"The Chumscrubber" Meet Generation Rx

10/22/2014

Perfect suburban neighborhoods are not as perfect as they look is one of the main themes of "The Chumscrubber" the debut film for director Arie Posin. Psycho suburbanites are nothing new when it comes to the movies.  The crown jewel being David Lynch's 1986 film "Blue Velvet" and 1999's "American Beauty".  It has become a little cliché but "The Chumscrubber" does a decent job thanks to its talented ensemble cast.

The main protagonist is Dean a high school student played brilliantly by Jamie Bell.  He's a loner and a misfit but the most grounded and down the earth of the characters.  He is the heart of the film that everything revolves around. The main plot is really more of a teen drama that shows how parents have no idea who their kids are, another easy stereotype.  An opening scene shows Dean finding the body of his best friend Troy who has hanged himself.  All of this taking place during a dinner party thrown by Dean's mother.  He walks back home in a state of shock, unable to tell anyone.  The story itself takes place in a southern California cul-de-sac, all of the families involved are intertwined in each others lives but all to often are just involved with themselves.  Everybody spends so much time and effort improving and promoting themselves that they have lost all meaningful contact with everyone around them.  Dean's father is self-help guru who uses him to sell his books, while his mom hawks Veggie Force vitamin supplements.  Every family seems to be in a similar situation.  The kids are forced to raise themselves. 

Dean's departed best friend Troy was the school "happy pill" dealer and now a group of cool kids are after him to recover his lost stash.  Good Ole Camilla Belle plays the hot girl, Crystal, who is now interested in Dean but her motives are a little foggy.  While Billy the school's arrogant douche bag (Justin Chatwin) is crazy enough to do anything to get those pills.  The third member of the group is Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) who just blindly follows the crowd like a lonely lost sheep.  This rears it ugly head near the films climax.


Billy hatches a plan to kidnap Dean's little brother to get the lost pills but that goes awry when they pick up the wrong kid.  The kid actually kind of likes being kidnapped and hanging out with the group.  His mother doesn't even realize he is missing for a couple of days.  The script is tightly structured with many storylines going on simultaneously almost like a ballet.  They all come to a head and people become aware of their misdeeds, but will it make them better people or is it just business as usual.  Dean is able to fully accept and grieve for Troy and move on, while Billy is not so lucky.  Why is it called The Chumscrubber? You'll just have to watch the movie and find out for yourself.  It's now available on DVD which also includes has a commentary track so check it out!


"How I Live Now" Starring Saoirse Ronan

10/15/2014


For part 3 of the my Saoirse Ronan trilogy of reviews comes the 2013 Film "How I Live Now" by acclaimed director Kevin McDonald who has "The Last King of Scotland" and "Touching the Void" to his credit.  "How I Live Now" mixes together a few current popular genres and comes out better than some, but is still pretty run of the mill.  It debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013, but didn't make it to theatres.  Instead it had an On demand release last fall and is currently out on video and Netflix.

"How I Live Now" is teen love story in the shadow of an apocalyptic crisis.  Angsty American teenager Daisy (Ronan) is sent to live with her cousins in the English countryside for the summer just days before a nuclear bomb detonates in London.  Initially Daisy comes of as a bitchy American stereotype who lives by her own set of strict rules.  Her inner thoughts and anxieties are played as a voice over when Daisy is by herself and does make her more interesting and a bit more dimension.  She has two younger cousins, a boy (Isaac) and a girl (Piper), and the older Edmund.  Daisy instantly has a crush on the strong and stoic Edmund.  Some "Twilight" threads can be seem but are kept to a minimum.  Her Aunt Penn is a workaholic who always has a phone attached to her ear and a computer screen to her eyes.  She has a government job and is found running nuclear fallout scenarios.  She leaves for Geneva for a few days but never returns.

While the kids are all frolicking in a field an enormous explosion rocks the earth and moments later ash falls likes a dirty snowfall.  Things have just gotten serious and marshal law is invoked.  Daisy starts to drops her "act" and becomes a more real and authentic person.  The things that really matter come into focus.  Caring for her cousins and helping Eddie secure the farm.  Daisy and Eddie have turned an important corner in their relationship when the terrorists raid the farm and separate the girls and boys.  They have them working in interment camps and living with foster families.  Now the only thoughts on Daisy's mind are to protect her cousin Piper and to reunited with Eddie and Isaac.


When the war reaches the camps Daisy and Piper escape.  On their journey back home they pass by a downed airplane, an abandoned refugees camp, and numerous shady characters.  Daisy is a stronger person than she thought as her hope and determination help them both along the way.  The story and structure a quite formulaic although there is a couple shocking moments to ground the film.  When it comes down to it your basically getting a teen movie masquerading as an important adult film.  As I mentioned before it's by no means a bad film, but kind of like my grades in high school, just a step up from average. 


"Hanna" is a Fairy Tale Version of the Bourne Identity

10/14/2014


Director Joe Wright is mostly know for his dramatic literary adaptations like "Atonement", "Pride and Prejudice" and "Anna Karenina" (all starring Kiera Knightly by the way) but with "Hanna" he goes in a different direction but with another familiar actress.  Saoirse Ronan was nominated for best supporting actress for her role as the young Briony Tallis in 2007's "Atonement". 

Saoirse (sur-sha) plays the lead role as Hanna, a sixteen year old who lives with her father Eric, played by Eric Bana, in a remote cabin in the middle of frigid and desolate environment.  Living far off the grid Hanna is being trained by in combat and survival among other things.  She has been heavily sheltered from the outside world until she feels she is ready, but ready for what?

