Thursday, 29 May 2014

Wolf Creek 2

Wolf Creek 2 is an Australian horror movie, centered around the allegedly real story of outback serial killer and pig hunter Mick Tyler. It sells itself as a slasher-flick, but I found it to be so much more... but still not for people with a weak stomach.

I have vague memories of seeing the first Wolf Creek on TV after a Pirates of the Caribbean DVD marathon and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep. But after seeing the sequel, I think that might have been because of exhaustion rather than the movie, because this was amazing. I wouldn't have thought so after seeing the trailer, because I don't usually go for those Splatter/Slasher films and Mick Tyler sounds so in love with his own voice in it. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The movie starts with two German backpackers who are traveling across Australia, and right there, as someone who was a backpacker in New Zealand, I can tell you that there are enough horror stories about backpacking in Australia that don't even need a psycho serial killer to make you feel uncomfortable in your skin. As we all know, Australia is basically After Earth, everything there has evolved to kill you, but that's not even the worst part. Traveling across Australia means complete dependence on the people you meet, whether you are a hitchhiker or working on a farm in the outback, relying on your employer to take you back to town a hundred kilometers or so once your work is done. The movie picks this up in a short sequence of our so very German heroes losing their cool when the few cars they meet just pass by without stopping.

Soon of course, we leave scary backpacker stuff to go full on serial killer, and what a killer he is. The first time we meet Mick Tyler, he seems almost perfectly reasonable, going for the Drivers License instead of the hunting knife when he's harassed by two cops... by the end of the movie, I questioned if that scene had actually happened, because I just couldn't imagine it after the things that happen in this movie.

This movies strength is that Tyler is completely human. Completely demented too, but human. He is not a victim of nuclear tests or incest, hungry for human flesh, not a demon from hell or some alien left on earth. He is a xenophobic and easily infuriated pig hunter and an "outback legend" as he calls himself. But by all means, there is nothing supernatural here, just the hunt, and in a hunt, the winner is never certain.

The star of this movie is clearly John Jarratt as Mick Tyler, but the good acting doesn't stop there. His victims are very much their own characters, not just your usual six people lost in the woods, two couples and one virgin who is going to fall in love during the course of the movie and all that stuff that Cabin in the Woods mapped out so brilliantly.

Standout scenes are definitely the first chase scene that pulls off a nice little bait-and-switch, and the first scenes of our final showdown, that could have easily come off as just another torture scene, but becomes an intense mindgame between the hunter and his prey. Character moments, that is. The rest of the movie boasts everything from pedal-to-the-metal chase scenes to maybe the most effective jump-scare that I have ever seen. Its also really the only jump scare in the movie, which is applaudable as well.

The soundtrack is perfect as well, but talking too much about it might even qualify as a spoiler.

All in all, I'm amazed how good this movie was. The version I watched was obviously cut down for a better rating, but it still creeped me out when it wanted too, was suspenseful throughout and got its nervous laughs from the whole cinema. Watch this movie if you like horror films, whether you've seen the original or not.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

X-Men Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past is the newest entry in the X-Men franchise, centering around Hugh Jackmans Wolverine who has to travel back in time to change the present in which Mutants are being hunted by high-tech robots called Sentinels. He has to work together with a troubled Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and a young and angry Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in order to find Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who is about to become the lynchpin in the prosecution and near-extinction of mutantkind in the future.

I don't want to talk too much about the story in this movie, because it does a very good job at throwing you some curveballs. However, the foundation of it is a battle for Mystique/Ravens soul.

Now there is no question that this is probably the best of all the X-Men movies so far. It's a great summer movie, the action scenes are inventive and impeccably executed. The variety of the mutant-powers in this movie alone makes it worth the price of admission. A few of the supporting cast stand out especially, first and foremost one character that I don't want to get into to much because he has such surprisingly cool scenes. But Portal throwing Blink, played by chinese moviestar Fan Bingbing, comes in a close second for me.

But apart from being a great summer movie, it also holds up as a great movie in general. The story works surprisingly well for a film including time-travel elements. Those are not known for their solid story, but rather for plot holes and nit-picking and making diagrams with straws. This one is actually pretty easy to follow and reasonably logical. It's the continuity of the franchise where it shows a few cracks. The movie clearly serves the purpose of fixing a few things that went wrong in the previous movies, but this mission actually works against it at times, when things go completely unexplained.

