A Quickie With Lisa Marie: We Are Your Friends (dir by Max Joseph)


We_Are_Your_Friends

So, this morning, I read some of the harsh reviews that mainstream critics have given the new film We Are Your Friends and I have to admit that I’m starting to get a little ticked off.

That’s not to say that We Are Your Friends is a very good movie.  I saw it last night with my BFF Evelyn and we enjoyed it but mostly, that was because we talked through almost the entire movie.  And yes, I know that it’s rude to talk through a movie but seriously, the theater was nearly deserted.  When we bought our tickets, there was a huge crowd of people gathered outside the theater but it turns out that they were all buying tickets for War Room.

Anyway, We Are Your Friends tells the story of Cole (Zac Efron), a DJ who lives with three idiot friends (who are so identical to the group from Entourage that one of them is even named Squirrel).  He spends his days working at a mortgage company and his nights DJing.  Then he meets James (Wes Bentley), a formerly great DJ who is on his way down.  James takes Cole under his wing and mentors him and teaches him how to get a room dancing.  But, Cole ends up falling in love with James’s abused girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), which leads to… well, it leads to exactly what you think it’s going to lead to.  Storywise, We Are Your Friends is not going to win any points for originality.

While we were watching the movie, Evelyn and I agreed that Zac Efron is a strange actor.  I mean, yes, he’s hot and yes, he’s talented enough that he can walk while delivering his lines but, at the same time, his dramatic performances always feel oddly empty.  You watch him and you get the feeling that he’s still trying way too hard to prove that there’s more to him than just High School Musical.  He’s like the guy who you have crush on until you actually get to know him and discover that, beyond his looks, he’s really not that interesting.  Efron always seems to be putting in a lot of effort but, whenever you watch one of his performances, you get the feeling that there’s not much going on underneath the beautiful surface.  For all intents and purposes, Zac Efron is the anti-Gosling.

And some movies have made good use of Efron’s limits.  He was perfectly cast in Me and Orson Welles, for instance.  And he’s good in comedies, where he can play against his good looks.  But in a film like We Are Your Friends, where you’re actually supposed to have some sort of emotional stake in his hopes and dreams, Efron just feels miscast.

That said, I still enjoyed We Are Your Friends and I think that a lot of the reviews have been a bit too harsh.  Why did I enjoy the movie?  It all comes down to the music and the dancing.  If you love EDM, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in We Are Your Friends.  And if you’re not into EDM — well, then fuck off.  I could sit here and write another 500 words about how clichéd the storyline is but, ultimately, that’s not what the film is about.  The film is about the music.  The film is about the ecstasy of dancing all night and then waking up with the beats still playing in your head.  At its best, that’s what this film captures.  It’s not a great film.  A month from now, I have a feeling that it’ll be a struggle to remember much about We Are Your Friends.  But I’ll probably still be listening to the soundtrack.

That’s what a lot of the harsh reviews are missing but then again, most mainstream film reviews are written by people who are too old to appreciate EDM in the first place.  EDM is music for people who are young and who are still capable of enjoying the present and dreaming about the future.  Boring old mainstream critics will never get it and that’s why the reviews of We Are Your Friends feel so condescending.  The critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads: “We Are Your Friends boasts magnetic stars and glimmers of insight, but they’re lost in a clichéd coming-of-age story as programmed as the soundtrack’s beats.”  Now I know how those Christians who went to see War Room feel whenever a reviewer thinks he’s being clever when he says that one of their films “doesn’t have a prayer.”  It’s all so condescending and cutesy.

Listen, We Are Your Friends is not a particularly good film.  But it’s not as bad as you might think.  The plot is bad but the music is good and really, isn’t that the point?

