Archives For September 19, 2011

Vigalondo’s last film, Timecrimes, was one of the very best time travel films ever made. It was weird, and clever, and suspenseful, and it featured some extremely intricate time travel mechanics. Naturally, I was very much looking forward to his new film, Extraterrestrial, which promised to bring Vigalondo’s wild vision to the topic of aliens. What I got was completely unexpected, but much more than I ever could have hoped.

As it turns out, Extraterrestrial is not a science fiction film, it’s a comedy! Well, there is a bit of sci-fi. As the story begins, a guy awkwardly wakes up in a bed inside a girl’s apartment. They are quite awkward around each other and things already start to get funny, but before anything else can happen they realize that the city has been almost entirely cleared of its population and hanging in the sky is a giant UFO. And that’s basically the extent of the actual sci-fi in the film. The rest of it is filled with personal relationships, awkwardness, lies and tennis balls.

Extraterrestrial is basically set out to prove that even in the face of amazing events, like contact with aliens, people will still find a way to be concerned mostly with their own petty problems. In this case, the problems are romantic. The girl’s actual boyfriend shows up after a while, as does her stalker neighbour. All three guys pine for her, and they all end up trying to mess with each other, often by lying about encounters with the aliens that we never actually see. It’s all just comedy of errors.

But that comedy is wonderful. Vigalondo has a wonderful wit, and he fills the film with that witty awkwardness. I laughed all the way through the film, and even the more poignant moments manage to be effective without ever losing that light comedic touch. Every little twist in the plot just adds layers to the comedy, and the film actually grows funnier as it goes along.

Going into Extraterrestrial, I expected some complex, high-minded, clever science-fiction. Instead, I was greeted with the best comedy of the year. It’s got a wonderful premise, blisteringly funny writing, great acting to carry it, and the vision of Nacho Vigalondo to bring it all together and make it sing. I loved Extraterrestrial through and through, and I can’t wait to see what else Vigalondo has up his sleeves.

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TIFF’11 Review: Livid

September 19, 2011 — 1 Comment

I’ve said before that I tend to prefer comedic horror films because it’s difficult for a movie to scare me and so it’s easier to just err on the side of being funny. I do love a good serious horror movie—The Shining is one of my favourite films of all time—unfortunately, Livid just isn’t good at all. It’s a clichéd, poorly conceived, poorly acted, silly, non-frightening, slow, boring disaster of a film.

In Livid, a girl training as a caregiver for seniors decides to break into the house of an elderly lady in a coma in order to find the woman’s hidden treasure. She brings along two guys. This is not The Goonies, I swear. The old lady turns out to be some sort of vampire-ish demon, with a daughter who’s body is broken, or something like that. Either way, the movie plays out like a haunted house movie, and it’s totally stale and never scary.

The worst offense of the film is that every time there is something remotely creepy, the potential is thrown out the window. Old lady in a coma in a giant old house? There’s potential! But no, the house becomes anything but scary. The corpse of a young girl standing on a giant, working music box? Totally creepy? The film never capitalizes on that creepiness at all. Worse still, at the end, the film actually tries to go for something moving and poignant. All I could do was roll my eyes at the utter stupidity.

TIFF’11 Review: Crazy Horse

September 19, 2011 — 1 Comment

Frederick Wiseman makes fly-on-the-wall documentaries. He’s basically the master of the style. It’s a style I really enjoy, but, at the same time, I feel like there isn’t much to analyze about them. Crazy Horse has Wiseman taking us behind the scenes of the famous Paris burlesque house. We get to follow the creation of a new set list for the show, from the rehearsals and meetings, to the full productions. If that sounds interesting to you, then Crazy Horse will be right up your alley. Another incentive might be the constant parade of naked ladies. Yeah.

I quite enjoyed the film on a couple of levels. First of all, the process and people behind putting the show together are fascinating. There are a few really fun characters, and to see them attempt to make art out of erotic dancing is strange in the best possible way. And then there are the final productions. I still think the whole idea is kind of tacky, but watching these elaborately lit, costumed and staged nude dance numbers did win me over to the beauty of what they are doing. It all really does look beautiful, hypnotic even, and not just because of the naked women.