Characterwise, the movie puts all of his focus on Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine and Mystique, who are all so good that I am inclined to forgive the movie for not giving us a single new mutant with anything resembling a deeper backstory. The closest we get to that is one tiny inside joke for comic book readers. Still, you feel for all of the mutants in the future, even with a lack of actual characterization and had it been done any other way, the movie would have become very overcrowded.

If you are an X-Men fan, definitely watch this, it is a return to form and a great movie. If you have not watched any of the X-Men movies though, maybe catch up first, because things might get confusing for you.

The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January is a psychological thriller set in Greece, starring Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) and Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man) as Chester and Colette MacFarlanes, a drifting couple, on the run from some shady past. They meet Oscar Isaac's Rydal, a young, well-educated man, who makes a living as a tourist guide and hustler. Together, they try to leave the country when Chesters past catches up to him.

This movie is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, an author whose work already provided inspiration for countless great filmmakers, including on Alfred Hitchcock. And it certainly feels that way too. This is a very classic thriller story, depending strongly on its trio of main actors to carry it. And they do so very well. This is the kind of love triangle that Twilight couldn't even dream of. Mortensen gives a nuanced performance of a shady Banker who ripped off the wrong people. His relationship with Rydal ranges from mistrust to hatred with some fatherly feelings mixed in. The relationships between these three characters change constantly. Isaac starts out as the shadier of the two, but the deeper their mess gets, the more he becomes the moral compass of the movie.

Throughout the movie, it goes from a simple escape to a grim battle between the two men about Dunsts Colette. In lesser hands, her character could have turned out as merely a bargaining chip between Mortensen and Isaac, but the script gives her much more to do and makes her a central character as well.

The movie is elevated even further by its foreign setting. It becomes easy for the audience to identify with the isolation that comes with a unknown language and a strange country. Add to that an excellent script by director and screenwriter Hossein Amini and a suspense filled atmosphere throughout the movie and this makes for an excellent movie.

The movie does feel slow at times, especially in the middle, but the time is not wasted but put to good use developing the characters and making us feel for each one of them.

Overall, The Two Faces of January gets my full recommendation. It is a smart thriller that has a great atmosphere and strong lead characters.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Godzilla

Godzilla is a Kaiju movie that mostly centers around the Brody family, bomb disposal officer Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), his father Joe (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), who have to navigate the emergence of the biggest version of Godzilla that has been put on screen so far.

With this one, I want to get the negatives out of the way first.

Characterwise, this movie sadly stays very much on the surface, even though it puts a lot of focus on its human characters in the first two acts. There was promise there, but most of the set up dramatic tension gets dropped almost completely by the time the showdown rolls around. The most impressive characterwork is done by Bryan Cranston, whose estranged father and obsessed scientist gets the most powerful arc. Regrettably, there is much less of him than everyone who has ever watched an episode of Breaking Bad wishes.

The story is also lacking in a lot of parts. There is a lot of convenience and just plain riddiculous improbability going on here. The earlier you begin to suspend some major disbelief, the better. Interestingly enough, the Monster aspect of this movie is really easy to believe. It seems like they spend most of the time writing this movie getting that part right

It is those two vestiges of its B-Movie origins, clashing with its serious "Dark Knight" aspirations in tone and atmosphere, that hold this movie back. Back from what, you ask?

From being one of the coolest movies I have ever seen, obviously.

The Kaiju aspect of this movie is damn near perfect, which is due to Gareth Evans, director of only one other movie, the wonderful "Monsters", a low budget movie that Evans edited and did the effects on in his bedroom. It is a bold choice of director, but it is perfect for this. Evans knows how to make giant monsters feel like real animals instead of just city-smashing CGI-creatures. "Monsters" featured some heavy romantic involvement, not just between its human characters, but also between monsters. That spirit carries over and gives Godzilla his very own character. One scene in particular makes you see something that feels a lot like regret in this 355-foot lizard that wrecks cities in passing.