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Everyone Else Is Talking About The “Evil Dead” Remake, So I Guess I Will, Too


Evil-Dead-Poster

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat — first-time director Fede Alvarez’s new remake/”reimagining” of Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic The Evil Dead (this time going out minus the article at the beginning of the title, so it’s just Evil Dead, thank you very much) is not, as its ad poster claims, “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” That’s actually a gutsier tag line than it sounds on first reading, since it’s essentially promising that not only is this flick scarier than anything you’ve already seen, it’s scarier than anything else you’re ever going to see for the rest of your life. It can’t live up to that, period — and truth be told, it’s not even very scary at all.

Which isn’t to say that it’s bad or anything. In many key respects — eschewing CGI for “real” special effects, not even trying to cast somebody new in the role of Ash since  absolutely anyone would suffer in comparison to Bruce Campbell (who, along with Raimi, is on board as at least an air-quote producer on this one) — Alvarez and  his cohorts (including, it pains me to say, co-screenwriter Diablo Cody, who I was fairly certain was going to fuck things up here in some way, shape, or form but, pleasingly, doesn’t) get a lot of what they’re trying to do here right. The film is gory beyond belief, moves at nearly the same breakneck pace as its ’81 template, there’s a sublimely wrong tree-rape (yes, you read that correctly) scene,  the script provides a believably updated reason for why our five protagonists are getting together in a remote cabin in the woods — that looks very much like the original, might I add — in the first place ( I won’t spell it out too specifically but it gives new meaning to the old “withdrawal’s a bitch” cliche), and the performances are, on the whole, fairly solid.

They’ve also wisely chosen not to mess with the whole “haunted book inked in human blood and bound in human skin that releases untold evil onto the world” premise, so points all around for not only not messing with what worked in the original, but also for not trying to catch  lightning in a bottle twice by hewing too closely to it. Alvarez seems to have gone into this one knowing what he should and shouldn’t play around with, and that puts him a step ahead of your average horror remake director.

Here’s the rub, though — whenever you’re trying to update the look and feel of a $375,000 production on a budget of $14 million, something’s bound to get lost in translation, and no matter how hard it tries, Evil Dead circa 2013 just can’t capture the grittiness, the grime, the immediacy and, dare I say it, the heart of its progenitor. Alvarez is definitely going for an old-school approach here, and I commend him for that, but it’s still (and obviously) not old-school in actuality. Once you poke beneath the paper-thin surface, it becomes fairly obvious that any successes the new film has are more or less of the cosmetic and superficial variety. It looks good, sure — but it still feels kinda wrong, even though it’s doing its level best to cover that up by, again to its credit,  not giving you too much time to think.

I mentioned before that I by and large liked the cast — Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore and, especially, Jane Levy as our doomed (or is she?) central “heroine,” Mia — all do a nice job. But none of them especially stand out, either, which isn’t too bad a mini-metaphor for the movie itself as a whole — it’s thoroughly competent in terms of its execution, but there’s not much extra “spark” to the proceedings. Alvarez seems to understand the essential ingredients for making a solid, respectful, won’t-piss-you-off updating of a classic, but he’s got some way to go before he can create a genuine classic from whole cloth himself.

In some respects, there’s really not a whole lot he can do about that — The Evil Dead was shot in a remote Tennessee cabin while Evil Dead constructed its own location in New Zealand that set out to ape the look and feel of middle-of-nowhere USA as best it can — but that’s just endemic of the greater problem at work here, namely that this is a story that just plain not only doesn’t need a so-called “upgrade,” but literally can’t survive one with its celluloid soul intact. I give Alvarez all the kudos in the world for trying, and for at least understanding the surface elements of what made the original the undeniable classic that it’s rightly hailed as, but so much of what made Raimi’s flick the singular triumph that it was can never be duplicated. Hence, I guess, why I just referred to it as a “singular” work. In short, while we’re still talking about the first one some 32 years after its release, I’ll be damn surprised if people are talking about this remake very much even a year from now.

