Tag: 2009

Movie Review: The Loved Ones (2009)

the loved ones
Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

Lately whenever Miles and I sit down to watch something I’m immediately like “Let’s watch a horror movie!” because, well, it’s just how I feel, you know? The other night he obliged me with The Loved Ones, an Australian slasher he’d seen at SXSW a few years ago. It covers a decidedly sordid day in the life of teenage metal head Brent (Xavier Samuel), who is still reeling from a car accident that killed his father but left him unscathed. He struggles to emotionally communicate with his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) as they’re both getting ready for the big school dance that night. Shy outcast Lola (Robin McLeavy) is dismayed to find out Brent is going with Holly, and concocts a plan to secure his attentions for the evening, in extremely violent fashion. Meanwhile, Brent’s somewhat dorky friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) takes out gorgeous goth Mia (Jessica McNamee), whose brother went missing around the same time as Brent’s accident.

Structurally, The Loved Ones follows the well-worn format of “start small, get progressively more and more fucked up, and give no evidence of how far you will go” to great effect. It works as both a compelling teen drama and a supremely intense thriller, with ample amounts of gore and enough family dysfunction to fuel several soap operas. The performances are excellent, with Robin McLeavy offering an exceptionally devious and crazed turn as the almost-sympathetic but enormously sadistic Lola. Xavier Samuel is also memorable in his believably traumatic experience, essentially operating as a male version of the Final Girl and really making you feel his pain. The whole film is a wry reversal of the common male/female slasher tropes, with Lola serving as a kind of teenage Norman Bates (complete with an Elektra Cmplex). Not everything is so derivative, just toying with these recognizable images in clever ways. I’d say it’s its own kind of fucked up by the end, and writer/director Sean Byrne definitely makes it his own while working within the conventions of the genre.

While the characters and the central narrative definitely held my rapt attention, the b-plot of Jamie and Mia was noticeably weaker, and out of place when set against the main story. I thought the characters were cute and the way Mia fit in to the overarching plot was interesting and relevant, but the many cutaway scenes of their date were just kind of off-putting. I understand the inclination to offer a lighter side story that juxtaposes with the extremely dark happenings of the protagonists, but the two don’t quite mesh. If Byrne had more closely worked in their story to the main one, I think it would have given the film as a whole a better flow. Anyway, it’s generally a minor concern because the rest of this movie is pretty damned rad. AND I would like to note that though a lot of it is watching a teenage boy get hella tortured in really gory ways, I only turned my eyes away like twice because I am getting SO GOOD at horror movies. One day I’ll be a pro and movie gore won’t make me faint in movie theaters anymore because lol that’s happened to me multiple times.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Something about a lonely young woman, romantic longing, and knifey bodily assault combined makes me think of May, which is an amazing movie.

Movie Review: Evangerion shin gekij├┤ban: Ha (Evangelion 2.0: You Can [Not] Advance) (2009)

evangelion2_4

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s harddrive.

About two years ago we decided to finally get into Neon Genesis Evangelion. As an anime fan it’s hard not to hear about it all the time because it’s one of the bigger series. We started with the new(ish) movie, part one of a tetralogy that condenses and somewhat re-writes the whole series. Then we started watching the actual show, but it turns out it’s just ok and we got bored with the super annoying main character. AND SO we decided to just watch the movies. Whatever, you guys. Whatever. The second film in the tetralogy, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, continues this inscrutable story of whiny teenagers who pilot huge semi-organic mechs in a fight against “Angels”, who are huge monster things that attack Earth all the time. Everything is confusing but it’s really pretty. And my favorite character arrives! Well, second-favorite, after the penguin roommate obviously.