Another more surprising talent of Gareth Evans is that he is amazing at filming 3D. Usually, I always regret paying the extra money. Only a few movies so far made me feel that it was well spent. This one did. More than that, I wish I had seen it in IMAX. Evans gives us the two things a good 3D experience needs. First, there is perspective, We see the action in mirrors, through windows, over the backs of soldiers. This makes the depth that 3D offers more prominent. Second, there are no frenzied fast cuts here. When we see something, we get the time to take it in. A lot of Directors these days seem to hide sloppy or lazy stuntwork and action, afraid that if we get to see what's really happening, we would be underwhelmed. There is none of that here.

One more thing, some like it, some didn't, when I said that a movie called Godzilla revolves around the Ford family and not around Godzilla, that was no joke. For being its titular character, Godzilla is not in the movie as much as most people wanted. The big throwdown that everyones waiting for only happens in the third act and the movie teases it to an insane degree. There is a bait-and-switch in the middle that angered some people, but the payoff in the third act is completely worth it.

Finally, the marketing for this movie has to be applauded. In a time where a movie like Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets spoiled completely by its marketing campaign, this one hides everything that matters. It's refreshing to see that something like that is still possible.
In the end, watch this movie, it is a ride that you will not forget anytime soon. Just remember, despite the Nolanesque atmosphere, there is no Nolanesque story here.

Also, if you want a second opinion, check out good old Cinemartians late review over here.

Locke

Locke features Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, a construction manager, who finds his life unraveling as he tries to fix a mistake he has made. The catch is that it all happens in ninety minutes of driving from Birmingham to London.

It's pretty obvious this movie is not for everyone. Without exception, this movie takes place in Lockes car, with a few establishing shots thrown in from time to time. If you decide to show this movie to someone, prepare them.

However, if you know what you're in for, this is an intense and memorable movie. The plot is simple and I don't want to spoil anything, because it lends itself perfectly to discover it while watching.

The whole movie obviously hinges on Tom Hardys performance. He is the only actor on screen interacting only on the phone. It is an impeccable performance, possibly his most memorable so far. His calm tone plays over his anxiety and as we get to know him better, we begin to see him cracking under the pressure.

The other actors in this movie completely phone it in and this might be the only movie in existence in which that is not a bad thing. Lockes coworker Donal, voiced by the brilliant Andrew Scott, lately of Sherlock fame as Mycroft Holmes, is a standout for me. Ruth Wilson as Lockes wife is also gripping.

This movie is very experimental and minimalistic obviously and it would not work if director Steven Knight did not manage to find the perfect late-night-drive look, using the streetlights and long stretching roads to create an atmosphere that puts you into the car with Ivan, making you feel his isolation. Part of the interesting making-of story of this movie is that the movie was filmed in one single take twice per night over the course of five nights and then edited together from the different camera angles used.

I loved this movie, the acting is amazing. However, if you are thinking of watching it, bear in mind that this is very much an arthouse movie. I do recommend watching it if you are into that kind of movie or at least interested, but you have been warned.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted is the sequel to the 2011 Muppets movie, starring Kermit, Miss Piggy, Walter, Fozzy Bear and a lot of other Muppets. On the human side, there are a whole bunch of cameos, but the three biggest roles go to Ricky Gervais as the right hand to the evil frog Constantine, Tina Fey as a Gulag guard and Ty Burrell as an Interpol agent.

I have never seen any of the old Muppets movies, it's just not something I grew up with. When the reboot came around in 2011 it was mostly the clever marketing and a lot of positive buzz that made me want to see it. It turned out to be a great movie, there was a lot of heart to it and a hilarious amount of jokes, cameos and catchy songs. Therefore, I was really excited to see the sequel. So how does it hold up?

In a stroke of genius, this movie starts with a musical number that's mocking itself for being a sequel, so this would have to be really despicable in order for me to hate it. Luckily, it isn't. Just as the song states, it's not quite as good as the previous movie. However, it made me laugh and was at least on par with the insanity. There are reasons why it doesn't quite hit the same level as "The Muppets", but in this case that's just some nitpicking and my personal opinion.

The first movie to me always felt like a celebration of showmanship, giving the Muppets their comeback and the world the third greatest gift of all. Therefore, in the Muppets world, it has a degree of relevance that this movie does not achieve. It feels that there is less of a point to this story, even though there is more story here.

