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Looking Back at 2010s Films: Attack the Block (2011)

11 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block.” This. Film. Kicks. Ass!

OK, I’ll admit, when I first saw this British import on DVD, I turned on the English subtitles because the accents were a little too thick for me to understand a lot of the dialogue, and there was a lot of British slang I didn’t get at first either. (Don’t blame me for being a dumb American.) But it didn’t matter; I still enjoyed the film. Then I watched it again; I liked it even more. Then I watched it again; I loved it even more. And I kept watching it again and again and again, and soon enough it became one of my favorite movies!

I should contain myself, but this is a retrospective after all–can’t I be a little excited?

It’s funny because thick accents aside, I can understand why people wouldn’t get into this film at first. The main characters, who are streetwise teenage thugs in South London, are violent, cruel, vulgar, and unlikable. When you first see them, they’re mugging our secondary main character, nurse Sam (Jodie Whitaker), and bragging about how tough they are…or how tough they THINK they are. It’s when the aliens arrive that we actually see them as real, scared kids. They realize they’re hardly a match for these numerous, gigantic, vicious beasts who want nothing more than to maim and kill anyone that they come across. (Btw, how DO these things travel through space? They don’t seem to be that intelligent. It’s like if the shark from “Jaws” was an alien.) The kids are scared; they think quickly; they trust their wits; they perform deeds that they think are so tough before they get a couple of them killed; and so on. As the film continues, these kids do become worth rooting for, which is very important.

By the end of the film, after a night of mayhem and surviving, even if a couple of them haven’t learned anything and will probably stay the same, at least the leader, Moses (John Boyega, a few years before his breakthrough as a defective Stormtrooper), has learned the error of his ways and will most likely rehabilitate himself. And it’s to Boyega’s credit that we can see the transformation through his performance; he’s great here. And so is Alex Esmail who plays pyromaniac Pest and makes for effective comic relief (I love when he’s trapped in a room filled with weed but with no papers).

And speaking of comic relief, there is plenty of that, mostly provided by Nick Frost as a drug dealer and Luke Treadaway as a preppie druggie who has no idea what the hell’s going on until it’s too late to run away easily. BUT “Attack the Block” is also an effective thriller/horror film. The tension builds with each scene, the monsters are nicely-done and pose as a legitimate threat, and there are some good boo-scares (such as when a creature suddenly appears through a peephole).

More importantly, “Attack the Block” is a ton of fun! It’s thrilling, it’s funny, it’s tense, it’s engaging, it’s even dramatic at times, it has good effects, even better acting, the action and characters go well together, the creatures are suitably gruesome, and it’s over in less than an hour-and-a-half. I’ve seen it a hundred times already, and I’ll definitely watch it a hundred more! What else can you say but “That’s a alien, bruv! Believe it!” See? It’s even making me saying those British slang words I didn’t even know were real.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Artist (2011)

8 Nov

By Tanner Smith

WHAT?! “The Artist” isn’t on my decade-end top 20, either?! C’mon!

What a wonderful piece of cinema. This is a silent film that is not only homage to silent film but also a riveting, touching story that works no matter if it’s in sound or silent. This is a movie about the dawning era of “talkies,” a time when silent films were put to an end and those who were famous for their work had to adjust to being heard in these new films. This has also been covered in movies like “Singin’ in the Rain,” which was about how actors learned to adapt to this change, but “The Artist” does something more complicated; it tells the story of a silent-film actor who couldn’t make that transition, and whose career was ruined because of it.

It’s a deeply effective portrait of a man who had everything and wound up with close to nothing. That’s not to say the whole film is a downer, because there are many comic moments to be found here as well, particularly those that mimic the style of silent films in the earlier scenes. I love that the people who made this movie actually went out of their way to craft something creative and remarkable. Do you really need dialogue (and color) to tell a story? “The Artist” says no–it allows the performances and scenery to assist in telling a story that you can easily get caught up in. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent this astonishing treasure of a movie.