Seriously, I never know what the fuck is going on in this series but that’s part of what makes it so interesting. The greater world is weird and broken and complicated, and the larger story is only hinted at as the pieces gradually come together. The combination of Christian religious imagery and surreal military technology is bizarre but effective, and I really do love watching these robots fight. The animation is lovely, with bright colors and truly creative design, though the exploitative ladyparts factor is as high as most other anime that isn’t made by Studio Ghibli. I also liked seeing the scope and general ramifications of this future expanded upon, since the films’ overall narrative approach is more personal and at first there wasn’t much focus on the politics surrounding the Eva pilots. The greater story slowly builds on itself and now I’m actually pretty excited for the next movie since it looks like it will have to be much grander in its storytelling.

As usual, protagonist Shinji is an annoying crybaby who doesn’t really have much going on, personality-wise, but luckily he’s surrounded by characters who are actually interesting. Rei continues to be a weird blank space and basically someone’s sexy daydream, but she shows some guts toward the end. And Misato is still funny and cool and (mostly) in command. The best part is obviously newcomer Asuka, an extremely confident prodigy who doesn’t really know how to interact with people. She’s funny in her bluntness but also sympathetic in her lack of social understanding or experience. She’s mean, but I like her as a character. Plus she’s a really good pilot!

I don’t have much else to say, I guess, and I know this is impossible for anyone who doesn’t already know about Neon Genesis Evangelion. But yeah pretty good movie, definitely an improvement on the first one, and I look forward to the third film where the stakes are higher and different subplots will hopefully come together in a way that makes some kind of sense. Maybe?

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I mean it’s part of a series so it kind of has to be the first one or the third one (which just came out in the US).

Movie Review: The House of the Devil (2009)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles‘s computer.

After my love affair with The Innkeepers last year, I’ve been excited to see Ti West’s first film, The House of the Devil. The main thing I knew about it was that it was a similar slow-burn horror-thriller with a lady protagonist and that it was released on vhs as a reference to its 1980s setting and inspiration. Jocelin Donahue stars as Samantha, a college sophomore who is struggling financially but for some reason has just taken out a lease on a house. She accepts a dubious but well-paid “babysitting” job out of desperation, and GETS MORE THAN SHE BARGAINED FOR MUAHAHAHAHHAHAHA.

This is a movie that takes its time, and while generally I like that in a horror story, West’s restraint continues even up to the final moments. It takes about 30 minutes for Samantha to get to the titular house, then she spends about 40 minutes hanging out by herself and wondering what’s up with the spooky family that hired her. THEN there’s all this crazy devil cult stuff for a little bit and then it’s over. It felt like too much waiting for too little payoff. Not that the final scenes aren’t cool, it’s just all over pretty quickly. Had the main character been more interesting or charismatic I would have been fine spending all this down-time with her (that’s one thing I loved about The Innkeepers), but while she is sympathetic, I feel like I didn’t get to know her at all. She’s sort of closed-off. Greta Gerwig as her best friend Megan is oozing with enough personality and energy for the both of them, but she’s out of the picture earlier on (her final scene is totally rad, though). Mary Woronov is probably my favorite part, because she’s Mary Fucking Woronov, and she gets to be creepy as hell.

The film is set in the 1980s as a way of paying tribute to horror films of that period, with West laying his love for the time on thick as retro tunes blare out of Sam’s headphones and her big hair bops around and grainy visuals entice the eye. The 80s-ness was a little on the nose, I thought, but it did help give the film a very specific atmosphere, which I assume was West’s intention. He aptly builds the tension gradually throughout, and I was holding my breath more than once as I worried for unsuspecting Sam. But the actual scary part wasn’t all that scary, and everything went by too fast. Plus there’s a weirdness to the very last moment, wherein a person survives something they shouldn’t have survived and it didn’t make sense to me. Huh.

Anyway, I can appreciate The House of Devil in many ways, but ultimately I wasn’t too impressed with it. Some great moments and a nice aesthetic, but as a horror movie it wasn’t incredibly effective. I can see how West’s style and approach developed into something great for The Innkeepers, though, which is similar in a lot of ways but ultimately much more satisfying.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There are some parallels with Halloween, which I believe is one of the films he drew from.

Movie Review: Celda 211 (Cell 211) (2009)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s computer.

