helped to found a paramilitary organization called the Pacasila Youth, which has thousands of members today.
To make this documentary, Oppenheimer offered these men a chance to tell their story. He invited them to recount their experiences on film, with the unique caveat that they could reenact them in their favorite cinematic styles: gangster films, westerns, and musicals. Oppenheimer followed them around, observing the odd project as it came together. His footage of their film, combined with candid interviews, became the “The Act of Killing.”
The most nauseating aspect of Oppenheimer’s documentary is nonchalance with which Congo and his buddies joke about their exploits, show off old haunts where they slaughtered people, and demonstrate their killing techniques. What’s equally revolting is watching a member of the gang engaging in illegal activities. Oppenheimer’s cameras follow one of the men around as he smugly discusses taking bribes while running for public office and intimidates small business owners into giving him protection money.
The astounding arrogance of Congo’s crew reaches its peak when one man is asked about whether he’s concerned about being prosecuted for committing “war crimes.” His response makes you want to instantly lose your lunch, “War crimes are defined by the winners. I am a winner. So I can make my own definition.” The same disgusting individual also chides Congo for having a weak mind, after Congo admits to feeling haunted by what he has done.
Oppenheimer’s documentary is sickening on so many levels that it’s difficult to articulate every single one. However what’s amazing is that somewhere along the way, Congo becomes a tragic, sympathetic figure. You witness how he can’t sleep at night, and you see the toll that reenacting everything takes on his psyche. Eventually a tearful Congo even says “I did this to so many people Josh. Is it all coming back to me?” As angry as you are, you can’t help feeling sorry for him when, especially after his guilt finally makes him physically ill.
If you see only one documentary this year, make sure it’s “The Act of Killing.” Oppenheimer’s film is the kind of necessary viewing that gets to you on a physical and emotional level. Although it makes you feel dirty and ashamed, what’s positive about it is that it also inspires you to be a better person.
My Grade: A+
At first glance We’re the Millers seems like it’s going to be just another throwaway R-rated comedy. Even though it has a talented cast, it strikes you as the type of movie that will squander its potential with stupid, raunchy gags that get old quickly. Fortunately, Rawson Marshall Thurber’s film is actually much sharper than you’d expect. We’re the Millers catches you off guard with consistent humor and heart that holds your attention for the duration of this zany, yet predictable flick.
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In 2009, Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut “District 9” punched audiences in the stomach with its gut-wrenching realism and gripping social commentary. The emotional bruising left in its wake didn’t just seize viewer attention though, it captured Hollywood’s too. Struck by Blomkamp’s creativity with a smaller budget, the industry decided to offer him a larger one for his sophomore effort “Elysium.” Working inside the Hollywood machine can be tricky however, since directors often compensate for greater resources with major creative compromises. What’s miraculous about Blomkamp’s flick is that it doesn’t seem like he sacrificed anything, because “Elysium” is a grim, arresting picture.
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After three busy “X-Men” films where Wolverine struggled to stand out, and one trainwreck solo picture, James Mangold’s “The Wolverine” finally does the character justice. Mangold not only satisfies us by providing depth to Wolverine’s familiar traits, but he surprises us by taking the character to captivating new places. Although his flick isn’t Oscar-worthy, the film is good enough to make its terrible predecessor “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” seem like a candidate for “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
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Regrettably, Robert Schwentke’s action comedy “RIPD” is not about the Rhode Island Police Department. That concept would have been much more engaging than the actual basis for this mediocre movie written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.
So what do the film’s titular initials stand for? They’re the name of a covert law enforcement unit called the “Rest In Peace Department,” comprised of cops who die in the line of duty. Disguised as harmless civilians, these officers walk the Earth again for a unique purpose: to capture rogue spirits and bring them to the other side.
The RIPD’s newest recruit is Nick (Ryan Reynolds) a cop gunned down during a drug bust. Since Nick has done some things he’s not proud of, he’s offered the position to make spiritual amends. Of course, this greenhorn is partnered with a grumpy veteran lawman from the 1800s named Roy (Jeff Bridges). Roy is a loner with zero interest in training a partner, which is just fine, because Nick thinks that he’s too good for Roy’s help anyway. After a series of humorous scuffles however, they realize that they’ll need to cooperate to stop a villain (Kevin Bacon) from bringing about the end of days.
Instead of being creative with an amusing premise, the filmmakers for “RIPD” disappoint by lazily ripping off “Men in Black” and “Ghostbusters.” The secret supernatural crime fighting organization piece as well as the mismatched partners is totally “MiB.” Roy is even Southern and hard to understand just like Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Plus, their misadventures in capturing ghosts and the apocalyptic showdown at the end borrow heavily from “Ghostbusters.” That said, it’s too bad that the humor in “RIPD” doesn’t come close to the hilarity of either picture.
Unfortunately this movie’s few attempts to innovate aren’t much better. Schwentke tries to place his camera at weird angles and twist it upside down during a couple chases, which only distracts you from the action. The slow-mo sequences look okay in 3D, but the only time the extra dimension feels truly worthwhile is when you wish it wouldn’t. Characters spitting chunks of food in your face isn’t particularly enjoyable or appetizing.
At least Jeff Bridges rewards viewers by playing gruff, grizzled cowboys like Roy with great gusto. The enthusiasm with which he portrays his character in “RIPD” is eerily similar to his jovial embodiment of the trigger-happy lawman Rooster Cogburn in 2010’s “True Grit.” Roy is entertaining because he’s more perverse than you’d expect, yet strangely sensitive. As a character he can be annoying though, due to how difficult he is to comprehend. His sometimes unintelligible voice sounds like Foghorn Leghorn with a frog in his throat.
Thankfully, Bridges has an odd chemistry with Reynolds that’s comedically decent. Although their quips won’t knock your socks off, they’ll still get you chuckling. At points however, “RIPD” seems confused about how far it should go with humor, choosing to stay on a safe PG-13 path in scenes where R-rated lines would be better. This hesitance made more sense after I learned from an actor who worked on the film, that it wasn’t supposed to be funny originally; the schtick was added during reshoots.
If there’s one good thing about this flick though, it’s that it’s short, well-paced and over quickly. Far from the best movie of the year, yet certainly not the worst. See it only if you have no other options at the theater.
My Grade: C-….as in Coming Close to Complete Crap.
Even when junk food has expired, sometimes it’s so freakin’ delicious that you can’t help eating it anyway. Certain sugary snacks have enough flavor, that they are totally worth the digestive consequences later. Dean Parisot’s action comedy “Red 2″ is exactly like one of those treats: an old Twinkie that you just can’t deny yourself.
Actually, a more apt analogy in this case, is probably an irresistible ancient Moon Pie, because there’s a scene in “Red 2″ where Marvin (John Malkovich) literally dusts one off for consumption. When someone gives him an incredulous look, he shrugs, saying “It was before they had expiration dates,” and then he chows down. As a viewer it’s easy feel a lot like Marvin with this film. You know you shouldn’t be ingesting it, yet the picture is entertaining enough that you gorge on it anyway, ignoring what should be a stale shtick.
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