Still — they did what they could here, I suppose. I had an exchange with a couple of friends on facebook earlier today about the endless stream of remakes in general that we’re forced to navigate, and it made me realize that at some unspecified, silently-arrived-at point, I went from going into these things thinking “I hope they get it right this time” to  “dear God I hope they don’t fuck this one up.” It’s a subtle shift, sure, but it  certainly speaks volumes about the general performance of the studios’ big-budget-remake machine. I’m pleased to say that Alvarez et. al. don’t fuck this one up (and whatever you do, hang around until the credits are over — you’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face even if you don’t actually like the film at all), but it is what it is. The Evil Dead 1981 was a product of blood, sweat, tears, determination, and — weird as it may sound — love, put together by folks who didn’t always know what they were doing but were always giving it more than their best effort. Evil Dead 2013 is, for all its attempts to duplicate the trappings of its predecessor, a professionally-executed Hollywood production. You tell me which is gonna be better.

Hell —  tell me which has to be.

Trailer: Evil Dead (Full Red Band)


EvilDead

Remake. Remake. Remake.

I can hear the howls now. Not another horror remake and one of a classic in the genre that many fans consider one of the holy grails of horror cinema. Guess what I say to those people. SHUT THE FUCK UP!

With the complete blessing from both Sam Raimi and Bruce “Who is God when he wants to walk amongst his creations” Campbell and them back but in the role of producers and mentor to the remake’s director, Fede Alvarez, and the young ensemble cast I have much more faith with this particular horror remake than others of its kind.

The trailer itself looks to go on the far extreme on the horror side of the original. I didn’t get a sense of much of the black humor of the original film (and it’s subsequent semi-remake), but I think that’s a good thing. Why remake a classic beat for beat when one can go their own way and explore something even the original never did.

One thing I can say about this full red band trailer that has me jumping up and down like a horror fan on bath salts…

VIOLENTLY AMOROUS TREE: Check!

LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF BLOOD: Check!

GRAPHIC DISMEMBERMENT: Check!

CHAINSAW: Check!

DEADITE POSSESSIONS: Check!

FACE-EATING (or Extreme GIRL-ON-GIRL MAKE-OUT SESSION: Check and Check!

Evil Dead lands it’s bloody, possessed corpse on everyone this April 12, 2013. Until then….

….Shop smart. Shop S-MART.

Horror Trailer: The Evil Dead (Red Band)


Horror remakes is almost as old as the history of film. I’ve tried to educate those who complain that another horror classic was being remade and it will suck. Guess what horror classics have always been remade and they don’t always suck. So, instead of telling these snobs to go in their rooms and drool and jerk one off to their classics they don’t want tarnished by a remake I just shake my head and try to see if the remake holds up to the original or, better yet, judge the remake on it’s own creative merits and see if it brings something new to the “classic” original.

In 2013 we see one such horror remake arriving on the big-screen with Fede Alvarez’s new take on a true horror and grindhouse classic horror, The Evil Dead.

The film will be produced by two of the same people who made the original film in Sam Raimi and Bruce “God when walking amongst the humans he created” Campbell. There will not be a character named Ash, but the role of Mia (played by Jane Levy) will take on a similar role in the film. This trailer first premiered for a select audience during this year’s New York Comic-Con and the response was loud, louder and even louder. One thing which everyone who saw the trailer seemed to agree was that the remake looks to honor the original film (rushing POV tracking shots to the oppressive atmosphere throughout the film) while also giving director Fede Alvarez a chance to add his own visual and narrative style to the production.

It is going to be a gory remake and very oppressive and nihilistic. What the trailer doesn’t seem to hint at is any sign of dark humor that fans of the original film are now nitpicking about. Guess what…the original was straight up grindhouse horror that had nothing humorous about (well unless you consider a possessed tree raping a woman as being hilarious). So, it’s going to be interesting to see if this remake will get a chance to impress the fans of the original while at the same time show those new to the horror genre a glimpse at what 70’s horror was really all about.

The Evil Dead is set for a 2013 release date.

