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Entries in review (17)

Tuesday
Jul032012

A Movie We Hope You Don't Miss: 'Safety Not Guaranteed'

Welcome to a new era of urban legend. The internet has provided us a near inexhaustible source of strange old stories to draw inspiration from. 

In 1997, in an issue of Backwoods Home Magazine the following ad ran in the classifieds:

"Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322, Oakview, CA 93022 You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."

How funny. How Strange. What if we made a movie about the writer of this ad? What if the writer of this ad were serious?

Darius (Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation) is a young woman interning at a magazine. In true indie film fashion, she's adorable, a tad awkward, and more than a little directionless. She's searching for something, but she doesn't yet know what it is she's looking for. 

While pitching stories for the magazine, her boss Jeff (Jake M. Johnson from 'The New Girl') suggests a follow up to a recent classified ad asking for a time travel companion. Jeff drafts Darius and nerdy intern Arnau (Karan Soni) for a trip to investigate the classified ad's writer. 

After staking out the P.O. Box listed, we're introduced to Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Ken is socially awkward, a tad adorable, a bit directionless, and is intensely looking for something, namely a companion to join him on his time travel adventures. 

Jeff's newspaper personality is too slick, but Darius' awkward charm wins Ken over quickly, and the two begin training for their trip to the past. 

Everything about this film is charming. 

There's a fun offbeat sensibility permeating the tone of this film. Plaza does a fantastic job of establishing Darius as a savvy, intelligent young woman though she doesn't seem to fit in her surroundings. 

The film is never cuter than when Darius and Ken are on screen together. Even in IndieFilmLand, characters like these can often become caricatures, but SNG maintains a earnestness which keeps this premise grounded. 

We're not asked to struggle with philosophical or temporal quandaries, instead we're along for a sweet character study, and for a "fish-es out of water" story it's surprisingly fresh. Derek Connolly has delivered an efficient screenplay which doesn't belabor its premise and bases its comedy in an accesable genuine-ness.

Director Colin Trevorrow laregely succeeds in harnessing this charming energy. One could get the sense that we're paying homage to Wes Anderson or Hal Ashby, and we get to loosely examine the human condition through very unique eyes. 

Of course, we also have to mention the influence of the Duplass Brothers, Mark starring as Ken, and both Mark and Jay credited as Executive Producers. I've enjoyed this duo's work since stumbling on the flick 'Baghead', and they don't disappoint here either. Though it should be said this film is far more mumblecore than science fiction. 

Those looking for a time travel film might be a touch disappointed, but aside from upsetting the science fiction aficionados, I think most audiences will be in for a treat. A damn charming treat.

Now if you'll excuse me.

I need to finish writing my romantic comedy screenplay about a quirky yet gorgeous young woman investigating the strange phenomenon of the Toynbee Tiles...

Friday
Jun152012

Friday Fun: @WWonka666's Thirty Second Review of Prometheus

So if you follow me here, on Twitter, on Facebook, or on Google+, then you should know by now how much I hated Prometheus. I hated it. A lot. 

In the interest of fairness, I though I'd let friend and fan of our show @WWonka666 give us a positive review of the flick. Thankfully he shoots his reviews on Keek. I think 30 seconds is about all the praise I could handle for this film...

Jun 9, 2012 | Wonka's 30 Second Movie Review. Episode 76: "Prometheus" (2012) by Wonka_Zer0 on Keek.com

 

I will agree though that Prometheus is a gorgeous looking film, and none of my complaints with it had anything to do with the cast, production design, art direction, makeup, special effects, or score.

Sunday
Jun102012

Prometheus: The Most Gorgeously Produced Film About Intelligent Design That I Never Wanted to See

Sufficed to say, this review will have many spoilers. Please do not read this review if you have not seen the film and are sensitive to plot reveals. You have been warned.


I do not relish giving negative reviews of films, but let’s get this out of the way right now:

I hated Prometheus.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Mar272012

A Movie We Hope You Don't Miss: Sound of My Voice

Normally I would pan a movie for not deciding what it is.

'Sound of My Voice' presented a thought provoking narrative which avoided ever answering the question of what audience it was designed for.