And as much as I’ve mocked the Oscars for ignoring certain films or performances (all in good jest, mind you), I applaud them for recognizing the majesty of this film, even awarding it the Best Picture statue.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Fright Night (2011)

12 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…you know something? Ratings hardly mean diddly. I like the “Fright Night” remake much better than the “Fright Night” original, and I originally gave them both the same 3-star rating!

To be fair, there’s still much to like about the 1985 original film, starring Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon. Two of the reasons are…well, Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon. They’re a ton of fun to watch and they were clearly having fun themselves while making the film. McDowell is a riot as a classic-horror icon who finds himself up against real classic-horror monsters and mostly runs away screaming before he finally performs some action, and Sarandon is a suave figure; calm, cool, and collected, thus making him uneasily identifiable as a killer vampire. Then there’s Stephen Geoffreys as the wacky drugged-out kid who becomes a vampire, Evil Ed…I’ve also seen this guy act in films like “At Close Range” and I still don’t know if he was a good actor or not, but by God was he entertaining!

They’re certainly better than the main character, his girlfriend, and his mother, who are so gratingly annoying that I want to embrace the remake even more for making them both likable AND interesting!……Well, OK, I don’t know if they’re THAT interesting, but they are likable enough. That they’re played by likable actors such as the late Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Toni Collette makes it even better. (Whoa–Yelchin and Poots in the same film five years before “Green Room?” Nice!)

I like Colin Farrell fine as an actor, but I like him more when he’s playing someone who’s a total ass. Here, he’s a vampire. And while he’s not as subtle as Sarandon in hiding his identity, he’s not terribly obvious either. He walks that fine line between brooding (*cough* Edward Cullen *cough cough*) and actually menacing. He’s also sarcastic and makes snide remarks that seem more threatening in hindsight. Also, and this goes without saying, he is an asshole! (That smiling face he makes when one of his fresh bites vainly attempts to escape is simply priceless.)

Then there’s the matter of Peter Vincent, the reluctant “vampire killer.” In the original, he’s an old out-of-work horror-movie actor who is roped into a situation with real vampires, and he was one of the main characters. Here, he’s an illusionist who is said to be an expert in the dark arts, and he’s more of a side character than anything else. Oh, and he’s played by David Tennant, one of the coolest people in show business today–because of that, it does sort of bother me that he isn’t given as much to do as he could’ve had. However, he is funny and fun to watch and he does lend a helping hand when the chips are down, so I can’t say he’s “wasted” in the role. (“Let’s kill something!”)

Giving Charley (Yelchin) more of a character arc than his original counterpart makes it all the more interesting than if he were just some kid who randomly discovered a monster lives next door to him (and also wanted to get laid). And while we’re on the subject of positive character changes, I also like that his girlfriend Amy (Poots) is more understanding and supportive than her original counterpart (and not so whiny and shrilly all the time). (I mentioned this in my review of the original film–I really don’t like the Charley or the Amy of the 1985 film.) And Charley’s mother is more realistic than the passive, Vicodin-hooked loony the original came off as. Then there’s Ed, who’s more of a nerdy McLovin this time around (fitting–he’s played by McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse), but no matter–no one can replace the original Evil Ed and I’m glad they didn’t even try to.

I also like that the remake’s story is set in Vegas and the main characters live in a suburb surrounded by desert. A) As characters mention, it’s the perfect hiding spot for vampires. (“People work the Strip during the night and sleep all day.”) B) Horror movie watchers complain that not enough people call for help; well, there’s hardly any reception in the desert when characters are chased in there, so there’s that.

Speaking of which, that desert chase scene is technically well-executed, with one of those one-shot wonders we reviewers love to marvel upon. Just forget about the subpar CGI and remember the awesomeness of this well-crafted scene.