Film Review: Red Riding Hood (dir. by Catherine Hardwicke)


My problems with Red Riding Hood are more of a personal nature than anything else. I’m from a family that clashed old world values of women being blindly subserviant to the Man of the House vs. women being fiercely independent and only having a male in their lives to complement things. These elements were my luggage already brought to the table on seeing the film, but it shouldn’t damper one’s opinion on the film. If this review does this, it’s on me personally and not a reflection of the entire Shattered Lens.

Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Red Riding Hood takes the classic fairy tale and expands on it. While it does so, it doesn’t do it by much. What it has going for it is a nice visual style. Colors are vibrant and director Catherine Hardwicke really has an eye when it comes to forest landscapes (just as she did with Twilight). Mists cover the trees and capes billow in the wind, when it’s not concentrating on the town itself (which does look like a soundstage at times). In the end, however, it suffers from the same quasi teenage issues that Twilight had. I yawned a number of times. Granted, I understand that the movie may be targeted to a younger audience (and for them it may very well work), but even my audience groaned a little and they were target individuals.

Red Riding Hood is the story of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who lives in a small village that lives in fear of The Wolf, who has been known to sneak in and attack or kill citizens. To appease the wolf, the townspeople keep animals tied outside. As a child, she forms a bond with a young boy named Peter. Time passes, and we find young Valerie bethrothed to Henry (Max Irons) by way of her mother’s plans (played by Virginia Madsen). Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) still has feelings for Valerie, and this all quickly becomes another Bella / Jacob / Edward triangle. It’s not at the start a story of Valerie choosing her own road, but having to hear from everyone around her that this guy should be the one she marries or that one is the right guy for her. To me, personally, the film in the beginning pushes as much of a pro-“I need a man to survive” stance as Battle:LA does a Pro-Marine one. Is this a terrible thing? Not if that’s where your mindset is, no. Every time I saw them mention anything along the lines of hand and feet worship some guy just because “that’s how it is”, I had to remind myself that it’s just the time period the story takes place in (though I’m sure the audience heard me groan at least once). Again, that’s just me.

In the midst of all this, on being asked to run away with Peter, Valerie is alerted to her sister’s death from the wolf. The townfolk make a point of going after the wolf, and decide to head out the cave where they believe the beast lives. They return with proof of a victory and plan to host a party for the deed. The town priest (Lukas Haas, who somehow seems to less here than he did in Inception) reaches out for help in form of Solomon (Gary Oldman). Solomon, arriving with armed guards warns the townsfolk of the evil of werewolves and that he will hunt it down. The next few nights will be Blood Moon nights, meaning that if the wolf bites anyone during that time, they’ll become werewolves as well. The townsfolk, not buying into this, decide to have a wild party with sexy dancing. This results in a visit from the Wolf, who confronts Valerie and telepathically asks her to come away with it, or the town will be razed. It all kind of escalates from there.

Oldman, for his credit, was fun here and slightly over to the top.  Oldman delivers his lines with flair, being far less subdued here than he was in The Book of Eli. For who better to hunt a wolf than Sirius Black himself, right?

And that’s part of the problem I found with Red Riding Hood. With the exception of Seyfried, the supporting cast is actually stronger than the main group of actors the story focuses on. Julie Christie plays Valerie’s grandmother, in a great turn, and as always Billy Burke (Drive Angry, Twilight) is supportive as Valerie’s father. He’s really one of the highlights of the film. As for Henry and Peter’s characters,  the most I could think of with them were the Winchester brothers in Supernatural. They’re eye candy for the girls, though I should note that none of the girls in my audience were excited as they were when I saw The Twilight Saga: New Moon. There were lots of screaming for that one.

What does work is that the movie is reminiscient of The Beast Must Die. It is a mystery of who the wolf actually is, and both Valerie and the audience are given clues. That I actually enjoyed, and the third act of the film wasn’t too bad. The action is quick and to the point, but again, it all kind of feels like I could have seen this as a series on the CW. There wasn’t as much of a worry about who would fall at the hands of the wolf or what dangers would face Valerie so much as they actually looked cool when it occurred. Easily a Netflix pick.