Posts Tagged ‘survival’

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I’m tickled by Taika Waititi’s sense of humor. Yes, tickled.

After watching Boy, I didn’t need to be sold on Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

But a grumpy, bearded Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) as a gruff outdoorsman was enough to make me ecstatic before the movie even started. As with Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is about an eccentric youth in New Zealand, which is yet another fabulous opportunity to show off that stunningly beautiful landscape. While Taika makes a cameo in this movie as well, he doesn’t get near the screen time or juicy role that he gave himself in Boy.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the story of Ricky Baker—a troubled foster youth in New Zealand.

Oh, and Ricky is a wannabe gangster. Hilariously so. He keeps it gangsta.

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The movie starts with Ricky being dropped off at the doorstep of Bella (played by Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (played by Sam Neill). Once Ricky takes a look at this backwoods hole in the wall, he turns right back around to the Child Services vehicle. Ricky gives no fucks—even though this is his last stop before juvy.

Rima Te Wiata is an incredibly endearing presence as Bella, who just loves Ricky unconditionally from the start. Ol’ “Uncle” Hec isn’t quite as caring and nurturing as Bella. Hec is much more comfortable in the bush than he is around other people. His interests don’t exactly align with Ricky Baker.

Sam Neill is an actor with surprising range. Of course, everyone recognizes him for his role as Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park. However, Sam Neill was spectacular in Seasons 1 and 2 of Peaky Blinders—where he plays a corrupt and menacing authority figure with misguided morals and a grudge against Cillian Murphy. In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Sam Neill shows off his comedic chops as Hec.

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While the life of a kid in foster care isn’t exactly uplifting material, that’s the brilliance of Taika Waititi. With his outlandish, sometimes twisted sense of humor, Waititi’s exuberance finds the silver lining to turn a negative into a positive. I truly can’t wait to see more of Taika Waititi’s work.

Julian Dennison holds his own as Ricky Baker. He’s not in the same stratosphere as James Rolleston’s performance as Alamein in Boy. But there are some similarities between those characters. Instead of an adoration of Michael Jackson, Taika Waititi has the young male character infatuated with Tupac—naming his dog after the infamous rapper. Although Julian embodies this particular character well, I’d be surprised to ever see him again. I think it’s a credit to Taika that he’s capable of getting such great acting from young kids.

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How can you not feel relaxed and comfortable around that guy?

If you are one of the few who has watched Boy, then Hunt for the Wilderpeople is more of the same. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Boy was a superior film. Each movie shows off a different aspect of New Zealand and their sense of community. The audience is given a glimpse into what life can be like with the support of family or friends on that beautiful, sprawling expanse of wilderness.

It’s pretty majestical.

baker-dance

4 out of 5 stars

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As a person, I love Rob Zombie.

As an artist, I appreciate his aesthetic.

As a director, Rob Zombie is a mixed bag trying to make an impact on the industry.

With his movies, I feel like a heroin addict chasing the dragon. It’s been more than 10 years since Rob Zombie’s best and only good movie, The Devil’s Rejects. I remember watching it in theaters when I was in high school, and I can’t tell you how many times I have watched it since. The Devil’s Rejects was fun, funny, and violent with a purpose. For the last decade, it feels like Rob Zombie has been trying to re-capture that magic. While Rob Zombie and John Carpenter have buried the hatchet regarding the recent “feud” regarding Zombie’s Halloween remakes, I agree with Carpenter’s sentiments—those movies were uninspired and unnecessary. I had no idea Rob Zombie’s Halloween II even existed.

After the success of The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie was a hired gun on those Halloween remakes. It failed miserably, but Zombie still has talent as a director. In order to make his fucked-up vision a reality, I believe it needs to be an original Rob Zombie creation. Lords of Salem had promise as a story written by Rob Zombie, but it was so dreadfully boring and bogged down with exposition.

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When I heard about the premise of 31, I admit to being excited. The only thing I knew was the very basic ideathat some sadistic clowns kidnap a group of people and play a game to kill them one-by-one. Simple enough to catch my attention. Unfortunately, Rob Zombie doesn’t capitalize on the promise of that premise because the set-up is convoluted and full of tired old horror cliches.

Essentially, this movie feels like The Purge: Circus Clowns. Throw in a bit of the campy nature of the “stalkers” from The Running Man, and then you have the end result of 31. There are elements here that could have and should have made this an entertaining gore show. It’s pure speculation, but I imagine Rob Zombie’s decision to crowdfund this project impacted the bottom-line and his ability to translate this vision to film. But maybe that’s just an excuse that I’m making for him.