So, yeah. I like this film. A lot, actually. And honestly, I even forget that it IS a remake until they bring in some obvious callbacks (“You’re so cool, Brewster!”). It’s a fun, entertaining thrill ride (or as someone puts it, “a f**ked-up night”), and I like to pop the DVD in every once in a while for some good vampire fun (well…after “Near Dark,” “The Lost Boys,” and “From Dusk Till Dawn,” obviously).

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Scre4m (2011)

12 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

I didn’t like “Scream 4”–oh I’m sorry, I mean “Scre4m”–when I first saw it in theaters. But after watching it again fairly recently, I’ve warmed up to it. It still has its annoying and/or unnecessary moments (the parking-garage scene, the dumb cops, the epilogue), but…at least it’s better than “Scream 3.”

What DO I like about it? Honestly, I think what I like most about it is what the ending means when you think about the movie in hindsight and watch it again with the knowledge. (Yep, “Scre4m” is another one of those “watch-it-more-than-once movies,” in which you learn something new from subsequent viewings.) I won’t give it away here, but I’ll just say it’s kind of a brilliant revelation that shows the increasingly blurred line between celebrity and monster. (It also makes certain characters I thought were bland before even more interesting now.)

I also like the little bits of commentary here and there. (“One generation’s tragedy is another generation’s joke.”) I love the opening prologue with its horror-movie fakeouts and satirical jabs at some of the more annoying horror-movie tropes (such as how certain franchises run on fumes and just do what they can to stay afloat). And I really like Kirby, played wonderfully by Hayden Panettierre–she’s a movie geek with an admiration for the genre, an acid tongue, and thankfully a heart.

I don’t dislike “Scre4m” (I’m going to keep calling it that–it’s like when the “Fantastic Four” poster labeled it “Fant4stic”) as much as I did before. I sort of admire it now. Like “Scream” and “Scream 2,” it knew how to blend horror and comedy well, it knew when to scare and when to spoof and when to provide social commentary (well, for the most part, at least–there are still some forced moments here and there), and unlike “Scream 3,” it actually felt like a “Scream” movie.

Wait…this is a horror sequel about the same woman (Sidney, played by Neve Campbell) who survived a traumatic event years ago, comes back to the place where it all happened, more killings occur involving her and her relatives, and she has to deal with the whole thing again…that sounds almost exactly like the 2018 version of “Halloween!”

Side-note: the “Scream” franchise tries to talk about the rules of horror movies, but lately, I think horror movies are more effective when there are new rules or when there are NO rules. I mean, how can the horror-movie game be changed if the rules stay the same?

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Bridesmaids (2011)

5 Oct

 

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, it’s the first of two Apatow productions to get a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination (the second being “The Big Sick”): “Bridesmaids!”

Let’s just forget about “Ghostbusters 2016” for now (or ever) and think back to a time when a film from director Paul Feig and starring Kristen Wiig would delight us and make us laugh. And here we have “Bridesmaids,” a comedy-drama about a woman who suffers a series of misfortunes after being asked to serve as maid of honor for her best friend.

I didn’t see this one in a theater. Having seen Wiig on “SNL” and only a couple movies at the time, she was very hit-or-miss for me. And the trailer didn’t look promising–it made the movie look pretty lame. But when I did catch the flick on DVD, it actually turned out to be pretty engaging. Wiig was hilarious (I think I liked her act even more after seeing this film), the whole cast was funny, the writing was sharp, and there was actually something more to it than comedy, to my surprise.

Why is it that so many good comedies have the worst trailers? (I didn’t want to see “Long Shot” based on its trailer either and that film was pretty good too.)

The Oscar-nominated script for “Bridesmaids” was co-written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo (who also acted as the paranoid airplane coach passenger). What I really like about Judd Apatow’s productions is that they give actors a chance to write their own stories (such as Steve Carell for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” just about every Seth Rogen screenplay, Jason Segel for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Amy Schumer for “Trainwreck,” and of course Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon for “The Big Sick”). It’s a very effective way of saying, “I can’t get the right role for me, I’ll write the right role for me.” Kristen Wiig is really good here, playing a neurotic woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to the fear that she’s losing her best friend, which is the one thing she feels she has left in life. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes it’s bittersweet, sometimes it’s pathetic, and it’s always convincing.