The humour is still great in this movie, especially the scenes between Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell cracked me up everytime. Musically, the songs are very nicely spread out over different genres and pretty good across the board, although I gotta say, none of them got stuck in my head like "Man or Muppet" or "Life's a Happy Song". The Cameos actually improved a lot I think, I guess after the success they had, it gave the filmmakers a little bit more traction in Hollywood circles again.

One gripe I had is that in the beginning the movie seems to resort to a lot of CGI or greenscreen to do some of Constantines action scenes, which was really cool on the one hand but felt a little out of place on the other.

Overall, this is still an extremely funny movie, as you can see, most of the problems I had with it only stem from the comparison to the last movie, which is never really a fair comparison, especially in a movie that admirably doesn't tread the same path as its predecessor. It definitely gets my recommendation.

Devils Due

Devils Due is a found footage horror thriller following the lines of Rosemarys Baby. It follows the newly-weds Zach and Sam, who find that Sams unexpected pregnancy comes with a few complications... namely the Antichrist. It's all pretty standard fare, except for the fact that...

It's a dreadfully boring movie. Its runtime does not even hit two hours, but it drags on for what seems like an eternity. At no point in this movie is the outcome uncertain, there is no intrigue to the story at all and it relies on jump scares that you can basically count down if you have seen more than one horror movie in your life.

The found footage gimmick is terribly worn out by now. I actually like a lot of found footage movies, Blair Witch Project is my favorite horror film of all time, and movies like Cloverfield and Chronicle are elevated by the style. This one on the other hand is not. Especially in the beginning it has so many cuts and changing angles that I wondered if they had just forgotten that the movie was originally supposed to be filmed by handycam. At some time in the middle one begins to wonder if this movie wouldn't have been better without it.

All in all, this movie is boring and just does not entertain or scare the audience. The only thing it is good for is picking it apart and having fun hating it. Which I want to take the time to do right now, in all spoilery details, so if you intend to watch this movie (don't!), refrain from reading ahead.

Readers ye been warned, so here it is:

How to survive if your unborn baby is the antichrist, according to Devils Due:

  1. Prevention:
You might think that the whole "The-groom-can't-see-the-bride-on-the-day-before-the-wedding" thing might seem like an arbitrary custom, but damn, better take it serious. Should you ever find yourself in a situation in which you feel the desire to creep into your fiances bathroom to catch her taking a bath... don't. It is strongly suggested that this leads directly to Antichrist pregnancy. Also, you are going to be surprised by the dog anyway (see 4.)

  1. Early recognition
So it's the last day of your honeymoon, you had a lot of fun and decide to visit a fortune teller, just for laughs. Should this nice old women suddenly start grabbing your wifes arm and babble on about being born from death, death omens and generally sinister stuff, do not fool yourself and think she was insane... They never are. Listen to psychics and mediums whenever you can.

  1. Early recognition
Same evening, you've lost your way and a friendly cab driver has offered to show you an underground party where you proceed to get totally wasted and wake up the next morning without any recollection of the previous evening. Your first instinct may be to ignore the camera that you have been using to film the whole evening, but you have to fight that. Even if you think that you won't have any footage of the evening because you clearly remember turning the camera off, check it anyway, because your memory is not to be trusted at this point and you probably got some perfect glimpses of shady rituals starring your unconscious wife. Also, if you check later, someones just going to steal the tape the moment you turn away to call a friend for help.

  1. Listen to the Dog
He knows. He could smell you when you were creeping into your wifes bedroom, he can smell the Antichrist growing in her belly and he can smell the hidden security cameras that the devil-worshipping Dominicans have installed in your house.

  1. Don't call the Police
They can't do anything. There could be muddy footprints all over your house, broken windows and writing on the wall that says "we broke in here and spread creepy salt and ashes on the windowsills", all a cop can do is write a report. Also, in an emergency, the 911 operator won't understand your adress. You are alone out there, so don't waste the time that you could spend listening to your dog.

Bonus Round:

This -> € <- is apparently a satanic symbol... now the whole financial crysis makes a completely new level of sense.

The explanation why our main character is in possession of a flashlight by a sentence that goes something like: "Thank god my brother gave me this Flashlight as a present." might go on to make history as the most unneccessary line in any movie ever... In a movie that deals with an Antichrist-pregnancy this is not the part that you have to explain to me.