By setting the movie in the mid-70’s, Rob Zombie immediately gives 31 the same exact vibe of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. That was not a wise decision, in my opinion. I understand if that was out of necessity to make the film cheaper, but it only comes across like Rob Zombie going to the ol’ familiar well yet again. I’ve had enough of this style—I wanted something new.

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My expectations for 31 weren’t unreasonable. Is an original horror movie too much to ask?

I have no explanation for the goofy self-imposed rules of the game that restrict the movie’s creativity. Case in point: the captured group of traveling carnies has to survive 12 hours in this compound against these killer clowns from nowhere. Do you know what movie franchise also has a 12-hour time frame of trying to survive a murder romp? The Purge! It’s the foundation of the whole franchise.

It’s a moronic decision that helps the audience continue to draw lines to other, better movies.

There’s also no reason for Malcolm McDowell to be in this movie other than the fact that he’s Malcolm McDowell. That’s enough of a reason most of the time. In 31, Malcolm McDowell (as Father Murder) is dressed up like a tranny with a powdered wig and makeup as if he is a British aristocrat. Along with Sister Serpent (played by Jane Carr) and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson), the audience is led to believe that these three family members play the annual game of 31 where they employ sadistic clowns to murder the captives while they gamble on the odds and what happens.

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None of that makes any fucking sense, but I could have still forgiven 31 if the movie delivered its share of gruesome deaths and campy horror. Why couldn’t the set-up be simplified to a mysterious haunted house that pops up and opens the night before Halloween for a freak show of horrors? Since it’s Devil’s Night, the haunted house only invites 31 people and then they play their game.

A haunted house is fertile ground for weird, crazy shit to happen in a horror movie. Funhouse mirrors, strobing black lights, confusing mazes, and so many more opportunities to scare the audience. With the approach Rob Zombie actually employs, this movie comes across as a bad survival-horror video game. When the captured group of carnies wake up inside the game, they’re separated and each person is given some type of weapon—table leg, baseball bat, crowbar, and so on.

Despite dedicating a significant portion of the movie on these carnies, I had no emotional investment in any of them. Kevin Jackson played Levon, Meg Foster played Venus, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs played Panda, Jeff Daniel Phillips played Roscoe, and Sheri Moon Zombie played Charly. Many will have an issue with Sheri Moon’s casting, but she is a serviceable actress in a horror movie.

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In 31, she’s miscast as the main character, but I had several more important issues with this movie. Personally, I find it hard to blame Rob Zombie for wanting to put his wife in everything. However, an easy potential improvement would’ve been to make her play the character of Venus.

While the acting left a lot to be desired, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs’s portrayal of Panda was probably the biggest offense. The Jamaican accent that Hilton-Jacobs utilizes is horrendous. It’s a worthy entry in the Pantheon of Shitty Movie Accents. I wanted Panda dead as soon as I heard that accent.

Among the captured carnies, Jeff Daniel Phillips is the most likeable character—no surprise since he’s also the best actor out of the bunch. Roscoe was deserving of a substantially larger role, but the actor did an impressive job with the material. Count his relegation as another missed opportunity.

In comparison to the charisma-free victims, the clowns infuse some amusement at various points. In 31, these clowns are called The Heads: Sick-Head, Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head, and Doom-Head. Stupid names aside, the clowns are differing degrees of fun.

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For a bizarre reason, the first clown to enter the game is Sick-Head (played admirably by Pancho Moler), who is a midget dressed up like a tiny little Hispanic Hitler clown—complete with a giant swastika on his chest. Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head are chainsaw-wielding clown brothers. Death and Sex feel like a dumb tacked-on BDSM duo, but I was dumbfounded to discover that the voice of Tommy Pickles from Rugrats (Elizabeth Daily) played Sex-Head. This could be seen as an insult, but I just assumed it was an old, washed-up porn star when I heard her childish voice.

Without question, Richard Brake was the shining beacon of joy as Doom-Head. I was always creeped out whenever his ugly mug graced the screen. There’s a scene where Doom-Head is fucking a whore from behind while watching Nosferatu. I don’t think Richard Brake has an ounce of fat on him so he looks like a skeleton with skin tightly stretched over the bones. His silhouette is haunting.

Doom-Head delivers an intense, menacing monologue to open the movie. That introduction was the most memorable part of the movie, but 31 failed to capitalize on that momentum. The action doesn’t pick back up until the audience is re-introduced to Doom-Head much later. After watching this performance, I want to travel to the alternate universe where Richard Brake is playing The Joker.