Maya Rudolph is also good as her buddy who’s getting married, Rose Byrne is wonderful as the passive-aggressive Helen who threatens to steal Wiig’s “thunder” with her assertiveness, and of course…Melissa McCarthy. This was the movie that made Melissa McCarthy a household name and even gained her her first Oscar nomination, playing Megan, the wild card of the bunch of bridesmaids. I could blame this movie for giving birth to the typical McCarthy role that I usually can’t stand, but she’s just so damn funny here–maybe she had more of a filter here or she just trusted the writing enough to simply go with it instead of try to go beyond it.

OK, so the movie has funny people. But what about funny sequences? Oh yeah–this movie has plenty of those! Critics scoffed at the “bridal shop/food poisoning” scene; I thought it was so outrageous that it had to be hilarious, and I know I’m not alone. The plane scene? It displays some of Wiig’s funnier moments of her career, and I love McCarthy’s persistence toward a passenger she knows for sure is an Air Marshall. The bit where Wiig and Byrne desperately try to get Chris O’Dowd’s Irish cop’s attention? YES!

Speaking of which, I know a lot of people don’t really care for the Chris O’Dowd character and his relationship with Wiig, but I thought it was sweet enough. Who I could’ve done without were Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas as Wiig’s odd British roommates who never got a single laugh out of me.

Oh, and Jon Hamm is also in this movie, playing a “himbo” Wiig often has fun with. This movie’s a little overloaded with wacky characters–some work, some don’t…I can’t say Hamm’s doesn’t work.

But there’s more to “Bridesmaids” than zany comedy. We also get a smart, convincing, very effective view on female friendship and competition–we see how the friendship could continue between Wiig and Rudolph after what they’ve been through together, we get a great deal of class-consciousness between Wiig and Byrne’s little feud, and there are great insights of companionship between the other bridesmaids, including when a tired mother/housewife (Wendi McLendon-Covey) gives advice to a newlywed (Ellie Kemper). And sometimes, even that can be a little funny.

Pretty good stuff here. “Help me, I’m poor.”

Looking Back at 2010s Films: 50/50 (2011)

3 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…”50/50″ is one of the best “dramedies” I’ve ever seen. (I don’t care if it’s hyperbole; I just like it that much.)

Incidentally, there’s a new term I learned from a DVD extra on “Booksmart” that I hope catches on: “hilareal” (meaning “hilarious” and “real”). And that’s “50/50”: hilareal.

If there’s anything more important than a comedy that can make you laugh, it’s a comedy that can make you feel. There is a lot of funny material in “50/50,” but while I’m laughing, I’m also caring about the characters and the story; thus, when things get really serious later, I feel something. In my opinion, this is how you get audiences to care about characters: you show them as people. A little lightheartedness, a few jokes, etc. can really help an audience identify with them. And here, we have a naive, likable, aloof young man, named Adam (well-played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s been diagnosed with spinal cancer (with 50% chance of survival). Not very funny; in fact, the cancer itself is not meant to be laughed at (because it’s freaking CANCER!). Rather, it’s those around him (what they do, how they react) that ease the mood. There’s his best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), who’s your basic comic-relief who tries to get his best friend laid, high, anything to cheer him up (and also cheer himself up as well). There’s his hovering mother (Anjelica Huston) who can be a bit much. There’s his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) who has her own BS about why she doesn’t join Adam at the hospital. (It’s hardly a spoiler that this couple don’t last the entire film.) There’s a couple other cancer patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) who cope with chemotherapy with marijuana-baked macaroons. There’s his therapist (Anna Kendrick), who is a great listener but a terrible psychiatrist…but potentially a good new girlfriend (because, of course). (Also, he’s her third patient.)

