We Are Caught Up In Your Love Affair

It’s been a decent year for independent film, what with such gems (and likely Oscar contenders) as The Way, Way Back, Inside Llewyn Davis and Fruitvale Station on the roster, but today I’d like to focus on two others that have received far less publicity but surely deserve their moment in the spotlight.

You're Next movie posterFirst up is the best horror flick of 2013.  You’re Next hit theaters in August between the year’s two big budget horror films The Conjuring and Insidious Chapter 2, though I’m sure it grossed far less in the box office, which is a damned shame because it is a nearly perfect example of a film that may not reinvent its genre – the premise isn’t anything new or original – but excels so much in its execution that it stands out as a shining success among its peers.  In other words: Finally! an example of a horror flick done right!  It begins with some actual character development, not merely introducing the Davison family but really showing the dynamics between them at play.  They’re a wealthy family celebrating mom and dad’s anniversary in their large, rural home.  Within the first 15 or 20 minutes, we learn a great deal about them, but not more than we need in order for the stage to be set.  Once all the adult children arrive with their significant others, tension builds, fingers are pointed and right at the peak of a rather heated argument, a living nightmare begins with an arrow shot through the dining room window and into one of the dinner guests.  The inept family descends into confusion and futility as more arrows fly into the house, killing some, wounding others, but revealing them all as targets of the murderous intruders lurking outside.  It seems they won’t stop until they’re ALL dead.

There’s only one wildcard yet to be played and she is the girlfriend of one of the sons, an Aussie named Erin, superbly played by Sharni VinsonSharni Vinson.  While the others practically flail about, clueless to what’s happening or why and entirely unprepared to deal with it, Erin immediately responds with practical, useful and effective ideas of not only how to protect themselves and each other, but also to fight back.  You read that right: not only do we get a character who kicks ass (and well), but – bonus! – she’s female!  She is the stand-out here, acting not as a scared little girl trying to find her inner strength but as a strong and capable woman who reacts intelligently from the initial sign of danger, determined to survive and using every available tool around her.  And, boy, is she creative.  From here, the flick is perfectly executed with enough violence and suspense to truly scare its audience without ever overdoing it.  It is a slasher flick, which means there is a fair amount of blood, but it never feels excessive or gratuitous.  And there are several clever and well-placed props which are later used as weapons but they aren’t forced; they actually serve the story.

Bottom line: you won’t find anything groundbreaking or genre-defining in You’re Next but what you will see is a well-written, well-acted and damned well-executed hack ’em up intruder movie.

The other is a little ditty called Drinking Buddies.  I’m hesitant to call it a romantic comedy because, while it does have the feel of the genre, it fails to follow its basic structure as well as avoids its numerous traps.  It centers around Luke (Jake Johnson, aka, my new crush) and Kate (Olivia Wilde giving her best performance to date), two buddies who work together at a brewery.  The two drinking-buddieshave intense chemistry and as the story progresses we see they’re basically two versions of the same person.  Luke is in a long-term relationship with the lovely Jill (the always charming Anna Kendrick) and Kate is less seriously involved with Chris (Ron Livingston), who, admittedly, seems an odd fit for her.  The four take a camping trip and the two couples’ dynamics come more into focus while the dynamics between Luke & Kate and Jill & Chris further develop as well.  This isn’t the story of two mismatched couples trading spouses, however, but more an exploration of a scenario: how an attraction that is further enhanced by alcohol can disrupt an otherwise healthy and stable relationship.  Throughout nearly the whole of the film, Luke faces the choice between a woman he loves and another he knows he could love and Jake Johnson plays the role with such genuine feeling, the audience can’t help but feel his dilemma with him.  In another actor’s hands, Luke could easily have become an unlikable character.  But Johnson has the perfect blend of easy charm and real heart, making the audience sympathize with his situation instead of judging it.

I read online that there was no real script for Drinking Buddies, merely an outline, when they started shooting.  Which means that almost all of the dialogue is improv.  I can’t imagine making or acting in a movie without a script but somehow, it served Drinking Buddies well.  Because it forced each actor to behave as though the situation was real.  What that gives us is a genuine and truly authentic look at a scenario that very well could be real.  Combine that with the charm and charisma of the actors and their lively chemistry with one another and what you’ve got is one enjoyable, often funny and entirely relatable film.

~Nikki

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Ah, Look At All The Lonely People

Imagine an asteroid were headed straight for Earth.  The folks at NASA say there’s nothing to be done, no defense to mount, no alternate path to take.  It will take roughly three weeks to get here but do not doubt: it will hit the earth and not one single organism will survive.  What images come to your mind?  What does your life and the lives of everyone around you look like then?

Being the cynic that I am, I don’t believe that the general public would be informed if an asteroid were aimed at the earth.  The powers that be would do everything to keep this knowledge from us in order to prevent mass chaos and anarchy.  Because if they did share such news, of course everyone would stop going to work and within weeks or maybe even days the well-oiled machine that keeps electricity burning, gas pumping and grocery stores stocked with unspoiled food would come to a screeching halt.  The police force and fire department would sit empty and crime of every sort would spike.  At least, that’s the hideous image that forms in my head.  Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World paints a different picture, a much less horrifying (though still grim) but also somehow believable picture.  With only three weeks left of life on earth, some people turn to violence and crime, rioting and looting, but mostly, people just want to spend their remaining time with those they love, whomever that may be.  Some seek out old flames, others fight to get home to their families, some just want to get laid or have a good time, which sounds more optimistic than the movie feels.  It’s sweet and often charming but not so much that it feels like a fairy tale.  It never loses the ring of doomed truth that keeps it believable.

The movie’s pace is quite slow, at times too slow, but lead actors Keira Knightley and Steve Carell give performances so sincere, so artfully authentic, you find yourself sticking through the slow times just to find out what happens to these people.  These two are the reason this flick works.  Less talented actors easily could have kept the audience from connecting with and investing in the characters, thereby ruining the whole thing.  Because if you don’t care what happens to Dodge (Carell) and Penny (Knightley), you won’t watch it through to the end.  These two characters are it – there are no subplots circling them, no cool CGI to dazzle you, no plot interesting or developed enough that you’ll stick around regardless of two crappy main characters.  Nope, if you begin Seeking A Friend… and feel at all compelled to see it through, it’s because Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are two damned fine actors.  Which isn’t to say that the plot is no good or that the dialogue is terrible (it isn’t), it’s just that the premise goes nowhere without the characters of Dodge and Penny.  They are the glue.  And without a couple of actors skilled enough to really sell it, the whole thing would fall apart.

Fortunately, it doesn’t fall apart.  It creeps along, brings together these two neighbors who’d never before paid each other any mind (Dodge and Penny) and very slowly, organically, dreamily, a relationship blossoms and blooms, all within the last couple of weeks on Earth.  There isn’t much else to say because that literally is the entire plot.  It sounds simple and bleak but, while there are heavy themes and some dark moments, it’s actually a surprisingly darling little film, one that leaves you pleasantly sad.  A slightly bitter, mostly sweet end to a story about finding love at the end of the world.

~Nikki

ravingmadcast, Episode 3

After sadly missing a June podcast (our goal is to post one a month), we’ve got two audio conversations for you this July. Here’s the first, part 1, where we discuss a little blog challenge/goal we’re going to be working on for a while: Trying to watch and review every single one of Entertainment Weekly’s 50 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. Listen as we go over the first half of the list. Next week we’ll post Episode 4, where we discuss the second half of the list. We’ll also have a written post regarding this topic, in case you don’t wanna listen to our fabulous voices. 😉

~Annie & Nikki