At its core, SoMV tells the story of a young couple attempting to infiltrate a doomsday cult under the idea that they'll shoot a documentary on the cultists and expose them. The cult is built around a single figurehead who claims she's from the year 2054, years after the world has plunged into darkness. She'll lead her followers to a safe place surviving humanity's fall.

The film spends the majority of its time examining the psychological boundaries of indoctrination. Brit Marling (also the co-writer along with director Zal Batmanglij) delivers a haunting performance as cult leader Maggie, traveller from the 54th. She deftly transitions from moments of nurturing her disciples, to insidiously tearing them down, all with a comfortable alluring charm.

Christopher Denham as Peter and Nicole Vicius as Lorna, our documentary film making duo, capably provide the film a voice of skepticism. They're the beating heart of this story, and guide the audience through events which spiral out of their control. 

The film's device only works though thanks to the phenomenal ensemble of cult members. They provide a back drop for the film at once simple and completely outrageous. Their "true belief" in Maggie sells this premise and informs us what the stakes are, all while keeping the story grounded in a horrific realism. 

Real life has provided us tales of the amazing and macabre, those groups of people with the best of intentions who somehow managed to deliver some of history's darkest moments. This film asks us to keep an idea of that in mind while we experience it. Genuine tension is being built around individual interactions between our cultists and our skeptics. As the power of group think starts to influence our wannabe journalists, we as the audience start to feel as if the narrative is slipping out of our control. It's a powerful device for such a modest film.

I also have to appreciate the fact that the film makers decided against making this a found footage film, instead crafting a book-like chapter structure for the movie to help advance the plot.

Maybe that's the one distraction from an otherwise successful outing. The film delivers haunting, eerie aesthetic in spades, but I don't feel like it completely answers the question of what it is. With all of the atmosphere, I don't know what to call it. Science fiction? Thriller? It's at once both and neither.

Zal Batmanglij has co-written and directed a compelling piece of low budget film-making. 'Sound of My Voice' rises above, head and shoulders above, the sum of its production budget, and is happily added to our list of films we hope you don't miss.

Just make sure you learn the secret handshake...

Saturday
Mar192011

Juan's at SXSW: A Movie We Hope You Don't Miss - "Hesher"

For some reason, many of the films I caught at SXSW dealt with putting a brave face on coping with grief or loss.

"Hesher" is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

"Hesher" is writer/director Spencer Susser’s first feature, and tells the story of a young boy named TJ (Devin Brochu) as he is bullied at school and dealing with his depressed father (Rainn Wilson) while coping with the loss of his mother. While acting out, TJ accidentally upsets the temporary home of a Metal-head transient named “Hesher” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who then decides that he should be living with TJ’s family since TJ put him out of a home.

What follows is an extremely competent dramedy. We’ve seen this plot many times before, random stranger enters someone’s life, upsets the apple cart, and we all learn a valuable lesson at the end. However, I’m unable to recall a film this hectic in tone. Moments of sincere drama are interrupted by genuinely funny set ups, and light hearted moments can stray into some fairly dark territory. I get the feeling that Susser is intentionally playing a cat and mouse game with us, and we’re the mouse.

A perfect example of this is in Hesher’s “free-spiritedness” which consistently starts out as playful, fun, and distracting, but eventually goes to far, gets dark, and typically ends up as a case of arson. The surrounding characters on screen perfectly mirrored the audience I was with in their discomfort...

Performances across the board are incredible. Brochu’s TJ is wonderfully honest and accessible, Portman’s frumpy (yet sexy) down on her luck cashier is radiantly simple, and you can tell Joseph Gordan-Levitt is enjoying every second of his time as the metal-head. Stand out supporting performances by John Carrol Lynch (one of my fave character actors) and Piper Laurie help ground this cast and screenplay. Of note is Rainn Wilson’s performance. The man does wacky well, but I was not only satisfied by his dramatic turn in this flick, but impressed. I really wasn’t expecting this from him and was pleasantly surprised.

Also of note is the film’s soundtrack, which is almost exclusively early Metallica, and for a film this modest, stands as another coup for this new director.

What we have at the end of the day is an extremely solid first film effort which, outside of a few thematic issues, is eminently watchable and enjoyable. I hope to see more from this director soon, and I hope this is a film you don’t miss.