The other night Miles and I sat down to watch an Alex Cox film we didn’t know much about, since he’s been on a Repo Man kick and wanted more of the director. But it looked terrible and everyone was a bad actor so within 10 minutes we shut it off, and decided to watch Cell 211 on a whim since we both missed it at IFF Boston a few years ago. Set almost entirely within a high-security prison in Spain, the film follows the events surrounding a riot led by Malamadre (Luis Tosar), a charismatic killer who knows he’ll never get out, and now fights only to improve living conditions for himself and his fellow prisoners. Caught within lock-down is young security guard Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) on his first day, who poses as a prisoner to protect himself and manages to seriously affect the outcome of the riot.

Cell 211 expertly combines nail-biting dramatic tension with a sober look at the experiences of prisoners serving long terms. Characters evolve unexpectedly over the course of two days, influenced by traumatizing events and shifting motivations. The two main leads are fantastic, with Tosar’s penetrating gaze and gruff voice playing off of Ammann’s boyish good looks and escalating desperation. We learn more about each character as the film progresses, resulting in altered perceptions and eventual transformation as their relationship solidifies. The weak link for me was Juan’s pregnant wife, who is used only as a plot device, and a stereotypical one at that. I didn’t mind how her character played into the story, since she has a significant effect on how Juan acts, but she was portrayed as a flat archetype and as the only female in the entire movie it was very noticeable. This is NOT a movie about ladies and that’s ok, but if you’re going to have one woman in your movie you could put a little more work into her character.

Aside from the lady thing, this movie is extremely well-done. I loved how the space of the prison wing is used, with claustrophobic cells and wide-open congregations juxtaposed as the guards try to follow their charges around on the movable security camera. I don’t know much about general conditions in high-security Spanish prisons but the themes discussed felt pretty universal. What struck me most was how reasonable Malamadre’s demands were. He had one prison guard and three political prisoners held hostage, sure, but all he wanted was improved medical treatment for ailing inmates (in the titular cell 211 a prisoner had recently committed suicide to escape the pain of his malignant tumor), the allowance of regular visits from family members, and more humane conditions under the abusive guards. The solution seemed so simple, I was crushed as the situation escalated to more and more violent ends. This movie is really good, but goddamn is it bleak. Do not expect anything good to happen, like, at all. JUST LIKE REAL LIFE.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I had the excellent Le Trou on my mind, probably because that’s the most recent prison movie I’ve seen, and it’s a very different look at prisoner relations and treatment.

Movie Review: Yi Ngoi (Accident) (2009)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

“The Brain” is in the business of murdering for money, but not in the manner you might expect. For a hefty fee, he and his cohorts create intricate “accidents” that end in the target’s death, often in a public environment. When an out-of-control city bus interrupts one of their jobs, Brain believes he was the intended victim, immediately suspecting his associates as well as men connected to his most recent assassination. He becomes obsessively paranoid, spiraling downward into a kill-or-be-killed mindset that leads him to maliciously stalk a potentially corrupt insurance agent.

With a tight, no-nonsense script and neatly-trimmed pacing, Accident is a near-perfect thriller. The premise is intriguing and director Pou-Soi Cheang decides to show more than tell in his approach, aided by fantastic cinematography. Every shot is beautiful, you could watch this movie on mute and be sufficiently compelled. The intimate shooting style heightens the feeling of paranoia experienced by Brain, swirling around unfamiliar domestic spaces as he obsessively spies on the insurance agent’s apartment. We see the situation completely from his point of view, unsure how reasonable his fear is, or how far he will go to prevent his own supposedly imminent murder. There are some awesome high-concept death scenes, though one is so complicated and unlikely as to be distracting. However, between the interesting characters and captivating visual aesthetic, I could easily look past the few minor missteps.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There are definitely parallels to The Conversation, and I think that’d make for a great double feature. OR if you want to go for something less “Film with a capital F”, the concept of a bunch of murders that are staged as accidents OBVIOUSLY reminded me instantly of Final Destination, which I now feel like revisiting. Because I remember that movie being awesome?