Ready or Not, Review by Case Wright (Dirs. Matt Bettinelli and Tyler Gillett)


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The will to survive is a strange thing. Why do some people give up their wallet or purse to a mugger freely and others snap and fight to the death? Back in the days when I could jog, I was in Central Park early on a Sunday and a mugger tried to take my little POS MP3 player.  I could’ve done the smart thing and given it up, but something just clicked and I started punching and punching.  His face was total shock and he wandered off.  He wasn’t threatening my life, but it didn’t matter if he were, I would’ve acted the same. And Yes, my 93 tracks ranging from Springsteen to Modest Mouse remain safe to this day.  Ready or Not tests whether Grace (Samara Weaving) has the will to survive and she didn’t even have an ipod to protect.

The people hunting people is almost a sub-genre, but this movie had style.  It’s got horrible and quasi-incompetent murderers, a tough but vulnerable heroine, and lots and lots of BLOOD!

Grace is set to marry into a family of rich asshats who treat her like garbage.  Well, except for Daniel (Adam Brody) the brother of Alex – the groom to be.  Daniel thinks she should leave because she’s too good for his worthless family.  Daniel has a point.  The aunt is a mean spirited jerk and all of the people who enter the family are pretty desperate in one way or the other, making them agreeable to participate in their lethal affairs.

Grace decides to marry Alex anyway even though the family’s shitty personalities are on full-display.  The honeymoon begins and Grace must choose a card because she is entering the family.  A creepy box has a playing card and determines which card; sometimes the game is Chess, Checkers, or Hide and Seek.  If Hide and Seek is chosen, the family will hunt the new entrant to the family and sacrifice him or her to Satan- In-Laws … Am I Right?!!!

Grace picks hide and seek and the game is a foot….dun dun dun! This kicks off a lot of suspense and humor as Grace fights her in-laws to the death.  Grace asks her new husband Daniel why he didn’t warn her that his family is a bunch psycho killers?  His response: You would’ve left me.  Daniel, you suck! We all hate you Daniel…A LOT!

The family hunts Grace all over the estate and she gets hurt and screams….and Screams…AND SCREAMS! Samara Weaving’s screams are THE BEST EVER.  They are a mixture of gutteral staccato and high pitched terror and they are legit real.  All other scream queens before her must hail the new Queen.   Here is an example of Samara’s amazing scream queen skills:

RIGHT?!!!! She’s is legit awesome – a throwback and beyond to the glory days of horror. She’s a mix of vulnerable and badass, cunning and funny, basically she rocks this entire movie! Everyone should go see this movie tonight!

Yes, this review is a little brief, but I don’t want to spoil too much.  Enjoy!

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Four Weddings and a Funeral (dir by Mike Newell)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1994 best picture nominee, Four Weddings and a Funeral!)

(SPOILERS)

Four Weddings and a Funeral is truly an oddity.  It’s a romantic comedy that works wonderfully well, despite the fact that there’s next to no chemistry between the two leads.

Hugh Grant plays Charles, a neurotic bachelor who lives in London and who, despite having been in several relationships, has yet to marry.  As he’s explains it, he’s spent his life expecting love to hit him like a thunderbolt and it hasn’t happened yet.  Andie MacDowell plays Carrie, an American who has one of those vaguely defined magazine jobs that are so popular in romantic comedies.  Carrie and Charles meet over the course of … well, four weddings and a funeral.  From the minute they first meet, they are attracted to one another but the path of true love is never an easy one.  After spending the night with him, Carrie leaves for America.  When Charles meet her for a second time, she’s now engaged to Sir Hamish Banks (Corin Redgrave), a rather boring politician.

Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as Charles.  It can be easy to make fun of an actor like Grant, what with all the stammering and the carefully calculated charm.  But it works perfectly in Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which Grant manages to believable as both a hopeless romantic and a committed cynic.  Within moments of his first scene (in which Charles wakes up and realizes he’s late for a friend’s wedding), you forget that you’re watching Hugh Grant.  He is Charles.

