Thursday, August 29, 2013

"You're Next" and 40 years of Horror

If You're Next was a world premiere at this year's Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, there was a very good reason why that fest's organizers decided to choose it as one of its selections, alongside Simon Pegg's The World's End (I'll get to that one later) and The Conjuring (read a few posts below). You're Next is the second horror movie to have gotten solid reviews this summer -after The Conjuring. That's two films, compared to other years where you would get none all year. You see, critics usually - coldy- receive films of the horror genre with not much excitement. I don't blame them. Horror has become somewhat of a joke in the last 20 years, retreading cliche after cliche and typically using the same structure to build up its narrative. A film like The Conjuring is not groundbreaking stuff but it smartly avoids the usual trappings of a horror movie by focusing more on the psychological aspect of its story. Psychological horror (cue masterful examples such as The Sixth Sense and The Others.)

You're Next on the other hand -slyly directed by indie director Adam Wingard- has no subtlety YET it works! Wingard's film works because unlike many horror films these days, there is a character -or two- that you genuinely care about. Erin is that character, played by kick-ass Aussie Sharni Vinson. Erin is the heroine of the story and an all out action hottie that comes out of nowhere to win our cold, disturbed hearts. To reveal the plot of You're Next would be unfair for those that haven't seen the trailer but suffice to say that this is a home invasion film that twists home invasion cliches upside down with enough gore and twists to keep you guessing. In fact I didn't see the last minute twist coming, neither will you. This is a film that is not perfect but entertains and gives horror buffs what they came to see. I've compiled a list of the best horror films I've seen in the last 15 years or so, some choices may surprise you while others are a must for any list of this kind. I've split it in

First Things First, the essentials no matter which decade;

Psycho (1960)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
The Exorcist (1973)
Carrie (1976)
The Shining (1980)
The Fly (1986)
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)


The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
American Psycho (2000)
The Others (2001)
Joy Ride (2001)
Frailty (2002)
Cabin Fever (2003)
28 Days Later (2003)
Red Eye (2005)
The Devil's Rejects (2005)
The Descent (2006)
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The Mist (2007)
Bug (2007)
Funny Games (2008)
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
The Last House On The Left (2009)
Shutter Island (2010)
Antichrist (2010)
I Spit On Your Grave (2010)
Cabin In The Woods (2012)
The Woman In Black (2012)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

American Independent cinema is alive and well

This summer has not been very kind when it comes to top notch Hollywood films. Is it ever? I guess once in a while you'll get the odd summer movie season that has Studio films aim for high art, I can think of 2001 (Artificial Intelligence, Moulin Rouge, Shrek, The Others) or 2002 (Minority Report, Road To Perdition, About A Boy, Insomnia, The Bourne Identity) but otherwise Independent cinema is the way to go if you truly want a rewarding experience at the movies in the summer.

This summer movie season brought us great stuff (Before Midnight, Frances Ha, The East, The Way Way Back, The Hunt, The To Do List, Mud) and it isn't over yet. There's officially still 3 weeks left until we kick off the fall movie season with The Toronto Film Festival (I'll be there!) and until the summer movie season ends. Don't count on any of the studio stuff to make much buzz but American independent cinema has always been there to get us through the tough times.

Case in point; James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now one hell of a coming of age love story with a remarkable performance from its two main leads. In fact Miles Teller and Shaileen Woodley both shared the acting prize earlier this year at Sundance. Boy, did they deserve it. Especially Woodley who at me at hello. This is one of the best female performances of the year. She plays Aimee, a shy "Nice girl" with not much boyfriend experience and he plays Sutter, a party boy that's just broken up with his grilfriend. They seem to not match at all, yet they do. Director Ponsoldt creates magic by literally showing us how two people can fall in love before our very eyes. His movie falters at the end when he derives from the relationship stuff between Sutter and Aimee into more family-based problems. No matter, The Spectacular Now is invigorating stuff, especially Woodley. I hope awards come to her.

"In A World..", ever heard those words in a trailer before? Actress turned director Lake Bell knows you have and has aptly named her directing debut In A World.. which takes place in the world of voice over narration for movie trailers. Original idea. Original execution. Who'd a thought that Bell, a beautiful 34 year old actress known for being in TV shows and movies would be such a talent to watch. It helps that she casts the always great Fred Melamed as her dad, a legend in the voice industry. Daddy finally decides to kick out Bell's Carol out of his house, she is a struggling voice artist that is still trying to find the "voice part" of a lifetime. She ends up crashing at her sister and her husband's apartment whom themselves are struggling in their relationship. This film very much reminded me of the originality of fellow female director Miranda July's Me, You And Everyone We Know. Just like that film, Bell creates an original world never depicted before in celluloid. That's a good thing. Bell is an original voice in indie cinema that is worth looking out for

Fruitvale Station comes off the heels of a triumphant batch of Awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival. There it won the top Dramatic feature prize and got praised for its relevance to the recent Trayvon Martin shooting. Director Ryan Coogler based his film on the true story of Oscar Grant, an African American handcuffed and killed by a police officer at an Oakland subway station. The film takes place on the last day of this man's life as he struggles to get his life back on track. Grant (indelibly played by Michael B. Jordan) has a 4 year old daughter with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and has to cope with the fact that he just got fired from his job at a grocery store. Even worse, he hasn't told Sophina and resorts to dealing weed - which doesn't please her very much. The fatal shooting happens on New Year's eve and has an impact of shocking gravity, too bad Coogler has stuffed his film with melodrama that numbs some of the effects the film tries to go far. Coogler overreaches and over sentimentalizes some of his film with amateur-like effects that -for some reason- worked with other critics. Nevertheless, Fruitvale Station is a movie that matters because it has a message and relevance that invigorates its story despite its flaws.

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