Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Netflix This: Tyrannosaur

     Tyrannosaur, at its heart, is about anger: the anger that just can't go away, no matter how hard a person tries to fix it or push it deep down in the pit of their stomach. The film starts with several hard-watch-scenes, particularly if you have trouble with animal abuse (in fact, there are at least two scenes in Tyrannosaur that involve pets being killed, whether they deserve it or not). Joseph lives alone after the death of his wife. But he doesn't really live alone, as he spends most of his time with semi-friends and strangers trying to drink away every memory that's latched inside of his brain. Drinking the anger and pain away doesn't help: it always boils to the surface, causing Joseph to lash out at humans, animals, kids, and people of color.
     Joseph is played by Peter Mullan, who is recognizable most to Trainspotting fans (he was also in the modern classic Children of Men), and what a violent and amazing performance it is. It's hard to take your eyes off of him: with his thick accent and deep, sad eyes he conveys Joseph as a broken man on the verge of shattering, a brutal force that--every now and then--turns to kindness when he's near people who make him feel human. He's the old guy at the bar with dark secrets and violent stares.
     After a few violent reactions to everyday situations, Joseph performs a particularly alarming act, and runs from the scene. He knows that he has gone too far, and in a state of desperation, he ends up cowering behind a rack of clothing in a thrift store. This thrift store is run by a woman named Hannah, and instead of shooing Joseph away, she stands on the other rise of the rack, trying to help and understand him. He doesn't say a word, but when Hannah starts praying for him, Joseph breaks down into sobs and tears. Maybe if Joseph would just accept Jesus and the state of his life, any situation would be manageable. But Hannah has secrets of her own, the least of which is her secret alcohol abuse (alcoholism is nothing compared to the state of her home life with her husband).
     Almost everyone in Joseph's life is at odds against him. He strikes up a friendship with his neighbor's son, but the boy's mother has a boyfriend that's a wannabee gangster, chain's bouncing around his neck as he holds back his vicious pitbull from attacking anything nearby. He is the opposite of Joseph: confrontational from the start and obnoxious. Striking up a friendship with Hannah--a kind and generous woman--seems like a logical choice in the correct direction, instead of fighting with bar patrons and his neighbor's boyfriend with a dumb and violent dog.
     Something sets off a spark in Joseph when Hannah shows up to her shop one morning with a black eye. Joseph is finally in a position, seemingly the first since his wife died, to actually help someone in need, instead of letting his anger seep out of every bone, muscle and pore in his body. The film hints at Joseph's relationship with his wife, but it doesn't delve into it too deeply. But it's clear that Joseph will have to make some decisions that may change the rest of his life, due to his new friendship with Hannah and the growing tension between Joseph and the pitbull-holding neighbor.
     Tyrannosaur is directed by Paddy Considine, an actor (whom you may have seen in Hot Fuzz or The Bourne Ultimatum) taking over the directing chair for the first time. He sure does a damn good job: Tyrannosaur is one of the best and most affecting films of 2011. This is the type of movie that just looks at a few damaged human beings. It's not about redemption or learning to change your entire personality. It's depressing at times and always emotional, but only because the character's positions are so dire. I wouldn't even say that's extremely fun to watch--it's dark and brutal. But it's also an honest and realistic look at anger--anger that causes satisfaction for some and pain for others.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Evil Dead Rise in The Cabin in the Woods

     You may have seen the preview quickly flashed across your television screen. It has all of the ingredients of a typical, unoriginal, cliche horror movie: five college age kids, each playing the role that has been played a thousand times, head up to a remote cabin in the woods (on a lake, obviously) to drink and screw for a long weekend. There's the bonerific blond girl, Jules, whose screen time is spent either screaming or gyrating her tanned upper thighs to party music. Her boyfriend, Curt, wears his varsity jacket and lives off of his frat-boy charm. Holden is the smart kid, tagging along on the trip for chance to score with the virginal Dana, whose professor just ended their short fling via email. And then there's Marty, who's--you guessed it--a stoner who knows that something just isn't right.
     Do you really want to pay money to see this story played out again? We all know where this is headed (or beheaded). The answer to that question is yes...but I can't really tell you why. It's nearly impossible to tackle a review on The Cabin in the Woods without spoiling some of the best parts. I will say this: the film is surprising and breaks out into a no-holds barred blood bath of epic proportions, and even if some of the plot points are too over-the-top and some of the humor misses its mark, The Cabin in the Woods is an enjoyable 90 minutes at the theater, with enough spurting blood to satisfy any gore-hound.
     Though the group stops at a decrepit gas station and meets the toothless, tobacco-spitting local who owns it, and the cabin looks no different than most any other cabin-horror movie, once the group finds out what is exactly in the cellar, all hell breaks loose. The film sounds quite similar to Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, which I love unconditionally. But the director and writer of The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (who created the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is directing next month's hugely-hyped The Avengers), have crafted an entirely new experience, an Evil Deadish film full of meta winks and nods.
     Clearly, this cabin in the woods is much different than any other portrayed in the horror genre. Nothing is really what it seems, and most everything is intentional. If you've seen the previews for The Cabin in the Woods, it's clear that there are members of the cast other than the five unfortunate souls who enter the cabin. Six Feet Under's Richard Jenkins and Billy Madison's Bradley Whitford play scientists who are trying to craft a successful experiment involving the attractive twenty-somethings. This may seem a bit too spoilerific, but the first scene in the film involves these two characters. They add much of the humor and horror-genre self-referential wit to the proceedings.
     Creatures start to rise from nearby graves to attack the confused group. As the fighting and terrorizing continues to get more and more scary and crazy, The Cabin in the Woods takes a left turn into absolute insanity. The final third of the film is a balls-to-the-walls freak fest that is as admirable as it is laughable--laughable in a good way though, as revelation after revelation forms on the faces of the remaining characters. Like The Evil Dead, it opens up the gates of Hell and plants its feet firmly inside of them (also like The Evil Dead, it's destined to become a cult classic of sorts).
     The Cabin in the Woods is like a puzzle that is generally enjoyable but occasionally frustrating. It's reminiscent of many movies: the aforementioned Cabin Fever and The Evil Dead, Cube, and even the recent Hunger Games adaptation. But it fully makes the story its own. What's key is going into the film knowing as little information about it as possible. You might be thinking: Why tell me this now, after reading all of this review? But the information I have told doesn't come close to delving into any of the surprises of the movie. Ultimately, The Cabin in the Woods isn't even about scaring or surprising, as much as it seems to be. It's about taking a trusted story and flipping it on its head, winking to the audience the entire way.     (B)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