On the other hand, Andie MacDowell never convinces us that she’s Carrie.  That’s not totally MacDowell’s fault, of course.  Carrie is an underwritten character, one who serves more as a plot device than anything else.  We’re never quite sure how she feels about Charles.  For that matter, we never understand why she’s marrying Hamish.  When she shows up at the film’s funeral, we’re left wondering if she’s really mourning or if she’s just showing up to be polite.  Carrie never comes to life and MacDowell never feels comfortable in the role.  When she gives a warmly received speech at her own wedding reception, the scene feels false because you never feel as if the words are coming from Carrie.

The film ends with Charles and Carrie finally getting together.  Charles both swears his love for her and asks if she’ll agree to never marry him.  We later see them in a snapshot, with a child.  But, despite all of that, you never believe that Charles and Carrie are going to stay together.  There’s just not enough chemistry between Grant and MacDowell to convince you that Carrie isn’t going to get bored and run off with whoever it is she meets at the next wedding she attends.

So, why does this film work so well?  It works because it’s a love story.  However, it’s not about the love between Charles and Carrie.  Not really.  Instead, it’s about the love between Charles and his friends.  Because of the way the film is structured, we only get to see how these people behave at weddings and a funeral.  We never really get to see what these people do for a living or what they’re like during the week.  In fact, we don’t even find out how they all became friends in the first place.

But it doesn’t matter.  The friendships feels real.  The friendships feels authentic.  You might not know how they all became friends but that doesn’t matter.  By the end of the movie, you feel as if you could go to London and possibly run into any of these people going about their daily lives.  They become real in a way that Carrie never does.

There’s Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), who is Charles’s roommate and who gets flirty when she has too much to drink.

And then there’s David (David Bower), who is Charles’s younger brother.  Both the actor and the character are deaf.  One of the sweetest scenes in the film is when a woman who has been crushing on David attempts to show off her sign language skills.  Everything she signs is wrong but David’s sweet smile tells us all we need to know about how he feels towards her.

Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Tom (James Fleet) are siblings.  Fiona, who dresses in black, presents a hard exterior but, in one of the film’s more poignant scenes, she admits that the reason she’s never gotten married is because she’s been in love with Charles for ten years.  Tom is a goofy optimist, the type who never doubts that he’s going to find happiness no matter what.

Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah) are as close to being married as anyone within Charles’s clique of friends.  (Four Weddings and a Funeral was released twenty years before the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK.  If someone views the film 50 years from now, they’ll probably wonder why, exactly, Matthew is always described, by those outside of his central group of friends, as merely being a “close friend” of Garth’s.)  Sadly, the funeral of the title is for the fun-loving Gareth.

It’s during the funeral, when Matthew reads a poem from Auden, that it becomes apparent that the heart of this film belongs not to Charles and Carrie but to their friends.  Ultimately, Four Weddings and a Funeral is a celebration of the bonds of friendship.  At the end of the movie, you’re happy, not because Charles and Carrie are finally together but because this unique and wonderful group of friends have all found each other.  Everyone should be so lucky.

Four Weddings and a Funeral was nominated for best picture but lost to Forrest Gump.

Sundance Film Review: sex, lies, and videotape (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 1989’s sex, lies, and videotape, which won both the Audience Award at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival and the Palme d’Or at Cannes!

The directorial debut of Steven Soderbergh, sex, lies, and videotape is considered by many to be one of the most important independent American films ever made.  Not only was it a  success at the box office and nominated for an Oscar but it also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.  According to Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, the success of sex, lies, and videotape is what convinced Hollywood that independent films could be big business.  The marketing of the film would set the template for almost every independent release that followed.