They’re all well-realized characters. They provide a lot of the humor, but they’re not just comic foils. The humor comes across naturally because they feel like real people. Even Seth Rogen’s over-the-top lazy-stoner comic-relief type is accepted when we realize what he himself is going through as his best friend is possibly dying of cancer and he’s trying so hard to make him feel better.

This is not a stoner comedy about cancer. Because you don’t laugh at cancer. You laugh with the characters.

The cancer aspect isn’t exploited in the slightest. Because director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser (a cancer survivor who wrote the script as semi-autobiographical–Rogen is even one of his best friends) know how serious it is. That’s where the drama comes in, as it should. And because I care about the characters, I care about what happens to Adam and how his friends and family are going to respond. To quote Roger Ebert, “A film is not about what it is about, but about how it is about it.”

There’s a moment that’s so uncomfortable I have to fast-forward through it whenever I rewatch the film because it’s so difficult to endure. It’s when Adam decides to use his declining health to pick up a woman at a bar and get her into bed. Now, that setup alone sounds awful. But what follows is actually tragic. No matter how hard he tries (and she’s DEFINITELY trying while riding him), he can’t have sex because the pain is too much. It’s a realization that he can’t live his life normally. It’s powerful and depressing at the same time…and maybe funny in a “dark comedy” sort of way.

As the film progresses, we see Adam, who’s been trying to be independent, become more emotional as his disease gets worse. In trying to beat death by simply living, he realizes just how open he needs to be to everyone who loves him and let them help him. It’s there that we as an audience realize that cancer doesn’t just affect the patient but those around him.

I love “50/50.” This is a blend of comedy and drama done exactly right. And I will say it again–it’s one of the best dramedies I’ve ever seen.

It’s…hilareal.

The Hangover Part II (2011)

10 Jul

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Hangover Part II” is an example of Sequel B.O. (Box Office) Laziness—a classic case of a lazy attempt to cash in on the success of an unexpected box-office smash hit. The result is an obviously-rushed, overdone, and unbelievably lazy sequel that insults those who loved the original a couple years ago, and it also relates to the other version of “B.O.” And because it’s supposed to be a comedy, you can add “painfully unfunny” in there as well.

Don’t let the “Part II” in the title fool you—this is about as much of a continuation from the original story as “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” There is hardly an attempt to make any much of a difference this time around—the narrative structure is copied situation by situation, and it’s supposed to be “different” because the locations and McGuffins are different. News flash, guys—that doesn’t work! Continue the story! Don’t tell it again—we’ve seen it already!

Oh, and if there’s one good thing that can be said about everything in this sequel being traced back to many events in the original film, it’s that it serves as a guide for how much worse the original could have been.

“The Hangover,” released summer 2009, was a unique, clever spin on the “what-happens-in-Vegas” concept, in that it turned the outcome of the partying events of Las Vegas into a murder-mystery as the bachelor-partyers have many questions to find answers to, including where is the groom. It did not need a sequel. It had a great deal of spontaneity and surprise that made it all the more hilarious when we didn’t know what was coming and laughed at the results. And because the same narrative structure of that film is copied in “Part II,” there really is no surprise; we can see the jokes coming miles ahead. So when you’re not laughing at a comedy, you just sit there, feeling depressed. And that’s exactly how I felt when watching “The Hangover Part II.”

What do I mean by a lack of creativity that director Todd Phillips and his replacement writers (yes, “replacement” writers—how ‘bout that) convey onto “Part II?” Consider the opening. We see a wedding being prepared. There’s just one thing missing: the groom. The bride and her family calls the groom and his friends who are not there. And then, who should call?

If you guessed “Phil,” congratulations! You’ve earned the right to request a review for me to write!

Yes, Phil, the Bradley Cooper character in both films, calls, saying that there may not be a wedding. But wait! It’s different, you see, because it’s not the groom that’s missing—it’s the bride’s brother! And Phil actually acknowledges that “it happened again.” I don’t know if you can get the deadpan sarcasm when I say, “Wow. How different.”