3 New Shows Coming to HBO This Spring and Summer

     With the great news landing this week that HBO has renewed the awesome Game of Thrones for a third season (which will tell the story--more or less--of the first half of the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series), I thought it would be pertinent to take a glance at three of HBO's new shows: Girls and Veep, which premiere this month, and The Newsroom, which will premiere in June. Consistently beating out every other pay network and destroying any network television station in terms of quality, the fact is that if you are willing to pay for cable or satellite and don't pay the extra 12ish bucks a month for HBO, you are missing out--not just on the best dramas on T.V., but great sports shows, the best political show, and HBO GO, which has nearly all of the station's shows archived into one (extremely easy-to-use) instant watch online database.

     With Girls, one might think that HBO is trying to revisit the success that they had with Sex and the City. "Living the dream, one mistake at a time," could be used for any number of situations that horse-faced Carrie and her crew of hags experienced throughout the numerous seasons of Sex (that all chicks love). Fortunately, it sounds like Girls aims higher and differently: the series is created by and stars Lena Dunham, the maker of well-received indie film Tiny Furniture in 2010. "There was this whole in-between space that hadn't really been addressed," Dunham states about Girls and its two major predecessors, Sex and the City and Gossip Girl. It's this middle space that I'm hoping--along with many others--begins to mine comedy gold. A girl and her friends move to New York City: the plot is familiar, but allows for plenty of ingenuity and (hopefully) genuine laughs. Girls is also produced by Judd Apatow. (Premieres April 15th)

     In the Loop was one my favorite films of 2009. It's acidic humor, dry wit, and overall wackiness helped create one of the best political humor films that I have ever seen. Why mention the great In the Loop? Well, HBO's new show Veep is created by Armando Lannucci, who also made the BBC sitcom The Thick of It (also based on aspects of government), which inspired the fly-on-the-wall style of In The Loop. If you've seen any of the trailers for Veep, it looks sharp and funny. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Vice President of the United States Selina Meyer. Other than that simple fact, the plot in unknown. You can be sure of plenty of laughs and ongoing inside jokes, though. Only one person of value from Seinfeld has created anything worthwhile since that great show ended: and that person is Seinfeld creator Larry David. Where did he go when he wanted to create great comedy with less restrictions and boundaries? HBO. Here's hoping Elaine follows his lead with the extremely promising Veep. (Premieres April 22)

The Newsroom
     The last show--and the most anticipated (by me, at least)--is The Newsroom. This looks like it could easily become a classic HBO drama, one that will be praised for years. The first bullet point on the list of reasons to why it will be great: it was created and written by Aaron Sorkin. Lately, his sharp words and realistic dialogue have catapulted some films from great to brilliant--The Social Network and Moneyball are the two most recent examples. If you've caught the new trailer for The Newsroom before the past couple of Game of Thrones episodes, the know the words come fast, powerful and witty. Jeff Daniels plays a news anchor who--along with his staff--tries to create a successful cable news channel. Corporate troubles, commercial woes, and personal and familial drama--these are the hurdles that the ensemble cast must jump above or hide from. Out of HBO's three new shows, this is only one that's an hour long drama, what the pay channel is best at. If everything comes together, and the show is a hit, the station will have Game of Thrones, The Newsroom, and Boardwalk Empire, three great dramas (hopefully, for The Newsroom) in three out of the four seasons. Anticipation is high. (Premieres June 24)