Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quick Looks:


     I'm a huge fan of Joe Hill's novels: Stephen King's talented son has written three of them, two of which have produced that same wonder and horror that we've all experienced in older King novels like The Shining. Horns is a tough film to sell to audiences, though: it's about a young guy, Ig, who may or may not have raped and murdered his girlfriend. One morning, he wakes up after a heavy night of drinking and Devil horns are growing out of his forehead, and everyone in his presence begins telling him and acting on their deepest and darkest thoughts and feelings. The tone in the book flashes between horror, humor and fantasy with incredible expertise, but the film doesn't fair quite as well. It's not real fault of anyone: Daniel Radcliffe, portraying another character who has an abnormal bond with snakes, actually does a wonderful job of shedding the Harry Potter skin, conveying anger and hopelessness with a touching fervor. Director Alexandre Aja (whose previous work consisted of the oogle-naked-booby mess that was Piranha 3D) actually portrays some stylish scenes, but they are mixed in with work that seems pretty amateur. When reading the novel, getting sucked into Horns' world of gritty humor and shocking surprises takes no effort at all. But the film leaves you wanting more, and it strikes an uneven tone between amusing, weird, and unintentionally comical.     (B-)

The Purge: Anarchy

     Last year's The Purge had a really intriguing concept: all crime (basically) is legal for 24 hours once a year--essentially purging the country of its over-population problem. And I actually thought the film--anchored by Ethan Hawke's performance--was entertaining enough. But one criticism was that the film's sights were set in too small of an area--one neighborhood street, and specifically one house where a group of freaky teenage bad guys are trying to break in. The Purge: Anarchy attempts the first film's formula, except aiming a little higher: this purge takes place in the numerous streets, blocks and alleyways of an entire populated city. It also deals much more with the socio-economic reasons for the purge, but let's face it: these films are all about tension and violence. Frank Grillo (as Leo) stands out here as the man-of-few words, a sort-of hero on a mysterious mission who periodically resorts to being a badass, mowing down sickos with style and manliness. The Purge: Anarchy is an attempt at saying something worthwhile about the government, the homeless, and crime in America. But since it has nothing specific to say, the viewer just waits for the next set-up for a cool kill.     (C+)

Obvious Child

     Obvious Child is about Donna, a woman who has had a really shitty go of life for the past few weeks: her boyfriend has cheated on her and left her, the bookstore where she works is being sold, and she's sunken into a bit of a depression. Donna is portrayed by former Saturday Night Live cast member Jenny Slate, and she rides the line between being very funny and almost annoying. Luckily the funny far outweighs the annoying: Donna is a comedian and it's clear to see how her self-deprecating ways have led her down this path in life. Then one random drunken night, she meets Max, a cute and nice student who takes a liking to her vulgarity. They have a one night stand and...I won't spoil the rest. Obvious Child was a huge hit at the film festival circuit earlier this year, and the praise is well-deserved: this "romantic comedy" is witty and deals with life issues that should be more in the open rather than shunned and hidden. It's one of the funnier films I've seen this year.     (B+)

John Wick

     John Wick succeeds by keeping it simple, stupid. Every year produces films based on exacting revenge on those who have wronged you, usually because they hurt someone or some thing that you have loved. Just a few weeks ago, Denzel Washington snapped because a hooker with a heart of gold got beaten bloody, taking out hordes of foreign gangsters with guns and power tools. This past week, we had a Keanu Reeves come-back of sorts, as he stars in John Wick, which is surprising in it's simple effectiveness. Rather than attempt to blow the viewer away with massive explosions and action set pieces, Wick impresses with it's claustrophobic gun-play and martial arts fights that are violent and intense. The plot is intentionally a bit of a joke: John's wife dies of Cancer. Bad Dudes break into John's house and do some bad stuff. John breaks out of "retirement" to kill those who have wronged him. Keanu is great in the titular role: when there's barely a back story and plot, we can focus on the cool factor and impressive stunt work that Keanu performs. First time director Chad Stahelski (Reeves' former stunt double) is precise and stylistic in the choreography and cinematography--it's an impressive debut. I did grow tired of John Wick by the end credits, which isn't a great sign since it has short run time. But Wick is still an action journey well-worth taking, and showcases a comeback for fans of Reeves.     (B)

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