And then, wouldn’t you know it—the film shows the opening-credits and we flash to before that call, setting up what will happen in this film. And don’t just think it’s that opening that is copied or that that is the only time we will ever hear the word “again” in this movie, because this movie loves to follow the same stuff laid out in the original film and apparently likes its characters to say, “it’s happening again!” Anyway, we find that Stu is getting married. Not to Jade, the friendly stripper from the other movie, but to a Thai-American woman, Lauren (Jamie Chung), who has no told backstory in how these two met. You’d think there would be a detailed explanation as to how and why these two are together, seeing as how things seemed to go fine between him and the stripper at the end of the first movie, and also having told off his bitchy girlfriend. But no—we just go with it because…she seems nice. Yeah, there’s no point in overstating this—the women in the “Hangover” movies have little to no personality.

I keep getting sidetracked here, and I haven’t even gotten to the rehashing of the characterizations of the leading men. Well, Ed Helms was Stu, an uptight, nervous dentist who ultimately stands up for himself after everything that’s happened in the first film; Bradley Cooper is Phil, an almost-total a-hole who becomes a little more respectful and learns a few family values; and Zach Galifianakis is Alan, the show-stealer of the original film who is an overgrown man-child who is just glad to have made friends on this trip. Oh, and there’s Justin Bartha as Doug, but he had no personality anyway, and he was only in the original film so he could disappear and be found near the end, so he could get married quickly. So, how are these newly-developed characters now? You won’t believe this—they’re pretty much the same people. Stu is more neurotic than ever; Phil is a huge a-hole (again); and Alan…actually, Alan is a lot worse this time around. This time, instead of a lovable, naïve slob of a man-child—he’s an unbearable, unstable lunatic. At first, I was wondering why Stu, Phil, and Doug were hesitant about inviting Alan to Stu’s wedding, but now, we understand why. Alan is a detestable person this time around. The character has taken a sharp, unpleasant turn, and I wanted to smack him in the face.

Stu’s wedding takes place in Thailand, and the movie substitutes Bangkok for Las Vegas. Wouldn’t you know it—the men party hard, and Stu, Phil, and Alan wake up in a dirty hotel room, having no memory of what happened before. Phil is more or less OK, but Alan is bald (OK fine, I chuckled when Alan checked if his beard was still there) and Stu has a Tyson-esque tattoo on his eye. Where’s Doug? Oh, he’s OK, he’s fine. He’s just back at Lauren’s place, having breakfast.

That’s right—Doug misses out on the action again! I guess we just needed the three-man “wolf-pack” that Alan desperately wanted to bring back. Come to think of it, I think Phillips wanted it back too.

But wait a minute! There’s a monkey in their room! Stu’s future brother-in-law is missing, but his finger is there! And the cackling, obnoxious Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is there with them…although he can’t explain what happens because after a massive hit of cocaine, he passes out! Oh joy, here we go again on another wild goose chase.

OK, I’m getting really tired writing this review and thinking of certain significant things that happen on this wild goose chase. They run around Bangkok (which is portrayed in a very smug manner, without ever capturing the gravity and true danger of the place) and they have misadventures before the wedding. There you go—that’s basically what happens. If you saw “The Hangover,” “The Hangover Part II” won’t surprise you in how things are going to play out. What’s missing? Jokes, wit, originality, appeal, fun, the freaking point! If you didn’t guess already by this point, I hated the movie and I hated the lack of trying. I don’t care if they moved the “fun” to a different country; freshness is not found in “rehash-art!”

And wouldn’t you know it—“The Hangover Part II” was a box-office success, because apparently all this film needed to do was show up and everyone would come flooding into the theater. Worse yet, it beat out “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which was released on the same day as this sequel, and did not rehash the same old story! If we don’t get a “Kung Fu Panda 3” because of this, I’m blaming Todd Phillips.