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

More Than Words

The WordsHow does one find the words to discuss the film, The Words?  This is a tricky one to talk about, as the good and bad cancel each other out to equal my least favorite of all emotions when it comes to entertainment, the dreaded “MEH.”

Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana star as Rory and Dora, a young (and ungodly beautiful) couple trying to make ends meet in NYC, while Rory fulfills his dream of becoming a published author.  This is no easy task, and the strain takes its toll on them both.  Dora is crazy supportive though, and before long, they get married.  They shoot off to Paris for a honeymoon (despite the fact that narrator Dennis Quaid – in a moment that perfectly exemplifies where this flick fails – just finished explaining how poor these two are), where Dora finds this gorgeous old leather case that she buys for her new husband as a kind of wedding present.  Some time later, back at home, Rory discovers a weathered-looking, typed manuscript in one of the folds of the case, clearly overlooked by Dora and the shop owner who sold it to her.  This film’s greatest success lies right here, in these moments of wonder and discovery wherein Rory, the writer struggling tirelessly to find his voice, to come into his own and gain success at his chosen craft, becomes so captivated by this hidden work that he decides to preserve it by typing it all out on his computer.  At this point, his intentions are only to see in on the screen and to keep it from being lost again.  A day or two later, he enters his apartment to find an emotional Dora who showers him with praise for the beautiful work she saw on his computer and read without his permission but it was so compelling she couldn’t help herself and finally! it’s the kind of story she always knew he had in him, the depth and beauty she never doubted was there and now he finally released it onto the page!  Rory begins to contradict her, to explain that the work isn’t his, but who can resist such ardent enthusiasm?  In a moment of profound weakness, Rory allows her to believe the story is his.

Dora eventually convinces Rory to submit it to his publisher and he foolishly gives in.  Somehow, Bradley Cooper and directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal manage to convey Rory’s insecurity and doubt, his being swept away in the search for recognition and success.  Because he isn’t just some schmuck who steals someone else’s work and passes it off as his own.  Yes, he does present this work by an unknown author as his story and he does gain tremendous success from it but his drive for doing so – his longing for the success he never reached on his own and the years of relentless hard work without reward somehow make it seem understandable.  That is, until the day an older gentleman approaches him in the park and begins to tell him a story, his story, in fact, that so closely resembles the one Rory printed and published and for which, he is now famous.

Jeremy Irons plays the nameless old man whose work is ripped off and he is such a captivating presence on screen, Cooper’s performance suffersThe Old Man by comparison.  Anyone who has seen Silver Linings Playbook knows that Bradley Cooper is capable of truly great acting but in The Words, he doesn’t quite deliver.  The real defect of the movie, however, lies in the third layer of this story, the one containing the narrator.  Remember the narrator?  The famous, adored present-day author Clay Hammonds (Quaid) tells us Rory’s story and it quickly becomes obvious that Hammonds is the real-life Rory, telling his story to a star-struck lit student, Daniella (Olivia Wilde), making this a story within a story within a story, which sounds so much more interesting than it is.  It would have been leaps and bounds more enjoyable without the Quaid-Wilde layer, which added nothing to the story itself and whose scenes felt like filler, a useless distraction.

The Words isn’t a total waste of time; it’s just one of many films that aims higher than its reach.  Much like its leading character, it wants and strives for a level of greatness that simply isn’t there.

~Annie & Nikki

Alligator Lizards In The Air

Sigh.  Cowboys & Aliens.  I don’t even know how to muster the energy to write about this movie, honestly.  Is it terrible?  Not at all.  Is it entertaining?  Mildly.  Why, oh why does “MEH” have to be the only word I can come up with to describe this useless flick?

The film opens with what everybody already saw in the trailer, which is the walking sex that is Daniel Craig, awaken in the desert, all alone and amnesia-ridden, wearing some nifty bracelet that is most certainly related to extraterrestrials.  He wanders into your typical western town full of dirtbags, some guys start shooting, some aliens arrive (in a pretty cool scene, admittedly), and start abducting people, willy-nilly.  The cowboys decide to hunt for the visitors out in the desert to try to get their loved ones back, and Craig slowly figures out where he came from and why he can’t remember.  It’s all much less riveting than it even sounds.

I did like the cast, even if I wasn’t very concerned with what happened to any of them.  Harrison Ford is somehow still kind of robust and agile, even at 69.  Olivia Wilde bugs me, though bless her heart, I don’t even know why.  I’d follow Sam Rockwell anywhere, and it was cool to see the always bizarre Paul Dano and the simmering Saulteaux Adam Beach get to play somewhat interesting roles here, as a wimpy spoiled asshole and loyal sidekick-who-longs-for-Harrison-Ford-to-be-his-daddy, respectively.  The only person on screen whose welfare I was at all concerned with was Rockwell’s Doc, and that’s just cause I like the guy so much – it has nothing to do with the film.

The effects were fine, nothing looked stupid or lame, yet nothing really blew my face off.  The aliens are meh as well – I swear to god, must EVERY ALIEN EVER FROM NOW ON LOOK LIKE CLOVERFIELD?!?!  Apparently, there are no more original otherworldly creatures.  We’ve imagined all possible ones into existence.

I do think Jon Favreau is a good director, I just tend to not be passionately excited about most of his films, and this one is no exception.  C&A is about 15 minutes too long, and was completely, wholly, unremarkable.  It’s a tad bit exciting, made me squirm in my seat and laugh once or twice, but plopped right in the middle of the summer, amidst all the other tentpoles and superheros, doesn’t stand out at all.  In the end, I’m not sure whether I’m more disappointed in myself for expecting some absolute CRAZINESS from the awesome title or the plethora of talented filmmakers for just delivering exactly what the words on the marquee promised.  Like, literally, that’s all you get.  Some cowboys, some aliens.  End credits.

~Annie