Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Cabin in the Woods Movie Review

I've said it before, I'm not really much of a horror movie fan. However I have had lots of people tell me how different and unique The Cabin in the Woods (2012) is and that I should see it. I begrudgingly saw it last weekend and I have to admit, I'm really impressed!
Five college students head off for a weekend in a secluded cabin in the woods. They are typical horror movie characters; Curt the hero (Chris Hemsworth), Dana the good girl (Kristen Connolly), Jules the bad girl (Anna Hutchison), the comic  relief pothead (Fran Kranz), and Holden the mature and thoughtful kid (Jesse Williams). When the cellar door flings itself open, they of course go down to investigate. They find an odd assortment of relics and knick-knacks, but when Dana reads from a book she finds there, she awakens a family of deadly killer zombies. There's far more going on than meets the eye as the five campers are all under observation by a pair of techno geeks (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in a secret underground laboratory. The five college kids struggle to survive while everything around them is being manipulated by the mysterious lab.
The Cabin in the Woods starts out like a whole lot of other horror movies. In fact it really looks like a run-of-the-mill slasher movie that any horror movie fan could probably recite with no difficulty. Five very predictable characters doing exactly what you would expect them to do: they go out to the middle of nowhere, awaken a monster of some kind, they start getting picked off one by one, they use lines that every character in every horror flick uses, etc. But rather than using these common elements as the main story, They are used to get us to think about horror movies. It's a meta-horror movie; I don't think that has ever been done before.
The movie gets us to think about the "rules" of a slasher movie. If something is chasing you, you should split up; if a creepy old man warns you not to go somewhere, make fun of him and go there anyway; if you hear a strange sound outside, have sex. It's basically a commentary on free will. Do horror character make the choices they so often do because of the requirements of the genre or because of their own decisions? And since they are instruments of their creator, how much free will can the filmmakers exercise? The Cabin in the Woods takes horror movies in a whole new direction while still including the elements that make horror/slasher movies so endearing to their fans. As a result, it acts as a criticism of horror movies and almost like a puzzle for horror fans to solve.
There are enough scares and gore strewn throughout the movie to appease hardcore fans of horror movies, but those really are not the point of The Cabin in the Woods. It's the creative meta-criticism of horror movies that makes the movie so unique. The traditional horror movie story is basically over by the end of the first act, then the movie shifts into something very different and bigger than the predictable horror movie.
I really appreciated the special effects. There were lots of practical effects; monster suits and make up as well as actual physical props rather than digitally rendered sets. Any time a puppet or costume could be used, it was, and CGI was resorted to only when necessary. The CGI creatures were usually well animated, and only occasionally looked like obvious digital imagery.
I wasn't all that excited to see The Cabin in the Woods, but I'm glad I did. It used clich├ęs, writing tropes, and archetypal characters as a means of telling a very unique story that analyzes and critiques the horror genre. The end result is something that turns the genre on its head while still maintaining genre traditionalism. I don't really like horror movies that much and I thought this was a highly interesting piece of cinema. You don't have to be a veteran horror fan to appreciate this film, but you're going to love watching for references to classic horror movies and horror movie directors. It's just so fascinating to watch. That said, I think The Cabin in the Woods is worth owning because it's a "Meta-horror" movie and the only one of its kind to date.

What is your favorite horror/slasher movie? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Social Network Movie Review

Chances are, you're on Facebook. If you are, you should "like" the Dustin Off The Reels Page and follow us there, too. At any rate, Facebook has changed the way people connect with one another and how we communicate. It's also made its creator, Mark Zuckerberg, the second youngest self-made billionaire. It was not an easy struggle to get to that point, and the movie The Social Network (2010) shows us that story.
On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a flurry of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. Despite his growing success and five hundred million people he had friended along the way, there were many eager to see him fall. Chief among them was Zuckerberg's former college friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), whose generous financial contributions to Facebook served as the seed that helped the company to sprout. Zuckerberg's bold venture wouldn't have evolved into a cultural juggernaut had it not been for Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) spreading the word in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, the Winklevoss Twins (both played by Armie Hammer)  engage Zuckerberg in a fierce courtroom battle for ownership of Facebook that left many suspecting the young entrepreneur might have let his greed eclipse his better judgment.
I've heard The Social Network called "Facebook: the Movie" by a number of people. While Facebook certainly moves the story forward, the movie is about bigger ideas than an abstract reality like a website. There are a lot of powerful themes that go on in The Social Network; friendship, loyalty, jealousy, classism, power struggles, betrayal, social interaction, and lawsuits all manifest themselves in this compelling drama. Much of the struggle to get Facebook into the virtual powerhouse that it is now, resulted from modern ambition in a world of old business practices that were not yet up to speed with the growing virtual world.
Really this story could have been about the invention of anything, television, cameras, the first pulleys, etc. But what The Social Network is at its core, is about two friends who create something incredible that ultimately ends in breaking up their friendship. It's not really a happy movie; most legal dramas aren't pleasant affairs, but this one doesn't even have a clear cut protagonist to be rooting for. You genuinely feel sorry for just about every character at some point in the movie.
The Social Network is incredibly well written. It's a dialogue-intensive movie, and the dialogue is so well written that even scenes that would probably be boring to watch otherwise remain compelling and interesting. Zuckerberg's lines are often convoluted and confusing when he is trying to socialize with others, illustrating his social ineptitude. And when he's having to defend himself in court, he is a hard-biting logical machine that runs circles around the lawyers. Also, the movie has lots of dialogue that features two sets of jargon that make no sense to me: techno-babble and legalese. And yet, the legal proceedings and programming terminology are used and written in such a way that makes it all clear and easy to follow without having to be dumbed down to accomodate slow-wits in the audience as so many other movies do.
The acting was impressive. Eisenberg is known for playing the clueless "nice guy," but here he's like a blunt, fast-talking arrogant logician and is a heat-seeking missile in search of his own goals. Timberlake plays the highly charismatic and borderline insane Sean Parker who is both a hot shot and Zuckerberg's intellectual equal. Andrew Garfield plays an honest friend who is simply not the right man to be the CFO of the company that took off without him; he's a tragic character who deserves sympathy.
I liked The Social Network a great deal. It features a phenomenal cast, great acting, an outstanding script, and is a story to which nearly everyone on the planet can relate. Facebook is something that has arisen in the past few years and has changed the world dramatically. While parts of The Social Network was fictionalized, it's mostly accurate. It's a well-written drama and I enjoyed it. I highly recommend seeing this movie even if you aren't a fan of drama movies in general. And if you are a fan of good dramas, this one is worth owning.

