Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nog Takes a Dip in the Hot Tub Time Machine!

"It turns out we had a lot in common. We both love titties and Motley Crue." If you find lines such as that amusing (guilty!), then you'll get a few laughs out of Hot Tub Time Machine. But the film as a whole doesn't work as well as it could have. I'd have preferred something in the vein of Better off Dead and One Crazy Summer, those John Cusack/Savage Steve Holland 80's flicks that don't shy away from absurd and surreal humor (the more recent Wet Hot American Summer channels that tone pretty well, garnering it a deserved cult following). There's a bit of such humor here, but mainly the film alternates between the ultra-crudity of recent "bromances" and a less abrasive, more nostalgic tone that hearkens back to 80's teen-sex comedies and of course time-travel flicks such as (primarily) Back to the Future. The tones can be jarring, with the latter, gentler tone working much better than the former. But when the film works, it works pretty well. An inspired recurring gag involving a one-armed Crispin Glover (who many viewers of course know primarily as BTTF's father McFly) is nearly worth the price of admission in its own right. It made me laugh every time (until the punch line arrives as an inevitable let-down, since the gag itself involves viewer anticipation).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nog and The Ghost Writer! / Also: "Chaos Reigns": Nog Sees Von Trier's Antichrist!

The early months of the year are often considered a dead time at the multiplex yet, oddly enough, they've brought us films from two of our master craftsmen: Scorsese and Polanski. While I found Scorsese's Shutter Island (mostly) entertaining, it was too much of a jumble of genres for my taste. Polanski's The Ghost Writer, on the other hand, is a straightforward take on the paranoid thriller that manages to pin you to your seat with none of the usual action movie contrivances (well, I suppose there's one very slow car chase and a single gunshot) and while maintaining a rather light and breezy tone (much of the film is very funny). Sharply written and roundly well-acted by an odd cast (Pierce Brosnan? Kim Cattrall?), this is probably the most fun I've had at the movies this year. Then again, I haven't seen Hot Tub Time Machine (yet).


After making it through Dogville (and Dancer in the Dark, for that matter), I swore I'd had enough of Lars von Trier's shenanigans and pretentiousness. But then along comes Antichrist, a movie in which Willem Dafoe chats with a talking animatronic fox. Of course I had to watch it--and did so on Netflix, where you can stream it right now, if you dare.

The film's already-notorious final bursts of violence are largely matters of public knowledge at this point, but I'll still refrain from spoilers and just think, briefly, about some of the things von Trier seems to be getting at (as far as I understand them, which is not very far). Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (while making love, in black and white and in slow-motion and set to classical music, complete with pornographic penetration likely spliced in from some other source) suffer the loss of their son and retreat to a home in the woods (called Eden, but not quite paradise) where Dafoe believes he can coach Gainsbourg through her grief (the film is organized into chapters: grief, pain, despair, etc). In Eden, Gainsbourg goes increasingly off the rails (she is quite often naked and crying and screaming, which won her an award at Cannes) and retreats into a world influenced by her former academic gender/feminist research ("Gynocide!"), eventually proceeding to hurt Defoe and herself in unspeakable fashion (I had to look away a few times). A late-film revelation concerning the dead son adds a bit of (much-needed) depth to the film, dealing with ideas of unintentional (or unconscious?) "violence" that (may?) resonate with the themes of Gainsbourg's research, and the whole thing ends with a haunting, supernatural final image (and, indeed, much of the film has a wonderfully creepy look and feel that rivals any recent horror film). Also, did I mention that Dafoe chats with a talking fox? I won't say that the film is necessarily worth watching (although it might be, at least for some of you, Matthew!), but something about the intensity and intimate nature of watching via Netflix made me a little more tolerant than I might have been had I traveled to KC and paid ten bucks for this experience on the big-screen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nog Hangs Out With The Crazies!

No, this is not a post documenting an evening at Harbour Lights, but rather a quick take on the horror remake of a largely-unknown George Romero horror film which I have not seen since I was young. So I can't compare the two. On its own, however, this is a more effective film that most of the recent remakes/reboots that I have seen, which isn't necessarily saying that much (and, obviously, Matthew's the expert here, not me).

The Crazies establishes a suitably creepy atmosphere as small-town Iowa residents suddenly begin acting...well, crazy! Timothy Olyphant (whose new TV series Justified is supposed to be pure coolness) is fine as the local sheriff (our hero) and Radha Mitchell is...attractive (and mostly wasted in her role as doctor/wife). The film plays, to some extent, like a zombie flick, but these crazies aren't your run-of-the-mill brain-eaters. They just want to kill you, any way they can, and some of these scenes are very effective (though they quickly become monotonous and the film relies overly, as per usual, on fake scares designed to make the target audience jump and squeal and clutch their dates). The real villain of the film, however, is not the "crazies" themselves, but the military, who we soon learn are responsible for the behaviors and their containment. The military storyline could benefit from attaching an individual face to the villainy (I'm guessing the original fleshed out the military storyline?), but the filmmakers here don't want to slow down the action, so the film just rushes along toward an ending that is either (a) admirably bleak or (b) a final "fuck you" to the audience, depending on your particular worldview.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nog Visits Burton's Wonderland (or is it Underland?)

Tim Burton's surreal sensibility certainly seems perfectly suited to an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, but his film is only sporadically effective (at best). Maybe we can blame Disney (did they keep some of Burton's darker whims at bay?), or maybe the screenplay, which mostly abandons the wordplay of the books in favor of a streamlined, action formula in which Alice must prepare to battle the Jabberwock. So we're left with a mixed-bag of things that work pretty well (Bonham-Carter is amusing as the Red Queen, Crispin Glover is suitably bonkers--and creepy--as the Knave of Hearts, and that floating Cheshire Cat would probably freak you the fuck out if you were on 'shrooms) and things that don't work very well at all (Depp's Mad Hatter, whose "dance" at the end of the film stops the movie dead in its tracks, with even the actors looking vaguely embarrassed). The 3D, too, is hit-and-miss, occasionally adding depth to Burton's always interesting (if now overly familiar) production design but more often feeling like old-school 3D gimmickry (as opposed to the glorious new Age of Avatar!). For a Burton fan such as myself, it's watchable but disappointing. I'd rank it a notch above Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and waaaay below Sweeney Todd in terms of recent Burton, whose next project really needs to be something original (if not a Scissorhands, perhaps at least a...Big Fish!).