The whole film is set up be and action packed sci-fi fairy tale.  Along with an energetic techno score by The Chemical Brothers" that is reminiscent of "Run Lola Run".  We find out that Eric is a rogue asset of the U.S. government.  Cate Blanchet plays Marissa Wiegler, Eric's handler, who has been searching for him ever since he went dark.  Her character is played over the top and like a classic Disney villain which plays into the whole fairy tale theme.

Finally ready for her unknown mission she is separated from her father Hanna is taken into custody by the evil intelligence agency where Wiegler works.  She knows all about Hanna and what she is capable of, but after some pretty kicks ass moves she escapes.  She now finds herself in the Moroccan desert where she comes upon a vacationing British family and makes a friend in Sophie.  The film then goes into a coming of age story and Hanna learning to be a regular teenager, but her years of training are never far behind as well as Wiegler's angry German henchmen. 


Hanna begins to find out more about who she is and her long complicated past.  Finally in Germany the fairy tale theme starts to bludgeon you over the head as she is chased through a dilapidated Alice in Wonderland like amusement park.  This is where a majority of the third act takes place.  Hanna learns the truth about her "Mother and Father" from Eric as they meet up at their intended location.  Her mission is not yet complete as she must kill Wiegler.  "Hanna" as a movie is a bit scattered, a little cold, it tries to be a few too many things at once.  Although Saoirse Ronan is the difference and makes the film watchable as she makes Hanna into a magnificent character full of physical strength and emotional weakness.  She has this ethereal quality that makes her character different, which in the film she really is.  The film opens and closes with her speaking the line "I just missed your heart" each having a very different meaning.


"The Lovely Bones" is Missing a Few Pieces


10/2/2014


Director Peter Jackson has basically only worked on 3 film projects in the past 15 years, if you count the 6 Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films as one.  The others were the big budget remake of "King Kong" and the family drama "The Lovely Bones".  I have yet to see any of the Hobbit films and would have rather have seen Jackson branch out a bit more, take some risks and find more original projects.

"The Lovely Bones" was adapted from the hugely popular book by Alice Sebold, about a 14 year old girl named Susie Salmon who is murdered and tells her story from the afterlife and how her family copes with her absence.  Pegged as an awards season prestige film by the studio, it severely under performed in theatres and with most critics.  Except for the beautiful and talented Saoirse (pronounced SIR-SHA) Ronan, who plays Susie, and the intensely creepy Mr. Harvey, played by Stanly Tucci, the acting was pretty awful.  Rachel Weisz is completely wasted in bit part as the mother while Mark Wahlberg gives a bland phoned performance as her father.  Not to mention the over the top corniness of Susan Sarandon as the crazy grandmother.


Since a big part of the film takes place with Susie in a sort of in between world, their is a lot of gaudy CGI effects that really do nothing for the film or story.  *Spoiler Alert* Susie meets with other girls within her own "heaven" that act as sort of spirit guides.  These young girls turn out to be the other victims that Mr. Harvey as brutalized and killed through the years.  Stanley Tucci really goes all out in his portrayal of Mr. Harvey as he oozes a menacing creepiness with only a look and a hesitation.  He is a lonely man who lives by himself and builds and fixes doll houses.  He is reclusive and introverted, you can see the gears working in his mind as he always seems to be up to something. 



The film plays it safe for the most part and is pretty formulaic in it plotting.  It never dives in to any deeper questions about death or the afterlife.  It just glosses over it with more bad CGI.  As with most adaptations the book turns out to be far superior.  It just has more time to tell the full story.  The film comes in at over 2 hours, but still seems extremely condensed.  


"Dead Alive" Peter Jackson's Cult Horror Splatterfest

9/13/2014

Before his "Lord of the Rings" fame a young Peter Jackson gave us the 1992 cult horror phenomenon "Dead Alive".  It's many things to many people, but here are a handful of adjectives that sort of describe what your in for.  it's cheap, cheesy, horrific, hilarious, disgusting, insane, wrong and entertaining all at once.  It's also packed with past horror movie homages, with non greater than Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead".  From it's over the top gross out gore to its all out slapstick humor.

Taking place in New Zealand in the late 1950s, Lionel is a grown man living with his mother.  His father died at sea will trying to save him and he feels responsible for his death.  His mother is strict and against Lionel meeting and seeing any other women but her.  Although the local grocers daughter Paquita has her eye on him.  They end up going on a date to the Wellington Zoo, but his mother spies on them only to get bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey.  The monkey is done completely with stop motion animation in a nod to the great Ray Harryhausen movies of the time.  It doesn't take long for Lionel's mother to die and comeback to life as a flesh hungry zombie.  Her nurse is then turned and Lionel and Paquita have quite the mess on their hands both literally and figuratively.

Events start to escalate quickly and just as soon you think it can't get any more bizarre.  From the
Nazi veterinarian to the zombie killing priest who spouts "I kick ass for the lord!" after laying down some sweet Bruce Lee moves on a group of the undead.   Then you get the party scene and the lawnmower.  This is possibly the most bat shit crazy gory/funny scenes you'll ever see.  Lionel finally has to deal with his mother who has transformed into what looks to be a gigantic paper mache beast.


"Dead Alive" has a certain vibe to it. Its far from movies like Hostel and Saw as the violence is so over the top it's funny.  The characters seem to be from a 50's sitcom stuck in a B-horror movie.  I know that probably doesn't do it the justice it deserves but any horror fan needs to see "Dead Alive".