(One person who was definitely not a fan of sex, lies, and videotape was director Spike Lee.  When Lee’s Do The Right Thing lost the Palme to Soderbergh’s film, Lee was informed that the Canne jury felt Lee’s film wasn’t “socially responsible.”  “What’s so socially responsible about a pervert filming women!?” Lee reportedly responded.)

sex, lies, and videotape tells the story of four people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Ann (Andie MacDowell) has a nice house, a successful husband, and an absolutely miserable marriage.  When the film opens, she’s having a session with her therapist (Ron Vawter) and talking about how unfulfilled she feels.  When the therapist asks her questions about her sex life, Ann laughs nervously.  She says that she likes sex but she doesn’t like to think about it.  She says she doesn’t see what the big deal is.  Later, she reveals that she’s never had an orgasm.

John (Peter Gallagher) is Ann’s husband.  He’s a lawyer.  He’s also a materialistic jerk and … well, that’s pretty much the sum total of John’s entire personality.

Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) is John’s mistress.  She’s a bartender at a rather sleazy little establishment, where she apparently spends all of her time listening to a local drunk (Steven Brill) do a Marlon Brando impersonation.  She is uninhibited and fiercely sexual.  She’s the opposite of Ann, which is why John likes her.  Of course, she’s also Ann’s sister.  Cynthia and Ann have a strained relationship.  Ann describes Cynthia as being “loud.”  Cynthia views Anne as being judgmental.  Secretly, both wish that they could be more like the other.

And then there’s Graham (James Spader).  Graham was John’s friend in college, though it’s difficult to understand why.  Graham has recently returned to Baton Rouge and John, without talking to Ann, has invited Graham to visit them.  Graham is apparently a drifter.  (Ann describes him as being “arty.”)  While Ann is helping him find an apartment, Graham informs her that he’s impotent.  He can’t get an erection if anyone else in the room.

Ann subsequently discovers that Graham deals with his impotence by videotaping women discussing their sex lives.  The video camera allows Graham to keep his distance and not get emotionally involved.  (Of course, it also serves as a metaphor for directing a movie.)  Ann is freaked out by all of Graham’s tapes.  Cynthia is intrigued.  And John … well, John’s just a jerk.

sex, lies, and videotape is a film that’s largely saved by its cast.  Graham is a role that literally only James Spader could make intriguing.  Meanwhile, Peter Gallagher actually manages to bring some charm to John, who is the least developed character and who gets all of the script’s worst lines.  That said, the film really belongs to MacDowell and San Giacomo, who are totally believable as sisters and who, again, bring some needed depth to characters that, as written, could have been reduced to being mere clichés.  (In the scenes between MacDowell and San Giacomo, it was less about what they said than how they said it.)

As I already stated, this was Steven Soderbergh’s feature debut.  Soderbergh was 26 years old when he made this.  Seen today, it’s an uneven but ultimately intriguing film.  There are a few scenes where Soderbergh’s inexperience as a filmmaker comes through.  For instance, John is written as being such a complete heel (and, in his final scene, he wears a ludicrous bow tie that practically screams, “EVIL,”) that it occasionally throws the film off-balance.  You never believe that Graham would have been his friend, nor do you believe that Ann would have spent years putting up with his crap.  The film’s final scene between Cynthia and Ann also feels a bit rushed and perfunctory.  That said, this film shows that, from the start, Soderbergh was good with actors.  Visually, Soderbergh takes a low-key approach and allows the cast to be the center of attention.  It’s an actor’s film and Soderbergh wisely gets out of their way.  In particular, Spader and San Giacomo have a way of making the most heavy-handed dialogue sound totally and completely natural.

It’s hard to imagine Soderbergh directing something like sex, lies, and videotape today.  If the film were made today, Soderbergh wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to use overexposed film stock and to give cameos to George Clooney as Ann’s therapist and Matt Damon as the drunk.  sex, lies, and videotape is a film that Soderbergh could only have made when he was young and still struggling to make his voice heard.  It’s a flawed by intriguing film.  If just for its historical significance, it’s a film that every lover of independent cinema should see at least once.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick
  7. Alpha Dog
  8. Stranger Than Paradise

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #73: St. Elmo’s Fire (dir by Joel Schumacher)


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Oh my God!  Aren’t rich, white people just like the worst!?