The one problem with Crazy Horse is its length. This seems to be a common problem with Wiseman docs, but it’s especially noticeable here due to the relative silliness of the subject matter. The film still manages to be engaging, and it gives about as great an in-depth look at the running of a high-end burlesque house as you could expect.

TIFF’11 Review: Twixt

September 19, 2011 — 4 Comments

Francis Ford Coppola just needs to stop. Hearing him talk about Twixt, this awful mess of a film, as some sort of intensely personal piece of art only makes me hate the film more. If Twixt is Coppola wearing his heart on his sleeve, then I suggest he put his heart away as quickly as possible. I wish I could pretend he stopped making movies after Apocalypse Now and just call it a day, but I had to endure Twixt, and now I’m going to tell you about it.

Twixt tells the story of a bargain basement horror novelist, played by Val Kilmer, who comes to a small town, learns about a murder mystery there, has a bunch of nonsensical dreams, tries to write a new book, and then some other stuff happens that also makes no sense. Oh, and Edgar Allen Poe shows up in the dreams.

I don’t care to get into the plot more. It’s stupid, it doesn’t make any sense, and themes are just tacked right on. The dreams have kind of a neat visual style, and Elle Fanning is become a welcome sight in any movie, but neither of those elements do anything to save the film.

The movie is also in 3D. Yeah, Coppola shot it in 3D. Except it’s not all 3D. Coppola decided to shoot just two scenes in 3D, and at those moments a pair of red/blue glasses comes up on the screen as an indicator for the audience. The 3D looks pretty bad, and worse yet, it’s completely pointless in both scenes. It’s an example of laziness masked as “experimentation”. And that really defines all of Twixt. It’s a lazy piece of crap that Coppola would like you to think of as bold and experimental. I’m sorry, Francis, but The Godfather was experimental. The Conversation was experimental. Apocalypse Now was experimental. Twixt is terrible filmmaking, pure and simple.

It takes a lot for a movie to really scare me. They can make me jump or flinch a little, but to really scare me is difficult. It’s for that reason that I tend to prefer watching horror films with a more comedic edge. You’re Next fits into that mould perfectly. The movie is genuinely suspenseful, with some spectacular jump scares during the first half, but it’s also very funny and very clever.

You’re Next is at its base a home invasion flick. A family gets together at a summer home, and while they’re having a lively family dinner they come under attack by men in creepy goat masks. They don’t know how many men are attacking them or why, but we get to watch as one by one most of the characters are picked off. Emerging as the hero of the film is Erin, played by Sharni Vinson, the fiancé of one of the sons. She’s an outsider to this family, but she ends up taking control of the situation and kicks some serious ass in the process.

Where the comedy comes in is mostly through the extremely sharp dialogue. Many people unfamiliar with horror would likely find the dialogue laughably bad, but in truth the constant cliché and on-the-nose speech is clear satire of horror tropes. For example, when one character suggests hiding in the basement, Erin responds thatthe bad guys could just throw gas down there and set them on fire. This level of awareness is very funny, and it’s compounded by the fact that the characters end up falling into those cliché situations anyway.

The light satire makes You’re Next a ton of fun to watch, especially in a Midnight Madness-type setting, but the film doesn’t hold back on the scares. The jump scares in this movie are amazing, even when they’re telegraphed far in advance by staging and music. Those men in masks are really creepy, and a lot of the deaths are gory and gross. Director Adam Wingard pushes the film to the limits when it comes to the horror and violence, which only adds to the frantically fun lunacy.

You’re Next is the perfect film to watch with a big, rowdy, excited group of horror fans. It’s got blood and guts and jumps and laughs and a kick-ass lady for a lead. The film takes cues from Scream and Home Alone and Alien and Evil Dead, and if that kind of crazy mixture sounds fun to you then You’re Next is definitely a horror film to watch out for.