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I wanted to love this movie. After watching 31, it was hard to find aspects to even like—let alone love. Although this was a massive disappointment and wasted opportunity, I’m still trying to mine the movie for positives. It hurts me to say such bad things about one of my favorite entertainers.

If you only look at the editing and transitions, 31 seems like a severe regression as a movie for Rob Zombie. I know he’s a capable director, but those freeze frames and fades were the hallmarks of an amateur filmmaker. Baffling decisions were abound in this movie.

But yet, Rob Zombie still had an ace up his sleeve. We’re talking about a movie that focuses on sadistic killer clowns that doesn’t use Rob Zombie’s best clown. Where the fuck was Captain Spaulding?

Even if you keep literally everything else the same, including Captain Spaulding could have increased the overall rating of the movie by 2 stars for me. I demand more Sid Haig in my life. Since 31 chronologically took place before the settings of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, it was possible to make this a prequel of sorts to show what Captain Spaulding was up to before connecting with the Firefly Family. Captain Spaulding would’ve wiped his ass with both of groups of these sorry sacks of shit (carnies and clowns) before eating bucket of fried chicken and tutti-fuckin-fruity ice cream.

“What’s the matter, kid?

Don’t ya like clowns? Why? Don’t we make ya laugh? Aren’t we fuckin’ funny? You best come up with an answer. Cuz I’m gonna come back here and check on you and your momma, and if you ain’t got a reason why you hate clowns, I’m gonna kill your whole fucking family.” — Captain Spaulding

Despite being disappointed with the way 31 turned out, I’m not ready to give up chasing the dragon yet. The Devil’s Rejects represents the best of contemporary horror movies while 31 is an example of the genre’s worst offerings. I’m willing to give Rob Zombie movies one more chance.

If another fatally flawed film is exposed, then I’ll have to cut him off forever.

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1.5 out of 5 stars

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The Martian is a good movie. That much is not in question.

However, the extent to which it is a good movie is up for debate.

Critics and the audience share an identical 92% approval rate for The Martian on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not a 92 out of 100 rating (you’d be surprised how many people misunderstand Rotten Tomatoes), but it is indicative of the fact that most people enjoyed their experience. For me, a crucial factor in differentiating between good and great movies is the degree of re-watchability.

Similar to The Revenant, The Martian is not a movie I want to visit again.

I can recognize that this is a worthy motion picture, but get the hell out of here with talk of this movie earning awards for Best Picture or Best Actor. Matt Damon is great in this role. He’s believable and personable—you want to root for him. Even if you haven’t watched The Martian, you should be familiar with the basic premise that astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars trying to survive long enough to be rescued. Or to put it in the parlance of our times, he has to “science the shit out of this.”

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The Martian premiered all the way back in October, and I have been putting off seeing it since then.

That’s not meant as an insult to this movie. I just knew what it would be—without ever reading the source material. It’s very, very familiar territory. Call it Space Castaway if you want. At least it’s better than the insufferable, interminable bore that was Gravity. But it’s damn sure not in the same stratosphere as Moon (starring the superior Sam Rockwell). The Martian just has no lasting effects.

Perhaps the most resounding impact of this movie will be that it’s finally another win for Ridley Scott. In the last 7 or so years, Prometheus is probably his best movie and even that is incredibly polarizing in terms of popularity. Coming off the suicide of his brother (and director) Tony Scott, Ridley’s latest movies were The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings—both extraordinarily, exceptionally awful. Maybe not being nominated for Best Director will result in the Prometheus sequel(s)/Alien prequel(s) being better movies. One can dream. My hopes aren’t incredibly high because The Martian is far too bloated and fatty, which is likely why this wasn’t nominated for Best Director or Best Editing.

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While the visuals are stunning and Matt Damon carries the movie impressively, The Martian still left me feeling lacking after 144 minutes. Through the first hour, the pacing is impeccable and the cuts to NASA are interspersed appropriately. But that momentum grinds to a halt in the second half. I don’t know the exact breakdown, but it feels like almost a half-hour of the movie is without Matt Damon as Mark Watney. I didn’t give a fuck about any of the other characters. It was necessary to introduce certain key players in order to propel the story, but those sequences should have been tightened. The Martian suffered in each scene whenever Matt Damon wasn’t on the screen.

Everything involving Matt Damon’s character was compelling and interesting.

With this movie basically considered a comedy, it was a weird shift to play too heavy on the drama. The audience understands the movie must end a specific way. No major studio picture was seriously going to consider shuffling things up a bit. If that would have been taken into consideration, then the comedic elements could have been played up more against the backdrop of beautiful Mars desert imagery.