Actually, usually I would never say something like that.  I usually find class warfare to be tedious and I personally think poor people can be just as annoying as rich people.  I had no interest in the whole Occupy Wall Street thing and I once referred to V For Vendetta as being V For Vapid.

No, I may not be much of a class warrior but then again, that may be because I never met any of the characters at the center of the 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire.  Seriously, if anything could turn me into a slogan-spouting, window-smashing revolutionary, it would be having to deal with any of the self-centered, entitled characters in St. Elmo’s Fire.

St. Elmo’s Fire is about a group of seven friends, three of whom are played by actors who co-starred in The Breakfast Club.  These friends all met at and are recent graduates from Georgetown University.  St. Elmo’s Fire follows them as they laugh, love, drink, do drugs, and try to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

For instance, there’s Billy (Rob Lowe), who has big hair and wears one dangling earring.  Billy was in a fraternity and spends most of the movie wishing that he still was.  Billy also plays the saxophone and he has a wife and a kid who he has pretty much abandoned … well, you know what?  I like Rob Lowe.  He seems like a fun guy and his DirectTV commercials were all classics but oh my God, does he ever give a bad performance in St. Elmo’s Fire.  Some of it is because Billy is not a very likable character.  He’s supposed to be the rough-around-the-edges, secretly sensitive rebel type but ultimately, he just comes across as being a loser.

And then there’s Jules (Demi Moore), who does too much cocaine and, as a result, finds herself fearing that she’s on the verge of being sold into a sexual slavery.  Jules doesn’t get to do much other than be rescued by the other characters.  Fortunately, when it looks like the group is drifting apart, Jules attempts to commit suicide and brings everyone back together.  Way to be a plot device, Jules!

Wendy (Mare Winningham) is the sweet but insecure virgin who has a crush on Billy.  Wendy works as a social worker and ends up getting insulted by the very people that she’s trying to help.  Winningham gives one of the film’s better performances but you can’t help but feel that Wendy deserves better friends.

Speaking of good performances, Andrew McCarthy also gives a pretty good one.  McCarthy plays Kevin Dolenz, the idealistic writer who everyone is convinced is gay because he hasn’t had sex in 2 years.  However, Kevin is actually in love with his best friend’s girlfriend.  As written, Kevin runs the risk of coming across as being insufferably moralistic but McCarthy gives a likable performance.  He turns Kevin into the nice guy that we all want to know.

And then there’s the Breakfast Club alumni.

Alec Newberry (Judd Nelson) was the vice-president of the Georgetown Democrats but now, because it pays better, he’s taken a job working for a Republican senator.  Alec’s girlfriend is Leslie (Ally Sheedy).  Alec obsessively cheats on Leslie, claiming that he can’t be loyal to her unless she’s willing to marry him.  The group of friends is largely centered around Alec and Leslie though it’s never really clear why.  Alec and Leslie are boring characters and, as a result, they’re a boring couple.

And then there’s Kirby (Emilio Estevez).  Estevez gives a likable performance but he often seems to be appearing in a different movie from everyone else.  Kirby is working on his law degree and he’s in love with a hospital intern named Dale (Andie MacDowell).  Unfortunately, Dale isn’t as interested in Kirby as he is in her so Kirby responds by stalking her and trying to change her mind.  There’s an earnestness and sincerity to Kirby that makes you like him, even if his behavior is actually rather creepy.

As for the film itself — well, it’s directed by Joel Schumacher and there’s a reason why Schmacher has the reputation that he does.  As a director, Schumacher is good at gathering together an attractive cast but he has close to no idea how to tell a compelling story.  St. Elmo’s Fire plods along, dutifully telling its story but providing little insight or surprise.

If you’ve read some of my previous reviews, you’re probably expecting this to be the point where I argue that St. Elmo’s Fire works as a time capsule.  But, honestly, this film doesn’t have enough insight to really work as a time capsule.  I mean, if you love 80s hair and 80s fashion, you might enjoy St. Elmo’s Fire but, then again, you could always just do a google image search and have the same basic experience.