What is a contemporary historical event you would like to see made into a movie? I think the down fall of the brick-and-mortar book store might be interesting, if a little depressing. Comment below and tell me about your idea!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Movie Review

If you haven't seen a Terry Gilliam film yet, you're missing out. Even when the movie itself isn't all that great, you simply can't take your eyes from the screen. I remember seeing The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) when I was young. Even as a kid I was captivated with the stunning visuals. Now that I'm more articulate than I was at six years of age, I'll tell you why this movie is so interesting.
In the 18th century midst of the Turkish Army attacking a European city, aged aristocrat Baron Munchausen (John Neville) interrupts a play that is allegedly based on his life. He continues to tell the "real" story of his extraordinary travels. Not only does the Baron claim to be the cause of the war with the Turks, but he also recounts tales of being swallowed by a giant sea-monster, taking a trip to the moon, dancing with the goddess Venus (Uma Thurman), and repeatedly escaping from the Grim Reaper. The Baron volunteers to put a stop to the Turkish assault but requires the assistance of his old friends from his adventures; Berthold (Eric Idle), the world's fastest man; Albrecht (Winston Dennis), the world's strongest man; Gustavus (Jack Purvis), the man with the best hearing in the world, and Adolphus (Charles McKeown), a rifleman with superhuman eyesight. After setting off to find them in a makeshift balloon, he discovers a nine-year-old stowaway named Sally (Sarah Polley) who was captivated by the Baron's tales. Not having enough time to return her to the city, the two set out to find help to protect the European city's people.
There really was a Baron Munchausen. He lived from 1720 to 1797 and fought for the Russians against the Turks. He is said to have had the habit of embellishing his war stories. In 1785, there was a book published in England which claimed to be based on the Baron's life and times. The book was chockfull of outlandishly ridiculous, but amusing tall tales. The fictionalized Munchausen became a literary tall tale hero whose adventures never ceased to entertain.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a tribute to the spirit of the Baron. The movie features some highly fanciful and whimsical tales that would seem extraordinary even by fairy tale standards. It's not enough that Berthold is the fastest man in the world, he must run from Turkey to Spain and back in an hour, to fetch a bottle of wine and save the Baron's neck. He must also be able to outrun a speeding bullet, stop it, and redirect it back toward the man who fired it.
That brings us to the special effects. The production cost was around $46 million which caused it to be one of the most expensive films ever made before the advent of digital special effects. The effects in Baron Munchausen were all practical effects; the sets, props, and whimsical visuals were all done from scratch, with no computer enhancement at all. That makes the often breathtaking visuals all the more fascinating to watch. Terry Gilliam films are always a visual spectacle to behold; every scene is cram-packed with mesmerizing details. He worked on the Monty Python crew as a director and some of the wacky humor makes its way into his films. Even if you don't like Baron Munchausen, you'd be hard pressed not to be taken in by its visual splendor.
The acting is fantastic. John Neville plays the Baron magnificently, portraying a man who keeps his composure in the midst of insanely outlandish occurrences and seems sensible and matter-of-fact, as anyone would if they had spent a lifetime growing accustomed to the impossible. Eric Idle is a daffy comic relief reminiscent of his Monty Python days. And for a child actor Sarah Polley was great. She embodies this childlike wonder while also becoming exasperated by the ridiculousness of the situations she finds herself in with the Baron.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a fun movie. The movie starts off slowly, and sometimes fails in terms of clarity. When you have a movie full of extravagant fantasies it's important to explain the story clearly and directly so to movie doesn't fall apart in its own excitement. Baron Munchausen comes close to doing that on occasion. The visual effects are incredible; the movie is worth seeing just for the eye candy it presents. While the movie is PG rated, there is a brief scene of nudity when we first meet Venus when she emerges from a giant sea shell similar to Botticelli's Birth of Venus painting. While I don't think it's visually explicit, it's may be a red flag for parents with young children. I highly recommend seeing Baron Munchausen, even if you don't like the movie itself, I can't imagine you wouldn't like seeing all the incredible special effects. It's worth renting, but I intend to get it on Blu-Ray.