I think they (Ridley Scott and/or the movie studio) were afraid to be too funny to be taken seriously.

Ultimately, The Martian is an enjoyable, cookie-cutter space romp. There aren’t any memorable scenes or standout moments, but it’s a very serviceable sci-fi adventure comedy. While The Martian seems like it would have been more astounding to see on the big screen, I’m glad I waited to see it at my leisure—which helps with such a long runtime. The Martian is a worthwhile one-time experience.

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3 out of 5 stars

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Definitely mark The Revenant in the category of Good Movies I Never Want to See Again.

The Revenant is a beautiful movie. I can recognize and appreciate The Revenant as another technical achievement by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It is very well-directed, but the story itself is rather lackluster. This is an endurance test that exceeds 2 hours and 30 minutes.

It’s almost a shame that The Revenant is the performance that will finally get Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar for Best Actor. The outcome has been preordained, which seemed like the intention from the outset. DiCaprio is solid as Hugh Glass, but he’s constantly overshadowed at every turn by the phenomenal performance of fellow superstar actor Tom Hardy. While John Fitzgerald is a one-dimensional bad guy, Tom Hardy brings an undeniable spirit and charisma to this shitbag.

However, you can never forget that Hugh Glass is Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s hard to blame DiCaprio. Leo delivers everything written in the script, but the man doesn’t exactly melt away into a character. For a vast majority of the movie, DiCaprio does his classic What’s Eating Gilbert Grape Face where he juts his lower jaw and chin out while breathing heavily and slobbering all over himself.

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The only humor in The Revenant comes from the racism of Tom Hardy’s character and the unintentional comedy of Leonardo DiCaprio’s nonverbal acting. Without any real dark humor or additional entertainment value, The Revanant is (at times) an arduous slog. I could have really gone without the philosophical/existential flashbacks—especially those scenes filmed at the burnt church. It was all too reminiscent of Gladiator. After the opening hour, it’s an exceedingly dry revenge thriller short on thrills.

But holy shit, The Revenant is incredible for that first hour. Inarritu is a visionary director, which should be evident from the marvelous, hypnotic camera movement in the opening action sequence. It is violent in the most visceral fashion. You can feel the desperation of those trying to stay alive.

About 20 minutes into the movie, an amazing thing happens—one of the most astonishing scenes I’ve ever witnessed occurs. Leonardo DiCaprio gets raped by a bear…or so some idiots would lead you to believe. What you do get to experience is a realistic bear mauling. I don’t know how they managed to pull off such a stunt with a blend of practical effects and an impressive CGI grizzly bear.

Bear Attack

Unfortunately, it was mostly downhill from there. The next half hour of Hugh Glass’ struggle to survive that vicious bear attack is surprisingly engaging. I think a lot of actors would have been just as capable, but DiCaprio does a great job portraying that emotional journey. It just gets to be way too much after the initial hour since there’s still another hour and a half left of the same shit.

I understand The Revenant was designed as an epic, but I can’t help believing this would be much improved by shortening the second and third acts with a more direct cat-and-mouse routine between DiCaprio and Hardy. After the first hour, these characters don’t really share any screen time together until the very end. I don’t know how the last-minute reshoots impacted the final cut, but the second half of the movie feels like it could have been entirely different at one time in production.

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I wish there was something more to hang onto than just solely beautiful visuals and those two great scenes in the beginning. Granted, those scenes were unparalleled in their greatness. But I wanted a tighter narrative and more room for these phenomenal actors to breathe.

While I can enjoy this movie and appreciate its place in the grand scheme, I cannot envision a scenario where I will ever watch The Revenant again. This movie might even win Best Picture. DiCaprio will probably win Best Actor and at least Tom Hardy is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. None of that changes the fact that this story is largely bleak and dreary—making it difficult to endure.

DiCraprio Jaw

Coming off of Birdman, my expectations for The Revenant were probably too high. Apparently, Inarritu was prepared to exceed expectations. His insane idea (at least initially) to set the bar high was to film this movie in the same single shot style. Inarritu had enough difficulty with an exploding budget and frozen conditions that made so many staff members quit. It would have been an unbelievable feat, but it would have merely been another layer to an already well-directed movie.

I admire the ambition. Unfortunately, the subject matter doesn’t quite match Inarritu’s ambition. Ultimately, The Revenant fails to be transcendent because of the storyline—not the execution. This movie is missing an element to the story that makes it re-watchable. Years from now, I doubt most will remember this for more than the movie that got Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar. Hopefully the 22-year-old blonde model-sized hole in his heart will be filled with that goofy gold statue.
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3.5 out of 5 stars