Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Today I saw The Cabin in the Woods, starring Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz.

The premise is simple: a group of college-age friends head out to the woods for a weekend getaway. Their destination is a cabin that belongs to the cousin of one of the friends.

As with most horror films, there are stereotypical characters drawn boldly, very early on.

Dana (Connolly) is the innocent one (though there's talk that she just ended an affair with her professor);  Marty (Kranz) is the stoner; Kurt (Chris Hemsworth) is the jock; Jules (Anna Hutchison) is Kurt's girlfriend—complete with bleached blonde hair. Rounding out the group is the brain, cutely named for a famous literary character, Holden (Jesse Williams).

En route to the cabin, which can't be found on a GPS, they encounter a creepy man at a side-of-the-road store who is mean to them. Yes, all of this usual fodder is presented as a big wink to the viewers, in the same vein as the Scream movies. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Once the friends arrive at their destination, things start getting scary... and unfortunately, that's about all I can say about it without spoiling the whole thing.

What I can say: The supporting characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are a lot of fun, and I was delighted to see how much screen time was actually dedicated to them (it's a lot). The big-star cameo at the end is awesome too.

I also for the most part liked all of the main actors' performances (except for Marty, who seemed to be like an exaggerated Owen Wilson minus the charm). The writing overall is clever, if not an intentional mish-mash of about four other movies in the genre.

What I could have done without were the scenes where they're attempting to pay homage to about 20 different horror icons and you get the sense they're presented in chaos only to force repeat viewings (so you can say that you spotted them all). I'm sure I didn't see half of them, but I'm okay with that.

All in all it was an entertaining ride and I would recommend it to folks who can handle a little 'movie blood' and laugh at the end result.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


This afternoon I saw the documentary Bully.

The movie has attracted the most attention so far for its fight against the "R" rating that the MPAA gave it for foul language. Its creators believe that banning middle and high school children (who would be able to go with a PG-13 rating) is defeating the purpose. After seeing it, I have to agree.

Following a handful of students in different Midwestern and Southern towns, we are shown case after case of kids who were picked on to the point of no return; either they committed suicide, snapped and retaliated in a violent way, or have become completely numb to the events of daily life. One victim, Alex, who barely acts like a victim and hides his abuse from his parents, tells his mother he's not sure if he feels anything anymore.

What has happened to our society?

What's more frustrating than the lack of anger from the victims and their parents (they all just seem endlessly sad instead of furious) is the political way the school administrators and teachers 'handle' the problem. Isn't denial the first sign of addiction? It's like these folks are addicted to incompetence.

Put simply, they do very little to protect the victims, and you can't help but wonder if the cameras weren't rolling if they'd do anything at all.

And that's another scary detail—even with the full knowledge that there were cameras rolling, many of the bullies continued to verbally and physically attack the outcasts. But really, why should they worry? There's traditionally no accountability until a victim shows up with a gun.

The film fails to show any probable solutions to bullying—perhaps this is its greatest flaw—and instead focuses on sympathizing with the victims.

What I'd really like to see is another film that profiles schools and community organizations that have mobilized to conquer this problem with favorable results. Something that the rest of the country could model themselves after and implement to ignite change.

God knows we need it.


Saturday, April 07, 2012


Today I saw Titanic in 3D, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The story tells of a fictional love between first-class Rose (Winslet) and poverty-stricken Jack (DiCaprio) who meet on the doomed real-life ship, the Titanic.

When I saw the film for the first time as a college student in 1997, and then repeatedly throughout 1998, I was drooling over DiCaprio and immersing myself in the history of the actual shipwreck. To me, every part of the movie was magical. The incredible detail of the sets and props; the uncanny resemblance between the actors and the real people they portrayed; the horror of the mammoth ship sinking. For a running time in excess of three hours, the pace went amazingly fast and not a moment was wasted on unnecessary scenes.

Today, as the 100th anniversary of the shipwreck nears, I found it just as effective.

Sure, it's fashionable to hate anything that is this successful—and even more so to trash 3D versions of older movies—but I could really care less about people with those 'opinions.' There is a reason Titanic is so successful, folks. And as for directors who know what they're doing when it comes to 3D, James Cameron is at the top of the list.

I liked seeing Leo and Kate dance a jig up-close; and loved seeing the ship practically jump into our laps as it drastically sunk, but I'm not saying the effects were overbearing. The 3D portion was done so masterfully, that for most of the movie, I forgot it was there. To me, the less trickery the better, so this was ideal.

It was also lovely to watch the young Leo and Kate shine in their leading roles, supported by the hilarious Kathy Bates and the sneering Billy Zane. It felt like going to a family reunion of sorts.

Though I agree with critics that don't think every movie should be re-purposed in 3D, as far as this one was concerned, it was a good call.

What a treat to have another excuse to see such a great production on the big screen.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Lady

Last night I saw The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis.

The film tells the true story of the life of Aung San Suu Kyi (Yeoh), the Nobel Laureate imprisoned in Burma for her efforts to bring democracy to the country. Her father, Aung San, founded the Burmese Army in 1947, earning the country independence from the British Empire. He was killed that same year by opposition forces, and this is where the film begins.

The story is paced quickly, advancing us to 1988 when Suu returned to Burma from her home in England where she lived a happy life with British husband Michael Aris and their two sons. She went home to care for her ailing mother and ended up leading the pro-democracy movement. One phrase repeatedly comes to mind when reflecting on Suu's life: truth is stranger than fiction.

The series of events that occurred once she declared her political intentions would leave her under house arrest for over two decades (with brief periods of "freedom" to move about within the country), separate her from her family and force her to miss saying goodbye to her beloved husband before he passed away from cancer. Watching this unfold is both heart-wrenching and inspiring; the amazing love and loyalty she and her husband felt for one another, despite being separated for many years is to be admired.

Their story is emphasized and told beautifully here--the two leads communicating with facial expressions how painful true love can be. The striking resemblance between Yeoh and the real Suu also help build authenticity in this elegant, organic looks at of one of the most important historical figures of our time.

As a U2 fan who first learned of Suu Kyi via U2's song "Walk On", which was written about her, I was also delighted to hear some of the band's music in the film, and one of their T-shirts appearing on Suu's young son.

I can't think how the film could have been better--it's riveting from start to finish.

I only hope there will be a sequel showing that her courage and peaceful resolve changed the way people are treated in Burma and around the world.


Back to the Future - Special Screening

On Saturday, I saw Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson.

Since I've reviewed the film before, I will simply say it was a ma night having Lea Thompson in attendance at this special SIFF screening.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Nun Who Used to Kiss Elvis

Hard to believe, but it's true--at one time, sister Dolores Hart appeared alongside Elvis, and other notable stars, in Hollywood films. Today? She's a nun!

See her fascinating story in the new documentary short film God is the Bigger Elvis, which debuts on HBO this Thursday, April 5.