Check out the trailer and take a look at the zany humor and special effects:

Do you have a favorite tall tale movie? One that is completely over the top and fanciful? Comment below and tell all about it!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hitchcock Review

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most famous directors in film history. He had an iconic and entertaining public image as well as creating some of the most influential films in his day. Psycho is easily my favorite Hitchcock film; I got to analyze Psycho to pieces in my film class. I knew what kind of a sacrifices Hitchcock made for that film, but I never envisioned making a movie about making Psycho. Someone did think of it and thus Hitchcock (2012) was born.
in 1959, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), are at the top of their creative game as filmmakers amid disquieting insinuations about it being time to retire. To recapture his youth's artistic daring, Alfred decides his next film will adapt the lurid horror novel, Psycho, over everyone's misgivings. Unfortunately, as Alfred self-finances and labors on this film, Alma finally loses patience with his roving eye and controlling habits with his actresses. When an ambitious friend, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), lures her to collaborate on a work of their own, the resulting maternal tension sullies Alfred's work even as the novel's inspiration (Michael Wincott) haunts his dreams.
So, Hitchcock opens with a scene where Ed Gein, the real life inspiration for Psycho's Norman Bates, kills someone for calling him a "momma's boy." Before the scene becomes gory, the camera slowly pans to the left and settles on Anthony Hopkins in a remarkable prosthetics and make up job casually sipping some tea as he watches the murder take place. He then turns to the camera and speaks briefly to the audience in Hitchcock's signature coyly grim demeanor about how these events inspired a great movie. It starts off just like an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Not only did this set a fascinating tone for the movie that draws you in from the get go, but also it put me, as a Hitchcock fan, in a some kind of film-production enthusiast overload. I was put in an "awesome coma" before the movies' title had a chance to appear on screen.
Anthony Hopkins and Alfred Hitchcock
The casting was beyond compare. Anthony Hopkins is incredible as Alfred Hitchcock. Granted, Anthony Hopkins is incredible as anything, but makeup job and prosthetics aside, Hopkins captivated Hitchcock's vocal tone, speech inflections, and mannerisms perfectly! Even the script gave him dialogue that sounded exactly like things Hitchcock would say. Scarlett Johansson and James D'Arcy were cast to play the stars of Hitchcocks' masterpiece Psycho. They look and act so much like Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh it was simply amazing. Whoever did the casting for Hitchcock deserves an award.
The movie is about a married couple. Both are aware of their age, the romance in their relationship is basically dead, they are at a low point in their lives with all the personal sacrifices they each made for the Psycho film, and both have reason to suspect the other of infidelity. What I loved about both these characters is they are able to become more unified as they work together on a mutual project, which also happens to be something that I am passionate about: movie making! Hitchcock shows us how most of Hitchcock's films would have been much weaker without the unseen collaboration from his wife. Unlike a lot of contemporary movies, Hitchcock depicts a marriage as something that is reciprocally beneficial and requires much work and trust from both husband and wife to succeed. I really appreciated that aspect of the movie.
Hitchcock is a movie about making a movie. It captivates the energy and excitement of making a film and creating art. The movie depicts Alfred and Alma as being highly passionate about film and struggling to create despite the apathy and business side of the industry. The studio execs want movies that are exactly like every other film; it's safe and will guarantee a profit. Hitchcock wants to be bold, take calculated risks, and refuses to make standardized art just to make money. That resonated with me immensely as I hate seeing movies that follow a moneymaking formula and have no  heart. That, coupled with watching some classic scenes being filmed, was just fantastic to behold!
Hitchcock was an excellent film that hit nearly every point that makes a good movie while also catering to my fascination with film as an art medium. The acting was superbly presented by an outstanding cast, the plot was good, the history was mostly accurate. The allusions to the Psycho movie were creative, meaningful, and well implemented without actually showing clips from Psycho. I also loved seeing Hitchcock and Alma in a masterful creative collaboration that culminated in making movie history. If you like Alfred Hitchcock movies at all, I think you owe it to yourself to see this one. You'll probably get more out of it if you've seen Psycho. If you haven't seen Psycho you should see that, too. Not everyone will enjoy it as much as I do, but I still implore you to see Hitchcock; it's a good, solid movie that is worth owning.

What is your favorite Alfred Hitchcock film? Comment below and tell me why!